RAF Bomber Command’s last major raid on Bochum

What happened then was that as I was dropping the bombs the crew left their stations and went to the exits. Sok stayed at the controls but didn’t open his escape hatch but put the plane into a steep diveto put out the fire. I was in the nose trying to untangle my intercom cord from my parachute wondering if I would ever get them apart. I was about to give up when John signaled to me. He yelled into my ear, “Hang onto me and we’ll go together.” John knew as well as I did that this was crazy.

Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 'EQ-C', of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb ('Cookie') and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.
Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 ‘EQ-C’, of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb (‘Cookie’) and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.
Handley Page Halifax B Mark V Series I (Specials) of No. 76 Squadron RAF lined up at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire.
Handley Page Halifax B Mark V Series I (Specials) of No. 76 Squadron RAF lined up at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire.
An image taken from one of the bombers over Bochum on the 4th-5th November 1944.
An image taken from one of the bombers over Bochum on the 4th-5th November 1944.

Once RAF Bomber Command had established itself with substantial numbers of aircraft it had turned its attention to the industrial heartland of Germany. The Battle of the Ruhr had begun in March 1943. From mid October 1944 both Bomber Command and the USAAF 8th Air Force were to revisit the Ruhr region as part of ‘Operation Hurricane’, intended to “demonstrate to the the enemy in Germany generally the overwhelming superiority of the Allied Air Forces in this theatre”. Both the RAF and the USAAF were now able to routinely mount raids of well over 1000 aircraft.

Towns and cities that had already been substantially damaged were now dealt even more devastating blows. Although much of the light industry had by now been dispersed it was impossible to move the heavy engineering and metal works, after the war Nazi Armaments Minister Albert Speer was to acknowledge that these raids had had a substantial impact on armament production.

435 aircraft had attacked Bochum on the 9th October in a raid that was not considered a success, destroying only 140 buildings because the bombing was very scattered in poor visibility. On 4th November 749 aircraft took part and the Pathfinders marked the centre of Bochum successfully – this time over 4,000 buildings were destroyed or badly damaged and nearly a 1000 people killed. It was the last major raid on the town during the war, in total it would be visited 150 times.

In a Halifax from No 408 RCAF Squadron was Bombardier Alan Stables, who wrote this account of the raid shortly afterwards:

Coming up to the Dutch coast we could see flashes of light flak and the beautiful trace it makes streaming upwards as if fired from a hose. It was dark now and every now and again we would see the loom of one of our own aircraft which was comforting because it meant we were part of the bomber stream

At this point we started climbing. We began to have difficulty at about ten thousand feet and by fourteen thousand feet Dick suspected that we had carburetor icing. We had gone on oxygen at twelve thousand feet and we had to climb to nineteen thousand which was our height to bomb. The aircraft at the head of the bomber stream were at the lowest level with those following stacked up increasing heights so as to lessen the danger of running into someone else’s bombs.

Sok came over the intercom ordering me to jettison some of the bombs as the aircraft just wouldn’t climb. I went back and jettisoned half the load but the best we could make was an extra 1000 feet. We were five thousand feet below everyone else, a very dangerous position to be in and we had at least another hour and a half to go to the target.

Scotty went back to shovel out the Window. Then he returned to his radio to receive the quarter-hourly broadcast from bomber command Then he backtuned his transmitter to German fighter vector-control frequency and broadcast static at full volume from a microphone next to our generator.

[Window was introduced in July 1943. It consisted of 9 inch strips of aluminum foil which showed up on the German radar screens rendering them virtually useless. The German response was to use various forms of illumination available at the target area to make the bombers visible to the night-fighters. Window was still useful in disguising the size of the incoming force and in blinding the radar controlled Flak guns.]

Ahead the searchlights, hundreds of them came to life, pointing accusing fingers against the black sky. I wondered how the hell we would get through them at this altitude without being “coned”, but I didn’t have much time to wonder as the rear gunner yelled “fighter port go”. Down we went to the left in a “corkscrew.” This was our evasive action, but very shortly the rear gunner called to resume course telling us that a Messerschmidt 210 had made a pass at us.

We were now starting into the outer defense of searchlights protecting the Ruhr industrial area. “Aircraft coned on our starboard beam up” I yelled I watched it for a few seconds struggling in the cone like a fly in a spider’s web, flak poured up at it and a Lancaster went down.

“Ready for run-up to the target” — “Christ” I yelled as a fighter came head on at us. The trace of his cannon seemed to be coming right at me . I closed my eyes and said a prayer. The engineer yelled “Port engine on fire Skip, let’s get the hell out.” The cannon shells of the fighter had hit our port inner engine and as I looked out I could see the flames licking back over the wing in which our gas tanks were stored. Sok’s voice came cool over the intercom “Feathering port inner, hit the graviner switches Dick, prepare to abandon aircraft, bomb doors open, drop your bombs bomb-aimer”

[The graviner switches controlled compressed incombustible carbon-dioxide which could be sprayed into the engines and hopefully serving as engine fire extinguishers.]

I looked out, my bombsight was on the target area now burning and smoking from the earlier bombs. The bomb doors were open and I pressed the release tit feeling the bump as the bombs left the aircraft. Then the searchlights coned us and flak started coming up.

What happened then was that as I was dropping the bombs the crew left their stations and went to the exits. Sok stayed at the controls but didn’t open his escape hatch but put the plane into a steep diveto put out the fire. I was in the nose trying to untangle my intercom cord from my parachute wondering if I would ever get them apart. I was about to give up when John signaled to me. He yelled into my ear, “Hang onto me and we’ll go together.” John knew as well as I did that this was crazy.

Finally we were down to four thousand feet and out of the searchlights. Sok called the gunners but got no reply. “Bomb-aimer please check the crew. Navigator give me a course.” The dive had put out the fire. I went back to the rear to see if Dave Hardy was hurt. I found the Baron by the rear escape hatch holding his head but not plugged in. “What the hell are you doing?” I yelled in his ear. “We’re OK, get back in the goddamn rear turret” “OK, Al, thanks” “What for you nut” I replied. Then I tried to get into the turret, but had to report to Sok that it was impossible.

The Baron wanted to talk but I was off to the rear turret which was jammed sideways and Dave Hardy was gone. This was serious because it meant that now we were defenseless against stern attacks.

Rear gunners baled out by rotating the turret and dropping out backwards. Unfortunately Dave Hardy had pulled out his intercom plug and hadn’t heard that we had got the fire out and when he baled out he jammed the rear gun turret sideways.

This account is just part of a longer piece by pilot David Sokoloff, written in 1996, describing the men who flew the Halifaxs of No. 408 RCAF ‘Goose’ Squadron, based at Linton-on-Ouse, England at the time.

The 70th anniversary of the raid will be commemorated in Bochum, the Bochum website has a sequence of before and after images of the town, which had cleared 2 million cubic metres of rubble by 1949.

Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, prior to major attacks by aircraft of Bomber Command. The large factory at upper left is the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, prior to major attacks by aircraft of Bomber Command. The large factory at upper left is the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, following the last major raid on this target by aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of 4/5 November 1944. Nearly all the buildings in the vicinity of the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks have been gutted by incendiary fires or destroyed by high-explosive bombs, while the plant itself (upper left) has been severely damaged.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial of part of Bochum, Germany, following the last major raid on this target by aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of 4/5 November 1944. Nearly all the buildings in the vicinity of the Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG steelworks have been gutted by incendiary fires or destroyed by high-explosive bombs, while the plant itself (upper left) has been severely damaged.

RAF Bomber Command revisits Cologne – again

Yes, it was a nice trip home that night under the full moon and in a couple of hours or so we were back at base and by twelve we were cycling back to bed in our billet amongst the lovely trees at Methwold. I remember standing outside the hut and admiring the beauty of the night, the silver moon, the millions of stars and the tree silhouetted against the night sky; then a Mosquito roared overhead and I thought again of Cologne and the hell that I had helped rain down on them only three hours before. It didn’t seem possible.

