Operation MILLENNIUM and how Hamburg was spared at the cost of Cologne

BY RICHARD MADDOX

THE NIGHT OF THE 30-31 May 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the first RAF 1,000 bomber raid against targets in Germany.

In order to meet the number of aircraft to be sent, planes were begged from as many units as possible – including operational training units – with just 678 aircraft being front line bombers of all different shapes, sizes and capacities.

Eventually 1,047 aircraft would take off on the raid – more than 2.5 times the number of the previous biggest raid.

Of the aircraft that took off 868 claimed to have bombed the target releasing 1,455 tons of bombs (60% incendiary bombs). As was the norm at this period of the war only around two-thirds of the bombs landed in the city.

Image: A vertical air to ground photograph taken during Operation MILLENNIUM, the ‘Thousand-bomber’ raid on Cologne, Germany 30/31 May 1942. Because of the fact that the aircraft, the searchlights on the ground and the tracer shells from anti-aircraft fire are all moving, most of the picture is covered in light trails. Smoke from exploding bombs can be seen in lower left corner of the image. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023104

But this, the first use of the bomber stream tactic with all aircraft passing over the target in just 90 minutes, still accounted for the loss of 5.2% of Cologne’s buildings, 486 people killed, 5,000 injured and almost 60,000 made homeless.

The poem below by George Crocker, a former air gunner who served with of No. 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron, RAF paints an evocative picture of the crews setting out on the night of 30 May 1942.

It (and the poem’s explanatory notes ) were published in ‘The Aussie Mossie’ magazine in December 2007.

Cologne, 1942

The briefing room was crowded
With twenty crews, or more
We saw the target map and route
And guessed what was in store

The air is thick with rumour
“It’s a Happy Valley (1) treat”
The CO (2) enters quickly
We clatter to our feet

“A message from the C-in-C (3)
We raise a muted groan
“A thousand aircraft on tonight –
Your target is Cologne”

“A thousand aircraft” echoes round
A mocking cheer is raised
“Four hundred Tiger Moths (4)” one quips
Yet still we are amazed

“Your job tonight – to start the fires
First there will find it tough
Make it easy for the heavies (5)
To drop their back-room stuff (6)

“A thousand aircraft on Cologne
God help the bods below
With a full moon and a clear sky
God help the sods that go”

The banter crackles back and forth
Weak jokes that mask strong fears
For some, this night will end with death
With horror, grief and tears

And so we saunter to the flights
Each with his thoughts alone
Warsaw, Rotterdam, London burned
For them – tonight… Cologne.

  • Happy Valley:
    RAF nickname for the Ruhr valley, a heavily industrialised and well-protected area of Germany, targeted by the RAF.
  • CO:
    Commanding Officer – usually the man in charge of the RAF station where the bomber squadrons were based.
  • C-in-C:
    Commander in Chief.
    At this time Command in Chief Bomber Command was Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris GCB, OBE, AFC
  • Tiger Moths:
    The De Havilland Tiger Moth was an unarmed biplane used for training RAF pilots.
  • Back-room stuff:
    refers to new types of bomb and or target markers etc.
  • Heavies:
    RAF bomber aircraft were categorised by the load they could carry – light, medium or heavy. In May 1943 the RAF ‘heavies’ were the Short Stirling and Avro Manchester (both types being phased out), the Handley Page Halifax and the Avro Lancaster – more capable aircraft re-equipping Bomber Command.

Image: Members of No. 106 Squadron RAF, including their Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Guy Gibson (standing middle, front row), celebrate their return to RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire after the raid on Cologne, Germany on 30/31 May 1942. The Squadron’s Avro Manchesters, in the course of being replaced by Avro Lancasters are in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208127

Although Cologne was the target bombed on Operation MILLENIUM it was not the first choice of Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Harris (‘Bomber’ Harris) head of Bomber Command.

That was to be Hamburg, a large port city on the coast and relatively easy to find using the navigation aids of the time – especially Gee that was coming into operation use. Harris’ declared aim (cited in ‘The Bombing War’ by Richard Overy) was the to wipe out the city in one night – two at the most – by carrying every single incendiary bomb possible to create an ‘unextinguishable conflagration’ in the ‘suitably combustible’ part-medieval city.

