A tractor-drawn train of 4,000-lb Mark I HC bombs

A tractor-drawn train of 4,000-lb Mark I HC bombs (‘cookies’) pauses on its journey from the bomb-dump at Mildenhall, Suffolk, while groundcrew chalk appropriate messages on them. In the background an Avro Lancaster Mark I, L7540 ‘OL-U’, of No. 83 Squadron RAF’s Lancaster Conversion Flight, normally based at Scampton, Lincolnshire, undergoes repairs: the unit code-letters of its previous operators, No. 44 Squadron RAF, are still visible under those of 83 Squadron.

Here a B-17 Flying Fortress crew of the 96th Bomb Group, US Eighth Air Force, mingle with Lancaster crews of No 622 Squadron

The ’round the clock’ bombing by RAF and USAAF necessitated closer liaison between the two bomber forces, and even at squadron level goodwill visits between neighbouring units helped foster the spirit of co-operation. Here a B-17 Flying Fortress crew of the 96th Bomb Group, US Eighth Air Force, mingle with Lancaster crews of No 622 Squadron at Mildenhall in the spring of 1944.

The night of 22nd / 23rd April saw three large RAF raids, one to railway marshalling yards in Laon, France, the others to German industrial targets in Brunswick and Dusseldorf. Huge destruction was recorded in Dusseldorf where, a day later, 883 people were known to have died – and few of the 409 people then listed as missing were expected to be found alive. Out of the 596 aircraft on the raid 29 were shot down. These figure were fairly typical of RAF raids on German targets at the time – immense destruction was now almost assured at a cost that was, if not acceptable, then at least sustainable.

Flight Engineer Sergeant C.H. ‘Chick’ Chandler was on one of the Lancaster’s that was not shot down that night. His experience was about as bad as it could get without becoming a casualty. In his memory the traumatic events remained to be replayed in slow motion:

It was 0110 HOURS on the morning of 23 April 1944. We were a XV Squadron Lancaster III crew from Mildenhall on our 17th op and we were hit simultaneously by heavy flak and cannon fire from an Me 109 at the precise moment that our bombs were released on Dusseldorf. Being the flight engineer, I was standing on the right-hand side of the cockpit, as was usual during our bombing run, with my head in the blister to watch for any fighter attack that might occur from the starboard side.

The bombs were actually dropping from the aircraft when there was a tremendous explosion. For a brief period of time everything seemed to happen in ultra-slow motion. The explosion knocked me on my back; I was aware of falling on to the floor of the aircraft, but it seemed an age before I actually made contact. I distinctly remember ‘bouncing’. Probably lots of flying clothing and Mae Wests broke my fall, but under normal circumstances one would not have been aware of ‘bouncing’.

As I fell I ‘saw’, in my mind’s eye, very clearly indeed, a telegram boy cycling to my mother’s back door. He was whistling very cheerfully and handed her the telegram that informed her of my death. She was very calm and thanked the boy for delivering the message.

As I laid there I saw a stream of sparks pass a few feet above the cockpit, from back to front and going up at a slight angle. This caused me some confusion. If the sparks were from a burning engine they were going the wrong way. It was some little time before I realised that the ‘sparks’ were in fact tracer shells from a fighter that I did not know was attacking us.

The illusion that the tracer shells were going upwards was no doubt caused by the fact that our Lancaster was going into an uncontrolled, screaming dive, but because of the slow-motion effect that I was experiencing, I did not appreciate this fact. This whole episode had taken 2 or 3 seconds at most, then the slow-motion effect began to wear off, and I became aware of the screams of the bomb-aimer.

[after the aircraft went through violent evasive dives they threw off the fighter ... the order to prepare to 'bale out' was withdrawn after they discovered that most of the parachutes had been destroyed]

My task now was to check the aircraft for damage and casualties. My checks started at the front of the aircraft, in the bomb-aimer’s compartment. I am afraid to say that my sheltered life had not prepared me for the terrible sight that met my eyes. It was obvious that this area had caught the full blast of the flak, and Alan Gerrard had suffered the most appalling injuries. At least he would have died almost instantaneously.

Suffice to say that I was sick. At this stage I risked using my torch to shine along the bomb bay to make sure that all our bombs were gone. My report simply was that the bomb-aimer had been killed and that all bombs had left the aircraft.

