Heavy Luftwaffe raids on Manston and Ramsgate on 24th August 1940 leave the airfield unserviceable

Luftwaffe Recon photo some time after raids of 24/08/1940

Six heavy attacks, the first at 0600hrs (TBC) when approximately 80 aircraft crossed the coast to Thanet, left Manston unserviceable after the heavy raid at 1520hrs, despite its many tunnels and underground shelters the RAF decided to evacuate the airfield and left for all but emergency use.

A raid on Ramsgate ‘The Murder Raid’ described at the time as “the world’s worst assault from the air”, killed 29 people, destroyed 78 houses, left 300 not fit for habitation and 700 damaged. More casualties would have been likely if not for the Ramsgate Tunnels.

Please note that we are currently in the process of compiling information for this event, so items may be added, amended or corrected in due course.


0530hrs: No.264 Sqn Boulton Paul Defiants were sent forward from Hornchurch to Manston for air defence at 0530hrs.

No 264 Squadron’s CO, Squadron Leader Philip Hunter, leads a ‘vic’ of Defiants up from Kirton-in-Lindsey, early August 1940 © IWM (CH 885)

0600hrs: The first raid (TBC).

0820hrs: No.264 Sqn Defiant L7013 piloted by F/O Ernest William Campbell-Colquoun and P/O Gerald Robinson brought down at Manston from the attack by Bf 109s, after Verey cartridges exploded in the cockpit. Both men were unhurt. They had initially had engine trouble whilst on the ground at Manston, so had to chase after the rest of the squadron that left at 0800hrs. Picking up a section of aircraft it appears they came upon Bf 109s instead.

0900hrs: A large raid was built up around Cap Gris Nez, with some 100 fighters and bombers of Fliegerkorps II advanced on Dover. Two formations broke away mid-Channel and attacked Dover from the North. Eleven fighter squadrons were despatched and the raid broke up around 1100hrs.

1028hrs: A series of feints developed from the main raid, from which one was detached to attack Manston in a heavy attack. Manston’s defensive patrol of No.264 Squadron Boulton Paul Defiants were just landing, but the nine aircraft took off before the first bombs landed. Together with a suggested ‘Hurricane Squadron’ or possibly Spitfires of No.610 Squadron from Biggin Hill plus ground fire, the raid was turned away. Five bombers and two fighters were lost but extensive damage had been done.

1040hrs: No.54 Sqn Spitfire I X4019 piloted by P/O Alan Roberts McLeod Campbell (42393) was damaged in combat by a Bf 109 over Manston. The pilot was injured but managed to return to RAF Hornchurch. He would not fly again until 11th September.

The Murder Raid on Ramsgate

A raid on Ramsgate ‘The Murder Raid’ was described at the time as “the world’s worst assault from the air”, killed 29 people, destroyed 78 houses, left 300 not fit for habitation and 700 damaged. More casualties would have been likely if not for the Ramsgate Tunnels, conceived by the Ramsgate Borough Engineer R.D. Brimmell, his assistants and interventions of Mayor Arthur Bloomfield Courtenay Kempe and the local MP, Captain H H Balfour. Residents in Ramsgate went into the shelters in the morning and remained there until early evening.

Map of the Ramsgate air raid tunnel system constructed 1938-1939. By R. D. Brimmell, Borough Engineer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

1138hrs: An attack was made which resulted in severe damage to the gas works and sulphur plant. Direct hits were made on military headquarters and Customs House. Mains were fractured and houses demolished with many casualties.

More than 1,200 homes were destroyed but just 29 killed, a mixture of wardens, policemen and civilians (although reports of casualties do differ). There is a suggested list of those killed, here: http://sussexhistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=2974.0

There are also some amazing photos of the aftermath, here: http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/1940/id3.htm

There is also a video here: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/ramsgate-bombed

London, Birmingham, Portsmouth and Manchester were also bombed, although it would appear that the bombing of London many have been a mistake by the Luftwaffe. Within 24 hours, RAF Bomber Command was to launch its first attack on the City of Berlin as a reprisal, starting what would be known as “The Blitz”, but allowed the RAF some critical respite to reground and recover from attacks on the airfields.

Then, as the Battle of Britain raged in the skies above, the town gained another claim to fame on August 24, 1940. It was a relatively quiet Saturday lunchtime when the air raid sirens suddenly wheezed in to life. Moments later, Ramsgate became the first place in Britain to experience the full force of the Luftwaffe’s ‘Blitzkrieg’.

In the space of five minutes, a formation of Junkers Ju88 bombers dropped more than 500 bombs in what elderly locals still call ‘the murder raid’.

Even after the bombs were dropped, fighters returned to machine gun any survivors they could find, including the firemen struggling to douse the flaming gasworks.

Fireman Edward Moore would later receive the George Medal from the King for his heroics. More than 1,200 homes were destroyed. American correspondent Hubert Knickerbocker called it ‘the worst raid in history’.

