|Defence of the Reich|
|Part of World War II|
Air Marshal Sir Roderic Hill inspects the wreckage of a Junkers Ju 188E-1 belonging to 2 Staffel Kampfgeschwader 6 (Bomber Wing 6) which crashed in Essex, 21 March 1944.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Roderic Hill|| Dietrich Peltz
|500+ Night fighters||524 bombers|
|Casualties and losses|
Operation Steinbock (German: Unternehmen Steinbock), known in Britain as the Baby Blitz, was a late Second World War Luftwaffe night-time strategic bombing campaign against southern England that took place from January—May 1944. It was the last strategic air offensive by the German bomber arm during the conflict.
After the defeat of France and the Low countries in the spring of 1940, and the Luftwaffe defeat in the Battle of Britain, Germany suffered relatively minor attacks from RAF Bomber Command in retaliation for the Blitz on British cities. This remained the case until 1942 when Bomber Command returned in growing strength to German skies by night. By the end of 1943 the Allied Combined Bomber Offensive had taken a heavy and growing toll on Germany. In particular, British night attacks had done considerable damage to industrial cities. Adolf Hitler, frustrated with the failure of the Luftwaffe to defend Germany, ordered retaliatory attacks against British cities. Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring hoped such operations would deter the British from continuing their offensive against German cities.
Christened Steinbock, the bombing offensive also served as propaganda value for the German public and domestic consumption. The operation ran parallel to Bomber Command's campaign against Berlin (November 1943—March 1944). Placed under the command of Generalmajor (Major–General) Dietrich Peltz, Luftflotte 3 (Air Fleet 3), the Germans assembled 474 bomber aircraft for the offensive. The attacks were mainly aimed at and around the Greater London area. In Britain, it was known as the 'Baby Blitz' due to the much smaller scale of operations compared to The Blitz, the Luftwaffe's campaign against the United Kingdom in 1940–41.
The operation began in January and ended in May 1944. The operation achieved very little, and the German force suffered a loss of some 329 machines during the five months of operations—an average of 77 per month—before it was abandoned. Other senior Luftwaffe commanders had intended to use the bomber force against the Western Allied invasion fleet, which they predicted would land in Northern France sometime in the spring or summer of 1944. Eventually, the revenge attacks gave way to attempts to disrupt preparations for the impending Allied invasion of France, codenamed Operation Overlord, but Steinbock had worn down the offensive power of the Luftwaffe to the extent it could not mount any significant counterattacks when the invasion began on 6 June 1944.
The offensive was the Luftwaffe's last large-scale bombing campaign against England using conventional aircraft, and henceforth only the V-1 flying bomb cruise missiles and V-2 rockets — pioneering short-range ballistic missiles — were used to strike British cities.
Since its inception in 1905, German aerial doctrine had covered most aspects of aerial warfare. The most controversial element, strategic bombing, had been a major debating point in German military circles before the First World War. The German victories in the so-called Blitzkrieg, which occurred from September 1939 to late-1941 during the Second World War, were won with the German bomber arm focused mainly on close air support and interdiction operations. The failures of the Wehrmacht thereafter on the Mediterranean, Western and Eastern Fronts marked a turn in the tide of the air war also.
The loss of air superiority, and even air parity, presaged a decline in mass daylight German bomber operations by the end of 1942 in all theatres. The remaining bomber strength of the Luftwaffe was directed in striking by night. In 1942 the British Royal Air Force (RAF) began a resurgent campaign against German industrial cities. The attack on Cologne in May 1942 began this cycle until the end of the war. From March to July 1943 the Ruhr was badly damaged and in that same period Hamburg was devastated by a concentrated attack. The German night fighters had inflicted significant losses but the casualties were never high enough to threaten Bomber Command's strategy or to prevent damage to German cities.
The entry of the United States into the war increased the pressure on Luftflotte 2 and 3 in the West, and later Luftflotte Reich. Despite American daylight setbacks in 1943, the Combined Bomber Offensive won air superiority in daylight after Big Week in February 1944. From this date, the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) was able to achieve air superiority by day with the Eighth Air Force based in England, and the Fifteenth Air Force operating from North Africa and then Italy. It was supported by the RAF Second Tactical Air Force over France and the Low Countries.
