Flight Lieutenant Elmer John Trotter DFC, DFM

The First Mission

"All of a sudden we were on the battle order. Oh boy, the sweating started. We go to this big room, there's security at the doors, a big wall and a podium for people to walk up to brief us. We see all these blankets hanging down and we realize it's covering stuff that's going to be brought to our attention.

The CO gets up there and says, "Gentlemen, this operation #??? and I am now going to turn you over to Senior Operations Officer who will give you an initial briefing on the target." We are all sitting there with our hearts pounding and they roll up the curtains. Well the map is a big map and pretty comprehensive. We are looking at it trying to figure out where we are going when suddenly it hits us: BERLIN OUR FIRST TRIP!!!

The ops officer continues to point out target tracks etc. and then intelligence gets up and shows us where all the main batteries and fighter drones are, the fighters that would be after us, and what our target was.

The briefing finished, we were sent to our aircraft in busses. This is a frightening time, here is a new crew with no experience of being shot at, not even knowing what it's like to see a flak burst other than our own against the enemy.

All of a sudden here we are going to Berlin, which is the longest point into Germany at this stage. The ground crew are there doing their checks, consoling us by telling us the aircraft is in beautiful shape. Your ground crew take a very personal interest: this is their aircrew.

All of a sudden we get a caution light from the tower and it's time to get aboard. Now before we board, the rear gunner (Kenneth Archibald "Archie") has to go pee on the tail wheel. This has to be done and is actually a tradition and part of history. We get on board and fire up the engines do our pre flight check. Then we get the go ahead to taxi and away we go. In our squadron there were maybe 20-22 aircraft. There we were all lined up, engines running and the green light goes on.

The first aircraft goes, the second follows and so on. Now it's our turn. The fear is not really an issue, there is a job to do. Away we go the first takeoff with a full load of bombs and I think A FULL LOAD OF BOMBS!!!! We've got somewhere in the neighbourhood of five to six thousand pounds of high intensity explosives, so it's a little bit of a different takeoff. You have to build up higher speed and make sure you lift off before the end of the runway is reached.

We are in the air and the first sigh of relief comes. Away we go and we must climb for a period of time normally climbing to a certain altitude while circling the base. All these aircraft, some heavier going higher and you had to watch for this. Sometimes you would do your climbing en route to the coast. You had an altitude you were to reach. Mostly ours was 16-180000 feet maximum as we had to be in the bomber stream. We'd be spread out here and there and we would mesh with a squadron. We didn't know which squadron, just that we had to be at a certain point at a certain time.

 On these raids I think we ran between 800-1000 bombers. These were all four engine bombers and you had to be very very alert because there were bombers all around you above and below. The gunners would be calling out "there's one to your right or there's one above!" I saw numerous mid air collisions between our own bombers. When you got over the target, I'm sure there were bombs from the ones above that hit our own airplanes but nevertheless that was the calculated risk we took.

As we came across the bombing route, the navigator would say "there is a defended area coming up on your starboard, about twenty kilometres away." So we would make damn sure we steered clear of that site. This would go on all the way to the target. The gunners kept watch and continued to warn of aircraft close by or if one was downed.  They would say "there is an aircraft to our starboard such and such a distance, don't know what it is at the moment" or they would identify it.  Sometimes they would be unable to identify if the aircraft was friendly or not. The Germans even did that well. There were a certain number of captured aircraft that had forced landed and sadly they could put them up in the bomber stream.

All of a sudden the gunner might see another Lancaster and would call out " stay away from him!".  It might well be one of our own, but we didn't know, nor did they and if you got too close, they just might begin firing on you warning you to get the hell away. This also went on all the way to the target. The target is three and a half to four hours away. It depends. Sometimes we would go to point A and then turn back to the target.

With Pathfinders, which I joined later on, we would fly to a point as if we were going to say Dusseldorf and we would have all the bombers heading towards Dusseldorf and then at a certain point the Pathfinders would send on a group of planes to Dusseldorf as a spoof, and the main bomber stream would then head on to the actual target. All of this of course, was to fool the fighter planes up ahead of you and it worked to some degree. In the meantime we were dropping this tinsel, shredded tinsel similar to tinfoil. It gets picked up on the radar and it becomes a target as far as the Germans are concerned.

All of a sudden we are seeing our first flak bursts. It's pretty eerie and scary. I didn't feel scared anymore. I can't speak for the rest of the crew as we didn't discuss it. I had a job to do now. Then we saw Berlin, finally, coming up and it would depend on where you were in the bomber stream as to how long you were in the flak. I might be 10 or 15 minutes behind the lead bombers. All hell would break loose. It didn't take long before I learned a little trick. If I looked up ahead at the bombers coming up through the tracer fire you'd say "There's no way I can get through this, no way!" So all I did was lower my seat and fly on instruments so I couldn't see it.

My bomber would say "left left steady, right right steady" as were coming in on the target. The bomb bays would open and all of a sudden "Bombs Away!" and the aircraft would actually lift as the bombs released. As soon as that happened, you would get the hell out of there as quickly as you could. Some people would make sharp turns but I had a tendency to go lower, dive down and that seemed to work pretty well.

Well on the way back we'd have the same thing. Now the Germans know where we are, and all the German fighters are in our stream. Now you really have to sweat blood to avoid them. When you flew over the target, the fighters wouldn't normally follow you as they might get hit by their own flak, but some were a little braver or just plain stupid, and would follow you in. I had that experience, but not on this trip.

We did what we called a corkscrew when we were leaving the target, which means you dive to port and then you turn to starboard as you are climbing up and then you turn and you are diving again. This was to keep the fighters off your tail. Whenever we would spot a fighter we would go into the corkscrew.

We had to be alert all the way back and I mean all the back to our base because there would be aircraft circling in the circuit. The Germans would put in sneak aircraft, fighters, following us back and they would nail us when we were in the circuit or landing, so we had to be very very alert.

When we got back, there was a great sigh of relief. Archie (F/S Kenneth Archibald, Air Gunner, Service #1572931) used to always get out and kiss the pavement. We would then go into debriefing, get a coffee, maybe with a little rum in it, and then all intelligence officers would take crew after crew finding out what took place. They had all our bomber camera films, they would have taken from the aircraft to see where you had dropped the bombs, if you had aiming points as they called it and so on.

 

The Second Trip, "Guess what! Berlin!

 Back we go to Berlin, I think the next trip was Stuttgart, the fourth Berlin.