1.13 The 'Baby Blitz' - February to May 1944

As 1943 progressed the terrible pounding that the RAF was inflicting on Germany's cities had reached intolerable levels and although it had been planned to retaliate against Britain by bombarding the south of England with V1 flying bombs, as a result of technical development problems, this course of action had to be postponed. Consequently, on November 28th 1943, it was announced that a new series of retaliatory attacks on Britain were to be undertaken by conventional bombers. The code name was to be Steinbock (Ibex), but in Britain was known as the 'Baby Blitz', which was to take the form of concentrated attacks on industrial centres and ports, the principle target to start with, being London. In December 1943 the bomber force facing Britain was reinforced and brought up to a strength of some 550 aircraft, made up mainly of Ju 88's, Ju 188's and Do 217's.

1.13.1 Luftwaffe Tactics: Early 1944

The Germans, however, realised that standards of training amongst the bomber crews left much to be desired, and therefore made considerable efforts to emulate the examples of RAF Bomber Command by the use of the expert pathfinder crews from the specially formed I/KG 66, in addition to the 'Illuminator' Ju 188's of KG 2. These units operated an elaborate target marking system which involved using clusters of parachute flares as route, as well as target sky markers, in addition to dropping incendiary ground markers. The attacks were themselves to be of short duration, heavy and devastating, during the course of which bundles of Düppel radar reflective foil were to be dropped in an attempt to confuse the British defences.

1.13.2 Problems for the Attackers

The offensive, which had been planned to open during the full moon period in December 1943 was, however, delayed until mid-January 1944, when operations began with an attack on London on the night of the 21st, the capital continuing to be the target throughout February. These missions, however, produced most unsatisfactory results with the Ju 88's and Ju 188's of I/KG 66 failing to provide adequate target marking, due in part to the efficiency of the Radio Counter Measures activity of the RAF. In addition, unlike the 'Night Blitz' of 1940/41 and, to a lesser degree, the 'Baedeker' raids of 1942, the night defences now had the upper hand. Large numbers of radar controlled anti-aircraft guns, 'Z' rocket batteries and searchlights, together with a well equipped night fighter force directed by a most efficient ground controlled interception radar system, took a heavy toll of the attackers, with 129 aircraft being lost during January and February.

Nor were these the German's only problems, for on January 23rd Allied troops had landed at Anzio in Italy necessitating the transfer of about 100 aircraft for operations in the Mediterranean area, a further cut in the already inadequate force in the West. As if this was not enough the new four engined bomber, the He 177, was also proving to be a design disaster, suffering some 50 per cent breakdowns in operational use, many of them involving engine fires!

March saw a further four attacks on London, as well as an unsuccessful raid on Hull on the 19th, followed towards the end of the month by the first directed against Bristol since 1942. By this time only 297 bombers were available for operations over Britain, these being the Do 217's of I and III/KG 2, Stab and 6/KG 100 and part of I/KG 66; the Ju 88's of II and III/KG 6, Stab, II and III/KG 30, Stab, I and II KG/54 and Stab/KG 77; the Ju 188's of II/KG 2, Stab and I/KG 6 and part of I/KG 66; the Me 410's of Stab and I/KG 54; as well as the He 177's of I/KG 100.

1.13.3 Bristol Raid 27/3/44

On the night of March 27th the target was the harbour installations at Bristol, while a coordinated attack was also undertaken against night fighter airfields in the Bristol area by the Me 410's of I/KG 51. To aid navigation the pathfinders of 1/KG 66 employed Y-Verfahren which was in use between 22.18 and 01.38 hrs from Cherbourg, Calais and St.Valery, while the Knickebein transmitters at Bergen op Zoom, Caen, Cherbourg West, and Morlaix were also in operation.

The main attack force, probably made up of I, II and III/KG 2, I, II, and III/KG 6, II and III/KG 30, I and II/KG 54, I/KG 66 and I/KG 100, were to converge on Guernsey before crossing Lyme Bay at about 23.44 hrs and flying over South West England to the first turning point, known as the 'Initial Point' at the mouth of the Usk near Newport. This was to be marked by four red flares dropped at four minute intervals starting at 23.58 hrs. These were to be laid at an altitude of 3000 metres by four Ju 188 'Illuminators' of II/KG 2.

From here the final approach to the target required a four minute leg along the north bank of the River Severn to the second turning point at Beachley, near Chepstow, followed by a short north to south run-in to Bristol. Here the target was to be marked by I/KG 66 with a cluster of white flares and one of yellow. Additionally, in an attempt to jam the British radar system Düppel anti-radar foil was also dropped, first off shore, but later spreading to cover almost the whole operational area. This was the first operational use of this material in a raid against Bristol.