The strategic dilemma facing the Luftwaffe in the winter of 1943/44 was now a serious one. The Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL or High Command of the Air Force) now sought to change the Luftwaffe procurement priorities and its posture to one purely rooted in defensive air warfare. Erhard Milch—responsible to the Reichsluftfahrtministerium ("Reich Aviation Ministry"—RLM) for production—recommended doubling fighter production to strengthen defences but the rise in production was slow. The Allied attacks and the requirements of other theatres complicated these plans. The British bombing of German industries during Battle of the Ruhr caused a stagnation in German aircraft production they nicknamed the Zulieferungskrise (sub-components crisis) which delayed the increase in aircraft production until March 1944. Worse was to follow. In July 1943 RAF Bomber Command briefly neutralised German night fighter defences, in particular the Kammhuber Line, by using tactics such as the bomber stream and radar countermeasures codenamed "window" (chaff) to overwhelm German ground and air defences. The bombing of Hamburg inflicted 76,600 casualties and destroyed large parts of the city and its industry. The overwhelming consensus in the OKL was that German air power should concentrate its resources on defensive efforts against the Allied Air Forces. After a meeting with senior Luftwaffe staff officers Adolf Galland—General der Jagdflieger (General of the Fighter Force)—wrote:
Never before and never again did I witness such determination and agreement among the circle of those responsible for the leadership of the Luftwaffe. It was as though under the impact of the Hamburg catastrophe everyone put aside either personal or departmental ambitions. There was no conflict between the General Staff and the war industry, no rivalry between bombers and fighters; only the common will to do everything in this critical hour for the Defence of the Reich.
We were met with a shattering picture. Göring had completely broken down. With his head buried in his arms on the table he moaned some indistinguishable words. We stood there for some time in embarrassment until at last he pulled himself together and said we were witnessing the deepest moments of despair. The Führer had lost faith in him. All the suggestions from which he had expected a radical change in the situation of war in the air had been rejected; the Führer had announced that the Luftwaffe had disappointed him too often, and a change over from the offensive to defensive in the air against England was out of the question.
After a time Göring stated that he believed the Führer to be right. Göring announced that the only way to stop such destruction was to initiate heavy retaliatory strikes at the enemy so that they would not dare risk another raid like Hamburg without the fear of similar retribution. Göring gave Peltz the authorisation to pool the necessary resources together for retaliatory action. At the end of November 1943, Generalmajor Peltz was summoned to a conference where Göring officially informed him that he was to be placed in command of a renewed large-scale bombing operation against Britain, and London in particular. It was hoped that the operation would commence during December, and though this proved unrealistic, by the third week of January 1944 a force approaching 600 aircraft had been amassed by stripping five Kampfgruppen (bomber groups) from the Italian front and by rebuilding existing bomber units in the West. On 3 December 1943 Göring issued a directive for Unternehmen Steinbock (Operation Capricorn), with the objective of "avenging terror attacks of the enemy".
Wolfram von Richthofen was to provide Peltz with six Kampfgruppen, while Obdl would provide another three which were resting. The bombers were to carry a so-called 'English mixture' ordnance load — 70% incendiaries and 30% high explosive bombs, including large 1 t (1.1 short tons) bombs and mines.
Two Heinkel He 177A-equipped Gruppen were available for the start of the attack: I./KG 40 and 3./KG 100 operating the relatively new (and still quite troublesome) heavy bomber — the only such design ever to serve actively with the Luftwaffe during the war — from airfields at Rheine and Chateaudun with an initial combined strength of 46 aircraft.
Despite this force of Heinkel He 177s, the inventory still consisted largely of twin-engined medium bombers. The Junkers Ju 188s and Dornier Do 217s were of relatively recent development, and the great majority of the Junkers Ju 88s were of the A-4 model, essentially unchanged since 1941, when the original Blitz had wound down.
Apart from the numbers of conventional medium and heavy bombers, the Luftwaffe also employed a number of fast bomber types, such as the JU 88 S-1 (a cleaned up and boosted version of the Ju 88A-4) or the Messerschmitt Me 410 Hornisse heavy fighter and a number of single-engine fighter-bombers (Bf 109's and/or Fw 190's), known as Jabos in the Luftwaffe (a contraction of the German language term Jagdbomber). These were more difficult to intercept due to their great speed, but carried limited payload and with less accuracy compared to the conventional bombers.
The composition of the force was never static. Bomber units were disbanded, pulled out for refits and conversions, or redeployed to other theatres of operation as the situation demanded. By mid-March, Peltz's force had 232 serviceable aircraft, as 3./KG 2 was withdrawn for conversion to the Ju 188, while III./KG 30, along with II. and III. Gruppen, KG 6 were redeployed to support the occupation of Hungary.
