Thursday, 3 November 2016

The death of the Advanced Air Striking Force

The 9 May 1940 started for Air Vice Marshal Barratt in a very inauspicious way at 2:15 a.m. with a call from London to warn him that Germany had issued an ultimatum to the Dutch, however there was no confirmation from the attaché in The Hague though it seemed like another “flap” like November and April. The squadrons were again brought to standby in readiness and although nothing came to pass that day they were held in a state of preparedness.
A formation of Fairey Battles
 Early the following morning the Luftwaffe made the first move with small groups of bombers attacking airfields at Bethenville, Mournelen, Berrey-Au-Bac and Reims-Champagne dropping high explosives and incendiaries but despite destroying hangers and tool sheds only three of the AASFs Battles were lost with a further two damaged. 142 Squadron received their visitors at 4:35 a.m. with six He 111 Bombers attacking between 600 and 1000 feet but causing minor shrapnel damage to one Battle and a clutch of German ordinance which failed to explode at all! They received another attack at 6:00 a.m. with incendiaries dropped causing no damage. In total forty-three French, ten Dutch and eight Belgian airfields were hit on the first day destroying 210 aircraft though the German crews claimed up to 829 aircraft destroyed on the ground. Had the Luftwaffe intelligence been sharper then the casualties in the North of France could have been a lot worse with only twenty one of ninety one airfields being attacked with half of them not holding first line squadrons and Luftflotte 3s crews failed to find any targets.

   By 6:00 a.m. news of German soldiers crossing the borders and paratroopers landing from Ju 52s reached the RAF and the Battle squadrons were brought up from Standby to Alert No.2 and very quickly Alert No.3 but by 10:30 a.m. when Barratt took control of the situation at Chauny the Battles were still on the ground. The Blenheims of the Component and AASF were sent on reconnaissance flights and spotted smoke over the Ruhr which obstructed most of their field of vision but vehicle columns a mile long were sighted heading north west from Kaldenkirchen. Three reconnaissance sorties in the norther sector were lost including P/O Thomas’ Blenheim of 57 squadron which came down at Echtveld at 11:30 a.m. with the crew all killed. F/Lt Wyatt of the same squadron was also injured in the arm by enemy fire
      As the day unfolded and the news of a widespread German assault on the low countries was reported the AASF were called to attack targets ten times but it was not until midday that eight Battles of 142 squadron, who had been on standby for two and a half hours, took off to attack a German column on the Luxembourg to Dippoch road. The formation had six Hurricanes flying as top cover as the low flying Battles approached the target but the danger was not coming from Messerschmitts above them this time and as soon as the Battles were close enough the German Flak opened up filling the sky with shards of hot metal that eviscerated the lightly armoured Battles at point blank range. The two sections came in at 250 feet and dropped their four 250lb bombs, set with eleven second delayed fuses. Of the seven Battles who reached the target (P/O Chalmers had returned following a problem with his landing gear) three failed to return. Sgt Spears and his crew managed to escape the Germans following their crash landing at Colmey whereas F/O Roth and his gunner were not so lucky and were taken away to the rear of the German advance and P/O Laws’ Battle crashed killing his crew. Other aircraft were severely holed with crewmen like LAC Cave, who was hospitalised on the return to base. P/O Corbett received a DFC for bringing his Battle back with an injured ankle and his observer, Sgt Irvine, dead. Despite these loses the Squadron’s record of events records proudly; “No. 142 Squadron was the first Squadron in the AASF to carryout operations on enemy columns.”
   Barratt was to dispatch other squadrons throughout the day to harass the columns with 150 squadron taking off in two sections of two and one of three taking off between 2:45 and 3:57p.m. Like 142 squadron they had had five aircraft on standby since 5:30 a.m. which was increased to eight at 9:45 a.m. and didn’t receive their preliminary orders until 1:10 p.m. The first wave led by F/Lt Weeks bombed the column found between Neufchateau and Bertrix attracting a similar hail of fire but Weekes and Sgt Andrews’ two Battles returned with P/O Campbell-Irons disappearing. The second wave also were never seen again after their take off whereas the third wing led by F/O Blom whose aircraft had been hit over Differdange by Flak which ruptured a petrol tank filling the cockpit with petrol fumes which impaired the crew’s vision and caused “Intense discomfort.” They failed to find a target between Luxembourg and Echternach but managed to find one near Gevenmacher and attacked at 100 feet and strafed with forward and rear guns but Sgt White’s Battle disappeared not long after the attack. Blom would later receive the DFC for attacking the column with his damaged aircraft despite the four missing aircraft only F/Lt Parker was killed with five men taken prisoner and Sgt White’s crew making a delayed evasion arriving on the 13 May.
   The crews of 103 squadron suffered quite extensively with three of the four bombers shot-down
F/Lt E Parker's wrecked Battle under guard
with P/O Drabble, Sgt Smith and LAC Lamble were all killed as were Sgt Poole and LAC Hutchinson of Sgt Lowne’s crew whereas P/O Wells and his crew as well as Lowne were all captured.

   The 10 May’s sorties showed that not only were the mobile columns easy targets as Allied planners had hoped but also that the Fairey Battle and indeed low flying Blenheims from Bomber Command, were exceptionally vulnerable to concentrated Flak. It was not just mobile flak batteries firing at the RAF but even German infantry firing rifles and motorbike and sidecar riders firing their mounted MG 34s! The AASF report stated:
Even at this early stage of operations the difficulties of operating against fleeting targets became evident. The Columns against which raids had been dispatched proved to have dispersed or to have moved elsewhere by the time the raid reached the area of operations.

This was the same problem encountered by Bomber Command over Heligoland coupled with murderous anti-aircraft fire and the threat of aerial superiority from German fighters.
   A further raid was authorised in the early evening when it was hoped that the failing light would mean there was less chance of being caught by marauding Messerschmitts especially as there were no Hurricanes or French fighters available for escort duties. Two half sections totalling four aircraft from 12 Squadron took off between 4.50 and 5.05 p.m. Although they did not encounter the Luftwaffe they did encounter “heavy crossfire” which severed F/lt Hunts bomb control cable and he retired to Piennes whilst Sgt Young, P/o Hulse’s observer was wounded in the shoulder.
   Through the fire F/lt Simpson dropped his four bombs and pulled away but was quickly informed by his observer, Sgt Odell that petrol was streaming from the tanks and he soon noted that the engine was starting to stutter as they crossed the frontier. Knowing that they would not make it back to their base Simpson decided to put the Battle down in a field in a controlled crash at 6:15 p.m. Odell and LAC Thomlinson pulled themselves free of the now burning wreck only to realise that Simpson was still in the cockpit and hurried to save their pilot. Although Tomlinson received burns to his hands pulling a similarly burnt Simpson between the two of them they managed to get 150 yards away before the Battle blew up. For their bravery Tomlinson and Odell received the DFM and Simpson the DFC. The only other aircraft not to come back was P/O Matthews who was reported last seen landing in a field at 6:00 p.m. but the whole crew were captured.
   Other squadrons had also engaged during the day with 105 squadron losing P/O O’Brien’s Battle and 218 Squadron whose aircraft reaped a similar level of flak killing LAC Baguley in the turret of L5402. Battles from 226 squadron joined the evening raids on a convoy taking off from Reims at 5:00 p.m.. Sgt McLoughlin reported anti-aircraft batteries on the surrounding hills north and west of Luxembourg and machine guns firing yellow tracer from railway cuttings. Despite being unable to pinpoint the troop concentrations Mcloughlin dive bombed but was unable to report specific damage whilst AC Russel emptied half a pan of his Vickers ammunition into targets. Sgt Barron bombed a convoy of thirty to forty vehicles not far from a large wireless station leaving a crater in the road and a near miss some fifteen yards away. But Barron was struck y anti-aircraft fire with a German bullet passing straight through his left leg but still managed to get his craft and crew home reporting seeing F/O Kerridge’s Battle in flames south west of Luxembourg. Kerridge was killed and Corporal Dixon badly burnt as the aircraft crashed into the northern suburbs of Faubourg de Luxembourg. F/O Cameron suffered a similar fate with ground fire shooting him down leaving his crew to join Kerridge’s in a POW camp and him ding in Diekirch hospital as the surgeons operated to save his arm.
   Of thirty-two Battles to go into action on 10 May thirteen were lost and the majority of the aircraft that returned were holed and damaged. The following day saw the AASF faced similar action against German columns with French reconnaissance pinpointing one consisting of important German units on the road from Prum to Echternach on its way towards Luxembourg. Six Hurricanes were sent to cover the target area above Prum at 9:45 a.m. but they returned having seen no Battles over the target area.
   Two half sections had taken off from both 218 squadron and 88 Squadron but none made it through with all four of 218s Battles being shot down. F/O Crews was brought down by ground fire which killed his observer Sgt Jennings and left Crews and Sgt Evans POW joining F/O Hudson and his crew. P/O Murray was badly burnt but similarly captured with his gunner and his observer hospitalised by the Germans at Limberg having lost his little finger. Only P/O Ridder of 88 Squadron returned as the sole survivor albeit heavily damaged and reported that:
his leader force-landed near Bastogne, and that he lost the remaining two aircraft near St Vith from ground fire. He was himself unable to drop his bombs because his bomb gear had been damaged and he returned followed by an Me 109. Of the remaining four aircraft there was no news at all.
None of the other crews returned or had landed in Allied controlled territory with F/Lt Madge’s Battle crashing on the Bastogne to Neufchâteau road with Sgt Whittle killed. Of the missing Battles P/O Mungovan and Sgt Robson were captured but all of P/O Skidmore’s crew and AC1 Maltby were killed. The combination of accurate ground fire and Messerschmitt patrols was starting to prove a deadly combination
   The Blenheims of the Air Component were faring no batter in their reconnaissance duties with two
Bristol Blenheim Mk IVs
of the four sorties sent to the Albert Canal being lost with Sgt Voi lost at 3:30 a.m. and F/O Ballis failed to return from the 8:30 p.m. patrol. The other squadron to see action was 53 Squadron which returned three of four Blenheims with no footage due to low cloud but lost P/O Alistair Panton who was bounced by six Messerschmitts whose concentrated fire shattered the control panel and caused the starboard engine to explode in flames whilst Sgt Bence in the rear turret cried out that he was hit and Sgt Christie collapsed from a head wound over the navigators table. Having brought the burning Blenheim down into a meadow. Panton pulled Christie free of the burning wreck before returning to pull Bence free whilst ammunition and fuel exploded around them and the Luftwaffe fighters making strafing runs at them. Panton managed to load his crew into a commandeered car and dodge a German column and Stuka attack to get his crew into a Belgian hospital. Bence lost his left leg due to his injuries but Christie and Panton managed to escape back to British lines.
   The RAF headquarters made the decision made the decision at midday that no reconnaissance flights should be made in the Maastrict area as the Luftwaffe had gained superiority and it was too dangerous and by 1:45 p.m. the Germans had taken the Canal and occupied Tongres whilst the Belgians retired to the Gotte river and the Wehrmacht continued to grow in strength in the Belgian Ardennes and Maastricht.
   The Reconaisance information gained by the French and the Lysanders of the Air Component showed that the Belgian airforce had been decimated with thirty burnt out aircraft seen at Wunche and Tirlement airfield. Other reports had left the planners stumped as to where the German strike was going to come from with the continuing build-up of forces in the Belgian Ardennes and the powerful thrusts that had already taken Paliscul, Bouillon and Givonne with their apparent target being Sedan. The quandary came as to whether this was to draw off attention from the Low Countries or the main thrust that would bypass Maginot into the French Hinterland but the “unpleasantly strong” forces in Belgium left them unsure. Barratt signalled GQG that he was;

Not yet able to decide which of the two following enemy threats is the main attack, general axis Maastricht – Gembloux with secondary thrusts on axis Bois-le-due – Tilbery or attack in the Ardennes in general direction Mézières with purpose turning the Maginot line.
   The decision was made for them by the Belgians who on the night of 11 May had sent an urgent
Crews boarding their Fairey Battle
request stressing the need to destroy two remaining bridges over the Albert Canal situated three miles to the south west of Maastricht. The Belgians had sent a team of engineers to destroy them but they had failed to do so because they had encountered stiff German opposition which led to the decapitation of the commanding officer by shell fire which also cut all means of telephone communication.
   The two bridge, one near Veldwezelt and the other near Vroenhoven on the M-Tongros line, were being fortified by German troops with flak emplacements and with all probability an umbrella of Messerschmitts. With such staggering odds an all-out attack by the whole AASF was ruled out and a smaller formation of volunteer crews was to be sent instead.
   When the assembled crews of 12 Squadron were asked for six volunteer crews they all volunteered and lots had to be drawn. Barratt did what he could to give these men a fighting chance and coordinated with Bomber Command to attack other crossings in the Maastricht area and German columns to draw off the Luftwaffe whilst also providing ten Hurricanes as escort.
   The Battles took off at 8:18 a.m. with three under F/O Garland heading for Veldwezelt and two under F/O Norman Thomas for Vroenhoven. The sixth aircraft flown by P/O Brereton suffered from a faulty wireless set so a second aircraft was quickly appropriated but that one had a mechanical fault with the hydraulic gear on the bomb rack failing. It was too late for them to get a third aircraft ready and with disappointment the crew returned to await the results of the raid unknowing that the faults had spared their lives that day.
   F/O Thomas and P/O Davey continued with their three Hurricane escort towards Vroenhoven but encountered a sweep of around thirty Messerschmitts when they were still twenty miles from the target. The Hurricanes, though outnumbered ten to one charged into the Germans and distracted them long enough for Thomas and Davy to make their attack runs on the bridge through a fierce barrage of anti-aircraft fire and small arms. The two Battles dived from six to two thousand feet and dropped a total of eight 250 lb bombs and striking the target. Sgt Mansell, Davey’s observer reported that “On looking down we saw that one bridge now matched the other” and the escorting Hurricanes saw bombs bursting on or near the target.
   The fire was too thick though and F/O Thomas’ Battle came down in flames and crash landed next to the target with the crew quickly captured. Davy was hit quite badly and he was also quickly attacked by a 109 which made two passes before diving away through a gap in the clouds trailing smoke following a blast from AC1 Patterson’s Vickers. Mansell contacted Davy down the intercom to tell him that the port fuel tank was leaking, trailing white smoke. Davy took the decision and try and bring L5241 back but not risk the lives of his crew and whilst over Maastricht he ordered Mansell and Patterson to bail out whilst he attempted to nurse the Battle home.

