Chapter 1: POINTBLANK and Area Attacks
Before many months of 1943 had passed, it became evident that to fulfil the main provisions of the Directive issued at the Casablanca Conference, the ‘progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system and the undermining of the morale of the German people’, would prove a costly task, at least in daylight. The campaign opened badly, for in the early spring of 1943 and for some time to come the Fortresses of the United States Eighth Air Force, which had been placed under the direction of the British Chief of the Air Staff, acting as agent for the Combined Chiefs of Staff, had to operate without the comforting presence of long-range fighters as escort—for at that time three were only in the preliminary stages of their development. The American bomber force was, in consequence, faced with a heavy and most perilous mission, and the first three months of 1943 proved that, despite the gallantry with which its crews sought to fulfil it, it was beyond their strength.
When they began operations, the Americans had believed that heavy bombers, flying in close formation and armed with .50-inch machine-guns, would be able to protect themselves from fighter attack and would not need an escort. Their early sorties were based on this theory, but the high rate of casualties they at once began to suffer shewed it to be as false as that held at the outbreak of war by the British Air Staff, which, under a similar delusion, had in 1939 sent Wellingtons, alone and unprotected, into the “hornet’s Nest’ of Heligoland and the Bight. Bomber Command had had to seek the protection of the dark. Not so the Americans, who from first to last were determined to bomb by day and in the end achieved their object with conspicuous success.
By the summer of 1943, the armament of the German Air Force fighters had been considerably improved both in calibre and quantity. A Focke-Wulf 190 captured intact at that time was found to be armed with four 20-mm. cannon, two in the wings and two synchronised to fire through the airscrew. All were electrically fired. The cannon was the Mauser 151 model, which had been in production
for a long time and had been fitted with a 20-mm. calibre barrel. The ammunition had also been increased in strength so as to give a higher muzzle velocity. With these weapons they could outrange the .50-inch machine-gun, and were therefore most formidable and deadly opponents. Moreover, they were in the hands of the best pilots of the Luftwaffe, who soon began to take heavy toll by day of the Americans.
Against Bomber Command by night the Luftwaffe, by means of improved airborne radar devices, was beginning to make of darkness a tattered cloak. After a period of trial and error extending over the years 1941 and 1942 its pilots had been equipped with two standard night fighters, the Messerschmitt 110 and the Junkers 88. The first was easy to manoeuvre, possessed a high rate of climb and, owing to mass production was available in quantity. Its main disadvantage was its short tactical endurance, which prevented prolonged pursuit. For these reasons it was gradually superseded by the Junkers 88, which though slower and more difficult to handle, had an endurance of five hours. It was constantly modified and for a time was disliked by pilots. Gradually, however they came to see that its advantages outweighed its defects and in their skilled hands it became a formidable weapon.
‘It was easy to approach your bombers unseen’, said Oberleutnant Fritz Brandt, a night fighter of experience,’ as we nearly always came in from below, where it was dark. Your bombers did attempt to evade us by weaving and corkscrewing, but we fighters stayed on your tails and flew in the same manner’. ‘We always had the feeling that our task was worth-while’, asserted Unteroffizier Ulrich Hutze. ‘We thought its success depended only on sufficient men and enough fuel. The night fighters came out of the dark like Indians and always had the feeling of superiority’. ‘I shot down two bombers over Hamburg on 26th July, 1943’, reported Oberst Karlfried Normann. ‘I hit the first from above, the second from below. My wireless operator carried out his duties as methodically as if it had been a training flight. Everything went according to plan’.
Brandt, Hutze and Normann were but three of the 550 night fighter pilots who, by July 1943, were operating over Germany. The enemy had correctly interpreted the portent provided by the battle of the Ruhr, and in the flames which lit the smoky skies of Essen was able to trace the fiery pattern of the future, or, as the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff put it, he was compelled ‘to deploy day and night fighters in increasing numbers on the Western Front’. He did not, however, make any great use of intruder aircraft, and the squadrons furnishing these were disbanded, reformed and kept for home defence.
It was Hitler’s policy, presumably to sustain the courage of the population, to put as many fighters as possible into the air over Germany. No attempt was made to attack the bombers at the source. Very few intruder raids took place in 1943, none in 1944, and only two in 1945, of which one was very successful, 19 aircraft of Bomber Command returning from an attack on Kamen on 3rd/4th March being shot down after they had crossed the English coast.
The increase in numbers and efficiency of the German night fighter force was a matter of the gravest concern to Bomber Command. During 1942 its rate of loss had been 4.1%, a figure altogether too high if the offensive was to be maintained and increased. There was no improvement in the first quarter of 1943, and the United States Eight Air Force, operating by day, was in even worse case. A change of policy was obviously necessary, and was soon being urged by the Joint Planning Team set up in April, which in due course produced the ‘Combined Bomber Offensive Plan’ for the guidance of Harris and Eaker. Its views, repeated at intervals with increasing emphasis, eventually prevailed and on the 10th June the Combined Chiefs of Staff issued a new, or more properly, a supplementary directive, called POINTBLANK. By its terms the primary task of the Americans was to be the destruction of the German fighter force and the industries which supply it. ‘Unless this could be accomplished’ they said ‘we may find our bomber forces unable to fulfil the tasks allotted to them’. ‘The forces of the British Bomber Command’, they decreed ‘will be in accordance with their main aim in the general disorganization of German industry. Their action will be designed as far as practicable to be complementary to the operations of the United States Eight Air Force’, and they went on to state how this was to be done. ‘The allocation of targets’, they said, ‘and the effective co-ordination of the forces involved is to be ensured by consultation between the commanders concerned. To assist this co-ordination, a Combined Planning Committee has been set up’.
The importance of its task was obvious. Without mutual co-operation the bomber forces were liable, in theory at least, to waste their efforts or even to impede each other. Moreover, such a committee could make sure certain kinds of targets would receive a double dose of bombs. What, for example, was to prevent the Americans appearing at dusk and lighting up a target with a heavy concentration of incendiaries, thus starting fires which would burn long enough to act as beacons for the British bombers when they arrived at nightfall. Conversely, by night attack German and German-held airfields, the German day-fighter force might be
grounded by cratered runways and be unable to defend targets attacked by the Americans as soon as it was light enough to see them.
These theories and the exertions of the Combined Operational Planning Committee did not meet with the approval of Harris. The Air Chief Marshal felt that here was yet another attempt to compel him to abandon area for precision bombing, a feat of which his Command in general—the Pathfinders always excepted—was incapable in 1943. The Bomb Target Committee, which had been in existence since 1942, had been maintaining an indirect but sometimes powerful pressure on him with the same object. True that committee, which must not be confused with the Combined Operational Planning Committee, was no more than a co-ordinating body formed to allow representatives of the three Services to make known their views and desires. It thus acted as a safety valve but it did not initiate policy. It was, indeed, a bomb target information committee, and as such it had always been suspect to the Chief of Bomber Command. The new Combined Planning Committee seemed to him to be no better.
To destroy the German aircraft industry, for example, precision bombing was needed, and in this the Americans specialized. The United States Eighth Air Force had been trained to bomb by daylight using the most accurate bombsights which could be devised, and with these they might reasonably be expected to hit buildings, such as the Messerschmitt assembly plant at Augsburg or the Vereinigte Kugallagerfabrik at Schweinfurt. Bomber Command, since it could operate in strength only at night, was not in a position to follow these tactics. The navigating device GEE; was in operation and increasing in efficiency almost nightly, but H2S, OBOE and the other scientific devices by which a greatly increased degree of accuracy would, it was hoped, be achieved, had only just been introduced. The bombing on a heavier scale of industrial targets situated in cities was, therefore, Harris maintained, the only alternative if his Command was to make an adequate contribution to the common effort. This was recognized in the POINTBLANK; Directive, in which it was stated that the primary objectives of Bomber Command were unchanged.
The interpretation put upon the POINTBLANK; Directive by Harris was, that while the United States Air Force would attack ‘the principal airframe and other aircraft factories’ in Germany, he would send Bomber Command against ‘those industrial towns in which there was the largest number of aircraft component factories’,1
and to this interpretation he adhered. Since most of those towns were situated east or south of the Ruhr, he could not attack them except when the nights were long enough to enable his bombers to fly to their objectives and back in darkness. At first, therefore, since the month was June and the nights were short, he was not able to change his programme, though on the 20th/21st he did send a small force of No. 5 Group to attack the former Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen on the shores of lake Constance. the factory was producing radar apparatus for the use of German night fighters and might, be said to come within the terms of the Directive. The attack was on the whole successful. The principle buildings were hit and the wind tunnel was burnt out together with several repair shops and half a foundry. The raid over, without loss, the Lancasters set course for bases in North Africa. their safe arrival there showed that it was possible to fly onto Africa, but difficulties connected with the servicing of heavy bombers made such flights of rare occurrence.
