Flt Lt Peter Frederik Fischer volunteered for the Royal Air Force in 1943 as he graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge. He was selected for pilot training, but chose to serve as an air gunner in order to get into operations before the end of the war. He flew fifty-two operations in Bomber Command from May 1944 to February 1945.
Peter Frederik Fischer was born on 6 July 1923 in Wandsworth, Greater London, the son of Sofus Frederik Fischer and Birthe Kristine Fischer (née Sørensen). Though born in London, Fischer was a Danish national as he was born to Danish parents abroad.
Fischer’s parents had married in London (St. Martin) in 1915, and separated 1934. His father owned an egg and butter import company. During the 1920s in company with another Dane, Thomas Peter Thomsen, but from 1929 under the name of S. F. Fischer & Co.
Fischer was educated at schools in London. He attended the Regent Street Polytechnic in London. He was accepted into Trinity College in Cambridge in 1941 and remained there until the spring of 1943.
The Oxford Cambridge University Boat Race
Fischer took up rowing during the two years at Cambridge. He rowed in the first eight of the First and Third Trinity Boat Club in 1942. In February 1943, he was part of the Cambridge crew that met Oxford in in the second unofficial wartime Oxford Cambridge University Boat Race. Oxford won the race. He later remembered that “For two years at Cambridge I rowed, ate rowing, slept rowing, talked rowing, as it were, and I have missed it greatly since.” According to Fischer, he had only been practicing for a short period and would not have been part of the crew, had it not been for the war.
In 1955, Fischer returned to rowing, this time as the trainer of the rowing team of Ottawa Rowing Club in Canada.
'To war in a clean collar'
Fischer volunteered for the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve on 12 March 1943 (18677926, RAFVR). In contrast to some of the other Danish volunteers, he was not driven by a passion for the air force; rather—in his own words—he felt obliged to contribute to the war effort and wanted to “go to war in a clean collar.”
He was accepted for training as pilot and mobilised on 24 April 1943. However, after initial training he was sent on indefinite leave. Restless by nature, he remustered as an Air Gunner in order to enter operational service as quickly as possible. He finished training and was commissioned as Pilot Officer on 25 September 1943 (156830, RAFVR). At 1652 CU he became part of Flt Lt K. C. Gooch’s crew, and on 24 April, the crew was posted to 10 Squadron at RAF Station Melbourne in Yorkshire, flying Halifaxes.
By this time, Fisher had been promoted to Flying Officer He flew his first operational mission from Melbourne in the beginning of May 1944.
Fischer took off on his first operation on 8–9 May: his target was gun positions at Berneval-le-Grand, east of Dieppe. From the air, the raid seemed successful, and Fischer’s crew reported many explosions on the ground. Unfortunately, everything was not as it seemed. Most of the bombing was 600–700 yards from the gun position, and only one aircraft hit the target. The next night, Fischer was part of an attack on the railway yard at Lens.
This was his last operation at 10 Squadron, as his crew was transferred to 35 Squadron at RAF Station Graveley with effect from 14 May.
Shortly after D-Day, the Germans began what would later be called the Second Blitz as they launched the first V-1 flying bombs against London. The flying bombs were launched from facilities along the French (Pas de Calais) and Dutch Coast, and posed a significant threat to London and southern England in general. From June through to September, Bomber Command put up a great effort to defeat the threat, bombing launch ramps and stock facilities on the ground.
Fischer was one of three Danish airmen to participate in these operations. Bomber Command’s first ‘Noball’ operation, as the attacks were codenamed, was carried out on 16–17 June 1944, but without Danish participation.
The Noball operations continued during July and, on 14 July Fischer flew his first of these operations. Six 35 Squadron Lancasters were part of a small force of nineteen aircraft detailed to attack the flying bomb site at St Philibert. The next day, he was part of an attack on the supply facility at Nucourt and, on 16 July, the crew returned for another attack on St Philibert. Four days later, the target was the launching site at Mont Canton. This mission was part of a larger operation, in which six launching sites and a storage depot were successfully attacked by 369 aircraft.