Official British war art imagining a bombing raid on Cologne. The city's cathedral is clearly visible. It survived the war, despite being hit dozens of times by Allied bombs. W. Krogman.
Official British war art imagining a bombing raid on Cologne. The city’s cathedral is clearly visible. It survived the war, despite being hit dozens of times by Allied bombs. W. Krogman.
A photograph of an H2S radar display taken during an attack on Cologne from an aircraft flying at 19,000 ft on the night of the 30/31 October 1944 and annotated for post-attack analysis. The aircraft was flying from RAF Warboys and the pilot was a Pilot Officer Bartleman.
A photograph of an H2S radar display taken during an attack on Cologne from an aircraft flying at 19,000 ft on the night of the 30/31 October 1944 and annotated for post-attack analysis. The aircraft was flying from RAF Warboys and the pilot was a Pilot Officer Bartleman.

Cologne was a familiar target to many in the RAF. Famously it had been the first target in the 1000 bomber raids of 1942. Since then it had received dozens of nuisance raids and diversions by small numbers of aircraft. These were designed to keep the defences, and the population, constantly on the alert, as well as keeping the main German air defences guessing about where the night’s main attack would hit.

Alongside these were less frequent more substantial raids, including a recent visit from the USAAF during daylight. As a major transportation hub in the west of Germany, Cologne was now higher up the target list as the Allies entered Germany.

Now that France had been liberated the route to Cologne meant an even shorter period over enemy territory. 905 aircraft had attacked the city on 30th October when substantial damage was done to the suburbs and the University district – over 500 people were killed but only two aircraft were lost. Frank Aspden of 218 Squadron was in one of the 493 aircraft that made a second attack on the 31st, when no aircraft were lost:

Cologne was a target that will always be well remembered by our crew — we went there four times and on two occasions we had a very shaky experience, to put it mildly, yet the other two were quite easy.

This first trip to Cologne was our fifth op and the first after six days leave, which had put us rather out of touch with things.

It was amazing really what changes could occur in the air war, as seen through our eyes, in six days. Sometimes there would be a couple of crews missing, a tour raised or lowered, or a certain target would be hotter or easier than it was before, or the fighters, day or night, would be up in strength, or have disappeared. That was the trouble at that time — you could never be certain of the defences at any given place, except, say, places such as Hamburg, which could always cook up a hot reception.

Anyway, the boys were always ready to give the gen on the past six days as soon as the leave crew returned and if after hearing all the stories you decided things were better, you could think the first target was going to be easy and so on. When we returned from leave things were much the same, so we thought Cologne would be a normal target, where flak would be heavy, if the skies were clear and moderate to slight depending on the amount of cloud over the target.

No one seemed particularly worried by the target at the briefing, in fact the shortness of the trip tended to make me at any rate, in a happy frame of mind. We took off and set course as usual via Reading, across the Channel and way across France — always the dreariest part of the trip I thought.

It seems a morbid thought maybe, but if I had a few moments to spare I used to look at my watch then at H-hour and think, ‘Mm, 50 minutes to go; I wonder if I shall still be sat here in an hour’s time; if so, that’ll be one more done!’

Then ’5° east. “Carpet” on Reg, 6° east. Time to Window, Dick — 0610E.’ Across the lines, ‘watch out now gunners’ — and then that last leg into the target.

On this trip we were on time and were soon running up on the Target Indicators. Below us the searchlights were trying to get us through the broken cloud whilst the brilliant full moon illuminated the aircraft around us quite clearly. Odd bursts of flak came up, but soon the bombs were gone and we turned out of the target area, nose down, revs up, 240 on the clock and homeward bound again. What a feeling of achievement, of relief.

I always felt as if I’d sneaked, into someone’s garden, pinched some of his choice fruit and was climbing the fence out again when the owner discovered the theft. Could I escape before he saw me? Well, he didn’t on this occasion, not on any other for that matter.

Yes, it was a nice trip home that night under the full moon and in a couple of hours or so we were back at base and by twelve we were cycling back to bed in our billet amongst the lovely trees at Methwold.

I remember standing outside the hut and admiring the beauty of the night, the silver moon, the millions of stars and the tree silhouetted against the night sky; then a Mosquito roared overhead and I thought again of Cologne and the hell that I had helped rain down on them only three hours before. It didn’t seem possible.

This account appears in Martin Bowman: Bomber Command: Armageddon (27 September 1944 – May 1945) v. 5: Reflections of War .

The Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) stands seemingly undamaged (although having been directly hit several times and damaged severely) while entire area surrounding it is completely devastated. The Hauptbahnhof (Köln Central Station) and Hohenzollern Bridge lie damaged to the north and east of the cathedral. Germany, 24 April 1945.
The Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) stands seemingly undamaged (although having been directly hit several times and damaged severely) while entire area surrounding it is completely devastated. The Hauptbahnhof (Köln Central Station) and Hohenzollern Bridge lie damaged to the north and east of the cathedral. Germany, 24 April 1945.

“Rescued by the Bravest People I’ve ever Known”


5 September 1944: Rescued by the Bravest People I’ve ever Known

The chief of the Underground, Roland Jacob, and his wife Jeanne were eating their noontime meal when they saw him come down. They rushed out and took him to the underground hideout immediately. They heard the gunfire and the crash and realized that the Germans were out looking for the crew so they and others from the town of Baslieux bravely entered the woods in hope of finding them first.

Large formation of Boeing B-17Fs of the 92nd Bomb Group. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Large formation of Boeing B-17Fs of the 92nd Bomb Group. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Synthetic oil plant at Zeitz, Germany, destroyed by Americans in aerial bombing operations during World War II. 1944.
Synthetic oil plant at Zeitz, Germany, destroyed by Americans in aerial bombing operations during World War II. 1944.

On the 5th September the USAAF mission target was the Opac Synthetic Oil plant at Ludwigshaven. It was part of the priority programme that was gradually starving all parts of the German armed forces of the fuel they need to sustain operations. Losses were now much reduced amongst the bomber crews, mainly thanks to the accompanying long range fighters but no mission was without risk. The figures showed that experienced counted and that new crews were more often casualties.

For pilot Bob Kelley this was his only his second mission, his first run had been as second pilot. For the remainder of his crew it was their first mission. They were the last B-17 to take off with the 322nd Squadron from Bassingbourn that day and despite being told that ‘My Baby’, a 58 mission veteran aircraft, was in ‘mint condition’ they suffered two engine failures and were unable to keep up with the rest of the group.

Then they got bounced by two Me 109s. With the rear turret gone and the aircraft on fire Kelley ordered his crew to bail out. He then spent an alarming few minutes trying to find a parachute, and then, when he was falling through thin air, trying to open it. After surviving an attempt by one of the Me 109s to shoot him in mid air…:

I entered a second set of clouds just as he passed back over and didn’t see anything else until I came out of the mist and rain about 300 feet off the ground. I could see a farmer with a horse pulling a farm machine in a field, a colliery to a mine to one side in a valley, and I noted that I was heading for the only woods around.

In fact, I was drifting quite swiftly in a wind right to the center of a four-square-block area of dense woods. I was also amazed to see that the B-17 had done a full 180-degree turn and was now coming towards me, but off half a mile or so and heading for a small town.

The woods were coming up fast so I closed my eyes and doubled up my legs and arms, which I’d read somewhere was S.O.P. The last thing I saw was the B-17 passing directly over a town (which I later learned was called Bazailies), missing the city hall and a church steeple by just a few feet, and hitting in a field just outside of town with a crash and a tower of flame.

I opened my eyes and found I was sitting unhurt in a hazelnut bush. My chute had hooked on a beech tree and swung me gently to the ground. I had no idea where I was. It could have been Belgium, Luxembourg, France or even (if we had drifted north) Germany. I took off running as I could hear voices and a dog barking. As it turned out, it wasn’t German soldiers with dogs as I had feared, but rather a farm dog barking at bombardier George Lancaster who was running with a limp due to a sprained ankle.

