The Nuremberg Raid 70th Anniversary Commemoration and Luftwaffe Intruder Airfield Attack  

The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre held its most poignant and indeed significant commemorative event of 2014 on a cold, but otherwise dry and bright, Saturday 29 March. Located on the former RAF East Kirkby, L.A.H.C. was formed over 25 years ago by brothers Fred & Harold Panton, to commemorate not just Bomber Command but also their brother Christopher who was killed in action 70 years ago during the fateful night of 30/31 March 1944 – the Nuremberg Raid. 

 

The Nuremberg Raid (Operation GRAYLING) marked the end of Bomber Command’s four month long ‘Battle of Berlin’. The campaign was conceived by the Command’s Chief Sir Arthur Harris to bring concentrated attacks against large German cites with a wartime industrial or military role, in the belief that it would break both civilian morale and the capability of the German military to continue the war in Europe. Very much on Harris’ mind at this stage of the war was the need to shortly cease operations against German strategic targets and temporarily re-assign his heavy bomber assets to a more tactical role over France in support of the forthcoming Operation OVERLORD (D-Day).

 

Nuremberg, in the state of Bavaria, was described by Adolf Hitler as "the most German of German cities" and as such was of significant interest to the Nazi Party who had used the city as the location of its regular pre-war political rallies. Futhermore, Nuremberg was an industrial city of some 426,000 inhabitants with major factories producing numerous items vital to the German war effort. The city had not been bombed by the Allies for seven months, and was thus chosen as Bomber Command's final major German target prior to the change of strategy.

 

At this point I would recommend reading both Martin Middlebrook’s ‘The Nuremberg Raid’ and John Nichol’s ‘The Red Line’ for a far more thorough examination and narrative of the raid.

 

The proposed route to the target resulted in lengthy discussions between HQ Bomber Command and its Group Commanders. Of concern was one part of the route which featured an unprecetented 265 mile direct leg, running close to night fighter airfields and their assembly beacons & flak and searchlight concentrations; added to this was a poor weather forecast and bright phase of the moon, making the Royal Air Force bombers considerably more vulnerable to the German defences compared to a more typical route involving ‘dog legs’ and other feints designed to confuse the enemy defences. Despite these concerns, the raid was launched and the main target was subsequently attacked by 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and nine Mosquitos.

 

 

  • RAF Bomber aircraft took off from English airfields as far north as RAF Dishforth in Yorkshire, through Lincolnshire and as far south as Wrattling Common in Cambridgeshire. 

  

  • In around 60 minutes of combat a staggering 82 RAF bombers were shot down by Luftwaffe night fighters and flak on the approaches to their target, with a further 13 lost on their return flight.  

 

  • 64 Lancasters and 31 Halifaxes, 11.9 per cent of the force dispatched, were shot down and a further eleven aircraft crashed on return to the United Kingdom or were written off; seventy more bombers sustained varying levels of battle damage. 

 

  • On this one night 547 aircrew were Killed in Action, 157 became Prisoners of War and 11 evaded capture. The RAF losses in this one night were higher than those suffered by Fighter Command during the entire duration of the Battle of Britain.

  

  • RAF East Kirkby’s 57 & 630 Squadrons took part in the raid with Lancasters ND622 DX-E, ND337 LE-S, JB288 LE-H & ME664 LE-T Failing to Return, although 16 aircrew survived with one going on to evade capture. 

 

  • Schräge Musik equipped Luftwaffe night fighters produced devastating results during the Nuremberg Raid (translated as jazz or slanting music - upward-firing gun installations).  Although deployed from the winter of 1943, Bomber Command was slow to react to the threat from Schräge Musik, with no reports available from downed crews confirming the new menace in the skies. The sudden increase in bomber losses had often been attributed to flak. Initial reports from air gunners of German night fighters stalking their prey from below had appeared as early as 1943, but had been discounted. An urban myth developed around reports, made by Bomber Command crews, who claimed 'scarecrow shells' were encountered over Germany. The phenomenon was thought to be "AA shells simulating an exploding four-engined bomber and designed to damage morale.” Sadly, in many cases these were actual 'kills' by Luftwaffe night fighters... It was not for many months that evidence of these deadly attacks was accepted.

