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From The Archives: The Third 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 third 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

By no means deterred by the enemy's success, that evening the RAF dispatched 109 aircraft to raid Rostock for the fourth consecutive time, while the Luftwaffe were preparing to spend a second night over Bath, upon which the crews of 83 raiders subsequently claimed to have dropped 107 tonnes of high explosive bombs and 7956 incendiaries.

As on the previous night, Erprobungs und Lehr Kommando 100, lead the attack, again operating with Y-Verfahren, but on this occasion the radio beams suffered jamming by 80 Wing, the RAF's electronic countermeasures organisation, and four German crews subsequently reported very heavy interference, causing the proceedings to close with much bad feeling between the ground control station and the airmen.

In spite of this, the attack force successfully made landfall between the Isle of Wight and Start Point before converging to the east of Exeter, many aircraft now apparently being careful to avoid the principal gun defended areas. From here they made straight for Bath where they inflicted a further 40 minutes of terror on the unfortunate population, the city's third raid within 14 hours commencing at 1.25 am. Once again bright moonlight and good clear conditions existed, and German tactics worked so well that only one aircraft failed to return, an easily sustainable loss rate.

British Countermeasures

To combat the raiders RAF Beaufighters flew 16 defence sorties, but taking into account the lack of success experienced on the previous night only four Hurricanes orbited "Searchlight Boxes". For the same reason 125 Squadron made the decision to forsake their Beaufighters, and instead operated five of the recently discarded Defiants, plus two borrowed Hurricanes, on "Fighter Night" patrols directly over Bath, in which task they were joined by the Hurricanes of 87 Squadron. However, just as on the previous night it was the Beaufighters operating over the South Coast which were in action first, and these were responsible for turning back three inbound bombers.

The first to be intercepted was a Junker 88 from IV/KG 30 which appears to have been damaged near Bridport by the guns of Beaufighter T3358 from 307 Squadron, this aircraft and its indefatigable Polish crew, Flight Lieutenant Neyder and Sergeant Wozney, having already proved themselves on the previous night. However, on this occasion a complete victory eluded them for although at 0.47 am their victim signaled "Engine Damaged" and twenty minutes later "Port engine out of action - immediately jettisoning bombs", it appears to have returned safely to France suffering only minimal damage.

The next combat took place near the northern edge of the Portland Gun Defended area where, just after 1 am, a Junkers 88 of IV/KG 4 was caught by Beaufighter X7571 of 604 Squadron flown by Flight Lieutenant Crew and Pilot Officer Duckett. They had slightly better luck than their Polish colleagues and not only succeeded in knocking out one their adversary's engines, but also caused 30% damage to Wnr.3590 which later had to make a forced landing on Avord airfield.

At 1.14 am contact was made with a third incoming raider, which was then flying at 11,000 feet some ten miles south of Exeter. Here Beaufighter T3382 of 307 Squadron crewed by two more enthusiastic Polish airmen, Flying Officer Pietrzyk and Flying Officer Krawiecki, intercepted a Junkers 88 from Küsten Flieger Gruppe 506, which they immediately engaged in combat. The British fighter's four 20 mm cannons and six machine guns soon did their worst and in the exchange of fire Unteroffizier Leo Peier, the raider's gunner, was killed, forcing the Germans to run for home and make an emergency landing on Dinard-St.Briac airfield, where Wnr.1293 was assessed as 60% damaged and thus never flew again.

By this time the main battle area had moved to the vicinity of Bath where over Lansdown at 1.40 am Pilot Officer Grantham, flying Hurricane Z3778 of 87 Squadron, so severely damaged an old Dornier 17 of IV/KG 2, that in spite of initially escaping from the clutches of its tormentor it eventually went down into the sea during a desperate attempt to reach the safety of the French Coast. Although the body of the pilot, Leutnant Helmut Schobbert, was later recovered, the other three crewmen from U5+BW, Gefreiter Kurt Motz, the observer, Unteroffizier Heinrich Stadler, the wireless operator, and Gefreiter Johann Plschek, the flight engineer, are still officially listed as missing.

Despite the number of sightings and radar contacts being up on the previous night, 125 Squadron had a frustrating time over Bath, with the hurried servicing necessary to get their discarded Defiants into the air leading to a number of unfortunate problems. Nevertheless, at 2.15 am that morning one aircraft, N3370 flown by Pilot Officer White and Pilot Officer Gavegan, did make contact with a Heinkel 111 of IV/KG 55 which was flying near Bristol, and in the ensuing combat the German gunner, Oberfeldwebel Willi Schulze, was killed and one of the bomber's engines damaged. However, Wnr.5319 was a tough old aircraft and the surviving crew members managed to nurse it back to France, where after initially signaling they intended to put down at Caen, eventually landed on the aerodrome at Rennes. Unknown to he Germans the Defiant also had its problems, for on landing back at Colerne at 3.15 am the port oleo leg collapsed and wheel snapped off causing the aircraft to slew round damaging its port wing-tip and flaps.

