The five surviving aircraft now had to make the perilous return flight across an enemy territory patrolled by Luftwaffe night fighters.Fortunately none appeared and the Lancaster bombers landed in England at 2300 hours that night.
They were therefore more than a little astonished to learn that their target was actually a single building the size of a football pitch located within a larger complex more than 500 miles beyond the French coast.
The operational plan was for the bombers to be over the target in the last light of day, thus allowing them to return under the cover of darkness.
After seeing footage of the destruction, German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary "[t]he damage is really enormous, I have been shown a newsreel of the destruction. One can well imagine how such a bombardment affects the population".
Smaller scale raids were conducted against Lbeck subsequently.
1,468 buildings were destroyed, 2,180 were seriously damaged, and 9,103 were lightly damaged; together, this represented 62% of all buildings in Lbeck.
Initial German reports showed 301 killed, 3 were missing, and 783 were wounded, but actual deaths might be as high as 1,000; 15,000 people, or 10% of the city's population, was displaced.
Aerial bombing against civilian cities was not a new phenomenon; the British had already experienced such raids in WW1 conducted by German Zeppelins.
However, the advance in aircraft technology brought bombing to a new level.
Even Prime Minister Winston Churchill said "our supreme effort must be to gain overwhelming mastery in the air.
The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone can provide the means to victory." As the war progressed heavy bombers such as the British Avro Lancaster bombers made their entrances in the war and carpet bombing entire industrial cities with their great payloads.
Further assistance was to be provided by a diversionary raid by thirty Boston bombers and more than 700 fighter sorties over north-eastern France with the intention of keeping the Luftwaffe's fighters occupied whilst Nettleton's force sped towards Augsburg.