No one is entirely sure why Ramsgate was singled out. One theory is that the Germans were en route to bomb nearby RAF Manston when an armed trawler in the harbour shot down the leading aircraft and the enemy turned on Ramsgate instead.

Yet the civilian death toll amounted to just 29. The tunnels had very quickly proved their worth.”

From: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2549058/The-secret-city-hidden-Ramsgate-Rediscovered-vast-underground-labyrinth-hospital-orchestra-saved-thousands-Hitlers-bombers.html
Ramsgate Deep Shelter – 1940 by British Pathé


1240hrs: No.264 Sqn Defiant N1535 crewed by Sqn Ldr Philip Algernon Hunter and P/O Frederick Harry King was last seen pursuing Ju88s over Manston. Both posted as missing.

The pilots of 264 Squadron in front of a Boulton Paul Defiant fighter aircraft after their action on 29 May 1940 © IWM (CH 197). Standing, from left to right, are P/O G.L. Hickman, F/L Nick Cooke, Sqn Ldr Philip Hunter and P/Os Michael Young, Gerald Hackwood, Eric Barwell, Thomas and ‘Bull’ Whitley. In the front row from left to right: Sgt Ted Thorn, P/O Desmond Kay, Sgt Lander and P/O R.W. Stokes.

1245hrs: No.264 Sqn Defiant L7027 crewed by Sgt Alan Berry (968035) and F/O Ian Garstin Shaw (40265) failed to return from combat with Messerschmitt Bf 109s off Manston. Both crew posted as missing.

1245hrs: Ju88 A-1 of 4/KG-76 crewed by FF Lt Hans-Jürgen Grell, HS Uffz Alfred Wetzker, and BF Uffz Arthur Henneberg all missing, HB Fw Martin Thomas killed. Aircraft 100% write-off. Claims differ if this was shot down by a Defiant of No.264 Squadron or Hurricanes of No.501 Squadron over the Channel, south of Manston.

The No.1 ‘M’ Balloon Unit was involved in at least one of the attacks on Manston by German dive-bombers. Their ORB records the incident:

1250hrs: In a dive bombing raid on Manston Camp on this day, some Jerry heavy bombs scored direct hits on the hangar and storage hut causing two fires to break out at once. Balloons were scattered in all directions but were of no salvage value, many being badly burnt and others torn to shreds. All stocks of Nickels were completely destroyed together with all equipment – except one pair of scissors which were found amidst the ruins, undamaged.”

No.1 ‘M’ Balloon Unit ORB
Personnel of No. 1 ‘M’ Balloon Unit inflating M-type balloons from hydrogen cylinders by the roadside at Bunsbeek, Belgium, before loading them with propaganda leaflets for despatch over areas of Germany. IWM (CL 1963).

A ‘Nickel’ was the RAF codename for propaganda leaflets.

It appears that the unit moved next day to Kidbrooke via Sheerness, then, shortly afterwards, the Unit moved a few miles up the road making a new home for itself at Grenham House School, Birchington on 19th September, where it remained for nearly two years. The School is now the site for Homebirch House, Hunting Gate/Grenham Road.

1311hrs: No.264 Sqn Defiants were being refuelled at Manston when a force of enemy aircraft including Ju88s and Bf 109s was reported. Most of the squadron got airborne as the bombs started to hit the base but were unable to gain enough height quickly enough to prevent being pounced on by the German fighters.

The squadron lost four aircraft and seven airmen this day, destroying four enemy bombers and two Bf 109s. Total losses of 12 Defiant aircraft and 14 crew over the last three days forced Fighter Command to eventually withdraw it as a front line day fighter.

1415hrs: All communication between Manston and 11 Group was lost by the destruction. The controller at 11 Group contacted No.1 Observer Group at Maidstone to see if they could find out what was going on. A mile from Manston was Post A.1, and Observer Foad volunteered to cycle to the airfield and obtain information. Coastal airfields had been reduced to dire straits.

When the cable maintenance inspector at Manston was informed that all lines had gone he took two jointers and went to the particular crater despite the continuing explosion of delayed action bombs. Working like beavers, and with only an occasional glance at a large bomb adjacent to them, the three men got the essential circuits (out of 248 severed) restored in two hours and completed permanent restoration the following day.

As soon as word got through of the state of the station Fighter Command decided to evacuate it, except as an emergency airfield. Administrative personnel were transferred permanently to Westgate while the remainder of No. 600 Squadron’s Blenheims were moved to Hornchurch.

Time unknown: F/L William “Bill” James Green of No.501 Sqn was scrambled from Hawkinge with his squadron to intercept a raid at Manston. Green closed in to attack an enemy dive-bomber when his aircraft was hit by the airfield’s anti-aircraft fire. His Hurricane was badly damaged and the engine stopped, but he managed to glide back to Hawkinge. There he discovered that half of the undercarriage had been shot away – he crash landed and scrambled from the wrecked aircraft.

“We were homing in on the Ju 88s from behind them when there was a bang and my aeroplane was covered in thick, black oil. The engine stopped and started again – it was coughing – and I realised I had to get back down so I turned away and went back to Hawkinge where I crash landed: I landed the plane but it tipped up on its nose.

