Battle of Berlin (RAF campaign)

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Battle of Berlin
Part of Strategic bombing during World War II
The ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Date18 November 1943 – 31 March 1944
Location52°31′N 13°25′E / 52.517°N 13.417°E / 52.517; 13.417
Result German victory
 United Kingdom
 New Zealand
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Arthur Harris
United Kingdom Ralph Cochrane
United Kingdom Don Bennett
United Kingdom Roderick Carr
Nazi Germany Hermann Göring
Nazi Germany Hans-Jürgen Stumpff
Nazi Germany Joseph Schmid
Nazi Germany Günther Lützow
Nazi Germany Max Ibel
Nazi Germany Walter Grabmann
Nazi Germany Gotthard Handrick
Casualties and losses
  • Bomber Command
  • 2,690 crew killed
  • c. 1,000 POW
  • 500 aircraft[1] (5.8 per cent loss rate)

The Battle of Berlin (November 1943 to March 1944) was a series of attacks on Berlin by RAF Bomber Command along with raids on other German cities to keep German defences dispersed. Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, AOC-in-C (Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief) Bomber Command, believed that "We can wreck Berlin from end to end if the USAAF come in with us. It will cost us between 400 and 500 aircraft. It will cost Germany the war".[3]

Harris could expect about 800 serviceable heavy bombers for each raid, equipped with new and sophisticated navigational devices such as H2S radar. The USAAF, having recently lost many aircraft in attacks on Schweinfurt, did not participate. The Main Force of Bomber Command attacked Berlin sixteen times but failed in its object of inflicting a decisive defeat on Germany. The Royal Air Force lost more than 7,000 aircrew and 1,047 bombers, 5.1 per cent of the sorties flown; 1,682 aircraft were damaged or written off.[4] On 30 March 1944, Bomber Command attacked Nuremberg with 795 aircraft, 94 of which were shot down and 71 were damaged.[5] The Luftwaffe's I. Jagdkorps recorded the loss of 256 night fighters from November 1943 to March 1944.[2]

The Luftwaffe retaliated with Unternehmen Steinbock (Operation Capricorn) against London and other British cities from January to May 1944. The Luftwaffe managed to accumulate 524 bombers but Steinbock caused little damage for the loss of 329 aircraft, a greater percentage loss per raid and overall than that suffered by Bomber Command over Germany.[6]

There were many other air raids on Berlin by the RAF, the USAAF Eighth Air Force and Soviet bombers. The RAF was granted a battle honour for the bombardment of Berlin by aircraft of Bomber Command from 1940 to 1945.[7]


The first Bomber Command raid of the battle occurred on the night of 18/19 November 1943. Berlin was attacked by 440 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers of the Main Force and four de Havilland Mosquitos but the city was under cloud and the damage was not severe. The second raid by the Main Force took place on the night of 22/23 November. This was the most effective raid on Berlin by the RAF of the war, causing extensive damage to the residential areas west of the centre, Tiergarten and Charlottenburg, Schöneberg and Spandau. Because of dry weather, several firestorms ignited. The Protestant Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, now a war memorial and the New Synagogue (used as a store house by the Wehrmacht) were badly damaged in the raid.[8][9]

In the next nights, further attacks followed, damaging or destroying Bethlehem's Church, John's Church, Lietzow Church, Trinity Church, Emperor Frederick Memorial Church, Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz and St. Hedwig's Cathedral. Several other buildings of note were either destroyed or damaged, including the British, French, Italian and Japanese embassies, Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin Zoo, the Ministry of Munitions, the Waffen SS Administrative College, the barracks of the Imperial Guard at Spandau and several arms factories.[10]

On 17 December, extensive damage was done to the Berlin railway system. By this time the cumulative effect of the bombing campaign had made more than a quarter of Berlin's living accommodation unusable.[10] There was another Main Force raid on the night of 28/29 January 1944, when the western and southern districts were hit in the most concentrated attack of this period. On 15/16 February, important war industries were hit, including the large Siemensstadt area in the west, with the centre and south-western districts receiving most of the damage. This was the largest raid by the RAF on Berlin; the campaign continued until March 1944.[10][11][12]



