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- 617 Squadron and the Dams Raid
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British Military Aviation in 1943
Strategic bombers of the United States Eighth Air Force complete their
first mission against a target in Germany, attacking a submarine construction
yard at Wilhelmshaven.
“airborne navigation and bombing radar is first used by RAF Bomber Command.
Pathfinder crews of No. 7 and No. 35 Squadrons, No. 8 Group, RAF Bomber Command,
employ H2S during a raid on Hamburg.
Mediterranean Air Command is formed under the command of Air Chief Marshall
Sir Arthur Tedder.
Bomber Command begin ’round-the-clock’ bombing.
The North Western African Air Force is formed.
RAF Bomber Command opens the ‘Battle of the Ruhr’ with an attack by 442 aircraft
on Essen. Between this date and the middle of July, Bomber Command deliver
concentrated attacks against all of the major industrial cities of the Ruhr.
Two factors can be seen to have facilitated this campaign. Firstly, the strength
of Bomber Command, both in terms of the number of aircraft that it was
able to deploy and the quality of the four-engined bombers (the Avro Lancaster
and Handley Page Halifax) that formed an increasing proportion of the Command’s
front line, for the first time permitted mass attacks on German targets.
Secondly, the introduction of the ‘Oboe’ blind-bombing system and ‘H2S’ navigation
and bombing radar enabled targets to be marked with some accuracy by the
Pathfinder Force. The ‘Battle of the Ruhr’ marked the beginning of RAF
Bomber Command’s primary offensive against German urban and industrial targets.
RAF Transport Command is formed and charged with conducting RAF transport
operations in the United Kingdom and overseas. The existing RAF Ferry
Command is absorbed into Transport Command as No. 45 Group. The Air Officer
Commanding RAF Ferry Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill,
is appointed Air Officer Commanding of Transport Command.
The RAF presents the Prime Minister Winston Churchill with a pair of wings
to mark their 25th Anniversary.
During this month Allied air and naval forces sink 41 U-Boats, bringing
total losses from the beginning of 1943 to 98. As this rate of loss is
insupportable, Admiral Karl Dönitz, commanding the German U-boat
arm, is forced to restrict operations against Atlantic convoys.
The Victoria Cross is awarded to Squadron Leader Leonard Trent for his attack
on an Amsterdam power station during which his squadron was attacked by
very large numbers of enemy fighters. Trent’s aircraft was a Lockheed
Ventura (AJ209 ‘EG-V’) of No. 487 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force
An Airborne Lifeboat is used operationally for the first time, when it
is dropped from an aircraft of No. 279 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF).
Royal Air Force maritime patrol aircraft sink three U-boats in one day.
A Handley Page Halifax of No. 58 Squadron sinks U-109 and a Short Sunderland
of No. 10 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force sank U-663, both engagements
take place in the Bay of Biscay. Meanwhile a Lockheed Hudson of No. 233
Squadron sinks the U-447 off Gibraltar.
Allied aircraft heavily attack the airfield on Pantelleria Island between
Cape Bon and Sicily.
A Consolidated Liberator maritime patrol aircraft of No. 86 Squadron drops
a Mark 24 acoustic homing torpedo (codenamed Fido), seriously damaging
U-Boat U-456 and driving it to the surface. It is originally thought to
have been sunk as the result of subsequent attacks by a Short Sunderland
of No. 423 Squadron RCAF, and the warships HMS Lagan and HMCS Drumheller.
However, it now appears that U-456 was forced to dive by approaching destroyers
and then sank because of the damage inflicted by the Liberator. This may
properly be said to mark the first successful use of an air-dropped precision
weapon in air warfare. The Sunderland and the two warships had actually
combined to sink U-753.
A force of 19 specially modified Avro Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron, RAF
Bomber Command, led by the squadron commander Wing Commander Guy Gibson,
attack a series of dams in the Ruhr Valley using Upkeep rotating mines
designed by Barnes Wallis.
Only twelve Lancasters reach the target area.
One is forced to return after flying so low that it strikes the sea, which
tears away the Upkeep bomb. Five are shot down by enemy Flak (anti-aircraft
fire) and one is so badly damaged by Flak that it is forced to turn back.
Five of the twelve surviving Lancasters, led by Wing Commander Gibson,
attack and breach the Möhne Dam and a further three attack the Eder
Dam, which is also breached. Of the remaining aircraft, three attacked
the Sorpe Dam and one the Schwelme Dam, neither of which are breached,
and one fails to find its target in misty conditions and returns without
releasing its bomb. Three further Lancasters are lost after they release
their weapons. 53 aircrew are killed and three captured.
