Bombing of Peenemünde in World War II

Bombing of Peenemünde in World War II

Infobox Military Conflict|conflict=Operation Hydra|partof= Operation Crossbow Strategic bombing during World War II

caption=June 12, 1943 RAF reconnaissance photo of Peenemünde Test Stand VII
date=August 17/18, 1943
place=Peenemünde, Germany
result=not effective
commander1=Group Captain J. H. Searby
commander2=Josef Kammhuber, Hubert WeiseRp|93
strength1=Hydra: 324 Lancasters, 218 Halifaxes, 54 Stirlings
Intruders:28 Mosquitos, 10 BeaufightersRp|97
Airdrop: tbd Halifaxes
strength2=Hydra: 35 fighters including 2 Bf 109 and about 30 Focke-Wulf Fw 190
casualties1=215 KIARp|233,tbe WIA, tbe MIA/POW
Hydra: 23 Lancasters, 15 Halifaxes, 2 Stirlings
casualties2=4 Bf 110, 1 Do 217, 2 Fw 190, 1 Bf 109, 1 Ju 88,Rp|175,180,252 500-750 civilians killed (mostly Polish)

cite web|url=|title=Peenemunde, 17th and 18th August 1943|work=RAF History - Bomber Command|accessdate=2006-11-15|publisher=Royal Air Force]

Operation Hydra attacked the Peenemünde Army Research Center after midnight of 17 August/18 August 1943 and opened the Strategic bombing phase of the Anglo-American Operation Crossbow against the German long-range weapons programme.cite book |last=Neufeld|first= Michael J.|title=The Rocket and the Reich: Peenemünde and the Coming of the Ballistic Missile Era|year=1995 |month= |publisher= The Free Press|location= New York|language= |isbn= |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages=p198] The raid was a first for RAF Bomber Command, with low level attack tactics being used to achieve precision bombing. The British Official History states that the attack 'may well have caused a delay of two months', which is consistent with the German assessment by Joseph Goebbels of 'six to eight weeks'.Rp|222

Cabinet Defence Committee (Operations)

Various British intelligence sources regarding German long range weapons, such as the Oslo report, RAF Medmenham reconnaissance photographs, and human intelligence (including reports from POWs and the Polish Home Army), culminated in a pivotal meeting on 29 June 1943 of the Cabinet's Defence Committee (Operations) in the Cabinet War Room.Rp|75,78 Duncan Sandys opened with an address about the rocket and introduced the photos of Peenemünde. Professor Lindemann followed and expressed weighty arguments regarding an ‘elaborate cover plan’ by the Germans and against the credibility of the reports and the existence of the rocket. After Lindemann's counter-argument, Winston Churchill turned to Reginald Victor Jones: "Now Dr. Jones, may we hear the truth!" Jones commenced to discredit each of Cherwell's points and by all accounts, Churchill enjoyed himself hugely -- commenting to Lindemann throughout Jones' accurate defense (including how Cherwell had introduced Jones to him).Rp|76 [NOTE: British skepticism about German long range weapons continued after Operation Hydra. On 11 October 1943 at Sandys 'Fuel Panel', Dr. Alwyn Douglas Crow (1894 - 1965), the Controller of Projectile Development and who was later for solid-fuel rocketry, exclaimed that the 'rockets' purported in Peenemünde photos are obviously only 'inflated barrage balloons'.cite book |last=Henshall|first=Philip|title=Hitler’s Rocket Sites|year=1985|publisher=St Martin's Press|location=New York|isbn= |pages=p127
Colonel Post countered by asking why the German Army found it necessary to transport single barrage balloons on special, heavy-duty railway wagons: were they therefore heavier-than-air balloons?IrvingRp|154 The Crow/Post exchange was dramatized in the 1965 film "Operation Crossbow", "but by the Professor Lindemann & Dr Jones characters" (who had actually debated on June 29). Moreover, on 8 November 1943 at the request of Churchill, the Minister of Aircraft Production (Sir Stafford Cripps) conducted another meeting regarding the existence of the supposed secret weapons.cite book |last=Collier|first=Basil|title=The Battle of the V-Weapons, 1944-1945 |origyear=1964|year=1976|publisher=The Emfield Press|location=Yorkshire|isbn=0 7057 0070 4|pages=p39
] The Committee recommended a heaviest-possible Peenemünde attack on the first occasion with suitable conditions, but to avoid any further Peenemünde aerial reconnaissance flights, which might alert the Germans. At 10 Downing St on 15 July, the Chiefs of Staff, Herbert Morrison, Lindemann, and Churchill examined the plan for the Peenemünde attack, and the attack was ordered for the earliest opportunity presented by moon and meteorological conditions.Rp|78,80

