'Bellicose' was a British air attack by Avro Lancaster bombers of RAF Bomber Command on a German radar factory in the former Zeppelin Works at Friedrichshafen and the Italian naval base at La Spezia (20/24 June 1943).
The undertaking was the first shuttle bombing raid of World War II and the second use of a master bomber as a means of improving the accuracy of the bombing.
The spur for the attack came in June 1943, when a British photo interpreter at the Central Interpretation Unit identified a stack of ribbed baskets (in fact Würzburg radar reflectors) at the Zeppelin works. After Prime Minister Winston Churchill had seen the photographs at RAF Medmenham on 14 June, Air Vice Marshal the Hon. R. A. Cochrane’s No. 5 Group of RAF Bomber Command received orders on 16 June to attack Friedrichshafen during the next full moon.
The Zeppelin shed, 330 yards (300 m) long, 60 yards (55 m) and 195 ft (60 m) high, had been built at Friedrichshafen-Löwenthal airfield in 1930/31 for use by the Zeppelin company’s in the the construction of its largest and indeed last airships, LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, LZ 129 Hindenburg and LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II. After Hindenburg had been destroyed by fire at Lakehurst in New Jersey during 1937 and the two other airships had been broken up for scrap at Frankfurt in 1940, the hangar fell into disuse. Early in 1943, it was dismantled and transported in sections on a specially laid track to a new location 1.9 miles (3 km) away in the industrial suburbs of Friedrichshafen, where it was rebuilt.
British aerial reconnaissance of southern Germany at this time was the task mainly of de Havilland Mosquito PR.Mk IV and PR.Mk VIII aircraft of the RAF’s No. 540 Squadron from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. The photographs were sent 15 miles (24 km) for assessment to the Central Interpretation Unit at Danesfield House near Medmenham in Buckinghamshire. At the beginning of June 1943, Squadron Leader Claude Wavell, head of G Section (Radar & Radio) at Medmenham, noticed stacks of ribbed metalwork lying outside the relocated Zeppelin shed in recent overflights of Friedrichshafen. The pattern of the stacks had changed between photographic sorties, implying activity, and Wavell identified the metalwork as parts for the distinctive 24-ft (7.3-m) lattice reflector dishes of Würzburg-Riese radar equipments.
The appearance and size of Würzburg-Riese antennae had been known to British intelligence since 2 May 1942, when Flight Lieutenant A. E. Hill, in a Supermarine Spitfire PR.Mk IV of No.1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, also based at Benson, had taken low-level oblique pictures of a German radar station at Domburg on island of Walcheren in the occupied Netherlands. The images revealed a pair of Würzburg-Riese equipments, pointed in different directions, so that the analysts got both profile and more full-face views. In the profile image, a startled Luftwaffe man was standing at the foot of the ladder to the control cabin behind the dish, giving scale to the picture. An earlier oblique photograph, obtained by Hill on 15 December 1941, had shown an example of the original, much smaller Würzburg set, with a 9.85-ft (2-m) sheet metal dish, on a cliff top in Normandy, and this led to the 'Biting' raid on Bruneval of 27/28 February, in which C Company of the 2/Parachute Regiment under Major John Frost, parachuted from Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bombers of No. 51 Squadron, to seize the site and then return to the UK with some of the radar’s key components for analysis,
In matters associated with radar, Medmenham reported up to Dr R.V. Jones, the Assistant Director of Intelligence (Science) at the Air Ministry. Jones’s department, drawing on information from air reconnaissance, interrogations of prisoners of war, resistance agents in France and Belgium, Enigma cipher decrypts and the monitoring of Luftwaffe radio traffic and radar signals by RAF ground stations and specially equipped bombers known as 'Ferrets', had made possible the development of detailed knowledge of the German air-defence system. The Würzburg-Riese was similar in signal to the original Würzburg as detected at Bruneval, operating at 560 MHz, but it was more precise and longer-ranged as a result of its more powerful transmitter and its much larger reflector dish. By 1943, while the original Würzburg was still in service with Flak and searchlight batteries, the Luftwaffe used the Würzburg-Riese for ground-controlled interception, vectoring German night-fighters onto British bombers. The Würzburg-Riese equipments were installed in pairs with one to track the bomber and the other to track the night-fighter until the latter’s airborne interception radar acquired the target.
