Canada in the Second World War

Arms & Weapons

Raid to Essen, March 12th, 1943

Excerpts from Bomber Command, Secret Narrative, March 1943, pp. 8-10. Department of National Defence, Directorate of History and Heritage, 79/444.

ESSEN was attacked a second time in the course of the month on the night of March 12th. All eleven R.C.A.F. squadrons participated in this raid, contributing a total of 113 aircraft, of which 89 attacked the target and three were reported missing (Nos. 420, 424 and 425 Squadrons lost one aircraft each). Weather conditions were excellent with no cloud and bright moonlight, though the usual industrial haze and later, smoke, obscured ground details. Also reports indicated that a smoke screen was in operation to the north and northwest of the town from which smoke drifted over Essen. Defences too had evidently been considerably strengthened and very intense and accurate heavy flak was experienced during the first half of the attack. Searchlights, operating in large cones of fifty or sixty and smaller cones of about twenty, were extremely active. In spite of fierce opposition the attack was pressed home by a total of 383 crews, who dropped 495.2 tons of bombs. The Pathfinder Force had done a good job and the target indicator markers were well concentrated.

During the first quarter of an hour of bombing, numerous and fairly concentrated incendiary fires were observed around T.I. [Target Indicator] markers. Crews bombing after this reported that the fires then gained a good hold and merged into huge masses of red flames. The signal for this development was a large explosion followed seven minutes later by another Impressive explosion accompanied by flames and dense clouds of smoke. A few minutes later a third explosion occurred which was accompanied by a huge white flash. The glow of the fires was visible 150 miles away.

A total of twenty-three bombers were lost in this raid due to the heavy defences. One aircraft of No. 405 Squadron, piloted by Pilot Officer N.D. Daggett, returned with two hundred flak holes, seven of them in the petrol tanks. The hydraulics, instruments, I.F.F. [Identification Friend of Foe] and the port outer engine were unserviceable and the rudder control column was almost severed. Despite this damage the aircraft landed safely at base.

Another aircraft, flown by Flight Sergeant R. Hamby of No. 431 Squadron, was badly shot up in this raid. It was caught in a cone of searchlights and shot at by flak almost directly over the target, the navigator, Pilot Officer J.T. Clark, being killed. Despite this, the target was successfully bombed and the pilot “put up a fine show” by flying his aircraft back with the hydraulics, the navigational aids and the wireless wrecked.

One of No. 429 Squadron’s aircraft, piloted by Sergeant A.W. Jameson was damaged in a collision with other aircraft and the rear gunner was jammed in his turret. The pilot exercised great skill and courage in bringing his aircraft safely back to England.

Many other incidents were related, but the outstanding one of the night was that of Wing Commander D.H. Burnside, D.F.C., and crew, of No. 427 Squadron. Their aircraft was hit by flak before reaching the target and the navigator, Pilot Officer R.J. Heather, was killed, while Flight Sergeant G.S. Keene, D.F.M., the wireless operator, had one foot shot off and cuts were inflicted on both his legs. The aileron control of the aircraft was affected and the windscreen de-icing glycol tank burst, drenching Pilot Officer R.J. Hayhurst, the bomb aimer, and filling the forward part of the bomber with suffocating fumes. Despite this, P/O Hayhurst directed the pilot to his target which was successfully bombed and a good photograph was obtained. The aircraft was held by searchlights for a few minutes while over the target, but W/C Burnside skilfully evaded the defences and set course for home. All this time, F/S Keene, disregarding his wounds, laboured for over two hours to repair the damaged wireless apparatus. Owing to the damaged intercommunication system he could not speak to the other members of the crew, though they kept a close eye on him, and each time found him still conscious and working on his self-imposed task of directing manipulation of installations. He also offered assistance in navigating the aircraft and managed on two occasions to drag himself to the navigator’s compartment to obtain essential information. In the meantime, the aircraft on its return trip encountered fighters, which Pilot Officer D.B. Ross, the air gunner, managed to beat off, at the same time issuing directions for evasive tactics which proved successful. Displaying fine airmanship, W/C Burnside flew his damaged aircraft safely back to base. For the very fine display of courage and determination by all members of the crew, W/C Burnside was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross, P/Os Hayhurst and Ross received the Distinguished Flying Cross, while F/S Keene was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

Photographs covering the whole of the Krupps Works and most of the town were taken the day following this attack on ESSEN. Whereas damage from the previous raid was seen mostly in the town centre and the Krupps Works, the fresh damage was most concentrated in the Krupps Works and in suburban areas to the northwest. Almost as large a number of shops and administrative buildings of Krupps were affected as in the last raid and the damage was on a scale altogether more severe. The locomotive works, the largest individual shop, had damage extending over 85,000 square yards. Altogether the area of the buildings of the Krupps Works destroyed or severely damaged in this raid exceeded 196,300 square yards, as compared with the 136,000 square yards of damage in the previous raid.

The most important damage, with the exception of that at the Krupps Works, was the destruction of pithead installations and buildings of ten collieries, though in the majority of these the damage was slight except for the destruction of buildings of the Katherina Pit of the Hercules Colliery, the Hubert Pit of the Konigen Elizabeth, and the Hellene Pit at Stoppenberg. Besides damage to three unidentified factories severe damage was also done to a large zinc and sulphuric acid works at Borbeck, where the whole works now appeared to be inactive.
Considerable damage also was caused to railways and sidings in the northern districts of the town. Not only were the tracks disrupted in a number of places but some destruction of rolling stock was evident at sidings. It was thought that the main line to OBERHAUSEN was cut temporarily by direct hits on the tracks.

Although there were no large areas of devastation there were many scattered incidents of high explosives and fire in the northwestern districts of Borbeck and Gerschede and some in the northeastern districts of Stoppenberg and Schonnebeck. A great number of hutted camps in the northern districts suffered damage. In all, some 120 huts were destroyed, including large messing huts or canteens and it was roughly estimated that accommodation for at least 6000 men was. In consequence, no longer available.

Five days later another photographic sortie was made over ESSEN to supplement information already gleaned from the photographs taken the day following the raid. The most important evidence of new damage was found to be at the Krupps Harbour Foundry Works, lying between Gerschede and Vogelheim. Here direct hits on the Steel Works were thought to have seriously damaged the new electric furnaces and to have caused considerable delay to the constructional work in progress. Several warehouses on the Kanal Hafen, possibly connected with Krupps, were also destroyed.

Krupps’ Pattern Works had half of its buildings gutted or damaged by fire, while in the main engineering and armament works two or three workshops and several small sheds, previously obscured by smoke, were seen to have been destroyed or damaged. Other industrial damage occurred in Vogelheim, where practically the whole of a plastic works was burned out, and pithead buildings at two collieries were damaged or destroyed by H.E. and fire.
A reliable source reported that no work was in progress at Krupps ten days following the raid and that it was still necessary at that time to obtain a special pass to enter. It was also reported that 16,000 workers of Krupps and 90,000 people in all, were homeless and that the damage to Krupps was the heaviest so far inflicted by the R.A.F. on works vital to the war effort.