Fischer was still operating over France. On 3 August 1944, the crew was part of a massive force of more than 1,100 aircraft detailed to bomb the flying bomb stores at Bois de Cassin, Forêt de Nieppe, and Trossy-St-Maxim. Fischer took part in the attack on Bois de Cassin. The following day, Trossy-St-Maxim was bombed, and, on the evening of 5 August, Fischer was part of Squadron Ldr C. W. Bromley’s crew in a small raid on a launch site at Acquet. Unfortunately, the crews lost contact with the leading Oboe Mosquito, and the mission had to be abandoned. Fischer’s last Noball operation was carried out on 9–10 August: the target was the storage site at Forêt de Nieppe. In early September, advancing Allied troops reached the last launch ramps within easy reach of London, and the immediate threat was over.
The Normandy Battle Area
The heavy fighting in the Normandy battle area continued into July, which also influenced activities in the air. In early July, the advance of the Canadian First and the British Second Army was hindered by a series of strongpoints in villages north of Caen.
The original plan for Operation Overlord had been to take control of Caen on D-Day itself, but six weeks later, the British forces had still not been able to enter the city and thereby open a direct passage from the Normandy beaches to Paris. On 18 July, the British Second Army launched yet another offensive in the ongoing battle for Caen, codenamed Operation Goodwood. At dawn, nearly 1,000 Halifax and Lancaster bombers attacked five fortified villages east of Caen.
Fifteen crews from 35 Squadron were part of the operation. Fischer’s crew and nine others attacked Cagny. Lancaster ND692/P took off at 0451 hrs. and set course for Normandy. The bombing attack was followed by a British artillery fire and another aerial attack by B-26 Marauders from USAAF. The attack was a very successful example of the direct support of the Allied armies by Bomber Command, and it made a good start for Operation Goodwood, which would continue until 20 July.
On 25 July, the First US Army launched another offensive, Operation Cobra, which was intended to punch through the German defences around Saint-Lô in order to advance into Brittany. Five days later, the German defences had largely collapsed, and on 30 July, the British VIII Corps and XXX Corps launched an offensive from Caumont toward Vire and Mont Pinçon (Operation Bluecoat) in order to keep the remaining German armoured units engaged on the British eastern front in the area. Nearly 700 bombers carried out attacks in support of the operation. Lancaster PB288/P took off from Graveley at 0655 hrs., with a cloud base varying from 1,500–2,000 feet and good visibility below. The crew was ordered to bomb aiming point ‘E’ from a height of 3,000 feet, but, just as they ran up to bomb, they were ordered to go as low as 2,000 feet. The cloud caused trouble for many aircraft, and only a little over half of the aircraft were able to bomb. Another Danish airman—Andreas Petersen (later Moldt)—was also part of the operation.
Fischer continued operations in support of the ground operations in the Normandy battle area during August. On 7–8 August, more than 1,000 aircraft attacked enemy positions along the Caen front in preparation of an offensive by First Canadian Army, codenamed Operation Totalize. The attack was carefully controlled by the Master Bomber, who called off the attack only minutes after Fisher’s crew had bombed. Soon after the aircraft had left, the armoured columns began their advance on ground covered by artillery fire. The offensive lasted until 13 August, at which point the Allied forces had reached the high ground north of Falaise.
Following an attack on the Opel Factory in Rüsselheim near Mainz on 12–13 August, Fischer was back in the army support role on 14 August. At noon, the Allied forces made another attempt to capture the town of Falaise in Operation Tractable. More than 800 aircraft were detailed to attack seven German troop positions in front of the Canadian forces. As Fischer’s crew arrived over the area, they identified the target by the yellow target indicators. They followed the Master Bomber’s order, which was to overshoot by two seconds. The bombing was concentrated. Unfortunately, halfway through the operation, some of the aircraft bombed a quarry used as a staging area by the 12th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery. In an attempt to identify themselves, the Canadian soldiers on the ground tried to set their identification markers and to fire yellow smoke. Some crews may have confused the yellow smoke and the Pathfinder’s yellow target indicators. Sixty-five Canadian soldiers were killed, 241 wounded, and ninety-one missing.
