Operation Bodenplatte – disaster for the Luftwaffe

Some of the p-47 fighters that were destroyed on the ground at Metz airfield during Operation Bodenplatte.
Some of the p-47 fighters that were destroyed on the ground at Metz airfield during Operation Bodenplatte.

To support the German offensive through the Ardennes the Luftwaffe had planned a co-ordinated operation to try to neutralise the Allied fighter bombers. The heavily outnumbered Luftwaffe had made little impact on the battle so far. Rather than directly confronting the Allied fighters in the air, Operation Bodenplatte aimed to destroy as many Allied fighters on the ground as possible. News Year’s Day was the first day that the weather would be favourable from early morning. Luftwaffe pilot Willi Heilman of III Gruppe recalled the early morning excitement:

We were awoken at 3 o’clock in the morning and half an hour later all the pilots of JG 26 and III/JG54 were assembled in the mess room. Hptm. Worner came in with the ominous envelope already open in his hand. ‘To make it brief boys, we’re taking off with more than a thousand fighters at the crack of dawn to prang various airfields on the Dutch-Belgian border’

Then followed the details of the take-off, flying order, targets and return flights. Brussels was the target of III/JG 54. The whole mission was to be carried out at less than 600 feet until we reached the targets so that the enemy ground stations could not pick us up. To this end, radio silence was the order until we reached the target.

We were given a magnificent breakfast, cutlets, roast beef and a glass of wine. For sweets there were patries and several cups of fragrant coffee.

The last minutes before we were airborne seemed an eternity. Nervous fingers stubbed out half smoked cigarettes. In the scarlet glow the sun slowly appeared above the horizon to the east. It was 8.25am. And the armada took off …

This account, together with many more, appears in To Win the Winter Sky: The Air War over the Ardennes 1944-1945

The moment a FW 190A is ripped apart under the guns of an Allied fighter - 1944-45.
The moment a FW 190A explodes under the guns of an Allied fighter – 1944-45.

Despite the careful planning Operation Bodenplatte did not achieve the level of surprise hoped for, only a minority of attacks were to hit undefended airfields. The Allied fighters were soon in the air and the large numbers of very inexperienced German pilots who had been pressed into service paid the price. To make matters worse the secrecy surrounding the operation meant that German anti-aircraft units had not been warned about it and more low flying planes fell to ‘friendly fire’.

The Luftwaffe lost 143 pilots killed and missing, while 70 were captured and 21 wounded – it was the worst single day’s losses for the Luftwaffe. These pilots were irreplaceable.

Although the Allies are estimated to have lost almost 300 aircraft destroyed and about 180 damaged on the ground, these were empty aircraft and such was the Allied supply situation most planes were replaced within a week.

Contemporary film of aerial combat and ground strafing by planes of the 8th Air Force during this period:

The Luftwaffe were now irreparably weakened as the Allied continued with not just the widespread fight bomber attacks, in support of the Army, but the heavy bombers’ assault on German cities. These continued at the same intensity that they had reached in 1944 – in the remaining months of the war 470,000 tons of bombs would fall on Germany, more than twice the tonnage that had fallen in the whole of 1943.

Amongst the targets for the RAF on 1st January 1945 was the familiar site of the Dortmund-Ems Canal, a key route in German industrial supply. In 1940 a raid on the canal had led to the first Victoria Cross for Bomber Command. Now another member of Bomber Command was similarly recognised:

Portrait of George Thompson, a wireless operator with No 9 Squadron, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry on 1 January 1945 during a raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal near Ladbergen, Germany.
Portrait of George Thompson, a wireless operator with No 9 Squadron, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry on 1 January 1945 during a raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal near Ladbergen, Germany.

1370700 Flight Sergeant George Thompson, R.A.F.V.R., 9 Squadron (Deceased) :-

This airman was the wireless operator in a Lancaster aircraft which attacked the Dortmund-Ems Canal in daylight on 1st January, 1945. The bombs had just been released when a heavy shell hit the aircraft in front of the mid-upper turret. Fire broke out and dense smoke filled the fuselage. The nose of the aircraft was then hit and an inrush of air, clearing the smoke, revealed a scene of utter devastation. Most of the perspex screen of the nose compartment had been shot away, gaping holes had been torn in the canopy above the pilot’s head, the inter-communication wiring was severed, and there was a large hole in the floor of the aircraft. Bedding and other equipment were badly damaged or alight; one engine was on fire.

Flight Sergeant Thompson saw that the gunner was unconscious in the blazing mid-upper turret. Without hesitation he went down the fuselage into the fire and the exploding ammunition. He pulled the gunner from his turret and, edging his way round the hole in the floor, carried him away from the flames. With his bare hands, he extinguished the gunner’s burning clothing. He himself sustained serious burns on his face, hands and legs.

Flight Sergeant Thompson then noticed that the rear gun turret was also on fire. Despite his own severe injuries he moved painfully to the rear of the fuselage where he found the rear gunner with his clothing alight, overcome by flames and fumes. A second time Flight Sergeant Thompson braved the flames. With great difficulty he extricated the helpless gunner and carried him clear. Again, he used his bare hands, already burnt, to beat out flames on a comrade’s clothing.

Flight Sergeant Thompson, by now almost exhausted, felt that his duty was not yet done. He must report the fate of the crew to the captain. He made the perilous journey back through the burning fuselage, clinging to the sides with his burnt hands to get across the hole in the floor. The flow of cold air caused him intense pain and frost-bite developed. So pitiful was his condition that his captain failed to recognise him. Still, his only concern was for the two gunners he had left in the rear of the aircraft. He was given such attention as was possible until a crash-landing was made some forty minutes later.

When the aircraft was hit, Flight Sergeant Thompson might have devoted his efforts to quelling the fire and so have contributed to his own safety. He preferred to go through the fire to succoor his comrades. He knew that he would then be in no position to hear or heed any order which might to given to abandon the aircraft. He hazarded his own life in order to save the lives of others. Young in years and experience, his actions were those of a veteran.

Three weeks later Flight Sergeant Thompson died of his injuries. One of the gunners unfortunately also died, but the other owes his life to the superb gallantry of Flight Sergeant Thompson, whose signal courage and self-sacrifice will ever be an inspiration to the Service.

Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing water pouring through a breach in the western channel of the Dortmund-Ems Canal at Ladbergen, Germany, following a daylight attack by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command. This was the fourth time that Bomber Command had put the canal out of action, following repairs by the Germans.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing water pouring through a breach in the western channel of the Dortmund-Ems Canal at Ladbergen, Germany, following a daylight attack by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command. This was the fourth time that Bomber Command had put the canal out of action, following repairs by the Germans.

Oslo tragedy as RAF Mosquitos attack Gestapo HQ

Mosquito bombers during the successful attack on the Gestapo HQ in Aarhus on 31st October.
Mosquito bombers during the successful attack on Gestapo HQ in Aarhus on 31st October.
The attack on the building occupied by the Gestapo at Aarhus University was an example of notably accurate bombing.
The attack on the building occupied by the Gestapo at Aarhus University, was an example of notably accurate bombing.

The R.A.F.’s ‘Wooden Wonder’ had often been used for specialist missions requiring pin point accuracy. In 1942 a raid had been mounted to disrupt a Nazi rally in Oslo by bombing the Gestapo headquarters. There has been subsequent successful attacks on other Gestapo buildings, perhaps the best known is the attack on Amiens prison in February 1944, Operation Jericho.

