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Deep Strike on Augsburg

Three Avro Lancaster heavy bombers fly in a loose formation in September 1942. The availability of the four-engine Lancaster made the low-level raid on the MAN diesel engine assembly plant at Augsburg possible. These aircraft are from No. 44 Squadron, one of the units that executed the Augsburg raid five months earlier.

A pricey RAF raid on a German diesel engine manufacturing unit left some questions for its planners.

by Allyn Vannoy

Within the spring of 1942, the Allies have been arduous pressed battling German U-boats within the Atlantic as Britain was struggling to feed its individuals. The German subs have been sinking hundreds of tons of Allied delivery every week, inflicting American and British planners to hunt any means potential to deal a blow to the German warfare machine.

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Due to the havoc being wrought by Hitler’s U-boats, the MAN (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg) factories at Augsburg, in Bavaria, have been excessive on the record of precedence bombing targets. MAN’s diesel engine manufacturing crops produced roughly half of Germany’s U-boat engines. However reaching the goal and returning concerned a flight of 1,250 miles over enemy territory. With the navigation and bombing aids then out there, it was decided that the probabilities of an evening assault pinpointing and destroying such an goal, given the comparatively small goal space of the amenities, have been distant, and a daylight precision assault, based mostly on expertise, was thought-about too pricey.

The Avro Lancaster Modifications the Equation

In early 1942, the Avro Lancaster bomber turned obtainable. The plane was powered by 4 Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, manned by a crew of seven, and outfitted with a defensive armament of 10 .303-caliber Browning machine weapons. If there was an issue with the bomber it was that the vary of the .303-caliber machine weapons was too brief to offer adequate safety for the plane, although these have been later upgraded, partially, with .50-caliber weapons. The plane had a cruising velocity of 210 miles per hour, a prime velocity of 287 miles per hour at 11,500 ft, and will carry a bombload of 14,000 kilos.

The prototype Lancaster had been delivered to the Royal Air Drive for operational trials with No. 44 Squadron at Waddington in September 1941. The unit was dubbed the “Rhodesian” squadron since some 25 % of the squadron’s floor and air crewmen have been from Rhodesia.

With the plane’s comparatively excessive velocity and defensive armament, it was thought-about attainable that a drive of Lancasters might attain Augsburg in the event that they went in at low degree, beneath the German early warning radar. It was additionally felt that Lancasters flying on the deck couldn’t be subjected to assaults on their weak underbellies.

With the supply and elevated functionality of the Lancaster, consideration was once more given to the thought of conducting a precision assault in daylight on Augsburg. However a lot would rely upon the route used to succeed in the goal.

The RAF had compiled a fairly correct image of the disposition of enemy fighter models throughout Western Europe. In early 1942, half the Luftwaffe’s fighter pressure was deployed to the Japanese Entrance and 1 / 4 to the Balkans and North Africa. A lot of the remaining squadrons, if not earmarked for Germany’s protection, have been stationed in Norway or the Pas de Calais space. Royal Air Drive Bomber Command sought to discover a weak spot alongside the French coast for the raiders whereas diversionary assaults have been used to decoy the German air defensive system.

The Plan to Strike Augsburg

Bomber Command’s new chief, Air Marshal Arthur Harris, was usually against small precision raids, being a robust advocate of large-scale space strikes on enemy cities. However the state of affairs within the North Atlantic, the heavy losses of Allied delivery, compelled him to authorize the Augsburg operation. If it succeeded, it’d assist to scale back the variety of operational U-boats whereas on the similar time silencing critics who have been clamoring for the RAF to dedicate extra assets to searching them.

This Royal Air Force reconnaissance photo of the MAN diesel engine plant at Augsburg was used by the planners of the dangerous low-level raid by RAF Avro Lancaster bombers against the facility in the spring of 1942.

This Royal Air Drive reconnaissance photograph of the MAN diesel engine plant at Augsburg was utilized by the planners of the damaging low-level raid by RAF Avro Lancaster bombers towards the power within the spring of 1942.

The operation was to be carried out utilizing six plane from every of No. 44 and No. 97 Squadrons, the 2 most skilled Lancaster models.

