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 (= "chest", 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.
FuG 216 Neptun-R with vertical antennae had been carried on earlier Steinbock raids but some of the aircraft so-equipped had experienced jamming of their sets, aubible disturbances becoming apparent as the bombers reached 2000–3000 m over the European mainland, taking full effect as they crossed the Channel. The displays’ picture height was compressed by a third, accompanied by noise and flickering while the source was initially thought to be a noise-modulated transmitter in London or the South East. By 18 April however, the General Nachrichtenführer (Head of Signals Branch) had reached the view that the source was in all probability “our own Nachtfalter operation on the Channel coast.” Nachtfalter (moth) was explained in a marginal note as “jamming transmitter(s) against [word illegible] radar near Calais” and it was pointed out that the frequencies being attacked—those of “English medium radar” (Chain Home Low?), ASV and night fighter AI—overlapped those of Neptun-R.
Lacking both technical assistance and clear sight of the ground, the pathfinders released their flares inaccurately and late, just seven minutes before the leading bombers began to arrive.
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.
continued on next page …
PART ONE OF FOUR
NOTE: All times in this article are GMT+2 hours, which was the local time in use by both sides in May 1944.
© Nick Beale 2017–19