Jones reported the Friedrichshafen findings to Lord Cherwell, Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s chief scientific adviser, in whose Oxford laboratory Jones had once worked as a researcher. According to Wavell, Churchill visited Medmenham, viewed the Friedrichshafen photographs and asked 'Have we been there yet?' Wavell responded that RAF Bomber Command had not bombed Friedrichshafen. Cherwell had spoken to the Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, the Chief of the Air Staff, and with Churchill’s backing such a raid was ordered as 'Bellicose'.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, as commander-in-chief of RAF Bomber Command, was in the midst of the Battle of the Ruhr, a campaign against the industrial complexes of north-western Germany that lasted from March to July 1943. These attacks, on targets a mere 90 minutes' flying time from Bomber Command bases, made use of the short spring and summer nights and also exploited the 'Oboe' radar-ranging device, which enabled high-flying Mosquito bombers of Air Vice Marshal D. C. T. Bennett’s No. 8 Group (Pathfinder Force) to place their pyrotechnic target indicator bombs accurately. Reliant on signals from ground stations, 'Oboe' was restricted by the earth’s curvature to a range of 280 miles (450 km) from England. Beyond 'Oboe' range, the Pathfinder aircraft normally used a combination of visual methods and airborne ground-mapping H2S radar, which produced considerably less consistent results.
Although Harris opposed 'precision' bombing as a general policy, in part because he felt it made bomber operations too predictable, Harris appreciated that his area bombing campaign against the Ruhr was incurring the same problem. Since 10 June 1943, Harris had been under instruction to implement the 'Pointblank' directive to allocate the highest priority to targets associated with the German fighter force. This directive arose from the 'Trident' conference in Washington during May 1943m and as Harris later put it 'the 8th United States Army Air Force was to attack the principal airframe and other aircraft factories while my Command was to attack the industrial towns in which there was the largest number of aircraft component factories; most of these towns, as it happened, were further east or south than the Ruhr.' As a radar factory, the Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen constituted a valid and important 'Pointblank' target, but an added attraction in Harris’s view lay in its considerable distance from England: 'A further reason for carrying out this rather elaborate operation was that it would help to spread the enemy’s defences; Friedrichshafen had every reason to consider itself safe from attack, especially in the summer months, and this unexpectedly deep penetration might well cause other places outside the more vulnerable areas to scream for defences.'
The most salient difficulty with an attack on Friedrichshafen was that, with the target some 650 miles (1045 km) distant from Bomber Command’s bases as the crow flies, or 800 miles (1285 km) by the best indirect tactical route, it was impossible for bombers flying at 200 mph (320 km/h) to complete their outward and return legs in darkness in the middle of the summer. But the coast of North Africa was within the range of the Avro Lancaster bomber, and the USAAF agreed to receive the bombers at its Blida and Maison Blanche in Algeria. Although the Americans were not equipped to service Lancasters properly, they would at least be able to refuel and re-arm them. Harris’s orders at this time also required him to attack Italian targets when possible, as part of the government’s policy to knock Italy out of the war, so he decided that the Friedrichshafen force would bomb the Italian naval base of La Spezia at dusk on the return flight to England.
Harris assigned the operation to Cochrane’s No. 5 Group. Under one of Cochrane’s predecessors, Air Vice Marshal John Slessor, No. 5 Group had become the first bomber group to begin re-equipping with the Lancaster; and under his immediate predecessor, Air Vice Marshal Alec Coryton, it had gained a reputation for daring low-level attacks. First came the Augsburg raid of 17 April 1942, when six Lancaster bombers of No. 44 Squadron and another six of No. 97 Squadron (at that time the only two operational Lancaster units) were dispatched in daylight to bomb the MAN Diesel engine factory, with the loss of seven aircraft. Next was the 'Robinson' raid on Le Creusot of 17 October 1942, when 94 Lancaster bombers, led by Wing Commander Leonard Slee of No. 49 Squadron, made a dusk attack on the Schneider-Creusot munitions complex in Burgundy, flying at tree-top height from the Bay of Biscay and flying back to England in darkness, for the loss of only one aeroplane.
