Sunday, 13 October 2019

Target for Tonight , Op Four - Mannheim-Ludwigshaven

Lancaster Under Attack by Robert Taylor

This weekend, at the Devon Wargames Group monthly meeting, saw game four in our Berlin Campaign played with an Operation (op in RAF parlance) to Mannheim-Ludwigshaven.

The campaign module being developed is being tested by members of the club as we set ourselves to play out the first eight operations by Mainforce Bomber Command putting 400 plus aircraft in the air for each op, as part of the so called 'Battle of Berlin'.

The first three ops in this mini-campaign can be followed in the links below, with each of the games contributing to an overall victory point calculation to establish whether the Nazi regime is reaping the whirlwind or if the cost of the strategic bomber campaign far outweighs the benefits to the Allied war effort.

Op 1 - Berlin
Op 2 - Nuremberg
Op 3 - Berlin

Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, charismatic and controversial leader of Bomber Command 1942-45

Historians continue to debate if Bomber Harris's Battle of Berlin commenced in August 1943 with the 727 bombers launched against the city on 23rd-24th August or if the start should really be considered as the 18th-19th November following the two month assessment by Bomber Command on the tactics needed to press the offensive following experience gained from the earlier attacks.

As Bomber Harris was very circumspect about when he considered the campaign to have started the debate is rather academic and so I have taken the view, proposed by Martin Middlebrook in his book covering the raids, that the August raids are an important part of the whole campaign, following as they did, hot on the heals of the devastating attacks on Hamburg that saw the German Nightfighter defences utterly taken apart by the deployment of Window, aluminium foil strips dropped from the air to disrupt German ground radar.

This disruption to the established deployment of guided nightfighter attacks using ground based radar and communications beacons to guide the fighters into the bomber stream allowed Harris a window, if you'll excuse the pun, of opportunity to contemplate deep raids to targets like Berlin with the full force of Bomber Command.

A list of the Mainforce Ops completed by Bomber Command during the period covered by the Battle of Berlin

The Nachtjagd, during this period, was forced to completely reevaluate its tactics with a move to deploy its twin-engined fighters in a freejagd role, attempting to get them as close to the stream as possible before Window disrupted the intercept plots from the ground and let the aircrews use airborne radar and the mark one eyeball to find the bombers.

Alongside these tactics, greater use of 'Wild Boar' fighter tactics over the target, or suspected target, came to be another change, where the Nachtjagd pilots would attempt to spot the bombers over the city and attack planes away from flak concentrations using searchlights to help them intercept.

My NF Beaufighter together with the Mosquito got a run out during the Mannheim Op replicating the growing threat from this part of Bomber Command's potential.

Needless to say these enforced changes often went against much opposition from the twin-engined crews unfamiliar with blind flying tactics and resistant to move away from the comfort of operating around a local beacon in familiar airspace, to now having to roam across much larger areas in bad weather, carefully monitoring their fuel and working out where they could land in an emergency.

To add to the woes of the Nachtjagd, British nightfighters operating in an intruder role along the flanks of the bomber stream were starting to become another worrying change and a threat to the unwary German aircrew only focused on being the hunter and now potentially becoming the prey.

The campaign map used to determine the target, the weather over it and the home airfields for takeoff and landing conditions, and a record of previous ops with the two missions to Berlin and the one to Nuremberg indicated. Note also the various NJG Groups are shown which helps determine what type of nightfighter could be encountered.

Turning back to the specifics of our campaign, Window still continues to dominate and improvements in German nightfighter airborne radar is still a month away in development. The only change established for this op is the deployment by Bomber Command of the Master Bomber, a very experienced bomber pilot, sometimes flying a modified aircraft and tasked with flying high over the target giving a running commentary to aircrews below on where they needed to concentrate their attacks.

