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Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary


Campaign Diary
The Battle of France (May-June 1940)

Prelude : The BEF and AASF in France January - April 1940
Battles of No 88 Squadron over the French countryside, January 1940. Armourers position the bombs destined for this Battle's next training sortie, January 1940 Conditions at the airfields were austere to say the least. A Battle of 226 Sqn taking off from Rheims, near Paris, January 1940.
After a night's snowfall, an airman prepares this Battle of No 218 Sqn for it's next flight. Battles from No 218 Squadron based at Auberive-sur-Suippe, January 1940. A perfect formation of Battles from No 218 Squadron based at Auberive-sur-Suippe, January 1940.
A formation of Blenheims of No 139 Squadron, February 1940. A formation of Blenheims of No 139 Squadron, February 1940. A Blenheim of No 139 Squadron undergoes essential maintenance in the open at Plivot, February 1940.
Aston Villa manager, Jimmy Hogan, with airmen in France, March 1940. Note the improvised (and rather natty) football kit of the young lad on the left.... A make-shift bomb dump 'somewhere in France', April 1940. The French built these fortified defences (known as the 'Siegfried Line') in north-eastern France to prevent an attack by the Germans after the Great War of 1914-18. This is a stretch of the defences near Saarbrucken on the Franco-German border.

 

10 May - 33 Blenheims attack German transport aircraft and other targets in Holland. 3 aircraft lost. Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) aircraft are caught on the ground by surprise German attacks during the morning on airfields in Holland, Belgium and France. Luckily, allied fighters at French airfields manage to scramble and break up many incoming bomber formations and losses were light. In the following confusion, and also due to a lack of co-operation from General Vuillemin, Commander-in-Chief of the French Air Force, retaliatory attacks are delayed until late morning. Some French bombers were detailed to fly unarmed morale-boosting flights over French troops, but were easy prey to German fighters while others never get airborne due to number of orders and counter-orders deluging the command system. The overall British commander, Air Marshal Barratt, acting on his own initiative, orders 32 Battles from Nos 12, 103, 105, 142, 150, 218 and 226 Squadrons to attack German troops advancing through Luxembourg at noon. In a chilling scene-setting series of events, 13 are shot down by mobile anti-aircraft and machine guns. The remainder all suffer damage of some kind. In a second attack during the afternoon, a further 10 Battles from 32 ordered into the air are lost to German fighters and flak. British decision-making on the use of home-based bomber squadrons is hindered by the formation of a new government under Winston Churchill.

A Battle of No 88 Squadron rests between sorties alongside a pair of French Morane fighters. The censor's pen has tried to hide a few details of the squadron and aircraft types.

10/11 May - 36 Wellingtons attack Waalhaven airfield and 9 Whitleys bomb bridges across the Rhine at Rees and Wesel as well as road convoys. No losses.

11 May - In France, members of No 114 Squadron are kitting up prior to taking off on a dawn mission to attack enemy troops in the Ardennes when 9 German Dornier bombers attack their airfield at Vraux, virtually wiping out the entire squadron in one go. In the afternoon, 8 Battles of Nos 88 and 218 Squadrons are despatched to attack German troops in Luxembourg. None make it to the intended target area as German fighters account for 7 aircraft en-route and the eighth returns early. Following a desperate plea from the Belgians (who had lost 6 out of 9 Battles attacking bridges over Albert Canal near Maastricht), 23 Blenheims are ordered to attack the same targets. Four aircraft are lost and none of the bombs hit the intended target. A follow up attack by LeO 451 bombers of the French Air Force failed to destroy the bridges, but did start several fires in a motorised column. Planned reconnaissance by 6 Blenheims cancelled due to poor weather. 2 aircraft lost.

The bridge over the Albert Canal destroyed by RAF attacks on this day. Within hours, German engineers had erected the pontoon bridge seen to the right of the picture. A magnificent picture of a low-level attack on a German armoured column carried out by a Battle somewhere over northern France.

11/12 May - 19 Hampdens and 18 Whitleys bomb road and rail targets in München-Gladbach - the first raid on a German town. 2 Hampdens and 1 Whitley lost; 4 people killed.

