The first thousand-bomber raid, Cologne





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Published on Sep 22, 2007

30/31 May 1942 - The first thousand-bomber raid, Cologne
1,047 aircraft were dispatched, this number being made up as follows:

1 Group - 156 Wellingtons
3 Group - 134 Wellingtons, 88 Stirlings = 222 aircraft
4 Group - 131 Halifaxes, 9 Wellingtons, 7 Whitleys = 147 aircraft
5 Group - 73 Lancasters, 46 Manchesters, 34 Hampdens = 153 aircraft
91 (O. T. U.) Group - 236 Wellingtons, 21 Whitleys = 257 aircraft 92 (O. T. U.) Group - 63 Wellingtons, 45 Hampdens = 108 aircraft Flying Training Command - 4 Wellingtons
Aircraft totals: 602 Wellingtons, 131 Halifaxes, 88 Stirlings, 79 Hampdens, 73 Lancasters, 46 Manchesters, 28 Whitleys = 1,047 aircraft

The exact number of aircraft claiming to have bombed Cologne is in doubt; the Official History says 898 aircraft bombed but Bomber Command's Night Bombing Sheets indicate that 868 aircraft bombed the main target with 15 aircraft bombing other targets. The total tonnage of bombs was 1,455 two-thirds of this tonnage being incendiaries.

German records show that 2,500 separate fires were started, of which the local fire brigade classed 1,700 as large but there was no sea of fire as had been experienced at Lubeck and Rostock because Cologne was mainly a modern city with wide streets. The local records contained an impressive list of property damaged: 3,330 buildings destroyed, 2,090 seriously damaged and 7,420 lightly damaged. More than 90 percent of this damage was caused by fire rather than high-explosive bombs. Among the above total of 12,840 buildings were 2,560 industrial and commercial buildings, though many of these were small ones. However, 36 large firms suffered complete loss of production, 70 suffered 50-80 per cent loss and 222 up to 50 per cent. Among the buildings classed as totally destroyed were: 7 official administration buildings, 14 public buildings, 7 banks, 9 hospitals, 17 churches, 16 schools, 4 university buildings, 10 postal and railway buildings, 10 buildings of historic interest, 2 newspaper offices, 4 hotels, 2 cinemas and 6 department stores. Damage was also caused to 12 water mains, 5 gas mains, 32 main-electricity cables and 12 main telephone routes. The only military installation mentioned is a Flak barracks. In domestic housing, the following dwelling units (mainly flats/apartments) are listed: 13,010 destroyed, 6,360 seriously damaged, 22,270 lightly damaged. These details of physical damage in Cologne are a good example of the results of area bombing. Similar results can be expected in those of Bomber Command's raids, which were successful during following years. The estimates of casualties in Cologne are, unusually, quite precise. Figures quoted for deaths vary only between 469 and 486. The 469 figure comprises 411 civilians and 58 military casualties, mostly members of Flak units. 5,027 people were listed as injured and 45,132 as bombed out. It was estimated that from 135,000 to 150,000 of Cologne's population of nearly 700,000 people fled the city after the raid.

The R.A.F. casualties were 41 aircraft were lost, including 1 Wellington, which was known to have crashed into the sea. The 41 lost aircraft were: 29 Wellingtons, 4 Manchesters, 3 Halifaxes, 2 Stirlings, 1 Hampden, 1 Lancaster, 1 Whitley. The total loss of aircraft exceeded the previous highest loss of 37 aircraft on the night of 7/8 November 1941 when a large force was sent out in bad weather conditions, but the proportion of the force lost in the Cologne raid - 3.9 per cent - though high, was deemed acceptable in view of the perfect weather conditions which not only led to the bombing success but also helped the German defences.

Bomber Command later estimated that 22 aircraft were lost over or near Cologne 16 shot down by Flak, 4 by night fighters and 2 in a collision; most of the other losses were due to night-fighter action in the radar boxes between the coast and Cologne. Bomber Command also calculated the losses suffered by each of the three waves of the attack - 4.8, 4.1 and 1.9 per cent - and assumed that the German defences were progressively overwhelmed by bombing and affected by smoke as the raid went on. Further calculations showed that the losses suffered by the operational training unit crews - 3.3 per cent - were lower than the 4.1 per cent casualties of the regular bomber groups and also that those training aircraft with pupil pilots suffered lower casualties than those with instructor pilots!


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