Military Wiki
Battle of Berlin (Air)
Part of Strategic bombing during World War II
The ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Date18 November 1943 – 31 March 1944
LocationBerlin, Germany
Result German victory[1][2]
 United Kingdom
 United States
 Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Arthur Harris
Ralph Cochrane
Don Bennett
Roderick Carr
Hermann Göring
Hans-Jürgen Stumpff
Joseph Schmid
Günther Lützow
Max Ibel
Walter Grabmann
Gotthard Handrick
Casualties and losses
  • Bomber Command
  • 2,690 crewmen KIA "over Berlin"[Clarification needed]
  • nearly 1,000 POW
  • 500 aircraft[3] a 5.8% loss rate
  • ~4,000 killed
  • 10,000 injured
  • 450,000 homeless[4]

The Battle of Berlin was the British bombing campaign on Berlin from November 1943 to March 1944. It was not limited solely to Berlin. Other German cities were attacked to prevent the concentration of defences in Berlin, Bomber Command also had other responsibilities and operations to conduct. The campaign was launched by Arthur "Bomber" Harris, AOC of RAF Bomber Command in November 1943. Harris believed this could be the blow that broke German resistance: "It will cost us between 400 and 500 aircraft. It will cost Germany the war".[5] By this time he could deploy over 800 long-range bombers on any given night, equipped with new and more sophisticated navigational devices such as H2S radar. Between November 1943 and March 1944, Bomber Command made 16 massed attacks on Berlin.

It is generally accepted that the Battle of Berlin was a failure for the Royal Air Force (RAF) as it was not the knockout blow that Harris had predicted and during the battle. The RAF lost 1,047 bombers, with a further 1,682 damaged, and well over 7,000 aircrew, culminating in the raid on Nuremberg on 30 March 1944, when 94 bombers were shot down and 71 were damaged, out of 795 aircraft.[6][7][8]

There were many other raids on Berlin by the RAF and the USAAF Eighth Air Force in the strategic bombing campaign of 1940–45 and this is reflected in the RAF battle honour, which is for the bombardment of Berlin by aircraft of Bomber Command 1940–45.[9]

In response to attacks on German cities, the Luftwaffe began Operation Steinbock (ibex)—a series of attacks on London. The Germans suffered heavy losses, but they persisted until May 1944. Attacking formations during Steinbock suffered a higher loss percentage over every mission that the RAF flew over Germany.

Although primarily a British operation, Australian and Canadian bomber squadrons also took part in the battle, under the command of RAF Bomber Command.


The first raid of the battle occurred on the night of 18/19 November 1943. Berlin was the main target and was attacked by 440 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers and four de Havilland Mosquitos. The city was under cloud and the damage was not severe. The second major raid was on the night of 22/23 November. This was the most effective raid on Berlin by the RAF of the war, causing extensive damage to the residential areas west of the centre, Tiergarten and Charlottenburg, Schöneberg and Spandau. Because of the dry weather conditions, several firestorms ignited. Both the Protestant Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church,[10] now serving as a war memorial, and the New Synagogue[11] (then used as a store house by the Wehrmacht), were badly damaged on 22 November. In the next nights Bethlehem's Church, John's Church, Lietzow Church, and Trinity Church and on other nights Emperor Frederick Memorial Church, Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz and St. Hedwig's Cathedral followed. Several other buildings of note were either destroyed or damaged, including the British, French, Italian and Japanese embassies, Charlottenburg Palace and Berlin Zoo, as were the Ministry of Munitions, the Waffen SS Administrative College, the barracks of the Imperial Guard at Spandau and several arms factories.[12]

On 17 December, extensive damage was done to the Berlin railway system. By this time the cumulative effect of the bombing campaign had made more than a quarter of Berlin's total living accommodation unusable.[12] There was another major raid on 28–29 January 1944, when Berlin's western and southern districts were hit in the most concentrated attack of this period. On 15–16 February, important war industries were hit, including the large Siemensstadt area in the north, with the centre and south-western districts substaining most of the damage. This was the largest raid by the RAF on Berlin. Raids continued until March 1944.[12][13][14]

These raids caused immense loss of life and devastation in Berlin. The 22 November 1943 raid killed 2,000 Berliners and rendered 175,000 homeless. The following night 1,000 were killed and 100,000 bombed out. During December and January, regular raids killed hundreds of people each night and rendered between 20,000 and 80,000 homeless each time.[15] German author Laurenz Demps collated the losses. He evaluated (1) the damage reports of the Berlin police commissioner (Polizeipräsident) issued after each air raid with the descriptions of losses and damage indicated by houses, and distributed to 100–150 organisations and administrations busy with rescue, repair, planning and so on; (2) the reports of the main bureau for air raid protection (Hauptluftschutzstelle) of the city of Berlin, who issued more than 100 copies with variable frequency, each summarising losses and damage by the number of air raids; (3) the war diary of the air raid warning command (Luftwarnkommando, or 'Wako Berlin'), a branch of the German air force (Luftwaffe); and (4) various sources on specific damage. According to Demps, a total of 7,480 were killed (with an additional 2,194 missing), 17,092 injured and 817,730 made homeless.[16] According to another author, Reinhard Rürup, nearly 4,000 were killed, 10,000 were injured and 450,000 were made homeless.[4]

The effect of smoke and dust in the air from the bombing and long periods spent in shelters gave rise to symptoms that were called "cellar influenza",[17] (or keller grippe).

Despite the devastation they caused, however, these raids failed to achieve their objectives. German civilian morale did not break, the city's defences and essential services were maintained and war production in greater Berlin did not fall. Area bombing consistently failed to meet its stated objective, which was to win the war by bombing Germany until its economy and civilian morale collapsed. The bombing had kept a check on German production output and caused to direct resources from offensive to defensive purposes.[18]

The 16 raids on Berlin cost Bomber Command more than 500 aircraft, with their crews killed or captured, which was a loss rate of 5.8%, well above the 5% threshold that was considered the maximum sustainable operational loss rate by the RAF.[19] Daniel Oakman makes the point that "Bomber Command lost 2,690 men over Berlin, and nearly 1,000 more became prisoners of war. Of Bomber Command’s total losses for the war, around seven per cent were incurred during the Berlin raids. In December 1943, for example, 11 crews from No. 460 Squadron RAAF alone were lost in operations against Berlin; and in January and February [1944], another 14 crews were killed. Having 25 aircraft destroyed meant that the fighting force of the squadron had to be replaced in three months. At these rates Bomber Command would have been wiped out before Berlin".[3] On the other hand, a loss of 500 aircraft had been anticipated, and Oakman observes that " would be wrong to say that it was, in a strategic sense, a wasted effort. Bombing brought the war to Germany at a time when it was difficult to apply pressure anywhere else".[3]

Although the Battle of Berlin, as part of the Bomber Command strategic bombing campaign, did serve to divert German military resources away from the land war, and had an economic effect—in terms of both physical damage and worker fatalities and injuries, and through the enforced requirement to relocate and fortify industrial buildings and other infrastructure in an effort to protect it from Allied attacks—it is generally accepted that the battle was a failure for the RAF, in the sense that the bombing of Berlin did not did force the eventual German capitulation (as Harris and others had hoped);[20][3] and in the words of the official RAF history "in an operational sense the Battle of Berlin was more than a failure, it was a defeat".[21]