But weather concerns spared Hamburg that night – but for just over 12 months.

On the night of 23 July 1943 the RAF launched ‘Operation GOMORRAH’ against Hamburg. Reports state that around 43,000 people died in the resulting firestorm, almost half of the capacity of the modern Wembley Stadium, the home of English national football.

George Crocker’s RAF story with other examples of his wartime poetry can be found at

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/82/a8927382.shtml (accessed 19 May 2017).

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A different sort of war memorial

BY RICHARD MADDOX

Image: The Westminster City Hall War Memorial commemorating 82 council workers. Image: © R Maddox 2017

 VILLAGES, TOWNS AND CITIES up and down the United Kingdom are dotted with war memorials.

Typically they date from the 1920s and feature a realistic depiction of a soldier, sailor or airman in a heroic or sometime contemplative pose – standing defiantly against the enemy, rifle in hand, or head bowed saluting fallen comrades.

Those which are abstract usually are cenotaph-like or variations on Sir Reginal Bloomfield’s ‘Cross of Sacrifice’ that features in Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries the world over.

Outside Westminster City Hall I saw what I took to be a piece of sculpture – something that is not unusual in the redeveloping area – that reminded me of a collection of aircraft munitions.

The ‘sculpture’ is a modern-day war memorial commissioned by Westminster City Council, It doesn’t honour those who died in Iraq or Afghanistan but commemorates the 82 council employees who died on active service during the First World War.

Each is remembered by a single Sicilian marble ‘shard’.

The names of those commemorated by the memorial are laser-engraved on a 2-metre diameter disc at its base.

Designed by Lee Simmonds it was dedicated in December 2016. It replaces a Roll of Honour from 1921 which was lost ‘decades ago’ when the Council moved offices.

Lee was born in 1987 and studied metalwork and silversmithing at Sheffield Hallam University. He returned to London to gain his Master’s degree at the Royal College of Art.

And do I like it?

It’s certainly eye-catching and since I first saw it I have found myself thinking about the shape of those polished needle-like projections.

Why choose that shape? I have my own ideas but I thought I‘d contact Lee Simonds and ask him.

If and when he gets back to me I’ll let you know what his thinking was and how he came to design the memorial!

More information:

https://www.westminster.gov.uk/council-memorial

The Churchill War Rooms

BY PETER MATHEWS

CHURCHILL’S COMMAND CENTRE was the hub of the Britain’s secret intelligence network in the Second World War as it played a central part in its direction.

The headquarters of MI6 were to be found (if you were in the know) at 55, Broadway opposite St James Park Underground Station just across the park. Churchill founded The SOE (Special Operations Executive) in 1940 in St Ermin’s Hotel, just around the corner from Broadway, with orders to ‘set Europe ablaze’ and create the resistance movement which its agents did.

St-Ermins-Hotel-1024x472[1]

St Ermines Hotel © historyinanhour.com

The Battle of the Atlantic was being directed, with the help of Bletchley Park; in the depths of the ivy clad Citadel next to the Admiralty within sight of Winston’s headquarters. The command centre kept in constant touch with the “Park” as it was producing the ULTRA intelligence evaluations from wireless intercepts they decoded of Hitler’s orders to the Wehrmacht . The intelligence reports were delivered by a constant stream of Dispatch Riders arriving at the back door of the bunker in Great George Street. The Top Secret documents were then scrutinised by Churchill in the war rooms and circulated to his chosen advisors, sometimes with the now famous ACTION THIS DAY note on them.

The intelligence secrets that Churchill reviewed in his war rooms with the help of his small tight-knit team of senior naval and military officers played a crucial part in formulating the strategy of naval and military operations in every theatre of war around the globe. The decisions they made about the huge and complex movements of British forces and their military equipment had to be relayed rapidly and accurately to the commanders in the field. As the war began each of the armed services handled their own coding and communications but it soon became obvious that communications within the war rooms had to be more centrally organised. The Royal Air Force set up the Cabinet Office Cypher Office; a small detachment of WAAFs (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) officers were assigned the arduous task of coordinating, coding, transmitting, receiving and distributing all signals communications within the command centre.