For the rest of June and for the first three weeks of July, except for an attack on Turin on the night of the 12th/13th, Bomber Command was confined to targets nearer home. Cologne was thrice assaulted and Aachen and the Peugeot works at Montbéliard once. At Cologne the Humboldt Deutz U-boat accumulator factory was damaged. On the night of the 25th/26th July Essen was the target for another fierce assault. 627 aircraft out of 705 despatched dropped 2.032 tons of bombs upon the city for the loss of 26 of their number. ‘They inflicted’, reported Harris, ‘as much damage in the Krupps works as in all previous attacks put together’, and he did not exaggerate. ‘The last raid on Essen’, records Göbbels in his diary for the 28th July, ‘caused a complete stoppage of production in the Krupps works. Speers is much concerned and worried’. The areas particularly damaged include in addition to the Krupps works, Altennessen, Segeroth, Borbeck, Holsterhausen, Rüttenscheid, Frohnhausen, Delibig and Vogelheim. That night the fire services of the city had to attempt to deal with 270 large and 250 small fires. 340 persons lost their lives, 1,128 were wounded and 35,144 rendered homeless: 1,508 houses were destroyed and 1,083 badly damaged. On the morning after the raid, Dr Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach came down to his office from the Villa Hügel, where he lived cast one look upon the blazing remnants of his works and fell down in a fit. This, since he had not recovered from it, saved him in 1947 from being put on trial with the other war criminals.
The night before this onslaught there had taken place the first of the four great raids on Hamburg, which were to mark, with the
possible exception of what was achieved in Dresden, the highest point of destruction reached in the campaign. Hamburg, the second largest city of the Reich, with a population of just over a million and half, was then, and had been for many years, an industrial city and port of the first rank. It contained within some 3,000 industrial establishments and 5,000 commercial, most of them engaged in transport and shipping industries. All the major and most of the minor shipbuilding yards were employed on building submarines and were responsible for about 45%, of the total production of U-boats. Amongst them was the renowned Blohm and Voss shipyards. target of most equal importance were the Europäische Tanklager and Transport AG, the Rhenania Ossag distillation plant, Ernst Schliemann’s works at Wilhelmsburg, the Deutsche Petroleum AG refineries, Theodor Zeise at Altona, the second largest German manufacturer of ships screws, and the largest wool combing plant of the Hamburger Wollkämmerai AG, also at Wilhemsburg. Other important industries included those concerning food processing, and with the manufacture of machinery, electrical and precision instruments, chemicals and aircraft components. It must be admitted that Hamburg was not a target of which the destruction would contribute directly to the fulfilment of the POINTBLANK Directive. That great city contained many factories, many shipyards, but only two concerns producing aircraft components. Moreover, as it turned out, the American attacks on Hamburg were complementary to those of Bomber Command, and not the other way round as the directive laid down. The fact that Hamburg was an easy target and the newly devised H2S was coming into use. This ancient Hanseatic town was near to a seaboard and could easily be identified on the H2S screen. It was decided that Harris was to destroy it with all the thoroughness of which his Command was capable. When initiating the operation—to which the ominous codename GOMORRAH had been given—he told his crews that ‘The Battle of Hamburg cannot be won on a single night. It is estimated that at least 10,000 tons of bombs will have to be dropped to complete the process of elimination. To achieve the maximum effect of air bombardment this city should be subjected to sustained attack. On the first attack a large number of incendiaries are to be carried in order to saturate the Fire Services’.
The first assault, carried out on 24th/25th July, was delivered by 740 out of 791 bombers despatched. They dropped 2,396 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs in two and a half hours upon the suburb of Barmbeck, on both banks of the Alster, on the suburbs of
Hoheluft, Eimsbüttel and Altona and on the inner city. WINDOW—metallic strips dropped to confuse the Würzburgs and similar radar apparatus—was extensively used during the attack, and proved its efficacy. The radar controlled searchlights ‘waved aimlessly in all directions’, the fire of the guns, though heavy, was badly aimed, and the confusion into which the controllers of German night fighters were thrown is best described by the despairing remark of one of them who, at the height of the raid, was overheard to cry out ‘I cannot follow any hostiles; they are very cunning’. Largely owing to this use of WINDOW, only twelve bombers were lost. Seventy-four aircraft were fitted with H2S, but not all the sets were serviceable when the city was reached. The marking however, was accurate, for Hamburg was easier to discover by this means than many towns because it is built on a wide river and is surrounded by several lakes.
The raid, by cutting many gas, water, and electric mains and telephone lines, destroyed beyond repair the elaborate air raid precaution system which had been carefully built up. The damage caused by the next three raids was in consequence all the greater. On that night ‘the Police Presidency was burnt down, the control room of the local Air Raid Precaution Leader was completely engulfed in fire from the surrounding office buildings and had to be evacuated ... many headquarters and offices of the police, the Reich Air raid Precaution League, etc., were destroyed or seriously damaged’. When dawn came ‘a heavy cloud of dust and smoke’ hung over the city and remained above it throughout the hot summer which followed, obscuring the sun and seeming to the wretched in habitants of the city to portend yet more devastation. It did.
A few hours went by; then came a short daylight raid carried out by 68 American heavy Bombers which attacked the port and district of Wilhelmsburg. ‘Severe damage was caused to port establishments and wharves, as well as sea-going ships and docks’. It was over in an hour but was repeated the next morning when 53 American aircraft appeared one more and hit the large Neuhoff power works. the night which followed passed comparatively peacefully, except for a nuisance raid during which only 2 bombs. It was the lull before the storm. On the night of the 27th/28th, Bomber Command struck again in force. 739 bombers dropped 2,417 tons of bombs. They fell on the districts to the east of Alster, which included Hammerbrook, Hohenfelde, Borgfelde and others. This very heavy attack was followed two nights later by one scarcely less
heavy when 2,382 tons were dropped by 726 aircraft. to finish the business, a final onslaught, delivered in bad weather, took place on the night of the 2nd/3rd August, when 1,426 tons struck the city.
In these four raids 3,095 aircraft were despatched, 2,630 attacked and 8,621 tons of bombs were dropped, 4,309 tons of them being incendiaries. Our losses were 87 bombers. Of these 30 were lost on the last raid. After a day of heavy thunderstorms, the crews on the Lincolnshire airfields, when briefed, were told that the weather was extremely bad and the cumulonimbus clouds covered the route up to 20,000 feet. Above that height the sky was reported to be clear. Because of this unfavourable forecast, the Halifaxes and Stirlings were left out of the attack, which was made by the Lancasters, for they alone were considered capable of flying above cloud at that height. The severity of the weather conditions can be gauged from a letter written by Flight Lieutenant Robert Burr, of No. 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron. ‘We took off’, he said, ‘one by one into a flurry of pounding rain, and found ourselves immediately in a huge cumulonimbus cloud. The airspeed indicator fluctuated by 30 miles per hour or more and the rate of climb indicator wobbled crazily up and down. The aircraft was tossed and buffeted by the swirling currents of air and we could only climb very slowly as we ended painfully higher. Fifty hard-won feet would be lost in an instant as we hit powerful down draught, and then just as suddenly we would gain fifty feet like a fast moving lift, as we were carried upwards by a stream of rising air’. With great difficulty, the Flight Lieutenant forced his Lancaster to 16,000 feet and then set course over the North Sea feeling glad that ‘my wrists and arms were strong’, for it was only with the utmost difficulty that his aircraft could be kept on an even keel. At 17,000 feet the Lancaster was still in heavy cloud and would climb no higher. Presently lightning began to play around it and “ all the metal parts of the aircraft shone with the blue spikes of St. Elmo fire. ... About a quarter of a mile to port was another aircraft flying on a parallel course. ... It seemed to be a mass of flame and I realised that it, too, must be covered in St Elmo’s fire ... I stared at this flying beacon and ... suddenly, as I watched, a streak of lightning split the heavens. There was a huge flash and burning fragments broke away’. What remained of the aircraft plunged to earth.
