The Allied bombing campaign against Germany began fitfully, but once it had gained momentum the Luftwaffe was unable to prevent the wholesale destruction of the Third Reich’s cities and industry.
Focke-Wulf Fw 190A fighters taxi for take-off on a fairly rudimentary airfield, 1943. The Fw 190, first flown in June 1939, began to reach frontline squadrons in mid-1941.
Until 1942, the need to devote large numbers of fighters or even anti-aircraft, “flak” guns to the defence of Germany had seemed unnecessary. The air raids mounted by RAF Bomber Command in 1940 and 1941 were spasmodic and, in most cases, inflicted little damage; indeed, such had been the success of existing German air defences against them that the British had shifted from daylight to night-time attacks, with inevitable effects on navigation and bomb-aiming accuracy. By August 1941, the British themselves were forced to admit that, of the aircraft flying against the German industrial Ruhr, only about a third were dropping bombs within 8km (5 miles) of their designated targets. At a time when German forces elsewhere were seizing the Balkans and thrusting deep into the Soviet Union, there appeared to be little need to boost domestic air defence.
This was indicated by the number of air-defence aircraft maintained in Germany: by the end of 1940 a mere 165, increasing to just over 300 a year later. But it would be wrong to dismiss air-defence efforts entirely during this period. As early as July 1940, General Josef Kammhuber was appointed by Göring to develop night defences, and his innovations laid strong foundations for the future. His system became known, logically enough, as the Kammhuber Line, stretching eventually from Denmark to southern France. At its centre was an arrangement nicknamed Himmelbett, or “four-poster bed”, whereby the likely approach routes from Britain to the heart of Germany were divided into “boxes”, each of which was defended by a mixture of radar, fighter aircraft, searchlights and Flak guns. Freya long-range radars were positioned to pick up signs of an incoming raid; as soon as the bombers approached, they would be tracked by a short-range Wurzburglinked to night-fighter ground controllers. They would guide individual aircraft in the direction of the bombers, leaving it up to the pilots to intercept by means of visual identification. If this proved impossible, the night-fighters would follow the bombers into the illumination of the searchlight zone; if that failed, the flak guns closer to the targets would come into play. For the time, it was remarkably sophisticated.
A Hauptgruppenführerin, as denoted by the three stars and single bar on her sleve, of the Luftwaffenhelferinnenschaft helps to coordinate air defences, 1941. She is in charge of the female telephonists, who are in contact with night-fighter airfields and anti-aircraft sites.
A battery of 128mm Flugabwehrkanone (Flak) 40 anti-aircraft guns prepares for action in Germany, 1942. Designed and tested in 1937, the Flak 40 could project a 26kg (57lb) shell to a maximum vertical ceiling of 14800m (nine miles), giving it a formidable capability against Allied bombers.
Searchlights formed an important part of the German night defence screen against Allied air attack.
A searchlight crew on the watch for enemy aircraft. The searchlight is linked to a sound locator which determines the position of the aircraft from the noise of its engines and to the flak battery whose guns follow the beam of the searchlight.
A Flakwaffenhelferin gun-layer checks the elevation of a heavy anti-aircraft weapon, 1944. Volunteers from the Luftwaffenhelferinnen were used from October 1943 to bolster German air-defence units, releasing men for frontline service.
An Oberhelferin, denoted by the two cherons on her left sleve, of the Flakwaffenhelferinnen works the elevator wheel on the side of a heavy anti-aircraft gun, 1944. Female volunteers never served outside Germany.
The Waffen-SS crew of a 20mm Flak 38 quadruple-barrelled light anti-aircraft gun display their skills to a visiting Luftwaffe officer.
Luftwaffe retaliatory raids.
In early 1942, however, the RAF improved its capability. The first of its heavy four-engined bombers were deployed and, under the single-minded leadership of Air Marshal Arthur Harris, a new strategy was perfected, based on “area bombing”, whereby entire cities rather than just the factories within them were targeted. This reduced the need for high accuracy but also increased the levels of civilian destruction. On the 28th/29th March 1942, for example, the city of Lübeck was razed, followed almost a month later by Rostock. In both cases, the bombers flew in a continuous stream, swamping the Kammhuber Line.
Hitler was livid. In the immediate aftermath of the Lübeck raid he ordered Luftflotte III to mount retaliatory attacks on Britain. The first occurred on the night of the 23rd/24th April, when 45 Dornier Do 217s hit Exeter, followed by a second raid the following night against the same target. Bath was raided on the very night that the RAF was hitting Rostock, and it was this incident that caused Hitler, in an impassioned speech to the German people, to wave a copy of the pre-war Baedeker Guide to Britain and announce that the cities listed within it would be wiped out one by one. Between then and the end of July, in what became known as the “Baedeker Raids”, Luftwaffe bombers ranged far and wide over England, attacking cities such as Norwich, Exeter, York, Hull and Birmingham. Some of the raids were quite devastating, Exeter was hit for a third time on the 3rd/4th May and set aflame, but Luftflotte III could not sustain the campaign. Aircraft losses mounted and, with few reserves available, the raids gradually petered out. With the exception of a brief series of attacks on London in early 1944, this was the swansong of the Luftwaffe over the British Isles.
Meanwhile, the RAF had continued to develop, mounting the first of its “1000 Bomber Raids” on the 30th/31st May 1942 against Cologne. The damage inflicted was not substantial in the light of things to come, but it was indicative of a growing need for German air defences to be improved. Other German cities hit during this time included Hamburg, which was bombed twice by the RAF in July 1942. The city’s water supplies and civil defence were smashed in the first raid, while in the second the incendiary bombs dropped by the aircraft caused a multitude of small fires, which soon linked up and raged unchecked. The resultant fire storm killed thousands, and the RAF returned for a third time on the 30th July. However, in response to Karl Kaufmann the local Gauleiter’s call for all non-essential civilians to leave the city, over one million people evacuated the city. He had previously in September 1941, after RAF bombing of Hamburg had rendered many people homeless, he petitioned Hitler to allow him to deport local Jews so that he could confiscate their property to rehouse bombed-out citizens. Hitler quickly responded, allowing Kaufmann the dubious distinction of being the first Nazi leader to deport German Jews, in this instance to the Łódź Ghetto in Poland.
