Composite bomber operation on Emden, based on two operations to Emden on 6.6.42 and 22.6.42 to give "atmosphere" of a bomber operation
It all begins in the morning really. After breakfast we report to the Flights, A and B, for nominal roll call by our Flight Commanders.Approximately eight crews in each Flight plus the reserves. We are allotted our aircraft for local flying or air testing. Our kite is KO A a newly delivered machine. Later we will write her off temporarily in a crash landing at Exeter aerodrome after having been badly shot up by flak over Brest. That is for the future. Now we are to take her up for air firing, George test - Automatic Pilot, and Homing practice - GEE.
An hour later we land and taxi to dispersal. As we pass through the Flights we see instructions to the ground crews chalke dup on the boards. Six hundred gallons of petrol and a "standard" high explosive bomb load for KO A. The standard bomb load comprises six five hundred pounders and a thousand pounder to drop in the middle of the stick. We then know that we will be on "stand to" that night. Speculation is rife as to the target.Had it been four hundred and fifty gallons it could have meant either "Happy Valley", the nickname for the heavily defended Ruhr Valley, or a cushier trip to Paris and the Renault factory.
When lunch is over we spend the time relaxing as far as possible and then around tea time at briefing we learn the target is Emden.From then on I am busy preparing my Flight Plan. At this stage of the war we were given a certain amount of freedom in choosing our route and the height at which we would bomb. Another tense period of waiting in which time I collect my bag of navigational instruments, a met. report and operational rations for the crew. The rations are usually chocolate, oranges or raisins, chewing gum and six Thermos flasks, two of black coffee,two of tea and two of Bovril. Finally we are seated outside the Flights complete with flying kit and parachutes ready for the transport to take us to the aircraft at the dispersal point. As each crew arrives at their dispersal we wish them luck...then we are seated on the grass by KO A.
With Double British Summertime in operation it is still light. We have a long wait as we are near the end of the take off sequence.Some 24 aircraft from 218 and 115 Squadrons will be airborne before it is our turn. I look over the hedge and see a farmer ploughing his field. It is all so peaceful. I wish desperately that I could change places with him. Tense and nervous we urinate against the wheels of the aircraft for good luck. It was a standard practice among aircrews. Later to be prohibited by Air Ministry order as the subsequent corrosion was causing undercarriage failures.
As our take off time approaches I climb into the aircraft and set the detonator and diffuser on GEE and its map container.It is warm inside and strangely quiet compared to the noise of the aircraft outside. I am alone for a moment and I look around the observer's compartment trying to visualise a burst of cannon fire from a night fighter ripping through cabin. Now the rest of the crew are climbing aboard. The pilot is starting the engines and I am too busy with my duties to think of anything else. We taxi along the perimeter track maintaining strict W/T silence. The aircraft ahead of us gets the "green" from the Aldis lamp. We are now swinging round to face the take off strip. No one speaks to the pilot. He must not be distracted. His aircraft is heavy and it will take all his concentration to get it off the ground. He will do an "operational take off". The heavy tail turret complete with gunner must be raised off the ground first. He jams on the brakes, pushes the throttles up to the gates. The Wellington shudders and roars. He pushes the stick forward until it almost touches the instrument panel. Slowly the tail lifts and when the nose is pointing slightly down he releases the brakes. We trundle off. Momentum gathers and at 100 mph he is holding her down, at 120 mph we lift off the ground. As I raise my hands from the log to note the time we are airborne I see the place where they were resting is moist with sweat. Take off with full petrol and bomb load is extremely dangerous.
We climb on course. The next hazard will be if we pass over a British convoy sailing down the coast. A convoy will open fire on any aircraft passing directly over it. We are low and vulnerable and although we know its approximate position this can be quite in accurateas the convoy maintains strict W/T silence whilst in these waters. Some aircraft have been badly damaged in the past by convoys. We pass out to sea without incident, still climbing. The gunners call up for permission to try out their guns. The whole structure of the aircraft shudders as the guns open up and the reek of cordite pervades the atmosphere in the cabin. We hope that no patrolling night fighter has spotted our one in five tracer. Approaching the Dutch coast we unfold and lock in position the armour plate doors. These doors are protection for the cabin and cockpit from a rear attack. Still climbing on course, the wireless operator in the astrodome assisting the rear gunner in his endless search for night fighters. This is where their area begins, the Dutch coast, the beginning of the night fighter belt. The aircraft commences to weave gently side to side as the pilot attempts to uncover the blind spot below us for the gunners.
