They were laughing and scratching at about twenty thousand feet along with another eight hundred crews from the combined crews of Bomber Command consisting of Lancaster, Halifax and Stirling.
Each aircraft had four engines and a crew of seven men. Sometimes a second pilot was added to the crew, this would be a budding pilot and at twenty years old this first experience was often referred to later (if he was lucky) as weird.Aircraft were sometimes referred to as, "Kites".
All of my crew were under twenty five. The skipper was twenty and I was eighteen, the rest were in between and were a bit more experienced than me as they had been flying other aircraft before I joined them.
They had experience with two engine aircraft such as Wellingtons, Hamdens and Whitleys, that up to this time had been the backbone of Bomber Command.
All around us were the hundreds of aircraft, each all tensed up as we were and each member of the crews alone with his own thoughts, wondering and hoping that they would be one of the lucky ones to reach the target which was the big city of Berlin and then get back to their base safely and the welcome from their respective ground crews and comradeship of the mess when a toll was taken of the nights success or a silence which meant only one thing, that the nights losses were either very heavy or of a personal nature to certain members of the squadron.
This was always the time to reflect before the line shooting began or to use an American term, "shooting the breeze"
To survive, a pilot would try to dodge the flack, hence the saying, "close the hanger doors".
This is perhaps an odd thing to say, but I never did feel frightened nor did I ever hear anyone else say they were.
Perhaps we were all so keyed up and enthralled by the beauty of the night with it's so many colours that fear had to take a back seat.
Some colours meant death for someone.
Our bullets, perhaps one in three were tracer, seemed to race away like aburning string of beads.
Any that hit would kill or ignite a fuel tank.
Our attention was taken by an aircraft ahead of us with two engines on fire, it was taking evasive action when it suddenly exploded.
Suddenly we were flying through burning debris.
Before we could collect our thoughts yet another bomber was in trouble and taking evasive action with all it's guns blazing.
Then it began to lose height and the nose dipped and it took a downward path.
As it disappeared from our view we saw a couple of F.W.190 German fighter planes following it down.
We had a healthy respect for these German fighters.
We soon discovered we had troubles of our own as the rear gunner suddenly opened upwith his guns while screaming to the Skipper to take evasive action as quick as he could.
But sadly the Skipper was too late and we now had three of our engines blazing.
Carrying a full load of bombs in the bomb bay, the last thing we needed exploding around us was shrapnel. I suggested to the Skipper it would be prudent to part company with ourfaithful kite and he gave the order to bale out.
Alas, only four of us were able to comply with the order, and we lost three brave crew members who will forever be in our hearts.
We quickly donned parachutes and opening the escape hatch left the burning aircraft.
Royal Air Force
BOMBER COMMAND LOSSES
of the Second World War
Aircraft and Crew Losses
|419 Sqn Halifax II Jd464 VR-N Op:Berlin
|F/O R Stewart RCAF
||T/o 1952 Middleton St. George. Homebound, shot down from 18,000 feet by a night-fighter and crashed in the vicinity of the Black Forest. Those who died have no know graves. While being held prisoner, Sgt Tenny exchanged identity with Pte T. Barker of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
|Sgt H R Tenny
|P/O S E James RCAF
|Sgt V A F Cleveland
|Sgt A Embley
|Sgt L Northcliffe RCAF
|Sgt DHA Garland RCAF