The Baedeker Raid on York

In the air

"Nightfighting......trying to catch a fly in a darkened room".

Due to the improving efficiency of the British nightfighters (from a woefully inadequate level) the Germans went to great lengths to disguise their intentions. Preparatory moves of aircraft between bases were to be undertaken in radio silence and at very low level.

The chosen flight path from Holland to York was over 400 miles and the slowest bombers (the He111s) with a loaded cruise speed of around 200mph would need to take off around midnight in order to reach their target at the required time.

Some time before the Luftwaffe aircraft were spotted by the Chain Home system there was preliminary "Ruffian" activity (the RAF codename for X-Gerät transmissions) from Cherbourg and "Benito" transmissions (the RAF codname for Y-Gerät) from Cherbourg, St Valerie and Cassel. Both types of transmissions from Cherbourg then closed down and the Boulogne X-Gerät transmitter became active and appeared to be pointing towards York. Unfortunately, the 80 Wing ORB doesn't record specific timings.
Brtish RDF plotted the intruders as they were flying in a 'northerly' direction approximately thirty miles off the East Coast at 02:00hrs.

One group suddenly changed heading and crossed the coast at Flamborough Head before heading 40 miles WSW to York.

It is interesting to note that, while flying off the east coast, one German aircraft mistook Spurn Head for Flamborough Head and turned onto the new heading at this point. It flew the briefed 40 miles before dropping its bombs on Gainsborough!

The Home Security Operations Bulletin (No:95) later reported that a number of aircraft laid mines between Spurn Head and Flamborough Head. 

The remaining bombers continued flying in a 'northly' direction and, in small groups, turned inland between Filey and the North Yorkshire Moors and headed for York attacking either singly or in pairs.

The complex approach paths designed to confuse the defences and disguise the true target.

Somewhat contradictory information can be viewed from a captured Luftwaffe flight plan.

The total number of German aircraft involved that night was reported (by the Germans) to be 74 but only around 40 are estimated to have bombed York.

From RAF combat and German PoW reports we understand that some bombers attacked York directly from the east whilst others circled north of the city and attacked along the line of the river (from NE to SW).
The night was clear and there was a bright full moon.

The following timeline is as accurate as the surviving information allows. It is possible via Squadron Operational Record Books (ORBs) to confirm the take off and landing times for various aircraft but times and positions of interceptions may not be entirely reliable.

The term named "Fighternight" can be considered to be similar to the "Wilde Sau" technique adopted by the Luftwaffe.
"Killer Belt" an area of searchlights positioned 6,000yds apart........
click for a more detailed description.

68Sqn Beaufighter scrambled from RAF Coltishall.
Mansfield & Janacek......returned 02:30hrs.

68Sqn Beaufighter scrambled from RAF Coltishall.
Sykora & Oakley.......returned 01:40hrs

68Sqn Beaufighter scrambled from RAF Coltishall.
Bobek & Kovarik......returned 02:40hrs.

These early flights are described as "Operational Patrols" and were launched as a new defensive tactic following the failure of the RAF to be in position to defend Norwich on the night of the 28th April.

01:25 - 01:30hrs

2 x 68Sqn Beaufighters scrambled from RAF Coltishall
Sgts Jenkinson & Kendall  and Truscott & Howarth

A Hurricane of 253Sqn and a Havoc of 1459 Flight scrambled from RAF Hibaldstow.
F/Sgt Risso and F/Lt Winn & P/O Ferry.........returned at 03:05hrs.

This pair of aircraft were ordered to patrol together over East Yorkshire and intercept any enemy aircraft.

406 RCAF Sqn Beaufighter (R2389) scrambled from RAF Scorton.
F/O Furse & P/O Downes.

This crew was ordered to patrol between Flamborough Head and York. With a midnight (estimated) take off from Holland it could reasonably be expected that the attacking aircraft would soon fly through this area.

68Sqn Beaufighter scrambled from RAF Coltishall.
S/L Vesely & Sgt Necas

A Hurricane of 253Sqn and a Havoc of 1459 Flight scrambled from RAF Hibaldstow.
Lt Beguin (FFAF) and P/O Beveridge & P/O Scott.

This pair of aircraft were ordered to fly to York and orbit the city.

