17th August 1943. Peenemunde Raid.
On a moonlit August night Today in 1943 under Operation Hydra the first raids on the Peenemunde German flying bomb and rocket sites took place.
597 bombers were deployed, the most used on a single target comprising the factory and research centre, however in the attack hundreds of foreign slave labourers were killed, today known as collateral damage.
The raid was the first when 6 (Canadian) Group operated Lancasters and also the first precision raid in the 2nd half of the war on one target and under a Master Bomber.(1)
Pathfinders had the task of ‘shifters’ re-directing Main Force to the 3 main targets, whilst Mosquitoes were employed in diversionary tactics on Berlin to draw away German night-fighters.
Crucial work beforehand had been supplied by Photo-intelligence HQ at RAF Medmenham which required millions of aerial photos to be taken often at dangerous low-level.
The Germans had been conducting experiments on liquid fuelled rockets in the 1930.s under Wernher von Braun, though it was not Hitler’s highest priority until 1942 when the war for the Germans was going badly.
It was back in 1937 that specifications were drawn up by the German army for a rocket capable of 200 miles carrying one ton warhead and transportable by rail.
Himmler had taken over the air offensive and was pushing forward the V2 programme and also by this time the Luftwaffe were developing their quick solution the flying bomb, the VI, the prototype of the later Cruise Missile which was later launched from aircraft.
The first successful launching of the German A4 on October 23rd 1942 is a significant date as heralding the first time that space had been used to move from one place to another.
Hitler dubious of the Jewish dominated science of physics which could have produced an atomic bomb, now decided to put all efforts into the A 4 rocket later the V2 which Von Braun and his team had developed.
By February 1943 the War Office had decided after photo-reconnaissance, that there were ‘indications that the Germans may be developing some form of long-range projectors’ and Duncan Sandys MP who was something of an artillery expert took charge of the investigation code-named ‘Bodyline’.
Churchill was later to set up ‘Operation Crossbow’ under his son-in-law, Sandys after RAF photo-reconnaissance on 23rd June 1943 showed rockets on a ramp and various tip-offs from many sources that the Germans were developing guided missiles.
However Cherwell, Churchill’s scientific adviser was still unconvinced saying they hadn’t got the technology and that the photographs could be showing large torpedoes.
It was only as a result of the 28 year old scientist R.K Jones persistence, who said they must be very large torpedoes, and was convinced they were rockets that action was taken.
Thus the decision was taken finally to attack Peenemunde, with the inevitable losses of men and machines: 40 aircraft and 215 aircrew.
However German production though delayed soon recovered so by 1944 V1 and V2 raids were hitting the south east and London in a second blitz.
One party that helped load bombs at Syerston airfield Nottinghamshire were ATC cadets from the Author’s home of Burton, many of whom were to later join the RAF and see active service.
(1) 324 Lancasters, 218 Halifaxes, 54 Stirlings, plus Mosquitoes used as decoys.
The Master Bomber was Group Captain J.H. Searby of 83 squadron, 8 group.
wikipedia.org/peenemunde/Pic of V2.