The Counter Measures in play for our Op, with Master Bomber now deployed since the last Op to Berlin and with Window dominant cancelling out the attempts to improve detection from the airborne interception radar sets by German 'Streuwellen'

The actual raid on Mannheim-Ludwigshaven on 5th-6th September 1943 was carried out over a target clear of cloud with Pathfinder target marking described as 'working perfectly' leading it seems to severe destruction on the target.

The central and southern parts of the town were devastated with the fire department recording 986 large fires, with 139 in industrial buildings, with eight such buildings including the IG Farben works, seriously damaged.

The casualties on the ground were 127 killed and 568 injured, with the relatively low number of fatalities put down to the fact that the German authorities were now evacuating large parts of their population following the disaster of the firestorms in Hamburg.

The group roster showing aircraft available for the op by group with those left out at the bottom and in this case the losses suffered and the call sign of the aircraft lost, with 5 Group having a particularly hard night.

Our game scenario seemed to follow the circumstance of the historical raid in many aspects with a significant show of force by the five groups of bombers putting up some very experienced crews with twelve veteran and two elite crews among the twenty three taking part.

Lancaster bomb bay loaded up in 1942 with incendiaries, high explosive and a cookie block buster bomb. The players on our op opted for a heavy bomb load to a distant target reducing the fuel load carried and putting extra strain on the aircrews to avoid running out of fuel on the return leg.

The target conditions were showing to be clear with light winds from the northwest and only broken cloud over the home airfields; and the players opted for an aggressive load out of bombs with the minimum amount of fuel required, leaving little room for navigational errors and enemy activity causing extra fuel to be used too and from the target.

The preplanned route plan showing nightfighter deployments and their ability ratings should they be deployed on the intercept board

The op began well with only a Stirling from 3 Group narrowly missing colliding with another aircraft on the taxi out to the runway, seeing the whole of Mainforce gather over the east coast before setting course for Germany.

The first casualty of the night was the veteran crew of 4 Group Halifax N-Nanny on their twenty-second op failing to notice the correct fuel mixture setting on climb out over the North Sea, leading to frozen carburetors and engine failure; with just the rear gunner managing to bail out before the aircraft crashed into the sea. 

The next losses were over the enemy coast as the veteran crew of 6 Group Halifax W-William turned back after the pilot had dumped the bomb load complaining of stomach cramps, this closely followed by veteran crew, 5 Group Lancaster S-Sugar on their eighteenth op, being shot down by a novice crewed Me 110 from II/NJG1.

The Target Map used to set up the target marking by the Group Commanders, showing Newhaven ground markers, given the clear conditions over the target, together with the light wind and its direction that, in this case, caused little to no appreciable drift and led to a concentrated bombing pattern with six major fires started on the city centre, engine factory, docks and suburbs east of the river. However eight bombing clusters fell on open farmland

Pressing on into Germany the veteran crew Halifax L-Leather of 4 Group dumped its cookie as the pilot attempted to gain extra altitude knowing that there was a full turn out of Stirlings from 3 Group flying at lower altitude to tempt the nighfighters.

The clear flying conditions were not what the bomber crews would have wanted on such a long flight and before the flak zone around Mannheim was reached 5 Group Lancaster P-Popsie and 3 Group Stirling H-Harry both with novice crews and only four ops between them, fell victim to nightfighters, this despite the activity of Beaufighters in the area reporting intercepts but failing to make any claimed kills en route.

An example of the aircraft rosters drawn up on Cyberboard and printed out for the players prior to each op, in this case 3 Group Stirlings run by Bob leading a charmed life and only losing one aircraft H-Harry

Turning towards the target over the flak zone, the night claimed another victim when the luck of elite crew Halifax from 4 Group O-Orange on their second tour with thirty-eight ops completed, took a flak hit amidships, detonating the bomb load and lighting up the night sky, with all the crew lost.

The players discuss their fuel and bomb load out prior to takeoff

The run into the target proved problematic for some with three aircraft forced to go around again and jumpy bomb aimers guilty of dropping early despite the best efforts of the Master Bomber calling out course corrections and directing extra target making from follow up pathfinders, but in the main those that bombed seemed to achieve good concentrations with multiple fires observed on leaving the target.