On the 31st October 1944 there had been a very successful attack on the Gestapo HQ in Aarhus. On that occasion the low flying aircraft had put bombs right in the centre of the Aarhus University building used by the Nazis, killing an estimated 200 members of the Gestapo. Around 30 imprisoned Danish resistance fighters also died. The raid had been urgently arranged because resistance leader Pastor Sandbaek had been captured and was being tortured there – by good fortune he was one of the few who was dug out of the ruins alive.

The reasons for the return to Oslo on the 31st December 1944 were very probably similar, the silencing of imprisoned resistance members who might betray others under torture. The precise reason was not given to those participating in the raid. Canadian Bob Boyden was one of those flying with 627 Squadron who later remembered the raid:

Our first information about the trip to Oslo was that we were to fly to Peterhead in the northern part of Scotland which would be our advance base. Peterhead was an American base for B17s and would cut off at least two hours flight time and give us a good start. The trip would be a long one – four to four and a half hours – and that can be very tiring if weather conditions require continuous instrument flying or if there are a few unfriendly happenings along the way. Briefing told us that Oslo was the target – not target for tonight – as this would be a daylight raid, which we did not do very often. In fact, I believe I flew only three trips in daylight. It’s quite different as you feel like you stand out like a sore thumb.

At this time of our action against the enemy, we flew to our destination at 28,000 feet and around the target area we would descend to 3,000 feet to look over the area for a pre-determined aiming point. We would then dive to 1,000 or 500 foot levels. After we had done our marking, we would climb back to 28,000 feet and return to base. This time, the target had flak positions and the German Navy was in the Oslo Fjord. W/C Curry was our new squadron commander and would lead the group which was made up of two flights of six Mosquitoes each. F/L Mallender would lead the second wave.

The North Sea is a long trip and we had been told that the water was so cold, we’d last only two minutes. I don’t remember worrying too much about it – it was such a beautiful day. We realised and enjoyed the scene below us – snow covered mountains and bright sunshine. F/O Willis and I did not talk much, if at all. Each of us absorbed in his own thoughts, thinking of what could happen and Willis no doubt wondering what this bastard was going to do next. We cleared the Norwegian coast, with the Oslo Fjord to our right. The target was ahead of us but not in sight, lost in the haze. Suddenly bursts of flak came up, seemingly one for each aircraft and right on altitude. This was the first time that I had seen, heard and smelled it all at the same time as we flew through the cloud.

Mosquito on a test flight with De Havilland in September 1942. Mosquito B Mark IV Series 2, DK338, in flight after completion. DK338 served with No. 105 Squadron RAF as 'GB-O'.
Mosquito on a test flight with De Havilland in September 1942. Mosquito B Mark IV Series 2, DK338, in flight after completion. DK338 served with No. 105 Squadron RAF as ‘GB-O’.

W/C Curry called out to descend to target, probably with his usual “Tally-Ho”: he started the dive with us following his movement. No 2 disappeared from my view and left a gap between the leader and myself. He told No 2 to close in and after a couple of instructions like that I realised I was the one he called No 2. I had already pushed up my throttles at the start of the dive to close the gap. I broke radio silence to tell him I was No 3 and closing fast.

Everything happened so quickly. We had, of course, fooled the flak defences by our diving attack and at last – the target. Bomb doors open, wait for the right moment, push the button, hold 1,000 feet. I felt concussions that closely followed one another. There was no smoke, no dust. I then pushed lower over the city and I remember seeing an open-air skating rink with people skating around, unaware of the chaos and explosions behind them.

Suddenly, No 4 was descending down on top of us. Once again I had to break silence. A mountain loomed up right in front of us and as we changed our straight and level to a steep climb, flak came off the mountain, then we were up and over. Curry ordered us to break up, every man for himself.

I was doing a left-hand turn to head back when I saw a valley to our right. I slid down into the valley and kept at a low level. We passed over the coast and I began the climb back to our operational altitude of 28,000 feet. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and no enemy aircraft were in the vicinity. I didn’t know until years later that the second phase did not drop their bombs. All they saw was smoke and dust at the target site.

The trip back to Peterhead was uneventful. Those Mosquitoes were really smooth and reliable and much credit must go to the manufacturer and of course our aircraft mechanics who worked hard to keep them flying.

All aircraft returned to base and all had some flak marks. Mine also had a cracked landing light cover, which they said had been caused by the concussion. Only one crew member was injured by shrapnel.

Bob Boyden was awarded the DFC for his part in this raid. See 627 Squadron in Retirement for the full story from the RAF perspective

Only the first six of the twelve aircraft on the raid dropped their bombs, the smoke obscuring the target for the second wave [But see comments below]. The RAF at first believed the raid had been successful but it later transpired that the Victoria Terrasse building that housed the Gestapo was undamaged. Instead other civilian buildings had been hit and one bomb had bounced off the ground and hit a crowded tram, killing 44 civilians. In total 78 Norwegians were killed and 27 Germans. It was the worst single incident in Oslo during the war.

Damage in the centre of Oslo after the raid on 31 December 1944 in which 78  Norwegians died
Damage in the centre of Oslo after the raid on 31 December 1944 in which 78 Norwegians died
Tram 115 in Oslo after the New Years Eve raid, which took place at midday. 44 people were killed on the tram when a bombed bounced off the ground and hit it.
Tram 115 in Oslo after the New Years Eve raid, which took place at midday. 44 people were killed on the tram when a bombed bounced off the ground and hit it.

Nightmare in a Mosquito 30,000 feet above Aachen

De Havilland Mosquito PR Mk XVI of No. 544 Squadron RAF based at Benson, Oxfordshire, December 1944.
De Havilland Mosquito PR Mk XVI of No. 544 Squadron RAF based at Benson, Oxfordshire, December 1944.
A De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark XVI of No. 140 Squadron RAF, warms up its engines in a dispersal at B58/Melsbroek, Belgium, before taking off on a night photographic-reconnaissance sortie.
A De Havilland Mosquito PR Mark XVI of No. 140 Squadron RAF, warms up its engines in a dispersal at B58/Melsbroek, Belgium, before taking off on a night photographic-reconnaissance sortie.

Albert Smith was, after just two years, a veteran of 90 operations in RAF bombers. His role as navigator had been tested in Wellington bombers before he was selected for the elite Pathfinder Force which marked the targets for the main bomber force.

Here he flew in the Mosquito. The role was very far from being without risks, but with a very experienced pilot and a very fast aircraft, flying high, there was the reasonable expectation that they were better placed than the heavy bombers to get out of trouble.

The skies over Europe could be very crowded during bombing operations. Hundreds of aircraft were pushed through to the target as quickly as possible, all flying the same route. The aircraft were in close proximity at night. Radar was crude – and only in night fighters was it designed to identify nearby aircraft. Accidents could happen – and they might happen very quickly:

The 4th of December 1944 — 1900 hours — target: Karlsruhe. On the left, slightly higher than my head and facing forward, the pilot peers into the black night. I flick the switch on the nozzle of my oxygen mask, and he turns his head in my direction. A nasal, humid sound: “Alter course to one-six-four degrees. We’ll be over Aachen in two minutes.” The intercom crackles back: “OK.”

