Sunday, 15 August 2021

Target for Tonight, Op Seven - Hannover (A Very Dark Night for Bomber Command!)

The amazing aviation artwork  of Piotr Forkasiewicz, captures the moment of a Lancaster under attack from a Freejagd, FW190 Nightfighter, an all to common event in our seventh Target for Tonight op to Hannover

This weekend at the Devon Wargames Group, myself, Bob and Steve L. sat down to play through the seventh and penultimate game in our Battle of Berlin Campaign game for Target for Tonight (TfT) with the state of play at the end of six ops balanced on a draw and with Bomber Command needing to restore confidence and its advantage with a devastating attack on the relatively close range target of Hannover, which was attacked historically on the 27th-28th September 1943 by 678 Mainforce aircraft.

The first eleven ops in Bomber Commands 1943 offensive against Berlin from which the eight largest were selected to test out our eight game campaign module for TfT

A lot of factors seemed to bode well for Bomber Command with this op, as 'Bomber Harris' gave his crews a much needed break from the deep, long range attacks on the 'Big City', Berlin, Nuremburg and Mannheim and returned to Hannover raided only a few nights previously and with our next op to Dusseldorf, deep in the 'Happy Valley' of the Rhur.

The situation set-up and preceding ops can be followed below:

As well as being a shorter flight to Hannover, reducing the time in the air to be attacked and the strain on aircrew, the weather was forecast as 'broken cloud' over the target with light winds allowing 'Newhaven' target markers to be used, much more accurate in their placement with a small chance of drift and thus a good chance of accurate grouped bombing. Only fog over airfields on the return slightly spoilt the planned attack, but with a strong turn out of veteran crews across the groups including two second tour elite crews, the chances of a good result seemed in the offing.

The Players briefing sheet showed a solid turn out of aircraft from across the five Mainforce Groups with thirteen veteran and two second tour elite crewed aircraft out of twenty participating in the attack, with the other five being novice crews averaging three ops apiece.

Hannover was an important target being the thirteenth largest city in the Reich at that time, with 471,000 inhabitants and an important role as a major transport hub and industrial centre producing military vehicles, aircraft together with rubber parts and products at the Continental AG and Hanomag factories and with the large AFA VARTA factory producing batteries and torpedoes for U-boats. in addition, on the outskirts of the city, two large refineries were built producing gasoline and motor oils for the Luftwaffe.

The players briefing notes of Hannover included the target map with the key industrial sites of Continental AG, VARTA and the refineries indicated together with the winds expected over the target.

The intelligence briefing indicated no known changes to Luftwaffe technical capabilities, but updates on passive receivers such as Flensburg were now enabling nightfighters to home in on Bomber Command's Monica tail warning radar, somewhat reducing the effectiveness of the cloaking effects of Window.

Confident in the forecast of low winds affecting target marking by the pathfinders, our player commanders opted for target marking on the railyards to the north-west of the city to act as their reference point and, with a short range target allowing a comfortable fuel load out of 18-19 units of fuel, a very-heavy bomb lift was selected allowing for an extra 20% lift capacity for the attack.

Mainforce starts to gather in darkening skies over eastern England and already the first casualties of the night, P-Popsie and R-Roger, remain on the ground as burning wrecks at base airfields.

Thus with the plans and briefing complete our respective Group commanders arranged their aircraft and started the first most critical parts of flying any aircraft, taking off, with perhaps only landing being of a higher priority, particularly if you get to walk away from it!

The night's work started badly for the op and very badly for Five-Group Lancasters, in what would be a devastating night for the group, as the 38-op, Elite crew of P-Popsie veered off the runway in an attempt to abort take-off, only to loose control with a very heavy bomb load, and crash amidst a fireball explosion, this followed by a similar devastating crash by 24-op Veteran crew R-Roger with fatal results for all on board.

Three casualties before Mainforce had crossed the enemy coast!

The next casualty of the night soon followed as the bomber stream crossed the coast out over the North Sea with a warning of icing conditions to contend with, the Three-Group, 3-op Novice crew of Stirling F-Freddie were forced to bail out after the flight engineer failed to adjust the fuel mixture on climb out with an engine failure resulting from icing that put the aircraft into an uncontrollable dive despite dumping their bomb-load and seeing only the wireless operator successfully bail out, to be picked up the next morning.