Bomber Command Operation Order No. 176

Nearly 600 aircraft of RAF Bomber Command were used for the attack.cite web|url=|title=Peenemunde - 1943|work=Weapons of Mass Destruction|accessdate=2006-11-15|] Air groups involved were No. 5 Group RAF, 6 (Canadian) Group and No. 8 Group RAF.

Bomber Command's orders were to destroy the facility, and its aircrews were told that if they did not destroy it on the night of 17/18 August, they would go back every night until they had.cite web|url=|publisher=BBC|accessdate=2006-11-15|title=Raid on Peenemunde|work=WW2 People's War|date=2005-08-16] This was a deliberate measure which, as well as telling the crews the operational reality and importance of the mission, was also designed to scare them into giving their all the first time around.cite book|last=Harris|first=Arthur|authorlink=Arthur_Harris|title=Bomber Offensive|publisher=Collins|year=1947|location=London|pages=182-184]

The geographical distance of Peenemünde from the RAF's bases in Britain meant that they could not use their radio navigation beams - the raid would have to be executed by moonlight. As this was to be a precision raid rather than the standard area bombing which Bomber Command was more used to, the crews would have to drop their bombs from roughly a half of the normal altitude - convert|8000|ft|m instead of 19,000 - to ensure accuracy.

The RAF had almost no precision bombing experience, and that which it did have was of raids consisting of a small number of bombers during daylight. Additionally, Peenemünde was around convert|600|mi|km from the most easterly British airbase, and the facility was spread over a wide area and was protected by smoke screens. To ensure success, Bomber Command's commander Arthur Harris abandoned the small-scale raid approach and committed the whole of Bomber Command to this objective. The RAF also conducted practice raids on areas similar to Peenemünde; margins of error of up to convert|1000|yd were initially recorded - by the last this was down to convert|300|yd.

The primary objective was to kill as many personnel involved in the research and development of the V-weapons as possible by bombing the workers' quarters. The secondary objectives were to hit the experimental station and the rocket factory, in order to render Peenemünde unusable as a research facility and to destroy all paperwork documentation of the project.

The plan also called for a third outing of the new "Master Bomber" tactic first used by Wing Commander Guy Gibson in the Dambuster Raid.

cite book|last =Hastings|first=Max|authorlink=Max Hastings|title=Bomber Command|publisher=Michael Joseph|year=1992|location=London|pages=210|isbn=0718716038] For Operation Hydra, Group Captain J. H. Searby, of No. 83 Squadron RAF, No. 8 Group RAF, was the Master Bomber who flew in continuous circles above the target maintaining command and control; ensuring the Pathfinders had designated the correct targets, or calling in new beacons if they did not.

The Attack

Operation Whitebait

To divert German night fighters from Operation Hydra, a group of de Havilland Mosquitos concurrently conducted the small Operation Whitebait air raid on Berlin. At 22:56 CESTFact|date=December 2007 (scheduled for 23:00), the first Mosquito of Operation Whitebait was over Berlin.