Suddenly there is a jolt, and I glance sharply to the left. Out of the window beyond Johnny’s head I see, for an instant, the grotesque black belly of an aircraft sliding by. Nothing happens for a moment, the drone persists — the course holds. Then with a sickening lurch, the plane cartwheels through the sky.

”Johnny!” I scream, as I am flung furiously against the instrument panel, then twisted through the air and thumped to the floor. But the floor itself is twisting. I grab the metal struts at the base of ]ohnny’s seat, pulling my face hard against them as my legs spiral above me. Urine flows uncontrollably, and my chest feels tight and painful.

Sliding my head round, I see Johnny wrestling with the joystick, but we are spinning viciously and out of control. He snatches his arm up and turns the handle of the escape hatch. It rips away, sucking the warm air of the cockpit with it. He reaches down to me, then starts pulling at the buckle of his seat harness.

He twists awkwardly out of his seat — his parachute on his back — and grabs at the joystick. Clutching it, he begins to rotate with the spin of the aircraft. Again he tries to reach down to help me. I stretch my hand up to his. But he seems to lift like a balloon, hover for a second, then shoots out of the black, gaping hole above him.

I pull my head further round, and see, in the dim light, my parachute strapped to the side of the aircraft. It is within reach, but if I let go of the struts then the violent spin of the aircraft will fling me out of the open canopy above. There is nothing I can do.

I pull my face hard against the struts. I tilt my head round a bit, so that the top of my head is facing towards the nose of the aircraft. I grip tighter, because I want to die wrapped in the warmth of the aircraft’s body. A dread of falling through space, formlessly, makes me shudder and I hug the struts closer.

I tilt my head so that it will hit the ground at the same instant as the aircraft, and I will feel nothing. I’m calm. I’m going to die. But I can’t do anything about it. It’ll be quick. And it won’t hurt. I feel so calm. There’s a yellow—red glow in the aircraft. The engines must be on fire! Please God I don’t feel the pain of burning before I die. I begin to hum — just a constant, quiet, surprising hum.

Then my legs slam to the floor, and the aircraft is no longer spinning — diving steeply but no longer spinning. I might live. My body quivers, and I feel the most intense fear.

I’m feeling unsteady, but I’m sitting. I claw at my parachute, still strapped to the side. Tearing off the straps, I fumble with it, and pull it and clip it onto my harness. Surely I’ll hit the ground at any minute, we’ve been falling for so long.

I pull myself towards the blackness but something jerks my head back. I pull again, and my neck is torn violently back. I tug my neck frantically, but still my head won’t move. The ground must be near now — I’m frantic with fear. I nearly made it, for God’s sake, I must make it.

My helmet! It’s still connected to the intercom cable. I wrench it off — my head feels light. I’m shaking as I scramble to the escape hatch. As I get close, a freezing wind stings my face. I feel like I am in water — nothing I push on stays firm. Push, for Christ’s sake, push. My legs are dangling inside the aircraft, my top half is out. I push one more time and thrust myself up, and I’m floating free.

Tumbling, tumbling — floating free. A smooth, unremarkable hissing sound fills me. I pull the rip-cord.

This is from the dramatic opening passage of Smith’s memoir, Albert Smith: Mosquito Pathfinder: Navigating 90 WWII Operations but the whole account of his service is equally well written.

Armourers wheel a 4,000-lb HC bomb ('Cookie') for loading into a De Havilland Mosquito B Mark IV .
Armourers wheel a 4,000-lb HC bomb (‘Cookie’) for loading into a De Havilland Mosquito B Mark IV (modified) of No. 692 Squadron RAF at Graveley, Huntingdonshire. No. 692 Squadron was part of the Light Night Striking Force of No. 8 (PFF) Group, which specialised in fast, high-flying night raids on Germany, particularly Berlin. The specially-modified Mosquitos were fitted with bulged bomb-bays in order to accommodate ‘Cookies’.
Part of a vertical photographic reconnaissance aerial taken over Wilhelmshaven, Germany,
Part of a vertical photographic reconnaissance aerial taken over Wilhelmshaven, Germany, showing the naval ammunition depot at Mariensel, after the night attack by RAF Bomber Command on 11/12 February 1943. This raid was the first on which Pathfinder aircraft used the H2S radar successfully to mark the target accurately. The resulting bombing by the Main Force was very effective, detonating an explosion in the depot which devastated an area of nearly 120 acres and caused widespread damage in the dockyards and town. Blast damage can be seen to have spread as far as the oil storage tanks on the south side of the Tirpitz Hafen (bottom right).

Disaster over Germany for the 392nd Bomb Group

Liberators from the 93rd Bomb Group other way to bomb Nazi installations on the 27th November.
Liberators from the 93rd Bomb Group other way to bomb Nazi installations on the 27th November.
A formation of the 392nd Bomb Group 'somewhere over Germany' on the 24th November.
A formation of the 392nd Bomb Group ‘somewhere over Germany’ on the 24th November.

The 392nd were now veterans of the bomber war over Europe having just completed over 200 Missions. The men were due to celebrate passing this milestone on the evening of the 2nd – and many were hoping that the Mission for the day might be ‘scrubbed’, as they fairly often were, due to bad weather. It was not be, they were briefed at 0515 and took off at 0930, on their way to bomb Bingen in Germany.

Their own fighter escorts were reported to be out in good strength, so the prospects for the mission were good. Yet the Luftwaffe were still capable of throwing out a few surprises. The formation was bounced by as many as 50 German FW190 fighters just after completing their bomb run and rallying for home at 1244. In a little over 10 minutes it was all over for six out of the nine aircraft in the 577th Squadron.

The attack was so intense that was difficult to work out what happened. There were only 19 survivors out of the 54 men in the planes that went down. For the families of those who were lost there would be little information about how they met their end. What information did emerge would be scanty, and a long time coming.

It was not until July 1, 1945, that S/Sgt Jasinski was able, after his release from POW camp, to write to the widow of crewmate T/Sgt Paul W. Haney:

I am Ray Jasinski, the waist gunner on the same crew as Paul. He may have mentioned my name in one of his long letters to you. I say long because he would start writing them in the morning just after breakfast and write at intervals all during the day and sometimes long into the night. We used to kid him about it!

I have been home for two weeks and would have written sooner but I’ve been hoping you would have by this time received some encouraging news from the War Department.

I would like to tell you about several things that happened before the mission, such as our (the crews’) preparations for the 200 mission party and how we all hoped for a stand down (that there would be no mission scheduled for the next day) but were very disappointed when awakened the next morning for the mission.

It seemed everything went wrong that day. Paul couldn’t get the radio to work right, which was very unusual. When he finally got the radio to work, the oxygen line sprang a leak. So we had to change to another ship in whose bomb bay doors I almost got caught when Joe Scalet was testing them.

We finally took off, caught up with our group, and headed for our target. It was a routine mission, target sighted, and bombs dropped, and three minutes later we were hit by fighters.

As you probably know, the two waist gunners and the tail gunner on a B-24 are pretty well isolated from the rest of the crew. The only contact we have with them is the interphone. We chatter over this interphone all the time calling out flak, fighters, etc. But from the time we sight the target until about 5 minutes after “bombs away,” no one is allowed to chatter over the interphone unless it’s an emergency.

Well! We were hit in two of the engines. I believe it must have been pretty serious because Lt. Comeau gave us the bail-out orders to all the crew. If there was any way possible of getting that ship back he would have, because he was tops.

The three of us (2 waists and tail) leave through the rear hatch near the tail in case of an emergency while the rest of the crew leave from the forward nosewheel hatch or the forward bomb bay doors. These exits, at that time, we in the waist could not see. So we did not know what was going on up forward. I jumped and that was the last I saw of anybody until I met Harold in a German interrogation center. I did not see or meet any other crew member since.

In this letter, Mrs. Haney, I wish I really could have written you some sort of comforting news, but I myself did not know of what happened to any of the other crew members until I arrived home and was told by my sister who has been writing you and the other next of kin of the crew.

If there are any questions you feel I could answer for you, please write and ask.

I will now close, praying and hoping that you, his wife, and the rest of us who are his friends, will hear encouraging news soon.

Ray

It was later confirmed that only Ray Jasinski and Harold Krause had survived to become POWs.

Earlier Ray Jasinski had given a more graphic account of what had happened:

While approaching the target, I was throwing out chaff; a few minutes later “bombs away” was given, and a few seconds later we entered a haze (clouds, etc.,). Approximately (2) minutes later, we came out of the haze and “enemy fighters’ was called out.

I then went to man my gun at which time we had the first enemy fighter attacks. On this attack Sgt. Kearns, the left waist gunner, was hit in the stomach by enemy 20mm (cannon) fire, tearing a hole in his stomach about the size of a man’s fist. All of the crew members wore flak suits but Sgt. Kearns did not button the bottom three (3) buttons of his flak apron. When he stood up to man his gun, the apron fell away as he was hit.

During this first attack, the only other person that I saw was the tail gunner, Sgt. Krause, who had his back to me but was manning his gun. At this time, fire broke out in both bomb bays and the command deck. The radio operator, Sgt. Haney, was talking over the interphone to the pilot and started to say “there is a fire” when he stopped. It is my belief he may have been hit by enemy fire.

About this time the enemy fighters were beginning a second run and the pilot gave the word out “this is it, fellows — bail out”. I waited until the tail gunner got back and held the escape hatch open, and I bailed out first. I did not see anyone else bail out after me and do not recall having seen any parachutes dropping while I was descending.

To the best of my knowledge, when I bailed out, the airplane seemed to be on fire from aft of the bomb bays to as far as I could see forward. I did not see our plane crash or explode in the air…

See B-24 Net for a detailed account of all the accumulated evidence of what happened to each of the six planes.

B-24 Liberators in formation 'somewhere over Europe' on the 24th November 1944.
B-24 Liberators in formation ‘somewhere over Europe’ on the 24th November 1944.
The end of a Mission as a B-24 Liberator is given the signal to turn off engines.
The end of a Mission as a B-24 Liberator is given the signal to turn off engines.

RAF Bomber Command’s last major raid on Bochum

Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 'EQ-C', of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb ('Cookie') and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.
Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 ‘EQ-C’, of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb (‘Cookie’) and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.
Handley Page Halifax B Mark V Series I (Specials) of No. 76 Squadron RAF lined up at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire.
Handley Page Halifax B Mark V Series I (Specials) of No. 76 Squadron RAF lined up at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire.
An image taken from one of the bombers over Bochum on the 4th-5th November 1944.
An image taken from one of the bombers over Bochum on the 4th-5th November 1944.

Once RAF Bomber Command had established itself with substantial numbers of aircraft it had turned its attention to the industrial heartland of Germany. The Battle of the Ruhr had begun in March 1943. From mid October 1944 both Bomber Command and the USAAF 8th Air Force were to revisit the Ruhr region as part of ‘Operation Hurricane’, intended to “demonstrate to the the enemy in Germany generally the overwhelming superiority of the Allied Air Forces in this theatre”. Both the RAF and the USAAF were now able to routinely mount raids of well over 1000 aircraft.

Towns and cities that had already been substantially damaged were now dealt even more devastating blows. Although much of the light industry had by now been dispersed it was impossible to move the heavy engineering and metal works, after the war Nazi Armaments Minister Albert Speer was to acknowledge that these raids had had a substantial impact on armament production.

435 aircraft had attacked Bochum on the 9th October in a raid that was not considered a success, destroying only 140 buildings because the bombing was very scattered in poor visibility. On 4th November 749 aircraft took part and the Pathfinders marked the centre of Bochum successfully – this time over 4,000 buildings were destroyed or badly damaged and nearly a 1000 people killed. It was the last major raid on the town during the war, in total it would be visited 150 times.

In a Halifax from No 408 RCAF Squadron was Bombardier Alan Stables, who wrote this account of the raid shortly afterwards:

Coming up to the Dutch coast we could see flashes of light flak and the beautiful trace it makes streaming upwards as if fired from a hose. It was dark now and every now and again we would see the loom of one of our own aircraft which was comforting because it meant we were part of the bomber stream

At this point we started climbing. We began to have difficulty at about ten thousand feet and by fourteen thousand feet Dick suspected that we had carburetor icing. We had gone on oxygen at twelve thousand feet and we had to climb to nineteen thousand which was our height to bomb. The aircraft at the head of the bomber stream were at the lowest level with those following stacked up increasing heights so as to lessen the danger of running into someone else’s bombs.

Sok came over the intercom ordering me to jettison some of the bombs as the aircraft just wouldn’t climb. I went back and jettisoned half the load but the best we could make was an extra 1000 feet. We were five thousand feet below everyone else, a very dangerous position to be in and we had at least another hour and a half to go to the target.

Scotty went back to shovel out the Window. Then he returned to his radio to receive the quarter-hourly broadcast from bomber command Then he backtuned his transmitter to German fighter vector-control frequency and broadcast static at full volume from a microphone next to our generator.

[Window was introduced in July 1943. It consisted of 9 inch strips of aluminum foil which showed up on the German radar screens rendering them virtually useless. The German response was to use various forms of illumination available at the target area to make the bombers visible to the night-fighters. Window was still useful in disguising the size of the incoming force and in blinding the radar controlled Flak guns.]

Ahead the searchlights, hundreds of them came to life, pointing accusing fingers against the black sky. I wondered how the hell we would get through them at this altitude without being “coned”, but I didn’t have much time to wonder as the rear gunner yelled “fighter port go”. Down we went to the left in a “corkscrew.” This was our evasive action, but very shortly the rear gunner called to resume course telling us that a Messerschmidt 210 had made a pass at us.

We were now starting into the outer defense of searchlights protecting the Ruhr industrial area. “Aircraft coned on our starboard beam up” I yelled I watched it for a few seconds struggling in the cone like a fly in a spider’s web, flak poured up at it and a Lancaster went down.

“Ready for run-up to the target” — “Christ” I yelled as a fighter came head on at us. The trace of his cannon seemed to be coming right at me . I closed my eyes and said a prayer. The engineer yelled “Port engine on fire Skip, let’s get the hell out.” The cannon shells of the fighter had hit our port inner engine and as I looked out I could see the flames licking back over the wing in which our gas tanks were stored. Sok’s voice came cool over the intercom “Feathering port inner, hit the graviner switches Dick, prepare to abandon aircraft, bomb doors open, drop your bombs bomb-aimer”

[The graviner switches controlled compressed incombustible carbon-dioxide which could be sprayed into the engines and hopefully serving as engine fire extinguishers.]

