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Aarhus Air Raid

File:RAF Attack on Aarhus University Gestapo headquarters 31 October 1944 , Langelandsgades Kaserne.jpg
Damaged barracks near Aarhus University residence halls bombed on 31 October 1944

The Aarhus Air Raid took place on 31 October 1944 by 25 Mosquitoes from the No.140 Wing RAF of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, targeting the Gestapo headquarters at the University of Aarhus.

The Royal Air Force would in the aftermath of World War II point to the mission as the most successful one of its kind during the war.[1]

Background

During World War II, Aarhus was occupied by German forces, who had established their headquarters for the Jutland area in the eastern parts of the University of Aarhus. The 577th Volksgrenadier Division was established in Aarhus on 25 August 1944. Its draftees were transferred to the 47th Infantry Division in the September, and the last members left Aarhus on 10 November to fight later on the Western Front.[2]

On 31 October 1944 the Aarhus Air Raid saw a "daring, low-level precision bombing attack" on the Gestapo headquarters in Aarhus by 25 Mosquitoes from the Number 140 Wing of the RAF Second Tactical Air Force. Resistance leader Pastor Harald Sandbæk was being held captive in Aarhus at the time. In Aarhus the Gestapo was headed by Eugen Schwitzgebel; the Sicherheitsdienst, led by Obersturmbannführer Lonechun, and the Abwehr, commanded by Oberstleutnant Lutze, were also based there.[3] A reconnaissance mission had been conducted five days prior to the bombing by 544 Squadron.

Planning and preparation

The attack were carefully planned by members of the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services. They identified the raid as an especially challenging one because of the fact that the main targets, the university dormitories in which Gestapo had their headquarters, had civilian hospitals on multiple sides and within short distance, so a high degree of precision was needed in order to minimise civilian casualties. As a result, a training area in 1:1 were drawn with chalk where the pilots picked for the attack made two test runs before the raid.[1]

It was eventually decided that the attack would take place over four waves with about one minute in between: The first waves would carry regular bombs in order to crack the buildings containing the Gestapo offices open, while the last waves would attack with fire bombs to maximize the damage to the Gestapo archives. The bombs was set to explode with a delay of eleven seconds after being dropped, to minimize the risk of them damaging subsequent waves. It was also decided that it would take place on a workday, between 11:30 and 12:00; only few Danish prisoners would be held in the offices at this time, as most of them would have been escorted back to their cells elsewhere on campus to receive lunch, while the majority of the Gestapo staff would be present and preparing for the lunch break at 12:00.[1]

Eventually the planes involved and their crew were decided upon: Three squadrons were to supply 25 planes: 24 of these were Mosquito Mk.VI fighter-bombers, while the last plane was a Mosquito Mk. IV reconnaissance plane from the Royal Air Force Film Production Unit, meant to film and document the raid. In addition, 12 Mustang Mk. III fighter planes from the No. 315 Polish Fighter Squadron would escort them on the raid with orders to minimize the threat from the closest German airbase "Grove" and create confusion by attacking and harassing minor German targets around the countryside of Central Jutland. All planes would be supplied with extra fuel tanks to make sure they could make the long trip across the North Sea. The intended destination and target of the mission were not disclosed to the pilots before their final briefing at 08:00, October 31.[1]

The date and time for the raid was finally settled on October 30. The attack would take place the next day, October 31, at 11:30. As a final preparation, the planes involved in the raid gathered at the airbase at Swanton Morley at 08:00 on the day of the attack for a final briefing. However, when the fighter planes from the 315 Sqdn. landed, it was discovered that four of them each had a broken tailwheel, so it was decided to proceed with just the eight that were ready for flight. At 08:40 the planes were order to take-off, and did so in pairs, and at 09:20 all 33 planes were in the air and headed for their destination.[1]

The bombing

The attack force entered Jutland around the coastal town of Henne around 11:20. The German forces were first alerted to their presence at 11:36. Like planned the 315 Sqdn. broke off around Grove while the 140 Wing continued towards Skanderborg. At 11:38 the first attack wave reached Skanderborg Lake followed shortly after by the three other waves. The first wave then broke off and reached Aarhus in about three minutes. Upon getting a visual on their target, the dorms with the Gestapo offices, they headed straight for it and unloaded their cargo, four tons of bombs, on it. At 11:41 this first series of bombs exploded. Four minutes after, they were followed by the second wave, then the third and fourth wave, attacking with fire bombs, followed with few minutes in between.[1]

The latter waves faced complications in form of the German light cruiser, Nürnberg, being present in Aarhus Harbor and attacking them with flak. One of the planes from wave four was severely damaged by the flak from the ship. Instead of returning to base, another plane in the wave escorted it to the Kattegat sea, where it continued on alone to Sweden where it landed safely and was destroyed by the crew before they were arrested by Swedish authorities.[1]

The rest of the planes left Danish airspace in their designated waves between 12:16 and 12:34; about two hours later they had all landed safely in England.[1]

Aftermath

The illegal Danish press estimated that 150-200 Gestapo members and some 30 Danes had perished in the attack,[4][3][1] but an internal German report set their losses from the offices in the dormitories to 39, of whom 27 were SS-Officers employed in Gestapo, including Eugen Schwitzgebel, and the remaining 12 were from other departments of the German police, mostly office workers.[1] Another 20 German casualties were reported from the Langelandsgade barracks, 18 of whom were soldiers.[1] Three prisoners from the Danish resistance were present for interrogation inside the dorms during the attack, including Sandbæk; he and another prisoner managed to escape relatively unscathed in the confusion and reached the safety of Sweden soon there after, but the third prisoner perished in the attack.[1]

Though the bombing was quite precise and had decimated dorms 4 and 5 and done considerable damage to the Langelandsgade barracks, a couple of bombs strayed from their targets. Most notably, the university's main building, which was under construction at the time, was accidentally struck by a bomb that had somehow managed to skip down the halls of the building, killing about 10 members of the work crew and injuring the chief architect who was on site that day.[1]

Most of the Gestapo's archives, including many of the files on the Danish resistance, were destroyed in the attack; the exact extent of the damage remains unknown, though it is clear that that the loss of files and experienced personnel severely hampered Gestapo's efficiency in Denmark.[1] As a result, Gestapo reinforced their numbers in Denmark in the weeks following the attack, to the point where the number of agents were almost doubled.[1] From October 1944 until April 1945, aircraft of the Coastal Command launched an intense anti-shipping campaign targeting ships off the Danish coast between Norway and Germany. One of the principal reasons for this campaign was to target ships which were transferring some 200,000 German soldiers of the 20. Gebirgsarmee from Oslo to Aarhus, to be dispatched by train down through Jutland.[5]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Kristensen 2012, p. 446-478.
  2. ^ Mitcham 2007, pp. 110-11.
  3. ^ a b Trenear-Harvey 2009, p. 2.
  4. ^ Zabecki 1999, pp. 1350-1.
  5. ^ Sevaldsen, Bjørke & Bjørn 2003, p. 330.
Bibliography