Crowded sky over the ‘Big City’
‘The luck of the draw’, as ever, determined that during this attack on the heavily defended German capital city, the lives of some airmen would be taken, while most others would survive by avoiding flak and night-fighters, protected by the sheer weight of numbers of aircraft in the bomber stream. However a handful of airmen would survive, in some instances almost miraculously, being plucked from stricken or exploding aircraft, other crews would doggedly return home having been shot-up over enemy territory.
I have put together accounts lifted from records of various squadrons (although far from all who operated that night) to give an idea of how the attack on Berlin on 30th January 1944 developed. There will be a follow-up post detailing those crews whose luck ran-out that night, outlining as near as possible from available records how and where they were shot down.
For the majority of heavy bomber crews tasked for the bombing operation against ‘the Big City’, Berlin, on the evening of 30th January 1944, the sortie proved uneventful, apart from the unusually moonlit conditions and numerous fighter-flares which allowed a better than normal view of other aircraft in the sky. The bomber force that evening numbered 440 Lancasters, 82 Halifaxes and 12 PFF Mosquitoes.
The intended time over target was between 20.15 and 20.37 – an intended force of 534 aircraft passing through the target area in 22 minutes – an average of 24 aircraft a minute!
Crews bombing early in the bomber stream experienced a relatively quiet time – At de-briefing 625 Squadron pilot Donald Blackmore had commented – ‘Target bombed at 20.19 hours from a height of 20,000feet. 10/10ths cloud. There appeared to be a complete lack of interest by the defences both over the target and and en-route. Rather a pleasant trip.’
The bombers left their bases and formed up into the ‘bomber stream’ over Mablethorpe on the east coast of Lincolnshire to fly a west-north-westerly route out across the North Sea to cross Shleswig-Holstein and turn south-south-west just beyond the island of Fehmarn. The Pathfinder primary blind markers navigated using ‘special equipment’ with their blind backers-up making timed runs from Lake Muritz, (a prominent, angular shaped lake, easily recognisable on the route in) with the aid of H2S. ‘Red-steady’ sky-markers were dropped at specific turning points, with a final route marker datum point in the vicinity of Neuruppin.
The German radar defences knew a raid was on its way soon after the bomber stream started crossing the North Sea, but the stream eluded fighter contact, NJG weren’t sent out to sea to intercept straight away.
Night-fighters from NJG1,2,3,4 and 6 were sent up and concentrated around beacon FF Quelle at the mouth of the River Elbe near Cuxhaven and beacon FF Ludwig, North of Osnabruck, suggesting that the expectation was for the bomber stream to cross the Dutch coast near Leeuwarden. Some tame boars were sent from Quelle, westerly, out to sea but probably failed to contact the stream being too far south of the bombers.
Severe icing conditions were experienced by some:-
‘Icing conditions met 03.15E at 14,000feet 18.32hrs. A/C would not climb.’ 640 Sqn Halifax about 150miles out from Mablethorpe.
Fighters from Grove and Westerland (on the mainland Dutch coast, south-east of Texel) were guided to the bomber stream over Schleswig-Holstein with one bomber being shot down over the west coast of Denmark – before the Fehmarn turning point and another claimed near Rostock – just after the turning point.
Night-fighter claim at 19.10
1JD, 7JD and a contingent from 3JD were rushed from bases in Belgium and Holland to FF Gertrud, then to FF Berta, then to Berlin.
‘Unidentified T/E A/C outward 54.36N 9.35E (about 5miles north of the town of Schleswig) 19.35hrs 20,000feet did not fire. Monica registered no claim. Enemy aircraft approached to within 500yds, rear turret found to be u/s and MU/G had stoppages after short burst.’ 640Sqn Halifax.
550 Sqn Lancaster F/O Godfrey Morrison – ‘at approximately 22 miles north-West of Berlin, 20.07hrs, 21,500ft, R/G Sgt McKenzie reported confidently that a Lancaster was sighted behind (distance unknown). Approximately one minute later, without further warning, four shells described as rocket shells (by reason of large areas of damage, although no comet phenomena seen) cannon shell and machine-gun fire hit ‘O’. No indications were received on Boozer, which was serviceable. As soon as the attack began the pilot took a steep diving turn to port, losing 2000ft then climbing to port recovering 1000ft. The bomb load was then jettisoned. At 20.10 continuous M/G and cannon fire was fired at ‘O’ during these manoeuvres the navigator (F/O Bennett) and F/E (Sgt Wise) were on their knees which was fortunate for them as they saw a stream of tracer passing above their heads along the fuselage, the F/E suffering a slight glancing wound on his shoulder. ‘O’ then became more or less out of control and dived 5000ft. The pilot managed to control it at 14,000ft and found that the E/A (or possibly more than one E/A) had been evaded. In this attack both the R/G and M/u/G (Sgt Cantor) received fatal injuries.’
