. . . . . .Just a week after the end of the Berlin attacks came the disastrous raid on Nuremburg, the most costly of the War for Bomber Command with 95 aircraft lost. Everything went wrong for the bombers on this raid and even the 26 ABC aircraft could not stop the Luftwaffe night fighter forces from having a field day. The Squadron lost 6 of its own aircraft on the Nuremburg raid, the blackest day in the Squadron's and in Bomber Command's history. In April the first bombing raids were made in preparation for the invasion of Europe.
Geoff Taylor ISBN: 0091354005
P53/54 “The Way In”
Another No. 101 Squadron pilot, Flight Lieutenant Robin Knights; DFC, RAF, captain of a crew in `B' Flight, had not thought there was anything especially significant about the briefing at Ludford Magna. It was a routine briefing insofar as any operational briefing in Bomber Command could be described as `routine', but there was, as Knights recalls it, the usual `sinking feeling' when the target location was revealed as being so deep inside enemy territory.
Not that Knights and his crew of Englishmen lacked experience over Germany. Quite soon, in fact, their worth as an operational crew was to be recognized as follows:
- To Knights; a bar to his DFC and subsequent award of the DSO;
- To his Navigator, Sergeant Pinner, Flight Engineer Sergeant Ferry, and to his Wireless Air Gunner, Sergeant Bromeley, the DFM, awarded on 12 November 1944;
- To his Bomb Aimer, Sergeant Morgan, commissioned in June 1944, the DFC, also awarded on 12 November 1944; and to his Rear Gunner, Sergeant Murphy, commissioned in April 1944, the DFC, on 20 October 1944.
Morgan and the mid-upper gunner, Sergeant Hart, were second-tour veterans who had replaced Knights' original two gunners, killed over Berlin on 20 January 1944: Wounded on the same night had been their eighth crew member, another German-speaking special operator of the Airborne Cigar monitoring and jamming equipment, Flying Officer Feurgeson Smith, DFC and bar. After Berlin his place in the crew was taken by Flying Officer Crosette. (Smith subsequently became a detective chief inspector with Scotland Yard's Special Branch.)
Such, then, was the `gen' crew which was to set out on what appeared to be yet another routine, if lengthy, attack on a German target.
Knights' Lancaster, Serial No. LL 773 and squadron coded SR-D, was carrying, in addition to the maximum fuel load of 2154 gallons, a `Cookie'-a 4000-pound high-blast `blockbuster' bomb-and fourteen containers of clustered thermite incendiary bombs for fire-raising.
The main impression that Knights retains of the events after take-off is of `a long drag on a very dark night'.
He recalls seeing a few flares of the type then believed to be dropped by the German night fighters along the route of the bomber stream but did not see any of the flares customarily dropped by RAF Pathfinder aircraft to mark navigational turning-points for the main force.
`There was a feeling that forecast winds were wrong,' he said, `and that navigation was awry *. Turns on track were made on DR (dead reckoning) and at the elapsed ETA for the target nothing was seen of PFF flares or of fires. In the current slang we `stooged around a bit'. This was when we began to see other aircraft, mostly going in the opposite direction. This, I think, was where the night fighters began to take effect as we began to see combats taking place.
After a short while a fire was seen to be started some way off and the place had a cone of searchlights over it. This, we thought, might be Nuremberg and I headed towards it. So did a few hundred other Lancasters and there were some good fires going by the time we began a run-up:'
* - personal notes from Navigator at the time disputes this. See log
101 SQN ON THE NUREMBURG RAID
On the afternoon of the 30th March 1944, 208 aircrew attended a briefing at the RAF Ludford Magna airbase, in Lincolnshire, for the mission they would fly that night. By the following morning a quarter of them would be dead.
This is one squadron's story of one raid at the height of the strategic bombing campaign against Germany in WWII. The unit was No 101 Sqn RAF and the chosen target was the city of Nuremberg.
