The Last Flight of Halifax JB837
25/26th May 1943
The Düsseldorf Raid of 25th/26th May 1943


Herald Tribune
(New York Edition)
May 26th 1943
LONDON - A force of British and Canadian planes battered the German arms center of Düsseldorf last night with more than five two-ton block-busters a minute, the Air Ministry announced today. Four-ton bombs also were dropped on industrial objectives and tens of thousands of incendiaries were showered on the city, which is Germany's third largest inland port and an important communications center.

This article, and many similar, appeared in newspapers around the world on the day after the raid, using information provided by the UK's Air Ministry. The propaganda produced the headlines required, but the realities of the raid were somewhat different. Despite the claims of four-ton bombs on industrial objectives and a city showered with incendiaries, the Düsseldorf Civic Administration records show that between 50 and 100 buildings were destroyed and 30 people killed. Hardly a "battering".

During the raid, Bomber Command aircraft took photographs of the bombing, but only three usable photographs were acquired because of the heavy cloud cover. They all showed that the bombs had been released over 10 miles south and southwest of the Düsseldorf target area. A reconnaissance sortie carried out by Bomber Command on 11th June, 1943, covering only the south of the town and a narrow strip along the east bank of the Rhine showed a few scattered incidents of damage, including 3 factory buildings and a number of houses which had suffered damage from fire.

Bomber Command privately deemed the raid a failure, but this must be put into a wider perspective. The Allied aircrew who sacrificed their lives in this and other "unsuccessful" raids did not do so in vain. The mistakes of this raid in the middle of the Battle of the Rhur provided valuable lessons which saved the lives of countless aircrew and increased the effectiveness of bombing missions in subsequent air campaigns against the Rhur Industrial heartland and later in the Battle of Berlin. As Winston Churchill himself once said "Keep failures in perspective: failures happen and then there’s success - fail, persevere, learn, and then succeed".

In the narrow sense that its military objectives were not achieved, the raid was a failure: in the wider sense, the constant threat and changing targets of Bomber Command's strategic night offensive tied down an enormous amount of the German military capacity in both men and materials. Albert Speer, the German Armaments Minister, having read the report of the US Strategic Bombing Survey's analysis of the effectiveness of the bombing campaign against German armament and industrial factories, wrote in his 1946 "Secret Diaries":

"It seems to me that the (report) misses the decisive point. Like all other accounts of the bombing that I have so far seen, it places its emphasis on the destruction that air raids inflicted on German industrial potential and thus upon armaments. In reality, the losses were not quite so serious. The real importance of the air war consisted in the fact that it opened a second front long before the invasion of Europe. That front was the skies over Germany. The unpredictability of the attacks made the front gigantic. Defence against air attacks required the production of thousands of anti-aircraft guns, the stockpiling of tremendous quantities of ammunition all over the country, and holding in readiness hundreds of thousands of soldiers. As far as I can judge from the accounts I have read, no one has yet seen that this was the greatest lost battle on the German side."

The fate of the Nightfighter Pilots

In the early hours of 26th May 1943, 21 RAF Bombers were shot down by 12 German night fighters. Only three of the nightfighter pilots are known to have survived the war.

Hptm Werner Hopf

Deserted to Dübendorf airfield in Switzerland on 30th April 1945, where he was interned. He died in Heidelberg in 1970.

Oblt. Eckart-Wilhelm von Bonin

Survived the war, and died on 11th November 1992.

Oblt. Hermann Greiner

Survived the war and died on 26th September 2014, aged 94. Following the end of the war, Greiner was arrested crossing the German-Swiss border attempting an escape to Argentina. He was detained in an Allied prisoner of war camp until 1947, after which he went on to study law and returned to service in the West German Luftwaffe in 1957, retiring in 1972.

Uffz. Georg Kraft

Was shot down by an RAF Beaufighter of 141 Squadron on 17th August 1943, northeast of Schiermonnikoog, Holland. The aircraft crashed into the sea, and his body was washed up near Argab, Denmark on 21st September 1943.

Oblt. Wilhelm Telge

Was killed on 1st September 1943 in a collision with a 'heavy' bomber, possibly a 419 Squadron Halifax JD270 VR-P . His Bordfunker and Bordschutze bailed out and survived, but his body was found in the wrecked aircraft near Brandenburg.

Maj. Walter Ehle

Was killed in a flying accident at Horpmaal near St. Trond airbase on the evening of Wednesday, 17th November 1943.

Oblt. Manfred Meurer

Was killed in a mid-air collision with RAF Lancaster bomber W4852 LS-B 12 miles east of Magdeburg on 22nd January 1944. Both aircraft crashed: there were no survivors.

Ofw. Hermann Sommer

Was shot down by a US fighter and crashed at Innsbruck on 11th February 1944.

Fw Heinz Vinke

Was shot down while on a search and rescue mission over the English Channel by two Hawker Typhoons of RAF 198 Squadron on 26th February 1944. The sequence shown below was taken from F/O George Hardy's gun camera and shows Vinke's Messerschmitt's starboard engine exploding shortly before it dived into the English Channel near Dunkirk. All three of the fighter's crew were killed: none of their bodies were ever recovered.

Heinz Vinke is shot down

Lt. Heinz Strumming

Was shot down by a Mosquito of RAF 157 Squadron on 24th December 1944 as he was attacking a Lancaster bomber over Cologne. He bailed out but struck the tailplane of his own aircraft and fell to his death. It was two months before his body was found.

Lt. Bruno Heilig

Was shot down by an RAF Mosquito of 515 Squadron and crashed at Jägel airfield on 16th January 1945. [9]

Hptm. Kurt Liedke

Fate unknown