The raid is a significant success, creating widespread flooding. Wing Commander
Gibson is subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross, having delivered his
attack with great accuracy and afterwards circling very low for half an
hour, drawing the enemy fire to his aircraft to clear the way for the
attacks that follow. 34 other aircrew from the squadron are also decorated.
During a heavy raid on Dortmund, the total weight of bombs dropped by
Bomber Command on Germany reaches 100,000 tons. To mark the occasion,
the Air Officer Commanding in Chief, RAF Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal
Sir Arthur Harris, sends this message, 'In 1939, Göring promised
that not a single enemy bomb would reach the Ruhr. Congratulations on
having delivered the first 100,000 tons of bombs on Germany to refute
Army Co-operation Command is disbanded and the Tactical Air Force is formed
in the United Kingdom under command of Air Marshal John D’Albiac.
A Short Sunderland of No. 461 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force is attacked
over the Bay of Biscay by eight Junkers Ju 88Cs. The ensuing combat last
for 45 minutes and sees the Sunderland shoot down three of the attacking
Ju 88s. The Sunderland is badly damaged, with one of its crew killed and
three wounded. Nevertheless, the pilot, Flight Lieutenant CB Walker
brings the aircraft safely back and is subsequently awarded the Distinguished
The combat indicated the seriousness with which the Germans viewed the
Allied air threat to their U-boats transiting the Bay of Biscay from their
French coastal ports. The Germans deployed long range Junkers Ju 88s of
Kampfgeschwader 40 and shorter ranged Focke Wulf Fw 190 fighters to try
to combat the threat of Allied aircraft. In response the Royal Air Force
(RAF) deployed Bristol Beaufighter and later de Havilland Mosquito squadrons
to try to counter the threat of German interceptors. The patrols became
known as Instep operations. The RAF lost 15 aircraft in patrols over the
Bay of Biscay during June 1943. 4 Junkers Ju 88s were claimed as destroyed
by Instep patrols.
Pantelleria Island is heavily attacked by Allied Forces. The island subsequently
surrenders on the following day.
The Royal Air Force ‘s first Autogiro Squadron, No. 529 Squadron, is formed
at Halton from No. 1448 Flight.
Air Force (RAF) photographic reconnaissance reveals that rockets with
an estimated range of up to 130 miles are being developed at the German
research facility at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast.
Serrate operations – fighter interception by homing on to enemy transmissions;
combined with airborne interception radar to give range indications –
begin against German nightfighters.
The first glider (sailplane) is towed across the Atlantic, from Dorval in Canada to
Prestwick in Scotland, by a Dakota of RAF Transport Command.
Duncan Sandys reports to a Parliamentary committee, established to investigate
German weapon development, that there is evidence that the Germans might
use pilotless aircraft (the V 1 ‘flying bomb’) and long range guns, as
well as rockets (V 2) for attacks on Britain.
The invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) opens with an airborne assault mounted
from airfields in North Africa. United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and
Royal Air Force transport aircraft tow in the gliders (sailplanes) of
the 1st British Airborne Division and drop the paratroops of the US 82nd
Poor weather, combined with the inexperience of many of the USAAF transport
aircraft crews that participate in the operation, results in only 250
of the 3,000 US paratroops reaching designated drop zones.
The 1st Airborne Division’s air landing fare even worse, as 69 out of the
137 gliders released land in the rough seas, drowning large numbers of
men. Only twelve gliders, all towed by RAF aircraft with crews better
versed in night operations, reach the correct landing zones. Fortunately
the sea-borne landing fared rather better.
Acting Wing Commander John Dering Nettleton VC is declared missing in action
while serving with No. 44 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command, when the Avro Lancaster
I he was piloting (ED331) fails to return from a raid on Torino. He and
his crew have no known graves and are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
No. 244 Wing, Desert Air Force (No.92 and No. 145 Squadrons RAF and No. 1
Squadron South African Air Force) land in Sicily from Malta.
The United States Goodyear airship K74, on patrol off Florida, attacks
a surfaced U-boat. The U-134 fights back and shoots down the airship,
one of whose crew is killed by a shark. This is the only airship lost
to enemy action during the Second World War. U-134 is damaged and forced
to return to base.
The ‘Battle of Hamburg’ (Operation Gomorrah): between these dates, Hamburg
is subjected to intense raids by RAF Bomber Command (four attacks) and
the 8th United States Army Air Force (USAAF). Bomber Command alone mounts
3,091 sorties, during which it drops a total of 8,344 tons of high explosive
and incendiaries on the city.
