THE KJELLER RAID

18 November 1943

By Mervyn Johns, Pilot 576th Squadron
These two German photos show the bomb damage at Kjeller Airfield Norway, 18 November 1943.
Click on images to enlarge.

After our training in flight and ground school during 1943, we collected our B-24 at Herington Air Base, KS, on 16 September 1943, and departed for England on 19 September. We flew the northern ferry route, landing at Bangor, ME; Goose Bay Labrador; Reykjavik, Iceland; Prestwick, Scotland; and arrived in England on September 26. Our first two weeks after arrival was at a B-24 flight and ground school at Cheddington, Buckinghamshire, just north of London, followed by various flight checks at the 392nd Bomb Group's base, Wendling, Norfolk, mostly emphasizing formation flying.

Our combat experience began with our first mission on 20 October 1943, flying a diversion over the North Sea while the I st and 3rd Air Divisions attacked Duren, Germany, and ended with our 23rd mission on 24 February 1944, when we were shot down by Luftwaffe fighters after dropping our bombs on target at Gotha, Germany.

Looking back over the various combat missions in which we participated, it appears that our third mission, to Kjeller, Norway, on 18 November 1943, was the most satisfying and challenging of them all. It should be noted that this was the longest mission ever flown by the 392nd Bomb Group, 10 hours and 30 minutes duration.

As it transpired we were, to a large extent, on our own for most of the mission. We ran into problems, many of our own making, and made our own decisions for correcting them. In most cases we were pleased with the results.

The mission began more or less normally. We were awakened at about 3:15 a.m. with the scheduled briefing around 4:30 a.m. Our group's primary target was the German Luftwaffe airfield on the outskirts of the town of Kjeller in Occupied Norway. The briefed aiming point on the airfield was a long narrow building which housed machinery and workshop facilities, primarily for the repair and maintenance of German aircraft stationed in southern Norway.

After the briefing we proceeded to our B-24's hardstand and began our pre-flight checklist. Our regular copilot, Milt Henderson, was in the base hospital with the "flu" and we'd "borrowed" a replacement for Milt from another crew not scheduled for this mission. He and I completed the walkaround checking the exterior of our aircraft, then entered the cockpit and continued the check-list to "start engines." This was accomplished and we began taxiing from the hardstand to the perimeter track.

I started a left turn to line up with the perimeter track and somehow lost sight of the ground crewman who was guiding us out in the darkness. I immediately hit the brakes, but too late. I had the sickening feeling that we'd rolled off the concrete hardstand onto the soft grass area with a full load of fuel and bombs on board. With all that additional weight, the right landing gear had indeed rolled about a foot or so off the edge of the concrete and had sunk up to the wheel's axle in comparatively soft topsoil.

Engines were shut down and considerable time was lost while our ground crew hurriedly obtained two tracked tugs and dug a shallow, sloping trench from the sunken wheel back onto the hardstand.

During the confusion, an airman on a bicycle stopped beneath my cockpit side-window and called out something to me which I had difficulty in hearing due to the noise of the tugs. I finally decided he was yelling something about a schedule change. I understood that departure of the Group from the rendezvous buncher beacon would be 15 minutes later than originally scheduled so I repeated this and received an "OK" signal from the airman as he pedaled off into the darkness.

Meanwhile, our ground crew hooked one tug to the sunken main gear and the other to the nose wheel and, with the two tugs in unison, the 30ton airplane gradually moved forward out of the mud until the wheel reached solid concrete.

The four engines were restarted in sequence beginning with #1 and we taxied onto the perimeter track and headed for the main runway. It soon became obvious that the group's other planes had departed. We completed our "before take-off' checklist and received a green light from the control tower.

After take-off we set climb configuration and headed for the rendezvous buncher radio beacon. Someone remarked that it was fortunate that the departure time was 15 minutes later or we would never make it. About this time the radio compass swung round to the rear indicating we were passing over the beacon. This was good, but the fact that there were no other aircraft in sight was not. It slowly dawned on me that the schedule change the airman had yelled up to me was 15 minutes earlier departure rather than 15 minutes later. This was confirmed shortly by the radio operator, Ed Gressler, who picked up a radio transmission between the wing's lead ships that indicated the formation was already over the North Sea and heading out on course.

I asked our navigator, Frank Silvasy, to compute the ground speed that we would have to make to catch the formation before crossing the Norwegian coast. I then asked our flight engineer, Jack Indahl, to work with the navigator to come up with the power settings to accomplish this and to estimate fuel consumption for these settings and then for four-threeand two-engine operation for our return flight. Their calculations indicated a fair cushion for three-engine operation, but fuel would be tight for a return flight on two engines. After discussing the various factors, winds, altitude etc., we had 100 percent in favor of catching up with the formation. We setup cruising speed at 10,000 feet and headed out on course.

