Scarecrow – fact, fiction, or what?

log27&28 scarecrow crop

Extract form John Dickinson’s logbook for the Solingen raid, 4th November 1944, noting the loss of a Lancaster by a ‘Scarecrow’.
© Dickinson Estate

I was fascinated to see in John Dickinson’s logbook a reference to him witnessing the loss of a Lancaster to a ‘Scarecrow’ whilst flying on the Solingen Op on the 4th November 1944.

I had previously read into the subject of the ‘Scarecrow’. It  would appear that it was accepted belief during the war that the German air defense utilised a shell or some sort of projectile to simulate the effect of an aircraft exploding in mid-air, one assumes for the demoralising effect it would have on aircrew who witnessed such an explosion.

Searching for discussion on the internet there appears to be 2 schools of thought, well 3, but the first is essentially agreed as being redundant, in the sense the the ‘Scarecrow’ projectile simply did not exist.

The 2 remaining alternatives were that firstly, it was the explosion of a bomber after being hit by shells from a ‘Schräge Musik’ equipped German night fighter. The second, perhaps more disconcerting is that it was actually a faulty bomb fuse, detonating its bomb and then the whole bomb load of an aircraft, without warning and that this extra risk in the minds of the aircrew needed to be explained through another reason by Bomber Command.

Reading around the forums , it would seem that there is a held opinion that the Schräge Musik fighters were the actual reason. Discussion indicates that there was a thought that these aircraft did not use tracer in their magazines, so as to remain undetectable during an attack. The logic runs that on approach from underneath a bomber, the Schräge Musik pilot could position himself, to the ignorance of the bomber that was targeted, but also to other aircraft around it.

Aspects of this explanation make me unsure. I recall watching a programme about Bomber Command the night I got back from the Bomber Command Memorial unveiling. In the programme there was an interview with a NachtJagd pilot who described the tactics involved in a Schräge Musik attack. He discussed, from the perspective of survivability that for the attacker,  it was seen as safer to fire at the wings and thus the fuel tanks, rather than risk hitting the bomb bay with a cannon shell – the resulting gigantic explosion would destroy the attacker as well as the prey. The absence of armour plating around the fuel tanks would lead to a fire, that whilst inevitably proving fatal to the aircraft, might at least give a crew time to escape.

Some reports of ‘Scarecrow’ explosions describe a blinding flash, followed by secondary explosions and coloured flashes of green, red and gold – unfortunately what one would imagine a PFF aircraft, with target indicators, as well as a bomb load to look like if it exploded in mid-air.

There is no doubt that many aircraft were lost to Schräge Musik, but it must be accepted that a high number were also the victim of faulty bomb fuses and that the ‘Powers that Be’ probably deemed it better to invent an explanation rather than have tired and clearly stressed aircrew deal with the terrifying fact that if the enemy did not get them, their own bombs might…….

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The original Australian War Memorial caption to this image reads: ‘Scarecrow’ over Essen during a 1000 bomber daylight attack [11 March 1945] by RAF Bomber Command. This is a device fired into the air by the enemy to simulate one of our aircraft to frighten the aircrew’. It was widely believed by aircrew that the Germans were using such a device to simulate the explosion of a bomber hit by an enemy shell. German flak records reveal, however, that no such device existed or was ever fired by them. What was seen by aircrew was in fact a bomber blowing up with all its bombs on board, hence the significant size of the cloud created by the explosion. The general consensus today is that this dramatic sight, undoubtedly a terrifying one for bomber crews, was caused either by a hit from a night fighter using the Schräge Musik technique or the faulty fuses causing the bombs to explode. With Schräge Musik, because the fighter’s cannon was firing a short burst from directly below the bomber, no tracer fire was ever observed from other aircraft and the plane just seemed to suddenly explode. [AWM SUK13978]
© Australian Government Department of Veterans Affairs

4 thoughts on “Scarecrow – fact, fiction, or what?

  1. Pierre Lagacé

    Fascinating.
    I knew all about Schräge Musik but not about how German pilots would not shoot the bomb bay. I knew nothing about Scarecrow.
    This makes a lot of sense about faulty fuses.

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  2. Kevin King

    Night fighters with Schrage Musik would fire between the two engines of a four engines bomber. This was to set the fuel tanks alight, and according to some night fighter pilots, a better chance for the crew to escape. To fly underneath a bomber and fire into the bomb bay would be suicide. A direct hit by flak or a faulty bomb fuse are the most likely causes.

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