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Thousand Plane Raid
Written By: Peter Ayers Wimbrow, III
*Click images below to view larger versions.
Thousand Plane Raid
British Wellington bombers returning from raid on Essen June 1, 1942.
Thousand Plane Raid
Bomber Command Chief Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris.
Thousand Plane Raid
Manser’s Victoria Cross Medal on display in the Imperial War Museum in London.
Thousand Plane Raid
“Thousand Plane Raid” movie poster
Thousand Plane Raid
Luftwaffe Chief, Reichmarshal Hermann Goring, in captivity, wearing Knights Cross around neck and Pour le Mérite and Iron Cross on left breast, May 9, 1945.
Thousand Plane Raid
Luftwaffe Chief, Reichsmarshal Hermann Goring.
Thousand Plane Raid
Statue of Sir Arthur Harris outside RAF Chapel in England.
    This week, 70 years ago, the Royal Air Force launched its third, and last, "Thousand Plane Raid" - codenamed Operation Millennium - against the Fatherland. These raids were the brainchild of newly appointed - February - head of Bomber Command, Arthur Harris. For this and other schemes, Harris would earn the sobriquet, "Bomber." The impetus for these raids was publicity-fueled revenge for the damage done to London, Coventry and other southern English cities by the Luftwaffe. Another reason was turf protection. There had been calls to break up Bomber Command, because of studies showing a paucity of accuracy in its missions, and divert its resources to other areas, such as the antisubmarine campaign. It was thought that a headline-grabbing operation such as Operation Millennium would save the command.
    The first target had been the ancient city of Cologne. Originally, the target had been Hamburg, but weather considerations forced Bomber Command to switch targets. Hamburg would get its due from Bomber Command a year later when it was firebombed and virtually destroyed, killing more than 42,000.
    With a population of 700,000, Cologne was the Reich’s third largest city. On the night of May 30, 1942, 1046 British bombers delivered 2,000 tons of high explosives and incendiary bombs. Within 90 minutes, downtown Cologne was utterly destroyed, together with 13,000 residences and 36 factories. The RAF dropped 1455 tons of bombs, of which 2/3 were incendiaries. Luftwaffe Chief, Reichsmarshal Hermann Göring, who had guaranteed that the Reich would never be bombed, refused to believe the reports saying, " . . . it is impossible! That many bombs cannot be dropped in a single night!" Author Daniel Swift described the result: "Cologne was perfectly ruined, and what survived, like the front of the great Cathedral, stood only to mark the loss." Of the 469 deaths, most were civilians. The day following the raid, British Prime Minister, Sir Winston S. Churchill, telegraphed President Franklin D. Roosevelt, saying, "I hope you were pleased with our mass air attack on Cologne. There is plenty more to come." The Prime Minister told Harris that, "...this proof of the growing power of Britain’s Bomber Force is also a herald of what Germany will receive, city by city, from now on."
    Since British Bomber Command only had 416 "first-line" bombers, it had to really scrap to get to the magic number. Most of the balance came from Operational Training Units. Air Marshal Harris had also expected to use 250 bombers from Coastal Command, which was under the command of the Royal Navy. But, before the raid, the Admiralty, after having initially agreed, refused to allow Coastal Command’s planes to participate, reasoning that the publicity was not worth risking an important part of its U-boat defense system. Harris eventually crewed enough planes with instructors and pupils to get to the number. Assembling 1000 bombers, in the dark, without mishap, was an enormous undertaking.
    British bombers began taking off from 53 bases at 10:30 P.M. By the time the last groups of bombers began to arrive over the target, the fires could be seen from a distance of 100 miles. Bomber Command suffered a four percent loss, which was deemed high, but acceptable. Interestingly, the planes piloted by the students suffered a lower loss rate than those piloted by the veterans! One Victoria’s Cross (British equivalent of the Medal of Honor) was awarded, posthumously, to Leslie Thomas Manser, for the Cologne Raid.
    Two nights later, Bomber Command targeted Essen for its second "Thousand Plane Raid." It is a city on the Ruhr river and today has a population of 579,000, making it the ninth largest city in Germany. During the war, it was a major industrial center and home of the Krupp Steelworks, which, for a century had provided arms for Germany’s wars.
    The British Prime Minister announced the second raid to a cheering House of Commons saying,  "I do not wish to be supposed that all future raids will be on a four-figure scale. We shall vary our methods of attack continually, according to circumstances. The scale will increase markedly, when we are joined, as we soon will be, by the United States Air Force. As the year advances, German cities, harbors, and centers of war production will be subjected to an ordeal the like of which has never been experienced by any country in continuity, severity, and magnitude."
    On the evening of June 25, 1942, Bomber Command launched its last "Thousand Plane Raid" against the port city of Bremen, Germany. Today the Bremen metropolitan area has a population of 2.4 million. At the time, the city’s population stood in excess of 300,000. As a result of the raid, 572 houses were completely destroyed and 6,108 damaged. Casualties were 85 killed, 497 injured and 2,378 left homeless. Focke-Wulf Air Plane Factory, the Atlas Work Ship Building Company, the Bremmer Vulkan Shipyard, the Norddeutsche Hütte Korff Refinery and two large dockside warehouses were all damaged. Bomber command lost 48 aircraft - five percent of those dispatched.
    In order to mount these massive raids, Bomber Command had to dragoon almost every plane in England. For the last raid on Bremen, 102 planes came from RAF Coastal Command and five came from RAF Army Cooperation Command. In addition, many of the planes came from operational training units.
    Undoubtedly, the "1,000 Plane Raids" were an immense morale boost to the British. After enduring the "Blitz" at the hands of the Luftwaffe, these raids were a source of pride and revenge for all Britains. The effect on the German morale cannot really be known, since Germany continued fighting for another three years, and its production numbers continued to rise until the last months of the war. It has been suggested that the bombings were motivation for the war crimes committed at Malmedy and other locations. After all, those young boys, now wearing the uniform of the Reich, had watched, helplessly, as the Allied bombers had torn apart their mothers, sisters and grandparents.
    A 1969 movie titled "Thousand Plane Raid," starring Christopher George, gets it all wrong. It attributes the "Thousand Plane Raid" to the Americans and has it occurring a year later.


Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own. Mr. Wimbrow can be contacted at <> .
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