Operation - Friedrichshafen - 27/28th April 1944.
Iconic Tiger Tank which used the Maybach transmission and gear box manufactured at the Maybach factory in Friedrichshafen
The small German town of Friedrichshafen in Southern Germany had been high on the target list of Bomber Command for some time. Situated on the shores of Lake Constance the town was home to many large and important factories and development centres of critical importance to the German war effort. Amongst these was the Maybach engineering works which was an important manufacturer of tank engines and gearboxes and various radar and wireless systems were manufactured at the big Zeppelin works nearby. In addition the Dornier aircraft company had a large factory in the town and which was also an important centre for the manufacture of parts for the German V weapon programme.
It was thought that an attack on Friedrichshafen should take place on a moonlit night to assist in target identification. This had serious drawbacks because a flight deep into Germany on a moonlit night was very dangerous and would make the bombers very vulnerable to fighter attack. This happened four weeks previously on the ill-fated attack on Nuremberg when the losses to the bomber force had been very severe.
Friedrichshafen was however situated much further south and on the fringes of the German night fighter defense system. In addition extensive diversions were planned for that night and two other heavy raids were to take place which it was hoped would confuse the German fighter controllers. It was therefore decided that the attack should go ahead.
On the 27th April 1944 322 Lancasters and 1 Mosquito of Nos 1, 3, 6 and 8 Groups were detailed for this raid.
At Elsham Wolds 103 Sqn and 576 Sqn detailed 11 and 18 aircraft respectively. The first crew to take off was that of F/O W H Way RCAF of 103 Sqn at 2125.
The weather for the flight was good with 5/10ths cloud to the English coast and clear all the way to the target back with slight ground haze. F/S Thorpe from 576 Sqn was forced to return early due to engine problems. No night fighter opposition was encountered on the outward flight. The Pathfinders were three to four minutes late but the crews reported a good concentration of accurate marking in the target area. Bombing was undertaken from between 17,000ft and 20,000ft and was very concentrated with many large fires seen below and it is noted in the records that the Master Bomber on this operation was particularly good. Flak in the target area was intense to moderate with many searchlights in evidence.
German night fighters arrived over Friedrichshafen as the raid was in progress and were able to shoot down 18 of the Lancasters. Amongst those lost was the 103 Sqn Lancaster of F/L M I Cox AFC and crew that crashed at Langenschiltach. Two of the crew were taken prisoner and one, P/O W J Parama RCAF, survived and evaded capture. The Lancaster P/O K W Mitchell and crew of 103 Sqn was hit by flak over the target but was able to return safely to base.
The first crews that returned to Elsham Wolds following the operation were those of P/O A J Bodger and P/O R Whalley, both of 576 Sqn, at 0535.
The attack had proved to be a great success with 1234 tons dropped in the target area. Bomber Command estimated that 99 acres of the town had been destroyed with several important factories badly damaged and the Maybach tank engine and gearbox factory completely destroyed. During post-war investigation by an American bombing survey team the German officials admitted that this raid had been the most damaging on German tank production in the entire war. In the town 136 people had been killed and 375 injured.
Other operations undertaken that night involved heavy raids on the railway yards at Aulnoye and Montzen. The Aulnoye attack was undertaken by 223 aircraft from Nos 4, 6 and 8 Groups and was very accurate with serious damage caused to the railway yards. 1 Halifax was lost on this raid. The Montzen raid was undertaken by 144 aircraft from Nos 4, 6 and 8 Groups. Only part of the railway yards were hit and 14 Halifaxes and 1 Lancaster were lost from the attacking force.
A large number of support and minor operations were also flown that night. 159 Operational Training Unit aircraft made a diversionary sweep over the North Sea and 24 Mosquitos flew a diversionary raid to Stuttgart. There were also 11 Radio Counter Measures sorties, 19 Serrate and 6 Intruder patrols, 8 Halifax minelaying sorties off Brest and Cherbourg, and 44 aircraft on Resistance operations. 1 Serrate Mosquito was lost.
In total Bomber Command flew 961 sorties that night for the loss of 35 aircraft and crews. The main operation to Friedrichshafen had been a high-risk undertaking but the plan had worked well and the results were very encouraging. Overall the RAF could view this nights work with quite satisfaction whilst the Germans must have been rather disappointed with their response and increasingly concerned as to what was to follow in the weeks and months ahead.
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.