Flight Lieutenant Burr was one of those who succeeded in dropping his bombs that night, but many did not. ‘No worth-while concentration over target’ was achieved. But then it was hardly necessary, for Harris’s object had largely been attained. More than 6,000 acres of Hamburg smouldered in ruins
‘The damage was gigantic’, reported Major General Kehrl, the Police President and Air Protection Leader of the city, whose official report to the Führer dated 1st December, 1943, from which the details of the damage caused have been taken, paints a grim picture of those four nights. In the first of them, not only were the means of fire fighting and communications grievously disrupted, but the fires themselves were especially numerous, for coal and coke, which the provident inhabitants of the town had already stored in their houses against winter, caught alight and could not be extinguished despite the employment of ‘all available forces’. On the night of the 27th/28th July, ‘a carpet of bombs of unimaginable density caused the almost complete destruction’ of six districts of the city and of parts of two others. the fires, previously kindled and still out of control, took charge, and created the first of those firestorms which were to prove a new and unexpected development in warfare. It was caused by the great number of incendiary bombs dropped. Before half an hour had passed, the districts upon which the weight of the attack fell, and which formed part of the crowded dock and port area, where narrow streets and courts abounded, were transformed into a lake of fire covering an area of twenty-two square kilometres. The effect of this was to heat the air to a temperature which at times was estimated to approach 1000 degrees centigrade. A vast suction was in this way created so that the air ‘stormed through the streets with immense force, bearing upon it sparks, timber and roof beams and thus spreading the fire still further and further till it became a typhoon such as had never been witnessed, and against which all human resistance was powerless’. Trees three feet thick were broken off or uprooted, human beings were thrown to the ground or flung alive into the flames by winds which exceeded 150 miles per hour. The panic-stricken citizens knew not where to turn. flames drove them from the shelters, but high-explosive bombs sent them scurrying back again. Once inside, they were suffocated by carbon-monoxide poisoning and their bodies reduced to ashes as though they had been placed in a crematorium, which was indeed what each shelter proved to be. The fortunate were those who jumped into canals and waterways and remained swimming or standing up to their necks in water for hours until the heat should die down.
The same phenomena occurred during the third and fourth raids, but the loss of life was smaller, for by then the majority of the inhabitants, who had obeyed the exhortations of the Reich Defence Commissioner to leave their homes without more ado, had fled leaving behind only the air raid precaution workers, whose courage
and devotion to duty seems to have been exemplary. Dawn on 3rd August broke upon a city sunk ‘in a great silence’ after the ‘howling and raging of the fire storms’, had bathed in the unreal light rays filtered through a canopy of smoke. Everywhere lay dust, soot and ashes. ... The streets were covered with hundreds of bodies.
To this destruction of human beings was added that of their homes. In these raids, including the small daylight American attacks, it was computed by the Police President that 40,385 dwelling-houses and 275,000 flats, representing 61%, of the living accommodation of the city, had been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. 580 Industrial and armament establishments were in a similar condition and so were 2,632 shops, 76 public offices, 24 hospitals, 277 schools, 58 churches, 83 banks, 12 bridges and one menagerie, the famous Hagenbeck Zoo, which was wiped out in the first raid. The number of persons known to have lost their lives was 41,800; the injured, of whom many died, numbered 37,439. To this must be added some thousands more missing. Well might Göbbels refer in his diary ‘a catastrophe, the extent of which simply staggers the imagination’. This was, indeed, the name given to these raids by those who survived them.
For a moment the inhabitants were overwhelmed by what had come upon them, but when the raids ceased, as they did, for Hamburg was not again attacked in force until 28th/29th July 1944, nearly a year later, their courage soon began to return. Work was begun again and efforts made to start life anew. The total population had been reduced by about 30%, and the working population by 25%. Despite the dislocation of public services caused, a reasonable quantity of gas and electricity was available within three weeks and supplies were normal within six months. Up to the time of these attacks, the production of 500-ton U-boats had been eight and nine a month. After then, it fell to between two and three, partly owing to the direct damage inflicted on the yards and workshops and partly because of the absenteeism. This fall, however, was not as serious as appear, for by then the 500-ton U-boat was considered obsolescent and the Blohm und Voss Works were engaged for the most part on contracts for Messerschmitt of no very great urgency. The ratio of industrial to non-industrial damage was 21 to 79 per cent, and during August the activities of the port, which had stood for a long time at an average of 200,000 gross tons, fell for a short time to as low as 15,000 tons. By October it was back to 75,000 tons having at one period in September reached 163,000 tons. The output of heavy
engineering equipment, such as cranes, excavators and heavy armaments, was reduced by about 20%., for some two months, and during the ensuing twelve these industries lost the equivalent of about six week’s work. Light engineering products such a radio valves and components, shell fuses, motor parts, gauges and jigs were more heavily affected, between eight to ten weeks’ work being lost. the remaining miscellaneous industries, which included the production of rubber good, chemicals and textiles, suffered loss equivalent to three months’ output. No fall in aircraft production was caused, for the few firms which had been engaged on this type of work had already left Hamburg before the attacks took place. The production of oil was reduced by 40% for about a month.
Having struck these heavy blows at Hamburg, Air Chief Marshal Harris waited a month before sending his force against the next and greatest of the German cities marked out for special attack—Berlin. In the meantime, however, Bomber Command was not idle. the raids which it carried out on Turin and Milan in the middle of the month have been described in Volume II (Chapter XV). To these must be added an attack on Genoa, another on Mannheim and two severe assaults on Nuremberg, in which 3,444 tons were dropped. One other target of the great importance required special attention during August, 1943. On the night of 17th/18th August, 571 aircraft out of some 600 despatched, dropped 1,937 tons of bombs on the experimental station situated on the island of Peenemünde on the Baltic coast. The reasons for this attack will appear in Chapter VII.
During this month too, the enemy was far from inactive. Taken aback though he had been by the attack on Hamburg, and the use of WINDOW, which had so greatly confused the controllers of his night fighters, he nevertheless brought fresh methods of defence into play with great speed and address. A new system was improvised based on the German Observer Corps, whose duty it was to plot the stream of bombers, and by means of a running broadcast commentary, to transmit such information as they could obtain to what Harris in his despatched describes, as ‘free-lance fighters’. The commentary gave the height and the direction of the bomber stream and the areas of Germany or occupied Europe over which it was passing. As soon as they picked up this information, night fighters, wherever they were, provided they were in range—and some on occasion flew as much as 300 miles from their bases—set out to find and attack the stream. To help them, ever-growing recourse was made to visual aids, searchlights being suddenly exposed simultaneously in large numbers, or cloud base being illuminated to
aid the fighters. Flares, first used on the night of 31st August/1st September above Berlin, were also dropped from the air or laid in lines at the estimated height of the bombers on the conjectured inward or outward routes. No certain means, however could be devised whereby the night fighter could be brought to the scene early enough to attack the bombers when near or over the target. They nearly always arrived late, but were able on occasions to do much execution among the later waves of the attackers.
To counteract these tactics, which achieved a not inconsiderable success, the rate at which our bombers were despatched was increased and by the end of the war trebled. The object was to put as many aircraft as possible, as quickly as possible, over the target, the increased risk from falling bombs and collisions being offset by the reduction in the time spent on the danger area. the first highly concentrated attack took place on the 2nd/3rd December, 1943, on Berlin, and was planned to last for only twenty minutes. it was not wholly successful for the 650 aircraft detailed only 458 took off, the remainder being prevented by fog. The duration of the attack was forty-five and not twenty minutes. Improvement, however was on the way : a month later thirteen minutes were allowed for an attack of 383 aircraft which, in fact, spent twenty-four minutes over the target. the highest concentration achieved was on the night of 27th/28th January,1944, when bombers at the rate of 23 a minute attacked Berlin.
As the penetration of Germany grew greater and greater and the flights in consequence longer and longer, more and more attention was paid to the courses flown. Routes were chosen in such a way as to make it seem that the bombers were about to threaten one important target, then at the last moment they would suddenly turn away and make for their real objective. This round-about and often zig-zag method of approach proved very confusing to the controllers of the German night fighters, who were often not able to decide until too late which was the main target, and therefore to send fighters up in time to defend it. These counter measures sufficed for the moment, and at the end of August, 1943, Bomber Command was committed to the preliminary skirmishes of what, when it open in November, came to be known as the Battle of Berlin.
Harris was, he says, under great pressure, from autumn of 1942, to attack the capital of the Reich in strength. At that time, however, he had no more than 70 or 80 Lancasters available for the purpose, a quite inadequate number. Of the early attacks in 143, that of 1st/2nd march must be mentioned, for it was then that the radar target-locating device H2S was first employed against
the German capital, though without much success. Its operators reported that so large was berlin that the aiming point could not be distinguished on the screen. The use of this device was essential, for Berlin was beyond the range of OBOE and GEE.
