Thousand Bomber Raid

In Britain, General Alan Brooke and Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal had been having an increasingly acrimonious spat about the use of air power, with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff arguing vehemently for a separate Army air arm independent of the RAF. Portal had rebuffed such a suggestion, arguing there were not anything like enough aircraft operating to justify such a move and pointing out the by now well-trodden argument that airmen, rather than soldiers, were the best placed to judge how air forces should most effectively be used. Coningham’s men had certainly proved that point very clearly.

Things were also looking up for Bomber Command. At the end of May, Air Marshal Harris had launched the first-ever Thousand Bomber Raid against Cologne. Although the daily numbers in his squadrons had still been only around 400, by scouring Training Command and borrowing 250 aircraft from Coastal Command, as well as using aircraft that really were almost obsolete, he had managed to reach the magic 1,000 mark – 1,047 to be precise. It was a high-risk coup de théâtre, but one that proved, on the whole, pretty successful, inflicting heavy damage on an important target. The German High Command had been pleasingly appalled – in fact, as early as the end of April, well before the raid, they had already been muttering to the Italian delegation at Salzburg about the effects of bomb damage.

Most importantly, the raid was a terrific public-relations success, which is exactly what Harris had hoped. Headlines about it were splashed all over British newspapers. In her diary, Gwladys Cox excitedly quoted London’s Evening Standard. ‘“This is the most glorious First of June in all our island’s annals,”’ it claimed, ‘and all because “some 1,000 young British pilots have thwarted Hitler’s strategy anew.”’ ‘1,500 PLANES IN BIGGEST RAID,’ pronounced the Daily Mirror. ‘3,000 TONS BOMB STORM’. ‘German radio began to wail last night about the great RAF raid on Cologne,’ it added gleefully. ‘A special transmission from Cologne said: “Much misery had come over our town.”’ That papers like the Mirror were blatantly exaggerating didn’t bother Harris one jot. Two more similar raids followed in the ensuing weeks and, although it was not something Harris could mount regularly, they did much to stop the back-sniping and show all concerned that Bomber Command could, after all, pose a serious threat to Germany’s war machine.

Harris was also now receiving increased numbers of two exciting new aircraft. The first was the twin-engine de Havilland Mosquito, which had been conceived as a light and very fast bomber but was proving its use in other ways as a reconnaissance and even fighter aircraft. Most, however, were heading straight to Bomber Command and, because they were largely – and incredibly – built of wood and had a maximum speed of over 400 mph, they were not only immune to most radar, but there was no German plane that could catch them. With the potential to carry bombs as well as cannons and machine guns, the Mosquito was a highly versatile and extremely fine aircraft.

The machine that Harris wanted as his workhorse, however, was the Avro Lancaster, which back in April had already dropped the war’s first 8,000lb bomb. Numbers were only slowly rising, but gradually Harris was able to increase those squadrons now equipped with this big bomber. His aim was for the whole of 5 Group to be equipped with Lancasters and he was keenly aware that until then, and until navigational aids improved, little meaningful damage could be inflicted on Germany.

These difficulties and the logistical issues of converting a squadron of four-man crews into one of seven was just one of the challenges facing Guy Gibson, who was now a Wing Commander and the CO of 106 Squadron, one of the squadrons currently converting from the troublesome twin-engine Avro Manchester to the bigger and better four-engine Lancaster.

Gibson’s Lancasters arrived five at a time from the Avro plant at Woodford near Manchester, flown in by the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). Harris was planning to set up special Heavy Conversion Units, but Gibson and his squadron – which, including staff and ground crew, amounted to around 800 men – were to convert and train themselves. He was twenty-three.