Additional Operation Hydra activities included two Long Range Intruder waves by No.s 25, 141, 410 RCAF, 418 RCAF, and 605 Squadrons, which attacked Luftwaffe airfields (Ardorf, Stade, Jagel, Westerland & Grove) and fighters (e.g., at take-off/landing). A concurrent Operation Carpetbagger mission used Handley Page Halifaxes to supply Resistance groups in Europe, and the German attacks on the Hydra/Whitebait bombers diverted them from Allied airdrops in Denmark.

cite book |last=Irving|first=David|authorlink=David Irving|title=The Mare's Nest|year=1964|publisher=William Kimber and Co|location=London|pages=p68,97,99,214,249]

First Wave (Target: Sleeping & Living Quarters)

At 12:10AM British time, the first red spot fire was started, one minute later sixteen Blind Illuminator Marker aircraft commenced marking runs with white parachute flares and long-burning red target indicators (T.I.'s). However, patches of stratocumulus clouds caused uncertain visibility in the full moon, and the H2S radar had not discerned Rügen as planned, resulting in the red 'datum lights' spot fires to be inaccurately placed on the northern tip of Peenemünde Hook instead of burning as planned for ten minutes on the northern edge of Rügen. The two mile (3 km) error later caused early yellow T.I's to be misplaced at Camp Trassenheide. Fortunately, Searby noticed one subsequent yellow marker for the scientists' settlement 'very well placed' and ordered more yellows as close as possible: four of six were accurate, as well as three Backers-up green indicators. At 12:27 the first wave withdrew after facing light flak, including a few heavy flak pieces from a ship a mile offshore and guns on the Western side of the peninsula (but no fighters). One third of the 227 attacking aircraft were led astray by the false marking of Camp Trassenheide.Rp|105,106

econd Wave (Target: Factory Workshops)

The second wave began by using 'Aiming-Point Shifters' to mark the second aiming point via a bomb-sight offset back (Northwest) along the bomb run from the first wave marking. However, the correct solitary marker used for the first wave bombing was ignored, and Searby noticed the overshoot and notified the remaining Backers-up, as well as the bombing force of 113 Lancasters.

Third Wave (Target: Experimental Station)

At 12:48, a Backer-up accurately placed a green flare load in the heart of the Development Works for the third wave by No. 5 Group and No. 6 Group, and a few bombloads caused serious laboratory and office damage. As during the Friedrichshafen (Operation Bellicose) raid, blind bombing after a timed run had been planned from Rügen in case of smoke concealing the green target indicator. Unfortunately, the Lancasters and Halifaxes droned twenty and even thirty seconds past the timing point to the visible and inaccurate green markers from the six 'Shifters' and 3 Backers-up, landing 2,000-3,000 yards beyond the Development Works in the concentration camp. At 12:55, due to timing errors, 35 straggler aircraft were still waiting to bomb.Rp|110-112,115


Around 1,800 tons of bombs were dropped in the raid, of which approximately 85% were high explosive. Although the raid was "not effective",cite web | last =D'Olier |first=Franklin | authorlink =
coauthors = [ Alexander, Ball, Bowman, Galbraith, Likert, McNamee, Nitze, Russell, Searls, Wright] | date = September 30, 1945
title = The Secondary Campaigns | url = | format = html
work = United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report (European War)
publisher =
doi =
accessdate =2008-09-22
] ""Doctor Thiel and Chief Engineer Walther were buried [killed] in one of the [air-raid] trenches. People were still digging for them when I left" (Becker, the assembly workshop overseer, to Walter Dornberger).

cite book |last=Dornberger|first=Walter|authorlink=Walter Dornberger|title=V2--Der Schuss ins Weltall|year=1952 -- US translation "V-2" Viking Press:New York, 1954|publisher=Bechtle Verlag|location=Esslingan|pages=164] Many victims at Camp Trassenheide were killed by bombs as they climbed the fence to flee (the gate was too distant).

cite book |last=Ordway |first= Frederick I, III|authorlink=Frederick I. Ordway III |coauthors=Sharpe, Mitchell R|title=The Rocket Team|series= Apogee Books Space Series 36|month= |publisher=Thomas Y. Crowell|location=New York|isbn=|pages=p135] Moreover, plans for several German V-2 facilities were changed after Operation Hydra, e.g., the nearly-operational V-2 Production Plant was moved to the Mittelwerk.