Much of Hamburg was devastated by the bombing and the firestorm which
follows the attack of 27-28 July, and approximately 45,000 German civilians
are killed. During the course of the Battle, 87 Bomber Command aircraft
are lost, 552 British and Allied airmen are killed, 65 captured and 7
interned in Sweden.
The first attack of the Battle of Hamburg on 24-25 July also saw the
first use of Window (tinfoil strips dropped from aircraft to simulate
aircraft echoes and confuse ground search and nightfighter radars) by
RAF Bomber Command. The forerunner of modern ‘chaff’, Window proved very
successful – only 12 of the 700 bombers despatched were lost.
No. 322 Wing (Supermarine Spitfire) foils a Luftwaffe attempt to reinforce
Sicily by air. The Germans attempt to land reinforcements by Junkers Ju 52
transport aircraft on a coastal strip at Milazzo in the north of the island.
21 Ju 52s and four escorting Messerchmitt Bf 109s are shot down.
A posthumous Victoria Cross is awarded to Flying Officer L.A. Trigg of the
Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) for sinking the U-boat ‘U-468’ south
west of Dakar. Trigg’s aircraft was a Consolidated Liberator (BZ832 ‘D’)
of No. 200 Squadron.
A posthumous Victoria Cross is awarded to Flight Sergeant A.L. Aaron for
his actions during a mission to attack Turin in Italy. The aircraft involved
was Short Stirling EF452 ‘HA-O’ of No.218 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command.
The campaign in Sicily ends with the Allied capture of Messina. During
the course of the campaign, the Allies destroyed more than 1,000 Axis
aircraft on the ground and 740 in the air. Allied losses amounted to 385,
of which 25 were lost to ‘friendly fire’ over the assault beaches.
The Eighth United States Army Air Force despatches 376 Boeing B-17 Flying
Fortress strategic bombers to two targets in southern Germany – the ball
bearing factories at Schweinfurt (230 aircraft) and the Messerschmitt
factory at Regensburg (146 aircraft). No long-range fighter escort could
be provided and as a consequence casualties amongst the attackers are
heavy – sixty aircraft fail to return.
The research establishment at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast is attacked
by 600 aircraft of RAF Bomber Command (Operation Hydra). Although only
part of the complex is destroyed, this raid results in the dispersal of
V 2 rocket production, thereby delaying the V 2’s introduction into service.
23/24 August – 3/4 September
RAF Bomber Command opens the preliminary phase of the ‘Battle of Berlin’
with a series of three major raids on the German capital. During these
attacks, the Command despatches a total of 1,652 sorties and loses 125
aircraft. Operations against Berlin are suspended in early September due
to difficulties in marking targets within the city.
The term ‘radar’ is officially adopted by the RAF in preference to the
abbreviation, ‘RDF’, previously used to describe this equipment (Air Ministry
Order AMO 863/43).
Units of the British Eighth Army cross the Straits of Messina from Sicily
to land, unopposed at Reggio di Calabria, on the Italian mainland (Operation
Baytown). This marked the return of Allied troops to mainland Europe.
Faced with mounting heavy bomber losses during its daylight strategic
bombing campaign, the United States Eighth Air Force begins a small-scale
trial examining the employment of USAAF heavy bombers in night raids,
mounted in conjunction with RAF Bomber Command. Five Boeing B-17 Flying
Fortresses of the 422nd Bombardment Squadron accompany 257 aircraft of
RAF Bomber Command in a raid against a German long-range gun battery at
Boulogne. Flying Fortresses from the 422nd Bombardment Squadron participate
in RAF Bomber Command attacks on a further seven occasions, culminating
in a raid on Frankfurt-am-Main on the night of 4/5 October 1943, before
the trial is discontinued.
Units of the United States Fifth Army land at Salerno on the Italian mainland
Six Dornier Do 217s of Kampfgeschwader 100, operating from Marseille, attack
units of the Italian fleet, which are proceeding to Malta to surrender.
Using Fritz-X radio guided glide bombs the Dorniers sink the battleship
Roma with two missiles and severely damage the battleship Italia.
Supermarine Spitfires of No. 324 Wing RAF, Supermarine Seafires of the
Fleet Air Arm and Lockheed Lightnings of the United States Army Air Force
(USAAF) deploy ashore to provide land based fighter cover over Salerno
landings. During this day the 1st Tactical Air Force flies 700 sorties.
