The Luftwaffe raid of May 10, 1941, was reputedly the ‘hardest night’ of the Blitz. Steve Richards surveys the damage

The bomber’s engines pulsated as the commander looked ahead through the aircraft’s glazed nose and watched the French coast slip away beneath the wings. In the clear sky the moon was one day from its zenith –a bomber’s moon – but, these days, also a fighter’s moon, mused Leutnant Martin Reiser.

Beside him sat his pilot, Stabsfeldwebel Adolf Schied, and stood between them was flight engineer Oberfeldwebel (OFw) Lorenz Huber, keenly observing the glowing horizon. The shades of red, orange and yellow were not due to a spring sunrise – it was around 23:50hrs on May 10, 1941, and no navigational aids were needed this night as fires took hold in Britain’s capital.

Heinkel He 111P, G1+BT, had lumbered into the air from Villacoublay, near Paris at 23:16hrs. The burden of seven SC250 bombs made the take-off laboured, but once aloft they climbed to 14,000ft easily enough. As they approached the Thames estuary, flak bursts and probing searchlights met them. Numerous explosions and fires could be seen on the ground and the intention was to drop their bombs on Millwall docks, which they did at 00:38hrs. Nearly two tonnes lighter, they sped for home.

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