1. Luftwaffe operations over the Bristol area

1.1 Luftwaffe Equipment

1.1.1 Luftwaffe Aircraft

Luftwaffe Poster
Author's Collection

At the start of the Second World War German aircraft equipment was generally superior to that of any other European nation. In the twin-engined bomber category the Luftwaffe was operating the Dornier Do 17 capable of carrying a 1000 kg bomb load, together with the Heinkel He 111 and the newly introduced Junkers Ju 88, both with a 2000 kg capability. As the Luftwaffe had been developed mainly as an instrument of army support, it had no four-engined bombers in its inventory and was thus incapable of lifting an enormous weight of bombs on any one night. This lack of a strategic capability was to become an increasing problem for the Germans as the war dragged on. By the end of 1940 the obsolescent Do 17 had been largely phased out and, from then on, the Ju 88 and He 111 carried on the battle almost exclusively until mid-1941. The Messerschmitt Bf 110 long-range escort fighter, at times used as a light bomber, also saw limited service during this period but its operations were usually confined to daylight precision attacks. All four types were also employed on reconnaissance duties.

The Do 217 introduced into service on the western front during the spring of 1941 was an improved version of the Do 17, just as the Ju 86R which first operated against Britain in August 1942 was an experimental development of the pre-war Ju 86. These aircraft were followed in May 1943 by the Me 410 fighter-bomber, which replaced the Bf 110, and in August by the Ju 188, developed from the Ju 88. The Luftwaffe's failure to develop a strategic bomber was a fundamental error on the part of the High Command, and the He 177, its belated attempt construct such an aircraft was a complete disaster. Although it commenced operations against Britain in January 1944 it was plagued with technical problems with its coupled engines which were never successfully overcome.

1.1.2 High Explosive Bombs

At first the high explosive bombs employed by the Germans in operations over the Bristol area were exclusively of 50 and 250 kg calibres, with 50 kg predominating, but gradually weapons of increasing size and weight came into service. Initially two types were employed, the most widely used being the SC or Sprengbombe Cylindrich family of bombs which were employed primarily for general demolition and approximately 8 out of 10 of German high explosive bombs dropped on the UK. during the war were of this type. They were manufactured in 50 kg, 250 kg, 500 kg, 1000 & 1200 kg Hermann, 1800 kg Satan, 2000 kg and 2500 kg Max versions.

Two other classes of high explosive bombs were also used by the Luftwaffe and the next most widely deployed were designated SD or Sprengbombe Dickwandig, available in 50, 70, 250, 500 and 1700 kg versions. These were medium cased steel semi-armour piercing weapons, the penetration qualities of which made them suitable for deployment against ships, harbour installations and fortifications. In addition, there were also the PC or Panzerbombe Cylindrich armour piercing weapons which were only made in the 500 kg, 1000 kg Esau and 1400 kg Fritz versions, designed primarily to attack shipping and fortifications.

1.1.3 Land Mines

Also used against British cities from mid-September 1940 onwards were standard the 1000 kg Luftmine B, a type normally sown in important sea lanes around the coast, but which when used against land targets became known as the Bomben B or Land Mine. Specially fitted with impact fuses and with a high charge ratio of 60 to 70 per cent explosive and slow parachute retarded descent they created considerable blast damage in built-up areas. During the winter of 1941 a new version, the BM 1000 Monika, made its appearance, this variant consisting of a parachute free LM B fitted with a bomb tail unit allowing it to be dropped like a conventional

1.1.4 Magnesium Incendiary Bombs

Although the available high explosive types possessed great destructive power, perhaps the most potent of German bombs remained the tiny B1 El or Brandbomb 1 kg Elektron, a one kilogramme incendiary which, dropped in profusion, caused millions of pounds worth of fire damage and virtually burnt out whole districts of British cities. These devices, which burnt with a heat sufficient to melt steel, consisted of a cylinder of Elektron Magnesium Alloy with an incendiary filling of Thermite, the incendiary elements being ignited by a small percussion charge in the nose which fired on impact.

Incendiary Bomb
Author's Collection

Later, in an attempt to make these weapons even more effective, and to defeat the fire-fighters efforts, the Germans introduced explosive charges into the nose or tail of some incendiary bombs, these devices incorporating a seven minute delay before the detonation occurred. Initially the Luftwaffe employed expendable, aimable types of container to carry and drop their small incendiary bombs, these being designed to hold some 36 B1 El's, but as the war continued larger re-usable versions capable of carrying 140, and later 620, incendiaries became available.

1.1.5 Oil Bombs

Another weapon in the Luftwaffe's arsenal early in the war was a large incendiary device, the so called Oil Bomb, known to the Germans as the Flam or Flammenbombe. These contained an oil mixture and a high explosive bursting charge, and being based on the 250 kg, and later 500 kg, high explosive bomb case, were designated Flam 250 and Flam 500 respectively. They were fitted with an impact fuse which often failed to detonate, resulting in the case splitting open to disgorge the unignited contents. This defect was never successfully overcome and the Flambos were withdrawn from widespread use in January 1941.

1.1.6 Large Incendiary Bombs

A new type of large incendiary, the explosive Sprengbrandbombe C 50 was introduced from July 1942 onwards and this bomb was the same shape and size as a 50 kg high explosive bomb, but its filling was different. This complex weapon contained a small charge of TNT, 6 Fire Pots and 67 small triangular magnesium incendiary devices, and was designed to eject its incendiary elements over a radius of about 100 metres. Later in the year another new type of incendiary device was introduced, the Phosphorbrandbombe or Phosphorus Incendiary Bomb. These weapons were the same shape and size as 50 and 250 kg high explosive types and contained a liquid filling consisting of Phosphorus, Oil and Rubber Solution. The Phosphorus was carried in glass bottles that were designed to break on impact and mix with the main filling. The bomb then split open scattering the contents, which ignited spontaneously, over an area of some metres. This type soon began to supersede the Sprengband C 50, which it had replaced completely by early 1944.