Fairey Battles attacking a German column (IWM C1737)
   Garland’s formation encountered the same level of flak but Garland did not hesitate and brought
his formation down on the bridge whilst German trucks snaked across it. One of Sgt Grey’s bombs send a column of water into the air showing a near miss but others struck home with one German truck bursting into flames whilst another struck the first span but Garland was seen to immediately burst into flames and crash. As the other two aircraft pulled out of their attack runs they were set upon by the Luftwaffe with one aircraft crashing into the river and the other into a field. P/O McIntosh, despite severe burns had dropped his bombs and managed to bring the burning wreck into a landing in a field within German territory. When his crew were interrogated the German officer was incredulous that the British had allowed them two days to fortify the bridge before attacking. Sgt Marland’s was last seen climbing out of control and claimed the lives of the whole crew.  Only Davy returned to base that day out of fifteen men who left that morning. Sgt Mansell returned having evaded German patrols but AC1 Patterson broke a bone in his foot on landing and was unable to escape the German held territory.

   Although the losses were high the crossings had been destroyed which had been the main objective of the mission and the German advance slowed. Garland and Grey were both awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously whilst Davy was rested but on his return to duty he was far from enthusiastic about being back on Battles.
   Holding the Germans at the Albert Canal was to prove fruitless as Holland surrendered on the following day and reconnaissance flights, although hampered by low cloud, which caused four sorties to be aborted and enemy fire which damaged two with another failing to return, reported the Germans had crossed the Meuse. When reports of German soldiers on the left bank were reported the AASF requested permission to attack but it took the BAFF HQ three quarters of an hour later it was decided that no attack would be carried out on this occasion with the official history recording that;
 The reason for returning a negative was not recorded; probably the targets were considered unsuitable, or else action was left to the French who operated with a few bombers in this area before midnight.
   The Germans were throwing their weight against the Meuse at where their main Schwehrpunkt would be and Guderian’s combat engineers brought up the last of their bridging equipment whilst the Panzers of Army Group A began to access and the flak detachments under the command of Oberst von Hippel began to dig in around the area having been brought to the front with all due haste. The Luftwaffe were also operating over the bridgehead attacking French positions and providing an umbrella of fighter cover for the vulnerable German soldiers in rubber dinghies and combat engineers struggling to construct pontoon bridges. By the morning of 14 May the Germans had occupied a front from Vringne-sur-Meuze to Mouzon with a depth of ten miles to Vendressa-la Nelville. Despite the order the day before not to engage the AASF had been put on standby with operations planned for the morning with three half sections to attack pontoon bridges at Sedan and two half sections at the Dinant sector. The situation was fairly fluidic though and during the night French Bomber forces claimed the Dinant bridges destroyed and the AASF raid scrubbed. By first light six Battles from 113 squadron were detailed to attack four bridges over the Meuse and at Chiers and four from 150 squadron took off at 7:35 a.m. to attack pontoon bridges at the island north of Villers and between Romilly and Allincourt. Both raids reported intense anti-aircraft fire from German positions but no fighters. Both formations were given fighter escorts with Hurricanes escorting the former and the French the latter and despite one of 103s pilots being injured all of the crews returned and reported success except for the island bridge which could not be located and so instead the two Battles attacked German troops in the village of Moliry.
   The results of these early raids were encouraging especially considering the levels of loss experienced on the previous days. As the crews debriefed and supplied the Intelligence officers with fresh reports on the German disposition plans were being drawn up for attack on German columns near Breda. By 12:15 p.m. the French contacted Barratt and pleaded for all of the help he had available to stop the German advance. There was a major thrust developing in the Dinant sector but more importantly the Sedan bubble was expanding and in need of checking with the French position being attacked before they themselves could launch a counterattack. General Gamelin and General Georges requested as much help as could be mustered with Barratt contacting the Chief of the Air Staff and ordering every possible bomber to be ready from 2:05 p.m. at the shortest possible notice.
   A plan was devised in coordination with the French to see them alternate attacks with three hour intervals with the AASF up first as the French had launched an attack of forty bombers escorted by a similar number of fighters at 12:30 p.m.. Barratt’s plan was for a wide spread of five brides to be attacked by eleven Battles each attack lasting over forty-five minutes with twenty minutes between attacks. Columns were also to be attacked in the same raids from Bouillon through Givena to Sedan with all seventy seven aircraft in the air at the same time.
   As with all plans there were two minor hitches with the orders reaching 76 wing, who were due to lead the attack, not getting their orders until 3 p.m. and not getting airborne until 3:25 p.m. and, although of little impact, only seventy-one aircraft took off.
   The delay in orders meant the Battles did not arrive in order and it is difficult to say who arrived first but 12 squadron were part of the first wave sending five aircraft to attack columns and lost four including Acting F/o Clancy who was also the acting commander of B-flight who came down at Pourn-St Rémy where Clancy was taken prisoner and his crew buried. A-Flight’s Commander, F/O Vaughan faired little better despite dropping his bombs on the road between Sedan and Givonne he was brought down and killed along with his observer Sgt Shelton-Jones. Vaughn’s gunner, J. D. Wright along with Sgt Winkler’s crew were taken prisoner. The soul survivor, P/O McElligott returned to base at 4:24 p.m. having witnessed Vaughan’s attack and the German flak emplacements following his successful bombing run.
   The eight Battles of 142 squadron led by Squadron Leader Hobler were met by not only a hail of anti-aircraft fire but also standing patrols of Messerschmitts from Jg 26, Jg 27 and Jg 53 which proceeded to engage the helpless British aircraft quickly claiming F/Sgt Spears’ P2333 which came down at Choloy killing two of the crew but were repulsed by AC Greenall manning F/O Reed’s gun who claimed to have shot down one of the German fighters. Hobler also fell to the Bf 109s and was badly burnt but was assisted by his crew, Sgt Kitto and Cpl Barbrooke who helped him to evade capture. On his return the gallant Squadron leader was hospitalised and eventually evacuated. F/Lt Wight and P/O Chalmers attacked the bridges with success and returned to Berry-au-bac reporting that they had seen fresh bridge works being built on both sides of the river. They were eventually joined by Sgt Spears and P/O Oakley and his crew who had managed to escape from a forced landing at Eely leaving the only unaccounted for aircraft being F/Lt Rogers who was posted as missing but was in fact killed with his whole crew. With the high numbers of crews returning it could be argued that 147 squadrons losses were less severe than others as aircraft were easily replaced but with the pressure building on the AASF both were rapidly becoming short supply.
   The last wave from 76 wing was 226 squadron who were similarly mauled with all of the aircraft sustaining damage with Sgt Annau having to abandon his attack having had his bomb release gear shot away by flak along with his left aileron and tail plane! Squadron Leader Lockett was seen crashing in flames with only one parachute spotted and was swiftly followed by P/O Dawn and Sgt Moseley. Two Battles hit the target and returned having absorbed a lot of fire from ground forces and in the pilot’s opinion, possibly from the French!
The worst losses were felt by 105 squadron’s Battles who took off from Villeneuve-les-Vertas at 3:40 p.m. to attack three bridges over the Meuse and encountered intense flak with five Battles falling in ten minutes with four of the crews killed and fifth returning by car to the airfield later that day whilst P/O Murray’s forced landing in a heavily damaged bomber on the airfield but perhaps the luckiest escape was that of F/O Gibson who came down behind enemy lines and finding himself and his crew captured by the Germans. Seizing on an opportunity he slipped away from his guards and made it back to French lines where due to his injuries he was admitted to hospital which is where his luck ran out as he was still being treated when the Germans overtook him and he re-joined his men in captivity. The Battles of 150 Squadron who had had such relative success in the morning engaged again and dispatched four aircraft to attack the pontoon bridges but all were lost in quick succession After the first bloodless sorties carried out by the squadron the four afternoon sorties were wiped out with one survivor, LAC Summerson. The other eleven men were all killed and buried in Choloy, Douzy and Donchery cemeteries.
   The German fighter patrols were growing in number with fighters of JG 26 and 53 operating in
Hans-Carl Mayer as a Hauptman
large numbers escorting their own bombers, of which Stg 3 flew some 300 sorties a day at geschwader strength, and engaging the British as they approached piecemeal. The Blenheims of 114 and 139 squadron (flown by 114 crews) lost five of their eight strong formation with Oberleutnant Hans-Carl Mayer (1/Jg.53) claiming two of them on top of two Battles whilst his wingman Oberleutnant Ohly claimed two more Blenheims and a Battle. They approached a pair of Blenheims with Meyer taking the right-hand side one and Ohly the left and making their passes leaving one burning and then finding another pair and doing the same thing. This time Mayer pressed home his attack and claimed his fifth victory of the war. Feldwebel Stark also attacked one of the Blenheims but following a burst of fire the bomber seemed to stay airborne. Much to his wingman’s surprise Stark got closer to his victim as the Blenheim exploded engulfing the pursuing White 3 leaving no trace of either aeroplane or crews. Unteroffizier Heinrich Hönisch, Stark’s wingman also put in a claim for two Battles and a Hurricane that day.
   One of the Blenheim pilots, Sgt Marcus Potter, was attacked by four 109s with one attacking from in front and three from behind. The German fire forced Potter to jettison his anti-personnel bombs and despite attempting to strike the bridge at Sedan was forced to withdraw with severe damage to the aircraft panels, propeller, cockpit and control panel. Although during their briefing he’d been assured that there would be fighter cover over the target area he did not see a single British fighter while he overflew the target area. He was left with no illusion of the strength of the Luftwaffe over the river.
We expected them to be defending the crossing coming into France they had to come through Sedan. Obviously they were going to defend it.
   The other Battle squadrons suffered just as heavily with 218 squadron losing seven of ten aircraft with only the injured P/O Harris returning, 88 squadron lost only Sgt Ross’ Battle with all killed and L5233 was heavily damaged. The men of 103 squadron lost three of their eight attacking aircraft with P/O Cunningham receiving a direct hit from and anti-aircraft shell causing the Battle to explode mid-air killing all aboard whilst despite injury F/O Fitzgerald pressed home his attack before crashing due to damage. The injury did not slow him down as he and Cpl Madkins evaded back to Allied lines as did the other aircraft’s crew flown by Sgt Beardsley who had been pounced upon by a Bf 109.
   It was the hardest battle the AASF would ever fight and despite the heroism of the pilots flying into what they would call “Hell on the Meuse” they were slaughtered by the overwhelming German opposition. Guderian would later praise his gunners describing the battle in his memoirs:
   There was now a most violent air attack by the enemy. The extremely brave French and English pilots did not succeed in knocking out the bridges, despite the heavy casualties that they had suffered. Our anti-aircraft gunners probed themselves on this day, one and shot superbly. By evening they calculated that they had accounted for 150 enemy aircraft. The regimental commander, Oberst von Hippel later received the Knight’s Cross for this.
   Whilst crews were buried, marched to captivity or made desperate attempts to evade captivity including one wounded pilot swimming the Meuse, an observer and gunner evading sitting with their mortally wounded pilot until the he died the following day and then evading, Barratt took the news of forty aircraft lost of seventy-one and went into shock. It is reported that he went back to his office and hung a “Do not disturb sign” on the door and crying at his desk for the loss of his men.
   Within four days the AASF had been not only been blunted but decimated as a fighting force.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The loss of HMS Audacious

 One of Germany's short lived but successful Hilfenkreuzers SMH Berlin, a 17,324 GRT liner built in Bremen by AG Weser for the Norddeutscher Lloyd line. She was converted into a mine layer at the war's outset and fitted with two 4.1” guns, heavy machine guns, small arms and 200 mines. Her maiden voyage under Kapitän zur See Pfundheller involved mining the coast of Ireland to interdict coastal trade before heading out to the Atlantic.
SMH Berlin

   The battleship HMS Audacious, commissioned in September 1912 sporting ten 13.5” guns, was
part of the 2nd Battle squadron consisting of fellow Dreadnaughts King George V, Monarch, Thunderer and Orion in the area for a gunnery exercise on 27 October. While manoeuvring at 08:45 off Tory Island an explosion rocked the aft of the battleship causing rapid flooding through the port engine room, a shell room and gradual flooding in the main central engine room. Captain Dampier ordered counter flooding of the starboard side to stop the list.

   The first thought was that somehow a U-boat had penetrated home waters again and the fleet of Battleships scattered as fast as they could so as to not repeat the loss of the Cressy’s leaving Audacious to fend for herself. Dampier had a plan as his starboard engine was still running and could make 9 knots, if he could move quickly they could beach the ship and save the lives of his crew but the heavy swell and flooded compartments made the ship roll. The flooding continued to get worse and by 10:00 the central engine room had to be abandoned and the starboard engine stopped and within an hour the ship’s port deck was being lapped by the waves. Dampier signalled by wireless for assistance and a general SOS was met by RMS Olympic along with the light cruiser Liverpool. Both vessels lowered lifeboats and approached the stricken warship as her Captain ordered nonessential crew into the boats. Olympic, the lead ship of her class which had included the Titanic was a powerful vessel and Captain Haddock was an experienced officer of the White Star Line who knew his vessel extremely well and he offered to tow Audacious with the assistance of the destroyer Fury.

