467 Postblog XXVIIIb: Thursday 24 February, 1944

The Second Wave attacks Schweinfurt. This post follows Part A.

Meanwhile, about two and a half hours before the first attack opened over Schweinfurt, crews of the second wave began taking off from their airfields in England. The first two aircraft, one of which was EE143 piloted by Phil Smith, left Waddington at 20.20 hours, part of a total group of 21 aircraft.[1] The bomber stream followed an identical route to that taken by the first wave over the Channel and across to the turning point south-west of Stuttgart, then north to Schweinfurt. Two bombers from the second wave were seen to be shot down by flak at Stuttgart on the way out, and two more at Frankfurt on the way back from the target.[2]

The Americans had badly damaged Schweinfurt during the day, and the first wave of Bomber Command’s attack had added to the fires. In clear weather, Phil Smith thought the glow from the target was visible from up to fifty miles away,[3] and many other crews reported that the whole town seemed ablaze on arrival. The fires were “glowing like a coal fire as we ran in on target,” according to one pilot’s report in the Operational Record Book.

The attack was scheduled to open at 01.05. The first Pathfinder blind marker crews managed to bracket the aiming point with their green target indicators. The visual markers dropped their red target indicators accurately and so the early bombing was also on the target. Once again however the backers-up bombed short and the bombing slowly drifted backwards (though the report notes this time it was only about half as far).[4] Phil Smith’s crew bombed red Pathfinder Target Indicators at 01.16, and Phil later recorded in his logbook that their target photo was plotted about 5,000 yards or nearly three miles south of the aiming point.

It was an eventful few minutes. Phil also noted that both gunners fired at a nightfighter while over the target, the only time that we have clear evidence of Gil Pate and Eric Hill using their guns in anger.[5] This was one of nine combats reported over Schweinfurt.[6] Another was experienced by Pilot Officer Noel McDonald: [7]

Overshot some red TIs by a few seconds owing to approach from stern of a fighter during bombing run, which necessitated corkscrew manoeuvre.

Schweinfurt was well alight by the time the bombers left. Many crews reported still seeing the fires from as far as 200 miles away on the homeward journey.[8] To fox the German defences further, the return route for the second wave differed to that of the first. After bombing, the aircraft overflew the target to the north-east before flying west for 20 miles. From there, instead of continuing roughly westwards towards home, they turned back towards the south and went out the same way they had come in, via Stuttgart and Dieppe.[9] Once again, many crews (including Phil Smith) complained of jettisoned incendiaries up and down the route. “It appears that this has been quite often the case of late”, lamented Flying Officer McDonald.[10]

33 bombers failed to return from Schweinfurt, a total that the Night Raid Report somewhat exultantly calls “a small proportion for so distant a target”.  While 22 of those (5.6% of the 392 sent) were lost from the first wave, just eleven (3.2% of 342) failed to return from the second. The German fighter controllers actually moved their fighters away from Schweinfurt, perhaps not believing that the British could be so bold as to attack the same target twice in one night. Consequently, though at least nine of the total losses could not be definitively accounted for, just four bombers were believed to have actually fallen to fighters during the second wave.[11] (Two Stirlings from the mining force and one Serrate Mosquito also failed to return.) On the other side of the balance sheet, two enemy twin-engined nightfighters were claimed as destroyed by the bombers over both waves.

The new tactics had, at least to some extent, worked.

Reconnaissance photographs were not obtained until 5 March, a week and a half after the raid. They revealed significant damage to the ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt, such that it was estimated that seven weeks’ production was lost by one factory and five weeks’ by the other. Some residential and commercial premises in the town itself were hit, and there was also damage caused in the outlying villages of Garstadt (five miles south-west of the city) and Grafenrheinfeld (two and a half miles).[12]

The initial marking was accurate during both waves, so the early bombing was also accurate and it’s likely that the twenty-two aircraft that got aiming-point photographs were in the initial waves of Pathfinders or Supporters during each phase. The plot of photographs in the Night Raid Report shows that very few aircraft overshot the target. It’s a reasonable assumption that the 260-odd aircraft that bombed within three miles were also in the early stages of the attack, and when the marking drifted outside three miles, so did the bombing (and photographs) of the rest of the force. With these inaccuracies it is however not possible to tell with any certainty which damage had been caused by Bomber Command or what was from the American daylight attack of earlier in the day.

