16/17 April 1943
327 aircraft – 197 Lancasters and 130 Halifaxes dispatched to bomb the Skoda armaments factory at Pilsen in Czechoslovakia. 18 Lancasters and 18 Halifaxes lost, 11.0 per cent of the force. One Canadian squadron, No 408, lost 4 of its 12 Halifaxes dispatched.
This raid, took place by the light of a full moon but was not a success. In a complicated plan, the Main Force was ordered to confirm the position of the Skoda factory visually; the Pathfinder markers were only intended as a general guide.
In the event, a large asylum building 7 miles away was mistaken for the factory and only 6 crews brought back bombing photographs which were within 3 miles of the real target. The Skoda factory was not hit.
One report says that 200 German soldiers were killed when their barracks near the asylum was bombed.
RAF Bomber Command History
Alfie Martin was on one of the Halifax aircraft shot down on this raid. He was ninety-nine when he recalled the events of the night for the BBC in 2010. He made the interview to pay tribute to the members of the French Resistance who helped him in escaping from France. Three of the Frenchmen who were of direct assistance to him did not survive the war:
For the most part I was flying – whilst I was an observer and navigation trained and so forth – for the most part I flew as bomb aimer, and we were flying in Halifax aircraft.
All went well until the 12th operation which was to Pilzen in Czechoslovakia. Coming back from that, having been flying for about 10 1/2 hours, at 4 o’clock in the morning, we saw fighters around. The pilot did quite a lot of weaving and so forth, but eh, a few minutes later there was the sound of ‘whizz, whizz, whizz’ – an aircraft was going, flying past, and the sound of bullets hitting the fuselage.
And the pilot came on “All OK? All OK?” and I replied, “Yes.” As far as I know every member replied “Yes” – of the crew.
But a few minutes after that the pilot said, “Bail out! Bail out! The engine’s on fire. We’re in real trouble.”
So, I put on my parachute and eh, the navigator – he took his seat away – he sat over the escape hatch. I lifted up the escape hatch which when it came to the vertical was supposed to come off the hinges and you pushed it down through – jettisoned it out through the hole. I did that but the air screw jammed it in – sort of the air coming in kept it tight against – and I couldn’t get the – I couldn’t reach across with enough strength to clear it, and I couldn’t get the navigator who was in the far side of it to give it a kick.
Then the pilot came on pleading, “Please get out!” and so forth.
We went down to about 7,000 feet I think at that time. And so I quickly unbuttoned my intercom and my helmet and I just stood up and I jumped on the edge of the door and out it went and I went out too.
And my first impression was just the black tail of the aircraft going over the top of my head. Anyway I got down safely, without any problem, eh, I tried to see if some of the others were getting out, but I couldn’t get my chute turned. You come down very slowly and very quietly and it’s amazing just how much of a difference there is from having had an engine in your ears for 10 hours – absolute silence – and you come down, drift down very slowly and suddenly then the ground rushes up and hits you. I just rolled on to my back and I was fine.
I then began to think of what we – what did they tell us when we were training and the things – we did have people who had escaped and evaded capture and so forth, speak to us on the squadron.
The thing was, first of all there was help to be obtained but you had go and find it.
You had to remember that those people were subject to death if they helped up, so you should not take notes about who they are and so forth.
We were also told the best time to escape is immediately you land in territory, and also that you should hide your parachute and get as far away from the aircraft as possible.
I did that, and, I am going to say now, I am going to kind of shorten it up but … I walked and wandered through fields at night for a couple of nights, getting more and more miserable to tell you the truth, and not being able to sleep very well and did try to talk to several people, but they were either afraid or they couldn’t help.
On the Sunday morning – it was Friday night we were shot down – on Sunday morning I eh, sort of hid up in a gate – in a hedgeway – and sort of dozed off because I was determined to only walk at nights and off the roads and so forth, and I, I was as I say I dozed and I was sitting on my cap – or my flying boots – and I dozed off and suddenly there was an awful crashing and a noise and eh, a cow came down upon me, followed by a little boy.
And he stopped, and he looked at me, and I think I got up and we both looked at each other and then – wonder of wonders – he saluted. [voice breaking] I still feel emotional that did a great deal for my morale because I had been feeling kind of miserable and that wee fella [name André L? ] – I still have Christmas cards from him. He and his family helped me as much as they could, gave me an idea where to go and so forth.
I’m going to say later that evening I wandered on and eh, thought about going to – taking the train, but was too scared to do so. And eh, so I wandered over a hill there was – just to keep away from the traffic – and suddenly ahead of me were 2 Gendarmes talking to a lady and – they had been looking in my direction so there was no point in trying to run off the other way. I went down and tried to brazen it out.
I got level with them and eh, one of them said, “Carte d’identité Monsieur?”
I stopped and started running through my pockets as if I were searching for something and acting dumb, I didn’t speak. Anyway, after a minute or two they kind of talked a wee bit to the other, and the lady she had kind of drifted into the background a little, and they sort of indicated for me to go with them, so we started walking back up the hill. I had just about made up my mind that I was going to make a run for it, when the two of the stopped and talked a wee bit, one to another, and eh, then the one I talked to I took to be the senior of the two and he said, “Anglais?”
I said “Oui.”
And he said, “Allez vite!”
I ‘allez-ed vite’ very ‘vite-ly’ indeed.
The whole interview can be seen on BBC Newsline