To confuse British radars, various medium bomber types were equipped with Kettenhund radar jammers, specifically carried in the bola gondolas of the JU 88, which had some effect in jamming the SCR-268 long-wave gun laying radar but was ineffective in countering microwave-frequency radars. Also deployed were experimental mid-VHF band FuG 216 tail-warning radar, to detect the approach of British night-fighters.
Order of battle
- KG 2 Holzhammer
- Stab (3 Do 217)
- I./KG 2 (35 Do 217)
- II./KG 2 (31 Ju 188)
- III./KG 2 (36 Do 217)
- V./KG 2 ( 25 Me 410)
- KG 6
- Stab (3 Ju 88)
- I./KG 6 (41 Ju 188)
- II./KG 6 (39 Ju 88)
- III./KG 6 (37 Ju 88)
- KG 30 Adler
- II./KG 30 (31 Ju 88)
- KG 40
- I./KG 40 (15 He 177)
- KG 54 Totenkopf
- Stab/KG 54 (3 Ju 88)
- I./KG 54 (25 Ju 88)
- II./KG 54 (33 Ju 88)
- KG 66
- I./KG 66 (23 Ju 88 and Ju 188)
- KG 76
- Stab/KG 76 (4 Ju 88)
- KG 100 Wiking
- I./KG 100 (27 He 177)
- SKG 10
- I./SKG 10 (20 Fw 190)
Civilian defensive measures
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As a result of the re-organisation required for the invasion of Europe on 15 November 1943 RAF Fighter Command was split in two; many of the Spitfire and Hawker Typhoon Squadrons formed the 2nd Tactical Air Force for activities in support of the invasion of Europe, while others were now formed into the Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) force.
The ADGB brief was the air defence of Britain by day or night. The commander of Fighter Command, Air Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory was transferred to take over the 2nd TAF, and the ADGB command given to Air Marshal Sir Roderic Hill. By January 1944 RAF Fighter Command’s 10 and 11 Groups were responsible for the defence of southern England. For night defence ADGB possessed seven Squadrons of de Havilland Mosquito Mark XII, XIII and XVII night fighters totalling around 127 operational aircraft, all of which were equipped with airborne interception aids(radar), including the latest AI. Mk. VIII and Mk. X centimetric wavelength radars.
For the urban defence of Greater London there were numerous heavy anti-aircraft (AA) batteries equipped with 3.7 inch and 5.25 inch guns. Many batteries were now equipped with the new Mk. III gun-laying radar, which made them highly effective in putting up an AA barrage against the predicted positions of air targets at night or in bad weather.
The first attack on London was mounted on the night of 21/22 January. Codenamed Unternehmen Mars, sections of the British capital were given codenames after devastated German cities — Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover—to emphasize the retaliatory nature of the operation for the air crews. The first raid targeted the area designated as 'München'—the Waterloo area of London. The attack consisted of two waves with 447 bomber sorties, primarily Ju-88s and Do-217s, carrying 475 tons of bombs, with 60 per cent of the payload incendiaries. The first wave bombed from 2040 hours until 2209 and the second wave 0419 to 0545. Many bomber crews flew double sorties on this night.
Despite the extensive use of Düppel (the Luftwaffe equivalent of the RAF's 'Window' radar countermeasure) and target marking with white and green flares by KG 66, the Luftwaffe's pathfinders, hardly any bombers reached London and only some 30 tons were estimated to have fallen on the capital, with bombs and incendiaries scattered throughout the Home Counties. The Houses of Parliament, Parliament Square, Westminster Hall, the Embankment, New Scotland Yard and parts of Pimlico were all hit by incendiaries. Some 14 people were killed and 74 injured.
Hitler was reportedly outraged that the Luftwaffe failed to find London though it was only 150–200 km (93–124 mi) from German ground control stations while the British were hitting German towns, not just city targets, from 1,000 km (620 mi) away in bad weather. Peltz responded that the failures owed as much to the Luftwaffe's lack of interference-free radio and navigational aids as to untrained crews, and that the British with their H2S and Gee systems were technologically ahead of the Germans. The lack of dedicated pathfinder units also caused navigational problems, as the few aircraft employed in this role were more at risk from electronic counter-measures and fighter interception. The heavy British defences forced the Luftwaffe to fly meandering 'dog-leg' courses and inexperienced German crews quickly got lost. Reconnaissance flights over England had also stopped, which prevented the Luftwaffe from gathering intelligence on British radar and radio frequency bands.
Approximately 40 bombers were lost to all causes. Luftwaffe records indicate 25 aircraft fell to enemy action, RAF Mosquitos claimed 16 bombers destroyed or probably destroyed, and the other nine probably fell to anti-aircraft fire. Just as worrying for the Luftwaffe was a further 18 bombers which were lost to non-combat causes, including pilot error, navigation error leading to fuel starvation, or landing accidents at base.