Six Douglas Dakotas of No. 216 Squadron RAF led by Squadron Leader Forsyth
drop 122 paratroops on the Greek island of Kos (or Cos) in the Dodecanese.
RAF Regiment units are transported by air to Kos on the following day
and further landings are subsequently made on the neighbouring islands
of Leros and Samos. However, all three islands are re-taken by German
forces, with heavy Allied ground, air and naval losses, in November 1943.
Following an abortive attack on the previous night, two crews of No. 617
Squadron RAF Bomber Command succeed in dropping the first 12,000 pound
High Capacity bombs delivered by the Command. The target is the Dortmund-Ems
Canal, however, a breach is not achieved.
The Royal Navy battleship HMS Warspite is severely damaged off the Salerno
landing beaches by Fritz-X radio guided glide bombs dropped by Dornier
Do 217 of Kampfgeschwader 100. Warspite has to be towed to Malta for repairs.
The Salerno beachead is secured. The air battles over Salerno cost the
Luftwaffe 221 aircraft and the Allies 89 aircraft.
The ‘spoof’ raid technique is used by RAF Bomber Command for the first
time. The main target for the raid on this night is Hanover and the ‘spoof’
target is Oldenburg.
Italy declares war on Germany.
Following their raid of 17 August 1943, the United States Eighth Army
Air Force launch a second attack on the important ball-bearing production
factories located at Schweinfurt in southern Germany. A total of 291 heavy
bombers are despatched without long-range fighter escort and sixty are
lost. Faced with such heavy losses, the USAAF suspends daylight heavy
bomber operations against German targets.
A posthumous Victoria Cross is awarded to Flight Lieutenant W.E. Newton
of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for displaying “great courage
and an iron determination to inflict the utmost damage on the
enemy” during his service in Salamaua in New Guinea. The aircraft
involved was a Douglas Boston of No. 22 (RAAF) Squadron.
The Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Force is formed.
The Victoria Cross is awarded to Flight Lieutenant W. Reid for his actions
in the bombing of Dusseldorf. The aircraft involved was Avro Lancaster
LM360 ‘O’ of No. 61 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command.
A de Havilland Mosquito FB XVIII of No. 248 Squadron, RAF Coastal Command,
piloted by Flying Officer A.J.L. Bonnett of the Royal Canadian Air Force
(RCAF) makes the first attack on a U-boat using a 6-pounder (57mm) Molins
gun. Bonnett fires eight rounds at the U-123 and achieves several hits
on the submarine’s conning tower and hull. The damaged submarine docks
at the submarine base at Lorient.
The Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF) is formed to control Royal Air
Force (RAF) and United States Army Air Force (USAAF) units during the
forthcoming invasion of Europe, under the command of Air Chief Marshal
Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory.
RAF Fighter Command is renamed Air Defence Great Britain, with Air Marshal
R.M. Hill appointed Air Officer Commanding in Chief.
Air Command South-East Asia is formed, under the command of Air Chief
Marshal Sir Richard Peirse.
The main phase of the ‘Battle of Berlin’ opens with an attack, by 440
Avro Lancasters and four de Havilland Mosquitoes, on the German capital.
During the Battle as a whole (23/24 August 1943 – 30/31 March 1944),
RAF Bomber Command mounted nineteen major raids on Berlin. 10,813 sorties
were generated by the Command, of which approximately 9,560 reached the
target area and 33,390 tons of bombs were dropped (including at least
5 million incendiaries. Large sections of the city were destroyed and
10,305 German civilians and service personnel were killed. A total of
625 aircraft were lost during the offensive, 2,960 bomber crewmembers
were lost en route to, over, or returning from the target and a further
987 were taken prisoner.
No. 100 (Special Duties) Group is formed at West Raynham in RAF Bomber
Command, under the command of Air Commodore E.B. Addison. This Group is
formed in an effort to draw together Bomber Command’s existing Radio Counter
Measures (RCM) electronic warfare operations and during the course of
the bomber offensive against Germany, No.100 Group and its forebears pioneered
the use of offensive Electronic Warfare.
Aerial photographs of the German research station at Peenemünde reveal
a pilotless aircraft on a launching ramp.
‘Düppel’, the German equivalent of ‘Window’ (tinfoil strips dropped from
aircraft to simulate aircraft echoes and confuse ground search and nightfighter
radars), is used for the first time by German aircraft engaged in a minelaying
operation in Bari harbour.
The Mediterranean Air Command and North-West African Air Force are amalgamated
to form Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, consisting of all operational
Allied Air Units in the Mediterranean theatre, excluding the Middle East.