The ‘Battle of the Ruhr’ begins with Essen

Armourers fit fuzes to 250-lb GP bombs on their trolleys, prior to loading into Handley Page Hampden Mark I, P1333 'EA-F', of No. 49 Squadron RAF at Scampton, Lincolnshire. P1333 crash-landed near Breda, Netherlands, on returning from a raid on Merseburg, Germany on 17 August 1940. By 1943 No 49 Squadron was equipped with Lancasters.

Armourers fit fuzes to 250-lb GP bombs on their trolleys, prior to loading into Handley Page Hampden Mark I, P1333 ‘EA-F’, of No. 49 Squadron RAF at Scampton, Lincolnshire. P1333 crash-landed near Breda, Netherlands, on returning from a raid on Merseburg, Germany on 17 August 1940. By 1943 No 49 Squadron was equipped with Lancasters.

The bomb load most commonly used for area bombing raids (Bomber Command executive codeword 'Usual') in the bomb bay of an Avro Lancaster. 'Usual' consisted of a 4,000 impact-fused HC bomb ('cookie'), and 12 Small Bomb Containers (SBCs) each loaded with incendiaries, in this case, 236 x 4-lb incendiary sticks.

The bomb load most commonly used for area bombing raids (Bomber Command executive codeword ‘Usual’) in the bomb bay of an Avro Lancaster. ‘Usual’ consisted of a 4,000 impact-fused HC bomb (‘cookie’), and 12 Small Bomb Containers (SBCs) each loaded with incendiaries, in this case, 236 x 4-lb incendiary sticks.

Bomber Command had come a long way since the desperate days of 1940 when they were flying twin engined bombers and sustaining terrible losses. The strategic decision to concentrate a substantial proportion of Allied resources on the bombing of Germany had been made long before. There were few other options available, hitting back at Germany meant bombing Germany. It was just a year since the Lancasters had first become operational, now they formed the backbone of the bomber fleet.

Getting troops on the ground in occupied Europe for a true ‘Second Front’ required an enormous logistical build up that was going to take time, and the Battle of the Atlantic needed to be won first. Bombing was the best that could be offered to Soviet Russia, which naturally wanted a ‘Second Front’ opened up as soon as possible.

So, while the policy subtly shifted away from ‘dehousing’ German workers in order to undermine their morale, to destroying German industry to undermine the Nazi war effort, the actual targets remained the same. The heavy bomber fleets which had been building up since early 1942 were now ready for deployment in strength, and the techniques for accurate bombing, including Oboe, were now very much more refined:

At long last we were ready and equipped. Bomber Command’s main offensive began at a precise moment, the moment of the first major attack on an objective in Germany by means of Oboe.

This was on the night of March 5-6th, 1943, when I was at last able to undertake with real hope of success the task which had been given to me when I first took over the Command a little more than a year before, the task of destroying the main cities of the Ruhr.

In the interval, however, the scope of my instructions had been enlarged, as a result of the Casablanca Conference, when it was decided to proceed with a joint Anglo-American bomber offensive against German war industry.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, Commander in Chief of Royal Air Force Bomber Command, seated at his desk at Bomber Command HQ, High Wycombe.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, Commander in Chief of Royal Air Force Bomber Command, seated at his desk at Bomber Command HQ, High Wycombe.

The subject of morale had been dropped, and I was now required to proceed with the general “ disorganisation” of German industry, giving priority to certain aspects of it such as U-boat building, aircraft production, oil production, transportation and so forth, which gave me a very wide range of choice and allowed me to attack pretty well any German industrial city of 100,000 inhabitants and above.

But the Ruhr remained a principal objective because it was the most important industrial area in the whole of Germany, which was why it had been originally chosen for morale-breaking attacks; the new instructions therefore made no difference.

Essen had been named as the first town for destruction a year before, as it was the largest and most important manufacturing centre in the Ruhr, and Essen was the target on the night of March 5-6th.

See Sir Arthur Harris: Bomber Offensive

Fires burning in Essen on the night 5-6th March 1943.

Fires burning in Essen on the night 5-6th March 1943.

A reconnaissance photograph taken after the raid on Essen to evaluate the scale of destruction.

A reconnaissance photograph taken after the raid on Essen to evaluate the scale of destruction.

5/6 March 1943

Essen was the target for 442 aircraft – 157 Lancasters, 131 Wellingtons, 94 Halifaxes, 52 Stirlings, 8 Mosquitos – in the first raid of the ‘Battle of the Ruhr’. It was on this night that Bomber Command’s 100,000th sortie of the war was flown. 14 aircraft – 4 Lancasters, 4 Wellingtons, 3 Halifaxes, 3 Stirlings – lost, 3.2 per cent of the force.

The only tactical setback to this raid was that 56 aircraft turned back early because of technical defects and other causes. 3 of the ‘early returns’ were from the 8 Oboe Mosquito marker aircraft upon which the success of the raid depended but the 5 Mosquitos which did reach the target area opened the attack on time and marked the centre of Essen perfectly. The Pathfinder backers-up also arrived in good time and carried out their part of the plan.

