Bomber Command steps up the attack

A German picture of the British Lancaster heavy bomber in flight.

The big raid of the week had been on Dusseldorf but Bomber Command were demonstrating their ability to operate on every night when the weather was favourable. The new Pathfinders unit improved the accuracy of raids by marking the target, while more and more heavy bombers were becoming operational, meaning that a much heavier tonnage of bombs was falling. There were however significant losses on every raid:

Bomber Command despatched 1,493 aircraft against land targets, compared with 724 last week. About 1,165 tons of H.E. bombs (including seven x 8,000 lbs. and 337 x 4,000 lbs.) and 1,720 tons of incendiaries (including four x 4,000 lbs.) were dropped during the week. Dusseldorf, Bremen and Essen received the main weight of attack. Wilhelmshaven was also raided on a substantial scale.

At Dusseldorf, 360 aircraft dropped 700 tons of bombs. Though a large part of the attacking force concentrated its effort on the main objective, starting a number of extensive fires. scattered fires were also seen west of the target, and some bombs fell at Krefeld, Munchen-Gladbach and adjacent towns. Thirty bombers are missing, five crashed and three came down in the sea.

An attack on Bremen was carried out in two phases by a total of 346 aircraft; about 714 tons of bombs were dropped. The main force, despite bad visibility, successfully dropped bombs on the old town and dock district where the major areas of fire were concentrated. Twenty bombers are missing and three crashed.

Wilhelshaven was the target for 202 bombers, all but three of which returned safely. About 383 tons of bombs were dropped by 179 aircraft in moderate visibility. Many large fires were seen in the target area and some others in its environs. Several crews reported a specially violent explosion in the town and a large oil fire in the. dock area.

A total of 477 tons of bombs was released during an attack on Essen by 232 aircraft. Heavy ground haze obscured the target and many crews were unable to identify ground detail, but flares and incendiaries dropped by a Pathfinder force were effective guides. Among the resultant fires was a large blaze in the approximate position of Krupps’ works. Flak defences were exceptionally intense; of the 369 bombers despatched 39 did not return. Two enemy aircraft were destroyed in combat.

Twenty-four sorties were flown by “Intruders” over aerodromes in the Low Counties; one enemy aircraft was destroyed.

From the Air Situation Report for the week ending 17th September, as reported to the British War Cabinet, see TNA CAB 66/28/48

Germany was also developing a four engined long distance bomber at this time, the Messerschmitt 264. It was intended that the Luftwaffe would bomb New York with it.

The Messerschmitt 264 first flew in December 1942 but the programme fell victim to development problems and changing priorities. Only three were ever built.

Hitler’s Luftwaffe Adjutant, Nicholas von Below records how the raids began to have a much more significant impact on Germany and how Hitler was frustrated in his desire for retaliation:

In September it became obvious that the purpose of the British air raids was to build a second front. The RAF attacked Munich, Bremen, Dusseldorf and Duisburg.

As the aircraft crossed into Reich territory, air raid alarms were given for vast areas, sending people down into the shelters for hours at a time. This brought a damaging loss of production, particularly serious for the armaments industry, in its train. Quite apart from the damage and casualties inflicted by the bombing itself, these alarms imposed a great strain on people.

Hitler spent much time contemplating how he could combat the problem. It had always been his principle to retaliate like for like or worse, but that was not now possible.

The Ju 88 was still not being turned out in satisfactory numbers.The He 177 was a complete disaster. Hitler had had grave doubts about the design from the start and was now confirmed in his opinion. Hopes were focused on the Ju 88, but Milch, who was responsible for aircraft supply, was concentrating on producing fighters to improve air defence.

I was amazed that Hitler expressed satisfaction with all this and did not attempt to interfere. He told me that he trusted Goring, who had promised an early improvement in the state of the Luftwaffe.

Nicolaus Von Below: At Hitler’s Side: The Memoirs of Hitler’s Luftwaffe Adjutant

The Heinkel He 177 also suffered from development problems, not least with its engines. Even when it became operational in 1942 it proved to be unreliable and was often grounded

The Ju 88 was to become a mainstay of the Luftwaffe fleet but it had spent a long time in development as it was intended to perform so many roles.

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