  Slowly but surely they began heading to Lough Swilly but to no avail. The Liverpool and tender Thornhill tried as well but by then the Audacious was a lost cause.
HMS Audacious sinking

   Up until the late afternoon Admiral Jellicoe had ordered his big ships to stay away in case of U-boats but he received communications that several vessels had been mined in the same area the day before and decided that it would be safe to act. HMS Exmouth, an aging battleship, was sent to tow Audacious and Admiral Sir Lewis Bayley arrived on the boarding ship Cambria to take charge of the situation. By the early evening the situation was completely hopeless and the remaining crew were taken off ship as she slowly sank before exploding with such ferocity that a piece of wreckage struck the Liverpool 800 yards away killing Petty Officer William Burgess. It was a sinking that the Royal Navy tried to hide but passengers from neutral countries on Olympic were more than happy to share their experience and photographs and the news reached Germany to much jubilation.

   Berlin however, did not go on to achieve any more successes. She had suffered storm damage and limped into Trondheim harbour in Norway on 17 November and was unable to repair herself or leave port within the 24-hour rule forcing Pfundheller to intern his vessel. It was a trade that the Admiralstab were willing to make, a liner for a brand new battleship.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Gardenining - Aerial dropped sea mines 1940-2

   In April 1940 Bomber command were asked to commence laying magnetic mines in the North Sea and was the fruition of a project that the Admiralty had been developing since 1936. By June 1939 the first orders were arriving at the Admiralty and the Air staff requested thirty units to be placed at their disposal to be test dropped by torpedo bombers and a conference proposed to discuss the application and effect of the mine on warfare. The outbreak of the war delayed any response from the Admiralty but when they did finally contact the air ministry they were very optimistic about the deployment and potential informing them that 170 units would be available for the Fleet Air Arm and Bomber command to drop by the summer of 1940.
   Ever concerned by neutral opinion it was deemed necessary that they would alert the Germans and other nations of the vague area of the mine field so as to tie in with The Hague convention which was clear that all naval mines had to remain attached to their moorings in charted fields but as magnetic mines didn’t have moorings they were not specifically covered. The Admiralty liased closely with the Foreign office on how to proceed and were advised to avoid all neutral countries’ territorial waters even if unrecognised or disputed and to give four days’ notice so that they could with all of their embassies in the target area with enough time to give forty-eight hours’ notice. Similarly, the Admiralty would alert the BBC who would put out a notice at the same time as the Foreign office. All of this required the Air Ministry to give the Admiralty a week’s notice of the planned operation.
   Projections were made stating that the British would need to lay some 4636 mines using a total of eight squadrons laying some 460 per month in home waters, the Middle and Far East theatres if Italy and Japan were to join Germany. There was however a major problem with the mine’s deployment with the Air Staff revealing to the Naval staff on 19 September that Coastal command’s bombers, the Bristol Beaufort (the Blenheim’s stable mate) and Blackburn Botha were not entirely up to the task with the Botha’s range not extending past the Kiel canal and no other aircraft really suited to deploy it although tests on the upcoming Stirling and Halifax were being carried out. Another problem was that the mine’s mechanism was not really designed to withstand the impact on the water following an air drop and tests were undertaken with only a fuzing attachment to the torpedo dropping mechanism was added to both aircraft to rectify things. As an interim measure Coastal command did some tests using the obsolete Vickers Wellesley and found that they could drop the mines at 200 feet at a speed of 167 mph and that it had the range to be effective but in the same conversation they also stated there were no Wellesley squadrons in Britain and that the ministry had already decided the mines had to be dropped from no less than 500 feet and that they would continue to search for an adequate aircraft.
   By 1 December the Admiralty had perfected their trials and had set about having the outer casing of the mine strengthened to withstand the drop but they were optimistic that drops could now be achieved with production set at 80 in February, 180 in March and then 100 per month until the bulk order of some 980 were ready in November with this figures unalterable.
   The RAF had also developed a variant of the mine which, although not as effective as the original it could be dropped by Bomber Command aircraft without much modification. The Air ministry also advised that the best conditions for delivery of these bombs would be on moonlit nights with longer nights in the winter. A compromise was reached with the decision to have a massive concerted effort on the seven nights in April with the hoped result of total disruption of German shipping with the primary target being the Kiel fjord and the Elbe estuary with secondary targets at the Jade and Ems estuaries.
   Yet another problem was to rock the project as the number of Beauforts, only fourteen aircraft in
Coastal Command's Bristol Beaufort
March, meant that the operation had to be pushed back until June when forty would be available or convert the project to Hampdens of which seventy-two were available in February and projections of up to one hundred and fifty by June. The mines had to have their tail pieces refitted with drogues to allow them to be dropped from 500 feet at a Hampden’s cruising speed.
   Maurice Strefton of 49 Squadron described the approach:
one had to come down to three hundred feet to put the mine down. Not only for accuracy but you had to come down to the level because if it was dropped too high the mine would disintergrate but at three hundred feet it would hit the water and settle softly to the bottom of the canal or sea. (1)
   On the 3 February the Air Ministry wrote to the Admiralty to inform them that the Beauforts range of 350 miles when loaded may not be adequate to reach the target areas some 410 miles away but that the Hampden could, thought it could not go beyond Swinemunde scuppering the Admiralty’s hope of mining as far afield as Danzig!
   Careful planning and coordination between Coastal Command and the Ministry outlined target areas, landmarks and possible enemy opposition in W.A.15 which was originally issued to Coastal Command on 19 February. The prime targets areas were set with practicable locations being the Scheleswig coast to the Fehmarn Belt and from the Cadet Channel to Cap Arkona, with another off Peerd point, Ragen Island to the German coast no further than the 16˚ Meridian. The crews were briefed to drop their mines away off the coasts and out of sight of lighthouses, flak ships and any other landmarks so that the white impact splashes would not be observed by the light of the moon however the bombers should avoid coming between the moon and the shore so to avoid being silhouetted and observed. Operations should only be carried out by moonlight except in cases where features and landmarks were easy to locate in the dark.
   The predictions for loss were considered to be manageable with only those aircraft that were operating close to shorelines and harbours that might be detected and intercepted. The line of attack should be carried out at low level to avoid RDF detection and the idea of diversionary attacks were also suggested but these would need to be coordinated carefully.
   The implementation date was pushed to April as the two Coastal Command squadrons were being converted to Beauforts and the Hampden squadrons on loan would require intensive training in navigation and pinpoint accuracy drops at low level with the seven-day moon period in March was considered to be ideal. The operation or “Gardening” missions were to put the maximum amount of aircraft and mines out on the first night and as many available on the following nights with the aim of planting a patch thoroughly within a week.
