Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 22

Thread: 'Friendly' bombing of Allied troops before attack on Caen July 1944

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Location
    Toronto
    Posts
    1,231
    Thanks
    0
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts

    Default 'Friendly' bombing of Allied troops before attack on Caen July 1944

    I have read several accounts of the unfortunate short bombing op in early August [note date correction] that killed many soliders from the Canadian and Polish troops set to attack Caen. Yesterday, I met a veteran who survived the incident and he is still bitter about it these 65 years later - although otherwise a jovial fellow.

    What is the best account of this episode from the air force perspective and was there a consensus on how it happened?

    I have read several reasons including poor timing of the run and, once the first bombs fell, yellow "friendly" signal smoke being mistaken for TIs and a subsequent 'follow the leader' release of bombs. I have also read that Bomber Command had refused permission for ground forces to communicate with its planes directly.
    Last edited by dfuller52; 27th February 2009 at 20:22. Reason: substituted August for July
    David

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Reading, Berkshire, UK
    Posts
    3,661
    Thanks
    3
    Thanked 17 Times in 17 Posts

    Default

    dfuller52, Hi,
    By this stage in the War the Army had realised that if it didn't do anything about Ground/Air/Ground comms then this sort of thing was bound to happen. The Cab Rank system where a Forward Air Controller (either of the Pongo or Crabfat persuasions) said into his Ground>Air microphone "Donald Duck 93 - your target is a collection of armour under the trees at Griid Ref XY12345". Donald Duck 93 then came in and zapped 'em. This sytem was developed in N Africa and Italy, and proved quite effective.
    I suspect that various Air Marshals in UK were not quite as in favour of this slightly 'cavalier' approach as those in Italy and N Africa.
    This is the same sort of thing as the Infantry, in WW1, advancing 100 yards behind the creeping artillery barrage. OK if it goes according to plan - but not for nothing is the Royal Artillery known amongst the PBI as "The Dropshorts"!!!
    It might be instructive for you to know that even as late as the mid-60's, when the UK military were all into Tri-Service Co-Operation ('Jointery' it was called!) major Tri-Service Exercises on Salisbury Plain were conducted, mainly, by the Army and the RAF (who had, by that time, learned how to insult each other without taking too much offence!!). The Navy, on at least 6 major exercises that I was involved with, were represented by a radio-set with a fire-extinguisher on the table with a matelot's hat on top. No Navy - they considered it beneath their dignity to co-operate with the Army/RAF. And you worry about inter-Service co-operation in 1944. Harris, Leigh-Mallory, Montgomery, etc, etc? Egos totally out of control!
    And you wonder why that particular bombing was known as "The Caen Cockup"?
    I'll wait to see what other responses this thread gets before letting any more confidences loose! Op CORPORATE in the S Atlantic was a corker of non-co-operation!!!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Lancashire
    Posts
    528
    Thanks
    0
    Thanked 3 Times in 3 Posts

    Default

    The Cab Rank or Rover David were highly suitable for tactical aircraft, where a small sub-unit attacked a particular target close to the front line - Close Air Support. This was adopted by 2 TAF in NW Europe: Tedder brought it with him from the Desert Air Force (or 1 TAF). However this was not what Bomber Command was doing at Caen. (Not that Harris actually wanted to do anything tactically valueable anway!) They were to drop their bombs not on a point but over a wider area in advance of the frontline, so it was very important that the frontline was clearly marked, particularly given the bomber stream's well-known habit of creeping backwards from the target markers.

    I accept that this does not add anything to the actual errors in this case, but I think it makes the background clearer.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Reading, Berkshire, UK
    Posts
    3,661
    Thanks
    3
    Thanked 17 Times in 17 Posts

    Default

    Graham, Hi,
    You are absolutely right!
    Don't tell me about the dreaded Creep Back. Having analysed, in great detail, the Drop Errors for the Parachute Force in the 60's & 70's I concur that Creep Back was a very significant problem. When the Skipper of a Herc full of Paras sees the Herc in front chucking out it's Grunts he thinks "I must be there" and presses the "Green On". Been there, done it.
    Bomber Command (at least in their Main Force raids) found the same thing! The Light Night Striking Force didn't have so much of the same problems - individual a/c and individual targets. Much better system!
    As a a matter of co-incidence, I'm just reading a book by Ian Daglish on Op EPSOM. There may be - in bits unread - some contribution on this problem. My problem is that when I retire to bed and there is nothing uplifting on Classic fm I do tend to drop the book and 'nod off' . Sorry - age and infirmity. But will report if anything of outstanding natural beauty appears!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Peterborough UK
    Posts
    381
    Thanks
    0
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts

    Default

    On the bombing of Caen, from "Bomber Offensive" by Arthur Harris,
    "When the use of heavy bombers in the battlefield, very close to our own troops, was first put forward I expressed doubts; it seemed to me that the army had no idea of the risk that the troops would be running".
    He goes on to say,
    "The main safeguard was the use of a double check, a carefully timed run by each bomber and a very careful assessment of the position of the target indicators by a Master Bomber. In one out of eight such operations there was, in point of fact, a small number of casualties among our own troops. An investigation afterwards discovered that some crews had omitted to make timed runs, in spite of the orders that had been given to them, and aimed their bombs at pyrotechnic signals, which were not markers at all, but were being displayed by the army for some purpose of its own although it had been agreed that such pyrotechnics would not be used when we were bombing".
    As in all wars, tragic mistakes did occur but this one would hardly appear to be Harris's fault as seems to have been intimated.
    The use of the "Cab rank" system involved fighter and fighter-bomber formations,airborne and available to be called up by ground controllers to attack targets as they arose. Heavy bomber units were never involved in these and were briefed as to their targets before take-off.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Location
    Toronto
    Posts
    1,231
    Thanks
    0
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts

    Default definitions

    It is really a privilege to be able to ask such a learned group these questions and thanks for your comments Graham and Peter (and the rest of you who are preparing your comments as I write).

    Peter, can I get a translation of "Crabfat"?

    I am also looking for a definitive number of causalities from this incident. I have heard both something in the 200s all the way up to 500. I also read that a command post was hit, injuring the CO.
    David

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Lancashire
    Posts
    528
    Thanks
    0
    Thanked 3 Times in 3 Posts

    Default

    Crabfat is the name give to the paint used on the side of the HM's warships, and by analogy to sailors in general.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Peterborough UK
    Posts
    381
    Thanks
    0
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts

    Default

    Strange that Graham, my son, a serving RN PO always refers to RAF personnel as "Crabfats"!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Orleans, Ontario, Canada
    Posts
    377
    Thanks
    0
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts

    Default

    While serving in the RCAF in Nova Scotia in the early 1960's I had many opportunities to visit RCN submarines in Halifax (the rum ration was still in effect at the time and someone always had some 'extra' squirelled away).

    RCAF personnel were routinely referrred to as "'crabfats" by sailors at that time, so I asked the question and was informed that the name originated in the Royal Navy and was coined due to the colour of our air force uniforms, which was a close match to the colour of the fatty tissue in some varieties of (uncooked) crab.

    Seemed a reasonable explanation and I had no reason to doubt it.
    Last edited by Ken MacLean; 27th February 2009 at 22:01. Reason: sp.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Posts
    14
    Thanks
    0
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts

    Default Brother`s Experience

    My brother, L/Cpl George Carter, RCEME,Third Field Reg`t, RCA was in the Haut-Mesnil Quarry on Aug 14 when the bombs hit. He described it as chaos and it lasted for more than half an hour. They hid in whatever shelter they could find while the dreadful hammering continued. Some dived into slit trenches and some went under vehicles. Unfortunately there were direct hits on the troops and on the vehicles that were massed in the quarry. The aftermath was horrible and my brother, like the other survivors concentrated on helping the wounded as best they could.
    The following account can be found on the web.

    Royal Air Force Bomber Command 14 August 1944

    805 aircraft - 411 Lancasters, 352 Halifaxes, 42 Mosquitos - to attack 7 German troop positions facing the 3rd Canadian Division, which was advancing on Falaise. 2 Lancasters lost. A careful plan was prepared with Oboe and visual marking, and with a Master Bomber and a deputy at each of the 7 targets. Most of the bombing was accurate and effective but, about half-way through the raids, some aircraft started to bomb a large quarry in which parts of the 12th Canadian Field Regiment were positioned. This mistake may have been caused by the yellow identification flares which were ignited by the Canadians. It was unfortunate that the target indicators being used by the Pathfinders were also yellow. Bomber Command crews claimed that the Canadians used the yellow flares before any bombs fell in the quarry; the history of the Canadian units says the bombs fell first. The Master Bombers tried hard to stop further crews bombing in the wrong area but approximately 70 aircraft bombed the quarry and other nearby Allied positions over a 70-minute period. The Canadians took shelter in their slit trenches and most emerged unscathed though shaken, but 13 men were killed and 53 were injured and a large number of vehicles and guns were hit. This was believed to have been the first occasion on which Bomber Command aircraft had hit friendly troops during the Battle of Normandy. The Canadian artillery regiment was machine-gunned by RAF Spitfires and USAAF Mustangs the following day!

    Details of the Canadian side of the bombing come from Into Action with the 12th Field by Captain TJ Bell (published privately in Canada} and from the personal reminiscences of former Lance-Corporal George R Carter of the 12th Canadian Field Regiment. George Carter's brother, Flying Officer Roy E Carter of No 431 Squadron, was a Bomber Command navigator whose Halifax had been shot down over Holland on the Sterkrade raid of 16/17 June 1944. Roy Carter baled out successfully but, while he was being hidden by Dutch civilians in a house at Tilburg, he was discovered by Germans on 8 July and shot, together with a Pathfinder pilot and an Australian airman. The bloodstained Dutch flag which covered the bodies after their death was brought to England in 1983 and placed in the No 83 Squadron Memorial Chapel in Coningsby parish church.
    The following book has a complete chapter devoted to the bombing. Operation Tractable: ``My God! We`re Bombing Short!``
    See `The Real Story-Normandy by Whitaker,Whitaker and Copp (Chapter 20) Ballantine Books.
    Fred Carter
    Last edited by Fred Carter; 1st March 2009 at 02:10. Reason: Spelling

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •