Operation Robinson

This was a British bombing attack on the Le Creusot works of the Schneider armaments group in German-occupied France (17 October 1942).

Located more than 300 miles (485 km) inside France, the works were seen as the French equivalent of Krupp in Germany and produced heavy artillery, railway engines and, the British believed, tanks and armoured cars. A large workers’ housing estate was situated at one end of the factory. Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command had been given this as the highest-priority target in France for a night attack, but had also been instructed that this was to be attacked only under the most favourable of conditions.

Harris in fact opted for a low-altitude daylight attack despite the fate of the force sent to Augsburg under comparable conditions some six months earlier, in which seven of the 12 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers were shot down. The ‘Robinson’ task was allocated to Air Vice Marshal W. A. Coryton’s No. 5 Group, and in preparation for the undertaking the group’s nine Lancaster squadrons carried out a series of low-level flights over England.

With the weather reported favourable, 94 Lancaster bombers set out on the afternoon of 17 October under the command of Wing Commander L. C. Slee of No. 49 Squadron. Some 88 of the aircraft were to bomb the Schneider factory, and the other six were to bomb a nearby transformer station supplying the factory’s electricity. The Lancaster bombers flew in a loose formation over the sea around Brittany, and crossed the coast of France between La Rochelle and St Nazaire without any fighter escort. For 300 miles (485 miles) the Lancaster bombers flew at tree-top level across France, and encountered no fighter opposition. The greatest danger was birds, four aircraft being damaged and two men injured in bird strikes. After a fine piece of work by Slee’s navigator, Pilot Officer A. S. Grant, the force reached its last turning point near Nevers and climbed to bombing altitude.

There was practically no Flak over the target and bombing took place in clear conditions at altitudes between 2,500 and 7,500 ft (760 and 2285 m), nearly 140 tons of bombs being dropped. The Lancaster bombers returned home safely as darkness arrived, their only casualty being one aeroplane of No. 61 Squadron, which had attacked the nearby transformer power station at an altitude so low that it crashed into a building.

No. 5 Group’s crews claimed a successful attack on the Schneider factory, but photographs brought back by later reconnaissance flights showed that much of the bomb load had fallen short and had struck the workers’ housing estate near the factory. Some bombs had fallen into the factory area but the resulting damage was not extensive.