Heavy bombers support US Army’s attack into Germany

Each task force had one flail tank. As the flail tanks crested the hill, they passed through our infantry line directly into the minefields. Although the tanks had to contend not only with mines but with an extremely soggy field, they made an initial good showing. The flying chains detonated several mines, and the explosions created additional craters. But finally, due to the combination of the muddy fields and the fact that the horsepower needed to turn the flail took too much power away from the tracks, both flail tanks became mired in the mud.

Boeing B-17F radar bombing through clouds over Bremen, Germany, on Nov. 13, 1943.
Boeing B-17F radar bombing through clouds over Bremen, Germany, on Nov. 13, 1943.
Vertical aerial photograph showing six Handley Page Halifaxes flying over the blazing target area during a daylight attack on a rail centre north of the River Rhine.
Vertical aerial photograph showing six Handley Page Halifaxes flying over the blazing target area during a daylight attack on a rail centre north of the River Rhine.

With the British in the north completing the capture of Walcheren, and the Canadians rolling up the Scheldt estuary, the US forces further south were impatient to get going again after the supply problems began to ease. Now they would head across the Roer river to the Rhine itself.

Omar Bradley, commanding US 12th Army Group, was waiting for the beginning off the attack with Courtney H. Hodges, both of them as frustrated with the rain as Patton was becoming. They were both elated to find the sun shining on the morning of the 16th November so that the visibility was good enough for heavy bombers from England to launch the attack:

At 12:45 air thundered in on schedule. Twelve hundred bombers of the Eighth Air Force flying in box-tight formations, an equal number of RAF heavies, flying dispersed in the manner of night bombers.

To prevent a repetition of the short drop at St. Lo [in July], we had posted jeeps with vertical radio beams to mark the front lines by radar. For visual guidance to the target a line of barrage balloons with cerise panels aflixed to their backs had been hoisted 1,500 feet into the air. For added insurance the 90-mm. AA guns marked the front with a line of colored flak, 2,000 feet below the bombers.

Only two clusters of bombs fell behind our lines, the result of faulty bomb racks. One “friendly” casualty was reported; it was nothing more than a minor wound.

But though the air bombing had shattered an enemy division and churned up the neighboring terrain, it failed to tear a hole in his line through which our infantry and tanks could be pushed on to the Rhine. The German had skillfully laid out his defenses in depth behind a carpet of mines and field fortifications. With his back to the Rhine, he now fought for each grubby crossroads village as if it were the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Meanwhile Goebbels had warned von Runstedt’s troops in the Rhineland that this was a fight to the finish, a fight in which weakness would bring defeat and eventual exile to the Siberian labor camps.

As the enemy fell back he left a trail buried in rubble, for he held grimly to each position until we pulverized it. When G-2 interrogated an intelligent young officer of the Wehrmacht to ask if he did not regret this unnecessary destruction of his homeland, the PW shrugged and replied, “It probably won’t be ours after the War. Why not destroy it?”

See Omar N. Bradley: A Soldier’s Story.

On the ground Belton Y. Cooper with the 3rd Armored Division was watching the launch of the offensive from Hill 287, where P-47 dive bombers followed up after the heavy bombers and then the tanks went in:

Simultaneously with the heavy air strike, the ninety battalions of field artillery opened up, concentrating particularly on the villages.

Combat Command B assembled just south and west of hill 287. As the task forces proceeded over the crest of the hill and passed through our infantry lines, they were exposed to the full effect of the German minefields.

Each task force had one flail tank. As the flail tanks crested the hill, they passed through our infantry line directly into the minefields. Although the tanks had to contend not only with mines but with an extremely soggy field, they made an initial good showing. The flying chains detonated several mines, and the explosions created additional craters. But finally, due to the combination of the muddy fields and the fact that the horsepower needed to turn the flail took too much power away from the tracks, both flail tanks became mired in the mud.

They made excellent targets and were soon knocked out. The second tank in each column had no choice but to go around the flail tanks and continue the attack. A tragic domino effect followed.

The first tank proceeded around the flail tank and made its own way for several yards before striking a mine and becoming disabled. The next tank bypassed the first tank and tried to go its own way for several yards, then it struck a mine and became disabled.

This process continued until eventually one tank got through the minefield and proceeded with the attack. The next tank behind it tried to follow the same path, and sometimes it would get through the minefield successfully. However, by the time the third tank tried to come through in the same tracks, the soft ground would mire the tank so deeply that it would stick, in spite of the “duck feet” we had bolted on the track connectors.

All the stuck tanks became sitting ducks for the murderous German anti-tank fire. The Germans continued to fire at the tanks until they set them on fire. When the crew tried to bail out, they immediately came under concentrated automatic weapons fire.

These brave tankers knew that the tanks would be at an extreme disadvantage in the muddy minefields, but they pressed on with the attack. This was one of the most courageous tank attacks of the entire war. It started with sixty-four medium tanks, and we lost forty-eight of them in twenty-six minutes.

A proportional number of soldiers died in this terrible fight. By nightfall, Task Force 1 had reached the vicinity of Hastenrath after taking tremendous losses. One column started out with nineteen tanks, including a flail, and ended up with four by the end of the day. The other fifteen were lost in the minefield.

The surviving tanks were further exposed because the infantry had a difficult time coming forward to support them. The minefields were also heavily infested with anti-personnel mines. These were deadly to the infantry, who were under extremely heavy small-arms, mortar, and artillery fire.

See Belton Y. Cooper: Death Traps: The Survival of an American Armored Division in World War II

Men of 2nd Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders hitch a ride on a flail tank, 22 November 1944
Men of 2nd Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders hitch a ride on a flail tank, 22 November 1944

Hitler faces the collapse of German industry

An extensive search showed that high production of armaments could in fact be continued, but only for a few months more. Hitler accepted a last “emergency or supplementary program,” as we called it, with a calm that seemed truly uncanny. He did not waste a word on the obvious implications, although there could be no doubt what these were.

