RAF 'Circus 26' - 'an offensive sweep'

28th June 1941: Bombers bait the Luftwaffe and a Luftwaffe Ace is killed

A daylight raid on Comines power station in north east France by Blenheim bombers on 28th June scored a direct hit on the turbine hall and caused much damage. Six workers were killed.

 

RAF daylight raids and fighter sweeps over northern France, known as 'Circus' raids, had been under way since the Spring. The invasion of Russia had seen the greater part of the Luftwaffe transferred to the east. Now the RAF stepped up their attacks in an attempt to force the Germans to maintain stronger air defences in the west.

Aircraft of Bomber Command continued their offensive operations against targets in North-East France and Germany, in the course of which hits were registered on Steel Works at Lille, Power Stations, at Comines and Pont-a- Vendin nearby, a crowded railway yard near Oldenburg, runways and buildings at Merville Aerodrome and the seaplane base at Borkum.

The attacks by bombers on objectives in France were made with fighter escort, and fighter sweeps were also carried out over these total of 124 squadrons being employed. We lost 11 bombers and 24 fighters, but the pilots of 2 Spitfires were rescued. Ten aircraft were destroyed by our bombers, who probably destroyed 3 more and damaged 7. Our fighters shot down a total of 39 Messerschmitts, including a number of Me. 109 Fs, probably destroyed 15 more and damaged 18.

The increase in German defensive patrols noted last week was maintained, the average being 290: per day over the Straits area, though on the 27th June these reached the exceptional figure of 590 sorties.

From the Air Situation Report for the week see TNA CAB 66/17/24

This short summary hardly does justice to the effort that was put into the Circus raids by the RAF. These were especially hazardous operations for the RAF bomber crews who were the 'bait' to bring out the Luftwaffe fighters so that they could be pounced on by RAF fighters.1

The figures of 35 RAF aircraft lost for 15 “probably destroyed” Luftwaffe fighters during this week suggests a very expensive strategy, especially when it was well known that “probables” did not mean definite losses. Yet the confident statement “Our fighters shot down a total of 39 Messerschmitts” suggests a different interpretation of what was being achieved.

However ‘Circus 26’ did bring the demise of one Luftwaffe Ace. The Staffelkapitan (commanding Officer) of 8./JG26 Oberleutnant Gustav ‘Mickey’ Sprick was a veteran of the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, awarded the “Ritterkreuz” (Knight’s Cross), credited with 31 victories from 192 sorties.

Sprick was attempting to intercept the aircraft attacking the power station when he was attacked from above by Spitfires from No. 308 "City of Kraków" Polish Fighter Squadron RAF. This was exactly the situation sought by RAF’s ‘Circus’ tactics. In seeking to evade the Spitfires Sprick attempted a ‘Split S’ manoeuvre and his aircraft broke up.

Hurricane 501 analyses the events and seeks to identify which pilot forced Sprick to his death. The most likely candidate is Sgt Władysław Majchrzyk.

Sgt Władysław Majchrzyk is back row centre. Photographed at Bagington, end of 1940. Pilots of the early 308.Front row P/O F. Szyszka (left); P/O Wandzilak; F/Lt Jasionowski; F/Lt Wiorkiewicz and P/O Piatkowski; middle row: P/O Skibinski; F/O Grudzinski; P/O Koczor; Sgt Kowala and unkown; back row: F/O Wielgus; unkown; Sgt Majchrzyk; unkown and unkown.  See http://www.polishsquadronsremembered.com/308/308_pic_gal.html

The Hurricane 501 site also explains the dangerous Split ‘S’ manoeuvre:

Split ‘S’ – What we do know for sure is that Gustav Sprick performed a Split S manoeuvre resulting in catastrophic failure of his right wing. This type of manoeuvre if performed at high speed carries huge risk as the speed builds up rapidly and an enormous amount of height can be lost as the pilot loads up the wings with high ‘G’ as he tries to pull the machine out of the dive.

The Spitfire VB being flown by the RAF at this time, although No. 308 "City of Kraków" Polish Fighter Squadron RAF still had the IIA in June 1941. Spitfire Mark VB, R6923 ‘QJ-S’, of No 92 Squadron RAF based at Biggin Hill, Kent, banking towards the photographing aircraft. R6923 was originally a Mark I, converted to a Mark V after serving with No. 19 Squadron and No. 7 Operational Training Unit in 1940. It was shot down over the sea by a Messerschmitt Bf 109 on 22 June 1941.
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For a comprehensive account of the RAF Blenheim bomber operations during this period, especially 139 "Jamaica" Squadron see Ken Fenton's War. In particular this site has a good account of "Circus 27" carried out on the 30th.


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