101 Sqn had operated Blenheims and Wellingtons before equipping with the Avro Lancaster in October 1942. The unit moved to join No 14 Base, Ludford Magna in June 1943 and was established as a "3" flight squadron in No 1 Group with over 30 Lancaster bombers on strength. In October 1943 101 Sqn's aircraft began to be equipped with "Airborne Cigar" or "ABC" ECM to jam the Luftwaffe "running commentary" transmissions giving the position and course of a bomber stream to the nightfighter force. The running commentary itself had been introduced to counter the effects of RAF "Window" on nightfighter GCI radar.
101 Sqn was to be the only main force bomber squadron to operate ABC and their Lancasters required an additional, German speaking, crewmember. As ABC jamming was needed on every raid the Squadron flew more missions than any other in the Command, and consequently suffered high casualties.
In the winter of 1943/44 101 Sqn participated in a bombing campaign that would be known as the "Battle of Berlin" Unfortunately, the battle was not progressing as well as had been hoped. Berlin was beyond the range most of the new navigation aids that had assisted previous campaigns and the long flights over hostile territory exposed the bomber crews to the full fury of the Luftwaffe night fighter arm. In the night bombing war, where advantage changed sides with every new technical development and counter measure, new German nightfighter radars, weapons and tactics had swung the tide of battle against Bomber Command whose loss rate edged higher. Since November, 101 Sqn had lost 28 Lancasters and 224 men and the odds against aircrew completing their tour of operations on the squadron were now 4-1.
The morale of aircrew at Ludford Magna on 30th March 1944 was still high but most showed the signs of strain from the long winter of slow but steady attrition. The bomb and fuel load orders for the ground crew were the first indication of the nature of the target for the night. Battle Orders, detailing the aircraft and crews for operations that night were posted in the crew room around midday. There was relief for those not flying but mixed feelings among aircrew tasked for the raid. Navigators, bomb aimers and W/Ops had their own specialist briefings before the crews came together in the main briefing hut where the long route to Nuremberg was revealed on the map board. The choice of both the routing and the target had been greatly influenced by the predicted weather over Germany. The main worry was the long, undeviating leg from the German border to just north of the target, surely a gift for the nightfighter in the light of the half moon? However, the crews were assured they would have cloud cover for the outbound routing with clear skies for bombing. Tragically, the Met men could not have been more wrong. After the briefing PO Jimmy Batten-Smith met his WAAF girlfriend, Section Officer Patricia Bourne, and, as usual, gave her his writing case containing letters to his parents. "Think off me at one o'clock, will you." he said as he kissed her goodnight.
The first of 26 101 Sqn Lancasters bound for Nuremberg that night, SR-W flown by PO "Rusty" Waughman and his crew, took off from Ludford Magna at 2135. One by one the heavily laden bombers followed at 90-second intervals to allow the ABC jammers to spread throughout the bomber stream. All were airborne by 2215 and the men and women of No 14 Base went about their duties until the bombers expected return, 8 hours later. Section Officer Bourne went to bed and set her alarm for 0100.
The 101 Sqn Lancasters flew southeast from the Lincolnshire bases of No 1 Group to rendezvous over the North Sea with the Lancasters and Halifax’s of Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 Groups that would make up the main bomber steam. 782 bombers had taken off, 2 crashed at their bases and 55 turned back with various unservicabilities, none were from 101 Sqn. 725 heavy bombers then followed the planned route to Nuremberg. The leading aircraft crossed the Belgium coast at 2322 and at 2345 the stream reached the turning point onto the long leg into Germany. They would soon be out of range from the UK based "Gee" navigation beacons and rely on dead reckoning from the forecast winds. Selected crews were tasked to radio back their estimate of the actual winds, which would be averaged at group HQ and rebroadcast. Navigators would then use this revised wind estimate to adjust their heading and regain track. The system depended on many accurate calculations by navigators in the cold and cramped bombers and should have kept the 68 mile long stream concentrated on the planned route and allow crews to bomb the target at their allocated times.