“I think I must have been hit by our anti-aircraft fire. It was the first time I had ever been hit. It wasn’t a bundle of laughs, but I was fine. I was flying again the next day at dawn – in another Hurricane.”

Bill Green

Flight Lieutenant Bill Green died aged 97 on 7 November 2014.

Time unknown: Felwebel Herbert Bischoff force lands his Bf 109E ‘White 9’ of JG52 on the Minster Road, at Westgate. Claim made by P/O G.D. Gribble of No.54 Sqn, but Luftwaffe records claim engine failure. Pilot uninjured and taken POW.

Stab II./KG76 Junkers Ju88A-1 was shot down (believed by AA fire) during combat with RAF fighters over the Channel off Manston. BO Major Friedrich Moricke (Gruppenkommandeur), FF Oberlt Karl Schulte (Gruppe Ia), BS Sonderführer Erwin Bleeck-Wagner (of Lw.Kr.Ber.Komp.4) all killed, Bordfunker believed rescued unhurt. Aircraft 100% write-off. 
The body of Karl Schulte came ashore on the Belgian coast September 6.

Stabsstaffel II./KG76 Junkers Ju88A-1 was shot down by Hurricanes of No.501 Squadron and crashed in the Channel off Manston 12.45 p.m. FF Fw Fritz Vetter, BO Fw Karl Flessner, and HS Uffz Heinrich Meier all missing, BF Fw Hans Meyer killed. Aircraft 100% write-off. Hans Meyer was later washed ashore on the Dutch coast.

4./KG76 Junkers Ju88A-1 returned to base severely damaged by Hurricanes of No.501 Squadron following attack on Manston 12.45 p.m. BF Oberfw Fritz Jakobsmeier killed, rest of crew believed unhurt. Aircraft 100% write-off.

4./KG76 Junkers Ju88A-1 was shot down in the Channel by Hurricanes of No.501 Squadron following attack on Manston 12.45 p.m. BO Uffz Erich Dubs, BF Uffz Horst Freimann, and HS Uffz Hans Fröba missing. FF Uffz Jakob Krüll killed. Aircraft 100% write-off. 
Jakob Krüll was later washed ashore on the Dutch coast.

Further German losses were Oblt Karl Shulte of II./KG 76 who was killed in action along with observer Major Friedrich Möricke, during combat over Manston and crashed into the English Channel off the Kent coast. An unnamed R/O was unhurt (disposition unknown) and the gunner was a War Correspondent, Erwin Bleeck Wagner, disposition unknown. Maj Möricke & Oblt Schulte were buried at Lommel, Blk 42; Möricke in Gr 387 and Schulte in Gr 535.

Airmen and soldiers inspect Messerschmitt Bf 109E-4 (W.Nr. 5587) flown by Ofw. Fritz Beeck of 6./JG 51, which force landed at East Langdon in Kent while escorting an attack on Manston, 24 August 1940.

1530hrs (just after): The remaining Defiants of No.264 Sqn were forced to scramble from Hornchurch when the airfield came under attack, after returning there earlier.  Two Defiants collided as they raced to take off.

1530hrs: Another big raid stacked up over Le Havre and flew to Manston and Ramsgate.

1539hrs: Manston was attacked again. Living quarters were badly damaged and hardly any buildings remained intact. All telephone and teleprinter lines were cut and the airfield was littered with unexploded bombs.

1600hrs: No.264 Sqn Defiant L6965 piloted by P/O Richard Stuart Gaskell was badly damaged near Hornchurch by Bf 109s of JG51. Pilot safe, but air gunner Sgt William Howard Machin died of his wounds and is buried in Handsworth Cemetery, Sec. 22. C. of E. Class B. Grave 12885. Aircraft written off.

During the day, Aircraftman 2nd Class Alexander Kirk (1103925) RAFVR aged 25, Leading Aircraftman Henry Allan Shackleton (343404) RAF aged 38, Aircraftman 2nd Class William Fairfield (1358170) RAF aged 48, Aircraftman 2nd Class Frank Walker (1007477) RAFVR, Aircraftman 1st Class Harry Lewis Burridge (646963) RAF aged 20, were killed and multiple personnel injured.

Aircraftman Kirk and Fairfield are buried at Minster Cemetery.
Aircraftman Shackleton is buried in Chatham (Palmerston Road) Cemetery.
Aircraftman Walker is buried in Tottington (St. John) Free Church of England Chapelyard.
Aircraftman Burridge is buried in Saint John’s Cemetery, Worcester.

Ramsgate Airport

An attack was made on Ramsgate Airport by part of the 1530hrs raid, damaged airport buildings and houses. ARP personnel were machine-gunned by two low flying aircraft, casualties not reported.

Further Information



First published: 24th August 2018.
Last Updated: 24th August 2023 @ 6:41 pm.

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1 Response

  1. John M Clayton says:

    Very informative commemorative site to many brave RAF men pilots & gunners of the RAF
    Well done & thank you

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