A narrow escape over Hamburg

The Whitley bomber was the main aircraft of Bomber Command during the first years of the war but was now being gradually replaced by the Halifax and later the Lancaster.

Neil Blunden was a RNZAF pilot who had travelled around the world, crossing the Pacific and taking the train across Canada before boarding an Atlantic convoy ship to Scotland, to join Bomber Command. After a conversion course to Whitley bombers in June 1941 he commenced operations. His diary is full of the incident of daily life at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire, where he flew with No.10 Squadron:

Sunday 26th October 1941

Cold day 6/10-9/10ths low stratus 2000′.
On ops tonight. G still u/s by 1100 hrs so am to have U for Uncle B flight crate – Dusty Millers crate.

Briefed at 1400 hrs. Dick Hughes second dickey and F/Sgt Clements tail gunner.

Airborne 1740 hrs and set course 1800 hrs at 4000′ – freezing level 2000′ and 10/10ths cloud coast and North Sea up to 5000′ to 1000′ other side. Target Hamburg.

Landfall just north of mouth of Elbe, went south and came in on 320 degrees T onto target, just as bombs gone were clamped by searchlight cone and fired on from astern by enemy fighter – I saw tracers going past over my left shoulder – then the heavy flak which had been fairly close closed in on us and we were now held by a bigger cone of searchlights – only a few on us before.

Tail gunner then said – silence before -‘I’m hit Captain, I’ve had it’ Took most violent evasive action and came out at 5000′ – from 12500′ – free of flak and cone of blood searchlights.

Meanwhile W/Op Frank Franklin and Dicky had started to go back to get tail gunner out of turret and tend to him which they did dressing wound and giving him a shot of morphine – he was very seriously wounded in left side over hip. Turret in tail u/s and left wing tank holed. Plane wouldn’t keep height at 100 mph and at 2lbs boost but just would at 95 mph, now down to 4000′.

Finally got free of flak and wandering searchlights and staggered over enemy coast 2 mls south of mouth of Elbe at 1000′ setting course for nearest part of English coast i.e. Norfolk!

Went down to under 1000′ to keep under clouds – +2 degrees centigrade – rain showers.

Just off enemy coast wireless went u/s – Frank put I.F.F. onto 3 and worked on set getting it ok about 50 miles of English coast.

Made landfall just as we got a M.F.D.F. fix and set course for Bircham Newton. Few Q.D.M’s and saw beacon and they had drem and flare path lit so we landed having previously sent in plain that we had a severely wounded member of crew.

Ambulance ready and it took tail gunner straight off to hospital. Actually landed at Docking a satellite to B.N. 5 mls N. M.T. to B.N. and were briefed.

Then found out that Frank was wounded in thigh, a flesh wound. The piece of flak that hit him from below stayed in plane and started a few fires but he put them out with his feet and gloved hands – damn good show put up by him.
Plane a mass of holes all over and under! – and believe both engines hit to account for loss of power. Landed with approx ½ hrs petrol left perhaps?

Read the whole of Neil Blunden’s diary.

The rear turret of a Whitley bomber.

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