I looked out, my bombsight was on the target area now burning and smoking from the earlier bombs. The bomb doors were open and I pressed the release tit feeling the bump as the bombs left the aircraft. Then the searchlights coned us and flak started coming up.

What happened then was that as I was dropping the bombs the crew left their stations and went to the exits. Sok stayed at the controls but didn’t open his escape hatch but put the plane into a steep diveto put out the fire. I was in the nose trying to untangle my intercom cord from my parachute wondering if I would ever get them apart. I was about to give up when John signaled to me. He yelled into my ear, “Hang onto me and we’ll go together.” John knew as well as I did that this was crazy.

Finally we were down to four thousand feet and out of the searchlights. Sok called the gunners but got no reply. “Bomb-aimer please check the crew. Navigator give me a course.” The dive had put out the fire. I went back to the rear to see if Dave Hardy was hurt. I found the Baron by the rear escape hatch holding his head but not plugged in. “What the hell are you doing?” I yelled in his ear. “We’re OK, get back in the goddamn rear turret” “OK, Al, thanks” “What for you nut” I replied. Then I tried to get into the turret, but had to report to Sok that it was impossible.

The Baron wanted to talk but I was off to the rear turret which was jammed sideways and Dave Hardy was gone. This was serious because it meant that now we were defenseless against stern attacks.

Rear gunners baled out by rotating the turret and dropping out backwards. Unfortunately Dave Hardy had pulled out his intercom plug and hadn’t heard that we had got the fire out and when he baled out he jammed the rear gun turret sideways.

This account is just part of a longer piece by pilot David Sokoloff, written in 1996, describing the men who flew the Halifaxs of No. 408 RCAF ‘Goose’ Squadron, based at Linton-on-Ouse, England at the time.

The 70th anniversary of the raid will be commemorated in Bochum, the Bochum website has a sequence of before and after images of the town, which had cleared 2 million cubic metres of rubble by 1949.

Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, prior to major attacks by aircraft of Bomber Command. The large factory at upper left is the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, prior to major attacks by aircraft of Bomber Command. The large factory at upper left is the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, following the last major raid on this target by aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of 4/5 November 1944. Nearly all the buildings in the vicinity of the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks have been gutted by incendiary fires or destroyed by high-explosive bombs, while the plant itself (upper left) has been severely damaged.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, following the last major raid on this target by aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of 4/5 November 1944. Nearly all the buildings in the vicinity of the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks have been gutted by incendiary fires or destroyed by high-explosive bombs, while the plant itself (upper left) has been severely damaged.

RAF Bomber Command revisits Cologne – again

Official British war art imagining a bombing raid on Cologne. The city's cathedral is clearly visible. It survived the war, despite being hit dozens of times by Allied bombs. W. Krogman.
Official British war art imagining a bombing raid on Cologne. The city’s cathedral is clearly visible. It survived the war, despite being hit dozens of times by Allied bombs. W. Krogman.
A photograph of an H2S radar display taken during an attack on Cologne from an aircraft flying at 19,000 ft on the night of the 30/31 October 1944 and annotated for post-attack analysis. The aircraft was flying from RAF Warboys and the pilot was a Pilot Officer Bartleman.
A photograph of an H2S radar display taken during an attack on Cologne from an aircraft flying at 19,000 ft on the night of the 30/31 October 1944 and annotated for post-attack analysis. The aircraft was flying from RAF Warboys and the pilot was a Pilot Officer Bartleman.

Cologne was a familiar target to many in the RAF. Famously it had been the first target in the 1000 bomber raids of 1942. Since then it had received dozens of nuisance raids and diversions by small numbers of aircraft. These were designed to keep the defences, and the population, constantly on the alert, as well as keeping the main German air defences guessing about where the night’s main attack would hit.

Alongside these were less frequent more substantial raids, including a recent visit from the USAAF during daylight. As a major transportation hub in the west of Germany, Cologne was now higher up the target list as the Allies entered Germany.

Now that France had been liberated the route to Cologne meant an even shorter period over enemy territory. 905 aircraft had attacked the city on 30th October when substantial damage was done to the suburbs and the University district – over 500 people were killed but only two aircraft were lost. Frank Aspden of 218 Squadron was in one of the 493 aircraft that made a second attack on the 31st, when no aircraft were lost:

Cologne was a target that will always be well remembered by our crew — we went there four times and on two occasions we had a very shaky experience, to put it mildly, yet the other two were quite easy.

This first trip to Cologne was our fifth op and the first after six days leave, which had put us rather out of touch with things.

It was amazing really what changes could occur in the air war, as seen through our eyes, in six days. Sometimes there would be a couple of crews missing, a tour raised or lowered, or a certain target would be hotter or easier than it was before, or the fighters, day or night, would be up in strength, or have disappeared. That was the trouble at that time — you could never be certain of the defences at any given place, except, say, places such as Hamburg, which could always cook up a hot reception.

Anyway, the boys were always ready to give the gen on the past six days as soon as the leave crew returned and if after hearing all the stories you decided things were better, you could think the first target was going to be easy and so on. When we returned from leave things were much the same, so we thought Cologne would be a normal target, where flak would be heavy, if the skies were clear and moderate to slight depending on the amount of cloud over the target.

No one seemed particularly worried by the target at the briefing, in fact the shortness of the trip tended to make me at any rate, in a happy frame of mind. We took off and set course as usual via Reading, across the Channel and way across France — always the dreariest part of the trip I thought.

It seems a morbid thought maybe, but if I had a few moments to spare I used to look at my watch then at H-hour and think, ‘Mm, 50 minutes to go; I wonder if I shall still be sat here in an hour’s time; if so, that’ll be one more done!’

Then ’5° east. “Carpet” on Reg, 6° east. Time to Window, Dick — 0610E.’ Across the lines, ‘watch out now gunners’ — and then that last leg into the target.

On this trip we were on time and were soon running up on the Target Indicators. Below us the searchlights were trying to get us through the broken cloud whilst the brilliant full moon illuminated the aircraft around us quite clearly. Odd bursts of flak came up, but soon the bombs were gone and we turned out of the target area, nose down, revs up, 240 on the clock and homeward bound again. What a feeling of achievement, of relief.

I always felt as if I’d sneaked, into someone’s garden, pinched some of his choice fruit and was climbing the fence out again when the owner discovered the theft. Could I escape before he saw me? Well, he didn’t on this occasion, not on any other for that matter.

Yes, it was a nice trip home that night under the full moon and in a couple of hours or so we were back at base and by twelve we were cycling back to bed in our billet amongst the lovely trees at Methwold.

I remember standing outside the hut and admiring the beauty of the night, the silver moon, the millions of stars and the tree silhouetted against the night sky; then a Mosquito roared overhead and I thought again of Cologne and the hell that I had helped rain down on them only three hours before. It didn’t seem possible.

This account appears in Martin Bowman: Bomber Command: Armageddon (27 September 1944 – May 1945) v. 5: Reflections of War .

The Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) stands seemingly undamaged (although having been directly hit several times and damaged severely) while entire area surrounding it is completely devastated. The Hauptbahnhof (Köln Central Station) and Hohenzollern Bridge lie damaged to the north and east of the cathedral. Germany, 24 April 1945.
The Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) stands seemingly undamaged (although having been directly hit several times and damaged severely) while entire area surrounding it is completely devastated. The Hauptbahnhof (Köln Central Station) and Hohenzollern Bridge lie damaged to the north and east of the cathedral. Germany, 24 April 1945.

