Operation Tigerfish

'Tigerfish' was the British bombing attack on Freiburg im Breisgau by aircraft of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command (27/28 November 1944).

After Freiburg im Breisgau, which lies close to the German frontiers with France and Switzerland, had been mistakenly bombed by German aircraft on 10 May 1940, when 57 persons were killed, the city remained spared from attacks until October 1943, and the population of the city had lived in the hope that they would not have to suffer a major attack. In the absence of state funding, the city had been compelled to make its own arrangements for the construction of air-raid bunkers and shelters. During the autumn of 1943, the Allies dropped leaflets in northern Germany to suggest that Germans of the area rendered homeless by Allied air raids would be welcomed in Freiburg am Breisgau, the Allied intention being to trigger the movement of refugees to Freiburg am Breisgau. The effort proved unsuccessful.

On 3 October 1943 the city was attacked for the first time, though only in a light manner. Four days later aircraft of Major General Robert B. Williams’s 1st Air Division of the US 8th AAF bombed rail facilities in the city. When, on 1 April 1944 the USAAF flew a raid on Ludwigshafen, some of the aircraft diverted to bomb the mission’s secondary target, Freiburg im Breisgau, but then mistakenly attacked the Swiss city of Schaffhausen. On 3 November 1944 the freight railway station and the airfield of Freiburg were attacked by 16 bombers of Lieutenant General Hoyt S. Vandenberg’s US 9th AAF, and there was another raid on 21 November.

Freiburg im Breisgau contained only a few enterprises of military significance: there were no purely military targets, and only the railway marshalling yards were of importance. However, as the Western Front approached Freiburg im Breisgau from the west, the city began to assume greater importance in the eyes of Allied air commanders as a result of its location on the main rail line along the Rhine river valley and also on the rail line to Colmar in Alsace via Breisach on the Rhine river. Both of these lines gained greater importance and they came to be used for the movement of troops, weapons and supplies. The Allies had assumed since a time in 1943 that Germans would be be able to move seven divisions from the Eastern Front to the Western Front within 12 to 14 days by the use of rail lines such as these, and on 22 November General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered heavy air attacks on rail and other transport nexuses from the air. Then, as French and US troops fought in the Vosges mountains, only 35 miles (55 km) to the west, and it was believed that the Germans would inevitably use Freiburg in Breisgau to allow the strengthening of their forces on this sector of the front, it was then decided that after a US daylight attack on nearby Offenburg, the British should undertake a night bombing of Freiburg im Breisgau on the the following day. Because the city’s transport connections bordered built-up areas, Freiburg im Breisgau was considered particularly well suited for a carpet bombing attack.

The preparation of the bombing on 27 November 1944 was made by 10 de Havilland Mosquito light bombers of No. 8 Group operating as pathfinders with the aid of a mobile 'Oboe' blind-bombing navigation system caravan-based in liberated France. The aiming point was the intersection of the Habsburgerstrasse and Bernhardstrasse. After the centre of the target area had been marked with red marker bombs, the aircraft highlighted the surrounding area with larger numbers of red and green marker bombs. The Both the marking and bombing phases were co-ordinated by a master bomber, but in the event that the bombers could no pick up this officer’s instructions, the bombers were ordered to drop as many bombs as possible, firstly on the red markers, then on the red and green markers, then on the green markers, and finally on the yellow markers.

Between 19.58 and 20.18 the bombing was undertaken by 341 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers of No. 1 Group, which dropped 3,002 HE bombs totalling 1,457 tons, and 11,523 markers and incendiaries totalling 266 tons. Only one Lancaster bomber was lost.

The casualties in Freiburg im Breisgau were 2,163 persons including 75 soldiers killed, 858 persons missing, and 6,296 persons including 61 soldiers injured. In the aftermath of the bombing, many of the survivors left the city.

Photo-reconnaissance of the target area after the attack revealed that none of the rail facilities had been damaged, but that the main area of the city had been hard hit. Almost complete destruction had been visited on the historic old town, the suburbs of Neuburg, Betzenhausen and Mooswald, and the northern part of the Stühlinger. All in all about 30% of homes were destroyed (about 2,000) or severely damaged (452). Whole industrial facilities, such as those of Hüttinger Elektronik, Grether & Cie., and M. Welt & Söhne were destroyed.