After the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force from Flanders it fell mainly to our Air Force to aid the French in slowing down the German advance. One of the chief objectives was the destruction of oil supplies in German territory and in occupied regions. Here an account is given of the daily and nightly raids made by our heroic airmen during the early days of June.
Before the great German offensive of June 5 was launched, our airmen, with magnificent verve and courage, were hindering and hampering the enemy. Our fighters and medium bombers harassed troop concentrations and the enemy's communications by day; at night the R.A.F. heavy bombers took up the task. Day after day the enemy was pounded and hammered; his tanks were bombed, ammunition dumps were blown up, road and rail junctions and bridges at key points were ceaselessly attacked.
There was another aspect of this counteroffensive – the never-ceasing destruction of German oil supplies, at places far inside his frontier; and along with this the aerial attack on his lines of supply.
On the evening before the new Nazi offensive was begun, R.A.F. machines were raiding oil depots, railway junctions and marshalling yards over a wide area, from Dortmund in the north to Mannheim in the south. This for 1½ hours the R.A.F. bombed the oil tanks at Frankfurt. At Mannheim, the first bombs were dropped just before midnight on an extensive oil storage plant and "flames that broke out several minutes later were seen to spread rapidly. The following aircraft, guided to their objectives by the raging fires, completed the destruction of the plant. An isolated group of tanks was seen to explode after two direct hits by salvoes of heavy bombs. Streaming oil ... quickly became a mass of flames ... visible to aircraft flying more than 100 miles away."
Another big oil store, at Monheim, was located by parachute flare and set on fire, as were oil tanks at Düsseldorf itself. At Dortmund a similar operation was successfully carried out. Cologne and Essen were among the German towns to hear the drone of R.A.F. bombers that same night:
"Important marshalling yards near Essen, Düsseldorf, and Wesel were heavily bombed, and at Cologne, some 70 high explosive and incendiary bombs were seen to burst over the greater part of a railway yard crowded with loaded goods wagons. A direct hit with a heavy calibre bomb on the rail tracks at Homburg, near Frankfurt, caused numerous minor explosions and a vived display of green flashes, as though an electric power line had been struck."
Though intense opposition was encountered all but one of our machines returned safely to their bases.
On the night of June 5 it was the turn of Hamburg and its neighbourhood. For several hours the oil tanks were bombarded, and adjoining works set on fire. An oil depot near the Kiel Canal was bombed, and the R.A.F. units went on to attack military objectives on Heligoland. Marshalling yards and railway tracks were damaged at Wedau, Eschweiler and Rheydt. South of Geldern "fires were started along the railway line, and it is thought that traffic must have been dislocated as a result."
All the week the R.A.F. continued their attacks, and the French, too, were busy in similar work. Thus, on the night of Tuesday, June 4, oil refineries and marshalling yards were bombed for the fifth night in succession. On Wednesday the French bombers attacked important factories at Munich and Ludwigshafen, as well as the railway station at Mannheim. Next day, said the French communiqué, "our aviation continued the destruction of the Rhineland railway system and factories in the region of the Rhine."
On Thursday, June 6, M. Reynaud told of the work of French airmen during the night of June 4-5, which was a reply to the German air raid on Paris of June 3.
"French bombers flew over Mannheim, Ulm, Ludwigshafen, and Munich. The colossal Badischanilin factory was set on fire. The fire was visible from the French frontier."
The enemy's fuel supplies and ammunition dumps in occupied territory were methodically attacked. At Valenciennes, on the night of June 8, an oil store was bombed and exploded in a vast sheet of flame visible 50 miles away. Pilots of our Coastal Command bombed oil stores at Ghent, and our heavy bombers attacked the entrances to Amiens and important places near Abbeville.
The examples cited give some idea of the many-sided work of our bomber squadrons. The Advanced Air Striking Force were all this time engaged in bombing enemy aerodromes or attack railway stations in Belgium or France, so that many such places had to be abandoned by the Germans. Armoured columns and infantry were harassed by our medium bombers; A.A. batteries were silenced.
Enough has been said to show how magnificent is the work which our Royal Air Force is doing. What the reactions of the German people are to these bitter evidences of the enemy striking within their borders for the first time for over a century the Nazi machine has prevented us knowing. But there are indications of widespread concern at the immense damage done to German war industries.