Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Light Night-Striking Force of Mosquitoes
The Light Night-Striking Force of Mosquitoes raided Berlin 170 times, thirty-six of these on consecutive nights. On 10 July the Mosquitoes were on the ‘Milk Run’ again: Berlin or bust. Wing Commander Steven D. Watts DSO DFC MiD the CO of 692 Squadron, was shot down off Terschelling by Major Hans Karlowski of 2./NJG1. Watts and his observer, Pilot Officer AA. Matheson DFM RNZAF were lost without trace.
The operational use of the Mosquito bomber had forced the Nachtjagd to reconsider the Wilde Sau (Wild Boar) method to hunt the high-performance aircraft at high altitude with Fw 190A-5s and A-6s and Bf 109Gs with Neptun AI radar and a long-range fuel-tank. Oberleutnant Fritz Krause, a Staffelkapitän in the experimental I./NJGr10 at Berlin-Werneuchen commanded by Hauptmann Friedrich Karl Müller132 whose main task this was, recalls:
The new Heinkel 219 two-motor night-hunter to combat the Mosquito was not quite ready while the jet-hunter, the Me 262, was not available in sufficient numbers. So the task of testing the new methods fell mainly to one Staffel of the Wilde Sau. We had to meet the two quite different uses of the Mosquito. Firstly, there was the nightly raid to bomb Berlin and secondly their use as pathfinders at high altitude in the Ruhr. Night after night, thirty to forty Mosquitoes flew to Berlin and dropped bombs and the psychological stress on the Berliners was considerable. Flak and searchlights were moved to Berlin without having any considerable or lasting effect. The Mosquitoes flew at altitudes above 30,000 ft and after crossing the Elbe lost height to fly over Berlin at the highest possible speed to avoid the concentrated flak. The direction of the flights across Berlin was different with each operation.
A number of different tactical methods using night-hunters was tested but the following method, which I used with success, was the most effective. When the first of the incoming Mosquitoes crossed the Rhine, five single-engined hunters took off from Werneuchen and climbed to orbiting positions at 35,000ft in the NE, NW, SE, SW and the centre of Berlin, each position being marked by a strong master searchlight. This made it possible for at least one night-hunter, irrespective of the direction from which the attack was coming, to spot the Mosquitoes before they flew across the city. (As the single-engined fighter’s speed advantage over the Mosquito was only 60 kph there was only a short time available for hunting so a greater speed was required to catch the Mosquitoes and this was obtained by making a steep dive from the waiting position). Of course this method depended on good weather and visibility so that the searchlights could pick up the plane at high altitude. Up to 25,000ft the flak had a fire-free zone but the area above this limit was reserved for the hunters. The Mosquitoes usually entered Berlin at around 20,000ft and the problem now was that the hunters had to avoid their own flak. I often experienced shells exploding near me, disturbing me while hunting.
On 8 July Krause took off at 00.40 hours in ‘Weisse Elf’ (‘White 11’) a FuG 217 J2 (Neptun) equipped Fw 190A-5 and destroyed a Mosquito near Brandenburg, his only victory in this unit. Kruase describes his victory:
I was flying over Berlin at a height of 8,500 metres when I saw a twin-engined plane flying west caught in the searchlights. I closed in until I was 700 metres above, gave full throttle and dived. I went in too low and opened fire from approximately 200 metres from below and behind and kept firing as I closed. My first shots hit the right motor and an explosion followed. There was a burst of sparks and then a thick white trail of vapour. As I had overshot I had to stop the attack momentarily and found myself on the right, alongside the enemy aircraft, whose cockade and external fuel tanks I saw clearly and so was able to identify it without a doubt as a Mosquito. I fired ESN to draw the attention of the flak and the searchlight to my presence. The enemy ‘corkscrewed’ in an attempt to evade. Because of the thick ‘white flag’ of vapour I was able to follow him, although he had already left the searchlight zone in a north-westerly direction. Following the trail, I managed to attack twice more. At the third attack I noticed a further explosion on the right wing and an even stronger rain of sparks. At 2,000 metres he disappeared, turning at a flat gliding-angle under me. I did not see the impact on the ground as this was hidden from my angle of view. On my return flight, passing Lake Koppeln I could estimate the crash-point as 60-70 kilometres north-west of Berlin. When I returned to base a report had already reached them about the crash of a burning enemy aircraft west of Kürytz. My own plane was covered in oil from the damaged Mosquito.
