Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Target Stavanger 11/4/1940

Stavanger being bombed on 17th April 1940
Unternehmen Weserübung - the German invasion of Norway and Denmark began on 9th April 1940 with German planners anxious to secure the Reich's northern flank and more importantly protect their supply of iron ore from Scandinavia.

Sources in the German foreign office were aware of the British attempt to send a force to secure the iron ore under the guise of supporting Finland in her war against Russia. There were also concerns that the British would mine Norwegian coastal waters forcing neutral and German shipping out into international waters where it could be intercepted by the Royal Navy. Worst still the British may just ignore the neutral waters as they had done with the Altmark incident in February.

Iron ore was crucial to the German war effort and with no chance of a pro-German government appearing in the near future the Wehrmacht was sent in with German envoys informing the Danish and Norwegian governments that the Germans were there to protect their neutrality from an Anglo-French invasion.

German troops aboard the Kriegsmarine's surface units pushed up the coast towards their various targets with the first arriving on the 9th April 1940. There were also attacks carried out by Fallscrimjäger (paratroops) on Norwegian airports including Stavanger-Sola on the far west coast of Norway.

The airfield had only been established in 1937 and defences were still under construction with only a scattering of light anti-aircraft guns, sixty soldiers and one bunker. The bomber wing on the airport consisted of obsolete aircraft which were evacuated as the Luftwaffe began its first attack with six BF 110 fighters. At around 09:00 the Fallscrimjäger jumped from their Ju 52s and within an hour the Germans had accepted the surrender of Lt Thor Tang, the garrison commander.

As soon as the airfield was taken German troops and equipment began landing with some 2-300 aircraft landing on the 9th alone. These newly landed troops quickly took the town of Stavenger and began organising the defences as well as continuing offencive operations.

In London the original force that had been earmarked for operations in Norway had to be hurriedly reassembled and dispatched. In the meanwhile RAF Bomber and coastal command weighed up their options. The only airport in range that the RAF could transfer their bombers too was Stavanger so with no where to land and no hope of getting Wellington's and Whitley's onto Aircraft carriers they decided to attack what they could. The only target within range of their heavy units was this same vital airport which they knew from reconnaissance pictures was being used as a main transport artery by the Germans.

 Vickers Wellington bombers.
115 squadron, on loan to Coastal command, was earmarked for the first bombing raid on an enemy mainland target. On the morning of the 11th April a Blenheim reconnaissance aircraft managed to get some clear shots of the airfield from 40 feet before heading straight back to Britain with its precious cargo. Back at Kinloss airfield the crews of six Wellington bombers gathered for their briefing whilst the ground crews searched for trolleys to carry the bombs from the magazine. This vital piece of equipment was still in transit to the airbase!

At the end of the briefing someone asked the briefing officer;

"You have told us how to evade one fighter, sir. What happens if we meet four?"

The response was optimistic;

"Most unlikely."

The Wellington crews had learnt during operations over Heligoland Bight that if they held formation the formidable rear turrets could scatter individual Luftwaffe fighters but against a numerical force of determined 109s or 110s they could become easy pickings. They were also assured that two Blenheim fighters of 254 squadron would be providing cover for them.

F/o Bain and Sgt Tubbs took off from Bircham Newton and proceeded to the rendezvous point and waited for the bombers but there was no sign of the Wimpys. Soon they received an order to "Hold position." There had been a delay with S/L Boulay's force not taking off until 18:00

Bain's response was "Message not understood."

After scouting the area the two Blenheims dropped down to 4000 feet and at 19:45 passed over the airfield at wingtip to wingtip emptying their magazines into the organised "bombers lined up in Germanic precision" in three lines. They circled around for a second pass catching many Germans who had come out to look at the wreckage presuming it was like the attack they had recieved earlier that day. Both fighters pulled to skip over a bluff before heading back to Britain.

The Germans stepped up security 9. Flakregiment 33 went on standby. The strafing run by the two Blenheims had caught them napping and the had only managed sporadic light machine gun fire any further strikes would have a tougher time of it.

At 21:00, half an hour after Bain and Tubbs had left, 115 squadron arrived and began to attack in two waves returning fire with their turrets as the Germans filled the air with shells. Boulay led his section across the aerodrome at 1000 feet dropping their 500 lb SAP bombs near hangers and the observers thought they saw petrol fires starting. P/o Barber led his section across at between 200 and 300 feet coming under heavy fire. F/Sgt Powell's bomber was struck several times and barely made it back to Kinloss whilst F/o Scott had his navigator Sgt Smith were wounded. Tragedy struck when P/o Barber's Wellington burst into flames and plowed into a school killing two civilians and the crew instantly.

On the return of 115 a summons was dispatched for Bain and Tubbs to report to Kinloss immediately where 115's Commander W/c Mills saw them personally. The loss of Barber and his crew was attributed to fighter interception as well as ground fire. Mills was going to reprimand them for leaving his men alone but was overruled by a senior officer as it was felt the fighter pilots had shown initiative and in a time when heroic actions were needed the two men were celebrated even giving a report on BBC radio.

P/o Barker, P/o Rankin, LAC Westcott, Sgt Pearce, P/o Bull and Sgt Geoffrey Juby are buried in Stavenger cemetery.

F/Sgt Powell was awarded thee DFM for nursing his damaged bomber home whilst wounded.

The following morning at 03:57 a Blenheim flew a reconnaissance mission over Stavanger and bore witness to the damage caused by the wreckage of P9284 to the town and school. The aerodrome itself was barely damaged though the raiders were credited with the destruction of a Do. 17 P of 1 (f)/320.

The attack was considered a success and one to be celebrated  with valuable lessons to be learnt. Over the coming weeks Stavanger was to be attacked several times by Wellingtons and shot up by Blenheims but never put out of action.

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