By mid-August, the Allied forces had finally broken through the German defences in Normandy. This meant that Bomber Command were able to resume the strategic bombing campaign against Germany, even if the command would still be assisting ground forces from time to time.
Fischer returned to Germany on 18–19 August for an attack on Bremen, and a week later, the target was Brest. The Allies had advanced swiftly through France, and the German garrison in Paris surrendered on 25 August. Nevertheless, there were several pockets of fierce German resistance; one of these was the town of Brest in Brittany, with its large port facilities. Fischer took part in an attack on coastal battery positions at Point Ile Longue and Point des Espagnols on the Crozon Peninsula near Brest on 25–26 August. He did not operate for the next three weeks, but on 20 September he was part of a daylight attack on German positions around Calais in preparation of the Allied advance on the town. Three days later, he returned to Germany in an attack on Neuss.
The period from October 1944 until the final victory in Europe was in many ways the operational climax of Bomber Command. The operational strength increased steadily, and equipment developed continuously. At the same time, the strength of the German night fighter force was declining, and so did the number of bomber casualties. From late September 1944, the first priority of the Bomber Command became the destruction of the German petroleum industry, while the transportation system and tank and motor-vehicle production became a second priority. Only when weather or tactical conditions were unsuitable for operations against these targets would operations against important industrial areas take place.
Fischer’s first operation during the month was the attack on Saarbrücken, requested by the American Third Army who were advancing on the city on 5 October. The crew operated as illuminators and released their flares at 2025 hrs., before returning to base. The attack was successful.
On 14–15 October 1944, the Allies carried out a regular show of force over Germany, codenamed Operation Hurricane. According to the plan, which was to demonstrate the overwhelming superiority of the Bomber Command and the US 8th Air Force, Harris decided to order two massive attacks on Duisburg the following day. Lancaster PB523/P took off from Graveley at 0735 hrs. and set course for Duisburg. More than 1,000 aircraft were part of the operation. In the daylight, the city was easily identified by the river bend and the docks. Fires were seen burning in the target area as they released the bomb load. They returned, landing at base at 1058 hrs. Twelve hours later, the Lancaster was heading for Duisburg once more, again as part of a force of more than 1,000 bombers. Bombs were released at 0133 hrs., and the crew returned to base two hours later. Duisburg was hit hard. In less than twenty-four hours, Bomber Command had dropped nearly 9,000 tons of bombs on the city. During the same period, USAAF had dispatched more than 1,000 bombers with a fighter escort to Cologne. The Allied air forces had demonstrated their overwhelming superiority as requested in the directive on Operation Hurricane. Furthermore,
Bomber Command had demonstrated its ability to carry out a day operation with a force of over 1,000 bombers—from August 1941 until 27 August 1944, the command had only been operating at night. Fischer flew another four missions during October: Stuttgart on the 19th–20th, Hannover on the 21st–22nd, Essen on the 25th–26th, and Cologne on 31 October–1 November. The latter was his twenty-seventh mission. He was to fly another twenty-five missions before the end of the war.
A corkscrew manoeuvre
On 2–3 November, Bomber Command attacked Düsseldorf, in the last major raid on the city during the war. Fischer and his crew participated in the attack, which was generally very successful. Lancaster B III PB197/O took off from Graveley at 1657 hrs., the sky clear with a light haze. The northern part of the city was severely hit, and more than 5,000 houses were badly damaged or destroyed. Twenty seconds before the bombs were released, the crew reported that they were followed by a rocket shell. Flt Lt Gooch did a corkscrew manoeuvre, opened the bomb doors, and jettisoned the bombs. The rocket shell passed the aircraft and fell to the ground. Later, Fischer remembered having ordered a corkscrew once from his position in the rear tower. This could be the occasion, even if he remembered the situation as an attack from a German night fighter.
He remembered that the G-force pulled during the manoeuvre was such that he nearly lost consciousness. The crew returned to base four hours after take off. Four days later, Fischer took part in the daylight attack on the Nordstern synthetic oil factory in Gelsenkirchen. Two more attacks followed before the end of the month on the oil factories at Wanne Eickel (on 18–19 November), and Koblenz (on 20th–21st).
Only thirteen hours after landing from the Koblenz raid, Fischer’s crew was one of two crews from 35 Squadron detailed to take part in the minor raid on the city of Worms. Six days later, on 27 November, Fischer took part in the attack on Freiburg, which had not been bombed before. It had no significant industry, but it was a minor railway centre—furthermore, American and French units were advancing though Vosges, only 35 miles from the city. The weather was clear, but hazy over the target. They dropped the bombs, and noted that "If target indicators were accurate, the attack should be good." Freiburg was hit hard but the railway was spared. Fischer’s final operation in November was a daylight attack on Dortmund on 29 November.
Fischer opened December with an attack on the Urft Dam (near Heimbach in Germany) on 4 December, and an attack on Soest on 5 December. The following night, 6–7 December, Fischer took part in the attack on a synthetic oil factory in Leuna, near Merseburg. He was in action twice more in December, against Ulm (between Stuttgart and Augsburg) on the 17th, and Gelsenkirchen on the 29th.
In January 1945, the war entered its last year. On New Year’s Day, the Germans launched the last major offensive in the Ardennes, but they did not manage to obtain a major breakthrough, only to postpone the end of the war. The strategy of Bomber Command remained unchanged: oil related targets had top priority, followed by transportation and infrastructure. Only then came the area bombing of German cities, which has caused much controversy since then.
In accordance with these priorities, Fischer’s first attack of the year was targeting two I. G. Farben factories in Ludwigshafen on 2–3 January. On 5 January followed an attack on Hannover, the first since 1943. The city was targeted in two separate attacks. Fischer was part of the first attack, taking off in Lancaster III ‘PB305/P at 1605 hrs. As they arrived in the area, the target had to be identified by H2S, as it was covered by cloud. As they left the target, they could see the glow of fires in the city. The following day, Fischer was part of an attack on the railway centre in Hanau, east of Frankfurt and, on 14-15 January, the target was the synthetic oil factory at Merseburg (Leuna), near Leipzig. The crew was part of the first of two attacks, arriving at the target area around midnight. From Fischer’s rear tower, the bombing seemed concentrated on the main cluster of target indicators and flares. The attack caused severe damage to the synthetic oil factory.
Fischer returned to Germany on 16 January when Magdeburg was attacked. Six days later, on 22–23 January, he was part of an attack on Gelsenkirchen and, on 28-29 January, he was part of the last major attack on Stuttgart during the war. Two separate attacks were carried out. Fischer was part of the first attack on the railway yards at Kornwesthaim, while another Danish airman Fg Off. Niels Peter William Pedersen and his crew arrived over Stuttgart about three hours later. The target of the second raid was the suburb Zuffenhausen, where they may have been aiming for the Hirth aero-engine factory.
Fischer was about to reach the end of his second tour, but significant operations were still to come. During the first two weeks of the month, he took part in operations against Mainz on 1 February, Wanne Eickel on the 2nd–3rd, Bonn on the 4th, and, finally, an attack on Goch on 7th–8th, the latter in support of XXX Corps’ advance on the German border near Reichswald.
At this point in time, the Western Allied armies had entered Germany from west, while, in the east, the Russian troops were advancing rapidly. In mid-1944, the British Joint Planners had discussed the possible effects upon the Russian advance of a heavy and sustained attack on Berlin. For various reasons, this plan, known by the codename Operation Thunderclap, had been shelved at the time. In January 1945, the plan was reconsidered, and eventually put into action in a revised form. The revised plan entailed massive air attacks on ten specific cities in eastern Germany, including Berlin, Dresden, Chemnitz, and Leipzig.
