‘Circus’ raids are stepped up

A daylight raid on Comines power station in north east France by Blenheim bombers on 28th June scored a direct hit on the turbine hall and caused much damage. Six workers were killed.

Daylight raids and fighter sweeps over northern France, known as ‘Circus’ raids, had been under way all year. The invasion of Russia had seen the greater part of the Luftwaffe transferred to the east. Now the RAF stepped up their attacks in an attempt to force the Germans to maintain stronger air defences in the west.

Aircraft of Bomber Command continued their offensive operations against targets in North-East France and Germany, in the course of which hits were registered on Steel Works at Lille, Power Stations, at Comines and Pont-a- Vendin nearby, a crowded railway yard near Oldenburg, runways and buildings at Merville Aerodrome and the seaplane base at Borkum.

The attacks by bombers on objectives in France were made with fighter escort, and fighter sweeps were also carried out over these total of 124 squadrons being employed. We lost 11 bombers and 24 fighters, but the pilots of 2 Spitfires were rescued. Ten aircraft were destroyed by our bombers, who probably destroyed 3 more and damaged 7. Our fighters shot down a total of 39 Messerschmitts, including a number of Me. 109 Fs, probably destroyed 15 more and damaged 18.

The increase in German defensive patrols noted last week was maintained, the average being 290: per day over the Straits area, though on the 27th June these reached the exceptional figure of 590 sorties.

From the Air Situation Report for the week see TNA CAB 66/17/24

This short summary hardly does justice to the effort that was put into the Circus raids by the RAF. These were especially hazardous operations for the RAF bomber crews who were the ‘bait’ to bring out the Luftwaffe fighters so that they could be pounced on by RAF fighters.

For a comprehensive account of the RAF Blenheim bomber operations during this period, especially 139 “Jamaica” Squadron see https://kenfentonswar.com/139-jamaica-squadron/. In particular this site has a good account of “Circus 27” carried out on the 30th, the Operation Order for which was issued on 28th:

No.11 Group Operation Order No.30 dated 28th June 1941 instructed and provided details associated with Circus 27, Raid I A J 440, to be carried out on the evening of Monday, 30th June 1941 against target No.Z303, the Power Station at Pont-à-Vendin, 3½ miles North North East of Lens, in the French Department of the Pas-de-Calais.

The raid was to comprise 18 Blenheim Bombers from No. 2 Group Bomber Command, including 8 aircraft from 139 Squadron based at Horsham St. Faith and 10 aircraft from 18 Squadron based at Oulton and was to be supported by 19 Squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes, this being 2 Squadrons more than were to be able to intercept the bombers over London on Battle of Britain Day, 15th September 1940. 212 aircraft in total, 59 Hurricanes and 153 spitfires, as a covering fighter escort, whose duties would have been as the following:-

Escort Wing; comprising Nos. 303, 306 308 Squadrons, out of Northolt and 242 Squadron from North Weald airfield.

Target Support Wings; comprising Nos. 54, 603 and 611 Squadrons from Hornchurch and Nos. 74, 92 and 609 Squadrons from Biggin Hill, 74 Squadron being sent there from Gravesend earlier that day.

Diversion and Rear Support Wings; comprising Nos. 1, 258 and 312 Squadrons from Kenley, Nos. 145, 610 and 616 Squadrons out of Tangmere and Nos. 65, 266 and 485 Squadrons from 12 Group Fighter Command, allocated for this operation to airfields in the South, namely West Malling and Wittering. All the other Squadrons formed part of No 11 Group Fighter Command.

Being a Circus, there was to be a great deal of fighter escort, the intention being to draw up the German fighters to enable the fighter squadrons to inflict damage on their number. On this occasion, the fighter escort was to include the Tangmere Wing, led by Wing Commander Douglas Bader with eleven other aircraft, including that of Sgt. James McCairns.

2 thoughts on “‘Circus’ raids are stepped up”

  1. I do wonder what was the true loses on the German side. I know the losses where pretty awful on the RAF side and lots of pilots did think the Circus offensive was a waste of pilots and aircraft

  2. Victory claims by the RAF over France and Belgium in 1941-42 were very overstated. The reality was a ratio of 3-2 in favor of the Germans, and of course most of the surviving pilots became POWs. All the advantages which had accrued to Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain reversed when Leigh-Mallory “leaned into France.” The raids were pinpricks, but the political need to be seen as helping the Russians held sway. If some of the Spitfires had been deployed to Malta, North Africa and Singapore earlier a lot of history might have turned out better for the Empire.

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