The Luftwaffe Raids: Jaboeinsätz Fighter bomber sortie; two aircraft or more Störangriff Nuisance raid; single bomber or two fighters; Pirateinsätz Attack by single bomber in bad weather.
Taken by Leutnant Leopold Wenger from the cockpit of his Fw 190, this remarkable series of images shows a “Tip and Run” raid underway on Thursday, 1 April 1943. The target on this occasion was Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. Clearly visible in the first of the pictures are the distinctive masts of the Chain Home radar station above the town; the second illustrates just how low the Jabos flew; whilst the third shot shows a vehicle being strafed. Wenger, who subsequently reported good hits in the town and setting a vehicle (presumably the one seen here) on fire, was one of three pilots involved in the attack. As well as what was described as light anti-aircraft fire, two Hawker Typhoons of 197 Squadron were scrambled and unsuccessfully attempted to intercept the intruders.
For much of their involvement in the “Tip and Run” campaign, JG 26’s area of operations was the coastal areas of Sussex and Kent, whilst JG 2 concentrated on targets from Hampshire to the West Country.
“I started to walk along the seafront when the air raid sirens sounded and immediately ‘planes swooped low over the hills from the Babbacombe direction,” recalled Terry Stevens. “I thought they were Spitfires but then I saw a black dot leave one of the leading ‘planes and an explosion threw a column of debris into the air behind the church. An RAF sergeant leapt onto a mound of sandbags and shouted to everyone to lie down. The skies seemed full of low-flying aircraft, strafing the ground. Hundreds of people, many of them RAF, were lying on the ground and it was surprising that a lot more were not killed.”
This account graphically illustrates what it was like to be on the receiving end of what was called a “Tip and Run” (sometimes a “Hit and Run”) attack – a bombing raid carried out at very low-level and at high speed by German single-engine fighters. It was the Junkers Ju 87s, the much-feared Stukas, upon which the Luftwaffe had relied so heavily as German forces had bombed and blasted their way through southern Poland in 1939 and France and the Low Countries a few months later. When the same tactics were tried against British shipping in the Channel and British airfields along the South Coast, the lumbering Stukas proved easy targets for the intercepting RAF fighters. The bulk of German medium bombers, the Dornier Do 17s and Heinkel He 111s, also lacked the speed to penetrate the British defences with any hope of surprise, and required increasingly heavy fighter escorts to battle their way to and from the target. They also lacked the bomb-aiming precision to hit pinpoint targets.
An alternative method of attack was needed, one that was fast and able to defend itself against the British aircraft, but which was also capable of carrying bombs. The result was the Jabo, the fighter-bomber. This was not an entirely original idea, as fighters had been used to carry bombs in the First World War. But never before had it been attempted on such a scale and with purpose-built aircraft. In the spring of 1940, the German Air Staff had requested that the Luftwaffe Technical Office explore the possibility of adapting the Messerschmitt Bf 109E to carry bombs. Consequently, design engineers produced a centrally mounted bomb rack which contained in a streamlined fairing, was bolted to the belly of the aircraft between the undercarriage legs. This bomb rack, designated as the ETC500, was designed to carry a single 250kg bomb and the tests and performance trials showed that a single Sprengbombe Cylindrisch 250 (SC250) bomb could be carried with little appreciable loss in performance. This gave the Luftwaffe exactly the kind of machine it wanted.
Delivery of the new Bf 109E fighter-bombers started in July 1940, the first being issued to 3 Staffel of the newly-formed Erprobungsgruppe 210 (Erpr. Gr 210). Intended as a specialist ground-attack unit, Erpr. Gr 210 was charged with operational development of ground-attack and dive-bombing techniques and equipment.
By the third week of July, the Gruppe was flying armed reconnaissance sorties and conducting regular attacks on shipping off the south and east coasts of Britain. On 19 July 1940, 3 Staffel mounted two attacks on shipping in Dover Harbour; during the first, which involved the entire Gruppe with a fighter escort from III/ JG 51, an armed trawler was hit. During the second mission mid-afternoon, the Admiralty oiler Sepoy was sunk and several near misses caused damage to the destroyer HMS Griffin; a tug and a drifter were also damaged.
Then, from 5 September 1940, onwards Luftwaffe fighter pilots had started receiving rudimentary training in using their fighters as bombers, using the gunsight as a bombsight. From the beginning of October 1940 these Jabos were used to bomb from medium and high altitudes.
This development was not universally appreciated by those that had to fly the fighter-bombers, as typified by the comments of Oberstleutnant Adolf Galland, then Geschwader Kommodore of JG 26: “We fighter pilots looked upon this violation of our aircraft with great bitterness. We had done everything possible to increase our performance. We had discarded everything dispensable in an attempt to squeeze another ounce of speed out of them. Instead of that, they now gave us bomb release gadgets and we were forced to see a third of our aircraft drop out of air combat.
“The fighter was made into a fighter-bomber as a stop-gap and a scapegoat. We started from the premise that the fighter was apparently unable to give sufficient protection to the bombers. This was true. If the fighter arm is unable to protect the bombers, it must deliver the bombs to England on its own account. The raids on England had become a question of prestige, and as day bombing could not be continued and night raids were only in preparation, this gap was to be filled by fighters transformed into fighter-bombers. Not military expedience but a momentary political demand.”
Galland also believed that the fighter-bomber attacks, “apart from their nuisance value, achieved very little of any military value”. Indeed, he stated that such missions had an adverse effect on a fighter pilot’s morale: “It is disconcerting for a fighter pilot to have to fight without being able to take the initiative. The morale of fighter pilots was affected; they had to carry bombs, release them at great altitude on an enormous target without being able to observe the effect and then had to adopt a passive attitude towards enemy fighters.”
Another step towards the Luftwaffe’s “Tip and Run” campaign came in March 1941. Though Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2) had continued to carry out fighter-bomber, or Jabo, attacks, but just against shipping, at this point one staffel from JG 2 was given specific low-level bombing training by Erpr. Gr 210. A further two squadrons carried out sporadic fighter-bomber attacks. Nevertheless, Jabo missions remained a secondary role for these units, until one officer, wounded in July 1941, returned to operational flying duties. Oberleutnant Frank Liesendahl commanded one of JG 2’s staffels which were engaged on such attacks. Whilst recuperating from his wounds, it is believed that Liesendahl worked on formulating tactics for low-level fighter bomber missions. He duly convinced his senior officers of the value of what a low-level fighter-bomber could achieve against shipping and in November 1941 was given permission to form a dedicated Jabo unit.
From 10 November 1941 to 18 February 1942, Liesendahl’s staffel trained and perfected the tactics they would employ against British targets. During this period Liesendahl developed what was called the Liesendahl Verfahren, the “Liesendahl Process”. Approaching the target at 450kph and an altitude of just five metres, the fighter-bomber would climb to a maximum height of 500 metres before levelling off when 1,800 metres from the target. At this point, the pilot dived down again at a speed of 550kph and a dive angle of 3°, before pulling up and “lobbing” the bomb at the target. Liesendahl’s method was quickly adopted as the preferred means of attack for Jabos.
Although the winter of 1941/1942 was spent training and practising, it is believed that some JG 2 pilots did undertake a number of trial attacks. According to British records, the first recorded Tip and Run attack was made against an unspecified target at Fairlight in Sussex on Christmas Day 1941, whilst in January 1942 “tip and run incidents” were noted as having occurred in Kent (three), Sussex (nine), Dorset (two), Hampshire (one), Cornwall (28) and the Isle of Wight (one).
Then on 4 March 1942, having finally been convinced of the value of Jabo attacks, Luftflotte 3 authorised such missions to begin on a large scale – as well as ordering another fighter group, JG 26, to form its own Jabo squadron with effect from 10 March 1942 The die was cast and for the next fifteen months, southern Britain was about to experience a new and terrifying form of air warfare. The Luftwaffe’s Tip and Run campaign was underway.
During the offensive’s first month, JG 26 undertook seventeen attacks whilst JG 2 carried out forty-nine. Then in April 1942, Tip and Run attacks increased dramatically, with British intelligence reporting 156 such attacks. April also saw a shift to land targets, particularly gas holders as these were such prominent targets.
The targets attacked in April and May 1942 suggested a high degree of planning by the Luftwaffe. For example, the Germans were aware of an underground explosives store inland from Poole and they unsuccessfully tried to attack it five times in April and May 1942. On another occasion, two fighter-bombers attacked the Betteshanger Colliery in Kent precisely at shift-change causing damage and civilian casualties.
Of greater concern were two attacks carried out by 10/JG 2 against the Telecommunications and Research Establishment (TRE) at Worth Matravers in Dorset. In the early evening of 6 April 1942, three aircraft attacked the site causing damage; at lunchtime two days later, another attack killed two and injured six, whilst a bomb passed through the 350-foot-tall tower (being used for the development of Gee), causing slight damage. The site was un-operational for four days and because of the risk further, more devastating, attacks the TRE was moved to Malvern in Worcestershire in May 1942.
By the end of April 1942, the value of such Tip and Run attacks must have been increasingly clear to the Luftwaffe – especially against shipping. Post-war analysis shows that between July 1941 and February 1942, German aircraft had sunk or damaged just 32.35% of the ships they attacked in daylight but in the period March-October 1942, this increased to 64.4%.