Albert Speer at a ceremony to encourage armaments workers earlier in 1944.
Albert Speer at a ceremony to encourage armaments workers earlier in 1944.
Verical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing a damaged section of the Dortmund-Ems canal near Ladbergen, north of Munster, Germany, following a raid by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command, on the night of 23/24 September 1944. Breaches have been made in the banks of two parallel branches of the canal, causing a six-mile stretch to be drained. Most of the damage was caused by two direct hits by 12,000-lb 'Tallboy' deep penetration bombs dropped by No. 617 Squadron RAF.
Verical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing a damaged section of the Dortmund-Ems canal near Ladbergen, north of Munster, Germany, following a raid by aircraft of No. 5 Group, Bomber Command, on the night of 23/24 September 1944. Breaches have been made in the banks of two parallel branches of the canal, causing a six-mile stretch to be drained. Most of the damage was caused by two direct hits by 12,000-lb ‘Tallboy’ deep penetration bombs dropped by No. 617 Squadron RAF.

Few could now rationally believe that Germany could last much longer. With the Allies on or approaching the German borders, in both the east and west, Germany itself was under almost constant bombardment from the bombers. Even if many of the secret weapons programmes had moved underground and continued production, the basic necessities of coal and fuel were in such short supply that it was undermining the whole economy.

Among the the critical targets that had recently been successfully put out of action was the Dortmund Ems canal, a long term objective for the RAF.

Hitler did not need rational assessments, however, and they were unwelcome to him. All he needed was people to keep their faith in him. One of the few men who had come close to becoming his friend, Albert Speer, Armaments Minister, discovered how Hitler now preferred the unwavering zeal of his deputy, Karl-Otto Saur:

On November 11 a new note of alarm entered my frequent memoranda on shutdowns in the fuel industry. For more than six weeks, traffic to and from the Ruhr area had been blocked.

“It is self-evident, given the whole nature of the Reich’s economic structure,” I wrote to Hitler, “that cessation of production in the Rhine-Westphalian industrial area is intolerable for the entire German economy and for a successful conduct of the war… The most important armaments plants are reported on the verge of going under. Under existing conditions there is no way to avoid these shutdowns.”

Denied fresh supplies of Ruhr coal, I continued, the railroads were rapidly exhausting their stocks of coal, as were the gas works; oil and margarine plants were on the verge of shutdowns, and even the supply of coke to the hospitals had become inadequate.

Things were literally moving rapidly toward the end. Signs of total anarchy loomed before us. Coal trains no longer reached their destinations but were stopped en route by Gauleiters [the Nazi regional commanders] who confiscated it for their own needs. The buildings in Berlin were unheated; gas and electricity were available only during restricted hours. A howl arose from the Chancellery: Our coal authority had refused to let it have its full consignment for the rest of the winter.

Faced with this situation we could no longer carry out our programs, but only try to produce parts. Once our remaining stocks were used up, armaments production would cease. In drawing this conclusion I underestimated – as no doubt the enemy air strategists did also — the large stocks of materials that had been accumulated in the factories.

An extensive search showed that high production of armaments could in fact be continued, but only for a few months more. Hitler accepted a last “emergency or supplementary program,” as we called it, with a calm that seemed truly uncanny. He did not waste a word on the obvious implications, although there could be no doubt what these were.

Around this time Hitler, at a situation conference, commented in the presence of all the generals: “We have the good fortune to have a genius in our armaments industry. I mean Saur. All difficulties are being overcome by him.”

General Thomale put in a tactful word: “Mein Fuhrer, Minister Speer is here.” “Yes, I know,” Hitler replied curtly, annoyed at the interruption. “But Saur is the genius who will master the situation.”

Oddly enough, I swallowed this deliberate insult without any perturbation, almost indiiferently. I was beginning to take my leave of Hitler.

See Albert Speer: Inside the Third Reich

Hitler had not been photographed  in public since the July bomb plot, when images proving he was still alive were swiftly released.
Hitler had not been photographed in public since the July bomb plot, when images proving he was still alive were swiftly released.

‘Black Monday’ in Gelsenkirchen – ‘Hell on Earth’

Only 3 or 4 days after the two major attacks on November 6, 1944 rescue teams entered the basement of the collapsed drugstore Schmitz (Kaiser street corner and street Grillo, left two houses from the fire brigade museum) and brought out a woman. She lay in front of the ruined house and was totally black, burnt, charred, sooty, her face unrecognizable: But I noticed, as I bent over her, that she – stinking of burnt flesh and feces – still breathed weakly.

The oil plants of the Ruhr had been targets since the  beginning of the bombing campaign. Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V, N1463 'GE-L', of No. 58 Squadron RAF, takes off on a night sortie from Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. This aircraft later went missing during a bombing sortie to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on 17/18 June 1940.
The oil plants of the Ruhr had been targets since the beginning of the bombing campaign. Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mark V, N1463 ‘GE-L’, of No. 58 Squadron RAF, takes off on a night sortie from Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. This aircraft later went missing during a bombing sortie to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on 17/18 June 1940.
Close up of the nose insignia on Handley Page Halifax B Mark III, LV907 'NP-F' "Friday the Thirteenth", of No. 158 Squadron RAF, after returning to Lissett, Yorkshire, from its 100th operational sortie, a night raid on Gelsenkirchen, Germany, flown by Flight Lieutenant N G Gordon and crew. LV907 was so named because it was delivered to the Squadron on 13 January 1944, and was accordingly painted with depictions of various unlucky omens. However, it completed 128 successful sorties before being struck off charge in May 1945.
Close up of the nose insignia on Handley Page Halifax B Mark III, LV907 ‘NP-F’ “Friday the Thirteenth”, of No. 158 Squadron RAF, after returning to Lissett, Yorkshire, from its 100th operational sortie, a night raid on Gelsenkirchen, Germany, flown by Flight Lieutenant N G Gordon and crew. LV907 was so named because it was delivered to the Squadron on 13 January 1944, and was accordingly painted with depictions of various unlucky omens. However, it completed 128 successful sorties before being struck off charge in May 1945.
A pilots map of the route taken by No 408/426 Squadrons RCAF from Linton on Ouse on 6th November 1944.
A pilots map of the route taken by No 408/426 Squadrons RCAF from Linton on Ouse on 6th November 1944.

As the Allied Air forces returned to the destruction of the Ruhr, the town of Gelsenkirchen was high on the target list. Not only was it an industrial town but nearby lay a synthetic oil facility, creating fuel oil from coal. Air warfare strategists had argued that these synthetic oil plants should be the very top priority. Post war analysis suggested that their comprehensive destruction across Germany, beyond the very considerable levels of damage that were achieved by the bombing that did take place, might well have hastened the end of the war.