12 May -11 Blenheims lost out of a force of 42 ordered to attack Bridges near Maastricht, Hasselt and Tongres to stop advancing enemy troops. AASF aircraft continue to suffer alarming losses. Six Battles from No 12 Squadron are detailed to attack the vital bridges in the Maastricht area still standing after the previous day's failed attempts to destroy them. One of the aircraft went unserviceable prior to take-off, leaving the remaining five to attack bridges at Veldwezelt and Vroenhoven. Ahead of the bombers were eight Hurricanes from No 1 Squadron. Suddenly, the fighter pilots saw the sky fill with German Bf109s - 120 in all. Despite the fearful odds, the Hurricanes fought as best they could, accounting for 3 Germans but losing six of their own. The first Battles were now attacking the bridge at Vroenhoven. The first attack managed to drop his load, and the bombs hit one end of the structure. As the aircraft crossed the bridge at barely 100 feet, it was hit by a bank of flak and was forced to crash-land. All three crews survived, but were captured by German troops. The bombs of the second Battle fell short, failing to add to the damage. Again, withering fire struck the aircraft and the port wing caught fire. The pilot ordered the others to bail out and managed to nurse the stricken bomber to within a few miles of home before crash-landing. Five minutes later, the second bridge came under attack. The leader, Flying Officer Donald Garland lead his flight in at low-level. One aircraft was hit and caught fire on the run-in - the pilot managing to drop his bombs before crash-landing on the banks of the Albert Canal. The second aircraft was hit and went into a vertical climb, burning from wingtip to wingtip, before diving into the ground and killing all three crew members. That left one more aircraft - that of Flying Officer Garland. After pitching up, Garland pointed nose of the aircraft at the metal bridge. The aircraft, still carrying its bombs, crashed into the western end of the structure. The explosion killed the three crew, but did destroy one end of the bridge. For their action, two of the aircraft's crew, Flying Officer Garland and his observer, Sergeant Tom Gray received the Victoria Cross - the first such awards for action in the air of the war. For some reason, their rear gunner, Leading Aircraftman Reynolds received nothing. French bombers carried out attacks on the same targets later in the day, but suffered terribly at the hands of German flak units. The AASF's Battles carried out one further operation during the afternoon when 15 aircraft attacked German troops near Bouillon. Six aircraft failed to return. During the day, the Battles had suffered an amazing loss rate of 62%.

The vital bridges over the Meuse. As with over valiant attacks on these targets, the work of the pilots in destroying them was negated within hours as enemy troops built pontoon bridges in their place.

12/13 May - 12 aircraft (6 each of Wellingtons and Whitleys) bomb road junctions between the Rhine and Dutch border. No losses.

13 May - With resources at a premium after the terrible losses of yesterday, only a handful of serviceable Battles were airborne for an attack on a factory near Breda.

13/14 May - Bridges and roads in area of Aachen-Maastricht-Eindhoven attacked by 12 aircraft (6 Whitleys and 6 Hampdens). Mines laid in Kiel Canal by 1 Hampden from 6 despatched. No losses.

14 May - 6 other Blenheims bombed a road junction at Breda without loss. Ten Battles were detailed to pontoon bridges erected by then Germans across the Meuse River north of Sedan. All the aircraft returned safely. The remainder of the morning's bombing operations were flown by the few surviving bombers (29 in all) of the French Air Force in attempt to halt the German breakthrough at Sedan. The AASF faired little better with just 62 Battles and 8 Blenheims available for operations. The afternoon saw Air Vice-Marshal Playfair, the Commander of the AASF, gamble everything with all available aircraft being ordered into the air to bomb the Germans at Sedan. It was a massacre; No 12 Squadron lost 4 out of 5 aircraft; No 142 Squadron 4 out of 8; No 226 Squadron 3 out of 6; No 105 Squadron 6 out of 11; No 150 Squadron 4 out of 4; No 88 Squadron 1 out of 10; No 103 Squadron 3 out of 8 and No 218 Squadron 10 out of 11 aircraft. Total Battle losses were 35 out of 63 aircraft. Eight Blenheims were also involved (all flown by No 114 Squadron) and only three returned. A total of 102 crew members either lost their lives or were taken prisoner - a terrible price to pay as the pontoon bridges remained intact. In one last raid on the bridges, 6 Blenheims of No 2 Group were lost during an attack by 28 aircraft. This series of losses effectively finished the AASF as a fighting force and all attacks over France were subsequently carried out by home-based bomber units. In the days that followed the squadrons of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and AASF moved from base to base in an attempt to stay ahead of the German advance.

