War in the West
Fall Weiss Invasion of Poland
September 1, 1939
Before dawn on September 1, 1939 under a lingering mist eleven German
Panzer divisions and 40 infantry divisions poured into Poland and
started World War II. A new type of warfare called blitzkrieg (
lightning war ) made its appearance and enduring impression.
This was a highly mobile form of fighting, abandoning static positions
entirely. Also, for the first time all elements of the armed forces
worked together in a coordinated manner. Fighters swept the skies free
of enemy planes as dive-bombers struck key targets and served as a kind
of mobile artillery for the advancing armor and infantry units. The
affect was devastating on the enemy as these armored thrusts smashed
through the Polish lines, rapidly outflanking and encircling units
before they could react.
It was a hard fought thing leaving the German forces not unscathed.
During the 4-week campaign the Luftwaffe lost no fewer than 743 men and
285 aircraft (including 109 bombers and Stukas.) Total German losses
came to 10,574 men killed, 30,322 wounded and 3,400 missing.
Disastrous Daylight Raids
At the outbreak of war Britain only had 17 squadrons of bombers (all twin engined) totalling a paultry 272 aircraft.
The first eight months of the war bomber targets were exclusively military ones and losses in daylight raids were appauling. Whitley bombers among other types dropped propoganda leaflets over enemy population centers at night during this time as well.
September 4, 1939 marked the first bombing attack by Britain against
Germany when ten Blenheims of No.107 and No.110 squadrons, carrying two
500 lb bombs
each, took off to attack ships at Wilhelmshaven. Another five Blenheims
from No.139 squadron and 12 Hampdens of No. 49 and 83 squadrons tried
to join in but had to turn back because of poor weather. Over the
approaches to Schilling Roads the five Blenheims of No.110 squadron
scored two direct hits on the Admiral Scheer, but the bombs bounced off the armored deck before detonating. One bomber was lost to flak. The next wave of five bombers from No.107 squadron lost four planes to murderous flak while scoring no hits.
On September 29, 1939 Eleven Hampdens of the No. 144 squadron made an
attack in two waves against two German destroyers just outside
Wilhelmshaven. The first wave of 6 bombers
did no damage but succeeded in getting back to England. All five
Hampdens of the second wave were shot out of the sky by Messerschmitt
December 3, 1939 saw two dozen Wellington bombers attacking German ships. All planes made it back to base after succeeding in damaging a mine sweeper.
On December 14, 1939 in another attack on enemy warships by No.99
squadron half of the 12 Wellingtons participating were lost ( 5 to enemy
fire, one crashing near its base. )
Four days later, on December 18th, four sections of 6 Wellington bombers ( 24 in all ) made their way towards Schilling Roads. The attacking bombers were from No.9, 37, and 149 squadrons. Shortly after take-off 2 Wellingtons of the second section had to turn back to base because of mechanical trouble. Of the 22 bombers
that reached Wihelmshaven 10 were shot down over the target mainly by fighters, two were so badly shot up they had to ditch, and two more crash landed back in Britain. The remaining eight Wellingtons were all damaged.
These raids and more like them convinced the RAF to switch to night bombing. However bomber Command never gave up on daylight missions totally, especially later in the war when escort fighters could protect bombers better and the Luftwaffe had been seriously worn down.
Operation Weserübung (The Invasion of Norway and Denmark)
April 9, 1940
In December 1939 Admiral Raeder arranged for Vidkun Quisling, the leader of the NAZI movement in Norway, to visit Berlin and meet Adolf Hitler.
The British and the Germans were both eyeing Norway and its strategic possibilties but Hitler moved first.
supply ship the Altmark February 16, 1940 Graf Spee HMS Cossack
300 British merchant seamen
General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst mountain warfare expert to devise an invasion plan to take Norway.
March 7, 1940 Hitler assigned eight divisions to the operation.
April 7, 1940 the transports sailed.
April 9, 1940 German forces simultaneously landed at Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik.
General Eduard Dietl, mountain troops ten destroyers were sunk. Managed
to bring 2,000 and 2,600 sailors to shore now opposing 24,500 Allied
troops. April 10th and the 13th in naval clashes with British naval
From April 14th he was besieged at Narvik and managed to breakout and
withdraw to the Swedish border which he reached by tbe end of May by
which time the situation in France forced the Allies to pull out
German cruiser Blucher was sunk at Oslo by costal guns and torpedoes.
12,000 British and French troops landed north and south of Tronheim between April 18 and the 23rd.
The Maginot Line
One of the most elaborate series of military fortifications ever devised was the French built Maginot line.
Stretching for 200 mi (300 km) from the Swiss border to the Belgian
border this series of mutually supporting bunkers, gun emplacements and
anti-tank obstacles was constructed during the decade preceding the war
and considered impregnable. Too much reliance placed on the Maginot Line was a significant factor in the Allied defeat in France.
Fall Gelb Battle of France
May 10, 1940 – June 25, 1940
At Dawn on May 10, 1940 the German army struck France using the same
blitzkrieg tactics they had used against Poland. Originally the Army
High Command made plans for a major thrust through Belgium and Holland
similar to the “Schlieffen Plan” of World War I. General von Rundstedt
and his chief of staff, General von Manstein, said that this was exactly
what the France and British were expecting. They unsuccessfully argued for a more radical plan with the major thrust going through what most thought as impenetrable to armor – the Ardennes forest.
However after battle plans had fallen into Allied hands General von Manstein was able to present his case to Hitler in person and it was quickly adopted. This new plan worked better than anyone expected.
