1.7 Aircraft Factories Attacked - 4/9/40 to 31/10/40

Meanwhile bombs had fallen on Central London for the first time during the night of August 24th, when several aircraft attacking Thameshaven inadvertently dropped their load too far west. In Britain this was seen as an extension of the indiscriminate bombing already experienced in the provinces for, regardless of intent, this was the effect of most German night raids. The following night, on Churchill's instructions, Berlin was attacked by the RAF, and although the British attempt at retaliation was weak and ineffective, it infuriated Hitler, resulting in London superseding RAF Fighter Command and its supply organisation as the primary target of the Luftwaffe. Consequently, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring assumed direct command of the air offensive against Britain on September 7th, and that afternoon the Luftwaffe flew 372 bomber sorties against targets in East London starting large fires and causing considerable damage. This was the beginning of a series of raids that was to last for 65 days, and initially many of Luftflotte 3's aircraft, previously available to carry out attacks on the Bristol area, were ordered to redirect their efforts to the capital.

Although London had become the major target for Luftflotte 2, September also marked the start of a systematic series of daylight pinpoint raids carried out by a small force of twin-engined Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighter-bombers of Epr Gr 210, flying with long range Bf 110 fighter escort, on some of the most important British aircraft factories. The attack series opened with a raid on the Vickers plant at Weybridge on September 4th, shortly after which Epr Gr 210 and the long-range fighters of ZG 26, about 90 aircraft in all, were temporarily transferred to Luftflotte 3. The first operation under their new command was carried out against the Supermarine factory at Woolston, near Southampton, on September 10th, and it was not to be long before they were operating over the Bristol area.

Also on that day Göring ordered that if the weather situation prevented large scale operations against London, then surprise daylight, or 'Pirate' attacks by individual bombs were also to be made on targets associated with the British aircraft industry, and the first such operation of this series carried out against a target in the Bristol area was the attempt, by a lone He 111 of I/KG 55, on the Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton on September 16th.

It now seemed unlikely that full air superiority would now be achieved by the Luftwaffe before the onset of worse weather, and so on September 17th Hitler ordered the indefinite postponement of the invasion. As a result of this change in strategy, two days later instructions were issued to increase the attacks against the British aircraft industry, both by night and day, by reducing the size of the formations engaged in raids on London.

1.7.1 Filton Raid 25/9/40

Consequently, the bomber force of Luftflotte 3 was once again assigned the most important targets on the western side of Britain, and as part of a new strategy September 25th saw the start of a planned series of large scale daylight attacks, in Geschwader strength with long range fighter cover, on the aircraft industry in the West Country. The target that morning was the Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton, and the weather was perfect for bombing, with banks of thick cloud broken by patches of clear blue sky. As a result the works was claimed successfully attacked at about 11.45 hrs by 58 Heinkel He 111's of KG 55, escorted by 52 Bf 110's of ZG 26.

German aerial photographs showing targets
Authors collection

A few minutes before the bombing commenced the local anti-aircraft gunners scored a great success, an He 111 of II/KG 55 which was brought down at Failand during its run in to the target, the first of only two enemy aircraft to be destroyed by Bristol's anti-aircraft guns during the war. Nevertheless, serious damage had indeed been caused at the Rodney Works, while here and at the Flight Shed and East Engine Works, the workers shelters were hit by a stick of bombs, causing many casualties. The attack, which only lasted some 45 seconds, also destroyed eight newly built aircraft, including two precious Beaufighter prototypes, and production of the badly needed type was temporarily halted. Over Filton and surrounding districts 81.5 tonnes of H.E.'s and 6 tonnes of Oil Bombs had been dropped, which tragically resulted in the death of 132 people, of which 91 were company employees, while a further 315 were injured.

Remains of He 111 brought down at Failand
Courtesy of the proprietors of the Bristol Evening Post

The crew reports, and photographs taken by KG 55 during the attack, together with a reconnaissance mission flown over Filton later that day by a lone Bf 110 of 4(F)/14 proved to the Germans that the raid had been a great success. Accordingly the Luftwaffe's own magazine, Der Adler, soon after proudly proclaimed "this factory will not produce many more aircraft", while Major Friedrich Kless, the attack leader and Gruppenkommandeur of II/KG 55, was awarded the Ritterkruz on October 14th.