Beginning on April 14, 1942, the squadrons carried out coaching operations over a three-day interval, flying at low degree, making 1,000-mile flights over Britain, and conducting simulated assaults on targets in northern Scotland. The work was extraordinarily taxing, flying the heavy bombers at low altitudes in shut formation whereas avoiding floor obstacles. However the crews have been all composed of extremely skilled personnel, most on their second operational tour.

Early on April 17, the crews acquired their mission briefing.

Hypothesis had been operating excessive among the many crews as to the exact nature of the goal. To veteran crewmen a low-level mission signified an assault on enemy warships, an extended, straight run into heavy flak. However on the briefing a map of Western Europe was marked with an extended purple ribbon indicating the path to Augsburg.

An Unbelievable Daylight Bombing Plan

The members of No. 44 Squadron have been at first shocked after which in disbelief, whereas in a separate briefing the crews of No. 97 Squadron responded with a roar of laughter. Nobody believed that their commanders can be so silly as to ship their latest four-engine bombers all that distance inside Germany in daylight.

The six plane from every squadron have been to proceed in two sections, every of three plane flying in a V-formation. The interval between every part was to be just some seconds with visible contact to be maintained in order that the sections might lend one another help if attacked by enemy fighters.

From the departure level, Selsey Invoice, a headland jutting into the English Channel simply east of Portsmouth, the bombers have been to cross the Channel flying at roughly 50 ft, making landfall at Dives-sur-Mer on the French coast about halfway between Le Havre and Caen, thus maximizing time over the Channel. Whereas the first group was over the Channel, a second group, beneath the safety of a fighter umbrella, was to make a collection of diversionary assaults on Luftwaffe airfields within the Pas de Calais, Cherbourg, and Rouen areas.

After flying a brief method inland, the Lancasters have been to show east and cross France and the Rhineland, reaching the Rhine River at Ludwigshafen close to Mannheim, then change course southeast to make for the northern finish of the Ammersee, a big lake about 20 miles south of Augsburg and simply west of Munich. The planners believed that if the planes adopted this route the German air protection system would assume that Munich was the goal. Upon reaching the Ammersee the bombers would then make a tough flip to the north towards the goal.

Approaching the goal the bombers have been to unfold out in order that there was a three-mile hole between every part. The sections have been to bomb from low degree in formation, every Lancaster dropping 4 1,000-pound bombs. The bombs have been fitted with 11-second delay fuses, giving the plane sufficient time to get clear and the bombs to detonate nicely earlier than the subsequent part arrived.

With takeoff set for about 1500 hours and a flight time of somewhat over 5 hours, the Lancasters have been to succeed in the goal at 2015 hours, simply earlier than nightfall, offering them with the safety of darkness on the homeward leg of the operation.

No. 44 Squadron Leads the Strike

The Lancasters of No. 44 Squadron have been to type the primary two sections of the flight. The mission chief was a 25-year-old South African, Squadron Chief John Dering Nettleton. Nettleton had joined the RAF in 1938, and in April 1942 was simply finishing his first operational tour, having spent a lot of the warfare to that point as an teacher.

Flying low across the French countryside, an RAF Avro Lancaster heavy bomber participates in a daylight raid on a German engineering facility in October 1942. The RAF later switched to night bombing to help minimize losses to flak and German fighters.

Flying low throughout the French countryside, an RAF Avro Lancaster heavy bomber participates in a daylight raid on a German engineering facility in October 1942. The RAF later switched to nighttime bombing to assist reduce losses to flak and German fighters.

At 1512 hours Nettleton’s Lancaster lifted off the Waddington runway, adopted by six others of No. 44 Squadron. As soon as the formation was airborne and starting to shut up, the final Lancaster to depart, a reserve bomber, circled and returned to base. The six plane flew low throughout Lincolnshire heading south. On the entrance of the formation Nettleton had the plane of Warrant Officer G.T. Rhodes to his left and Flying Officer John Garwell to starboard. The second V, shut behind, was led by Flight Lieutenant N. Sandford with Warrant Officer J. E. Beckett on the left, and Warrant Officer H.V. Crum on the correct.

