VIII Bomber Command Mission Number 113 was an attack by nearly 100 American heavy bombers on the Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG aircraft factory at Marienburg, East Prussia (Malbork, Poland), where the Luftwaffe‘s Fw 190 fighter was being built. Early in the war, German fighter production had been dispersed and it was thought that Marienburg was beyond the range of Allied bombers.
The Fw 190 was the most effective of Germany’s fighters. More than 20,000 were built in 16 variants.
100 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were assigned to the target and 96 of these reached the plant. Between 1253 hours and 1302 hours, the B-17s arrived over the target in five waves at 11,000 to 13,000 feet (3,353 to 3,963 meters). They dropped 217.9 tons (197.7 metric tons) of bombs with a very high degree of accuracy.
During the mission, two B-17s were lost with 13 more damaged. Three airmen were wounded and 21 listed as Missing in Action. The bomber crews claimed 9 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed and 2 probably destroyed in air-to-air combat. Target assessment estimated that 15 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters were destroyed on the ground.
Casualties among the factory work force were high. Of 669 workers, 114 were killed and 76 injured.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, KCB, DSO, MC, Royal Air Force, described the Marienburg attack as the “. . . most perfect example in history of the accurate distribution of bombs over a target.”
7 September 1940: at about 4:00 p.m., the Blitz of London began with the German Luftwaffe attacking the city with 348 bombers escorted by 617 fighters. After dark, a second wave of 247 bombers attacked using the fires from the earlier attack to guide them.
Hauptman Hajo Hermann reported:
“A very clear night. . . everywhere, the German bombers were swarming in. . . Everything was lit up by fires, like a huge torch in the night.” Until 7 September, orders were very strict to not bomb indiscriminately, “But now, for the first time, we were allowed to bomb regardless.”
— Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, C.V.O., D.S.O., D.F.C. and Bar, R.A.F. Cassell Publishers Limited, London, Chapter 27 at Pages 393–394.
Approximately 1,000 Londoners were killed that first night. During the Blitz, London was bombed for 76 consecutive nights.
German military leaders believed that England could only be defeated by invasion. Before Germany could stage a cross-channel invasion, though, it had to gain air superiority. After weeks of relentless devastating attacks against British airfields, Reichsmarschall Hermann Wilhelm Göring made a fatal mistake. He shifted to attacking population centers.
The primary purpose of the Blitz of London was to force the Royal Air Force to defend the City. Luftwaffe commanders believed that they could destroy the RAF in battle. And the RAF had to be destroyed for an invasion of England to go forward.
By the end, losses in airplanes and crews to both sides were about even, but the RAF survived, thus Germany failed in its goal. There was no invasion.
The Heinkel He 111 was the primary Luftwaffe bomber. It had a crew of 5 or 6. The airplane was powered by two liquid-cooled Junkers Jumo 211 inverted V-12 engines, producing 1,200 horsepower each, giving the He 111 a maximum speed of 254 miles per hour (409 kilometers per hour). The bomber was 59 feet (17.98 meters) long with a wingspan of 77 feet (23.4 meters). It was armed with three or more 7.92 mm machine guns, and could carry up to 4,400 pounds (2,000 kilograms) of bombs. It had a maximum range of 1,420 miles (2,285 kilometers).
The Bomb Sight Project, sponsored by the University of Portsmouth, The National Archives, and the Joint Information Systems Committee (“Jisc”), has scanned the geographic data of every bomb that fell on London from 10 July 1940 to 6 June 1941. Interactive maps can be seen at
By clicking on individual icons, information on the location and type of bomb is provided.
Below is the location of every bomb which fell on London before midnight of the first night of The Blitz, 7 September 1940:
1 September 1939: At 4:40 a.m., without provocation or warning, the German Luftwaffe attacked the town of Wieluń, Poland, in the first combat action of World War II.