Joan-Anne-Williams-Lady-Llewellyn[1]

Lady Llewellyn Image © The Telegraph

Squadron Officer Joan Williams (latter Lady Llewellyn) was put in charge of the Cypher Office for which she was later awarded and OBE; it grew rapidly under her supervision to many more times its original size. A battery of machine coding Typex machines (the equivalent of the German coding Enigma machine) were installed within weeks of the decision. A team of eight WAAF officers administered the operation of the constantly busy communications unit whose conditions in the sub-basement of what is now the Treasury Building were gloomy and almost airless. Visitors to the Churchill War Rooms today may be able to imagine the cramped living conditions but not the pressure under which they all worked. Those of us that have been concerned with coding and decoding messages will know the demands that such work needs and the close attention required where errors in a digit or letter could render a message unintelligible. Squadron Officer Williams work would not only entail the close attention to the coding or decoding of documentation but also the priority of its distribution, she was also responsible for seeing the right people saw the right documents. Priorities in circulation were laid down by General Sir Leslie Hollis to whom she reported; on more than one occasion she was reprimand her for an error in the circulation of documention. Her team had sent a document to staff on the normal ‘Secret’ list, when it should only have gone to the much more restricted ‘All Most Secret and Personal for Chiefs of Staff’ list.

Working in the War Rooms was demanding, often in ill lit and confined spaces but in spite of the difficulties morale was always high because war room staff found Churchill’s leadership so inspirational. The War Rooms had been manned for 24 hours every single day since 3rd September 1939 but on the 15th August 1945 Japan surrendered and a global war ended and the Map Room as the heart of the command centre ceased to function. A graphic picture of the conduct of the war was left for to-day’s visitors but the Cipher Office in the Cabinet Office still continued its operations for just over a year; still run by the WAAFS. Finally civil servants took over its function and the Cabinet Office Cipher Office was subsumed into other government security facilities leaving the war rooms vacant.

For some years after that there was an informal arrangement to show a limited number of people around the rooms but there was a growing public interest in viewing the historic command centre. Margaret Thatcher formally opened the Churchill War Rooms in 1984 and run by the Imperial War Museums; today the Churchill War Rooms are visited by almost half a million people a year. They are able to see the secret establishment from which the Second World War was directed laid out much as they were during the war; the site compares in importance with Bletchley Park as a part of Britain’s secret intelligence story. A visit to the War Rooms is enhanced by the feeling of Churchill’s presence, the arms of his chair in the Cabinet Room where he led discussions on the war’s progress with his Chiefs of Staff and advisors still show the deep groves. They were worn by him showing the strain of those meetings and making the momentous decisions while he was making history.

Feature image © IWM (HU 73355)

Operation CHASTISE – the attack on the Ruhr dams

BY RICHARD MADDOX

THE AIRCRAFT FLEW IN THREE WAVES (nine in the first wave, five each in the second and third waves) to the first dam, the Möhne.

At 12:28 and after five hits the dam was breached. The Eder dam was next on the list and was shattered at 01:52.

The final dam – the Sorpe – was then targeted but remained intact.

Of the nineteen that were despatched only eleven attacked. Three aborted the mission before bombing, eight were lost and eight returned home.

Fifty-three aircrew died (almost 40% of the attacking force) and three men became prisoners of war as a result of the operation.

On the ground around 1,600 were killed including around 1,000 prisoners of war – many Soviet – serving as forced labour with two hydro-electric power stations destroyed and others damaged. A number of factories and coal mines were damaged and full production was not restored for four months.

In all thirty-four decorations – including a Victoria Cross to Guy Gibson – were awarded to the aircrew that took part. Gibson would be killed four months later flying a  De Havilland Mosquito on a raid in Holland. He was twenty-six years old.

The Imperial War Museums have a number of images in their online collection relating to No. 617 Squadron RAF and Operation CHASTISE.

A selection are shown below.

Image: An oblique view of the scale briefing model of the Eder dam (to the immediate right of the area of flat farmland) and the wooded hills of the surrounding area. Copyright: © IWM (MH 27710).