A total of 136 divisions were set to participate in the attack
code-named Case Yellow. On the Allied side were 135 divisions (94
French, 10 British, 22 Belgian and 9 Dutch.) This parity of forces is
greatly misleading though as the allies, particularly the French, were
tied down to rigid pre-planned defensive strategies. The Luftwaffe
fielded 3,634 front line aircraft (1,016 fighters and 1,562 bombers.)
Opposing this were too few of the better French fighters like the
Dewoitine 520 and Bloch 151. In addition there were 130 mostly
obsolescent RAF fighters and 160 British bombers.
As Luftwaffe aircraft strafed and bombed airfields and towns in Belgium, Holland and Northern France
Not everything went the Germans way, of course, particularly when the Dutch I Corps re-took several airfields in fierce fighting.
Operation Dynamo “Miracle at Dunkirk”
May 26 – June 4
After the German Panzer Armies sliced across France in a stunning 10 days the British Expeditionary Force and the French found themselves pinned down on the beaches of Dunkirk.
For the German field commanders a great victory was in sight: the
capture of almost the entire British Expeditionary Force and 112,000
French and Belgian soldiers. But Hitler, concerned about possible flank attacks on his extended columns, ordered a halt. A confident Hermann Goring claimed that the Luftwaffe could finish off the troops at Dunkirk and Hitler chose that course.
A priceless opportunity was being thrown away since capturing these
troops would leave Great Britain almost defenseless. Once they realized that their army had been given a reprieve of sorts the British rescued 338,226 men, of which 112,000 were French and Belgian during a hectic 6 days using a fleet of 861 ships and smaller craft including yachts. It was in the skies over Dunkirk where the Luftwaffe met a first class opponent for the first time, the RAF. By June 3 the RAF squadrons supporting Operation Dynamo had carried out 171 reconnaissance, 651 bombing, and 2,739 fighter sorties and had suffered 177 aircraft destroyed or seriously damaged including 107 fighters and 87 pilots. This meant that Fighter Command first-line fighter strength was down to 331 Spitfires and Hurricanes, with only 36 fighters in reserve by June 4th.
Left behind on the beaches of Dunkirk were some 2,472 guns, 84,427 vehicles of all kinds and 657,000 tons of ammunition.
Battle of France and the West
Cost to the Germans:
The Luftwaffe lost 1,284 aircraft
French losses estimated at 90,000 dead, 200,000 wounded. 1,900,000 prisoner or missing.
British casualties: 68,111
Belgian casualties: 23,350
Dutch casualties: 9,779
The French lost more than 560 aircraft in combat while the RAF lost 931 (477 of these being fighters)
The Battle of Britain
July 10, 1940 – October 31, 1940
The first strategic bombing campaign was actually the Battle of Britain
although the fighter to fighter combat during this period gets most of
the attention. Air superiority was a necessary condition for Operation
Sea Lion ( the invasion of Britain ) to be
launched. The Battle of Britain was the conflict to win air superiority
over Southern England and the channel. To accomplish this the Germans
had nearly 3,000 aircraft in three separate air fleets. Luftflotte 2 under Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring in Belgium, Holland and northeast France, Luftflotte 3 under Generalfeldmarschall
Hugo Sperrle in northwest Framce and Luftlotte 5 commanded by Generaloberst
Hans-Jürgen Stumpff based in Norway. Most of the German aircraft were
designed with short range tactical roles in mind and were not well
suited for the essentially strategic bombing campaign they were now
Stuka Dive bomber
Stuka-Pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel : His Life Story in Words in Photographs
Battle of Britain Timeline:
10 July – 7 Aug preliminary phase
8 – 23 Aug attacks on coastal targets
24 Aug – 6 Sept attacks on Fighter Command airfields
7-30 Sept daylight attacks on London mainly by heavy bombers
1 – 31 October daylight attacks on London mainly by fighter-bombers
From July 10 to August 10, 1940 the Luftwaffe attacks were mainly
confined to coastal shipping and the laying of mines. During this time
period the Germans lost 227 aircraft while the British lost only 96.
Britain’s Main Fighter Aircraft During The Battle of Britain:
A wonderful aircraft benefiting from sound design, low drag and a superb power plant – the Merlin engine. The Spitfire as well as the engine showed great potential and indeed both were upgraded many times during the war. While the Hurricane fighter equipped more squadrons during the Battle of Britain this plane was far deadlier.
The Hawker Hurricane formed the backbone of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. While not as good as the Spitfire the Hurricane was rugged and proved quite effective, especially against bombers.
On the English side despite being outnumbered and facing more
experienced pilots the British had several key advantages. Foremost in
this regard was a series of coastal radar stations which gave them early
warning of enemy attacks. Also, any downed German pilots were captured
and thus lost while British pilots could be shot down and be back up
fighting the next day or even the same day in some cases.
Adler-Tag “Eagle Day”
August 13, 1940
Eagle Day marked the start of a greatly increased air offensive against
Great Britain. This was to be an all-out effort but the day was marred
by mistakes for the Germans. Fighter Command could pull together 909
front-line Spitfire and Hurricane
fighters to defend against this onslaught. By the end of the day the
Germans had lost 46 planes with precious little to show for it while the
defending British lost 13 fighters in the air and just one on the
Although hampered by lack of coordination and efficiency and in spite of super human effort on the part of RAF pilots the Germans were getting close to achieving at least temporary air superiority by late August of 1940. The price was high in aircraft and pilots but by sheer force of numbers Germany was wearing Fighter Command down, killing pilots that could not be replaced fast enough, knocking out airfields and bombing factories where fighter aircraft were manufactured. Fate took a hand on the night of August 24th when, against Hitler’s standing orders, London itself was bombed. Actually the bombs were dropped by several pilots off course heading for a different target. The Berliners were stunned however when 81 RAF bombers appeared over their city the next night dropping bombs
on the German capitol. Although this attack and several follow up ones
caused little real damage Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to focus its
bombing efforts against the city of London, this was the break Fighter
Command badly needed.
