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Battle of the Ruhr
Part of Strategic bombing during World War II
Mohne Dam Breached.jpg
The Möhne dam after Operation Chastise
Date5 March 1943 — 31 July 1943[1]
LocationRuhr Area

Allied victory

  • Heavy damage to German industry[2][3]
 United Kingdom
 New Zealand
 South Africa
 Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Air Marshal Arthur Harris
6 Groups of RAF Bomber Command
380 heavy and 160 medium bombers in March[4]
radar warning
static gun emplacements
day and night fighters
Casualties and losses
RAF Bomber Command: 4.7% over 43 attacks (18,506 sorties)[5] >5,000 RAF aircrew[6]

The Battle of the Ruhr was a 5-month long campaign of strategic bombing during the Second World War against the Nazi Germany Ruhr Area, which had coke plants, steelworks, and 10 synthetic oil plants. The campaign bombed twenty-six major Combined Bomber Offensive targets.[7] The targets included the Krupp armament works (Essen), the Nordstern synthetic-oil plant (Gelsenkirchen), and the Rheinmetal-Borsig plant in Düsseldorf. The latter was safely evacuated during the Battle of the Ruhr.[5]Although not strictly part of the Ruhr area, the battle of the Ruhr included other cities such as Cologne which were within the Rhine-Ruhr region[8] and considered part of the same "industrial complex".[4] Some targets were not sites of heavy industrial production but part of the production and movement of materiel.

Although the Ruhr had always been a target for the RAF from the start of the war, the organized defences and the large amount of industrial pollutants produced that gave a semi-permanent smog or industrial haze hampered accurate bombing.[4][9][10] Before the Battle of the Ruhr ended, Operation Gomorrah began the "Battle of Hamburg". Even after this switch of focus to Hamburg, there would be further raids on the Ruhr area by the RAF—in part to keep German defences dispersed, just as there had been raids on areas other than the Ruhr during the battle.[4]

Offence and defence

The British bomber force was made up in the main of the twin-engined Vickers Wellington medium bomber and the four-engined "heavies", the Short Stirling, Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster. The Wellington and Stirling were the two oldest designs and limited in the type or weight of bombs carried. The Stirling was also limited to a lower operational height. Bombers could carry a range of bombs - Medium Capacity bombs of about 50% explosive by weight, High Capacity "Blockbusters" that were mostly explosive, and incendiary devices. The combined use of the latter two were most effective in setting fires in urban areas. British raids were by night - the losses in daylight raids having been too heavy to bear. By this point in the war, RAF Bomber Command were using navigation aids, the Pathfinder force and the bomber stream tactic together. Electronic navigation aids such as "Oboe", which had been tested against Essen in January 1943,[1] meant the Pathfinders could mark the targets despite the industrial haze and cloud cover that obscured the area by night. Guidance markers put the main force over the target area, where they would then dropping their bombloads on target markers. The bomber stream concentrated the force of bombers into a small time window, such that it overwhelmed fighter defences in the air and firefighting attempts on the ground. For most of the Battle of the Ruhr the Oboe Mosquitoes came from one squadron No. 109.[4] The number of Oboe aircraft that could be used at any time was limited by the number of ground stations.[4] The USAAF had two 4-engined heavy bombers available: the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator - neither carried a bomb similar to the blockbuster bomb. USAAF raids were by daylight, the closely massed groups of bombers covering each other with defensive fire against fighters. Between them, the Allies could mount "round the clock" bombing. The USAAF forces in the UK were still increasing during 1943 and the majority of the bombing was by the RAF.

The German defence was through anti-aircraft weapons and day and night fighters. The Kammhuber Line used radar to identify the bomber raids and then controllers directed night fighters onto the raiders. During the battle of the Ruhr, Bomber Command estimated about 70% of their aircraft losses were due to fighters.[11] By July 1943, the German night fighter force totalled 550.[4] Through the summer of 1943, the Germans increased the ground-based anti-aircraft defences in the Ruhr Area ; by July 1943 there were more than 1,000 large flak guns (88 mm calibre or greater) and 1,500 lighter guns (chiefly 20 mm and 37 mm calibre).[6] This was about one-third of all anti-aircraft guns in Germany.[4] Six-hundred thousand personnel were required to man the AA defences of Germany.[4] The British crews called the area sarcastically "Happy Valley"[12] or the "valley of no Return".

