3 June 1940

The Luftwaffe bomb Paris.

Unternehmen Paula Undertaking or Operation Paula is the German codename given for the Second World War Luftwaffe offensive operation to destroy the remaining units of the Armée de l’Air, or French Air Force during the Battle of France in 1940. On 10 May the German armed forces began their invasion of Western Europe. By 3 June, the British Army had withdrawn from Dunkirk and the continent in Operation Dynamo, the Netherlands and Belgium had surrendered and most of the formations of the French Army were disbanded or destroyed. To complete the defeat of France, the Germans undertook a second phase operation, Fall Rot, to conquer the remaining regions. In order to do this, air supremacy was required. The Luftwaffe was ordered to destroy the French Air Forces, while still providing support to the German Army.

For the operation, the Germans committed five Air Corps to the attack, comprising 1,100 aircraft. The operation was launched on 3 June 1940. British intelligence had warned the French of the impending attack, and the operation failed to achieve the strategic results desired by the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe. Fortunately for the Luftwaffe, the plight of the French ground and air forces at this stage meant that the failure of the operation would not impede the defeat of France.

Hugo Sperrle had long planned attacks upon Paris and on 22 May he ordered Fliegerkorps II and Fliegerkorps V with Kampfgeschwader 77 and Generaloberst Ulrich Grauert’s I Fliegerdivision, III./Kampfgeschwader 28 to bomb Paris. Bad weather prevented the operation. Determined to continue with his plans, Sperrle ordered Otto Hoffmann von Waldau and Helmuth von Hoffman, Gruppenkommandeur Group Commander of III./KG 28, to plan an operation named Paula the following day, on 23 May 1940.

The operation was broad in its scope. As well as eliminating French airfields and aircraft factories around Paris, in von Waldau’s words, the bombing was to “achieve a desirable influence on the morale of the capital”. German reconnaissance aircraft reported 1,244 aircraft on airfields in and around Paris, including 550–650 single engine aircraft. This French air power was to be destroyed along with the aviation factories in the area. French anti aircraft artillery defences were mapped from tactical to operational level, and intelligence of French ground defences was therefore good. The operation was due to be carried out on 30 May, but again, bad weather prevented it.

The operation was compromised by poor staff work and excessive confidence in the “invulnerable” Enigma machine. The British intelligence, namely Ultra, who had been reading the German codes, forewarned the French. On 30 May they intercepted a message sent by Grauert discussing the arrangements he was making for his Corps. Adding to this leak, the units involved received incomplete orders for the assault. Oberst Johann-Volkmar Fisser, Geschwaderkommodore Wing Commander of KG 77 complained about this. He asked the Headquarters of VIII Fliegerkorps, only to be told that the target was “Paris”. Sperrle responded to his request by removing KG 77 from the order of battle. The British intercepted Frisser’s request to VIII Fliegerkorps, and passed it to the French. The French had intercepted similar messages and in response they doubled their aircraft strength to 120 fighters.