Taking pictures of the burning Lancaster
Deadly nocturnal encounter over Germany
Part #3: British terror-bombing
Lancaster Bomber vs Bf110 G-4 Night Fighter
by Bjørn Jacobsen
By the end of the WWII, RAF Bomber Command
had dropped nearly one million tons of bombs in the
course of 390,000 operations over Germany.
Every major German city was bombed, and many
were more than half-destroyed, including Cologne,
Hamburg, Frankfurt and Dresden.
German civilian deaths is estimated in the region
The Washington Treaty (1922) expressly forbade the
use of bombing against civilian populations. Although
not ratified by the Geneva Conventions, it was still
universally agreed that terror bombing (of civilians)
should not be employed. Nonetheless, between
1940 and 1945, sixty-one German cities with a total
population of 25 million souls were destroyed or
devastated in a bombing campaign that was initiated
by the British government.
On 22 September 1941, RAF issued a memo
recommending area bombing, known as the
It stated that 22 million Germans lived in 58 towns
of over 100.000 inhabitants and that bombing the
built-up area, about 1/3 of the total German population
would be turned out of house and home. This, they
believed, would shatter their morale and will to
continue the war.
It was in February 1942, that the RAF Bomber
Command began to focus its attacks on the enemy
civilian population, when it shifted from strategic
bombing to night-time area bombing of cities.
For the rest of the war, the British concentrated on
the systematic widespread destruction of German
cities by night-time air raids.
The US Army Air Force, on the other hand, flying
aids from British bases from 1942, remained faithful
to the concept of precision daylight bombing (with
This resulted in an ‘Around the Clock’ bombing
offensive - RAF by night, USAAF by day.
By the summer of 1943, the "terror from above" had
become militarily unnecessary and had degenerated
to a deliberate barbaric massacre of non-combatant
civilians and the destruction of Europe's
In June 1943, British and American bombers
attacked Hamburg day and night for three days; the
firebombs dropped by 731 RAF bombers started
thousands of fires. They merged to create a huge
firestorm, sucking up oxygen and generating
hurricane force winds. Many who did not burn to
death were asphyxiated in underground bomb
shelters. The firestorm killed more than 40,000
people in one night. Half the city was levelled.
By the war’s last months, virtually every important
German industrial town had been destroyed.
Yet the bombing continued. Churchill convinced
that destroying East German communication centres
would aid the Red Army’s advance on Berlin, authorised the bombing of Dresden. On 13-14 February 1945, the RAF and the USAAF killed around 30,000 civilians in a bombing attack on Dresden.
The effectiveness of the bombing campaign against German cities is still debated.
Unquestionably, the bombing caused terrible destruction of the German economy, but the civilian morale was not obviously affected.
The fact was that the more America and Britain bombed German cities, the more weapons Germany produced in their factories (!)
The German Flak and night fighters caused horrendous losses to the British Bombers.
Six in ten British bomber aircrew were killed, one of the highest casualty rates of any service in the war.
Only the German U-Boat (Submarine) Force suffered a higher casualty rate (70%)
In total some 125,000 aircrews served in Bomber Command during WWII; over 73,700 of them became casualties, either killed, wounded or shot down and made POWs.
Of those who were flying at the beginning of the war, only ten per cent survived.
Some key figures:
61 German cities were attacked by Bomber Command between 1939 and 1945 containing a combined population of 25 million inhabitants
3.6 million homes were destroyed (20% of the total)
7.5 million civilians were made homeless
400,000 Germans are thought to have been killed as a result of the raids, and 800,000 were wounded.
Berlin was 70% destroyed; Dresden 75% destroyed.
Bombs destroyed 2,000 medieval houses in Frankfurt, 1,000 in Hildesheim, 1,000 in Nuremburg, 2,000 in Braunschweig and thousands of others elsewhere. Only three medieval German cities, Bamberg, Heidelberg and Göttingen, remained for the most part intact.
Whether the night bombing strategy was militarily and morally acceptable or not, the men who flew the British bombers and died in their thousands had no saying in the decision to destroy the German cities, they just did their duty and deserve great respect for their courage and their sacrifices.
Luftwaffe was not able to stop the British in their calculated destroying of German cities and their civil population, but the crew in the German night fighters deserve great respect for their combat success against the British terror bombers.