Bomber Command lost 6.7% of the Operation Hydra force (mostly during the final wave). After the Luftwaffe realised the Operation Whitebait deception, the counterattack on Operation Hydra included about 30 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 "Wilde Sau" (English: wild boar) Night fighters which shot down 29 of the 40 bombers lost during Operation Hydra. [] The counterattack also included the first operational flights of "Schräge Musik" fighters: two Me 110s piloted by Leutnant Peter Erhardt, the "Staffelkapitän", and Unteroffizier Walter Höker.

After the success of the Operation Whitebait deception, Luftwaffe Chief of Staff General Hans Jeschonnek shot himself on 19 August.

=Fabricated Da

After Operation Hydra, Peenemünde fabricated signs of bomb damage by creating craters in the sand (particularly near the wind tunnel), blowing-up lightly damaged and minor buildings, and according to Peenemünde scientist Siegfried Winter, "We … climbed on to the roofs … and painted black and white lines to simulate charred beams"! Operation Hydra also included the use of bombs with timers set for up to three days, so along with bombs that had not detonated (e.g., because of the sandy soil), explosions well after the attack were not uncommon and hampered German salvage efforts.Rp|198,199

1944 Bombings

Additional 1944 bombings of Peenemünde by the Eighth Air Force were to counter suspected hydrogen peroxide production for the V-2 rocket:Rp|309

*Mission 481 on 18 July 1944 used 377 B-17 Flying Fortresses to bomb the Peenemünde experimental establishment, the scientific HQ at Zinnowitz, and the marshalling yards at Stralsund. Three B-17s were lost and 64 were damaged. Escort was provided by 297 P-38 Lightnings and P-51 Mustangs; they claim 21-0-12 Luftwaffe aircraft; 3 P-51s are lost (2 pilot are MIA) and 1 is damaged beyond repair.

cite web|last=|first=|url=|title=8th Air Force 1944 Chronicles|work=|accessdate=2007-05-25|publisher= 1943: [ August] , 1944: [ July] , [ August] ] A Peenemünde test launch planned that day was scrapped when Test Stand VII was heavily damaged (Dieter Huzel's broken arm was the only casualty at P-7). The P-11 production calibration firing stand near "Werke Süd" was a complete loss, and 50 people died, including anti-aircraft soldiers.

*Mission 512 on 4 August 1944 used 221 B-17s against Peenemünde, 110 against Anklam Airfield, and 70 against Anklam aircraft factories; they claim 1-0-0 Luftwaffe aircraft; 3 B-17s are lost, 1 is damaged beyond repair and 94 damaged; 2 airmen are KIA, 2 WIA and 40 MIA. Escort is provided by 223 of 250 P-51s; they claim 4-0-4 Luftwaffe aircraft on the ground; 9 P-51s are lost (pilots are MIA) and 1 is damaged beyond repair; 1 pilot is KIA. Ten Peenemünde people were killed, including anti-aircraft soldiers. The big hangar had been damaged, including the office and laboratory wings.

*Mission 570 on 25 August 1944 used 376 B-17s against the Peenemünde Experimental Station (146), Neubrandenburg Airfield (108) and Anklam Airfield (73); 21 others hit Parow Airfield and 5 hit targets of opportunity; 5 B-17s are lost and 75 damaged; 1 airman is KIA, 9 WIA and 45 MIA. Escort is provided by 171 P-47s and P-51s; they claim 36-0-28 aircraft on the ground; 2 P-51s are lost. Repairs to Peenemünde Test Stand VII allowed launchings to resume just six weeks after the daylight raid.

cite book |last=Huzel|first=Dieter K|title=Peenemünde to Canaveral|year=1962|month= |publisher=Prentice Hall|location=Englewood Cliffs NJ|pages=p105,115]

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