: Boeing B-17F formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, on Aug. 17, 1943.

Boeing B-17F formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, on Aug. 17, 1943.

Aerial views of V2 Rocket Sites at Peenemunde

Aerial views of V2 Rocket Sites at Peenemunde

Aerial reconnaissance view of the V1 launching ramps at the Luftwaffe Test Installation, Peenemunde West, Usedom Island, Germany, showing a Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb positioned on its ramp (arrowed). This was the photograph from which Flight Officer Constance Babington-Smith, a photographic interpreter at the Allied Central Interpretation Unit, RAF Medmenham, Buckinghamshire, confirmed the existence of the V1. The sortie was carried out by a Mosquito of No. 540 Squadron flown by Squadron Leader J R H Merifield and his navigator Flying Officer W N Whalley.

Aerial reconnaissance view of the V1 launching ramps at the Luftwaffe Test Installation, Peenemunde West, Usedom Island, Germany, showing a Fiesler Fi 103 flying bomb positioned on its ramp (arrowed). This was the photograph from which Flight Officer Constance Babington-Smith, a photographic interpreter at the Allied Central Interpretation Unit, RAF Medmenham, Buckinghamshire, confirmed the existence of the V1. The sortie was carried out by a Mosquito of No. 540 Squadron flown by Squadron Leader J R H Merifield and his navigator Flying Officer W N Whalley.

On 17th August as the USAAF headed out for their daylight raid on Schweinfurt, the crews of RAF Bomber Command were being briefed for their raid that night. This time they would be flying in moonlight, which was usually avoided, and the Intelligence Officers stressed the importance of the target that required this.

Crews were told that they would be bombing a factory building new radar controlled night fighters at Peenemunde. It was obviously in their interests to destroy such a target. It had ben given such a priority that not only would they be bombing in moonlight but they would be doing so from half the usual height.

Amongst those leading this raid was Cliff Alabaster, who had survived being shot down by ‘friendly fire’ in 1941. He now a hugely experienced navigator and was, very unusually, captain of his Pathfinder aircraft.

In fact the true purpose of the raid was to destroy the V-2 rocket programme. The fact that British intelligence even knew of its existence had to remain secret. The bomber crews could not be put fully in the picture, crews that survived being shot down would inevitably be interrogated about their targets.

Arguably this was one of the most important bombing raids of the war. Had the RAF not possessed the capability for such mass destruction by this stage in the war, the V-2 rocket programme against Britain would have got underway long before the invasion of France.

A diversionary raid to Berlin by Mosquitoes was also despatched that night in an attempt to draw off the German night fighters. It was not wholly successful, as the relatively inexperienced Jack Currie, piloting a Lancaster, was to discover:

We got DV222 George Two off the ground at twenty-three minutes to ten and, washed in the unaccustomed moonlight, set course east. Tail winds brought us early to our check-point in the Baltic, and I throttled back to lose time as we came to Rugen Island, north-west of the target.

Peenemunde lay starkly lighted by the moon, marked by green TIs, while a master-bomber circled, marshalling the attack. At thirty-four minutes after midnight I set George Two’s nose at the target on a time and—distance run, and Larry dropped the bombs from 9000 feet; a 4000 pounder, six 1000 pounders, and two 500 pounders. A billowing smoke screen partially obscured the target, but did not deter his aim. We swung right on to 290° true, against a forty-knot headwind, and climbed hard.

We had reached 18,000 feet near Stralsund, when the first fighter appeared, and the longest ten minutes I had known began. The ‘boozer’ light, flashing on my panel, gave the first warning that we were being followed, and then Lanham picked him up from the rear turret. ‘Fighter, fighter. Stand by to cork-screw port.’ ‘Standing by.’ ‘Mid—upper from rear-gunner. He’s at seven o’clock low. There may be a pair. I’ll look after this one, you watch out for the other.’ ‘Okay, Charlie.‘ ‘Prepare to cork-screw port… cork-screw port… go.’ ‘Going port.’

I rolled George Two sharply left, and dropped the nose. I let her go through ten degrees before pulling to the right and up, levelled as she passed back through the homeward heading, dived through another ten degrees right, climbed her back to port through twenty degrees.

Charlie kept the patter going, giving me the fighter’s distance and position, then: ‘Foxed him, Jack. He’s holding off on the starboard quarter. Now he‘s going low astern. He‘s out of range. Stand by.’ George Protheroe, slowly rotating the mid-upper turret, pressed his microphone switch. ‘Another fighter, skipper, four o’clock high, six hundred yards. It’s an Me 2l0.’