   As late as the 11 March Coastal Command were still unhappy about the target areas suggested by the ministry warning that some were deeper than the five fathoms prerequisite and they also appraised that it would be better if a small force of highly trained pilots mined smaller areas accurately rather than an airfleet of semi trained crews attempting to mine a wider area poorly. The Air Ministry were anxious to get on with the mission and though it understood Coastal Command’s concerns they felt that even if inaccurate, a wider field would be more damaging to shipping and the mines wouldn’t be dropped in the shallows as they might be recovered by the Germans intact. A further set back to the use of Hampdens came on 8 March at a joint Navy and Airforce Technical branch meeting where it was revealed that the parachute fitted to the mine was not adequate to be dropped at the required 200 mph. Not wanting to go off “half cock” with the small amount of Beauforts available the Ministry and Admiralty decided to postpone until they had a suitable replacement. Luckily a chute under development at Woolwich for star shells was tested at Farnborough the following week to much success.
   With the parachutes now working, two squadrons, 49 and 83 were loaned to Coastal Command and training programme was instituted whilst tests were carried out at Pembroke docks to register splash visibility using oil drums full of sand. Further tests were carried out using a concrete dummy which weighed closer to the 1500 lb of the real mines. The major concern was that the white splash of the mine’s impact on the sea would be seen reflected in the moonlight.
   Mine production was still nowhere near adequate levels and a further 3000 units were ordered on top of the previous 980 as the proposed operations in Arpil would consist of one squadron of Beauforts and six squadrons of Hampdens! The Air Ministry allocated 200 mines with 155 going to the Hampden squadrons and the Admiralty providing personnel to advise mine handling at each airfield.
   With the final preparations completed the orders were sent out to the squadrons that Kiel, Elbe and Lubesck should be prioritised with thirty-eight mines each carried out by the Hampdens of Bomber Command.  The two Commands should coordinate on the best time to carry out the attack and not let the weather interfere too much. If the Baltic weather was unsuitable then the North Sea must be attempted and vice versa. The operation must go on. After exhaustive reconnaissance of the areas it was decided to drop mines on Schillig Roads and Kiel Fjord on clear moonless nights as well where possible.
   The signal to begin came through on 8 April with Coastal Command scheduled to begin on the 12/13 April at Schilling Roads and Elbe hoping to catch returning German warships who had been engaged in Norway but bad weather cancelled it. The Hampdens made their first raid the following night operating   from bases at Scampton, Hemswell and Waddington.
   Each area mined was given a letter with a corresponding vegetable such as Yams for the Jade estuary (Y) with mines being referred to as “vegetables” bit it wasn’t the only duty for the aircraft as on the 26 April it was requested that returning aircraft should machine gun the Luftwaffe’s seaplane bases around the Heligoland Bight to try and alleviate the pressure placed on British shipping in the Thames estuary from the German’s mining operations.
   The Admiralty’s Fleet Arm Swordfish of 815 squadron were also brought in to assist the proves of mining with their first Gardening operation in the Wester Ems on 27 April. The lion’s share of the planting was done by the Hampdens who dropped 109 in the Elbe, Kiel canal and other targets but fog had interfered and operations after the 25 April had to be cancelled.
   The Beauforts were temporarily withdrawn from Gardening for operations against Stavangar and against the German fleet or the liners SS Europa and SS Bremen which had been used to transfer Wehrmacht units to Norway. Four of the Beauforts were permanently detached for anti-shipping operations from 4 May with the rest of 22 Squadron returning to Gardening operations.
   May saw plans for the expansion of these missions with production of mines reaching four hundred per month with the parachute production expected to keep up and a greater expectation on the air crews being able to operate on clear starlight nights as well as the moon phase. So optimistic were the Admiralty that they wanted more aircraft to take part where they and excess stores of mines were available. Studies were made of German losses in the fields already “planted”, areas which had been swept by the Kriegsmarine’s units and new fields were looked at with reconnaissance reports scrutinised in depth as to their suitability. With German military policy being active in maritime operations with Wesserung and threatening the Low Countries the Admiralty, whose ships were held down with other duties believed that mining German waters was the best course of action to slow German movements. Through April eleven vessels had been sunk including eight German, one train ferry and two unknown vessels and a further five damaged. The RAF and Admiralty were reliant on foreign news agencies and sources but with the German invasion of Holland these sources quickly dried up leaving them almost blind as to what damage had been caused. There were no reports from the Jade and Wesser estuaries as the German press understandably kept news of any sinkings quite. By June reports came back that a total of fourteen German vessels (including two minesweepers) and ten neutral vessels had been successfully mined but there might have been more, whilst further news came in that Deflziji had to close and the Kriegsmarine ordered to sweep the area taking four days seriously disrupting traffic to the Ruhr and costing two vessels. The Kiel canal was also closed to neutral shipping with all marine lighting west of 12˚ 25 ‘E were switched off and Finnish shipping agents raising insurance by fifty percent for all ships going to Germany from the 23 April whilst one of their shipping lines suspending all routes to their ally because of the danger posed by the mines.
   Following the fall of France and the commencement of Operation Seelöwe the Gardening
Bomber Command's Hampdens
operations became even more important with the Admiralty even proposing mining British ports and estuaries to dry them to the German invaders. This would be solely a Coastal Command operation as the Hampdens would be ear marked with trying to intercept the invasion fleet in the channel or attack French ports. It was a situation that Coastal Command were unable to deal with as their Beauforts were undergoing engine replacements and they requested assistance from the Fleet Air Arm for any suitable aircraft should the situation arise.
   Until that time however operations were expanded to include Dunkirk and Boulogne as well as East Scheldt and Maas Delta all of which were planted on the 26 June and between 3 and 5 July respectively. Bomber Command requested that they be completely relieved from Gardening missions through August in favour of active bombing campaign against the multitude of German targets but this was overruled by the Admiralty and the Air Ministry with a limited operation of six aircraft being retained. The Admiralty believed that keeping up the pressure by the constant laying of mines would not give the Germans time to overhaul their minesweepers but a grateful Admiralty did send a telegram of thanks to the minelaying squadrons who by the end of August had laid 780 mines with almost two thirds of those carried out by the Hampden squadrons.
   All operations were suspended for tests to the mines in early September and again in the middle of the month as the Admiralty were concerned about the mines interfering with the fleet’s manoeuvres but Le Havre (the Anemones patch) was first mined by 812 squadron’s Swordfish because of the large concentration of invasion barges and small support craft that was building up in the port whist a detachment of 42 Squadron’s Blenheims mined the area off Lorient. In October the bombers only mined one new area in the east of Scheldt near Terneusen by the Swordfish of 812 who laid the throughout the month. The area, like Le Havre was a major artery for invasion barges and traffic which was coming through the Terneuzen - Ghent Canals. On 23 November though the Admiralty had requested that the RAF no longer concentrate on the lines of communication and distribution along the Dutch and Belgian coasts but to concentrate on the German base ports themselves with the top catogary of targets being Kiel and Baltic ports, Elbe, Jade and Ems Rivers, Brest, Lorient and Gironde river with the invasion ports and Seine estuary falling to the lowest catogary which were only to be mined if specifically ordered. The Admiralty believed that the more important the base the more resources would be expended to sweep and keep the sea lanes open. They also believed that one raid on each port laying twenty-four mines would be sufficient to cover all the targets with 336 for Class A, 156 for Class B and 48 for Class C with none for D unless specifically called to do so. This figure was currently well above the best of previous operations but the Admiralty, although accepting that there was a shortage of aircraft and crews with other duties often taking priority but they also appraised the crews as having become experts and more precise in their accuracy and with mine production at a steady 700 units per month there would still be a monthly surplus.
