Augsburg raid

Asked to name a famous Lancaster raid during WWII, most people can probably name the Dambusters raid on the Ruhr Valley using the revolutionary bouncing bomb developed by Barnes Wallis, a mission imortalised by the 1950s film The Dam Busters, possible the first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne, Dresden maybe, but how many remember Augsburg, one of the most daring raids of WWII?

Developed from the disastrous Avro Manchester, a prototype Avro Lancaster first flew in January 1941, followed by the first production flight Halloween of the same year.

The first squadron to take delivery of Lancasters was 44 Squadron based at Waddington, followed shortly thereafter by 97 Squadron based at RAF Woodhall Spa (delivery was taken whilst the squadron was still at RAF Coningsby).

The first operational sortie by Lancasters was a mine laying operation by 44 Squadron led by Squadron Leader John Nettleton.

The first major operation by Lancasters was a joint operation by 44 and 97 Squadrons, the target was a submarine diesel engine factory in southern Germany.

The raid took place on 17 April 1942 in broad daylight, the Lancasters flying low level.

Of the twelve Lancasters that took part in the raid, only five returned.

The two squadrons practised their runs along the coast of Scotland, leading to rumours their target was a ship.

Six Lancasters took off from each base at 1500 on 17 April 1942. They crossed the French Coast just west of Le Havre, flying two miles apart.

The intention was that the Lancasters would hit the target during the last few minutes of daylight and be able to return home under the cover of darkness.

To increase the mission's chance of success, diversionary raids also took place that day.

By sheer bad luck, the diversionary raids also led to disaster.

As German fighters were returning to base following an engagement, they spotted the tail end of 44 Squadron and gave chase.

Almost immediately the first Lancaster was shot down, the next Lancaster was attacked by 6 Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters and downed. The Germans then shot down a third Lancaster, before turning their attention on the lead Lancasters. A fourth Lancaster was shot down. The remaining Lancasters were repeatedly shot at and only survived because the Germans were running short of fuel and had to return to base.

97 Squadron flew on, oblivious to what was happening two miles away.

The remaining Lancasters continued without incident onto their target, the Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nurnberg Aktiengesellschaft factory at Augsburg.

The two surviving Lancasters of 44 Squadron led the attack. One was hit, leaving only Nettleton's aircraft as the sole survivor of 44 Squadron. Nettleton then turned for home.

97 Squadron then pressed their attack.

The diesel engine plant was heavily defended. The defenders now knew what to expect, and took aim as 97 Squadron pressed home their attack.

Of the first wave, the lead aircraft was hit and crashed. The second wave were also hit.

Of the twelve aircraft that set out from England, only five made it back home.

Of the 85 men who had taken part in the mission, 49 were missing. It was later discovered that of the 49 missing, twelve were taken prisoner.

For his outstanding leadership of the raid John Nettleton was awarded the Victory Cross. Other aircrew who had participated in the raid also received awards. John Nettleton died in action on 13 July 1943 when he was shot down over the Bay of Biscay. His body was never recovered.

The raid put submarine diesel engine production out of action for several weeks. Maybe more important, it demonstrated to the Germans that the British could now strike deep into the heart of enemy territory at any time, even in broad daylight.

The raid is ranked by many as one the highest achievements of Bomber Command and one of the most daring and audacious of World War Two.

The daylight raid on Augsburg led by John Nettleton took place in 1942. A second, mass bombing raid took place in 1944.

25 February 1944, during the day, the USAAF Eight Air Force bombed the Messerschmitt works. That night, 25/26 February 1944, RAF Bomber Command followed with a raid by 594 aircraft that was was devastatingly accurate. The beautiful old centre of Augsburg was completely destroyed by high explosive and fire. As the river was frozen fire fighting measures were limited. The Germans made full use of the propaganda value of the target claiming it was a "terror raid". 21 RAF aircraft, 3.6 per cent of the force was lost. At least 4 of these were due to collision.

RAF Woodhall Spa was later in the war to become home to the Dambusters, 617 Squadron.

Petwood Hotel at Woodhall Spa was requisitioned in the latter part of WWII as an officers mess for 617 Squadron. The Squadron Bar at Petwood contains memorabilia from the period.

In the centre of Woodhall Spa is a very impressive war memorial to 617 Squadron.

Not far from Woodhall Spa is Thorpe Camp and the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre.

Thorpe Camp, which looks not much from the outside, just a collection of huts, is all that remains of RAF Woodhall Spa. It has a collection of WWII exhibits, with special emphasis on life on the home front and the squadrons which were based at RAF Woodhall Spa which includes 97 Squadron and 617 Squadron.

Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, at the former RAF East Kirkby, has a Spitfire, a Lancaster and a large number of WWII exhibits including recovered crashed aircraft.

RAF Coningsby, not far from Woodhall Spa, is still an operational RAF base. It is also home to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

RAF Waddington, just outside Lincoln, is still an operational base. It is home to half a dozen AWACs and Tornadoes.

Lincolnshire ~ Avro Lancaster
(c) Keith Parkins 2005 -- October 2005 rev 1