The rest of the flight from the enemy coast to the Hannover flak belt proved relatively uneventful with jumpy crews having their flight unsettled by the occasional Monica false alarm.

The bomber-stream reaches the Hannover flak belt where the next casualty of the night would fall in a direct hit from flak in the bomb bay killing all aboard Halifax M-Mother.

Then the next casualty fell as Four-Group, 14-op Veteran crew, Halifax, M-Mother found itself coned by searchlights and hit by flak in the bomb bay which resulted in a massive aerial explosion and the loss of all on board, as the stream flew on with all crews in the vicinity noting the use of scarecrow shells as they concentrated on their approach to the target.

A Freejagd Wildboar attack roars into the attack over Hannover, one of six such attacks as Mainforce made its run over the target.

The lack of nightfighters to this point was intriguing and perhaps indicating the controllers aranging fighter cover in prediction of a deeper raid, but any sense of relief for our bomber crews was to be soon tested as the run over Hannover was met by no less than six Freejagd 'Wildboar' single seat attacks from staffing FW-190's two of which were using airborne radar to home in on unsuspecting bombers.

The bomb run is always a very tense and drama laden part of a game of TfT but this raid on Hannover is up there with the most dramatic of all, with multiple single-engine fighter attacks, determined grouped bombing, and acts of heroism as bombers dealt with damage received over the target, to then press on and make their attacks.

Despite the attentions of the Wildboar fighters the bomber crews went about their task methodically, with very few 'jumpy' bomb drops and very good concentrations of bombing on suspected key locations around the city, but not without loss and damage from the repeated fighter attacks, with another Five-Group Lancaster, the 29-op, Veteran crew, T-Tommy, shot down on the bomb run by a nightfighter that hit it in the bomb bay killing all aboard, a Four-Group Halifax, 29-op Veteran crew K-King, hit by a fighter in the port fuel tank, setting it on fire and causing it to crash, with three crew, the flight engineer, wireless operator and rear gunner bailing out over the city, and a One-Group Lancaster, 16-op Veteran crew, B-Beer being hit by a fighter in the port wing fuel tank that then caught fire only to see the pilot save his aircraft by extinguishing the fire in a dive, before pressing on to complete his bomb run. 

Inevitably the bombers cleared the target and turned for home with crews jubilant that they had pressed their attack accurately with a strong concentrated grouping that would leave Hannover a smoking wreck the next day, with minds now focussed on getting home with out loss on the remaining fuel.

A Ju-88 from II/NJG3 closes in on Lancaster S-Sugar, to cause the last casualty to Bomber Command on a very costly raid to Hannover, and this loss being the fourth out of five Five Group Lancasters committed to the  raid.

With throttles opened, ours crews raced back to the coast with no more losses until the crossing into the North Sea - Channel approaches as another Five-Group Lancaster, 3-op Novice Crew, S-Sugar was intercepted by a II Gruppe, NJG3 Ju88 equipped with Schrage Music upward firing guns that closed in undetected by the inexperienced crew, pouring its fire into the port inner engine and sending it crashing out of control with no survivors.

The target map revealed an exemplary bombing attack with an ample mix of HE and Incendiaries placed together on key targets together with Cookie High explosives aimed at the industrial, city centre and transport areas. A quick assessment of the results reveal twelve major fires started and if this had been in summertime good weather conditions have resulted in a 'Firestorm' in Hannover city-centre.

With all of us exhausted after a very dramatic game we gathered around the computer display to see the results of what looked like a very good bombing attack that would help to offset the high losses in veteran and elite crews.

However each raid has then to add in the components that can easily affect good accurate bombing such as actual winds versus forecast, ground looking radar city profile, additional radar navigational support for pathfinders and target markers alike, etc.

For our op there were no other factors thus leaving a roll on 2d6 requiring seven or less for the Newhaven markers to have been on target and the bombing as seen above.

That was when all the good work of the night combined with the heavy loss of aircrew was undone as the die roll came up with a score of eleven and a target marker drift of two zones showing a target presented to reconnaissance Mosquito's the next morning looking thus;

Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory as forecast light winds prove false and undo the results of a very concentrated bombing attack falling on open fields and with not one bomb hitting the city of Hannover.

