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From The Archives: The Second Attack

A local historian, John Penny, researched the RAF records and the Luftwaffe records that survived the war, and prepared a very detailed analysis of exactly what happened during the second attack of the Bath Blitz. This is an extract of the paper he submitted to the Project.

The links to technical details of the aircraft involved will all open in the second window.

The Attack

Upon landing back at their bases most raiders were immediately re-fuelled and re-armed for the second phase of the operation, the bomber streams making landfall on this occasion between Bridport and the Isle of Wight.

However, as it was anticipated that the fires started in Bath earlier in the night would be sufficient to guide the returning aircraft, no pathfinders were employed. Consequently, with high explosives being used almost exclusively, the raid, which commenced around 4.40 am and again lasted for around 50 minutes, was a good deal more destructive than the first, and to crown their achievement the Luftwaffe suffered just one bomber destroyed and one damaged during this phase.

The total loss was Dornier Do 217, F8+EM of II/KG 40, which flew into the ground at Bottlebush Down, near Handley Cross, in Dorset, just after 5 am. This resulted not only in the death of its pilot Feldwebel Herbert Gregs, but also of Obergefreiter Helmut Tomschi, the combat observer who was still under training, Unteroffizier Karl Kainzinger, the wireless operator, and Unteroffizier Adolf Lenz, the gunner, their bodies being laid to rest in nearby Cranborne Cemetery. Exactly why this incident occurred still remains something of a mystery, although the most plausible explanation is that the pilot was blinded by the searchlight at site MPB 9 on Pentridge Hill, the responsibility of 4 Battery, 2nd Searchlight Regiment.

Wnr.5361, another of II/KG 40's Dornier 217's, was the other raider unlucky enough to run into trouble, this aircraft sustaining 30% damage after aborting its mission and returning prematurely to France where it was crash landed on Rennes airfield. It appears the crew had suffered engine trouble on the outward flight, as at 4.44 am they had been instructed to jettison their bombs on the emergency dumping ground.

British Countermeasures

Whilst the Luftwaffe had been occupied over Bath, the RAF also sent intruder aircraft out to attack their French bases, some six Havocs and four Bostons of 23 Squadron operating from Tangmere, and two Bostons of 418 Squadron from Bradwell Bay, in Essex.

Sadly, this also proved to be a particularly unsuccessful venture, probably due to the poor visibility over the Continent, and seems to have caused little inconvenience to the German bombers which were still able to land and take off unhindered throughout the early morning.

By the time dawn broke at 6.52 am on the morning of April 26th 1942, it was obvious to everyone concerned that the British air defences had failed to prevent the German bombers from operating almost completely unhindered over Bath. Although Anti-Aircraft Command had put up a spirited defence with just over 5000 heavy rounds and nearly 350 three inch rockets being fired at the enemy while they were over Southern England, the steep dives carried out by many rendered the Army's Gun Laying Radar ineffective, and only one of the raiders seems to have fallen victim to their guns.

However, as few anti-aircraft sites were located in the immediate vicinity of Bath, it should have been down to Fighter Command to provide close protection for the city, but in task this they were found wanting, and the majority of the victories they did obtain were more by luck than design.

The next Day Dawns

Consequently, for many people in Bath the night had been truly horrific, as the high explosive bombs caused extensive damage, particularly to residential property located on both sides of the river in the western districts of the city, while to make matters worse the blast effect, aggravated by Bath's position in a hollow, was really quite exceptional.

In addition, as nearly 30 individual fires were also started, four of them serious, casualties were bound to be heavy, and recent research has revealed that 242 people probably lost their lives that night, some 91 during the first phase and 151 in the second.

From the Germans point of view the attacks had been successful beyond their wildest dreams, and within a matter of hours they released their official communiqué which stated that: "By order of the High Command of the Wehrmacht, during last night strong formations of German aircraft carried out a heavy reprisal raid on Bath, a town lying on the Avon to the south-east of Bristol. It is the headquarters of a high British staff organisation. Even lively interference from British night fighters could not prevent the German planes from reaching their target. In clear light, thousands of explosive and incendiary bombs, often from a low altitude, were dropped on Bath all of which exploded in the target area. Countless incendiaries were dropped and then blazing fires broke out, especially in the centre. The attack, which was carried out in waves, went entirely according to plan, and repaid the British for their wanton destruction of living quarters, cultural monuments and welfare arrangements in ancient German cities."


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