Next stop was the cockpit. The pilot had really worked wonders in controlling the aircraft and successfully feathering the engine that had been on fire. Then on to the navigator’s department; on peering round the blackout screen I saw that Ken Pincott was busy working over his charts, but that Flight Lieutenant John Fabian DFC, the H2S operator (the Squadron navigation leader), appeared to be in shock. However, once I established that there appeared to be no serious damage, I moved on. The wireless operator’s position was empty because his task during the bombing run was to go to the rear of the aircraft and ensure that the photo flash left at the same time as the bombs. Next, down to the mid-upper turret, where Ron Wilson had re-occupied his position, albeit only temporarily. (Unknown to me, he had suffered a wound to his ear that, although not too serious, would keep him off flying for a few weeks.)

On reaching the next checkpoint I was again totally unprepared for the dreadful sight that confronted me. Our wireless operator, Flight Sergeant L. Barnes, had sustained, in my opinion, fatal chest injuries and had mercifully lost consciousness. It was found later that he had further very serious injuries to his lower body and legs. He died of his wounds before we reached England.

From the rear turret I got a ‘thumbs up’ sign from ‘Whacker’ Mair, so I rightly concluded that he was OK. As well as having to report the death of our bomb-aimer, and the fatal injuries to the wireless operator, I had to report the complete failure of the hydraulic system. The pilot was already aware of the fact that we had lost our port inner engine through fire, and that our starboard outer was giving only partial power. The bomb doors were stuck in the open position, and the gun turrets had been rendered inoperative because of the hydraulic failure.

They had just enough fuel to make it back to England, gradually losing height all the way, only to discover that their undercarriage was stuck as they came in to land. The remaining crew survived the emergency landing. All the survivors remained on flying duties, only the slightly wounded mid upper gunner had a brief respite. See Bowman (Ed.) RAF Bomber Stories: Dramatic First-hand Accounts of British and Commonwealth Airmen in World War 2 for the whole story.

Queen Elizabeth, King George VI and Princess Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth, King George VI and Princess Elizabeth standing with a group of RAF personnel, including the Station Commander (standing on the Queen’s right), during a visit to Mildenhall, Suffolk.

Avro Lancaster B Mark I, ME590 'SR-C', of No. 101 Squadron RAF

Avro Lancaster B Mark I, ME590 ‘SR-C’, of No. 101 Squadron RAF, lies on the FIDO (Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation) pipework at Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire, after a successful crash-landing on returning from a raid to Augsburg on the night of 25/26 February 1944. The aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, which disabled the hydraulic system and holed the starboard fuel tank, and was also attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 night fighter which set it on fire and wrecked the elevators. In spite of the damage the pilot, Sergeant R Dixon, brought ME590 back to Ludford Magna for a belly landing, during which some incendiary bombs which had been hung up in the bomb bay, fell out and caught fire on the runway. The censor has eliminated the large aerial masts above the fuselage which indicated that the aircraft was carrying ‘Airborne Cigar’ (ABC), a jamming device which disrupted enemy radio telephone channels.

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Apr

22

1944

Surviving harassing shellfire at Anzio

Fifth Army, Anzio Area, Italy. 101st Ordnance Co. M. M. placing the tube on the carriage of 155 mm rifle, a 10 ton carriage is used to swing the barrel into position while the crew of men guide the barrel into its cradle. Tube weighs 9000 lbs.

One small piece of A.P. entered/my hole, via the mosquito net. Several fell just outside. Mess dugout hit, RHQ office tent & about four bivvies. 42 Bty had one man killed. RHQ 3 wounded, incl 2 signalmen & Cpl Thorley, the cook. Sloped [?] about in the mist in the valley collecting stretchers & putting them into ambulance. Meanwhile a U.S. ammo dump nearby had been hit, & was going off continuously until about 0700 hrs, bits of metal whizzing all around. Another raid about 0615, fighter bomber quite low. Our O.P. saw one plane crash, bearing 7 deg about 0615 hrs.

Apr

21

1944

Heavy civilian casualties as the Allies bomb Paris

From a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th AAF Bomber Command on 31 December when they attacked the vital CAM ball- bearing plant and the nearby Hispano Suiza aircraft engine repair depot in Paris, France, 1943.

Thus, I woke up at 5am and boarded the first Métro carriage which stopped at Jules Joffrin station. From there I reached, running more or less, the warehouse. Everything was burning. The Porte de La Chapelle was particularly knocked down. All the houses have collapsed on the ground. A bomb exploded over the Métro which is in shambles. From the Porte de La Chapelle to our warehouse [ca. 1 km], everything was flames and devastation. The bombing was very dense.