406 RCAF Sqn Beaufighter scrambled from RAF Scorton.
Sgt Stephen & Sgt Bradshaw.

This aircraft was ordered to patrol East Yorkshire between York and the coast.

02:30 and 02:40hrs
2x 133Sqn Spitfires scrambled from RAF Kirton in Lindsey.
S/L Thomas and P/O Nelson.

The two Spitfires were ordered to orbit York on "Fighternight". 
P/O Nelson reported being lit up by the searchlight from a Havoc north of Spurn Head. He also observed various searchlight intersections and immediately flew to the area but no enemy aircraft were found.

6x 253Sqn Hurricanes scrambled from RAF Hibaldstow.
F/O Shaw, W/O Mahé, Sgt McGuire, F/O Landers, F/O Seal and Sgt Dodson

These aircraft were ordered directly to York as, by this time, the sirens were sounding and bombs were falling on the city.

02:50hrs (estimated)
Lt Beguin (FFAF) and P/O Beveridge & P/O Scott were pursuing a Do 217 over York.
The bomber was illuminated by the Havoc's searchlight but the Havoc got in the way of the Hurricane coming in to attack and the bomber escaped.

Click this link to read a full description of the incident (Copyright of the National Archives).

Another 253Sqn Hurricane scrambled from RAF Hibaldstow piloted by Sgt Darley.

He was ordered to join his squadron orbiting York.

406 RCAF Sqn Beaufighter scrambled from RAF Scorton.
P/O Lawrence & Sgt Wilmer.

This 3rd Beaufighter was ordered to patrol between York and the coast. 

3 x 133Sqn Spitfires scrambled from RAF Kirton in Lindsey.
P/O Morris, F/Sgt Harp and P/O Cook.

The three Spitfires were ordered to orbit beacons in the "Killer Belt".

03:10hrs (estimated)
Sgt Maguire's 253Sqn Hurricane spotted a German aircraft about 3 miles NE of York. He attacked and saw strikes before losing contact. No claim was allowed.

Click this link to read a section of Sgt Maguire's combat report. (Copyright of the National Archives)

03:15hrs (estimated)
F/O Seal's 253Sqn Hurricane spotted a He111. He opened fire with a four second burst and closed to under 200 yards. The enemy aircraft made a violent stall turn and dived to 1,500ft at which point he lost contact in the general haze. A claim was made as "destroyed" which was later revised to "damaged".

Click this link to view a section of Sgt Seal's combat report. (Copyright of the National Archives)

W/O Yves Mahé was flying over the city (with five other Hurricanes from his squadron) at around 6,000ft when he saw a bomber heading south, away from the city. He gave chase but lost contact. On returning to York he spotted what he thought to be either a Ju88 or He111 heading SSE. He closed to around 60 yards and gave the aircraft a two second burst. The badly damaged aircraft went into a steep dive and was followed down to 3000ft where W/O Mahé lost contact.

Click this link to view a section of W/O Mahé's combat report (Copyright of the National Archives)

The difference between a Ju88 and He111 may seem obvious but in combat conditions it is understandable how the two might be confused.

This unlucky aircraft was a Ju88 from KGr106 flown by 19 year old Lt Werner Boy. On his run over the city his bombs had "hung up" and he chose to make a second attempt. His crew managed to bail out to become PoWs but Lt Boy was killed when his aircraft crashed a few miles south of York.
During interrogation, the bomb aimer, Uffz Kügler stated that they had just managed to drop their bombs successfully before the Hurricane attacked and were heading for home.

ARP (Derwent Area) Message Number 3580 reported that "5 enemy bailed out near Naburn - one captured and in custody of the Home Guard - four still at liberty".

Even original evidence can not be accepted as totally accurate. The Ju88 only had a crew of four and the pilot didn't bail out!
Image courtesy of the East Riding Archives.....POL3/6/7/25

This fine painting called "Night Reaper" by David Pentland actually shows top Czech ace Flight Lieutenant  K.M. Kuttlewascher, No.1 Fighter Squadron on a night intruder sortie from RAF Tangmere. This image and many others are available from Cranston Fine Arts.