Cochrane, who assumed command of No. Group on 28 February 1943, soon oversaw the 'Chastise' attack, or 'Dams Raid', on 16/17 May, for which Harris had ordered the creation of a dedicated unit, No. 617 Squadron. The successful part of this operation, namely the attacks on the Möhne and Eder dams, had been controlled in the air by Wing Commander Guy Gibson using radio telephony, and Cochrane decided to use the same method at Friedrichshafen and appointed Leonard Slee, by now a group captain, to lead the raid, with Wing Commander Cosme Lockwood Gomm of No. 467 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force as his deputy.
Harris decided that 'Bellicose' should not be left to No. 5 Group alone and that the target should be marked by a small force of Lancaster 'pathfinder' aircraft from Bennett’s No. 8 Group. This led to friction between Cochrane and Bennett. Cochrane wanted to use a new technique in he had become interested, known as time-and-distance bombing. This required the crews to identify three landmarks lying in a straight line on the last stage of the run to the target. Between the first two landmarks the aircraft made a timed run to establish the true ground speed and wind drift. The navigator then calculated the time and heading from the third landmark to the bomb release point, where the bomb load was released 'blind'. In principle, no marking was required. This addressed concerns over the accuracy of 'pathfinder' marking beyond 'Oboe' range and also the problem that, even if the markers were on target, the dust and smoke of the main force’s bombing might obscure them. On the approach to Friedrichshafen the landmarks would be features of Lake Constance’s shore, which should be sufficiently distinct on a moonlit night.
As Harris was not giving No. 5 Group a free hand, Cochrane and Bennett compromised. Picked 'pathfinder' crews were to mark the target and re-mark it throughout the attack. The crews of Cochrane’s main force were then to bomb on the markers unless or until the raid controller decided that the markers were off-target or obscured, in which case time-and-distance bombing would be used. The operation was now ready for the next moon period, only a few days away. On the morning of 16 June, four 'pathfinder' crews of No. 97 Squadron at RAF Bourn in Cambridgeshire were detailed to 'take a week’s kit, and fly up to Scampton directly after lunch'. When one pilot asked why, his flight commander told him that 'I don’t know. You’ll get all the gen when you get there.'
No. 97 Squadron had participated in both the Augsburg and the Le Creusot raids, and had been transferred to No. 8 Group from No. 5 Group only in April. The four pilots whose crews were selected for 'Bellicose' were Squadron Leader E. E. Rodley, Flight Lieutenant J. H. J. Sauvage, Pilot Officer D. I. Jones and Pilot Officer J. F. Munro, the last a Canadian officer.
At the No. 5 Group airfield at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, Slee gave the 'pathfinders' a preliminary briefing: he did not tell them the nature of the target, but only that it was of special importance, that it was housed in the Zeppelin shed at Friedrichshafen and that it measured just 350 by 150 yards (320 by 135 m). The 'pathfinders' would be marking for a force of 56 Lancaster crews selected from No. 5 Group’s squadrons and the job required accuracy of 'the highest order'. The marking tactics would be left to the 'pathfinder' captains themselves. It was decided that Jones and Munro were to arrive one minute ahead of the others and at a higher altitude. As they made landfall at Friedrichshafen they would begin dropping flares. Following, Rodley and Sauvage were to pick out the Zeppelin shed by flare light and mark it with target indicator bombs. Rodley recalled that these were to be 'alternate reds and greens, and when we got one on the roof of the sheds, we would broadcast to the Main Force to bomb the red or the green, as the case might be.' In fact it would be Slee or Gomm who made the call.
