For 12 days in 1942 the Luftwaffe hit British towns that appeared in the Baedeker travel guide. Chris Goss assesses these reprisal raids
“The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places, they put their rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.”
With these words in February 1942, RAF Bomber Command’s leader, Air Marshal Arthur Harris, announced the escalation of the RAF’s campaign against Germany. On the night of March 28-29, 1942, the RAF launched 234 aircraft against Lübeck, and German records state that 1,425 buildings were destroyed, with 1,976 seriously damaged and 8,411 lightly damaged. Rostock was similarly raided on April 23-24.
Lübeck and Rostock were known as Hanseatic ports, named after a commercial and defensive league established in the 14th century. The two cities contained mainly old and historic buildings, steeped in German heritage, and the raids infuriated Adolf Hitler. On April 14, 1942 he sent the following signal to the Luftwaffe:
“The Führer has ordered that the air war against England is to be given a more aggressive stamp. Accordingly, when targets are being selected, preference is to be given to those where attacks are likely to have the greatest possible effect on civilian life. Besides raids on ports and industry, terror attacks of a retaliatory nature are to be carried out against towns other than London…”
The first response to this edict came on the night of April 23-24 when 48 Dornier Do 217s from Kampfgeschwader 2 (KG 2) and possibly KG 40, plus 12 Junkers Ju 88s from the maritime unit Kampfgruppe 106 (KGr 106), attacked Exeter in Devon. It would appear to have been ineffective as the British reported that no major town was hit that night, although bombs were dropped on Totnes to the west of Exeter.
The Luftwaffe lost a Dornier flown by Oberleutnant (Oblt) Dr Kurt Gumbart, who was leading 5 Staffel/KG 2 (5/KG 2). The RAF pilot responsible was Fg Off John Tharp, flying a Beaufighter of 604 Squadron. He noted in his report:
“A silhouette was seen against a dark, starry sky. Beaufighter closed in, saw three exhaust flames, flew underneath enemy aircraft and recognised it as a Do 217. Beaufighter drew back and opened fire from slightly below and dead astern…
“Flame appeared in the port engine and Beaufighter turned away to right and then back to watch enemy aircraft which went vertically down enveloped in flame the whole length of the fuselage. It passed through cloud and then a brilliant flash lit up the sky from below…”
The rest of this article is in the July issue available on sale in the UK now and other countries following that. It can be ordered direct from www.flypast.com or in leading newsagents. Alternatively, you can download a digital edition from www.pocketmags.com – simply search ‘FlyPast’.