A further sign of impending disaster came in August 1942, when the first American bombers began to operate from bases in Britain in large-scale raids. To begin with, the heavily armed B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators confined their daylight raids to targets in occupied France, Belgium and the Netherlands, but their presence threatened a new campaign, forcing the Germans to defend their homeland 24 hours a day. The existing defences would not be able to cope.
In September 1944, Allied airborne troops dropped into southern Holland to seize bridges over the Maas, Waal and the Lower Rhine. As part of the “softening-up” process, the RAF hit the airfield at Arnhem on the 16th/17th September.
In the aftermath of the RAF raid on the airfield at Arnhem, a Luftwaffe repair and recovery team rests on the wing of a heavily damaged Junkers Ju 52. The raid appears to have been successful, although the Junkers Ju 52s shown are recoverable.
As part of the same raid on the 16th/17th September 1944, the Junkers & Co factory at Arnhem was hit. By this stage in the war the RAF had sufficient air superiority to carry out raids such as this with little danger, the Luftwaffe was no longer effective.
Still with the Arnhem raid of the 16th/17th September 1944, the Luftwaffe repair and recovery team show in the previous picture has completed its task and the remains of a Junkers Ju 52, the front part of the fuselage and wing-roots, are awaiting collection by the roadside. There is not much of value left.
Another view of the two Junkers Ju 52s heavily damaged at Arnhem, September 1944. All the photographs are taken from a roll of film captured by a British officer Norman Baxter, a Paratrooper dropped in Operation “Market Garden” in 1944 and developed by Army Intelligence. As far as is known, they have not been published before.
The strengthening of German defences.
In response, by the end of 1942 Luftwaffe strength in the West had increased to nearly 400 night, and 200 day-fighters, backed by flak units fielding more than 1100 anti-aircraft guns. The effects elsewhere of such reinforcements were significant, for nearly all the aircraft involved had to be drawn from existing formations. Milch made great efforts to increase production but this would take time to effect and had the added disadvantage of curtailing the development of new designs. By now the war was in its fourth year, yet the Luftwaffe was still equipped with aircraft types that had been in frontline service when the conflict began. Some, like the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Junkers Ju 88, had been, and would continue to be, refined in terms of speed, armament and endurance, but others, particularly the Messerschmitt Bf 110 and the Junkers Ju 87, were already dangerously obsolete. Their planned replacements, most notably the Heinkel He 177 bomber and Messerschmitt Me 210 long-range fighter, had suffered from lack of development funding and their introduction had been seriously delayed. Even when they did enter squadron service, their teething troubles were such that their impact was significantly less than expected.
Avro Lancasters, being got ready for a “Night Run”. Bomb bays open for a feed. Crews watch and maybe say a quiet prayer.
Avro Lancasters of No 463 Squadron RAF Bomber Command fly in formation to carry out a raid over German – occupied Europe, 1944. The Lancaster was designed and painted for night-time operations.
In such circumstances, it is remarkable just how effective German air defence became in 1943 and early 1944. At a time when Allied raids were becoming more sophisticated, the RAF, for example, introduced Oboe and H2S precision blind-bombing radar sets to improve accuracy. The Americans began to penetrate German airspace in early 1943, hitting U-boat bases and other instillations. The Americans flew in defensive “box” formations to protect their bombers, however Messerschmitt Bf 109s and Focke-Wulf Fw 190s armed with 20mm cannon and under wing rockets were used in head-on attacks that broke up these the “box” formations and left individual aircraft vulnerable to destruction. The Germans managed to impose considerable casualties by day and night.
B-24 Liberators, easily identified by their twin rudders, fly low over the checkerboard landscape of Britain. Next the sea, then the grind trip to the Ruhr.
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress’s of the 381st Bombardment Group, United States 8th Army Air Force create distinctive, and potentially very dangerous, vapour trails as they fly into Germany, 1944. The lead aircraft is a Boeing B-17F, with Boeing B-17Gs following.
Part of the bomb-load of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber begins its descent onto a target in Germany, 1944. The “dustbin” beneath the fuselage is an H2X radar radome, installed in place of the normal ball turret, indicating that this particular aircraft is a pathfinder.
A lead Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress drops its bombs as a signal for others to do the same, 1944. The aircraft are flying in a loose formation, although their machine guns are still within range of each other to provide mutual defence. The smoke trail in the centre could be a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress going down.
A Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bomber begins its descent onto its home base. Group 500 comes up the sky slowly. Then it is overhead with a roar. The counting is repeated. Three missing … No, one came back early. Well, that makes two… You counting this one out here? …Sure, that still makes two short … Maybe they landed someplace else…
The “Battle of Hamburg”.
The “Battle of Hamburg” began on the night of the 24th July when 700 RAF heavy bombers attacked the city, after other British aircraft deployed “Window”, the release of millions of strips of metal foil, totally neutralising German radar. Only 12 bombers were shot down. The result of the raid was that much of the city was destroyed and 1500 civilians were killed.