Ten miles to the east, at Woodhall Spa, the six Lancasters of No. 97 Squadron, led by Squadron Chief J.S. Sherwood, have been additionally lifting off and forming up. The opposite 5 plane within the group have been piloted by Flight Officers Hallows, R. Rodley (Wing Commander), Penman, E.A. Deverill, and Warrant Officer Mycock.

The Lancasters departed Selsey Invoice on schedule. The April sky was clear, the day heat.

Because the bombers hugged the waves Nettleton’s sections started to attract forward of Sherwood’s formation, flying barely off the meant flight path. Sherwood made no try and catch up; the briefing had allowed for separate assaults if circumstances decreed such, and Sherwood was extremely acutely aware of the necessity to preserve gasoline on such an prolonged sortie.

Forward of the strike group a pressure of 30 Douglas Boston bombers and virtually 800 fighters have been busy bombing and strafing targets away from the Augsburg bombers’ deliberate route within the hope of drawing off Luftwaffe fighters.

No Luck for No. 44 Squadron

Because the bombers approached the French shoreline the pilots lifted their planes over the coastal cliffs, roaring inland, low over the Normandy countryside. The mission planners felt that if the bombers might survive the primary hour over enemy territory and if the diversionary raids might draw off German fighter models, then the Lancasters may need a superb probability of reaching their goal.

However perhaps the planners had positioned an excessive amount of hope in luck.

The bombers have been flying over wooded, hilly nation close to Breteuil once they encountered antiaircraft hearth. Strains of tracers reached as much as meet the rushing Lancasters, and black shellbursts dotted the sky round them. Shrapnel from the flak bursts ripped into two of the plane, however they held their course. Warrant Officer Beckett’s Lancaster was probably the most critically broken, its rear gun turret put out of motion.

No matter luck No. 44 Squadron may need had was about to expire.

As Nettleton’s six plane, now properly forward of the 97 Squadron formation, skirted the boundary of the Beaumont le Roger airfield, simply 60 miles from the coast, they bumped into hassle. Because the bombers appeared a gaggle of Messerschmitt Me-109 and Focke-Wulf FW-190 fighters of two Gruppe/Jagdgeschwader 2 “Richthofen,” one of the skilled fighter models within the Luftwaffe, have been returning to base after an engagement within the Cherbourg space with a number of the diversionary RAF plane. For a second the Lancaster crews thought that they had not been noticed, however then a number of German fighters have been seen to show of their course.

An Me-109 singled out Warrant Officer Crum’s Lancaster. Bullets tore via the cockpit cover, showering Crum and his navigator, Rhodesian Alan Dedman, with razor-sharp slivers of perspex. Though blood was streaming down Crum’s face, he continued to pilot his bomber.

An RAF Lancaster bomber of No. 97 Squadron flies at low level during preparations for the costly raid on the diesel engine assembly facility at Augsburg, Germany. This Lancaster was piloted by Squadron Leader J.D. Nettleton, who led the Augsburg raid and received the Victoria Cross for heroism.

An RAF Lancaster bomber of No. 97 Squadron flies at low degree throughout preparations for the
pricey raid on the diesel engine meeting facility at Augsburg, Germany. This Lancaster was piloted
by Squadron Chief J.D. Nettleton, who led the Augsburg raid and acquired the Victoria Cross for heroism.

The Lancasters tightened up their formation as a swarm of Messerschmitts pounced. This was the primary time that German fighters had encountered Lancasters, in order that they confirmed a specific amount of warning till they acquired the measure of the brand new bomber’s defenses. As quickly as they realized that defensive armament consisted of .303-caliber machine weapons, they started to press house their assaults, coming in from the port quarter and opening hearth with their cannon at about 700 yards. At 400 yards, the restrict of the .303’s efficient vary, they broke away sharply and climbed to repeat the method.