The ruins of St. Hedwig's Cathedral, 1946

In 1961, the British official historians, Charles Webster and Noble Frankland wrote that Bomber Command sent 16 raids with 9,111 sorties on Berlin. The attacks cost 492 aircraft, their crews killed or captured and 954 aircraft damaged, a rate of loss of 5.8 per cent, exceeding the 5 per cent threshold that was considered by the RAF to be the maximum sustainable operational loss rate.[13] The Battle of Berlin diverted German military resources from the land war and had an economic effect in physical damage, worker fatalities and injuries, relocation and fortification of industrial buildings and other infrastructure but by 1 April 1944, the campaign had failed to force a German capitulation, the operational sense the Battle of Berlin was more than a failure, it was a defeat....The Battle of Berlin compared unfavourably with the preceding Battles of the Ruhr and of Hamburg and the campaign on the road to Berlin.[14]

In 2004, Daniel Oakman wrote that,

Bomber Command lost 2,690 men over Berlin, and nearly 1,000 more became prisoners of war. Of Bomber Command's total losses for the war, around seven per cent were incurred during the Berlin raids. In December 1943, eleven crews from 460 Squadron (RAAF) were lost in operations against Berlin; in January and February [1944], another 14 crews were killed. Having 25 aircraft destroyed meant that the full complement of aircraft and crews had lasted three months. At this rate Bomber Command would have been destroyed before Berlin.[1]

Harris had predicted the loss of 500 aircraft and Oakman wrote " would be wrong to say that it was, in a strategic sense, a wasted effort. Bombing brought the war to Germany at a time when it was difficult to apply pressure anywhere else".[1] In 2005, Kevin Wilson wrote that, despite the devastation of Berlin, the British raids failed to achieve their objectives. The bombing prevented increases in German production and caused resources to be diverted from offensive to defensive purposes but German civilian morale did not break. The Berlin defences and essential services were maintained and war production in greater Berlin did not fall.[15]

In 2006, Adam Tooze, an economic historian, wrote that the British bombing of Hamburg in July 1943 appeared to vindicate the hopes of the British leaders in Bomber Command, that it had become a decisive weapon and that the theory of strategic bombing had been vindicated. Bomber Command was only able to emulate the Hamburg firestorm of 28 July once, at Kassel in October. In the winter of 1943, the attacks on Berlin began, which Tooze called fruitless:

The Ruhr was the choke point and in 1943 it was within the RAF's grip. The failure to maintain that hold and to tighten it was a tragic operational error.[16]

Berlin was a big manufacturing city but the Ruhr was the principal supplier of coal and steel to Germany. Isolating the Ruhr could strangle the rest of the German war economy; in the campaign against Berlin, the British caused much damage but the evolution of German anti-aircraft defences, particularly night fighters, was able to counter the Bomber Command threat on its long flights to Berlin in winter weather.[17]

German casualties[edit]

The Battle of Berlin caused immense loss of life and devastation in Berlin. The 22 November 1943 raid killed 2,000 Berliners and rendered 175,000 homeless. The following night, 1,000 people were killed and 100,000 bombed out. During December and January, Main Force raids killed hundreds of people and rendered between 20,000 and 80,000 homeless each night.[18] In 1982, Laurenz Demps collated loss data using the damage reports of the Berlin police commissioner (Polizeipräsident) issued after each air raid, descriptions of losses and damage indicated by houses and distributed to 100–150 organisations and administrations busy with rescue, repair, planning and other matters, against reports of the main bureau for air raid protection (Hauptluftschutzstelle) of the city of Berlin, which issued more than 100 copies with variable frequency, each summarising losses and damage by the number of air raids; the war diary of the air raid warning command (LuftwarnkommandoWako Berlin), a branch of the Luftwaffe and other sources. Demps wrote that 7,480 people had been killed, 2,194 people were reported missing, 17,092 were injured and 817,730 Berliners made homeless.[19] In 2003, Reinhard Rürup wrote that nearly 4,000 people were killed, 10,000 injured and 450,000 made homeless.[20] In 2005, Kevin Wilson described the effect of smoke and dust in the air from the bombing and long periods spent in shelters gave rise to symptoms that were called cellar influenza (Kellergrippe).[21]


