bombing of Nuremberg
a stream of Lancasters en route to a bombing raid on a clear
night, perfect targets for German anti-aircraft fire and
to pick targets of symbolic importance. Nuremberg was one of
those - Hitler had called it the most German of German
cities. It was the birthplace of the Third Reich, the scene
of the massive night rallies glorified in Nazi propaganda
So anxious was Harris to destroy Nuremberg that he scheduled
the bombing mission there on a night with clear moonlight,
When crews would normally been allowed to stand down. Harris
was hoping there would be enough cloud to hide his bomber
stream, so a mosquito weather plane was dispatched to scout
the German skies.
At 3:30 p.m., the weather plane returned from its mission.
I went straight to the phone - a direct line to Bomber
Command. All the group captains come on the line
simultaneously at their bases. Now I told them it was so
clear, we left a long vapour trail in the sky. The only
place we saw high banks of clouds was over the target,
Some of Harris's advisors tried to talk him out of the
mission. In spite of everything, Harris was determined to
evening of March 30,1944, the crew of aircraft W for Willy
was one of 782 bombers preparing to depart for Nuremberg.
Jim Moffat was in the tail turret; Lloyd Smith in the mid
upper gun. As the crews started their Rolls Royce Merlin
engines, the sense of apprehension only increased. Many were
still hoping for the sign to stand down, for the mission to
Some crew members distracted themselves with their jobs.
Others said they started to pray for the first time in their
The stream this night was to be 68 miles long. It was
designed to pass over Nuremberg in 17 minutes, to
concentrate the destructive power of the raid.
It was dusk by the time the last bombers lifted into the
sky. When the planes got above the clouds though, and
started to form up into the stream, all the air crews were
struck by the same unfamiliar and unwelcome feeling. In the
moonlight they were fully exposed and vulnerable.
Some navigators turned on their new H2S Radar, not realizing
that instantly gave away their position to German Fighter
As Bomber W for Willy approached Nuremberg, a German fighter
appeared on its tail. The pilot banked the plane steeply and
Finally, the target was visible, with colored target marker
flares dropped from the pathfinder aircraft in the lead. The
bomb doors were opened, the bomb aimers stared down into the
building inferno, and the crew held its breath.
On the night of the Nuremberg raid, 96 bombers failed to
return. 545 airmen died, more airmen killed in one night
than died during the entire battle of Britain.
Nuremberg was Harris' worst defeat, but in his memoirs,
which go on at great length about his favourite raids like
Hamburg, there is not a single mention of the Nuremberg
raid. His obsession with destroying German cities and
civilians would continue to the end of the war.