Bomber Command would attack at night and USAAF at day; the objective of the operation was to cause confusion in the evacuation from the east, as well as hamper the movements of troops from the west. In this way, the plan would be a direct contribution to the Russian campaign.
Since the war, the operation has primarily been associated with the bombing of Dresden. Dresden suffered from two separate attacks by Bomber Command on 13–14 February, followed by major attacks by the USAAF on 14 and 15 February, 2 March, and 17 April. A total of 6,719 tons of bombs were dropped on the city during the five attacks. Most of the city was destroyed, and the firestorm that developed during the second attack by Bomber Command proved to be especially disastrous. Dresden was full of refugees, and no one knows the number of people staying in the city at the time; it is estimated that the number of casualties in the city exceeded 50,000. The controversy over the bombing of Dresden started in the days after the attack and has continued ever since. As previously mentioned, the attack on Dresden was probably only one part of Thunderclap: during the period from 3 February to 21 April 1945, nine other German cities suffered many heavy attacks. Furthermore, it should be noted that the operation was only a small part of the operations of the Allied air forces in Germany from February to April 1945.
Fischer was one of only two Danish airmen to take part in Operation Thunderclap. On 13–14 February, he took off on his fiftieth operation. Lancaster III PB613/P took off from Graveley at 2203 hrs., operating as ‘Blind Marker’ in the second attack on Dresden. The target was well lit from the previous attack three hours earlier as the Lancaster approached the target. The centre of fire and smoke was visible to the bomb aimer through his bombsight as bombs were released. Returning from Dresden, they could see a glow in the sky in the Leipzig area, which corresponds to the attempted attack on the Braunkohle–Benzin synthetic oil plant at Böhlen on the same night, in which six crews from 35 Squadron took part. The aircraft returned to Graveley at 0609 hrs. At this point, the crew did not know that they had taken part in probably the most wellknown bombing raid during the war. They had the impression that it had been a heavy and concentrated attack, but they had no idea about the destruction on the ground. In many ways, it had been just another day on the job. Fourteen hours later, Fischer was in place in the rear tower again as Lancaster ‘P’ took off on another Thunderclap raid, this time for Chemnitz. Again, the raid was carried out in two attacks separated by three hours; Fischer was part of the second attack.
Fischer flew his last operational sortie on 20–21 February against Dortmund. He had flown fifty-two missions since arriving at 10 Squadron in April 1944, including preparations for the invasion in Normandy, the bombing of flying bomb launch sites and storage facilities, and the final bombing campaign on Germany. He was awarded DFC on 25 May 1945 for his service in 35 Squadron, and in September he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant.
 Ancestry: England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1916-2007.
 Ancestry: England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915.
 NA: J 77/3366/2748.
 London Gazette, issue 33484, 9 April 1929 records that the company Thomas Thompson & Co., a partnership between Thomas Peter Thomsen and Sofus Frederick Fischer, has been dissolved. London Gazette, issue 33522, 2 August 1929, records that Exemptions under Section 7 of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, have been granted up to 31st July, 1929, to FISHER, S. F. & Co.; Sofus Frederik Fischer; Egg Importer; 152, Manor Street, Clapham, London, S.W. 4.
 Falstrup-Fischer ORC Coach, The Ottawa Citizen, 17 Mar 1955, p. 24.
 Correspondence with Fischer (now Falstrup).
 NA: AIR 27/145. If nothing else is stated, the information on 10 Sqn operations is based on this source.
 NA: AIR 27/381–382. If nothing else is stated, the information on 35 Sqn operations is based on this source.
 Delve, RAF Bomber Command 1936–1968 (2005).
 Stacey, Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Vol. III (1955), p. 243.
 Middlebrook and Everitt, The Bomber Command War Diaries (2011), pp. 565–568.
 NA: AIR 27/381.
 Norris, A Serious Query (2007).