   The Air Ministry were sceptical about the ability of their squadrons to carry out the Admiralty’s projections and their own forecasts showed that five squadrons of sixteen aircraft would be needed to be able to meet the demand. With Coastal Command not having enough aircraft it meant that they would either have to call on Bomber command to assist regularly or to permanently allocate three bomber squadrons to Coastal Command so as to alleviate Bomber Command of massed Gardening operations but effectively cutting into their established numbers. The Deputy Chief of Air Staff believed that;
The effect of our mining has been an outstanding contribution to our war effort. Had we the means it might have already proved a decisive factor in the Sea War. It may still do so. 2
   He continued to opine that they needed to maintain their size of force and also suggested that the Expansion and re-equipment Policy Committee should allow the allocation of some of the newer Manchester and Stirling bombers which could range as far as the Baltic and would give these aircraft an easy test operation for range and acclimatisation of crews without coming across serious opposition.
   Although Bomber Command’s Hampdens were still doing the majority of the sorties through October and November they were going down in number (63 in October and 55 in November) which alarmed the Admiralty who were keen to up the pressure on Axis submarine ports at Lorient and Bordeux as well as the Kiel Canal which was used by U-boats and the Bismarck and the Tirpitz when they were commissioned. The Air Ministry responded on Boxing Day 1940 saying that they would make new aircraft and crews available to the mining operations where appropriate.
   Bomber Command were anxious to use their aircraft on an active campaign against German industry and Oil and were suffering losses in this campaign which meant less aircraft were available for Gardening. Adverse weather also made the operations through the winter of 1940 difficult and it was hoped that when the bigger, heavier four-engine bombers became available they would be able to carry three or five mines which would greatly assist in reaching the Admiralty’s quota. This was agreed by the Expansion and re-equipment Policy committee on 19 December with 7 Squadron’s Stirlings and 207 Squadron’s Manchesters which would release the Hampdens back to bombing operations. Bomber Command reported that a Stirling’s maximum payload was six mines but for optimum range they would carry three whilst the Manchester carried five which meant that Coastal Command could utilise one such squadron and meet the Admiralty’s quota with ease and plant a whole patch in a single sortie.
   On 19 December mining operations in the Channel recommenced with a new type of mine fitted with a steriliser which gave the mine an operational life of six weeks rather than a year which meant that the Admiralty could operate without worrying about sailing into their own minefields but still keep up pressure on the Germans who, it was hoped might believe the old patches were “safe” and start using them again. The old type mines were still “planted” in the Seine and introduced to Dieppe and St Malo where as the steriliser fitted mines were introduced to the Channel ports of Boulogne, Calais, Zeebrugge, Dunkirk, Le Havre and Flushing, however these new mines were not properly introduced until April 1941.
  In December Coastal Command’s seconded Swordfish of 812 squadron mined an area off Brest that the Hampdens had mined in August and October and in the Seine estuary on the 8 December. The patches were still ever changing with the Channel still closed and with German Flak batteries being deployed along estuaries and ports which had to be avoided. Following the October mining in the approaches to Brest the field flight path’s had to be changed to avoid the strengthened German flak defences but still being able to effectively mine the mouth of the harbour. The same was also true for Lorient harbour. This attention to detail gave the crews a sense of security and routine especially compared to missions over Germany and the well-defended Naval bases at Kiel and Wilhelmshaven and they probably shared Coastal Command’s evaluation:
Nowadays everyone treats Gardening in quite a nonchalant way, except that there are one or two gardens in rather sticky localities such as round the mouth of the Scheldt, and gardens off Brest. 3
   The missions also gave opportunity for the crews to fins other targets to strafe and bomb such as shipping or on rare occaisions attacking the Luftwaffe;
   As we crossed over Cherbourg on the way home an aircraft passed us going in the opposite direction with his navigation lights on. This must have been a Hun which had been bombing England… At last, through the wecome beam of an enemy searchlight, we identified it as a Dornier 17. Moreover, both pilots on board seemed very happy, they had their full cockpit lights on…
   In the rear both my bottom and top guns slid slowly over to the starboard side and I told Mac to take careful aim. Then counted slowly.
“one – two – Three,” and then yelled “Let him have it Mac!”
There was a quick staccato roar as all four guns belched out tracers and the Dornier dived to the ground with one engine on fire.
   In the period of April-December 1940 it is estimated that 1243 mines had been laid of which 765 were laid by Bomber Command. At the time it was believed that fifty ships measuring 108,860 tons. Post War it was revealed by Lloyds that the figure was a lot higher standing at 120 ships measuring 111,163 tons were lost with a further eleven worth 31,190 tons, damaged by every type of mine. Of the aerial mines it is estimated that 86 ships, worth 82,983 tons, were sunk and a further ten (17,070 tons) were damaged with around half of those being sunk by mines laid by the Hampdens in the Kattogat Belts and western reaches of the Baltic. In the period between April and November 1940 only XX Hampdens had been lost on Gardening operations proving to be the safest operational sortie they carried out in the year.
   There was a small descrepency with the original Air Staff Memorandum (no. 60) giving credit to Bomber Command for sinking four ships off the Dutch Islands which were in fact mined by Coastal Command who exclusively mined the Dutch, Belgian and French coasts and the Hampdens covering Brest, Germany and the Baltic.
   On 10 January Bomber Command instructed 5 Group that Gardening missions were only to be used for training their crews for night operations and navigation which would release experienced men for more essential Oil operations over Germany. As a gesture they did offer that on nights that they were not able to conduct bombing missions that they would release fifteen aircraft with trained crews. On the 25 January this was ratified with Gardening missions only to be undertaken at the C-in-C’s discretion for the training of fresh crews, by Stirlings and Manchesters as part of the Squadron’s conversion process and trained Hampden crews when the weather over Germany precluded bombing operations. This left Bomber command with only the Oil targets in German y and the possibility of invasion ports and vessels on the specific instruction of the Air Ministry.
   Coastal Command were concerned at the idea of untrained crews now carrying out their vital work and out of this concern they pressed for one Hampden Squadron to be permenantly be assigned to their Command. It was an understandable concern as simple mistakes could be made which could invalidate the whole mission. Sgt Peter McDermott of 61 Squadron recalled his first flight;
We were caught in searchlights and flak started to burst around us as I set course on our timed run of exactly forty six seconds. “One, two, three” intoned Staff as the flak continued to rattle on the fuselage. He got to about twenty when he said “I’m not sure of the count, Skip, we had better go back and start again.” Came the roar from the experienced Les Boot “Carry on, it’s twenty nine, thirty,”… On “Forty-six taken up again by the navigator we dropped our mine. Euphoria We had struck our first blow against the Reich. (5)