Charlie broke in. ‘Watch him, George. Here comes number one. Cork-screw starboard… go.’ ‘Going starboard.’ Between us, the gunners and I evaded four attacks. There were eleven degrees of frost at our height, but, after throwing George Two about the sky for a few minutes, I was sweating like a horse, and my muscles were aching.

While one fighter attacked, the other held off, content to retain one gunner’s attention. They were never in Lanham’s field of fire, and the mid-upper guns stayed silent.

A feeling of despair began to crawl into my mind; inevitably I would become exhausted and the fighters’ shells would rip George Two to shreds. They could afford to take their time. Perhaps the sadistic bastards were just playing with us. I pressed my back against the armour-plate behind me, and wondered what protection it would give. Messerschmitt, I thought, get it over with.

Turning automatically into another cork-screw to the left, I looked over my shoulder, down the length of the port wing. There he was, less than a hundred yards away, and converging, trying to bring his guns to bear. I saw a helmeted head in the cockpit, and a surge of anger pushed my lethargy away.

I stared at the German pilot. You’re no good, I thought. You’re a damned poor shot and a bloody awful pilot. Why the hell doesn’t the mid-upper fire? I snapped the mike switch on. ‘For Christ’s sake, George, shoot that bastard down!’ At once, the guns chattered, and a stream of orange sparks curved slowly down and through the fighter’s nose. He rolled over on his back, and dived straight down, disappearing into a sheet of stratus thousands of feet below.

‘I think you got him. Where’s the other one?’ Lanham answered from the rear turret. ‘Falling back astern. He’s clearing off. Good shooting, George!’ I agreed. ‘Yes, well done, George! What kept you?’ ‘Sorry, skipper. I had my sights on him all the time. I think I just forgot to shoot.’

I sat relaxed and let the relief run over me. George Two sailed on securely in the cold and moonlit night. I thought about the little Welsh mid-upper gunner, barely eighteen years old, rigid in his turret through the combat, unable to press the triggers until he heard my angry shout.

The Peenemunde raid, on which nearly 600 bombers were deployed, and forty lost, including the ‘A’ Flight Commander from Wickenby, was perhaps the most important on which we were engaged. We later learned that it delayed the enemy’s V-bomb attacks on England by six crucial months.

See Jack Currie: Lancaster Target.

Aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Rocket Research Establishment at Peenemunde, Usedom Island, Germany, taken by a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX of No. 540 Squadron RAF, using a Type F.52 (36") vertical camera. This view shows the concentration of bomb craters on the airfield and damage to technical buildings of the Luftwaffe Test Facility, Peenemunde West, after the raid by Bomber Command on 17/18 August 1943.

Aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Rocket Research Establishment at Peenemunde, Usedom Island, Germany, taken by a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX of No. 540 Squadron RAF, using a Type F.52 (36″) vertical camera. This view shows the concentration of bomb craters on the airfield and damage to technical buildings of the Luftwaffe Test Facility, Peenemunde West, after the raid by Bomber Command on 17/18 August 1943.

Aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Rocket Research Establishment at Peenemunde, Usedom Island, Germany, taken by a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX of No. 540 Squadron RAF, using a Type F.52 (36") vertical camera. This view shows the devastated Karlshagen Housing Estate, which accommodated the Establishment's married staff and their families, after the air raid by Bomber Command on 17/18 August 1943. Of the 2,500 dwellings on the estate, only 72 survived.

Aerial reconnaissance photograph of the Rocket Research Establishment at Peenemunde, Usedom Island, Germany, taken by a De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark IX of No. 540 Squadron RAF, using a Type F.52 (36″) vertical camera. This view shows the devastated Karlshagen Housing Estate, which accommodated the Establishment’s married staff and their families, after the air raid by Bomber Command on 17/18 August 1943. Of the 2,500 dwellings on the estate, only 72 survived.

{ 1 comment }

Aug

16

1943

Dropping into occupied France by moonlight


16th August 1943: Dropping into occupied France by moonlight

The light opposite me flashed to red and I swung my legs into the hole. In a few seconds I should have jumped again down into that prison of Europe and the Halifax would be turning home for England. One will never forget the tension of that moment as the parachutist listens to the slowing down of the engines to stalling speed and then the light flashes to green and one is through the hole and into the rush of the slipstream, then drifting high over the earth in the peace of the moonlight.

