Aarhus Air Raid
|Part of World War II|
Damaged barracks near Aarhus University residence halls bombed on 31 October 1944
1 reconnaissance plane
|Various antiaircraft defences
1 light cruiser
|Casualties and losses|
|1 aircraft destroyed
1 aircrew interned
|Gestapo offices destroyed
German barracks heavily damaged
39 German agents and officers killed
20 German soldiers killed
|~10 Danish civilians killed
1+ Danish civilian wounded
1 Danish prisoner killed
During the Second World War, Aarhus was occupied by German forces, which established their headquarters for the Jutland area in the eastern parts of the University of Aarhus. The 577th Volksgrenadier Division was established in Aarhus on 25 August 1944. Its draftees were transferred to the 47th Infantry Division in the September, and the last members left Aarhus on 10 November to fight later on the Western Front.
On 31 October 1944, the Aarhus Air Raid saw a "daring, low-level precision bombing attack" on the Gestapo headquarters in Aarhus by 25 Mosquitoes from the Number 140 Wing of the RAF Second Tactical Air Force. Resistance leader Pastor Harald Sandbæk was being held captive in Aarhus at the time. In Aarhus, the Gestapo was headed by Eugen Schwitzgebel; the Sicherheitsdienst, led by Obersturmbannführer Lonechun, and the Abwehr, commanded by Oberstleutnant Lutze, were also based there. A reconnaissance mission had been conducted five days prior to the bombing by 544 Squadron.
Planning and preparation
The attack was carefully planned by members of the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services. They identified the raid as an especially challenging one because of the fact that the main targets, the university dormitories in which Gestapo had their headquarters, had civilian hospitals on multiple sides and within a short distance, so a high degree of precision was needed in order to minimise civilian casualties. As a result, a training area in 1:1[clarification needed] was drawn with chalk where the pilots picked for the attack made two test runs before the raid.
It was eventually decided that the attack would take place over four waves, with about one minute separation in between: The first waves would carry regular bombs in order to crack the buildings containing the Gestapo offices open, while the last waves would attack with fire bombs to maximize the damage to the Gestapo archives. The bombs were set to explode with a delay of eleven seconds after being dropped, to minimise the risk of them damaging subsequent waves of bombers. It was also decided that it would take place on a workday, between 11:30 and 12:00; only few Danish prisoners would be held in the offices at this time, as most of them would have been escorted back to their cells elsewhere on campus to receive lunch, while the majority of the Gestapo staff would be present and preparing for the lunch break at 12:00.
Eventually the planes involved and their crew were decided upon: Three squadrons were to supply 25 planes: 24 of these were Mosquito Mk.VI fighter-bombers, while the last plane was a Mosquito Mk. IV reconnaissance plane from the Royal Air Force Film Production Unit, meant to film and document the raid. In addition, 12 Mustang Mk. III fighter planes from No. 315 Polish Fighter Squadron would escort them, with orders to minimize the threat from the closest German airbase at Grove and create confusion by attacking and harassing minor German targets around the countryside of central Jutland. All planes would be supplied with extra fuel tanks to make sure they could make the long trip across the North Sea. The intended destination and target of the mission were not disclosed to the pilots before their final briefing at 08:00, October 31.
The date and time for the raid was finally settled on October 30. The attack would take place the next day, October 31, at 11:30. As a final preparation, the planes involved in the raid gathered at the airbase at Swanton Morley at 08:00 on the day of the attack for a final briefing. However, when the fighter planes from 315 Squadron landed, it was discovered that four of them had a broken tailwheel, so it was decided to proceed with just the eight that were ready for flight. At 08:40, the planes were ordered to take off, and did so in pairs, and at 09:20, all 33 planes were in the air and heading for their destination.
The attack force entered Jutland around the coastal town of Henne around 11:20. The Germans were first alerted to their presence at 11:36. As planned, 315 Squadron broke off around Grove, while 140 Wing continued on towards Skanderborg. At 11:38, the first attack wave reached Skanderborg Lake, followed shortly after by the other three waves. The first wave then broke off and reached Aarhus in about three minutes. Upon getting a visual on their target, the dorms with the Gestapo offices, they headed straight for it and unloaded four tons of bombs on it. At 11:41, this first series of bombs exploded. Four minutes after, they were followed by the second wave, then the third and fourth, attacking with fire bombs, with a few minutes in between attacks.
The later waves were attacked by flak from the German light cruiser Nürnberg, present in Aarhus Harbor. One of the planes from wave four was severely damaged. Instead of returning to base, another plane in the wave escorted it across the sea area of Kattegat, where it continued on alone to Sweden, where it landed safely and was destroyed by the crew before they were apprehended by Swedish authorities.
The rest of the planes left Danish airspace in their designated waves between 12:16 and 12:34; about two hours later, they all landed safely in England.
The illegal Danish press estimated that 150-200 Gestapo members and some 30 Danes perished in the attack, but an internal German report set their losses from the offices in the dormitories to 39, of whom 27 were SS officers employed in the Gestapo, including Eugen Schwitzgebel, and the remaining 12 were from other departments of the German police, mostly office workers. Another 20 German casualties were reported from the Langelandsgade barracks, 18 being soldiers. Three prisoners from the Danish resistance were present for interrogation inside the dorms during the attack, including Sandbæk; he and another prisoner managed to escape relatively unscathed in the confusion and reached the safety of Sweden soon thereafter, but the third prisoner perished in the attack.
Though the bombing was quite precise and had decimated dorms 4 and 5 and done considerable damage to the Langelandsgade barracks, a couple of bombs strayed from their targets. Most notably, the university's main building, which was undergoing construction at the time of the bombing, was accidentally struck by a bomb that had somehow managed to skip down the halls of the building, killing about 10 members of the construction crew and injuring the chief architect, C. F. Møller.
Most of the Gestapo's archives, including many of the files on the Danish resistance, were destroyed in the attack; the exact extent of the damage remains unknown, though it is clear that the loss of files and experienced personnel severely hampered the Gestapo's efficiency in Denmark. As a result, Gestapo reinforced their numbers in Denmark in the weeks following the attack, to the point where the number of agents were almost doubled. From October 1944 until April 1945, aircraft of the Coastal Command launched an intense anti-shipping campaign targeting ships off the Danish coast between Norway and Germany. One of the principal reasons for this campaign was to target ships which were transferring some 200,000 German soldiers of the 20. Gebirgsarmee from Oslo to Aarhus, to be dispatched by train down through Jutland.
- Operation Carthage, similar attack on Gestapo HQ in Copenhagen
- Operation Jericho, similar attack on Amiens Prison in France
- Oslo Mosquito raid, similar attack on Gestapo HQ in Oslo
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