During June and July 1942, the number of attacks steadily fell. Far from being a good sign, this was a worrying development for both of 10/ JG 2 and 10/JG 26 had been withdrawn piecemeal to near Paris where they began re-equipping with the Focke Wulf Fw 190.
The Fw 190 was superior in all flight parameters, except turning radius, to the best Allied fighter at that time, the Spitfire Vb. It was 25 to 30 mph faster at all altitudes up to 25,000 feet and had the highest rate of roll of any fighter of the war. As a fighter-bomber, it could carry a single 500kg bomb under the fuselage and four 50kg bombs under the wings, more than doubling the bomb load of the Bf 109. It was, without doubt, an excellent Jabo.
The first Fw 190 Tip and Run was undertaken by 10/JG 2 on 7 July 1942. From now on, at least one such attack was planned or flown every day. With both German units fully operational with the Fw 190 by mid-July, the raids resumed with virtual impunity, though by the end of the month each unit had lost one Jabo to anti-aircraft fire from the ships they were attacking. These losses had resulted in the deaths of each unit’s experienced commanding officers, one of whom was Frank Liesendahl.
In August a change in tactics took place. Interestingly, this was detailed by a German War Correspondent. “Until now, every mission. has only been aimed at the south coast of England. They have not yet made an attempt to attack the English hinterland. So they prepare Operation Ypsilon, all the better because this attack shall hit industrial works on the other side of the range of hills which stretch behind the south coast. Only two ‘planes are going to carry out this difficult mission.”
September and October 1942 saw a reduction in the number of raids, with Kent and Sussex receiving the brunt of the attacks. In order to ensure the success of attacks, the fighter-bombers, due to the increasing RAF response, began to be provided with their own escorts.
On the evening of 31 October 1942, the Luftwaffe carried out its largest daylight attack on Britain since 1940, spurred on by Hitler who had become increasingly annoyed by Bomber Command’s offensive. The target was Canterbury.
The attack was carried out purely by fighter-bombers, nineteen coming from the two recognised Jabo staffels, the rest were a number of temporary fighter-bombers drawn from traditional fighter units. The total force numbered sixty-two Fw 190s. Whilst it was a success for the Luftwaffe and an embarrassment for the British, the raid was effectively the last Tip and Run attack of any substance that year.
The New Year brought a spike in activity. As another reprisal for Bomber Command’s attacks, more specifically those on Berlin on 16 and 17 January 1943, twenty-eight fighter-bombers attacked the London Docks area at lunchtime on 20 January. A further twelve Jabos carried out a diversionary attack on the Isle of Wight and Tunbridge Wells.
When the weather permitted, attacks during January and February 1943 were carried out from as far west as Torquay to as far east as Margate with the usual selection of targets – gasholders, prominent buildings, railway junctions and lines and town centres.
In addition to the two established fighter-bomber squadrons, a dedicated Jabo group had begun to form in December 1942. Schnellkampfgeschwader 10 (SKG 10) flew its first operational sortie on 7 March 1943, and by the 31st of the month had ninety aircraft available to attack Britain, an additional twenty-eight being assigned to it when the two original fighter-bomber units came under its control early in April 1943. The increased availability of aircraft allowed the Luftwaffe’s area of operations to be extended, the Jabos now striking as far north-east as Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex.
With the new force fully prepared, May 1943 saw a sharp increase in massed Tip and Run attacks – twelve specific targets were attacked in one seven-day period. On two days, two attacks were made simultaneously in an attempt to split the RAF’s fighter defences, all the attacks occurring either early in the morning, lunchtime or late in the evening, maximising their irritation to the civilian population. Night time raids were also introduced.
Despite the devastating success of many of these attacks, and only a small number of aircraft losses, the Luftwaffe was seemingly unaware of the results it had achieved in May 1943. German propaganda broadcasts, usually boastful of such attacks, preferred to play down the successes of the “fast bombers”. Indeed, far from building on its success, by the end of June the Tip and Run campaign had suddenly ended.
The reasons for this have never been satisfactorily explained. The fact that German post-attack intelligence, normally quite poor throughout the war, underestimated what the attacks had achieved undoubtedly did little to support their continuation, as did the fact that the nocturnal Tip and Run raids generally failed to live up to expectations.
Perhaps the real reason why the Tip and Run attacks ended was far simpler in that there were few fighter-bombers available for such raids left in north-west Europe. Believing that the greatest threat from the Allies lay in the Mediterranean theatre, the “soft underbelly of Europe”, the Luftwaffe had begun moving aircraft from northern France and the Low Countries. So drastic was the drain on resources in this region that by the end of June 1943 the only Jabo unit still in northern France was the nocturnal wing of SKG 10.
For those who had lived for fifteen months under the threat of a Jabo attack, the reasons why they had suddenly ended were of little concern – they were just grateful that the skies had, for the time being, become relatively quiet.