‘Routine’ mining flight off the French Coast

Avro Lancaster B Mark I, R5626 ‘OL-E’, of No 83 Squadron RAF taking off for Bremen, Germany, on the third ‘Thousand-Bomber’ raid, from Scampton, Lincolnshire.

The night of 25th/26th July 1942 should have been a routine operation for Arthur Adams;

“A piece of cake!” some of the boys said before we took off. “An easy six hours” cracked the Sergeant. ….

At the stroke of 23:00 hours on the 25th July 1942, we reared across the floodlit flare path in one of England’s mightiest bombers, the Avro Lancaster. After circling the drome once, we set course for out target, and so we flew on, and on, and on.

They were on a ‘Gardening’ operation to lay mines in the Bay of Biscay off the coast of France – hopefully in the path of a U-boat. Arthur occupied the rear gun turret, an isolated position where the only communication with the rest of the crew was by intercom.

After narrowly avoiding one flak ship as they approached the target they flew on:

We were on the target now and I could hear the Navigator counting the seconds as the Bombardier released the mines. “One, two, three”. As the third mine left the aircraft a load of hell was hurled up at us from another flak ship, which according to the direction of the fire, was directly beneath us.

Before we had chance to avoid this second lot, we were hit all along the fuselage. Flames started to shoot past both sides of my turret. I immediately called up the pilot, but I received no reply.

Then suddenly to my horror, I realized the inter-com was dead, this being the only means of connecting me to the rest of my crew. From now on it meant that I had to work on my own initiative. I tried to rotate my turret but the hydraulics had been shot away. So I tried operating it manually.

This time succeeding, I opened my turret doors and was met with intensive heat and flames. The sparks from the fire burnt holes in my scarf. I reached for the fire extinguisher, which was situated just outside the turret on my right. Ammunition was exploding all around me.

Before I could combat the fire, I felt a sudden shudder through the aircraft, quickly followed by another greater than the first. Water immediately started gushing through the turret which made me quickly realise that we had crash landed on the sea.

I started rotating my turret to port as I knew if the dinghy had been released it would be floating on the starboard side. But to my greatest consternation my turret jammed after turning only a few inches. Water had now reached my waist. Seconds were precious and my only chance to escape from this now doomed aircraft was to squeeze through the small opening from the turret into the fuselage.

After struggling for what seemed like hours, I dragged myself free and fell underwater which had now three quarters filled the fuselage. I made a frantic grab around me for some object in which to pull myself to my feet. I luckily found the handle of a door situated in the starboard side of the aircraft. The water pressure on the outside forced the door inwards giving me exit from this still fast sinking aircraft.

Now having my exit before me I felt far safer and I began to think about the rest of my crew, wondering if they had also managed to get out. So in an attempt to satisfy my mind I yelled up the fuselage, “okay fellows?” Apart from the lapping of the water, only deathly silence greeted me.

There was a sudden lurch as the aircraft plunged beneath the waves carrying me with it. I leaned forward and pulled the lever on my ‘Mae West’ and felt a sudden tightening around my chest. I knew then my life jacket was inflated which shot me to the surface. I turned and pressed my parachute harness release, which slipped from around me and sank.

On looking round I was amazed to see the front portion of the aircraft still floating with its broken back pointing to the sky. Seeing none of the crew floating around, I started shouting aloud in hopes that they may have drifted from the wreckage. I was greatly relieved to hear someone reply from the other side of the still floating wing. I answered, “Is there anyone there?” He shouted back that he was the only one and that I should swim round to him as he was in the Dinghy.

Read the whole account plus much more, including Arthur Adams artwork during his time as a prisoner of war at the remarkable websiteA Wartime Log.

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