The really devastating raid did not come until the night of the 27th, when 772 RAF bombers dropped 2300 tons of bombs on the city. About half of these were incendiaries, half high explosives. The Hamburg Fire Department was already low on water from the previous 2 days, as north-central Germany was in the grip of a drought. The massive raid of the 27th killed many fire fighters and ruptured water mains. The heat was so intense that artificial firestorms were created. “The air brought in from the areas surrounding the major fires attained cyclonic force,” Beck wrote later. “Ground-level Hamburg became the fire pan of a gigantic oven.” Smoke rose to observable heights of 4 to 5 miles and many fire department units simply gave up fighting the uncontrollable blazes, concentrating on extricating trapped survivors instead. Tens of thousands perished in the heat and hundreds of thousands fled the city in terror. Even the asphalt on the streets caught fire. Two nights later the RAF heavy bombers repeated the operation, dropping more than 2000 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs. That night the Luftwaffe shot down only 28 bombers. In the 4 night raids of the 24th July to the 2nd August, Hamburg suffered as much destruction as Britain endured throughout the entire war. The death total could only be estimated, but 50000 is a commonly held figure. Another 40000 people were wounded. Half of the city’s factories were destroyed and more than 50 per cent of Hamburg’s houses were destroyed. More than a million homeless refugees fled into the interior, spreading fear and terror. German war morale sagged for the first time. Munitions Minister Albert Speer predicted to Hitler that 6 more raids of this nature would end the war. Fortunately for Germany, the Allies did not concentrate such air power against a single city until 1945, when they firebombed Dresden.
Luftwaffe “ace” Oberstleutnant Kurt Bühligen (right) discusses tactics with a fellow pilot.
Oberstleutnant Kurt Bühligen.
He was born at Granschütz on the 13th December 1917. He enlisted in the Luftwaffe, and served initially as an aircraft mechanic. He took his pilot training and became a pilot-non-commissioned officer. He scored his first victory during the “Battle of Britain” and went on to score a total of 112 while flying over 700 missions of the number of victories, 24 were four-engined heavy bombers. He served on all fronts only to be taken prisoner by the Soviets.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross: Awarded on the 4th September 1941 for scoring 21 victories while assigned as a pilot-non-commissioned officer serving with Jagdgeschwader 2 “Richthofen”.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves: Awarded on the 2nd March 1944 for scoring 96 victories while assigned as commander of the 2nd Squadron, Jagdgeschwader 2 “Richthofen”. He was the 413th Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords: Awarded on the 14th August 1944 for downing 104th aircraft while assigned as commander Jagdgeschwader 2 “Richthofen”. He was the 88th - Recipient.
III./ JG 54 converted to Focke-Wulf Fw 90A-7s in the summer of 1944. This picture shows them at Oldenburg in September of that year. An experienced pilot briefs newcomers to the squadron on the finer points of fighter techniques. The model in his hand appears to be a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, with a real one behind.
Oberstleutnant Egon Mayer (centre, in shorts) visits the crash site of one of his daylight “kills” – a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th USAAF. By 1943 the Allied bombing campaign was forcing the Germans to divert aircraft and resources to combat the air threat. The campaign was conducted by both RAF Bomber Command and the US 8th Army Air Force. The Americans hit specific industrial targets while the RAF attacked cities. The latter strategy produced some horrendous casualties. During the raids on Hamburg in July 1943, for example, the firestorm produced destroyed 70 per cent of the city and killed over 30000 people. It was a foretaste of things to come. Nevertheless, in 1943 the Germans began to organise their defences more effectively to counter the bombing campaign, a combination of the Kammhuber Line and the deployment of more fighters.
Oberstleutnant Egon Mayer. He was born at Lake Constance, the Boden See, on the 19th August 1917. He joined the Luftwaffe in 1939 and began his career with the famous Jagdgeschwader 2 “Richthofen”, remaining with that unit until his death as its eventual commander. His progress as a fighter pilot was slow, but methodical. During the time it took him to get his first 20 “kills”, he was shot down himself 4 times. He mastered the technique of the head-on attack, especially against the large bombers. On the 6th September 1943 he succeeded in downing three Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers in only 19 minutes. Known as “The man in the white scarf,” Mayer was the first fighter pilot to achieve 100 victories on the Channel Front, with his 100th victory coming on the 3rd February 1944. The following month, at the age of 26, Mayer was downed in aerial combat by an American P-47 “Thunderbolt” fighter. He was killed on the 2nd March 1944 near Montmedy.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross: Awarded on the 1st August 1941 for scoring 20 victories while a Leutnant serving in Jagdgeschwader 2 “Richthofen”.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves: Awarded on the 16th April 1943 for accumulating 63 victories while a Hauptmann serving in Jagdgeschwader 2 “Richthofen”. He was the 232nd Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords: Awarded was rendered posthumously on the 2nd March 1944 for downing 102 aircraft while a Oberstleutnant commanding Jagdgeschwader 2 “Richthofen”. He was the 51st Recipient.
Oberst Helmut Lent, one of the most successful Luftwaffe night-fighter “aces”, scoring 102 night victories together with 8 day victories, mostly against heavy bombers. He was born the son of a Protestant minister on the 13th June 1918 at Pyrehne. On the 2nd September 1939, during a daylight engagement, he scored his first “kill” while flying with the Destroyer Wing 76 in Poland. After accounting for a total of 8 day victories, he transferred to night fighters. By November 1941 he was assigned as commander of IInd Group, Night Fighter Wing 2. On the 1st August 1943 Lent was named commander of Night Fighter Wing 3, and the following year was promoted to the rank of Oberst at the age of 44. Lent had become a specialist in the field of night interception, his tactic of infiltrating the bomber squadron allowed him to single out his target and score multiple victories on a single mission. His skill in combat had earned him the distinction of becoming the first night fighter to win the Diamonds. On the 5th October1944, while returning from a routine flight following a visit to his friend Hans-Joachim Jabs, Lent’s aircraft grazed a high tension cable, causing one engine to fail. Losing altitude, the plane, piloted by Lent, crashed. For 2 days he fought a losing battle against death. What his enemies failed to do, kismet accomplished.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross: Awarded on the 30th August 1941 for scoring 8 day and 14 night victories while an Oberleutnant serving on the Western Front.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves: Awarded on the 6th June 1942 for accumulating 35 night victories while a Hauptmann serving on the Western Front. He was the 98th Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords: Awarded on the 2nd August 1943 for accumulating 66 night victories. He was the 75th Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds: Awarded on the 31st July 1944 for accumulating 100 night victories. He was the 18th Recipient.
Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds.
