467 Postblog Lb: Thursday 30 March, 1944

After fighting their way through one of the most one-sided aerial battles of the bomber war, the battered and bruised Main Force are approaching the target area…

The initial marking failed at Nuremberg. Some Pathfinders missed the wind change and ended up over Lauf, a small town with similar H2S characteristics to Nuremberg but about ten miles to the north east. While some realised the mistake and did not drop their markers here, at least four aircraft did.[1] When the Main Force crews arrived a few minutes later, they found two sets of well-defined skymarkers over almost solid cloud: one at Nuremberg and one at Lauf. Indeed, one 463 Squadron crew reported three groups of Wanganuis visible when they bombed at 01.20.[2] The result was very scattered bombing which spread to the east and then crept back along the bombers’ path of approach. The “target [was] hard to pick out,” recorded 467 Squadron navigator Flying Officer Arnold Easton.[3]

But there was one other complication. One of the Pathfinder Mosquitos, which was intended to drop a green ‘floater’ target indicator as part of the early target marking at Nuremberg, suffered H2S failure and had also missed the wind change. He turned at the false turning point to the north and short of the real one above the Thuringer Wald, and when a large city appeared at his estimated time of arrival over Nuremberg and started throwing up searchlights and flak, he assumed he was at the target and dropped his markers.[4] But he was actually at Schweinfurt, some fifty miles to the north west, which had the misfortune to lie on approximately the same bearing and distance from the false turning point as Nuremberg was from the real one. Following Main Force aircraft which had also missed the wind change then came up on a defended area that was marked with a falling target indicator, so also thought they were at Nuremberg and dropped their bombs. Some realised their mistake as they passed the ‘real’ target shortly afterwards but at least 34 aircraft returned bombing photographs that were definitely plotted within three miles of the centre of Schweinfurt[5] and it was later estimated that about 120 bombers had dropped their loads on the city.[6] Two aircraft fell to the flak defences there. Middlebrook records that the citizens of Schweinfurt initially thought that they had been the main target of the night’s operations, but when the German High Command realised that the city had been bombed accidentally they suppressed any mention of it in the German press.[7]

But back to Nuremberg. The skymarkers were scattered, first by the Pathfinders themselves and then by the wind, but the cloud meant that searchlights were not effective. Two aircraft were shot down by flak, two collided and were seen to go down in flames and five more fell to the nightfighters which were still hanging around.[8] There were other dangers too:[9]

 We were late getting to the target and I don’t think we got a photo for we were chased by a fighter and then a very twitchy Lancaster gunner tried hard to shoot us down. – Flight Lieutenant Walter Marshall, 467 Squadron

On three engines after the earlier combats with the JU88, Dan Conway’s Lancaster was running behind schedule. In fact, it would be the last aircraft over Nuremberg, bombing at 01.35 – thirteen minutes after the attack had been scheduled to end. With an engine out and the airspeed indicator useless, they limped away for home.[10]

The bombers planned to continue south for another 30 miles after leaving the target before they turned southwest towards Stuttgart and then west to home. The nightfighters needed to land to refuel so their attacks dropped off a little but even so they still accounted for at least four more aircraft on the way out. Pilot Officer Keith Schultz was attacked by a JU88, but his gunners drew hits on its wings and fuselage and they claimed it as probably destroyed.[11] Flak claimed a bomber at Strasbourg and another at Le Tourquet on the way home.[12]

Schultz crew in front of ME580 JO-Q 'Queenie' of 463 Squadron. Photo from the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Keith Schultz and crew in front of ME580 JO-Q ‘Queenie’ of 463 Squadron. Photo from the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Having beaten the odds over Europe, the surviving Waddington aircraft were close to base when Mother Nature played one last trick on them. Fog began to form. “I can distinctly recall a sharp deterioration in the weather after return to base but this did not affect me personally,” said Squadron Leader Arthur Doubleday later,[13] who was the first pilot back. Most aircraft managed to beat the fog to the airfield, but B for Baker was among those which diverted, landing at Wittering, 35 miles to the south. They had been struggling with a supercharger fault and a brake fault for almost the entire trip, but the brakes cleared themselves on landing.[14]

The weather was more of a problem for those aircraft struggling home on less than their full complement of engines. Bill Brill, on three since being hit by bits of an exploding bomber near the target, had a little difficulty but eventually got in, the last aircraft to land at Waddington by a long shot. “He always caused me some anxiety,” wrote good friend Arthur Doubleday after the war.[15] On shutting down at their dispersal a belt of .303 ammunition was found embedded in the cowling of the busted engine.[16]

Dan Conway, however, had rather a more interesting time of it. Navigation had been difficult without an airspeed indicator and, crossing the French coast, it was discovered that their Gee set was also unserviceable. Shortly afterwards two fighters flew at them “aggressively”, but once they were recognised as Spitfires and the colours of the day had been fired off, the two aircraft formated on the struggling Lancaster and provided an escort until they reached the coast. Conway briefly thought about landing at the emergency airfield at Woodbridge which they passed, “FIDO equipment in full blaze,” but decided to leave it to “those aircraft worse off than ourselves.” He later admitted that “another consideration could have been that we were due to go on leave that day”! Navigating by dead reckoning, the relative volume on their otherwise unintelligible radio telephone and a lucky pinpoint, they found Waddington but it was not over yet.[17]

There was the usual problem with fog, as the Drem system was not visible in the denser patches. Having some trouble seeing and lining up on the runway, the approach must have looked spectacular. Just before passing the Control Van it was necessary to do a steep turn to regain alignment. We then landed smoothly and safely, well down the runway. I remember the startled faces of those assembled to welcome the boys home. Afterwards some of them claimed I had put my starboard wing tip outside the Control Van and was lucky not to have hit it. There was no choice, for going round again in those conditions was not on, with our fuel perilously low.

467 Squadron lost two aircraft on the Nuremberg raid, those captained by Bruce Simpson (on his thirtieth trip) and Roland Llewelyn (sixth). While all 463 Squadron crews got home safely, it was clear that it had been a disastrous night. The 5 Group Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice Marshal Ralph Cochrane, was visiting Waddington when the bombers came back and he asked Arthur Doubleday how the trip went. Doubleday replied, “I believe the Jerries scored a century before lunch today.”[18]

Doubleday was not far from the mark. In all, 94 bombers failed to return from Nuremberg, plus one special operations Halifax and an intruder Mosquito. The number eclipsed the 73 missing from Berlin a week ago and the 79 missing from the Leipzig raid in February 1944. As well as the 94 aircraft, of course, Bomber Command also lost 94 trained crews. 545 airmen were killed in action and 159 became prisoners of war. Amazingly, fifteen of those shot down evaded capture.[19]

616 aircraft reported attacking the target and while a large number undoubtedly dropped their bombs on the correct city, because of the cloud not one of them was plotted in the target area at the time of bombing. No post-raid reconnaissance was carried out either, so it’s unclear how much damage was actually done to Nuremberg. The Night Raid Report resorts to quoting a German communiqué, which said that some damage was caused and some casualties incurred among the population. Damage was scattered between Schweinfurt, Nuremberg and numerous small towns and villages outlying both cities. The civilian death toll as reported by Middlebrook was sixty Germans and fifteen foreign workers killed by the bombing in Nuremberg and just one child killed in Schweinfurt.[20]

After his eventful landing at Waddington, Flight Lieutenant Dan Conway walked to the Mess with the WAAF Station Officer:[21]

…a motherly and usually happy soul, who was most distressed […]. For myself, I was unhappy about the losses but glad to feel Old Mother Earth beneath my feet as the fog began to disperse.

The worst night in the history of Bomber Command was over.

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

Sources:


[1] Middlebrook, p.181

[2] This was Pilot Officer Schultz in ME580 – 463 Squadron ORB, 30MAR44

[3] Easton, Arnold, Flying Log Book, 30MAR44

[4] Middlebrook, p.204

[5] Night Raid Report No. 567

[6] RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, March 1944

[7] Middlebrook, p.260

[8] Night Raid Report No. 567

[9] Middlebrook, p.189

[10] Conway, p.134 and Middlebrook, p.191

[11] 463 Squadron ORB, 31MAR44

[12] Night Raid Report No. 567

[13] Taylor, Geoff 1979 p.151

[14] Smith, Phil, Flying Log Book

[15] Quoted in Blundell 1975, p.18

[16] Blundell 1975, p.18, quoting Arthur Doubleday

[17] Quote, and story, from Conway, p.136

[18] Doubleday quoted in Blundell 1975, p.18

[19] Middlebrook, p.279

[20] Ibid., p.214 and p.259

[21] Conway, p.136

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