Bomber on fire and under attack over Leipzig

Armourers make final checks on the bomb load of an Avro Lancaster B Mark I of No. 207 Squadron RAF at Syerston, Nottinghamshire, before a night bombing operation to Bremen, Germany. The mixed load (Bomber Command executive codeword 'Usual'), consists of a 4,000-lb HC bomb ('cookie') and small bomb containers (SBCs) filled with 30-lb incendiaries, with the addition of four 250-lb target indicators (TI).

Armourers make final checks on the bomb load of an Avro Lancaster B Mark I of No. 207 Squadron RAF at Syerston, Nottinghamshire, before a night bombing operation to Bremen, Germany. The mixed load (Bomber Command executive codeword ‘Usual’), consists of a 4,000-lb HC bomb (‘cookie’) and small bomb containers (SBCs) filled with 30-lb incendiaries, with the addition of four 250-lb target indicators (TI).

Avro Lancaster B Mark I, 'O for Orange' (L7580 'EM-O') of No 207 Squadron, Royal Air Force, attracts the attention of crowds while on display in Trafalgar Square.

Avro Lancaster B Mark I, ‘O for Orange’ (L7580 ‘EM-O’) of No 207 Squadron, Royal Air Force, attracts the attention of crowds while on display in Trafalgar Square.

On the 20th October RAF Bomber Command make their first serious raid on Leipzig, a long distance target. The 358 Lancasters that made the trip were disrupted by bad weather which made the bombing very scattered. Sixteen Lancasters were lost, a relatively high rate of 4.5% of the force.

One Lancaster from 207 Squadron very nearly didn’t come back. They were approaching the target when an aircraft above them was attacked by a night-fighter, they saw the tracer bullets coming from above and behind. The aircraft above dropped its bombs and they were hit by one of its incendiaries, starting a fire in their aircraft.

Then the night fighter turned his attention to them. The wireless operator, Harry Sparks, was able to see the attacking plane close up:

So he swooped down, fired at the aircraft above us, hit it, burned it, swung round, and in that second suddenly found he was on top of us. He must have been fairly experienced because he flew straight down and seemed to draw another attack position without even thinking.

His nose came round and, as he opened up, there were great lances of fire at our side, he was that close. Then he veered off because he was too near – we could almost have shook hands with him. It was all very fast, but he swung away to avoid being blown up with us!

I was hit. lt came through the fuselage and hit me low, down through the top of my legs, and lifted me up and smashed me right across the soft edge of the structure. I fell down onto the floor, ending up underneath the navigator’s table which was only a short distance away. Afterwards I pulled myself up, because everything below my waist was in a hell of a pain.

Because it was dark I didn’t know how it had happened or really where I was. I‘d got field dressings stuffed in the hollows between the ribs at the side of the aircraft. So I grabbed one of them, ripped it open, and smacked it underneath my leg. Then I screwed it up tight right into my groin, like a tourniquet, to stop it bleeding if it was the femoral artery.

Lying on the rest bed I flicked on the intercom. “Ho Jimmy” (that’s the mid-upper gunner); “Ho Dev” (that’s the rear gunner). No replies from either of them, not a sound. But I could hear the navigator just in front of the pilot: they couldn’t hear me because the intercom had gone u/s.

The pilot needed to talk because the bomb-aimer was ready to let go of the bombs. It was a hell of a position to be in. I slid down under the navigator’s table, pulled myself across, and in the dark ran my fingers all the way along where any wires would be, to see if there were any breaks.

I could hear the pilot yelling out, “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” He had no communication. So I grabbed down and felt where the wiring was breaking up, and, in the dark, got hold of it, and turned it all round. I was lying on the navigators feet — he was a very big man.

‘All of a sudden I heard the skipper’s voice coming over, “OK”: I’d made contact! So I said, “Hallo there,” and he replied, “How are you?” and I said, “I’ve been hit.” I dragged myself onto the seat and saw that Jimmy, the mid-upper gunner had also been hit. Then I realised we‘d been hit by cannon fire.

With his great yellow suit on, Jimmy was hanging out of the turret in the open with his head and helmet dangling down. All the perspex had gone and he was just hanging there in the fuselage. The cannon shell had come through the perspex. Because his head nearly touched the metal of the turret, the shell had come right across the top of it, in the centre, and punched a groove along his skull. It split his helmet wide open, perfectly, as though with a knife. Then he passed out.

We didn’t contact Les, the rear gunner, until later. His oxygen tube had been severed, so, at 19,000 feet, he just pased out, and never “came to” until we got back over the Channel — he should have been dead. He woke up, by all accounts all ‘googoowoowoo’, with nobody to talk to.

I yelled out to Bill, the bomb—aimer, “Have you jettisoned, yet?” He said “No!” So I said, “For Christ sake do so, we’re on fire” I could see down the fuselage: all the plates, right down to the very end, were aflame, and the entire floor over the bomb load was crinkling red hot.

Before you could say “Jack Robinson” he‘d called out “Bombs gone”.

Harry Sparks story is one of many detailed accounts recorded by Andrew Simpson and appears in Ops: Victory at All Costs: Operations over Hitler’s Reich with the Crews of Bomber Command 1939-1945, Their War – Their Words.

The crew of the first Canadian-built Lancaster X to arrive in Britain, KB700, christened the 'Ruhr Express', photographed with their mascot at Northolt, Middlesex, on 15 September 1943. They are, left to right: Squadron Leader Reg Lane DSO, DFC (pilot), Pilot Officer Johnny Carrere (navigator), Sergeant Ross Webb (WOP/AG), Flight Sergeant Reg Burgar (mid-upper gunner) with 'Bambi', Pilot Officer Steve Boczar (second pilot), Flight Sergeant R Wright DFM (bomb aimer) and Sergeant Mike Baczinski (flight engineer).

The crew of the first Canadian-built Lancaster X to arrive in Britain, KB700, christened the ‘Ruhr Express’, photographed with their mascot at Northolt, Middlesex, on 15 September 1943. They are, left to right: Squadron Leader Reg Lane DSO, DFC (pilot), Pilot Officer Johnny Carrere (navigator), Sergeant Ross Webb (WOP/AG), Flight Sergeant Reg Burgar (mid-upper gunner) with ‘Bambi’, Pilot Officer Steve Boczar (second pilot), Flight Sergeant R Wright DFM (bomb aimer) and Sergeant Mike Baczinski (flight engineer).

Two Avro Lancaster B Mk Is, R5509 'EM-G' and R5570 'EM-F', of No. 207 Squadron RAF based at Bottesford, Linclonshire, in flight. Both aircraft were eventually lost on operations, R5509 while minelaying in the Baltic on 17 August 1942, and R5570 which crashed near Milan while on a night bombing raid to Turin on 9 December 1942.

Two Avro Lancaster B Mk Is, R5509 ‘EM-G’ and R5570 ‘EM-F’, of No. 207 Squadron RAF based at Bottesford, Linclonshire, in flight. Both aircraft were eventually lost on operations, R5509 while minelaying in the Baltic on 17 August 1942, and R5570 which crashed near Milan while on a night bombing raid to Turin on 9 December 1942.

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