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Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary


Campaign Diary
March 1943

 

1/2 March 1943

302 aircraft - 156 Lancasters, 86 Halifaxes, 60 Stirlings despatched to Berlin.

The Pathfinders experienced difficulty in producing concentrated marking because individual parts of the extensive built-up city area of Berlin could not be distinguished on the H2S screens. Bombing photographs showed that the attack was spread over more than 100 square miles with the main emphasis in the south-west of the city. However, because larger numbers of aircraft were now being used and because those aircraft were now carrying a greater average bomb load, the proportion of the force which did hit Berlin caused more damage than any previous raid to this target. This type of result - with significant damage still being caused by only partially successful attacks - was becoming a regular feature of Bomber Command raids. Some bombs hit the Telefunken works at which the H2S set taken from the Stirling shot down near Rotterdam was being reassembled. The set was completely destroyed in the bombing but a Halifax of 35 Squadron with an almost intact set crashed in Holland on this night and the Germans were able to resume their research into H2S immediately. 17 aircraft - 7 Lancasters, 6 Halifaxes, 4 Stirlings - lost, 5.6 per cent of the force.

6 Mosquitos to the Ruhr, 49 Wellingtons and Halifaxes minelaying off French and German coasts, 4 OTU sorties. 2 Wellington minelayers lost.

Berlin
This picture taken some 8 days after this attack, show a large area of the city in ruin.

2/3 March 1943

Minelaying: 60 aircraft to coastal areas between Texel and the River Gironde. 2 Wellingtons and 1 Lancaster lost.

6 Mosquitos to the Ruhr without loss. The aircraft which bombed Essen scored direct hits in the middle of the main Krupps factory.

3 March 1943

10 Mosquitos of No 139 Squadron carried out a long-range raid on the important molybdenum mine at Knaben in Norway. The target was successfully bombed but 1 Mosquito was shot down by FW 190s.

3/4 March 1943

Hamburg. 417 aircraft - 149 Lancasters, 123 Wellingtons, 83 Halifaxes, 62 Stirlings despatched with 10 aircraft - 4 Lancasters, 2 Wellingtons, 2 Halifaxes, 2 Stirlings - lost, 2.4 per cent of the force. Visibility was clear over the target but the Pathfinders made a mistake, possibly thinking that the H2S indications of mudbanks in the Elbe which had been uncovered by the low tides were sections of the Hamburg docks. Most of the Main Force bombing thus fell 13 miles downstream from the centre of Hamburg, around the small town of Wedel. Even so, a proportion of the bombing force did hit Hamburg which suffered 27 people killed and 95 injured and whose fire brigade had to put out 100 fires before devoting all its energies to helping the town of Wedel, which suffered so heavily. The damage at Wedel included a large naval-clothing store burnt out as well as several important industrial concerns destroyed in Wedel's harbour area and this illustrated another Bomber Command view: that bombing could usually be useful even if the wrong target was hit.

5 Mosquitos to the Ruhr, with more direct hits on Krupps, 14 aircraft minelaying in the Frisians, 5 OTU sorties. 1 Stirling minelayer lost.

4 March 1943

12 Mosquitos attacked railway targets at Arnage and Aulnoye without loss.

4/5 March 1943

6 Mosquitos to the Ruhr, 27 aircraft minelaying in areas as far south as Bayonne and as far north as Gydnia, 16 OTU sorties. 1 Lancaster minelayer and 1 OTU Wellington lost.

5/6 March 1943

Essen was the target for 442 aircraft - 157 Lancasters, 131 Wellingtons, 94 Halifaxes, 52 Stirlings, 8 Mosquitos - in the first raid of the 'Battle of the Ruhr'. It was on this night that Bomber Command's 100,000th sortie of the war was flown. 14 aircraft - 4 Lancasters, 4 Wellingtons, 3 Halifaxes, 3 Stirlings - lost, 3.2 per cent of the force.

The only tactical setback to this raid was that 56 aircraft turned back early because of technical defects and other causes. 3 of the 'early returns' were from the 8 Oboe Mosquito marker aircraft upon which the success of the raid depended but the 5 Mosquitos which did reach the target area opened the attack on time and marked the centre of Essen perfectly. The Pathfinder backers-up also arrived in good time and carried out their part of the plan. The whole of the marking was 'blind', so that the ground haze which normally concealed Essen did not affect the outcome of the raid. The Main Force bombed in 3 waves - Halifaxes in the first wave, Wellingtons and Stirlings in the second, Lancasters in the third. Two thirds of the bomb tonnage was incendiary; one third of the high-explosive bombs were fused for long delay. The attack lasted for 40 minutes and 362 aircraft claimed to have bombed the main target. These tactics would be typical of many other raids on the Ruhr area in the next 4 months. Reconnaissance photographs showed 160 acres of destruction with 53 separate buildings within the Krupps works hit by bombs. Small numbers of bombs fell in 6 other Ruhr cities.

7 aircraft of No 4 Group were sent minelaying in the Frisian Islands without loss.

Damage to Krupps' Works Fires in Essen
A view of part of the sprawling Krupps industrial complex at Essen. Another part of the site, including severe damage to the railway lines. More damage at Krupps'. Fires can be seen burning in the city of Essen during the attack of the 5/6 March.

7/8 March 1943

14 Wellingtons and 6 Halifaxes of No 4 Group minelaying in the Frisians, 2 OTU sorties. 1 Halifax and 1 Wellington of the minelaying force lost.

8 March 1943

16 Mosquitos to railway centres at Tergnier and Aulnoye in France and at Lingen in Germany. All targets were bombed; 1 Mosquito lost.

Aulnoye
Post-attack picture of the damage caused by the Mosquito raid at Aulnoye.

8/9 March 1943

335 aircraft - 170 Lancasters, 103 Halifaxes, 62 Stirlings - to Nuremberg. 8 aircraft - 4 Stirlings, 2 Halifaxes, 2 Lancasters - lost, 2.4 per cent of the force.

This distant raid had to be marked by a combination of H2S and visual means. The Pathfinders had no moon to help them and, although there was no cloud, they found that haze prevented accurate visual identification of the target area. The result was that both marking and bombing spread over more than 10 miles along the line of the attack, with more than half of the bombs falling outside the city boundaries. This result would be typical of raids carried out beyond the range of Oboe during this period.
Sergeant DR Spanton, a mid-upper gunner in a 7 Squadron Stirling, had a fortunate escape on this night. After his aircraft crossed the English coast on the return flight, Spanton realized that he was the only man still in the plane. The remainder of the crew, newly arrived on this Pathfinder squadron, had baled out earlier, possibly because of suspected fuel shortage, and the pilot left the plane flying on automatic pilot. Spanton had not heard the order. He parachuted safely over Kent and the empty Stirling later crashed into the Thames estuary. The remainder of the crew, presumably thinking they were parachuting over France, had actually come down in the sea and were all drowned. Sergeant Spanton went on to fly a further 12 operations but his plane was lost on the night of 24/25 June 1943 in a raid on Wuppertal and the presence of his name on the Runnymede Memorial probably indicates that he died in the sea on that occasion.

4 Mosquitos to the Ruhr, 16 Wellingtons minelaying in the Frisians. No losses.

Nuremberg
Despite the widespread nature of the bombing, some damage was caused to industrial sites in and around Nuremberg. This was the scene at the Siemens factory.

9 March 1943

15 Mosquitos bombed the Renault works at Le Mans and scored direct hits. 1 Mosquito lost.

Mosquito attack at Le Mans
Although blurred, the photo still reveals a number of locomotives and goods wagons in the marshalling yards adjacent to the Renault factory at Le Mans. Recce picture taken after the Le Mans raid showing large amounts of damage to a number of buildings.

9/10 March 1943

Raid by 264 aircraft - 142 Lancasters, 81 Halifaxes, 41 Stirlings - on Munich. The wind caused this raid to be concentrated on the western half of Munich rather than on the centre of the city, but much damage was caused. The most serious industrial damage was at the BMW factory where the aero-engine assembly shop was put out of action for 6 weeks. Many other industrial concerns were hit, including 141 small, back-street-type workshops which were destroyed. 8 aircraft - 5 Lancasters, 2 Halifaxes, 1 Stirling - lost, 3.0 per cent of the force.

8 Mosquitos to the Ruhr, 62 aircraft minelaying off Kiel and in the Frisians, 4 OTU sorties. 3 Wellington minelayers lost.

10/11 March 1943

2 Mosquitos to Essen and Mulheim, 20 Lancasters and 15 Stirlings minelaying over a wide area from Biscay to Swinemünde in the Baltic, 5 OTU sorties. 2 Lancaster minelayers lost.

11/12 March 1943

Stuttgart

Unsuccessful raid on Stuttgart by 314 aircraft - 152 Lancasters, 109 Halifaxes, 53 Stirlings. The Pathfinders claimed to have marked Stuttgart accurately but the Main Force is reported to have been late arriving. The first use by the Germans of dummy target indicators is also reported. Most of the bombing fell in open country but the south-western suburbs of Vaihingen and Kaltental were hit. 118 buildings - nearly all houses - were destroyed, 112 people were killed and 386 were injured. 11 aircraft - 6 Halifaxes, 3 Stirlings, 2 Lancasters - lost, 3.5 per cent of the force.

11 Stirlings and 3 Lancasters laid mines in the Frisians and the River Gironde without loss.

12 March 1943

12 Mosquitos bombed an armaments factory at Liege and scored direct hits. 1 Mosquito lost.

12/13 March 1943

A return to Essen. 457 aircraft - 158 Wellingtons, 156 Lancasters, 91 Halifaxes, 42 Stirlings, 10 Mosquitos in another very successful Oboe-marked raid. The centre of the bombing area was right across the giant Krupps factory, just west of the city centre, with later bombing drifting back to the north-western outskirts. Photographic interpretation assessed that Krupps received 30 per cent more damage on this night than on the earlier successful raid of 5/6 March. 23 aircraft - 8 Lancasters, 7 Halifaxes, 6 Wellingtons, 2 Stirlings lost, 5.0 per cent of the force.

9 Stirlings minelaying in the Frisians, 7 OTU sorties. No losses.

Essen Krupps Works
Large areas of Essen, like this one photographed after the raid of 12/13 March, were severley damaged by Bomber Command's improved marking techniques. Further damage to the massive Krupps factory in Essen. Fires are still burning in this recce picture taken sometime after the raid.

13/14 March 1943

Minelaying: 51 Wellingtons and 17 Lancasters to areas between Lorient and the Kattegat. 2 Wellingtons and 1 Lancaster lost.

14/15 March 1943

13 Wellingtons minelaying in the Frisians without loss.

15 March 1943

11 Venturas bombed La Pleine airfield in Brittany. 1 Ventura lost in the sea.

16 March 1943

16 Mosquitos attacked railway workshops at Paderborn, nearly 200 miles inland from the coast, and scored direct hits. 1 Mosquito lost.

16/17 March 1943

2 Wellingtons of No 1 Group minelaying in the Frisian Islands without loss.

18 March 1943

2 Venturas attacked an oil refinery at Maasluis but their bombs just missed the target; 12 further Venturas turned back from raids to targets in France. No aircraft lost.

20 March 1943

12 Mosquitos to Louvain and Malines railway yards but only Louvain was reached.

1 Lancaster bombed Leer, near Emden. This flight was carried out by Squadron Leader C O'Donoghue of No 103 Squadron, No 1 Group. O'Donoghue decided to make this lone flight after a major Bomber Command effort planned for the previous night was cancelled. The Lancaster attacked Leer soon after dawn and its bombs fell close to the railway station.

20/21 March 1943

12 Wellingtons and 4 Lancasters minelaying off Biscay ports but the Wellingtons were recalled. No aircraft lost.

22 March 1943

12 Venturas attacked Maasluis oil refinery but again failed to hit the target. 12 further Venturas turned back from French targets. No aircraft lost.

22/23 March 1943

St Nazaire

357 aircraft - 189 Lancasters, 99 Halifaxes, 63 Stirlings, 6 Mosquitos - despatched to St Nazaire. 1 Lancaster lost.

6 Wellingtons laid mines off Texel without loss.

23 March 1943

15 Mosquitos to railway-engine works at Nantes. Direct hits were scored and no aircraft were lost.

St Joseph's Railway Works, Nantes
Dramatic photo taken by one of the Mosquitos during its attack at Nantes. Workers, unaware of the impending raid, leave work at the end of their shift as two bombs (circled at the top of the picture) throw up plumes of smoke as they impact workshop roofs before exploding. Recce picture taken shortly after the raid showing the extensive damage to the workshops and large fires still burning.

23/24 March 1943

45 aircraft laid mines in the Frisian Islands and south of Texel, 21 OTU aircraft dropped leaflets over French towns. 2 Wellingtons lost, one each from the minelaying and OTU forces.