“Rescued by the Bravest People I’ve ever Known”

Large formation of Boeing B-17Fs of the 92nd Bomb Group. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Large formation of Boeing B-17Fs of the 92nd Bomb Group. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Synthetic oil plant at Zeitz, Germany, destroyed by Americans in aerial bombing operations during World War II. 1944.
Synthetic oil plant at Zeitz, Germany, destroyed by Americans in aerial bombing operations during World War II. 1944.

On the 5th September the USAAF mission target was the Opac Synthetic Oil plant at Ludwigshaven. It was part of the priority programme that was gradually starving all parts of the German armed forces of the fuel they need to sustain operations. Losses were now much reduced amongst the bomber crews, mainly thanks to the accompanying long range fighters but no mission was without risk. The figures showed that experienced counted and that new crews were more often casualties.

For pilot Bob Kelley this was his only his second mission, his first run had been as second pilot. For the remainder of his crew it was their first mission. They were the last B-17 to take off with the 322nd Squadron from Bassingbourn that day and despite being told that ‘My Baby’, a 58 mission veteran aircraft, was in ‘mint condition’ they suffered two engine failures and were unable to keep up with the rest of the group.

Then they got bounced by two Me 109s. With the rear turret gone and the aircraft on fire Kelley ordered his crew to bail out. He then spent an alarming few minutes trying to find a parachute, and then, when he was falling through thin air, trying to open it. After surviving an attempt by one of the Me 109s to shoot him in mid air…:

I entered a second set of clouds just as he passed back over and didn’t see anything else until I came out of the mist and rain about 300 feet off the ground. I could see a farmer with a horse pulling a farm machine in a field, a colliery to a mine to one side in a valley, and I noted that I was heading for the only woods around.

In fact, I was drifting quite swiftly in a wind right to the center of a four-square-block area of dense woods. I was also amazed to see that the B-17 had done a full 180-degree turn and was now coming towards me, but off half a mile or so and heading for a small town.

The woods were coming up fast so I closed my eyes and doubled up my legs and arms, which I’d read somewhere was S.O.P. The last thing I saw was the B-17 passing directly over a town (which I later learned was called Bazailies), missing the city hall and a church steeple by just a few feet, and hitting in a field just outside of town with a crash and a tower of flame.

I opened my eyes and found I was sitting unhurt in a hazelnut bush. My chute had hooked on a beech tree and swung me gently to the ground. I had no idea where I was. It could have been Belgium, Luxembourg, France or even (if we had drifted north) Germany. I took off running as I could hear voices and a dog barking. As it turned out, it wasn’t German soldiers with dogs as I had feared, but rather a farm dog barking at bombardier George Lancaster who was running with a limp due to a sprained ankle.

After running up a creek and sprinkling pepper on my trail, I realized I could run no longer. I decided to sneak up on the voices to see what language they were speaking. I finally got close enough to see an elderly man and woman. I heard him say, in French, “He has to be still in the woods as we found the parachute.” My mother was born in northern Italy but the family was French and my grandmother always spoke French when she talked to me, but in the confusion I accidentally answered in English. Then I ran to them and said, in French, “I’m the pilot.”

They quickly took me out of the woods to a meadow, across a footbridge into another woods, and up a path to where I was met by Jeanne Jacob, wife of the chief of the Underground. She stooped, crawled under a hazelnut bush, and opened up a trapdoor in the ground. She told me to descend, and that Anderson the co-pilot and Karoli the navigator were already underground.

The opening was about 2,5 feet by 2.5 feet square. It was made of logs with cleats for footholds and went down some 30 feet before opening into a room. There I found my two crewmen plus two Russian soldiers, Paul and Timothy, who had escaped a year ago from the mine at Bazailies where they had been forced to work….

The cave was lit by carbide miner lamps, the smell of which I hate to this day. I had bailed out at about 11:30 A.M. By the time I was safely ensconced in the cave, it was midafternoon and raining hard. Anderson the co-pilot told me he had come down in the meadow.

The chief of the Underground, Roland Jacob, and his wife Jeanne were eating their noontime meal when they saw him come down. They rushed out and took him to the underground hideout immediately. They heard the gunfire and the crash and realized that the Germans were out looking for the crew so they and others from the town of Baslieux bravely entered the woods in hope of finding them first.

The navigator came down in a wooded area. He was partially dazed from being dragged by the wind while in the chute, but he was unhurt.

After night fell, Roland Jacob came to tell me to come with him. The bombardier was several kilometers away, in the woods. He was on a stretcher because he was having trouble walking. He did not understand French, and was frightened. He was making so much noise that they were afraid the searching Germans would hear them.

I reluctantly left the safe dry hideout and went with Roland through the heavy rain and the dark to where four farmers had Lancaster on a blanket on two poles. I talked to him and explained the situation and the need for quiet. After a struggle, we got him to our underground home.

I’ve since met and talked to farmer Pierre Francois, who saw him enter the woods pursued by two German soldiers at a distance. Pierre met him as he exited on the other side of the woods, put him on his mowing machine, and drove him to a temporary hiding place until he could contact Roland Jacob and arrange to have him transported to a permanent hiding place.

See http://www.91stbombgroup.com/91st_tales/01_1944_rescuedbythebravest.pdf to read the whole dramatic story.

Boeing B-17G formation bomb drop. Closest aircraft from the 384th Bomb Group, 547th Bomb Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Boeing B-17G formation bomb drop. Closest aircraft from the 384th Bomb Group, 547th Bomb Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo)

B-17 Bomber encounters Nazi rocket fighter Me 163

A B-17 Flying Fortress encounters heavy flak bursts over the target area.
A B-17 Flying Fortress encounters heavy flak bursts over the target area.
The B-17 bomber She -Hasta, ditched on the 29th July 1944, after being hit by flak.
The B-17 bomber She -Hasta, ditched on the 29th July 1944, after being hit by flak.

Another day, another daylight mission to Germany for the USAAF bombers based in England. This time the target was the Leuna oil refinery at Merseburg, Germany, part of the programme to strangle the fuel supplies of the Wehrmacht. Although escorting fighters had dramatically reduced the losses amongst the bombers by this time, it was rare that missions were completed without casualties.

A/C #007 was observed to have one engine smoking as it went over the target. It dropped back and took over the lead of the second element of the low squadron and gradually lagged further and further behind. Friendly fighters were all around and when last seen the A/C was under control and appeared to be in good condition.

This A/C later was seen over Wesermunde by a flight of P-38s from Station 337, 479th Fighter Group. A jet-propelled E/A was attacking and was driven off by the P-38’s. The B-17 was escorted until it reached the Frisian Islands where the P-38’s were forced to return to England because of a shortage of gasoline. When last seen all engines were operating and the A/C was headed for home at 10,000 feet.

The Nazis were losing the battle over Germany but they pinned their hopes on technical advances. The ‘vengeance’ weapons, which Hitler had boasted about, which so many Nazis continued to believe would miraculously transform the war, were starting to appear. As well as new Jet fighters was a unique aircraft.

The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, the only rocket-powered fighter aircraft ever to become operational, capable of up to 700 mph. Allied intelligence was aware that they had begun flying on the 28th July, and Allied fighters were on the lookout for them. Operationally the speed of the Me 163 proved not to be a great advantage in combat with conventional fighters.

