Operation Steinbock

Operation Steinbock
A Heinkel He 177 takes off for a sortie, 1944

A Heinkel He 177 takes off for a sortie, 1944.
Date 21 January — 29 May 1944[1]
Location Southern United Kingdom
Result British victory
United Kingdom United Kingdom Nazi Germany Germany
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Roderic Hill Nazi Germany Dietrich Peltz
500+ Night fighters 522 bombers[2]
Casualties and losses
Unknown 329 aircraft destroyed[1]

Operation Steinbock (German: Unternehmen Steinbock) was the nocturnal Second World War Luftwaffe offensive operation to destroy British military and civilian targets in southern England, between January and May 1944. The attacks were mainly in and around the Greater London area. In Britain, it was known as the "Baby Blitz", due to the much smaller scale of operations compared to the Luftwaffe's strategic bombing of the British Isles in 1940–41.[2]

Placed under the command of Generalmajor (Major General) Dietrich Peltz, Luftflotte 3 (Air Fleet 3), the Germans assembled 474 bombers for the offensive. The operation—running parallel to RAF Bomber Command's campaign known as the Battle of Berlin—was launched more for the sake of propaganda and as a measure of retaliation than for any military objective. The operation achieved very little, and the force suffered a loss of some 329 machines during the five months of operations—an average of 82 per month—before it was abandoned. Luftwaffe commanders like Hugo Sperrle had intended to use the bomber force against the Western Allies′ invasion fleet, which he predicted would land in Northern France in the summer of 1944. Eventually, the revenge attacks gave way to attempts to disrupt preparations for the impending Allied invasion of France (Operation Overlord). Steinbock had however worn down the potential German bomber fleet to the extent it could not deliver any significant counter attacks when the invasion was actually launched in June 1944.[3]

The offensive marked the Luftwaffe's Kampfgruppen last large-scale bombing operation against England, and henceforth only the V1 cruise missiles and V2 ballistic rockets were used for hitting the British Isles.[4]



The strategic dilemma facing the Luftwaffe in 1943 was serious. The Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL or High Command of the Air Force) was unable to prevent serious damage to German cities and industries by the ongoing Allied Strategic Bombing offensive. Erhard Milch recommended doubling fighter production. However, in July 1943 RAF Bomber Command had neutralised German night fighter defences, in particularly the Kammhuber Line, by using "window" or "chaff" to jam German ground and air radar. The bombing of Hamburg in July inflicted 26,000 casualties and destroyed large parts of the city and its industry. The overwhelming consensus in the Luftwaffe High Command was that the Luftwaffe should concentrate on defensive efforts against the Allied Air Forces. Adolf GallandGeneral der Jagdflieger (General of the Fighter Force)—wrote:

Never before and never again did I witness such determination and agreement among the circle of those responsible for the leadership of the Luftwaffe. It was as though under the impact of the Hamburg catastrophe everyone put aside either personal or departmental ambitions. There was no conflict between the General Staff and the war industry, no rivalry between bombers and fighters; only the common will to do everything in this critical hour for the Defence of the Reich.[5]

But it was Göring, not the staff, that took this proposal to Hitler. After an hour, the Reichsmarschall returned. Peltz described the scene:

We were met with a shattering picture. Göring had completely broken down. With his head buried in his arms on the table he moaned some indistinguishable words. We stood there for some time in embarrassment until at last he pulled himself together and said we were witnessing the deepest moments of despair. The Fuhrer had lost faith in him. All the suggestions from which he had expected a radical change in the situation of war in the air had been rejected; the Fuhrer had announced that the Luftwaffe had disappointed him too often, and a change over from the offensive to defensive in the air against England was out of the question.[5]

After a time Göring stated that the Führer was right. Göring announced that the only way to stop such destruction was to initiate heavy retaliatory strikes at the enemy so that they would not dare risk another raid like Hamburg without the fear of similar retribution. Göring gave Peltz the authorisation to pool the resources together for Operation Steinbock (Capricorn).[6]

Opposing forces

The Luftwaffe

At the end of November 1943, Generalmajor Dietrich Peltz was summoned to a conference where Göring informed him that he was to be placed in charge of a renewed large-scale bombing operation of Britain, and London in particular.[7] It was hoped that the operation would commence during December, and though this proved unrealistic, by the third week of January 1944 a force approaching 600 aircraft had been amassed by stripping five Kampfgruppen (bomber groups) from the Italian front and by rebuilding existing bomber units in the West.[7] On 3 December 1943 Göring issued orders for Unternehmen Steinbock ('Operation Capricorn'), with the objective of "avenging terror attacks of the enemy".[8] Wolfram von Richthofen was to provide Peltz with six Kampfgruppen, while Obdl would provide another three which were resting.[8] The bombers were to carry a so-called "English mixture" ordanance load — 70% incendiaries and 30% high explosive bombs, including large 1 t (1.1 short tons) bombs and mines.[8]

Two He 177-equipped units were available for the start of the attack: I./KG 40 and 3./KG 100 operating the new heavy bomber from airfields at Rheine and Chateaudun with an initial combined strength of 46 aircraft.

Despite this force of Heinkel He 177s, the inventory still consisted largely of twin-engined medium bombers. The Junkers Ju 188s and Dornier Do 217s were of relatively recent development, and the great majority of the Junkers Ju 88s were of the A-4 model, essentially unchanged since 1941, when the original Blitz had wound down.[9]

Apart from the numbers of conventional medium and heavy level bombers, the Luftwaffe also employed a number of fast bomber types, such as the Ju 88S (a cleaned up and boosted version of the Ju 88A-4) or the Messerschmitt Me 410 Hornisse and a number of fighter-bombers, known as Jabos in the Luftwaffe. These were more difficult to intercept due to their great speed, but carried limited payload and accuracy compared to the conventional bombers.[9]

The composition of the force was never static. Bomber units were disbanded, pulled out for refits, conversions or redeployed to other theatres of operation as the situation demanded. By mid-March, Peltz's force had 232 servicable aircraft, as 3./KG 2 was withdrawn for conversion to the Ju 188, while III./KG 30, along with II. and III. Gruppen, KG 6 were redeployed to support the occupation of Hungary.[10]

The British defences

As a result of the reorganisation required for the invasion of Europe on 15 November 1943 RAF Fighter Command was split in two; many of the Spitfire and Hawker Typhoon Squadrons formed the 2nd Tactical Air Force, while others were now formed into the Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) force.

The ADGB brief was the air defence of Britain by day or night. The commander of Fighter Command, Air Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory was transferred to take over the 2nd TAF, and the ADGB command given to Air Marshal Sir Roderic Hill. By January 1944 RAF Fighter Command’s 10 and 11 Groups were responsible for the defence of southern England. For night defence ADGB possessed seven Squadrons of Mosquito Mark XII, XIII and XVII night fighters totalling around 127 operational aircraft, all of which were equipped with airborne interception aids, including the latest Mk. VIII and Mk. X centimetric wavelength radars.

For the Urban defence of Greater London there were numerous heavy anti-aircraft (AA) batteries equipped with 3.7ins and 5.25ins guns. Many batteries were now equipped with the new gun-laying Mk. III radar, which made them highly effective in putting up a predicted AA barrage against air targets at night or in bad weather.


To confuse British radars, the ventral gondolas of some Ju 88s were fitted with an active radar jammer device called Kettenhund ("watchdog"), and some bombers also sported the FuG 216 tail-warning radar, to detect British night-fighters before they could make their attack on their bomber.[9]

Order of battle

The following Luftwaffe units particated in Operation Steinbock:[7]and had the following establishment of operational aircraft at the start of 1944[11]

  • KG 2 Holzhammer
    • Stab (3 Do 217)
    • I./KG 2 (35 Do 217)
    • II./KG 2 (31 Ju 188)
    • III./KG 2 (36 Do 217)
    • V./KG 2 ( 25 Me 410)
  • KG 6
    • Stab (3 Ju 88)
    • I./KG 6 (41 Ju 188)
    • II./KG 6 (39 Ju 88)
    • III./KG 6 (37 Ju 88)
  • KG 30 Adler
    • II./KG 30 (31 Ju 88)
  • KG 40
    • I./KG 40 (15 He 177)
  • KG 54 Totenkopf
    • Stab/KG 54 (3 Ju 88)
    • I./KG 54 (25 Ju 88)
    • II./KG 54 (33 Ju 88)
  • KG 66
    • I./KG 66 (23 Ju 88 and Ju 188)
  • KG 76
    • Stab/KG 76 (4 Ju 88)
  • KG 100
    • I./KG 100 (27 He 177)
  • SKG 10
    • I./SKG 10 (20 Fw 190)



The first attack on London was mounted on the night of 21/22 January.[12] Codenamed Unternehmen Mars, sections of the British capital were given codenames after devastated German cities — Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover, to emphasize the retaliatory nature of the operation for the air crews.[12] The first raid targeted the area designated as 'München'—the Waterloo area of London. The attack consisted of two waves with 447 bomber sorties, primarily Ju-88s and Do-217s, carrying 475 tons of bombs, with 60 per cent of the payload incendiaries. The first wave bombed from 2040 hours until 2209 and the second wave 0419 to 0545.Many bomber crews flew double sorties on this night.

