Another 1000 bomber raid
25th June 1942: The third and last of the '1000 bomber raids' - but casualties are mounting due to the use of crews still in training
When RAF Bomber Command had made its first ‘1,000 bomber raid’ on Cologne it had scraped together the aircraft and crews from all around the service, including from Operational Training Units (OTU)s. On that occasion casualties had been light.
On the 1st June they had mounted a second 1000 bomber raid on Essen - but with poor results due to the weather. Now they made a third, on Bremen. This time aircraft and crew from RAF Coastal Command were needed in order to make up the numbers to 1000 aircraft. Coastal Command had quite different capabilities, training and experience from Bomber Command.
Flying Officer Harry Andrews1 was on a Hudson from an RAF Coastal Command Training Unit:
The old Hudson I had, like many others, suffered from the faults brought by the hard usage from OTU training. Rate of climb at full throttle was something less than 1,000 feet a minute and 3 or 4° of lateral trim was required to fly level. Weather was good for the first 200 miles or so. The sky was clear and the surface of the North Sea was dark against the lightness of the sky.
With some envy I could see the silhouettes of Halifaxes and the odd Stirling flying high above us and overtaking on a roughly parallel course. The weather then turned treacherous (as was not uncommon over the North Sea). Low stratus covered the entire sea long before we reached the enemy coast and medium and heavy cloud developed in layers. We were navigating solely on dead reckoning and had only a general idea of our position, flying in and out of cloud (no radar, Gee, LORAN or H2S in those days, at least for our Hudsons).
‘Wilhelmshaven was a designated alternative target and, not least, mindful of the other 999 (theoretical) aircraft milling around in the general area we released the bombs.’
A few minutes after our dead reckoning time over target the turret gunner shouted that a night fighter with an orange light was astern of us (we had been warned at briefing that some German night fighters carried a red/orange light - purpose unknown). It disappeared as quickly as it came and it may well have been the exhaust flame of one of our own aircraft. However, at that time violent evasive action seemed to be the prudent order of the day.
Some minutes later we saw through a gap in the clouds a port complex which, from its geographical features, we took to be Wilhelmshaven. Since we were now well behind our scheduled time over target and Wilhelmshaven was a designated alternative target and, not least, mindful of the other 999 (theoretical) aircraft milling around in the general area we released the bombs. With some relief we dived to just above the lowest layer of stratus and set course for home.
Not a heroic flight or one that made even a minuscule contribution to the defeat of Germany. The contribution made by Coastal Command OTU Hudsons in the main must have been to public morale - the 'magic' figure of 1,000 bombers had simultaneously attacked a German city.
The following excerpt also comes from Bomber Command, Reflections of War, Volume 1:
Sergeant Harris B Goldberg, born in Boston, Massachusetts, had trained as an air gunner in the RCAF and in October 1941 had arrived in Scotland before joining a Wellington crew. He flew the 1/2 June Millennium raid on Essen and the 25/26 June raid on Bremen:
We went in at 12,000 feet, got hit and damn near fell to pieces. We went down to 2,000 feet and sort of stumbled home at about 90mph. I don't really know how we got home. All my crew were English. We used to have some pretty wild arguments about the States staying out of the war. After that night over Bremen we argued but we never really got mad any more. Going through something like that brings you pretty close.
Although the raid was not as successful as the first 1,000-bomber raid on Cologne, large parts of Bremen, especially in the south and east districts, were destroyed.
The German high command was shaken but 52 bombers were claimed destroyed by the flak and night fighter defences for the loss of just two Bf 110s and four NCO crewmembers killed or missing. A total of 1,123 sorties (including 102 Hudsons and Wellingtons from Coastal Command) had been dispatched and 50 Bomber Command aircraft and four from Coastal Command were lost.
‘My pupils - 18-year-old boys - pleading with me to let them go besieged me. I knew that half of them would not come back but I chose my dozen or so, then prayed for their safety.’
This time the heaviest casualties were suffered by the OTUs of 91 Group, which lost 23 of the 198 Whitleys and Wellingtons provided by that group. All but one was manned by pupil crews.
As an instructor John Price at 10 OTU had been ordered to go but as there were not enough instructors to fill the aircraft pupil pilots were called upon - ditto navigators and air gunners.
My pupils - 18-year-old boys - pleading with me to let them go besieged me. I knew that half of them would not come back but I chose my dozen or so, then prayed for their safety.
None came back.
An account that comes from Bomber Command, Reflections of War, Volume 1
This is the first of Martin W. Bowman’s impressive five volume history of RAF Bomber Command’s war. Told largely through numerous personal accounts by aircrew of their experiences, this is a blow by blow, raid by raid, vivid history of the evolving battle - often with several accounts from the same raid. Highly recommended for those who want to understand how the bomber war was fought.
This excerpt from Bomber Command, Reflections of War, Volume 1 appears by kind permission of Pen & Sword Books Ltd. Copyright remains with the author.