The Swinemünde Mission 12 March 1945
On the 12th March 1945, the 467th BG were tasked a mission to the Baltic coastal port of Swinemünde and among a huge armada of over 660 8th Air Force B24s and B17s sent to bomb the Naval yards and Railway marshalling yards of the city. A total of 36 Group aircraft participated coming from all four of the Group's Squadrons. All 36 aircraft reached the target just after midday to find the town covered by a heavy undercast. Bombing was by means of H2X as the target could not be detected visually, and each aircraft deposited 5 x 1000lb GP bombs. There was little opposition over the target with flak described as meagre and inaccurate. The Group formation departed for home with no further incidents and all aircraft and crews arrived safely back at Rackheath with no damage.
One of those crews participating was the 790th Squadron Lt. John Upp crew. Flying with the Upp crew that day was Sid Katz, the Radar Counter Measures (RCM) Operator. Sid was not a regular member of the crew but came from a pool of 790th Squadron RCM Operators who would fly the Group aircraft that contained the specialist RCM equipment.
Swinemünde 12th March 1945 - A Witness from the Ground
- Herbert Weber -
Herbert Weber, Iserlohn, born 1931, had been a student at Hagen/Westphalia Secondary School since Sept. 1941.
Due to the rising intensity of allied air raids on West German cities, students and teachers of his school were evacuated to more safer regions in Eastern Germany at the end of July 1943. The new home assigned to them was the port city of Rügenwalde on the Baltic Sea in East Pomerania. There, the students lived with Rügenwalde families in foster homes, and shared the school house and all its facilities with the locals.
When the Red Army advanced closer to Rügenwalde in early 1945 the greater part of the Hagen students left the critical zone and returned to their home town.
Herbert Weber and those who stayed behind were lucky to get out on the last ship on March 6,1945, one day before the Soviets conquered Rügenwalde.
Together with hundreds of other refugees they were able to escape from the Russians across the Baltic Sea to the port city of Swinemünde.
At that time Swinemünde on the Isle of Usedom was overcrowded with refugees. They came from East Prussia und Pomerania mostly on horse drawn carriages or by ships filling the harbour and awaiting their turn to disembark their human cargo. All these people were lucky to have escaped from the Soviets. They found provisional shelter in schools, churches, gymnasiums, etc. The Swinemünde railway station was congested with trains that were to transport refugees and also wounded soldiers to the West.
Herbert Weber and his group, already four days on board and waiting to enter the harbour were finally able to disembark. They found shelter in the straw covered auditorium of the FONTANE High School on Roon Street.
On Monday March 12, 1945 at about 11 a.m. Swinemünde was attacked by 671 B17 and B24 Bombers of the 8th US Army Air Force unleashing 1609 tons of bombs. The Bombers were escorted by 412 P51-“Mustang” fighters.
In no time the city turned into a flaming inferno and became what people called “the Dresden of the North”.
The students from Hagen, who had previously been evacuated to be safe from allied bombing raids, found themselves amidst such a disaster. Miraculously the group survived and nobody in the basement of the school came to harm. The following morning busses took them to the Neubrandenburg railway station, from where they continued on their journey home, travelling only by night, because of the danger of low flying fighters during day time. The group finally reached the city of Hagen on March 16,1945.
Over a span of more than ten years H.Weber has been involved in researching and documenting the events concerning the Swinemünde raid. These efforts resulted in the editing and issuing of a brochure under the title “The Inferno of Swinemünde” in which 39 eyewitnesses give an account of how they lived through that dreadful hour on March 12, 1945.
The raid – ordered by the Soviet Military – did by no means achieve its military aim, since the victims were mostly civilians. As many as 23000 men, women and children are said to have lost their lives during that noon-hour.
The dead were buried in mass graves at the “Golm”, a hill outside Swinemünde, which has thus become one of the largest war grave sites in Germany.
March 22, 2006, Herbert Weber reports:
Coincidence or Providence, an encounter 61 years after World War II
In February of 2006 I flew to Florida to visit an old friend from Kindergarten days, now living in Montreal, Canada, but who spends the winter months in his condo at Delray Beach. We had been informed by local newspapers that the annual Air Show of WWII planes, i.e. bombers would be held at the nearby Boca Raton Airfield during that period. When we went to see the “Old timers” we were guided and informed by ex-pilots and crew members who were now in their eighties.
My friend and I had vivid memories of the types of planes on display, which in war times flew over Germany to attack their targets. When looking at these so-called “Flying Fortresses” and “Liberators” my thoughts went back to the Swinemünde air raid and I relived that terrible bombing experience.
We met two ex-airmen, one of them Mr. A. Edward Wilen of Boca Raton, the Exhibition Manager, aged 84, who navigated a B24 on a bombing mission to Braunschweig (Brunswick) on May 8,1944 and was shot down by a German fighter. He bailed out and was held prisoner in different POW-camps until he was liberated by troops of the 3rd USArmy in Moosburg/Bavaria/Germany on April 29,1945.
The other veteran, aged 80, by the name of Sid Katz of Livingston, New Jersey, flew as a radar operator on a four engine “Liberator” completing in all 30 missions over Germany.
When questioned about the targets they attacked he mentioned Magdeburg, Kassel and others, and referred to one in a somewhat amused undertone: One morning at an unearthly hour, the crews were briefed about their target. The name that came up was “Schweineminde” which sounded almost Yiddish to the young Jewish airman. I corrected him and made sure he meant “Swinemünde on the Baltic Sea”, which he confirmed, mentioning that it happened on a Monday in March 1945.
