From the Woolner Family
© Leslie Woolner Bardsley
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Frank Woolner
Journalist, Headquarters, 3rd Armored Division

  [NOTE: At the time of this brief stay in London by Woolner, he was on leave from training elsewhere in England as a sergeant with the 703rd Tank Destroyer Bn, where his duties also included writing press articles. D-Day still lay ahead, less than four months away.]


LONDON, ENGLAND -- On the evening of Feb. 19, 1944, the blitz came back to London. It wasn't the old blitz of 1940-41 scope, but Goering and Company tried to make it a reasonable facsimile. You must understand that things are tough everywhere for the Luftwaffe, and London isn't cold meat for an invader pilot any more.

The new attacks were what the British newspapers called "a series of raids in some force," and were considered the most ambitious Axis effort since the Battle for Britain. I was in London during five successive nights of the "new" blitz. It wasn't fun.

The attacks, which were launched in a seven day period of nightly bombing, were accompanied by loud shouts over radio Berlin by Propaganda Minster Goebbels. The little doctor with the large voice, said that in the first phase of this new offensive, 6000 tons of bombs had been dropped on the citadel of the United Nations.

"When we have flown seven times seven over London," Herr Goebbels asserted, "the aspect of the British capital will be changed to an incredible extent." According to the Jerries, London's Bank of England, Central Post Office, and the Tower of London, no less, had been smashed to ruin. Londoners, it was claimed, were in a panic.

Naturally, all this was propaganda for the German home front, itself quivering under mass aerial attack by the RAF and USAAF. According to the best Allied information, not one-tenth of that wonderful 6000 tons of bombs has fallen on London during the whole year. The seven times seven mirage petered out into occasional scalded cat intrusions by fast fighter-bombers. The historic buildings, purported laid in ruins, were still there - any Londoner could see that for himself. And panic was a minus quality; people hardly discussed the bombs. The big topic was London's new air raid defense set-up!

However, it must not be imagined that Germany's new blows against the British capital were not serious. An air raid, however light, is grim business, and these enemy formations, you will remember, were reported to be "in some force."

Incendiaries rained down, the ack-ack thundered, the night sky droned with engines and shuddered with drumfire explosions. Creeping into the sky on several occasions we saw the red stain which tells of a distant fire. The heavy rescue squads went clattering into action. Fire fighters dusted off their equipment. People were killed, a few buildings were reduced to smoking rubble. And the young pilots of the Luftwaffe discovered painfully that bombing London was no longer a "milk run." There'd been some changes made.

When I left base camp to visit London, I told the platoon that I hoped for at least one raid by the Luftwaffe, having always wanted to see one. I had my raid immediately upon arrival, and then for good measure, four more of them, one each evening. When we went raidless for the last two nights of our stay in the British capital, it was something of a let-down!

My first raid came just as I had crawled into the most luxurious bed it has ever been my good fortune to discover since reaching the spam circuit. At camp we sleep on wooden cots and mattresses of straw. The allotted beds in the American Red Cross Club in London, therefore, were something to write home about. However, as I say, I'd just settled down comfortably when the darndest racket you ever heard began to shake the whole building!

A couple of engineers and I had been arguing about the correct method of anti-tank mine removal, and we'd probably been making too much noise to hear the alert. Therefore, the planes were overhead and the ack-ack blasting away at them when we finally awoke to the fact that Jerry was in London too, or - at least - over London.

Downstairs in the Red Cross Club, business was proceeding as usual, excepting for the fact that a sign had been hung over the door. ALERT, it read in large black letters, as though we didn't know.

Outside, we found that the sky was twinkling with pinpoints of explosive where the anti-aircraft shells were exploding. The drum-fire of guns was a continuous pattern of sound, but running through it we could hear the drone of German motors.

A raid is a quaint experience, to say the least, and although there is the spice of excitement, you feel a definite undercurrent of fear. The defensive flak amounts to barrage proportions all over metropolitan London, yet you are given a further shock when the heavy AA guns suddenly blaze away from what seems like next door! The sound is almost deafening, and the curtain of steel thrown up seems almost impossible to penetrate, it is so thick.