Very probably many of the German civilians here would have welcomed the Allies as liberators, just as they had at Aachen. When the Scholven oil plant had been hit in September dozens of Jewish slave workers from Hungary had been killed. Seventeen injured women survivors had been treated by doctors from Gelsenkirchen, and the hospital medical staff had collaborated to hide them from the Gestapo, enabling them to survive the war.

It made no difference where their loyalties lay. The people of Gelsenkirchen were in the firing line for more than one reason.

Joseph P. Krause was 12 years old at the time, living in the Schalke area of central Gelsenkirchen. He vividly remembered “Black Monday”, November 6, 1944 when at 13.47 o’clock, they heard on the radio:

“Strong enemy bomber formations on the approach to Gelsenkirchen” Even while this message was being broadcast all hell broke loose. We fled before the carpet bombing, with the public sirens of “acute air threat” heard in the open.

This air warning automatically turned my stomach, and I always felt a painful diarrhea. I went down the spacious staircase, sprinting from the 1st floor, then, with the smashing of windows and doors by the air pressure of the first bombs, along with my 13 year old sister Hildegard, was thrown on the ground floor. In the hail of bombs and between flying debris and flak shrapnel we got in the public air raid shelter under the Fire Museum at the Kaiser Street, the second house to the left of the Imperial Road 71. Between them was the house with the practice of Dr. med. Kirch Meyer.

My sister Genoveva (19) ran with two children in a panic to the Church of St. Joseph and took refuge in the crypt there. Under the Fire Museum we suffered the ultimate doomsday. Tens of thousands of explosive and incendiary bombs rained down on Schalke. All supply lines were interrupted immediately. No water. No power. No radio signals or warnings. Someone in the basement lit a taper, but immediately it went out by air pressure.

The only orientation offered were some stripes on the walls, which were painted with fluorescent paint. The bombs were fitted with rattling and whistling air screws to increase the horror effect among the civilian population. By the perfidious acoustics of the descending carpet bombing we sensed in advance, when and with what weight, a bomb would hit our neighbourhood, and we ducked instinctively and crouched on the floor. Continually we pressed our fingers in our ears and opened our mouths, so that the tremendous air pressure did not tear the lungs and eardrums. The basement swayed and shook.

From everywhere came animal screams of agony. Children and women were crying hysterically, cursing and praying loudly, threw themselves on the ground, whimpering, pleading in vain for mercy of the invisible God. We were prisoners in hell. Smoke. Heat. Then an infernal roar and crackle. The building had collapsed on us. Smoke crept in through cracks in the walls and shattered doors. The house collapsed on us and burned like tinder. The heat was unbearable.

Through an opening in the back part of the basement staggered in blackened shapes, covered with wet blankets. One of the fugitives voice choked with tears: “Schalke street no longer exists.”

This was Dante’s “Inferno” pure and simple. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. The battered people roared and sobbed in despair and fear of death. Horror and shudder came from every joint. After the first assault wave, with 738 aircraft, abated after an hour, we wanted to leave the shelter, but above us were burned ruins.

The basement entrance (staircase) to Emperor street was half buried by glowing rubble and burning beams, blocking the opening to Schalke road as an escape route, through an infinite sea of flames and was impassable. My mother Mathilde Krause quickly realised the situation and organized the totally desperate, distraught women into a rescue party. She grabbed the still burning parts of the planks and beams and quickly threw them sideways away from the basement entrance.

The rest of us managed the smoldering wood further back, to keep the area passable. My mother threw smaller debris in a high arc through gaps in the barrier upwards to the blazing heat of the fire. So they managed to create a narrow escape hatch, through which we survivors crammed with our scorched, smeared clothes and found the way to freedom. That is, to a roaring hurricane of fire and smoke, while above and around us outstanding beams fell crashing, burning and glowing down from the rubble.

Smoldering pieces of wood rained down. All around blazing Schalke an infinite shower of sparks was drifting. Mothers cried their despair with the deadly fumes into the sky. Then our paralyzing horror: The houses on the street were tipped into huge piles of debris on the road. In the smoldering window holes gaped ghastly horror.

From our house, whose interior was thrown through the perforated façade across half the roadway, struck the blazing flames. Other houses were burning like giant torches. The fire sites produced a terrible undertow as biblical pillars of fire: “The earth was formless and empty,” she was covered with flames. We, a party of crazy desperate people, clung to each other and climbed over the chaos of the burning wreckage towards Schalke market; because in the opposite direction fiercely burned the spiers of St. Joseph, threatening to topple into the street. …

In the maelstrom a fleeing old woman stumbled upon the blazing timbers and lost her hat. She wanted to run after and rush to the rescue of her hat in the flames. I – 12 years old – held her back and instinctively pulled her by the hand away from the fiery storm, and we staggered together over the blazing ruins.

On windows on the first floor of this house or next door, a brightly burning woman with raised arms gesticulating wildly and shrill voice in agony, begged in vain for help.

The Schalke market, enclosed by huge torches of fire degenerated into a single chaotic, Nero-Churchill pyre. Near the restaurant “Bei Mutter Thiemeyer” (of Schalke-04 legend), the old “Imperial Hall”, and in the house next door desperate and completely crazy people – obsessed with naked madness – in the mad hope of being able to save anything, threw pieces of furniture out of the windows of the burning room onto the sidewalk, where they crashed.

The Gewerkenstrasse only consisted of huge, brightly burning or smoldering rubble heaps, which were thrown from all sides criss-crossing each other: An apocalyptic mountains under the deadly sun of Satan. Again and again detonated [delayed action bombs ?]. The air was filled with swirling deadly showers of sparks. The industrial facilities to the north and west of Schalke market mutated into the Hellfire of Lucifer. Everything burned and crackled and roared, people screaming, shaking bitter and desperate. We found emergency shelter in the overcrowded Spitzbunker (“Schalke Sugarloaf”), crammed with bloody people and thick with fumes – in the middle of the Schalke market, which was covered with bomb craters and littered with countless smoldering ruins.

My mother immediately went to help work the pump units which by manual operation supplied fresh air for us, otherwise the occupants were hermetically sealed-off from the outside world by the power cut. Inside, it was stuffy and overheated. We sat on floors and stairs, crammed in like sardines.

The British increased the horror by another, perverse attack wave. So we experienced and survived the second major attack in the evening on the same day, November 6, 1944 at 19:25 o’clock.

