The Nuremberg Raid – Part Three, The Targets and Return Flight

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
31st March 1944

After the turn towards Nuremberg, 10 more bombers were destroyed 9 Lancasters and a Halifax.   One of the Lancasters was shot down by veteran fighter pilot Major Martin Drews by a  Schräge Musik attack, a short burst into the Lancaster’s starboard wing.  There was no  return fire and the bomber went straight down   Next day 6 bodies were found in the fuselage  wreckage and the body of the real gunner was found in the tail some distance away.  He was  Flight Lieutenant Trevor-Roper and had flown as Guy Gibson’s gunner during the Dams Raid of  May 1943.

As the stragglers made the turn south for the run-in, the Pathfinders were over the target,  or rather what they believed was the target.  They found that the ground was obscured by a  thick layer of cloud extending from 2,000 to 12,000 feet.  This was extremely unfortunate  because the Pathfinders’ marking pyrotechnics, codename “Newhaven” were for visual marking  of a moonlit target and not “Wanganui” for sky marking.  Additionally the crews of the main  force had been briefed for a “Newhaven” attack.  Two Mosquitos in the Pathfinders should  have located the target on their H2S radars to drop green markers, but one of the aircraft’s  H2S wasn’t operating and the second Mosquito was elsewhere. Because the backer-up marker  Pathfinders had failed to appreciate the much changed forecast winds they had been blown to  the east.  These aircraft were over Lauf, a much smaller town than Nuremberg, but one that  gave a similar radar picture on the H2s.  While some realised their error, at least 4  aircraft dropped their markers.  Most of the accurate markers were burning merrily  underneath the cloud.

The approaching main force crews were confused by the scattered flares.  There were two  distinct marked areas, some miles apart   The majority of the crews headed for the  pronounced markers to the east, ignoring the accurate but less well defined markers over  Nuremberg.  With the bomb bay doors open the bomb aimers lying prone in the nose would  direct the pilots, who couldn’t see the markers below the nose with simple left-left,  riiiight or steady commands over the intercom.  The pilots remained in control of the  aircraft, unlike in the USAAF where the bombardier took control during the run-in.  The  bombs were released over a 10 second period to maintain trim, but the aircraft would have to  maintain a straight and level course for a further 30 seconds until the photoflash dropped  with the bombs went off and a camera in the aircraft recorded where the bombs exploded.   Most of the night’s photographs showed only cloud.  The bombers were vulnerable during the  bombing run, the chief dangers being the radar predicted flak and bombs dropped from  aircraft above.  A significant phenomena was “Creep back,” where the bomb aimers released  the bombs early in order to get the hell out of it.  Allowances were made for this so that  the markers overshot the target allowing creep back to place the bombs falling short and  bracket the target.

By 0128 the last markers had gone out and the late arrivers had to bomb on H2S if fitted, or  dead reckoning.  By now most of the night fighters had landed due to fuel shortages or  simply running out of ammunition, but there were still those tucked in with the stream and  they continued to score kills.  Unseen by the bomber crews, British fighters were also in  the stream and waging a deadly battle with the German night fighters.  Forty Intruder and  Serrate Mosquitos had been dispatched from No 100 Bomber Support Group.  The Intruders went  into action later, loitering near known German airfields, attempting to shoot down the night  fighters as they came into land.  The Serrate Mosquitos could home into the night fighters’  Lichtenstein radar, but most had been replaced by the upgraded SN 2 radar.  These Mosquitos  also carried an Airborne Interception (AI) set but their use was limited as they also picked  out bombers and any twin engine aircraft was considered fair game by the bombers’ gunners.   A 239 Squadron Mosquito managed to intercept a night fighter and the two aircraft circled in  the moonlight in a classic dogfight.  After 12 minutes they lost each other in the ground  haze.  The night’s final disappointing tally for the Serrate crews was one German shot down  for 2 Mosquitos damaged.

Very little damage was inflicted on the City of Nuremberg as a great many of the bombers’  loads had fallen in dense woodland to the east.  By the standards of other cities, the  Nuremberg’s civil defence workers had an easy time that night, although there were  casualties and an eye hospital was severely damaged.  Schweinfurt a town 50 miles northwest  of Nuremberg was attacked by a few inexperienced crews, with some damage to the ball bearing  factories.