A pause then ensued until the nights should grow longer and then three attacks were delivered within ten days, the first on the 23rd/24th August. In these considerable damage was caused to the Siemensstadt and Mariendorf districts and also Lichterfelde. At one moment these assaults came near to causing panic, but Göbbels’ soon had the situation under control. Leaflets were distributed by Nazi party officials to every dwelling in Berlin urging house-holders to send their women and children out of the capital, but no organised scheme of evacuation was instituted. many still thought that, despite what had happened, the city was immune from anything but a light assault. the raid of the 23rd/24th August disillusioned them, especially as its weight was felt by the Lichterfelde district. This showed that it was not necessarily the most densely populated part of the city which might suffer. The raid, according to one witness, who was to survive many and in due course to teach German to the Governor of the British zone, sounded like a heavy thunderstorm, and what she remembered best afterwards was the long-drawn whistle of the bombs as they neared the ground. She, in company with a large number of other Berliners, lost her house, and the bombs which fell that night, combined with Göbbels’ appeal, had the effect of causing about a million women and children to depart from the city.
These three raids cost Bomber Command 125 aircraft, and for a moment Harris paused. He turned his attention to targets closer at hand, such as Mannheim, twice heavily bombed on the 5th/6th and 23rd/24th September, each time by some 600 aircraft. In the last of these attacks the U-boat engine works were hit. Hanover received 8,339 tons of bombs in four raids carried out between the last week of September and the middle of October. Kassel was bombed on the 3rd/4th and 22nd/23rd October and Düsseldorf on the 3rd/4th November. In the attack on Düsseldorf, Flight Lieutenant William Reid of No. 61 Squadron was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands, by fire from a Messerschmitt 110, which also did considerable damage to his Lancaster. Saying nothing of his wounds, and finding that his crew were unhurt, Reid pressed on towards the target, but almost immediately the Lancaster was attacked again, this time by a Focke-Wulf 190 which raked it from stem to stern, killing the navigator and mortally wounding the wireless operator. Reid was once more hit, but still refused to turn back. he flew on for another
fifty minutes and reached the target, where the bombs were released. He then turned for home, and, since his instruments were smashed and his navigator dead, steered by the pole star and the moon. The cold was intense, for the windscreen had been shattered and the emergency oxygen supply had long been exhausted. Reid presently lapsed into semi-consciousness, but revived when, the North Sea safely past, the crippled aircraft was approaching an airfield. Despite ground mist and the blood from one of his wounds, which obscured his vision, he made a safe landing, and in due course was awarded the Victoria Cross.
This raid on Düsseldorf is to be noted, for it was the first in which the contrivance ‘GH’ was used. It has been described as OBOE in reverse and was a device whereby the initial transmissions of pulses were made by the aircraft and transmitted back again to it by two mobile ground beacons. The advantage gained by the use of it was that the aircraft itself could determine its own position at any position at any time and did not have to rely on a ground station to do so. Moreover, any number of aircraft could use it simultaneously. On the other hand, accuracy of ‘GH’ depended more on the efficiency of the operator in the aircraft than on the ground station. It was fitted to four Lancaster squadrons capable of carrying the 8,000-lb. bomb, and on the night of the 3rd/4th November they were ordered to accompany the main attack on the Düsseldorf to test the device against the Mannesmann steel works. Of the 38 Lancaster IIs thus equipped, 15 attacked the works according to plan, 16 found their sets to be unserviceable and joined the main attack on the city, 5 returned early and 2 were shot down. Photographs taken after the raid showed that half of the bombs aimed by means of ‘GH’ had fallen within half a mile of the aiming point. It was thereafter used more and more with increasing effect. By October, 1944, most of the Lancasters of No. 3 Group had been equipped with this important new aid.
While these targets in Western Germany were being attacked, the United States Eighth Air Force struck deeper into that country and suffered heavy losses in so doing. These had been caused in the main by fighters, and it was becoming more and more obvious that operation POINTBLANK was one which called for a long, heavy, and continuous effort. No great result had as yet been achieved. The German fighter force was still very active, especially by day, and on the 14th October shot down 60 out of 288 American heavy bombers sent to attack Schweinfurt. The United States Chiefs of Staff were perturbed and on the 7th November urged a review of the plan. The Italian base at Foggia, they pointed out, was now available and the
United States Fifteenth Army Air Force, composed of strategic bombers, had been brought into being and from there was beginning to attack German. The list of targets should be revised and the methods of co-ordinating the operations of the two American day bomber forces and the night force of Bomber Command should be closely scrutinized and, if possible improved. The general object, the destruction of the German fighter force, remained the same, but every step should be taken to achieve it in the short time available before the summer of 1944, when the invasion of France was to take place.
When these proposals were submitted to Harris, he found them obscure, and said so. In his view the reason why the POINTBLANK attacks had not been achieved the desired result was because the targets chosen had been changed too often as the result of vacillations of policy. The Americans, he averred, had made ‘an abortive attack’ on the Ploesti oilfields, three groups of Liberators had been removed to North Africa for the operations in the Mediterranean and Italy, and Foggia was not equipped to maintain a large force and could not be for some time. In fact the Americans had never had two forces but only one at their disposal. Thus, not only had the weight of the attack suffered, but Bomber Command had had to encounter more than its fair share of opposition. The view that co-operation entailed attacks on the same targets by day and night following each other without an interval, or with only a short one, might be, and no doubt was, correct in theory, but depended in practice on that fickle jade, the weather. He ended by denying that the progress of POINTBLANK operation had been too slow and too small. The forces which were conducting it had achieved ‘much more than expected’. let them be increased, let aircraft come from factories at a faster rate and let no diversion to other targets be tolerated, and all would be well.
Eaker, commanding the United States Eighth Air Force, expressed the same views but less forcibly and contented himself with pointing out that the forces allotted had not been large enough.
In its reply to the United States Chiefs of Staff, the Air Ministry showed itself to be in general agreement with Harris. To locate large bomber forces in Italy would ‘fatally’ weaken the general attack on German Industry in progress from English bases. It was not possible for one man ‘to effect the day to day co-ordination of the strategic bomber operations against Germany from bases as far apart as the United Kingdom and Italy. All that one authority could achieve would be general direction’. This was best left in the hands of the Combined Chiefs of Staff who would decide what forces
should be allotted to each theatre. The machinery for co-ordinating day and night attacks was adequate and would increase in efficiency when the United states bombers became’ more fully equipped for bombing through the over-cast’.
The plan therefore remained in essence and conduct unchanged and the Allies pursued it with all the determination at their command. Harris, intent on the Battle of Berlin, can, for the moment, be left laying his plans and building up his strength.
It will be convenient at this point to recall another type of operation carried on more or less continuously by Bomber Command from the early days until the end of the war. Whenever, because of the weather or for other reasons, operations against its main objective, targets in Germany, were not possible, a great part of the Command was engaged on GARDENING. This was the innocent code-name given to laying of two deadly and unseen weapons—the magnetic and acoustic mines. These were of various types, the lightest weighing 1,000 lb., and the heaviest 1,850. As the war proceeded, the plain acoustic and plain magnetic methods of detonating the mines were combined in proportions which constantly varied, thus setting the enemy a difficult and, as time went on, an insoluble problem in his attempts to sweep them. A small factory, manned for the most part by members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, carried out these adoptions with great speed and precision. When, for example, it was desired to mine the Kiel Canal by means of Mosquitos carrying 1,000 lb. mines, a sufficient number of these were modified, to enable the Mosquitos to carry them, in the short space of twenty-one days.
Mine-laying operations, with which Coastal Command had also been closely associated since the beginning, called for the very close co-operation between the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. From 1942 all heavy bomber groups were gradually equipped with mines and mine laying gear, and four naval staff officers were attached to the headquarters of Bomber Command charged with the duty of planning operations, supervising the supply and distribution of mines to the various stations of the Command, compiling statistics of the operations in all their phases and maintaining a close watch on the enemy’s reactions. These officers were soon very fully employed and it became necessary to appoint in addition a naval staff officer to the headquarters staff of each group. They proved of value, not only as technicians, but also as a link with Captain E. G. B. De Mowbray, the senior Naval Staff Officer at Bomber Command Headquarters. Through him the Director of Mine-laying Operations at the Admiralty issued directions which were definite, detailed, and precise.
Technical naval personnel were also attached on loan to stations engaged on minelaying, their duty being to advise on maintenance and testing of mines, and on the loading of these weapons on to aircraft. They proved invaluable.
By the beginning of 1943, the production of mines suitable for discharge from aircraft had been proceeding for more than two years and had reached a figure of 1,200 a month or more. Ninety-five per cent. of these were laid in enemy waters and the introduction in 1943 of pathfinder technique led to ever-increasing accuracy.
