Operation Hydra – The Peenemünde raid

aszu August 27, 2014 0
Operation Hydra – The Peenemünde raid

For a long time Hitler was very sceptical about rocket research taking place at Kummersdorf and later on, at Peenemünde. The things have changed on the 8th of July 1943, when he was shown a film of a starting  rocket and the launch of the monstrous V-2 turned him into believer, as he realized the true potential of this new weapon.

Production of V-2 became priority, as Hitler started to believe, that  these rockets could change the course of the war. As the Nazis were busy constructing production line at Peenemünde, the British were preparing to strike at the heart of the German rocket development site program.

 The British were gathering  intelligence from the start of the war, and the first crucial information was sent to them anonymously. The author of  „The Oslo Report” was Hans Ferdinand Mayer, a physicist with a doctorate from the University of Heidelberg and Director i n the Siemens company.  He was very concerned with the Nazi threat and after the invasion of Poland he decided to act.

He mailed initial report to London and shortly afterwards the , the full report. Mayer himself was reported as listening to BBC, where the answer from London was ment to be given, arrested and sent to the concentration camp. He spend all war in concentration camp, but the Nazis never knew about his treason.

The British dismissed all the data  as a work of fiction and planned operation to confuse the Allies. Only one person believed in all the information from „The Oslo Report”.  He was a young physicist, R.V.Jones.

For the following months Wernher Von Braun and Walter Dornberger were achieving the big successes with their rockets.In  the summer of 1942 another test launches were made. The two first ones, on 13 June and 16th August were not successful, but the A-4 rocket launched  on 3rd October reached  the altitude of 80 kilometers and traveled almost 200 km. That was an astonishing success and the birth of the V . Vergeltungswaffe – The Reprisal weapon. As the Nazis already had the cruise missiles, the V-1, this new weapon was designated as V-2.

The major breakthrough  for the British , about  what was happening at the Peenemünde came from overhead conversation between two German prisoners, General von Thoma and Lieutenant-General Cruwell. They were put in the bugged room and all information learned from their conversation  were put in the „Air Scientific Intelligence Interim Report”, finally compiled on 26th June 1943.

For years the British were stating, that the information about Peenemünde came from the air reconeissance. They claimed  they did not receive any information from the Polish Resistance. That was a lie, as the Polish Intelligence reported in 1941 that the German scientists were working on a new secret weapon in Peenemünde. In  1942 and in 1943 the Poles have even provided maps and clearly stated in their intelligence reports that the Nazis work on rockets .

PeenemundeIn the meantine, another  reports started to arrive and it was decided to send a reconnaissance flight over Peenemünde. It became clear that rockets, being developed by Nazis will pose a danger to Great Britain and finally decision has been made to bomb Peenemünde. The code name of this operation was Hydra.

The British very quickly started practice runs. The bombing of Peenemünde was meant to be carried from approximately 3000 (9000 ft) meters, a half of the usual bombing raids height. The crews were never told of the true nature of their mission, but instead they were advised they are going to bomb a new radar site.

The second secret operation, by the name of Whitebait, was also arranged. It was a decoy raid of Mosquito aircrafts being sent to bomb Berlin. The British hoped, that this raid just before the Peenemünde attack will divert fighters attention. Another squadrons were also dispatched to attack surrounding German airfields to prevent Luftwaffe night fighters from taking off.

The main attack took place at the midnight  of the 17th August 1942. The night’s  sky was clear and there was a full moon.

The first wave of bombers targeted the V-2 scientists.  When the aircrafts got over Peenemünde ,there were some clouds over the site and the first bombs missed their target. The AA guns opened fire and even the the ship off-shore’s flak opened fire, but still, there were no fighters to be seen.

The second wave of Lancaster Bombers aimed at the factory workshops and the third, final wave struck at 00.48, attacking experimental workshops. The crews of the Lancasters and Halifaxes have made a mistake and dropped bombs 30 seconds late. It might seem not a lot, but that 30 seconds were extremely important as their bombs landed in the nearby concentration camp.

Peenemünde, Dornberger, Olbricht, Leeb, v. BraunBy that time German Night Fighters started to arrive, but it was too late.

This night attack brutally showed Nazis, that Allies knew about their rocket research program. Immediately it has been decided to fool the British, that they have done irreparable damage, to prevent any further raids. The Germans painted dark lines across the roofs, to pretend to be fire-blackened beams, and they even dug false bomb crates.

Some of the British bombs had a delay fuses  installed and they were exploding randomly for further several days.

Major General Dr Walter Dornberger later claimed that the Allies missed two very important installation, which consequently minimized the delay in further research. Among the victims were Doctor Thiel and Chief Engineer Walther, as well as hundred civilians in the nearby concentration camp. 

Overall that British night raid caused a delay of approximately 2 months, but the Germans were able to restart the research almost straight away and all the main scientist were unharmed. Although this attack surprised Nazis, in the long term gains perspective, it was rather ineffective. The British aimed at killing as many personnel as they could and destroying as much research and documentation as possible. They have failed in both cases.


1) Start of V2 rocket. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.  Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 141-1880 / CC-BY-SA.

2) RAF reconnaissance photo of V-2s. This artistic work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain.

3) Picture of von Braun and German scientists. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1978-Anh.024-03 / CC-BY-SA.

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