With a chance to reconstitute itself the RAF went on to cause heavy losses in further bomber raids forcing the Germans to switch to night bombing and Hitler to postpone the invasion of Britain indefinitely.
RAF Single Engine Fighter Stats (July 6 – October 26 1944)
|Date||Fighter Losses||Fighters Produced||Serviceable Fighters Available||Fighter Command Pilots Available|
Aircraft Losses in the Battle of Britain:
|Date:||RAF Fighters||RAF Other||German bombers||German Fighters|
|July 10-30||75 (27)||8 (1)||116 (31)||49|
|July 31-Aug 27||284 (30)||30 (7)||306 (53)||268 (35)|
|Aug 28-Oct 1||471 (32)||12 (5)||345 (78)||400 (41)|
|Oct 2-31||174 (57)||11 (7)||194 (68)||162 (36)|
Numbers in ( ) are non combat losses. These are also included in totals.
The excellent Messerschmitt Bf 109 was one of the best fighter aircraft in the world when the war started. In the Battle of Britain only the Spitfire could deal with the 109 on anywhere near equal terms. Possessing heavy armament and clean aerodynamic lines the Bf 109 was fast and maneuverable.
The Messerschmitt Bf 110 was designed as a heavy fighter Zerstörer (Destroyer) which could provide long range escort for bombers,
using its impressive firepower to deal with enemy planes. This concept was a popular pre-war idea but proved to be flawed and more or less invalid. Against the British the Bf 110 faired badly as a fighter and escort, itself needing escorting by single-engine Bf 109 fighters after a point! On other fronts and for the rest of the war the Messerschmitt Bf 110 served admirably as an all-purpose plane.
October 8, 1940 German troops enter Romania
September 17, 1940 Hitler abandons Operation Sealion ( the invasion of Great Britain ) for good.
October 28, 1940 The Italians attack Greece from Albania
with the first of some 200,000 troops without consulting with the
By the middle of November not only had the Italians been expelled
by the Greek army but were falling back in the face of a
September 7, 1940 – May 31, 1941
After the Germans failed to neutralize Fighter Command in the Battle of
Britain they launched a sustained bombing campaign against the city of
London. Such was the intensity and frequency of these raids that the
city only saw ten nights free of falling bombs between September 7th and November 12th.
In the nine months from September 7, 1940 to the end of May 1941 the Germans dropped some 46,000 tons of high explosive bombs
and 110,000 incendaries (54,420 tons total) This bombardment left over
40,000 dead, 86,000 seriously injured and 150,000 slightly injured. 2
million homes were destroyed or damaged (60% of this number in London
Between Feb 19,1941 and May 12,1941 sixty-one air raids were launched mainly against British ports including London.
November 14 /15, 1940
This industrial city of 125,000 was the target of a particularly devastating attack by German bombers on the moonlit night of November 14/15, 1940. 449 bombers dropped 150,000 incendiary bombs, 503 tons of high-explosives (1,400 bombs) and 130 parachute sea-mines (causing extensive blast damage) on Coventry.
More than 550 people died with another thousand seriously injured during this massive air-raid and the subsequent raging fires. 50,749 houses ended up being destroyed or heavily damaged with the ruins of St. Michael’s Cathedral becoming a powerful symbol of the ruthlessness of German bombing policies.
From the viewpoint of strategic bombing Coventry was a legitimate target possessing considerable industrial facilities dedicated to Briitish aviation.
Air raids lessened somewhat as British night fighters became more effective but continued until the Spring of 1941.
Also, while London was still a target many other industrial cities were
bombed as well such as Bristol and Southampton. From the end of
September 1940 to May 1941 the Germans launched 71 major air raids on London and 56 against other cities. Mounting German losses and Hitler’s need to consolidate his aircraft for the upcoming Operation Barbarossa (invasion of Russia) effectively put an end to the Blitz.
The suffering and cost both in human terms and property was tremendous. Some 40,000 people died during the Blitz while 46,000 more were seriously wounded, in addition around a million dwellings and homes were destroyed or damaged. But the Germans had achieved very little militarily with the Blitz on London. Actually the British cause was greatly helped since many countries now felt far more inclined to side with and assist Great Britian in fighting NAZI Germany, especially the United States of America.
German Bombing During the Blitz
|Date||Sept. 1940||Oct. 1940||Nov. 1940||Dec. 1940||Jan. 1941||Feb. 1941||Totals|
The Channel Dash “Operation Cerberus/Operation Thunderbolt”
The German battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst in the French port of Brest since March 22, 1941 were subjected to regular attacks by the RAF. Occasionally the bombing damaged one of the warships slightly but more often than not ended up damaging the surrounding port facilities, docks and buildings. The RAF attacked the warships at Brest no fewer than 299 times losing 43 planes and 247 crewman in the process. The Gneisenau had been hit twice and damaged while the Scharnhorst had been hit once and damaged severely. A close watch was maintained on these ships with photo reconnanicance planes and submarines. The cruiser Prince Eugen was also there.