  • Night of 18/19 November 1943: Berlin, the main target, was attacked by 440 Avro Lancasters and four de Havilland Mosquitos, of which 402 bombed the city, which was under cloud. Diversions on Mannheim and Ludwigshafen were flown by 395 other aircraft. Mosquitos attacked several other towns. In all 884 sorties, 32 aircraft (3.6 per cent) were lost, of which nine were lost in the Berlin raid. The air raid warning was sounded at 20:11 and the all clear at 22:23. 143 were killed in the raid, with an additional four missing, 409 wounded and 7,326 who were made homeless; 533 houses were destroyed, 8,493 were damaged.[10][22]
  • Night of 19/20 November 1943: Leverkusen was the main target for 266 aircraft: 170 Halifaxes, 86 Stirlings, 10 Mosquitoes; other towns were bombed. 5 aircraft were lost.[23]
  • Night of 22/23 November 1943: Berlin the main target. 469 Lancasters, 234 Handley Page Halifaxes, 50 Short Stirlings, 11 Mosquitos. A total of 764 aircraft. 26 aircraft lost - 3.4 per cent of the force. This was the most effective raid on Berlin of the war.[24] Most of the damage was to the residential areas west of the city centre, Tiergarten and Charlottenburg, Schöneberg and Spandau. Because of the dry weather conditions, several 'firestorms' were caused. 175,000 people were made homeless and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche) was destroyed. Several other buildings of note were either damaged or destroyed, including the British, French, Italian and Japanese embassies, Charlottenburg Castle and Berlin Zoo. Also the Ministry of Weapons and Munitions, the Waffen-SS Administrative College, the barracks of the Imperial Guard at Spandau, as well as several factories employed in the manufacture of material for the armed forces.
  • Night of 23/24 November 1943: Berlin, the main target, was attacked by 365 Lancasters, 10 Halifaxes, eight Mosquitos (383 aircraft).[24]
  • Night of 24/25 November 1943: Berlin was attacked by six Mosquitos (one lost); nine Vickers Wellingtons dropping leaflets over France.
  • Night of 25/26 November 1943: Frankfurt was the main target for 236 Halifaxes and 26 Lancasters (262 aircraft). Three Mosquitos were sent to Berlin and other targets were bombed.[25]
  • Night of 26/27 November 1943: Berlin, the main target, was attacked by 443 Lancasters and seven Mosquitos. The Mosquitos were used to lay Window ahead of the Pathfinder aircraft to draw flak away from them but due to a temporarily clear sky, 21 aircraft were lost to AA guns over Berlin. Most of the damage was in the semi-industrial suburb of Reinickendorf but the city centre and the Siemensstadt (with its many electrical equipment factories), was also hit. Stuttgart was raided by 157 Halifaxes and 21 Lancasters as a diversion. Both forces flew the same route almost as far as Frankfurt which Luftwaffe fighter controllers identified as the RAF target. The total sorties for the night, including minelaying operations, was 666 with 34 aircraft (5.1 per cent) lost. Losses over Berlin was high and combined with landing accidents in fog in England, reached 9.3 per cent. The Alkett factory, a big producer of armoured fighting vehicles, was badly hit and Goebbels described it as "almost completely destroyed" and referred to "virtually irreplaceable tools and machines" being out of action in his diary.[26]
  • Night of 28/29 November 1943: Essen was attacked by 10 Mosquitos.
  • Night of 29/30 November 1943: Bochum, Cologne and Düsseldorf, attacked by 21 Mosquitos.
  • Night of 30/1 December 1943: Essen attacked by four Mosquitos.