Low flying would be needed to avoid detection en route to the target, so the 'pathfinder' crews flew cross-country exercises at low level in the course of that and the following night, visiting the great airship sheds at RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire. On the night of 18 June, in a dress rehearsal, the 'pathfinders' illuminated and marked a target on the bombing range at RAF Wainfleet on the coast of Lincolnshire, for the No. 5 Group force. The crews were confined to camp when not flying and were forbidden to use the telephone.
On the morning of 19 June, Slee held the full briefing for the 25 'pathfinder' and No. 5 Group crews based at Scampton. The crews now learned almost the whole plan, including the surprise onward flight to North Africa and the assignment of a second, still undisclosed target for the return flight. The weather was later predicted to be unsuitable at Friedrichshafen that night, so the operation was postponed for 24 hours. However, 290 Handley Page Halifax, Short Stirling and Lancaster bombers of Nos 3, 4, 6 and 8 Groups carried out another attack on the Schneider works at Le Creusot. Instead of target indicators, the 'pathfinders' dropped large numbers of flares. The main force was supposed to identify the target visually, but crews found it hard to see through the dazzle and smoke of so many flares. A fifth of the bomb loads did hit the Schneider works, but residential areas were also heavily damaged.
At its north-western end, Lake Constance is split into two parts by a 10-mile (16-km) spit of land with the German city of Konstanz at the tip, providing a good pinpoint. From Konstanz, Friedrichshafen lies 15 miles (24 km) due east across the water and is set in a bay. The bombers' track would take them directly over the western headland of the bay after 8 miles (12.9 km). At 12.5 miles (20.1 km), less than one minute from the target, the bombers would cross the eastern shore at a shallow angle. The same three reference points would serve for time-and-distance bombing by the main force.
On 20 June, RAF Bomber Command ordered the implementation of 'Bellicose', with take-off from 21.45. The 'pathfinder' aircraft were loaded to 2,000 lb (907 kg) over the current all-up limit of 63,000 lb (28577 kg) with a full fuel load of 2,154 Imp gal (9792 litres) as well as oil, crew, machine gun ammunition, flares, target indicators and HE bombs. In case any of the aircraft was shot down, every 'pathfinder' aeroplane carried six 250-lb (113-kg) target indicators (three red and three green), 16 flares and eight 500-lb (227-kg) bombs. The overload factor was a particular concern because Scampton still had uneven grass runways, but in the event all of the bombers cleared the hedge and lifted through the evening mist without trouble. The crews could see other Lancaster aircraft climbing out of No. 5 Group’s other bases to join the loose formation. The force headed west of London and turned south over Reading in Berkshire toward the headland of Selsey Bill on the Sussex coast, climbing all the time, as high as they could go, to make allowance for the Flak defences of German-held Normandy. At Selsey Bill the aircraft circled to let the light fade before they started to cross the English Channel.
The bombers set course into a belt of thunderstorms: these represented a danger, and while only one aeroplane encountered serious trouble, that was the machine of the master bomber. Slee was the station commander at RAF Dunholme Lodge and technically not an operational pilot, so he was riding as 'second dickey' in the flight engineer’s seat in a Lancaster of No. 49 Squadron. The captain was Gerry Fawke who, crossing the French coast blind in dense thunder cloud at 19,000 ft (5790 m), had just begun losing height to get under the storm when his aeroplane was engaged by radar-predicted Flak fire. The navigator, whose radio aids were out of action as a result of the storm’s electrical interference, said he was not sure where they were: it might be Caen or else the strongly defended S-boote base at Le Havre. On board, to observe the Flak defences of Friedrichshafen, was No. 5 Group’s army anti-aircraft liaison officer, Major Mullock, who estimated that four four-gun 88-mm (3.465-in) batteries were firing on this one aeroplane. Fawke took evasive action, all on instruments, turning 30° each way every eight seconds while climbing and diving 1,000 ft (305 m) at a time. Munro of No. 97 Squadron, passing dead on track over the correct ingress point, the seaside resort of Cabourg, between Caen and Le Havre, attracted some light Flak fire, but was out of the German guns' range.