The 406 RCAF Sqn Beaufighter crewed by F/O Furse & P/O Downes picked up a Dornier heading east over land near Flamborough Head at an altitude of around 6,000ft. F/O Furse engaged the Dornier, striking both sides of the fuselage with cannon and machine gun fire. The Dornier made a sharp climbing turn to the left and headed back inland.

Following extensive  enquiries by RAF Intelligence, it was credited to 406Sqn as "Destroyed". This Dornier 217 from 6/KG2 was piloted by Lt Karl-Heinz Mühlen. It eventually crashed at Coneythorpe near Malton. 

5 x 133Sqn Spitfires scrambled from RAF Kirton in Lindsey.
P/O Doorly, F/L King and P/O Jackson.
F/L McColpin and P/O Pewitt.

The first three aircraft were ordered to orbit York under "Fighternight" operations.
The next two were ordered to orbit the beacons in the "Killer Belt".

Following his first success, W/O Mahé, headed back to York and spotted what he thought was a He111. He chased the bomber heading east of York and engaged it three times with cannon fire. The flashes temporarily blinded him but he maintained contact and followed this aircraft down at high speed (400mph) until at around 1,000ft he feared flying into the ground and gave up the chase.

Due to the number of attacks reported by the German and British pilots, it is possible that this aircraft was actually the Dornier credited to 406Sqn. However, when attacked from the rear, a Do217 with its twin tail is very different to a He111 (which W/O Mahé believes he attacked) 

W/O Mahé then noticed that his Hurricane had engine problems and he landed at RAF Church Fenton at 03:40hrs.

The Havoc of F/Lt Winn & P/O Ferry from RAF Hibaldstow is refuelled and returns to York at 03:30hrs

03:30hrs (reported)
An action involving a British fighter and a German bomber was reported as the aircraft was heading back out to sea. The identity of either aircraft is unknown but it indicates that contacts were being made although an "escape route" via Filey does seem rather strange.

Image courtesy of the East Riding Archives.....POL3/6/7/25

03:40hrs (estimated)
After having bombed York, a Ju88 from II/KG77 piloted by Lt Körfer was overflying the North Yorkshire coast when it was intercepted by the 406Sqn Beaufighter crewed by P/O Lawrence & Sgt Wilmer (who took off at 03:08).
The Ju88 was attacked and burst into flames, crashing into the sea some 80 miles east of Whitby.
There were no survivors. 

Click this link to read the description from the 406Sqn ORB (Copyright of the National Archives).

This combat between a Ju88 and a Beaufighter by Stan Stokes is entitled "Double Trouble". It actually shows an action by Group Captain John Cunningham from 604Sqn. This image and many others are available from Cranston Fine Arts.

03:45 - 03:50hrs
2 x 68Sqn Beaufighters scrambled from RAF Coltishall.
W/O Bobek & Sgt Kovarik and P/O Kopriva & F/Sgt Kovanda

Two Spitfires from 133Sqn scrambled from Kirton in Lindsey.
P/O Baker and P/O Kimbro.

The two Spitfires were ordered to orbit York on "Fighternight".

03:55hrs (estimated)
Irish American P/O Doorly made contact with a Do217 returning to Holland. As he was attacking the enemy aircraft he was caught by return fire. His engine temperature rose alarmingly and then cut out giving P/O Doorly no choice other than to bail out. He landed a few miles away from Church Fenton.

Click this link to read 133 Squadron's ORB entries for this night (Copyright of the National Archives).

The Havoc of P/O Beveridge & P/O Scott is refuelled and returns to a Readiness Patrol at 04:00hrs.

A Beaufighter from 68Sqn scrambled from RAF Coltishall
P/O Vopalecky & Sgt Gemrod.

This summary of 68Sqn's night operations shows a significant effort was make to intercept the raiders.
Further details of their reported successes (1 x Do217 destroyed, 1 x Ju88 & 1 x He111 damaged) are not available.
The summary has incorrectly paired S/Ldr Vesely with F/O Montgomerie.....on the night of the 29th April he flew with Sgt Necas.
Image copyright of the National Archives.

As can be seen from this timeline, contrary to many articles, there was a major effort to contact the raiders enroute to York, there were aircraft airborne within the duration of the attack and others that intercepted the Germans returning from York.