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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6 - Flying Blind EXTRA MATERIAL

EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF GERMAN NIGHT FIGHTER DEFENCES

Additional background to Under a Bomber's Moon

As the RAF picked up its own bombing efforts over Germany and the occupied countries throughout 1941, the Luftwaffe began treating night defence much more seriously. Night fighter strength climbed dramatically following the first ‘Thousand bomber’ raid on Cologne in May 1942, increasing from 180 operational aircraft at that time to 682 by October 1943. On the ground, too, the reception was getting hotter: A belt of searchlights and flak batteries eventually stretched 800km from the Swiss border to the North Sea and initially was designed to pick out the bombers in the darkness so fighters could be guided in to shoot them down.  

 

As coastal radar on the north-west coast of Holland and northern Germany was supplemented by more powerful units inland, teams on the ground were better able to track incoming aircraft. The longer-range ‘Freya’ radar installations could pick up incoming bombers from about 120km out. Then more localised ‘Würzburg’ dishes – two in each of the eight zones along Germany’s western defensive perimeter – would take over within a 40km radius. The teams within each zone plotted the bombers’ course using red pencil lights shone from below a frosted, glass table-top map, then guided individual fighters– each indicated by a green pencil light - to intercept them. This plotting set-up became known as the Himmelbett Verfahren, or ‘four-poster bed process’, for reasons that require some imagination!

The twin-engined Messerschmitt ME110, Otto Fries's first combat aircraft, became one of the main aircraft modified to perform this predatory role. Even while night fighters were - theoretically at least - confined to their designated hunting zone, so large was the expanse of blackness they roamed in that Fries said he never once saw another night fighter – even though between 200 and 300 others were in the air on many of the nights he was aloft. He became aware of their presence only through the fluttering sensation transferred through his wings when his aircraft entered the slipstream of another. Although the two-engined fighters like the ME110 had to find their quarry at night, their prospects were improved by on-board radar, identifiable by the antler-like antenna fixed to their snub noses.  If ground control could get a fighter within four kilometres of the bomber, the Bordfunker could usually guide the pilot’s final approach with the help of three circular screens indicating, respectively, the bomber’s position ahead, to the side and above or below the fighter. 

This bomber-tracking radar remained fundamentally the same for the Luftwaffe throughout the war, though it varied in both its sophistication and how night fighter crews used it in combination with guidance from the ground. Fries began using the Lichtenstein device from autumn 1942. The Lichtenstein was superseded from 1943 onwards by a more powerful radar called SN2, which operated in much the same way but on a different wave length. This had been made necessary by RAF methods of distorting both radio and radar signals, and which continued in cat and mouse fashion throughout the war. The mixed fortunes of Bomber Command are closely linked to progress in the electronic technology to help crews find their targets on the one hand and blind the night fighter defence on the other. The British set the pace, but the Germans remained locked in a desperate race to keep up. Under a Bomber's Moon takes a closer look at this race to the death - and what it meant for Col Jones and Otto Fries.

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