Fishponds Local History Society

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The Luftwaffe over the Bristol area

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The Luftwaffe over the Bristol area 1940-44, page 3

The following night a further 83 bombers were dispatched to Bath in a repeat operation, the participating crews reporting dropping 107 tonnes of H.E's and 7956 I.B's on the City. The raid, which took place on a fine night with some cloud, lasted from 01.25 hrs until the All Clear at 02.45 hrs, and started as usual with flares and I.B's. The old residential part of the Bath was chiefly affected with many houses being destroyed. Within a short time numerous small fires, plus two large areas of conflagration were developing, one around the Kingsmead and Green Park area and the other near Bath Spa Railway Station. In addition the area south of the river from Holloway and Beechen Cliff to Bear Flat received a large number of H.E.'s. For the Germans this was yet another successful attack, as just one aircraft failed to return, although its 4 man crew were all killed, as were two men in other aircraft.

The damage caused in Bath over the two nights was very serious, with over 80 per cent of the City being affected in some way or another, while tragically the raids resulted in the death of 400 people, with a further 872 being injured. By this period little daylight reconnaissance was possible over the Bristol area, nevertheless on April 29th a Bf 109F-5 of 3(F)/123 succeeded in taking post-raid photographs of Bath, as well as photographing Avonmouth and the Nailsea Munition Store, its long range drop tank falling at Pill around midday.

Folowing the Exeter and Bath attacks York, Norwich, and Cowes were targeted by an operational force of between 40 to 70 aircraft lead by Epgr.u.Lehr Kdo 100 which, in mid-May, was re-designated Ergr.u.Lehr Kdo 17, and still undertaking experimental daylight attacks in addition to its nocturnal duties. Typical of these was the attempt against Avonmouth Docks by seven He 111's, using both X and Y Verfahren, in poor weather on the afternoon of May 23rd. Although the operation was not a great success, one aircraft being lost and the nearest bombs falling at Severn Tunnel Junction, some six miles from the objective, it was the first occasion when the British first definitely detected supersonic modulation on the X signals allowing countermeasures to be immediately put into action.

No other local targets were actually engaged until Weston super Mare was attacked on the nights of June 27th and 28th resulting in the death of 102 persons, with a further 400 injured. Not strictly speaking part of the Baedeker series, it was chosen as a reprisal for the British Thousand Bomber raid on Bremen on the night of June 26th, because German intelligence understood that Churchill was to stay in the town on his return from a visit to the United States.

53 aircraft of I, II and III/KG 2, II/KG 40 and K� Fl Gr 106 claimed to have attack Weston on the night of June 27th, with a total of 28.6 tonnes of H.E's and 18,832 I.B's, while 2 Ju 88's of 1(F)/123 kept a look-out for British fighters. The raid began in brilliant weather with a full moon and the first bombs were dropped just before the siren warning at 01.22 hrs. A toatl of 62 H.E. incidents involving casualties were reported from many locations, but the main concentration was in the residential and shopping centre of the town. The attack, which was of short duration, ended at about 02.00 hrs, the majority of the damage having been confined to residential property. From the attack force only one aircraft was lost, this having crashed in France injuring the 4 crewmen.

The following night a similar number of bombers from the same units delivered some 27 tonnes of H.E.'s and 20,096 I.B's, the Weston Anti-Aircraft guns engaging them between 01.59 and 02.24 hrs. During this raid it was the main shopping centre which was chiefly affected with many shops and commercial premises being destroyed as a result of the large fires which took hold in the Regent Street, High Street, South Parade, Waterloo Street and Boulevard area. Railway services in and out of Weston were also suspended, and at the station the waiting room and goods shed were destroyed by fire, as were 12 passenger coaches. Once again German losses were small, and from the 3 aircraft which crashed in France only 3 men were killed and one injured.

In July the Luftwaffe's activities were directed mainly against ports and targets of the British armaments industry, the month starting with an unsuccessful attempt on the harbour installations at Bristol on the night of July 1st in which I, II and III/KG 2, and II/KG 40 were known to have taken part.

Over the target it was a moon light night, but there was thick haze and 4/10ths cloud at 1200 metres. 46 German aircrews subsequently claimed to have successfully attacked with 20 tonnes of H.E.'s, but due to the poor visibility no bombs whatsoever fell on the docks, although widespread bombing occurred on the South and South West coasts and in South Wales. Infact, the nearest any bombs came to Bristol that night were those reported falling at Brean Down at 02.10 hrs. One raider subsequently landed back in France with one crewman killed and one injured, the result of a night fighter attack.

During the summer of 1942 the strength of the units involved in operations over Britain had eroded steadily as the ever strenghtening British defences took their toll, a total of 40 aircraft having been lost. There was, however, still pressure on the Luftwaffe to increase its effort as the RAF attacks on Germany had become progressively heavier, culminating in the Thousand Bomber raids on Cologne, Essen and Bremen. One of the few possibilities open to the Germans at this time was to employ their new and experimental Ju 86R high altitude bombers over Britain, and so the trials unit the H�henkampfkommando der Versuchsstelle f�r H�henfl�ege, later re-designated 14/KG 6, moved to Beauvais in France to commence operations.

The Ju 86R was not particularly fast, nor did it carry any armament, but for its survival relied upon the fact that it could attack from altitudes of over 12,000 metres, out of reach of British fighters then in service. Its offensive load, however, was limited to a single 250 kg bomb.

Operations by the H�henkampfkommando der Versuchsstelle f�r H�henfl�eg started with an attack on Camberly on the morning of August 24th, followed by sorties to Southampton and Stanstead, while on the 28th Bristol was targeted. The lone aircraft, commanded by Ltn. Erich Sommer and piloted by Fw.Horst G�tz, appeared over the City at about 09.20 hrs, its bomb impacting on a Ford Ten car in Bristol's Broad Weir.

As a result of the subsequent exlosion one of three nearby buses was seriously damaged by blast, while petrol from the car's fuel tank was sprayed in a more or less atomized state over the other two which immediately burst into flames. The death toll was horrific with 45 being killed, many burnt to death in the blazing buses, with a further 45 injured. In terms of loss of life this was the single most serious incident to occur in Bristol during the Second World War.

Bristol was once again the target on September 12th but on this occasion the lone Ju 86R, again flown by G�tz and Sommer, was intercepted en-route by a specially modified Spitfire flown by Pilot Officer Prince Emanuel Galitzine, from the RAF's newly formed 'SS' Flight at Northolt.

For the first time a Ju 86R was engaged in combat, and the crew, who hastily jettisoned their bomb near Salisbury, were lucky to return to France with only one cannon hole through the port wing. So ended the highest air battle ever fought over Britain, and soon after the high altitude bombing experiment ceased.

By the beginning of 1943, due to the strength of the British defences, it became almost impossible for the Luftwaffe to fly daylight reconnaissance missions over much of Southern England and a switch was therefore made to night sorties. When engaged in this work the aircraft carried photographic flash bombs and the base plates of two such spent devices were recovered for the first time locally at 23.00 hrs at Long Ashton on the night of January 23rd when a single aircraft operated over the Exeter, South Wales and Bristol area. Although the area was not targeted during 1943, Cardiff was attacked and in preparation for this on the afternoon of May 13th two Bf 109F-5's of 3(F)/123 undertook a pre-raid mission to South Wales, their drop tanks falling at Yatton at 13.00 hrs, on what was one of the last daylight reconnaissance operations carried out locally. The Cardiff raid in fact took place on the night of May 17th and during the course of this a few stray bombs fell at Aust and Uffz. Joachim Tr�ger of 3/KG 2 was rescued from the sea off Clevedon, his Do 217 having crashed into Woodspring Bay following a mid-air collision. This operation was, not surprisingly, followed by post-raid photographic sorties, and between 01.44 and 01.49 hrs on the morning of May 31st eight photo flash bombs fell south of Bristol, one of which, having failed to ignite, was recovered unburnt at Winford.

By the end of the year the terrible pounding that the RAF was inflicting on Germany's cities had reached intolerable levels and on December 12th G�ring ordered a new series of retaliatory attacks to be carried out against Britain under the code name of Steinbock or Ibex. As a result the Luftwaffe long range bomber force in the West was reinforced, and by mid-January 1944 there was available about 500 aircraft.

The Germans, however, realised that standards of training amongst the bomber crews left much to be desired, and therefore made considerable efforts to emulate the examples of RAF Bomber Command by the use of the expert pathfinder crews from the specially formed I/KG 66, in addition to the Illuminator Ju 188's of KG 2. These units operated an elaborate target marking system which involved using clusters of parachute flares as route, as well as target sky markers, in addition to dropping incendiary ground markers. The attacks were themselves to be of short duration, heavy and devastating.