  • Night of 18/19 November 1943: Berlin, the main target, was attacked by 440 Avro Lancasters and four de Havilland Mosquitos, of which 402 bombed the city, which was under cloud. Diversionary raids on Mannheim and Ludwigshafen by 395 other aircraft. Mosquitos attacked several other towns. In all 884 sorties, 32 aircraft (3.6%) were lost, of which nine were lost in the Berlin raid. The air raid warning was sounded at 20:11 and the all clear at 22:23. 143 were killed in the raid, with an additional four missing, 409 wounded and 7,326 who were made homeless. 533 houses were destroyed, 8,493 were damaged.[22][23]
  • Night of 19/20 November 1943: Leverkusen was the main target. A number of other towns were bombed.
  • Night of 22/23 November 1943: Berlin the main target. 469 Lancasters, 234 Handley Page Halifaxes, 50 Short Stirlings, 11 Mosquitos. A total of 764 aircraft. 26 aircraft lost - 3.4% of the force. This was the most effective raid on Berlin of the war. Most of the damage was to the residential areas west of the city centre, Tiergarten and Charlottenburg, Schöneberg and Spandau. Because of the dry weather conditions, several 'firestorms' were caused. 175,000 people were made homeless and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche) was destroyed. Several other buildings of note were either damaged or destroyed, including the British, French, Italian and Japanese embassies, Charlottenburg Castle and Berlin Zoo. Also the Ministry of Weapons and Munitions, the Waffen-SS Administrative College, the barracks of the Imperial Guard at Spandau, as well as several factories employed in the manufacture of material for the armed forces.
  • Night of 23/24 November 1943: Berlin, the main target, was attacked by 365 Lancasters, 10 Halifaxes, eight Mosquitos (383 aircraft).
  • Night of 24/25 November 1943: Berlin, in a small raid, was attacked by six Mosquitos (one lost). The only other action that night was nine Vickers Wellingtons dropping leaflets over France.
  • Night of 25/26 November 1943: Frankfurt was the main target. Also, three Mosquitos were sent to Berlin and other aircraft went to other targets.
  • Night of 26/27 November 1943: Berlin, the main target, was attacked by 443 Lancasters and seven Mosquitos. The Mosquitos were used to lay "window" ahead of the Pathfinder aircraft to draw flak away from them but due to a temporarily clear sky, 21 aircraft were lost to AA guns over Berlin. Most of the damage was in the semi-industrial suburb of Reinickendorf but the city centre and the Siemensstadt (with its many electrical equipment factories), was also hit. A raid was made on Stuttgart by 157 Halifaxes and 21 Lancasters as a diversion. Both bombing forces flew the same route almost as far as Frankfurt which the Luftwaffe fighter controllers identified as the RAF target.[24] The total sorties for the night, including minelaying operations, was 666 with 34 aircraft (5.1%) lost, but the losses over Berlin was high and combined with casualties landing in fog in England, reached 9.3%. The Alkett factory was badly hit - Goebbels described it as "almost completely destroyed" and referred to "virtually irreplaceable tools and machines" being out of action, in his diary.[25]
  • Night of 28/29 November 1943: Essen, in small raid, was attacked by 10 Mosquitos.
  • Night of 29/30 November 1943: Bochum, Cologne and Düsseldorf, attacked by 21 Mosquitos.
  • Night of 30/1 December 1943: Essen, in small raid, attacked by four Mosquitos.
  • Night of 1/2 December 1943: minelaying only.[12]
  • Night of 2/3 December 1943: Berlin, the main target, was attacked by 425 Lancasters, 18 Mosquitos and 15 Halifaxes. The Germans correctly identified Berlin as the target. Unexpected cross winds had scattered the bomber formations, German fighters shot down a total of 40 bombers — 37 Lancasters, two Halifaxes and one Mosquito (or 8.7% of the force). Due to the cross winds, the bombing was inaccurate and to the south of the city, but two more of the Siemens factories, a ball-bearing factory and several railway installations were damaged.
  • Night of 3/4 December 1943: Leipzig, the main target, was attacked by 307 Lancasters, 220 Halifaxes (a total of 527 aircraft).
  • Night of 4/5 December 1943: Duisburg attacked by nine Mosquitos.
  • Night of 10/11 December 1943: Leverkusen attacked by 25 Mosquitos.
  • Night of 11/12 December 1943: Duisburg attacked by 18 Mosquitos.
  • Night of 12/13 December 1943: Essen attacked by 18 Mosquitos and Düsseldorf by nine more.
  • Night of 15/16 December 1943: 16 Mosquitos went to Düsseldorf.
  • Night of 16/17 December 1943: Berlin was the main target. It was attacked by 483 Lancasters and 15 Mosquitos. German night fighters were successfully directed to intercept the bombers. 25 Lancasters, 5.2% of the Lancaster force, were lost over enemy occupied territory, with a further 29 aircraft lost on landing in England due to very low cloud. The damage to the Berlin railway system was extensive. 1,000 wagon-loads of war material destined for the Eastern Front were held up for six days. The National Theatre and the building housing Germany's military and political archives were both destroyed. The cumulative effect of the bombing campaign had now made more than a quarter of Berlin's total living accommodation unusable. Two Beaufighters and two Mosquitos of No. 141 Squadron RAF using Serrate radar detectors managed to damage a Messerschmitt Me 110, the first time these hunter killers had been on a successful 'Serrate' patrol. On the same night there was other raids on Tilley-le-Haut and Flixecourt, two flying-bomb sites near Abbeville. The raid failed to destroy the sites but no aircraft were lost.
  • Night of 19/20 December 1943: leafleting over French towns without loss.
  • Night of 20/21 December 1943: Frankfurt was the main target. It was attacked by 390 Lancasters, 257 Halifaxes and three Mosquitos (650 aircraft in all). German night fighters were successful in intercepting the bomber stream. 27 Halifaxes and 14 Lancasters were lost, 6.3% of the force. Damage was more than the RAF at the time thought because they knew that the Germans had managed to light decoy fires, which were partially successful. There was also a decoy raid on Mannheim by a further 54 aircraft and a precision attack by eight Lancasters of 617 Squadron and 8 Pathfinder Mosquitos on an armaments factory near Liege that failed to hit its target.
  • Night of 21/22 December 1943: Mannesmann factory at Düsseldorf attacked by nine Mosquitos and a number of other small raids.
  • Night of 22/23 December 1943: 51 aircraft attacked two flying-bomb sites between Abbeville and Amiens. One site was destroyed, but the other was not located. Two small Mosquitos raids on Frankfurt and Bonn.