24 March 1943

3 Mosquitos shot up trains in areas east of the Ruhr without loss.

26/27 March 1943

455 aircraft - 173 Wellingtons, 157 Lancasters, 114 Halifaxes, 9 Mosquitos, 2 Stirlings - to Duisburg. 6 aircraft - 3 Wellingtons, 1 Halifax, 1 Lancaster, 1 Mosquito - lost, 1.3 per cent of the force. The Mosquito lost was the first Oboe Mosquito casualty. A message was received from the pilot, Flight Lieutenant LJ Ackland, that he was having to ditch in the North Sea. His body was never found but his navigator, Warrant Officer FS Sprouts, is believed to have survived. This raid was one of the few failures of this series of attacks on Ruhr targets. It was a cloudy night and, for once, accurate Oboe sky-marking was lacking because 5 Oboe Mosquitos were forced to return early with technical difficulties and a sixth was lost. The result was a widely scattered raid.

5 OTU aircraft carried leaflets to France without loss.

Waiting for the off
The scene at Elsham Wolds during the night of 25/26 March as a Lancaster of No 103 Squadron waits for the order to take-off. This aircraft, ED724 'PM-M', was barely a month old when this photo was taken. It was written off after crash-landing at Bardney having been damaged by a German fighter over Alkmaar in Holland whilst returning from, coincidentally, Duisburg on the night of 9/10 April.

27 March 1943

5 Mosquitos reached and bombed an engineering factory at Hengelo but 7 other Mosquitos did not reach their targets. No aircraft lost.

27/28 March 1943

Berlin

Failed raid on Berlin by 396 aircraft - 191 Lancasters, 124 Halifaxes, 81 Stirlings. The bombing force approached the target from the south-west and the Pathfinders established two separate marking areas, but both well short of the city. No bombing photographs were plotted within 5 miles of the aiming point in the centre of Berlin and most of the bombing fell from 7 to 17 miles short of the aiming point. A most interesting story concerns a secret Luftwaffe stores depot in the woods at Teltow, 11 miles south-west of the centre of Berlin. By chance, this was in the middle of the main concentration of bombs and a large quantity of valuable radio, radar and other technical stores was destroyed. The Luftwaffe decided that this depot was the true target for the RAF raid on this night and were full of admiration for the special unit which had found and bombed it so accurately. The Gestapo investigated houses near by because someone reported that light signals had been flashed to the bombers. 9 aircraft - 4 Halifaxes, 3 Lancasters, 2 Stirlings - lost, 2.3 per cent of the force.

24 aircraft minelaying in the Frisians and off Texel, 4 OTU sorties. No losses.

Total effort for the night: 424 sorties, 9 aircraft (2.1 per cent) lost.

28 March 1943

24 Venturas, escorted by fighters, bombed Rotterdam docks and hit at least 6 ships and started a fire in a dockside warehouse. No Venturas were lost.

6 Mosquitos were dispatched to attack a railway yard near Liege but 2 aircraft were shot down and the remaining 4 bombed an alternative target.

28/29 March 1943

St Nazaire attacked by 323 aircraft - 179 Wellingtons, 52 Halifaxes, 50 Lancasters, 35 Stirlings, 7 Mosquitos - with most of th bombs falling on the port area. 1 Halifax and 1 Lancaster lost.

7 aircraft minelaying off St Nazaire, 5 OTU sorties. No losses.

29 March 1943

61 Venturas flew 2 raids to Rotterdam docks and 1 to a railway target at Abbeville but the weather was unfavourable and only the bombing on the second raid to Rotterdam was accurate. No Venturas lost.

29/30 March 1943

Berlin

Berlin attacked by unsuccessfully by 329 aircraft - 162 Lancasters, 103 Halifaxes, 64 Stirlings. Weather conditions were difficult, with icing and inaccurately forecast winds causing most of the bombs to fall in open countryside 6 miles south-east of Berlin. 21 aircraft - 11 Lancasters, 7 Halifaxes, 3 Stirlings - lost, 6.4 per cent of the force.

Bochum

8 Oboe Mosquitos and a 'Main Force' composed of 149 Wellingtons also visited Bochum. This raid was another failure. The night was moonless and cloudy and the Mosquitos were not able to adhere to their timetable and there were long gaps in the skymarking. 12 Wellingtons lost, 8.0 per cent of the force.

1 Mosquito to Dortmund and 7 Stirlings minelaying in the Frisians without loss.

Total effort for the night: 494 sorties, 33 aircraft (6.9 per cent) lost.

30 March 1943

10 Mosquitos bombed the Philips works at Eindhoven but could only hit the corner of the factory. No aircraft lost.


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