Also still new to Bomber Command was a navigational device called GEE, first tested the previous year. This was a radar pulse system that enabled a navigator on board an aircraft to fix his position by measuring the distance of pulses from three different ground stations in England. It was hoped this would massively improve navigation and thus, in turn, bombing accuracy, but it was not proving as accurate as scientists had hoped. The Ruhr industrial heartland was about the limit of its range and it was nothing like good enough to aid blind flying. This meant Harris’s bombers were still largely dependent on clear skies and preferably a half-decent moon – but that in turn made them easier targets for German flak-gunners and night-fighters. Furthermore, by the summer of 1942, as scientific and technological developments on one side were repeatedly answered on the other, the Germans had successfully worked out how to effectively jam GEE. As the British had trumped Knickebein, so the Germans had found an answer to Harris’s latest navigational leap forward.

Although 106 Squadron contributed eleven aircraft to the Thousand Bomber Raid, Gibson was ill, much to his frustration, and so missed it. After recuperation and leave, he finally flew his first combat operation in a Lancaster on the night of 8/9 July. ‘I’m always terrified every time I go on ops,’ he later confessed to a fellow pilot. Standing around the crew rooms before the flight was the worst part. ‘It’s a horrible business,’ Gibson wrote. ‘Your stomach feels as though it wants to hit your backbone. You can’t stand still.’ He found he would smoke far too many cigarettes, laugh too loudly, and sometimes had to go to the lavatory because he felt sick. Somehow, once he was in the cockpit with the engines running, ready to take off, he felt better. ‘Then it’s all right. Just another job.’

That night, they attacked Wilhelmshaven, one of 285 aircraft. ‘Very dark but good,’ Gibson jotted in his logbook. ‘Bombed from 12,000 feet. Bombs fell in dock areas but not sure whether submarine yards were hit. Opposition fairly accurate.’ They had not hit the U-boat yards, as it happened. Rather, reports suggested damage to the dockyard buildings, a department store and a number of houses. Some twenty-five were killed and a further 170 injured. This rather insignificant return from so much effort underlined the problem of strategic bombing nearly three years into the war: that what was needed was very many more big aircraft with better means of achieving bombing accuracy.

The Thousand Bomber Raid had done severe damage to both the reputation of Germany’s night-fighters and the Luftwaffe leadership. At the time of the attack on Cologne, Göring was entertaining Milch and Speer at Burg Veldenstein, his childhood home near Nuremburg, and that night he was rung personally by Hitler, who told him the Cologne Gauleiter – governor – had reported hundreds of bombers over the city. How could this be, Hitler wanted to know. Göring assured him the Gauleiter was mistaken – only seventy had come over, he told the Führer blithely; in truth, he had no idea. The following morning, Göring learned that around forty had been shot down, which then looked like a big victory until London announced that over a thousand bombers had indeed raided Cologne. When Hitler confronted him, Göring squirmed that this was a lie, and ordered Jeschonnek to play along. ‘It is out of the question,’ Hitler told his own staff, ‘that only seventy or eighty bombers attacked. I never capitulate to an unpleasant truth. I must see clearly if I am to draw the proper conclusions.’ That was rubbish, but it was also neither here nor there. Göring’s and the Luftwaffe’s reputation had taken a big dent.

Despite this, Milch’s overhaul of aircraft production was going reasonably well. He had successfully removed Willi Messerschmitt from managerial control and had stopped the cosy up-front payments for aircraft delivery. This had been disastrous for the Heinkel company, which had enabled Milch to push Ernst Heinkel into a purely development role too. Junker was also brought under tighter financial control, which meant that three of the major aircraft producers, previously rather errant, unfocused and hugely wasteful, were now directly under Milch’s eagle eye.

He had also put in a number of rationalization measures, which had seen production numbers rise while consumption of aluminium had stayed the same. Fighter production, for example, had risen from just over 200 a month at the end of 1941 to 349 per month by June – a trend that would continue to rise. None the less, Milch was still saddled with some projects that he could do little about. Aircraft, from first drawings to large-scale production, took about four years, and so in the middle of 1942 the Luftwaffe was still dealing with planes that had first been brought to the table before the war.

