Bombers lost in fog over Britain

The first British four engined bomber, the Stirling, made its first operational flight on 10th/11th February 1941.

RAF bombers provided the principal means of hitting back at Germany during the early years of the war but there was a long learning curve as they developed the aircraft and the tactics to become effective. Weather conditions hampered British bomber operations as much as they did the the Germans. It was not just weather over the target that was important, on the 11th February a fifth of the bombers that were despatched crashed on their return due to heavy fog.

Weather conditions were unfavourable during most of the week, but on the 10th/11th February, in clear weather, our heaviest night operation of the war was carried out. Two hundred and eighty-four aircraft were employed, including three Stirlings operating for the first time, and each carrying 8,000 lbs. weight of bombs; four aircraft were lost.

During a raid lasting six hours, 146 tons of high explosive and 25,500 incendiary bombs were dropped on the industrial centre of Hanover and many large fires were left blazing in the target area. Rotterdam petrol harbour was also heavily and effectively bombed and Cherbourg and Ostend were attacked by aircraft of Coastal Command.

The following night, under conditions of heavy cloud, Hanover was again attacked in addition to targets at Bremen. Owing to sudden deterioration in weather, resulting in widespread fog, twenty-two heavy bombers of the 109 despatched crashed in.this country on return, but only one crew was lost.

From the Air Situation Report for the week ending 13th February, see TNA CAB 66/15/4

Squadron Leader H. J WALTERS was flying a Whitley Bomber from RAF Linton-on-Ouse in Yorkshire that night. After returning from the raid on Bremen his aircraft was caught in the fog:

After circling for some time we were finally diverted to Drem Aerodrome in Scotland and with petrol getting very low we headed north. We were flying at 11,000ft in the cloud and the W/T operator reported hearing numerous other aircrafts calling for assistance.

Eventually the clouds began to thin and at the same time when the petrol gauges were reading zero the W/T operator obtained a wireless bearing from Drem and I was given a course heading which took us back into all the bad weather we had just cleared.

As we had be airborne for over 10 hours and it would seem had only a few minutes petrol left I gave instructions to abandon aircraft when flying at about 10,000ft.

After the crew had all baled out I trimmed the aircraft and as we were over hilly open landscape I left by the forward escape floor hatch. According to the previous ground instructions we had received, one waited 10 seconds before pulling the rip cord of the parachute. Whether I did or not I don’t know but I was wearing a breast type chute and expected to feel a rush of silk pass my face and when this did not happen my immediate thought was ‘it’s not opening’ only to be pulled up with a sudden jerk as the chute opened and left me swinging without any sense of falling. After a short time I saw aircraft lights coming towards me and thought that I was going to be struck by it but it passed underneath me and I realised it was my own aircraft which crashed not far away.

I could then see the ground and a very wide river, which I later realised was the Clyde and to which I seemed to be drifting but then the ground appeared to be coming up fast and I dropped in the middle of a ploughed field close to a white farm house.

Read his full account on BBC People’s War

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