Death returned. Schalke was the necropolis, the field of blood, the blast furnace for human flesh. The Evil One again grabbed greedily for us survivors of the earlier disaster.Again the horror returned and cruel destruction was repeated. The “Sugar” was hit twice by bombs in the evening after the second alarm. Our misery was multiplied. We shot through. The “Sugarloaf” shook constantly, so that we thought it would topple over.

Again crying and desperate people, a bunch of lunatics in fear of death, shaken again within a few hours and harassed, blaring or whining children with full SHITTY pants without food and water, without electricity, adults who urinated as infants in their underwear. That’s not to surpass the horror that had befallen Schalke. It smelled of burnt flesh and filth. Where – the hell !!!! – was God on this November 6, 1944?

Even today, after more than 60 years, I weep as an old man, when the calendar indicates the 6th of November. We were driven by the inflamed and uninhibited horror and terror, had survived the eruption of hell, volcanoes of phosphorus, attacks of fire accelerants, the mighty blasts of air mines, the roar of a thousand fires.

Late in the evening a treacherous peace arrived, and before the forces of order arrived, individual groups in the bunker made their way in succession over a still intact emergency stairs to the entrance, to go for “fresh air”. This however, had ​​a penetrating stench of fire, burning and filthy flesh. Around us only debris and conflagrations were seen. Some women stood silently in front of endless suffering, some sobbed, others went mad and roared desperately their pain against the brutal, merciless, bloody sky.

The people shouted in horror, fell weeping into the arms: Schalke was erased, the district smashed, in the cellars burned stinking corpses or the dying. Buried like Pauline Hengsbach who – trapped between fallen beams – was cremated alive.

Konrad Hengsbach was injured in the ear by phosphorus. It was raining fire from the sky – as in Egypt of the Old Testament…. In phosphorus-spray people were charred and cooked at 1300 degrees Celsius, roasted alive.

The unpleasant smell of phosphorus caused nausea. When I today I smell carbide or garlic, the images of the phosphorus-burned strike me again. …

Many had lost their belongings on November 6, 1944, were homeless. God had turned away from Schalke. Our sister Genoveva we thought was dead. Eventually she came back distraught to us, with the two sisters. She had been rescued from the crypt of St. Joseph – the burning Schalke parish church. …

Later, my mother and Mrs Kassner (wife of Dr. med. Hans Kassner) found that the upper house of the Study Director of Adolf Hitler school, despite a hit by an incendiary bomb, offered temporary accommodation. So we lived there temporarily.

Only 3 or 4 days after the two major attacks on November 6, 1944 rescue teams entered the basement of the collapsed drugstore Schmitz (Kaiser street corner and street Grillo, left two houses from the fire brigade museum) and brought out a woman. She lay in front of the ruined house and was totally black, burnt, charred, sooty, her face unrecognizable: But I noticed, as I bent over her, that she – stinking of burnt flesh and feces – still breathed weakly.

Where roads were paved, you could not go, because the tar was swollen by the heat of the fires to a viscous mass. In the gym of the high school (entry in Schalke road), which was only partially destroyed, the bodies and body parts were collected, burned, shrunken, shredded. 518 bombing victims were identified. Later statisticians calculated for that day of horror on the battlefield of Gelsenkirchen, the dropping of 6460 bombs and 167,131 incendiary bombs. 17880 houses were bombed to rubble.

The original account can be found in German at Gelsenzentrum. This was just one of 184 bombing raids that the town suffered during the war, killing over 3,000 people in total, with over half of the town destroyed.

From the RAF Bomber Command Official History:

6 November 1944

Gelsenkirchen: 738 aircraft – 383 Halifaxes, 324 Lancasters, 31 Mosquitos.

3 Lancasters and 2 Halifaxes lost.

This large daylight raid had, as its aiming point, the Nordstern synthetic-oil plant. The attack was not well concentrated but 514 aircraft were able to bomb the approximate position of the oil plant before smoke obscured the ground; 187 aircraft then bombed the general town area of Gelsenkirchen.

The synthetic oil plant near Gelsenkirchen, probably photographed at the end of the war.
The synthetic oil plant near Gelsenkirchen, probably photographed at the end of the war.

RAF Bomber Command’s last major raid on Bochum

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.

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

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.

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.

One Day in a Very Long War

The four engines revved up to their maximum 8,800 horsepower and then, at fifty-second intervals, the planes slowly started off down the mile—and-a—half runways. Though the thunderous pounding of piston engines was heard instead of the whine of jets, the Superfortresses were very much the ‘Jumbos’ of their day, dwarfing other bomber types and with extremely slender wings whose slight swaying seemed altogether inappropriate to the task of getting even the four massive engines airborne let alone the rest of the enormously long plane.

Men of 2nd Platoon, D Company, 39th Infantry Regiment in action during the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest
Men of 2nd Platoon, D Company, 39th Infantry Regiment in action during the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest

World War II Today examines aspects of the war on a daily basis. In many cases the background to any individual incident featured here could form the basis of a whole book, and in many cases they have been written. John Ellis took an alternative approach when he wrote One Day in a Very Long War – he looked at the entirety of the war through a wide variety of different incidents happening on one day, 25th October 1944.

To illustrate his approach three different short extracts are reproduced here, illustrating just a few off the diverse perspectives on the war that illustrate the impact of a truly global war.

The personal experience of the infantrymen who were on the front line of the conflict in western Europe. Here he examines:

the relentlessly grim day—to—day existence all along First U.S. Army’s front. In 28 Infantry Division, for example, there was a growing number of non—battle casualties. Many were trench-foot cases, also known as immersion foot, a term of First World War vintage and describing a condition very akin to frost-bite.

It was the result of getting one’s feet wet and not being able to dry them for hours, even days on end. The feet went numb, turned purple and in extreme cases the nerves died and gangrene set in. In such circumstances toes and sometimes the whole foot had to be amputated.

The only effective way to keep trench—foot at bay was to wash and vigorously massage the feet twice daily, apply liberal amounts of talcum powder and, above all, change into dry socks. It was a cause of particular frustration, therefore, that at this time socks were one of several items of winter clothing in short supply.

Behind the divisional lines the dressing stations and field hospitals were full of such cases.

“If they were lucky the medics caught the complaint in time and they would be put to bed in long lines of cots on which lay soldier after soldier, their feet sticking out from under the blankets, with a little ball of cotton wool separating each toe.”

