Battle of France Starts in the Air



Battle of France Starts in the Air


A report on RAF operations over France. The tank depot at Mailly was attacked as were railways, aircraft stores and an ammunition dump.



Temporal Coverage




One newspaper cutting


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[underlined] LATE WAR NEWS [/underlined]

FRIDAY, MAY 5, 1944


Massed Nazi Tanks Wiped Out in Great Raid.

By COLIN BEDNALL, Air Correspondent

A PRE-INVASION aerial battle of France, in which fantastic moonlight dog-fights not only between fighters and bombers but between the first-line fighters of both sides may be seen, has been precipitated by Wednesday’s night operations of R.A.F. Bomber Command.

Large numbers of German tanks and military vehicles expressly marshalled to fight on a wide stretch of the enemy’s Western lines are believed to have been destroyed under a 1,500-tons attack.

Following immediately upon the devastation of so many railway marshalling centres behind the Western lines, the challenge offered by the heavy bombers could no longer be ignored by the enemy.

With fighter reinforcement temporarily borrowed from the defence of Germany proper, he fought for the attacked depots with ferocity equalling that seen in attacks on Berlin itself.

The R.A.F. loss of 49 aircraft during the night must be regarded as above the average for all forms of bombing operations.

The R.A.F. will be certain to reply to the enemy’s offer of battle. It can turn bombers and intruders upon the airfields from which the enemy fighters are operating.

And as for the next week or so it will be attacking in moonlight it should be possible to provide an actual fighter escort for the night bombers.

In this respect the attacks on France present a different proposition to the long journeys into Germany on dark nights when the difficulties of maintaining contact between a fighter escort and a long-strung-out bomber force would be great.

In switching his fighters to the defence of the invasion targets in France the enemy has obviously decided to gamble on the R.A.F. main bomber forces staying out of Reich territory while the moon is up.

Mosquitoes can be expected to maintain the bombing offensive there during the moonlight period, but, generally, it is just a waste of time for any enemy fighter to try to catch a Mosquito at night.

[underlined] FEW ESCAPE [/underlined]

A reconnaissance aircraft had located the tank concentration at a military depot at Mailly, near Rheims. The new “night precision” technique was employed to place the great bomb load squarely across this depot despite the fierce opposition.

It is believed that the tanks and vehicles were parked down in the depot a few hours before the attack took place, and there is little likelihood that men or materials survived it.

A pitched battle was fought over this target, with our bombers making their runs with unfailing precision through dog-fights lighted by the moon, fighter flares, and target indicators.

Soon a pall of smoke covered the whole area of the depot, and violent explosions were seen.

One pilot saw the biggest explosion of his career, with flames going up to a thousand feet.

More battles were fought as the armada sped home.

Of the bombing, Sergeant C. Duthoit, of Burnley, said: “I saw our 4,000-pounder go off, taking a large building with it and throwing a mass of debris into the air.”

[underlined] ARMS DUMP HIT [/underlined]

Aircraft stores and equipment at Montdidier, 23 miles south-east of Amiens, an ammunition dump at Chateaudun, north-west of Orleans, which was exploding for 35 minutes, and the chemical and explosive centre at Ludwigshaven, in the Upper Rhineland, were also heavily attacked.

Our bombers were sent out in “great strength” which probably means nearly 1,000.

These great night attacks dove-tailed into new day raids and with attacks from east and south on vital centres of Hitler’s invasion belt.

Yesterday an armada of planes based in Britain, including Fortresses, struck at railways and other war targets in many parts of Northern France.

Others bombed an airfield in Holland and pierced the German frontier as far as the Hanover-Brunswick area. The Holland force shot down nine fighters for the loss of three.

During the night Allied bombers pin-pointed railway targets at Bucarest, [sic] Rumanian capital. Others smashed viaducts and bridges on the Riviera railway from Marseilles through Vintimiglia [sic] to Spezia, causing particular damage at Ventimiglia.

And far to the east, as zero hour looms for the new offensive, the Red Air Force has been hammering at enemy railway junctions and aerodromes on their invasion belt from the Black Sea to Lvov and Stanislavov and down to Rumania. Here their air blows link up with the British and American attacks.