  • Night of 23/24 December 1943: Berlin was attacked by 364 Lancasters, eight Mosquitos and seven Halifaxes. German fighters encountered difficulty with the weather and were able to shoot down only 16 Lancasters, or 4.2% of the force. Damage to Berlin was relatively small. Several other German towns were attacked by Mosquitos.
  • Night of 24/25 December 1943: confined to mine laying.
  • Night of 29/30 December 1943: Berlin was the main target. 457 Lancasters, 252 Halifaxes and three Mosquitos (712 aircraft), RAF losses were light, at 2.8% of the force. Heavy cloud cover frustrated the RAF and damage was light.
  • Night of 30/31 December 1943: 10 Lancasters of 617 Squadron and six Pathfinder Mosquitos failed to destroy a V1 site.
  • Night of 31 December 1943/1 January 1944: mine laying only.
  • Night of 1/2 January 1944: 421 Lancasters dispatched to Berlin, the main target. German night fighters were effective and 6.7% of the bombers were shot down. A small raid on Hamburg by 15 Mosquitos and smaller raids on other towns did not divert the night fighters.[13]
  • Night of 2/3 January 1944: Berlin was the main target. 362 Lancasters, 12 Mosquitos, nine Halifaxes (383 aircraft). The night fighters did not catch up to the bombers until they were over the city when they managed to shoot down 27 Lancasters, or 10% of the force. There were also minor raids on other cities.
  • Night of 3/4 January 1944: Solingen and Essen attacked by eight Mosquitos. No losses.
  • Night of 4/5 January 1944: Two flying bomb sites attacked effectively by 80 aircraft. Small raid on Berlin by 13 Mosquitos. Other small raids on other targets. Also Special Operations flights were flown, delivering supplies and agents to resistance forces.
  • Night of 5/6 January 1944: Stettin was the main target for the first time since September 1941. It was attacked by 348 Lancasters and 10 Halifaxes. A diversionary raid by 13 Mosquitos on Berlin and 25 to four other targets fooled the German night fighters and RAF losses were only 16 aircraft, or 4.5% of the force.
  • Night of 6/7 January 1944: Small raids on Duisburg, Bristillerie, Dortmund and Solingen by 19 Mosquitos.
  • Night of 7/8 January 1944: Small raids on Krefeld and Duisburg by 11 Mosquitos. 10 men were killed when an SOE support flight crashed shortly after takeoff.
  • Night of 8/9 January 1944: Small raids on Frankfurt, Solingen, Aachen and Dortmund by 23 Mosquitos. Two aircraft were lost.
  • Night of 10/11 January 1944: Small raids on Berlin, Solingen, Koblenz and Krefeld by 20 Mosquitos. No losses.
  • Night of 13/14 January 1944: Small raids on Essen, Duisburg, Aachen, and Koblenz by 25 Mosquitos. One aircraft was lost.
  • Night of 14/15 January 1944: Major raid on Brunswick, the first of the war, by 496 Lancasters and two Halifaxes. 38 Lancasters were lost to effective night fighter attacks. 11 of the lost aircraft were Pathfinders, so the targeting of the city was poor. German authorities reported only 10 houses destroyed and 14 people killed in Brunswick with some further damage and loss of life in villages to the south of the town. 82 aircraft attacked flying bomb sites at Ailly, Bonneton and Bristillerie without loss. 17 Mosquitos launced small raids on Magdeburg and Berlin.
  • Night of 20/21 January 1944: Berlin was the main target. 495 Lancasters, 264 Halifaxes, 10 Mosquitos (769 aircraft) were dispatched. Night fighter attacks were pressed home successfully. 22 Halifaxes and 13 Lancasters were lost, 4.6% of the force. The damage could not be assessed due to low cloud cover the next day.
  • Night of 21/22 January 1944: Magdeburg was the main target.
  • ...
  • Night of 27/28 January 1944: Berlin was the main target. 515 Lancasters and 15 Mosquitos, (a total of 530 aircraft). The RAF records state that the bombing appeared to have been spread well up- and downwind. The diversionary raids were only partially successful in diverting German night fighters because 33 Lancasters were lost, which was 6.4% of the heavy force. A further 167 sorties were flown against other targets, one aircraft was lost.
  • Night of 28/29 January 1944:Berlin was the main target. 432 Lancasters, 241 Halifaxes and four Mosquitos (677 aircraft). Western and Southern districts, covered by partial cloud, were hit in what the RAF records state was the most concentrated attack of this period. German records record do not fully support this, mentioning that 77 places outside the city were hit. A deception raid and routing over Northern Denmark did not prevent the German air defences shooting down 46 aircraft, or 6.8% of the force. Just over 100 other aircraft attacked a number of other targets.
  • Night of 29/30 January 1944: Small raids on Duisburg and Herbouville flying-bomb site, by a total of 22 Mosquitos. No aircraft were lost.
  • Night of 30/31 January 1944: Berlin was the main target. 440 Lancasters, 82 Halifaxes and 12 Mosquitos (a total of 534 aircraft). There, RAF losses were 33 machines, 6.2% of the total. A further 76 sorties were flown against other targets, with no aircraft lost.
  • ...
  • Night of 15/16 February 1944: Berlin was the main target. 561 Lancasters, 314 Halifaxes and 16 Mosquitos (891 aircraft). Despite cloud cover, most important war industries were hit, including the Siemensstadt area, with the centre and south-western districts sustaining most of the damage. This was the largest raid by the RAF on Berlin. A diversionary raid of 24 Lancasters of No. 8 Group on Frankfurt-on-the-Oder failed to confuse the Germans and the RAF lost 43 aircraft — 26 Lancasters and 17 Halifaxes — which was 4.8% of the force. A further 155 sorties were flown against other targets.[14]
  • ...
  • Night of 24/25 March 1944: Berlin was the main target. The bomber stream was scattered and those that reached the city bombed well out to the south-west of the Großstadt. The RAF lost 72 aircraft, or 8.9% of the attacking force.[26]
  • ...
  • Night of 30/31 March 1944 Nuremberg, the main target was attacked by 572 Lancasters, 214 Halifaxes and nine Mosquitos (795 aircraft in total). The Germans correctly identified that Nuremberg was the target. The first fighters appeared just before the bombers reached the Belgian border and over the next hour 82 bombers were lost on the approaches to Nuremberg. Another 13 bombers were shot down by the Germans on the return flight. In all, the RAF lost 11.9% of the force dispatched. It was the costliest RAF Bomber Command mission of the war and ended the Battle of Berlin. It was during this final raid that Pilot Officer Cyril Barton, a Halifax pilot of 578 Squadron, was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

