"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.
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.