The Heinkel 177, for example, had not gone away, but was still being tinkered with and tweaked because it was too late to start afresh on a completely new four-engine bomber. Göring had only finally seen this monster in May on a visit to the aircraft-testing base at Rechlin and had been horrified to learn that its four engines had been coupled, one on top of the other, so that each pair powered one propeller. Incredibly, until then the C-in-C of the Luftwaffe had not known about this feature on the only major heavy bomber being developed. ‘How is such an engine to be serviced on the airfields?’ he railed. ‘I believe I am right in saying you cannot even take out the sparking plugs without pulling the engine apart!’ A few weeks later, on a visit with Speer to the Peenemünde research establishment, they saw an He177 taking off on a test flight with 4 tons of bombs. Soon after, it banked to the starboard, side-slipped and blew up. A coupling had broken on the propeller shaft.

There had also been problems with the FW190’s engine, the BMW 801D, and with the Me109G’s Daimler-Benz DB605. By the summer, these were being ironed out, but it meant the build-up of the Luftwaffe was still not as fast as Milch, Göring or Hitler would have liked. Milch was not only deeply shaken by the first Thousand Bomber Raid, but was also obsessed with production figures from Britain and the threat of American mass production. The attack on Cologne had given him a stark indication of what was to come. ‘Comparison of German aircraft production with the figures available to us from Britain,’ he told Göring in June, ‘shows that the British are making both more bombers and fighters than we are.’ Göring was dumbfounded.

With this inevitable bomber onslaught coming, it was the defence of the Reich that now dominated Milch’s thoughts on strategy. Protecting Germany adequately was taken very seriously by the Luftwaffe High Command and the dressing-down Göring had received following the Thousand Bomber Raid had demonstrated that in this they were not alone. Luftwaffe flak units had in fact been fewer at the beginning of 1942 than they had been six months earlier due to the heavy losses over the Eastern Front. However, from April, improvements were made as concentrations of three flak batteries were attached to one radar detection unit, and by increasing the number of guns per battery from four to six for heavies, twelve to fifteen for light, with from nine to twelve searchlights per searchlight battery. Furthermore, heavy guns were gradually being upgraded from the 10.5cm models to the much harder-hitting and more powerful 12.8cm, which had a much bigger burst range, and from the 150cm models to 200cm. Overall, numbers of flak units would rise by 35 per cent in 1942 and within the Luftwaffe Command Centre, based in Berlin and responsible for the defence of the Reich, there were eight ‘Air Districts’, which included 838 heavy flak batteries in all and 538 medium and light flak batteries. That amounted to over 13,000 guns. Already, then, Bomber Command was making an impact, for that was a lot of German guns and manpower that were not being used at the front.

While the Luftwaffe was growing its flak defences, the night-fighters under General Josef Kammhuber had continued to achieve some notable successes, and none more than Helmut Lent. By May, he had thirty night victories to his name as well as a Knight’s Cross, and was also now commander of his own Gruppe, II/NJG2, feted by Hitler and Göring and known throughout the Reich as the leading night-fighter ace. Like Guy Gibson, he had still been only twenty-three years old when he took command of the Gruppe back in January.

The Thousand Bomber Raid, however, had also underlined the need to improve radar both on the ground and in the air, as well as to increase the number of night-fighters, as Kammhuber had been repeatedly urging since the summer of 1940. The Himmelbett system used on the so-called Kammhuber Line worked because a night-fighter could be vectored to a lone enemy bomber in any one zone at a time. Back in England, Dr R. V. Jones, who had earlier cracked the Knickebein and X-Gerät beam systems, now worked out that if bombers crossed over into occupied Europe using the same route and in quick succession, not only would collisions be minimized but the Himmelbett zone over which they crossed would quickly become overwhelmed and no longer work – as Lent discovered on the night of the first Thousand Bomber Raid. Although he had been one of those who had taken off to intercept the attack on Cologne, even he had been unable to engage a single bomber. This new tactic by Bomber Command was known as the ‘bomber stream’.