   In a communique to the Air Ministry on 13 February, Coastal Command expressed this concern especially pointing out that with Bomber Command no longer operating there would be no mines laid east of the Elbe which was where they were causing the most damage and were causing problems for the Kriegsmarine’s larger vessels and it was further questioned as to whether they would be able to reach the Admiralty’s proposed quota. The Director of Naval Co-operation concurred and pressed for Bomber Command to step up its effort rather than scale back.
   The Air Ministry however did not agree due to the more pressing issues faced by Bomber Command and declined the request for a Hampden Squadron and that Bomber Command’s directive would stand but assured Air Marshal Bowhill, the C-in-C of Coastal Command on the 5 March that they would be reviewing the situation regularly.
   Operations at the beginning of 1941 had already been sluggish and hampered by bad weather and with the removal of the Hampdens only Coastal Command’s Beauforts and Swordfish of the Fleet Air Arm but despite hard work they were unable to get anywhere near the Admiralty’s quota. A back and forth for solutions was passed between the Admiralty and Coastal Command with final approval for the riskier daylight operations and the even riskier dropping mines in front of convoys as they cruised down the coast. It was a dangerous manoeuvre which had been carried out with a modicum of success on 22 April.
   By 4 April Bomber Command were back in the frame for further mining operations with the Admiralty keen to deploy Gardens to stop invasion if Seelöwe looked iminant with the ports from the Ems to Brest as possible targets as well as coastal convoy routes. Such a task was well beyond the airforces already available and due to the nature of the emergency and anti-invasion raid meant that Bomber Command would need to prioritise it. This Air Ministry considered that mining the fleet of barges would have more success than actually bombing them in “some cases” 6  and anti-invasion measures were in Bomber Command’s remit of aims outlined in January.
   The notion of high altitude drops as a used by the Luftwaffe were discussed as a principle by the Air Ministry on the 1 May. The German mines were designed to explode if they struck land but act as magnetic mines if in water. The Admiralty had noted the amount of extra precautions they were having to take to watch for these attacks on ports and slim channels and were hoping to do the same to the Germans. The Air Ministry were satisfied that their equipment could carry out the task without modification but they were concerned about the accuracy of the drops from 12,000 feet let alone doing it whilst under fire from heavy flak emplacements around ports and estuaries at night as well as raising the question of how severe would their casualties be? Coastal Command were also worried that as British mines would not explode if they hit the ground it might mean that they would be recoverable by the enemy but the Admiralty dismissed this concern saying that the Germans had more than likely already recovered the mines and cracked their operating system. The Admiralty believed that Brest Harbour was already a small target and expected inaccuracies though the Air Ministry believed that from the minimum height of 10,000 feet would lead to a fifty percent accuracy which would not be worth the losses that would likely be incurred. Bomber Command concurred although believed 12,000 feet was the minimum height and would prefer a mine without a drogue or parachute. There was also a strong move to develop a mine similar to the German model that acted as a bomb and at a conference on 1 July 1941 it was agreed to start to develop such a mine.
   The campagn through 1941 was carried out by Coastal Command’s Beauforts and the Fleet Air Arm’s Swordfish causing significant damage to the German shipping including the Sardinen which had to be beached to avoid sinking, a trawler was lost and an 8000 tonne tanker damage causing the Haugesund to be closed for five days and convoys diverted to the west of Farmoy island. The Admiralty had also encouraged a campaign from Jade-Weser to Huibert Gat and to interdict the heavy traffic between the Elbe and waters of Terschelling which allowed crews to defer to a more general target zone if enemy resistance was too stiff over a specific target zone.
   By April until June Coastal Command were concentrating their efforts on the French invasion ports and especially Brest where the Battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were anchored following Operation Berlin and joined by the cruiser Prinz Eugen following her aborted sortie with the Bismarck.
   Following the 15 March Bomber Command moved away from the Oil plan to deal directly with the threat posed by the Kriegsmarine in the Battle of the Atlantic with their aircraft engaging in bombing raids on Brest and along the French and German coasts including assisting in minelaying. On the 8 April six Hampdens of 44 Squadron laid four mines at Calais and bombed a submarine building for the loss of P/O Garley’s Hampden but the nature of the Bomber’s changing role meant these raids were intermittent with raids also directed towards Berlin the following night and Bordeux the day after that!
   By the end of June 1941 the two commands had laid 708 mines with Bomber command laying 507 of them, mostly around Brest and the Bay of Biscay where the Germans had established the U-Boatwaffe. In the first six months of 1941 the Aerial Sea mines had claimed seventeen vessels (23,604 tonnes) and a further six (8351 tonnes) damaged giving the overall number of ships sunk as 103 (106,587 tonnes) and sixteen (25,421 tonnes) damaged for the loss of fifty eight aircraft, forty one of them Hampdens. The most successful month was September 1940 when sixteen vessels (14,448 tonnes) were sunk.
   Gardening would continue and was seen as very successful with limited losses but they would now become part of Bomber Command’s overall offensive against Hitler’s Navy.