  • Night of 2/3 December 1943: Berlin, the main target, was attacked by 425 Lancasters, 18 Mosquitos and 15 Halifaxes. The Germans identified Berlin as the target. Unexpected cross winds scattered the bomber stream and German fighters shot down forty bombers, 37 Lancasters, two Halifaxes and a Mosquito (8.7 per cent of the force). The bombing was inaccurate and to the south of the city but two more of the Siemens factories, a ball-bearing factory and several railway installations were damaged.
  • Night of 3/4 December 1943: Leipzig, the main target, was attacked by 307 Lancasters, 220 Halifaxes (527 aircraft). The main force took a direct heading to Berlin, then turned south for Leipzig, leaving 9 Mosquitos to carry on, decoying many German night fighters.[24]
  • Night of 4/5 December 1943: Duisburg attacked by nine Mosquitos.
  • Night of 10/11 December 1943: Leverkusen attacked by 25 Mosquitos.
  • Night of 11/12 December 1943: Duisburg attacked by 18 Mosquitos.
  • Night of 12/13 December 1943: Essen attacked by 18 Mosquitos and Düsseldorf by nine more.
  • Night of 13/14 December 1943: 16 Mosquitos went to Düsseldorf.
  • Night of 16/17 December 1943: Berlin was the main target. It was attacked by 483 Lancasters and 15 Mosquitos. German night fighters were directed to intercept the bombers; 25 Lancasters, 5.2 per cent of the Lancaster force, were lost over enemy occupied territory and 29 aircraft were lost on landing in England due to very low cloud. The raid was unusual in that losses due to bad weather over England were greater than losses due to flak or enemy night fighters.[24] The damage to the Berlin railway system was extensive and 1,000 wagon-loads of war material destined for the Eastern Front were held up for six days. The National Theatre and the building housing Germany's military and political archives were both destroyed. The effect of the bombing campaign had made unusable more than a quarter of the living accommodation in Berlin. Two Beaufighters and two Mosquitos of No. 141 Squadron RAF using Serrate radar detectors managed to damage a Messerschmitt Bf 110, the first successful 'Serrate' patrol. On the same night there was other raids on Tilley-le-Haut and Flixecourt, two flying-bomb sites near Abbeville. The raid failed to destroy the sites but no aircraft were lost.
  • Night of 19/20 December 1943: leafleting over French towns without loss.
  • Night of 20/21 December 1943: Frankfurt was attacked by 390 Lancasters, 257 Halifaxes and three Mosquitos (650 aircraft). German night fighters got into the bomber stream; 27 Halifaxes and 14 Lancasters were lost, 6.3 per cent of the force. Damage was more than the RAF thought at the time because they knew that the Germans had lit decoy fires, which had some success as diversions. There was a decoy raid on Mannheim by 54 aircraft and a precision attack by eight Lancasters of 617 Squadron and 8 Pathfinder Mosquitos, on an armaments factory near Liege that failed to hit the target.
  • Night of 21/22 December 1943: Mannesmann factory at Düsseldorf attacked by nine Mosquitos and a number of other small raids.
  • Night of 22/23 December 1943: 51 aircraft attacked two flying-bomb sites between Abbeville and Amiens. One site was destroyed but the other was not located. There were two small Mosquito raids on Frankfurt and Bonn.
  • Night of 23/24 December 1943: Berlin was attacked by 364 Lancasters, eight Mosquitos and seven Halifaxes. German nightfighters were hampered by the weather and shot down only 16 Lancasters, 4.2 per cent of the force. Little damage was caused to Berlin; several other German towns were attacked by Mosquitos.
