THE STORY OF MY OWN DEMISE 13/14.7.42
Operations Duisburg, night 13/14.7.42. Time of take off 0035 hours. Aircraft Wellington MkIII X3560 KO-K. Failed to return from operations.
We are old hands, eight weeks on the Squadron, in which time crews have come and gone. This will be my eleventh operational trip. Thirteenth if I include the two operational North sea sweeps but I do not like the number thirteen. I finger the lucky Blue Top which I always carry when flying. The briefing room is warm and crowded. I am thinking of the bomb we will be carrying, a four thousand pounder. Ugly, dustbin shaped,with a protruding rim to prevent it penetrating the ground too deeply. Maximum blast effect. It is studded with detonators. I am thinking of the bomber,stripped of its bomb doors where the bomb will bulge below the fuselage. Stripped also of its flotation bags to accommodate the bomb. The bomber that will not fly on one engine or float in the sea owing to these modifications. I am thinking of the bomb, light cased and dangerous. The bomb we hate carrying.
Due to this bomb we will be one of the last aircraft over the target. A lull will follow after the main force has finished bombing.The Germans will assume the raid is over. Their rescue services will be in full swing then we arrive with our maximum blast bomb to disrupt the rescue efforts. The Wing Commander, Dixon Wright, is speaking. The thirty one year old Wing Commander who will die a fortnight later. Shot down by Hauptmann Helmut Lent of the II./NJG1. while bombing Hamburg. "Go for the centre of the old town boys. Plenty of old, dry timber there, it will burn well... After all they do it to our towns so we do it to theirs". The old platitude. How else can we argue? It is a dirty business. The date is the 13th July 1942.In the early hours of the next morning we will take off in Wellington KO-K. The last but one aircraft to leave Marham airfield for Duisburg.
The flight out is uneventful. We are becoming battle hardened. It is all "old hat". We have done and seen it all before. As we approach the target at thirteen thousand feet the pilot is cautious. He moves around the perimeter of the town. Suddenly he sees what he is seeking, another Wellington about five hundred feet below us and making its run across the target. It is attracting the flak and searchlights. We follow it unmolested.Things become too hot for the other aircraft. It turns away in a dive. We are right in the centre of the target. The bomb is away and the defences are after us.
A blue master beam searchlight settles on our rear turret. Immediately its associated white searchlights form a cone around us. The pilot is blinded. He is not wearing his goggles. He cannot use the anti dazzle screen which is fitted to the goggles. The rear gunner who has been wounded by flak once before is shouting to the pilot to get us out of the searchlight beams. We have very little time before our height and course is predicted. Can't shake them off. They are hitting us. A metallic rattling sound. The starboard engine is hit. The pilot in desperation pulls the nose up and up. There is the inert sensation before a stall, then we are cartwheeling over...He has STALL TURNED the bomber and we are now diving in the opposite direction. The searchlights lose us but will the aircraft stand up to the strain? We plunge down to nine thousand feet. The crew is floating in space inside the aircraft. Only the navigation table holds me down where it pins my knees. Accumulators, maps, pencils and nuts and bolts float past my face. My eyes are glued to the observer's airspeed indicator. The needle has started on the inner circle 320, 330, 340, 350 mph. I am thinking of the red warning plate on the pilot's control panel, "THIS AIRCRAFT MUST NOT BE DIVED AT SPEEDS IN EXCESS OF 300 MPH".
Gravitational force is now pressing on us making my hands and arms feel like lead. Forcing me down into the seat and on to the navigation table. My eyelids start to close. The pilot grunting with exertion through his microphone is pulling her out the dive. We are one with the terrible strain that is wrenching at every rivet in the structure. As suddenly as it began it is over. We are straight and level. Nuts, bolts and other debris litter the table and floor. The case containing the "ops" rations has burst open and has showered my table with raisins. In the dim cabin light I see an earwig emerging from the sticky heap.