The whole of the marking was ‘blind’, so that the ground haze which normally concealed Essen did not affect the outcome of the raid. The Main Force bombed in 3 waves – Halifaxes in the first wave, Wellingtons and Stirlings in the second, Lancasters in the third. Two thirds of the bomb tonnage was incendiary; one third of the high-explosive bombs were fused for long delay.

The attack lasted for 40 minutes and 362 aircraft claimed to have bombed the main target. These tactics would be typical of many other raids on the Ruhr area in the next 4 months. Reconnaissance photographs showed 160 acres of destruction with 53 separate buildings within the Krupps works hit by bombs. Small numbers of bombs fell in 6 other Ruhr cities.

From the RAF Bomber Command history. Lancaster Bombers, featuring No.49 Squadron, has a copy of the original Night Raid report. Bomber History remembers the crews from No. 49 Squadron that were lost that night.

An evaluation of all the flash photographs taken by each aircraft moments after they released their bombs.

An evaluation of all the flash photographs taken by each aircraft moments after they released their bombs.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike June 22, 2014 at 10:18 am

The American people were, for the most part, not in favor of the U.S. becoming involved in Europe’s war. Therefore, Roosevelt – the Commie sympathizer – and Churchill conspired to drag us into the war – a war in which the U.S., for the second time within a twenty-five year span, had no business becoming involved.
Churchill needed U.S. industrial production to bail him out against Germany and Roosevelt needed the war to bail him out of his failed “New Deal” policies and to save his presidency. Many of us believe that Roosevelt knew about the Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor…after all, it did save his presidency, didn’t it? So what if it cost 2,130 Americans their lives, right? FDR came out smelling like a rose.

World War II, as it was known, should probably be renamed “The First U.N. War.” And, yes, there were war crimes committed on both sides. And, in my opinion, area bombing – approved by Mr. “John Bull” himself, Winston Churchill and carried out by “Bomber” Harris, was one of them. Firestorms hot enought to melt glass and asphalt, temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit….and bombs do not discriminate between Nazis and non-Nazis, “Aryans” or Jews.

Area bombing did not shorten the war. After all, the Allied policy was “Unconditional Surrender”. Therefore, the Germans were resolved to fight as long as they could because there would be no suing for peace.

Also, with regard to shortening the war, if Ike wanted to shorten the war, why did he cut off Patton’s supply of gas several times? Also, why was Patton not allowed to seal the Falaise Gap, which would have prevented the German’s who escaped from being available to be re-armed and fight in the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944? And why didn’t Ike let Patton take Pague and Berlin, thus sparing German women the torture of gang-rape by the “noble Soviet allies”? No, the shortening of the war argument as rationale for area bombing was a smokescreen, if not an out-and-out lie. The Big Three had already agreed at Yalta that the Soviets would be handed eastern Europe. The end result of “WW II” was that the Commie-sypathizer FDR used the industrial output of the U.S. – a Constitutional Republic, a free society – to build the Communist Red Army into a powerful force, fully capable of defeating us.
The Soviets were the big winners of WW II, thanks to FDR…and Truman, Churchill, Eisenhower, Spaatz, Harris, et. al.

Winners write history. Therefore, Allied war crimes, such as I just described as well as Eisenhower’s starving German POWs and civilians and the new classification of DEFs, thus circumventing the Geneva Convention, went unpunished.

General George S. Patton was absolutely correct when he said, “What we are doing is to utterly destroy the only semi-modern state in Europe so that Russia can swallow the whole.” He was virulently anti-Communist, as am I. He foresaw the coming confrontation known as the “Cold War” and wanted to take on Russia while we had a chance to defeat them. But Eisenhower, Roosevelt and all the other Commie-sympathizers didn’t want to offend our “noble Soviet allies.”

I suggest a good read: “Freedom Betrayed” by Herbert Hoover. A very good book. Also, I recommed “Target: Patton”.

Elizabeth March 7, 2014 at 6:54 am

I agree with Martin. Unfortunately the Nazi’s set a precedent of indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets across Britain early in the war. One must never forget the horrendous genocide the Nazis so heartlessly committed against 6 million men, women, children and babies without them possibly posing a threat . This was continuing at an increased pace while the Allies were trying to bring the Nazi war machine to an end as rapidly as possible and Hitler had no conscience demanding that his own civilians sacrifice themselves for the Reich. It is easy judging in hindsight, but it was desperate times and desperate measures had to unfortunately be taken. It is because of the sacrifices of so many that we enjoy our freedom today.

Editor March 6, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Robert

It is hard to respect people who begin with ‘ad hominem’ remarks like that.

I believe they died, along with at least 55,000 young crewmen from Britain alone, so that you could have the freedom to make comments like that.

Martin

robert weidsteiner March 6, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Gosh that guy Harris was a nasty piece of work – he even looked like a pantomime villain. He should have rotted in a jail along with the war criminals from the other side, instead the Brits built him a statue. I wonder if he was knighted too. feted for killing -what was it- half to a million civilians?

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