Several hours later, after a quite beautiful and spectacular sunrise, we saw the rugged coast of Norway in the distance and shortly thereafter the little dots ahead gradually took the familiar and comforting shape of B-24s. We passed the first group and headed for the low squadron of the 392nd which was next in line. Before we reached our intended position, the bomb bay doors throughout the entire group opened. I immediately got a call on the interphone from Gene Sriver, our bombardier, "Johnny, if I drop on their signal we'll spread our bombs all over the countryside."

The hectic events of the morning rushed through my mind; running off the hardstand and getting stuck in the mud, the outstanding work of our ground crew to get "their" fully loaded B-24 back on to the hardstand without any damage, the misunderstanding of the schedule change, the chasing of the group across the North Sea, then to waste our bombs because we were out of position at the last minute was really wasting the whole effort. I recalled the early morning briefing when one of the briefing officers had assured us that no enemy fighters were expected over the target area. That did it.

I decided, unless the crew objected, we would take the gamble. Pushing the intercom button, I said, "Gene, how long will it take you to get the bomb sight set up?" He replied, "I was hoping for that. How about nothing flat?" I responded, "Get out of the turret and get on the bomb sight. We'll make a wide 360 and make our bombing run behind the group that's following the 392nd." There came a roar of approval from the crew over the intercom.

I began the 360, concentrating on keeping it shallow so Gene would have the time he needed to set up the bombsight without feeling rushed. Suddenly, over the intercom came Gene's voice: "Johnny, what the hell are you waiting for?" I replied, "OK. I'll tighten the turn and roll out as soon as we're lined up with the aiming point."

As I began the roll I heard Gene say, "Bomb bay doors coming open," followed by a rush of cold air as the big doors rolled up on either side of the bomb bay. Then from Gene again, "Would you believe they missed the building?" He was right. There, on the ground and directly ahead of us, surrounded by explosions, burning German Air Force aircraft and assorted vehicles sat the machine shop - untouched.

The intercom became strangely quiet as Gene and I concentrated on the bomb run. I heard Gene's voice, "BOMBS AWAY!" and the airplane seemed to jump upwards as it became 5,000 pounds lighter with the release of our ten 500 lb. general purpose demolition bombs. We waited for what seemed an eternity, then shouts of approval from crew members whose eyes were glued to the target area. As they explained it, eight of our ten 500 lb. bombs had "walked" straight down the middle of the machine shop. In addition, Ed Gressler, our radio operator, was handling our camera and he was sure he'd confirmed our bomb strikes on film.

I cut a couple of corners as we turned away from the primary target and pulled into formation at the rear of the 392nd Group. We settled back for what we anticipated would be a long and dull five-hour return flight to England.

However, things didn't work out that way. After about 30 minutes over the North Sea our #4 engine developed an oil leak. We were hesitant about "feathering" it too soon (i.e., turning the three propeller blades of the engine edge-on to the air stream to prevent the propeller from "windmilling" after the engine shut-down) because there was a possibility of enemy fighters seeing we had lost an engine and intercepting us as we passed near the Kiel peninsula. We reduced power on #4 and monitored it closely.

Sure enough, we were jumped by approximately 20 to 25 fighters, both single and twin engine. They made several passes at the formation, doing very little damage, then disappeared. We waited a little longer to be sure they were gone, then we feathered #4 while there was still sufficient oil pressure left in the engine to do so. We were pleased to discover that we could maintain altitude with the other three engines without difficulty.

The remainder of the flight was fairly peaceful until just after sighting the English coastline when #2 engine began over-heating. We were able to keep the temperature down below the red line by reducing power on that engine. The fact that we had altitude to play with also helped.

I received permission from Wendling Tower to enter traffic on a straight-in approach and we ended our longest mission with a good landing.

Later that evening we received confirmation that the photographic section had developed our bomb strike pictures and they showed exactly what we had reported at debriefing - eight of our ten bombs landed on the machine shop.

We decided, despite the difficulties and anxieties, it had been a pretty good day after all.

A VIEW FROM NORWAY AND A FOLLOW UP ON THE KJELLER RAID

Courtesy of the Norwegian Aviation Historical Society Newsletter and the book "AIR RAID - The Air War Over Norway 1939-1945". Translated David Hammond, Oslo, Norway, January 1993 On 12 May 1976, a violent explosion was heard at Kjeller, a suburb of the town of Lillestrom, just east of Oslo. Windows were shattered and people wondered had happened. It was a 500 lb. bomb which had failed to explode since being dropped during the bombing raid in November 1943, and it was only now being detonated by bomb disposal personnel. The explosives appeared to be just as powerful in 1976 as they had been in 1943, after almost 33 years in the ground. The attack which the bomb had come from occurred in a raid on Kjeller Airfield on 18 November 1943 by American 8th Army Air Force B24 Liberator heavy bombers of the 2nd Air Division based in Norfolk, England.

