Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary

Campaign Diary


July - October : The Battle of Britain

The fall of France meant that Britain stood alone. But, instead of continuing the advance across the Channel, Hitler basked in the glory of the successful campaign in Western Europe. Plans were drawn up to cross the Channel with a huge flotilla of invasion barges, and as these massed in the coming months, Bomber Command visited the Channel ports on many occasions. But the Command's operations were split between destroying the invasion ports and attacking German industry and, in particular, its oil installations. The first Polish squadrons, Nos 300 and 301 (both with Battles), became operational in September, as did the first Czech-manned squadron - No 311 (Wellingtons).

Full details of bomber operations during the Battle of Britain can be found HERE.


With the immediate threat of invasion gone for the time being, it was new theatres that were starting to draw on Bomber Command's resources. A number of squadrons were sent to the Middle East after Italy had commenced its invasion of Libya and East Africa but for those squadrons that remained the general pace of operations slowed during the winter months. Total numbers of aircraft committed to a single night's operations rarely exceeded 100, and those that were used were still despatched to a multitude of targets in piecemeal formations. There were two notable exceptions to this. The first was a raid by 63 aircraft on night of 7/8 November to the Krupps factory at Essen, the first of many visits to this sprawling complex. Although many crews believed they had found the target, subsequent analysis of photographs taken by the crews showed that many were some distance from the target, possibly attracted by decoy fires which the Germans were known to light for just this reason. Then during the nights of 15/16 and 16/17 November, a total of over 200 aircraft were despatched to Hamburg. (Curiously, in light of subsequent events, these were the second and third consecutive nights that the city had been targeted). One the first night, heavy damage was caused at the Blohm & Voss shipyard and over 60 fires started, but on the next raid, only 60 aircraft were able to find their target. A further 25 found alternatives, but the damage as far less severe.


The night of 16/17 December will be remembered as the first area attack carried out by Bomber Command. The raid on Mannheim, code-named Operation Abigail Rachel, was authorised in retaliation for recent heavy bombing of English cities (particularly Coventry) and a force of 200 aircraft was prepared. In the end, 134 aircraft were sent - still the largest number to a single target. The attack was opened by 8 Wellingtons using incendiaries which, it was hoped, would start a fire and aid identification of the target. Figures vary, but no more than 102 aircraft actually bombed Mannheim, and the majority of bombs fell away from the city centre as the fire-raising Wellingtons had missed the centre of the city. The casualties for the night totalled 34 dead with 81 injured.

Nos 49 and 83 Squadrons, Scampton, August 1940
Crew briefings were far more relaxed and informal than those held later in the war. While the crews were being briefed, the bombs would be brought to the dispersal. 250lb General Purpose (GP) bombs wait to be loaded.
The bombs were then man-handled into the aircraft's bomb-bay.   Aircraft were given the once over during the afternoon to check the systems out. This was called the 'air test'.
No 204 Squadron, Stradishall, October 1940
A Wellington is positioned in a hangar for some routine maintenance.   Engineers work on the aircraft's engines.
Damage to Whitley of No 102 Squadron, 12/13 November 1940
  This aircraft was piloted by Flying Officer Leonard Cheshire, one of the RAF's most famous bomber pilots. It was hit a flak shell whilst attacking a target in the Ruhr. The wartime censor has also removed the roundel and squadron code (DY).  
Visit by HM King George VI to a Bomber Command station, 27 November 1940
The King with Air Marshal Sir Richard Pierse (AOCinC Bomber Command, left) . His Majesty is shown an intelligence report. The King is an interested onlooker at the night's briefing.
German attempts to camouflage parts of Hamburg, 1940
German authorities attempted to camouflage the area of Hamburg around the railway station to draw Bomber Command raids elsewhere. Picture taken before the attempted deception   Part of the camouflage enatailed the creation of new 'houses' on a stretch of water between the city and a rail bridge as well as painting the railway station and tracks to resemble buildings and roads.

1940 January-June  1941 January-April
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Date Last Updated : Wednesday, April 6, 2005 2:40 AM

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