Ten thousand feet, cold but not unpleasant, we begin to use oxygen. The pilot has difficulty in engaging the S blower (supercharger).If he fails we will have to stay at ten thousand feet. I ask the pilot the outside temperature but he cannot tell me as the indicator has fallen offthe dial. He is worried that the oil temperature on the port engine is too high. He throttles that engine back. The rear gunner is experiencing difficulty with his turret. Will I check the recuperator rams which indicate the hydraulic pressure. I put my hand out and feel them, they are flat, the turret can only be operated manually. Should we turn back? The pilot decides to carry on. Twelve thousand feet, we can see the glow from the target. Apart from the odd flak gun pooping off miles out of range we have experienced little hostility. I work out the course to bring us out of the target towards the sea.
The gunners are now calling over the intercom warning the pilot of pockets of flak...we start to weave violently. I move forward to the bomb aimer's position setting the next course on the pilot's compass as I go past. Lying prone along the bombing hatch I get a good view of the target which is well alight. It is like a running red sore in the blackness of the night. For a brief moment I feel sick with horror and think of the human beings below us. Then I am too busy to care.
Setting the rotor arm that will space the stick of bombs. Removing the bomb release from its holder. This automatically fuses the bombs. I line the target up in the wires of the bomb sight. The flak is heavy and the pilot weaves desperately. Red balls of light flak start lazily from the ground. Gaining in impetus they appear to come straight for my stomach. I suck my breath in, they have passed like lightning to one side of us and are arcing above us. This confirms what we have been told that the light flak at Emden reaches fourteen thousand feet. We are menaced by both heavy and light flak. I get a glimpse of the target. No time for standard "bombing patter" now. The gunners are yelling for the bombs to be dropped.They want to be away. All is noise, confusion, flak, searchlights and roaring, lurching aircraft. I see the target again. "Get over to port man, hold it,BOMBS GONE." The bomber rises, unburdened and free. We swing round on course and I am scrambling back to the cabin.
The target is left behind as we start a shallow dive to increase our speed. We are away to the comparative safety of the opensea. Everyone relaxes slightly. We are flying parallel to the coast and danger is remote...perhaps a patrolling JU 88 night fighter but the chanceis slight. I am busy with my navigation. The wireless operator pours coffee for us and takes an empty milk bottle up to the pilot so that he can relieve himself. GEORGE, the automatic pilot, is u/s so he cannot get back to the Elsan toilet. The pilot is still concerned about the oil temperature. It turned out later that the gauge was reading incorrectly. The final stretch of sea and then the English coastline. I switch on the IFF. We don't want to be intercepted by our own fighters and for the same reason we stay at a predetermined height. Crossing the coast and moving inland. Eyes peeled for Norwich and its balloon barrage should we be off course.
We pick up the aerodrome and start to circle. The pilot tests the under cart and the red light stays on meaning the wheels will not lock. We call up the ground, "Hallo Waggon Control, this is Reveille A Apple". No reply. We repeat several times then it dawns on us that the transmitter has packed up. The receiver is working. We hear another aircraft calling. The aerodrome replies. It is not Waggon Control, we are over the wrong aerodrome. Panic for a moment until we find our bearings and arrive over Marham. We cross the flare path at right angles and fire the distress signal, double green. Then we fly over again flashing "A" on our downward identity light. They are calling us from Waggon Control and telling other aircraft to get out of the circuit. To cheer us up they tell us that the ambulance or "blood waggon" and the fire tender are standing by. They don't know we are receiving them so they flash a green from the Aldis lamp. We make a pass but the pilot overshoots. We are braced ready for a crash landing. Second time round we make it. A perfect landing. The under cart locking light wasn't working.
We climb out. Suddenly my parachute harness weighs a ton. A quick debriefing with Intelligence and then cool, smooth white sheetsand the deep sleep of mental and physical exhaustion.
Written by Don Bruce - Observer 115 Squadron -POW Stalag VIIIB
© Jean Darley 2013. Please respect the copyright.