Bombed by own aircraft as RAF attack Milan

Laden with parachutes and flight equipment, a Lancaster crew of No 57 Squadron at Scampton board the van which will take them to dispersal and their waiting aircraft, February 1943.

Laden with parachutes and flight equipment, a Lancaster crew of No 57 Squadron at Scampton board the van which will take them to dispersal and their waiting aircraft, February 1943.

Flying Officer J F Greenam (in the centre) and his crew, photographed in front of Lancaster W4201 of No 57 Squadron at Scampton, February 1943. This image was part of a sequence taken for an Air Ministry picture story entitled 'T for Tommy Makes a Sortie', which portrayed the events surrounding a single Lancaster bomber and its crew during a typical operation.

Flying Officer J F Greenam (in the centre) and his crew, photographed in front of Lancaster W4201 of No 57 Squadron at Scampton, February 1943. This image was part of a sequence taken for an Air Ministry picture story entitled ‘T for Tommy Makes a Sortie’, which portrayed the events surrounding a single Lancaster bomber and its crew during a typical operation.

Lancasters awaiting takeoff at Scampton.

Lancasters awaiting takeoff at Scampton.

In the early hours of 15th February 1943 140 RAF Lancasters were converging on Milan, in northern Italy, having made the long trip over the Alps. They would start fires that could be seen by returning aircraft when they were 100 miles from the target. A concentration of bombers arriving on target in a short space of time was intended to overwhelm the defences but it also increased the risk of other hazards.

Now there was the risk of being hit by bombs falling from another aircraft. One aircraft from 103 Squadron piloted by Squadron Leader Walter Powdrell, a New Zealander, was hit by a stream of small incendiary bombs. The Flight Engineer Sergeant John Duffield recalled

We were just turning off to clear away. All of a sudden I heard this awful battering noise. I don’t know what he thought he was bombing because we were a minute clear of the target so he wasn’t bombing that. All the engines stopped. I heard the pilot say ’We’ve had it. You’d better jump’

I was very lucky that I had my parachute with me. So I made my way to the rear door. But I couldn’t open it. The aircraft started to twist and I put my back against the bomb compartment on the fuselage floor and braced myself there. The aircraft was spinning like mad by this time. I was just stuck there with the force of the spin.

Suddenly the spinning stopped I made my way to the rear door and leapt out. My haress was loose and the jerk of the opening parachute ripped into my groin. The pain was something to be believed, agonizing.

Powdrell and three other other crew members didn’t get out of the aircraft before it crashed.

A No 57 Squadron mid-upper gunner, Sergeant 'Dusty' Miller, 'scans the sky for enemy aircraft' from a Lancaster's Fraser Nash FN50 turret.

A No 57 Squadron mid-upper gunner, Sergeant ‘Dusty’ Miller, ‘scans the sky for enemy aircraft’ from a Lancaster’s Fraser Nash FN50 turret.

Another aircraft, from No.9 Squadron, had a very narrow escape from a similar situation. John Moutray DFM the Wireless Operator / Air Gunner recalled:

Jimmy Geach the bomb aimer was in charge as he called out directions on the intercom to Jim Verran. His calm voice was saying ‘Left, left … Right a bit … Steady …’as we started the most dangerous part of any bombing raid – the straight and level bombing run, which had to be held for another twenty seconds or so after the bombs had gone, waiting for the photoflash to go off.

At that point my job was to stand on the step ahead of the main spar and put my head up into the astro hatch to assist the gunners in keeping a look out for fighters. For some inexplicable reason, I did something I had never done before; I looked directly above and got the shock of my life. In the glow from the searchlights and target I saw another Lancaster 30 feet above us on exactly the same heading and, like us, his bomb doors were open! The 4,000lb bomb looked enormous and I knew it could be released at any second.

I yelled into my microphone, ‘Hard-a-portl’ Somewhere I had read that it was a natural reaction of pilots to go to port; anyway our crew was well-trained and Jim stood ED495 on its wing tip and we got an unusually good view of Milan! We went round again to do another bombing run.

Still from film shot in an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, during a daylight attack on the Luftwaffe airfield and signals depot at St Cyr, France, by aircraft of No. 5 Group. A 4,000-lb HC bomb ('Cookie') and a smaller 500-lb MC bomb are seen just after they were released over the target.

Still from film shot in an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, during a daylight attack on the Luftwaffe airfield and signals depot at St Cyr, France, by aircraft of No. 5 Group. A 4,000-lb HC bomb (‘Cookie’) and a smaller 500-lb MC bomb are seen just after they were released over the target.

See Bomber Command: Live to Die Another Day

Sergeant J B Mallett, Sergeant H H Turkentine and Sergeant R H P Roberts, flight engineer, bomb aimer and rear gunner, respectively, of an Avro Lancaster B Mark I of No. 57 Squadron RAF, eat breakfast in the Sergeants' Mess at Scampton, Lincolnshire, following their return from a night raid. All three were killed with the rest of the crew of Lancaster R5894 ' DX-T' ("T for Tommy") when it collided with high tension cables near Scampton upon returning from a raid on Berlin in the early morning of 2 March 1943.

Sergeant J B Mallett, Sergeant H H Turkentine and Sergeant R H P Roberts, flight engineer, bomb aimer and rear gunner, respectively, of an Avro Lancaster B Mark I of No. 57 Squadron RAF, eat breakfast in the Sergeants’ Mess at Scampton, Lincolnshire, following their return from a night raid. All three were killed with the rest of the crew of Lancaster R5894 ‘ DX-T’ (“T for Tommy”) when it collided with high tension cables near Scampton upon returning from a raid on Berlin in the early morning of 2 March 1943.

Part of a vertical photograph reconnaissance vertical taken over Milan, Italy, following a raid by 142 Avro Lancasters on the night of 14-15 February 1943. This view shows the damage to a number of industrial buildings in North Milan.

Part of a vertical photograph reconnaissance vertical taken over Milan, Italy, following a raid by 142 Avro Lancasters on the night of 14-15 February 1943. This view shows the damage to a number of industrial buildings in North Milan.

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