My friend and I looked at each other in utter amazement and I said to Sid Katz: “You bombed me, but I survived and could escape!” He took hold of my hands and our eyes met for a long moment!
I had to travel to Florida to meet by chance a man who along with hundreds of his comrades had been instrumental in causing the most frightful 70 minutes of my then 14 years young life, but also bringing thousandfold death and destruction to Swinemünde. Sid Katz was unaware that the air raid of March 12, 1945 had cost more than 20,000 lives. His comments with a certain sign of regret were: “At the time I was 19 years old and had to do my duty!”
He remembered that the air raid had been requested by the Soviet Military, and that the large bomber formation (671 four engine bombers, dropping a bomb load of 1609 tons) were escorted by 412 P51 “Mustang” fighter planes.
Despite total allied air supremacy at that time there was still fear of German fighter attacks. The escorting “Mustangs” were therefore ordered to stay with the bombers at all times. Sid, however, did not exclude that some of the fighters may have ignored the order and flew low level attacks against ground targets. Sid Katz unit was the 467th Bomb Group, 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force.
Sid told me, that he made several trips to Europe, however, not to Germany. I did not dare ask why. Could it have been because of Nazi-Germany’s crimes against the Jews?
Our conversation came to an end when Sid was called away to guide a group of school children, who had just arrived by bus.
The photo shows (from left) A. Edward Wilen, Sid Katz and Herbert Weber
Fritz von Pilgrim a 16 year old drafted from school to man a flak battery in Swinemünde recalls his memories of the day.
As you might know, all High School Students in Germany were drafted at age 15 to serve in the Anti Aircraft (Flak) Batteries in Germany. Either in the Luftwaffe or Navy.
I was one of them stationed with my high school class at a Navy Anti Aircraft Battery in Swinemunde. In 1945 I was a 16 year old kid manning the anti aircraft guns.
The exact location of our Battery was about 1 Km east of the Harbor light house tower at the harbor exit, right on the sea shore. The Battery was called OSTERNOTHAFEN. This was already the most western tip of island of Wollin ( now Polish) ( Most of Swinemuende is on the Island of Usedom). Both islands are separated by the river Swine which is the harbor of Swinemuende.
The battery consisted of :
Four 10.5 cm Anti Aircraft guns
One 20 mm Automatic ( Swiss made)
One 3.7 cm Anti Aircraft gun.
One (pretty primitive) Radar called Wuerzburg which was manned by uniformed women called "Marinehelferinnen" and one central fire control. Optical tracking only.
On 12. March 1945 , (like everything else those days) the German early warning did not work properly any more, because as soon as we were alerted the first bombs had already fell on Swinemuende.
I do not remember if Chaff was dropped, or not. Anyway the Radar did nor work at all.
Since it was overcast there was nor chance for optical tracking and the situation became pretty confusing. Then "curtain Barrage" was ordered shooting in a general direction at the harbor entrance where we assumed to be targets. Additionally, I believe the Bomber Formations were flying at an altitude which was out of reach for the 10.5 cm guns. ( I do not remember the initial velocity of the 10.5 cm guns).
I assume the location of our battery (OSTERNOTHAFEN ) was known. A bomb carpet came down on us. But it overshot us and came down about 200 meters further inland in the forest.
About 500 Meters to the east of us, there used to be an old coast artillery battery, which was dismantled and no longer there. At this location we had the ammunition bunker. Anyway shortly after the second Bomb carpet came down there. I kept wondering why ? And then it dawned on me. The only explanation I have is that the USAAF intelligence was working with old obsolete maps and assumed another Anti Aircraft Battery there.
So we were lucky . We lost only 5 guys during that raid.
Surrounding Swinemuende there were 5 Batteries each equipped with four each 10.5 cm guns and all were shooting like hell but aimlessly since radar was out and because of overcast, no optical tracking possible. The only explanation I have it that the Bomber formations were so high that you could not see the Flak bursts.
At that time the Russian front came closer and closer. The The Islands of Usedom an Wollin became encircled and we were trapped. Those days all we could think of only one thing. How in hell can we we get out of there, make it to the western Allies and give up there and not become Russian prisoners of war and off to Siberia or get shot right away.
In the early days of May some German destroyers made it to Swinemuende and we knew about that. So we ran to the harbor and they took us out to the west and, thank the Lord, the war was over.
Later on in 1949, I immigrated to the States. In Feb 1951 I joined the USAF and became an ariel gunner and refueling operator in a B-50 / B-29. I was stationed at Davis Montham AFB in Tucson Arizona. I thoroughly enjoyed my USAF days and I still have fond memories.
These were the young boys in Spring 1944 drafted into the Navy Anti Aircraft battery at OSTERNOTHAFEN, Swinemünde. Fritz von Pilgrim is the tallest, second from right.
After I retired in 1995 we stayed in Munich since my wife is from Munich. Being back in Germany, it was then when all those memories of the war days came back to me and I became interested what really happened in Swinemuende in 1945.
After the fall of the iron curtain I went back (Osternothafen is now Polish) and would you believe, I found the old gun emplacements in the dunes of the Baltic Sea. We even found empty shell cases lying around in the dunes.
Fritz von Pilgrim pictured in 1996 at the site of the gun emplacement he manned 51 years earlier as a 16 year old.