New radar and navigation technology was being developed in Germany, however. A ‘giant’ Würzburg radar had started to come into service, as had an improved Freya known as a Mammut. Both were essentially the same as earlier models but with larger reflectors, which gave them increased range. A further radar, the Wassermann, was the finest early-warning radar that had yet been developed anywhere in the world, with a range of some 150 miles and fully rotational. Finally, in early 1942, the Lichtenstein onboard radar set came into service. With a maximum range of 2 miles and minimum of 200 yards, Kammhuber had hoped this would be a crucial piece of equipment and had urged Hitler to give Lichtenstein the highest priority in production.

The first four sets were fitted to some of Helmut Lent’s aircraft at Leeuwarden, where its shortcomings quickly became apparent. For Lichtenstein to work, large aerials and reflectors had to be added to the nose of the aircraft, which acted as an airbrake and badly affected the machine’s handling. Most pilots, like Lent, would rather stick to the system of improved ground radar and being vectored to the target by ground controllers. Certainly he was managing just fine without Lichtenstein – in June 1942, he flew ten combat sorties and shot down nine, including a Halifax destroyed during a raid on Bremen. ‘Once again, God mercifully looked after me when I was in action,’ Lent wrote in a letter to his parents. ‘The 40th was a hard, four-engined nut to crack. Praise be to God, he didn’t succeed in dropping his bombs on Germany. He was forced to jettison them, and I was able to see just what the monsters can carry. Down below, a path of high explosives and incendiaries a kilometre long flared up.’

In the air, out at sea and on land too, British and German forces continued to battle it out that summer of 1942. In North Africa, however, the British had managed to avert annihilation. Along the Alamein Line, deadlock had been reached. After Rommel had put his Panzerarmee on to the defensive, the Auk had twice tried to turn the tables and break the position, but each time the Axis forces had held. Now, both sides were exhausted.

Eighth Army had been saved and the deep crisis at the beginning of the month had passed. None the less, while to the Germans it was clear that Rommel had once again overreached his forces, to the British it was also clear that change was needed. The first six months of 1942 had thrown a succession of bitter and humiliating blows at the British war effort. That trend needed to be reversed, and quickly.

In Britain, General Alan Brooke and Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal had been having an increasingly acrimonious spat about the use of air power, with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff arguing vehemently for a separate Army air arm independent of the RAF. Portal had rebuffed such a suggestion, arguing there were not anything like enough aircraft operating to justify such a move and pointing out the by now well-trodden argument that airmen, rather than soldiers, were the best placed to judge how air forces should most effectively be used. Coningham’s men had certainly proved that point very clearly.

Things were also looking up for Bomber Command. At the end of May, Air Marshal Harris had launched the first-ever Thousand Bomber Raid against Cologne. Although the daily numbers in his squadrons had still been only around 400, by scouring Training Command and borrowing 250 aircraft from Coastal Command, as well as using aircraft that really were almost obsolete, he had managed to reach the magic 1,000 mark – 1,047 to be precise. It was a high-risk coup de théâtre, but one that proved, on the whole, pretty successful, inflicting heavy damage on an important target. The German High Command had been pleasingly appalled – in fact, as early as the end of April, well before the raid, they had already been muttering to the Italian delegation at Salzburg about the effects of bomb damage.

Most importantly, the raid was a terrific public-relations success, which is exactly what Harris had hoped. Headlines about it were splashed all over British newspapers. In her diary, Gwladys Cox excitedly quoted London’s Evening Standard. ‘“This is the most glorious First of June in all our island’s annals,”’ it claimed, ‘and all because “some 1,000 young British pilots have thwarted Hitler’s strategy anew.”’ ‘1,500 PLANES IN BIGGEST RAID,’ pronounced the Daily Mirror. ‘3,000 TONS BOMB STORM’. ‘German radio began to wail last night about the great RAF raid on Cologne,’ it added gleefully. ‘A special transmission from Cologne said: “Much misery had come over our town.”’ That papers like the Mirror were blatantly exaggerating didn’t bother Harris one jot. Two more similar raids followed in the ensuing weeks and, although it was not something Harris could mount regularly, they did much to stop the back-sniping and show all concerned that Bomber Command could, after all, pose a serious threat to Germany’s war machine.