The limping B-17 survived the encounter with the Me 163 but was still stricken. The full story comes from Lt Robert Fulkerson who was Navigator on B-17 Bomber ‘She-Hasta’, flying with the 351st Bomb Squadron, 100th Bomb Group from England:

July 29, 1944, the 100th Bomb Group target for the day was the Leuna oil refinery at Merseburg, Germany. This mission was the second day in row that the 100th bombed Merseburg. As a navigator with the 351st Squadron, 100th Bomb Group, this was my fourth mission having recently been assigned to the 100th on July 17, 1944. Our Crew was flying the B-17 “She-Hasta”. Bill Greiner was flying as a replacement pilot on his “last” mission and Jim Coccia, our regular pilot, was flying as co-pilot.

Once in Germany and arriving at the IP, we flew to the target at the altitude of 26, 000 feet. As we approached the target, we encountered a very dense, black carpet of flak. The flak was so thick one would think that one could walk on it! We lost one engine as we dropped our bombs and encountered other damage forcing us to leave the formation. The entire low squadron of the 100th A-group failed to return home along with two of the B-group of which we were one, accounting for eight B-17’s lost.

Flak had knocked out the oxygen in the nose of the aircraft forcing the bombardier and me to retreat to the radio room. I had given the one walk around bottle of oxygen to the bombardier and told him to go on to the radio room and that I would follow him. Upon entering the entrance to the bomb bay my parachute harness caught on to something and became entangled. Still being at altitude and without oxygen, I soon passed out. Fortunately for me, John Vuchetich, our flight engineer, who was in the top turret saw me and plugged in my oxygen mask. Upon recovering, I noticed that the bomb bay doors had not completely closed and upon passing out I had dropped most of my navigational aids out the bomb bay doors.

With a map or two I proceeded to the radio room. By this time we had lost a lot of altitude and while limping along, encountered more flak at about 10, 000 feet. Another engine was lost and Bernie Baumgarten, one of our waist gunners, was severely wounded in his abdominal area and upper left leg. Shortly after this, near Weserbunds, Germany, a squadron of P-38’s appeared on the scene. Apparently they had spotted a Me 163 KOMET rocket fighter on our tail. The German pilot, on seeing the squadron leaders P-38, turned in his direction until he saw the squadron leaders wingman and decided to turn away. The P-38’s pursued the Me 163 and the squadron leader made direct hits and the Me 163 went down.

Photo of Luftwaffe Me-163 being shot down by USAAF P-47 of the 8th Air Force, as seen from the P-47's gun camera.
Photo of Luftwaffe Me-163 being shot down by USAAF P-47 of the 8th Air Force, as seen from the P-47’s gun camera.

We continued on our way still losing altitude and soon spotted water and decided to ditch our aircraft. Hopefully it was the English Channel but it turned out we were farther north and the water was the North Sea. We ditched the B-17 around noon, July 29, 1944. After surviving the ditching, John Vuchetich our flight engineer and I were the last two of the crew to leave the aircraft. We had remained in the radio room in hopes of saving the wounded gunner. Since the nose hatch had been opened earlier and the ball turret repositioned for ditching water was rushing in fast and furiously.

I soon realized the situation was hopeless and told John to exit the top hatch. As I climbed out the top hatch, Bernie, half covered with water, called out my name. What a feeling! From the top hatch I could see that the B-17 was at about a forty-five degree angle to the sea and the wings were half covered with water. As I dove into the sea and started swimming towards the two dinghies, something touched my feet. Looking back I saw it had been the tip of the B-17’s rudder that had touched my feet and the aircraft disappeared from sight. Eight of us survived the ditching and Bernie went down with the B-17.

We spent four days at sea. On the second day, a sailing vessel appeared on the horizon and seemingly heading in our direction. As it became closer, we fired flares and pistols into the air in hopes of attraction their attention. The ship became close enough that we could see a flag painted on the hull and took it to be Danish. What seemed like eternity, the ship proceeded on its way, choosing to ignore us and left us floundering in our frustrations.

The two dinghies had been tied together to prevent our being separated. During the second night, I was awakened by the angry sea and found our dinghies starting to break apart. At about the same time, John, who was in the second dinghy, awakened. He and I sat the rest of the night with our arms interlocked together. Finally daylight arrived. We had won our battle. That night has to be one of the worst nights in my life.

During the four days at sea we could hear aircraft flying over but the overcast prevented us from seeing them and in turn preventing them from seeing us. Late afternoon on the fourth day at sea, land was sighted. Separating the two dinghies, we raced, paddling to shore, firing flares into the air only to be met by German soldiers who took us prisoners. We were told, “For you the war is over!” Actually it was only the beginning. We had landed on Ameland, one of the Frisian Islands north of Holland.

We had no food while at sea and when the Germans finally gave us some food the following day, it had been over five days since we had eaten! The Germans gave us cold potatoes and cold gravy served in two mess kits from which the eight of us took turns eating. After a few days in Holland, of all places in solitary confinement in a convent, nine months in Germany as POW’s, which included two forced marches, General Patton and his forces liberated us at Mooseburg, Germany, April 29, 1945.

The full account used to be available at – http://www.100thbg.com/mainpages/history/history5/fulkerson.htm – 100th Bomb Group. It may be possible to access this from the internet archive.

RAF heavy bombers support Royal Tank Regiment

Avro Lancasters carpet bomb a road junction near Villers Bocage, Normandy, France through which the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions were expected to move to carry out an attack on the junction of the British and American armies. The daylight attack, by 266 aircraft of Nos. 3, 4 and 8 Groups, was carried out at 4,000 feet to ensure that the target indicators dropped by the Pathfinders were seen and 1,100 tons of bombs were dropped with great accuracy.
Avro Lancasters carpet bomb a road junction near Villers Bocage, Normandy, France through which the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions were expected to move to carry out an attack on the junction of the British and American armies. The daylight attack, by 266 aircraft of Nos. 3, 4 and 8 Groups, was carried out at 4,000 feet to ensure that the target indicators dropped by the Pathfinders were seen and 1,100 tons of bombs were dropped with great accuracy.
Wrecked German Tiger tanks in the rubble of Villers Bocage after the British had captured the town, 5 August 1944.
Wrecked German Tiger tanks in the rubble of Villers Bocage after the British had captured the town, 5 August 1944.

In Normandy the British Operation Epsom attack had pushed a salient into the German lines and they were now on the receiving end of sustained counter-attacks.

Sergeant Trevor Greenwood was a tank commander with the 9th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment, which had landed in France on D +16 and had then been in action almost continuously since D +19 (25th June). Even when they were not on the immediate front line they were still under regular mortar and sniper fire.

The area they were now in had been recently occupied by Germans, it was still mined in places and there were numerous ‘booby traps’ left behind. The German dead had been quickly buried and had not always been completely covered. The strain of being under continuous fire was beginning to tell. They had already learnt the warning sign of the ‘moaning minnies’ – the German nebelwerfer mortar. Then they dived in a trench under the tank, although at other times the only reasonably safe place was in the tank with the hatches down:

D +24 Friday 30.6.44

‘Stand to’ at 4.30 a.m. Jerry mortaring Grainville area heavily: seemed like prelude to further counter attack. We repelled him yesterday evening, and he may now have stronger forces. If he breaks through, our forward troops in salient will be isolated. Our area and Cheux seem likely places for onslaught.

