10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

Maria - July 1, 2016

Air raids were one of the military strategies that were used to attack enemies using fighter planes which would drop bombs and blow buildings apart. This task was perhaps the most dangerous and terrifying mission during the times of war. However, many brave aviators risked their lives and conducted daring raids against insane odds. This post covers ten of the most daring raids to ever been conducted in history, the story behind the raids and the crews who flew the military planes.

10. The Cuxhaven Raid

10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

On Christmas day of 1914, the British Royal Navy conducted an air raid against the German fleet at Cuxhaven. This day, a Truce took place on parts of the Western Front, but it was by no means universal; many British and German sailors spent the day at sea fighting.

During the early stages of the war, the Germans had built giant airships called Zeppelins which had intimidated the British. They were fast than the fighter planes of that time and the Germans flew and roamed with them over the UK airspace unmolested. Also, the Germans had built large storage sheds for the Zeppelins, and they became impenetrable when the British attacked. With all these looming their mind, the British hatched a plan which involved using nine Royal Naval Air Service seaplanes to find and bomb the German airship shed near Cuxhaven.

On the day of the raid, the Harwich Force escorted three seaplane carriers (Engadine, Riviera, and Empress) to a position twelve miles due west of Heligoland, which was considered to be a suitable position to commence operations. While the fog, low cloud, and anti-aircraft fire prevented the raid from being a complete success, one of the British airplanes found the German fleet – and promptly flew off after the German warships opened up on it. The second airplane sighted and attacked a German destroyer while the third spotted the German cruisers Stralsund and Graudenz. Several German sites were attacked, and the British planes returned unmolested. The raid became a turning point to military tactics, and the British proved that shipborne air strikes were possible.

Related: Photographing the Golden Age of Zeppelin Flight.

9. The Sinking Of the Tirpitz

10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

Tirpitz was the largest battleship Nazi Germany had built right before World War II. Sister ship to the more famous Bismarck, mighty 42,900 ton Tirpitz carried a main armament of eight 15 inch guns, and posed a grave threat to Allied shipping, the British in particular. Over the year, the presence of the Tirpitz was a great concern to the Allied Forces. The British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy made several attempts to sink the Tirpitz but were unsuccessful.

In January 1942, Tirpitz left Germany for Norway, where she would lead fearsome attacks on Allied convoys hauling supply cargoes to Allied forces in Russia. This became another concern to the Allies as they were forced to flee to the northern waters to guard against her. At this time, the attempts made by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy to sink her failed.

However, with a newly developed bomb called the ‘Tallboy,’ Bomber Command hatched a plan to use the bombs to sink the Tirpitz. The enormous bomb, weighing 5,400 kilograms (12,000 lb) was so big, that no other plane could carry it. The British, therefore, decided to use the Lancaster bomber, which was usually used for high-altitude night bombings to fly the mission. With the help of Norwegian undercover agents who were used for intelligence gathering, the British Special Operations (SOE) had daily reports on Tirpitz’s movements.

Finally, on November 12, 1944, the Royal Air Force carried out a successful attack using the Tallboy bomb and sank the Tirpitz. The attack was made by 29 Lancasters of Nos 9 and 617 Squadrons. With the sinking of the Tirpitz, Hitler lost the last influential ship of his surface battle fleet, and this marked the end of Germany’s naval war in northern waters.

8. Operation Opera

10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

Operation Opera was the code name of 7th June 1981 Israeli airstrike on an Iraqi nuclear reactor. The operation followed the 1980 Iran-Iraq war where a pair of Iranian Phantom jets, part of a group of aircraft that were attacking a nearby conventional power plant, bombed the Iraqi reactor but only caused minor damages which were later repaired by French technicians.

The story began when Israeli intelligence confirmed the purchase of a nuclear reactor from the French by the Iraq government. Both the countries claimed that the reactor was purely for research purposes but soon after Israel confirmed Iraqis intention of developing a nuclear weapon, they were aware of the threat the Iraqi posed to them. Quickly, the Israel tried to seek a diplomatic solution that would halt the French from financing and supporting the Iraqi project, but it failed. At this point, Israel had not much time as Iraq was within a year of obtaining nuclear weapons.