Bombing during the Battle

Date Target location
1943-03-055 March Essen RAF roundel The opening of the battle of the Ruhr began with a 442 aircraft attack on Essen, the primary city targeted by the British Area bombing directive. Three waves of bombers (a mixture of Wellingtons, Halifaxes, Stirlings and Lancasters) dropped their incendiary and time-delayed bombs in under an hour. Only 153 aircraft bombed within three miles (5 km) of the aiming point[13] despite the target area marking by Pathfinders using Oboe.[1] Fourteen aircraft were lost.[1]
1943-03-99/10 March Ruhr RAF roundel 8 Mosquitoes sent to Ruhr
1943-03-1010/11 March Essen and Mulheim RAF roundel 2 Mosquitoes.
1943-03-1212/13 March Essen RAF roundel 23 aircraft were lost on a raid on Essen
1943-03-2626/27 March Duisburg RAF roundel Duisburg was attacked with a large force; cloud cover and problems with the Oboe Mosquitoes gave a "widely scattered raid"
1943-03-2929/30 March Bochum RAF roundel 149 Wellingtons with marking by 8 Oboe Mosquitoes; raid was a failure due to cloud and problems skymarking - 8% aircraft loss. This raid occurred on the same night as a major raid on Berlin.
1943-04-33/4 April Essen RAF roundel Essen was targeted by 956 dispatched bombers - 797 bombers attacked and 12 different cities were hit (three more Essen attacks were conducted within a week.).[14]
1943-04-88/9 April Duisburg RAF roundel 392 aircraft sent to Duisburg. 4.8% aircraft loss.[15]
1943-04-99/10 April Duisburg RAF roundel 104 Lancasters with 5 Mosquitoes. "Scattered attack", 8 aircraft lost.[15]
1943-04-2626/27 April Duisburg RAF roundel 561 aircraft attacked Duisburg for 3% aircraft loss. Many buildings destroyed but most of the bombs had fallen to the north-east of Duisburg.[15]
1943-04-3030 April/1 May Essen RAF roundel 305 aircraft with skymarking ("Musical Wanganui" method[16])by Oboe-equipped Mosquito due to expected cloud.[1]
1943-05-1717 May Möhne and Eder Dams RAF roundel Operation Chastise; 14 bombers in attack. Bouncing bombs breach the Möhne and Eder Dams, but fail to disrupt the water supply or hydroelectrical power to the Ruhr Area more than briefly. Aircraft loss was 40%.
1943-05-4 4/5 May Dortmund RAF roundel 596 aircraft in the first major attack on Dortmund.
1943-05-1313/14 May Bochum RAF roundel 442 bombers of which 5.4% were lost. Bombing off target possible due to decoy markers.
1943-05-2323/24 May Dortmund RAF roundel 826 bombers raided Dortmund dropping 2,000 tons of HE and incendiary bombs in an hour. Hoesch steelworks "ceased production"[17] RAF loss 4.8%.
1943-05-2525/26 May Düsseldorf RAF roundel 729 against Düsseldorf. Two layers of cloud and decoy fires caused widely spread bombing. 3.6% of bombers lost.
1943-05-2727/28 May Essen RAF roundel 518 against Essen with 4.4% loss. Scattered bombing led to damage to parts of Essen and 10 other towns
1943-05-2929/30 May Wuppertal RAF roundel 719 bombers attacked Wuppertal; Oboe marking was used, and being relatively close to the UK maximum payloads were carried. With only light defences, the bombing force was able to deliver their bombs accurately 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) of the old town burned down when a firestorm takes hold. "Five of the six major factories" were destroyed and the homes of 100,000.[6]:415[18]
1943-06-1111/12 June Düsseldorf RAF roundel 783 aircraft. Although initial marking was spot on for the first wave a backup marker Mosquito dropped target indicators 14 miles (23 km) off target to the north-east; with the effect that part of the bombing fell there.[19] 130 acres (0.53 km2) of Düsseldorf claimed as destroyed. 4.9 per cent of force lost.
12/13 June 1943 Bochum RAF roundel 503 aircraft with targeting by Oboe skymarking. "severe damage to the centre of Bochum".[1] 4.8 per cent of the force
14/15 June Oberhausen RAF roundel 197 Lancasters plus Oboe Mosquitoes which skymarked as cloud covered target. 8.4% aircraft loss.
16/17 June Cologne RAF roundel 212 bombers. Marking by Pathfinder's heavy bombers with H2S. Cloud cover and equipment trouble gave scattered bombing. 14 bombers lost.
17/18 June Cologne and Ruhr RAF roundel 3 Mosquitoes; no aircraft lost.
19/20 Cologne, Duisburg and Düsseldorf RAF roundel 6 Mosquitoes; no aircraft lost
21/22 June Krefeld RAF roundel A 705 aircraft raid on a moonlit night; 6.2 per cent of the force lost. Oboe Mosquitoes marked the ground in good visibility, the main force started a fire that "raged out of control, for several hours".[1]
1943-06-2222 June Huls Us army air corps shield.svg USAAF daylight raid on synthetic rubber plant[20]
22/23 June Mülheim RAF roundel 557 aircraft, marking through cloud layer. According to the post-war British Bombing Survey Unit, this raid destroyed 64% of the town.
24/25 June Wuppertal RAF roundel 630 aircraft, post-war British estimates 94% of Elberfeld destroyed by this raid
1943-06-25 25/26 June Gelsenkirchen, Nordstern oil plant RAF roundel 473 RAF bombers unsuccessfully attack the Nordstern synthetic-oil plant at Gelsenkirchen due to cloud and "unserviceable" equipment on 5 of the 12 Oboe-equipped Mosquitoes
28/29 June Cologne RAF roundel 608 aircraft with 4.1% lost. Only half the Oboe Mosquitoes sent were able to skymark.
1943-07-9 9/10 July Gelsenkirchen RAF roundel 418 bombers unsuccessfully attack Gelsenkirchen - Oboe equipment failed to operate in 5 of the Mosquitoes and a 6th marked 10 miles (16 km) north of the target.
1943-07-25 25/26 July Essen RAF roundel A force of 600 bombers dropped their bombs on Essen over a period of less than an hour.[21] Goebbels recorded in his diary "last raid....complete stoppage of production in the Krupps works".[21]
1943-07-3030/31 July Remscheid RAF roundel The last raid of the Battle of the Ruhr attacked Remscheid with 273 aircraft. 5.5% of the attacking force was lost[1]

During the battle other German targets received large attacks.