Waited at alert for several hours, meanwhile keeping rigid lookout for enemy tanks. But nothing happened… thank goodness. Our vehicle (and selves) were hardly prepared for heavy action after yesterday: petrol and ammo … and sleep.

We were relieved by 7th [7th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment] early afternoon: seemed to be at least 2 squadrons! Was glad to see them. We retired to former base, behind Cheux and found B there: latter were on ‘stand to’. Had a meal and wash . . . and then sleep for hour or two.

Unfortunately, this harbour is surrounded by many of our 25—pounders … dozens of them. The nearest are less than 100 yds away, and firing towards us. They are firing ceaselessly, with frequent extra heavy barrages: noise indescribable: ‘hell let loose’ is too mild a term.

In spite of this most of us have slept for an hour or two since returning from front line. We are still well within range of enemy mortars and still receiving attention. This mortaring is devastating to the nerves.

Don’t know yet whether we will be required again today . . . but B are still here: they will surely go before us, having had at least a day’s rest.

Saw a remarkable sight this evening: tremendous procession of our four-engined bombers flew overhead, and dropped their loads just beyond front line (around Villers?)

Must have been hundreds of planes, but all over in about 10 minutes. Seemed to be very little Jerry AA and didn’t see a single plane destroyed. Shortly afterwards, a huge black cloud ascended and gradually spread towards us. Within an hour, we were literally in a fog: air became noticeably cooler and daylight partially obliterated, visibility about 200 yards.

Fine dust particles settled everywhere. This ‘fog’ lasted for about 2 hours. Heaven knows what we hit, but it must have been a mighty bombardment.

Believe enemy are grouping about 2 Panzer Divs in that area for heavy counter attack. Monty was here today and said ‘they will be smashed’! Maybe the RAF have already smashed them. Hope so.

No move … dug hole, and crept into it for sleep at midnight.

See Trevor Greenwood: D-Day to Victory: The Diaries of a British Tank Commander

Churchill tanks of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, advance through a cornfield, 28 June 1944.
Churchill tanks of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, advance through a cornfield, 28 June 1944.
A Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, supporting infantry of 8th Royal Scots during Operation 'Epsom', Normandy, 28 June 1944.
A Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, supporting infantry of 8th Royal Scots during Operation ‘Epsom’, Normandy, 28 June 1944.
Tank and infantry officers confer on a Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, during Operation 'Epsom', Normandy, 28 June 1944.
Tank and infantry officers confer on a Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, during Operation ‘Epsom’, Normandy, 28 June 1944.

Lancaster gunner’s heroic attempt to save friend

Still from a film shot from an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, showing smoke rising from exploding bombs during a night raid on a road junction at Argentan, France. 1,065 aircraft of Bomber Command were active on the night of 6/7 June 1944, bombing railway and road centres on the lines of communication behind the Normandy battle area.
Still from a film shot from an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, showing smoke rising from exploding bombs during a night raid on a road junction at Argentan, France. 1,065 aircraft of Bomber Command were active on the night of 6/7 June 1944, bombing railway and road centres on the lines of communication behind the Normandy battle area.
Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 'EQ-C', of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb ('Cookie') and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.
Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 ‘EQ-C’, of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb (‘Cookie’) and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.

The USAAF and RAF bombers were now hitting a wide range of targets in France in support of the Overlord landings. In addition to the transportation targets which sought to cut off the German supplies and reinforcements to the battlefield area, they were hitting troops concentrations and communications centres. Such were the RAF targets for 671 planes despatched on the night of the 12/13th.

Among the 23 planes lost was one exceptional story, which gained recognition with the award of the Victoria Cross. For such an award there had to be an eyewitness account of the actions of the recipient. Pilot Officer Mynarski’s actions were witnessed by the man he was trying to save – the rear gunner of the Lancaster who was trapped in his turret, destined to crash with the burning aircraft. It was only because Pilot Officer Pat Brophy miraculously survived the crash – the rear turret was detached from the aircraft when it hit the ground and he was thrown clear – that he was able to provide the account that led to the award of the VC:

Andrew Mynarski VC
Andrew Mynarski VC

Pilot Officer Andrew Charles MYNARSKI (Can./J.87544) (deceased), Royal Canadian Air Force, No. 419 (R.C.A.F.) Squadron.

Pilot Officer Mynarski was the mid-upper gunner of a Lancaster aircraft, detailed to attack a target at Cambrai in France, on the night of 12th June, 1944. The aircraft was attacked from below and astern by an enemy fighter and ultimately came down in flames. As an immediate result of the attack, both port engines failed. Fire broke out between the mid-upper turret and the rear turret, as well as in the port wing. The flames soon became fierce and the captain ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft.

Pilot Officer Mynarski left his turret and went towards the escape hatch. He then saw that the rear gunner was still in his turret and apparently unable to leave it. The turret was, in fact, immovable, since the hydraulic gear had been put out of action when the port engines failed, and the manual gear had been broken by the gunner in his attempts to escape.

Without hesitation, Pilot Officer Mynarski made his way through the flames in an endeavour to reach the rear turret and release the gunner. Whilst so doing, his parachute and his clothing, up to the waist, were set on fire. All his efforts to move the turret and free the gunner were in vain. Eventually the rear gunner clearly indicated to him that there was nothing more he could do and that he should try to save his own life.

Pilot Officer Mynarski reluctantly went back through the flames to the escape hatch. There, as a last gesture to the trapped gunner, he turned towards him, stood to attention in his flaming clothing and saluted, before he jumped out of the aircraft.

Pilot Officer Mynarski’s descent was seen by French people on the ground. Both his parachute and clothing were on fire. He was found eventually by the French, but was so severely burnt that he died from his injuries.

The rear gunner had a miraculous escape when the aircraft crashed. He subsequently testified that, had Pilot Officer Mynarski not attempted to save his comrade’s life, he could have left the aircraft in safety and would, doubtless, have escaped death.

Pilot Officer Mynarski must have been fully aware that in trying to free the rear gunner he was almost certain to lose his own life. Despite this, with outstanding courage and complete disregard for his own safety, he went to the rescue. Willingly accepting the danger, Pilot Officer Mynarski lost his life by a most conspicuous act of heroism which called for valour of the highest order.

Low oblique aerial view of the Transport Command Delivery Park on the Northeast Apron at Prestwick airport, Ayrshire, showing aircraft marshalled after being flown across the Atlantic. Among the aircraft shown are Consolidated Liberators, Douglas Dakotas, North American Mitchells, and Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark Xs.
Low oblique aerial view of the Transport Command Delivery Park on the Northeast Apron at Prestwick airport, Ayrshire, showing aircraft marshalled after being flown across the Atlantic. Among the aircraft shown are Consolidated Liberators, Douglas Dakotas, North American Mitchells, and Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark Xs.
The first Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark X, KB700 "The Ruhr Express", taxying after landing at Northolt, Middlesex, following a delivery flight across the Atlantic. KB700 was the first of 300 aircraft built by Victory Aircraft of Malton, Ontario, and flew operationally with Nos. 405 and 419 Squadrons RCAF.
The first Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark X, KB700 “The Ruhr Express”, taxying after landing at Northolt, Middlesex, following a delivery flight across the Atlantic. KB700 was the first of 300 aircraft built by Victory Aircraft of Malton, Ontario, and flew operationally with Nos. 405 and 419 Squadrons RCAF.