Mosquitos Over the Skies of Hamburg

This book is so entertaining! Who would have thought!

A chapter or so back, self was introduced to a fascinating British aircraft called the De Havilland Mosquito, made OF PLYWOOD. Can you imagine the chutzpah of putting such an aircraft into battle? The bloody cheek! It had no defensive armor at all, but could fly super-fast and attain great altitudes, which made them almost impervious to German flak. 11 Mosquitos accompanied the first RAF raid of Hamburg, and all 11 made it back to base the next morning, not a scratch on them.

Now, self is on Chapter 15: Concentrated Bombing.

Apparently, the RAF liked to send Mosquitos to Hamburg on “nuisance raids” — their only purpose was to keep the population of Hamburg, already jumpy from night raids, from sleeping. “The British knew from experience that sleep deprivation could be almost as damaging to the economy as bombardment . . . The damage their few bombs caused was miniscule compared to what had gone before, but it was enough to keep the whole city awake.”

They were also useful as “reconaissance planes.” For instance, on the morning of July 27, 1943, the British RAF Commander sent a Mosquito to fly over Hamburg and report on weather conditions. “Its pilot reported back that, apart from a light smoke haze from the fires that were still burning, the weather was perfectly clear.” On the basis of that report, a second massive night raid on Hamburg was ordered.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

Hagenbeck Zoo

Self did not know that Hamburg had a zoo. A FAMOUS zoo.

“Four zookeepers died during the struggle to put out the many fires, and five others were killed when the zebra house received a direct hit.” (That’s a lot of people to be killed in one place!)

Inferno, p. 166:

  • But it was the animals that suffered most. One hundred and twenty large animals were lost during the night, along with countless smaller animals. When an 8,000-pound blast bomb landed near the big cat house, several of the cats escaped. Two jaguars and a Siberian tiger had to be shot the next morning. All the big cats that stayed inside burned to death in the fire.

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

The Second Wave

While the British did their bombing by night, successfully using strips of tin foil (“Window”) to foil German radar, the Americans did their bombing by daylight. The reason they were so confident was the B-17, what Lowe calls the best daylight bomber of World War II.

They were manned by crews of ten, all of whom (with the exception of the two pilots) had access to a machine gun. Their strategy was to fly in a tight swarm, making it difficult for attackers to “see individual planes, only those at the front.”

The Americans sent the B-17s in the day after the British night bombing of Hamburg. While the British had done area bombing, the Americans had specific targets: the shipyards and the munitions factories. They were able to land their bombs, but the way back was grim. This time, the Germans were ready for them, and harassed them “halfway across the North Sea.” The Germans even sent their night fighters into the attack, showing “exactly how committed they were to finishing off as many of the B-17s as they possibly could.”

The B-17s flew in a tight swarm, but inevitably there were stragglers, and the Germans efficiently picked these off one by one. 544th Squadron, assigned the low position in the swarm, “was all but wiped out.”

“The final B-17 to go down that afternoon” was from the 544th. “The crew had been under attack for well over an hour” and had lost three engines and a wing by the time the pilot brought the plane down in the North Sea. As the plane went down, “six Focke-Wulf 190s came” at it head-on. Even “as the shaken crew clambered out of the sinking plane, 20 mm shells continued to burst on the wings and the water all around . . . ” They were still able to inflate their dinghies (Amazing: training is all!) and were eventually rescued by a Danish fishing vessel.

The first B-17 had taken off for Hamburg at 1:30 p.m. The last returned to base at 7:30 p.m. The entire operation had taken six hours. 15 of the 123 B-17s that had set out that morning failed to return. And the crews had to repeat the entire operation the next day, with the same target. When the men learned of their objective at the next day’s briefing, morale plummeted. Of the 121 B-17s that set out for Hamburg, approximately half turned back, reporting equipment “malfunctions.” Nevertheless, 54 B-17s gamely made it to the target (The crew of those 54 definitely deserve medals!)

Self isn’t even halfway through this book, and she’s already as wrung out as a limp dishrag!

792 British Bombers

Really, WordPress? REALLY? Whole paragraphs of text disappeared just now!

Inferno, p. 78: The first plane to leave the ground, destination Hamburg, was “Sergeant P. Moseley’s Stirling of 74 (New Zealand) Squadron at 9:45 p.m.”

Lowe then goes on to describe each type of plane involved in the attack (Self absolutely loves these details):

The “Short Stirling” was a “gentleman’s aircraft” because “it was easy to handle, and capable of absorbing an enormous amount of punishment before it succumbed to flak or fighter fire . . . it was also relatively easy to escape from — which was fortunate, because its lamentable ceiling of only 16,000 feet made it the first target of all the German flak batteries.”

There was even a plane “made only of plywood”: the De Havilland Mosquito. It had “no defensive armament whatsoever but these . . . were so fast, and were capable of flying at such extreme altitudes, that they were in fact virtually untouchable.” There were eleven Mosquitos that took off with the main bombing force: “All of them would return to England the next morning, completely unscathed.”

The Rolls Royce of aerial bombers was the Avro Lancaster: “a huge, sleek machine capable of flying to Berlin and back laden with over six tons of bombs . . . Four Rolls Royce Merlin engines along its wings could carry it to a height of 22,000 feet and above, and at speeds of 226 mph.”

In fact, she has seen this engine. Four years ago, she went to London’s Imperial War Museum for the first time: Polished and gleaming, in its own display case on the ground floor, was a Merlin engine. At the time, she wondered why an airplane engine — even one made by Rolls Royce — deserved its own display case. Now she knows.

Stay cool, dear blog readers. Stay cool.

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