After running up a creek and sprinkling pepper on my trail, I realized I could run no longer. I decided to sneak up on the voices to see what language they were speaking. I finally got close enough to see an elderly man and woman. I heard him say, in French, “He has to be still in the woods as we found the parachute.” My mother was born in northern Italy but the family was French and my grandmother always spoke French when she talked to me, but in the confusion I accidentally answered in English. Then I ran to them and said, in French, “I’m the pilot.”

They quickly took me out of the woods to a meadow, across a footbridge into another woods, and up a path to where I was met by Jeanne Jacob, wife of the chief of the Underground. She stooped, crawled under a hazelnut bush, and opened up a trapdoor in the ground. She told me to descend, and that Anderson the co-pilot and Karoli the navigator were already underground.

The opening was about 2,5 feet by 2.5 feet square. It was made of logs with cleats for footholds and went down some 30 feet before opening into a room. There I found my two crewmen plus two Russian soldiers, Paul and Timothy, who had escaped a year ago from the mine at Bazailies where they had been forced to work….

The cave was lit by carbide miner lamps, the smell of which I hate to this day. I had bailed out at about 11:30 A.M. By the time I was safely ensconced in the cave, it was midafternoon and raining hard. Anderson the co-pilot told me he had come down in the meadow.

The chief of the Underground, Roland Jacob, and his wife Jeanne were eating their noontime meal when they saw him come down. They rushed out and took him to the underground hideout immediately. They heard the gunfire and the crash and realized that the Germans were out looking for the crew so they and others from the town of Baslieux bravely entered the woods in hope of finding them first.

The navigator came down in a wooded area. He was partially dazed from being dragged by the wind while in the chute, but he was unhurt.

After night fell, Roland Jacob came to tell me to come with him. The bombardier was several kilometers away, in the woods. He was on a stretcher because he was having trouble walking. He did not understand French, and was frightened. He was making so much noise that they were afraid the searching Germans would hear them.

I reluctantly left the safe dry hideout and went with Roland through the heavy rain and the dark to where four farmers had Lancaster on a blanket on two poles. I talked to him and explained the situation and the need for quiet. After a struggle, we got him to our underground home.

I’ve since met and talked to farmer Pierre Francois, who saw him enter the woods pursued by two German soldiers at a distance. Pierre met him as he exited on the other side of the woods, put him on his mowing machine, and drove him to a temporary hiding place until he could contact Roland Jacob and arrange to have him transported to a permanent hiding place.

See http://www.91stbombgroup.com/91st_tales/01_1944_rescuedbythebravest.pdf to read the whole dramatic story.

Boeing B-17G formation bomb drop. Closest aircraft from the 384th Bomb Group, 547th Bomb Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Boeing B-17G formation bomb drop. Closest aircraft from the 384th Bomb Group, 547th Bomb Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo)

B-17 Bomber encounters Nazi rocket fighter Me 163


29 July 1944: B-17 Bomber encounters Nazi rocket fighter Me 163

I soon realized the situation was hopeless and told John to exit the top hatch. As I climbed out the top hatch, Bernie, half covered with water, called out my name. What a feeling! From the top hatch I could see that the B-17 was at about a forty-five degree angle to the sea and the wings were half covered with water. As I dove into the sea and started swimming towards the two dinghies, something touched my feet. Looking back I saw it had been the tip of the B-17’s rudder that had touched my feet and the aircraft disappeared from sight. Eight of us survived the ditching and Bernie went down with the B-17.

A B-17 Flying Fortress encounters heavy flak bursts over the target area.
A B-17 Flying Fortress encounters heavy flak bursts over the target area.
The B-17 bomber She -Hasta, ditched on the 29th July 1944, after being hit by flak.
The B-17 bomber She -Hasta, ditched on the 29th July 1944, after being hit by flak.

Another day, another daylight mission to Germany for the USAAF bombers based in England. This time the target was the Leuna oil refinery at Merseburg, Germany, part of the programme to strangle the fuel supplies of the Wehrmacht. Although escorting fighters had dramatically reduced the losses amongst the bombers by this time, it was rare that missions were completed without casualties.

A/C #007 was observed to have one engine smoking as it went over the target. It dropped back and took over the lead of the second element of the low squadron and gradually lagged further and further behind. Friendly fighters were all around and when last seen the A/C was under control and appeared to be in good condition.

This A/C later was seen over Wesermunde by a flight of P-38s from Station 337, 479th Fighter Group. A jet-propelled E/A was attacking and was driven off by the P-38’s. The B-17 was escorted until it reached the Frisian Islands where the P-38’s were forced to return to England because of a shortage of gasoline. When last seen all engines were operating and the A/C was headed for home at 10,000 feet.

The Nazis were losing the battle over Germany but they pinned their hopes on technical advances. The ‘vengeance’ weapons, which Hitler had boasted about, which so many Nazis continued to believe would miraculously transform the war, were starting to appear. As well as new Jet fighters was a unique aircraft.

The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, the only rocket-powered fighter aircraft ever to become operational, capable of up to 700 mph. Allied intelligence was aware that they had begun flying on the 28th July, and Allied fighters were on the lookout for them. Operationally the speed of the Me 163 proved not to be a great advantage in combat with conventional fighters.

The limping B-17 survived the encounter with the Me 163 but was still stricken. The full story comes from Lt Robert Fulkerson who was Navigator on B-17 Bomber ‘She-Hasta’, flying with the 351st Bomb Squadron, 100th Bomb Group from England:

July 29, 1944, the 100th Bomb Group target for the day was the Leuna oil refinery at Merseburg, Germany. This mission was the second day in row that the 100th bombed Merseburg. As a navigator with the 351st Squadron, 100th Bomb Group, this was my fourth mission having recently been assigned to the 100th on July 17, 1944. Our Crew was flying the B-17 “She-Hasta”. Bill Greiner was flying as a replacement pilot on his “last” mission and Jim Coccia, our regular pilot, was flying as co-pilot.

Once in Germany and arriving at the IP, we flew to the target at the altitude of 26, 000 feet. As we approached the target, we encountered a very dense, black carpet of flak. The flak was so thick one would think that one could walk on it! We lost one engine as we dropped our bombs and encountered other damage forcing us to leave the formation. The entire low squadron of the 100th A-group failed to return home along with two of the B-group of which we were one, accounting for eight B-17’s lost.

Flak had knocked out the oxygen in the nose of the aircraft forcing the bombardier and me to retreat to the radio room. I had given the one walk around bottle of oxygen to the bombardier and told him to go on to the radio room and that I would follow him. Upon entering the entrance to the bomb bay my parachute harness caught on to something and became entangled. Still being at altitude and without oxygen, I soon passed out. Fortunately for me, John Vuchetich, our flight engineer, who was in the top turret saw me and plugged in my oxygen mask. Upon recovering, I noticed that the bomb bay doors had not completely closed and upon passing out I had dropped most of my navigational aids out the bomb bay doors.

With a map or two I proceeded to the radio room. By this time we had lost a lot of altitude and while limping along, encountered more flak at about 10, 000 feet. Another engine was lost and Bernie Baumgarten, one of our waist gunners, was severely wounded in his abdominal area and upper left leg. Shortly after this, near Weserbunds, Germany, a squadron of P-38’s appeared on the scene. Apparently they had spotted a Me 163 KOMET rocket fighter on our tail. The German pilot, on seeing the squadron leaders P-38, turned in his direction until he saw the squadron leaders wingman and decided to turn away. The P-38’s pursued the Me 163 and the squadron leader made direct hits and the Me 163 went down.

Photo of Luftwaffe Me-163 being shot down by USAAF P-47 of the 8th Air Force, as seen from the P-47's gun camera.
Photo of Luftwaffe Me-163 being shot down by USAAF P-47 of the 8th Air Force, as seen from the P-47’s gun camera.