Operations began with a raid on London on the night of January 21st, the Capital continuing to be the target throughout February. These missions, however, produced most unsatisfactory results with the Ju 88's and Ju 188's of I/KG 66 failing to provide adequate target marking. In addition unlike the Night Blitz of 1940/41 and, to a lesser degree, the Baedeker Raids of 1942, the night defences now had the upper hand. Large numbers of radar controlled AA guns, 'Z' rocket batteries and searchlights, together with a well equipped night fighter force directed by a most efficient Ground Controlled Interception radar system, took a heavy toll of the attackers, with 129 aircraft being lost during January and February alone.

Nor were these the German's only problems, for on January 23rd Allied troops had landed at Anzio in Italy necessitating the transfer of about 100 aircraft for operations in the Mediterranean area, a further cut in the already inadequate force in the West. As if this was not enough the new four engined bomber, the He 177, was also proving to be a design disaster, suffering some 50 per cent breakdowns in operational use, many of them involving engine fires!

March saw a further four attacks on London, as well as an unsuccessful raid on Hull on the 19th, followed towards the end of the month by the first directed against Bristol since 1942. By this time only 297 bombers were available for operations over Britain, these being the Do 217's of I and III/KG 2, Stab and 6/KG 100 and part of I/KG 66; the Ju 88's of II and III/KG 6, Stab, II and III/KG 30, Stab, I and II KG/54 and Stab/KG 77; the Ju 188's of II/KG 2, Stab and I/KG 6 and part of I/KG 66; the Me 410's of Stab and I/KG 54; as well as the He 177's of I/KG 100.

On the night of March 27th the target was the harbour installations at Bristol, while a co-ordinated attack was also undertaken against night fighter airfields in the Bristol area by the Me 410's of I/KG 51. To aid navigation the pathfinders of 1/KG 66 employed Y-Verfahren which was in use between 22.18 and 01.38 hrs from Cherbourg, Calais and St.Valery, while the Knickebein transmitters at Bergen op Zoom, Caen, Cherbourg West, and Morlaix were also in operation.

The main attack force, probably made up of I, II and III/KG 2, I, II, and III/KG 6, II and III/KG 30, I and II/KG 54, I/KG 66 and I/KG 100, were to converge on Guernsey before crossing Lyme Bay at about 23.44 hrs and flying over South West England to the first turning point, known as the Initial Point, at the mouth of the Usk near Newport. This was to be marked by four red flares dropped at four minute intervals starting at 23.58 hrs. These were to be laid at an altitude of 3000 metres by four Ju 188 Illuminators of II/KG 2.

From here the final approach to the target required a four minute leg along the north bank of the River Severn to the second turning point at Beachley, near Chepstow, followed by a short north to south run-in to Bristol. Here the target was to be marked by I/KG 66 with a cluster of white flares and one of yellow. Additionally, in an attempt to jam the British radar system D�ppel anti-radar foil was also dropped, first off shore, but later spreading to cover almost the whole operational area. This was the first operational use of this material in a raid against Bristol.

Over the target area there was a 16 kph south-east wind and visibility was 3.2 kilometres with no cloud cover, although there was thick mist at 1500 metres. The bombing time was to be concentrated between 00.00 hrs and 00.12 hrs in an attempt to saturate the defences, and units were allocated specific bombing heights, which varied between 3350 and 4425 metres. After bomb release all aircraft were to continue to the third turning point, 13 kilometres SSW of Bath before turning to cross the Dorset coast near Bridport, their fourth point, while the fifth, and final point, was over the sea at 50� 23�N 02� 43�W.

116 of the 139 crews dispatched claimed to have attacked the the target with 100 tonnes of bombs including H.E.'s and a considerable number of Phosphorus Oil incendiaries between 23.38 and 00.13 hrs, and this was the first time that Phosphorous bombs were employed locally. As the Luftwaffe had been unable to carry out any daytime photographic missions over the Bristol area since the summer of 1942, 1(F)/121 was instructed to fly strike assessment sorties at night, and their activities probably accounted for the numerous photo-flashes reported during the attack.

In actual fact no bombs whatsoever fell on Bristol, and those aircraft that managed to get anywhere near the City were first of all led astray by inaccurate marking of the Initial Point, and then by target marking flares dropped well to the west of the port. For the Luftwaffe it had been yet another bad night with a further 13 valuable bombers lost. Of these 10 failed to return resulting in the deaths of 21 crewmen, while a further 18, including 5 injured, were taken prisoner. In addition 3 more aircraft crashed in France where 4 men were killed and 3 injured, while yet another aircraft returned safely, but with a dead crewman aboard.

