From 3. Sicherungsdivision: activity by the Luftwaffe is to be expected in the Lorient area during the night 14–15/5. Take-off reports will follow.
Kriegsmarine signal of 1214 BDST, 14 May 1944
In the early hours of 15 May, an important formation of heavy bombers carried out a massive attack against Bristol.
It is possible that the target was hit by some of the bombs, but only slight effects can be reckoned with.
IX. Fliegerkorps appreciation
This raid represented so complete a failure on the Luftwaffe’s part that afterward the British authorities were unsure what the intended target had been. To have almost completely missed a city of 400,000 people, only 200 km from German-held territory shows just how low the bomber force’s operational proficiency had sunk despite employing the full gamut of their electronic aids.
A number of the units taking part had been moved to advanced bases in France the night before the operation: I./KG 2 from Hesepe to Vannes; II./KG 2 from Münster-Handorf to Vannes; 7./KG 2 from Achmer to Lorient; II. and III./KG 30 to Orly; and I./KG 54 to Évreux. The I./KG 6 operated from its normal base at Brétigny and its crews were briefed that the raid would be 150-strong. The transfer alone had cost KG 2 three Ju 188 wrecked or damaged in accidents.
A force estimated by Radar as 14 aircraft flew out from the Cherbourg Peninsula area from 2242 MST: the majority operated over the Channel between Beer Head and Selsey Bill, 3 made landfall in the Portsmouth and W. Lulworth areas.
British Air Operational Watch report
The German planners sought to disperse the defences with a succession of harassing attacks against the English south coast by Fw 190 fighter-bombers of I./SKG 10. The first wave all carried SC 500 bombs and reported attacking from between 1000 and 200 metres, as follows:
None of these aircraft observed any results and a seventh broke off its attack after experiencing technical trouble. The second wave was opened by three Focke-Wulfs again bombing Bournemouth (or claiming to), from 2358–0006 hours. Another three machines followed but details are lacking, as they are for the six-strong third wave which took off at 0108 hours and would have been over its targets about 30 minutes later.
The British Home Security Intelligence Summary recorded bomb incidents—with slight damage and no casualties—from Porstmouth, and from Winfrith Heath and Owermoigne in Dorset.
A warning was issued for balloons to be lowered in the Channel Islands area between 2230 and 0300. Some 91 aircraft took off between 2340 and 0048 hours for what was intended as a “concentrated attack” on Bristol (40 Ju 188; 29 Ju 88; six Ju 88 S; 10 Do 217 and six Me 410), proceeding direct to the target from a point over Guernsey, marked by a cone of searchlights (a flight of about 215 km, due North, something like 36 minutes at a bombed-up Ju 188’s at cruising speed). The I./KG 6 was briefed to pass over this point between 0100 and 0115. All units released Düppel chaff, which crews of 7./KG 2 had orders to do from the Channel Islands onward. Before all this, however, there were two pathfinder operations, overlapping in both time and altitude:
The first of these missions was described as »verschleiert« (disguised) and its intention, according to postwar researchers, was to attack aerodromes in the Bristol area.
The flare-droppers found their navigational aids useless: X-Verfahren was jammed from the outset by a continuous tone, likewise »Truhe« (a copy of the RAF’s GEE); the direction and range-finding facilities of Y-Verfahren were jammed from shortly after the aircraft switched on their sets; and Knickebein was “smeared” by jamming. One aircraft carried a Nachtfee set but this was unuseable as the ranges involved were too great. At least one of the KG 66 aircraft was using a FuG 216 tail-warning radar whose signals were plotted from Portland Bill to Salisbury, Bath, Bristol and back to Selsey Bill.
Lacking both technical assistance and clear sight of the ground, the pathfinders realeasd their flares inaccurately and late, just seven minutes before the leading bombers began to arrive.
The main force
A force plotted S of Guernsey at 0106 made landfall between the Isle of Wight and Portland operated over SW England and Wales. The country was clear by 0308.
British Air Operational Watch report
Weather conditions as forecast: no cloud, visbility of the ground much hampered by haze. The Bristol Channel and the River Avon were only recognised by a few crews.
