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First Lancaster bombing raid

Squadron Leader J D Nettleton of No. 44 Squadron RAF in one of the first operational Avro Lancasters. He is about to cross the western perimeter of RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, with bomb doors open during a Squadron practice for low-level attacks in April 1942. Ermine Street (A607) can be seen on the extreme right running south towards Coleby.

A little over a year after the Avro Lancaster had made its [permalink id=9869 text=”maiden flight”], the four engined heavy bomber that would become the workhorse of Bomber Command made its first bombing raid over Germany. Its first operational sortie had been on the 3rd March 1942 when it took part in a mine laying mission off the German coast.

Three Lancasters from No. 44 Squadron took part in the attack on Essen. The raid on the 10th was not a huge success, the RAF had yet to master the art of concentrating its bombing – on this night bad weather dispersed the attacking force and bombs were reported to have hit 24 different towns in Germany.

This was despite the fact that the Essen raids were also the first operational use of ‘Gee’, the highly secret navigational aid that was being introduced by the RAF. Radar beams could be directed over Germany which enabled aircraft which received them to fix their position by reference to a predetermined Grid – hence ‘Gee’. Teething troubles would soon be overcome and it would become a crucial part of RAF bombing methods.


Bomber Command despatched 637 sorties, compared with 393 last week. The weather on three nights was unfavourable, but, when conditions permitted, heavy attacks were directed against factories in the Ruhr. A total of 653 tons of bombs and 82,650 incendiaries were released.

The principal target on three nights was Krupps’ Works at Essen, a total of 336 aircraft dropping 397 tons of H.E. bombs (including 37 of 4,000 lbs.) and nearly 78,000 incendiaries. Our bombers included Lancasters, which were taking part for the first time in offensive operations. Fifteen of our aircraft are missing.

The second of these three attacks on Essen is considered to have been very successful. Fires were started in Krupps’ Works and oil storage cisterns are believed to have been destroyed. Individual crews reported fires in the target area which looked like whole streets ablaze and a fire of great size near a railway­ junction. On the preceding and subsequent night indifferent visibility precluded accurate identification of the primary targets, and numerous aircraft dropped their bombs on alternative objectives.

From the Air Situation Report for the week as reported to the British War Cabinet, see TNA CAB 66/22/50

A typical scene at Mildenhall as armourers of No 149 Squadron fit bomb carriers to a pair of 1,000-pounders, while behind Stirling 'N-Nuts' runs up its engines, 10 March 1942.

2 thoughts on “First Lancaster bombing raid”

  1. ” Radar beams could be directed over Germany which enabled aircraft which received them to fix their position by reference to a predetermined Grid – hence ‘Gee’.”

    Very interesting – a land-based substitute for GPS. Never heard of that before!

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