The RAF’s largest bombing raid so far – on Paris

Annotated vertical taken during the major night raid on the Renault works at Boulogne-Billancourt, west of the centre of Paris. The largest number of aircraft sent to a single target so far - 235 - were despatched, dropping a record tonnage of bombs. A significant development was the mass use of flares to illuminate the target ('1' and '2'). Smoke and flame from exploding bombs can be seen on the factory ('3'), and also on the Ile St Germain ('4' and '5'). Only one aircraft, a Vickers Wellington, was lost during the raid, which was judged to be a great success.

A Stirling crew of No 7 Squadron being interrogated at Newmarket on their return from the raid on the Renault factory at Billancourt in Paris, 3-4 March 1942. At the time, it was the largest Bomber Command operation despatched against a single target, with 235 aircraft carrying out the concentrated attack. They achieved considerable success, destroying a significant portion of the plant and putting back lorry production by several months.

RAF Bomber Command was now starting to step up its attacks on Germany and occupied Europe. There were now more four engined heavy bombers coming into service, they would soon replace the aged Hampdens and Whitleys. More significantly Air Marshal Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris had just taken over as Air Officer Commanding in Charge. It was his conviction that Germany could be bombed into submission. From this point on there was a step change in the intensity of bombing raids mounted by the RAF. There was no prospect of opening a ‘second front’ in Europe for some time, so this was the only direct way of trying to take the pressure off the Russians.

The Renault factory, in the town of Boulogne-Billancourt just west of the centre of Paris, was making an estimated 18,000 lorries a year for the German forces. 235 aircraft – 89 Wellingtons, 48 Hampdens, 29 Stirlings, 26 Manchesters, 23 Whitleys, 20 Halifaxes – were dispatched in 3 waves, the crews of the leading wave being selected for their experience.

The plan called for the massed use of flares and a very low bombing level so that crews could hit the factory without too many bombs falling in the surrounding town. There were no Flak defences. 223 aircraft bombed the target, reporting excellent results. Only 1 Wellington was lost. The main raid lasted 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Many records were broken that night. The number of aircraft sent to this one target – 235 – was the greatest by the R.A.F. to a single target so far in the war; the previous record was 229 to Kiel on 7/8 April 1941. The concentration of bombers over the target – averaging 121 per hour – exceeded Bomber Command’s previous best rate of 80 per hour; there were no collisions.

A record tonnage of bombs was dropped, although the exact tonnage is in doubt, official records giving 412 and 470 tons. A significant tactical point was the mass use of flares and the selection of some experienced crews to open the raid, thus foreshadowing some of the ‘pathfinding’ methods to be used later in the war. Gee was not used, being not yet ready for operations.

The raid was considered a great success and the destruction caused in the factory received much publicity. Unfortunately, French civilian casualties were heavy. There were many blocks of workers’ apartments very close to the factory.

From the post war RAF History.

A post raid reconnaissance image taken to assess the damage caused RAF Bomber Command's raid on the Renault factory in Paris.

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