IX. Fliegerkorps appreciation of the raid
Gefreiter Rudi Prasse of 6./KG 2 set down his memories of the raid for authors Alfred Price and Ulf Balke. His unit’s briefing took place in a cinema: take-off was to be 0010 with a time on target (Bristol Docks) of 0145–0150, and his Ju 188 »Dora« (perhaps U5+DP) was one of three aircraft which were precede the others by five minutes, for reasons later confided to Prasse by his pilot, Hans Engelke: “We’re supposed to try out the Flak-jamming transmitters.”
In all, the main force included 13 aircraft fitted with the »Kettenhund« radar jamming set which they had been told to switch on 80 km before crossing the English coast and off when 80 km inland. Jamming was first reported by a Chain Home Low (CHL) station at 0120, the same time that a Red Warning was issued for South West England, and continued until 0300 hours, shortly before the all-clear was given. Stations from Kent to Cornwall were affected, most severely in Devon, Dorset and Hampshire, beneath and bordering the main force’s flight path.
On reaching Bristol, crews had been told to expect a target lit by red, whire and green flares and that any fires they saw would be decoys, since their own pathfinders would carry no incendiaries. The bombing was undertaken between 0157 and 0231 hours by 27 Ju 188, 22 Ju 88 and seven Do 217 from altitudes between 3000 and 2000 metres (conversely, II./KG 2 was apparently briefed to cross the English coast between 5000 and 6500 metres, then make a shallow descent to arrive over the target at 4000m). In all, 1 x PC 1400, 66 x SC 1000, 159 x SC 500, 4 x SC 500 Trialen and 46 x SC 50 bombs were dropped (a total of 151.2 tonnes), crews observing no more than “isolated bomb hits, explosions and small fires widely scattered throughout the outer target area.”
However the raid had been supposed to unfold, what the British observed was that the attackers “made landfall [and] then fanned out and operated over a wide area including West Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Devon, Wilts[hire], Somerset and Gloucestershire, with penetrations across the Bristol Channel to the Burry Port area, and over Reading and Oxford to the Northampton area.”
Scarcely any phase of the operation escaped the defending night fighters’ attention, the Luftwaffe sighting them from 0021 through to 0305 hours. They were over Vannes when German aircraft were taking off and along the approach route, especially between the coast and the target area, and back as far as Guernsey. The bombers also met sporadic AA fire from ships in the Channel, moderate well-aimed fire near Bath and Portland and a heavy concentration over the target (1107 rounds by the heavy guns defending Bristol) were fired. Also reported were rockets (from the British Z-batteries which launched 207) and »Fliegerschreck«, the mythical pyrotechnics which simulated the explosion and fall of a bomber (RAF crews likewise believed in “scarecrows”). Searchlight activity was “very strong”, in cones of up to 20, all the time the raiders were over land.
Rudi Prasse’s pilot initiated evasive manouevres some 10 minutes before reaching the English coast and were sought out by searchlights as they made landfall. Arriving over the target area at 7000 metres, they were coned by a new set of lights and the pilot called out, “jammer on!” before diving 300 metres and turning sharply to port. This worked and they found themsleves once more in darkness. They altered course again as AA shells burst well above them and had to endure four extremely stressful minutes manouevring to evade the guns and lights before it was their time to bomb. They came through but saw another aircraft shot down SW of Bristol at 0042. Three minutes a line of green flare cascades burst over what Prasse thought was the city and the AA fire shifted on to these new targets. The Ju 188 released its bombs and, now 30% lighter, turned to port and headed home
Unmentioned in IX. Fliegerkorps’ reports of the operation but detected by British listeners was aircraft T9+OH of 1./Aufkl.Gr. Ob.d.L. This unit was based at Orly and equipped with two Ju 88 T (W.Nr. 430130 and 430634) and an Ar 240 (W.Nr. 014). On this occasion it seems to have been employed to photograph the results of the raid.
continued on next page …
PART ONE OF THREE
NOTE: All times in this article are GMT+2 hours, which was the local time in use by both sides in May 1944.