Harris was also now receiving increased numbers of two exciting new aircraft. The first was the twin-engine de Havilland Mosquito, which had been conceived as a light and very fast bomber but was proving its use in other ways as a reconnaissance and even fighter aircraft. Most, however, were heading straight to Bomber Command and, because they were largely – and incredibly – built of wood and had a maximum speed of over 400 mph, they were not only immune to most radar, but there was no German plane that could catch them. With the potential to carry bombs as well as cannons and machine guns, the Mosquito was a highly versatile and extremely fine aircraft.

The machine that Harris wanted as his workhorse, however, was the Avro Lancaster, which back in April had already dropped the war’s first 8,000lb bomb. Numbers were only slowly rising, but gradually Harris was able to increase those squadrons now equipped with this big bomber. His aim was for the whole of 5 Group to be equipped with Lancasters and he was keenly aware that until then, and until navigational aids improved, little meaningful damage could be inflicted on Germany.

These difficulties and the logistical issues of converting a squadron of four-man crews into one of seven was just one of the challenges facing Guy Gibson, who was now a Wing Commander and the CO of 106 Squadron, one of the squadrons currently converting from the troublesome twin-engine Avro Manchester to the bigger and better four-engine Lancaster.

Gibson’s Lancasters arrived five at a time from the Avro plant at Woodford near Manchester, flown in by the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). Harris was planning to set up special Heavy Conversion Units, but Gibson and his squadron – which, including staff and ground crew, amounted to around 800 men – were to convert and train themselves. He was twenty-three.

Also still new to Bomber Command was a navigational device called GEE, first tested the previous year. This was a radar pulse system that enabled a navigator on board an aircraft to fix his position by measuring the distance of pulses from three different ground stations in England. It was hoped this would massively improve navigation and thus, in turn, bombing accuracy, but it was not proving as accurate as scientists had hoped. The Ruhr industrial heartland was about the limit of its range and it was nothing like good enough to aid blind flying. This meant Harris’s bombers were still largely dependent on clear skies and preferably a half-decent moon – but that in turn made them easier targets for German flak-gunners and night-fighters. Furthermore, by the summer of 1942, as scientific and technological developments on one side were repeatedly answered on the other, the Germans had successfully worked out how to effectively jam GEE. As the British had trumped Knickebein, so the Germans had found an answer to Harris’s latest navigational leap forward.

Although 106 Squadron contributed eleven aircraft to the Thousand Bomber Raid, Gibson was ill, much to his frustration, and so missed it. After recuperation and leave, he finally flew his first combat operation in a Lancaster on the night of 8/9 July. ‘I’m always terrified every time I go on ops,’ he later confessed to a fellow pilot. Standing around the crew rooms before the flight was the worst part. ‘It’s a horrible business,’ Gibson wrote. ‘Your stomach feels as though it wants to hit your backbone. You can’t stand still.’ He found he would smoke far too many cigarettes, laugh too loudly, and sometimes had to go to the lavatory because he felt sick. Somehow, once he was in the cockpit with the engines running, ready to take off, he felt better. ‘Then it’s all right. Just another job.’

That night, they attacked Wilhelmshaven, one of 285 aircraft. ‘Very dark but good,’ Gibson jotted in his logbook. ‘Bombed from 12,000 feet. Bombs fell in dock areas but not sure whether submarine yards were hit. Opposition fairly accurate.’ They had not hit the U-boat yards, as it happened. Rather, reports suggested damage to the dockyard buildings, a department store and a number of houses. Some twenty-five were killed and a further 170 injured. This rather insignificant return from so much effort underlined the problem of strategic bombing nearly three years into the war: that what was needed was very many more big aircraft with better means of achieving bombing accuracy.