  • Berlin 27/28 March, 29/30 March
  • Stettin (now Szczecin in modern Poland) 20/21 April


In his study of the German war economy, Adam Tooze stated that during the Battle of the Ruhr, Bomber Command severely disrupted German production. Steel production fell by 200,000 tons. The armaments industry was facing a steel shortfall of 400,000 tons. After doubling production in 1942, production of steel increased only by 20 percent in 1943. Hitler and Speer were forced to cut planned increases in production. This disruption caused resulted in the Zulieferungskrise (sub-components crisis). The increase of aircraft production for the Luftwaffe also came to an abrupt halt. Monthly production failed to increase between July 1943 and March 1944. "Bomber Command had stopped Speer's armaments miracle in its tracks".[22]

At Essen after more than 3,000 sorties and the loss of 138 aircraft, the "Krupps works...and the town...itself contained large areas of devastation"[4] Krupps never restarted locomotive production after the second March raid.[4]

Operation Chastise caused some temporary effect on industrial production, through the disruption of the water supply and hydroelectric power. The Eder Valley dam "had nothing whatsoever" to do with supplying the Ruhr Area.[23] A backup pumping system had already been put in place for the Ruhr, and Speer's Organisation Todt rapidly mobilized repairs, taking workers from the construction of the Atlantic Wall. The destruction of the Sorpe dam would have caused significantly more damage but since it was a stronger design less likely to be breached it was effectively a secondary target.

Notes and references

Note a ^ According to Levine, there were few "very big industrial plants" suitable for specific targeting as was the case in Essen.[5]
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Staff. "Campaign Diary". Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary. UK Crown. Archived from the original on 7 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-24. 
    1943: January, February, March, April, May, June, July
  2. Tooze 2006, p. 598. During the Battle of the Ruhr, Bomber Command severely disrupted German production. Tooze states steel production fell by 200,000 tons and the armaments industry was facing a steel shortfall of 400,000 tons. After doubling production in 1942, production of steel increased only by 20 percent in 1943. Hitler and Speer were forced to cut planned increases in production. This disruption caused the zulieferungskrise (sub-components crisis). The increase of aircraft production for the Luftwaffe also came to an abrupt halt. Monthly production failed to increase between July 1943 and March 1944. Tooze concludes; "Bomber Command had stopped Speer's armamanets miracle in its tracks".
  3. Frankland, Noble and Webster, Charles. The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany, 1939-1945, Volume II: Endeavour, Part 4. Her Majesty's Stationary Office. London 1961, p. 141.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 Thompson, H L New Zealanders with the RAF (Vol II) Chapter 3: Bomber Command and the Battle of the Ruhr 1956
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Levine, Alan J.. The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945. p. 53. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Blank, Ralf (1994). "Historisches Centrum Hagen".  Blank. "Part 1: Introduction". Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
    Blank. "Part 2: "Battle of the Ruhr", March–July 1943". Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
    Blank. "Part 3: Large air defence in the Rhine-Ruhr area". Retrieved 2009-01-21. 
  7. Gurney, Gene (Major, USAF) (1962). The War in the Air: a pictorial history of World War II Air Forces in combat. New York: Bonanza Books. p. 113. 
  8. Levine, Alan J. (1992). The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 51. ISBN 0-275-94319-4. 
  9. Butt Report, 1941
  10. Bishop, Patrick Bomber Boys Fighting Back 1940-1945[Clarification needed]
  11. Brown, Louis: A Radar History of World War II CRC Press, 1999
  12. Australian War Memorial
  13. Davis, Richard D. (April 2006). Bombing of European Axis Powers. Air University Press. p. 109. 
  14. Davis, Richard D. (April 2006). Bombing of European Axis Powers. Air University Press. p. 68. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Staff. "Campaign Diary April 1943". Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary. UK Crown. Archived from the original on 7 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-24. 
  17. Staff. "Campaign Diary May 1943". Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary. UK Crown. Archived from the original on 29 May 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-24. 
  18. Maynard p124
  19. Maynard p125
  20. "8th Air Force 1943 Chronicles". Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
    1943: March, April, May, June, July
  21. 21.0 21.1 RAF History - Bomber Command 60th Anniversary "No. 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group"
  22. Tooze, The Wages of Destruction, London, Penguin, 2007(pbk), ISBN 978-0-14-100348-1 pp 597 - 8
  23. Speer, Albert (1970) [1969 - German language: Erinnerungen (Recollections)]. Inside the Third Reich. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York and Toronto: Macmillan. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-684-82949-4. LCCN 70119132. 


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