One such rifleman spent fully ninety days in hospital in the autumn of 1944 after taking his boots off for the first time in two weeks. His feet appeared blue and frozen as soon as he removed his socks but he simply fell asleep while trying to rub them back to life.

The next morning “my feet were like balloons, so red and swollen I couldn’t put my shoes on. Some guys had big black blisters and a couple of guys had to get their feet cut off. The doc says you get that from not changing your socks when your feet are wet. Christ, what the hell you gonna do when you’re living in a hole for two weeks and the water’s up to here and Jerries are shooting at you so you can’t go no place? Christ, I’m lucky I’m here at all.”

U.S. Navy destroyers and destroyer escorts laying a smoke screen during the Battle of Samar, 25 October 1944. Note the splashes from Japanese shells.
U.S. Navy destroyers and destroyer escorts laying a smoke screen during the Battle of Samar, 25 October 1944. Note the splashes from Japanese shells.

The strategic perspective of two great forces of the United States Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy as they clashed off the Philippines during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf. The two surface fleets met at the Battle of Samar on the 25th October:

Admiral Kurita had spotted the Americans at almost exactly the same moment that he was discovered. He reacted to the sighting just as quickly as Sprague and gave immediate orders for ‘General Attack’.

Unfortunately the order came only a few minutes after an earlier one to deploy from a five—column cruising formation to a circular one on a more easterly heading. ‘General Attack’ was very much a free-for-all manoeuvre, leaving direction and choice of targets to individual captains, and coming in the middle of another change of formation it caused considerable confusion.

Even before battle was joined, in fact, Kurita had already made his most serious mistake, attributable, no doubt, to the fact that he had now gone 72 hours without sleep and was still not recovered from his bout of dengue fever.

No historian of the battle has seriously quarrelled with S. E. Morison’s judgement that the order was “a fatal error. Kurita should have formed battle-line with his . . . battleships and . . . heavy cruisers, which would have allowed his superior firepower to count, and he should have committed [destroyers] immediately for torpedo attack. But complete surprise seems to have deprived the Admiral of all power of decision, and the result was a helter—skelter battle. His ships . . . were committed piece- meal and so defeated.”

A B-29 Superfortress in flight.
A B-29 Superfortress in flight.

Also considered are the technological achievements that were winning the war for the Allies, not least the extraordinary developments in aeronautical engineering that had taken place in just a few years. Now from some of the remotest parts of the world the US was able to launch devastating firepower against Japan itself:

On this bright morning, at each of the nine bases around the Kwangchan—Likiang—Kumming triangle, some fearsome aircraft were taxiing forward for take—off. They were carrying 500—lb M—64 general-purpose bombs and M-67 incendiary bombs, at a ratio of two to one, and fully loaded each aircraft weighed 65 tons.

The four engines revved up to their maximum 8,800 horsepower and then, at fifty-second intervals, the planes slowly started off down the mile—and-a—half runways. Though the thunderous pounding of piston engines was heard instead of the whine of jets, the Superfortresses were very much the ‘Jumbos’ of their day, dwarfing other bomber types and with extremely slender wings whose slight swaying seemed altogether inappropriate to the task of getting even the four massive engines airborne let alone the rest of the enormously long plane.

A major consideration on the 25th October mission, as on any long- range sortie, was fuel efficiency.

After take-off the planes levelled out at about 5,000 feet and the pilots eased back the throttles and settled down to a ‘lean burn’ cruising speed of around 200 m.p.h. Greater speed could have been achieved at 20,000 feet, in the more rarefied atmosphere, but the climb would consume lots of fuel as the aircraft was still very heavy with well over 6,000 gallons of aviation gasoline in the tanks.

So wherever possible the climb was delayed until they neared the target area and the enemy defences, by which time climb would consume probably 20 per cent less fuel.

The planes remained at high altitude over the target itself and each man donned his flight suit and oxygen mask as the planes were depressurised to prevent explosive decompression if the hull should be punctured by enemy fighters or flak.

See John Ellis: One Day in a Very Long War

US bombers prepare the ground for Operation Cobra


24 July 1944: US heavy bombers prepare the ground for Operation Cobra

It was impossible to give help as long as the air raid lasted. Several companies of the 5th Para Division who tried to withdraw to the north in the direction of Marigny were entirely destroyed by Lightnings, pursuit planes and bombers. On that day my company lost one officer, and 34 non-commissioned officers and enlisted men. The attack lasted approximately three hours.

RAF Molesworth (USAAF Station 107), Cambridgeshire, was the home of the 303rd BG from late 1942 until after VE Day in May 1945.
RAF Molesworth (USAAF Station 107), Cambridgeshire, was the home of the 303rd BG from late 1942 until after VE Day in May 1945.
B-17 Flying fortress heavy bombers in flight above the clouds.
B-17 Flying fortress heavy bombers in flight above the clouds.

After many delays, mainly caused by inclement weather which restricted flying, the Allies were now poised for a breakout in Normandy. The British in the east continued to engage the bulk of the Panzers, while the Germans were making every effort to transfer some across to face the Americans, where they anticipated new problems.

Now Omar Bradley decided that he needed the extra support of the heavy bombers to blast apart the German lines facing his sector. He flew to England to confer with the Allied Air commanders over their direct intervention on the battlefield. A plan was developed for 1,500 heavy bombers and 350 medium bombers, supported by 350 fighter bombers to pulverise 5 square miles of countryside.

However the weather continued to conspire against the Allies, when the attack was launched prematurely on the 24th.

This is the account of German medical sergeant Walter Klein:

On the morning of 24 July 1944, I just came back from the dressing station to the position when we were attacked by artillery. Our anti-aircraft platoon had two dead, three severely wounded.

My own company, the heavy company of Kampfgruppe Heintz, lost only one man. With the help of two stretcher-bearers and the medical unit of the neighbouring company, we went back to the dressing station, to bring the wounded there. We arrived there at about 0900 hours.

At 0915 hours there was such strong air activity over the combat line that we had to take the St Lo — Vire road to get back from the dressing station to the position. We had the prescribed insignia, and knew that the American aviators would not fire on us.

Over the sector held by my company were approximately 18 to 25 Lightnings, which were firing systematically on every hedge. Our position was situated in a wooded sector. We left the road to reach the position and took a sunken road. It was 1100 hours. According to orders I had to report back to the company command post, but on the sunken road I found five wounded parachute gunners of the 5th Para Division, injured by a splinter bomb.