Unfortunately, this was the best that 125 Squadron could manage, for when a second Defiant crew attempted to open fire on a raider they found it impossible as the "Firing Safe" mechanism was missing from the gun turret, while the failure of the intercom in a third aircraft prevented it from even entering the battle. For the third time the locally based fighters had achieved very little, and although the problems with the Defiants had not helped, much of the lack of success was due, as the British pilots readily admitted, to very competent flying on the part of the Germans who often took violent evasive action, weaving and making sudden steep dives to port. The raiders also flew very fast, frustrating the fighters in closing range, while the excellent visibility over much of the battle zone made it almost impossible to attack without being seen.

Once again eight Havocs and Bostons from 23 and 418 Squadrons, as well as six Hurricanes from 1 Squadron, had been sent to intrude over Luftwaffe bases in France, but this only resulted in the loss Havoc AW398, a heavy price to pay for the minor disruption to flying caused at a couple of enemy airfields. Of the three man crew from 23 Squadron only Sergeant Millard survived to be take prisoner, and while Sergeant Robert Moore, the wireless operator, was subsequently buried in Bayeaux War Cemetery, Flight Sergeant Vivian Willetts, the pilot, has no known grave and so is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

To compound the misery, the anti-aircraft gunners fared even worse and none of the 650 or so heavy rounds they fired appeared to have any effect whatsoever on the attack force, while the German's jamming of gun laying radar on the coast rendered one particular site unable to operate for over an hour. The searchlights also had problems, operations in the Colerne Sector being greatly hampered by telephone lines damaged on the previous night and interference caused by GCI radar activity, while in the Exeter and Middle Wallop Sectors low cloud prevented the projectors from exposing at all. All of this of course ensured that the Luftwaffe was able to bomb almost at will.

The Outcome

Damage in Bath, where 162 people were killed, was once again extremely serious, particularly in the old and residential part of the city where a number of large heavily tenanted houses were completely demolished, trapping many victims under the rubble. Because a higher proportion of incendiaries had been used than on the previous night more fires were started, some 90 in total, while to make matters worse on this occasion high winds fanned the flames which swiftly engulfed adjacent premises. This turned the rows of burning buildings into fire areas, and six of these developed before the end of the night.

Magazine coverWith good visibility in the target area the participating Luftwaffe crews were again well aware of how successful the attack had been, and the following day the German radio announced that: "In good visibility, a great number of high explosive and incendiary bombs were again dropped on Bath. The bomber pilots could observe the excellent results of their bombing. Large fires broke out in all quarters, especially in the north."

Over in France a Junkers 88 of 1(F)/123 at Paris-Villacoublay was ordered to carry out damage assessment flight to Bath on April 27th, but due to unfavourable weather conditions this was aborted, and it was not until mid-day on the 29th that a modified Messerschmitt 109 fighter of 3(F)/123 at Lannion at last succeeded in overflying the area, jettisoning its long-range fuel tank near Pill shortly after taking a photograph which subsequently graced the front cover of "Luftflotte West", the official magazine of Luftflotte 3.


From a defensive point of view, the immediate result of the bombing was the installation of the Bath's first heavy anti-aircraft guns, which arrived early in the morning of April 28th, the eight 3.7 inch mobiles initially being deployed in batteries of four at Lansdown Park (Bath 1) and South Stoke (Bath 2) under 262 Battery, 84th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, a unit hurriedly dispatched from the 1st AA Division. To provide further protection for the city, during the following month "Starfish" decoy site SF 55, under the control of Bath's Chief Constable, was established at Wellow.

As superior speed had been an important factor in the survival of the relatively new Dornier 217's, none of which fell victim to RAF fighters, the arrival at Colerne in May, of Mosquitos, also helped the balance of power to shift back towards the defenders, the new aircraft being some 70 mph faster than the old Beaufighters, and equipped with much improved airborne radar.

Meanwhile, the "Baedeker Blitz" on Britain's smaller towns and cities continued with considerably less success during the May and June full moon periods, at the end of which even the seaside town of Weston super Mare was singled out for attention. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that many casualties were caused elsewhere in the country, Bath easily headed the grim list, its death toll of 404 far exceeding the 256 killed at Exeter, 171 at Norwich, 102 at Weston, and 83 in York.

Although in Bath about 12,500 buildings had been damaged, many of which were subsequently repaired, some 900 were completely destroyed and various incongruous structures erected in their place during the 1960's and 70's. Many of these eyesores are still standing, and it remains a disgrace that in such an elegant city as Bath they should be the visible reminder of the destruction caused by the Luftwaffe.

Far more emotive of course is the sombre row of civilian war graves up in Haycombe cemetery, which for generations to come should bear silent witness to Bath's suffering during World War Two, and hopefully remind people of the price that so many of it's citizens paid for the personal freedom that today we all take so much for granted.


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