Night-fighter claim at 20.08
Night-fighter claim at 20.09 (Berlin)
Night-fighter claim at 20.10
Fighter opposition did not turn up in any strength until after the front of the stream had passed Lake Muritz.
The attack lasted from 20.13hrs when the first markers went down to 20.38, when the last flares were no longer visible. Pathfinders were carrying both red and green target indicators (TIs) – slow burning candles which cascading down to mark the target on the ground, and (‘Wanganui) marker-flares – for this raid – red flares which showered green stars and marked the notional aiming point (above the cloud) – the release point (R/P)
Intense white/ pale yellow fighter flares were dropped above the bomber stream by German defensive aircraft to illuminate the bombers making visual contact easier for the night-fighters and to mark a corridor to attract more fighters to the bomber stream.
‘JU88 fired 53.10N 12.39E 20.12hrs 20,000feet outward. Monica u/s. No claim. JU88 fired 52.55N 12.50E 20.16hrs 21,000feet outward. Monica u/s. Claim damaged.’ 640 Sqn Halifax – first contact nr Flecken Zechlin just south of Lake Muritz, second contact Neuruppen.
‘We were the first to bomb. TIs fell into cloud before cascading but as we left the target there was a good concentration of sky-markers. Through a small gap TI red was seen burning on ground and TI green seen through cloud cascading. Skymarkers continued to be well concentrated with two stragglers to the west, possibly dummies.’ bombed 20.13.12 from 20,000ft 156 sqn.(PFF)
‘load was released at 20.13 hours from 19,500ft by H2S after timed run from Lake Muritz. Nothing was down when we bombed. There was hundreds of fighter flares over and around target. Searchlights were seen faintly through cloud.’ – bombed 20.13 (405 supporter)
‘load released at 20.13 hrs from 15,000ft by H2S. Nothing seen on arrival. Wanganui flares seen dropping at same time as own bombs and these were slightly to port. Too early for further observations.’ – bombed 20.13 (405 supporter)
‘At 20.13 hours saw 4 complete rows of skymarkers running parallel to track. Concentration very good. The reflection on cloud was very good as if the city was on fire’. 156 sqn.
Night-fighter claim at 20.14 Marwitz nr Velten, W Berlin)
Night-fighter claim at 20.14 N Berlin
‘saw one sky-marker red/green stars on approaching at about 20.13 hrs, after bombing flares red/green fell rapidly and as aircraft left target area a concentrated mass of sky-markers with no scatter hung over city.’ bombed at 20.14.45 – 35 squadron (PFF)
Night-fighter claim at 20.15
‘On run in one wanganui flare fell at 20.11hrs. A fair glow under cloud was seen which may have been fires’. Bombed 20.15 (405 primary blind marker)
Night-fighter claim at 20.15 NNW of city centre
Night-fighter claim at 20.15
‘on arrival at target red/green flares began to fall in good concentration, believed they were about 1 mile overshot. Searchlights and fires illuminated cloud, but too thick to get any impression of results. The marking was well concentrated throughout the attack.’ bombed at 20.16.30. 35 Squadron
Night-fighter claim at 20.16 Berlin,
‘T/A obscured mainly by fighter flares. Winds very changeable. Moon rather bright. H2S most helpful.’ – bombed 20.16½ 100 Sqn
‘on arrival at target at approx. 20.14 hours saw first red/green stars falling, this was in line of flight. At time of bombing red/green stars were falling all around and they appeared to be correctly placed. On leaving target area many fighter flares falling all along route.’ bombed 20.16.42 – 35 Sqn blind backer-up.
‘Target was bombed from 18,500ft at 20.16.55 hrs. At 20.13.7 hrs the first R/P flares were seen and at time of bombing about 5 R/P flares had dropped forming a close circle estimated at not more than a few hundred yds in diameter. Immediately after bombing two more R/P flares fell singly slightly to SW of main concentration. Towards end of attack R/P flares formed line E/W. Only one T I seen – a Red at 20.16 hrs. Thick cloud prevented further observations and S/Ls were ineffective. Slight H/F, and moderate L/F. One photo attempted. Bomb-load as above’ ( 1×4 flares r/g stars, 2 xT.I g L/B, 2x T.I g, 1 x 4000HC, 4 x 1000MC, 1 x flare red steady). 156 Sqn
‘At 20.14 saw first R/P flare. Main concentration very good apart from scattered TIs – cloud too thick for them to be effective’. Bombed 20.17 from 18,500ft. 156 Sqn
‘target attacked at 20.17 from 20,000 ft. One good circle of skymarkers seen and bombed which were well concentrated as we left target. Fighter flares in and out of target and most of way back to coast’. 156 sqn supporter.