What happened during the following hours was terrific. By our calculation, 1,000 to 1,200 bombers took part in the attack The effect was devastating; all our anti-aircraft guns and artillery were destroyed. Tanks that tried to get away were destroyed by pursuit planes.

When a wave of planes had passed, one could hear the crying of the wounded and shouting for help of medical personnel. I had just the time to carry one of my comrades, who had been wounded badly in the thigh, into the dugout when a second wave started bombing.

It was impossible to give help as long as the air raid lasted. Several companies of the 5th Para Division who tried to withdraw to the north in the direction of Marigny were entirely destroyed by Lightnings, pursuit planes and bombers. On that day my company lost one officer, and 34 non-commissioned officers and enlisted men. The attack lasted approximately three hours.

At 1930 I brought the last wounded to the dressing station. The unit had moved to another position. The general opinion of my comrades and even the officers was that, if the enemy made another attack, it would be our end. Only one heavy weapon was left and it only had six rounds of ammunition. Of our heavy trench mortars only two were left.

The St Lo front had suffered very much from this attack. Worse than the loss of weapons was the effect that the attack had made on our morale.

On 25 July, the Americans started to make the breakthrough. At daybreak, as on the day before, innumerable pursuit planes and artillery-spotting planes were over the battleeld. Almost every rifle pit was shelled. At 1400 hours, when I accompanied some wounded to the dressing station, I found that American tanks were already driving along the St Lo — Vire road.

B-17 bombers encounter heavy flak over the target area during a mission to Germany.
B-17 bombers encounter heavy flak over the target area during a mission to Germany.

This account appears in Nigel Cawthorne: Reaping the Whirlwind

However if things were bad for the Germans they were also bad for the American 30th Division, who were on the receiving end of a good proportion of bombs that fell short. John Adams was one of the men in the trenches who narrowly escaped:

the attack was scheduled for July 24, 1944. However that morning dawned with overcast skies so the attack was postponed until July 25, 1944. Several squadrons of heavy bombers which had already left their bases in England did not get the word. We were expecting our planes to come in on a parallel course to the road and we had marked our front with reflective panel. Every allied vehicle had been repainted with a large white star which should be visible even at a high altitude. We were told the bombers would not bomb within 250 yards of the road. That’s not the way it happened!

I remember it as clear as things I did yesterday. I heard the sounds of the planes coming and was out of my hole cheering them on. Two things were wrong – one, they were not the fighter bombers we were told would come first; second, they were coming in on a perpendicular course which meant they would fly right over us. Some one called for us to get in our holes that bombs were being released. 300 heavy bombers dropped seven hundred tons of explosives with one salvo falling in the area I was in. Its hard to describe the noise and how we felt. The first blast pitched me around in my hole. I blacked out with the next blast.

When I came to it was all over, a medic was wiping blood off my face. he said it was hard to tell whether the blood was just from my nose or a trickle from my eyes or ears. he was marking me for transportation to the Hospital but I told him the attack was called off and I needed to account for my men and I could go later. The was, as it ended up I was still there to take what was left of the 3rd platoon into the attack the next day.

The 120th Infantry – my regiment had had 25 men killed, 131 wounded and thousands of men shaken up. I was one of those badly shook up but still going. I can’t remember anything until the morning of July 25. My guess is that I was exhausted and went to sleep.

See DonChesnut for John Adams’ full account, written in a letter to his grandson.

The devastating bomb load is released.
The devastating bomb load is released.

Attacks on French airfields are stepped up


7 May 1944: Attacks on French airfields are stepped up

Mack told us that we were about 50 miles from the French coast. This also reminded us of the briefing before the operation when we were told of the heavy coastal defences, in particular the light anti-aircraft batteries. After injecting pain—killing drugs into Bill’s arms, I acted as another pair of eyes from the astrodome. By now Ron had decided to take the aircraft down as close to the ground as possible, and we literally hedge-hopped across France with the three engines giving us some l80mph

A B-24 over Orly airfield on the 14th May
A B-24 over Orly airfield on the 14th May
Low-level oblique aerial photograph taken by one of two De Havilland Mosquitos of No. 21 Squadron RAF during a daylight attack on Gael airfield near St Malo, France, showing the second aircraft flying away with bomb doors still open as its 500-lb bombs explode on the hangars
Low-level oblique aerial photograph taken by one of two De Havilland Mosquitos of No. 21 Squadron RAF during a daylight attack on Gael airfield near St Malo, France, showing the second aircraft flying away with bomb doors still open as its 500-lb bombs explode on the hangars

As the invasion approached both the RAF and the USAAF stepped up their attacks on France. In addition to the Transportation Plan, which aimed to cut the rail links in northern France, there were a wide range of military targets. Considerable progress had been made in weakening the Luftwaffe and this was now re-enforced with a sustained programme of bombing airfields. The same airfields received repeat visits to ensure that damage could not be easily repaired.

A raid on France was typically shorter and less dangerous than the attacks on German targets. Yet no target over occupied Europe was without risk and the Germans were concentrating their anti aircraft guns along the coast.

Flight Sergeant Roland A. Hammersley was a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner on a No 57 Squadron Lancaster:

On 7/8 May operations were again shown as ‘on’ for the night, and were to provide my third visit to the airfield at Tours. We had real problems after a fairly uneventful flight out into France; when running up to the target at 8,000 feet we were ordered by the controller to orbit it as we had arrived a little before the TIs had been dropped. Next the controller said that the TIs were ‘bang on’, and we were given the order to bomb.

We went through the bombing run, and Ken at the bombsight called ‘Bombs away!’. Just before this Ken had warned of horizontal tracer on our starboard side, and Bill of a fighter attacking someone on the port quarter. While Bill kept an eye on this action from the rear turret, Tom was searching above and to the rear from his mid-upper turret.

Then things happened quickly. Tom called, ‘Fighter! Fighter! Corkscrew port! Go!’ Ron needed no second telling, and we went down to port in the first move of the corkscrew. The remaining bombs sprayed out from the bomb bay in all directions. I could hear Tom and Bill’s guns firing and the crash of cannon shells and bullets from the fighter hitting our aircraft. Pulling out of this initial dive, I heard Bill call, ‘Are you all right up front?’ Ron hastened to assure him.