Oberst Gordon Gollob. He was born on the 16th June 1912 in Vienna, Austria. By 1936 he was commissioned as a Leutnant, and became a fighter instructor in the Austrian Air Force. With the “Anschluss” or union with Austria on the 13th March 1938, Austria ceased to exist as a country and became a part of the “Greater German Reich” and he now wore the uniform of the Luftwaffe. When war broke out against Poland, he scored his first “kill”. Early in 1940 he followed the IInd Group of Udet’s 3rd Fighter Wing to Norway, and later that same year, into combat over the English Channel. By July 1941 he had been appointed as commanding officer of the IInd Group, and led them during the invasion of Russia. It was here on the Eastern Front that he was to achieve fame as one of Germany’s leading “aces”. Following a brief tour as a test pilot in Germany, he returned to the Eastern Front, this time as commanding officer of the 77th Fighter Wing. By May 1942 he had become the tenth fighter pilot to score 100 victories. On the 30th August 1942 he was placed in command of a fighter unit in the west. During the last two years of the war, he was assigned to the Luftwaffe fighter staff where he worked closely with Adolf Galland. His principal mission during this period was to test and evaluate jet aircraft that were being developed in an effort to counter Allied air superiority. In the closing days of the war, he was given the post of Inspector General of Fighters on the 15th January 1945, succeeding Galland when he fell out of favour.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross: Awarded on the 18th September 1941 for scoring 42 victories while a Hauptmann serving with IInd Group, 3rd Fighter Wing.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves: Awarded on the 26th October 1941 for accumulating 85 victories as commander of the 3rd Fighter Wing’s IInd Group. He was the 38th Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords: Awarded on the 23rd June 1942 for downing 107 aircraft while a Hauptmann commanding the 77th Fighter Wing on the Eastern Front. He was the 13th Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds: Awarded on the 30th August 1942 for downing 150 aircraft while a Major commanding the 77th Fighter Wing on the Eastern Front. He was the 3rd Recipient.
Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds.
Hauptmann Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, Born in Calw on the 16th February 1922. The Luftwaffe’s top night-fighter “ace”, credited eventually with 121 “kills”, mostly RAF Lancaster and Halifax bombers. He did not become a night – fighter pilot until the spring of 1942, and it wasn’t until the 2nd June 1942 that he scored his first “kill”. Flying largely by intuition, the poor weather that grounded other pilots did not deter him. In a single engagement on the 25th May 1944 he downed five RAF Bombers within 14 minutes. His greatest victory resulted in 9 bombers being downed in a single day, 7 of these in a period of 17 minutes. He was highly respected by his RAF adversaries, but this respect was equalled by fear considering the toll that he had taken on their bombers. Nicknamed by the RAF, the “Night Ghost of St Trond”, after the name of his base in Belgium, he like many of his night-fighter comrades, quickly learned that the key to success was to close to point-blank range before opening fire. Time and again he used this tactic with devastating effect. When the war ended he was a Hauptmann in command of Night Fighter Wing 4. He was taken prisoner by the British along with his Messerschmitt Bf 110. His plane was initially placed on display in Hyde Park in London. The tail section, with its “kill” markings, is on display in the Imperial War Museum, London.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross: Awarded on the 31st December 1943 for scoring 42 victories while an Oberleutnant serving with Night Fighter Wing 1.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves: Awarded on the 24th June 1944 for accumulating 84 victories while a Hauptmann serving with Nachtjagdgeschwader 1. He was the 38th Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords: Awarded on the 30th July 1944 for downing 89 aircraft while a Hauptmann serving with Nachtjagdgeschwader 1. He was the 84th Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds: Awarded on the 16th October 1944 for downing 100 aircraft in night aerial combat while a Hauptmann serving with Nachtjagdgeschwader 1. He was the 21st Recipient.
Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds.
The “Blitz week”, as it came to be known, to the Americans, began on the 24th July when for the first time the Americans turned their attention to German instillations in occupied Norway. The most important target was the big new magnesium and aluminium factory at Heroya, built by I. G. Farben-industrie, the German chemical trust, and completed barely 3 weeks before precision bombing destroyed it. Another target was the U-boat base at Trondheim. It too was savagely mauled; workshops were gutted, a submarine was sunk, and a destroyer damaged. A third target was cloud-covered; disappointing crews, unwilling to bomb indiscriminately over Norway, brought their missiles back to base. The Norwegian attacks apparently took the Germans completely by surprise. Air resistance was slight. The only B-17 Flying Fortresses lost, of more than 300 dispatched, was hit by flak and made a forced landing in Sweden, where the crew was interned.
The Americans wasted no time in pressing on with the bombing. Next day, sighting through the smoke that rose to heights of 4 to 5 miles from the RAF’s fire at Hamburg, they hit the enormous Blohm und Voss shipyards, which represented 18 per cent of Germany’s entire shipbuilding production. At the same time other formations hammered shipyards at Kiel and the Luftwaffe training school and airfield at Wustrow. At Hamburg, German aircraft were endeavouring to lay a smoke screen over the target. Luftwaffe fighter’s opposition was intense. 44 were claimed destroyed, 19 B-17 Flying Fortresses’ were lost.
The three Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-0s of the manufacturer’s flight test line run their engines, summer 1941. In the foreground is a “small-wing” variant, with two “Large-wing” versions behind. The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 performed well as a fighter.
A Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-4/R6 Pulk-Zerstörer, fitted with two underwing Wfr.Gr.21 aerial mortars. The latter were designed for use against US daylight bombers: that mortar bombs lobbed at them would break up the “box” formations.
A Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-7/R6 is loaded with a Wfr.Gr.21 aerial mortar.
A Wfr.Gr.21 aerial mortar mounted on a Luftwaffe fighter inflicted this damage to a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
The 26th July was the day the B-17 Flying Fortresses chose to attack the great Continental Gummiwerke A. G. Vahrenwalderstrasse at Hannover, the largest tire factory in Germany. During the last phase of the attack a tremendous explosion took place giving rise to a column of smoke towering 20,000 feet into the air, blanketing the whole city. Flak was intense. Altogether, 16 bombers were lost over Hannover. 8 more went down over Hamburg and secondary targets which were attacked by other B-17 Flying Fortresses formations. 60 Luftwaffe fighters were destroyed.