Despite the extensive use of 'duppel' ( the Luftwaffe equivalent of the RAF's window anti-radar device) and target marking with white and green flares by KG 66 , the Luftwaffe's pathfinders, hardly any bombers reached London and only some 30 tons were estimated to have fallen on the capital, with bombs and incendiaries scattered throughout the Home Counties.[12] The Houses of Parliament, Parliament Square, Westminster Hall, the Embankment, New Scotland Yard and parts of Pimlico were all hit by incendiaries.[13] Some 14 people were killed and 74 injured.

Hitler was reportedly outraged that the Luftwaffe failed to find London though it was only 150–200 km (93–120 mi) from German ground control stations while the British were hitting German towns, not just city targets, from 1,000 km (620 mi) away in bad weather. Peltz responded that the failures owed as much to the Luftwaffe's lack of interference-free radio and navigational aids as to untrained crews, and that the British with their H2S and Gee systems were technologically ahead of the Germans. The lack of dedicated pathfinder units also caused navigational problems, as the few aircraft employed in this role were more at risk from electronic counter-measures and fighter interception. The heavy British defences forced the Luftwaffe to fly meandering 'dog-leg' courses and inexperienced German crews quickly got lost. Reconnaissance flights over England had also stopped, which prevented the Luftwaffe from gathering intelligence on British radar and radio frequency bands.[14]

Approximately 40 bombers were lost to all causes.[12] Luftwaffe records indicate 25 aircraft fell to enemy action, RAF Mosquitos claimed 16 bombers destroyed or probably destroyed, and the other 9 probably fell to anti-aircraft fire. Just as worrying for the Luftwaffe was a further 18 bombers were lost to non-combat causes, including pilot error, navigation error leading to running out of fuel or landing crashes at base.

The first operation coincided with the Allied landings at Anzio in Italy, and immediately three of the Kampfgruppen were returned to Italy.[12] Bad weather also intervened, and the next raid on London was delayed until 28 January, with only Me 410 fast bombers and Fw 190 fighter-bombers taking part. On the following night a 285-strong bomber force, of mostly Ju-188s and Ju-88s attacked, and started a major fire in the Surrey Commercial Docks.[12]

The bomber force lost 28 aircraft shot down. Following this operation I./KG 40 was withdrawn.

The two January attacks on London caused the death of about 100 people, with some 200 injured.


[15] 240 sorties were flown on 3/4th February, with only 26 tons of bombs falling on London and scattered bombing across South east England. Fires were started in Hackney and Tilbury with 17 killed and 12 injured in the capital.

On 13/14th February 161 tonnes were dropped over England, with 4 tons on the capital.

A series of far more accurate raids now ensued, as on the 18/19th, with 200 sorties dropping 185 tons of bombs on Whitehall, Queen's Gate and in Pimlico in a short sharp 30 minute raid. Civilian casualties were 180 killed and 463 seriously injured.

On 20/21st February Whitehall was hit again as was Horse Guards Parade, St James's Park, the Treasury, the Admiralty, the War Office and the Scottish Office. Windows were also blown out in 10 Downing Street. Over 200 bomber sorties were flown. 216 were killed on the ground and 417 badly injured.

The 1,300 operational sorties carried out in February had produced mixed results. However, bomber losses for the month, at 72 aircraft, remained prohibitively high. [16] On the night of February 3/4th 240 aircraft set out for London.

For February 20/21st some 200 aircraft were committed, with I./KG 100 contributing 14 He 177s.

On the night of the 23rd 32 London boroughs recorded incidents, with 72 people killed in Chelsea following a direct hit on a block of flats near the Kings Road. In total there were 160 fatalities and 348 serious injuries that night. Targets on the night of February 24/2th were government buildings around the Westminster area, with over 170 aircraft targeting London.