Three waves of Junkers Ju 87 B Stuka dive bombers from Sturzkampfgeschwader 76 and Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 Immelman attacked the defenseless town and dropped 46,000 kilograms (101,413 pounds) of 500 and 50 kilogram bombs.
The first target was the Szpital Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints Hospital), which was marked with red crosses. 26 patients and 6 nurses were killed.
In just over one hour, 75% of the town was destroyed and more than 1,200 people were killed. The death rate was twice that of the infamous attack on the Spanish town of Guernica by the Nazi Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War.
By the time the war ended six years later, over 78,000,000 people had died.
15 August 1939: As Nazi Germany prepared for a war now just weeks away, the Luftwaffe gave a demonstration of its Junkers Ju 87 B-1 Stuka dive bombers for a group of generals at a test range near Neuhammer-am-Queis, Silesia :
“. . . scores of generals were assembled at the training area at Neuhammer to watch a dive-bombing demonstration. Already, said Rudolf Braun, who took part with his unit (I St. G 3) there was a feeling of war in the air.
“Normally the order of attack was the Kommandeur’s Stab Kette (Staff Flight) first, followed by Staffels 1, 2, and 3. For some unknown reason Staffel I, led by Oberleutnant Peltz, was this time ordered to attack last. It would save Rudolf Braun’s life.
“The Met. reported cloud from 6,000 feet down to 2,500 with clear visibility below. At 6.00 a.m. Hauptmann Sigel led his Gruppe into attack at 12,000 feet. Half-rolling his Ju. 87 he plunged nearly vertically earthwards, with Oberleutnants Eppen and Mueller on each side.
“On the ground below, the generals (including Wolfram von Richthofen, the Stuka’s chief) listened to the whining crescendo of the dive-bombers as they plummeted towards the ground. Horrified, they knew that nothing could avert disaster. The Met. report was wrong. Cloud base was at three hundred feet.
“Hauptmann Sigel, yelling into his microphone, “Pull out!” managed to do so himself a few feet above the trees. But Eppen went in, Mueller went in, and both burst into flames. The nine Ju. 87s of Staffel 2 and two of Staffel 3 all went in.
“Rudolf Braun and his comrades of Staffel I had heard Sigel’s warning and remained circling above the cloud layer through which columns of black smoke were now rising from the wreckage of thirteen dive bombers. I St. G 3 lost twenty-six young aircrew that day.”
— Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, C.V.O., D.S.O., D.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force. Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 2003, Chapter 14 at Pages 171–172.
The Junkers Flugzeug-und-Motorenwerke AG Ju 87 B-1 Sturzkampfflugzeug (“diving combat aircraft”) was a two-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear, designed as a dive bomber. The airplane, commonly known as the “Stuka,” has a blocky, unstreamlined appearance. Its most identifiable feature is its sharply-tapered, inverted “gull wing.” ¹
The Ju 87 made its first flight 17 September 1935. Among the tests pilots who flew it during pre-production testing were Hanna Reitsch and aeronautical engineer Gräfin Melitta Schenk von Stauffenberg.
The Stuka was used in the murderous attacks on the Spanish market town of Guernica, 26 April 1937, and Wieluń, Poland, 1 September 1939.
The Ju 87 B-1 was the first variant to be produced in large numbers and was in service at the beginning of World War II. The airplane is 11.000 meters (36.089 feet) long with a wingspan of 13.800 meters (45.276 feet) and height of 3.770 meters (12.369 feet). The total wing area is 31.9 square meters (343.4 square feet). The B-1 variant had an empty weight of 2,745 kilograms (6,052 pounds), and gross weight of 4,235 kilograms (9,337 pounds).
The Ju 87 B-1 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged 34.989 liter (2,135.190 cubic-inch-displacement) Junkers Jumo 211 A inverted 60° V-12 engine. The 211 A had direct fuel-injected and the cylinder heads were machine for four spark plugs per cylinder. The compression ratio was 6.57:1, requiring 88-octane gasoline. It was rated at a maximum 900 Pferdestärke at 2,200 r.p.m. at 5,500 meters (18,045 feet). The engine turned a three-blade Junkers-Verstelluftschraube propeller with a diameter of 3.4 meters (11.2 feet) through a 1.55:1 gear reduction. The Jumo 211 A weighed 660 kilograms (1,455 pounds).
The Stuka B-1 had a maximum dive speed of 600 kilometers per hour (373 miles per hour). The Ju 87 B-1 had a service ceiling of 8,000 meters (26,247 feet), and range of 550 kilometers (342 miles).
The B-1 was armed with two fixed 7.92 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MG17 machine guns with 1,000 rounds of ammunition per gun, and one MG 15 machine gun on a flexible mount with 900 rounds of ammunition. It could carry a single 500 kilogram (1,102 pound) bomb under the fuselage.
An interesting feature the the Stuka was its automatic pull-out system. Once the bomb had been dropped, the airplane automatically began a 5–6 g recovery. This could save the airplane if the pilot became target-fixated, or blacked out.
The Ju 87 was equipped with a Zeiss gyro-stabilized bomb sight. According to an article in Air Force Times, the Stuka was a very accurate dive bomber. “. . . even the worst drops typically landed within 100 feet [30.5 meters] of the target. Good hits were either on target or no more than 15 feet [4.6 meters] off-center.”
In the same article, the legendary Royal Navy test pilot, Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., K.C.V.S.A., Ph.D., Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., is quoted:
“A dive angle of 90 degrees is a pretty palpitating experience, for it always feels as if the aircraft is over the vertical and is bunting, and all this while terra firma is rushing closer with apparent suicidal rapidity. In fact I have rarely seen a specialist dive bomber put over 70 degrees in a dive, but the Ju 87 was a genuine 90-degree screamer. . . the Ju 87 felt right standing on its nose, and the acceleration to 335 mph [539 km/h] was reached in about 4,500 feet [1,372 meters], speed thereafter creeping up to the absolute permitted limit of 375 mph [604 km/h], so that the feeling of being on a runaway roller coaster experienced with most dive bombers was missing. I must confess that I had a more enjoyable hour’s dive-bombing practice than I had ever experienced with any other aircraft of this specialist type. Somehow the Ju 87D did not appear to find its natural element until it was diving steeply. Obviously the fixed undercarriage and large-span dive brakes of the Junkers were a highly effective drag combination.”
Only two Stukas still exist, one, a Ju 87 G-2, at the RAF Museum at Hendon, and the other, a Ju 87 R-2, is at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois.
¹ TDiA has not found any source that provides the details of the Ju 87’s most characteristic feature: the angles of anhedral and dihedral of its wings. TDiA estimates that the wings’ inner section has -12° anhedral, while the outer wing panels have approximately 8° dihedral.
Before Germany could mount Operation Sea Lion, a cross-channel invasion of the British Isles, it needed to have complete air superiority over the invasion fleet. Because of the Luftwaffe‘s greater numbers and modern aircraft, German military leadership believed this could best be accomplished by defeating the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat.
The Royal Air Force had been conserving their limited numbers of pilots and aircraft up to this point in the war. Germany’s plan was to send its bombers against targets that the R.A.F. would be forced to defend. The escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s (also referred to as the Me 109) would then shoot down the Boulton Paul Defiants and Bristol Blenheims. But the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were up to the task. While the Hurricanes went after the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, the Spitfires engaged their Bf 109 fighter escorts.
Britain used a system of radar-directed ground control of its fighter squadrons. The result was that though both sides lost about the same number of aircraft, the Battle of Britain was a decisive victory for Great Britain. Germany was forced to give up on its plans for an invasion of England.
During a speech the House of Commons, 20 August 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the pilots of Fighter Command when he said,
“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Ever since, the Royal Air Force has been known as “The Few.”
Royal Air Force aircraft:
Highly recommended:Duel of Eagles, by Group Captain Peter Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force. Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970 and Castle Books, 2003.