First Losses for the Lancasters

Warrant Officer Beckett was the primary to go down. Close to Le Tilleul-Lambert, his aircraft was hit by a hail of fireside from Hauptmann Heine Greisert, leading to a terrific ball of orange flame ballooning from a wing as cannon shells tore right into a gasoline tank. Seconds later the bomber was a mass of fireside. Slowly, the nostril went down spewing burning fragments. The shattered Lancaster then hit a clump of timber and disintegrated.

Crum’s Lancaster, its wings and fuselage already ripped and torn, got here underneath assault by three enemy fighters. Each the mid-upper and rear gunners have been wounded, after which the port wing gasoline tank burst into flames. The bomber wallowed on, virtually uncontrolled, as Crum, half-blinded by the blood streaming from his face wounds, fought to carry the wings degree and ordered Dedman to jettison the bombs. The 1,000-pounders dropped away, and some moments later Crum managed to place the crippled plane down on her stomach. The Lancaster tore throughout a area and got here to a cease on the far aspect. The crew, badly shaken and bruised however in any other case unharmed, made a speedy exit from the wreckage, believing that it was about to blow up into flames. However the hearth within the wing went out, so, in accordance with prior directions, Crum used an axe from the bomber’s escape package to make holes within the gasoline tanks and lit the pool of gasoline. Inside minutes the plane was burning and decreased to a charred carcass.

Crum and his crew have been ultimately captured.

With Beckett and Crum gone, solely Flight Lieutenant Sandford was left of No. 44’s second part. Sandford was some of the common officers of No. 44 Squadron. His aircraft was attacked by Feldwebel Bosseckert. In a determined bid to flee, Sandford tried to information his bomber beneath a set of high-tension cables, however the Lancaster dug a wingtip into the bottom inflicting it to cartwheel after which exploded, killing everybody on board.

Nettleton’s Part Escapes

The fighters now began to assault Nettleton’s part. By then that they had been joined by Main Walter Oesau, a 100-victory ace who had formally been forbidden to fly extra operations, however who had jumped right into a fighter and brought off on first sight of the Lancasters, adopted by his wing man Oberfeldwebel Edelmann. Oesau chosen Rhodes’s plane. The Lancaster’s port engines each erupted in flames, which unfold shortly to the starboard engines. Close to Vieil-Evreux, Rhodes’s plane went right into a steep climb and appeared to hold within the air on the bomber’s churning propellers for an extended second earlier than it flipped over and dived into the bottom.

There have been now solely two Lancasters remaining within the No. 44 Squadron formation, Nettleton and his quantity two, John Garwell. Each plane have been badly shot up, and their survival appeared to be unsure.

Then, the state of affairs out of the blue took a dramatic flip as individually or in pairs the fighters instantly broke off and turned away, in all probability low on gasoline or ammunition. Regardless of the purpose, their abrupt withdrawal meant that Nettleton and Garwell have been spared, for the second. However they nonetheless had greater than 500 miles to go earlier than they reached their goal.

Flying virtually wingtip to wingtip, Nettleton and Garwell swept on of their battle-scarred planes. There was no additional enemy opposition, and the 2 pilots have been free to focus on dealing with their bombers. This activity grew significantly harder when, two hours later, they penetrated the mountainous countryside of southern Germany and the Lancasters have been pressured to fly by way of turbulent air currents.

Lancasters Attain Augsburg

In distinction to No. 44 Squadron, the flight of Squadron Chief Sherwood’s No. 97 Squadron had been usually uneventful, Frenchmen waving berets because the bombers handed overhead. Wing Commander Rodley reported that as his group proceeded south of Paris he noticed a twin-engine German Heinkel He-111 bomber. It in flip noticed the Lancasters however made a 90-degree financial institution and turned again towards Paris. The British bombers continued on at an altitude of 100 ft.

Because the Lancasters reached the Ammersee and turned north, they climbed a couple of hundred ft to clear some hills after which dropped down once more into the valley on the opposite aspect. There, immediately forward of them beneath a skinny veil of haze, was Augsburg.

As they reached the outskirts of the city, a curtain of flak burst throughout the sky of their path. Shrapnel pummeled their wings and fuselages, however the pilots held their course. The fashions, pictures, and drawings that they had studied at their briefing had been astonishingly correct, they usually had no problem finding their main goal, a T-shaped shed the place the U-boat engines have been manufactured.

