Operation Gisela. Dying in sight of your airfield. German night fighter attack Woolfox Lodge – night 3/4 March 1945

Except from Bommber Command Losses

In early 1945 the Luffwaffe had lost air battle over German soil. However, the application of air power can result in local impacts. On the night of 3/4 March (the 2000th night of the war) approximately 200 Junkers JU88 night fighters were sent to follow the bombers back to England. This offensive action took the British defences by surprise and 20 bombers were shot down, including 5 training aircraft.

The 5 training aircraft had been on a diversion flight consisiting of 95 aircraft on a ‘diversionary’ sweep. This was a mock raid designed to deceive the German air defences and increase the mission success of the main force attack. Wikepedia catalogues the British and German losses (see link in references).

Two of the losses were 1651 Operational Conversion Unit’s (OCU) Lancasters flying from RAF Woolfox Lodge. So whilst still in training to become operational crews, they were shot down by a JU88 nightfighter.

Of the 2 crews of 7 men, there was only one survivor only Sgt J Thompson. Lancaster ND387 was shot down at 0115 and crashed at Stretton and Lancaster JB699 was shot down at 0135 and crashed near Cottesmore. It is clear that the RAF were not expecting the attack as RAF aircraft were flying with navigation lights on, until warnings were received over the radio. Also airfield lights were on and only doused when warning was received.

The conversion unit had 13 Lancasters on strength in March 1945 and to lose 2 crews within sight of the airfield must have been devastating to the unit. It is difficult to imagine the impact. The risk of being shot down on operations must have been known, but to see your fellow crews being shot down as they close the base circuit, must have been tough for those left behind.

In addition to the Woolfox casualties, 1654 OCU flying from RAF Wigsley, (Nottinghamshire) lost 2 Lancasters (losing 8 killed out of 14 crew) and 1664 OCU flying from RAF Dishforth (Yorkshire) lost 1 Lancaster and all 7 crew were killed.

This all happenend when perhaps the end of the war in Europe was in sight? The Allies had been on German soil since September 1944, the Battle of the Bulge was over, and the Allies were on the way to cross the Rhine. Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945.

The Woolfox casualties were buried at various cemeteries, 6 in Cambridge City Cemetery, others in Scotland and Bradford. It is not known where the 2 New Zealanders and the Australian from the crews are buried. The casualties are listed in Bomber Command Losses 1945 – see below and more detail is provided in Volume 8 – see lower down the page:

1651 OCU casualties night 3/4 Mar 45 (as recorded in Bomber Command Losses Volume 6 – 1945 – pages 212

That night the Bomber Command effort was split between 3 missions:

  • Kamen. 234 aircraft (201 Halifaxes, 21 Lancasters and 12 Mosquitos) to attack the synthetic oil refinery at Bergkamen. The target was destroyed and no aircraft were lost over Germany.
  • Dortmund-Ems canal. 212 Lancasters and 10 Mosquitos attacked the Ladbergen viaduct, whichwas breached in 2 places and put out of action. 7 Lancasters were lost.
  • Support and Minor Operations. 95 aircraft in a diversionary sweep. 64 Mosquitos to Berlin and 32 to Wurzberg. 61 radio counter measure sorties. 29 Mosquito patrols. 31 Lancasters minelaying in Kattegatand Oslo fjord. 17 aircraft on resistance support missions. The Mosquito patrols I assume were doing what the Germans were doing and looking for night fighters, it is unknown what sucess they had.
  • Summary – 785 sorties. 8 aircraft lost over Germany and the sea, 20 aircraft shot down by intruders over England, a total casualty rate of 3.6 percent. 15 Halifaxes and 12 Lancasters (crews of 7 = 189 crew airborne). Wikepedia entry also lists 3 USAAF Flying Fortresses and an RAF Hudson shot down or damaged?
  • The Luffwafe lost 25 night fighters and the following night (4/5 March) a smaller effort was launched, but it was ineffective.
RAF Woolfox Lodge
Entry in Bomber Command Losses – Heavy Conversion Units Volume 8

References: Bomber Command Losses 1945 V6 by W R Chorley. Bomber Command Losses Heavy Conversion Units V8 by W R Chorley. Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt. Wings over Rutland by John Rennison. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Gisela

4 thoughts on “Operation Gisela. Dying in sight of your airfield. German night fighter attack Woolfox Lodge – night 3/4 March 1945”

  1. I have been advised that you may be able to assist me in unravelling some of my Dad’s (Ronald Norman Trout – Wireless Operator) RAF service history.

    I beleive he was posted to North Luffenhan in March 1945 and seemed to be there until posted to 195 Sqn in June 45.

    When he was alive, he said very little about his time in uniform and I am doing some research on behalf of my Mum who, now in her mid 90s, seems to have many unanswered questions about him.

    In a letter to his sons before he died in 2001 he provided a few snips of his flying experience, one of which was:

    “Shot up in the circuit after being followed home by a couple of ME 110’s – every bullet missed but our intrepid gunners could not retaliate because they had emptied there guns for a quick take off to the mess on landing.”

    Somebody has suggested that this was most likekly to have happened at North Luffenham. I would love to find the formal flight report for this event and I wonder if there is any advice or help you might be able to provide that would help me in my quest?

    Thank you for any any guidance you may be able to provide.


    1. Chris, thanks for reaching out – at the National Archives in Kew combat reports are apparently available – it is also likely that mention would be made in the unit history and station ops record F540 of aircraft attacked in the circuit. You have seen my post on Gisela and that all sounds feasible that NL was attacked – we definately know Woolfox aircraft were attacked. His personal log book would be the best source if available to get a date and you could then find the combat report at Kew. There is a saying in the military’home comforts kill’ – clearly demonstrated by unloading guns etc! best rgds G

  2. Thanks G,

    I have only just discovered your reply to my enquiry in October. I thought my original email had just vanished and did not realise I needed to look at the website. Anyway, I am very grateful for your response and I have since discovered my Dad’s log book. It confirms that he was in fact posted to 1651 HCU at Woolfox Lodge on 8 April 45. Just a month after the two 1651 losses assciated with Gisela.

    Unfortunately the log book makes no mention of the event which seems odd. Might there have been a pact of silence because their behaviour was so reckless after the recent events?

    Can we assume that any such event would have happened by night? If so, there is only one night flight (17/4/45) recorded in the log book after his arrival at Woolfox and before VE Day.

    So I potentially have a date but I assume I could only access the records (not digitised) by visiting Kew. This seems like a major undertaking as a first timer but is this my only real option?
    Kind regards

    1. Chris, there is no record in Bomber Command losses for 17 April – so no one was shot down the only casualty on 17 apr 45 was a flying accident. A combat report would be logged if the enemy was encountered. If it exixts this will be a Kew. I believe there is a book (which I do not have! or the title) about Luffwaffe night fighter victories. Per Ardua

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