In the three months before ‘D-Day’, a total of 6,875 miles were laid in places as far apart as the Frisian Islands and the Gironde. They interfered with the movements of U-boats and with the merchant vessels engaged in supplying the German garrisons in Norway, or in carrying the all important iron-ore from Scandinavia to the Ruhr, through Rotterdam. the heavy risks which shipping ran owing to the presence of mines laid by Bomber and Coastal Commands are known eventually to have forced the Swedes to withdraw a large amount of tonnage on charter to Germany at a very critical moment. ‘It is evident’, reported Kapitän-zur-See Mössel in February, 1944, ‘that the enemy intends to interrupt, if not to destroy, our supply shipping to Norway by the relatively heavy use of mines. It is now being decided whether night fighter forces in the Jutland area can be reinforced’. They were, but apparently without effect, for in April, the same officer reported again that, though this counter-measure was desirable and might succeed, it could not prevent mine-laying, and by September of that year he was bemoaning the fact that Germany could no longer command the sea routes within her own sphere of influence, for the sea lanes to the Baltic, and in it, were blocked for days and weeks at a time. he might also have mentioned the mines laid in the Kiel canal, Kiel bay and the Heligoland Bight in the first half of 1944 prior to the invasion of France. they, too, claimed many victims.
The tactics of the aerial mine-layer varied with the locality in which the mine was to be dropped. By the beginning of 1943 most of the more obvious of these were protected by light flak and casualties began to mount, for aircraft dropping the mines had to do so from between 600 and 800 feet, a height at which they were a comparatively easy mark. trials carried out during the course of the year, showed that the standard type of mine could be dropped from 15,000 feet, and when, by development of radar aid, H2S, much greater accuracy in aiming the mine was possible, they were dropped from this height with steadily increasing accuracy
and far fewer casualties. the first of these high level mining operations took place on the 4th January, 1944, when six Halifaxes laid mines off Brest.
In 1943, 13,776 mines were laid in North-West European waters by Bomber Command, and a further 11,415 laid in the first six months of 1944. the losses were 2.1 per cent. of the sorties required for these very considerable operations. it was believed in Bomber Command that damage to enemy shipping during 1943 amounted to approximately fifty tons per mine laid. The actual losses of German controlled surface vessels of all types in this theatre due to mining by the Royal Air Force were, between 1st January, 1943 and 39th June, 1944, 255 ships of some 175,000 tons.
The heavy attacks made by Bomber Command, first against the Ruhr, then against Hamburg, and finally against Berlin, combined with the largely increased number of sea-mining sorties, would not have been possible without considerable expansion. In this, 1943 proved a most eventful year, and before it was over the number of first-line aircraft belonging to the Command had been increased by nearly one half. the increase in striking power was even greater, the total tonnage of bombs dropped being 245 per cent. more than that which fell in 1942. Expansion followed lines which had been laid down in earlier years. the movement was away from the medium twin -engined bomber to the heavier four-engined type and, of these the Lancaster soon proved supreme. In 1943, that well-tried and reliable aircraft, the Wellington, disappeared from active operations over Germany and the Halifax and Stirling began to give place to the Lancaster in the assault on German targets. The Mosquito was also developed, first as a fast unarmed bomber and as a bomber-support fighter. By the end of the year, the average number of heavy, medium and light bombers available for operations on any one night was 737. the groups had been expanded to include No. 6 Group, comprising entirely of the Royal Canadian Air Force, under Air Vice-Marshall G. E Brookes, stationed in the North of England, and No. 8 Group, the pathfinder Force which had developed from No. 3 Group, but which was in that year given a separate existence with Headquarters at Huntingdon. It reached a strength of eight heavy bomber squadrons and four Mosquito squadrons and occupied eight airfields.
This expansion was not easily achieved. the introduction of the large heavy bomber itself gave rise to many problems. It required more men to operate it, and two additional members—a mid-upper gunner and a flight engineer—were therefore added to each aircrew. This meant that a further stage of training had to be introduced
and the newly formed aircrews had, on leaving the Operational Training Units, to be ‘converted’ to the larger and more complicated aircraft. This lead to the formation of a new No 7 Group,2 though it did not come into being until 1944. Problems of control could not be solved merely by adding to the numbers of Groups. In consequence, a new sub-formation, called a Base, and a controlling six heavy bomber squadrons or three heavy conversion units was introduced, and placed under the command of an air commodore assisted by two principle staff officers. This new formation proved a great success, for it enabled many activities of a specialist and administrative kind, previously carried out on an individual station basis, to be concentrated at one spot. There were many station commanders in 1943, who though veterans in operations, were for the most part very young, acting group captains with little or no experience of administration, and to relieve them of much of it left them free for their first and most important duty, the maintenance of the assault against Germany.
Not only had the size of the crews to enlarged, but also that of airfields. A lavish use of concrete for runways and perimeter tracks was indispensable and, before the war was over, the total area covered by this substance and by tarmac in the 180 airfields used by Bomber Command and the United States Eighth Air Force was equivalent to a road thirty feet wide and 4,000 miles long, the distance between London and Karachi. Each individual airfield required an average of 130,000 tons of ballast and cement, and fifty miles of pipes and conduits. The runways had to be extended from 1,400 yards judged sufficient in 1940, to 2,000 yards, with two subsidiary runways of 1,400 yards: for, before the end of the war, the weight of a Lancaster at take-off for an operational flight had reached 67,000 lb.
As with runways and airfields, so with workshops and power plants. All were soon found to be on a scale quite inadequate for the service of the new bombers. the maintenance platforms, cranes, tractors, jacks and other implements suitable enough for Hampdens and Wellingtons were too small for the great Lancasters. They had to be redesigned and rebuilt. despite great efforts there was a constant shortage of trained ground staff, especially of radar mechanics. these technicians were invaluable, and they were never enough of them to deal with the devices which arrived in ever increasing numbers, each one more complicated than the last. It does not seem to have been realized that the rapid and efficient
handling of bombs required almost as much practice and skill as that at the command of a trained stevedore when loading or unloading a ship. A special trade, that of bomb-handler, might with advantage have been introduced. As it was, the loading of bombs was in the hands of armament assistants, who were often lacking in skill and numbers. It was not unusual practice during an intensive period of operations for everyone on station, including cooks, clerks, batmen, and members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, to be seen aiding the bombing up of the aircraft. Their enthusiasm and devotion to the service, of which they were the humbler members, was such that there is no record of operations having been delayed or postponed because the aircraft detailed for them could not be made ready in time. the proceedings might be a trifle amateur and men and women recruited for quite other duties might find themselves handling 1,000 lb. bombs, but it was ‘all right on the night’.
All this activity would have been impossible without the labours of Maintenance Command. As its name implies its function was to provide the Royal Air Force with all its requirements, ‘cartridges and carburettors, bootlaces and bombs, spanners and sprockets, towels and transport’; everything which could or might be needed came within the purview of Air Marshall Sir Grahame Donald and his staff, among whom were numbered about 45,000 civilians, a third of them women. no activity was more exigent or used more supplies than the bomber offensive which made almost daily calls on all four groups. Of these, two working under the direction of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, were concerned with the storage, preparation and repair of aircraft, a third received stored and issued, technical and domestic equipment—before the war ended it had 813,000 separate items on its books—and a fourth provided bombs, ammunition and aviation fuel and oil.
No. 41 Group dealt in aircraft, receiving them from the factories and passing them after inspection, modification and fitting of any equipment omitted by the manufactures, to the squadrons to whose bases they were flown by Air Transport Auxiliary pilots. No. 43 Group was responsible for the repairs of all kinds including those to aircraft. The demands made upon it were heavy. Salvage units brought the damaged aircraft to a Repair Depot, a combination of factory and airfield at which between 4000 and 5000 persons were employed. The work of salvage was especially arduous and often involved journeys to inaccessible places where aircraft had crashed. Six articulated vehicles were needed to transport a four engined bomber. each depot could and did repair up to eight heavy bombers a month and employed very highly skilled mechanics to
deal with engines of which they were at one time turning out one hundred a month fully reconditioned and serviceable.
No. 40 Group, which provided every form of equipment except bombs and explosives, maintained the Aircraft Equipment Depots. Some of these were so large that they possessed their own railway systems and good yards which handled stores at the rate of 3,000 tons a day. the demands of the whole Air Force on these depots reached a monthly average in 1944 of 345,568 tons and attained their peak in May 1944, when they rose to 433,767.
No. 42 Group issued bombs and its turnover figure for this weapon was 1,059,696 tons in 1943, increasing to 3,068,127 tons in 1944. Caves, quarries which in the Middle Ages had supplied stone of building of Cathedrals and Abbey Churches, remote woods and copse were used for the storage of missiles ranging from the 4-lb. incendiary to the 22,000-lb, ‘Grand Slam’. It is reported that the first 4,000-lb. bomb, the famous block buster, arrived at a bomber unit without any accompanying instructions. As it had neither fins nor nose, and was a large cylinder, the equipment section took it on charge under the heading ‘kitchen boiler’. Fortunately it was not set up in the cook-house.