We continued on our way still losing altitude and soon spotted water and decided to ditch our aircraft. Hopefully it was the English Channel but it turned out we were farther north and the water was the North Sea. We ditched the B-17 around noon, July 29, 1944. After surviving the ditching, John Vuchetich our flight engineer and I were the last two of the crew to leave the aircraft. We had remained in the radio room in hopes of saving the wounded gunner. Since the nose hatch had been opened earlier and the ball turret repositioned for ditching water was rushing in fast and furiously.

I soon realized the situation was hopeless and told John to exit the top hatch. As I climbed out the top hatch, Bernie, half covered with water, called out my name. What a feeling! From the top hatch I could see that the B-17 was at about a forty-five degree angle to the sea and the wings were half covered with water. As I dove into the sea and started swimming towards the two dinghies, something touched my feet. Looking back I saw it had been the tip of the B-17’s rudder that had touched my feet and the aircraft disappeared from sight. Eight of us survived the ditching and Bernie went down with the B-17.

We spent four days at sea. On the second day, a sailing vessel appeared on the horizon and seemingly heading in our direction. As it became closer, we fired flares and pistols into the air in hopes of attraction their attention. The ship became close enough that we could see a flag painted on the hull and took it to be Danish. What seemed like eternity, the ship proceeded on its way, choosing to ignore us and left us floundering in our frustrations.

The two dinghies had been tied together to prevent our being separated. During the second night, I was awakened by the angry sea and found our dinghies starting to break apart. At about the same time, John, who was in the second dinghy, awakened. He and I sat the rest of the night with our arms interlocked together. Finally daylight arrived. We had won our battle. That night has to be one of the worst nights in my life.

During the four days at sea we could hear aircraft flying over but the overcast prevented us from seeing them and in turn preventing them from seeing us. Late afternoon on the fourth day at sea, land was sighted. Separating the two dinghies, we raced, paddling to shore, firing flares into the air only to be met by German soldiers who took us prisoners. We were told, “For you the war is over!” Actually it was only the beginning. We had landed on Ameland, one of the Frisian Islands north of Holland.

We had no food while at sea and when the Germans finally gave us some food the following day, it had been over five days since we had eaten! The Germans gave us cold potatoes and cold gravy served in two mess kits from which the eight of us took turns eating. After a few days in Holland, of all places in solitary confinement in a convent, nine months in Germany as POW’s, which included two forced marches, General Patton and his forces liberated us at Mooseburg, Germany, April 29, 1945.

The full account used to be available at – http://www.100thbg.com/mainpages/history/history5/fulkerson.htm – 100th Bomb Group. It may be possible to access this from the internet archive.

RAF heavy bombers support Royal Tank Regiment


30 June 1944: RAF heavy bombers support Royal Tank Regiment

Must have been hundreds of planes, but all over in about 10 minutes. Seemed to be very little Jerry AA and didn’t see a single plane destroyed. Shortly afterwards, a huge black cloud ascended and gradually spread towardsus. Within an hour, we were literally in a fog: air became noticeably cooler and daylight partially obliterated, visibility about 200 yards.

Avro Lancasters carpet bomb a road junction near Villers Bocage, Normandy, France through which the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions were expected to move to carry out an attack on the junction of the British and American armies. The daylight attack, by 266 aircraft of Nos. 3, 4 and 8 Groups, was carried out at 4,000 feet to ensure that the target indicators dropped by the Pathfinders were seen and 1,100 tons of bombs were dropped with great accuracy.
Avro Lancasters carpet bomb a road junction near Villers Bocage, Normandy, France through which the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions were expected to move to carry out an attack on the junction of the British and American armies. The daylight attack, by 266 aircraft of Nos. 3, 4 and 8 Groups, was carried out at 4,000 feet to ensure that the target indicators dropped by the Pathfinders were seen and 1,100 tons of bombs were dropped with great accuracy.
Wrecked German Tiger tanks in the rubble of Villers Bocage after the British had captured the town, 5 August 1944.
Wrecked German Tiger tanks in the rubble of Villers Bocage after the British had captured the town, 5 August 1944.

In Normandy the British Operation Epsom attack had pushed a salient into the German lines and they were now on the receiving end of sustained counter-attacks.

Sergeant Trevor Greenwood was a tank commander with the 9th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment, which had landed in France on D +16 and had then been in action almost continuously since D +19 (25th June). Even when they were not on the immediate front line they were still under regular mortar and sniper fire.

The area they were now in had been recently occupied by Germans, it was still mined in places and there were numerous ‘booby traps’ left behind. The German dead had been quickly buried and had not always been completely covered. The strain of being under continuous fire was beginning to tell. They had already learnt the warning sign of the ‘moaning minnies’ – the German nebelwerfer mortar. Then they dived in a trench under the tank, although at other times the only reasonably safe place was in the tank with the hatches down:

D +24 Friday 30.6.44

‘Stand to’ at 4.30 a.m. Jerry mortaring Grainville area heavily: seemed like prelude to further counter attack. We repelled him yesterday evening, and he may now have stronger forces. If he breaks through, our forward troops in salient will be isolated. Our area and Cheux seem likely places for onslaught.

Waited at alert for several hours, meanwhile keeping rigid lookout for enemy tanks. But nothing happened… thank goodness. Our vehicle (and selves) were hardly prepared for heavy action after yesterday: petrol and ammo … and sleep.

We were relieved by 7th [7th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment] early afternoon: seemed to be at least 2 squadrons! Was glad to see them. We retired to former base, behind Cheux and found B there: latter were on ‘stand to’. Had a meal and wash . . . and then sleep for hour or two.

Unfortunately, this harbour is surrounded by many of our 25—pounders … dozens of them. The nearest are less than 100 yds away, and firing towards us. They are firing ceaselessly, with frequent extra heavy barrages: noise indescribable: ‘hell let loose’ is too mild a term.

In spite of this most of us have slept for an hour or two since returning from front line. We are still well within range of enemy mortars and still receiving attention. This mortaring is devastating to the nerves.

Don’t know yet whether we will be required again today . . . but B are still here: they will surely go before us, having had at least a day’s rest.

Saw a remarkable sight this evening: tremendous procession of our four-engined bombers flew overhead, and dropped their loads just beyond front line (around Villers?)

Must have been hundreds of planes, but all over in about 10 minutes. Seemed to be very little Jerry AA and didn’t see a single plane destroyed. Shortly afterwards, a huge black cloud ascended and gradually spread towards us. Within an hour, we were literally in a fog: air became noticeably cooler and daylight partially obliterated, visibility about 200 yards.

Fine dust particles settled everywhere. This ‘fog’ lasted for about 2 hours. Heaven knows what we hit, but it must have been a mighty bombardment.

Believe enemy are grouping about 2 Panzer Divs in that area for heavy counter attack. Monty was here today and said ‘they will be smashed’! Maybe the RAF have already smashed them. Hope so.

No move … dug hole, and crept into it for sleep at midnight.

See Trevor Greenwood: D-Day to Victory: The Diaries of a British Tank Commander

Churchill tanks of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, advance through a cornfield, 28 June 1944.
Churchill tanks of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, advance through a cornfield, 28 June 1944.
A Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, supporting infantry of 8th Royal Scots during Operation 'Epsom', Normandy, 28 June 1944.
A Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, supporting infantry of 8th Royal Scots during Operation ‘Epsom’, Normandy, 28 June 1944.
Tank and infantry officers confer on a Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, during Operation 'Epsom', Normandy, 28 June 1944.
Tank and infantry officers confer on a Churchill tank of 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 31st Tank Brigade, during Operation ‘Epsom’, Normandy, 28 June 1944.

Lancaster gunner’s heroic attempt to save friend


13 June 1944: Lancaster gunner’s heroic attempt to save friend

Pilot Officer Mynarski left his turret and went towards the escape hatch. He then saw that the rear gunner was still in his turret and apparently unable to leave it. The turret was, in fact, immovable, since the hydraulic gear had been put out of action when the port engines failed, and the manual gear had been broken by the gunner in his attempts to escape.