On 18/19 July when twenty-two Mosquitoes were despatched to Berlin, 29 year old Squadron Leader Terry ‘Doddy’ Dodwell RAFVR DFC* and Pilot Officer George Cash, a 571 Squadron Mosquito team who had been on ops for nearly a year, were lost. They are believed to have been intercepted and shot down by Hauptmann Heinz Strüning of 3/NJG1, flying in a modified He 219 Uhu night fighter. Dodwell was killed and Cash survived to be taken prisoner. Two nights later, on 20/21 July, during a LNSF raid on Hamburg by twenty-six Mosquitoes, Strüning shot down another 571 Squadron B.XVI crewed by Flight Lieutenants Thompson and Jack Calder RCAF. Thompson baled out but Calder was killed.
During the first week of August a series of heavy daylight bombing raids were made on V-1 flying bomb sites in the Pas de Calais and storage dumps at Bois de Cassan, Forêt de Nieppe and Trossy-St-Maxim. For photographic and marking purposes a lone Mosquito of 627 Squadron accompanied 5 Group’s Lancasters. Flying Officer John Whitehead of 627 Squadron flew one of these photo sorties on 3 August. Whitehead recalls:
It was a wonderful sunny August day, marked forever in my mind: Woodhall Spa; flirting with girls around a swimming pool. But it was time to dress, to get into our Mossie and take off for France. I had a photographer aboard in place of my usual navigator, Johnny Watt. The idea was to cross one of our bomber streams that was on the way to bomb a V1 dump, cross it diagonally, to get some of their fighter protection, then to descend steeply and mark a V-1 dump for the heavies. We were late off the ground and the poster that was displayed at all RAF stations during the war years: ‘The Straggler is Lost!’ came to mind and worried us. We crossed at the rear end of the 5 Group Lancaster stream, being turned nearly upside down a couple of times by the slipstream of one of them. Hundreds of them were silhouetted against the true blue sky, glistening here and there in that extraordinary day’s sunlight. A stream of Messerschmitts appeared high up, not interested in us Mossies and some Spitfires streaked after them. We had two 500lb bombs aboard in addition to the markers and they also had to be delivered, in a second dive onto the same target. But the area had become somewhat of a wasps’ nest. It seemed everybody was shooting down on us from the surrounding hills while we were, by now, hugging the ground at 300 knots awaiting a quiet stretch before I would dare to pull up sharply at full bore to gain height and get away. And there, an apparition, a scene, a happening! We whizzed by a tea party in the garden of a Chateau! I believe that I recognised the pattern of Sevre china and saw clearly the butler holding a silver tray. He was looking up frowning with disapproval. I am not quite sure whether the surprised people actually waved, but they certainly looked up. That’s the least they could do, to express their support for my war effort? I was stunned for a moment by this dissonance of war and peace, those three seconds of it. Then we tried to get up to height, twisting and turning while the flak still followed us. Once it had thinned out we flew home happily to Woodhall Spa, hardly even looking back to France, confident and relaxed. Who would try to go after a lone Mosquito going home? The sun was still up, the sky still cloudless, when I returned to the swimming pool to continue my flirt with the girls. The number had shrunk to only one by now and she was somewhat sunburned. But she was there!