The force turned to the south-east, descending to 10,000 ft (3050 m) by the time they reached Orléans. The worst of the weather was behind them, and the turned to the east for the long straight run to Germany as they descended to 3,000 ft (915 m) or less. Although the German radar belt extended through eastern France to the Swiss frontier, extremely low flight was not considered necessary or indeed advisable. Upland terrain restricted the German radar coverage, and the heavily laden, slow-climbing bombers needed enough height to cross the southern edge of the Vosges mountain range just before they reached the Rhine river.
Not far short of the Vosges mountains, and just 45 minutes from the target, Fawke’s port inner began to emit sparks, and may have been damaged by Flak. Fawke shut down the engine and feathered the propeller. In Jones’s 'pathfinder' aeroplane, the bomb-aimer, Flying Officer Tom Hodgkinson, lying in the nose, called out that he had sighted the Rhine river and, as the force crossed the river into Germany, to the north of Basel, Jones began climbing to the designated attack altitude. The route curved round the northern border of neutral Switzerland towards Friedrichshafen. Fawke unfeathered his no. 2 prop to turn the engine, because the port inner powered the Lancaster’s Mk XIV bomb-sight computer, but the engine then caught fire. Fawke jettisoned his bombs and dived to starboard, into Swiss airspace, so that the crew could bail out if need be, but the fire-extinguisher system killed the fire and Fawke resumed course to the target. Slee broke radio silence to tell Gomm to take command.
Munro saw the Swiss switch on several searchlights and fire a few warning anti-aircraft shells, probably because of the master bomber’s incursion. Munro maintained his course, pinpointed on the cape of Konstanz and circled to lose time. At H-hour less four minutes, he set off across the lake to Friedrichshafen.
As the British bombers approached, the town remained dark. Flak and searchlight crews were disciplined and therefore did not break the black-out for aircraft that might simply pass. As Munro’s Lancaster made landfall on the eastern shore at 12,000 ft (3660 m), the bomb aimer, Sergeant E. Suswain, began to release the first batch of eight large reconnaissance flares. Moments later, over to port, another string of flares appeared from Jones’s aeroplane. Without sight of each other since the English Channel, both target illuminator crews had arrived exactly on time and target, almost in formation. One minute behind and slightly below, Rodley directed his aeroplane between the two flare lanes. Friedrichshafen’s buildings appeared in the glow and Rodley’s bomb-aimer, Sergeant Rae, picked out the Zeppelin shed.
From reconnaissance photographs and pilots' reports, Mullock had estimated that Friedrichshafen was defended by 16 to 20 heavy and 18 to 20 light Flak guns as well as 25 searchlights, all within a radius of 6 to 8 miles (9.65 and 12.85 km) of the target. Harris considered these defences 'comparatively light'. As the flares were laid, signalling imminent attack, the guns and searchlights opened fire on the 'pathfinders'. Predicted Flak burst so close to Munro’s aircraft that the crew heard the shell fragments strike the light alloy skin. As the timer released Munro’s last flare, one searchlight, then perhaps a dozen more, locked on to the Lancaster. Munro made a series of diving turns to escape and levelled off in the dark at 2,000 ft (610 m), some 700 ft (215 m) above the local terrain.
As they approached, the main-force bombers were at 5,000 to 10,000 ft (1525 to 3050 m). Slee decided this was too low, given the strength of the German fire, and he told Gomm to order the whole force to climb 5,000 ft (1525 m) higher. A loaded Lancaster at normal climb power would take some 30 miles (48 km) to do this, so the nearest crews, already turning for the bomb run over the lake, would need to use maximum climb power.
