Operation Bellicose

Operation Bellicose was a World War II British strategic bombing mission against Friedrichshafen and La Spezia. The mission was the first use of shuttle bombing and the second use of a Master Bomber, which was first used in Operation Chastise.


The first target was the Zeppelin Works, the suspected manufacturing site of Würzburg radars. In early June 1943, a Central Interpretation Unit photo interpreter (Claude Wavell) identified a stack of ribbed baskets (Würzburg radar reflectors) at the Zeppelin Works. After Winston Churchill viewed the photos at RAF Medmenham on June 14, No. 5 Group RAF received the surprise orders on June 16 to attack Friedrichshafen during the next full moon.

The Avro Lancasters took off from bases in Britain and were controlled by the Master Bomber (Group Captain Slee of No. 97 Squadron RAF). When his aircraft developed trouble his deputy, Wing Commander Gomm (No. 467 Squadron RAF) took over.

Due to heavy flak around the target the bombers dropped from 15,000 ft rather than the planned 10,000 ft. The first stage was for the Pathfinder Force (PFF) to drop offset markers ('offset marking'). The main bombing force would use this as a baseline for their bombing; with the guides at a distance from the target, the location would not be obscured by smoke. The second stage was to use 'time-and-distance bombing runs', with bomb drops based on measuring from a set point - a location on the lake shore - to the distance to the target. From Friedrichshafen the planes headed toward Bilda, Algeria in North Africa for refuelling.

V-2 Production Plant

In the Autumn of 1941, Zeppelin Airship Construction Ltd (German: Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH) had accepted contracts to produce A-4 propellant tanks and fuselage sections. Then by August 17, 1942, the Allies had suspected the Zeppelin Works (as well as the Henschel Raxwerke) were involved with the V-2 rocket. However, it was not until July 25, 1943 that Duncan Sandys reported that Friedrichshafen photos depicted rocket firing sites like Test Stand VII at Peenemünde. Hence, although effectively the first mission that attacked a long-range weapon facility, the June 1943 Operation Bellicose was not planned for that objective and countermeasures against long-range missiles would not start until Operation Hydra in August 1943, after which Germany centralized V-2 rocket production at the Mittelwerk.

La Spezia

Eight of the original force of 60 remained in Algeria for repairs, and the remaining 52 bombers subsequently bombed the Italian naval base at La Spezia, Liguria, damaging an oil depot and an armaments store, and continued home without loss on June 23/24.

References and Notes

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