Israel planned their attack and on June 7, 1981, their forces took off. The operation which was conducted carefully involved fourteen F-15 and F-16 fighters who flew off the runway of Etzion Air Force base in the Negev, and proceeded to pass over Jordanian, Saudi, and Iraqi airspace, to attack the French-built Iraqi nuclear reactor. The flight to Iraq was done low level so as to minimize the possibility of being spotted by aircraft radar in any of the Arab nations the planes flew over.

7. The Doolittle Raid

10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japanese forces rapidly extended their reach across the Pacific, making them the dominant force in the region. To stop them, the US began to build an unstoppable military force. However, until it became operational, the American leaders were desperately in need of something that could boost their morale, and demonstrate to their enemies and allies alike that the US is striking back.

A plan to raid Tokyo was launched and a group of sixteen men, who were secretly trained for the bombers volunteered to take this extraordinary and technically challenging mission. An excellent and highly experienced pilot, Lt. Colonel James H. Doolittle was appointed as the mission commander. In fact, it was Doolittle who selected the twin-engined B-25B Mitchell. 16 bombers to participate in the mission.

While the take-off was scheduled for April 19 in the afternoon, the mission commenced earlier than expected (On April 18, 1942). The task force was detected by a Japanese patrol boat at dawn but was quickly sank by one of the cruisers. The detection caused panic as the carriers were still over 600 nautical miles from Japan, and fuel was already a problem. Also, Admiral Halsey, who was the Commander of the Task Force 16, knew that the group might be attacked by Japanese carrier aircraft. He then ordered Doolittle’s raiders to take off immediately. The mission which went on as planned stunned Tokyo, leaving the heads of the Japanese Air Force and Navy accusing each other and the commander of Tokyo’s air defense of committing suicide.

6. The Sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse

10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

While not many people might recall the harrowing incident of 10 December 1941, when the Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk near Kuantan on the east coast of Malaya by Japanese torpedoes and bombs, the dreadful attack

Following Japanese invasion fleet north of Malaya, the British were determined to stop the invasion. The British Force Z which consisted of one battleship, one battlecruiser and four destroyers sailed towards Malaya to contain the situation. To have complete radio silence, the force’s commanders decided to sail without any air support. This was a terrible mistake. Their mission did not go as planned and on their way back to Singapore, they were attacked in open waters by the Japanese.

Even though the British were confident in the ships’ anti-aircraft defenses, the Japanese, on spotting Force Z quickly made an attack plan. With little knowledge on conducting a bombing attack on ships in the open water, the Japanese decided to launch 85 aircraft to attack the force. Their first attack using the G3M medium bombers was not successful. However, their second wave of G3Ms was carrying torpedoes yielded the fruits, and they managed to sink the ship, killing 840 British sailors. Only 18 Japanese aviators died during the attack.

5. Operation Focus

10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

Operation Focus also called Operation Mocked, was a surprise strike on Arab military airfields carried out by Israeli Air Force. The attack which was launched at 07:45 on June 5, 1967, destroyed over 450 aircraft on the ground in only a span of three hours. Operation Focus is of great importance in the study of air strategy and sets a very high standard for subsequent air war operations in Israel.

In mid-1967, Egypt together with other Arab nations (Syria, Iraq, and Jordan) issued hair-rising threats to wipe out Israel. This followed Egypt’s president Gamal Abdul Nasser’s decision to close the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. This caused tension between the two countries and both were on a high military alert. With the help of other Arab countries, Egypt war (known as the six-day war) against Israel. Considering her chances, Israel realized that standing against several countries was a terrible mistake and decided to turn the impending conflict in their favor by conducting a preemptive airstrike against their enemies’ combined air forces.

To be successful, Israel used a new weapon, a rocket-assisted anti-runway warhead to initially destroy the runways. With about 20 French Mystere IVa jet aircraft which they had acquired from France in January of 1956 as well as some Ouragan, the Israelis disabled the runways and had all the time to attack Egyptian airfields, destroying dozens of planes, most of them to the ground.

4. The 1943 Mosquito Raid Of Berlin

10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

On Saturday the 30th of January 1943, Nazi Germany was celebrating the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s rise to power. As their traditions, the Germans gathered at the central broadcasting station to listen to the speeches of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göering and Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich’s Propaganda Minister. While this was supposed to be a special event, the Royal Air Force was inbound at low level in their de Havilland Mosquito’s with other ideas about that.

