Operation Robinson hits Le Creusot works

Film still showing Avro Lancaster B Mark Is of No. 5 Group, flying at low-level over the French countryside on the evening of 17 October 1942, while en route to attack the Schneider engineering factory at Le Creusot, France. The nearest aircraft, R5497 ‘OF-Z’, of No. 97 Squadron RAF, is being flown by Flying Officer J R Brunt and crew, who were shot down and killed on an operation in the same aircraft exactly two months later. The film was shot by the navigator of the Lancaster flown by the Commanding Officer of No. 106 Squadron RAF, Wing Commander G P Gibson, who was to command No, 617 Squadron RAF the following year.

Le Creusot (17th October).

The Schneider armament works at Le Creusot were attacked by 94 Lancasters in daylight. The force flew below 1,000 feet during the whole of the outward flight, which included 330 miles over Occupied Territory. The total flight was over 1,700 miles.

The main attack was made on the factory from a height of 4,000 feet; a small formation of six aircraft attacked the transformer and switching station from 500 feet. Only one aircraft failed to return.

The Schneider works are the Krupps of France. Their total area is 287 acres and their chief products big guns and locomotives.

Ten thousand workers were employed at this works and all plants were fully active. It is believed that the transformer and switching station was destroyed, thus depriving the works completely of electrical power. It is known that there is a great shortage of transformers in France and Germany, so much so that they are believed to be virtually irreplaceable under existing conditions.

From the fortnightly report on Bomber Command Operations as submitted to the War Cabinet see TNA CAB 66/30/44

Part of the special force of 94 Avro Lancasters of No. 5 Group, flying at low level over Montrichard on the River Cher, France, en route to attack the Schneider engineering works at Le Creusot.

Bomber Command’s Arthur Harris had decided to attempt another low level daylight raid despite the heavy casualties suffered on the Augsburg raid on 17th April. The raid was led by Squadron Leader ‘Slosher’ Slee of No. 49 Squadron RAF based at Scampton. In the aircraft following him was navigator Tom Bennett, who recalls that after crossing France at low level they gained altitude for the run in:

We reached 6,000 feet and flew straight and level. I calculated the data for the automatic bombsight and passed it to Sergeant Erwin Osler our Canadian bomb-aimer.

We always used this sight as a fixed sight. We found that trying to manipulate it in the automatic role often caused the bombs to fall early, if the wheel control on this bomb-sight was used clumsily.

Then I noticed that ’Slosher’s’ aircraft was pumping out red Very signals agitatedly. I looked to starboard and saw that part of the arc formed by 9, 57 and 207 Squadrons was threatening to take over the run-in! I smiled inwardly, as I could imagine those bods saying ‘Why should bloody 49 be the first in?’

Slee abandoned the disciplinary attempt and poked his speed up to something approaching 195 mph. We followed suit, naturally, and I rapidly re-calculated the bomb-sight data from scratch, warning Oz to scrub all the current settings.

Soon the sight was re-aligned. Gerry opened the bomb-doors and the bombing run was on. I looked out of the starboard blister. Opposition from the ground was negligible certainly nothing came our way. Gerry held the Lancaster level and steady at the indicated airspeed required. ‘Bombs gone!’ came confidently from the nose of the aircraft.

Dusk was gathering as I continued to survey the ground from the blister. Suddenly, my heart stopped in unbelieving horror, as black smoke and lurid flames belched from the thirty pound incendiaries as they burst amid a cluster of attractive French villas.

I knew we were the first aircraft in with a part-load of HE and these bombs. It was the very first time that I had personally observed the impact of bombs we had dropped. I thought ‘So much for the assurance that the incendiaries are timed to drop into the damage caused by the HE!’ My feelings were a mix of anger and horror … to think we had done this to French homes! Sickening!

This is part of a much longer account of the raid which appears in Martin W. Bowman: Bomber Command: Reflections of War: Live to Die Another Day.

The Operations Room board at Headquarters, No. 5 Group, at “St Vincents”, Grantham, Lincolnshire, after the conclusion of the famous daylight raid on the Schneider engineering factory at Le Creusot, France.

Low-level photographic reconnaissance photograph of blast-damaged buildings at the Breuil steelworks at Le Creusot, France, following the special low-level daylight raid by Avro Lancasters of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command, on 17 October 1942.

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: