For all the great prose and considered analysis of the historians, nothing compares with the accounts of the men that actually did the fighting. The collection of huge numbers of first-hand accounts is one of the hallmarks of Chris Goss’s publications, and Luftwaffe Fighter-Bomber Over Britain is typically crammed with the dramatic words of the airmen that flew the so-called “Tip and Run” attacks against Britain between March 1942 and June 1943.
Almost every page of this richly illustrated book includes a quote from one of the combatants. An example is the account from Feldwebel Albert Hell (a disturbingly appropriate name) describing a raid on 31 October 1942. After releasing his bomb, he turned for home:
“During the return flight I suddenly felt a hard blow, saw smoke coming from my engine and the aircraft began to shake. At the same moment I pulled the joystick, gained some height, jettisoned the canopy and, after unfastening the seat belts, I jumped over the aircraft’s tail unit keeping a firm hold on the ripcord. I pulled the ripcord, the parachute opened at once and after swinging back and forth I hit the ground.”
Just what it was like to be on the receiving end of the “Tip and Run” raids is also vividly described, such as that which was delivered against the South Coast resort of Hastings on 11 March 1943. This particular attack was carried out by, it was believed, twenty-six aircraft. Twenty-five bombs were dropped, killing thirty-eight people, wounding ninety others, thirty-nine seriously. Forty houses were destroyed and the railway line was blocked. Not all the bombs proved destructive, though, as teenager Don Spear, who had been walking along the seafront between Hastings and St Leonards at the time, observed: “I heard the roar of an aircraft behind me and turned and faced a Fw 190 flying down the middle of the road at rooftop height. His target appeared to be a large block of flats, Marine Court, which at that time was part occupied by the RAF.
“As the Fw 190 was almost above me, the pilot released his bomb and he started to bank left. The bomb flew through the air, hit the road and bounced over the railings into the sea, sending up a column of water.”
Just as dramatic an event was experienced by a man who was in hospital in Ashford recovering from a hernia operation: “The warning went just before the raid started and all patients who could went to the shelter. Several others and myself were still confined to bed ... There was a lot of anti-aircraft fire when suddenly there was a loud explosion – one of the Fw 190s had been hit ... Seconds after, a lump of ceiling crashed down between my bed and the old gentleman in the next bed. On inspection afterwards, they found a lump of the Fw 190’s engine had come through the roof and lodged in the cross beam between our beds.”
Not all were so fortunate that day, such as the Fireman on a locomotive. “When we reached him,” recalled a Fitter in the Locomotive Works at Ashford, “he was conscious and screaming in his agony. As he was being stretchered away, his cries of ‘God, dear God, please let me die’ haunted my dreams for many weeks.”
Such tip and run raids were not always one-sided, and whilst many of the accounts are from German pilots, RAF combat reports are equally represented. The book also includes more than thirty pages of appendices, detailing the number of fighter-bomber raids, losses incurred and the pilots involved.
It is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive, exciting and well-presented book on this episode of the air war over Britain. There is little doubt that this book, originally published in hardback in 2003, is considered the standard work on this subject.
Review courtesy of Britain At War Magazine.