The first groups takeoff and assemble over the east coast prior to heading out over the North Sea

In the three previous ops, the return flight has often been the most problematic part of the flight, and despite the best efforts of Mosquito intruders, missing out on claiming a kill close to the turn for home point, the Nachtjagd picked up the course of the stream.

1 Group novice crew Lancaster A-Apple had a torrid time, hunted by a I/NJG4 Me110 that they failed to spot, but survived the raking fire from its cannon, for its tail gunner to score hits on the enemy aircraft.

The Cyberboard module allows easy access to prepared game stats and allows a similarly easy way of recording events throughout the game

However the German pilot seemed unwilling to take the hint from the tail gunner's obvious skill and set about dueling with the Lancaster scoring multiple hits but taking them in return.

In the end A-Apple staggered away from the encounter the victor after shooting down their tormentor, but taking nine D10's worth of damage that finally caused the Lancaster to lose control later in the flight with only the flight engineer managing to bail out in time.

The players are getting very familiar with TFT which allows a fast turn round of each game

The final victim of the night was the experienced crew of 5 Group Lancaster R-Roger finally succumbing to flak damage from earlier in the flight and crashing into the North Sea on the return leg having nursed the aircraft back over enemy territory with just the mid upper gunner and wireless operator managing to bail out before the aircraft crashed into the sea, both later being picked up by Coastal Command together with the rear gunner from N-Nanny lost earlier in the flight.

With the first bombs dropped by 1 Group Lancasters, planting their Cookies, in come 3 Group Stirlings with their mix of HE and Incendiaries.

The rest of the flight was uneventful with the remaining aircraft safely returning to their airfields and crews transported back for an early morning debrief.

The post op photos revealed a punishing attack on the target which produced six major fires in the industrial and city centres, rail yards, and the eastern suburbs which together with the target value and the enemy nightfighter shot down netted 34.5 victory points for the night.

However the planes lost together with their veteran and elite crews, five of them falling to the Nachtjagd saw the victory point tally reduced to just 6.5 victory points and easily a German major victory for the night.

The final photo-flash  reveals a heavy concentration of bombing, but will it be enough to offset the losses suffered?

More importantly from a campaign perspective at the halfway point, sees the British tally reduced to 14 points from the 16 they had achieved, just two points from a drawn campaign and a serious blow to Bomber Command ambitions. leaving all to play for in the next four ops.

As the umpire and controller of Luftwaffe night defences I came away suitably impressed with the defences put up by the Nachtjaged after three very effective raids before this one.

As with the previous games, I was keen for the players to immerse themselves in the period and took time out at the start and after the game raid to play the Pathe recording of a similar op to Mannheim-Ludwigshafen that gives a vivid impression of the war Bomber Command was fighting at this time and to take time to appreciate what was at stake for all the combatants and civilians alike.

You can watch the clip in the link below.

If you are interested in getting into Target for Tonight which we are thoroughly enjoying playing then you might like to join a similar group of like minds who share ideas on the Facebook Group in the link below.

Target for Tonight - Facebook Page

We will now be taking a slight break from Bomber Command Ops with our next game planned for January 2020 with a raid on Augsburg planned, standing in for the actual target of Munich, attacked on the 6th - 7th September 1943.

Next up, I am planning to complete my post on my visit to Bailen in the Summer as part of the Peninsular War Tour series of posts, and I have Butlers Rangers and Indians to show after adding them to the AWI collection, and later this month I'm off to Berlin to visit Will who is starting a masters degree there and where I hope to visit some of the historic sites in a city I have never visited before.


  1. This is so cool. Reminds me of playing the old AH game "Luftwaffe" once we got the poorly organized rules in place. I love the amount of detail in your rules and the miniatures.

  2. I 'helped' Steve with a D10 throw (low is good)...I threw a 10; then the aircraft crashed after another rubbish throw. Note to self...don't throw dice for other players ! :)