Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary


Campaign Diary
March 1942

 

2 March 1942

4 Bostons attacked ships off Den Helder without loss.

3/4 March 1942

The Bellincourt Renault Factory

The Renault factory, in the town of Boulogne-Billancourt just west of the centre of Paris, was making an estimated 18,000 lorries a year for the German forces. 235 aircraft - 89 Wellingtons, 48 Hampdens, 29 Stirlings, 26 Manchesters, 23 Whitleys, 20 Halifaxes - were dispatched in 3 waves, the crews of the leading wave being selected for their experience. The plan called for the massed use of flares and a very low bombing level so that crews could hit the factory without too many bombs falling in the surrounding town. There were no Flak defences. 223 aircraft bombed the target, reporting excellent results. Only 1 Wellington was lost. The main raid lasted 1 hour and 50 minutes. Many records were broken that night. The number of aircraft sent to this one target - 235 - was the greatest by the R.A.F. to a single target so far in the war; the previous record was 229 to Kiel on 7/8 April 1941. The concentration of bombers over the target - averaging 121 per hour - exceeded Bomber Command's previous best rate of 80 per hour; there were no collisions. A record tonnage of bombs was dropped, although the exact tonnage is in doubt, official records giving 412 and 470 tons. A significant tactical point was the mass use of flares and the selection of some experienced crews to open the raid, thus foreshadowing some of the 'pathfinding' methods to be used later in the war. Gee was not used, being not yet ready for operations. The raid was considered a great success and the destruction caused in the factory received much publicity. Unfortunately, French civilian casualties were heavy. There were many blocks of workers' apartments very close to the factory.

Minor Operations: 4 Wellingtons to Emden, 4 Blenheim Intruders to Dutch airfields but these were recalled. 4 Lancasters minelaying off the north-west German coast, 2 Whitleys on leaflet flights to France. 1 Wellington lost on the Emden raid.

Total effort for the night: 249 sorties, 2 aircraft (0.8 per cent) lost. The Lancaster mining sorties, flown by 44 Squadron, saw the introduction into operational service this new type of aircraft.

Renault Factory, Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris
Photo-recce picture of factory taken in April 1942. Damage to the various parts of the factory was serious. View of what remained of one section of the Renault factory.

7/8 March 1942

Submarine Bases

17 aircraft bombed St Nazaire and 17 Hampdens were sent minelaying off Lorient. 1 minelaying aircraft lost.

8 March 1942

Boston Operations

24 Bostons, with much support from Fighter Command, carried out a series of raids against targets in France. 12 Bostons of 88 and 226 Squadrons made a low-level attack on the Ford lorry factory at Poissy, near Paris, a target beyond the range of fighter Cover. Two further formations, each of 6 Bostons, carried out Circus operations to Abbeville railway yards and Comines power-station at times which would divert German fighter attention from the Poissy raid.
All of these operations were carried out with much success. 8 Bostons bombed 1 Poissy, though 1 of them crashed soon afterwards. This was the first operational loss of a Boston aircraft. There were no other bomber losses.

8/9 March 1942

Essen

This was yet another major step forward, a heavy raid on the previously difficult target of Essen with leading aircraft now fitted with the Gee navigational aid.
211 aircraft - 115 Wellingtons, 37 Hampdens, 27 Stirlings, 22 Manchesters and 10 Halifaxes. 8 aircraft - 5 Wellingtons, 2 Manchesters and 1 Stirling - lost.
It was a fine night but industrial haze over Essen prevented accurate bombing and the raid was a disappointment. Gee could only enable the aircraft to reach the approximate area of the target. Photographic evidence showed that the main target, the Krupps factories, was not hit but some bombs fell in the southern part of Essen.
Essen reports only a 'light' raid with a few houses and a church destroyed, 10 People killed and 19 missing.

Minor Operations: 13 Wellingtons and Stirlings to Le Havre, 6 Blenheims to Ostend, 6 Blenheim Intruders to Dutch airfields, 9 Hampdens minelaying in the Frisians, 3 Manchesters minelaying off Lorient, 1 Hampden on a leaflet flight to France. No losses.

Total effort for the night: 249 sorties, 8 aircraft (3.2 per cent) lost.

9 March 1942

6 Bostons on Circus raid to Mazingarbe fuel depot. All bombed; no losses.

9/10 March 1942

Essen

187 aircraft - 136 Wellingtons, 21 Stirlings, 15 Hampdens, 10 Manchesters, 5 Halifaxes - to continue the series of heavy Gee-guided raids to Essen. 2 Wellingtons and 1 Halifax lost.
Thick ground haze led to scattered bombing. Only 2 buildings were destroyed in Essen but 72 were damaged. Bombs also fell in 24 other Ruhr towns with particular damage in Hamborn and Duisburg. 10 people were killed, 19 were missing and 52 were injured in Essen; 74 people were killed and 284 injured in other towns.

