Luftwaffe Raid on Portsmouth, 15 August 1943

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Luftwaffe Raid on Portsmouth 15 August 1943

Dornier Do.217E-4 Unit: III/KG 2 Dieppe raid, on August 19th, 1942.

Dornier Do.217E-4 Unit: 6./KG 2 Summer 1942.

Dornier Do.217M Unit: 2./KG 2 Netherlands, Winter 1943-1944.

Dornier Do.217M Unit: 9./KG 2 The aircraft equipped with DB.603

I & II./KG2, Oberstleutnant Karl Kessel, CO 18 May 1943 – February

By this time, large scale German air attacks on Britain had
come to a halt with the transfer of the bulk of the bomber force to the Eastern
front. Do 217s concentrated on anti-shipping work. However, this quiescent
period came to an abrupt halt following the powerful RAF attack which destroyed
much of Luebeck on 28 March. Hitler demanded retaliation and in the month that
followed German bombers, for the most part Do 217s of KG2, launched two sharp
attacks on Exeter and two more on Bath. On the very night that Bath was under
attack, however, the RAF was engaged in a series of four destructive raids on
the German town of Rostock. Hitler was apoplectic at this affront and in an
impassioned speech he spoke of taking a copy of Baedeker’s guidebook and marking
off each British city as it was razed to the ground. Because of this the series
of attacks became known in Britain as the Baedeker Raids. During the late
spring of 1942, Bath, Norwich, York, Cowes, Hull and Poole, Grimsby and Exeter,
all suffered varying degrees of damage. But the German bombers had to penetrate
the increasingly powerful British night fighter and gun defenses, and suffered
heavy losses. The series of attacks ended with three raids on Birmingham and
one on Hull at the end of July, which cost the Luftwaffe 27 aircraft and caused
only minor damage.

Following this battering Kampfgeschwader 2, which was now
the only bomber unit operational with the Do 217, was withdrawn from operations
over Britain to make good the losses suffered. But the respite was to prove
short lived. On 19 August Allied forces launched the large-scale seaborne raid
on Dieppe and virtually all operational Luftwaffe units in France and Belgium
went into action in defense of the port, Operating by day, the Dorniers came up
against powerful standing patrols of Spitfires. The Germans suffered
catastrophic losses. Out of a total of about 80 planes committed by KG2 many of
them flown by trainee crews 20 were shot down. Having started the year with an
average strength of 88 trained crews, by September 1942 KG2 was down to 23.

KG2 took little part in operations for the rest of the year.
At the end of 1942 two improved versions of the Do 217 entered service the K
and the M. Both of these had more powerful engines and a redesigned low drag
nose profile. The K model was fitted with the new BMW 801 D radial engine
developing 1,700hp, while the M employed the similarly powerful liquid cooled
Daimler Benz 603 in line. The two new variants were about 20mph faster than the
earlier E model. In addition to their greater speed the new Dorniers had the advantage
of carrying tail warning radar to reduce the chances of surprise fighter attack
at night, and radio altimeters to make possible a low-level penetration of
defenses at night or in poor visibility.

With these technical improvements the revitalized KG2
recommenced its operations over Britain early in 1943.

During these night attacks the Do 217s exploited every
possible stratagem to avoid the attentions of the defenses: a low-level
approach, climbing to medium level to bomb then letting down to low level for
the withdrawal; a high-level approach, bombing during a shallow descent and
making the withdrawal. Since the bombers’ targets were rarely more than 50
miles inland, these methods helped a lot to keep the German losses down. Even
so, the defenders were able to take their toll. During March 1943 alone,
Kampfgeschwader 2 lost 23 complete crews.

Typical of the German raids on Britain in the summer of 1943
was that by 91 planes on Portsmouth, on 15 August. The Dornier 217s of the
First and Third Gruppen of KG2 operated from St Andre and Dreux respectively,
both near Paris. After takeoff the bombers funneled together over Cap D’Antifer
near Le Havre and headed NW across the sea flying at an altitude of 200ft,
beneath the prying beams of the British radar. At a point 24 miles south of
Brighton the bombers commenced their climb, aiming to arrive over Portsmouth at
15,000ft. The actual attack was delivered soon after 0100 on the morning of the
16th. It lasted about 10 minutes. Afterwards the bombers turned to port and
withdrew along the route they had come. Such a low-level approach to a coastal
target should have given the raiders the advantage of surprise. But the RAF
night fighters proved their alertness by shooting down five of the attackers –
all Do 217s. Four of the bombers fell to the Mosquitoes of No 256 Squadron,
based at Ford near Bognor, Sussex.

The Dornier 217 was involved in the resurgence of air
activity over Britain in early 1944. But the units operating the type
represented less than a fifth of the force involved. By that time the
performance of the Do 217 was not good enough to enable it to survive without
heavy losses in the face of the powerful defenses.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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