The badge of maintenance Command was a raven and these sagacious birds ministered to prophets no more punctiliously than did that Command to their comrades in the other branches of the service.
It is time to return to Bomber Command and the assault on Berlin. The battle began in full earnest in the middle of November, when, on the 18th/19th, 402 out of 444 aircraft despatched, dropped 1,593 tons of bombs on the city and lost only nine of their number, whilst another force of 325 aircraft dropped 852 tons on Mannheim—the first occasion on which two heavy attacks were made in one night. The concentration on Berlin continued until the night of 24th/25th March 1944, by which time sixteen raids, some very heavy, had been made. One misfortune was common on all of them. Weather conditions were never good and Pathfinders had therefore frequently to ‘skymark’ the targets above the cloud. Most of the damage caused was in the western half of the city, and was particularly heavy in the neighbourhood of the Tiergarten. this was revealed, after six attacks, by photographic reconnaissance aircraft, which like the bombers, were hampered throughout the battle by the very bad weather. The heaviest raid of all took place on the night of the 15th/16th February 1944, when 2,642 tons were dropped through thick cloud by 806 aircraft out of 891 despatched. of these, forty-two were lost. The aiming point was marked by red and green stars and the ‘blind backers-up’ were ordered to keep it marked throughout the raid with
green target indicators. the attack lasted for thirty-nine minutes. Nine Lancasters and six Halifaxes acted as primary ‘blind markers’, dropping their flares two minutes before the arrival of eleven special Lancasters, acting as back-up and equipped with H2S. They dropped their markers at the rate of one every two minutes and were followed by 3 Lancasters and Eleven Halifaxes flying in pairs. After these came the visual ‘backer-up’. twenty Lancasters, dropping flares at double that rate, and their supporters, fifty-eight Lancasters and three Halifaxes, and finally, the main force, divided into five waves of an average of 140 aircraft. WINDOW was dropped throughout the attack until supplies were exhausted. the attack was remarkable for its precision, though no glimpse of the city was seen. The last arrivals were able to report the glow of large fires and a column of smoke rising 30,000 feet into the murky air.
In this raid the most important industrial target was the Siemens and Halske works, which manufactured electrical apparatus. Several of its many buildings were gutted including the switch-gear and dynamo workshops. One hundred and forty-two other factories were also hit, a power station, two gas works, Dr Göbbels’ broadcasting station and five tramway depots. Though fourteen combats took place above the capital, the German night fighters sought for the most part to intercept bombers on their way in and out, and left the defence of the target area itself to the guns.
This raid, differing from the others only in size, typical of the sixteen major raids which took place during this battle. Their cost to Bomber Command was 492 aircraft. This represented about 5.4%, of those despatched and 6.2%, of those attacking. When it was over, 2180 acres of devastation, or somewhat more than four square miles, had been added to that which had been caused by previous raids. Well might Göbbels bemoan the inability of the Luftwaffe to prevent these raids. ‘Conditions in the city are pretty hopeless’, he noted on 25th November, 1943. ‘The air is filled with smoke and smell of fires. The Wilemsplatz and Wilemstrasse present a gruesome picture’. And on 27th November, ‘The punishment Berlin has taken has shaken Speer considerably. Even though industrial plants have not been hit very badly, nevertheless things of irreplaceable value have been destroyed. He is somewhat sceptical about our prospects in air warfare, especially since reprisals began only in March. The zero hour is being postponed again and again. That is the terror of terrors ... Schaub took me through the Führer’s private apartments. these have been completely destroyed. It makes me sad to find these rooms, in which we enjoyed so many hours of spiritual uplift, in such a condition’.
Most important of the visibly damaged factories were the Daimler-Benz Works producing aero engines, tank and tractors and having an important research centre; the well-known firm of Lorenz, manufacturing blind flying apparatus and military wireless equipment; and the two principle AEG factories, the one being the largest German cable works, and the other a leading producer of steam turbines and diesel engines. the great Siemens combine suffered further damage, severe in that part of the concern which produced aircraft instruments, less severe at the factory producing electrodes and carbons for searchlights. industrial damage was particularly heavy along the canal in the Tempelhof district where the main buildings of the airfield were also hit. After a successful daylight raid on the 19th February, 1944, it was estimated that about 30% of the industrial establishments had ceased work as a direct result of the raids and a further 10% through lack of manpower and raw materials. Sixty per cent. of the commercial establishments, including retail firms and craftsmen, had been obliged to close down. This estimate was conservative, for contemporary German reports show considerably greater damage although they do not cover all the raids. In the first six raids forty-six factories were destroyed and 259 damaged, in addition to the many railway stations and other important targets. The total casualties reported in these German documents were 5,166 killed and 18,431 injured in twelve out of the fifteen major raids, the number of missing being unknown. Damage reported in seven of these raids shows an aggregate of 15,635 houses destroyed or severely damaged. In addition, by March, 1944, about one and a half million people were homeless in Berlin as a result of air raids.
In spite of these heavy blows, industrial production increased in the city thanks to the measures of rationalization and standardization introduced by Speer. Air raids, according to a German authority, never reached the industrial nerve centres until concentration on specific types of target was achieved late in 1944.
The casualties in killed and injured were not as high as Hamburg, for big bunkers housing as many as 30,000 had been built in time, and were used. At no moment do Berliners appear to have lost heart during their ordeal, and they continued to the end to exercise their caustic brand of humour at the expense of their defenders. The café wits maintained that flak was not ‘a weapon, but an article of faith’, and went on to tell the story of Göbbels’ encounter on morning with Göring. Hitler, said the little doctor, had hanged himself. ‘There you are’, replied the head of the Luftwaffe, ‘I always said we should win this war in the air’.
Between 10th June, 1943, and 25th March, 1944, when the battle of berlin came to a temporary close, Bomber Command made fifty-eight major3 attacks on German cities and industrial targets. With the notable exception of Berlin and Nuremberg most of these were in the western districts of Germany and therefore within the range of OBOE. Few, save Kassel, where the Bettenhausen plant which built Focke-Wulf 190’s was situated, were noted for the production of aircraft, though in every one, essential parts were manufactured. Only to a limited extent therefore, had Harris been able to take part in the execution of the POINTBLANK plan. The principle centres of the aircraft industry lay further east at Leipzig, Augsburg, Schweinfurt, Frankfurt, Magdeburg and elsewhere. To attack them with the precision required the use of H2S, an instrument of which the accuracy was less certain than that of OBOE and far less sure than the Norden-bombsight used in daylight by the bombardiers of the United States Eighth Air Force. Moreover the tenacious chief of Bomber Command was in no mood to carry out on targets which were not agglomerations of factories situated in large towns. To bomb these areas was for him first to last the true function of his Command and he continued to interpret his orders in the light of this conviction.
In nothing are his views more clearly to be perceived than in his attitude towards proposals that Schweinfurt should be bombed. To attack the Vereinigte Kugellagerfabrik or the Kugelfischer AG and their satellites, which were thought to produce 45% of Germany’s ball bearings, seemed to him to be futile. The suggestion that he should do so had, he felt sure, been made the object of inducing him to attack what he contemptuously called ‘panacea’ targets. These he defined as ‘targets which were supposed by economic experts to be such a vital bottle-neck in the German industry that when they were destroyed the enemy would have to pack up’. Even if they could be hit, and he knew that, with the scientific resources at his command at the time. it would be very difficult, no good would come of it. As for ball-bearings it was only necessary to consider the quantity produced by Sweden and sold to Germany to realize what a waste of time any attempt to destroy the German factories would be. His letters, official and semi-official, to the Vice Chief of the Air Staff made his views very clear. On 20th December, 1943, he wrote stating categorically that he did not regard ‘a night attack on Schweinfurt as a reasonable operation of war. The town is in the very centre of the most highly
defended part of Germany. It is extremely small and difficult to find. It is heavily defended including smoke screens. ...’ It would, he estimated, need ‘six or seven full scale attacks’ of a decisive result was to be achieved. On the 19th January, 1944, he returned to the charge, repeating his reasons and adding that any attack on Schweinfurt would cost him at least forty bombers.