With German forces occupying virtually the whole of Europe, the British were determined to prevent the concentration of defenses in Berlin. The operation started in the morning when three Mosquito B Mk. IVs from 105 Squadron carried out a low-level attack on the Haus des Rundfunks, headquarters of the German State broadcasting company when Göering was due to address the public. Goering could not take the lectern for an hour after the attack and was reported to have been “boiling with rage and humiliation.”

The second attack followed five hours later when three Mosquitoes from 139 (Jamaica) Squadron flew to Berlin and interrupted a speech by Goebbels. Although not quite as disruptive as the earlier one, this attack also took place at the exact time Goebbels was to start speaking, 16.00. During this raid, only one aircraft was lost – Mosquito DZ367 GB-J, of 105 Sqn was shot down near Altengrabow leading to the death of the Squadron Leader D.F. Darling and his navigator, Flying Officer William Wright.

3. Operation Jericho

10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

Operation Jericho was the name given to one of the most audacious air raids carried out by the RAF on 18 February 1944. The operation was a low-level attack by Mosquito bombers on a prison on the outskirts of Amiens in northern France where the Germans were holding many resistance fighters and other political prisoners.

The aim of the operation was to eliminate two Allied intelligence officers who had been captured and were being held at Amiens Prison. While no one can exactly tell the intelligence the two officers had, it is believed that their capture posed a threat to Operation Overload where the Allied forces had planned to invade Europe and liberate it from the hands of Nazi Germany. In that case, the Allied forces attacked the prison to either rescue or eliminate the two men.

Eighteen Mosquitoes, supported by Typhoons took off from RAF Hunsdon in Hertfordshire. As they hit the very poor weather, four Mosquitoes turned back as they had lost contact with the other fourteen. The crews later reported that the weather was the worst they had ever experienced.

2. Operation Chastise

10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

On the night of 16-17 May 1943, an RAF bombing raid destroyed three dams in the Ruhr Valley. The mission codenamed Operation ‘Chastise’ was aimed at destroying the Möhne, Edersee and Sorpe Dams, which were fiercely protected with torpedos in the waters to stop underwater attacks and anti-aircraft guns to defend against enemy bombers.

Between 1938 and 1941, a number of proposals and studies were undertaken by the British. It was found that multiple strikes with a high degree of accuracy would be necessary. Considering the feasibility of the mission, the British specially developed a “bouncing bomb” invented and developed by Sir Barnes Wallis. Also, with a new squadron, which had been formed at Scampton on 21st March 1943, and led by the 24-year-old Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the British were ready for the mission.

At 9.28 pm on 16 May 1943, the first of 19 Lancaster heavy bombers lifted off the runway into a clear, still early summer night. The mission went as planned resulting in the destruction of two hydroelectric power stations. Several others were damaged, and the floods drowned and killed approximately 1,300 people.

1. Operation Tidal Wave

10 Insanely Daring Air Raids in History

Planning for Operation Tidal Wave is the primary task that had taken the 44th, 93rd, and 389th Bomb Groups of the Eighth Air Force as well as the Ninth Air Force (98th and 376th Bombardment Groups) on bases around Benghazi, Libya. While in Libya, these five bomb groups (mainly B-24 Liberators) were training to fly and hit targets at a very low altitude not knowing the mission that awaited them.

When they were eventually told the purpose of their training, their target became the 18 square miles of German-controlled oil refineries located in the area of Ploesti, Romania. Ploiești was one of the major oil industries in Europe that provided about 30% of all Axis oil production, giving the German military enough fuel. The Allied forces, therefore, made it a target.

The mission took off on 1 August 1943 when each of the B-24 was massively loaded with bombs, ammunition, and fuel as well as incendiary bombs to drop on the target. According to the plan, the operation was a low-altitude bombing run using delayed fuse bombs, and also required 2400 miles round trip with the planes staying airborne for over thirteen hours. 53 aircraft and 660 aircrewmen were lost making the mission one of the costliest for the USAAF in the European Theater. Compared to other single missions, this extremely dangerous operation also became the second-worst loss ever suffered by the USAAF. Operation Tidal Wave’s date was later referred to as “Black Sunday.”