Flight Lieutenant Elmer John Trotter DFC,DFM

The Fourth Mission

This was the one. We were on the run up into the target, and just prior to that Archie called:

"There's a Messerschmitt 110 tailing us Skip!"

"Keep a sharp eye on him Archie! I'm on my bombing run!"

"Oh, he's disappeared"

"Watch for him because he may just be getting away from the target area!"

So we are on run up into the target, and the bomb aimer (F/S Bernard Pullin, DFC) says "Bombs Away!"

The aircraft makes the lurch and WHAM!

We were hit by a flak burst and man it was a damn good near miss. It blew a hole through the dinghy, which we didn't know about for some time. It was on the starboard side, just outside the fuselage.

The aircraft filled with burning cordite and we went out of control. The aircraft just took off on me and started diving down toward the target. I ordered the crew to put their parachutes on. Of course the only ones who wouldn't have them on would be Bart, (S/L Bartrom Melrose Mathers, DFC RAAF) the navigator, because it was a chest pack and it bothered him when he was working, and Bernard, the bomb aimer. The engineer put on his as well at this stage. I wrestled and wrestled with the controls.

"I've got it under control, I've got it under control!"

It wasn't very secure because I had the steering column over to almost ninety degrees, and it was vibrating back and forth as if it was going to fall apart.

We lost about 7 or 8,000 feet in the dive as we had no control over it and all of a sudden Archie yelled

"Skip, that bastard Messerschmitt is back!!"

"Archie, watch him because I've got a hell of a time trying to get this airplane level again!"

"Okay Skip!"

All of a sudden, all hell broke loose!

"He's after us! He's firing at us and I'm firing back!"

The Messerschmitt had six machine guns and four cannons. All of these have tracer bullets in them. Archie has forward guns firing back with tracers so it's quite a fire works display around the airplane. All of a sudden I hear, (and I'm pretty helpless to do anything about evasion, I can only go to the high part of the airplane)

"I got the bastard, I got the bastard Skip, I got the bastard!!!"

And then everything was quiet and of course during the firing some of our oxygen bottles were hit and exploded in the airplane. A machine gun bullet from the Messerschmitt went through, between my legs at crotch level and hit the steering pedestal and ricocheted up through the windshield. Bullets came up between the engineer and myself, we were sitting about 10 inches apart.

After something like that, when you have things more or less under some control, you start asking for a report from all the stations. You start at the front end:

"Engineer?" - Okay Skip

"Bombadier?" - Okay skip

"Navigator?"  - Okay skip,

"Radio operator?"  Okay Skip, I'm fine,

"Mid Upper Turret?" and there's no answer, so I called into the rear turret and no answer, so I'm assuming now they've been hit and are either seriously wounded or dead.

I told the engineer to put on my emergency oxygen bottle and go back through the aircraft.

Well the mid upper gunner was dead and hanging out of his turret, but Archie was okay at the back. We fought our way all the way back home and I was getting awfully tired fighting with the controls. I had the engineer help me hold the stick.

I called ahead to the control tower and told them I was "slightly shot up".

Well the controller gave me a straight in approach. I was coming down and I didn't like it so I had to go around and again I emphasised that I was slightly shot up and had control problems. So I came around the second time, I didn't do any climbing, just low level, came back in and they tried to give me a straight in runway which was a bit of problem because I had so little control.

I was just coming in, there was a flare, which was basically cut back on power. I had two and a half engines at this stage. One had totally quit and one was running really rough.

All of a sudden she (the controller, who I found out later was the squadron leader's wife) says, "F for Freddy, you haven't got your Nav. lights on!"

At this point I totally blew my cork. There was no one on the aircraft talking to me at this point. It was automatically no talking in this type of situation. I said" You silly #@!?? b##?%%! I told you I was slightly shot up!!"

Well I got the plane onto the runway, I had no brakes, the hydraulics had been screwed up as well and I finally got to the end of the runway and came to a stop.

The fire trucks were there in seconds. I unloaded everybody, including the body of the mid upper gunner and we were taken back to the debriefing rooms.

We got to look at a little bit of the damage to the aircraft. There were four feet missing off the port wing on the time, and that's why she (the controller) couldn't see any navigation lights. The Nav. lights were gone! Forty eight square feet of the underside of the metal of the starboard wing were gone, torn away by the blast and a hole through where our dinghy had been, which is where the main blast had gone through.

When we got back to the debriefing room and had a chance to talk to each other, Archie was out there just kissing the pavement and the story came out.

After all this huge amount of tracer going back and forward, and he had nailed the Messerschmitt and I had called for a check, he said he had felt something running down his stomach inside his suit. He took off his electric gloves, unbuttoned his shirt and it was wet! And there was a hole! He thought he'd taken a gut shot and was bleeding to death but it turned out to be sweat dribbling into his belly button. It's fine to laugh about it now but remember he was doing this up in the air where it was about 30 below in his turret and this was sweat running down in the heat of the excitement and he was sure he was dying of a gut shot.

It turned out afterwards that the airplane was so shot up, a cannon shot through one prop and machine gun shot through another prop on top of all the other damage, that they dismantled it, put it on a trailer and sent it back to Avro in Manchester.

Then I had a meeting with the commanding officer and he said they were shipping the aircraft back to Avro where they were going to put it back together and use it as some king of monument, and that they would like me to come down and speak to their staff, (approximately 35,000) over the public address system. Well this was more scary that the operations. I'm not sure how I did it but I think I put the address on tape and they played the tape over the PA system.

It was this mission for which I was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Very shortly after, the commanding officer called and wanted to see me. I went in to see him and he said, "Would you like to go to the Pathfinders?" The Pathfinders were considered the elite of the elite and I said "I'd be really honoured to go to Pathfinders!". He said he had talked to the Air Officer Commanding of A Group, told him what I had done on my tour there, and that they would like to have me. And so begins the next chapter.