See also


  1. Guilmartin 2001, p. 8.
  2. Murray 1983, p. 211.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Oakman 2004.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Rürup 2003, p. 11.
  5. Grayling 2006, p. 62.
  6. "Bomber Command lost 1047 aircraft missing—5.1 per cent of sorties dispatched—and a further 1682 damaged or written off" (Hastings 1979, p. 261).
  7. Bishop 2007, p. 216.
  8. Kitchen 1990, p. 22.
  9. RAF staff 2004f, Battle Honours.
  10. Kühne & Stephani 1986, p. 34.
  11. Simon 1992, p. 144.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 RAF staff 2004b, December
  13. 13.0 13.1 RAF staff 2004c, January
  14. 14.0 14.1 RAF staff 2004d, February.
  15. Grayling 2006, pp. 309–10.
  16. Demps 1982, p. 23.
  17. Wilson p433
  18. Wilson p441
  19. Grayling 2006, p. 332, footnote 58.
  20. "The thousand bomber raids of 1942, the Battles of the Ruhr and Hamburg in 1943 and the Battle of Berlin in 1943/44 caused enormous damage to many of the cities and industries of Germany and forced the enemy to devote increasing resources to home defence and damage repair". (RAF Short History, p. 3)
  21. Webster & Frankland 1961, p. 193.
  22. RAF staff 2004a, November
  23. Deist 2006, p. 91.
  24. Wilson p. 411-412
  25. Wilson p. 412
  26. RAF staff 2004e, March


Further reading

Coordinates: 52°31′N 13°25′E / 52.517°N 13.417°E / 52.517; 13.417

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