Hitler decided to withdraw his capital ships from the French port and in one of the few instances of real cooperation betweeen the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine Operation Cerberus was carried out. Fighter Chief Adolf Galland had 250 fighters available for this operation. He based them along the coast so as to provide continuous coverage of the warships as they conducted their breakout. From dawn to dusk 16 fighters were to operate over the warships for about 35 minutes – if no contact or just slight contact was made with the RAF they had to stay an additional 10 minutes. 10 minutes before these planes were scheduled to leave the next group of 16 fighters joined them. This meant that the number of fighters protecting the ships doubled for at least 10 minutes and as long as 20 minutes. A fighter direction officer was placed on the flagship Scharnhorst to help coordinate things between the Navy and the
At 8:00 in the evening the warships left their berths but quickly had to go back and dock as British bombers were coming in on yet another raid against the port. flak from the shore and the ships erupted against the 20 – 25 bombers as a defensive smoke screen was generated. Luckily no ships were damaged so after the all-clear signal Operation Cerberus went forward again. Finally, a few minutes before 11:00 pm the three ships slipped out of the harbor and started north escorted by seven destroyers.
In complete radio silence the vessels made 30 knots to make up for lost time and arrived right on schedule off Cherbourg where a small fotilla of E-boats formed an outer defense perimeter. It was still dark when the first group of fighters flying at very low altitude arrived over the fleet at 8:50, now making good speed through the channel. A mine field discovered at Dieppe just hours before the ships were supposed to arrive caused some anxiety but an all-out effort by four mine-sweepers made a safe passage through it.
Not until the afternoon of the 12th were the British certain that the
ships had broken out of Brest. Coastal gun batteries opened fire,
torpedo boats and destroyers attacked all without inflicting damage.
Waves of RAF planes and coastal patrol aircraft joined in and pressed
home their attacks with a cloud ceiling of less than 1,000ft.
Off the Scheldt the Scharnhorst struck a mine but was underway within half an hour. During the night of 12-13 both the Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst were damaged slightly by striking mines near Terschelling. But on the 13th the ships were able to steam into port and safety.
Remarkably the Germans lost just one torpedo boat and 17 aircraft during the Channel Dash while the RAF lost 40 to enemy action plus two more, Spitfires that collided into each other. Six Navy Swordfish torpedo planes went down as well.
Early American Bombing Efforts in Europe
Eight Air Force eventually occupied 60 air bases in Great Britain.
Ira Eaker himself flew along on this mission.
The first bombing mission organized by Americans August 17, 1942. A
dozen flying fortresses took off from Grafton Underwood in eastern
England to attack a railroad marshalling yard 200 miles away at Rouen,
northwest of Paris. Escorted by four squadrons of Spitfires the B-17s dropped 18.5 tons of bombs and suffered no losses, two bombers had slight damage due to flak.
October 9, 1942 saw the first major raid by the Americans. The target the steelworks at Lille in northern France. 108 bombers
took part in the raid including, for the first time, B-24 Liberators.
But mechanical problems and errors in navigation left only 69 bombers to reach the target. 3 flying fortresses and one Liberator were lost. Only nine bombs
landed within 500 yards of the target. Although gunners claimed 56
enemy planes shot down German records show that just 2 interceptors were
Bad weather forced the cancellation of 11 U.S. missions in the 12 days
following the raid on Lille. Only 12 missions were actually flown in the
two month period November and December, many missions were cancelled.
At this time a crewman had to fly 25 missions to complete a tour of duty
and cancelled or aborted raids did not count toward this total even if
the attack was aborted after the planes had taken off.
A major blow to the Eighth Air Force was the for the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch). In November two bomber groups were transferred to support the invasion (about 100 planes or at this time about a third of Eight Air Forces strength).
Furthermore Eaker was ordered to concentrate his bombing on submarine
pens along France’s Atlantic coast. These structures protecting U-boats
with massive 112 ft thick reinforced concrete. Bombing these targets did
not accomplish much as the bombs literally bounced off the pens.
November 23, 1942 in an attack on submarine pens at Saint-Nazaire U.S. bombers
encountered stiff resistance from the Luftwaffe and a disturbing new
tactic. The interceptors led by Lieut. Colonel Egon Mayer, attacked the bombers
from head on revealing a deficiency in forward firing armament of the
flying fortress. Four flying forts went down out of 56 over the target.
The Germans lost seven fighters that day.
At the end of 1942 the daylight bombing offensive was in a dismal state.
Just 27 U.S. missions had actually been carried out. Also not one
mission had attacked targets in Germany itself.
Operation Millennium – A Thousand Bomber Raid
May 30 / 31, 1942
On May 30th, 1942 1,046 RAF bombers took off to bomb the city of Cologne. It was an incredible feat by Air Marshall Harris to muster over 1,000 bombers
for a single raid and it marked a milestone for strategic bombing.
Never before had an air armada of such proportions set out to hit one
target but several hundred of this force consisted of hurriedly patched
up aircraft and outdated bombers with crews still in training. As a result only 898 bombers successfully dropped their payload on the city yet it still amounted to 1,455 tons of bombs
in a period of 90 minutes. Nearly 18,440 buildings were destroyed
including 13,000 homes and 250 factories leaving 56,000 people homeless.
The loss of life was relatively small given the dimensions of the
attack, 469 people were killed and more than 4,000 injured in the air
raid. bomber Command lost 41 bombers in the “thousand bomber
raid,” far less than the predicted loss rate. Air raids of this size
and intensity would prove to be frustratingly difficult to repeat but “Operation Millennium” did give bomber Command much needed support from Britain’s leadership at a time when it was severely lagging.
Operation Gomorrah, the brainchild of Arthur Harris, involved
using both British and American aircraft to concentrate their bombing
attacks against one city – the port city of Hamburg for a ten day
period. The first night, July 24th, 1943, 740 RAF bombers dropped nearly 3,000 tons of bombs
and lost only 12 planes in the process. This was mainly due to the
British using window, bundles of aluminum foil strips that appeared as a
on German radar, a total of 92 million strips were released during the
raid totally confusing the German defenses. The daylight hours saw 68
B-17s attacking the shipyards and submarine building yards of Hamburg
losing 19 flying-fortresses to stiffening German opposition. The next
day 53 Flying Fortresses dropped bombs on the Neuhoff power plant in the city.