Still from a film shot from an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, showing smoke rising from exploding bombs during a night raid on a road junction at Argentan, France. 1,065 aircraft of Bomber Command were active on the night of 6/7 June 1944, bombing railway and road centres on the lines of communication behind the Normandy battle area.
Still from a film shot from an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, showing smoke rising from exploding bombs during a night raid on a road junction at Argentan, France. 1,065 aircraft of Bomber Command were active on the night of 6/7 June 1944, bombing railway and road centres on the lines of communication behind the Normandy battle area.
Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 'EQ-C', of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb ('Cookie') and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.
Avro Lancaster B Mark II, LL725 ‘EQ-C’, of No. 408 Squadron RCAF, on the ground at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire. Armourers are backing a tractor and trolley loaded with a 4,000 lb HE bomb (‘Cookie’) and incendiaries under the open bomb-bay. LL725 was lost over Hamburg on 28/29 July 1944.

The USAAF and RAF bombers were now hitting a wide range of targets in France in support of the Overlord landings. In addition to the transportation targets which sought to cut off the German supplies and reinforcements to the battlefield area, they were hitting troops concentrations and communications centres. Such were the RAF targets for 671 planes despatched on the night of the 12/13th.

Among the 23 planes lost was one exceptional story, which gained recognition with the award of the Victoria Cross. For such an award there had to be an eyewitness account of the actions of the recipient. Pilot Officer Mynarski’s actions were witnessed by the man he was trying to save – the rear gunner of the Lancaster who was trapped in his turret, destined to crash with the burning aircraft. It was only because Pilot Officer Pat Brophy miraculously survived the crash – the rear turret was detached from the aircraft when it hit the ground and he was thrown clear – that he was able to provide the account that led to the award of the VC:

Andrew Mynarski VC
Andrew Mynarski VC

Pilot Officer Andrew Charles MYNARSKI (Can./J.87544) (deceased), Royal Canadian Air Force, No. 419 (R.C.A.F.) Squadron.

Pilot Officer Mynarski was the mid-upper gunner of a Lancaster aircraft, detailed to attack a target at Cambrai in France, on the night of 12th June, 1944. The aircraft was attacked from below and astern by an enemy fighter and ultimately came down in flames. As an immediate result of the attack, both port engines failed. Fire broke out between the mid-upper turret and the rear turret, as well as in the port wing. The flames soon became fierce and the captain ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft.

Pilot Officer Mynarski left his turret and went towards the escape hatch. He then saw that the rear gunner was still in his turret and apparently unable to leave it. The turret was, in fact, immovable, since the hydraulic gear had been put out of action when the port engines failed, and the manual gear had been broken by the gunner in his attempts to escape.

Without hesitation, Pilot Officer Mynarski made his way through the flames in an endeavour to reach the rear turret and release the gunner. Whilst so doing, his parachute and his clothing, up to the waist, were set on fire. All his efforts to move the turret and free the gunner were in vain. Eventually the rear gunner clearly indicated to him that there was nothing more he could do and that he should try to save his own life.

Pilot Officer Mynarski reluctantly went back through the flames to the escape hatch. There, as a last gesture to the trapped gunner, he turned towards him, stood to attention in his flaming clothing and saluted, before he jumped out of the aircraft.

Pilot Officer Mynarski’s descent was seen by French people on the ground. Both his parachute and clothing were on fire. He was found eventually by the French, but was so severely burnt that he died from his injuries.

The rear gunner had a miraculous escape when the aircraft crashed. He subsequently testified that, had Pilot Officer Mynarski not attempted to save his comrade’s life, he could have left the aircraft in safety and would, doubtless, have escaped death.

Pilot Officer Mynarski must have been fully aware that in trying to free the rear gunner he was almost certain to lose his own life. Despite this, with outstanding courage and complete disregard for his own safety, he went to the rescue. Willingly accepting the danger, Pilot Officer Mynarski lost his life by a most conspicuous act of heroism which called for valour of the highest order.

Low oblique aerial view of the Transport Command Delivery Park on the Northeast Apron at Prestwick airport, Ayrshire, showing aircraft marshalled after being flown across the Atlantic. Among the aircraft shown are Consolidated Liberators, Douglas Dakotas, North American Mitchells, and Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark Xs.
Low oblique aerial view of the Transport Command Delivery Park on the Northeast Apron at Prestwick airport, Ayrshire, showing aircraft marshalled after being flown across the Atlantic. Among the aircraft shown are Consolidated Liberators, Douglas Dakotas, North American Mitchells, and Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark Xs.
The first Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark X, KB700 "The Ruhr Express", taxying after landing at Northolt, Middlesex, following a delivery flight across the Atlantic. KB700 was the first of 300 aircraft built by Victory Aircraft of Malton, Ontario, and flew operationally with Nos. 405 and 419 Squadrons RCAF.
The first Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark X, KB700 “The Ruhr Express”, taxying after landing at Northolt, Middlesex, following a delivery flight across the Atlantic. KB700 was the first of 300 aircraft built by Victory Aircraft of Malton, Ontario, and flew operationally with Nos. 405 and 419 Squadrons RCAF.

Attacks on French airfields are stepped up


7 May 1944: Attacks on French airfields are stepped up

Mack told us that we were about 50 miles from the French coast. This also reminded us of the briefing before the operation when we were told of the heavy coastal defences, in particular the light anti-aircraft batteries. After injecting pain—killing drugs into Bill’s arms, I acted as another pair of eyes from the astrodome. By now Ron had decided to take the aircraft down as close to the ground as possible, and we literally hedge-hopped across France with the three engines giving us some l80mph

A B-24 over Orly airfield on the 14th May
A B-24 over Orly airfield on the 14th May
Low-level oblique aerial photograph taken by one of two De Havilland Mosquitos of No. 21 Squadron RAF during a daylight attack on Gael airfield near St Malo, France, showing the second aircraft flying away with bomb doors still open as its 500-lb bombs explode on the hangars
Low-level oblique aerial photograph taken by one of two De Havilland Mosquitos of No. 21 Squadron RAF during a daylight attack on Gael airfield near St Malo, France, showing the second aircraft flying away with bomb doors still open as its 500-lb bombs explode on the hangars

As the invasion approached both the RAF and the USAAF stepped up their attacks on France. In addition to the Transportation Plan, which aimed to cut the rail links in northern France, there were a wide range of military targets. Considerable progress had been made in weakening the Luftwaffe and this was now re-enforced with a sustained programme of bombing airfields. The same airfields received repeat visits to ensure that damage could not be easily repaired.

A raid on France was typically shorter and less dangerous than the attacks on German targets. Yet no target over occupied Europe was without risk and the Germans were concentrating their anti aircraft guns along the coast.

Flight Sergeant Roland A. Hammersley was a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner on a No 57 Squadron Lancaster:

On 7/8 May operations were again shown as ‘on’ for the night, and were to provide my third visit to the airfield at Tours. We had real problems after a fairly uneventful flight out into France; when running up to the target at 8,000 feet we were ordered by the controller to orbit it as we had arrived a little before the TIs had been dropped. Next the controller said that the TIs were ‘bang on’, and we were given the order to bomb.

We went through the bombing run, and Ken at the bombsight called ‘Bombs away!’. Just before this Ken had warned of horizontal tracer on our starboard side, and Bill of a fighter attacking someone on the port quarter. While Bill kept an eye on this action from the rear turret, Tom was searching above and to the rear from his mid-upper turret.

Then things happened quickly. Tom called, ‘Fighter! Fighter! Corkscrew port! Go!’ Ron needed no second telling, and we went down to port in the first move of the corkscrew. The remaining bombs sprayed out from the bomb bay in all directions. I could hear Tom and Bill’s guns firing and the crash of cannon shells and bullets from the fighter hitting our aircraft. Pulling out of this initial dive, I heard Bill call, ‘Are you all right up front?’ Ron hastened to assure him.

