The Nuremberg Raid

March 30th / 31st 1944

The Target- for 30/31 March was largely dictated by the weather conditions, a target in northern Germany couldn’t be considered because of the cloud coming down the North Sea, the risk of aircraft icing in a cold front and clear areas inland which would leave the bombers very vulnerable to night fighter attack in the moonlight.  On that night there would be a half moon which would be at its maximum elevation an hour before sunset and would not set until the early hours of the next morning.  It could have been considered too late in the moon period for an operation to take place at all but possibility of high cloud which might provide some cover for the bombers drew Harris’s attention to target the South of Germany.

Above:Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris

Priority Target – Bomber Command’s priority was to focus on targets important to the ball-bearing and aircraft industries.  Other industrial areas and targets which would affect German morale were also for consideration.  Of the targets on priority list Brunswick, Leipzig and Gotha was all too far north for a raid on 30/31 March, Augsberg was too far south and could be covered in cloud. Schweinfurt, where there was ball-bering works and Regensburg where there was a Messerschmitt factory were both in the area Harris was considering.  The next thing was to consider which of these were major industrial targets that had not yet been seriously damaged. Nuremberg which lay between Schweinfurt and Regensburg fulfilled the requirements.

Above: View of pre-war Nuremberg from from the St. Sebald church towards the Dürer-Monument and the Castle

Nuremberg was a large, relatively undamaged industrial target in the right location –

Why was Nuremberg a worthy target?

As an industrial target it was thought to produce:

·         Armoured cars

·         Diesel engines

 ·         Electrical goods

·         Tanks

·         The main industries were M.A.N heavy engineering works and the Siemens-Schuckertwerke electrical factories.

Nuremberg was also a significant city for the Nazi party.  The Nazi rallies had been held there with ground built by Hitler especially for such events.

Above: Nazi Rally in Nuremberg

Hitler described Nuremberg as “the most German of all German cities”

The Route

The bombing route through Germany had to avoid areas of flak (in the case of Nuremberg this was around the Ruhr and Frankfurt areas) and night fighter bases whilst also leaving the eventual target a mystery to the enemy for as long as possible.  The Nuremberg route was quite direct with only two turning points on the approach to the target.

The long leg passed close to the Ruhr flak defences, the Otto and Ida Beacons and night fighter airfields-

The route consisted of a long straight leg of about 265 miles stretching across Germany before the turn south for Nuremberg.  It was an unusually long stretch for the bombers to take which passes very close to the Ruhr flack defences, the Ida and Otto beacons and to many night fighter airfields.  With the strong tail wind this long leg was estimated to take 62 minutes and it was hoped, prior to the raid taking place, that the bombers would have some protection from high cloud.  This direct route into Germany was designed to get the bombers to the target as quickly as possible thus reducing the time they were exposed to night fighters.  With this approach into Germany the target could still have been a number of different areas.

The turn for Nuremberg- After the long leg the bombers would turn south for Nuremberg. No route markers would be used at the turning point as such markers were beginning to attract night fighters.  The turn south into Nuremberg would last 19 minutes and cover 79 miles passing close to the Heinz fighter beacon.  The bombing would take place by the light of the moon which would set at 01.48 and the most of the return journey could be made in the dark after the moon had set.

The Return Route- by this stage there would be no moon and the route back was clear of any major flak areas and night fighter airfields but would be a long 5 hour trip home.

The weather was a major factor in the planning and execution of the Nuremberg rand and contributed significantly to ‘What went wrong’.  The main weather factors were the cloud cover and the wind.

High cloud cover was expected on the route to Nuremberg

At the time the decision was taken to bomb Nuremberg it was expected that there would be high cloud on route to target.  However the forecast gained from a reconnaissance flight later in the day showed that there would be little chance of cloud cover on the outward flight which would take place in moonlight.  It also found evidence of cloud over Nuremberg which, if it remained there would mean visual marking of the target by moonlight would not be possible for the pathfinder force. From this report many expected this raid to be cancelled.

The Bomber crews found no cloud & bright moonlight on the route to target-

When the bomber crews took off they found no cloud at any height on the route to the target and with bright moonlight the visibility was good it had been estimated crews could see for 200 miles.  This made perfect conditions for the night fighters to find and attack the bombers.

The tail wind on route to target was beneficial to the bomber crews because it would help take them along the very long straight through Germany quickly, hopefully before the Germans were able to successfully identify and prepare for which target they may be heading for.

Above: Large Bomber Stream heading to Nuremberg

On the way to the target the wind direction and strength had changed-

By time the crews were on the long leg the wind had changed direction slightly and the strength of the wind had also decreased a little.  Routine procedure was that the wind finder aircraft in the bomber stream took wind readings during the raid which were sent back to group and then to Bomber Command headquarters.  This would have been averaged out and each group would transmit the new wind knots as ‘broadcast winds’ to the bombers in the stream.  If these new wind readings were used the bombers would stay together, if not the stream would spread.  On the Nuremberg raid this system broke down early when the number of readings received was lower than expected and varied widely.  This resulted in no common forecast and so the wind broadcast differed from group to group.