27th July was a badly needed day of rest for the combat crews of the US 8th Army Air Force. But on the 28th, 29th, and 30th they were out in force again. Aircraft factories were their chief targets, at Kassel, Oschersleben and Warnemunde. Shipyards at Kiel were targeted again. Enemy fighter opposition remained strong and persistent. The 3 day’s air battle cost the Americans 44 B-17 Flying Fortresses. Claims against enemy aircraft were 179 destroyed.
American losses would have been higher had it not been for the long-range support provided on the 28th and 30thJuly by squadrons of Republic P-47 Thunderbolt’s. On these two days Republic P-47 Thunderbolt’s of the US 8th Army Air Force Fighter Command, equipped at last with auxiliary fuel tanks, made round trips of nearly 600 miles to meet returning B-17 Flying Fortresses formations deep inside Germany and escort them to safety. In the ensuing dogfights the barrel chested American fighters accounted for 34 enemy aircraft. 8 Republic P-47 Thunderbolts were lost. The benefits of such escort to the big bombers could hardly be overestimated. With friendly fighters holding off enemy attacks over such short-range targets as Antwerp or Paris, bombing accuracy was noticeably improved and losses were held to a minimum. Even when the fighters could not go all the way to the objective, their partial escort saved the bombers precious ammunition and human fighting energy. On the way out, cripples could be protected. This knowledge helped morale enormously. To a weary Fortress crew, fighting its way back to the German coast after hours of exhausting combat at altitude, the appearance of squadrons of Republic P-47 Thunderbolts or RAF Spitfires was the most beautiful sight in the world. Handicapped at first by mechanical difficulties that had to be ironed out, by lack of drop tanks, above all by inadequate numbers, the US 8th Army Air Force Fighter Command demonstrated conclusively during “Blitz week” that the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was more than a match at high altitude for any Luftwaffe fighter. Bomber men, convinced that long-range fighter escort would play an all important part in the battle of Germany, hoped that the Fighter Command’s growth would keep pace with their own.
A Messerschmitt Bf 109F fighter stands in readiness to intercept American daylight bombers, 1943. The pilot is already on board, waiting for the order to “scramble”, while other pilots, presumably at a lesser state of readiness, relax.
A B-17 Flying Fortress returning from bombing an airfield met a “head on” death defying reckless attack by 3 Focke-Wulf Fw 190’s. With a withering blast of fire from its guns, delivered with accuracy by its gunners, 2 of the fighters were destroyed and evidently the pilot of the 3rd was killed.
The bombers needed all the support they could get. As the pressure against Germany increased, the Luftwaffe redoubled its efforts to stop the daylight raids. There were complacent rumours in the press at the time that the Luftwaffe pilots were losing their nerve. This was not verified however in combat. Almost without exception, Luftwaffe pilots displayed suicidal recklessness in attack. It was presumed that they would probably continue to do so as long as they have sufficient aircraft to make a fight of it, not necessarily through ideological belief in the Nazi Regime but rather because of a certain occupational loyalty to the job which all fliers feel, an unwillingness to let the unit down. Illustrating this sense of determination of these Luftwaffe pilots, a B-17 Flying Fortress returning from bombing an airfield met a “head on” death defying reckless attack by 3 Focke-Wulf Fw 190’s. With withering blasts of fire from its guns, delivered by its gunners, 2 of the fighters were destroyed and evidently the pilot of the 3rd was killed. This Focke-Wulf Fw 190 crashed head-on into the No 3 engine of the Fortress with such an impact that it tore of the propeller and knocked the bomber completely out of formation. The Luftwaffe fighter did a cartwheel over the Fortress, cutting half-way through the wing and a third of the way through the horizontal stabilizer. Top and ball turrets on the bomber jammed; radio equipment was smashed; all the instruments, according to the co-pilot, “went crazy”. Pieces of metal from the disintegrating Focke-Wulf Fw 190 hurtled through the fuselage. A gun barrel imbedded itself in the wall between the radio room and the bomb bay. Other crews in the formation later reported that the Fortress had blown up as a result of the collision. It had not. On the contrary, it pulled itself together; shot down one more fighter, limped back under a canopy of sympathetic Republic P-47 Thunderbolt’s and made a “belly landing” at a RAF airfield. Miraculously none of the crew was scratched.
Every sort of defensive tactic was employed by the Luftwaffe during “Blitz week”. Air-to-air bombing was experienced on almost every mission during July. “Intruder” B-17s were reported, the Luftwaffe apparently sending up repaired Fortresses to fly along with American squadrons, making observations on the behaviour and pattern of formations. In one or two cases these aircraft were seen to fire on the American formations, but as a rule they followed them back to the English coast and then disappeared.
Rocket projectiles more than eight inches in diameter, fired from cannon under the fighters’ wing, made their appearance, the Luftwaffe aircraft standing off at considerable distance and attempting to lob shells into the Fortress Groups. The rocket installations reduced the fighters’ speed appreciably.
A Republic P-47 Thunderbolt pilot, close behind a Focke-Wulf Fw190, was astonished to see one of his bullets set off the rocket under the starboard wing. The rocket soared off in a cloud of white smoke as the Luftwaffe fighter disintegrated under the fire of the Thunderbolt’s .50 calibre machine guns.
Such techniques culminated in heavy American losses in August and October 1943. When B-17 Flying Fortress’s of the US 8th Army Air Force tried to hit the Messerschmitt works at Regensburg and ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt. On each occasion, 60 Flying Fortresses failed to return, forcing the Americans to pause to rethink their strategy.
“Wild” and “Tame” Boars.
