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[Home] [Articles and Misc 103] [Vire - 6/7th June 1944]

Operation - Vire - 6/7  June 1944

A Reappraisal

The French town of Vire in Calvados suffered greatly on the 6th  June 1944. Around 400 of their people were killed in allied bombing on D Day and much of the town destroyed. I always assumed this was due to the 1 Group RAF Bomber Command raid just after midnight on the 6/7th  June. However I was puzzled because the official reports by returning crews say Vire was already seen to be burning fiercely as the RAF bombers approached and before they commenced their attack. Further investigation some years later brought the answer.

The American 303rd  Bomb Group and at least some of the 392nd BG from Wendling 102 attacked Vire in daylight approx 4 hours before the RAF attack on the railways station and nearby bridges. 36x303 Bomb Group crews bombed Vire as “a target of opportunity” at around 20:30 from between 13,000 and 16,000 ft. Clouds prevented observation of the results. It seems likely most of the civilian casualties occurred then as the attack came through cloud without any warning.

The 1 Group RAF attack was made from about 3000 to 5000 ft altitude below cloud in good visibility at around 0030. The force came in from the north west roughly following the line of the railway and bombed around the bridges and railway station at the northern edge of the town.

303 BG USAAF  Vire Mission Report - 6th June 1944 - Vire

Target: City area of Vire, France & Bridge at Conde-Sur-Noireau, France. Crews Dispatched: 36 (358BS - 9, 359th - 12, 360th - 8, 427th - 7). Length of Mission: 5 hours, 15 minutes. Bomb Load: 12 x 500 lb M44 & M43 & RDX bombs. Bombing Altitude: 16,300, 14,000 & 13,400 ft. Ammo Fired: 0 rounds

Thirty-three 303rd BG(H) B-17s plus three 305BG PFF aircraft took off between 1730 and 1756 hours to bomb a bridge in Conde-Sur-Noireau, France. B-17G #42-107097 Sweet Melody, 360BS in the 303BG-B Low Group (Lt. Bartholomew), returned early when he was unable to locate the formation. Bombs on Fortress #42-97944 Daddy's Delight, 359BS, in the 303BG-A lead formation (Lt. Sirany), failed to release either mechanically or electrically.

The afternoon formation experienced a beautiful view of the invasion armies landing on the French beaches. They told of fleets of barges, destroyers and battleships streaming across the channel to landing points on the coast, while flashes of gunfire and shell bursts winked through the thick clouds of black smoke that hung over the coastal area. Some gunners reported that the Germans seemed to be using land-fired rockets to oppose landing troops, but the stream of barges did not seem to be held up.

The 303BG-A lead Group dropped 120 500-lb M43 and RDX and 15 500-lb M44 G.P. bombs and the 303BG-B low Group dropped 96 500-lb RDX, 6 1,000-lb M44 and 36 500-lb M43 bombs on the center of the city of Vire, France — a target of opportunity. Bombing was done visually, but clouds prevented observation of the results.

The 303BG-C high Group PFF equipment malfunctioned. They were able to locate a two-aircraft element led by a PFF aircraft and after contacting it, flew formation on it for bombing. The primary target was bombed by PFF releasing 84 500-lb RDX, 6 1,000-lb M43 and 6 500-lb M44 bombs. Bombs hit in an open field. All aircraft returned safely to Molesworth between 2238 and 2330 hours.

More info on this mission at the  303BG website

Note - A contact in France has now  informed me that the that the 392nd BG from Wendling, mission 102 were also involved in the bombing of Conde sur Noireau and Vire.

392 BG USAAF  Vire Mission Report - 6th June 1944 - Vire - Mission 102

Around noon on the 6th, a third target order came in and  briefing for (22) aircraft sorties was conducted at 1300 hours. At 1640, (22) crews began take-offs with (19) going over a Target of Last Resort for the first mission - the town of Vire about forty-five miles inland  from the coast. Problems were encountered during assembly because of  poor area weather which got no better en route and through the target.  Some aircraft had to join other Group formations and were widely  scattered. As a result, some did not release their bombs for fear of  hitting friendly troops but (217) 500  GP bombs were dropped in the  primary target area by PFF means. Mission aircraft recovered safely at  base around 2100 hours, landing in heavy rain, with two diverting into  near-by Shipdham - the 44th Bomb Group’s base.

More info on this mission at the  392BG website

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No 1 Group RAF operation – Vire - 7th June 1944

107 Lancasters took off for this operation. 103 Sqn contributed 18 aircraft  and 576 Sqn 19 aircraft.

From 103 Sqn W/O J J Rabchak RCAF and crew were first up at 2136 and from 576 Sqn P/O K C Murray RAFVR and crew in ND859 at 2135

The target for this attack was the railway bridges and railway station at Vire, Calvados. The weather en route to the English Channel was 9/10ths cloud with tops at about 8,000 ft gradually breaking up over the sea. After crossing the French coast the cloud reformed at 8/10ths and similar conditions prevailed in the target area. The force descended through the cloud as it approached the target to around 4000ft and visibility below cloud was reported as good with a little ground haze. The target marking commenced punctually and was assessed by the Master Bomber as being accurate. Instructions were given my the Master Bomber for the main force to commence its attack at 0037 hours. The initial marking on both aiming points was carried out by the Special Duties Flight and when the PFF commenced their technique some slight confusion appears to have been caused by their green markers falling on the Western Aiming point instead of the East. As a result green target indicators were dropped on both aiming points. It appears both aiming points were effectively bombed and reports indicate that good concentration was achieved. Some crews were able to clearly identify the targets visually and some also reported that the town was burning fiercely before the attack commenced. Evidence of ground defences was negligible but some flak was noted. In addition fighter activity in the target area was observed with reports of several aircraft shot down. A number of sightings of enemy aircraft were noted in the target area and also in the region of the Channel islands on the return flight.

From 103 Sqn P/O G W Chase RCAF and crew in ME674 were first down at 0256 and from 576 Sqn P/O K C Murray RAFVR and crew at 0240.

From 103 Sqn F/O W H Way RCAF and crew in NE173 failed to return and from 576 Sqn F/O G A J Bain RCAF and crew in ME811. Both were night fighter victims. F/O F J Knight RAAF and crew in JB700 from 460 Sqn also failed to return and they are thought to have been a flak victim during the approach to the target.

Item written by David Fell with reference to the 1 Group, 103 Sqn and 576 Sqn ORBs and also the 303 BG and 393 BG websites

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