At that time, the Allies in London had been informed by the Norwegian resistance movement that the German Occupation Forces planned special military exercises at Kjeller on Thursday, 18 November 1943, and that all Norwegian workers at the airfield, Norway's largest, had been ordered to stay at home on that day. The opportunity for an attack on Kjeller would therefore be most suitable.

The repair and maintenance of Luftwaffe aircraft, engines and components at Kjeller airfield was carried out by three major German industrial and maintenance firms: BMW and Daimler Benz ran the aircraft engine workshops, and the aircraft repair workshops were run by AG Brinker Eisenwerke.

On the morning of 18 November 1943, 107 aircraft of the following 2nd AD Bombardment Groups participated in the raid flying B-24D and B-24H Liberators: the 44th BG with 36 aircraft, 93rd BG with 21, 389th BG with 27, and 392nd with 23.

Of the 107 bombers which took off, 17 returned to their bases for various reasons. In 14, aircraft mechanical and technical difficulties were encountered en route to Norway; two B-24s were unable to locate the formation, and in one bomber the pilot was taken ill.

The weather over the North Sea was good, with cumulus clouds from 12,000-18,000 feet. At 9:40 a.m., when the formation was 180 kilometers southwest of Kristiansand, on the south coast of Norway, it was first registered and located by the German Freya radar. This chain of Freya radar stations, which had been established on west coastal areas on continental Europe during 1940-41, stretched for over 2,500 miles, all the way from northern Norway, above the Arctic Circle, down to the Bay of Biscay, southern France. The Freya stations could give direction and distance, but not the altitude of incoming and outgoing aircraft.

The air defense of Norway was primarily the responsibility of Jagdgeschwader 5 - the so-called "Eismeer Geschwader." On 6 November 1943, Gen. Josef Kammhuber had taken over as commander for Luftflotte V in Oslo. He'd been the man behind the development of the German night-fighter forces and had a reputation for being rather short-tempered. During the previous large Allied air raids against Norway, the Luftwaffe had experienced poor results. On 24 July 1943, during the bombing of Heroya and Trondheim, the Allies had lost only one bomber from 208, and only one from 306 aircraft bombing Rjuken and Knaben on 16 November.

One can therefore assume that the new commander had read the riot act to his subordinates, and that he demanded a considerably better effort from his fighter pilots than had previously been demonstrated.

So, on 18 November 1943, the Liberator formation continued northward up the Skaggerak, between northern Denmark and southern Norway. Some way off the coast of Ostfold (a Norwegian county southeast of Oslo), the B-24s were intercepted by Ju. 88s and FW 190s. At 11 a.m. a 389th BG B-24D was seen to plunge into the sea like a burning torch and only one parachute was seen to open. This was the only shotdown B-24 seen by American crews during the mission. This initial air combat was of short duration.

Also at around 11 a.m. the air raid siren sounded at Lillestrom. Many people went to shelters, others didn't take the warning seriously. But approximately 30 minutes later the B-24 formations came in from the southwest at altitudes ranging from 10,000 to 13,000 feet. The weather was cold and clear with light cloud at 26,000 over Kjeller.

At first, the German anti-aircraft gunners manning the flak batteries at Kjeller Airfield thought that the imminent attack was all part of the military exercises and opened fire with blank ammunition. The lead elements of the 389th Bomb Group dropped the first of many 500 lb. general purpose demolition bombs at 11:31 a.m. These bombs exploded in an 88mm gun position so that the gun itself ended up on its side. The remaining German gunners then realized that the "exercise" was over.

Then came the following bomb groups in the stream, the 392nd, 44th, 93rd and finally, a trailing element of the 389th, to release the remainder of their deadly cargo on Kjeller Airfield. The air was filled with a crescendo of noise from about 350 aircraft engines, exploding bombs and the firing of flak batteries.

Early on, a large explosion was observed in one of the Brinker Eisenwerke hangers. The Daimler Benz assembly hall was literally lifted from its foundations, disintegrated completely and fell to earth like a pile of firewood. BMW's site also received a series of direct hits and was completely covered by smoke during most of the raid, during which 78 B24s dropped a total of 838 500-lb. bombs over the Kjeller area. Five 44th BG Liberators didn't release their bombs due to a misunderstanding. The American crews reported the flak was generally ineffective and after the last bombs were dropped at 11:44 a.m. the B-24s turned southward for England, but at 11:45 a.m. a 392nd BG aircraft, with one engine smoking heavily, was seen heading east towards the Swedish border. It landed safely at Orebro, in neutral Sweden.