The first operation coincided with the Allied landings at Anzio in Italy, and immediately three of the Kampfgruppen were returned to Italy. Bad weather also intervened, and the next raid on London was delayed until 28 January, with only Me 410 fast bombers and Fw 190 fighter-bombers taking part. On the following night a 285-strong bomber force, of mostly Ju-188s and Ju-88s attacked, and started a major fire in the Surrey Commercial Docks.
The bomber force lost 28 aircraft shot down. Following this operation I./KG 40 was withdrawn.
The two January attacks on London caused the deaths of about 100 people, with some 200 injured.
 240 sorties were flown on 3/4 February, with only 26 tons of bombs falling on London and scattered bombing across South east England. Fires were started in Hackney and Tilbury with 17 killed and 12 injured in the capital.
On 13/14 February 161 tonnes were dropped over England, with 4 tonnes on the capital.
A series of far more accurate raids now ensued, as on the 18/19 February, with 200 sorties dropping 185 tons of bombs on Whitehall, Queen's Gate and in Pimlico in a short sharp 30 minute raid. Civilian casualties were 180 killed and 463 seriously injured.
On 20/21 February some 200 aircraft were committed, with I./KG 100 contributing 14 He 177s. Whitehall was hit again as was Horse Guards Parade, St. James's Park, the Treasury, the Admiralty, the War Office and the Scottish Office. Windows were also blown out in 10 Downing Street. 216 were killed on the ground and 417 badly injured. On the night of 23/24 February 32 London boroughs recorded incidents, with 72 people killed in Chelsea following a direct hit on a block of flats near the King's Road. In total there were 160 fatalities and 348 serious injuries. Targets on the following night were government buildings around the Westminster area, with over 170 aircraft targeting London.
The 1,300 operational sorties carried out in February had produced mixed results. However, bomber losses for the month, at 72 aircraft, remained prohibitively high.
In March there were four attacks on London, followed by raids on Hull and Bristol. On 14/15 March, 100 German aircraft dropped incendiaries and high explosives across Westminster, Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, Rochester Row, Monck Street, Cliveden Place and two churches in Medway Street and Flask Lane were hit, set alight or damaged. On 21 March Paddington Railway Station was also hit.
Attacks on the capital continued until the night of 20/21 April 1944. By this time 31 major raids had been flown since January, 14 against the British capital. Peltz's force had dropped a total of some 2,000 tons of bombs at a cost of 329 bombers lost.
From late April German attacks switched to the channel ports on the south coast of England, where shipping for the forthcoming Allied invasion of Europe was massing. However, the offensive yielded little tangible results for the Luftwaffe, at a high cost in aircrew and aircraft.
Although the 'Baby Blitz' attacks had involved more Luftwaffe aircraft than any other raids on the UK since 1941, the effectiveness of air and ground defences, the relative inexperience of the German bomber crews, and the sheer lack of bomber numbers meant relatively minor damage and few casualties were inflicted. The initial bomber strength was built up at great expense from the operational requirements of the Luftwaffe. Most bombs failed to reach their targets, and those that did represented only a fraction of what was hitting Germany. The choice to not target the assembly areas for Operation Overlord meant that there was no significant impact on the allied time table for the invasion. The raids were ironically to prove more costly regarding German military capability than for the British, draining the Luftwaffe of irreplaceable aircrew and some contemporary aircraft and thus reducing the potential offensive air response to oppose Operation Overlord. After the failure of this conventional bombing campaign, the Nazi leadership sought unconventional ways to attack Britain. This desire was to manifest itself in the V-1 cruise missile and V-2 short-range ballistic missile campaigns late that year.
From late December 1943 to May 1944 Luftwaffe bomber strength in northern Europe fell from 695 to just 133 aircraft. In contrast on 6 June 1944, ADGB had 45 squadrons available to support the invasion, totalling some 809 serviceable aircraft. German losses during Steinbock amounted to the following:
270 Junkers Ju 88s
121 Dornier Do 217s
35 Junkers Ju 188s
46 Heinkel He 177As
27 Messerschmitt Me 410s
25 Focke-Wulf Fw 190s
British losses amounted to:
7 to unknown causes
1 destroyed by enemy action
5 damaged by enemy action
1 destroyed by friendly fire
14 lost on intruder operations during January—May 1944
Air raid casualties in Britain during the first five months of 1944 totalled some 1,556 killed, with 2,916 seriously injured.
- Boog 2001, p. 379.
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