Aug

15

1943

Time to relax as bombers are heard overhead


15th August 1943: Time to relax as bombers are heard overhead

As I lay in bed the other night I heard the Deep Purr of our bombers winging their way to Hamburg… This is a comfortable feeling. I turned lazily in bed and glowed at the thought, going back in my mind to those awful months when to hear that noise overhead was to know the Germans were going to pour death and destruction on us. It meant in those days a readjustment of the mind to the fact that this might be one’s last night on earth — or that by the morning one might be homeless and possessionless.

Aug

14

1943

HMS Scylla survives a glider bomb attack


14th August 1943: HMS Scylla survives a glider bomb attack

“Missed us!” I exulted. “Missed us!” We laughed like idiots, and then slowly began to realise what must have happened. Coming in from the port side the bombs had overshot us, dropping into the sea on our starboard side, ploughing through the sea away from us, to burst in the water. Had the three thousand-pound bombs hit us directly, or fallen slightly short on the port side, it would have been a different story and the ship would have been a shambles.

Aug

13

1943

US Army Engineers build a ‘Bridge in the Sky’


13th August 1943: US Army Engineers build a ‘Bridge in the Sky’

The bridges of Sicily were graceful and beautiful old arches of stone or of brick-faced rubble ll, and shattering them so completely was something like chopping down a shade tree or defacing a church. They’ll all have to be rebuilt after the war and it’s going to take a lot more money to replace all those hundreds of spans than was really necessary. But I suppose the Germans and Italians figured dear old Uncle Sam would pay for it all, anyhow, so they might as well have their fun.

Aug

12

1943

Flight Sergeant Aaron dies saving his crew


12th August 1943: Flight Sergeant Aaron dies saving his crew

A bullet struck Flight Sergeant Aaron in the face, breaking his jaw and tearing away part of his face. He was also wounded in the lung and his right arm was rendered useless. As he fell forward over the control column, the aircraft dived several thousand feet. Control was regained by the flight engineer at 3,000 feet. Unable to speak, Flight Sergeant Aaron urged the bomb aimer by signs to take over the controls. Course was then set southwards in an endeavour to fly the crippled bomber, with one engine out of action, to Sicily or North Africa.

Aug

11

1943

Lloyd Trigg and crew die as they sink U-Boat


11th August 1943: Lloyd Trigg and crew die as they sink U-Boat

Flying Officer Trigg had rendered outstanding service on convoy escort and antisubmarine duties. He had completed 46 operational sorties and had invariably displayed skill and courage of a very high order. One day in August 1943, Flying Officer Trigg undertook, as captain and pilot, a patrol in a Liberator although he had not previously made any operational sorties in that type of aircraft. After searching for 8 hours a surfaced U-boat was sighted. Flying Officer Trigg immediately prepared to attack.

Aug

10

1943

General George S. Patton slaps another soldier


10th August 1943: General George S. Patton slaps another soldier

Just as I was leaving the hospital, I saw a soldier sitting on a box near the dressing station. I stopped and said to him, ‘What is the matter with you, boy?’He said, ‘Nothing; I just can’t take it.’ I asked what he meant. He said, ‘I just can’t take being shot at.’ I said, ‘You mean that you are malingering here?’ He burst into tears and I immediately saw that he was an hysterical case.

Aug

9

1943

War artist Edward Ardizzone takes Italian surrender


9th August 1943: War artist Edward Ardizzone takes Italian surrender

In the meantime Geoffrey had sent a message by the hotel manager to the Italian commander, an Alpini Colonel, telling him to report at once to us alone with his Adjutant. I was on tenterhooks in case he should call our bluff and know more of the situation than we did, we had learned that he had four hundred men under his command. To my surprise he turned up with the Adjutant. We told him that the town was surrounded and that he must surrender and ordered him to disarm his troops and march them away southward. Over a glass of champagne he meekly and sadly complied.

Aug

8

1943

Lt Sallenger from USS Card spots another two U-boats


8th August 1943: Lt Sallenger from USS Card spots another two U-boats

The engine was popping and cutting out during this attack. My speed was reduced to 160 knots, and I was on a course of about 3300. During this run Ensign SPRAGUE was working over the other, unattacked sub. Again he was doing an excellent job, but the enemy AA fire seemed even heavier. On this run, the plane was hit in the left main gas tank at the wing root (It had about 30 gallons in it at the time), tearing a hole about a foot wide and immediately bursting into flames. There were other less effective hits.