About The Book

Under a Bomber’s Moon is the true story of a New Zealand navigator-bomb aimer with the Royal Air Force and a German night fighter pilot as they fight for success and survival over night time Germany during the bitterest years of the Second World War. In early 1944, after completing one tour of operations and winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exploits, the New Zealander, Colwyn Jones, was killed during a raid on Berlin.

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About The Night War Over Europe

During the Second World War the night sky over Europe was one of the most lethal places to wage war. By 1945 almost half of the airmen who flew with Bomber Command and a third of the Luftwaffe night fighter crew pitted against them had been killed. Many German cities became moonscapes of rubble, their inhabitants the first to experience the reality of ‘total war’ – itself a glimpse of the destructive potential of the nuclear age about to explode in the Far East.

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10 - The Hunter as Target EXTRA MATERIAL

Under a Bomber's Moon features several episodes when Mosquitoes attacked Otto Fries - including at least one occasion that should have killed him. What was it about these legendary, RAF fighter-bombers that struck fear into the elite of the Luftwaffe? The following bonus material describes how the Mosquitoes operated - and why they were so important to Bomber Command.

"I felt satisfied that the Mosquito myth was being firmly established in enemy minds, for their fighters were being caught at all stages of their patrols, and their only safeguard was never to forget that a Mosquito might be following them..." - a former Mosquito 'intruder' pilot, Air Commodore Roderick Chisholm CBE, DSO, DFC

Heavily armed and able to fly extremely fast and high, the de Havilland Mosquito was probably the most versatile aircraft of the Second World War. Powered by two Rolls Royce Merlin engines, the Mosquito's extraordinary performance stemmed partly from its wooden airframe, which made it much lighter and more agile than other twin-engined aircraft operating as fighters in the European theatre. Yet the Mosquito could also carry a 4000-pound bomb, which added to its devastating effectiveness as an attacking force. Night fighter, stealth bomber, marauder over enemy territory and a core element of both pathfinding to mark targets for heavy bombers, 'spoof' (decoy) tactics to draw the defence away from intended targets and jamming German radio and radar to sow further confusion among the enemy....Little wonder the Luftwaffe held it in such awe. In six months leading up to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, Mosquitoes destroyed seven German night fighters for each aircraft of their own shot down.

The Mosquito's effectiveness owed as much to sophisticated electronic technology as to speed and agility. This became clear from mid-1942, when 'intruder' squadrons, whose job it was to prey on Luftwaffe night fighters above their home turf, began converting from Bristol Beaufighters to the 'Wooden Wonder'. Based mainly in East Anglia as part of 100 Group, formed in late 1943, Mosquitoes were able to range as far from England as Czechoslovakia and Austria. From January 1944 - just before Col's death in February, and at a time when Bomber Command losses were soaring - the Mosquito squadrons concentrated on attacking Luftwaffe bases and the night fighters operating from them.

Mosquitoes had been doing this since June 1943, when Operation 'Flower' deployed them to harass German airbases in advance of the bomber stream, then stay aloft to form a protective screen as the bombers penetrated enemy-occupied territory, then finally to harry the German night fighters within the bomber stream and to attack them as they attempted to land again. A standard ploy was to prey on German night fighters circling their 'Funkfeuer' radio beacons awaiting directions on to the approaching bombers from their ground controllers. Beaufighters continued to carry out similar work, using a device called 'Serrate' for homing in on the Luftwaffe fighters' radar emissions within a radius of up to 160 kilometers, then zeroing in using Airborne Interception (AI) Mark IV radar.

By early 1944, however, the Mosquito was the clear favourite among RAF Fighter Interception Unit (FIU) crew. It used a rear-looking radar called 'Monica' to detect approaches from behind - something their German counterparts lacked right until the end of the war. In this way they would sometimes allow themselves to be stalked by a German night fighter, then suddenly loop around and turn the tables on the bewildered enemy.

Yet until March 1944 the Mosquitoes were deliberately partially blindfold in their attacking role: They were forbidden to carry over enemy-occupied territory highly advanced short wave radar, in case it fell in to German hands.

That changed after the disastrous raid on Berlin on 24-5 March, when 73 bombers were destroyed, and the even more devastating losses on the night of 30-1 March. On this, the worst night of the war for Bomber Command, German night fighters used a full moon and the disorienting effect on the bombers of strong winds to carry out a feeding frenzy that ended in the destruction of 96 RAF aircraft. The Bomber Command Chief, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, immediately transferred two Mosquito squadrons from home defence to bomber support operations and lifted the ban on short wave radar being carried over enemy-occupied territory.

 

At a stroke, both the numerical strength of the Mosquito Fighter Interception Unit (FIU) and the crews’ ability to hunt down their targets increased dramatically. The short wave radar had a range of about 8 kilometers, but more importantly it enabled Mosquitoes to track and pursue their targets at low altitude. This meant they could stalk and attack a German night fighter at its most vulnerable moment – when it was close to the ground and slowing to land. Under a Bomber’s Moon recounts an episode involving Otto Fries that proves how devastating this could be.

 

Another advantage the Mosquitoes enjoyed over the Luftwaffe aircrew was in being able to distinguish between friend and foe. An infra-red light directed behind both bombers and RAF night fighters reduced the high risk of mistaking a friendly aircraft ahead for a target, just as it provided reassurance to attacking RAF fighters that an aircraft not displaying the light was more likely to be German. Until the end of the war the Germans lacked such an identifying device, just as they scarcely used rear radar to warn of an attack from behind. For bombers' rear gunners this rear radar was sometimes the difference between life and death, as it warned of an attacking approach by a German night fighter before it could be seen with the naked eye – which was often only 100 meters away and after he had already opened fire.

 

Germans night fighters did, however, emit a signal to enable their ground controllers to identify them, and the RAF turned this against them: In November 1944 Mosquitoes started carrying a device called ‘Perfectos’ that triggered this identifying signal, thus confirming the aircraft was a potential target and gaining a positive bearing to help zero in on and destroy it.

 

The overall results are reflected in the numbers: Between December 1943, when Mosquitoes became the mainstay of FIU,  and April 1945, when the Luftwaffe ceased to operate against the RAF, 264 German aircraft were confirmed destroyed for the loss of 71 RAF night fighters. Not reflected in these figures are the number of bomber crew who owe their lives to the harassment and destruction inflicted by the bomber support operations, nor do they reflect the psychological effect the Mosquitoes had on the German night fighters. Air Commodore Chisholm, quoted above, interrogated German night fighter crew after their surrender – including the top-scoring ace, Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer (121 'kills'), who was a colleague of  Otto Fries and also features in Under a Bomber’s Moon. Chisholm says there is no doubt the Mosquito had the German defenders seriously rattled:

 

“It was satisfying to find a generally accepted belief [among the Germans] in the dominance of the Mosquito fighters, and a real fear that all their radar transmissions were being homed in on….Successes were magnified; rumour spread and events were elaborated, and eventually every crash was due to a Mosquito, every night flying accident – and there were many since German fighters often flew low to avoid Mosquitoes and sometimes hit high ground – was attributed to a Mosquito….[The Luftwaffe fighter pilots] moulded their flying practice as though Mosquitoes were ever present….A homely touch was added by the story that sometimes pilots would go down on their knees and mockingly pray to [Luftwaffe head Field Marshal Hermann] Goering for Mosquitoes to fly.”

 

From Cover of Darkness, Chatto & Windus, London, 1953, pp.216-7

See also: Anthony Robinson, Night Fighter: A Concise History of Nightfighting Since 1914, Ian Allan, London, 1988.

 

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