Target Leipzig: The RAF's Disastrous Raid of 19/20 February 1944
Alan W. Cooper
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Seventy-nine heavy bombers failed to return from the catastrophic raid on the industrial city of Leipzig on the night of 19/20 February 1944. Some 420 aircrew were killed and a further 131 became prisoners of war. It was at that time by far the RAF’s most costly raid of World War II. The town was attacked in an attempt to destroy the Messerschmitt factory which was building the famous and deadly Bf 109 fighter. The bomber stream flew into what appeared to be a trap. It seemed that the Luftwaffe and anti-aircraft guns were aware of the intended target and waiting to pounce as soon as the bombers crossed the coast. They were subjected to constant attack by night fighters and intense flak until those aircraft that remained clawed their way home and secured relative safety over the North Sea.
This book analyses what went wrong. Espionage played a part, two bombers collided shortly after take off, as did others as they wove their way through enemy searchlights and maneuvered violently to escape Luftwaffe night fighters. At the outset poor navigational and meteorological briefings had hindered the bombers attempts to locate the target and confusion reigned. The author explains the concept of this third raid on Leipzig and describes the two previous ones in October and December 1943, both of which had been deemed successes. He looks at the third raid from every angle, including the defending forces and describes the daylight raid that followed on the 20th by the USAAF. The book includes appendices listing all RAF aircraft and crew on the raid, route maps and includes many photographs.
Command escorts gave the first indication of daylight attacks. The special duty squadrons from Tempsford were never intercepted before or during an operation, only on the return flight at best. According to German intelligence the radio discipline of No. 8 Group, the Pathfinder Group of Bomber Command RAF, was above average, and often only detected from the Group HQ’s meteorological transmissions. On the other hand the Mosquitoes, which regularly attacked Berlin at the end of the war, were
432 Squadron were sent to Royal Canadian HQ in London. The production losses caused were later traced to fifty-one fuselages and two weeks’ production capacity. The defences over Leipzig were a loose barrage of moderate intensity up to 20,000 feet but the searchlights could not penetrate the cloud. En route, accurate heavy flak was encountered from Egmond. The fighter commentators plotted the bombers accurately along the route as far as the turning point and numerous encounters occurred in this
at 12.30 am and landed at 8.10 am. Another aircraft from 50 Squadron was flown by F/Lt James Lees RCAF who when some miles from the target was shot by an enemy fighter. The rear turret was rendered unserviceable and the main hydraulic gear was damaged. The windscreen near the pilot was shattered causing intense cold in the cabin. Nevertherless, the resolute pilot flew on to the target, executing his attack, and afterwards flew the aircraft back to base where he effected a masterly landing
over Borkum he recorded a wind speed of 95 mph and over Kiel 108 mph. Being a tail wind it would mean the crews arriving at Leipzig far too early and having to stay in the target area far longer than they should. Ideally you arrived at the target, dropped your bombs and then got out. Sergeant Cowman remembers the Bomber Command ‘Health and Safety at Work Act 1944’. This laid down that to obtain protection you must arrive at certain points at certain times, give or take ten seconds, and that
investigation from being pursued with the necessary science and authority. As a result, it remained true even at the end of the war that aerial warfare had never been practised except in miniature; that bombing had never been studied as a science; that the hitting of targets from great heights, by day or night is worthy of as intense volume of scientific study, as for instance, is brought to bear upon perfecting the gunnery of the fleet; that much of the unfavourable, accumulated data showing the