[An unidentified air- and groundcrew of RAF No 627 Squadron posing for the camera in front of a Mosquito wooden bomber in Britain. Note the mission bomb log painted on the nose of the aircraft.]
This week marks the 75th anniversary of the last strategic air raid on Berlin during the Second World War. For more than 70 years the ‘honour’ of which RAF Bomber Command aircrew dropped the last bombs on Berlin was bestowed to a No 109 Squadron crew. But it was in 2017 that Richard Stowers found evidence during his research that actually there was another Mosquito crew which dropped their deadly load later on that night.
The last Allied air raid on Berlin took place on the night of 20/21 April 1945. Bomber Command sent 76 de Havilland Mosquito bombers in six separate attacks to disrupt the German capital, a few hours before Stalin’s armies reached the eastern suburbs of the sieged city.
[A trio of Bomber Command No 128 Squadron Mosquitoes B XVIs, equipped with gas drop tanks on the wings, taxiing ready to take-off at the start of another night sortie to bomb the ‘Big City’ in 1945.]
The long-credited pair, F/O Arthur C Austin (pilot) and P Moorhead (navigator) were flying Mosquito XVI MM929, one of eight bombers dispatched on that night by the squadron for the ‘Big City’. They took off from RAF Little Staughton and flew to Berlin where they dropped four 500-lb bombs at 02.16 hrs (GTM), landing back at 04.30 hrs safely. “Bombed target from 28,000’ by A.R.5513 at 0214 – Cloud 10/10 St. – Defences nil.” we can read on the Operations Record Book of the squadron (National Archives, AIR 27/856/8.)
A few miles away, eight No 105 Squadron -a Pathfinder unit- Mosquitoes prepares to take off for Berlin too from Bourn near Cambridge. One crew was composed by Flt Lt David W. Young of New Zealand, and his navigator P/O Malcolm B. Skinner (an Australian) when a malfunctioning engine on their aircraft when taxiing forced them to change their kite for the sortie for a spare bomber already bombed up. Finally they were airborne twenty minutes late at 00.35 hrs on Mosquito XVI PF407 “A”, 22 minutes after the last 109 Sqn Mosquito. They reached Berlin alone in the dark, dropping four 500-pounders after an ‘Oboe’ signal with Alexanderplatz as aiming point. The RAF crew landed back at 04.44. Both men´s logbooks and the entry on the squadron´s ORB only registered “Primary attacked” and the depart /landing times (National Archives, AIR 27/828/8) but Stowers found a signed certificate issued by the Intelligence Officer of 105 Sqn dated June 4, 1945 in which is detailed based on the ‘Oboe’ release signal on target that they salvoed their explosive cargo 12 minutes later than Austin and Moorhead, precisely at 02.26.2 hrs on 21 April 1945.
[The ORB of No 109 Squadron recording the RAF´s unit combat sorties during April 1945. In this case, the page showing operations on April 20th on the Nazi capital. Young and Moorhead´s sortie is the last one listed on 20-4-45 here, the second one from below.]
‘Mac’ Skinner later stated: “Flying Officer Arthur Austin, 109 Squadron, was reported in The Daily Mirror on 10 October 1945 to have dropped the last bomb at about 2.15am. He was probably briefed to be the last one but as we had to change aircraft because of engine trouble, and then encountered a cold front causing delay, we evidently usurped position by at least 10 minutes.”
[A fine portrait of the 105 (PFF) Sqn airmen: P/O David Young (left) and P/O ‘Mac’ Skinner.]
[A view of Skinner´s logbook showing the last Berlin raid entry.]
[And the RAF Bourn certificate dated June 4, 1945 and signed by the Intelligence Officer of the station which claimed the last bombing ‘honour’ as a 105 Sqn achievement. Notice the aiming point: Alexandre Platz (sic), Centre of Berlin.]
Sadly for its habitants, Berlin was a regular destination for the fast twin-engined bombers, main stars of the Royal Air Force’s LNSF (Light Night Striking Force), especially during the final months of the war. During January-May 1945 LNSF Mosquitoes flew almost 4,000 sorties over the Reich with the loss of just 57 aircraft.
Thus ended the British air campaign over the German capital -stopped to not interceding on the Soviet final assault- an enterprise started five years early on a very different dark summer night, but that’s another story.
[RAF Mosquitoes were very active during the final weeks, making clear to the Führer that he has no escape from the sieged capital. Here, Adolf Hitler and Julius Schaub examine the huge damage done by Allied bombs on the Reich Chancellery in Berlin on 20 April 1945, a nearly miss on the Führer’s bunker.]
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