Night-fighter claim at 20.18
‘Centre of 7 Wanganui flares, 20,500feet, 20.18½hrs. Cloud too thick to observe any results. The Wanganui were dead over the middle of the area illuminated by searchlights. Route considered good from point of view of coming, more direct on return. Moon too bright. Lancasters could be seen easily a mile away.’ – 463 Squadron
‘Very concentrated Wanganui flares, with concentrated flashes of HEs. The target was well marked and the trip was surprisingly quiet having regard to the strength of the moon’. – bombed 20.19 – 625 Sqn
640 Sqn Halifax – ‘Bombed cluster of 8 red/shooting green. 10/10 cloud, tops 10-12,000. In Berlin area FW190 fired 20.20hrs, 20,000, outward. Monica registered. Claim damaged’.
Night-fighter claim at 20.20
35 Sqn Blind Backer-up – ‘attacked by two enemy fighters in Berlin area resulting in failure of hydraulics to open bomb-doors’ – exact timing not noted but presumed 20.20 approx.
Night-fighter claim at 20.20
9 Sqn – bombed 20.21 – ‘single green TI in sights. Large concentration of R/P flares which had been building up since 20.14 when 3 wanganuis and one red TI seen. One very large concentration and a small cluster of four wanganuis about half a mile away. One green TI seen to go down amid a large concentration and this was bombed’
‘On arrival one line of flares fell at 20.13 hrs, then gap, then others at 20.16 hrs with green TI and others at 20.17.’ – bombed 20.20 (405 blind backer up, didn’t drop flares/markers as H2S u/s)
F/Lt C D Wiggin, 44 Squadron observed – ‘Route considered good. PFF were excellent, concentration of aircraft exceptionally good. Met. forecast accurate. Considerable moonlight and fighter flares silhouetted aircraft over target and on route back. In spite of very suitable conditions for fighters over target the chief centre of activity seemed to be round position ‘Q’ , attracted by the route markers.’
This crew’s time at position ‘Q’ was logged as 20.09 (‘6 reds well placed 20.09′) and they bombed at 20.22hrs. The inference being that the expectation was for fighters over the target but the activity was still some way behind. Position Q in the vicinity of Neuruppin.
’10/10 cloud at 10,000 feet in target area. Load was released at 20.22 hours from 17,500 feet between 2 flares red/green which ignited at 20.21 hours. Fighter flares were more numerous than ever before and much tracer was seen. Landed back to base undamaged.’ 405 Sqn supporter.
‘exceptionally large number of fighter flares on route and and in and out of target’ 100 Sqn – bombed 20.22
100 Sqn Lancaster bombed 20.22hrs – ‘unlucky burst of HF spoilt our bombing, we got the bomb doors open in 4 minutes by pumping but overshot. Bombs dropped inside S/L belt. Damaged by HF behind port inner and hydraulics’.
‘MPI of five R/P flares in sights. Glow of fires seen fifty miles away on return.’ 9 sqn – bombed 20.22
(MPI – Mean point of Impact)
‘target identified by special equipment and bombed by same. Good concentration of flares red/green stars seen on approaching target, seemed to be scattered by wind at time of bombing. Many fighter flares from above prevented observation of effects of lights from below.’ bombed at 20.23.00 – 35 Squadron PFF Blind Backer-up
Night-fighter claim at 20.23
433 Sqn Halifax – ‘ visibility good, bombed through centre of red sky markers at 20.23hrs from 20,400ft. Attack effective , with PFF well concentrated, but a bit late. Great number of A/C on target at the same time’.
Night-fighter claim at 20.23, Wittstock.