In the meantime Tom had seen a fighter about 400 yards astern and just above us, identified as a Ju 88; he opened fire simultaneously with the Ju 88. Bill quickly joined in. We were doing some 250mph on the first dive, yet the Ju 88 passed us in a vertical dive — we hoped that his dive terminated on the ground and not before. Ron completed two cycles of the corkscrew, and although Ken yelled to keep weaving, Ron decided to turn on to a course 323 degrees true.

Already deep into France there was no desire to go any deeper. On turning on to our course and clearing the defences, Bill was heard to call, ‘Skipper, I’ve had it.’ I immediately left my wireless set and went back to the rear turret, letting Bill know that I was with him on arrival.

He was in a sad state, with his face, arms and legs simply streaming with blood. I helped him out of the turret, and with some difficulty managed to get him along the fuselage to the rest bed. Up front Ken had clipped on his parachute in case we had to abandon the aircraft. On hearing the news of Bill he came back to help me for a few minutes, then checked the rear turret, only to find it was too badly damaged to be used. We were without any defence for the rear end!

Mack told us that we were about 50 miles from the French coast. This also reminded us of the briefing before the operation when we were told of the heavy coastal defences, in particular the light anti-aircraft batteries. After injecting pain—killing drugs into Bill’s arms, I acted as another pair of eyes from the astrodome. By now Ron had decided to take the aircraft down as close to the ground as possible, and we literally hedge-hopped across France with the three engines giving us some l80mph. Ron’s skill as a pilot now came to the fore.

It was agreed that we should get up to l0,000 feet to cross the French coast so as to avoid the light flak guns. We were nearly too late — as we commenced the climb one battery opened fire at us. Ron immediately put the Lancaster into a dive straight at the guns. I watched in amazement from the astrodome as the coloured tracer fire came flashing by my head and to each side of the aircraft. Later I discovered that we had been hit along the length of the bomb bay doors in that incident.

We pulled up out of the dive and were away into the darkness as the gun-fire stopped. We crossed the coast at 10,000 feet as intended, avoiding the Channel Islands.

After clearing the Channel Islands, Tom said that there was another aircraft approaching, which he identified as a fighter. Ron was asked to turn a little to starboard and Tom opened fire with the four guns in his turret. It was a long burst. Ron then put the aircraft into a corkscrew. The night fighter appeared not to appreciate our gun-fire and dived away to port and was not seen again.

We passed over St Alban’s Head and sent out a Mayday distress call; Hurn answered faintly but did not light up. However, ahead there was another aerodrome, Tarrant Rushton, which did light up, so we went in there, other aircraft preparing to land being instructed to wait until we were down. Ron made a good landing on three engines and called for an ambulance, which pulled alongside us as we came to a stop near the control tower.

Ron Walker was recommended for an immediate award of the DFC following the events of the night of 7/8 May and the award was confirmed on 9 June. I had now completed 14 operations, had flown 14,795 miles in a flying time of 90 hours 30 minutes, and had carried a total of 161,948lb of bombs over Germany and Occupied Europe to their designated targets.

See Bowman (Ed.) RAF Bomber Stories: Dramatic First-hand Accounts of British and Commonwealth Airmen in World War 2 for the whole story

A USAAF A-20 Havoc over an unidentified airfield, 1944
A USAAF A-20 Havoc over an unidentified airfield, 1944
Still from film shot in an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, during a daylight attack on the Luftwaffe airfield and signals depot at St Cyr, France, by aircraft of No. 5 Group. A 4,000-lb HC bomb ('Cookie') and a smaller 500-lb MC bomb are seen just after they were released over the target.
Still from film shot in an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, during a daylight attack on the Luftwaffe airfield and signals depot at St Cyr, France, by aircraft of No. 5 Group. A 4,000-lb HC bomb (‘Cookie’) and a smaller 500-lb MC bomb are seen just after they were released over the target.

Bombing – Berliners ‘prepared to see it through’


1 May 1944: Bombing – Berliners ‘prepared to see it through’

Special rations and fear help things along, there’s grumbling here and there, but on the whole people carry on with self-confident Berlin wit and cockiness. No one is expecting imminent defeat; some say the war will last another two years, others, that the decisive German “retribution” is at hand. (For months there was official talk of “retribution,” then the public scoffed at it, then nothing more was heard of it. And now it pops up again in this account.)

B17 over Berlin
B-17 Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Eighth Air Force pass through a flak-filled sky on a raid over Berlin, 6 March 1944.
A Berlin rescue squad plans the excavation of eighteen people believed trapped in a cellar following an air raid, May 1944.
A Berlin rescue squad plans the excavation of eighteen people believed trapped in a cellar following an air raid, May 1944.

Berlin had been under bombing attack for six months now. First with the RAF taking advantage of the long winter nights, then with the US 8th Air Force taking up the assault. At first the German Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, had been shaken by the scale of the destruction. He kept his thoughts to himself and masterminded a propaganda campaign that sought to bolster morale and presented a confident face to the world.

It now looked like he had succeeded. Even if Germans resented the Nazi regime they would have been unwise even to share their thoughts with others, much less actively seek to oppose it. Those amongst the Allies who believed that striking at the very ‘heart of the Reich’ would undermine morale and eventually lead to revolt had been proved wrong.

In Dresden, so far to east it had not yet been bombed, former linguistics professor Victor Klemperer studied the language of the totalitarian regime. As a Jew married to an Aryan he had so far managed to avoid the worst of the persecutions. The list of his friends and neighbours lost in concentration camps was growing ever longer. He was therefore surprised to learn of the actual conditions in Berlin:

May 1, Monday, half past one

This morning, while I was tutoring Bernhard Stuhler, Steinitz appeared and introduced his (half-Aryan) niece, who had come from Berlin for the weekend. A young, robust, somewhat proletarian, very blond and German—looking, lipstick-wearing girl; her lively character rather likeable. What she reported from Berlin shook me, because it confirmed what Goebbels repeatedly emphasizes.

The Berliners are quite used to the raids – on Saturday, while we were sitting in the cellar at Mobius, they had another heavy one. Serious destruction on every street, loss of life everywhere, but in general the people’s mood is good, humorous, prepared to see it through.

Special rations and fear help things along, there’s grumbling here and there, but on the whole people carry on with self-confident Berlin wit and cockiness. No one is expecting imminent defeat; some say the war will last another two years, others, that the decisive German “retribution” is at hand. (For months there was official talk of “retribution,” then the public scoffed at it, then nothing more was heard of it. And now it pops up again in this account.)