On the night of July 27th 722 RAF bombers found Hamburg still burning brightly andlbed it with more incendiary and high explosive bombs.
Fires merged with existing fires unleashing a firestorm with
temperatures reaching 1,800 degrees F (980 C) and winds up to 150 mph
(240 km/h.) – enough to uproot trees and set asphalt streets ablaze.
There was no defense against this and even those in bomb
shelters were not safe as many suffocated to death or were incinerated
in the intense heat. Again on the 29th of July and the 2nd of August
returned and hit the city. The nine day aerial assault left Hamburg and
its residents devastated. About 50,000 perished in the bombing while
nearly half of the city’s buildings were destroyed or heavily damaged,
almost 10 square miles of Hamburg lay in ruins. A million refugees fled
the city and word of the Die Katastrophe spread throughout Germany.
This attack more than any other galvanized the Luftwaffe leadership into
action to defend the cities of Germany. Hitler did not agree with
Goring and the other Generals who felt that extreme measures had to be
taken now to save the Luftwaffe and Germany itself from destruction. In
the face of Hitler’s veto many officers and pilots did everything they
could anyway to improve the tactics and weapons of the fighter force.
This hard work would pay off in the months to follow.
Ira Eaker / Churchill
Issued January 21, 1943 by Allied leaders. Endorsed round the clock bombing policy with the British bombing at night and the Americans bombing by day. Detailed target priorities.
The Ploesti Oil Raid of August 1st, 1943
Operation Tidal Wave
The rich oil fields of Ploesti in Romania supplied one third of the oil
the Germans used and was a tempting target for Allied planners. Being
too far from England the attack came from bases in Libya. 177 B-24D
Liberators from five groups the 44th, 93rd, 389th of the 8th AF and the
98th and 376th Bomb
Groups of the 9th B.C. headed for the target in radio silence and at
low altitude to avoid alerting the enemy. But this was already
impossible since the Germans had intercepted the routine radio
transmissions at takeoff and knew an attack was coming.
The southern approaches to Ploesti were the best defended with many flak batteries and the bombers had orders to fly to the north of this area and approach the target from a north-westly direction. But the lead bomber
turned too soon and both groups ended up flying through the heaviest
part of these defenses at tree top level and into a solid wall of flak. From that point on it was a running battle between the flak gunners, many well concealed, and the bombers firing their .50 calibre (12.7 mm) machine guns. The bombers
were so low that the German gunners just had to use simple visual
aiming to score many hits. There was even a train bristling with guns
that followed the bombers
for some distance. Over the target Messerschmitt fighters tore into the
formation and followed it for some time after inflicting many losses.
And while Ploesti was heavily damaged in the raid it had considerable
reserve capacity, by bringing this into operation shipments of oil to
Germany were not affected.
Schweinfurt and Regensburg
The city of Scweinfurt held five plants that turned out over 50% of the
ball bearings used by Germany. This type of target seemed to embody the
American strategic bombing doctrine, requiring precision daylight
bombing to assure success and being a key or “bottleneck” industry on
which everything from artillery and tanks to planes heavily relied on.
By far this was the deepest American bombers
had flown into Germany but most planners thought that the massed
firepower of the B-17s in formation would be protection enough against
German fighters. Still to hedge their bets another force of 146 bombers was going to strike the Messerschmitt factory at Regensburg first, hopefully confusing the German defenses.
The well trained crews commanded by then Colonel Curtis Lemay took off
from bases in England shrouded in fog on the morning of August 17th. The
Scweinfurt bound bombers
scheduled to takeoff ten minutes later were delayed by the fog, a delay
which eventually lasted three hours and killed any benefit the two
pronged attack could have yielded.
As the American bombers
crossed the English coast improved long range radar alerted the Germans
who had interceptors aloft within minutes to meet the incoming
formations. Patiently the planes held back until the fighter escorts
turned back for lack of fuel, just inside the German border, then they
attacked with a fury. As the bombers slowly made their way to Regensburg 300+ interceptors hammered the formations with cannon, machine gun fire
and even rockets. Pilots were under orders to fly at least three
sorties, rearming and refueling in between. In one of the most intense
aireal battles of the War the Luftwaffe showed its new determination and
new tactics which brought down 15 fortresses by the time the Americans
reached their target. Despite this ordeal the remaining bombers,
most heavily damaged and riddled with bullets, hit all the major
buildings at Regensburg and in a pre-planned move flew across the Alps
and on to Algeria. Like leeches the Luftwaffe fighters hung on bringing 3
more B-17s down before it was over.
At this point the 230 bombers
going to Scweinfurt were struck by an alert, rearmed and refuelled
German fighter force. In a replay of the carnage that the first bombers
had suffered 21 B-17s were lost before reaching the ball bearing
factories at Scweinfurt. There they managed to accurately drop over 420
tons of bombs
on the targets but now they faced the long flight back – unlike the
force that struck Regensburg there were no plans to go to Algeria.
were relentlesslylbed all the way until the fighter escorts finally
appeared to bring the battered force across the channel and home to
bases in England.
Initial response to the air strikes was positive based mainly on reports
of the extensive damage done to the targets at both Scweinfurt and
Regensburg. This view quickly sobered with the realization that the
day’s operations cost the Eighth Air Force 60 bombers and 600 crewmen. In addition 122 bombers
were heavily damaged with 27 of those just fit for scrap. An alarmed
officer noted that a week of such missions would completetly wipe out
their frontline strength.
In the aftermath of these costly air raids Army Air Corp Generals really
began to question one of their most sacred ideas often stated as “the bomber will always get through”. The Luftwaffe lost 36 aircraft with 12 more written off defending against the bomber
attacks. To Adolf Galland, General of the Luftwaffe fighter arm this
was proof that the daylight raids on Germany could be forced to a
It would be several months before American bombers revisted Scweinfurt but it would not be long enough for the weary crews of the Eighth Air Force.
“Black Thursday” Back To Schweinfurt
On Oct. 14, 1943 Eighth Air Force bombers
conduct the second raid on the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt,
Germany. As a result, the Germans will disperse their ball-bearing
manufacturing, but the cost of the raid is high; 60 of the 291 B-17s
launched do not return, 138 more are heavily damaged.
Target: Peenemünde (Germany’s Secret Weapon Research)
In 1936 most of Germany’s secret weapon research was transferred to a
small Baltic island called Peenemünde. Major facilities were built there
so scientists and technicians (eventually numbering 4,000) could work
on rockets, missiles and later the Veangence weapons.
The British slowly unveiled the secret and threatening nature of
activities at Peenemünde through recon flights and intelligence. Knowing
that any V weapons once developed would most certainly be used against Great Britain a “knock out” blow was planned. bomber Command launched 597 bombers to hit Peenemünde on the night of August 17th, 1943 – the same day of the American attacks against Scweinfurt and Regensburg.
A good concentration of 2,000 tons of high-explosive bombs hammered the facilities killing 735 people, including Dr. Thiel, who had spent the last seven years perfecting the V-2s huge rocket engine. The pre-production works designed to be a complete assembly line for the A-4 ( V-2 ) was almost totally destroyed. The 30m tall several hundredm long structure got hit with nine 992 lb (450 kg) bombs setting back the V-1 and V-2 projects by roughly two months. 40 bombers fell to German defenses in the attack, 29 to night fighters, a sign of the growing effectiveness of this force.
The Battle of Berlin
November 18, 1943 – March 31, 1944
A sustained bombing campaign conceived by bomber Command’s Arthur Harris to force the war to a quick end began on November 18, 1943. Averaging 500 bombers a raid more than 9,111 sorties were flown in 35 major raids ( 16 against Berlin and 19 against other cities to dilute German night
defenses. ) When the Battle of Berlin was finally at an end on March
31, 1944 it had caused considerable damage to the city but it had not
forced Germany to it’s knees. A catastrophic 1,047 RAF bombers had been lost during the Battle of Berlin.
The Sturmgruppe and Rammjäger Fighters
General Galland ordered the formation of a squadron of heavily modified FW-190 aircraft
to close in and attack enemy bombers at point blank range. These planes were fitted with 5
to 12 mm ( 0.2 – 0.5 in ) armor plating around the pilot and engine, mostly facing
forward, and a 50 mm ( nearly 2 inch ) thick bullet-proof windscreen. Equipped with four
30 mm cannon the Sturmgruppe approached from the rear and started firing from a
distance of 300ft (90 m) or less where their firepower was absolutely devastating.
These special fighters also had leading edges covered with armor so they could close-in
and ram the rudder or a elevator, causing the bomber to lose control and crash.
Operation Argument or “Big Week” was a massive bombing effort aimed at
the German aircraft industry. The Eighth, Ninth and the Fifteenth Air Force together flew
more than 3,800 sorties and dropped 10,000 tons of bombs during a six day period starting
with February 20, 1944. In all roughly half of the German facilities for aircraft
production were destroyed or heavily damaged, including nearly a thousand fighter aircraft
ready or near completion.
Big Week cost the Allies 226 bombers and 28 fighters but was seen as a major success
and a crippling blow to the German aircraft industry. In fact it wasn’t, the number of
fighter aircraft built actually increased though at a slower rate during the next few
months. Operation Argument was not a failure however as it hurt the Luftwaffe in an
even more critical area – fighter pilots. In defending against the week of nonstop bombing
attacks the Germans lost 227 pilots with another 141 wounded. This was a full 10 percent
of the total number of pilots that could fly interceptors – lost in just six days.
The Greatest Victory for German Night Fighters: Nuremberg
The night of March 30, 1944 the RAF launched a major raid consisting of 795 bombers
against the city of Nuremberg. Better night fighter tactics and changing weather
conditions allowed the German defenses to shoot down fully 95 of the bombers and badly
damage another 59. 12 more crashed or wrecked back on landing in England.
The Transportation Plan vs. Attacks on Oil Targets
Interdiction Campaign Leading Up To The D-Day Invasion
The question of how best to support the Allied troops set to invade the
Normandy coastal area was a matter of considerable and heated debate.
The transportation plan involved numerous attacks against bridges,
marshaling yards, and other targets that would isolate Normandy and
hinder the movement of German reinforcements.
Other allied leaders thought that a concentrated series of attacks on
oil installations would cripple the German war machine, depriving
Hitler’s Panzer armies of fuel they would need to effectively fight the
allied invasion force. The transportation plan was adopted in the end
primarly because General Eisenhower, supreme allied comander, supported
it. 80 rail and road targets in Northern France became key targets.
Along with targets of opportunity these were blasted by sustained
attacks for almost four months. Deception was worked into this campaign
as for every target bombed in or near the Normandy area two targets were
February 9 – June 6 1944
Allied aircraft used: 21,949
bomb Tonnage dropped: 76,200 tons
Selected road and rail targets: 80
Targets destroyed: 51
Targets severely damaged: 25
Targets slightly damaged: 4
NO-BALL – a V-1 target site
CROSSBOW – V-1 and V-2 targets
Along with the damage to marshaling yards and rail junctions 1,500 locomotives were destroyed.
All 24 bridges on the river Seine between Paris and the coast were knocked down and kept down by frequent attacks.
Nearly a hundred airfields in Northern France were repeatedly hit and strafed by attack bombers and fighters destroying hundreds of German fighters on the ground and rendering the airfields all but useless.
All together some 200,000 sorties were flown in the effort to isolate
the invasion area and destroy targets within it leading up to D-Day. In
the dark hours before dawn on June 6th an additional 5,000 tons of bombs were dropped on the Atlantic wall and coastal defenses themselves.
D-Day The Allied Invasion of Europe
June 6th, 1944
|The Longest Day by Cornelius RyanA true
classic of World War II history, The Longest Day tells the story of the
massive Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Journalist
Cornelius Ryan began working on the book in the mid-1950s, while the
memories of the D-day participants were still fresh, and he spent three
years interviewing D-day survivors in the United States and Europe.
Operation Overlord kicked off with 6,500 naval and transport vessels in
75 convoys converging on Normandy. At 6:30 on June 6, 1944 British,
Common Wealth and US troops landed on five beaches along the Normandy
coast. An aireal umbrella covered the landings with 4,900 fighters and
flying 14,600 sorties (not counting transports) in the first 24 hours. By midnight
57,000 US and 75,000 British and Common Wealth troops were ashore and
linking together. The Luftwaffe could barely muster 300 sorties on
D-Day. Casualties among the ground forces were 2,500 killed and 8,500
wounded. The German response to the invasion was hampered greatly by
Hitler’s indecision and the fear that Normandy was just a feint with the
real blow coming at the Pas de Calais region, a believe that the Allies
had fostered among the German high command with clever deceptions.
The Oil Campaign
A few preliminary attacks against oil targets were launched prior to
D-Day but nothing substantial could be done in the months leading up to
the invasion of Europe and sometime after since most bombers were commited to supporting the D-Day invasion.
The main source of oil for the Germans were 13 synthetic oil plants plus
three smaller ones starting in 1944. Ploesti in Rumania and oil
fields in Hungary provided more than 25% of refined crude oil such as
liquid fuels. Domestic production of liquid fuels and other refined oil
products was small but important to the German war effort.
The refineries at Ploesti were attacked, beginning with a daring and
costly low-level attack in August 1943.
However, oil shipments continued and increased until April of 1944 when
air raids resumed. The sustained attacks during 1944 together with the
mining of the Danube river reduced Rumanian oil shipments to a trickle.
Finally advancing Russian troops took over what was left of Ploesti in
August of 1944. Now maintaining a steady flow of oil from the synthetic
plants was given a high priority by the Germans.
As the bombing of the synthetic oil plants finally picked up
production dropped steadily and by July of 1944 every major plant had
been hit. Before the sustained bombing effort on this key industry the
synthetic plants were putting out an average of 316,000 tons per month
of oil and 175,000 tons of aviation gas. By June this fell to 107,000
tons and 30,000 tons respectively. September saw an all time low with
just 17,000 tons of oil and 5,000 tons of aviation fuel being produced.
But the main problem for the Luftwaffe was lack of trained pilots well
before aviation fuel supplies became critically low. Nearly 1,000
Luftwaffe pilots were lost in the first four months of 1944. Many of
these pilots had considerable experience and could not be replaced.
The Germans took extreme measures to repair and reconstruct the oil
plants. A czar was appointed, Edmund Geilenberg, who had almost
unlimited priority on men and materials. Geilenberg used as many as
350,000 men for the repair, rebuilding, and dispersal of the bombed
plants and for new underground construction. The synthetic oil plants
were huge complex facilities which could not easily be broken down and
dispered. Efforts toward dispersal and underground construction were not
completed by war’s end. Geilenberg was however able to bring bombed
synthetic oil plants back into at least partial production in a
remarkably short space of time.
The largest and most heavily defended of the synthetic oil plants was
Leuna. It took a long and costly bombing campaign with 6,552 sorties
and 18,328 tons of bombs over 12 months to keep the average production at Leuna below 10%.
Der Grosse Schlag The Great Blow
A plan devised by Adolf Galland to assemble over a thousand fighter aircraft and throw them against a daylight bomber raid. By shooting down a huge number of American bombers
at one stroke Galland hoped to bring a halt to the bombing that was
crippling Germany’s industries and he was prepared to lose 500 fighters
to achieve it. After months of carefully building up a reserve of
fighters General Galland signaled the head of the Luftwaffe, Herman
Goring, that he was ready. In mid November, after days of waiting for
the weather to allow a large bombing raid, Hitler ordered almost all of
these fighter planes to be sent to the Western front in preparation for
the Ardennes offensive (Operation Watch on The Rhine) later changed to
The Sinking of The Battleship Tirpitz
November 12, 1944
In a bold but well planned daylight raid 32 Lancasters of the elite No. 617 bomber
squadron carrying 12,000 lb ( 5,443 kg ) Tallboy bombs sank the
battleship Tirpitz in Tromsoe Fjord, Norway. The bombers flew at very low altitude toward
a point on the Norwegian coast where German radar coverage was the least effective. Having
avoided detection the bombers then skirted the Norwegian-Swedish border all the way North
finally turning to fly over Tromsoe Fjord at 12,000 – 15,000ft. The Germans were taken
by surprise as three direct hits and two near-misses were scored by Tallboy bombs causing
the battleship to rollover and sink. Over 1,400 men were killed including the Captain when
the battleship went down. flak opened up but the Lancasters were already on their way back
to England. The entire flight took over 12 hours for the bombers and their crews.
September 17, 1944
|A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius RyanAn
account of a significant World War II battle discusses the airborne
struggles at Arnhem and documents the related human issues with the
words of Dutch civilians, British and American strategists, common
soldiers, and commanders.
Conceived by the overly cautious British Field Marshal Montgomery this
highly ambitious plan aimed to capture and hold key bridges in Holland,
up to 60 miles behind enemy lines, with airborne troops. An armored
ground thrust would then drive up the major road, linking up with and
reinforcing the lightly armed paratroopers. If successful this would
give the Allies a crossing over the Rhine and threaten the heart of
The ground component (Garden) consisted of the British XXX Corps (part of the British Second Army and 21st Army Group.)
The U.S. 101st Airborne Division succeeded in capturing the canal crossings at Eindhoven and Veghel while the 82nd Airborne Division captured the bridges over the Maas and Waal rivers.
At Arnhem, the farthest objective, the British 1st
Airborne Division with the Polish 1st Airborne Brigade encountered heavy
resistance and just managed to secure the Northern end of the bridge.
Equipped to hold the bridge for three days they held it for nine days
and nine nights
against a vastly superior force. These brave soliders were waiting in
vain for the XXX Corps to reach them. The ground forces involved in
Market-Garden did not move with the swiftness necessary to take full
advantage of the initial German surprize and confusion. Later with
German resistance stiffening the British advance slowed, just when it
was vital to reach Arnhem.
Operation Watch on The Rhine “Battle of The Bulge”
Dec. 16, 1944 – Jan. 31, 1945
The preparations for Operation “Watch on The Rhine” were remarkably well
handled considering the terrible condition of Germany and its war
machine at this stage of the war. Assembling a force of 2,567 tanks and
assault guns, 10 panzer divions and 2,295 aircraft (totalling about
250,000 men) so close to the front without the enemy becoming aware of
the fact was achieved only with the greatest secrecy and deception. No
matter how desperate or foredoomed this final German offensive was it
should be remembered that the “Battle of The Bulge” caused more American
casualites than any other battle of the war.
As concieved the attack would cut through the wooded Ardennes, where
four years previous German armies had blitzed their way to victory
against France and the low countries. The primary goal was to drive a
wedge between the American and British armies to the Mues River.
Finally, the major port of Antwerp, through which flowed the bulk of
supplies for the Allied armies, was to be taken.
The Sixth, Fifth and Seventh Panzer Armies were the main forces
involved. In addition a special unit of “english speaking” soliders. On
December 16, 1944 the offense got underway with low cloud cover and fog
leaving allied air power grounded.
Unternehmen Bodenplatte (Operation Baseplate)
January 1, 1945
About 900 German aircraft, mostly Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf
190 fighters, were launched in a low-level surprise attack on Allied
airfields in Holland and Belgium on New Year’s Day 1945. The attack
achieved almost complete surprise and resulted in the destruction of 278
aircraft ( 144 RAF and 134 USAAF ) with a further 162 planes damaged
(84 RAF and 62 USAAF.)
However, these were losses that the Allies could quite easily make-up
while the cost for the Luftwaffe was quite high, partially because
units had not been informed about Operation Baseplate and so fired at
aircraft returning from the raid. The Luftwaffe effectively lost 255
pilots (170 pilots killed or missing in action, 67 taken prisoner and 18
The Destruction of Dresden
Febuary 13-14, 1945
The attack on the city of Dresden is the most controversial air raid of the war except possibly the atomic bomb
attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In February of 1945 Dresden was the
largest German city to be spared major bombing by the Allies. The
initiative for the attack on the city of Dresden came from British Prime
Minister Winston Churchill and was primarily political in nature. The
Yalta conference with Roosevelt and Stalin was approaching and Churchill
desperately wanted to be able to show Stalin that his Anglo-American
allies were supporting the advance of the Soviet armies now fighting
their way into Eastern Europe and Germany.
Dresden itself offered little in the way of military targets – this is
one of the main reasons it had only seen bombing twice, both times by
American planes diverted from primary targets due to clouds to bomb the rail yards of Dresden. It is also the reason that a bare minimal number of flak (anti-aircraft) guns defended the city.
It was reasoned that demolishing the city of Dresden would sow confusion
among the refugees fleeing the advancing Red army and impede the
movement of German reinforcements to the Eastern front.
There was not much enthusiasm among those carrying out this massive
attack on a city better known for its cultural and historical attributes
than military ones but neither were there serious objections raised
either – until after the bombing – and the full horror of what happened
to this beautiful city became known.
Churchill did much to distance himself from his involvement in the decision to bomb Dresden. Others did the same leaving Sir Arthur Harris, head of RAF bomber Command, to shoulder the blame for his perfect execution of an attack he was ordered to carry out.
In the wake of Mosquitos laying red marking flares over the city the first wave of 244 Lancaster bombers dropped incendiary and high explosive bombs
around 10:13 pm. A 2nd wave of 529 Lancasters timed to produce maximum
disruption among firefighters and emergency crews struck at 1:30 am
creating a terrible firestorm that gutted 8 sq miles (20 sq km) of the
city. The following day 311 B-17 bombers dropped 771 tons of bombs on the city itself after failing to find Dresden’s railroad yards. The next day 210 more U.S. bombers dropped 461 tons of bombs on the burning city. A total of 3,749 tons of bombs (75% being incendiary) had been discharged with the loss of only six bombers.
Dresden burned for seven days and eight nights with 70% of the city
destroyed. When it was over there were literally not enough able-bodied
people to bury the dead and fearing the spread of disease the center of
Dresden was closed off and the bodies burned. The number of people who
died in the attack will never be known but estimates start at 32,000 and
go as high as 135,000.