The information broadcast to crews about the wind was incorrect and the bomber stream started to spread with some aircraft drifting north of the route-

Some of the aircraft fitted with H2S (Ground mapping radar) were able to detect the change in wind and stay on track.  However some aircraft relying on the broadcast winds began drifting north of the route.

Above: Lancaster with H2S Radar pod

At the time of the Nuremberg raid the Luftwaffe had made several advancements in night fighter technology and techniques which had yet to be discovered by the RAF. The SN-2 radar and Schrage-Musik are examples.

SN-2 Radar- Unlike the earlier Lichenstein set the SN-2 radar was not interrupted by window dropped by British bombers and as the RAF were not aware of it the Mosquitoes Serrate had not been adjusted to home onto the signal given from it.

Schrage-Musik- This was two 20mm upward firing cannons carried by the ME110’s which enabled the night fighter to approach and fire on the bombers, largely unseen, from underneath where the bombers were most vulnerable.

Above: Schrage-Musik

On the night of the Nuremberg raid the assembly points for over 200 German night fighters were to be the Ida and Otto radio beacons-

The bomber stream was heading straight between the two beacons.  With the wind causing the main force to drift slightly northwards they were heading towards the night fighters congregating at the Ida beacon.

Above: Junkers 88 Night Fighter

German illuminators dropped flares amongst the bombers to draw the fighters to them-

These Junkers 88 aircraft flew above the bomber stream and when they saw any evidence of the bombers they dropped parachute flares which brought many more fighters to the area and into the bomber stream.

Most of the casualties had been sustained by attacks from night fighters on the long leg-

By the time the bombers had reached the turning point towards Nuremberg 63 aircraft had been lost, mostly to night fighters.  By sheer luck they had met at the perfect time and place to intercept the bombers which were drifting north further towards the group of fighters.

The Tame Boar technique contributed towards the success of the night fighters-

The Luftwaffe operated a Tame Boar technique which involved a controller continually broadcasting the location and any change of direction of the bomber stream to the night fighters.  These enabled the fighters to accurately find and remain with the bomber stream.

Cloud over the target meant the skymarking had to be used as target indicators would not be seen through cloud-

When the bombers reached the target area they found cloud stretching from 1640ft to 11.500ft. The PFF had been expecting to bomb using the Newhaven visual marking technique.  However, with the cloud cover the target indicators would not be seen.  Some of the Pathfinder aircraft were carrying skymarkers for Wanganui marking but they also had to contend with a strong wind which would blow the markers off course.

Some of the Pathfinder aircraft were blown off course resulting in both Nuremberg and Lauf to the east being marked and then bombed by the main force-

When it came to marking the target some of the pathfinder aircraft had been blown off course to the east due to the change on the wind.  The result of this was that when they were making a timed run from Bamberg they actually ended up near the town of Lauf rather than Nuremberg.  Lauf was much smaller although it did have similar H2s characteristics.  This resulted in markers being dropped both at Nuremberg and Lauf.  The main force, having drifted north of the route before turning south for Nuremberg, were now 3 minutes behind schedule.  They had been instructed to bomb the centre of the markers but on approach they saw two sets of markers, those at Nuremberg and those at Lauf.  When the backers-up arrived in the main force they had the same problem as the PFF and re marking both targets.  There was no master bomber on the Nuremberg raid, if there had been then it’s probable he would have been able to instruct Nuremberg to be remarked.

The bombing cut 3 main railway lines out of Nuremberg and an electric cable factory was 50% destroyed-

Nuremberg sustained damage to railway buildings near the main station and 3 railway lines out of Nuremberg were out.  The eastward drift of the bombers resulted in 2 industrial areas on the outskirts of Nuremberg suffering damage to a motorcycle factory and an iron foundry.  At Neumeyers a factory where 6000 workers made electric cables was 50% destroyed.  In total 512 aircraft bombed Nuremberg.

Above: Nuremberg after the raid

Schweinfurt was also bombed by mistake-

A number of RAF bombers heading for Nuremberg bombed Schweinfurt that nigh.  It is thought that the incorrect broadcast winds had led some of the aircraft to an incorrect turning point leading them onto a run towards Schweinfurt rather the Nuremberg.  It is believed that 78 Lancaster’s 28 Halifaxes and 1 Mosquito bombed the Schweinfurt area.  Schweinfurt in itself was a good target to have accidently bombed as it was home to factories producing ball-bearings.


On the Nuremberg raid Bomber Command sustained the highest losses of aircrew in one night during WW2

On that one night 94 aircraft where shot down and 11 crashed.

537 men were killed

157 men became prisoner of war

11 men evaded capture

Above: The Bomber Command Memorial

Following the Nuremberg raid tactics changed

The Nuremberg raid was the end of the period known as the Battle of Berlin and followed a raid to Leipzig in February when Bomber Command lost 78 bombers and another in March to Berlin when 73 bombers failed to return.  Losses of that number of men could not be sustained and Nuremberg became the turning point.  The 30/31 March 1944 was the last night that Bomber Command operated to Germany with one large bomber stream.  The principle changed to attacking more than one target in one night with smaller streams.  The number of men lost in one night never again rivalled those of the Nuremberg raid for the remainder of the war.