Friday 23 February 2024

World War 2 - February 22/23, 1944 - German Night Raid on Maidenhead– Bray Area

This German raid on the Maidenhead area was probably the largest bombing attack on this area during the entire war. The original Air Raid message Purple at 00.01 was changed to Air Raid Red by 00.08 hours. For the next hour enemy activity over London intensified and a heavy AA barrage ensued. This was the seventh raid on Britain under operation ‘Steinbock’ part of Goering’s reprisal campaign of retaliation for the bombing of Germany. The attack on the night of 22/23rd February was carried out by 155 aircraft with 55 bombers directed against targets in West London made up of Dornier 217 M’s, Ju 188’s and Me 410 A’s.

At about midnight clusters of flares had been dropped over the Thames which drifted southwest towards the Weybridge area. About this time 15 Messerschmitt Me 410 A’s took off from Vitry - en - Artois. They were quickly picked up by ground radars and air borne radars of the Mosquito Mk.XIII of 96 Squadron based at West Malling in Kent. A night fighter action started near the South coast and continued over the Slough, Maidenhead Bray area. The action was successful as the crew of Mosquito XIII HK 370, Sqn/Ldr Caldwell and F/O Rawlins claimed a probable Me 410 and later confirmed as the Me 410 crashed at 00,15 hours 55 miles south east of Bray at Framfield, Sussex, the German crew being killed. As the raid continued, the Do 217’s joined the Me 410’s and possibly to elude their pursuers jettisoned their bombs at 00.35 hours on St. Leonards farm, south east of Oakley Green and Bray.

Five minutes later at 00.40 hours ten bombs, five of which were UXB, fell between Bray Police Station and the 8th Fairway of Maidenhead Golf Course. Two houses where slightly damage but no casualties. At the same time a large H.E. bomb exploded in the U.S tent camp in a field behind Bray Police Station. ,and although the relevant Incident Report stated 
“No Casualties. Some Tents Burned” , this was not strictly true since Private Donald Champlain of Melbourne, Florida, a telephone technician with the U.S. Army Signal Corps on detached service from Popham Scrubs, was injured by the blast and taken off to hospital. Mr Champlain recounted the incident…

“About midnight on the 22nd February a German bomber pursued by an RAF Night Fighter jettisoned his load onto our bivouac area releasing a 1000lb Heavy Explosive and a Thermal (Phosphorous). The 1000lb landed 25 feet from where I was standing, being knocked unconscious, with perforated ear drums and other injuries, including broken ribs”

“There were approximately 300 US Troops quartered in pyramidal tents. The unit was the 9th Engineer Command (9th air Force). I recall the Headquarters located in a stately mansion, probably what is referred to is Bray Court. I was a Signal Corpsman sent with others to install their telephone communications, as they (9th Engn.) had just moved into the area.”

Fifty three years later, in May 1997, Donald Champlain finally received the Purple Heart for the injuries caused by enemy action in Bray.

As the attack continued other bombs fell in the Maidenhead/ Bray area, one falling in a field west of Sheephouse road leaving a crater 12ft by 5ft diameter and damaging 50 houses. It is thought that this device could have been dropped by the Me 410 engaged by the guns of 564 Battery stationed on SM7 Site, Dorney Common.

The 564 (M) HAA. Troop stationed on Dorney Common with four 3.72” AA Guns, engaged the Me 410 at 11,800 ft with CS type fire using 42 rounds of ammunition. The battery return states, An Me 410, after engagement by site SM7, banked sharply, jettisoned bombs and flares close by and crashed in flames at Radnage, near High Wycombe.

A witness who happened to see the crash said, “It approached from the south at very high speed, the engines screaming at full throttle, leaving an extremely long trail of flame. Indeed as the aircraft hit the ground, this flame set fire to a nearby hedge”. Later one of the main under carriage legs was excavated and this was stamped with the type description Me 210, so perhaps this aircraft may have been a modified Me 210, but since the Me 410 was a development of the 210 then certain components were probably used in the later aircraft. Battery commander Major Haines sent a guard party to the crash site. They returned to Dorney Camp with one of the plane propellers, a trophy of their victory.

(research Leslie Kitson-Smith. Maidenhead.)

This is an extract from Round and About Eton Wick: 1939 - 1945. The book was researched, written and published in 2001 by John Denham

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