Apr

20

1944

580 men die as SS Paul Hamilton explodes

The ammunition-laden Liberty ship SS Paul Hamilton is completely destroyed after being struck by a German aerial torpedo launched from a Junkers Ju 88A, 20 April 1944. None of the 8 officers, 39 crew, 29 armed guards, and 504 troops aboard survived. About 21:00 hrs on 20 April the convoy UGS-38 had been heavily attacked with torpedoes from 23 German aircraft of III./KG 26, I. and III./KG 77, just north of Algiers in the Mediterranean Sea. During the engagement five ships were torpedoed, three of them being sunk. Sunk were the destroyer USS Lansdale (DD-426) and the SS Paul Hamilton. The SS Royal Star was torpedoed aft and was abandoned by her crew. The SS Samite and the SS Stephen F. Austin were both torpedoed in the bow, but managed to reach Algiers.

When I arrived at the side of the ship, I found that they had rigged up a cargo net over the side for us to climb up on. The waves were running maybe three to five feet at the time, so I waited until I was lifted by a wave and grabbed the cargo net. However, I was so weakened by the cold that I could not hold on and fell back into the sea. The next time I tried, when the wave lifted me and I reached for the net, two sailors grabbed me by the seat of my pants and heaved me up on deck.

Apr

19

1944

Operation Cockpit – the Japanese surprised at Sabang

A surprise raid on Sabang in northern Sumatra. A general view from one of the attacking planes showing a blazing oil tank with oil spreading out over the harbour area, burning docks, warehouses and ships. In the foreground is a Japanese destroyer which was set on fire by fighters. 19 April 1944

At the rate of ten tons a minute, 350 tons of steel and high explosive struck Sabang in the 35 minutes the bombardment lasted. Battleships; cruisers and destroyers poured shells varying from 4-in. to 15-in. into the base at close range. When the flagship turned away after completing her firing she was only two miles from the green, jungle-covered hills which rise steeply from the sea around Sabang.

Apr

18

1944

The relief of Kohima begins

The Battle of Imphal-Kohima March - July 1944: The mined tennis court and terraces of the District Commissioner's bungalow in Kohima.

At 09.30 hours Corporal Judges and his section consisting of Privates Johnson,Thrussel and myself, as well as Corporal Veal’s section, went onto the road to help evacuate the wounded Indians, BORs, walking and stretcher cases. It was my job to look at the stretcher cases. If they were dead I had to send the Indian stretcher bearers round the back of the feature where they put the bodies in a heap to be buried later.

Apr

17

1944

The bombing of Semlin Judenlager

The post raid evaluation of bomb strikes with the target area marked in white and the area of Semlin subsequently make in red.

Besides the dead, there were several hundred wounded, so the surviving pavilions were turned into hospitals. There were no beds, and certainly no bandages or surgical equipment, although we did have several doctors and surgeons among the interns

Apr

16

1944

‘Black Sunday’ as tropical storm hits US 5th Air Force

B-25 Mitchells from the 42d Bombardment fly over Bougainville from their base at Stirling Airfield, Stirling Island, Solomon Islands, 1944

The whole area was full of planes-B-24s, B-25s, A-20s and P-38s. We got down to 50 feet above the coast and followed it towards Saidor. I directed Polecat (Pilot Ed P. Poltrack) to the right and left along the coast. He and Jack were both flying, dodging planes. Once our airspeed went down to 120 – looked like we would have to ditch any minute. Now and then we would lose sight of the coast and weave back and forth along our course to pick it up again.

Apr

15

1944

HMS Storm torpedoes a Japanese destroyer

The First Lieutenant, Lieutenant R Bulkeley at the periscope of HMS TRIBUNE.

Two muffled depth-charges were heard shortly after the first two explosions, but the hit on the destroyer seemed to have demoralised the screen, as no further attempt at a counter-attack was made. I was able to watch the whole affair quite happily from a range of two miles or so, and Petty Officer E. R. Evans, the T.G.M., was able to have a look at his victim burning furiously.

Apr

14

1944

Surprise as the Norfolks arrive at Kohima

An infantry section on patrol in Burma, 1944.

I thought to myself, “Crumbs! Now what have I done wrong!” I went over to him and he said, “Where the bloody hell have you been?” I said, “Well we ran into a little bit of trouble…” He said, “I know, I’ve had it all, chapter and verse, on the telephone!”