16th December 1940. ‘Terror Bombing’ Begins.
There had been attacks on German targets from the beginning of war, including Mannheim, many on a desultory or tit-for-tat basis. Things changed after the bombing of cities including that of Southampton and Coventry.
So it was tonight on 16th /17th December 1940 that bombing strategy changed when Bomber Command attacked Mannheim in a ‘terror attack’.
The raid saw a change from ‘precision’ attacks to ‘area’ bombing with the notion of a ‘bomber stream’, authorised by Churchill.(1)
The initial raid was under Operation Abigail/Rachel when various towns were designated until the decision was made to bomb Mannheim. The aim was to concentrate maximum amount of damage to the centre as directed by Air Marshal Sir Richard Pierse.(2)
200 planes had been prepared, but thick cloud resulted in 134 employed and was to constitute the largest attack yet on a single target. Though incendiaries were dropped by Wellingtons to illuminate targets for the Main Force, many bombs were scattered over a wide area as decoy fires had been lit.
Bomb loads gave a clue to policy in that incendiaries and high explosive bombs were designed to cause maximum building damage.
The ‘Pathfinders’ Wellingtons of 3 Group were followed by others supported by Whitleys, Hampdens and Blenheims. However photo reconnaissance later revealed that the majority of bombs fell far from the intended targets.
In the attack seven planes were lost and 17 aircrew killed, not forgetting those on the receiving end, but nothing like the tens of thousands killed later in the war.
After Mannheim precision bombing was resumed of industrial and military targets, until 1942 when ‘Bomber’ Harris replaced Pierse, with area bombing
The Mannheim raid was an isolated, though major incident that winter, but it was a foretaste of much which was to come.
The 1940 Battle of Britain and the blitz had changed the mood about war in the air, now it was in earnest. Thus was instigated the night bombing of Germany, which would dominate air policy for the rest of the War.
Later raids on Mannheim came in September 1943, 1944, and March 1945.
(1) On the 1st and by the War Cabinet on 12th December.
Ref: The Myth of the Blitz by Angus Calder.
Ref: RAF Night Operations.Martin Bowman.2015.
Ref: backtonormandy.org/Pic of Wellington.