Rodley and Sauvage ignored the order: they were already over Friedrichshafen, Rodley at 10,500 ft (3200 m) and Sauvage at 9,000 ft (2745 m). Rodley was busy with his bomb run, so intent on Rae’s instructions that he hardly noticed the Flak bursting all around him, except to correct for the buffets. As Rae let go the green target indicator, still well short of target to allow for the bomb’s forward travel, the candles of a red marker, which could only have come from Sauvage’s aircraft, cascaded on to the Zeppelin shed’s roof and tumbled over the side. Gomm thought that the red marker was 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the east of the target, however. How either he or the 'pathfinders' could have mistaken the Zeppelin shed for any other structure in the area is not known. Moments later, Rodley’s green marker burst over the town and Gomm thought it was 400 yards (365 m) to the east of the target, more than 1 mile (1.6 km) from Sauvage’s red marker, even though Rodley thought he was aiming at the same thing as Sauvage. Gomm’s aeroplane now dropped flares and a green marker which Gomm claimed was on target: he said the 'pathfinders' asked for permission to back it, which was given, and he ordered the main force to bomb visually, implying that they had to identify the target themselves as at Le Creusot, despite the fact that he claimed the flare illumination was inadequate and the moonlight was dimmed by a thin sheet of high cloud, but he may have meant that he ordered the crews to bomb his green marker.
The aircraft of the main force now started to bomb, the 'pathfinders' circling back over the lake to re-illuminate and re-mark the target. Munro had to fly a long circuit to regain altitude and made only one more run, this time releasing his eight 500-lb (227-kg) HE bombs as well as flares. Suswain aimed his bombs at a green marker dropped by Rodley, Sauvage or Gomm and had the satisfaction of seeing them hit the target. The searchlights found the bomber again and Munro evaded with a diving turn. Jones made four more runs. On one, he was illuminated by searchlights and made a shallow dive at near maximum speed, faster than the searchlight crews could follow. Now down below the marker aircraft, he had to abandon another run because at that altitude the shockwaves from the main force’s bombs, particularly the 4,000-lb (1814-kg) 'cookies', made it impossible to keep the Lancaster steady. Sauvage’s aeroplane was struck by Flak on its fourth run and suffered damage to its hydraulic system, one of the landing gear legs dropping slightly.
The orbiting 'pathfinder' aircraft attracted most of the defence’s attentions, and the main force was almost unscathed, except for a single crew of No. 619 Squadron, whose bomb-aimer was killed by a Flak fragment. Although the 'pathfinders' continued to re-mark, Gomm called for the remaining main-force crews to use time-and-distance bombing as the dust had hidden the markers. Rodley also considered that the bombing had become 'wild' by this time. Buildings at the south-eastern end of the lake, 10 miles (16 km) away, were shaken by the detonations.
The last bombs were dropped at 01.58 and Slee, 13 minutes after arriving, announced that the attack was complete and all crews should leave the target area. By now only the master bombers and the 'pathfinders' were left. They turned to the south-east after the main force to cross the central eastern Alps of Austria. To clear the peaks it was necessary to climb to 14,000 ft (4265 m) ) in some 60 miles (95 km). Fawke, Slee’s pilot, had to do this on three engines still with a heavy fuel load, which was not in the manual. Once past the edge of Swiss territory, the bombers headed to the south-west for the Italian lakes. German night-fighter airfields, and ground radar stations, were mainly concentrated in a defensive line across north-eastern France, the Low Countries, north-west Germany and Denmark. When the British bombers were reported at Friedrichshafen, 300 to 400 miles (485 to 645 km) distant, the Luftwaffe controller decided to marshal his fighters over the bases of Florennes near Charleroi and of Juvincourt near Reims to catch the bomber force on its return. This was logical course given the type of egress routes British bombers had adopted up to this time, but as the night-fighters circled and waited, using fuel, the bombers were more than half way to Africa.