The Thousand Bomber Raid had done severe damage to both the reputation of Germany’s night-fighters and the Luftwaffe leadership. At the time of the attack on Cologne, Göring was entertaining Milch and Speer at Burg Veldenstein, his childhood home near Nuremburg, and that night he was rung personally by Hitler, who told him the Cologne Gauleiter – governor – had reported hundreds of bombers over the city. How could this be, Hitler wanted to know. Göring assured him the Gauleiter was mistaken – only seventy had come over, he told the Führer blithely; in truth, he had no idea. The following morning, Göring learned that around forty had been shot down, which then looked like a big victory until London announced that over a thousand bombers had indeed raided Cologne. When Hitler confronted him, Göring squirmed that this was a lie, and ordered Jeschonnek to play along. ‘It is out of the question,’ Hitler told his own staff, ‘that only seventy or eighty bombers attacked. I never capitulate to an unpleasant truth. I must see clearly if I am to draw the proper conclusions.’ That was rubbish, but it was also neither here nor there. Göring’s and the Luftwaffe’s reputation had taken a big dent.

Despite this, Milch’s overhaul of aircraft production was going reasonably well. He had successfully removed Willi Messerschmitt from managerial control and had stopped the cosy up-front payments for aircraft delivery. This had been disastrous for the Heinkel company, which had enabled Milch to push Ernst Heinkel into a purely development role too. Junker was also brought under tighter financial control, which meant that three of the major aircraft producers, previously rather errant, unfocused and hugely wasteful, were now directly under Milch’s eagle eye.

He had also put in a number of rationalization measures, which had seen production numbers rise while consumption of aluminium had stayed the same. Fighter production, for example, had risen from just over 200 a month at the end of 1941 to 349 per month by June – a trend that would continue to rise. None the less, Milch was still saddled with some projects that he could do little about. Aircraft, from first drawings to large-scale production, took about four years, and so in the middle of 1942 the Luftwaffe was still dealing with planes that had first been brought to the table before the war.

The Heinkel 177, for example, had not gone away, but was still being tinkered with and tweaked because it was too late to start afresh on a completely new four-engine bomber. Göring had only finally seen this monster in May on a visit to the aircraft-testing base at Rechlin and had been horrified to learn that its four engines had been coupled, one on top of the other, so that each pair powered one propeller. Incredibly, until then the C-in-C of the Luftwaffe had not known about this feature on the only major heavy bomber being developed. ‘How is such an engine to be serviced on the airfields?’ he railed. ‘I believe I am right in saying you cannot even take out the sparking plugs without pulling the engine apart!’ A few weeks later, on a visit with Speer to the Peenemünde research establishment, they saw an He177 taking off on a test flight with 4 tons of bombs. Soon after, it banked to the starboard, side-slipped and blew up. A coupling had broken on the propeller shaft.

There had also been problems with the FW190’s engine, the BMW 801D, and with the Me109G’s Daimler-Benz DB605. By the summer, these were being ironed out, but it meant the build-up of the Luftwaffe was still not as fast as Milch, Göring or Hitler would have liked. Milch was not only deeply shaken by the first Thousand Bomber Raid, but was also obsessed with production figures from Britain and the threat of American mass production. The attack on Cologne had given him a stark indication of what was to come. ‘Comparison of German aircraft production with the figures available to us from Britain,’ he told Göring in June, ‘shows that the British are making both more bombers and fighters than we are.’ Göring was dumbfounded.

With this inevitable bomber onslaught coming, it was the defence of the Reich that now dominated Milch’s thoughts on strategy. Protecting Germany adequately was taken very seriously by the Luftwaffe High Command and the dressing-down Göring had received following the Thousand Bomber Raid had demonstrated that in this they were not alone. Luftwaffe flak units had in fact been fewer at the beginning of 1942 than they had been six months earlier due to the heavy losses over the Eastern Front. However, from April, improvements were made as concentrations of three flak batteries were attached to one radar detection unit, and by increasing the number of guns per battery from four to six for heavies, twelve to fifteen for light, with from nine to twelve searchlights per searchlight battery. Furthermore, heavy guns were gradually being upgraded from the 10.5cm models to the much harder-hitting and more powerful 12.8cm, which had a much bigger burst range, and from the 150cm models to 200cm. Overall, numbers of flak units would rise by 35 per cent in 1942 and within the Luftwaffe Command Centre, based in Berlin and responsible for the defence of the Reich, there were eight ‘Air Districts’, which included 838 heavy flak batteries in all and 538 medium and light flak batteries. That amounted to over 13,000 guns. Already, then, Bomber Command was making an impact, for that was a lot of German guns and manpower that were not being used at the front.

While the Luftwaffe was growing its flak defences, the night-fighters under General Josef Kammhuber had continued to achieve some notable successes, and none more than Helmut Lent. By May, he had thirty night victories to his name as well as a Knight’s Cross, and was also now commander of his own Gruppe, II/NJG2, feted by Hitler and Göring and known throughout the Reich as the leading night-fighter ace. Like Guy Gibson, he had still been only twenty-three years old when he took command of the Gruppe back in January.

The Thousand Bomber Raid, however, had also underlined the need to improve radar both on the ground and in the air, as well as to increase the number of night-fighters, as Kammhuber had been repeatedly urging since the summer of 1940. The Himmelbett system used on the so-called Kammhuber Line worked because a night-fighter could be vectored to a lone enemy bomber in any one zone at a time. Back in England, Dr R. V. Jones, who had earlier cracked the Knickebein and X-Gerät beam systems, now worked out that if bombers crossed over into occupied Europe using the same route and in quick succession, not only would collisions be minimized but the Himmelbett zone over which they crossed would quickly become overwhelmed and no longer work – as Lent discovered on the night of the first Thousand Bomber Raid. Although he had been one of those who had taken off to intercept the attack on Cologne, even he had been unable to engage a single bomber. This new tactic by Bomber Command was known as the ‘bomber stream’.

New radar and navigation technology was being developed in Germany, however. A ‘giant’ Würzburg radar had started to come into service, as had an improved Freya known as a Mammut. Both were essentially the same as earlier models but with larger reflectors, which gave them increased range. A further radar, the Wassermann, was the finest early-warning radar that had yet been developed anywhere in the world, with a range of some 150 miles and fully rotational. Finally, in early 1942, the Lichtenstein onboard radar set came into service. With a maximum range of 2 miles and minimum of 200 yards, Kammhuber had hoped this would be a crucial piece of equipment and had urged Hitler to give Lichtenstein the highest priority in production.

The first four sets were fitted to some of Helmut Lent’s aircraft at Leeuwarden, where its shortcomings quickly became apparent. For Lichtenstein to work, large aerials and reflectors had to be added to the nose of the aircraft, which acted as an airbrake and badly affected the machine’s handling. Most pilots, like Lent, would rather stick to the system of improved ground radar and being vectored to the target by ground controllers. Certainly he was managing just fine without Lichtenstein – in June 1942, he flew ten combat sorties and shot down nine, including a Halifax destroyed during a raid on Bremen. ‘Once again, God mercifully looked after me when I was in action,’ Lent wrote in a letter to his parents. ‘The 40th was a hard, four-engined nut to crack. Praise be to God, he didn’t succeed in dropping his bombs on Germany. He was forced to jettison them, and I was able to see just what the monsters can carry. Down below, a path of high explosives and incendiaries a kilometre long flared up.’

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