Minor Operations: 9 Wellingtons and Stirlings to Boulogne, 5 Hampdens minelaying in the Frisians. No losses.

10 March 1942

4 Bostons on an uneventful shipping search off the Dutch coast.

10/11 March 1942

Essen

126 aircraft - 56 Wellingtons, 43 Hampdens, 13 Manchesters, 12 Stirlings, 2 Lancasters; this was the first participation by Lancasters in a raid on a German target. 4 aircraft - 2 Hampdens, 1 Stirling, 1 Wellington lost.
This was another disappointing raid with unexpected cloud being the main cause of poor bombing. 62 crews claimed to have bombed Essen; 35 crews bombed alternative targets. The report from Essen shows that only 2 bombs fell on an industrial target - railway lines near the Krupps factory - and 1 house was destroyed and 2 damaged in residential areas. 5 Germans were killed and 12 injured and a Polish worker was killed by a Flak shell which descended and exploded on the ground.

Minor Operations: 23 'freshman' crews to Boulogne, 3 Hampdens minelaying off the French coast. No losses.

12/13 March 1942

Kiel

68 Wellingtons to attack the Deutsche Werke U-boat yard. 5 aircraft lost.
The report from Kiel indicates that the port area was successfully bombed, with damage in the Deutsche Werke and the Germania Werft, both building U-boats, and in the naval dockyard. Casualties are listed as 12 killed and 21 injured but it is not known whether service personnel were included.

Emden

20 Wellingtons and 20 Whitleys; 3 Whitleys lost. Bombing photographs indicated that the nearest bombs were 5 miles from the target.

Minor Operations: 26 Hampdens and 1 Manchester minelaying off German ports, 1 Hampden on a leaflet flight to France. No losses.

13 March 1942

11 Bostons to Hazebrouck railway yards. No losses.

13/14 March 1942

Cologne

135 aircraft of 6 different types. 1 Manchester lost.
This can be considered the first successful Gee-led raid. Although there was no moon, the leading crews carrying flares and incendiary-bomb loads located the target and much accurate bombing followed. It was later estimated that this raid was 5 times more effective than the average of recent raids on Cologne. There were 237 separate fires. Casualties were 62 killed and 84 injured.

Minor Operations: 20 aircraft to Boulogne, 19 to Dunkirk, 2 Blenheim Intruders to France and Holland, 5 Hampdens minelaying in the Frisians, 7 Hampdens on leaflet flights to France. 2 Wellingtons were lost from the Dunkirk raid and 1 Wellington from the Boulogne raid.

14 March 1942

6 Bostons on uneventful shipping sweeps off Le Havre.

15 March 1942

6 Bostons on uneventful shipping sweeps off Brittany.

15/16 March 1942

3 Blenheims on Intruder flights to Dutch airfields. Schiphol airfield was attacked. No losses.

17 March 1942

1 Wellington on a cloud-cover raid to Essen dropped its bombs somewhere in the Ruhr.

18 March 1942

5 Wellingtons to Essen returned because of lack of cloud.

19 March 1942

1 Wellington to Essen returned early because of lack of cloud.

20 March 1942

13 Manchesters and 6 Lancasters on daylight minelaying in the Frisians; only 11 aircraft reached the correct area. 2 Wellingtons to Essen returned because of lack of cloud. No losses.

21 March 1942

1 Wellington to Essen returned because of lack of cloud.

23/24 March 1942

Minelaying: 12 Hampdens, 3 Stirlings and 2 Manchesters minelaying off Lorient without loss. This was the first time that Stirlings of 3 Group participated in the minelaying campaign.

24 March 1942

18 Bostons on escorted raids, 12 to Comines power-station and 6 to Abbeville railway yards. Bombing results were not observed. No Bostons lost.

24/25 March 1942

Minelaying: 35 aircraft of 3 and 5 Groups minelaying off Lorient. 1 Hampden and 1 Lancaster lost.
These were the first Bomber Command losses for 11 days and nights and the Lancaster lost, from 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron, was the first of its type to be lost on operations. The pilot, Flight Sergeant L. Warren-Smith, a South African, and his all N.C.O. crew - 4 Englishmen, 2 Rhodesians, 1 Australian - all died.

