Peenemünde raid – 80 years on
Eighty years ago one of the lesser known but perhaps most important Bomber Command raids of the Second World War took place. The raid on Peenemünde, credited with saving thousands of lives, was to strike at the heart of Nazi research into the destructive V weapons.
On the night of 17/18 August 1943, almost 600 Bomber Command crews were briefed on their most important sortie to date – the small, and unassuming island town of Peenemünde in the Baltic Sea.
Bomber Command pilot George Dunn remembers taking part in what was known as Operation Hydra, the largest British action against a single target during the Second World War.
He said: "Quite a hum of astonishment went round the briefing room. I thought what are we doing, having a maximum effort on a little tiny place like that? All we were told was it was a secret research station and it was terribly important to this country that it was destroyed."
British intelligence had identified the site as the location of the German Army’s research centre, where the devastating V weapons were being developed. Long range weapons would have a huge impact on the Nazi's ability to target Great Britain and had to be stopped.
George describes what it was like to fly that night. He said: "We got in on the first wave, light flak. We dropped our bombs and came back. The middle and last waves, they were the people that unfortunately got the full force of the German night fighters.
"We were on tenterhooks the following day because as you can imagine, if we had to go back the second night, you can imagine what the reception would have been."
The raid comprised Lancaster, Halifax and Stirling aircraft, with a small number of Mosquitos flying on to Berlin in order to draw the fire of the German air force. By the time they realised the deception, the final wave of bombers were on their way.
Sadly 40 aircraft were lost and almost 280 aircrew were killed, but not before 1,938 tons of bombs had been dropped, targeting those working on developing the weapons and their facilities.
Historians mark the raid as contributing to the success of the D-Day landings, saving thousands of lives, as the mission delayed the development of the V2 rocket for almost two months.