Operation Grayling

This was a British major air raid on Nürnberg by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command (30/31 March 1944).

Despite the fact that this would normally have been the moon stand-down period for Bomber Command’s Main Force bombers, but a raid to the distant target of Nürnberg, which was deemed to be of great symbolic significance to the German leadership and many of the German people, was planned on the basis of an early forecast that there would be protective high cloud on the outward route, when the moon would be up, but that the target area would be clear for ground-marked bombing. A de Havilland Mosquito aeroplane of the Meteorological Flight undertook a reconnaissance sortie and reported that the protective cloud was unlikely and that there could be cloud over the target, but the raid was not cancelled.

Of the 795 aircraft dispatched, 572 were Avro Lancaster and 214 were Handley Page Halifax four-engined heavy bombers, and there were also nine Mosquito twin-engined light bombers. The German controller ignored all the diversions and assembled his fighters at two radio beacons which happened to be astride the route to Nürnberg. The first fighters appeared just before the bombers reached the Belgian border and a fierce battle in the moonlight lasted for the next hour. Some 82 bombers were lost on the outward route and near the target. The action was much reduced on the return flight, when most of the German fighters had been compelled to land, refuel and rearm, but the total bomber losses were 95 aircraft (64 Lancaster and 31 Halifax machines), representing 11.9% of the force dispatched. This was the largest proportional Bomber Command loss of the war.

Most of the returning crews reported that they had bombed Nürnberg but subsequent research showed that about 120 aircraft had bombed Schweinfurt, some 50 miles (80 km) to the north-west of Nürnberg. This mistake was a result of badly forecast winds causing navigational difficulties: two of the Pathfinder Force aircraft dropped markers at Schweinfurt. Much of the bombing in the Schweinfurt area fell outside the town and only two people were killed in that area.

The main raid at Nürnberg was a failure. The city was covered by thick cloud and a fierce cross-wind which developed on the final approach to the target caused many of the Pathfinder Force aircraft to mark too far to the east. A creepback some 10 miles (16 km) long also developed into the countryside to the north of Nürnberg. Both Pathfinder Force and Main Force aircraft were under heavy fighter attack throughout the raid. Little damage was caused in Nürnberg: 69 people were killed in the city and the surrounding villages.