Although the morning had started well for the defenders with the destruction of an He 111 by the AA guns, direct hits were scored on a barrage balloon site at Filton and a 'Dazzle Defence' searchlight site at Stoke Gifford, killing an operator at each location. Due to confusion in defence and a lack of locally based fighters the attackers had not been intercepted by the main force of Hurricanes and Spitfires until after the attack had taken place and although the RAF were subsequently responsible for bringing down 5 enemy aircraft, for the loss of just one British pilot, it did emphasise how important it was for a day fighter squadron to be permanently based in the immediate vicinity of Bristol, none having been so deployed since April. In spite of the problems faced by the defenders a total of 6 German aircraft failed to return, which resulted in 8 crewmen being killed and 10 made prisoner, including 5 injured. In addition a further 2 aircraft crashed on return to France, adding 2 more injured to the casualty list.

1.7.2 Yate Raid 27/9/40

German aerial photographs showing targets
Author's Collection

September 27th saw the return of German aircraft in daylight over Bristol, when 10 Bf 110's of Epr Gr 210 escorted by 42 long-range fighters undertook an unsuccessful pin-point attack on the Parnall Aircraft works at Yate. The weather during the morning was fair, with patches of cloud, and for the citizens of Bristol this offered the unique opportunity to witness a classic 'dog fight' over the city. During this action two escorting Bf 110's of I/ZG 26 were shot down by the Hurricanes of 504 Squadron, which had only arrived at Filton the previous day. One of the Messerschmitts disintegrated over the Stapleton Institution at Fishponds, and was the only enemy aircraft to crash within the Bristol boundary during the Second World War, while the other came down at Haydon, near Radstock.

Wreckage of Messerschmitt at Manor Park, Stapleton
Author's Collection

During the raid Epr Gr 210 had lost about a third of its aircraft and a number of senior officers, including the Gruppenkommandeur, Hptm. Martin Lutz, and the Staffelkäpitan of 2 Staffel, Oblteutnant Willhelm Rössiger, both of whom were posthumously awarded the Ritterkreuz on October 1st. One officer who took part in the raid and did survive the devastating attack by RAF fighters, was Hptm. Wilhelm Makrocki the Gruppenkokommandeur of I/ZG 26, and he received his Ritterkreuz on October 6th. A total of 10 German aircraft infact failed to return which resulted in the death of 14 crewmen, with 6 others being taken prisoner, 5 of them injured. The Luftwaffe obviously could not sustain the terrible losses of September 27th, and thus was brought to an abrupt end this type of fighter-bomber attack on West Country targets.

The large scale daylight bomber attacks, however, continued until October 7th when 25 Ju 88's escorted by 50 Bf 110 long range fighters, mounted a daylight attack on the Westland factory at Yeovil in which nine aircraft were shot down, seven of them Bf 110's, which were proving no match for the RAF's single engined Hurricanes and Spitfires. With such losses being suffered the time was now quickly approaching when any attempt at large scale daylight raiding would have to be abandoned, and on the 19th the poor weather gave Göring the excuse he needed to terminated these attacks.

1.7.3 Autumn 'Pirate' Raids on Filton & Yate

Luftflotte 3 was also instructed to continue pin-point Pirate daylight attacks by single aircraft against important centres of the British aircraft industry whenever weather permitted. The plants at Filton and Yate were once again prime targets, and operations commenced on October 6th when a lone He 111 of II/KG 55 attempted an afternoon raid on Yate. The Parnall plant, however, was not attacked as the essential cloud cover started to break up, forcing the crew to bomb Bournemouth as an alternative. These missions were also interspaced with more conventional operations by single night bombers, with Filton being targeted twice, and Yate once in unsuccessful attacks carried out by II and III/KG 55 between the 10th and 15th of October.

The daytime 'Pirate' attacks had also resumed on the 15th, when Oberleutnant Speck von Sternburg of III/KG 55 made an abortive attempt against Filton, to be followed by three more unsuccessful efforts later in the month by the same crew. On the 19th the mission was again aborted, on the 24th the bombs fell at Yatton, and on the 31st of October the Royal Ordnance Factory at Glascoed in South Wales was bombed, being mistaken for Filton! For this attack the crew received a mention in the High Command of the Armed Forces communiqué issued on November 2nd, in which it was stated that they had destroyed a factory near Bristol.