Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary


Campaign Diary
1939

 

From the very first hours of the War, Bomber Command aircraft were involved in operations. That said, the early months of the conflict, known as the 'Phoney War' saw the Command's aircraft dropping leaflets instead of bombs on German cities and struggling to locate their targets - especially at night.

September

Within hours of the declaration of war, 28 aircraft (1 Blenheim, 18 Hampdens and 9 Wellingtons) were despatched to locate German warships. The Blenheim, of No 139 Squadron, was the first RAF aircraft to cross the German coast in WWII. That night, 10 Whitleys from Nos 51 and 58 Squadrons dropped leaflets over Hamburg, Bremen and The Ruhr. Both operations were completed without loss. But anti-shipping operations on the following day told a very different tale. 29 Blenheims and Wellingtons attempted to bomb German warships in Wilhelmshaven and BrunsbŁttel. 5 Blenheims and 2 Wellingtons were lost and little damage was done to those vessels attacked. No 107 Squadron lost 4 out of 5 aircraft dispatched. Much of the remainder of the month was spent on leaflet raids ('Nickelling') and reconnaissance flights but on the 29th another attempt was made to attack the German Fleet in Heligoland Bight. This time, 11 Hampdens were sent in broad daylight and the second formation of 5 aircraft, all from No 144 Squadron, failed to return.1

October

Anti-shipping patrols continued in the North Sea with many sorties ending in failure having failed to locate any targets. Armed reconnaissance flights over Europe were also flown, mainly by Blenheims of No 2 Group. The loss rate as particularly high as many flights were flown by single aircraft.

November

There was little change in Bomber Command's routine with very few bombing raids being carried out.

December

The anti-shipping patrols continued but, at last, some bombing operations were flown. During a daylight attack by 24 Wellingtons on German warships moored in Heligoland Bight, the first bombs to fall on German soil are dropped by an aircraft of No 115 Squadron. The bombs fall accidentally after the aircraft had suffered a hang-up over the target. Then two raids in the middle of the month caused the Air Staff to rethink their strategies. On the 14th, 5 Wellingtons (from 12 despatched) were lost to German fighters as they orbited over Wilhelmshaven and attempted to get into a favourable bombing position. At first, commanders would not accept that the fighters had caused such terrible losses, insisting that the aircraft had been lost to flak. Then, four days later, during another raid on Wilhelmshaven, a formation of 22 Wellingtons was picked up some 70 miles out by a German radar post which alerted a nearby fighter base. The bombers had been forced into a more open formation by flak and, with no cloud cover to hide in, the Wellingtons were easily picked off by the defenders. Twelve aircraft were lost over the target area.

Until this moment, senior commanders were convinced that a self-defending bomber formation would always reach its target, but within months of these terrible losses, the Wellingtons and Hampdens would be switched to night operations.


1. 'FTR' was the rather curt entry made in squadron's operational record books against aircraft which did not return from missions.


HRH King George VI visiting RAF units in France, November 1939
The King looks on as a bomb is loaded on to a Battle. His Majesty meets the officers. To his right, standing just behind, is AVM Playfair, Commander of the AASF The King inspects the troops.
No 9 Squadron, Honington, Summer 1939
A formation of Wellingtons over the english countryside. Excellent head-on shot of the Wellingtons. Close formation of 9 Sqn's aircraft. The one nearest the camera carries an incorrect code (ZA) and is painted in an unusual fashion.
No 149 Squadron, Mildenhall, December 1939
Crews walk out to their aircraft during the late afternoon. A final check of the emergency kit, prior to take off. Crews look on as three Wellingtons make a pass over hastily camouflaged hangars.
Damage to No 102 Sqn Whitley, 27 November 1939
View of starboard (right) wing.   Close-up of severe damage to the port (left) wing of the aircraft with the skin clearly missing.
Flooding at RAF airfield in France, October 1939
  With little protection against the elements, RAF groundcrew had a difficult time at their overseas bases.  
German naval base in Heligoland Bight
  One of the first targets attacked by Bomber Command was rthe important German naval base on Heligoland Bight.  

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

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