In August 692 Squadron at Graveley had a run of bad luck. On the 25th Squadron Leader W.D.W. Bird and Sergeant F.W. Hudson were killed when they crashed at Park Farm, Old Warden near Bedford. It was believed that the pilot misread his altimeter. On 27 August on a trip to Mannheim Flight Lieutenant T.H. Galloway DFM and Sergeant J. Murrell swung on take-off, caught fire and blew up. The ‘Cookie’ went off, but was not detonated, so it did not cause too much damage. Galloway and Murray got out when the Mosquito caught fire and ran to safety. Over the target Flying Officer S.G.A. Warner and Flying Officer W.K. McGregor RCAF were shot down and killed and the searchlights and flak followed them all the way down. On 10/11 September it was the old Milk Run again to Berlin. Terry Goodwin DFC DFM a 692 Squadron pilot at Graveley flew this operation, his last on the Mosquito and he had a rather anxious time, as he recounts:
After Hugh Hay had finished his tour I had several good navigators with nothing to worry about. However, when my last trip was coming up there was a new navigator posted in. He was a Warrant Officer with no trips in at all. I just could not figure that out when all crews at that time had a tour under their belts and knew what the score was. I took him for a cross-country, which was not satisfactory as he had trouble with the Gee. I did not know whether it was a ‘short’ or a ‘long’ trip: either the Ruhr or Berlin. It turned out to be the ‘big city’.
The night was clear. The take-off with the 4,000lb ‘Cookie’ was good. The aircraft was singing right along with all gauges OK. The track was out over the North Sea towards Denmark then a sharp turn right south-east to a point just west of Berlin then straight east for the bombing run. When we were approaching this turning point it was clear with no moon. I could see the coast outline right from Denmark south. The tram trolleys of Hamburg were still making their blue sparks and then shut down fully. Then the sprog navigator said to me, “I don’t know where we are!” I told him to get the course from the turning point and I would tell him when to start all over again. He did and got us just west of Berlin on time or at least I thought we were on time. I told him to log the time, then go and dump the Window down the chute. There was no action outside as we ran up looking for the ‘TIs’. Jerry was playing it very careful giving nothing away. Where was that PFF type? The TIs should be going down! Then all hell broke loose. Every searchlight in the city came on right on us and the flak was too damn close. I turned sharp right and dived 2,000ft, straightened out back on course, held it, turned left and climbed and got more flak but further away. And this kept on and on. Finally the lights were bending east so I thought we should be through the city. I turned back west and still no PFF. I told the navigator to drop the ‘Cookie’ (I don’t think we got a proper picture) because the flak was hard at us again. Then the TIs went down right ahead of us so we were pretty close. But the flak kept on and I twisted and dived and climbed and kept that up. I knew we were down to about 17,000ft when I suddenly saw the light flak opening up. You knew it was pretty if it was not so damn serious. I turned and climbed out on the west side of Berlin. I told the navigator to log the time. We had been in it for 11 minutes with Jerry’s undivided attention. Were there any fighters? Not that I saw, maybe I was just too busy. It would not have been a safe place for them with all that flak around. We did get home and logged 4 hours and 30 minutes. The next morning the Flight Sergeant found me and then showed me the aircraft. It was full of flak; the main spar of the tail plane was getting an 18-inch splice. He dug a piece of flak out for me. One piece had just nicked the intercooler rad, then the fairing for the main rad. but not the tubes, but was spent as it bounced around the engine.
Berlin at this time was the ‘favourite’ destination for the Mosquitoes. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Flights at 8 (PFF) Group stations were routed to the Big City over towns and cities whose air raid sirens would announce their arrival overhead, although they were not the targets for the Mosquitoes’ bombs. Depriving the Germans of much needed sleep and comfort was a very effective nuisance weapon, while a 4,000pounder nestling in the bomb bay was a more tangible ‘calling card’. The ‘night postmen’ had two rounds: After take-off crews immediately climbed to height, departed Cromer and flew the dog-leg route Heligoland-Bremen-Hamburg. The second route saw departure over Woodbridge and went to The Ruhr-Hannover-Munich. Two Mosquito bombers, which failed to return from the attack on Berlin on 13/14 September, were claimed shot down south-east of the capital by Oberfeldwebel Egbert Jaacks of I./NJG10 and at Braunschweig by Leutnant Karl Mitterdorfer of 10./JG300.