Hamburg Raid 5th of April 1945 - Wierd Lights?

Profile picture for user Dave Homewood

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I am currently reading the excellent book 'Venturer Courageous' by James Sanders, about the life of one of the RNZAF's three Victoria Cross winners, Leonard Trent.

A lot of the book is in Trent's own words, from interviews, letters and diaries. On page 182, an extract from the diary Len Trent kept as a Prisoner of War talks of an air raid he witnessed from his prison (they witnessed many, many raids which he records, but this one is a little odd.)

His diary entry for the 6th of April 1945 says:

"Big raid on Hamburg last night; very spectaculr! Lots of wierd lights and terrific flashes and illuminations of all sorts. The heavy night (bomber) boys all have different ideas as to their origin and spent half the night and all the next day sticking to their arguments."

It seems this must have been one raid out of the ordinary. Does anybody know anything about the raid itself that might explain these lights and illuminations? Which squadrons took part? Does anyone know the target bombed? Could the traget itself have been causing the light - ie through explosions of chemicals or something? Were any special new weapons being used by the RAF? Or ws it some special defensive weaponry?

Any ideas?

By the way ...
I really recommend the book. It is a very good read. I'd always known about Trent as a VC winner and national hero, but knew nothing about his life before or after the sad raid on which he won his VC. He was in France flying Battles from the outbreak of war, then switched to Blenheims when the Blitzkreig erupted, luckily. He fought through the Battle of France, and then became an instructor.

He briefly flew the first Douglas Boston (W8363) to arrive in the UK and escaped death in it when it burst into flames on take-off - something he said was his scariest moment ever. He however came to love the type, so when he became a founding member of No. 487 (NZ) Sqn he and others were bitterly disappointed that they were equipped with the much inferior Venturas. He flew with 487 for some time till being shot down on that raid in Amsterdam where he won the VC for his persistance (the whole squadron was shot down except for one plane that had returned early with engine trouble).

Trent then went to Stalag Luft III, and was involved in preparartions for The Great Escape (as it became known). I discovered that it was len Trent who had just emerged from the tunnel, and was halfway between the tunnel and the trees, face down in the snow, when the lucky German sentry stumbled onto him. Bad timing maybe, or good luck - as he could have become one of the unlucky 50 men who were murdered as retribution.

Trent wrote a diary from the time the Allies began to move into Germany and the Gerries made the prisoners go on the "death march", which he describes in detail and with the skill of a very good writer. This is all in the book.

I have read as far as the war's end. Still more in the book, he apparently goes on to command a Vulcan squadron in postwar RAF.

The book is really by two writers, Trent's input is huge, and Sanders (who also flew Venturers) fills in the story very well. Sanders wrote several RNZAF history books and is/was a great writer. I don'y know if he's still with us. Trent has passed away.

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Profile picture for user JDK

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Interesting stuff.

'Weird lights' could just be target markers used by the Pathfinders, which would be odd to bomber crews shot down before their introduction.

Cheers!

Profile picture for user tenthije

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Perhaps ME262s where there, their jets would make lights that at the time where mostly unknown.

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Hamburg wasn't bombed on April 5th, but Harburg (nearby) was.

The target was the Rhenania oil plant, attacked by 327 aircraft and severely damaged according to Middlebrook and Everitt in the Bomber Command War Diaries.

I would imagine that many of the "wierd" sights were caused by all that burning oil?

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Foo Fighters?!?!

Profile picture for user kev35

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Might it not be possible as already stated that the wierd lights were a combination of TI's, Back up markers, spot fires and Wanganui's?

Regards,

kev35

Profile picture for user Dave Homewood

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Hello chaps,

Thanks for the replies (which I had no idea of till now as the auto-tell-you-you've-got-a-reply-function didn't say a word!)

Thanks for the correction about Harburg, I guess from his location it may have been difficult to tell the exact target. Some interesting suggestions too.

So... at the risk of sounding stupid once again... what exactly are:
Foo Fighters? (I know of the band...)
and
Wanganuis? (I know of the town Wanganui in NZ, is there a connection?)

I guess it could have been the jet engines of night-fighter Me262's. A pity he was not more specific about the nature of the lights.

Thanks all.

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Wanganui was a method of marking the target where the markers burst in the air rather than at ground level (e.g. if the target was obscured by cloud, etc.)

Foo fighters were brightly lit "u.f.os" at night, or shining discs/balls in daytime, reported as flying in near formation with allied aircraft. They were regarded (by those witnessing them) as mysterious new enemy weapons, although I know of no reported attack by one. There are some quite interesting reports on-line somewhere from US night fighter crews (Beaufighters) about their encounters. I've also seen the odd account from Bomber Command crews.

Trent and his fellow POWs might have seen some or all of the things mentioned so far, but wouldn't it have depended to some extent on where he was on the night, i.e. proximity to the target area?

You mention he was in prison, but presumably much nearer to Hamburg/Harburg than Sagan (S.E. of Berlin)?

Profile picture for user Dave Homewood

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Not Sagan, he and all the Stalag Luft III prisoners were forced to march many hundreds of miles in the freezing cold and misery to Trenthorst near Hamburg. This was done because the Russians were very close to liberating them. This became known as 'the death march', one of many during the war I guess. Though it is not totally clear because they were not told exactly where they wer, it was from somewhere between Bremen and the river Elbe I think, while on the way to Trenthorst where he witnessed this raid.

These foo fighters sound interesting, I shall google further into this.

Thanks for clarifying what a Wanganui is. Interesting codename, I wonder if there was a Kiwi connection in the invention of it.

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Thanks for clarifying what a Wanganui is. Interesting codename, I wonder if there was a Kiwi connection in the invention of it.

It was something to do with the home towns of PFF personel.

Wanganui was one, Parramatta was another, Newhaven a third.