At 12:06 p.m., on their way home, four 44th BG B-24s dropped 44 bombs on a newly-built airfield south of Oslo at Lille-Rygge, near Moss. The formation was fired at by flak batteries on both sides of the Oslo fjord. In the meantime, the Luftwaffe prepared a retaliatory attack. Over the Skagerak a group of Me. 109s dove through the B-24 formations, then pulled up to attack the bombers from below. In addition, twin-engine Ju. 88s, Me. I I Os and Me. 210s joined in the attack from Norwegian bases at Lista and Bola and from Grove/Aalborg in Denmark. About 40 German aircraft in total were involved.

The Luftwaffe concentrated their attacks on the stragglers among the bombers. It's possible that several 44th BG B-24s came into this category, since the group lost a total of five aircraft. One B-24 from the 392nd BG was last seen at 1:05 p.m. It was then at 5,000 feet and losing altitude. The aerial combat, which was reported as "not especially hard," lasted for about 30 minutes.

Two American crew members were killed and 1 1 injured on returning aircraft and 91 missing were reported missing, of whom 30 were interned in neutral Sweden. The 44th BG lost five B-24s, the 392nd BG lost two, the 389th BG and the 93rd BG each lost one B-24. After the operation the Americans reported that eight German aircraft were shot down, eight probables and 15 damaged.

After the fighting, the General Naval Rescue Service sent two seaplanes from Horten and a destroyer to search for survivors. Only one man was found dead at sea, Unteroffizier Ernst Breton, an Me. 109 pilot. The Americans estimated that over 200 Germans were killed and 400 injured during the bombing of Kjeller Airfield, but according to the Luftflotte 5 War Diary there were small losses of personnel. However, a Norwegian source reports that many Germans were buried alive and died when they took cover in a trench near BMW's site. Additionally, there are reports of several dead when a German telephone exchange was hit by bombs.

The Luftflotte 5 War Diary also reported that the BMW site was 80 percent damaged, Daimler Benz site 60 percent and the Brinker Eisenwerke site 70 percent damaged. The rebuilding of the last two sites was considered a possibility.

Concerning destroyed and damaged German aircraft by the bombing, the war diary mentions only one Ju. 52 totally destroyed. However, in a report later received in England from the Norwegian Resistance, it is stated that 12 complete fighter aircraft were destroyed on the ground as confirmed by photographs taken after the attack. It is possible that these aircraft didn't belong to Luftflotte 5 and were therefore not included on the War Diary. Two anti-aircraft batteries were probably destroyed.

Apart from the bombs which actually fell on the airfield there were, within a 2-kilometer radius, approximately 140 bombs dropped. Six private houses were destroyed and six badly damaged. Three civilians were killed and several injured.

The Germans immediately began clearing up and repairing the damage. This work was certainly watched by British reconnaissance aircraft. Photographs taken on 11 December 1943 showed craters in the runways had been repaired. By 29 December, repairs to the Brinker Eisenwerke buildings were proceeding. This work was completed when new photographs were taken on 2 March 1944. The areas where the engine workshops had been were also cleared up. The Allies then decided the time was right for a new attack on Kjeller Airfield.

The attack, carried out by RAF Bomber Command in clear weather (51 Lancaster bombers of Number 5 Group from bases in Lincolnshire and four Mosquitoes of 627 Pathfinder squadron from Oakington, Cambridgeshire), on the night of 28/29 April 1944, was very accurate. The Mosquitoes, from an altitude of only 150 feet, dropped green marker flares over Kjeller Airfield, two of which landed directly on the roof of one of the hangers. The Lancasters carried out a very concentrated attack. Five minutes after the attack began, a large explosion was seen in the target area. This resulted in a sea of flame which was still visible from a distance of over 100 miles by returning Lancasters. All aircraft returned safely.

Although the bombing was concentrated, there was also extensive damage in the Lillestrom area. Twelve civilians were killed and three badly injured. Seven houses were destroyed and many others received less damage. At the airfield there was extensive damage. The workshops were still not completely repaired following the previous American attack. Many aircraft, in for maintenance, were either totally wrecked or damaged. Exactly how many Germans were killed isn't known, but the occupation forces certainly suffered losses.

The activity at Kjeller Airfield was again stopped, and this attack abruptly ended all debate concerning the future repair of the three sites.