All of the bombers were now flying west into the headwinds.  The last of the night fighters  attempted interceptions, but the bombers were more agile now they had got rid of their loads  and half of their fuel.  By now the notion of a bomber stream was erroneous as the returning  bombers were spread over thousands of square miles of enemy territory.  The winds carried  the aircraft north of the predicted track and many now headed for the thick cloud.  But  bombers were still being lost to flak concentrations even though the majority of the night  fighters had gone.  Most of the bombers were now over France.  It was bitterly cold and the  return journey seemed to the crews, to be the longest they had flown.  Around 0400 the first  of the scattered bomber force crossed the coast and headed out across the sea.  Some with  badly damaged aircraft or those with a lack of fuel came down in the sea.  At this point 94  bombers and their crews were missing.

The first aircraft home was a Pathfinder Lancaster that landed at its base of Downham  Market.  Most of the first crews to land had taken a short cut over the North Sea, with  creative log keeping by the navigators.  Some aircraft crash landed and some were diverted  to other airfields because of local weather conditions.  Badly damaged aircraft made for  Manston near Margate with its extra wide and long runway.  Crashes were inevitable for  damaged aircraft and exhausted crews.  Some of the bombers brought back dead or severely  wounded crewmen that tested the first aid skills of those on board.  Most of the time it was  a case of trying to find and stop bleeds, jabbing them full of morphine and annotating the  time given and amount on the injured man’s forehead and trying to make them warm and  comfortable  In all, a further 14 bombers crashed or crash landed in England.

The exhausted crews had to endure one more ordeal before collapsing into bed, the debriefing  or as it was then called, the interrogation.  Drawing on welcome cigarettes and tea laced  with rum, the crews gave their reports to the station intelligence officers.  For many in  the vanguard of the stream who had escaped the worst attentions of the fighters, this was  reported as being a fairly normal Op, no dramas.  Anything to get to bed quickly.  It was a  different story for those squadrons that had been in the main force and had approached Otto  and Ida beacons the same time as the German night fighters.  Some intelligence officers were  disbelieving of the reports of so many bombers blowing up or spiraling down in flames, and  there were heated arguments between those who had flown the Op and those who had stayed back  at base.  Even experienced aircrew who maintained that the losses could be in the region of  80 – 90 bombers, were told to pull themselves together.  Gunners also reported witnessing  attacks from below by aircraft with upwards firing guns. These reports were largely scoffed  at or noted but not acted on.  However, whatever the sense of disbelief, it soon became  obvious as the many reports were collated that it had been an extremely bloody night.  It  was also apparent that the Pathfinder marking had been hopeless and at least three targets  bombed that were up to 50 miles apart.

After an exhausted sleep, the crews drifted towards their messes for a lunchtime beer.  Some  squadrons had got off relatively lightly, but on other stations the extent of the carnage  became apparent, and the “well they must have diverted somewhere else” didn’t wash.  There  was much grumbling directed at the Met men, “Butcher” Harris, the “bastards” at High Wycombe  and authority in general.  Crews that had crash landed and survived tried to make their ways  back to their home base. One crew had to wait for a train at Kings Cross Station with the  bombsight, eight machine guns and belts of ammunition.  They were amused to note that in  true London commuter style, they barely warranted a second glance.  There was an overall  sense of despondency throughout bomber Command but it was by nature temporary and the morale  held, mainly because of the esprit de corps among the crews.

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
The Butcher’s Bill
Bomber Command Aircraft Losses 30th/31st March 1944
Crashed on take-off
Shot down by night fighter
Shot down by flak
Hit by both fighter and flak
Shot down friendly fire
Crashed or crash landed England
Written off due to battle damage
Death Toll all Nationalities
Royal Air Force
English civilian (Halifax crash)
Belgium civilians
Foreign workers in Nuremberg
Flak units
Nuremberg and surrounding area
Oberhausen (Mosquito)
Cologne (Mosquito spoof)
Kassel (Mosquito spoof)
RAF Prisoners of War


The Nuremberg Raid – Part Two, The Bloody Route to Nuremberg