Air Vice-Marshal Playfair, Commander of the AASF.

14/15 May - 18 Wellingtons, 12 Whitleys and 12 Hampdens attack Aachen, München-Gladbach and Breda and Roosendaal respectively. 1 Hampden lost. Minelaying carried out by 22 Hampdens off German and Danish coasts.

15 May - 24 Blenheims attack bridges and communications targets in Belgium. 3 aircraft lost.

15/16 May - 39 Wellingtons, 36 Hampdens and 24 Whitleys (99 aircraft in total) despatched to 16 targets in the vital Ruhr industrial area of Germany. 81 aircraft report bombing their primary or secondary objectives. 1 Wellington lost. 6 Wellingtons and 6 Whitleys also raided targets in Belgium without loss. These are the first Bomber Command raids to the east of the Rhine and mark the beginning of Bomber Command's Strategic Offensive.

16/17 May - 6 Hampdens and 6 Wellingtons bomb oil targets in the Ruhr with 1 aircraft being lost. 9 Whitleys attack communications sites without loss.

17 May - No 82 Squadron are tasked with attacking an enemy armoured column near Gembloux. 12 Blenheims, led by Squadron Leader Paddy Delap, are despatched but owing to mix-up in timings, a planned escort of Hurricane fighters fails to show. The tight formation is broken up by a mobile flak battery near the target and the formation becomes easy prey to 15 German BF109 fighters. Eleven aircraft are shot down. The only aircraft to survive the raid later crash-landed in England because of heavy damage.

17/18 May - Oil installations in Hamburg and Bremen are attacked by 48 Hampdens and 24 Whitleys respectively. A further 6 Wellingtons bomb railway yards at Cologne while 46 Wellingtons and 6 Hampdens attack German troops in Belgium. No losses.

18 May - 13 Blenheims attack German troops at Le Cateau. 3 aircraft are lost.

18/19 May - Oil refineries and railways in Germany along with enemy troops in Belgium attacked by 24 Wellingtons, 24 Whitleys and 12 Hampdens (60 aircraft in total).

19/20 May - 36 Hampdens, 30 Wellingtons and 12 Whitleys despatched to a number of targets in France, Belgium and Germany. 2 Whitleys lost.

20 May - Escorted by RAF fighters, 47 Blenheims attempt to halt an armoured attack by German troops against the British Army on the Bapaume-Arras road. No losses.

An attack on German armoured column near Marcke. The column is travelling along the road on the right-hand side of the picture and a previous load appears to have found it's intended target.

20/21 May - 77 aircraft from 92 despatched (32 Wellingtons, 24 Whitleys and 18 Blenheims) continue the RAF's attempt to halt the German advance in northern France.

21 May - 57 out of 58 Blenheims (inc 3 on reconnaissance duties) attack German troops looking to reach French coast. 57 aircraft find targets, but some did not attack due to presence of civilians, 3 aircraft lost. 3 Blenheims also on reconnaissance patrols.

As the Germans rapidly advanced to the French coast in pursuit of French and British forces, home-based bomber squadrons were pressed into action to stem their advance. Here a salvo of bombs (right-hand side of picture) is aimed at German troops in the Boulogne area. Bombs from another aircraft can be seen exploding on the bottom left-hand side of the picture.

21/22 May - A force of 124 aircraft (52 Whitleys, 47 Wellingtons, 25 Hampdens) attack German railway lines. 3 Wellingtons, 1 Hampden and 1 Whitley lost. The Hampden was piloted by a Flight Lieutenant Coton. After being hit by flak over Germany, Coton ordered his crew to bale out. Remarkably, he was able to fly the aircraft back to England, but was shot at (and hit) again by an over-eager anti-aircraft battery on the Essex coast. The pilot safely baled out before the aircraft finally crashed.