  • Night of 24/25 December 1943: minelaying
  • Night of 29/30 December 1943: Berlin was the target for 457 Lancasters, 252 Halifaxes and three Mosquitos (712 aircraft), RAF losses were light at 2.8 per cent of the force. Cloud cover frustrated the RAF and little damage was caused.
  • Night of 30/31 December 1943: 10 Lancasters of 617 Squadron and six Pathfinder Mosquitos failed to destroy a V1 site.
  • Night of 31 December 1943/1 January 1944: minelaying
  • Night of 1/2 January 1944: 421 Lancasters dispatched to Berlin, the main target. German night fighters shot down 6.7 per cent of the force. A small raid on Hamburg by 15 Mosquitos and smaller raids on other towns failed to divert the night fighters.[11]
  • Night of 2/3 January 1944: Berlin was the main target. 362 Lancasters, 12 Mosquitos, nine Halifaxes (383 aircraft), night fighters failed to reach the bombers until they were over the city, then shoot down 27 Lancasters, 10 per cent of the force. There were also minor raids on other cities.
  • Night of 3/4 January 1944: Solingen and Essen attacked by eight Mosquitos; no losses.
  • Night of 4/5 January 1944: Two flying bomb sites attacked by 80 aircraft. Berlin raided by 13 Mosquitos; small raids on other targets. Flights for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) were flown, delivering supplies and agents to resistance forces.
  • Night of 5/6 January 1944: Stettin was the main target for the first time since September 1941, for 348 Lancasters and 10 Halifaxes. A diversionary raid by 13 Mosquitos on Berlin and 25 to four other targets spoofed the night fighters and RAF losses were only 16 aircraft, 4.5 per cent of the force.
  • Night of 6/7 January 1944: Small raids on Duisburg, Bristillerie, Dortmund and Solingen by 19 Mosquitos.
  • Night of 7/8 January 1944: Small raids on Krefeld and Duisburg by 11 Mosquitos. Ten men were killed when a SOE support flight crashed shortly after take-off.
  • Night of 8/9 January 1944: Small raids on Frankfurt, Solingen, Aachen and Dortmund by 23 Mosquitos. Two aircraft lost.
  • Night of 10/11 January 1944: Small raids on Berlin, Solingen, Koblenz and Krefeld by 20 Mosquitos; no losses.
  • Night of 13/14 January 1944: Small raids on Essen, Duisburg, Aachen, and Koblenz by 25 Mosquitos. One aircraft was lost.
  • Night of 14/15 January 1944: Raid on Brunswick, the first of the war, by 496 Lancasters and two Halifaxes. 38 Lancasters were lost to night fighters. 11 of the lost aircraft were Pathfinders and the marking of the city was poor. German authorities reported only 10 houses destroyed and 14 people killed in Brunswick with some damage and loss of life in villages to the south. 82 aircraft attacked flying bomb sites at Ailly, Bonneton and Bristillerie without loss; 17 Mosquitos raided Magdeburg and Berlin.
  • Night of 20/21 January 1944: Berlin was the target; 495 Lancasters, 264 Halifaxes, 10 Mosquitos (769 aircraft) were dispatched; 22 Halifaxes and 13 Lancasters were lost, 4.6 per cent of the force. The damage could not be assessed due to low cloud the next day.
  • Night of 21/22 January 1944: Magdeburg was the main target for 421 Lancasters, 224 Halifaxes, 3 Mosquitoes (648 aircraft); 57 were lost. The attack failed to identify the target, and little damage was done.[27]
  • Night of 27/28 January 1944: Berlin was the target for 515 Lancasters and 15 Mosquitos (530 aircraft). RAF records state that the bombing appeared to have been spread well up- and down-wind. The diversions were partially successful in diverting German night fighters but 33 Lancasters were lost, 6.4 per cent of the heavy bombers; 167 sorties were flown against other targets, one aircraft was lost.
  • Night of 28/29 January 1944: Berlin was attacked by 432 Lancasters, 241 Halifaxes and four Mosquitos (677 aircraft). Western and southern districts, partly covered cloud, were hit in what RAF records call the most concentrated attack of this period. German records mention that 77 places outside the city were hit. A deception raid and routing over Northern Denmark did not prevent the German air defences shooting down 46 aircraft, 6.8 per cent of the force. Just over 100 aircraft attacked other targets.
  • Night of 29/30 January 1944: Small raids on Duisburg and Herbouville flying-bomb site, by of 22 Mosquitos. No aircraft lost.
  • Night of 30/31 January 1944: Berlin was attacked by 440 Lancasters, 82 Halifaxes and 12 Mosquitos (534 aircraft) 33 bombers lost (6.2 per cent). A further 76 sorties were flown against other targets; no losses.
  • Night of 14/15 February 1944: Berlin was bombed by 891 aircraft (561 Lancasters, 314 Halifaxes and 16 Mosquitos) the largest Berlin raid of the war.[28] Despite cloud cover, most important war industries were hit, including Siemensstadt, the centre and south-western districts worst hit. A spoof by 24 Lancasters of 8 Group on Frankfurt-on-the-Oder failed and the RAF lost 43 aircraft, 26 Lancasters and 17 Halifaxes, 4.8 per cent. A further 155 sorties were flown against other targets.[12]
  • Night of 24/25 March 1944: Berlin was the main target. The bomber stream was scattered and those that reached the city bombed well out to the south-west of the Großstadt. The RAF lost 72 aircraft, 8.9 per cent of the force.[29]
  • Night of 26/27 March 1944: Essen attacked by 476 Lancasters, 207 Halifaxes, 22 Mosquitoes (705 aircraft).[30]
  • Night of 30/31 March 1944: Nuremberg attacked by 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and nine Mosquitos (795 aircraft). Unusually clear weather and contrails lower than usual, and the bomber stream being flown in on a straight track instead of evasive routing, led the Germans quickly to decide that Nuremberg was the target. The night fighters reached the bomber stream at the Belgian border; more than 82 bombers were lost before Nuremberg and 13 bombers were shot down on the return, an 11.9 per cent loss. It was the costliest RAF Bomber Command mission of the war and ended the Battle of Berlin. Pilot Officer Cyril Barton, a Halifax pilot of 578 Squadron, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Oakman 2004.
  2. ^ a b Hooton 1999, p. 262.
  3. ^ Brown 1999, p. 309; Grayling 2006, p. 62.
  4. ^ Bishop 2007, p. 216; Kitchen 1990, p. 136.
  5. ^ Hastings 1979, p. 261.
  6. ^ Hinsley 1994, pp. 414–415.
  7. ^ RAFS 2004f, Battle Honours.
  8. ^ Kühne & Stephani 1986, p. 34.
  9. ^ Simon 1992, p. 144.
  10. ^ a b c d RAFS 2004b, December.
  11. ^ a b RAFS 2004c, January.
  12. ^ a b RAFS 2004d, February.
  13. ^ Webster & Frankland 1961, p. 198.
  14. ^ Webster & Frankland 1961, pp. 193–194.
  15. ^ Wilson 2005, p. 441.
  16. ^ Tooze 2006, p. 602.
  17. ^ Tooze 2006, pp. 601–602, 615.
  18. ^ Grayling 2006, pp. 309–310.
  19. ^ Demps 2014, p. 23.
  20. ^ Rürup 2003, p. 11.
  21. ^ Wilson 2005, p. 433.
  22. ^ Deist 2006, p. 91.
  23. ^ Middlebrook 1996, p.452
  24. ^ a b c d Ashworth 1995, p. 88.
  25. ^ Middlebrook 1996, p.454
  26. ^ Wilson 2005, pp. 411–412.
  27. ^ Middlebrook 1996, p.466
  28. ^ Ashworth 1995, p. 91.
  29. ^ RAFS 2004e, March.
  30. ^ Middlebrook 1996, p.485


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]