Air Squeeze on the Axis

[map of Europe]

MAP shows how the triangular bombing blows from east, west, and south are hammering at the Axis war potential. From Russia key German air defence points in Rumania and pre-war Poland were hit on Wednesday night, while Allied bombers based in this country kept up the non-stop attack on military and aircraft installations in France and Germany. At the same time Italy-based bombers struck again at Bucarest. [sic]


Says Goebbels

THE assertion that the Allied leaders are postponing taking a decision on the invasion of Europe is made by Goebbels in his weekly article Das Reich, quoted by the German Official News Agency.

Every day and night, he admits, the Germans take invasion precautions. He also admits Allied air superiority, but claims that the German fighter plants have been moved to places where they cannot be hit. He says:-

“The present chances of either side are not clear as long as the decisive factors of future developments remain undefined.

“As long as the air war had led to no decision, and as long as the opening of the second front remains a war of nerves, the war itself still remains an open question.

“However, the enemy knows as well as we do that both factors harbour as many dangers for him as for us. The enemy cannot afford a defeat in the one or the other without losing his last chance of victory.

“It is not without reason that both London and Washington are again and again postponing the decision which, once taken, is irrevocable.

‘We Have Some Trumps’

“Not only has the enemy had time enough to prepare an invasion, but so have we to repel it.

“We still hold some trumps. Behind the fortifications which are known, there are hidden a great number of unknown preparations. If the enemy troops envisage the invasion on the lines described in London papers, or by General Montgomery, they can only be pitied.

“The Anglo-Americans place their hopes mainly on their present air superiority. We do not dispute that by any means. We refuse, however, as a great error the thesis that the enemy has eliminated our fighter weapon, or that there is a chance of achieving such a result.

“The example of Cassino has, moreover, proved that air bombardments, however massive, are by no means sufficient to pierce a firm defensive line.” – B.U.P.


Signals Failed

From Daily Mail Correspondent

SYDNEY, Thursday. – Details of the accidental clash between Allied ‘planes and warships, in which two patrol ships were wrecked and two ‘planes shot down, show that the incident began when a patrol boat in difficulty off Northern New Guinea was attacked by fighters from the Solomons.

One fighter was shot down, but the ‘planes returned with reinforcements. A second patrol ship came to the aid of the first: both were attacked, and a second ‘plane was shot down.

This is the seventh clash between friendly forces in recent weeks. A failure in recognition signals is blamed.

Red Army’s ‘Hush-hush’ Battles

Big Axis Losses

MOSCOW, Thursday.

THOUSANDS of Germans and Rumanians are dying in officially unrecorded battles near Jassy and in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

Every day the enemy launches counter-attacks here, but they fail to gain ground, according to latest despatches from the Second Ukrainian front.

Although these sharp local engagements are not mentioned in Soviet communiques the battlefields are strewn with wrecked tanks, burnt-out lorries, and shattered guns.

Air Mastery

Soviet troops have penetrated deep into the foothills and along the valleys and tracks leading to the main passes, and experienced Red Army mountaineers are carrying heavy boxes of munitions and food supplies up to the forward positions.

Simultaneously the Soviet air offensive is gathering force in its softening-up of the German rear communications from Rumania to the Polish border region.

Great fleets of planes are bombing German troop concentrations, rail junctions, and airfields on an increasing number of key sectors.

The Soviet communique to-night again reported “no important changes,” but told of another mass air raid on Sebastopol, which caused ten fires in arms dumps and heavy losses in manpower to the Germans.

Berlin is expecting a new Sebastopol blow. The German commentator, Colonel von Hammer, said to-night that the Russian preparations for launching a great offensive in that area are going ahead rapidly. – B.U.P. and Reuter.



The Germans admitted last night that the Russians had won temporary possession of a sector on the Sereth front. – Reuter.


Rommel is on a tour of inspection of the Mediterranean Coastal Defences, the German News Agency said last night. – Reuter.


Details of a new airport, complete with the most modern equipment, built by the Fleet Air Arm, were released yesterday. The airfield, called “Malagas,” is within a few miles of Capetown and cost nearly £4,000,000. – A.P.

[article on food facts]



“Battle of France Starts in the Air,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2023,

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