Monday, March 9, 2015

The Blitz - The Firelighters

He.111H-3 Unit: 2./KG 100 Serial: 6N+CK Spring 1941. Took part in night raids to Britain.

Given half-way decent visibility, coastal targets were easy to find. Inland targets were a different matter. These could only realistically be found by specially equipped units. By default, KGr 100, using X-Gerät, became the first, but not the only, German target-marking outfit. Unlike the later RAF Pathfinders, KGr 100 made little use of flares and none of pyrotechnics. Nor did it concentrate its efforts at the beginning of an attack. Instead it dropped a combination of high-explosive and incendiary bombs over an extended period to start fires, which in turn would lead other bombers to the objective.

The first major attack in the firelighting role was made by KGr 100 using X-Gerät on Coventry on 14/15 November 1940. Yet although the fires raised could be seen from France, almost one-fifth of the aircraft despatched failed to reach their target. This is totally inexplicable.

That on Coventry was the first of many such raids. The second target marking unit was HI/KG 26, also with Heinkels, which used Y-Gerät, difficulties with which have been previously mentioned. When the weather was unsuitable for a mass raid, both units carried out precision attacks.

Matters would have gone ill for the British had these been allowed to flourish unchecked, but here three factors intervened. The first was X-Gerät and Knickebein jamming: not that either was ever totally effective, but jamming caused a great deal of confusion. The second was the 'Meacons', which fouled up the navigational beacons. The third was the advent of a truly effective night fighter, led to its target by ground control and using AI radar for the terminal portion of the interception. During 1940 the weather had accounted for more losses than the British defences. For example, one of the most distinguished German bomber pilots of the war, Werner Baumbach of KG 30, had crashed twice while landing in poor visibility, on 16 October and 24 November, but was each time unhurt. But, as 1941 progressed, British night fighters became the main enemy.

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