‘three batches of R/P flares spaced across the target running east to west. Two TI green went into cloud . Prolific number of of fighter flares in target area. Attack appeared in the south-west of area of the ‘Big City’.‘ 625 Sqn – bombed 20.23
Night-fighter claim at 20.24
‘Centre of cluster of four R/P flares in sights. Single green TI four miles outside cluster.’ 9 sqn – bombed 20.24
‘Centre of cluster of Wanganui flares in sights. Three clusters of Wanganui flares running east to west across target. Another cluster of Wanganuis and single green TI two miles away.’ 9 sqn – bombed 20.24
‘A lot of wanganui flares surrounded by a great many fighter flares seen on run-in. PFF not very well concentrated.’ 9 sqn – bombed 20.25
Night-fighter claim at 20.25 Schwante 10km W Oranianburg
‘On way in TI green seen which were out as aircraft bombed. Many red/green flares well placed together and always enough to do accurate bombing. Own aircraft had excellent run and came right over main concentration. Clouds too thick to observe results.’ bombed 20.25.24 – 35 Sqn Blind Backer-up.
Night-fighter claim at 20.25.
Another 35Sqn BBu bombed at 20.25.30 ‘glow was seen 70 miles away on way home’.
‘Two green TIs cascading at 20.25½’ – 9 Sqn
‘bombed Wanganui flares from 19,500ft. Large white explosion in target area at 20.26’ – 101 sqn, bombed 20.26
’10/10 cloud Tops 6-8000ft. Visibility good above cloud. Flares identified the target. We bombed on the centre of R/G R/P flares which were well concentrated. The route markers were effective.’ – 626 Sqn – bombed 20.26
‘Primary 20.26hrs 22,000ft. Good route but attack was anticipated and a very large number of fighter flares on and around target area. PFF marking was very good.’ 100 Sqn.
‘MPI of four R/P flares in sights’ – 9 sqn – bombed 20.27
Night-fighter claim at 20.27
‘concentration of red/green wanganui flares mingled with fighter flares yellow over target. A glow as from fires seen below cloud.’ – bombed 20.27 – 405 Sqn Blind Backer-up.
405 Sqn BBu – ’10/10 cloud at 6 to 7,000 feet in target area with clear visibility above. Load released at 20.27 hours from 20,000 feet by H2S with a good image, plus perfect timed run on bearing and distance from Lake Muritz. Concentration of red/ green wanganui flares mingled with fighter flares yellow over target. A glow, as seen from fires below cloud. Landed base undamaged.’
‘a large explosion at 20.27hrs. There was intense fighter opposition.’ 115 sqn
‘We were attacked by fighters 4 times between 20.26 and 20.34 hrs over the Berlin area, while flying at 20,000 ft.’ – 626 Sqn (Breckenridge) – bombed 20.27
‘Middle of 3 flares red with green stars. 20,000feet, 20.27hrs. Cloud prevented any ground details of bombing.’ – 463 Squadron
‘Middle flare of 7 skymarkers. 20,500feet, 20.27hrs. No results could be seen owing to thick cloud. The suggestion is made that the question of the WOP taking a broadcast so near to zero hour as 20.15 be reviewed for future occasions.’ – 463 Squadron
‘fires were reflected on cloud and there was much smoke. A sudden large red glow caused by an explosion was observed at 22.28hrs.’ 115 Sqn
‘there was intense fighter opposition. Aircraft damaged by Me210 over target area.’ 115 Sqn
‘Seven green TIs and a Wanganui flare in the middle were in sights. Big bunch of Wanganui flares went down on run up, then a concentration of green TIs in the middle of which a wanganui burst as the aircraft bombed’ – 9 sqn – bombed 20.28
‘centre of cluster of R/P (release point) flares running east -west across target’. 9 sqn – bombed 20.28
‘Numerous Wanganui flares were over the target. Smoke was seen rising through the cloud.’ – 626 Sqn – bombed 20.29
Night-fighter claim at 20.29 s.w Stechlin
‘Wanganui red/green flares over the target were well concentrated .’ – 626 Sqn – bombed 20.29
‘bombed Wanganui flares from 21,000 at 20.29’ 101 squadron.
Night-fighter claim at 20.30
‘1 Wanganui in sights at time of bombing, which appeared to be in centre of a good concentration of flares. 19,000feet, 20.30hrs. R/G reported 3 patches of fire reflected on cloud when leaving the target. Routing fair. Trackmarking good. Target marking well concentrated. Excellent pin-point 54.42N 10.00E (distinctive outline of the Schlei inlet on the Baltic coast of Schleswig Holstein) by F/E confirmed by B/A. Gunners reported much air to air tracer’. – 463 Squadron
Night-fighter claim at 20.30 Germendorf
‘MPI of flares with green stars. 20,200feet, 20.31hrs. Berlin 20.38hrs 20,000feet a big explosion, the result of which was observed at 20.47hrs 21,000feet 50 miles on homeward journey. Glow of fires over target area. PFF appeared to be very scattered, bombed the biggest cluster. Winds good on outward but erratic on homeward.’ – 463 Squadron
‘Cluster of 4 skymarkers 21,000feet, 20.31hrs. Nothing could be seen apart from flak bursts around Wanganui flares. Very dense cloud over target and on route, probably kept some of the fighters down, but conditions above very bright. Route back good.’ – 463 Squadron
(Low flak aimed and concentrated to destroy aiming point markers).
