An RAF Whitley bomber undergoing maintenance earlier in the war.

It was thirteen months since Ralph Wood had enlisted in the Royal Canadian Airforce as a navigator. He had not unpacked his bags after his arrival at No 102 Squadron on 24th July 1941, when he was told that he was on that night’s raid on Germany. Then a more experienced navigator volunteered to take his place and he spent the evening following him as he made his preparations before take off. The navigator and his crew never returned from that operation. The next night, on the 25th, Ralph Wood made his first operational mission, a bombing raid on Hanover:

So here we were, a crew of five – two pilots, a navigator/bomb-aimer (observer), a wireless operator and a tail gunner. I never used a bomb-aimer during my tours – they appeared later on in the war, and there weren’t always enough to go around. I felt that if I could get us to the target I should have the pleasure of bombing same. My navigator’s table was behind the pilot’s seat in the cockpit.

As we neared the target I unplugged my oxygen lead and my intercom and, dragging my parachute with me, made my way to the bombsight in the nose of our ‘flying coffin’.

It was a long crawl in the darkness, and without oxygen the going was tough. Reaching the bombsight and front gunner compartment, I searched frantically for the oxygen connection to restore my strength. With the aid of a flashlight, partly covered so as not to attract any wandering fighters, I found my connection and began to breathe more easily.

I was now lining up the target with the bombsight as I directed the pilot on our bombing run: ‘Left. . . left. . . steady . . . right. . . steady . . . left. . . left. . . steady . . . Bombs gone!’.

Our Whitley leapt about 200 feet with the release of tons of high explosives. Now we flew straight and level for 30 seconds, the longest 30 seconds anyone will ever know, so that we could get the required photo of the drop for the intelligence officer back at base.

Picture taken – now let’s get the hell out of here. Still in a cold sweat with the flak bursting around us and the searchlights trying in vain to catch us, I crawled back to my plotting table.

The pilot was still taking evasive action as I gave him the course for home. Those black blobs of smoke surrounding the aircraft were flak, and when you could smell the cordite it meant that they were bursting too damn close.

Ralph Wood’s account of surviving 77 operational missions appears in RAF Bomber Stories: Dramatic First-hand Accounts of British and Commonwealth Airmen in World War 2.

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A busy week for Coastal Command

The crewman of a Focke Wulf 200 Condor stands on the wreckage after being shot down by a Lockheed Hudson from 233 Squadron

Several attacks on enemy shipping were made during the week by aircraft of Bomber and Coastal Commands, which were highly successful in spite of intense A.A. fire from Flak ships.




Torpedo attack on Malta convoy

the royal Navy cruiser HMS Manchester was hit by a torpedo while escorting a convoy to Malta on 23rd July 1941.

One, just skimming the sea, burst out of the haze and flew between HMS Eridge and her neighbour. [Leading Seaman] Rayner managed a short burst with the pom-pom. He could clearly see the pale, strained face of her gunner, a man with only seconds to live, as he swung his weapon and peppered the upperworks with a few ineffectual rounds.




Mussolini plays at war

German soldiers manning an anti aircraft gun overlooking an Italian port.

Dummy air raids continue at Rome. It was the Duce who personally ordered an air raid in the capital every time there is one in Naples. He does this because he wants to give the country the impression that a war is taking place. He has also ordered that at the first opportunity anti-aircraft guns should fire in order to make it more exciting.




First German Air Raid on Moscow

A Russian Anti Aircraft position in Moscow, July 1941.

The main objectives were apparently the railway station, industrial areas and aerodromes. Several large fires were caused by enemy aircraft which flew over at a medium height. The Soviet A.A. defences, of which a large proportion were light anti – aircraft guns, put up what was described as ” an impressive show.”




‘V for Victory’ widespread across Europe

Churchill enthusiastically adopted the 'V sign' apparently unaware that this version had different connotations to some people.

Use of fingers is a good idea – and on the 6 p.m. news they gave us a vivid account of how it is being exploited in thousands of ways . . . Morse code signals can be used on typewriters, trains etc. What an annoyance for the Germans.




Trapped in the sunken HMS Umpire

A submarine of the same class as HMS Umpire - a U class British submarine from 1941 proceeding on the surface.

Even if they had not yet left the submarine, they might already have started flooding the compartment in preparation for an escape, and if the flooding had gone beyond a certain point it would be impossible to get that door open again. I listened, but could hear nothing beyond the monotonous, pitiless sound of pouring water.




‘Birthday Greetings from Adolf’

The Blitz was far from over for many people - salvaging possessions from bombed out homes.

Estcourt Street was in a terrible state. The school had been burnt to the ground along with the Cussons shop at the top and pile of rubble was all that remained of 2 terraces of houses. The main shoping area was in ruins and it was deprived of gas, water and electricity so we had to rely on mobile kitchens for food and drink.




Minister for Occupied Eastern Territories appointed

This German photograph of the ' deportation of the Jews in Russia' is dated 17th July 1941 and shows barefoot peasants being escorted by Romanian troops.

Hitler stated that they were faced with the task of “cutting up the giant cake according to our needs, in order to be able: first, to dominate it, second, to administer it, and third, to exploit it,” and he indicated that ruthless action was contemplated …




Low level attack on Rotterdam

The view from the dorsal turret of a Blenheim bomber as bombs explode in the docks of Rotterdam during the raid on 16th July 1941.

The Blenheims passed over Rotterdam, where two warehouses and a factory were set alight, so low that one aircraft severed the cable of a derrick. Heavy anti-aircraft fire was encountered and four of our bombers were lost, two of these having scored direct hits before being shot down.