You might think this result bizarre and unrealistic if you knew nothing of the difficulty of hitting a target as large as a major city from some 20-25,000 feet in pitch darkness, under fire from Flak and nightfighters with the technology available in 1943, that is until you read the report of the results of the historical attack made by those 678 aircraft losing 38 of their number, some 5.6% of the force with the summary of the attack from the Bomber Command War Diary, blandly stating;

Bomber Command War Diary - Hannover 27/28 September 1943
678 aircraft - 312 Lancasters, 231 Halifaxes, 111 Stirlings, 24 Wellingtons. 5 B17s also took part. 38 Bomber Command aircraft - 17 Halifaxes, 10 Lancasters, 10 Stirlings, 1 Wellington - lost, 5.6% of the force and 1 B17 also lost.

'The use by the Pathfinders of faulty forecast winds again saved the centre of Hannover. The bombing was very concentrated, but fell on an area 5 miles north of the city centre. No details are available from Germany but R.A.F. photographic evidence showed that most bombs fell in open country or villages north of the city.'

I hadn't realised this was the historical outcome before writing up this AAR and it is uncanny when a game manages to replicate the result of an actual air-battle in this way and perhaps helps underline what an enthralling game TfT is in its ability to put you in the hot seat of those involved without all the risks to life and limb they endured doing it for real.

However this was a tough night for our bomber crews that leaves the campaign looking thus, with victory points in value of the target attacked less the crews of seven aircraft lost, four Lancasters, two Halifax and one Stirling resulted in 19 victory points to the Nachtjagd, thus reducing Bomber Commands tally of 72 points over six ops to 53 points over seven, leaving it averaging 7.6 points per op and placing the campaign firmly into a German Victory, with Nazi newspapers and Signal Magazine proclaiming,

Bomber losses outweigh the damage inflicted. It's a good night for the Nachtjagd!

Thank you to Bob and Steve L for once again braving the flak and pressing home their attack regardless of losses. 

Will Bomber Command's efforts be rewarded in the final op of this campaign? All will be revealed in the night skies over Dusseldorf.


  1. Very interesting stuff JJ. I've never played a WWII bombing mission, not by design, just simply that I have never been around when one has been played. It's a theatre of wargaming that I'm going to have to take a closer look at- I love the nuances described in terms of confidence in Bomber Command. Very interesting and very to the heart of the matter stuff in terms of how Bomber Command was at times perceived by the "powers that be" during WWII.

    1. Hi,
      Thank you, and glad you enjoyed the post. The area bombing campaign against the Axis in WWII is a controversial subject for very obvious reasons and I and the players are always conscious of that fact, all be it most modern commentators have never experienced ‘total war’ and that the sacrifices of that generation have allowed those of us that followed the luxury of debating the pros and cons of it in a period of relative global peace that is unprecedented in human history.

      Putting that caveat to one side, the night bombing campaign, principally against Germany is a fascinating military campaign, similar, in the use of technology to overcome the stealth of the natural environment, to that of the U-boat campaign, with a similarly controversial aspect of unrestricted naval warfare against merchant and civilian vessels.

      Bomber Command’s efforts alongside the daytime raids of the US 8th Airforce, overtime, destroyed the German military capacity to wage war and their contribution in the face of the technical difficulties is a remarkable feat and makes the night bombing raids replicated by TfT such an interesting game, which we have tried to enhance by bolting on this campaign module to capture the command decisions that went into planning a raid of between 600 to 800 four engined bombers in a stream over occupied Europe, and aiming to get the most bombs carried for the best fuel load out and progress across a target quickly enough to evade redirected night fighters, whose ability to find enemy bombers in the dark was a continual technological battle in its own right.

      If you are interested in playing TfT the Facebook Group is a good resource once you have the rules and the chaps have submitted lots of interesting ideas that compliment a very good set of rules that certainly tick my ‘good simulation, high level fun to play’ assessment. Link below.


    2. Yeah, I can see why some people might find it objectionable. Still, it was a major part of WWII and even small skirmish games often have an aircraft whizzing in from time to time.

      It's a tricky subject but one that needs addressing. Is it more controversial then someone playing bolt Action with their SS platoon? Not from my point of view.

      I think wargaming is very much horses for courses.

      The WWII Bombing Campaign is something that we only really touched upon at school and I have to say, I haven't really read much about it since. QSo, quite a number of years ago!

  2. Thanks, most interesting. Might have to put this on my list of games to investigate further.

    1. Hi Prufrock,
      Great, glad you enjoyed the read, and if this subject is of interest then TfT is worth getting hold of.