Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – focus on Bomber Command

As such a large percentage of Portsmouth airmen died whilst serving with Bomber Command, it makes sense to take a more detailed look at the manner in which they died.

Of the 208 Portsmouth airmen who died serving with Bombers, we have additional details about 138 of them thanks to the brilliant lostbombers website, which contains crash details for all Bombers lost over North West Europe during the war. The remaining 70 were either ground crew or serving in Bombers overseas. As we can see from the breakdown of where they were targetting, when and where they were lost accurately tells the story of the strategic Bomber Offensive.

Germany – 96

Portsmouth airmen were lost on raids on the following targets:

20 – Berlin
7 – Cologne
6 – Homberg
4 – Mannheim
3 – Dusseldorf
3 – Essen
3 – Frankfurt
3 – Hamburg
3 – Hannover
3 – Krefeld
3 – Mulheim
3 – Nuremberg
3 – Peenemunde
2 – Aachen
2 – Bremen
2 – Brunswick
2 – Dortmund
2 – Mainz
2 – Sterkrade
2 – Wilhelmshaven
1 – Bochum
1 – Chemnitz
1 – Duisburg
1 – Emmerich
1 – Gelsenkirchen
1 – Karlsruhe
1 – Kembs Dan
1 – Kiel Canal
1 – Koblenz
1 – Leipzig
1 – Lubeck
1 – Munich
1 – Osnabruck
1 – Russelheim
1 – Schweinfurt
1 – Stuttgart
1 – Witten
1 – Wuppertal

As we can see, most of the casualties were suffered in two areas – Berlin and the Ruhr. Berlin was heavily targetted due to its status as the Nazi capital. The Ruhr came in for special attention due to its high concentration of heavy industry, its relative closeness to airbases in England, and the ability to navigate to targets their from the coast.

15 of the 20 men killed while targetting Berlin were killed during the offensive known as the Battle of Berlin between November 1943 and March 1944. 24 March 1944 was a particularly heavy night, when 4 Portsmouth men were killed. Overall the Battle of Berlin caused the loss of 2,690 airmen and 500 aircraft.

19 men were lost during the period known as the Battle of the Ruhr, between March and July 1943. Raids were launched on Germany’s industrial heartland, and men were killed targetting cities such as Emmerich, Dortmund, Essen, Dusseldorf, Bochum, Cologne, Krefeld, Mulheim, Wuppertal and Cologne. Particularly heavy losses were experienced over Essen on 28 May (2 men killed), Krefeld on 2 June (3 men killed) and Cologne on 29 June and 4 July (2 men killed on each date).

3 Portsmouth men were also killed on the vitally important raid on Peenemunde on 18 August 1943. Peenemunde was the testing site for German V-Weapons. Other interesting targets were the U-boat pens at Wilhelmshaven, the ball-bearing factory at Schweinfurt, the Kembs Dam and the Kiel Canal. Interestingly, no Portsmouth airmen were killed in the infamous raids on Dresden or Hamburg.

Another fact that is most striking is the sheer number of targets that Bomber Command hit. Sure, we all know about Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg and Cologne – but not about Homberg, Mannheim or Krefeld. German industry was spread far more widely than we might think, and part of Bomber Command’s ‘dehousing’ policy was to area bomb these cities and thus demoralise and dislocate the workforce. It was recognised early in the war in the 1941 Butt report that Bombers did not have the accuracy to effectively hit pinpoint targets at night.

France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Czech Republic – 25

2 – Pilsen
2 – Bourg-Leopold
1 – Vierzon
1 – St Leu d’Esserent
1 – Merville
1 – Normandy
1 – Mailly-le-Camp
1 – La Pallice
1 – Laon
1 – Achures
1 – Auberive-sur-Suippes
1 – Berry-au-Bac
1 – Boulogne
1 – Brest
1 – Caen
1 – Turin
1 – V Weapons sites
1 – Haine St Pierre
1 – Colombelles
1 – Courbonne
1 – Ypenburg
1 – Courtrai
1 – Battle Area (1940)

Bomber Command also struck at many targets outside of Germany. Pilsen in Czechoslovakia was targetted as it was the home of the huge Skoda auto works, and Turin in Italy as it was the home of Fiat – both were extremely long haul flights. Many of the targets in France were hit either in 1940 as the Germans advanced towards Dunkirk, or in 1944 either in the run up to D-Day or afterwards in an attempt to help the Allied armies take Caen or break out of the beachead. Notable raids include Merville, the battery that the Otway’s Paras disabled on D-Day; the V Weapons sites in Holland and Belgium, and the U-Boat base at Brest.

Other Missions 15

4 – Minelaying
4 – Anti-Shipping
2 – Communications
2 – Recconaisance
1 – Window
1 – Supply Drop to Resistance
1 – Invasion Ports

Bombers also performed a number of other roles during the war other than attacking German cities. Mines were laid in the North Sea and Baltic (known to the Bomber crews as ‘gardening’), and the Bombers also took on anti-shipping patrols. ‘Communications’ raids were mainly targetted at northern France in the run up to D-Day. ‘Window’ was the practise of dropping bundles of aluminium strips in the air to confuse German radar. One bomber was lost while dropping supplies to the resistance, two whilst performing ‘recconaisance’, and one whilst targetting invasion barges in channel ports in the summer of 1940.

Years

203 Portsmouth Bomber men were killed during wartime:

18 – 1940 (8.87%)
25 – 1941 (12.32%)
20 – 1942 (9.85%)
60 – 1943 (29.56%)
67 – 1944 (33%)
13 – 1945 (6.4%)

In terms of the intensisty of losses, the Bomber war seems to have been split into three distinct phases. From 1939 until 1942 Bomber Command lacked the numbers of both aircraft and crews to hit Germany with any intensity. Once Sir Arthur Harris took over Bomber Command in 1942 he was finally able to unleash a force experienced at flying at night, with increasing numbers, heavier aircraft such as the Lancaster, and with technology such as Oboe, Gee and Window becoming available. 1943 and 1944 saw the Battle of the Ruhr, the Battle of Berlin, the raid on Peenemunde and the raids on targets in France in support of Operation Overlord. Once this phase was completed the Bombers went back to targetting Germany, but with the war ending in May 1945 and with German defences shattered losses were far lower.

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2 Comments

Filed under portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized, World War Two

2 responses to “Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – focus on Bomber Command

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  2. Hello
    I read this post with interest – I wonder, do you know if any of these airmen flew in 75(NZ) Squadron?. I have a blog on the Squadron and looking through the target list, the Squadron flew on the vast majority of them – Homberg in particualr was 75(NZ) Squadrons ‘bogey’ target – on the 21st July, when the Squadron lost 7 aircraft – of the 49 aircrew that were on these aircraft, 41 were killed, 7 were made prisoners of war and one evaded capture and returned to the UK 2 months later. I am currently working on a post with relatives from another raid to Homberg on the 20th of November 1944 where 3 of the Squadrons aircraft failed to return.

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