History Podcasts

Mosquito attack on Sande Fjord, 4 April 1945

Mosquito attack on Sande Fjord, 4 April 1945

Mosquito Bomber/ Fighter-Bomber Units of World War 2, Martin Bowman. The first of three books looking at the RAF career of this most versatile of British aircraft of the Second World War, this volume looks at the squadrons that used the Mosquito as a daylight bomber, over occupied Europe and Germany, against shipping and over Burma. [see more]


Contents

During the period in which Germany was ruled by the Nazi Party, the Obersalzberg complex of chalets and mountain lodges was constructed near the Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden. This complex was used by Adolf Hitler and other members of the Nazi Party's elite. [1] Hitler usually spent more than a third of each year at Obersalzberg. [2] Prior to the outbreak of World War II, he hosted many international leaders at his residence there, the Berghof. Hitler and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met at the Berghof on 15 September 1938 as part of the negotiations that led to the Munich Agreement. Nazi propaganda publicised the Berghof, and it became an important symbol of Hitler's leadership in the eyes of most Germans. [3]

Hitler continued to frequently visit Obersalzberg during World War II, and it was one of his main command centres. He spent most of early 1944 there, and left for the final time on 14 July. [2] A sophisticated network of bunkers and tunnels was constructed under Obersalzberg during the war in response to the intensifying Allied air raids on Germany. [4] The complex was defended by anti-aircraft guns as well as machinery capable of covering the area in a smoke screen. All of its buildings were camouflaged during early 1944 to make them difficult to locate from the air. [5]

The Allies considered attacking Obersalzberg prior to April 1945, but decided against doing so. Obersalzberg's location was well known, and in June 1944 Allied intelligence confirmed that Hitler was directing the resistance to the Normandy landings from the Berghof. The Royal Air Force (RAF) developed a plan to attack Obersalzberg that was designated "Hellbound". United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) reconnaissance aircraft photographed the area between 16 and 20 June, and the American Fifteenth Air Force prepared flight routes to attack it from bases in Allied-controlled areas of Italy. [5] The head of the USAAF, General "Hap" Arnold, decided against conducting the attack on 20 June. Arnold made this decision on the grounds that it was unlikely that Hitler would be killed, and attempting this was undesirable anyway as his inept leadership of the German military was to the Allies' advantage. Arnold was also concerned that the attack force would suffer heavy casualties as the area was believed to be strongly defended. [6] He recorded in his diary "Our secret weapon is Hitler, hence do not bomb his castle. Do not let him get hurt, we want him to continue making mistakes". [7] The British Special Operations Executive also developed plans designated Operation Foxley during mid-1944 to assassinate Hitler in the Obersalzberg area using special forces personnel. This operation was never attempted. [8]

The Fifteenth Air Force proposed bombing the Berchtesgaden area in February 1945, but this was blocked by the USAAF's high command due to the difficulty of accurately hitting the target and a continuing belief that the Allies were better off with Hitler still in command of the German military. [9] Shortly afterwards, plans for an attack on bridges in the Berchtesgaden area by both the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces were developed. These plans were never acted on. [9]

The only attack on Berchtesgaden prior to April 1945 was made on 20 February 1945 by eight Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter bombers from the Fifteenth Air Force. These aircraft struck the area after being unable to complete a mission in Italy, and their commander was initially unaware of its importance. The Thunderbolts attacked a train, and encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire. [7] [10] When the attack was reported, there was disappointment among the public in Allied countries that the Berghof had not been damaged. [7]

By April 1945, the Allies had near-complete air superiority over Germany. [11] As a result of the weakening of the German air defences and the availability of long-ranged Allied escort fighter aircraft, the RAF's Bomber Command had been making occasional daylight raids on targets in Germany in addition to its usual night operations since late 1944. The frequency with which it conducted daylight attacks increased over time. [12] [13] The British Chiefs of Staff Committee directed that the area bombing of German cities cease on the 16 April, with the bombers instead focusing on providing "direct support to the allied armies in the land battle" and continuing their attacks on the remnants of the German Navy. [14] In line with this order, Bomber Command attacked German cities that lay in the path of the Allied armies and made precision bombing raids against other targets until 25 April. [15] [16]

As the war in Europe neared its end in 1945, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) became concerned over intelligence reports that indicated senior members of the German Government as well as Waffen-SS units would assemble at Berchtesgaden to prolong the fighting from an "Alpine Fortress". [17] [18] This was an intelligence failure, as the Germans made few attempts to prepare defensive positions in the Alps until the last weeks of the war. [19] Hitler sent most of his personal staff to Berchtesgaden in April, but remained in Berlin. Most of the other senior ministers fled to other parts of Germany. [20] The former Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was the only highly-ranked member of the government at Obersalzberg at the time of the attack. [18] Göring had been stripped of all his positions and was being held under house arrest on Hitler's orders as punishment for sending a telegram on 23 April seeking permission to assume Germany's leadership. [21] [22]

The decision to conduct an air raid on Obersalzberg was made in April 1945. The attack was proposed by the head of Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, and approved by SHAEF. [23] Harris specified that the goal of the raid was to support the United States Army's XV Corps, which was rapidly advancing towards Munich from whence it would attack Berchtesgaden. [18] The US Army opposed the attack, however, due to concerns that the complex's rubble would be easier for the Germans to defend than undamaged buildings. [17] Two historians have stated that other factors motivated the raid. Oliver Haller has written the real reason Bomber Command conducted the attack was that Harris wanted to demonstrate that his forces could conduct precision bombing after he was criticised for terror bombing attacks on cities in early 1945. [24] Despina Stratigakos has stated that the Allies hoped that the destruction of the Berghof would convince fanatical Nazis that the war was lost. [3] She has also suggested that the attack aimed to "wipe from memory" the humiliation of the pre-war appeasement policies, including the Munich Agreement, which were associated with the Berghof. [25]

The Berghof and the Kehlsteinhaus pavilion, which Hitler had occasionally used to host guests, were the raid's primary targets. Several other buildings were in the area which was to be bombed. These included the houses of other senior Nazis, a barracks used by the Waffen-SS units assigned to defend Obersalzberg and a hospital. [26] Several secondary targets, including bridges in the city of Salzburg, were selected for the crews of aircraft which were unable to bomb Obersalzberg. [26]

The bomber crews were woken during the early hours of 25 April to be briefed on the mission. The crews were informed that several senior members of the German Government were at Obersalzberg, with some being told that Hitler was there. [27] The attack force took off from bases in the United Kingdom that morning. It comprised 359 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers drawn from 22 squadrons in Nos. 1 and 5 Groups. [28] [29] They were accompanied by 16 de Havilland Mosquito light bombers from No. 8 Group whose role was to guide the bombers to the target using the Oboe navigation system. The bombers were escorted by 13 British fighter squadrons and 98 North American P-51 Mustang fighters from the Eighth Air Force. [28]

After leaving the UK, the bombers passed near Paris. [28] They headed directly towards Obersalzberg upon reaching Lake Constance. [18] While the aircraft were routed over Allied-held territory for most of the approach flight, the last 250 miles (400 km) had to be made over territory still controlled by German forces. [23] They spent only a small amount of time within range of anti-aircraft guns during the approach flight and, as the Luftwaffe had almost ceased to exist, no fighters attempted to intercept them. [28] Some of the Mustang pilots spotted an Arado 234 jet reconnaissance aircraft, and shot it down. [30]

The first wave of bombers arrived in the Berchtesgaden area at 9:30 am, but were unable to attack immediately. The Mosquito crews had difficulty spotting the targets due to the presence of mist and snow in the area. [31] Obersalzberg's defenders were unable to generate a smoke screen as they had exhausted their supplies of the necessary chemicals. [32] The Mosquitos' Oboe equipment proved ineffective, as the radio signals it used were blocked by mountains. The bombers orbited until the Mosquito crews marked the target. During this period some of the aircraft flew near Salzburg and were fired on by the city's strong anti-aircraft defences. [31] Several bombers also came close to colliding. [33]

Once the target was marked, the first wave of bombers attacked between 9:51 and 10:11 am. [31] [34] The elite No. 617 Squadron RAF was the first unit to strike Obersalzberg, with its aircraft dropping large Tallboy bombs. [35] The second wave bombed between 10:42 and 11:00 am. [31] [34] Over 1,400 long tons (1,400 t) of bombs were released it was hoped that such a heavy bombardment would be sufficient to destroy the bunkers under Obersalzberg. [31] The bombing was very accurate. [32]

Two Lancasters were shot down by German anti-aircraft guns. An aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force's No. 460 Squadron was hit shortly after dropping its bombs, and all of its crew survived after the pilot made a forced landing near the German town of Traunstein. They were made prisoners of war, but were liberated within days. [28] [31] The other aircraft to be shot down was from No. 619 Squadron RAF. Of the bomber's crew, four were killed and three taken prisoner. These POWs were also soon rescued by Allied forces. [36] Several other Lancasters were damaged, with one landing near Paris. [28]

The attack produced mixed results. Of the primary targets, the Kehlsteinhaus was undamaged and the Berghof was moderately damaged by three bombs. The Waffen-SS barracks and the houses owned by Göring and the Reichsleiter Martin Bormann were destroyed. [30] Most of the approximately 3,000 people at Obersalzberg had sheltered in the bunkers below the complex, but 31 were killed, including several children. The bunker network was not seriously damaged. [34] [37] The town of Berchtesgaden was undamaged, and none of its population were killed or wounded. [32]

USAAF units attacked transport infrastructure in the general area of Obersalzberg on 25 April. These raids formed part of an operation conducted at the request of the Allied ground forces that targeted the Škoda Works munitions facilities near Pilsen in German-occupied Czechoslovakia as well as railways in Austria which were believed to be transporting German troops. [38] The locations near Obersalzberg that were attacked included Freilassing, Hallein, Bad Reichenhall, Salzburg and Traunstein. Considerable damage was inflicted on several train stations, gasworks and hospitals in these towns. More than 300 civilians were killed. [39]

Obersalzberg was abandoned in the days after the raid. Acting on Hitler's orders, SS personnel destroyed the Berghof before pulling out. [40] [41] The US Army XV Corps captured the area on 4 May. [18] Göring, who had survived the air raid, was taken prisoner by the US Army on 9 May 1945. [37] [42]

American and French soldiers looted Obersalzberg, including the ruins of the Berghof, after its capture. Due to Obersalzberg's associations with the Nazi leadership, the extent of this looting was unmatched by that in any other German town occupied by Allied forces. Stratigakos has observed that this contributed to memorabilia associated with Hitler being spread across the world, which partially undermined the air raid's goal of discrediting the Nazi regime. [25] [43] The American photojournalist Lee Miller, who arrived at Obersalzberg shortly after it was captured, commented that "there isn't even a piece left for a museum on the great war criminal, and scattered over the breadth of the world people are forever going to be shown a napkin ring or pickle fork, supposedly used by Hitler". [44]

The attack on Obersalzberg was the final combat operation for the majority of the Bomber Command squadrons dispatched. [29] Most of the aircrew involved took satisfaction in attacking Hitler's personal home, though some expressed regret over the casualties incurred. [45] [46] Bomber Command's last raid, an attack on an oil refinery in Norway, was made on the night of 25/26 April. [1] From 26 April until the end of the war on 8 May, Bomber Command aircraft were used to fly liberated prisoners of war to the UK as part of Operation Exodus and drop food to civilians in the Netherlands during Operation Manna. [47]

The raid attracted considerable media coverage at the time, but is little remembered today. Contemporary news reports stated that the operation had been of strategic importance as Obersalzberg had been both an alternative command centre and a symbol of the Nazi regime. The attack was portrayed as forming part of the final efforts to defeat Hitler and Germany. [48] Media reports of the bombing also noted Chamberlain's 1938 visit to Obersalzberg. [25] As the Alpine Fortress proved to be a myth, postwar histories, including Harris's memoirs, made little mention of the operation. [48]

Obersalzberg remained under the US Army's administration after the war, and a recreation centre for soldiers was established there. The ruins of the Nazi-era buildings attracted neo-Nazi pilgrimages. To stop such visits, the Bavarian Government destroyed the buildings on 30 April 1952, the seventh anniversary of Adolf Hitler's suicide in Berlin. [49] The US Army closed its recreation centre and handed Obersalzberg to the Bavarian Government in 1996, which demolished the other buildings in the area during the early 2000s to make way for a resort complex. [50] The Dokumentationszentrum Obersalzberg museum opened in 1999. This museum covers Obersalzberg's history during the Nazi era. [51] A sign marking the location of the Berghof and explaining its role as a location where key decisions regarding World War II and the Holocaust were made was erected in 2008. [52]


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HISTORICAL FACT.
RAF BOMBER COMMAND OPERATIONS 1945, 75 years ago.
DAYLIGHT OPS, Wednesday, 4th April.
NORDHAUSEN:-
This time the Command sent 5 Group, probably with Tallboys and Grand Slams.
243 Lancasters and 1 Mosquito accompanied by 8 PFF Mosquitoes to attack the barracks and town, which was severely damaged. One Lancaster was lost (49 Sqdn, 7 killed).

NIGHT OPS, 4/5th April, Wednesday night and early Thursday.
1) LEUNA:-
327 Lancasters and 14 Mosquitoes from 3, 6 & 8 Groups attacked the synthetic oil plant but the target was cloud covered and the bombing was scattered, causing only minor damage. Three Lancasters were missing (115 Sqdn, 8 killed: 186 Sqdn, 6 killed, 1 injured - these 2 aircraft collided: 424 Sqdn, 7 killed). Additionally another 186 Sqdn crash landed back at base injuring 2 crew members.
2) HARBURG:-
327 aircraft - 277 Halifaxes, 36 Lancasters and 14 Mosquitoes from 4, 6 & 8 Groups attacked the Rhenania oil plant. The target was easily identified and severe damage was caused. Four aircraft failed to return - two Lancasters (7 Sqdn, 7 killed: 635 Sqdn, 4 killed, 3 PoW, 1 evaded) and two Halifaxes (78 Sqdn, 7 killed: 408 Sqdn, 7 PoW).
3) LUTZKENDORF:-
258 Lancasters and 14 Mosquitoes from 1 & 8 Groups attacked the Wintershall oil refinery, with the Command claiming it was 'moderately damaged'. Six Lancasters were lost (12 Sqdn, 7 killed: 166 Sqdn, 7 killed: 550 Sqdn, 7 killed: 576 Sqdn, 1 killed, 6 PoW: 626 Sqdn lost 2, 14 killed). Another 166 Sqdn aircraft crashed on return (5 kiiled, 2 injured) as did a 460 Sqdn Lanc (1 injured).
4) MINOR OPS:-
LNSF sent 35 Mosquitoes to Berlin and 31 to Magdeburg - 2 of the those sent to Magdeburg failed to return (142 Sqdn, 2 killed: 571 Sqdn, 2 killed).
100 Group dispatched 70 RCM sorties and 66 Mosquito intruder patrols - this total of 136 aircraft was their largest effort of the war. One Halifax overshot on return to base (462 Sqdn, no injuries).
30 Lancasters went gardening in the Oslo Fjord and the Kattegat. Three of 1 Group's Lancasters failed to return from the Kattegat (103 Sqdn, lost without trace, 7 killed: 153 Sqdn lost 2, also lost without trace, 14 killed)

Total Effort for the night:- 1,172 sorties for the loss of 18 aircraft (1.5%).

There were no Daylight or Night Ops on Thursday, 5th April, so I'll be back on Tuesday to tell you about Friday, 6th April. Enjoy the break, as our boys will have done.


Mosquito attack on Sande Fjord, 4 April 1945 - History

Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

RAF Timeline 1939 - 1945

To view further details of each main Command development click on the Command title on the right of the timeline

3 - UK declares war on Germany,

3/4 - First RAF Raid over Germany,

4 - First RAF losses, five Wellingtons of No 9 Sqn on a raid against shipping in the Elbe Estuary,

18 - 12 Wellingtons shot down during a daylight attack on Wilhelmshaven resulting in the adoption of night raids.

22 - RAF units arrive in Norway.

12 - RAF's first VC of WW2 won by Fg Off Garland and Sgt Gray.

17 - Ministry of Aircraft Production formed.

26 - Dunkirk evacuation ordered to begin (Operation Dynamo).

27 - Training Command split into Flying Training Command and Technical Training Command.

5 - First German attacks on targets in South-East Britain.

10 - Italy declares war on Britain.

10 - RAF carries out first attacks against Italian forces in Lybia.

11 - Bomber Command conducted its first raid on targets in Italy.

14 - G/C Thorold arrives at Takoradi in West Africa to establish an aircraft ferrying service to Egypt.

Westland Whirlwind entered service.

25 - ACM Portal assumes post of CAS.

28 - Italy invades Greece, RAF units dispatched to assist.

11 - First raid conducted by Stirlings of No 7 Sqn.

6 - Fg Off Campbell awarded VC for attack on Gneisenau in Brest harbour

15 Coastal Command placed under operational control of the Admiralty

30 - Iraqi troops move against RAF Habbaniya.

31 - Battle of Habbaniya ends.

Observer Corps became Royal Observer Corps.

27 - Hudson of No 269 Sqn, 'captured' a German U-boat

USA enters the war on Allied side.

11/12 - Operation 'Fuller', the failed attempt to prevent German battleships escaping to Germany through the English Channel.

15 - Japan captures Singapore.

Navigator and Air Bomber categories introduced.

25/26 - Third 'Thousand Bomber' Raid against Bremen.

18/19 - First raid lead by the Pathfinder Force.

19 - Operation 'Jubilee', the amphibious raid against the port of Dieppe.

25 - No 6 (RCAF) Group formed in Bomber Command

4 - Second Battle of Alamein begins

20/21 - First 'shuttle' raid by Bomber Command

30 - First use of 'Serrate' radar homing equipment in night fighters

15/16 - 617 Sqn used 12,000ib bombs for the first time against the Dortmund-Ems Canal

23 - Mediterranean Allied strategic Air Force formed.

16 - Air Command South-East Asia formed.

18/19 - Bomber Command begin the Battle of Berlin

16 - Siege of Imphal begins.

6 - Allies land in Normandy (Operation Overlord).

12 - Gloster Meteor enters service (RAF's first jet fighter)

13/14 - Bomber Command and USAAF carry out a heavy raid on Dresden resulting in a bigger firestorm than Hamburg in 1943.


Air raids in 1941

Air raid on January 9, 1941 near Friedenshügel

Two British bombs each left a crater at the Peace Hill Cemetery . Twelve windows on nearby Boreasmühle Street were damaged.

Air raid by a single pilot with incendiary bombs on March 19, 1941

A single plane dropped two explosive bombs and 110 incendiary bombs over the southern part of the city . The Flensburg-Schleswig railway line was interrupted. There was only one room fire in the house at No. 60 Husumer Strasse .

Overflight in the night of 7./8. April 1941

There was an overflight that night without a bomb being dropped. A shot down anti-aircraft shell injured a citizen near Kanzleistraße .

Air raid on April 16, 1941 at Mühlenstrasse 1

During the air strike, 12 high explosive bombs and 15 incendiary bombs were dropped, five of which went down as duds. The Mühlerhaus at Mühlenstrasse 1 was severely damaged by the attack. The housemaid there was killed and three people injured. Bomb fragments damaged other buildings.

The house at Mühlenstraße 1 is now one of the cultural monuments of the Westliche Höhe district .

Unsuccessful fire bombing attack on April 25, 1941

Ten incendiary bombs fell on open land west of the city.

Air raid with incendiary bombs on the Flensburg-Weiche train station on April 26, 1941

Three high explosive bombs and five incendiary bombs hit the train station in the Weiche district . Wagons and track systems were damaged and destroyed. A soldier and a railroad worker were wounded.

Corridor damage caused by drops on May 9, 1941 in Schäferhaus

Four high explosive bombs and 70 incendiary bombs were dropped in the Schäferhaus area . They caused only minor damage to the corridor .

Unconsequential drops on May 26, 1941 at the Fuchskuhle

The dropping of five explosive bombs on the Fuchskuhle area had no effect.

Unconsequential drops on July 25, 1941 in the harbor and the Klues forest

Four high explosive bombs and five incendiary bombs fell in the harbor in the Klueser Wald . They only caused hallway and glass damage.

Largely unconsequential drops on August 9, 1941 over Kauslund and the harbor

Explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped over Kauslund and the harbor. A civilian was injured by flak fragments.

Unconsequential drops on September 16, 1941 near the Peace Hill

High explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped in the area of ​​Peace Hill.

Air raid on September 22, 1941 on the free port area

Three explosive bombs and 30 incendiary bombs hit the Flensburg free port area near Kielseng . A silo, a packing house, ten houses and a freight wagon of the Flensburg port railway were hit and damaged there. One day later, the Light Reserve Flak Department 755 from Westerland arrived to reinforce Flensburg's air defense.

Single plane drops at the residential ship Patria from 26./27. October 1941

A scattered single flier dropped two explosive bombs near the residential ship Patria at the naval port in Mürwik , which did not cause any damage.

Drops from October 31/1. November in the southern area of ​​the city

During the night, Hamburg was once again the British primary destination. Due to the bad weather, one of the British planes got lost in Flensburg and dropped four explosive bombs and 50 incendiary bombs in the Husumer Strasse , Feldmühle and Exe area. A married couple died in the process. Three people were injured.


Contents

Background [ edit | edit source ]

Amongst the first forms of protection for submarines were some open-sided shelters with partial wooden foundations that were constructed during the first World War. These structures were built at the time when bombs were light enough to be dropped by hand from the cockpit. By the 1940s, the quality of aerial weapons and the means to deliver them had improved markedly. Ώ] The mid-1930s saw the Naval Construction Office in Berlin give the problem serious thought. Various factions in the navy were convinced protection for the expanding U-boat arm was required. An RAF raid on the capital in 1940 plus the occupation of France and Great Britain's refusal to surrender was enough to trigger a massive building programme of submarine pens and air raid shelters.

By the autumn of 1940, construction of the "Elbe II" bunker in Hamburg and "Nordsee III" on the island of Heligoland was under way. Others swiftly followed.

General [ edit | edit source ]

It was soon realised that such a massive project was beyond the Kriegsmarine, the Todt Organisation (OT) was brought in to oversee the administration of labour. The local supply of such items as sand, aggregate, cement and timber was often a cause for concern. The steel required was mostly imported from Germany. The attitudes of the people in France and Norway were significantly different. In France there was generally no problem with the recruitment of men and the procurement of machinery and raw materials. It was a different story in Norway. There, the local population were far more reluctant to help the Germans. Indeed, most labour had to be brought in. ΐ] The ground selected for bunker construction was no help either: usually being at the head of a fjord, the foundations and footings had to be hewn out of granite. Several metres of silt also had to be overcome. Α] The incessant air raids caused serious disruption to the project, hampering the supply of material, destroying machinery and harassing the workers. Machinery such as excavators, piledrivers, cranes, floodlighting and concrete pumps (which were still a relatively new technology in the 1940s) was temperamental, and in the case of steam-driven equipment, very noisy. Β] Bunkers had to be able to accommodate more than just U-boats space had to be found for offices, medical facilities, communications, lavatories, generators, ventilators, anti-aircraft guns, accommodation for key personnel such as crew-men, workshops, water purification plants, electrical equipment and radio testing facilities. Storage space for spares, explosives, ammunition and oil was also required.

Types of bunker [ edit | edit source ]

Four types of bunker were constructed:

These were bunkers built over an existing lock to give a U-boat some protection while it was at its most vulnerable - i.e. when the lock was emptying or filling. They were usually constructed with new locks alongside an existing structure.

Used for building new boats

After launch, many U-boats were fitted-out under their protection

This was the most numerous type. There were two types that were built either on dry land or over the water. The former meant that U-boats had to be moved on ramps the latter enabled the boats to come and go at will. Pumping the water out enabled dry dock repairs to be carried out. Some bunkers were large enough to allow the removal of periscopes and aerials.

There is no truth in the rumour of an underground bunker on Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. This 'story' was gleaned from a similar situation in Le Havre in France when captured U-boat men were interrogated by the British. Γ]

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Locations [ edit | edit source ]

Pens were constructed in the northern coastal ports of the Reich and in many occupied countries.

Germany [ edit | edit source ]

Pens protecting construction of the Type XXI submarine were located in Hamburg (Blohm & Voss), Bremen (AG Weser), and Danzig (F. Schichau). Δ] Ε] Ζ]

Bremen [ edit | edit source ]

The "Hornisse" bunker was not started until 1944 in Bremen it was never completed. Η]

"Valentin" was the largest bunker in Germany. Begun in 1943, it was built to accommodate the Type XXI submarine construction programme. It too was never completed. Post-war, the area was used as a test site for new bombs. Most of the damage done to the bunker was inflicted at this time. ⎖]

Danzig [ edit | edit source ]

Being out of range of Allied aircraft, no pens were built in Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland).

Hamburg [ edit | edit source ]

The city was the site of two structures, "Elbe II" and "Fink II". The Finkenwerder bunker was constructed by 1,700 slave labourers over four years. After capture, it was demolished with 32 tonnes of bombs. ⎗]

Helgoland [ edit | edit source ]

The "Nordsee III" bunker was one of the oldest, being started in 1940. It was left alone until near the end of the war when it was attacked by the RAF. It was also used after the end of the war for testing new weapons. No trace of the pen has survived. ⎘]

Kiel [ edit | edit source ]

This town was constantly bombed in World War II, the targets often being the "Kilian"and "Konrad" bunkers. They were started in 1941 and 1942 respectively. The latter was used for the construction of Seehund midget submarines. ⎙]

It was in "Kilian" that U-4708 was probably the only submarine to be lost in a bunker. Misguided bombs from an air raid on the town caused what might today be called a tsunami to cross the Förde and enter the bunker. Oberleutenant zur See Hans-Gerold Hauber, the captain of U-170, had courted ridicule by ordering all hatches on his boat to be closed, despite being in the bunker. "This simple precaution saved U-170 from sinking while lying next to U-4708". ⎚]

Wilhelmshaven [ edit | edit source ]

A U-boat bunker in Wilhelmshaven was planned but never got beyond the preliminary stage. ⎛]

France [ edit | edit source ]

The German occupying forces built many U-boat pens in the Atlantic ports of France in Bordeaux, Brest, La Rochelle/La Pallice, Lorient and Saint-Nazaire. Almost 4.4 million cubic metres of concrete was used. ⎜]

Bordeaux [ edit | edit source ]

Submarine pen at Bordeaux

An unnamed bunker and bunkered lock were constructed in Bordeaux, the fourth largest French city at the start of the war. Both structures were started in 1941 the bunkered lock was not finished by war's end. The main building was larger than those in other locations this was to allow supply boats and minelayers to use it. The Italian Navy established the Betasom base at Bordeaux. The port was also the target of a British commando raid - the so-called Cockleshell Heroes. ⎝]

Brest [ edit | edit source ]

The Brittany port only had one bunker, but it was the largest it was also unnamed. ⎞] Started in 1941, the plans were modified many times before completion a year later. By February 1942 the RAF had lost interest in the area most of the town had already been destroyed and they did not possess large enough bombs to seriously threaten the bunker. Between February 1942 and early 1943, apart from a few American aircraft, the place was left alone. The German garrison surrendered to US forces in September 1944. They had had sufficient explosives to cripple the bunker but did not use them due to the proximity of a hospital. ⎟]

La Rochelle/La Pallice [ edit | edit source ]

The U-Boat pens at La Rochelle

Construction of the U-boat base at La Pallice, 1942

Only six kilometres separate La Rochelle and La Pallice so they are usually considered as one port. An unnamed bunker was built at La Pallice it was started in April 1941. Similar building techniques to those used in St. Nazaire were employed. Due to the relative ease of construction, the main structure was ready for its first U-boats six months later. A bunkered lock was begun in June 1942. It was completed in March 1944. Scenes for the film Das Boot (1981) were shot in La Pallice.

Lorient [ edit | edit source ]

Keroman I and Keroman III, Lorient

The largest U-boat base was in Lorient. Three bunkers, "Keroman I", "II" and "III", the "Scorff" bunker and two "Dom" bunkers, east and west, were all begun in 1941. Two more were in the planning stage.

"Keroman I" was unique in that it required its U-boats to be "hauled out of the water, placed on a many-wheeled buggy and then transported into the bunker on a sliding bridge system." This arrangement might have been more vulnerable to air raids, but damage was minimal and it had the advantage of the U-boat not needing a dry dock. "Keroman II", being landlocked, was served by the same system.

"Keroman III" was more conventional, as was the "Scorff" bunker. The two "Dom" bunkers, (so-called because of their resemblance to the religious building, Dom means 'cathedral' in German), were located around a massive turntable which fed U-boats into the covered repair bays.

Karl Dönitz, head of the U-boat arm and later the chief of the German navy, had his headquarters at nearby Kernevel.

St-Nazaire [ edit | edit source ]

Roof of the U-boat base in Saint Nazaire.

Construction of a no-name bunker was commenced in 1941, as was a bunkered lock. ⎠] (But it should be noted that elsewhere in the reference, it states that "the excavations" for the bunkered lock were begun in October 1942). ⎡]

The pens were not affected by the British commando raid in March 1942, whose main objective were the Normandie dock gates.

Norway [ edit | edit source ]

Norway is to some extent ruled by its weather. Building submarine pens was often hampered by snow and ice the ground might have been chosen, but the occupation of France only a few months after Norway's surrender rather overshadowed the Scandinavian country as far as bunkers for U-boats was concerned. Nonetheless, a requirement for protection was identified. With the liberation of France in 1944, Norway regained its importance, but for barely a year.

The Norwegian bunkers in Bergen and Trondheim were originally designed to have two floors, the lower one for U-boats, the upper one for accommodation, workshops and offices. However, with the project running six months late, plans for the second storey were abandoned. ⎢]

Bergen [ edit | edit source ]

Control of the Bergen project came under the German Naval Dockyard. Construction of "Bruno" commenced in 1941, with a Munich-based firm taking the lead. A shortage of labour was, along with the acquisition of raw materials in sufficient quantities and poor weather was always going to cause problems. Specialised machinery had to be imported, as did accommodation that could stand up to the harsh Norwegian winter.

In a bid to increase its protection, the bunker had granite blocks, each about a cubic metre in size, positioned on its roof. The shortage of cement ensured that the blocks could not be properly stuck down. ⎣]

Trondheim [ edit | edit source ]

Work on "Dora II" started in 1942. It was not completed. "Dora 1" had started the previous year, shortly after Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. This was fortuitous, as a ready supply of Russian prisoners of war (POW)s (all volunteers), became available. Despite any number of precautions being taken when putting in the foundations, Dora I developed a noticeable sag of 15 cm (5.9 in). It did not seem to bother the submariners as much as the builders. ⎤]

The Allied bombing offensive [ edit | edit source ]

U-boat facilities first became a bombing priority in March 1941 ⎥] and again during the Combined Bomber Offensive. The bunkers did not suffer as much as their surroundings until August 1944 when a new type of bomb was used against them, the "Tallboy". ⎦]

U-boat yards and pens were the primary objectives for the US Eighth Air Force from late 1942 to early 1943. ⎧] ⎨] In the course of the war, the Allies used Operation Aphrodite radio-controlled aircraft, "Bat" guided bombs, "Disney" rocket-assisted bombs, Tallboy and Grand Slam deep penetration bombs to attack the U-boat pens.

A U boat pen concrete target had been built in the at Ashley Walk bombing range in the New Forest, Hampshire, to assist in preparation for these raids. It consisted of a concrete roof covering three shallow "pens". After the war it was buried in an earth mound, although its edges are once again visible in places due to weathering.

Bombing of U-boat pens and yards during World War II
Target Date Details
St-Nazaire February 15/16 1942 10 Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys and six Handley Page Halifaxes only nine aircraft bombed St Nazaire, in cloudy conditions. No aircraft were lost but three crashed in England ⎩]
St-Nazaire March 7/8 1942 17 aircraft bombed St Nazaire ⎪]
St-Nazaire March 25/26 1942 Minor Operations: 27 aircraft to St Nazaire—one Vickers Wellington lost ⎪]
St-Nazaire March 27/28 1942 35 Whitleys and 27 Wellingtons bombed German positions around St Nazaire in support of the naval and Commando raid to destroy the Normandie dock gates in the port. The submarine pens were incidental to the raid which was aimed at preventing use of the dry-dock by capital ships. The aircraft were ordered to bomb only if the target had clear visibility. Conditions were bad, however, with 10/10ths cloud and icing, only four aircraft bombed at St Nazaire. Six aircraft bombed elsewhere. One Whitley was lost at sea ⎪]
St-Nazaire January 3, 1943 The first use of Lieutenant Colonel Curtis LeMay's modification of formation bombing to stagger three-plane elements within a squadron and stagger squadrons within a group was the "sixth raid on Saint Nazaire". With LeMay in command of the 305th Bomb Wing, 76 of 101 dispatched aircraft found the target and used a straight and level bomb run. Seven machines were shot down and 47 were damaged. The majority of bombs hit the submarine pens
Lorient January 15, 1943 The 317th air raid on Lorient dropped 20,000 incendiary bombs ⎫]
St-Nazaire January 16, 1943 Two waves of B-17 Flying Fortresses inflicted major damage and killed 27 people ⎫]
Wilhelmshaven January 27, 1943 The US VIII Bomber Command dispatched ninety-one B-17s and B-24 Liberators to attack the U-Boat construction yards at Wilhelmshaven, the very first 8th Air Force heavy bomber attack directed at Germany itself. ⎬] Three bombers (one B-17 and two B-24s) were shot down, only 53 aircraft actually dropped their bombs on the target due to bad weather conditions
Lorient January 23 and 26
Feb 3, 4, 7, 13 and 16
Mar 6
Apr 16
May 17, 1943
Lorient was bombed and the city was evacuated ⎫]
Bremen June 3/4 1943 170 aircraft attacked in the first large raid on Bremen since October 1941. 11 aircraft - four Wellingtons, two Halifaxes, two Avro Lancasters, two Short Stirlings and one Avro Manchester were lost. Bremen recorded this as a heavy attack, the results of which exceeded all previous raids. Housing areas were badly hit with six streets affected by serious fires. Damage to the U-boat construction yards and the Focke-Wulf factory was described as "of no importance" but there were hits in the harbour area which damaged a pier, some warehouses and the destroyer Z-25. [ Clarification needed ]
Wilhelmshaven June 11, 1943 VIII Bomber Command, Mission Number 62: 252 B-17s were dispatched against the "U-boat yard at Wilhelmshaven" and the port area at Cuxhaven 218 hit the targets VIII Bomber Command claimed 85-20-24 Luftwaffe aircraft, with the loss of eight aircraft and 62 damaged. American casualties were 3 KIA, 20 WIA and 80 MIA. The raid on Wilhelmshaven demonstrated the difficulty of operating beyond the range of escort fighters as enemy fighter attacks prevented accurate bombing of the target ⎮]
Bremen and Kiel June 13, 1943 VIII Bomber Command, Mission Number 63: 151 B-17s were dispatched against the Bremen U-boat yards 122 hit the target, claiming 2-2-1 Luftwaffe aircraft, with four lost and 31 damaged casualties were eight WIA and 32 MIA. A smaller force of 76 B-17s was dispatched to the Kiel U-boat yards 60 hit the target and claimed 39-5-14 Luftwaffe aircraft Bomber Command lost 22 aircraft, one was damaged beyond repair and 23 were damaged. The heaviest fighter attacks to date against the Eighth Air Force accounted for 26 B-17s, mostly of the force attacking Kiel ⎮]
St-Nazaire June 28, 1943 VIII Bomber Command, Mission Number 69: 191 B-17s were dispatched against the "locks and submarine pens at Saint-Nazaire" 158 hit the target. Bomber Command claimed 28-6-8 Luftwaffe aircraft, for the loss of eight B-17s and 57 damaged ⎮]
Deutsche Werke, Kiel December 1943 B-17 and B-24 bombing destroyed one workshop (100%), another workshop and storage building (80%), a factory workship and boat building (67%) a number of other buildings were damaged a submarine under construction and workshops for engines and engineering were hit ⎧]
Deutsche Werke, Kiel July 23/24 1944 In the first major raid on a German city for two months, 629 aircraft - including 10 de Havilland Mosquitos - were dispatched in this first RAF (since April 1943) and heaviest RAF raid of the war on the target. In less than half an hour, all parts of Kiel were hit but the bombing was particularly heavy in the port areas and all of the important "U-boat yards" and naval facilities were hit. The presence of around 500 delayed-action or unexploded bombs caused severe problems for the rescue and repair services. There was no water for three days trains and buses did not run for eight days and there was no gas for cooking for three weeks ⎯]
Brest August 5, 1944 15 Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron RAF, with two supporting Mosquitos, attacked the U-boat pens and scored six direct hits with Tallboys penetrating the concrete roofs. One Lancaster was shot down by flak. Subsequent attempts to reinforce other sites with even thicker concrete diverted resources from other projects. ⎰]
Lorient August 6, 1944 617 Squadron attacked Lorient again, with two hits. ⎰] ⎱] ⎲]
Lorient August 7, 1944 The Tallboy bombing mission to Lorient was scrubbed ⎱]
La Pallice August 8, 1944 Iveson dropped one Tallboy ⎱]
La Pallice and Bordeaux August 11, 1944 53 Lancasters and three Mosquitos of No 5 Group RAF attacked U-boat pens at "Bordeaux and La Pallice" with 2,000 lb armour-piercing bombs, but the bombs did not penetrate the roofs. No aircraft were lost ⎰]
Brest, La Pallice, and Bordeaux August 12, 1944 68 Lancasters of No 1 Group and two Mosquitos of No 5 Group attacked "pens at Brest, La Pallice and Bordeaux" without loss. A U-boat was believed to have been hit at La Pallice ⎰]
Brest August 13, 1944 28 Lancasters and one Mosquito of No 5 Group attacked the "U-boat pens and shipping at Brest". Hits were claimed on the pens, on the hulk of an old French battleship, the Clemenceau and on a medium-sized tanker. The object of the attacks on ships was to prevent the Germans using any of the vessels in Brest to block the harbour just before its capture by American troops ⎰]
La Pallice and Bordeaux August 16, 1944 25 Lancasters and one Mosquito of No 5 Group to attack the U-boat pens at La Pallice found the target was cloud-covered and only three aircraft bombed. No aircraft were lost ⎰]
La Pallice August 17, 1944 Mission 559: A B-17 dropped "Bat" guided bombs on La Pallice. ⎮] One impacted 1 mile (1.6 km) short and the second about 1 mile to the right of the target ⎳] ⎴]
IJmuiden August 28, 1944 Iveson dropped one Tallboy ⎱]
Heligoland September 3, 1944 The US Navy controller flew the Operation Aphrodite SAU-1 drone (B-24D 42-63954) ⎵] ⎶] into Duene Island by mistake
Heligoland September 11, 1944 During the first Castor mission of Operation Aphrodite, the pilot of B-17 42-30180 (Guzzlers) was killed when his parachute failed to open on bailout ⎷] ⎸]
Heligoland October 15, 1944 Mission 678A: ⎹] Two B-17s ⎺] of Operation Aphrodite attacked the Heligoland U-boat pens ⎷]
Bergen October 28/29 1944 237 Lancasters and seven Mosquitos of No 5 Group attacked the U-boat pens at Bergen. The area was cloud-covered, therefore the Master Bomber tried to bring the force down below 5,000 ft but cloud was still encountered and he ordered the raid to be abandoned after only 47 Lancasters had bombed. Three Lancasters were lost ⎻]
Heligoland October 30, 1944 Mission 693A: ⎮] One Castor Operation Aphrodite drone lost contact, went out of control and crashed near Trollhättan, Sweden. The other drone was B-17 42-3438 [ Clarification needed ]

Croatia [ edit | edit source ]

Entrance to submarine pen on Vis, Croatia.

Jugoslav People's Army used submarines as well, one of the pens is located on island of Vis it is carved inside natural hill and is now abandoned and freely accessible from sea or by foot. Location: 43°4′41.26″N 16°10′53.01″E  /  43.0781278°N 16.1813917°E  / 43.0781278 16.1813917


Mosquito queries and LNSF strength

Post by Pips » 20 Aug 2011, 03:34

There's something about this aircraft that just captures my admiration. Looks? Certainly. Mission range? Yes. Versatility? Absolutely.

But there are some aspects that confuse me somewhat too. For example it's speed. It has the reputation for being all but uncatchable. Yet when you compare the speeds of the Mossie (bomber) at various alitudes to most models of the Bf 109G and the (later) Fw 190A's there isn't any significant advantage. So why was the Mossie so hard to catch? Was it due to that it fly in small numbers and so was hard to detect on radar? Or was it more to the fact that it was in and out before aircraft could scramble?

Maneuverability is another issue. Many pilots comment of it being light and responsive on controls, easy to throw around and fly on one engine. But how did it compare to other twins eg Bf110, Beaufighter, P-38, P-61, A-20? Or Bf109 for that matter?

Re: Mosquito

Post by Seppo Jyrkinen » 20 Aug 2011, 09:10

Wooden construction made it hard to detect on radar. Flying altitude & speed combination gave a big advantage if German fighters were not by chance at the same altitude.

If I remember right, Saburo Sakai wrote that if fighters were on the ground when pilots saw a B-17, it was hopeless to try to catch the bomber.

Re: Mosquito

Post by phylo_roadking » 20 Aug 2011, 11:58

It's the same idea as the principle behind Barnes Wallis' "Victory Bomber" idea, and the hi-altitude Wellington prototytpes mid-war.

If you enter enemy detection/airspace at 350 mph at altitude, say.

1/ you have to be detected, and information passed down the chain
2/ fighters have to scramble in daylight, or available nightfighters in the appropriate Kammhuber Box be vectored onto it
3/ they have to CLIMB to the same altitude.
4/ and thenthey have to either be able to out-accelerate it . or carry out a rear attack at

In other words - LW fighters not only had to be capable of catching a Mossie. they had to be capable of out-performing it! It was the same idea that allowed Bomber Command to gradually cut down the defensive armament of fast, hi-altitude aircraft to rear armament only. or none at all. and that allowed Lancaster pilots to evade pursuit so many times simply by throwing their aircraft into a spin - pursuing fighters just couldn't build up enough extra speed to catch it again AND outmanouver it!

Re: Mosquito

Post by willi_klingel » 20 Aug 2011, 16:18

Re: Mosquito

Post by Pips » 21 Aug 2011, 03:06

Thanks, that does indeed make sense. So it would seem that the small numbers operating at great altitude were as much a key factor as was the speed of the Mosquito itself. As perhaps was the fact that it operated in a sky reasonably full of more numerous, larger, slower and lower flying bombers. Which also goes to explain somewhat the lower loss rates of the 9th AF's mediums.

Perhaps the other side of the coin would be if the Mossie became the main strike bomber of Bomber Command, it would to a degree have lost some of those advantages, and have suffered much greater losses? I know that there was a strong case for such argued at times by various members of the Air Ministry and politicans, citing ease and speed of manufacture, cost per unit, lower resources drain (especially in aircrew) and accuracy. Was it in fact a practical consideration?

What about the second part of my question regarding comparative maneuverability of the Mossie as against the Beaufighter, A-20 and Bf110? Any thoughts?

Re: Mosquito

Post by phylo_roadking » 21 Aug 2011, 15:51

1,500 Mossies when combined as a maximum was far more useful - and versatile. The example I always cite here is the last of each's bombing ops of WWII. the Heavies were relegated to massed mining of the Skaggerak to dtop the Flensburg government decamping to Norway. but it was the Mossies that were despatched on the last true bombing sorties of the war, a seven-squadron raid on Kiel on the night of the 6th/7th with the same purpose that was recalled in the air.

Re: Mosquito

Post by Jabberwocky » 22 Aug 2011, 07:11

1,500 Mossies when combined as a maximum was far more useful - and versatile.

I don't think that the LNSF was ever quite that large.

BC had a maximum of about 550-600 Mosquitos on strength at any one time, although maybe half of these would be in the LNSF.

There were as another 150-200 Mosquitos in Fighter Command and another 80-120 in 2TAF. Then there were 100-150 or so split up between Costal Command, recon duties and other tasks.

Maximum effort on any night by BC Mosquitos appears to have topped out at about 250 sorties. A quick search of the Bomber Command campaign diaries finds an all out effort looks something like this:

13/14 February 1945 - 71 Mosquitos to Magdeburg, 16 to Bonn, 8 each to Misburg and Nuremberg and 6 to Dortmund, 65 RCM sorties, 59 Mosquito patrols. No aircraft lost. (233 Mosquito sorties)

21/22 March 1945 - 151 Lancasters and 8 Mosquitos of No 5 Group attacked Hamburg.
131 Lancasters and 12 Mosquitos of Nos 1 and 8 Groups attack benzol plant at Bochum.
142 Mosquitos in 2 attacks on Berlin (with some aircraft making 2 sorties), 3 Mosquitos to Bremen, 26 RCM sorties, 56 Mosquito patrols, 7 Mosquitos of No 5 Group minelaying in Jade Bay and the River Weser. (254 Mosquito sorties)

4/5 April 1945 - 327 Lancasters and 14 Mosquitos of Nos 3, 6 and 8 Groups attacked the synthetic-oil plant at Leuna.
327 aircraft - 277 Halifaxes, 36 Lancasters, 14 Mosquitos - of Nos 4, 6 and 8 Groups attacked the Rhenania oil plant, Harburg.
258 Lancasters and 14 Mosquitos of Nos 1 and 8 Groups attacked the oil refinery at Lützkendorf.
35 Mosquitos to Berlin and 31 to Magdeburg, 70 RCM sorties, 66 Mosquito patrols, 30 Lancasters minelaying in the Oslo Fjord and the Kattegat. 5 aircraft lost. 12 Mosquitos from the Magdeburg raid and 3 Lancasters of No 1 Group from the Kattegat minelaying operation. The 136 aircraft dispatched by No 100 Group on this night were that group's largest effort of the war. (244 Mosquito sorties)


Wooden ‘Mosquito’ and Luftwaffe Battlefield

The Mosquito was an unarmed bomber with a crew of two, able to carry a bigger bombload farther than a B-17. It was also a fighter-bomber and a night fighter with an eight-gun nose battery. It was the most productive photoreconnaissance aircraft of the war. A high-speed courier. A weather-recon airplane. A carrier-qualified torpedo bomber (though too late to see combat). A pathfinder and target-marker for heavy bombers. The war’s most effective extreme-low-altitude intruder. A multiengine trainer and a high-speed target tug. A decoy frequently used to convince the Luftwaffe that three or four spoof-raid Mosquitos dropping chaff were a bomber stream of Lancasters.

Mosquitos were built in 33 different variants during WWII and seven that were introduced after the war, at a time when everything else with a propeller was being shunted off to reserve and training units.

The de Havilland Mosquito was the anti-Fortress, a bomber proposed to the Royal Air Force with speed as its salvation, not guns. Many forget that the Mosquito turned out to be the first of its kind and the B-17 the last of its line. Never since have bombers truly been armed defensively. The B-29 had four remotely controlled turrets until Curtis LeMay stripped the guns from them, preferring to carry bombs and fuel rather than guns made pointless by air superiority. B-52s had a tail battery—quad .50s and then a 20mm rotary cannon—but in 1991 that station was eliminated. Neither the RAF’s Canberra nor its V-bombers had a single gun. Neither did the F-117 stealth bomber, nor the B-1 and B-2. Since the day when the Mosquito went naked, guns on a bomber have been like tits on a boar.

De Havilland began design of the Mosquito on its own. Neither Geoffrey de Havilland nor his same-named son, who became the Mosquito’s chief test pilot, had any interest in dealing with the government, for their company had thrived during the 1920s and ’30s by concentrating on the civil market, where airplanes were bought because they got a job done, not because they met some blithering bureaucrat’s specifications.

The senior de Havilland also had a champion: Air Marshal Sir Wilfred Freeman, who is often casually characterized as “a friend of de Havilland’s.” Which he certainly turned out to be, but the initial connection was that Freeman had commanded a squadron of de Havilland DH-4s during World War I and became a huge fan of that airplane. The DH-4 was one of the best single-engine bombers of the war—faster than many fighters—and remained in service with the U.S. Army Air Service as late as 1932. Freeman was confident that the de Havillands knew what they were talking about when it came to airplanes. He pushed hard enough in favor of the Mosquito that the airplane became known among its detractors as Freeman’s Folly. Lord Beaverbrook, the Crown’s aircraft production czar, three times ordered him to shut down early Mosquito manufacturing. Fortunately, Beaverbrook never put it into writing, so Freeman ignored him.

Still, it wasn’t easy for de Havilland to convince the Air Ministry that an unarmed wooden bomber faster than any contemporary fighter was the answer to Bomber Command’s needs. The obvious riposte to this too-neat theorization was that the enemy would inevitably develop faster fighters. The British could see what Germany had done in grand prix automobile racing and had no illusions about the country’s technological prowess. This proved to be true to a degree when advanced versions of the Fw-190 and the nitrous oxide–boosted Me-410 became operational, and absolutely true when the Me-262 twin-engine jet flew. But nobody had anticipated the mid-1940s plateau of propeller effectiveness and compressibility problems that would limit conventional fighters to speeds roughly equivalent to the Mosquito’s no matter how extreme their horsepower. The Mosquito was fast in 1940 and remained fast in 1945.

In April 1940, U.S. Army Air Forces General Hap Arnold brought to the U.S. a complete set of Mosquito blueprints, which were sent to five American aircraft manufacturers for comment. All were contemptuous of the British design, none more so than Beechcraft, which reported back, “This airplane has sacrificed serviceability, structural strength, ease of construction and flying characteristics in an attempt to use construction material that is not suitable for the manufacture of efficient airplanes.” Beech couldn’t have gotten it more wrong if they had tried.

Mosquitos were internally coated with traditional marine varnishes, not nearly as waterproof as modern polyurethane coatings. So there were cases of Mosquito structural failures caused by simple wood rot—some among de Havilland of Canada–built airplanes, which were sometimes found to suffer from poorer workmanship and lower quality-control standards. A few Mosquitos—a total of 212—were also built in Australia, but that country had even bigger problems, with only a tiny cadre of aviation engineers and technicians to depend upon. The first 50 Australian-built Mosquito wings were so badly glued they had to be rebuilt.

The Mosquito was not an easy airplane to fly. As combat aircraft historian Bill Sweetman wrote in his book Mosquito, it was “a slightly nervous thoroughbred which could perform impressive feats in the hands of the courageous and competent…but would occasionally deal out a kick or a bite.” Its power-to-weight ratio and wing loading were both high, and its Vmc—the speed that needs to be maintained to assure rudder effectiveness with one engine feathered and the other running at full power—was, depending on load, an eye-watering 172 mph or more, probably the highest of any WWII twin. The much-maligned B-26 Marauder had a Vmc of about 160 mph.

The biggest gun ever mounted in a Mosquito was a 57mm cannon called the Molins gun. It had a 25-round, rapid-fire ammunition feed designed and built by Molins, a formerly Cuban company that had become the world’s largest manufacturer of cigarette-making and -packaging equipment. The 75mm gun mounted in hardnose B-25G and H Mitchells was obviously larger, but it had to be manually reloaded by the bomber’s navigator, so its rate of fire was about one-sixth that of the Molins gun. Many doubted that the Mosquito’s structure could withstand the Molins’ recoil, but de Havilland needed just one day—the time it took the factory to saw the nose off a crashed Mosquito, mount the 12-foot-long gun and test-fire it—to prove them wrong. The barrel recoiled 18 inches and hosed out a gout of flame 15 to 20 feet long, but the wooden airframe was flexible enough to dampen the shock.

Mosquitos that carried the Molins were called “Tsetses,” after the deadly African fly. Their specialty was sub-hunting in the Bay of Biscay. The bay was so shallow that the German subs had to dash across while surfaced, and Tsetses picked off enough of them that soon the subs could only travel at night. Tsetses also destroyed more than a few Luftwaffe aircraft, and the effect of a 57mm projectile on, say, a Ju-88 was devastating.

Another unusual weapon was the Highball, a Mosquito-size version of Barnes Wallis’ famous Dambuster bouncing bomb. It was developed for use against Tirpitz, the German battleship hidden away in a Norwegian fjord. The Highball was to be spun up in flight—two were carried in the open bomb bay of each Mosquito—by power from a ram-air turbine, which must have been one of the first-ever uses of a RAT. Highballs would be dropped at very low altitude to bounce over the torpedo netting that protected Tirpitz and then crawl down the hull to explode well below the waterline.

WWII Bouncing Bomb Tests at Ashley Walk, New Forest 1943 Code named ‘Highball’. A type of ‘Bouncing Bomb’ designed by Dr Barnes Wallis. Spherical (ball like) in shape it was designed to be used against large ships. Two of these could be carried and deployed by a single De Havilland Mosquito aircraft. In 1943 the Ashley Walk Bombing Range in the north of the New Forest near Godshill was used as a test and training range for inert versions of the bomb. A target, No.3 Wall Target, was specifically constructed on the range for these tests.

Barnes Neville Wallis was born the son of a doctor on 26 September 1887 in Ripley, Derbyshire. Wallis worked first at a marine engineering firm and in 1913 he moved to Vickers, where he designed airships, including the R100. In 1930, Wallis transferred to working on aircraft. His achievements included the first use of geodesic design in engineering, which was used in his development of the Wellesley and Wellington bombers. When World War Two began in 1939, Wallis was assistant chief designer at Vickers’ aviation section.

In February 1943, Wallis revealed his idea for air attacks on dams in Germany. He had developed a drum-shaped, rotating bomb that would bounce over the water, roll down the dam’s wall and explode at its base. The bomb was codenamed ‘Upkeep’. Impressed with the concept, the chief of the air staff, ordered Wallis to prepare the bombs for an attack on the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe dams in the important German industrial region of the Ruhr.

Operation Chastise, the ‘Dambusters Raid’, was carried out on the night of 16 – 17 May 1943 by the specially created 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, led by Guy Gibson. Two of the dams – the Mohne and Eder – were breached, leading to serious flooding in the surrounding area, although industrial production was not significantly affected, and 8 of the 19 bombers which took part were lost. The most significant result was the hugely positive effect on Allied morale.

A bouncing bomb is a bomb designed to bounce to a target across water in a calculated manner to avoid obstacles such as torpedo nets, and to allow both the bomb’s speed on arrival at the target and the timing of its detonation to be pre-determined, in a similar fashion to a regular naval depth charge.

The inventor of the first such bomb was the British engineer Barnes Wallis, whose “Upkeep” bouncing bomb was used in the RAF’s Operation Chastise of May 1943 to bounce into German dams and explode under water, with effect similar to the underground detonation of the Grand Slam and Tallboy earthquake bombs, both of which he also invented.

The success of the operation to destroy a number of reservoirs in Germany which became known as Operation Chastise, the RAF had a very special method. The specialty of this operation began with the use of selected squadrons, the use of specially modified Avro Lancaster bombers. The crew was selected from various countries (Canada, US, New Zealand, UK), the tactics that were deployed were also specialized, and used specially designed bombs. As planned, the attack would be carried out at night during the full moon when the lake water was at its peak.

On the night of 16-17 May 1943, Wing Commander Guy Gibson led 617 Squadron of the Royal Air Force on an audacious bombing raid to destroy three dams in the Ruhr valley, the industrial heartland of Germany. The mission was codenamed Operation ‘Chastise’. The dams were fiercely protected. Torpedo nets in the water stopped underwater attacks and anti-aircraft guns defended them against enemy bombers. But 617 Squadron had a secret weapon: the ‘bouncing bomb’.


Contents

Between the wars Edit

According to the squadron's entry in Flying Units of the RAF by Alan Lake, No. 617 Squadron was allocated the unit identification code MZ for the period April to September 1939, even though the unit did not actually exist at the time. [6]

Second World War Edit

The squadron was formed under great secrecy at RAF Scampton during the Second World War on 21 March 1943 on Avro Lancaster heavy bombers. [7] It included Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force personnel and was formed for the specific task of attacking three major dams that contributed water and power to the Ruhr industrial region in Germany: the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe. The plan was given the codename Operation Chastise and carried out on 17 May 1943. The squadron had to develop the tactics to deploy Barnes Wallis's "Bouncing bomb", and undertook some of its training over the dams of the Upper Derwent Valley in Derbyshire, as the towers on the dam walls were similar to those to be found on some of the target dams in Germany. [8]

The squadron's badge, approved by King George VI, depicts the bursting of a dam in commemoration of Chastise. The squadron's chosen motto was "Après moi le déluge" ("After me, the flood"), a humorous double entendre on a famous saying of Madame de Pompadour to King Louis XV, made on the loss at the Battle of Rossbach by the French. [9] The original commander of No. 617 Squadron, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the raid. [10] Guy Gibson also owned a black Labrador named Nigger, who was the mascot of the squadron for some time but who was run over and killed outside the base on the evening of the raid. [11]

After the raid, Gibson was withdrawn from flying (due to the high number of raids he had been on) and went on a publicity tour. George Holden became commanding officer (CO) in July, but he was shot down and killed on his fourth mission, Operation Garlic in September 1943, in an attack on the Dortmund-Ems Canal he had four of Gibson's crew with him. H. B. "Mick" Martin took command temporarily, before Leonard Cheshire took over as CO. Cheshire developed and personally took part in the special target marking techniques required, which went far beyond the precision delivered by the standard Pathfinder units – by the end he was marking the targets from a Mustang fighter. He was also awarded the VC. [12]

On 15 July 1943, 12 aircraft of the squadron took off from Scampton to attack targets in Northern Italy. All aircraft attacked and proceeded to North Africa without loss. The targets were San Polo d'Enza and Arquata Scrivia power stations it was hoped that the attacks would delay German troops who were travelling down into Italy on the electrified railway system to support the Italian front. The operation met little opposition but the targets were obscured by valley haze and were not destroyed. The 12 crews returned to Scampton on 25 July from North Africa after bombing Leghorn docks on the return journey. The raid on Leghorn Docks was not a great success, due to mist shrouding the target. On 29 July 1943 nine aircraft took off from Scampton to drop leaflets on Milan, Bologna, Genoa and Turin in Italy. All aircraft completed the mission and landed safely in Blida, North Africa. [13]

The UK Government considered using No. 617 Squadron to target the Italian leader Mussolini in July or August 1943. The British believed if Mussolini was killed it might take Italy out of the war. It would have been a flight carried out at extremely low level with the targets of Mussolini's headquarters and residence in Rome. Neither of these targets were within 1,500 yards of the Vatican, which the Allies had promised not to damage. However within two weeks of the plan being suggested, Mussolini was ousted by his opponents and replaced by Pietro Badoglio, leading to an armistice with the Allies in September. [14]

Throughout the rest of the war, the squadron continued in a specialist and precision-bombing role, including the use of the enormous "Tallboy" and "Grand Slam" ground-penetrating earthquake bombs, on targets such as concrete U-boat shelters and bridges. [15] Several failed attempts were made on The Dortmund-Ems Canal in 1943 (Operation Garlic) it was finally breached with Tallboys in September 1944. [16] In March 1945 the squadron used the Grand Slam bomb for the first time, against the Bielefeld viaduct, wrecking it. [17] The viaduct had withstood 54 previous attacks without being permanently neutralized. [18]

The Squadron's skills in precision flying were also utilized in the Normandy invasion, as part of a massive effort to deceive the Germans as to the actual location of the Allied invasion. Beginning on the night before the D-day landings, the Squadron dropped thin strips of aluminum foil (called Window) over the waters off Cap d'Antifer, about 80 km from the actual D-Day landings. The strips were dropped in vast numbers, in carefully choreographed patterns, over many hours, to create on German radar an illusion of a huge approaching naval fleet, even though the ships were non-existent. The Squadron practiced the technique at Tantallon Castle in Scotland, using captured German Würzburg, Freya, and Seetakt radars. [19]

A particularly notable series of attacks caused the disabling and sinking of Tirpitz, a major German battleship that had been moved into a fjord in northern Norway where she threatened the Arctic convoys and was too far north to be attacked by air from the UK. She had already been damaged by an attack by Royal Navy midget submarines and a series of attacks from carrier-borne aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm, but both attacks had failed to sink her. The task was given to No. IX and No. 617 Squadrons they were deployed to Yagodnik, near Archangel a staging base in Russia to attack Tirpitz with Tallboy bombs. On 15 September 1944, the RAF bombers struck the battleship in the forecastle, which rendered her unseaworthy, so she was sent to the Tromsø fjord where temporary repairs were made so she was anchored as a floating battery. [20] This fjord was in range of bombers operating from Scotland and from there, in October, she was attacked again, but cloud cover thwarted the attack. Finally on 12 November 1944, the two squadrons attacked Tirpitz. The first bombs missed their target, but following aircraft scored two direct hits in quick succession. Within ten minutes of the first bomb hitting the Tirpitz, she suffered a magazine explosion at her "C" turret and capsized killing 1,000 of her 1,700 crew. [21] All three RAF attacks on Tirpitz were led by Wing Commander J. B. "Willy" Tait, who had succeeded Cheshire as CO of No. 617 Squadron in July 1944. [22] Among pilots participating in the raids was Flight Lieutenant John Leavitt, an American who piloted one of the 31 Lancasters. Leavitt's aircraft dropped one of the bombs that hit Tirpitz dead centre. [23] Despite both squadrons claiming that it was their bombs that actually sank the Tirpitz, it was the Tallboy bomb, dropped from a No. IX Squadron Lancaster WS-Y (LM220) piloted by Flying Officer Dougie Tweddle that is attributed to the sinking of the warship. [24] [25] F/O Tweddle was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in the operations against Tirpitz. [26]

During the Second World War the Squadron carried out 1,599 operational sorties with the loss of 32 aircraft. [27]

Cold War (1946–1981) Edit

After the end of the Second World War, the squadron replaced its Lancasters with Avro Lincolns, following those in 1952 with the English Electric Canberra jet bomber. The squadron was deployed to Malaya for four months in 1955, returning to RAF Binbrook to be disbanded on 15 December 1955. Reformed at RAF Scampton on 1 May 1958 as part of RAF Bomber Command's V-bomber force maintaining the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent, the squadron was equipped with the Avro Vulcan B1 from Aug 1960. [28] By 23 May 1961, its aircraft were the upgraded Vulcan B1A [29] fitted with the electronic countermeasures tail pod. The squadron's assigned role was high-level strategic bombing with a variety of free fall nuclear bombs. Both the B1 and B1A types were equipped with various free-fall nuclear weapons. These may have included Blue Danube, Red Beard, Violet Club the Interim Megaton Weapon, Yellow Sun Mk.1 and certainly Yellow Sun Mk2. American bombs were also supplied to the RAF V-bombers for a short period under the Project E arrangements. [30]

The squadron began almost immediately to upgrade yet again to the Vulcan B2, taking delivery of the first on 1 September 1961, [31] although its high-level strategic bombing role remained unchanged until the advent of effective Soviet Surface-to-Air Missiles forced Bomber Command to reassign V-bombers from high-altitude operations to low-level penetration operations in March 1963, when the squadron's Vulcans adopted a mission profile that included a 'pop-up' manoeuvre from 500–1,000 ft to above 12,000 ft for safe release of Blue Steel. [32]

Vulcans were configured for the Blue Steel stand-off bomb and 617 Squadron was the first to be declared operational with it in August 1962, [33] until in January 1970 the squadron's eight Vulcan B2 aircraft were re-equipped with the new strategic laydown bomb, WE.177B [34] which improved aircraft survivability by enabling aircraft to remain at low-level during weapon release. [35]

Following the transfer of responsibility for the nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy, the squadron was reassigned to SACEUR for tactical strike missions. In a high-intensity European war the squadron's role was to support land forces on the Continent by striking deep into enemy-held areas beyond the forward edge of the battlefield, striking at enemy concentrations and infrastructure, with WE.177 tactical nuclear weapons, should a conflict escalate to that stage. The squadron's eight aircraft were allocated eight WE.177 nuclear bombs. As the Vulcan's bomb bay was configured to carry only one, and assuming that RAF staff planners had factored in their usual allowance for attrition in the early conventional phase of a continental war, leaving sufficient surviving aircraft to deliver the full stockpile of nuclear weapons, it is a reasonable conclusion that the Vulcan force was held in reserve for nuclear strike duties only. The squadron's Vulcan B2s served mainly in that low-level penetration role until disbandment on 31 December 1981. [36]

Tornado GR (1983–2014) Edit

The squadron reformed on 1 January 1983 at RAF Marham, re-equipped with twelve Panavia Tornado GR1. [37]

No. 617 Squadron was deployed to King Faisal Air Base, Saudi Arabia following the 1990 Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait, it returned to the UK in Nov 90' replaced by 16/20 Sqn, some of its aircrews did return, operating with various other squadrons throughout KSA [38] [39] [40] [41]

In 1993, No. 617 Squadron began the changeover to anti-shipping and by May 1994 was operating from RAF Lossiemouth assigned to SACLANT, flying the Tornado GR1B with the Sea Eagle missile. [42] In December 1994, Flight Lieutenant Jo Salter became the first female combat ready fast jet pilot. [43]

In 1995, crews from No. 617 Squadron deployed in support of Operation Warden. [44]

In 2003, the Squadron sent several airframes to the Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait and Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, as part of Operation Telic joining airframes from II Squadron, IX Squadron, XIII Squadron, 31 Squadron and 12 Squadron (a total of 30 Tornado GR4/GR4A's were deployed) where they were the first squadron to use the new MBDA Storm Shadow [45] [46]

In July 2009, the Dambusters deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, as part of Operation Herrick in order to provide support for No. 12 (Bomber) Squadron. [47] No. 617 Squadron underwent their first full Op HERRICK deployment between April and July 2011, handing over responsibility to No. 31 Squadron on 15 July. [47] While deployed, the Dambusters were the RAF squadron who helped the Tornado GR fleet surpass 1,000,000 flying hours in June 2011. [48] [49]

In July 2011, the squadron took part in Operation Ellamy [50] [51]

In July 2013, it was announced that No. 617 Squadron would become the first operational RAF unit to receive the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning. [52] No. 617 Squadron disbanded on 28 March 2014 as part of the draw-down of the Tornado force. [53]

F-35B Lightning (2017–present) Edit

Beginning in 2016, the Dambusters started their training for conversion to the F-35B ahead of reforming as the first British front line squadron with the Lightning. [54] The squadron worked up at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, throughout late 2017 and early 2018 before reforming on 18 April 2018. [55] [56]

On 6 June 2018, a quartet of No. 617 Squadron Lightnings (ZM145, ZM146, ZM147 and ZM148), supported by three Airbus Voyagers and an Airbus Atlas C1, made an eight-hour flight across the Atlantic to become the first of the UK's aircraft to be based permanently at RAF Marham. [57] On 10 July, the squadron participated in the RAF100 flypast over London with three F-35Bs. [58] On 3 August, five more F-35Bs arrived at RAF Marham for the Dambusters. [59] No. 617 Squadron was declared 'combat ready' on 10 January 2019. [60]

The Dambusters underwent their first F-35 deployment on 22 May 2019 when six Lightnings deployed to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, for six weeks as part of 'Exercise Lightning Dawn'. [61] [62] On 16 June, No. 617 Squadron carried out the first RAF F-35 operational mission when two Lightnings conducted a patrol over Syria as part of Operation Shader. [63] On 25 June, No. 617 Squadron's F-35Bs participated in 'Exercise Tri Lightning' alongside United States Air Force F-35As of the 4th Fighter Squadron and Israeli Air Force F-35Is of 140 Squadron over the eastern Mediterranean Sea. [64] Four F-35B Lightnings returned home to RAF Marham on 2 July, while the other two arrived at Amendola Air Base to carry out bilateral training with the Italian Air Force, including the local F-35As of 32º Stormo. [65] Three Lightnings departed RAF Marham on 9 October to MCAS Beaufort in preparation for Westlant 19, [66] with them embarking upon HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time alongside No. 17 Test and Evaluation Squadron on 13 October. [67] [68]

On 22 January 2020, the Dambusters departed Marham for Exercise Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, their first with the Lightning. [69] Between September and November 2020, the Dambusters hosted United States Marine Corps F-35Bs from VMFA-211 who deployed to RAF Marham to work up on HMS Queen Elizabeth ahead of the carrier's deployment in 2021. [70] [71]

In May 2021, No. 617 Squadron embarked eight F-35B Lightnings on board HMS Queen Elizabeth as part of Carrier Strike Group 2021 (CSG21), operating alongside VMFA-211 as the fixed wing component. [72]


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