In March there were four attacks on London followed by raids on Hull and Bristol. On 14/15th March, 100 German aircraft dropped incendiaries and high explosives across Westminster, Hyde Park, Knightsbridge, Rochester Row, Monck Street, Cliveden Place and two churches in Medway Street and Flask Lane were hit, set alight or damaged. On 21 March Paddington Railway Station was also hit.


Attacks on the capital continued until the night of 20/21st April 1944. By this time 31 major raids had been flown since January, 14 against the British capital. Peltz's force had dropped a total of some 2,000 tons of bombs at a cost of 329 bombers lost.

From late April German attacks switched to the channel ports on the south coast of England, where shipping for the forthcoming Allied invasion of Europe was massing. However, the offensive yielded little tangible results for the Luftwaffe, at a high cost in aircrew and aircraft.


Some small-scale attacks were made on Weymouth, Torquay and Falmouth.


Although the "Baby Blitz" attacks had involved more Luftwaffe aircraft than any other raids on the UK since 1941, the effectiveness of air and ground defences, the relative inexperience of the German bomber crews, and the sheer lack of bomber numbers meant relatively minor damage and few casualties were inflicted. The raids were -ironically- to prove more costly regarding German military capability than for the British, draining the Luftwaffe of irreplacable aircrew and aircraft and thus reducing the potential defensive air response to oppose Operation Overlord.

From late December 1943 to May 1944 Luftwaffe bomber strength in northern Europe fell from 695 to just 133 aircraft. In contrast on 6 June 1944, ADGB had 45 squadrons available to support the invasion, totalling some 809 serviceable aircraft.[17]

Air raid casualties in Britain during the first five months of 1944 totalled some 1,556 killed, with 2,916 seriously injured.



  1. ^ a b Boog 2001, p. 379.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Boog 2001, p. 377.
  3. ^ Boog 2008, p. 420.
  4. ^ Boog 2001, p. 380.
  5. ^ a b Parker 1998, p. 22.
  6. ^ Parker 1998, p. 23.
  7. ^ a b c Beale, 2005. p. 312.
  8. ^ a b c Hooton, 1997. p. 276.
  9. ^ a b c Beale, 2005. p. 314.
  10. ^ Beale, 2005. p. 317.
  11. ^ 'The Blitz- Then & Now'(vol 3) Ramsay, 1990, page 318
  12. ^ a b c d e f Beale, 2005. p. 315.
  13. ^ http://www.westendatwar.org.uk/page_id__152_path__0p2p.aspx
  14. ^ Boog 2008, p. 418.
  15. ^ 'The Blitz- Then & Now'(vol 3) Ramsay, 1990, page 319-322
  16. ^ 'Nightfighter' Ken Delve, 1995, page 160
  17. ^ http://www.raf.mod.uk/dday/timeline_june6.html


  • Beale, Nick. Kampfflieger: 1944–1945 v. 4: Bombers of the Luftwaffe. Classic Publications. 2005, ISBN 978-1-9032-2350-5
  • Boog, Horst; Krebs, Gerhard; Vogel, Detlef. Germany and the Second World War, Volume IX/I: German Wartime Society 1939–1945: Politicization, Disintegration, and the Struggle for Survival. Oxford University Press. 2008. ISBN 978-0-1992-8277-7
  • Boog, Horst; Krebs, Gerhard; Vogel, Detlef. Das Deutsche Reich under der Zweite Weltkrieg Band 7: Das Deutsche Reich in der Defensive: Strategischer Luftkrieg in Europa, Krieg im Westen und in Ostasien, 1943–1944/45. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 2001. ISBN 3-421-05507-6
  • Caldwell, Donald & Muller, Richard. The Luftwaffe over Germany - Defense of the Reich. Greenhill books, MBI Publishing; 2007; ISBN 978-1-85367-712-0
  • Griehl, Manfred. German Bombers Over England, 1940–44. Greenhill Books, 1999. ISBN 978-1-8536-7377-1
  • Griehl, Manfred. German Elite Pathfinders KG 100 in Action. Greenhill Books, 2000. ISBN 978-1-8536-7424-2
  • Macky, Ron. The Last Blitz: Operation Steinbock, the Luftwaffe's Last Blitz on Britain — January to May 1944. Red Kite. 2010. ISBN 978-0-9554-7358-6

Coordinates: 51°30′28″N 0°07′41″W / 51.50778°N 0.12806°W / 51.50778; -0.12806

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