Incidents were infact reported over the whole of Southern England, from Hastings to North Somerset, with the highest concentration in the rural areas around Highbridge and Weston super Mare. Many Phosphorous bombs fell on the Bournville Estate at Weston, but the 3 H.E.'s and 6 Phosphorous incendiaries which fell at Strode, near Winford, in Somerset were the closest that any bombs came to Bristol that night.

By the end of March it had become obvious to the Luftwaffe High Command that the target marking over Hull and Bristol had been particularly poor, and so 1(F)/121 was also ordered to photograph the flares laid by the pathfinders in an attempt to improve the accuracy of subsequent attacks.

The first two weeks of April were quiet, then on the 18th, there was a final manned bomber raid on the Capital. From here on the Germans were more concerned with the build up of shipping and supplies in the various ports from which an invasion of the Continent seemed likely, and henceforth the Luftwaffe was to concentrate almost exclusively on these objectives. Accordingly the harbour installations at Bristol were again the target on the night of April 23rd, while in parallel an attack against night fighter airfields in the Bristol area was also to be carried out by the Me 410's of I/KG 51.

The raiders, probably drawn from I, II and III/KG 2, I, II and III/KG 6, II and III/KG 30, I and III/KG 54, I/KG 66, I/KG 100, together with the Ju 88's of the operational training unit IV/KG 101, were to converge on Guernsey before making for the Initial Point at the mouth of the River Usk, and the second turning point near Chepstow. From here the final approach to Bristol was to be from the north, the target being marked by a square of red and white flares at the start of the attack. Over the target area there was a 16 kph south-west wind and 5/10th's cloud at 900 metres, but ground mist reduced visibility to 800 metres

To aid navigation during the raid the pathfinders of 1/KG 66 employed Y-Verfahren which was operational from 23.45 to 02.45 hrs from St.Valery. In addition the Knickebein transmitters at Cherbourg West, Caen, and Morlaix were also in use, and D�ppel was dropped in an attempt to jam the British Radar system. It first fell at about 01.25 hrs over the coast near Portland, but eventually built up overland forming extensive areas of about 20 miles radius.

A total of 117 aircraft were dispatched, of which 93 reported over the City, claiming to have dropped 59.3 tonnes of H.E.'s and 79.4 tonnes of I.B's on target. Once again, however, not one bomb actually fell on Bristol, the majority being scattered throughout, Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire, and East Somerset, the nearest to Bristol having landed at Batheaston at 02.05 hrs. German losses for this attack were again very high. A total of 10 aircraft failed to return resulting in the deaths of 39 crewmen, with 3 more being taken prisoner, 2 of them injured. In addition a further 4 aircraft crashed in France killing 5 and injuring another 6 men.

Like April, May started quietly and it was not until the night of the 14th that a force of 91 bombers took off for the third time in 1944 to attempt an attack on the harbour installations at Bristol. The raiders, probably drawn from I, II and III/KG 2, I and II/KG 6, II and III/KG 30, I and III/KG 54, I/KG 66 and I/KG 100, first flew to Guernsey where the bomber streams converged, and from there direct to Bristol. The Sondera�fklarungsstaffel Ob.d.L. had at, the end of April, joined 1(F)/121 in photographing target markers, and it was their aircraft which provided the night photographic capability for the attack force.

To aid navigation the pathfinders of 1/KG 66 employed Y-Verfahren which was operational from Cherbourg and St.Valery, while the Knickebein transmitters at Caen, Cherbourg West and Morlaix were also active. The target was to be marked by two green cascade flares dropped by I/KG 66, and the bombing run was to be south to north at 4000 to 6000 metres following a 30 degree glide. Over Bristol there was a 8 kph NNE wind, and a half moon in a cloudless sky giving 16 kilometres visibility.

This raid was particularly significant for on that night the Luftwaffe initiated airborne jamming on a frequency band covering part of the British ground and airborne radar system. A few Ju 188's of I/KG 2 carried the apparatus under the code name Kettenhund or Watchdog, which was applied to both the equipment and the aircraft in which it was fitted. During the operation extensive use was also made of D�ppel which was dropped from 01.20 hrs onwards, eventually covering a lane about 20 miles wide from Portland to Bristol. It persisted throughout the raid, the Bristol area not being free of it until 03.01 hrs.

A total of 68 aircraft subsequently claimed to have attacked the City, with a further 15 Me 410's of I/KG 51 operating over local fighter airfields. Bristol was reported to have been raided between 01.50 hrs and 02.25 hrs with 163 tonnes of H.E.'s being dropped on target, and a further 4.65 tonnes on airfields in the Bristol area. The attack force again lost 14 aircraft, 11 of which failed to return resulting in the deaths of 40 crewmen, while 6 others were taken prisoner, including 3 injured. In addition 3 more aircraft crashed in France where a further 2 men died.

However, inspite of the German claims only five bombs had actually fallen within the Bristol city boundary. These came down at around 02.00 hrs in Headley Park, and at Kings Weston where a Searchlight Site was destroyed, and its attendent killed, the last life to be lost locally as a result of enemy action during World War Two.

For the inhabitants of Bristol and surrounding districts the trial by combat was drawing to an end, the All Clear at 03.07 hrs on the morning of May 15th 1944 marking the departure of the last German bomber to threaten the area. During the rest of the month the attacks continued against the ports where the forces were concentrating for the forthcoming invasion of France, accordingly Portsmouth, Weymouth, Torquay and Falmouth were targeted. These were infact the final raids of the Steinbock operation, and manned attacks on the West Country did not continue into June, the few remaining aircraft being required to counter the Allied landings.

By this time, however, the long awaited Fiesler Fi 103 pilotless aircraft, better known as the V1, was almost ready for action and Flak Regiment 155(W) opened their bombardment of London on June 13th. It had also been planned to attack Bristol from the C�tentin Peinsula where specially constructed launching ramps were aligned on the City. As early as March it had been stated that the eight sites then existing would be able to discharge 96 to 120 missiles at Bristol during a six hour period. The scheme thankfully came to nothing as effective bombing of the sites and their supply routes, followed by the Allied landing in Normandy on June 6th, ensured that the Germans were not able to mount an attack before the V1 launching ramps, and the bunkers from which it had also been intended to bombard Bristol with A4 (V2) rockets, were overrun.

A threat still existed from the He 111's of III/KG 3 based in Holland, each of which carried a V1 suspended below the fuselage. These weapons were air launched over the North Sea, their targets being initially Southampton, Portsmouth and London, although early on the morning of August 31st 20 were fired at Gloucester. Of these, 17 were detected by the defences between 04.30 and 05.00 hrs, and of the 8 which did eventually make landfall, 6 fell in Suffolk and 2 in Essex. These proved to be the Luftwaffe's parting shots at our region, and any lingering threat was soon removed as III/KG 3 had completed its enforced move to Germany by September 16th 1944.

During the period June 1940 to May 1944 the Luftwaffe are known to have lost 105 aircraft, with others suffering various degrees of damage, during operations against targets in the Bristol area. This resulted in the death of 257 German airmen, with a further 65 being injured. On the British side, as far as can be ascertained, in what is now the County of Avon some 2046 people lost their lives and 5961 were injured as a result of enemy air attacks on the area. Of these Bristol suffered 1243 kiled and 2903 injured, Bath 417 killed and 952 injured, Weston super Mare 138 killed and 478 injured, Filton 135 killed and 335 injured, Yate 57 killed and 175 injured, North Somerset 36 killed and 57 injured and South Gloucestershire 19 killed and 61 injured. In addition to the tragic loss of life material damage to the area had also been serious, and following the end of the War in 1945 Bristol City Council announced that over 3000 houses had been completely destroyed and a further 90,000 properties damaged. In Bath a total of 19,147 premises had suffered damage, of which 1185 were houses, some 218 being of architectural and historic interest. 329 houses and shops were totally destroyed, and a further 732 had to be demolished. At Weston super Mare 282 premises were totally destroyed, while 7757 houses, 6 industrial establishments, 581 offices and shops, 85 churches and public buildings, and 18 other premises in the town had been damaged.

Even today few people can fail to be moved by the sight of the personal monuments to the victims of the Second World War, especially the neat rows of German and British military graves at Greenbank Cemetery in Bristol, at Haycombe in Bath, and at Weston super Mare, where men of both nationalities lie side by side. In this account, based as it is upon German records, it is fitting that the names of individual airmen lost on operations against the area should be recorded, not only in the spirit of reconciliation, but also in commemoration of their suffering and as a tribute to their sacrifice.

Website produced by Paul Johnson . Last updated 3 March 2014.