Ball-bearings were, however, vital to the war machines of all the belligerents. if the supply of them to Germany or if their manufacture could be reduced or cut off completely, it would be impossible for her to continue the struggle. As early as November, 1942, the Ministry of Economic Warfare had estimated that more than half the ball bearings made in Germany came from the VRF factories and the Fischer factory at Schweinfurt. there was also a factory at Stuttgart and others at Leipzig, Berlin and Elberfeld. France too possessed a number of small establishments. Operation SELFRIDGE, an assault on Schweinfurt, was therefore planned, but month after month passed and it was not executed: the technical difficulties were too great. The Air Ministry, however was determined that it should be as soon as they had been overcome.
The United States Eighth Air Force was to open the attack in daylight and it was to be completed as soon as night fell by Bomber Command. The daylight operation eventually took place on 17th August, 1943, but was not successful and Bomber Command was not ordered to follow it up. A small but accurate attack was made on the CAM factory in Paris in September and the Eighth Air Force went in strength to Schweinfurt on the 14th October. Though, as has been said, it lost 60 out of 288 heavy bombers, it seemed at the time to have achieved considerable success. ‘All five of the works at Schweinfurt’ said general Arnold in his report to the American Secretary of State for war, ‘were either completely or almost completely wiped out. Our attack was the most perfect example in history of accurate distribution of bombs over a target. It was an attack that will not have to repeated for a very long time, if at all’.
After lengthy and at times heated discussions as to the next step, the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff wrote a letter defining once more the general bombing policy and directed Harris to attack Schweinfurt in force on the first opportunity and continue his attacks until the targets were destroyed. before sending it, he referred it to the Secretary of State for Air, who gave instructions that it was to be dispatched in the form of a firm direction to the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber Command.
The order reached Harris on 14th January, 1944, and the attack was made at the first favourable opportunity, which was the night
of the 24th/25th February. It followed a heavy assault carried out on the previous afternoon by the United States Eighth Air Force which had not been sent against this target for nearly four and a half months. Close co-operation had at last been achieved, but, it will be noted, Bomber Command did not attack Schweinfurt between the middle of October, 1943, and the end of February, 1944, when the Americans were ready once more to fly in daylight to this heavily defended target. On that February afternoon 266 Flying Fortresses with a loss of but 11 of their number bombed the target. Their attack was followed by a few hours later by the dispatch of 734 aircraft from Bomber Command of which about 550 Lancasters, 33 aircraft or 4.5%, of the force were lost and only 7 of the first wave of bombers and 15 of the second were plotted over the target. 312 dropped their bombs within three miles of it; 30 nowhere near it. Schweinfurt was indeed no easy target—in the night-time.
What then was the situation? had the gallantry of the Americans in October, 1943, been a useless sacrifice? Were the ball-bearing factories still a factor in German production? it is now known that on the day after the American attack of the 14th October, Göring summoned a meeting. the gross Reichsmarschall appeared to be shaken and doubtless under the influence of the first reports of damage then streaming in, issued immediate orders that he plans for dispersal of the ball-bearing industry, drawn up months before but never put into effect, should be carried out immediately. All stocks of bearings were to be pooled and a Doctor Kessler, in his capacity as special commissioner, was given plenary powers to control the industry. manufacturers making use of ball-bearings were urged to do without them wherever possible. They responded with true German efficiency and those making airframes duly succeeded in removing four fifths of the bearings from their product. The pooling of the resources and the energetic action of Kessler prevented any critical shortage in the German aircraft industry and therefore to a great extent undid the effect of the American attack.
As has been seen, more than four months then went by during which Schweinfurt was left severely alone. In that period the only assaults on the ball-bearing industries were those delivered by American forces, flying from Italy, against small factories situated at Annecy in High Savoy, in Turin and in Villa Perosa. The Combined Chiefs of Staff were of the opinion that the enemy had lost not more than 15%, of his planned output for the six months ending 1st March 1944. He had, however, suffered by the diplomatic action of the Allies, who had spent a million pounds in Sweden in an attempt to prevent the country from selling her
ball-bearing products to Germany, and by the resolute action of the French Resistance Movement aided by agents of the Special Operations Executive. Gallant members of these Organizations had blown up the transformers supplying power to the factory at Annecy and a month later had destroyed its ovens and grinding machines.
A 15%, reduction could not regarded as sufficient; nor was it. For this reason the attacks made on the afternoon of 24th and on the night of 24th/25th February were planned and carried out. By then, however, it was too late, for the Germans had been able to disperse the industry and the ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt had been reduced in number and size by 40%. As a result of the attack 8.5% of the remaining factories were destroyed and 7.5% damaged. This achievement was not decisive enough but by April, 1944, production of ball-bearings had fallen by half. Such a fall was not permanent and before the end of 1944 the number of machines producing ball-bearings had risen from 13,000 to 21,000, the number of workers from 35,000 to 48,000 and the area of productive floor space from 5½ to 6 million square feet. Well might the German report in December, 1943, that ‘no equipment has been held back by lack of ball-bearings’.
Though the attack by Bomber Command on Schweinfurt was not successful, those delivered upon Leipzig on 3rd/4th December, 1943, and upon Augsburg on 25th/26th February, 1944 were, and in both these places much damage was done. By then the great superiority of the Lancaster over the Stirling and the Halifax had become obvious. In July 1943 for example 132 tons of bombs had been dropped for each Lancaster lost. The comparable figure for the Halifax and the Stirling were 56 and 41 respectively. In the circumstances the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command decided in September to restrict the operations of the Stirling and Halifaxes to less hazardous targets. In the case of these latter aircraft this restriction was withdrawn in February, 1944, when the Halifax Mk III became operational.
The attack on Augsburg on the night of 25th/26th February, like that carried out on the previous night against Schweinfurt, formed part of the operations of what came to be known as the Big Week. During six days and nights beginning on 23rd February, 16506 tons of bombs were dropped, mostly by the Americans in daylight. They were aimed at targets associated with the German aircraft industry and were the culmination of the POINTBLANK plan. They were a concerted effort to put that industry out of action before both bomber forces were diverted—as their commanders knew they would be—to tasks directly connected with the invasion of Europe.
Two further raids which took place while Bomber Command was still being used in its strategic role, must be recorded. On the night of 30th/31st March, 1944, 795 aircraft of Bomber Command were despatched against Nuremberg; of these 710 attacked, dropping 1,069 tons of high explosive and 1,391 tons of incendiaries. The attack was not that successful but the losses were very high. Ninety-four bombers failed to return. That night the German fighters won a minor victory. they were much helped by the weather. Conditions over the North Sea were too bad to make any diversion on a large scale possible, and such diversions had long been a major factor in reducing losses. Earlier in that month, for example when attacks were being made on Frankfurt, diversions over the North Sea had lead German fighters entirely astray. Now they were to have their revenge. On that night in March, the cloud, which it had been reckoned would give our bombers cover at least during the first part of their journey, dispersed before they had reached Belgium and exposed them to the light of half a moon. Rightly judged that a small force of 50 Halifaxes engaged in laying mines in the Heligoland Bight could be neglected, the enemy controller concentrated his fighters over Bonn and Frankfurt. From these positions they were able to intercept the bomber stream and a running battle over 250 miles eastwards from Aachen and then southwards towards Nuremberg. ‘It was possible to plot your course to the target’ reported Oberleutnant Fritz Brandt, ‘by the number of wrecked aircraft we could see next day. They ran in a smouldering line across half Germany’.
The German fighters were not always, or indeed ever, so fortunate again. When 816 aircraft of Bomber Command went to Frankfurt on the 22/23rd march opposition was not so heavy and they were able to carry out their task with success. The defence was deceived by the feint attacks on berlin and Hanover and by minelaying operations in the Baltic. Among the historical monuments obliterated that night was the house in Frankfurt where Goethe was born. By a melancholy coincidence it was destroyed on the anniversary of his death.
The last raid of note in this period was one on Munich on 24th/25th April 1944. It was in the nature of an experiment, of which the object was to test a new method of marking the target from a low level. Munich was deliberately chosen as being a town situated in the heart of the German Reich and formidably defended. the officer entrusted with the task was Wing Commander G. L. Cheshire, of 617 Squadron, flying a Mosquito Mk VI. The weather
was bad that night and he was obliged to take a route which brought him over the defences of Augsburg. From that town onwards his aircraft was under continuous fire and, on reaching Munch, was lit up by flares released by high flying aircraft, the precursors of the raid. caught in searchlights, Cheshire’s aircraft was thus illuminated both from above and from below and was immediately subjected to very heavy fire. Undeterred, he dived to 700 feet and released the new pattern flares. He then flew over the city at 1,000 ft, both to see their effort and to draw the attention of other attacking aircraft to their positions. His aircraft was repeatedly hit, but remained under control even when attacked by withering fire for twelve full minutes after leaving the area in which the target was situated.
For this exploit, which occurred after he had completed 4 operational tours of duty, and for other deeds equally gallant and skilful, Wing Commander Cheshire was awarded the Victoria Cross.
The POINTBLANK offensive begin in early spring of 1943 and came temporarily to an end in April 1944 when the heavy bombers, American and British, came for the period of the invasion under the control of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces ordered to liberate Europe. What did it cost?
First as to the strengths deployed. the numbers of crews in Bomber Command was slightly more than double the number of those serving in the United States Eighth Air Force and the tonnage it dropped was about four times that dropped by the American forces. At the beginning of the offensive the losses in Bomber Command were 3.6% and these rose steadily until July when the introduction of WINDOW produced a sharp fall. Altogether during the period Bomber Command mad more than 74,900 sorties and lost 2,824 aircraft, the number of aircrew killed or missing being somewhat more than 20,000. Nevertheless by February, 1944 the Command was able to dispatch to the chosen targets more than 1,000 aircraft in a single night,4 By the end of the period the total strength of the Command was 155,510 including officers and men from the Dominions and members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
For the success of a strategic offensive three main problems had to be solved. First, there had to be sufficient number of large airfields, suitable aircraft and trained crews. Secondly, devices either mechanical or tactical or both had to be available to overcome the difficulties caused by the weather.. Thirdly, the enemy’s defence, on the ground or in the air, had to be countered. By the end of 1943 the first problem had been partially overcome. though the five thousand
heavy Bombers dreamt of by Harris had not been forthcoming, they were arriving in increasing numbers and the training units were producing more and more crews. The institution of the Pathfinder Force, the use of GEE, OBOE, and H2S, as radar navigational aids and the ever improving types of target indicators went far to solve the second problem. The attempt to solve the third provoked a never ending battle of wits between the Allied scientist and tacticians and those of the enemy. In the end the Allies were successful, for the percentage of bombers lost in raids over Germany was smaller in 1943 than in 1942, while the damage to the main industrial sites in that country, caused in the nine months between March and December, 1943, ‘was ten times greater tan in the preceding forty-five months of the war’.
What did this mighty force achieve during the period of the POINTBLANK Offensive? On 7th December, 1943, Harris stated that up to the end of October, 167,230 tons of bombs had fallen on 39 principle towns and claimed to have destroyed 20,991 acres or about 25% of the area attacked. On the face of it this seemed most satisfactory. When submitted to analysis, however, the claims of the Air Marshal appeared to be not so conclusive. he had made his attacks not so much in accordance with the Combined Bomber Offensive Plan, laid down soon after the Casablanca Conference, as in an effort to follow out a plan by which those German cities containing the largest population were assaulted. The 38 towns which he had bombed contained 72% of the urban population of Germany, but this was less than 33% of the total population and amounted to no more than 25 million souls.
Even if the built-up area destroyed in each town was to reach 50%—whereas by the end of 1943 it was 25%—the enemy would still be able to carry on the fight.
The Combined Operational Planning Committee accordingly urged that to concentrate on towns containing vital industrial objectives was the more effective strategy. the best way to do so, the Commander-in-Chief, Bomber Command, maintained, was to destroy the houses of the workers in German Industry. In January, 1944, he reinforced his argument by declaring that of the 20 towns in Germany associated with the aircraft industry 10 had been attacked by his Command which had destroyed over a quarter of their built up areas. These assaults, he said, had cost the enemy one million man years or 36% of the potential industrial effort in 29 towns. ‘This being so’, he concluded, ‘a Lancaster has only to go to a German city once wipe off its own capital cost and the result of all subsequent sorties will be clear profit’.
Such claims, and indeed the whole offensive conducted by Harris, were naturally regarded by the Ministry of Economic Warfare as of the greatest importance when it sought to assess the damage by the combined efforts of the British and American Bomber forces and its effect upon the enemy. Their damage assessments appeared in periodic reports and the influence of these upon the Chief of the Air Staff was such as to cause him to hazard the opinion that Germany’s single-engined fighter production had been reduced by about 40% below the figure planned. in addition, the attacks of factories and industrial areas ‘had seriously affected’ the manufacture of such vital products as ball-bearings, rubber, electrical equipment, vehicles, machine tools, steel and ships. Of the population of Germany, perhaps 6 million, he considered, had been made homeless, ‘and were spreading alarm and despondency’ in the areas of which they had fled.
An examination of German records and an interrogation of German industrialists does not bear out this view. In the first half of 1943 the Allied estimate of the German production of single-engined fighters was 595 a month whereas in fact it was 753. In the second half of that year the estimate was 645, the actual figure 851, in 1944 the rise was sharper, and by the beginning of 1945 the monthly production rose to 1,581 as against an estimate of 655. the reason lay in the rapid expansion of the German fighter industry in 1943 and this was made possible by the number of plants and factories still available and up till then not in full production. In 1944 production rose still more, for by then the industry was under the control of the extremely able Speer, who took over in February. By rationalization and other means he succeeded in causing and maintaining a steady increase. It must not be forgotten that up to the end of 1942, Hitler, Göring and the German General Staff were opposed to any increase in the production of fighters for defensive purposes. Only in 1943 did they change their minds and plans for a large expansion were made in August and again in October. Then at the beginning of 1944, Speer appeared on the scene and instituted the Jägerstab which immediately produced results. Special flying squads were formed to deal with air raids and to supervise the repair of factories, a very thorough policy of dispersal was out into effect and the number of types of aircraft drastically reduced.
Nevertheless the position of the German aircraft industry and therefore Luftwaffe remained poor. Bomber production declined, and despite an increase in fighter production which might almost be described as prodigious, the actual number of fighters
reaching the squadrons, or more accurately, taken into the air by them remained constant at a low figure. The attacks, increasing and vigorous, made upon German airfields destroyed such large numbers of grounded aircraft that, in Speer’s own words the ‘Allies were destroying aircraft as fast as they could be built’. Bearing this in mind it would be wrong to maintain that the British-American bomber offensive of 1943 and the beginning of 1944 failed of its purpose. Though it did not achieve a full measure of success, it caused the enemy so much damage that by February, 1944, Speer’s lieutenant, was complaining that about 70% of the buildings housing German had be destroyed or damaged. Wagenfüher, the German economist in charge of Speer’s statistical department, was questioned after the war and committed himself to the opinion that the production of aircraft in 1943 had been reduced by 15% or 2,000 aircraft. The indirect effects of the bombing were to be seen in a shortage of fuel for engines which began to be felt even in 1942 and from then onwards affected with increasing gravity the training of pilots in the Luftwaffe... Moreover, in the factories absenteeism rose sharply after each heavy raid, though it did not last for long. The Gestapo were too vigilant.
There is little doubt, that despite the enormous damage caused by Allied bombing, which amounted by the spring of 1944 to some 26,000 acres in forty-three German cities, the effect on the German war effort was not as yet critical, and did not become so until the end of 1944. the general steadfastness of heart and courage of the German people was certainly not broken and they continued to work with a kind of despairing energy which caused the monthly average production figures to rise. to give but two examples. The production of panzers, which had averaged 330 a month in 1943 rose to 512 in 1944, and the production of weapons was two and a half times greater in December, 1944, than it had been January 1943. These increases and those in other fields were indeed achieved only by calling upon Germany’s economic reserves; but this appeal was unknown and unsuspected by the Allies. It never occurred to them that Germany would find it unnecessary to make a supreme effort in the industrial sphere until four years of war had elapsed, and then it was bombing attacks which forced her to do so. Surely fate has never played a more ironic trick. When all is said, however and despite the very definitely expressed opinion of Speer that area bombing was never a serious threat, Germany in 1943 was, owing to our Allied bombing offensive, thrown onto the defensive, and remained on it. By the spring of 1944 she had heavily reduced her
production of bombers; her fighters and flak were not deployed on the critical battle fronts or ready to oppose a possible landing on the western or southern shores of Europe, but were spread wide over Germany in a vain attempt to defend vital targets. Nearly three-quarters of a million men, who could have been more profitably employed elsewhere, were manning those defences and in all probability a still greater number were engaged on air raid precautions and the unending work of repair. A great many German industrial centres were by then in ruin and seriously disorganized. That was the opinion of the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, Air marshal Sir Norman Bottomly, and, after the war was over, when the results of the POINTBLANK offensive were under examination he saw no cause to change it. there is no reason to suppose that this estimate of what took place in 1943 and the beginning of 1944 is wrong. indeed it was most amply confirmed by Hitler, who, when resisting a demand of Dönitz for 200,000 additional naval ratings, exclaimed ‘I haven’t got the personnel. The anti-aircraft and the night fighter forces must be increased to protect the German cities’.