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RAF Bombing Campaign Timeline

The British took to the cold night skies to hold the Germans in check through heroic air raids - some even targeting the German capital itself.

Authored By Staff Writer

Britain went on the offensive in May of 1940, sending some 99 RAF bombers over the Ruhr - the industrial heart of the Third Reich - in their first night time assault against German-held territory. Only one aircraft was lost in the ensuing action. Subsequent actions in 1941 and 1942 would reveal some ugly truths about the bombing campaign, however, such as how only one-in-three bombers were actually hitting their mark within 5 miles of their target. Additionally, through the deliberate and controversial "Area Bombing Directive", German-held civilian areas were now open to British bomber raids (brought about in retaliation for the civilian deaths incurred by England through German bomber raids themselves). Lubeck now joined Cologne, Dusseldorf and Hamburg in such actions. But perhaps the most publicized assault would be in the leveling of Dresden by fire-bombing, resulting in the deaths of 130,000 of its citizens, and ultimately becoming a very controversial action both in England itself and around the world.


By 1943, Operation Torch - the Allied invasion of North Africa - changed everything by involving American industrial might and numbers to the mix. As the American USAAF heavy and medium bombers took the fight to Germany through a relentless and brazen daylight bombing campaign, the British used their expertise in radar and night actions to keep the fight going during the critical night-time hours. The German capital city of Berlin was a revisited target by British bombers equipped for night sorties, making heroes out of such mounts as the legendary Avro Lancaster. Despite heavy and accurate ground-based flak and German interceptors developed specifically for the nightfighting role, the British achieved success in the night skies. This was, however, not without excessive losses to their own ranks - for a defensive-minded Germany was just as lethal as an offensive-minded one.


As the campaign rolled on, tactics and technology evolved. Radar systems progressed and newly-developed navigational aids were instituted. Foil strips were dropped by British aircraft to scramble German radar signals. Fast-moving British DH 98 Mosquitos were utilized in the "Pathfinder" role to help mark targets ahead of the bomber formations through the use of incendiary ordnance or marking flares. Thousands of sorties by brave RAF crews finally began taking their toll on the industrial infrastructure of the mighty Reich.


By the end of it all, the Luftwaffe - kings of the skies in the early years of the war - were more or less grounded due to a lack of fuel, spare parts and, perhaps most importantly, oil - the lifeblood of the modern army.

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Total RAF Bombing Campaign Events: 24

1940
Wednesday
May 15th

The RAF sends up its first night-time bombing raid against Germany. Of the 99 aircraft sent, only one fails to return home.

1940
Monday
August 26th

The first RAF attack on the German capital of Berlin takes place. Some 81 aircraft are part of the airborne raid.

1940
Tuesday
October 1st - October 30th

German BF 110 twin-engine nightfighters take advantage of the new Lichtenstein radar systems to track, target and engage RAF bombers.

1940
Monday
December 16th

RAF bombers strike on Mannheim as revenge for the German air raids over Coventry.

1941
Tuesday
April 1st

The German port of Emden is bombed by six Wellington bomber aircraft.

1941
Tuesday
April 8th

229 RAF bomber aircraft rain 40,000 incendiary ordnance on the German naval base at Kiel.

1941
Sunday
August 31st

A report stuns the RAF by showcasing how only one-in-every-three RAF bombers actually it their targets.

1942
Saturday
February 14th

RAF Bomber Command issues its "Area Bombing Directive", allowing the legitimate bombing of civilian areas.

1942
Sunday
March 1st

The Avro Lancaster heavy bomber is inducted into RAF service.

1942
Saturday
March 28th

The British utilize the "Gee" electronic navigation system for the first time.

1942
Saturday
March 28th

234 RAF bombers drop incendiaries on Lubeck. 12 aircraft are lost.

1942
Saturday
May 30th

RAF Bomber Command attack Cologne with 1,046 aircraft in the first of their "1,000 Bomber" raids.

1942
Saturday
August 1st

De Havilland DH 98 Mosquito twin-engine fighters are assigned as "Pathfinder" units charged with lighting up ground targets via flares and incendiary ordnance for ensuing RAF heavy bombers.

1942
Thursday
September 10th

100,000 incendiary bombs are dropped on Dusseldorf by no fewer than 476 RAF bombers.

1943
Friday
January 1st

The H2S navigation system is delivered to the RAF for installation into bombers.

1943
Thursday
March 4th

RAF Bomber Command numbers total some 950 bombers of various types. Most important are the Avro Lancasters.

1943
Friday
March 5th

For the first time, RAF bombers make use of the "Oboe" navigational aid in a large-scale operation.

1944
Thursday
March 30th

795 RAF bombers attack Nuremburg with 95 aircraft lost to action. This mission marks the biggest RAF loss to date.

1943
Sunday
May 16th

RAF bombers make their most famous raid of the war to date - this through Operation Chastise - as 19 Lancasters attack the dams at Mohne, Eder, Sorpe and Schwelme supplying power to the Ruhr industrial sector. 9,000lb bouncing mines are used in the successful attack.

1943
Tuesday
July 27th

44,600 Hamburg civilians are killed by RAF bomber attacks.

1943
Tuesday
July 27th

RAF bombers make use of "Window" foil strips to disrupt enemy tracking radars.

1944
Monday
September 23rd

141 RAF bombers take on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Some of these bombers make use of the massive "Tallboy" 12,000lb bomb.

1943
Thursday
November 18th

444 RAF bombs drop ordnance on the German capital of Berlin with only 9 loss to enemy fire.

1945
Tuesday
February 13th

805 RAF bombers level the German city of Dresden, killing up to 130,000 of its inhabitants. The attack is notable for Dresden held little to no military or strategic value for Germany.
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