1.            IWM Sound archive number  Maurice Strefton

2.            Official History Vol II p. 332

3.            Official History Vol II p. 334

4.            G. Gibson Enemy Coast ahead p.104

5.            M. Postelthwaite “Hampden squadrons of World War II: in Focus” p.38

6.            Official History Vol II p. 338

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Great Fire of London by Sophie


Wednesday 5th September 1666

20 pennies


Words By; S. Sams

A fire which started in a bakery in Pudding lane on Sunday continues to spread. The wooden houses of the city burnt quickly moving between the closely packed streets.
 People are loading carts with their valuables and fleeing their homes. Those who do not have carts are burying their possessions in their gardens to protect them. 

 People are trying to put the fire out with leather buckets and gunpowder. Saint Paul’s has burnt down and the fire is heading to the Tower of London where the King keeps his gun powder.

Samuel Pepys has told the king that people are not helping to put the fire out. Sir Thomas Bloodworth, the Lord Mayor has been slow to help. Mr Pepys said;

People do all the world over cry out of the simplicity of my Lord Mayor in general, and more particularly in this business of the fire.

Duke James the king’ brother is in charge of stopping the fire and even the King is out helping. People have fled the city, some by boat others on foot but food and shelter are now in short supply beyond the walls.

Mr Pepys has said it is “the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw.”

This was my daughter Sophie's (aged 6) homework this week.