There is little sense in comparing the RAF bombing to the Luftwaffe’s bombing of cities in UK (Sept 1940 – May 1941), but just for the record:
A total 40 – 43.000 British civilians
were killed in the 8 months long Blitz. The British bombing of Hamburg in
July 1943 inflicted some 42,000 civilian deaths, about the same as the entire Blitz.
Cologne - bombed-out
Lancaster dropping incendiaries over duisburg in October 1944
Building the burning Lancaster
Nearly half of all Lancasters was lost during WWII, either by German Flak or by German Fighters.
In this story, the Bf110 night fighter found the Lancaster by help of the “Himmelbett” (the German
Night Fighter Control radar stations) which tracked both the fighter and the bomber until the fighter’s own Lichtenstein radar could pick up the bomber.
The Bf110 night fighter approached the Lancaster from behind, invisible in
the dark. When close to the bomber, the fighter descended to a lower level,
slowed a little and placed itself 65-70 degrees below/behind the bomber.
The fighter could see the bomber clearly, as a darker silhouette either
blotting out the stars or gainst paler sky or high cloud. It presented a big
target and reflected any light from searchlights or ground fires.
The fighter was perfectly safe underneath the Lancaster because it could
not be seen by of the bomber's crew.
Then the devastating fire from the 20mm Schräge Musik cannons would
tear up the bomber's wings and belly.
The only snag was that the Luftwaffe's guns were so effective that the night
fighter usually had to get out of the way very fast because a Lancaster with one wing blown off would
tumble downwards and backwards, risking hitting the fighter.
In this case, the starboard wing tanks caught fire and the Lancaster crew could do nothing but bail out
from the doomed bomber.
The Schräge Musik produced devastating results, with its most successful
deployment in the winter of 1943–1944. This was a time when Bomber Command losses became
unsupportable: the RAF lost 78 of 823 bombers that attacked Leipzig on 19 February, and 96 of the 795
bombers that attacked Nuremberg on 30/31 March 1944.
RAF Bomber Command was slow to react to the threat from Schräge Musik, with no reports from
shot-down crews reporting the new tactic; the sudden increase in bomber losses had often been
attributed to Flak.
Reports from air gunners, of German night fighters stalking their prey from below, had appeared as early
as 1943 but had been discounted.
It was not for many months that evidence of these deadly attacks was accepted by the British Bomber
The Schräge Musik 20mm cannon in the Bf 110
To make the burning fuel from the starboard wing tanks, I need several LED-lights (12V), colours and smoke.
Before I made the big fire on the upper wing, I made some smaller holes in the under the wing and put a couple of small LED lamps into the wing.
This would be the initial hits from the Bf110 which fired from flew underneath the bomber.
On the upper starboard wing, I made a couple of big hoes to accommodate the LED lights.
The flames from the fire would of course be blown backwords and I placed a couple of lights behind the wing
A chicken wires was used to support the smoke from the fire
The smoke was made of cotton which is very easy to fix to the chicken wires
Yellow cellophane inside the chicken wires was used to give colour to the fire.
The electrical wires to the lights was hidden in the smoke
Last, the cotton was air brushed with grey and black colour.
Please note that any lights will generate heat, so also LED lights.
Some lights generate more heat than others.
It is very important to use light that generate as little heat as possible.
There are LED lights from 3W to 50W, so try to use as low Watt as possible.
You will soon discover if you have LED’s that generate too much heat for your purpose.
If you are making a fire or an explosion, it is very important to use a strong light source, a LED candle light for example is far too weak.
You should therefore chose your lights with utmost consideration
As a general rule;
never leave the lights on unattended.
The initial hits from the 20mm cannon in the Bf110
So, here are the
Deadly nocturnal encounter over Germany
A Bf 110 night fighter and an Avro Lancaster bomber
the nocturnal hunter and the prey
The Lancasters on a nightly bombing mission over Germany
Caught by the radar in a Bf110 G-4 nightfighter - approaching from the rear and below the Lancaster
Using the 20mm Schräge Musik canon, the Lancaster is doomed
I hope you enjoyed this website!
Thank you for visiting!
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments
This is the third and last part of the project;
“Deadly nocturnal encounter over Germany”
The two other parts are;
#1 The Messerschmitt Bf110 G-4 Night Fighter (page 46)
#2 The Avro Lancaster heavy bomber (page 47)