I am researching the Luftwaffe raids on Canterbury, most notably the big raid in June 1942 that destroyed so much of my city and so nearly got the cathedral as well.
This quote is from a guide book:
"Tom Hoare, BEM, who, when walking along the south roof gutter of the Nave, saw a German bomber, flying so extremely low over the roof of the Nave, that he thought it was coming down. He was accompanied by Mr. Joe Wanstall and they both saw a high explosive bomb leave the bomber, miss Bell Harry Tower by no more than 8 feet and land on the house at 13 The Precincts, just 40 yards to the south of the Cathedral. There was a huge explosion, which completely destroyed the house and two more either side of it. The blast, which knocked Joe Wanstall off his feet, blew in much of the glass on the south side of the Cathedral and set fire to a part of the roof, which was quickly extinguished by the vigilant fire-watchers. Another high explosive bomb, which had landed just previously to the north side of the Cathedral, probably dropped by the same bomber, completely destroyed the Cathedral library and archives building. The huge force of these two explosions led to an examination of the debris, which revealed that the two high explosive bombs were giant “block busters”, each weighing 4 tons. A deliberate attempt had been made to destroy Bell Harry Tower and cause serious damage to the main structure of the Cathedral. Fortunately, the first bomb fell just short, while the second just over-shot. "
Much of this is definitely true, but there's an aspect I am in doubt about.
Just how big were the largest German high exposive bombs in 1942, and what aircraft in operational use in June of that year could have carried them? Could two such bombs be carried by a single bomber? Is it realistic to use the tower on a cathedral as an aiming mark?
So far I have not been able to find any definitive information. Can anyone assist me? Wise counsel would be much appreciated!
As you undoubtedly know, the raid was one of the Baedeker Raids. Straightforward retaliation by the Hun using the well known red guide book to distinguish important targets for destruction. There is a surprising amount on the net both in English and also in German. It's not too difficult to scan the German script, even if you don't know anything of that most beautiful language, to find bomb weights and aircraft types.
Here is some Olympian fin and games with a big one:
Regarding the largest bombs carried by German bombers during WW2 - I seem to recall reading years ago an article that in effect stated British bombs and shells were made up from a mixture that produced a less powerful bomb compared to its German equivilant. If true then this would suggest that a German 1000lb bomb could cause greater destruction than a British bomb of identical weight.
I seem to recollect that either torpex - or it may have been aluminium filings were not added in sufficient quantities or mix to create greater explosive effect - but had this been realised and action taken then the RAF could have caused the same amount of bomb damage useing fewer aircraft - and fewer losses.
My spies tell me that the HE 1800 Satan bomb was the largest bomb delivered by the Luftwaffe. This somewhat contradicts the information in the previous post which indicates a 2,000kg bomb. Here are a couple of links, one in German, which you might find interesting.
@cavortingcheetah I'm not sure that either of those refs claims the 1800 kg bomb was the biggest. My German is rubbish, but in the Bild article, I think the Mayor is saying that the 1800s were the largest in the weapons dump that was being cleared; I'm not sure of the quality of Bild, but they refer to the He 111 as a 'Mega-Bomber'. The English-language site refers to the 1800 as 'one of the biggest bombs' in use.
Last edited by FlightlessParrot; 19th Jul 2010 at 00:26.
Reason: I tried to get a line break in: what IS the vb code for that??
Jolly creepers, nearly missed that one of yours. I'm sorry it's my fault for not explaining sources properly. I posted the two articles more as reference material only and, although my German linguistics are totally limited, I think you are right. My source for the bomb weight and the aircraft came from a friend of mine with whom I had lunch yesterday here in Germany. As for what really fell on Canterbury during the raids, I have a funny feeling that we shall never know and that an 1,800 kg bomb and an H111 for delivery will do as well as anything else.
Thank you one and all for your wise counsel. I've managed to find out more, as follows:
Aircraft were Dornier 217E-4 of KG2, with some Heinkel 111H of KG100 acting as pathfinders, operating from airfields in the Netherlands. They, it seems, had been brought back from the Eastern Front for the Baedekker Raids purely for pathfinding duties.
Total number of aircraft is as yet unknown but the cathedral city raids were typically 40-70 aircraft.
Bombs dropped were a mixture of high explosive and incendiary in the ratio of 1:2 by weight. The HE was "mostly" 500kg, with "some" SC1000RDX 1tonne bombs. Given the lack of other damage in the cathedral precincts I must suspect that the bomb seen just missing the cathedral tower was a 1,000kg. The Dornier 217E-4 could carry 2 x 1,000kg, so it is possible that the bomber that hit the library also dropped the bomb that nearly hit the tower. A lot of the HE landed very close to the cathedral, with 15 craters in an area enclosed by a circle of 100 yards radius.
I cannot find any reference to anything larger than 1,000kg being used, nor any trace in the National Archives of a report on bomb debris recovered from the cathedral precincts, and conclude that it is a myth.
The raid lasted two hours, leaving 43 dead, 48 seriously injured, and 50 with slight wounds.
Given the location of the epicentre and the speed/altitude/course of the bombers, I'd have to estimate that the average error is aiming was pressing the release button no more than half a second late.
Main source: The Blitz, then and now, Volume 3, edited by Ramsey, published by Battle of Britain Prints International, 1990.
I seem to remember a photo in the Imperial War Museum (Elephant & Castle) back in the '50s showing a big UXB pointy end in the pavement and the tail through a shop blind about level with the 1st floor. Sure the caption claimed it to be the biggest bomb dropped on London.
Just to add that German bombs were up to 80% more destructive than British bombs due to the Germans use of powdered aluminium.
The aluminium shortages at the beginning of WW2 meant that the Royal Navy had priority in alumised explosive for its torpedoes and depth charges and due to a monumental oversight by the Ministry of Supply the RAF were denied the more effective bomb until 1944.
How many RAF Aircrew lives could have been saved if they had been provided with the right type of bomb when aluminium was available a lot earlier in WW2.
Probably not many as the size of bomb, % of bomb which is explosive, aiming the bombs effectively, fighter defense etc etc also had to evolve and the size / filling of bombs was just one part of the equation. I seem to recall most RAF bombs at the beginning of the war were from stocks of 1920's era. Also the belief at the beginning of the war was that more smaller bombs would be more beneficial than fewer big bombs.
abeaumont, I would like to hear more about your research about the bombing of Canterbury, my birthplace. My great grandfathers house was bombed and destroyed in those raids, and my fathers house was hit by a bomb that went throught the roof, skidded along the ground and exploded in Howe barracks.