From a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th AAF Bomber Command on 31 December when they attacked the vital CAM ball- bearing plant and the nearby Hispano Suiza aircraft engine repair depot in Paris, France, 1943.

From a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th AAF Bomber Command on 31 December when they attacked the vital CAM ball- bearing plant and the nearby Hispano Suiza aircraft engine repair depot in Paris, France, 1943.

Damage to La Chapelle area, Paris, April 1944.

Damage to La Chapelle area, Paris, April 1944.

As Operation Overlord approached there was intense debate within the senior Allied commanders about one aspect of the plan. Churchill’s scientific adviser Solly Zuckerman had devised the ‘Transportation Plan’ – the planned disruption of all rail traffic leading into northern France. The planned called for the diversion of the heavy bomber fleets of the RAF and the USAAF away from target in Germany to hit railway targets in France.

The head of RAF Bomber Command Arthur Harris, and the head of the new US Strategic Air Forces in Europe, Carl Spaatz opposed the plan. They did not want to be diverted from their bombing of Germany, nor did they think the heavy bombers were suitable for hitting railway targets and would cause too many civilian casualties. The argument went round Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and went up to Churchill. Eventually the plan went ahead with careful monitoring of French casualties. Some of the earlier raids in March had been very accurate. Arguably, it was only a matter of time before a raid on a railway centre in a densely populated area would cause heavy ‘collateral damage’.

On the 21st April the La Chapelle marshalling yards in Paris were hit. 641 people were killed and 377 wounded, as bad a casualty rate as any during they London Blitz and worse than the number killed during the 1940 Coventry bombing.

Here are some details about the catastrophy. First, a night of utmost uproar. During 2 hours and 15 minutes, a mind-boggling racket. Everything was shaking in the apartment [located in the 7th arrondissement in the very heart of Paris]. At last I went down the stairs and tried to cheer up this excellent Mrs Dantin [the famously bad-tempered doorkeeper, an awful drunkard old lady] who was stricken with panic. The night sky was lighted with flares and fires, and you could see as in broad daylight. I called our warehouse right away, but there was no dial tone. I immediately thought of the worst.

Thus, I woke up at 5am and boarded the first Métro carriage which stopped at Jules Joffrin station. From there I reached, running more or less, the warehouse. Everything was burning. The Porte de La Chapelle was particularly knocked down. All the houses have collapsed on the ground. A bomb exploded over the Métro which is in shambles. From the Porte de La Chapelle to our warehouse [ca. 1 km], everything was flames and devastation. The bombing was very dense. Our warehouse offered a pitiful outlook. I immediately went to the basement where I knew several of our workers had sought refuge. It was intact, which immediately reassured me (…)

And voila. Here, air raid sirens after sirens, bombings after bombings. It’s non-stop! Again this morning, you could see the flying fortresses quite distinctly in the sky. I’m glad that you are over there in the peace and quiet of the province. Life here is becoming really difficult. Lots of people are leaving Paris. Several districts (the 14th arrondissement, the 18th arrondissement, the Plaine St Denis, etc.) were evacuated. In the Plaine St Denis, there were this morning 416 coffins. Several corpses still remain under the rubbles. An entire family, not far from our warehouse, met their end: father, mother, 6 children! Time bombs are still exploding. Fires are thanks God over. (…)

This account was quoted on this forum. There is an analysis of the raid at FranceCrashes.

Contemporary French film of damage caused by the raid.

Through various channels the French protested to London. The argument about the use of heavy bombers, and whether it was necessary to support Overlord continued. In May Roosevelt intervened to support the necessity of SHAEF’s objectives and the planned bombing programme went ahead under Eisenhower’s authority. Eventually the Allies dropped more bombs on France than the Luftwaffe dropped on Britain. See Richard Overy: The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945. Some argued that the French resistance was better placed to attack railway targets accurately – yet that route did not avoid terrible retribution against the local population.

The Métro repair shops in St Ouen were also destroyed during the same Allied bombing raid:

The Métro repair shops in St Ouen were also destroyed during the same Allied bombing raid:

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Apr

20

1944

580 men die as SS Paul Hamilton explodes

The ammunition-laden Liberty ship SS Paul Hamilton is completely destroyed after being struck by a German aerial torpedo launched from a Junkers Ju 88A, 20 April 1944. None of the 8 officers, 39 crew, 29 armed guards, and 504 troops aboard survived. About 21:00 hrs on 20 April the convoy UGS-38 had been heavily attacked with torpedoes from 23 German aircraft of III./KG 26, I. and III./KG 77, just north of Algiers in the Mediterranean Sea. During the engagement five ships were torpedoed, three of them being sunk. Sunk were the destroyer USS Lansdale (DD-426) and the SS Paul Hamilton. The SS Royal Star was torpedoed aft and was abandoned by her crew. The SS Samite and the SS Stephen F. Austin were both torpedoed in the bow, but managed to reach Algiers.

When I arrived at the side of the ship, I found that they had rigged up a cargo net over the side for us to climb up on. The waves were running maybe three to five feet at the time, so I waited until I was lifted by a wave and grabbed the cargo net. However, I was so weakened by the cold that I could not hold on and fell back into the sea. The next time I tried, when the wave lifted me and I reached for the net, two sailors grabbed me by the seat of my pants and heaved me up on deck.

Apr

19

1944

Operation Cockpit – the Japanese surprised at Sabang

A surprise raid on Sabang in northern Sumatra. A general view from one of the attacking planes showing a blazing oil tank with oil spreading out over the harbour area, burning docks, warehouses and ships. In the foreground is a Japanese destroyer which was set on fire by fighters. 19 April 1944

At the rate of ten tons a minute, 350 tons of steel and high explosive struck Sabang in the 35 minutes the bombardment lasted. Battleships; cruisers and destroyers poured shells varying from 4-in. to 15-in. into the base at close range. When the flagship turned away after completing her firing she was only two miles from the green, jungle-covered hills which rise steeply from the sea around Sabang.

Apr

18

1944

The relief of Kohima begins

The Battle of Imphal-Kohima March - July 1944: The mined tennis court and terraces of the District Commissioner's bungalow in Kohima.

At 09.30 hours Corporal Judges and his section consisting of Privates Johnson,Thrussel and myself, as well as Corporal Veal’s section, went onto the road to help evacuate the wounded Indians, BORs, walking and stretcher cases. It was my job to look at the stretcher cases. If they were dead I had to send the Indian stretcher bearers round the back of the feature where they put the bodies in a heap to be buried later.

Apr

17

1944

The bombing of Semlin Judenlager

The post raid evaluation of bomb strikes with the target area marked in white and the area of Semlin subsequently make in red.

Besides the dead, there were several hundred wounded, so the surviving pavilions were turned into hospitals. There were no beds, and certainly no bandages or surgical equipment, although we did have several doctors and surgeons among the interns

Apr

16

1944

‘Black Sunday’ as tropical storm hits US 5th Air Force

B-25 Mitchells from the 42d Bombardment fly over Bougainville from their base at Stirling Airfield, Stirling Island, Solomon Islands, 1944

The whole area was full of planes-B-24s, B-25s, A-20s and P-38s. We got down to 50 feet above the coast and followed it towards Saidor. I directed Polecat (Pilot Ed P. Poltrack) to the right and left along the coast. He and Jack were both flying, dodging planes. Once our airspeed went down to 120 – looked like we would have to ditch any minute. Now and then we would lose sight of the coast and weave back and forth along our course to pick it up again.

Apr

15

1944

HMS Storm torpedoes a Japanese destroyer

The First Lieutenant, Lieutenant R Bulkeley at the periscope of HMS TRIBUNE.

Two muffled depth-charges were heard shortly after the first two explosions, but the hit on the destroyer seemed to have demoralised the screen, as no further attempt at a counter-attack was made. I was able to watch the whole affair quite happily from a range of two miles or so, and Petty Officer E. R. Evans, the T.G.M., was able to have a look at his victim burning furiously.

Apr

14

1944

Surprise as the Norfolks arrive at Kohima

An infantry section on patrol in Burma, 1944.

I thought to myself, “Crumbs! Now what have I done wrong!” I went over to him and he said, “Where the bloody hell have you been?” I said, “Well we ran into a little bit of trouble…” He said, “I know, I’ve had it all, chapter and verse, on the telephone!”

Apr

13

1944

A day in the life of a 8th Air Force radio operator

B-17s en route to another target in Germany.

British and American pursuit ships are always buzzing our field, sometimes within 15 feet of the runways, I guess it’s to help us along in our aircraft recognition. Today my pilot took some us and returned the compliment. He did a good job too. I wish you could have seen us. The Limey’s seldom see such a big ship out buzzing them and they were all eyes, we could see them from where we were.

Apr

12

1944

Avoiding Japanese ‘doctors’ in Shinagawa Camp, Tokyo

Shinagawa POW camp. An aerial shot taken towards the end of the war.

If they got worse, they were operated on at night while he was out of camp. This was done in the face of his direct orders forbidding any surgery being done other than by Dr. Tokuda. Black with anger the next morning, he cussed and howled when he found out that a victim – had escaped his tender ministration. We told him blandly that it was an emergency and we were unable to reach him.