 

Image: A group of observers watches as a practice ‘bouncing bomb’ (UPKEEP weapon) heads toward the shoreline at Reculver in Kent, where No 617 carried out trials of the weapon. Designer and engineer Barnes Wallis is on the extreme left of the group. Copyright © IWM FLM 2343

 

Image: Close up of Avro Lancaster, ED932/G ‘AJ-G’ flown by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, commander of No 617 Squadron RAF after a practice drop of an UPKEEP bomb at Reculver, Kent.
The ‘/G’ after the serial number means that the aircraft is equipped with secret equipment and is to be guarded at all times while on the ground.
© IWM FLM 2354

 

Image: A German official standing by the ‘UPKEEP’ weapon salvaged from  Avro Lancaster, ED927/G ‘AJ-E’, after it struck an electricity pylon (possibly after being hit by flak) and crashed near Haldern, Germany at 23:50 hours on 16 May while flying to attack the Sorpe Dam. Flt Lt R N G Barlow and his crew were all killed. Copyright © IWM (HU 62922).

 

A summary of the attack produced by the Operational Research Section RAF Bomber Command for Director of Scientific Research, Ministry of Aircraft Production and dated by a covering note written by Dr Basil Dickins (Head of ORS, Bomber Command) as 3 November 1943.
Image: UK National Archives – Air 14/1858 ‘Investigations into the accuracy of bombing attacks on enemy targets, September 1941 to October 1943’.

 

 

More information:
http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-incredible-story-of-the-dambusters-raid

http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/bombercommanddambusters21march1943.cfm

 

May 12 1940 – The death of Flying Officer Levin Fredman and the nine year search to find out what happened

BY RICHARD MADDOX

Image: Pilots of No.615 (County of Surrey) Squadron RAF at Abbeville in France. Flying Officer Levin Fredman is sitting on the right with his Brodie on his knee. He holds a pistol on his lap – perhaps to test the protective properties of the Brodie helmet! © IWM (1609)

SEVENTY-SEVEN YEARS AGO TODAY Levin Fredman died. He was 21 years old.

Called up to RAF service in September 1939, he and his squadron flew their Gloster Gladiators across to France on 15 November 1939, to bolster elements of the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force already there.

Once there, No 615 Squadron and fellow Auxiliary Air Force squadron No 607 (County of Durham) Squadron that had flown with them settled into the routine of the Phoney War – occasional encounters with enemy aircraft, coupled with occasional trips to Paris,

That changed in the spring of 1940 after the launch of the long awaited Blitzkrieg.

Friday 10 May 1940 German offensive in Europe starts at dawn. Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are attacked simultaneously under ‘Plan Gelb’ (Plan Yellow).

The Belgian Air Force is virtually destroyed that day and the RAF and French Air Forces are faced with rapidly regrouping and fighting the confident German forces sweeping across Europe.

That day Pilot Officer Levin Fredman takes off in a Gladiator biplane (see the earlier post ‘The Day Winnie Could have Killed Winston’) and attacks a Luftwaffe Heinkel He-111 bomber. Out run, he reported ‘port engine seen to emit black smoke and made off towards the west’.

It was probably the last time he flew the Gladiator as No 615 Squadron ‘B’ Flight were re-equipping with modern Hawker Hurricanes fighters.

Two days later on May 12 1940, he and other members of his squadron were sent to Vitry-en-Artois to reinforce No 607 Squadron (County of Durham) RAF.

At around 09:30 he took off as part of a mixed section of Hurricanes with both No 615 Squadron and No 607 Squadrons.

They encountered a number of Messerschmitt bf 109 fighters escorting Heinkel He 111 aircraft and he fails to return.

The National Archives has a file detailing the hunt to discover exactly what happened to him.

Like all such files about missing personnel you have to take a moment before you open it as the sorrow, the false hopes and tireless efforts of the both the relatives and the RAF Casualty Branch to find out what happened can emotionally drain you.

In this file are copies of RAF reports, letters from his brother and a sister asking for information on behalf of his aged parents.

It details searches by the Red Cross – including one to a mysterious Miss Day who is sending a telegram to ‘Direktor Maurer’ at the Töcher Institut in Switzerland, where she was apparently a former pupil – to see if he had been badly injured and become a prisoner of war, a report from a Frenchman  in Merville in the Nord region of France that he was buried there (he wasn’t).

There was also a report that he had been buried secretly in a village in Belgium and his grave hidden from the German occupiers. Again this is not the whole truth.