The Luftwaffe response to the RAF’s night-time campaign was more complex. The Kammhuber Line was still effective in early 1943, though its destructive capability had been undermined by the British adoption of the bomber stream and was to be further degraded by the use of “Window”. This was an ingenious invention that employed thin strips of aluminium which were dropped by the bombers to swamp enemy radar; it was first used in the devastating fire raids on Hamburg in late July and early August. But Kammhuber’s defences could be adapted. One method, suggested and implemented by the brilliantly innovative Major Hajo Hermann, who had also suggested bombing the United States mainland using flying boats, which would be refuelled and rearmed by U-boats lying offshore, was for the night-fighters to concentrate over the target rather than along the approach route, using British marker flares and German searchlights for illumination of enemy bombers. Known as “Wild Sau”, or “Wild Boar”, this precluded the need for night-fighters to depend on compromised radar to guide them to the bombers; at the same time, it disrupted the bomber stream at just the time when it needed to be concentrated. The tactics were so successful that two more “Wild Boar” wings, JG 301 and JG 302, were organised neat Munich and Berlin, respectively. All 3 were controlled by the newly formed 30th Fighter Division, led by Major Hajo Hermann. These tactics were soon adopted by the entire night fighter branch. “Wild Boar” was not a cure, but at least it provided some cover for German cities while new radar equipment was developed, which would work in the face of “Window” jamming. A latter refinement, nicknamed “Zahme Sau”, or “Tame Boar”, had the night-fighters guided to the bomber stream, as indicated on ground radar by the sudden impact of “Window” on their screens. Once in contact, they then infiltrated the stream, picking out their targets as and when they could, even if this meant accompanying the RAF back to its base in England.
Oberst Hajo Hermann.
Born in Kiel on the 1st August 1913, he went on to become a combat pilot with varied skills and a keen tactical mind. He started his service career as a bomber pilot, accumulating a total of more than 320 missions, and the distinction of having sunk 12 ships. He transferred to fighter aircraft where he became deeply involved in attempting to stem the tide of the Allied raids on German cities. He devised the “Wild Boar” tactic of lighting the German cities and attacking the bombers with single-engined fighters. When newly introduced, this tactic caused many losses to the RAF bomber crews. He was assigned the position of Inspector of German Air Defences, and continued to have success in devising other equally effective defensive tactics, most notably the tactic of ramming the enemy bomber. He created the Rammkommando “Elbe”, and used his unit with great effectiveness. His tactic called for the single engine fighter to attack the bomber with his guns, and when all else failed, ram the rear of the bomber. The fighter pilot was to bail out, and fight another day, but it would be one less bomber that the German population would have to worry about.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross: Awarded on the 13th October 1940 while serving as an Oberleutnant assigned to the 3rd Group, 4th Bomber Wing.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves: Awarded on the 2nd August 1943 while a Major commanding Fighter Wing 300. He was the 269th Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords: Awarded on the 23rd January 1944 while an Oberst after personally downing 9 RAF Bombers. He was the 43rd Recipient.
Technology also had a part to play. Night-fighters such as the Junkers Ju 88 and Messerschmitt Bf 110 were equipped with on-board interception radars so that, once guided into the stream, they could track individual bombers without having to worry about interference. The most effective on-board radar was the SN-2 Lichtenstein, working on a much lower frequency than the ground-based Wurzburgs and therefore less affected by “Window”, and the array of nose-mounted aerials soon became a distinguishing feature of night-fighter aircraft. Some of those aircraft were also fitted with special upward firing cannon, known as “jazz music”, which enabled them to position themselves directly beneath a British bomber. Out of sight of the aircraft’s crew, then rake the aircraft stem to stern along its entire fuselage, killing the occupants and exploding the fuel tanks. This proved so effective that RAF crews were sometimes told that the Germans were deliberately using anti-aircraft shells that looked like an exploding bomber in order to demoralise them. Few of the crews believed this yarn, although all were aware that flak defences were becoming much more effective.
One ingenious if not rather bizarre air-raid defence was employed by the Burgers of the City of Konstanz on the Bodensee. The city is cheek by jowl with Kreuzlingen which is in Switzerland, the boarder running directly between them. The RAF and the USAF were under strict order not to compromise Switzerland’s neutrality by bombing her territory. Switzerland was lit up like a Christmas tree in the darkness of the” Black out” in Germany, Austria and Italy. Thus Konstanz and the villages around switched on; this kept the Bombers at bay.
A Heinkel He 219 V1 Uhu (Owl) night-fighter, originally flown by Nachtjagdgeschwader 1, on display in Britain after the war. This example is equipped with a FuG 212 Lichtenstein interception radar.
A Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4, originally of Nachtjagdgeschwader 4, photographed post-war at RAF Farnborough. It is equipped with a FuG 218 Neptun radar, the aerials of which can be seen in the nose.
Defending the skies.
As 1943 progressed, Hitler ordered entire flak units back into Germany from other theatres in an attempt to stave off the bombers, concentrating them around key locations, such as the Ruhr and Berlin. This increased the level of defensive fire but also left frontline ground units in the Soviet Union and Italy suddenly bereft of protection. As a proportion of the withdrawn flak units were equipped with the 88mm gun, devastatingly effective in the anti-armour role, the problems grew worse.
The “Battle of Berlin”.
A prelude to the 1943 raids was made by RAF Mosquito’s that hit the capital on the 30th January 1943. On that day Göring and Goebbels were known to be giving big speeches. At precisely 11.00 am, Mosquitoes of No. 105 Squadron arrived over Berlin exactly on time to disrupt Göring’s speech. Later that day, No. 139 Squadron repeated the trick for Goebbels. These were great propaganda raids although they might have done little or no damage to German industry; however they were a severe embarrassment for the German leadership.
On the 20th April 1943 the Führer’s 54th birthday, RAF Bomber Command decided that they had to mark the occasion and present him with a “Birthday Present”, a raid on Berlin. It was decided that the Mosquito was the right aircraft for the job. Accordingly, No. 105 Squadron was dispatched to the German capital, successfully reaching the city for the loss of only 1 aircraft.
The first major raid hit Berlin on 1st August. The Nazi Minister of Propaganda and National Enlightenment and Gauleiter of Berlin Joseph Goebbels, who had neglected building air raid shelters, but who had at least been wise enough to order the evacuation of children and nonessential personnel, constantly visited devastated sections of the city, keeping morale as high as was possible under the circumstances. Berlin, though largely reduced to ruins, was no repletion of Hamburg, even though 3000 civilians died in the first two raids.
The “Battle of Berlin” was launched on the 18th/19th November 1943 by Air chief marshal (Bomber) Harris, a concerted air campaign against the German capital, although other cities continued to be attacked to prevent the Germans concentrating their defences in Berlin. Harris believed this could be the blow that would break German resistance. “It will cost us between 400 and 500 aircraft,” he said. “It will cost Germany the war.” By this time he could deploy over 800 long-range bombers on any given night, equipped with new and more sophisticated navigational devices such as H2S radar. Between November 1943 and March 1944, Bomber Command made 16 massed attacks on Berlin.
The Heart of Berlin is paralysed.
A Swede Ossian Goulding, from Stockholm, on the 24th Wednesday November 1943, reported what he had been told by an eyewitness to the devastation. Ten times worse today than it was yesterday. The Berlin we know has simply ceased to exist. The British are out to wipe the German capital off the map; no doubt they will succeed. The speaker uttered these words with the slowness of utter exhaustion. He was a Swedish businessman, the first air passenger to arrive here from Berlin after living through both Monday and Tuesday nights’ RAF onslaughts on the city. His red-rimmed eyes and white, lined face told of the strain through which he had passed as he sketched out for me the first detailed story of the past fantastic 36 hours in Berlin.
When I left this afternoon, he said, Fires were still spreading in the centre of the city in a fan all round from the north to the south-west. The fire brigades and Luftschuts personnel are powerless to cope with the situation. Day has turned to night by the billowing clouds of evil-smelling smoke which fill the streets. The sky is blotted out. The administrative heart of Berlin is paralysed. The Propaganda Ministry and Ministry of Munitions are badly damaged, as also is Rosenberg’s Ministry for the Eastern Territories. The Foreign Office, in the Wilhelmstrasse, is wrecked. I watched its evacuation this morning. Great lorry-loads of documents, escorted by armoured cars, were continually leaving. I saw von Ribbentrop, carrying his tin hat, helping to salvage property.
Hitler was holding a conference with Speer, Minister of Munitions, and others at the Chancellery, in the Wilhelmstrasse, during Monday night’s raid. He went to a shelter, and although the building was damaged, he emerged unharmed. He left the city by car early yesterday morning.
The gigantic Air Ministry in the Leipzigerstrasse, Göring’s pride and joy, was hit repeatedly in both Monday’s and Tuesday’s attacks with high explosives and incendiaries. Yesterday it was still possible to make contact with them by special underground cable: to-day there was no reply.
The Wilhelmstrasse and Unter den Linden districts are blazing so fiercely that firemen have given up the hopeless struggle. They have corded off whole blocks of buildings and simply left them to burn themselves out. Armed guards equipped with gas masks against the suffocating smoke are stationed at the cordons.
Unter den Linden is a shambles to-day; there are long lines of burning buildings in it. There was a sound of hissing as light rain fell on the flames. The University State Library is still burning and the Bristol Hotel is destroyed. The Adlon Hotel, which has been requisitioned for the homeless, is standing, but all its windows are out. The Gestapo headquarters in the Prinz Albrechtstrasse have been damaged by fire and high-explosives, as also is the Polizei Presidium, headquarters of the Berlin police, in the Alexanderplatz.
I saw an SS cordon round the worker’s quarter north of the Alexanderplatz to prevent workers leaving the factories to escape to the country. An incident which sounds too grotesque to be true occurred when blockbusters freed a number of wild animals from Berlin’s zoo. Troops turned out with rifles and machine-gun to hunt leopards, elephants, bears, tigers and lions in the Tiergarten, which was also cordoned by armed guards.
The RAF seems to have dropped many more delayed action bombs on Tuesday night than Monday. When I left explosions were still booming over the city. I saw notices posted warning the public of the presence of unexploded bombs. Berliners, fatalistic, now believe that the RAF will return every night until Berlin is in ruins. Yesterday morning, before the second attack, Dr. Goebbels called a special emergency meeting of the Nazi military and civilian defence leaders in Berlin. He declared, “We must do everything possible to prevent this becoming Hamburg.”
He then told them to inform the people of their districts that he, Goebbels, had personally demanded that the German High Command reinforce the city with a force of between 200 or 300 night-fighters from France and the Low Countries and anti-aircraft batteries from Denmark. This was to convince the population that the whole system of defence would be reorganised to meet the present emergency.
A Luftwaffe non-commissioned officer displays his bomb-disposal skills, Berlin, 1943. RAF bombing raids on the German capital often left unexploded ordnance that needed clearing – a dangerous and laborious business. Here, the NCO appears to be dealing with a small incendiary device.
Luftwaffe mechanics service and repair the Daimler-Benz DB 601E-1 12-cylinder liquid-cooled inverted-vee engine belonging to the Messerschmitt Bf 109F fighter in the background. Regular servicing was vital if the Luftwaffe was to maintain effectiveness in the skies over Germany.
Members of the Luftschutz (Air Raid Services) distribute gas masks and show small children how to wear them. The photograph probably dates from 1939 or 1940, when the threat of gas attack seemed real. Similar scenes were played out in Britain, although in the event neither side used chemical weapons. High explosive and incendiary weapons were far greater threat to the average German citizen.
High attrition rates.
Nevertheless, the combination of anti-aircraft fire, searchlights and improved night-fighter tactics imposed horrendous casualties on the attacking night-bombers. During the so-called “Battle of Berlin” between the 18th/19th November 1943 and the end of January 1944, for example, the RAF lost 384 aircraft in just 14 raids against the German capital. In addition, on the night of the 30th/31st March 1944, in a raid against Nuremberg, Bomber Command lost 95 aircraft out of a committed force of 795. It looked as if the air defences had the upper hand.
But this was a false assumption, for behind the façade of success, problems were rapidly coming to a head. By July 1943, the number of aircraft devoted to air defence had grown to about 800 day and 600 night-fighters, with inevitable effects on Luftwaffe strength elsewhere. More importantly, many of the best fighter pilots were involved in the battle to protect German cities and, as their losses mounted, the Luftwaffe was denuded of its best men. Although some were lost at night, hit by machine-gun fire from the bombers or occasionally by shells from their own anti-aircraft batteries, most of the casualties were imposed by the Americans during daylight hours. The reason was simple: in the aftermath of the heavy B-17 Flying Fortress losses against Regensburg and Schweinfurt, losses which could, of course, be replaced much more quickly than those suffered by the Germans. American commanders had concentrated on the development of escort fighters, capable of accompanying the bombers deep into Germany and taking on the Luftwaffe in air-to-air combat. Initially, they had improved the range of existing fighters, such as the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, by attaching drop-tanks for extra fuel, but in the autumn of 1943 they introduced the North American P-51D Mustang.
The mighty Mustang.
This remarkable aircraft, created by marring a Mustang airframe to a Rolls Royce engine, not only had the range to escort the bombers to Berlin and beyond, but also proved more than a match for the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Before the appearance of the American escort fighters, the Luftwaffe had devoted resources towards increasing the hitting-power of its single-engined fighters, so they could more easily destroy the US bombers. However, this meant extra weight, which put the German pilots at a disadvantage if engaging American fighters in dogfights. A sort of answer was to divide fighters between “heavy” and “light” fighter groups. The “heavy” groups were equipped with Messerschmitt Bf 109s and Focke-Wulf Fw 190s fitted with heavy batteries of cannon for attacking bombers, while the “light” groups operated lightly armed Messerschmitt Bf 109s to tackle the escorts. Problems arose when the American fighters were in such force that they were able to cut through the “light” groups to wreak havoc upon the “heavies”.
The Luftwaffe was given a short respite in April 1944, as the Allied bomber fleet downgraded their attacks on Germany in order to concentrate against more tactical targets in direct support of the forthcoming D-Day landings. However, there was no doubting that the tables had been turned.
The results were catastrophic for the Luftwaffe. General Adolf Galland, a noted “Ace” and now Inspekteur der Jagdflieger, Inspector of Fights, reported that, “between January and April 1944 our day-fighter arm lost more than 1000 pilots. They included our best Staffel, Gruppe and Geschwader commanders’.” With the Allied air forces enjoying air superiority, at least by day, and the Luftwaffe seriously overstretched, Galland was more than justified in concluding that “the time has come when our force is within sight of collapse”. That would come as the Soviets continued to thrust westwards and the Anglo-Americans prepared for the long awaited invasion of Western Europe.
A force bled white.
Despite incredible bravery and improvisation, leading to one of the most effective, albeit short-lived, air-defence campaigns of the war, the Luftwaffe was reaching the end of its capability. Once it could no longer control the skies over Germany, its enemies were free to concentrate their massive resources on the destruction of key industries and lines of supply. And these industries included factories that were producing fighters. A further problem was that the Messerschmitt Me 262, the only aircraft capable of evading the American escorts, was being produced as a fighter-bomber under Hitler’s express orders. This delayed production of the excellent jet aircraft by several crucial months. From now on, Göring’s men would be fighting to survive rather than to win, against an enemy who had unlimited resources. It was a far cry from the heady days of the Blitzkrieg.
Generalleutnant Adolf Galland. He was born on the 19th March 1912 in Westerholt and attended school in Poland where he was trained as a pilot. After a serious crash in 1935 he joined the Luftwaffe. During the Spanish Civil War, he flew 280 combat missions with the Condor Legion. It was in Spain that Galland obtained his famous aircraft logo, “Mickey Mouse”. As a fighter pilot in the Second World War he served in nearly every theatre of operations. He spent a brief time in a training wing, but returned to fighters in April 1940 and it was here he was to stay. As a Major at the age of 28 he was appointed as commander of the Jagdgeschwader 26 “Schlageter”. In his attacks against the RAF fighters over the Channel and England, he led by example. He piloted his Messerschmitt Bf 109 as if he had eyes facing in all directions. He was the youngest German officer of the Second World War to obtain general officer rank when he was promoted to the rank of Generalmajor on the 19th November 1942. When Werner Mölders was killed he succeeded him to the position of General of Fighters.
An early advocate of jet aircraft, he was to pilot the Messerschmitt Me 262 during the closing days of the war. Less than two weeks before the war ended, he was shot down on the 26th April 1945 by an American P-51. He survived the crash. He fell from Hitler’s grace because of his pointed opinions as to how the air war should be fought. According to Major Wilhelm Herget, Galland is alleged to have given him an order to fly to Eisenhower’s headquarters to offer the surrender of the Luftwaffe jet fighter aircraft with the proviso that they be used and by German fighter pilots against the Russians. He later blamed the defeat of the Germans in the “Battle of Britain” on Göring’s failure to destroy the British radar stations and to concentrate on the tactical destruction of the Royal Air Force instead of engaging in massive strategic night bombing.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross: Awarded on the 1st August 1940 for scoring 17 victories while a Staffelkapitan serving with IInd Group, 2nd Training Wing.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves: Awarded on the 25th September 1940 for accumulating 40 victories while a Major serving as commander of the Jagdgeschwader 26 “Schlageter”. He was the 3rd Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords: Awarded on the 21st June 1941 for downing 69 aircraft while an Oberstleutnant serving as commander of the Jagdgeschwader 26 “Schlageter”. He was the 1st Recipient.
Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds: Awarded on the 28th January 1942 for 94 victories while an Oberst serving as commander of the Jagdgeschwader 26 “Schlageter”. He was the 2nd Recipient.
Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds.
A Leutnant, serving in a Luftwaffe Field Division, watches as Junkers 87 Stukas fly over towards Soviet lines, 1944. He is probably in radio contact with the pilots.