The flak goes up in darts of red, in long, almost lazy streaks of livid flame, in Roman candle effects - where you may see strings of red fireballs, each perfectly spaced like knots in a taut wire.

Rocket guns blaze away with the sound of a dozen freight trains hurtling through a tunnel - if you can imagine that. The new rocket guns, recently taken off the can't-talk-about list, throw up hundreds of projectiles which burst all over the sky like the great finale of a fireworks exhibition, but on a vastly increased scale.

You see searchlight beams catch a plane, hungrily fasten upon it, and hold it in a white glare while ack-ack bursts coverage. You know that enemy is in that airplane, although the machine is too high to distinguish type or markings without the aid of binoculars. You find yourself wondering how the Jerry can possibly elude all the flak, but he does, and often gets out of the crossing beams too.

Then, another item that goes straight to the shiver-and-shake department: German flares begin to blossom up there among the stars and the flak. Each flare seems to be coming down directly upon you, and you know very well that somewhere in the dark sky, looking down, are bombardiers of the Luftwaffe. Ack-ack gunners fire at the flares, and gradually they break up and disappear.

A raid begins with the siren alert, the banshee. Then, usually 10 or 20 minutes later, the barrage begins and London throws up her steel wall of flak. The Luftwaffe planes which manage to get through the outer defenses, drop their bombs, incendiaries, and flutterers - a flutterer is merely a long strip of metallic paper designed to hamper radio detection - and having jettisoned their bombs, begin a long dive for home on the continent of Europe. The German night bomber's lot is not a particularly pleasant one at this time. Defenses are tighter here. Night fighters of the RAF harry the invader of the skyways to and from the capitol. Black painted Mosquito and Douglas A-20 Intruders stooge around in Nazi airdromes in France waiting for the birds to come back to their roost, so that they may be neatly destroyed while trying to land.

Gone forever are the soft days when a German bomber-boy could easily dodge the flak of London, sneer at the inadequate Allied night-fighter strength, and fly safely back to a mug of German beer and a completed mission against England. Each trip to Britain these days is a general engagement. Now it is the Luftwaffe which must improvise, fight against heavy odds, and regard death as the co-pilot on every mission. Mixed formations are sent out to raid - which probably indicates that the German Air Force cannot marshal a large force of the proper type of aircraft for the job at hand. Junkers-88's, and planes of like design are used, along with fighter-bombers, which carry only the lightest of bombs.

The Ju-88 is admittedly a magnificent fighting airplane, but it carries no heavier a load than our medium bombers such as the North American B-25, the Marauder B-26, etc. These are all two-motored mediums, and carry but a fraction of the bomb load lifted by a Flying Fortress or a British Lancaster, which are multi-motored types.

Although the latest German bombs are reported to be more destructive than those hurled on London in the Battle for Britain, they are few and light compared to the tonnage now nightly falling on Hitler's Third Reich. London news agencies quote the RAF estimation that the average British raid on Berlin is 20 times as great as the present attacks against England's capitol.

I saw some of the buildings hit by the Luftwaffe in its latest sorties, and I made a point of visiting targets which German radio claimed to have destroyed. A few apartment houses were hit, and people died in London. But the Luftwaffe loses a painful percentage of valuable aircraft for each mission undertaken. Londoners shrug off the raids with the observation that they have taken much worse than this, and that every German aircraft destroyed during the raids is one less to shoot at and bomb their sons when the invasion of Germany begins. The big topic of conversation is the new defense system in the capitol, not the bombs and the incendiaries. People laugh at the German propaganda and recognize it for what it is - an attempt to bolster the courage of Germans who are living through a 20 times greater hell of Allied bombs dropping night and day on their groaning fortress.

I don't think that the Luftwaffe is achieving anything worthwhile in its "new" raids on London. On the other hand, it is losing planes which, considering the RAF-USAAF bombing of aircraft factories in the Reich, have become precious machines.

I wanted to see a raid. I saw five of them, one after the other, and there were times when I was scared plenty. You may be sure that I am satisfied. I hope I never see another one. Raids aren't fun at all.

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