In the meantime Tom had seen a fighter about 400 yards astern and just above us, identified as a Ju 88; he opened fire simultaneously with the Ju 88. Bill quickly joined in. We were doing some 250mph on the first dive, yet the Ju 88 passed us in a vertical dive — we hoped that his dive terminated on the ground and not before. Ron completed two cycles of the corkscrew, and although Ken yelled to keep weaving, Ron decided to turn on to a course 323 degrees true.

Already deep into France there was no desire to go any deeper. On turning on to our course and clearing the defences, Bill was heard to call, ‘Skipper, I’ve had it.’ I immediately left my wireless set and went back to the rear turret, letting Bill know that I was with him on arrival.

He was in a sad state, with his face, arms and legs simply streaming with blood. I helped him out of the turret, and with some difficulty managed to get him along the fuselage to the rest bed. Up front Ken had clipped on his parachute in case we had to abandon the aircraft. On hearing the news of Bill he came back to help me for a few minutes, then checked the rear turret, only to find it was too badly damaged to be used. We were without any defence for the rear end!

Mack told us that we were about 50 miles from the French coast. This also reminded us of the briefing before the operation when we were told of the heavy coastal defences, in particular the light anti-aircraft batteries. After injecting pain—killing drugs into Bill’s arms, I acted as another pair of eyes from the astrodome. By now Ron had decided to take the aircraft down as close to the ground as possible, and we literally hedge-hopped across France with the three engines giving us some l80mph. Ron’s skill as a pilot now came to the fore.

It was agreed that we should get up to l0,000 feet to cross the French coast so as to avoid the light flak guns. We were nearly too late — as we commenced the climb one battery opened fire at us. Ron immediately put the Lancaster into a dive straight at the guns. I watched in amazement from the astrodome as the coloured tracer fire came flashing by my head and to each side of the aircraft. Later I discovered that we had been hit along the length of the bomb bay doors in that incident.

We pulled up out of the dive and were away into the darkness as the gun-fire stopped. We crossed the coast at 10,000 feet as intended, avoiding the Channel Islands.

After clearing the Channel Islands, Tom said that there was another aircraft approaching, which he identified as a fighter. Ron was asked to turn a little to starboard and Tom opened fire with the four guns in his turret. It was a long burst. Ron then put the aircraft into a corkscrew. The night fighter appeared not to appreciate our gun-fire and dived away to port and was not seen again.

We passed over St Alban’s Head and sent out a Mayday distress call; Hurn answered faintly but did not light up. However, ahead there was another aerodrome, Tarrant Rushton, which did light up, so we went in there, other aircraft preparing to land being instructed to wait until we were down. Ron made a good landing on three engines and called for an ambulance, which pulled alongside us as we came to a stop near the control tower.

Ron Walker was recommended for an immediate award of the DFC following the events of the night of 7/8 May and the award was confirmed on 9 June. I had now completed 14 operations, had flown 14,795 miles in a flying time of 90 hours 30 minutes, and had carried a total of 161,948lb of bombs over Germany and Occupied Europe to their designated targets.

See Bowman (Ed.) RAF Bomber Stories: Dramatic First-hand Accounts of British and Commonwealth Airmen in World War 2 for the whole story

A USAAF A-20 Havoc over an unidentified airfield, 1944
A USAAF A-20 Havoc over an unidentified airfield, 1944
Still from film shot in an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, during a daylight attack on the Luftwaffe airfield and signals depot at St Cyr, France, by aircraft of No. 5 Group. A 4,000-lb HC bomb ('Cookie') and a smaller 500-lb MC bomb are seen just after they were released over the target.
Still from film shot in an Avro Lancaster by the RAF Film Production Unit, during a daylight attack on the Luftwaffe airfield and signals depot at St Cyr, France, by aircraft of No. 5 Group. A 4,000-lb HC bomb (‘Cookie’) and a smaller 500-lb MC bomb are seen just after they were released over the target.

Fire fighting on a Lancaster bomber’s wing


27 April 1944: Fire fighting on a Lancaster bomber’s wing

Sergeant Jackson was unable to control his descent and landed heavily. He sustained a broken ankle, his right eye was closed through burns and his hands were useless. These injuries, together with the wounds received earlier, reduced him to a pitiable state. At daybreak he crawled to the nearest village, where he was taken prisoner. He bore the intense pain and discomfort of the journey to Dulag Luft with magnificent fortitude. After ten months in hospital he made a good recovery, though his hands require further treatment and are only of limited use.

463 Squadron at Waddington,
The veteran Avro Lancaster bomber ‘S for Sugar’, of No 467 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, is prepared for its 97th operational sortie at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.
463 Squadron at Waddington,
An Avro Lancaster B Mark I or III of No. 514 Squadron RAF based at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, releases its bombs through cloud, during a daylight attack on a flying-bomb launch site at Les Catelliers in northern France, (“Noball” Operation), as another aircraft behind it prepares to bomb.

On the night of the 26th/27th RAF Bomber command went to Essen and Schweinfurt, with very different experiences. The larger raid to Essen, a familiar industrial target, was accurate and suffered only 1.4 % casualties.

The raid on Schweinfurt, where the 8th USAAF had attempted to knock out the ball bearing factory in 1943, was almost a complete disaster. The target marking, by a new Pathfinder Squadron, was poor and few bombs hit the target area. High winds dispersed the 206 Lancasters on this raid and 21 aircraft were lost – an unsustainable rate.

The raid is chiefly remembered for one remarkable act of heroism:

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery :-

Norman Jackson VC
Norman Jackson VC

905192 Sergeant (Now Warrant Officer) Norman Cyril Jackson R.A.F.V.R., 106 Squadron.

This airman was the flight engineer in a Lancaster detailed to attack Schweinfurt on the night of 26th April, 1944. Bombs were dropped successfully and the aircraft was climbing out of the target area. Suddenly it was attacked by a fighter at about 20,000 feet. The captain took evading action at once, but the enemy secured many hits. A fire started near a petrol tank on the upper surface of the starboard wing, between the fuselage and the inner engine.

Sergeant Jackson was thrown to the floor during the engagement. Wounds which he received from shell splinters in the right leg and shoulder were probably sustained at that time. Recovering himself, he remarked that he could deal with the fire on the wing and obtained his captain’s permission to try to put out the flames.

Pushing a hand fire-extinguisher into the top of his life-saving jacket and clipping on his parachute pack, Sergeant Jackson jettisoned the escape hatch above the pilot’s head. He then started to climb out of the cockpit and back along the top of the fuselage to the starboard wing. Before he could leave the fuselage his parachute pack opened and the whole canopy and rigging lines spilled into the cockpit.

Undeterred, Sergeant Jackson continued. The pilot (Tony Mifflin), bomb aimer (Maurice Toft) and navigator (Frank Higgins) gathered the parachute together and held on to the rigging lines, paying them out as the airman crawled aft. Eventually he slipped and, falling from the fuselage to the starboard wing, grasped an air intake on the leading edge of the wing. He succeeded in clinging on but lost the extinguisher, which was blown away.

By this time, the fire had spread rapidly and Sergeant Jackson was involved. His face, hands and clothing were severely burnt. Unable to retain his hold he was swept through the flames and over the trailing edge of the wing, dragging his parachute behind. When last seen it was only partly inflated and was burning in a number of places.

Realising that the fire could not be controlled, the captain gave the order to abandon aircraft. Four of the remaining members of the crew landed safely. The captain and rear gunner have not been accounted for.

Sergeant Jackson was unable to control his descent and landed heavily. He sustained a broken ankle, his right eye was closed through burns and his hands were useless. These injuries, together with the wounds received earlier, reduced him to a pitiable state. At daybreak he crawled to the nearest village, where he was taken prisoner. He bore the intense pain and discomfort of the journey to Dulag Luft with magnificent fortitude. After ten months in hospital he made a good recovery, though his hands require further treatment and are only of limited use.

