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…….