|Part of Combined Bomber Offensive|
Maison Blanche airfield, Algiers June 1943
|RAF Bomber Command||
|Commanders and leaders|
|Wing Commander Gomm (Master Bomber)|
|56 Avro Lancaster (No. 5 Group RAF)
4 Avro Lancaster Pathfinders (No. 8 Group RAF)
Operation Bellicose strategic bombing in World War II targeted the Nazi Germany Zeppelin Works in Friedrichshafen and the Italian naval base at La Spezia. It was the first shuttle bombing raid in World War II and the second use of a Master Bomber. In early June 1943, a Central Interpretation Unit photo interpreter (Claude Wavell) identified a stack of ribbed baskets (Würzburg radar reflectors) at the Zeppelin Works. After Winston Churchill viewed the photos at RAF Medmenham on 14 June, No. 5 Group RAF received the surprise orders on 16 June to attack Friedrichshafen during the next full moon.
After take-off from Britain, Wing Commander Gomm (No. 467 Squadron RAAF) took over when the aircraft of Group Captain Slee developed trouble. The Avro Lancasters bombed from 15,000 feet (4,600 m) rather than the planned 10,000 feet (3,000 m) due to heavy flak. First the Pathfinder Force (PFF) dropped offset markers at a distance from the target for the main bombing force to use unobscured by smoke. The second stage was to use 'time-and-distance bombing runs' from a location on the Lake Constance shore along a measured distance to the target.
The attack hit the V-2 rocket facility of the Zeppelin Works, which made Operation Bellicose the first mission that bombed a long-range weapon facility. From Friedrichshafen the planes refueled at Blida (en arabe البليدة El Bouleïda), Algeria in North Africa. On 23–24 June, eight of the original Operation Bellicose force of sixty Avro Lancasters remained in Algeria for repairs and the remaining 52 bombed the Italian naval base at La Spezia, Liguria, damaging an "oil depot" and an "armaments store" and continued to Britain without loss.
Missing bombers (The shuttle raid)
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Operation 26 was a far from a routine raid. Four crews from 97 Squadron were ordered to report to RAF Scampton for special duties on 16 June. The raid needed to be carried out before the end of June. However the long trip to the target could not have sufficient cover due to the short summer nights. Returning aircraft would be flying over occupied France at dawn making easier targets for the German fighters. So after the attack, the bombing force would fly to Maison Blanche and Blinda in Algiers (airfields under the control of the USAAF). The German fighters would be waiting for the "Missing Bombers" in France.
The 97 Squadron Pathfinders worked out their own tactics and loads for the raid. Their duties were to mark the target for the main force of 5 Group's Lancasters. The airship sheds at RAF Cardington were used to practice on.
On 20 June, the force took off from Scampton. As they approached France the entire force dropped down as low as possible to fly under the enemy radar. Once they reached a waypoint on the Rhine, the force began a gradual climb to 5,000 ft (1,500 m). Group Captain Slee’s aircraft developed engine trouble and he returned, handing over his duties to Wing Commander Gomm. The main force of 56 aircraft continued to climb to 10,000 ft (3,000 m) to give cover to the four Pathfinder aircraft.
Two pathfinders would drop a line of flares from the town to the Zeppelin works. The other two would use these flares to guide them to the sheds. There they would drop red and green target markers which the main force would aim at.
Once near the target the bombing run began, as soon as the flares started to fall from Doug and Jimmy’s aircraft the sky was alight with searchlights and flak. W/C Gomm instructed the aircraft to climb to 10,000 feet but the Pathfinders knew this would make accurate marking difficult to achieve and all four remained at 5,000 feet and successfully marked the target indicators had illuminated the target, bombs started falling from the 5 Group aircraft above. During the raid Doug made 5 successful runs over the target to drop his load keeping the momentum up and giving the main force the best possible chance of pressing home the attack. On one of these runs while flying straight and level the aircraft was caught by searchlights and flak started exploding all around them rattling against the airframe. A steep dive lost the searchlights but made for a very uncomfortable ride for the crew but luckily no major damage was done.
The final part of the raid was for the main force to make a timed run from a point near Lake Constance, which had been illuminated by flares from the Pathfinders. As a result of the accurate bombing the factory was hit, severe damage was caused to the buildings and therefore production of the radar sets was disrupted. When the bombs had been dropped the aircraft turned to the south. They flew over the Alps and made safe arrival at Maison Blanche and Blinda airfields as dawn broke.
After a couple of days rest the crews returned to the UK, attacked Spezia in Italy en route home. Due to damage sustained to Rod Rodley and Johnny Savage’s Lancaster’s the returning force only had Doug Jones plus Jimmy Munro acting as pathfinders. However this did not hinder a good raid on the target with the force causing damage to armaments stores and an oil depot.
All aircraft returned safely to the UK on 24 June.
The only loss suffered on the two shuttle raids was Johnny Sauvage’s Lancaster that was too badly damaged by flak to repair. He and his crew returned to England via Gibraltar on board Rod Rodley’s repaired machine a few days after the rest of the force.
|Operation Bellicose map|
- "Campaign Diary". Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary. UK Crown. Retrieved 2008-04-30.
- Irving, David (1964). The Mare's Nest. London: William Kimber and Co. pp. 65, 81.
- Middlebrook, Martin (1982). The Peenemünde Raid: The Night of 17–18 August 1943. New York: Bobs-Merrill. p. 50.
- Etherington, Andrew. "June 24th, 1943". The Second World War - A Day by Day Account. Retrieved 2008-03-04.
Maurice Hemmings Memoir by Andrew Hodges http://www.50-61squadron.net/mullins.html