These are just a sprinkling of the sorts of correspondence in the folder. The first item is dated May 1940 and the last December 1949.

According to the file, enquiries with the Red Cross produced no lead nor had Miss Day’s enquiries. So his case had been handed to the Missing Research and Enquiry Unit in 1946 and after reviewing the case, interviewing possible witnesses they found a Gendarmerie report indicating that he was buried in Wihogne, a small village around 90 kilometres from Brussels – and around 500 kilometres from Merville.

The (very damaged) MREU report on the file is dated 26 June 1946 and written by Flight Lieutenant J A M Stuart from No 8 Section, No. 2 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit.

He states that he interviewed witnesses (including the local mayor) and found that Levin Fredman had been recovered from his burning aircraft and he had been identified by his identity discs and a number of papers – a bank statement, an RAF message form and five letters. The report continues:

‘ 5. I paid a visit to this cemetery and there saw the grave of FREDMAN. It was marked with a wooden cross on which is written the number of this officer. On the Grave itself is a small white stone on which is marked in French: ‘To our Brave Ally’. This grave has been registered by 73 G.R.U. [a military Grave Registration Unit].

6. Ref. para 2 in your letter of 27th June 1946 stating that a M. Jean Carette had informed F/O Fredman’s brother that F/O Fredman was buried in Merville cemetery, France. I think that perhaps M. Carette must refer to some other airman. ‘

He concludes the report with an appropriate understatement…

‘ 7. In view of the fact that the burial place of F/O Fredman has been located, I thought it unnecessary to make the journey to Merville to interview M. Carette.

May this case now be considered closed? please. (sic) ‘

We will may never know the full details of how exactly Flying Officer Fredman met his death but two things are certain.

His burial was recorded and documented and today his grave (the only British military grave in the cemetery) is well tended. Photographs show that although the wooden cross has been replaced by a Commonwealth War Graves headstone, there is still a separate plaque marked ‘A Notre Brave Allie’.

John Northmore – Nelson Battalion, Royal Naval Division

BY RICHARD MADDOX

WANDERING DOWN WHITEHALL towards the end of this year’s London Marathon I came across a fleet of buses barricading the road to traffic. Not the normal red London buses, these had come from Purfleet in Essex and a number were named after men who had died in World War One.

This is the story of one of them and how the buses came to be named.
John was born in 1871 and joined the Royal Navy straight from school, serving later in the Nelson Battalion, Royal Naval Division (RND).

The RND was formed at the outbreak of the war from around 20 – 30,000 Royal Navy and Royal Marine who were not required for service at sea.

From these men two Naval Brigades and a Brigade of Infantry were formed. All three Brigades fought at Antwerp in October 1914. In the rush to get men to the Continent around 80% of the men in the units went to war without packs, mess tins or water bottles.

They were armed with outdated weapons which they received three days before setting sail and had no artillery, engineering or medical units attached.

Following the withdrawal from Antwerp in mid-October 1914 (in which some 1,500 RND troops crossed into Holland and were interned) the Division spent much of 1915 re-equipping and re-training before moving to Egypt prior to being deployed to Gallipoli in support of the ANZAC troops.

He was killed in action 3 May 1915 and is commemorated at the Helles Memorial, Gallipoli, Canakkale, Turkey and the Purfleet War Memorial. He was 44 year old and a Chief Petty Officer.

Image: Ensignbus’ ‘Chief Petty Officer John Northmore’ on Whitehall. 23 April 2017. Image © R Maddox

‘John Northmore’ was the first of five new buses for the Ensignbus bus company and was named at a local ceremony on 4 May 2015. John Northmore was also the first man from Purfleet killed during the First World War.

In all Ensignbus have named 26 buses after those from Purfleet who died in the 1914 – 1918 conflict and the Purfleet Heritage Centre has a booklet about the men for sale.

For more information click on the links:

http://www.focustransport.org/2015/05/ensignbus-commemorate-local-world-war-1.html

http://www.ensignbus.com/news/ensignbus-commemorates-the-centenary

http://www.treasurebunker.com/forums/index.php?/topic/1657-the-royal-naval-division-in-ww1/

http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/3054885/NORTHMORE,%20JOHN