The Battle of Berlin

PFF HQ, with Bennett (centre)

In Bomber Command’s war, the period from 18 November 1943 to 31 March 1944 is known as the Battle of Berlin. This usage was contemporary, as can be seen by the following entry in 97 Squadron’s ORB:

25.11.43        19 aircraft detailed for ops and night training cross countries which were carried out.  The following signal has been received from AOC-in-C [Harris] – “I have received the following message from the Secretary of State which please convey together with my reply to all ranks”……….
“My warmest congratulations to you and to all ranks serving under your command on two crushing attacks on the Nazi citadel.  Berlin is not only the home of Prussian militarism and the capital of the Nazi government, but it is also the greatest single centre of war industry in Germany.  Often before, your squadrons have hit it hard.  The most convincing measure of this success has been the huge deployment of the enemy’s resources for its defence.  Nevertheless your attacks these last two nights have reached a new level of power and concentration and have proved that however much he may marshal his guns, searchlights and fighters, the enemy cannot match your skill and determination of your crews.”
AOC-in-C’s reply: “On behalf of all ranks of Bomber Command I thank you for your encouraging message. The Battle of Berlin progresses.  It will continue as opportunity serves and circumstances dictate until the heart of Nazi Germany ceases to beat.”

Besides Berlin, many other German cities were targeted during this period as Bomber Command took advantage of the long hours of winter darkness. Yet due to the efficiency of the German defences, this was to be the worst period of Bomber Command’s war with aircrew being killed at an appalling rate.

The campaign commenced on 18/19 November 1943. In December the weather was so bad that there was a long gap in operations. The disastrous operation of 16/17th December probably only went ahead because of this long delay, and the results were catastrophic for 97 Squadron. This day became known as Black Thursday.

Losses escalated in the following year, and a number of crews who had survived Black Thursday fell victim.

The Nuremburg raid of 30/31 March 1944 saw the mass slaughter of hundreds and hundreds of aircrew, but on this particular night 97 Squadron escaped comparatively lightly – it was Black Thursday that was the squadron’s worst night of the war.