Bombing photo from 630 Squadron of the Schweinfurt attack. Image courtesy Neale Wellman
Bombing photo from 630 Squadron of the Schweinfurt attack. Image courtesy Neale Wellman

All 467 Squadron crews returned safely from Schweinfurt, though not entirely free of misadventure. Walter Marshall, in ED953 (with the photographers on board), was shot up by flak, damaging the main plane, tail planes, fuselage and pilot’s Perspex panel. Pilot Officer Bruce Simpson, in ED657, landed at Tangmere short of fuel.

But two bombers from 463 Squadron were still missing from their places on dispersal.

LM444, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Charles Martin, was hit by flak over the target, crashing near Edelshohe, five miles north west of Schweinfurt. The navigator got out and became a prisoner of war but the rest of the crew were killed.

Flight Lieutenant R.J. Mortimer, in LL740, was on his 30th trip. Passing Stuttgart on the way to the target, the aircraft was shot down by a nightfighter. Mortimer kept his blazing aircraft under control long enough to ensure that most of the other members of his crew could bale out, but he and his bomb aimer, Pilot Officer Ian Young, were both killed in the ensuing crash.[13]

This post is part of a series called 467 Postblog, posted in real time to mark the 70th anniversary of the crew of B for Baker while they were on operational service with 467 Squadron at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. See this link for an in-depth explanation of the series, and this one for full citations of sources used throughout it. © 2014 Adam Purcell


[1] Or possibly 22; see note 9

[2] Night Raid Report No. 536, route plotted on Google Earth

[3] 467 Squadron ORB, 24FEB44

[4] Details from Night Raid Report No. 536. See [this post] for a more detailed explanation of the different sorts of Pathfinder techniques

[5] Interestingly there is no mention of any nightfighter contacts in the Operational Record Book

[6] Night Raid Report No. 536

[7] Night Raid Report No. 536

[8] As reported, among others, by P/O K.H. McKnight in LL790 – 463 Squadron ORB

[9] Route details from Night Raid Report No. 536, and plotted on Google Earth

[10] 467 Squadron ORB, 25FEB44

[11] Night Raid Report No. 536

[12] Night Raid Report No. 536

[13] Storr, Alan 2006

4 thoughts on “467 Postblog XXVIIIb: Thursday 24 February, 1944

  1. My uncle Flight Sergant Colin Hillier Martin RAAF 417392 was an air gunner on LM444. One of the 2 planes and crew from 463 squadron that were shot down on February 24/25th 1944. I will be visiting Durnbach Cemetery in a few month. Already feeling emotional but very proud of this brave young airman who gave his life fighting for the country we love.
    Any future further info appreciated . Thank you for this wonderful Blog.. The information is truely valuable. Cheryl Bishop

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      Thanks very much for your comment. I’m very pleased to hear that you’ve found my writing useful.
      Having done something similar myself, I know your trip to Germany will be very special. Please let us know how it goes.

      1. Thankyou Adam.. I am sure I will post something. Just wish I had taken more interest when I was younger. My grandparents , Colin’s siblings and old friends are all dearly departed. Rgds CB

  2. My uncle Flight Sergant Colin Hillier Martin RAAF 417392, was gunner on FM444 Sqadron 463 … One of two crews who didn’t return Feb24/25th 1944. My husband and I are going to visit Durnbach Cemetery in August …..The first of the family to make the visit. I am already feeling emotional but very proud of this young airman who gave his life for his country. Like many others, Colin’s parents, brother and sister never really accepted their loss. Thankyou for this wonderful PostBlog. If anyone has any further information, I would very much appreciate same. Cheryl Bishop , Australia.

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