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).

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.

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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)