German Luftwaffe pilot returns to Bath to apologise for wartime bombing

Last updated at 10:06 28 March 2008

A decorated German Luftwaffe pilot is to return to the city he bombed during World War Two to make a public apology.

Bomber pilot Willi Schludecker demolished dozens of Georgian buildings in Bath, Somerset, in April 1942 in his Dornier 217E-4.

Now 87 years-old and in failing health, his dying wish is to make amends with the city which lost 400 residents in the raid.

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Willi Schludecker

Return: Willi Schludecker will make amends with Bath in a service next month

He will visit the annual remembrance service for victims of the Bath Blitz next month and issue his apology through an interpreter.

Widower Herr Schludecker, who lives in Cologne, said: "The war was madness. I realise now what I did and will come back to say sorry.

"I was afraid the British would be very angry but I find that now they are very gentle."

Chris Kilminster, who lost several relatives in the raid and now organises the memorial service, said it was a tough decision to allow Herr Schludecker to participate.

"It took me a while to come to terms with the idea," he said. "But it is the man's dying wish."

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Bath raids

Blitz: Targets were reputedly chosen because they had been awarded three stars in an influential travel guide

Herr Schludecker was just 21 when he took part in a series of three raids on Bath between April 25 and 27, 1942. The raids claimed over 400 lives and destroyed more than 19,000 buildings in the Georgian city of Bath, which had a population of 68,000 at the time.

Around 30 of the victims, including a two-month-old baby, died in a public shelter which was hit by a bomb.

The three Bath attacks were part of the 'Baedeker raids' which also saw Exeter, Norwich, York and Canterbury bombed in the spring and early summer of 1942.

The raids were in response to the Royal Air Force's demolition of the German city of Lubeck in March of that year.

Willi Schludecker

Decorated veteran: Herr Schludecker took part in three raids on the city in 1942

Lubeck, a medieval port with many wooden buildings, was a relatively unimportant target but was attacked to trial the RAF's new incendiary bombs.

The targets in Britain were reputedly chosen because they had been awarded three stars in the influential travel guide published by Baedeker.

Herr Schludecker flew 120 flights over Russia, England and the Balkans during the war when the average life expectancy of a German pilot was just seven raids. He survived being shot down nine times.

His extraordinary courage made him one of Germany's most decorated veterans, twice being awarded the Iron Cross.

Herr Schludecker's last mission was in July 1942 when he was so badly injured that he spent six months recuperating in hospital and never flew again.

He recently contacted Mr Kilminster to ask if he could take part in the memorial service.

His apology will follow a minute's silence for the victims of the raid and a roll call of the names of the children who perished.

Mr Kilminster, whose great-grandparents were killed in the shelter, said: "He hasn't been back to Bath since he flew over it in 1942.

"I felt I owed it to other people affected by the blitz to let them hear what he has to say."

Herr Schludecker - who apologised to the people of York last year - said: "The war was a long time ago. We were told what to do and we did it, just like the young British pilots.

"We were more like opponents than enemies but it is just such a great pity that so many people had to die."

The service will take place at 7pm on April 25 in Bath's Memorial Gardens.

Bath: Herr Schludecker will see the highlights that still give the city a special place in modern tourist guides

German Luftwaffe pilot returns to Bath to apologise for wartime bombing