Over the Apennine mountains, then the Italian Riviera and finally the Mediterranean Sea, the Lancaster force kept loose formation for protection as the sun rose. Italian fighters were a possible threat, and Oberleutnant Karl Hülshoff’s Nachtjagdgeschwader 2 was based in Italy, but the bombers had descended to low altitude again and seemed to have been undetected. Off the Italian coast, Sauvage and his crew saw Rodley’s Lancaster, just ahead of them, engulfed in a sudden red fireball. Rodley’s flight engineer, Flight Sergeant Duffy, checked an inspection port and said the fire was in the bomb bay. Rodley realised that the vermilion glow was that of a red marker: the bomb-armer had fused thus from his switching panel but had not dropped it, and as the Lancaster descended, the barometric fuse had blown off the bomb’s tail and ejected the pyrotechnic candles into the bomb bay. Rodley opened the bomb doors and Sauvage’s crew saw the fireball fall away into the sea. But the explosion had damaged the hydraulic lines: Rodley could not close the bomb doors properly and the flaps were drooping.
There was fog over the North African coast and the US controllers at Blida airfield refused to let the bombers land. The entire force found itself circling over Maison Blanche, where the visibility was better. They had now been airborne for 10 hours and, despite flying slowly at minimum power since Italy, they were on the last of their fuel: most of the flight had been at low level in warm air, which increased the fuel consumption of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. It was difficult to see how, under normal procedures, they could all be landed in time. The US flying control officer drove in a radio-equipped Jeep to the end of the runway and began to fire flares from a Very pistol so that every pilot could see where to land.
Munro landed safely at 07.45, just after Jones, Slee in Fawke’s aeroplane landed at 07.52, Rodley following at 07.55, and Sauvage had reported his damaged landing gear and been told to wait until last in case he blocked the runway. At 08.04, with fuel critical, he touched down on his one good wheel, but, as the bomber’s weight settled, the other landing gear leg collapsed and the Lancaster slewed off the runway at speed and spun around, raising clouds of desert dust until it came to rest. The crew got out unhurt but the bomber was a write-off. The crews spent the next days at Maison Blanche.
On 23 June the crews of the 52 serviceable Lancaster bombers were briefed for their return to England, which included a dusk attack on La Spezia. Rodley’s and Sauvage’s crews were to remain in Algeria until Rodley’s Lancaster had been sufficiently repaired to take Sauvage’s crew home via Gibraltar. Several main-force crews and that of the master bomber also had to wait for repairs. Munro and Jones were detailed to illuminate and mark La Spezia with their flares and spare markers; their Lancasters were each loaded with eight 500-lb (227-kg) HE bombs and six 500-lb (227-kg) lb incendiary containers. Munro took off at 19.40 to open the attack, with Jones following at 19.55. The sky over La Spezia was cloudless but there was haze and the Italians seemed to put up a smoke screen. Although bomb impacts were not seen, both 'pathfinder' crews reported a very large explosion on the ground, possibly the explosion of an oil storage tank, at 23.45. The bomber force again dropped to low altitude at it crossed France and again the German night-fighters failed to effect an interception. There were no losses, and Jones reached Scampton at 04.09 and Munro at 04.12. All of No. 5 Group’s bombers landed safely. The two 'pathfinder' crews were debriefed by senior officers at Scampton, slept for a few hours and flew home to Bourn later that day.
On the day after the attack, a Mosquito photographed the target for Medmenham to assess the damage. The pictures showed that the roof of the great Zeppelin shed was intact but half of the northern wall had been blown out and the damage to the radar-antenna factory inside was likely to be severe. Two nearby factories, producing tank engines and gearboxes, had also been severely damaged. The raid was thus judged to have been a partial success. Later, with the aid of the bombing photographs, it was judged that only 9% of the bomb loads had hit the small target area. Although No. 5 Group sought to claim that the 'pathfinder' marking was off, the 'pathfinders' noted that the off-target bomb impacts were mostly to the north-east: the wind had been from the south-west and Slee’s order to the main force to climb another 5,000 ft (1525 m) had lifted the bombers into a stronger wind. Most of the crews had not had time to assess the new drift and their bomb sights were wrongly set. No. 5 Group claimed that the crews using time-and-distance had bombed more accurately, but later experience with this technique suggested that the margin of error was far too great for so small a target. The bombing was concentrated in the industrial area and casualties in Friedrichshafen were relatively light, with 44 people killed.