This airman’s attempt to extinguish the fire and save the aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands was an act of outstanding gallantry. To venture outside, when travelling at 200 miles an hour, at a great height and in intense cold, was an almost incredible feat. Had he succeeded in subduing the flames, there was little or no prospect of his regaining the cockpit. The spilling of his parachute and the risk of grave damage to its canopy reduced his chances of survival to a minimum. By his ready willingness to face these dangers he set an example of self-sacrifice which will ever be remembered.

The London Gazette, 26 October 1945

463 Squadron at Waddington,
Sergeant W Sinclair, RAF, and Flying Officer E H Giersch, RAAF, of No 463 Squadron at Waddington, test their oxygen masks in the crew room before an operational sortie, April 1944.
Avro Lancaster of No 300 Polish Bomber Squadron
Ground crew servicing an Avro Lancaster of No 300 Polish Bomber Squadron RAF at Faldingworth, Lincolnshire.

Slow motion nightmare in a Lancaster over Dusseldorf


23 April 1944: Slow motion nightmare in a Lancaster over Dusseldorf

The bombs were actually dropping from the aircraft when there was a tremendous explosion. For a brief period of time everything seemed to happen in ultra-slow motion. The explosion knocked me on my back; I was aware of falling on to the floor of the aircraft, but it seemed an age before I actually made contact. I distinctly remember ‘bouncing’. Probably lots of flying clothing and Mae Wests broke my fall, but under normal circumstances one would not have been aware of ‘bouncing’.

A tractor-drawn train of 4,000-lb Mark I HC bombs
A tractor-drawn train of 4,000-lb Mark I HC bombs (‘cookies’) pauses on its journey from the bomb-dump at Mildenhall, Suffolk, while groundcrew chalk appropriate messages on them. In the background an Avro Lancaster Mark I, L7540 ‘OL-U’, of No. 83 Squadron RAF’s Lancaster Conversion Flight, normally based at Scampton, Lincolnshire, undergoes repairs: the unit code-letters of its previous operators, No. 44 Squadron RAF, are still visible under those of 83 Squadron.
Here a B-17 Flying Fortress crew of the 96th Bomb Group, US Eighth Air Force, mingle with Lancaster crews of No 622 Squadron
The ’round the clock’ bombing by RAF and USAAF necessitated closer liaison between the two bomber forces, and even at squadron level goodwill visits between neighbouring units helped foster the spirit of co-operation. Here a B-17 Flying Fortress crew of the 96th Bomb Group, US Eighth Air Force, mingle with Lancaster crews of No 622 Squadron at Mildenhall in the spring of 1944.

The night of 22nd / 23rd April saw three large RAF raids, one to railway marshalling yards in Laon, France, the others to German industrial targets in Brunswick and Dusseldorf. Huge destruction was recorded in Dusseldorf where, a day later, 883 people were known to have died – and few of the 409 people then listed as missing were expected to be found alive. Out of the 596 aircraft on the raid 29 were shot down. These figure were fairly typical of RAF raids on German targets at the time – immense destruction was now almost assured at a cost that was, if not acceptable, then at least sustainable.

Flight Engineer Sergeant C.H. ‘Chick’ Chandler was on one of the Lancaster’s that was not shot down that night. His experience was about as bad as it could get without becoming a casualty. In his memory the traumatic events remained to be replayed in slow motion:

It was 0110 HOURS on the morning of 23 April 1944. We were a XV Squadron Lancaster III crew from Mildenhall on our 17th op and we were hit simultaneously by heavy flak and cannon fire from an Me 109 at the precise moment that our bombs were released on Dusseldorf. Being the flight engineer, I was standing on the right-hand side of the cockpit, as was usual during our bombing run, with my head in the blister to watch for any fighter attack that might occur from the starboard side.

The bombs were actually dropping from the aircraft when there was a tremendous explosion. For a brief period of time everything seemed to happen in ultra-slow motion. The explosion knocked me on my back; I was aware of falling on to the floor of the aircraft, but it seemed an age before I actually made contact. I distinctly remember ‘bouncing’. Probably lots of flying clothing and Mae Wests broke my fall, but under normal circumstances one would not have been aware of ‘bouncing’.

As I fell I ‘saw’, in my mind’s eye, very clearly indeed, a telegram boy cycling to my mother’s back door. He was whistling very cheerfully and handed her the telegram that informed her of my death. She was very calm and thanked the boy for delivering the message.

As I laid there I saw a stream of sparks pass a few feet above the cockpit, from back to front and going up at a slight angle. This caused me some confusion. If the sparks were from a burning engine they were going the wrong way. It was some little time before I realised that the ‘sparks’ were in fact tracer shells from a fighter that I did not know was attacking us.

The illusion that the tracer shells were going upwards was no doubt caused by the fact that our Lancaster was going into an uncontrolled, screaming dive, but because of the slow-motion effect that I was experiencing, I did not appreciate this fact. This whole episode had taken 2 or 3 seconds at most, then the slow-motion effect began to wear off, and I became aware of the screams of the bomb-aimer.

[after the aircraft went through violent evasive dives they threw off the fighter … the order to prepare to ‘bale out’ was withdrawn after they discovered that most of the parachutes had been destroyed]

My task now was to check the aircraft for damage and casualties. My checks started at the front of the aircraft, in the bomb-aimer’s compartment. I am afraid to say that my sheltered life had not prepared me for the terrible sight that met my eyes. It was obvious that this area had caught the full blast of the flak, and Alan Gerrard had suffered the most appalling injuries. At least he would have died almost instantaneously.

Suffice to say that I was sick. At this stage I risked using my torch to shine along the bomb bay to make sure that all our bombs were gone. My report simply was that the bomb-aimer had been killed and that all bombs had left the aircraft.

Next stop was the cockpit. The pilot had really worked wonders in controlling the aircraft and successfully feathering the engine that had been on fire. Then on to the navigator’s department; on peering round the blackout screen I saw that Ken Pincott was busy working over his charts, but that Flight Lieutenant John Fabian DFC, the H2S operator (the Squadron navigation leader), appeared to be in shock. However, once I established that there appeared to be no serious damage, I moved on. The wireless operator’s position was empty because his task during the bombing run was to go to the rear of the aircraft and ensure that the photo flash left at the same time as the bombs. Next, down to the mid-upper turret, where Ron Wilson had re-occupied his position, albeit only temporarily. (Unknown to me, he had suffered a wound to his ear that, although not too serious, would keep him off flying for a few weeks.)

On reaching the next checkpoint I was again totally unprepared for the dreadful sight that confronted me. Our wireless operator, Flight Sergeant L. Barnes, had sustained, in my opinion, fatal chest injuries and had mercifully lost consciousness. It was found later that he had further very serious injuries to his lower body and legs. He died of his wounds before we reached England.

From the rear turret I got a ‘thumbs up’ sign from ‘Whacker’ Mair, so I rightly concluded that he was OK. As well as having to report the death of our bomb-aimer, and the fatal injuries to the wireless operator, I had to report the complete failure of the hydraulic system. The pilot was already aware of the fact that we had lost our port inner engine through fire, and that our starboard outer was giving only partial power. The bomb doors were stuck in the open position, and the gun turrets had been rendered inoperative because of the hydraulic failure.

They had just enough fuel to make it back to England, gradually losing height all the way, only to discover that their undercarriage was stuck as they came in to land. The remaining crew survived the emergency landing. All the survivors remained on flying duties, only the slightly wounded mid upper gunner had a brief respite. See Bowman (Ed.) RAF Bomber Stories: Dramatic First-hand Accounts of British and Commonwealth Airmen in World War 2 for the whole story.

