Bomber Command target Hanover

The pilot of a Whitley bomber gives the 'thumbs up', 29 August 1940.
The pilot of a Whitley bomber gives the ‘thumbs up’, 29 August 1940.
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk III and crew, with YMCA tea car in attendance, 10 January 1941.
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk III and crew, with YMCA tea car in attendance, 10 January 1941.

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.

The navigator at work in an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, 1941.
The navigator at work in an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, 1941.
An RAF Whitley bomber undergoing maintenance earlier in the war.

2 thoughts on “Bomber Command target Hanover”

  1. Hi there,

    I don’t know if you can help but I strongly suspect (as does my mother, who knew him well) that the photograph of the pilot giving the thumbs up is of Sgt Kenneth E Stewart who ditched in the sea off Grimsby in a Whitley, Z9211, 30th November 1941. Happily, the crew were all rescued by a nearby trawler. Sadly, and barely a month later, he was killed when his plane was reportedly shot down when on a sortie to bomb Dusseldorf Docks on 27th December 1941 in another Whitley, Z9210, aged 21.

    I am still researching his story and gradually piecing things together as two Whitleys were lost from 58 Squadron that night and the RAF records just say that Z9210 did not return. The stories I have found in Dutch and German records and newspapers refer to the other Whitley (Z6841) crashing en route in the sea just off the coast of Holland. So I am more interested in the report of a Whitley being hit by flak over Moers at around 9pm and a Whitley crashing in Viersen, some 20 miles away, killing two German civilians when the plane crashed into two houses in the town. Could this be the same plane? Nothing is certain as yet but it is intriguing as the geography doesn’t quite tie up. The timing of their take off (16:57 UK) and the time of the hit over Moers (21:00 GER = UK+1hr) would suggest that they were on their way back. But would they and could they have been hit over Moers and crashed in Viersen? Viersen is Southwest of Moers. The descent of the plane in Viersen was clearly gradual as the plane just missed the Festival Hall before clipping a large villa and finally crashing into the houses – and from mapping the crash, the plane was travelling in a Northwest direction and descending slowly as it crashed. A witness tells of how fuel leaked from the plane into the cellars of the houses and caught fire, killing the civilians sheltering there. The pilot was still strapped into his seat but not alive and he may well have been talking about Ken. But was there another Whitley lost that night?

    I am not 100% sure if your photo is of him but his facial features are remarkably similar to another photo I have of him with my mother as a youngster and he has a tooth missing in the same place. It would be good to somehow confirm the name in the photo and it would be lovely to know who owns it and whether they have any further details. If you can help in any way, I would happily fill you in with all the detail I can find as and when I firm things up. Happily for my mother, I have details and a photo of his grave in Reichwald Forest War Cemetery where he is buried with his fellow crew members.

    Thanks in advance
    Peter

  2. The pilot Ralph Woods is writing about was my uncle Sgt John ( Jackie ) Reid, the aircraft was Z6746. Jackie went on to fly with 271 Tpt Sqdn for 18 months, before joinging 605 County of Warwick Sqdn flying Mosquito FBV1’s….he was killed with his observer Ray Phillips on 26th June 1944,during an NFT over Margate he was 23 years old, his observer was 21.

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