The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre promised a memorable day to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Raid, and they certainly exceeded all expectations in that respect. Given the significance of the event, resident Avro Lancaster NX611 Just Jane performed three taxy runs; noon, 3pm and a rare night run at 7pm with Mike Leckey, Keith Brenchley and Sean Taylor on-board.        

 

 Within the main hangar a series of large information boards were presented; these told the story of the raid and its aftermath in great detail. A lecture on the raid commenced at 4pm, with Mike Chatterton standing in for the sadly absent author Martin Middlebrook; but with Mike's late father John a veteran of the raid, he was more than qualified to present a most interesting and detailed lecture on the raid to the large audience gathered in the main hangar. 

 

Undoubtedly though, the ‘Nuremberg Cross’ was the most moving memorial to the events of seventy years ago – located near the airfield’s control tower, the large cross displayed details of aircraft and aircrew losses during the raid with a coloured glow stick to display the fate of each crew member. This simple but ever so effective display drew a constant stream of visibly moved visitors throughout the day and long into the evening.       

 

Bringing the night to an end was a stunning recreation of a Luftwaffe intruder attack from 4 March 1945, when a JU88 joined the circuit searching for Lancasters returning from a raid against Ladburgen. Having narrowly missed four aircraft landing, the intruder turned its attentions to the airfield and raked the Motor Transport section with cannon and machine gun fire; this also found its way to the 57 Squadron briefing room, where sadly at this late stage of the war, five personnel were severely wounded with one later succumbing to his injuries. The recreation featured re-enactors, period vehicles and extensive pyrotechnics. 

 

There was one last commemoration to be held on this day, with a one minutes silence held in front of Just Jane to mark the recent passing of long term L.A.H.C. staff member John Noble - his friendly nature and good humour will be missed by all that knew him.

Please click HERE for details of NX611's official roll out in her new 'colours'.

 

 

Footnote – Christopher W. Panton

 

Christopher Whitton Panton enlisted in the Royal Air Force in June 1942, having previously been a member of the Air Training Corps. By August 1943 19 year old Chris was serving as a Flight Engineer with 433 (Porcupine) Squadron RCAF at Skipton-on-Swale; his Halifax III was HX272 BM-N 'Nielson’s Nuthouse'  and fellow crew comprised of Pilot Christian Nielsen, Bomb Aimer Leo Millward, Navigator Don Awrey, Wireless Operator 'Harry' Cooper, Rear Gunner 'Moe' McLaughlin and Air Gunner J Thompson.

 

The Nielsen crew were on the operations roster for the night of 30/31 March 1944, the target being revealed as Nuremburg at briefing time. This one night proved to be a disaster for Bomber Command - in fact it turned out to be the Command’s heaviest single raid loss of the war. That night was a full moon and normally it would have been a stand down period for the bomber Squadrons, but the raid had been planned on the basis of an earlier weather forecast indicating there would be a protective blanket of high cloud on the outward flight, along with a clear target area. A weather reconnaissance Mosquito returned from the route with the news the weather was far from ideal, in fact the only cloud present was over the target area and there was a strong headwind. Despite this news, the raid was to continue… German night-fighters pounced on the bomber stream as it approached the Belgian border; 82 bombers were shot down well before the target area with a further 13 lost on the return journey home.

 

Chris was only hours away from completing his 30th sortie and first tour of Operations when the Halifax was intercepted at 21,000ft by a Luftwaffe Bf110G over Friessen, near Bamberg, Germany. HX272 was the 76th aircraft shot down on this dreadful night. During two attacks by the Bf110G, its machine gun fire hit the petrol tank in the aircraft’s wing and the Halifax was quickly ablaze. The Captain ordered his crew to abandon the aircraft but in the few seconds between the order being given and the crew acting on it, another burst hit an empty fuel tank causing an explosion; the Halifax went into an uncontrollable dive. Three crew members survived; one was able to exit via a turret and two others were blown through the side of the aircraft when it exploded at around 15,000ft.

 

Christopher W. Panton

(Courtesy of L.A.H.C.)