Queen Elizabeth, King George VI and Princess Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth, King George VI and Princess Elizabeth standing with a group of RAF personnel, including the Station Commander (standing on the Queen’s right), during a visit to Mildenhall, Suffolk.
Avro Lancaster B Mark I, ME590 'SR-C', of No. 101 Squadron RAF
Avro Lancaster B Mark I, ME590 ‘SR-C’, of No. 101 Squadron RAF, lies on the FIDO (Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation) pipework at Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire, after a successful crash-landing on returning from a raid to Augsburg on the night of 25/26 February 1944. The aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, which disabled the hydraulic system and holed the starboard fuel tank, and was also attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 night fighter which set it on fire and wrecked the elevators. In spite of the damage the pilot, Sergeant R Dixon, brought ME590 back to Ludford Magna for a belly landing, during which some incendiary bombs which had been hung up in the bomb bay, fell out and caught fire on the runway. The censor has eliminated the large aerial masts above the fuselage which indicated that the aircraft was carrying ‘Airborne Cigar’ (ABC), a jamming device which disrupted enemy radio telephone channels.

‘Black Sunday’ as tropical storm hits US 5th Air Force


16 April 1944: ‘Black Sunday’ as tropical storm hits US 5th Air Force

The whole area was full of planes-B-24s, B-25s, A-20s and P-38s. We got down to 50 feet above the coast and followed it towards Saidor. I directed Polecat (Pilot Ed P. Poltrack) to the right and left along the coast. He and Jack were both flying, dodging planes. Once our airspeed went down to 120 – looked like we would have to ditch any minute. Now and then we would lose sight of the coast and weave back and forth along our course to pick it up again.

A USAAF photo reconnaissance image of the target of the 17th April mission, with Japanese planes damaged  on earlier raids visible.
A USAAF photo reconnaissance image of the target of the 17th April mission, with Japanese planes damaged on earlier raids circled.
Barely visible beneath the wings of a Lockhead P-38 Lighting are the deadly bombs
Barely visible beneath the wings of a Lockhead P-38 Lighting are the deadly bombs with which this multi-purpose plane can blast enemy troops, ships and gun emplacements. As shown in recent demonstartions at the AAF Tactical Center, Orlando, Fla., the Lockhead P-38, now being used as a fighter-bomber, is capable of carrying bomb pay loads up to 2,000 pounds, thus affording the Allies another potent weapon for use against Germany and Japan in coming offensive.

The 5th Air Force were engaged in missions against the Japanese in New Guinea and New Britain. On the 17th April they flew against Japanese bases and airfield at Hollandia, New Guinea, now Jayapura, Indonesia. The mission was intended to destroy the Japanese planes in the area, prior to a landing by the Army and Marines.

There was a warning that there was a weather front moving in during the mission – but the orders were to go ahead anyway. Probably no one could have anticipated just how severe that tropical storm could possibly be. In the end it proved to be the cause of the worst operational loss suffered by the 5th Air Force in a single day, including combat losses. It is believed to be the biggest single weather-related loss in aviation history.

1st Lt. Calvin Wire was flying a P-38, escorting the bombers. It was only on the return trip they experienced problems:

We flew at about 12,000 to 13,000 feet altitude, between a solid overcast and lower broken clouds. We had no problems until we were south of Wewak, approaching the edge of the Owen Stanley Mountain Range. At this time, we were looking into a solid wall of clouds from the ground to as high as we could see. I had flown a number of missions in this general area before and knew that some of the mountains were 13,000 to 14,000 feet high, so we climbed 20,000 feet looking for any opening – no luck.

We then headed North and went down to 12,000 feet again. We flew East and West along the wall of clouds, searching for any opening. Nothing doing! As we were headed back east, I saw a plane on our left and so we headed for it. There was a nice big B-24 heading home. I called Morton said: “We hit it lucky, this guy has a co-pilot, navigator and radioman let’s latch on and follow him home”. We snuggled in close on his right wing. He rocked his right wing to let us know we were welcome and then headed into that awful wall of clouds, we kept tucked in for about 10 to 15 minutes, when all of a sudden the B-24 went into a sharp left turn. I told Mort to hang on and climb. We made a 180 Degree turn and headed out.

It took us about 10 minutes settled down, and about this time along comes a full squadron of B-25’s. Again we tucked in on the right wing of the rear B-25. After about 5 Minutes or so, the whole squadron of B-25’s went every which way.

And again we went straight up an into a 180 degree turn and back out. After we were out of the worst of it, I called Mort and told him that usually along the coast, when the weather came in from the east, the clouds would rise a bit as they approached land and leave a space we could fly in and still see what was ahead.

He said: “Okay, let’s give it a try.” So then we proceeded east to the coast and headed south. My guess was correct to some degree as we had about 40 Feet between the clouds and the water and they kept working up and down. As it was raining hard, our vision through the windshield was nil, so we flew by looking out of the right side windows at the line of surf. I tried to maintain a minimum of 20 feet in altitude and about 50 feet east of the surf line.

Wire eventually had to ditch his plane. Read the whole account at 475th Fighter Group.

The experience of crews who did find an airfield was no better. Alfred B. Colwell,jr., was the Navigator/Bombardier on a B-25 in the 38th Bomb Group based at Nadzab, New Guinea:

April 16
Mission #48 – Hollandia.

The whole area was full of planes-B-24s, B-25s, A-20s and P-38s. We got down to 50 feet above the coast and followed it towards Saidor. I directed Polecat (Pilot Ed P. Poltrack) to the right and left along the coast. He and Jack were both flying, dodging planes. Once our airspeed went down to 120 – looked like we would have to ditch any minute. Now and then we would lose sight of the coast and weave back and forth along our course to pick it up again.

After 30 minutes of this we suddenly saw a strip ahead of us. Jack dropped the wheels and flaps and Poletrack nosed her down for a landing – we didn’t have any idea how long the strip was or what was at the other end – couldn’t see that far – but there wasn’t much choice. Polecat never made a better landing and we didn’t slide at all when he applied the brakes. We taxied over to one side. It was raining so beat Hell but we piled out in the middle of it.

Sitting at the end of the runway were three banged up 71st ships. Two landed okay and stopped; then the third came in and ploughed right through them – no one hurt.

As we walked over the strip, one of our planes broke through the rain about halfway down the strip(it turned out to be Harvey). He couldn’t see a thing either as he set her down, began to brake and started skidding to beat the devil. He was doing okay until he ran off of the end of the strip and hit the mud-then the plane started skidding sideways and suddenly the landing gear gave way and she went on a wing and and the belly. She was one hell of a wrecked ship but the whole crew came crawling out without a scratch.

About this time we saw a B-25 and a P-38 coming in for landings from opposite directions. Neither one probably never saw the other-they crashedd head on in the middle of the strip and exploded. Somehow one man got out of the B-25 okay; another was dragged out badly burned (died later); the others were cremated.

The situation was worse than ever now. The strip was blocked and the poor boys still in the air were about to go wild. All were running out of gas. The A-20s began coming in anyhow, the first one almost missing the burning wreckage but clipped off a wing; the second blew a tire, his nose wheel collasped and he skidded through the burning planes – both fellows got out okay.

The boys with the winches walked right into the burning, exploding mess hooked on to it and dragged it from the strip. Part of a burned body body slipped from the B-25.

Hamilton, another one of ours, came in next. He blew a tire – skidded off the strip but his plane was not damaged too badly. Next 2 A-20s and a P-39 came in almost at once, all gliding in out of gas. The P-39 hit the strip on its belly and the A-20s were right behind. Both pulled up their wheels and hit on their bellies. Not one of the three was hurt.

Read the whole account at 38th Bomb Group Association. There is a full list of the 46 planes lost and casualties at Pacific Wrecks .

Bombs exploding across Hollandia airfield during one of the 5th Air Force raids.
Bombs exploding across Hollandia airfield during one of the 5th Air Force raids.
B-25 Mitchells from the 42d Bombardment fly over Bougainville from their base at Stirling Airfield, Stirling Island, Solomon Islands, 1944
B-25 Mitchells from the 42d Bombardment fly over Bougainville from their base at Stirling Airfield, Stirling Island, Solomon Islands, 1944