The girl works in some Berlin factory, so hears this and that. Therefore the regime has no need to fear internal collapse or revolt. And on this point Goebbels is undoubtedly correct: As a means of bringing pressure to bear on morale the air offensive is a failure.

The Stuhlers say: It is impossible to judge morale today. All have had enough, and everyone trembles and dissimulates. This time nothing will come from inside Germany.

The Steinitz niece also related something very like what Eisenmann said on his return from the hospital. In Berlin there are no Jewish stars to be seen. The Gestapo acquiesces, or at least closes both eyes. The star is not worn or is covered. (As Eisenmann traveled through Berlin on the tram, his briefcase pressed to his chest.)

If the Gestapo is forced to take action because of a denunciation, then the person denounced gets a warning the first time, after that a fine… Here, on the other hand, concealing the star inevitably leads to death by way of concentration camp.

See To The Bitter End: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1942-45.

A target indicator (left centre) descends over the Schoneberg district of Berlin, during a night raid by 27 De Havilland Mosquitos of the Late Night Striking Force.
A target indicator (left centre) descends over the Schoneberg district of Berlin, during a night raid by 27 De Havilland Mosquitos of the Late Night Striking Force.
Armourers prepare to load 500-lb MC bombs into De Havilland Mosquito
Armourers prepare to load 500-lb MC bombs into De Havilland Mosquito B Mark IV, DZ483 ‘GB-R’, of No. 105 Squadron RAF at Marham, Norfolk, in preparation for a night raid on Berlin, Germany by aircraft of No. 2 Group. Two weeks later, DZ483 crashed at Marham while attempting to land on one engine, on returning from the low-level raid on Jena. Its crew, Flying Officer A J Rae and Flying Officer K S Bush, were both killed.

Heavy civilian casualties as the Allies bomb Paris


21 April 1944: Heavy civilian casualties as the Allies bomb Paris

Thus, I woke up at 5am and boarded the first Métro carriage which stopped at Jules Joffrin station. From there I reached, running more or less, the warehouse. Everything was burning. The Porte de La Chapelle was particularly knocked down. All the houses have collapsed on the ground. A bomb exploded over the Métro which is in shambles. From the Porte de La Chapelle to our warehouse [ca. 1 km], everything was flames and devastation. The bombing was very dense.

From a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th AAF Bomber Command on 31 December when they attacked the vital CAM ball- bearing plant and the nearby Hispano Suiza aircraft engine repair depot in Paris, France, 1943.
From a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th AAF Bomber Command on 31 December when they attacked the vital CAM ball- bearing plant and the nearby Hispano Suiza aircraft engine repair depot in Paris, France, 1943.
Damage to La Chapelle area, Paris, April 1944.
Damage to La Chapelle area, Paris, April 1944.

As Operation Overlord approached there was intense debate within the senior Allied commanders about one aspect of the plan. Churchill’s scientific adviser Solly Zuckerman had devised the ‘Transportation Plan’ – the planned disruption of all rail traffic leading into northern France. The planned called for the diversion of the heavy bomber fleets of the RAF and the USAAF away from targets in Germany to hit railway targets in France.

The head of RAF Bomber Command Arthur Harris, and the head of the new US Strategic Air Forces in Europe, Carl Spaatz opposed the plan. They did not want to be diverted from their bombing of Germany, nor did they think the heavy bombers were suitable for hitting railway targets and would cause too many civilian casualties. The argument went round Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and went up to Churchill. Eventually the plan went ahead with careful monitoring of French casualties. Some of the earlier raids in March had been very accurate. Arguably, it was only a matter of time before a raid on a railway centre in a densely populated area would cause heavy ‘collateral damage’.

On the 21st April the La Chapelle marshalling yards in Paris were hit. 641 people were killed and 377 wounded, as bad a casualty rate as any during they London Blitz and worse than the number killed during the 1940 Coventry bombing.

Here are some details about the catastrophy. First, a night of utmost uproar. During 2 hours and 15 minutes, a mind-boggling racket. Everything was shaking in the apartment [located in the 7th arrondissement in the very heart of Paris]. At last I went down the stairs and tried to cheer up this excellent Mrs Dantin [the famously bad-tempered doorkeeper, an awful drunkard old lady] who was stricken with panic. The night sky was lighted with flares and fires, and you could see as in broad daylight. I called our warehouse right away, but there was no dial tone. I immediately thought of the worst.

Thus, I woke up at 5am and boarded the first Métro carriage which stopped at Jules Joffrin station. From there I reached, running more or less, the warehouse. Everything was burning. The Porte de La Chapelle was particularly knocked down. All the houses have collapsed on the ground. A bomb exploded over the Métro which is in shambles. From the Porte de La Chapelle to our warehouse [ca. 1 km], everything was flames and devastation. The bombing was very dense. Our warehouse offered a pitiful outlook. I immediately went to the basement where I knew several of our workers had sought refuge. It was intact, which immediately reassured me (…)

And voila. Here, air raid sirens after sirens, bombings after bombings. It’s non-stop! Again this morning, you could see the flying fortresses quite distinctly in the sky. I’m glad that you are over there in the peace and quiet of the province. Life here is becoming really difficult. Lots of people are leaving Paris. Several districts (the 14th arrondissement, the 18th arrondissement, the Plaine St Denis, etc.) were evacuated. In the Plaine St Denis, there were this morning 416 coffins. Several corpses still remain under the rubbles. An entire family, not far from our warehouse, met their end: father, mother, 6 children! Time bombs are still exploding. Fires are thanks God over. (…)

This account was quoted on this forum. There is an analysis of the raid at FranceCrashes.

Contemporary French film of damage caused by the raid.

Through various channels the French protested to London. The argument about the use of heavy bombers, and whether it was necessary to support Overlord continued. In May Roosevelt intervened to support the necessity of SHAEF’s objectives and the planned bombing programme went ahead under Eisenhower’s authority. Eventually the Allies dropped more bombs on France than the Luftwaffe dropped on Britain. See Richard Overy: The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945. Some argued that the French resistance was better placed to attack railway targets accurately – yet that route did not avoid terrible retribution against the local population.

The Métro repair shops in St Ouen were also destroyed during the same Allied bombing raid:
The Métro repair shops in St Ouen were also destroyed during the same Allied bombing raid: