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Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary


Campaign Diary
1941

 

May

The daylight Channel Stop sorties claimed their first success when 2 vessels were claimed as sunk by Blenheims operating between France and Norway. Night-time raids were increasing in size and intensity with raids on Cologne, Hamburg, Mannheim and Bremen receiving repeated visits throughout the month. Over 100 aircraft were now regularly used against a single target in contrast to earlier months but the success of these raids was still limited and frequently suffered at the hands of the weather and, ironically, lack of moonlight. The most intensive night was that of 11th/12th May when 92 aircraft (91 Wellingtons and a solitary Stirling) went to Hamburg while 81 aircraft (48 Whitleys, 31 Hampdens and 2 Manchesters) raided Bremen. Although very little damage as done to industrial targets in either city, the new objective of area bombing in order to dampen enemy morale saw many houses hit. German Navy warships also figured in the planners' minds. Further attempts were made to dispose of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in Brest and, on the 27th, 52 Wellingtons and 12 Stirlings were despatched to locate the Prinz Eugen, sister ship to the Bismarck (which had just been sunk in the Atlantic), but nothing was found. At the end of the month, 14 Whitleys were sent to bomb the Tirpitz at Kiel, but only three found the target in storms and thick cloud. The vessel survived unscathed.

June

On the 2nd, Blenheims attempting to block the Kiel Canal bombed several ships and succeeded in cutting off the page of vessels through the waterway for about 10 days. Towards the middle of the month, the night raids had increased again as the moon period worked in Bomber Command's favour. During 11th/12th June, 241 sorties were flown against Dusseldorf, Duisburg and Boulogne and on Gardening sorties. Unfortunately, a thick haze over Dusseldorf affected the accuracy of the attack, whilst the 80 aircraft sent to Duisburg managed to find a target of sorts. The following night saw a total of 339 sorties, mainly against railway yards; 91 Hampdens to Soest; 80 Whitleys and 4 Wellingtons to Schwerte; 82 Wellingtons to Hamm; 61 Wellingtons to Osnabrück and 11 Halifaxes and 7 Stirlings to a chemical works at Hüls with the balance of sorties being flown to Rotterdam and Emden. The first two targets were obscured by cloud and haze but the crews sent to Hamm and Osnabrück reported good bombing. The 4 Wellingtons despatched to Schwerte were from No 405 (Vancouver) Squadron and were the first operational flights by a Canadian squadron during the offensive. The first reports of intensive night-fighter activity were made during a raid on Bremen on the night of 27th/28th June. Almost a third (11 out of 35) of the Whitleys involved were shot down along with 3 Wellingtons. Many of the bombers however, appear to have found Hamburg by mistake (a 50-mile error). During the second half of June, the Blenheims resumed their Circus operations with airfields, factories and power stations in France coming under repeated attack.

July

After repeated attempts, the Prinz Eugen was finally hit during a raid by 52 Wellingtons on Brest during the first night of the month. Two bombers were hit, one crashing next to the warship. One bomb, possibly from this aircraft, hit the Prinz Eugen and exploded causing the loss of over 60 sailors. For his outstanding leadership during a daylight low-level raid on Bremen by 12 Blenheims on the 4th, the leader, Wing Commander Hughie Edwards of No 105 Squadron, was awarded the Victoria Cross - the first Australian to receive the honour. Three days later 109 Hampdens and Wellingtons made yet another attempt to dispose of German capital ships berthed at Brest. Again, they were foiled by a thick smoke-screen laid down to cover the vessels.

A new directive was issued to the Command during the month. Absent was any mention of oil as it was realised that Bomber Command did not have the accuracy to pursue the destruction of these targets and a resumption of attacks against Germany was called for as much of the Luftwaffe's attention was pointed to the East and in particular, Russia. The directive went on to say: "'..there are many sighs that our recent attacks on industrial towns are having a great effect on the morale of the civilian population."' It continued: "I am to request that you will direct the main effort of the bomber force…towards dislocating the German transportation system and to destroying the morale of the civilian population as a whole and of the industrial workers in particular." Specific targets were listed in the document, many of them in and around the huge industrial centre of the Ruhr. Support to the Battle of the Atlantic was also reduced, with occasional visits to occupied ports and U-boat bases being required.

There was little change in the number of aircraft available for operations to Bomber Command. The formation of new squadrons was offset by the continuing need to provide aircraft for operations in other theatres such as the Middle and Far East, and new aircraft such as the Manchester and Halifax were suffering a number of technical problems which limited their availability.

This new directive coincided with a restructuring of German night defences - especially the tactics of the night-fighters.

Almost immediately Bomber Command implemented the new plan. During the night of 7th/8th July, 275 aircraft were involved in raids on Cologne, Osnabrück, Munster and Monchengladbach, with Cologne suffering a particularly sharp attack in good bombing conditions. Sgt JA Ward, a New Zealander with No 75 (New Zealand) Squadron was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in attempting to fight a fire on the starboard wing of his Wellington which had been hit by a defending fighter during the Munster raid. Upwards of 75 aircraft were ordered against individual targets in night operations, and on many occasions, more than one target was attacked in a night, although the damage caused by these raids was often negligible. The attacks against the Scharnhorst resumed on the 23rd after she had been moved to La Pallice some 200 south of Brest in preparation for her next Atlantic voyage. The following day, 15 Halifaxes were despatched without escort to La Pallice and met with fierce opposition. Five aircraft were lost, and all of the others were damaged in some way. Five direct hits were recorded on the battleship, but three armour-piercing bombs passed straight through the Scharnhorst without exploding, but causing a large amount of water to flood some areas. The ship was later moved back to Brest where it could be afforded better protection. Meanwhile at Brest, 79 Wellingtons, also operating without fighter escort, as well as 18 Hampdens and 3 Fortresses with an escort attacked the port and 6 hits were claimed on the Gneisenau. 10 Wellingtons and 2 Hampdens were lost to enemy fighters which had been drawn up by the escorted bombers. This was also the first operational use of the new American-built Fortress.

August

The month was marked by poor weather hampering Bomber Command's operations over Germany. In the early days of August, only on two nights did 200 or more aircraft operate (289 was the highest during 5th/6th August) and crews frequently returned bemoaning the cloud which frequently interfered with their work. A special daylight raid was made on the 12th by 54 Blenheims on power stations at Knapsack and Quadreth near Cologne. Ten Blenheims were lost to flak during the low-level attacks which were designed to help the Russians by drawing fighters back from the Eastern Front. Many diversionary attacks were made by bombers and fighters to support the Blenheims, resulting in the loss of two further aircraft. That night, a Wellington carrying out one of the initial trials of 'GEE', a new navigation aid for the bomber crews, was lost over Hannover, but the new equipment was not discovered by the Germans. Seventy aircraft were also sent to Berlin during the night. Two nights later, over 300 aircraft were involved in operations, with Hannover (152 aircraft), Brunswick (81) and Magdeburg (52) the main targets. In a daylight mission over France on the 18th, a Blenheim of No 18 Squadron dropped a spare artificial leg to Wing Commander Douglas Bader, the famous fighter pilot, who had crashed and been taken prisoner. At the end of the month, the first Bomber Command operations in support of Resistance groups in occupied countries were flown by the newly-formed 138 Squadron from its base at Newmarket. These operations often involved parachuting supplies or agents in to pre-determined locations or picking up packages and people and used a number of different aircraft types.

August also saw the publication of the infamous Butt report into the success (or failure) of Bomber Command's raids on Germany.


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