22 May - 58 Blenheims (plus 1 on reconnaissance) attack German troops advancing to the northern French coast.

22/23 May - 47 aircraft (24 Whitleys, 12 Hampdens, 11 Wellingtons) despatched to bomb various transport targets in France and Low Countries. Additional 35 Hampdens to bomb oil refinery at Merseburg, near Leipzig, are recalled en-route due to deteriorating weather in UK. 1 aircraft did not receive signal and continued on to bomb target. No aircraft shot down, but 3 lost in crashes.

23 May - Due to poor weather only 16 Blenheims out of 27 despatched bomb German troops columns near Arras in northern France. 3 aircraft lost.

23/24 May - 50 Hampdens, 48 Wellingtons and 24 Whitleys bomb communications and transport targets in Germany, Holland, Belgium and France. 2 Hampdens and 1 Whitley lost.

24 May - German troops surrounding British garrison at Calais attacked by 69 Blenheims. No losses.

24/25 May - 29 Whitleys, 18 Hampdens and 12 Wellingtons bomb communications sites over wide area. No losses.

25 May - 42 Blenheims bomb troops, vehicles and bridges near German front line. 4 aircraft lost.

A battle-weary pilot of No 103 Squadron climbs into his Battle on 25 May 1940. The location is probably St Lucien Ferme.

25/26 May - 103 aircraft (38 Wellingtons, 36 Whitleys, 29 Hampdens) raid communications and troops over large area of front line. 2 Hampdens, 1 Wellington lost.

26 May - 34 Blenheims bomb enemy positions behind German front line. No losses. Evacuation of British Army, now surrounded at Dunkirk, commences.

26/27 May - 2 Wellington and 21 Hampdens raid, troops, airfields and communications over large area. No losses.

27 May - 2 Blenheims lost from a total of 48 attempting to bomb German positions around Dunkirk.

27/28 May - 120 aircraft to a variety targets; 24 Hampdens attack oil refineries near Hamburg and Bremen, 36 Whitleys bomb railway yards in the Ruhr and 35 Wellingtons and 25 Hampdens attack communications behind German lines. No aircraft lost. First German fighter to be shot down by RAF claimed by tail gunner in 10 Sqn Whitley.

28 May - 48 Blenheims attack German positions near Dunkirk. 1 aircraft shot down.

28/29 May - 34 Wellingtons and 13 Whitleys again concentrate on German forces at Dunkirk. 1 Whitley lost.

29 May - 51 Blenheims continue raids on German troops. No losses.

29/30 May - 15 Wellingtons return to Dunkirk in deteriorating weather conditions. No losses.

30 May - Only 44 Blenheims out of 68 despatched bomb targets at Dunkirk due to poor weather.

30/31 May - 28 Wellingtons to Dunkirk and 18 Hampdens bomb oil refineries at Hamburg and Bremen. 1 Wellington lost.

Smoke rises from Boulogne after an attack by Wellingtons possibly on 30/31 May.

31 May - 93 Blenheims raid German positions at Dunkirk in 2 Group's largest daylight operation.

31 May/1 Jun - 33 Wellingtons bomb Dunkirk with 2 aircraft shot down.

1 Jun - 56 Blenheims to Dunkirk without loss.

1/2 Jun - 37 Hampdens, 28 Whitleys despatched to attack a number of oil and communications sites in Germany. Only 25 aircraft find suitable targets. 16 Wellingtons bomb German troops at Dunkirk. No losses.

2 Jun - 24 Blenheims attack German positions at Dunkirk. No losses.

The Battles had effectively been finished as an viable fighting force in the first few days of the Battle of France, and the strain of war shows on these crews from No 226 Squadron in this picture taken in May or June 1940.

2/3 Jun - 24 Whitleys and 6 Hampdens bomb oil and communication targets in Germany. 16 Wellingtons to Dunkirk. No losses.

3 Jun - 18 Blenheims bomb Dunkirk. No losses. Evacuation of Dunkirk completed.


1940 January-June  1940 July-December
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Date Last Updated : Wednesday, April 6, 2005 2:40 AM

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