For the Lancasters of 101 Sqn the mission went to plan until the stream crossed the German border at midnight. The expected cloud cover failed to materialise and on this cold clear night the white contrails from hundreds of Lancasters were lit by the bright half moon. The Luftwaffe commanders had studied the weather forecast and the pattern of recent RAF attacks and attempted to predict the bombers route and target. Tonight they decided to mass almost 300 night fighters at two beacons codenamed "Ida" and "Otto". These beacons happened to be only a few miles either side of the stream. About 50 night fighters en-route to "Ida" suddenly found themselves in amongst the bombers as they crossed into Germany. In such conditions even the combined radio jamming of 26 101 Sqn ABC Lancasters offered little protection to the stream as the fighters fell on their prey.
Just after midnight the first bombers were shot down. At 0005 101 Sqn suffered its first loss of the night, but not to enemy action. SR-L, flown by PO W I Adamson and his crew, had just crossed the German border when the mid-upper gunner, Sgt Don Brinkhurst, saw a Halifax pass about 300 ft above them. Suddenly the nervous Halifax tail gunner opened fire and raked SR-L with tracer. With wings full of petrol and the bomb bay full of incendiaries and high explosives the burning bomber was doomed. The poorly designed escape hatches of the Lancaster made it notoriously difficult to abandon and only 3 of the crew, who were only one mission from completing their tour, survived. Two were quickly captured but Sgt Brinkhurst managed to evade and walked to Belgium where he contacted the resistance and eventually made his way to Switzerland. Bored with life amongst the Swiss, Don Brinkhurst crossed into occupied France, made contact with the advancing allied troops and eventually rejoined 101 Sqn in time to fly another 20 missions. His first sortie was another raid on Nuremberg!
As more aircraft were shot down the bomber stream began to loose cohesion. SR-K2, piloted by FS G Tivey, drifted south of the planned track and at 0015 became 101 Sqn's second loss when it was shot down by flak at Coblenz. The crew of 8 were all killed. The weather had another trick to play on the bombers, as the expected northerly winds became a strong westerly causing most of the stream to head directly over beacon "Ida" where another 100 night fighters lay in wait. More and more aircraft fell to earth in flames and the intensity of the combats eliminated any chance for crews to recalculate and broadcast corrected wind strengths.
101 Sqn's first loss to the night fighters occurred at about 0025 when SR-K, flown by PO A E Lander, was hit well north of the planned track. New Zealander Lander fought to keep his blazing aircraft straight and level to give his crew a chance. As the flames reached the cockpit he lost control and the Lancaster entered a spin. Lander found himself pinned against the canopy by the increasing G force with his clothing beginning to burn. With a last desperate push he forced himself through the window and fell into the night. His crew was on their second mission but only Lander and one other survived to become POWs.
By this stage of the battle another 150 night fighters joined the fray from beacon "Otto" and the scattered bomber stream was over 50 miles wide. At 0045, 8 more 101 Sqn aircrew died when Lancaster SR-U was shot down by a nightfighter and crashed at Lauterbach, 40 miles north of the planned turning point at the end of the long leg.
What the crews of Bomber Command did not know was that many of the Luftwaffe's night fighters were equipped with a new weapon codenamed "Schrage Musik". This consisted of a pair of upward pointing canon designed to allow the fighter to position beneath an RAF Bomber, out of sight from the gunners, and open fire at close range with inevitably lethal effect.
This was the weapon that Leutnant Whilhelm Seuss planned to use as he closed his Me 110 below his third victim for the night, 101 Sqn Lancaster SR-J flown by Canadian FS Clyde Harnish. Seuss opened fire but his guns ran out of shells after a few rounds. Harnish immediately threw his aircraft into a violent corkscrew to shake off his unseen adversary. For three minutes Seuss skilfully manoeuvred his fighter beneath SR-J while his radio operator reloaded the "Schrage Musik" canons. When he fired again the shells slammed into the wings and bomb bay of the Lancaster, setting fire to the fuel and incendiaries. Harnish dived to 7000 ft attempting to put out the flames but as the floor of the cabin began to burn away he levelled off to give the crew a chance to bale out. Sgt Luffmann, the flight engineer, saw the navigator jump but couldn't find his own parachute pack in the confusion and flames and almost gave up hope. He found it with a few seconds to spare and clipped it on. As he struggled to reach the escape hatch he saw Harnish get out of the pilot's seat but fall through the fire damaged cockpit floor. Luffmann jumped and was followed by the ABC operator but they were so low by this time that the W/Op SD's parachute only partially opened before he hit the ground and he later died of his injuries. Harnish was killed but he had stayed at the controls long enough for 4 of his crew to safely abandon the doomed bomber.
It was now 0100. In the 60 minutes since the bomber stream crossed the German border 59 Lancasters and Halifax’s had been shot down. Never before or since has so much airborne destruction taken place in a single hour. The sight of heavy bombers falling in flames at the rate of one every minute must have shaken the RAF crews but all remaining aircraft now pressed on to the target. However, the actual winds had blown most of the stream well north and east of the planned turning point to Nuremberg and cloud, the lack of which had left the bombers exposed to attack, now began to form a thick layer below them, shielding the target. Back at Ludford Magna Patricia Bourne's alarm went off and she said a silent prayer for Jimmy Baten-Smith and his crew who were preparing to start their bomb run to Nuremberg.
The attack on Nuremberg was planned to commence at 0105 when 86 Pathfinder blind markers and supporters were to bomb. The main force of 690 Lancasters, Halifax’s and Pathfinder backers-up were to bomb from 0110 to 0122, blasting the centre of Nuremberg with over 3000 tons of high explosive and almost 70,000 incendiaries. However, the adverse winds and the nightfighter battle had badly scattered and depleted the force and only 512 bombers were to reach the Nuremberg area. This was still a formidable force and its bomb loads could have inflicted severe damage on the target, but the Pathfinders could not see their aiming point due to thick cloud cover and most had drifted well east of track. Only a few were equipped with cloud markers and these were dropped late and some up to 10 miles east of Nuremberg. When most of the main force arrived, about 5 minutes late and still under nightfighter attack, its bombs fell in open countryside.
The first 101 Sqn aircraft, SR-V flown by FO McKenna, bombed at 0113. The crew had decided there was no safety in the bomber stream and ignored the return routing, heading directly for home. FO Goores in SR-N2 also bombed at 0113 and reported that the raid did not appear successful. 19 101 Sqn Lancasters would bomb between 0113 and 0130. PO Holland in SR-H bombed at 0125 and immediately had to dive to port to avoid colliding with a Halifax. FS Davidson and his crew in SR-Y were not satisfied with the poor marking on their first bomb run and at 0128 carried out a re-attack below cloud at 2000 Ft!
Along with many bombers, SR-O flown by Flt Lt Todd and navigated by Sqn Ldr Rosevear, a flight commander on his second tour, had been blown so far off course that his crew failed to find Nuremberg at the end of their bomb run. What they did find was a large German city; clear of cloudcover, lit by falling sticks of incendiaries and bomb explosions and apparently under major attack. Todd was sure it wasn't Nuremberg and circled once trying to get his bearings. With so many aircraft attacking the target Todd decided to bomb it at 0115. Too late, as they flew south they saw the red target indicators at Nuremberg 20 to 30 miles off their port beam. Arriving a few minutes later, SR-D flown by Flt Lt Knights was also attracted to the bombing and fires. No pathfinder marking could be seen so they orbited the city for 10 to 15 minutes before, with time running out he decided to bomb at 0128. The city was Schweinfurt and over 100 bombers attacked it in error that night causing more actual damage than Nuremburg suffered.
At the intended target, PO Batten-Smith's crew in Lancaster SR-R bombed at about 0128 but were then caught by a nightfighter. Their aircraft crashed in flames beside a big Autobahn junction 6 miles east of Nuremberg, killing all the crew. They were 101 Sqn's 6th loss and the 83rd RAF bomber shot down that night. SR-S, flown by FO Davies, was the last 101 Sqn Lancaster to bomb at 0130. By 0135 the raid was over. 69 people had been killed in Nuremberg and the surrounding area, but over 500 RAF bomber aircrew had died to achieve this.
101 Sqn's 20 surviving Lancasters were now on the long route home, many, like PO McKenna, would opt for the direct route but some would still try to stay with the stream over northern France, past Dieppe to an English landfall at Selsey bill. Many night fighters were low on fuel and out of ammunition and fewer combats occurred after the target. However, 14 bombers were lost between Nuremberg and the coast.
The planned route home ended near Reading where the stream would disperse and 101 Sqn Lancasters would head for Ludford Magna. 6 of the Squadron's bombers were missing over Germany but it was to suffer one further tragic loss that night. At 0503 an explosion awoke the base of the 435th Troop Carrier Group whose 4 C-47 squadrons were based at RAF Welford near Newbury. At first an air raid was suspected but soon it became clear that a crashing aircraft had caused the blast. It was 101 Sqn Lancaster SR-X flown by FS E R Thomas and his crew who were on their 5th operation. All eight were killed. The bomber had hit the ground in a 30-degree dive from an overcast sky and was not far from the correct course for Ludford Magna. Initially it was rumoured to be attempting to land at Welford but the evidence fails to support this theory. The terse, 3-line accident report merely concludes that nobody was to blame. Maybe SR-X was damaged by a nightfighter or flak and Thomas and his crew elected to try for home but failed with only 120 miles to go. Many bombers were damaged that night and a Halifax pilot was awarded a posthumous VC for pressing on to the target after being shot up by a nightfighter. He was killed when his aircraft crashed near his base but 2 of his crew survived to tell the tale. Sadly, we will never know exactly what happened to SR-X and its crew during their mission as the crash destroyed all evidence that could have assisted the brief wartime investigation. However, it is likely that they were a combat loss and that damage from enemy action led to the crash at Welford.
17 minutes after the Welford crash FO McKenna and his crew in 101 Sqn Lancaster SR-V, were the first to return to Ludford Magna at 0520, 30 minutes ahead of the next arrival. Three more landed between 0550 and 0600 and then 15 Lancasters with their tired crews landed in 20 minutes from 0605. The last to land was the last to bomb, FO Davies' crew in SR-S touched down at Ludford at 0625. For the 152 surviving 101 Sqn aircrew the Nuremberg raid was over. Hot cocoa, rum rations and debriefings awaited and strike reports had to be drafted before a muddy walk to a cold nissen hutted mess for breakfast. A sense of shock began to set in as the scale of the night's losses was revealed by the gaps at the tables. A nervous flight commander ordered the survivors to sit closer together for the sake of the morale of Ludford Magna's ground personnel.
From 0630 the 101 Sqn ground crews waited expectantly for the stragglers. With growing concern it was realised that no more Lancasters would return to Ludford that morning and the squadron executives began checking other airfields where it was hoped their aircraft had diverted. By the afternoon of 31st March the full horror of the squadron's losses had become apparent, one Lancaster confirmed crashed with all crew killed and 6 bombers and crews missing.
Of the 56 101 Sqn aircrew lost between midnight and 0510, 46 were killed and one would die of his injuries, 8 became POWs and only one would evade capture and return to England before the end of the war. Only one of the survivors was a pilot. These losses were the worst suffered by any squadron on the raid and it was the worst night for 101 Sqn during the war.
On 1st April Bomber Command was ordered to support the preparations for Operation Overlord and its targets were now in France, Belgium and Holland. 101 Sqn would continue to fly more sorties than any other bomber unit and lose 373 aircrew killed in action in the twelve months following Nuremberg. Although heavy, these losses were always replaced within days. 101 Sqn's strength never faltered and morale never broke. No matter what can be said about the effectiveness and morality of Bomber Commands policies and methods, nobody can deny that the professionalism, determination and sheer physical courage of the RAF bomber crews are an example to all the inheritors of their proud traditions.
Ack: Flt Lt G R Weightman 101 Sqn Historian