Over the target area there was a 16 kph south-east wind and visibility was 3.2 kilometres with no cloud cover, although there was thick mist at 1500 metres. The bombing time was to be concentrated between 00.00 hrs and 00.12 hrs in an attempt to saturate the defences, and units were allocated specific bombing heights, which varied between 3350 and 4425 metres. After bomb release all aircraft were to continue to the third turning point, 13 kilometres SSW of Bath before turning to cross the Dorset coast near Bridport, their fourth point, while the fifth, and final point, was over the sea at 50° 23«North 02° 43«West.

116 of the 139 crews dispatched claimed to have attacked the the target with 100 tonnes of bombs including H.E.'s and a considerable number of Phosphorus Oil incendiaries between 23.38 and 00.13 hrs, and this was the first time that Phosphorous bombs were employed locally. As the Luftwaffe had been unable to carry out any daytime photographic missions over the Bristol area since the summer of 1942, 1(F)/121 was instructed to fly strike assessment sorties at night, and their activities probably accounted for the numerous photo-flashes reported during the attack.

As a result of this operation incidents were reported over the whole of Southern England, from Hastings to North Somerset, with the highest concentration in the rural areas around Highbridge and Weston super Mare. Many Phosphorous bombs fell on the Bournville Estate at Weston, but the 3 H.E.'s and 6 Phosphorous incendiaries which fell at Strode, near Winford, in Somerset were the closest that any bombs came to Bristol that night.

In actual fact no bombs whatsoever fell on Bristol, and those aircraft that managed to get anywhere near the city were first of all led astray by inaccurate marking of the 'Initial Point' and then by target marking flares dropped well to the west of the port. For the Luftwaffe it had been yet another bad experience with a further 13 valuable bombers lost. Of these 10 failed to return resulting in the deaths of 21 crewmen, while a further 18, including 5 injured, were taken prisoner. In addition 3 more aircraft crashed in France where 4 men were killed and 3 injured, while yet another aircraft returned safely, but with a dead crewman aboard.

During the night No.219 Squadron at nearby Colerne, destroyed a Ju 88 over Yeovil and In fact a total of 10 bombers out of the 116 dispatched failed to return, many probably falling to the guns of Fighter Command, confirmed local victories going not only to No.219 Squadron, but also to a Beaufighter of No.406 (Canadian) Squadron from Exeter which was responsible for downing a Ju 88 near Berkeley, and another Beaufighter, this time from No.68 Squadron at Fairwood Common, which shot down a Ju 188 near Wells. The ground defences also attempted to engage the raiders, the heavy guns at Bath and Weston firing 138 and 322 rounds respectively, while Bristol's defences expended 80 heavy rounds and 91 UP's. The Kenn Moor 'Starfish' was also ignited, as was the Bleadon decoy which collected 26 Phosphorous and high explosive bombs and a number of incendiaries.

By the end of March it had become obvious to the Luftwaffe High Command that the target marking over Hull and Bristol had been particularly poor, and so 1(F)/121 was also ordered to photograph the flares laid by the pathfinders in an attempt to improve the accuracy of subsequent attacks.

1.13.4 Bristol Raid 23/4/44

The first two weeks of April were quiet, then on the 18th, there was a final manned bomber raid on London, followed on the 20th by another attempt against Hull. From here on the Germans were more concerned with the build up of shipping and supplies in the various ports from which an invasion of the Continent seemed likely, and henceforth the Luftwaffe was to concentrate almost exclusively on these objectives. Accordingly the harbour installations at Bristol were again the target on the night of April 23rd, while in parallel an attack against night fighter airfields in the Bristol area was also to be carried out by the Me 410's of I/KG 51.

The raiders, probably drawn from I, II and III/KG 2, I, II and III/KG 6, II and III/KG 30, I and III/KG 54, I/KG 66, I/KG 100, together with the Ju 88's of the operational training unit IV/KG 101, were to converge on Guernsey before making for the 'Initial Point' at the mouth of the River Usk, and the second turning point near Chepstow. From here the final approach to Bristol was to be from the north, the target being marked by a square of red and white flares at the start of the attack. Over the target area there was a 16 kph south-west wind and 5/10th's cloud at 900 metres, but ground mist reduced visibility to 800 metres

To aid navigation during the raid the pathfinders of 1/KG 66 employed Y-Verfahren which was operational from 23.45 to 02.45 hrs from St.Valery. In addition the Knickebein transmitters at Cherbourg West, Caen, and Morlaix were also in use, and Düppel was dropped in an attempt to jam the British Radar system. It first fell at about 01.25 hrs over the coast near Portland, but eventually built up overland forming extensive areas of about 20 miles radius.

