Operation – Berchtesgaden - 25th April 1945
The Eagles Nest at top of the photo with the spectacular vista in the valley below and the mountains beyond
The final raid undertaken by both 103 Sqn and 576 Sqn was a daylight attack on Hitler’s mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden South East of Munich on the German Austrian border. Allied intelligence had information to the effect that Hitler was to leave Berchtesgaden on the 25th April to return to Berlin and the plan was to attack the complex that day. The targets were the chalet and the nearby SS barracks.
359 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitos of 1, 5 and 8 Groups were tasked for the operation which included 16 Lancasters of 617 Sqn who would drop the last 16 of their 12,000lb Tallboy bombs.
103 Sqn contributed 16 Lancasters to the force and 576 Sqn 23 Lancasters. The bomb load for each aircraft was all high explosive consisting of 1 x 4,000lb HC, 4 x 1000lb MC, 1 x 500lb MC and 1 x 250lb GP bombs. F/O Laviolette RCAF and crew of 103 Sqn were the first to take off from Elsham Wolds at 0504. The 576 Sqn crews of F/L G A Campbell RCAF and F/O W N Holmes RCAF were the first up at Fiskerton 0510. The weather was good all the way to the target with some cirrus cloud at 25,000ft. The 576 Sqn Lancaster of F/O E K Pollard RAAF and crew encountered mechanical trouble and lost the port inner engine one hour before the target was reached. They were able to continue however and completed the operation. The visibility at the target was excellent and ground detail was easily identified.
The squadron records note that the Master Bomber was late over the target and the first wave of aircraft overshot the last turning point causing some crews to orbit the target. The 8 Oboe equipped Mosquitos amongst the bombing force were unable to contribute to the marking due to their inability to pick up the ground signals because of the mountainous terrain in spite of flying at 39,000ft.
The master bomber made two runs before dropping red target indicators but these were rapidly obscured by a smoke screen. Most crews bombed from upwind at the edge of the smoke on the master bombers instructions which were clearly heard. Bombing took place from between 15,000ft and 18,000ft at approximately 0950. It was difficult to assess the results due to the smoke but the bombing appeared concentrated despite the varying headings from which the attack was made. Large columns of smoke were observed in the target area. See bombing photos below.
Defenses consisted of moderate heavy flak in barrage form to starboard on the run in and slight heavy flak in the region of the target. This decreased as the raid progressed. The Lancasters of F/L O’Neil and F/O Scott, both of 576 Sqn, sustained some flak damage. No fighter opposition was encountered.
All aircraft returned safely to base, the first to land being the 576 Sqn crews of F/L G A Campbell RCAF and F/O W N Holmes RCAF at 1300. 2 Lancasters from the force failed to return from the operation.
Results of the attack were not clear but it is thought that the S S barracks were completely destroyed the rest of the complex was damaged. The raid had failed in its objective to eliminate Hitler as he had stayed in Berlin at this time. His reprieve was short lived however and he took his own life on the 30th April 1945 as the Russians neared his headquarters in Berlin.
Also the 25th April 1945 a force of 482 bombers made up of 308 Halifaxes, 158 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitos from Nos 4, 6 and 8 Groups attacked German coastal batteries on the island of Wangerooge in the Frisians. These batteries controlled the approaches to the ports of Bremen and Wilhelmshafen. 5 Halifaxes and 2 Lancasters were lost, 6 of which were due to collisions.
During the day a total of 857 sorties were dispatched for the loss of 9 aircraft.
Neither 103 Sqn nor 576 Sqn took part in any further bombing operations during the war. Their remaining duties consisted of those of a humanitarian nature involving the dropping of food to Dutch civilians and the repatriation of Allied prisoners of war.
Written/compiled by David Fell mostly from 103 and 576 Squadron ORBs, 1 Group ORB, By Day and by Night: Bomber War in Europe, 1939-45. Ken Merrick, Middlebrook's Bomber Command War Diaries.. The bombing photos courtesy of the Funnell and Laviolette families.