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de Havilland Mosquito

The British bomber that spoiled the Nazi birthday party

IN January 1943, the Second World War was no longer going to plan for the Germans, an invasion of Britain long-since abandoned and the US now arriving en masse across the Atlantic to support the Allied forces.

Despite this, the German army occupied much of mainland Europe, with propaganda still one of their chief weapons of war, and a celebration planned to mark the tenth anniversary of the Nazi party’s rise to power.

It was January 30, 1933, that Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, a festival to mark the occasion planned in Berlin in 1943, led by Hermann Göring, a fact very much known to the British military.

There seemed no better way to show contempt for the Nazi Party and all that it stood for than by gatecrashing – the RAF handed the role of party poopers with the war’s first daylight raid on the German capital.

At around 11am on the morning of January 30, 1943, three de Havilland Mosquitos B Mk. IVs of 105 Squadron arrived in Berlin uninvited, proceeding to the Haus des Rundfunks, HQ of the German state broadcaster, before bombing it. Despite the population being told to listen in to Göring’s address, they were treated initially to silence, the diatribe from one of Hitler’s top team forced off air for more than an hour.

Bombing of the Gestapo headquarters in the Shellhus, Copenhagen, Denmark, in March 1945. A Mosquito pulling away from its bombing run is visible on the extreme left, centre.

(Bombing of the Gestapo headquarters in the Shellhus, Copenhagen, Denmark, in March 1945. A Mosquito pulling away from its bombing run is visible on the extreme left, centre.)

It seemed fitting that it was Göring that was interrupted, one of the Nazi Party’s most high-ranking officials famously declaring that no enemy aircraft would fly unscathed over Berlin.

A few hours later as the Nazi Party’s chief of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, got ready for his broadcast in Berlin to mark the anniversary, a second attack was carried out by 139 Squadron, three more Mosquitos arriving with perfect timing. Goebbels proved more successful than Göring, his broadcast continuing, but the raids were met with anger from the Nazi high command.

139 Squadron Mosquitos

(139 Squadron Mosquitos)

An incandescent Göring used the attack to berate German aircraft manufacturers, speaking in glowing terms of British design: “In 1940 I could at least fly as far as Glasgow in most of my aircraft but not now. It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy.

“The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased again. What do you make of that? There is nothing the British do not have. They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops. After the war is over, I’m going to buy a British radio set – then at least I will own something that has always worked.”

But it was those with German radio sets that Göring was concerned about in January 1943, treated to an hour recording of marching band music, before Göring was able to get back on the airwaves.

The Berlin raid came four months after the Mosquito had been introduced to the British public, the plane’s success based entirely on speed, its mainly wooden frame – a sandwich construction of plywood and balsa wood – allowing for limited defences, earning the nickname the ‘Wooden Wonder’ and, perhaps less originally, the ‘Mossie’.

Despite its speed being its defence with an ability to fly in excess of 400mph, the initial response to its design was lukewarm at best.

It was the late 1930s that the Air Ministry called on aircraft designers to create a twin-engine medium-range bomber capable of carrying a bomb load of 3,000lb over a range of 3,000 miles. Geoffrey de Havilland believed a structure minimising defensive armaments could achieve greater speeds – requiring only a pilot and navigator – with high manoeuvrability making evading enemy fighters and ground fire easier.

Despite the limited interest shown, de Havilland and his chief engineer, Charles Walker, continued with the company’s designs and by the time WW2 had begun, the Air Ministry had become more receptive to their work, still keen to add forward and rear machine guns for defence. De Havilland made minor alterations to the design to address some concerns, but maintained his insistence that defensive additions were superfluous, and in December 1939 the project finally received backing.

Mosquito prototype W4050 landing after a test flight on 10 January 1941: Four test flights were flown that day
(Mosquito prototype W4050 landing after a test flight on 10 January 1941: Four test flights were flown that day)

Less than a year later the first prototype was flown, November 25, 1940 seeing E-0234 take off from a grass strip at Hatfield powered by two Merlin engines, reaching a speed of 220mph. After some alterations to minimise buffeting at higher speeds, further tests in January 1941 saw it outpace a Spitfire at 6,000ft, with top speeds soon approaching 400mph at 22,000ft – the Spitfire was capable of 360mph at a similar altitude.

The Mosquito entered production in the middle of 1941, becoming one of the first multi-role combat aircraft: bomber/fighter-bomber, night-fighter, anti-shipping, torpedo bomber and reconnaissance amongst its many roles. The US was also a fan, using it as photographic and weather reconnaissance plane as well as a night-fighter.

The public first officially became aware of the Mosquito in September 1942, an Oslo raid targeting the Gestapo HQ in the Norwegian capital – four aircraft flying from Leuchars on a 1,100-mile round trip in an operation aimed at coinciding with a rally of Norwegian collaborators led by the notorious Vidkun Quisling. Despite limited success, the attack was reported by the BBC Home Service.

During 1942 and ’43 the Mosquito flew high-speed low and medium-altitude daylight missions against factories, railways and a range of other targets in German-occupied Europe; the Mosquito was also used to guide heavy-bombers to their targets as well as carrying out their own ‘nuisance’ attacks at high-altitude and high-speed.

Mosquitos SB-U and SB-V of 464 Squadron crossing the Channel towards Amiens.

(Mosquitos SB-U and SB-V of 464 Squadron crossing the Channel towards Amiens.)

Raids on Luftwaffe airfields across Europe also proved successful, and later the aircraft was used to attack V-1 flying bomb launch sites, as well as specific operations that lended themselves to the skills of the Mosquitos and their crews. Operation Jericho was one of these: in February 1944, nine DH98 Mosquitoes flying at low levels destroyed the outer and inner prison walls at Amiens on the edge of the Somme Valley in France, allowing 255 allied prisoners to escape.

Operation Jericho — low-level aerial photo of Amiens Prison during the raid shows snow-covered buildings and landscape.

(Operation Jericho — low-level aerial photo of Amiens Prison during the raid shows snow-covered buildings and landscape.)

Göring’s concerns about the Mosquito saw him order the formation of special Luftwaffe units to combat Mosquito attacks, a move that had limited success, but the use of the plane in daytime raids led to a high rate of losses – 51 aircrew deaths on two-man crews from the end of May 1942 to April 1943.

The last wartime missions of the Mosquito were in late May 1945, hunting German submarines that may have failed to receive news of the surrender or had opted to continue fighting, its military service ending in the 1950s when it was replaced by the Canberra.

As well as military use, the Mosquito was also flown by BOAC as a high-speed transport for VIPs, operating flights to and from Sweden, and today there are believed to be four airworthy examples, three in the US and one in Canada. In the UK, one of the best places to discover about the history of the plane and to see the aircraft at close quarters is at the de Havilland Museum in London Colney in Hertfordshire.

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