A total of 117 aircraft were dispatched, of which 93 reported over the City, claiming to have dropped 59.3 tonnes of H.E.'s and 79.4 tonnes of I.B's on target. Once again, however, not one bomb actually fell on Bristol, the majority being scattered throughout, Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire, and East Somerset, the nearest to Bristol having landed at Batheaston at 02.05 hrs. German losses for this attack were again very high. A total of 10 aircraft failed to return resulting in the deaths of 39 crewmen, with 3 more being taken prisoner, 2 of them injured. In addition a further 4 aircraft crashed in France killing 5 and injuring another 6 men. Once again a number of these were shot down by RAF fighters, including the Ju 88 which came down at Hill Deverill, in Wiltshire, but as on the previous raid the Germans completely failed to locate their target, the nearest bombs being dropped at Batheaston. As a result the local guns were only able to reply with 28 rounds, while the strategic operation by the Cheddar 'Starfish', aimed at attracting scattered raiders, was equally unsuccessful.

1.13.5 Bristol Raid 15/5/44

For the rest of the month shipping at Portsmouth and Plymouth was attacked and it was not until the night of May 14th that Luftwaffe bombers again ventured over Britain, once again to bomb the harbour installations at Bristol. The 91 raiders, probably drawn from I, II and III/KG 2, I and II/KG 6, II and III/KG 30, I and III/KG 54, I/KG 66 and I/KG 100, first flew to Guernsey where the bomber streams converged, and from there direct to Bristol. The Sonderaüfklarungsstaffel Ob.d.L. had at, the end of April, joined 1(F)/121 in photographing target markers, and it was their aircraft which provided the night photographic capability for the attack force.

To aid navigation the pathfinders of 1/KG 66 employed Y-Verfahren which was operational from Cherbourg and St.Valery, while the Knickebein transmitters at Caen, Cherbourg West and Morlaix were also active. The target was to be marked by two green cascade flares dropped by I/KG 66, and the bombing run was to be south to north at 4000 to 6000 metres following a 30 degree glide. Over Bristol there was a 8 kph NNE wind, and a half moon in a cloudless sky giving 16 kilometres visibility.

This raid was particularly significant for on that night the Luftwaffe initiated airborne jamming on a frequency band covering part of the British ground and airborne radar system. A few Ju 188's of I/KG 2 carried the apparatus under the code name Kettenhund (Watchdog), which was applied to both the equipment and the aircraft in which it was fitted. During the operation extensive use was also made of Düppel which was dropped from 01.20 hrs onwards, eventually covering a lane about 20 miles wide from Portland to Bristol. It persisted throughout the raid, the Bristol area not being free of it until 03.01 hrs.

A total of 68 aircraft subsequently claimed to have attacked the city, with a further 15 Me 410's of I/KG 51 operating over local fighter airfields. Bristol was reported to have been raided between 01.50 hrs and 02.25 hrs with 163 tonnes of H.E.'s being dropped on target, and a further 4.65 tonnes on airfields in the Bristol area. The attack force again lost 14 aircraft, 11 of which failed to return resulting in the deaths of 40 crewmen, while 6 others were taken prisoner, including 3 injured. In addition 3 more aircraft crashed in France where a further 2 men died.

However, in spite of the German claims only five bombs had actually fallen within the Bristol city boundary. These came down at around 02.00 hrs in Headley Park, and at Kings Weston where a Searchlight Site was destroyed, killing an operator from the 68th Searchlight Regiment, the last person to lose his life in Bristol as a result of enemy action during World War Two. During the night the Mosquitos from No.488 (New Zealand) Squadron at Zeals are known to have shot down two aircraft over Somerset, a Ju 188 which fell at Temple Combe, and a Dornier Do 217 which crashed near Yeovilton, while elsewhere in Southern England other RAF squadrons were equally successful with a total of 13 Luftwaffe bombers being destroyed for the loss of just one RAF pilot. As well as the fighters other elements of the local air defences had also been in action with the heavy anti-aircraft guns firing 1107 rounds, and the 'Z' batteries discharging 207 UP's.

For the inhabitants of Bristol and surrounding districts the trial by combat was drawing to an end, the 'All Clear at 03.07 hrs on the morning of May 15th 1944 marking the departure of the last German bomber to threaten the area. During the rest of the month the attacks continued against the ports where the forces were concentrating for the forthcoming invasion of France, accordingly Portsmouth, Weymouth, Torquay and Falmouth were targeted. These were in fact the final raids of the 'Baby Blitz, and manned attacks on the West Country did not continue into June, the few remaining aircraft being required to counter the Allied landings.