25 March 1942

9 Bostons, with fighter escort, carried out accurate bombing at Le Trait shipyard. No Bostons lost.

25/26 March 1942

Essen

254 aircraft - 192 Wellingtons, 26 Stirlings, 20 Manchesters, 9 Hampdens, 7 Lancasters - in the largest force sent to 1 target so far. 9 aircraft - 5 Manchesters (out of the 20 dispatched), 3 Wellingtons, 1 Hampden - lost.
Visibility was good and 181 crews claimed to have bombed Essen, many claiming hits on the Krupps works, but bombing photographs showed that much of the effort was drawn off by the decoy fire site at Rheinberg, 18 miles west of Essen. Essen's report says that only 9 high-explosive bombs, 700 incendiaries and 1,627 leaflets were dropped there. 1 house was destroyed and 2 seriously damaged. 5 people were killed and 11 injured.

Minor Operations: 27 aircraft to St Nazaire, 38 aircraft minelaying off Lorient, 30 aircraft on leaflet flights to France. 1 Wellington on the St Nazaire raid and 1 minelaying Hampden were lost.

Total effort for the night: 349 sorties, 11 aircraft (3.2 per cent) lost.

26 March 1942

24 Bostons to Le Havre. Hits were reported on ships in the harbour. 1 Boston lost.

26/27 March 1942

Essen

104 Wellingtons and 11 Stirlings. 10 Wellingtons and 1 Stirling lost.
The bombing force encountered heavy Flak at the target and many night fighters on the routes. Hits on the Krupps works and fires in Essen were claimed but the raid was actually another failure on this difficult target. Only 22 high-explosive bombs were counted in Essen, with 2 houses destroyed, 6 people killed and 14 injured. The bombers had suffered nearly 10 per cent casualties.

Minor Operations: 8 aircraft to Le Havre, 11 Blenheims Intruding over Holland, 36 aircraft minelaying off Wilhelmshaven, in the Frisians and in the River Gironde, 15 aircraft on leaflet flights to France. 2 Blenheim Intruders and 2 Hampden minelayers lost.

27 March 1942

12 Bostons attacked Ostend power-station without loss but their bombs fell into fields short of the target.

27/28 March 1942

The St Nazaire Raid

35 Whitleys and 27 Wellingtons to bomb German positions around St Nazaire in support of the naval and Commando raid to destroy the dry-dock gates in the port. The aircraft were ordered to bomb only if the target had clear visibility. Conditions were bad, however, with 10/1Oths cloud and icing, and only 4 aircraft bombed at St Nazaire; 6 aircraft bombed elsewhere. 1 Whitley was lost in the sea.

Minor Operations: 8 Blenheims Intruding over Holland, 15 Hampdens minelaying off north-west German coasts. 1 Blenheim and 3 Hampdens lost.

28/29 March 1942

Lübeck

234 aircraft - 146 Wellingtons, 41 Hampdens, 26 Stirlings, 21 Manchesters. 12 aircraft - 7 Wellingtons, 3 Stirlings, 1 Hampden, 1 Manchester - lost.
This raid was the first major success for Bomber Command against a German target. The attack was carried out in good visibility, with the help of an almost full moon and, because of the light defences of this target, from a low level, many crews coming down to 2,000 ft. The force was split into 3 waves, the leading one being composed of experienced crews with Gee-fitted aircraft; although Lübeck was beyond the range of Gee, the device helped with preliminary navigation. More than 400 tons of bombs were dropped; two thirds of this tonnage was incendiary. 191 crews claimed successful attacks. German sources show that 1,425 buildings in Lübeck were destroyed, 1,976 were seriously damaged and 8,411 were lightly damaged; these represented 62 per cent of all buildings in Lübeck.

The casualties in Lübeck were 312 or 320 people killed (accounts conflict), 136 seriously and 648 slightly injured.

Minor Operations: 2 Blenheims Intruding over Holland, 7 Hampdens minelaying in the Frisians, 14 aircraft on leaflet flights to France. No losses.

Total effort for the night: 257 sorties, 12 aircraft (4.7 per cent) lost.

Parts of the historic city of L├╝beck were deciminated in the attack of 28/29 March.

29/30 March 1942

18 Hampdens and 8 Manchesters minelaying in the Frisians and off Denmark, 6 aircraft on leaflet flights to France. 2 Manchester minelayers lost.

30/31 March 1942

Trondheim

34 Halifaxes attempted to bomb the Tirpitz in a fjord near Trondheim. The Tirpitz was not located; 3 aircraft bombed Flak positions. 1 Halifax lost in the sea.

31 March 1942

11 Hampdens and 6 Wellingtons on cloud cover raids to Germany. 6 aircraft found targets to bomb. No aircraft lost.

31 March/1 April 1942

4 Wellingtons, with selected crews, to Essen but only random targets were bombed by 2 aircraft. No losses.

Although the main target was not attacked, one aircraft carried out a raid on Emden.

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