With bomb doorways open and lightweight flak regularly hitting and passing throughout the Lancasters, they thundered over the previous few hundred yards. The bombers jumped as their masses have been launched. Nettleton and Garwell have been already over the northern suburbs when their bombs exploded.

The Flak Over Augsburg

In Garwell’s plane, a flak shell turned the inside of the fuselage right into a roaring inferno. Garwell realized that this, along with the extreme injury the bomber had already sustained, may trigger her to interrupt up at any second. There was no time to realize altitude for the crew to bail out, so Garwell put the ailing plane down as shortly as potential. Blinded by smoke pouring into the cockpit, Garwell eased the Lancaster gently towards what he hoped was open floor. All he might do was attempt to maintain the bomber regular as she sank.

An extended, agonizing minute later the Lancaster hit the bottom and skidded throughout a subject. The aircraft slid to a cease, and Garwell and three members of his crew scrambled out. Two different crew members have been trapped within the burning fuselage, and a 3rd, Flight Sergeant R.J. Flux, had been thrown out on impression. Flux had wrenched open the escape hatch simply earlier than the bomber touched down, his motion giving the others a couple of additional seconds by which to get clear, nevertheless it had value him his life.

As Nettleton turned for house, alone now, the main part of No. 97 Squadron bore in throughout the hills towards Augsburg. The goal was now nicely marked by smoke from the preliminary assault, however the flak barrage was much more intense than what had greeted the 2 earlier planes. Along with 20mm cannon, a battery of 88mm weapons, their barrels depressed to the minimal, joined in, their shells doing much more injury to the buildings of Augsburg than to the bombers. The main three Lancasters launched their masses on the goal and flew on, their gunners spraying antiaircraft gun positions as they departed. The bombers have been flying so low that, every now and then, they dropped under the extent of the rooftops, discovering some shelter from the murderous flak.

Squadron Leader J.D. Nettleton’s Lancaster bomber flies low over RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, with its bomb bay doors open. This photo was snapped during practice runs for the Augsburg raid, which occurred three days later. The MAN diesel engine assembly plant at Augsburg was a prime target for RAF bombers since it supplied engines to the German U-boat fleet.

Squadron Chief J.D. Nettleton’s Lancaster bomber flies low over RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, with its bomb bay doorways open. This photograph was snapped throughout apply runs for the Augsburg raid, which occurred three days later. The MAN diesel engine meeting plant at Augsburg was a chief goal for RAF bombers because it provided engines to the German U-boat fleet.

The primary trio had virtually made it away safely, however then Sherwood’s plane, in all probability hit by a large-caliber shell, started to stream white vapor from a gasoline tank. A couple of moments later flames erupted from the tank. The bomber went down uncontrolled, a mass of fireside, to blow up simply outdoors the city. Sherwood alone was thrown clear and survived. The opposite two pilots of the part, Flying Officers Rodley and Hallows, escaped the flak and returned safely to base.

The second part, with Flight Lieutenant Penman, Flying Officer Deverill, and Warrant Officer Mycock, noticed Sherwood’s aircraft go down as they handed over Augsburg within the gathering nightfall. The sky above the city was a mass of sunshine because the German flak gunners hurled shells into the trail of the Lancasters. Mycock’s plane was hit and caught hearth, however the pilot held doggedly on his bombing run. By the point he reached his goal the Lancaster was little greater than a plunging sheet of flame, however Mycock held on lengthy sufficient to launch his bombs. Then the Lancaster exploded, its burning wreckage cascading into the streets of the city.

Deverill’s plane was additionally badly hit, its starboard inside engine set on hearth, however the crew managed to extinguish it after bombing the goal and made it again to base on three engines, accompanied by Penman’s Lancaster. Each crews anticipated to be attacked by night time fighters on the flight residence, however it was uneventful. It was simply as properly, as each gun turret on each Lancasters was jammed.