‘two TIs green seen glowing through cloud, Wanganui flares seen on run-up and several green TIs seen’. 9 sqn – bombed 20.31½.
‘Centre of concentration of R/P flares (5) in sights. Large concentration of R/P flares seen on approach but only five remained when aircraft reached target and bombed – large glow reflected on cloud, still visible 100 miles away.’ 9 sqn – bombed 20.32
‘MPI of 4 wanganui flares, 20,500feet 20.32hrs. Large explosion lasting about 5 to 10 secs at 20.31hrs. Good glow of fires on cloud. PFF satisfactory. Spoof too near to target. Concentrated attack.’ – 463 Squadron
‘target attacked from 19,000ft at 20.33. First skymarkers seen at 20.14hrs. One fell short by a mile, but concentration was very good. Occasional TI seen burning on ground – nothing else seen owing to cloud and glow from fighter flares.’ 156 sqn
Night-fighter claim at 20.34
‘bombed from 22,000ft at 20.34hrs. 10/10ths cloud at 12,000feet, visibility good. Identified target by red flares and green stars. Large numbers of 4 engines A/C over T/A. Large yellow explosion seen on NW edge of town at 20.34hrs.’ 433 Sqn Halifax
’10/10 cloud, tops 8,000ft, Visibility very good, Bombed on centre of a cluster of R/G R/P flares. A large explosion and smoke rising up to 14,000ft were seen at 20.32hrs. PFF markers scattered. Route markers effective.’ – 626 Sqn – bombed 20.34
Night-fighter claim at 20.35
Night-fighter claim at 20.35
Night-fighter claim at 20.35 N Berlin
Night-fighter claim at 20.36 SSE of Berlin city centre
‘Owing to aircraft being late on target we bombed on the estimated position of the last flares seen although these had ceased. On approach the flares were well concentrated. The glow of fires was seen reflected on clouds. A column of smoke rising 15/18,000ft was also seen.’ – 626 Sqn – bombed 20.38
Night-fighter claim at 20.38
‘Primary target not attacked because aircraft could not arrive in time for main attack. Passed to west of Berlin at the end of the main attack and saw two huge columns of smoke coming up above cloud’.
405 Squadron Supporter F/O B E Biden bombed at 20.13 from 18,500feet –
‘Aircraft was damaged by flak at 21.46hrs and the F/E Sgt Wilkinson was slightly wounded in right arm. Port wing was also damaged. Aircraft was attacked three times by an Me 110 on the way back from target. The enemy aircraft was first sighted at four hundred yards, heading astern below, immediately after direct hit by flak causing fire in aircraft, thus no evasive action was taken. Enemy aircraft closed to 150yards, before breaking to port quarter down. The rear gunner fired 100 rounds. The port outer engine was hit causing the rear turret to be u/s. The second attack came from port quarter up. Evasive action taken was a corkscrew to port. The mid-upper gunner fired at 150 yards, approximately 150 rounds. The enemy aircraft fired a three second burst causing the hydraulic system in mid-upper turret to be u/s. The third attack came from the starboard quarter up. Evasive action taken was a corkscrew to starboard. Enemy aircraft fired a three second burst. Gunners unable to fire as hydraulic system shot away. Both air gunners saw tracers enter the enemy aircraft. Extensive damage done to own aircraft. Navigator and wireless operator were slightly injured. Members of this crew who were injured were F/O Farb, W/O Weaver and Sgt Wilkinson. Remainder of the crew were uninjured. Aircraft landed with wheels up at Coltishall owing to undercarriage being u/s owing to enemy action.’
(Flak strike thought to have been in vicinity of Magdeburg on the route home.)
Night-fighter claim at 21.49 Noordoostpolder
Night-fighter claim at 22.12 Kolhorn
Night-fighter claim at 22.15 Zwanenburg, 10km W of Amsterdam
Night-fighter claim at 22.20
Night-fighter claim at 22.25
radar image – Berlin 30th January 1944….
an intended force of 534 aircraft passing through the target area in 22 minutes – an average of 24 aircraft a minute!