Aftermath of the Strike on Augsburg

Nettleton ultimately landed at Squire’s Gate aerodrome close to Blackpool simply earlier than zero100 hours and telephoned Waddington to report on the mission and ask about survivors. On April 28, the London Gazette introduced the awarding of a Victoria Cross to John Nettleton and the Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Flying Medal, or Distinguished Service Order to the opposite survivors of the raid.

Nettleton was promoted to wing commander, and the next yr he was flying his second tour of operations. On the night time of July 12, 1943, he was shot down over the English Channel by a German night time fighter and killed whereas coming back from a raid on Turin.

Tragically, the sacrifice of seven Lancasters and 49 males out of the 85 crewmen that participated produced little impact. Though post-strike reconnaissance confirmed that the MAN meeting store had been broken, the complete outcomes weren’t recognized till after the warfare. It appeared that 5 of the bombs had did not detonate. The others brought on extreme injury to 2 buildings, the forging store and the machine software retailer, however the machine instruments themselves suffered solely slight injury. The impact on manufacturing was negligible, particularly provided that MAN had 5 different factories constructing U-boat engines on the time.

By no means once more would the RAF ship out its four-engine bombers on a daylight mission of this type.

“An Excellent Achievement of the Royal Air Pressure”

Prime Minister Winston Churchill said: “We should plainly regard the assault of the Lancasters on the U-boat engine manufacturing unit at Augsburg as an impressive achievement of the Royal Air Drive. Undeterred by heavy losses on the outset, 44 and 97 Squadrons pierced and struck an important level with lethal precision in broad daylight. Pray convey the thanks of His Majesty’s Authorities to the officers and males who completed this memorial feat of arms by which no life was misplaced in useless.”

Air Marshal Harris famous: “Convey to the crews of 44 and 97 Squadrons who took half within the Augsburg raid, the next; the resounding blow which has been struck on the enemy’s submarine and tank constructing program will echo around the world. The complete results on his submarine campaigns can’t be instantly obvious, however however they are going to be monumental. The gallant journey penetrating deep into the guts of Germany in daylight and pressed house with excellent willpower within the face of bitter and unexpected opposition takes its place among the many most brave operations of the warfare. It’s furthermore yet one more effective instance of efficient cooperation with the opposite providers by hanging on the very sources of the enemy effort. The officers and males who took half, those that returned and people who fell, have certainly served their nation nicely.”

One can now solely speculate on what different choices the RAF may need thought-about for such a lethal mission.

Squadron Leader J.D. Nettleton, awarded the Victoria Cross for heroism during the Augsburg raid, sits second from left with his crew shortly after the raid. Nettleton was killed in action during a raid on the Italian city of Turin a year later.

Squadron Chief J.D. Nettleton, awarded the Victoria Cross for heroism through the Augsburg raid, sits second from left together with his crew shortly after the raid. Nettleton was killed in motion throughout a raid on the Italian metropolis of Turin a yr later.

Apparently, Bomber Command had additionally taken supply of the twin-engine De Havilland Mosquito IV Collection II bomber within the spring of 1942. The primary raid utilizing the Mosquito was made with 4 plane on Might 31, 1942, in a daylight assault on Cologne. The aircraft might outpace enemy interceptors, and, in consequence, might be despatched on lengthy flights over enemy territory to conduct pinpoint assaults with excessive accuracy. It had a most velocity of 380 miles per hour at 17,000 ft, might carry a most bomb load of four,000 kilos, and will function at a variety of 1,370 miles.

It might appear that the planners ought to have been conscious of the Luftwaffe fighter airfields throughout northern France, particularly alongside the flight path of their bombers. Quite than launching a collection of diversionary assaults to attract off German fighter forces, it might have appeared prudent to ship a few squadrons forward of the Lancasters to comb the purpose of entry and one other to comply with of their wake, no less than so far as Paris.

The raid was notable for being the longest low-level penetration in the course of the struggle because the Commonwealth pilots have been courageous past phrases, regular of their course, although their plane have been badly broken, and targeted on finishing their mission, no matter the price.

Writer Allyn Vannoy has written extensively on quite a lot of subjects associated to World Warfare II. He resides in Hillsboro, Oregon.