We take stock. I gather my maps from the floor near the bed. The pilot is fully employed with stick and rudder. Desperately trying to keep the starboard wing, with its dead engine, on an even keel. We climb five hundred feet but the port engine is overheating. As we flatten out we drop the same five hundred feet. Height is being lost so rapidly we will be unable to reach the sea. Hurried consultation between pilot and observer...then"JUMP, JUMP, rear gunner." The command to jump is always repeated twice so that there is no confusion...No reply. He has heard us talking over the intercom.Will he be forgotten? He has already gone. The front gunner goes through the forward escape hatch having first searched for his chute which had been dislodged from its stowage during the stall turn. The wireless operator moves forward then returns to root about under his table. He was looking for his gloves! I have removed my intercom. There is a danger of being strangled by the leads if they catch in the chute as it opens. Also loosened my tie and fastened my parachute pack to my harness. I kick the wireless operator to attract his attention and point forward. He motions me past. I move to the forward escape hatch. As I pass the pilot he grins and gives me the thumbs up. Good old Delmer he's a great guy, bags of guts.
Then I am at the opening. Four thousand feet below the ground appears to move slowly past. It is dull, grey and uninviting.As I hesitate I hear the instructor at OTU saying, "When you have to go you should dive out head first but if you have time you will probably lower yourself by your hands." That is the way for me. I face the rear of the aircraft, back towards the slipstream, hands on either side of the hatch. Gingerly I lower my feet and legs. The slipstream catches them. Like a straw I am swept along the underside of the fuselage. My parachute pack jams against the end of the hatch. Struggling hard I try to free myself, knowing that I must go but hoping that I won't...My shoulders catch in the slipstream.I am wrenched away into the night.
It is so quiet. The air rustles past my face. Which way am I falling? Am I looking at sky or ground? My knees fall towards my chest. I am falling head down with my back towards the ground. No sensation, almost pleasant except for the feeling in my stomach. THE RIPCORD, pull the ripcord you fool. My hand clutches the D ring. I pull. There is a sharp slither of fabric as the pilot chute tugs at the main fabric then a crack like a pistol shot as the cords holding the harness across my chest break, allowing the harness to swing above my head. I have already turned my face to one side so that my nose will not be broken as the harness flies up and over my head. A terrific jolt. The umbrella of silk has opened above me and I am swinging into nothing...Another terrible swing into blackness...Another, the chute steadies. I feel so sick I hang limply in the harness. Suddenly the noise of an aircraft. A terrible whining roar as it dives. Stupidly I can only think of night fighters. A flare lights me up...It is going to shoot... I collect my senses. The noise was KO-K making her last dive. The "flare" is KO-K erupting into a blossom of fire in the void. The oxygen bottles burst in brilliant blue flashes. There is a rattle of exploding ammunition and rivers of fire spread with the gouts of petrol from the shattered tanks.Alert once more I peer down the ground. I can see nothing. Suddenly dim shapes begin to form. I am heading straight for a tree. Get into a sitting position.The chute trailing ahead in a light wind catches in the tree. I swing into soft earth and graze my elbow. There is a farmhouse ahead. People are standing watching KO-K blazing. Help perhaps! I call out, "Hallo." A woman gives a piercing scream and then there is no-one. I have come down so silently they didn't realise I was there. Now thoroughly startled and frightened they have disappeared into the house. I stand alone in the darkness in a strange country.
As a postscript to that story I received the following letter from a William Van Dijk who was 17 years old at the time and whose father owned the farm where I landed.
Dear Friend Bruce,
It was a great pleasure to me to receive a letter from you, wherefore I heartily thank you.
All of us hadn't remarked you was fallen down so near behind us, till suddenly a wind blew against our backs, and we surprised looked back and saw your chute hanging in the tree. However we were so surprised that we run indoors, but we had not yet seen you. When we were indoors we looked through the window and saw standing you taking off your "Mae West" and that you made off down the road.
However you must not take us ill we did not let you indoors as we were of the opinion a German plane was fallen down and we also thought you was a German and moreover there was still a curfew so that we were not allowed to come outside at that hour.
Your parachute was taken with by the German patrol and these German soldiers asked us "Where is the Tommy" and we explained by signs (we also could not speak the German language) that you was gone away, but they didn't believe it and then one of them took place before my father with his gun ready to fire. This one with the gun stood by my father whereas the other soldiers (four) searched the whole farmhouse. Big iron pins were stabbed into the hay in the loft.
During this time we were very afraid as it had been possible you had crept indoors by way of a detour to hide you. When those Germans had searched everything and every place they went away and some hours later we heard that you and a friend of yours had been taken into the house of Mr. Bekkers. But still another friend of yours was parachuted down closer to the burning plane, however he had broken his ankle and was taken with by the Germans at the same time, but we haven't seen this friend of yours.
So far as concerned your flying helmet, I have never seen or heard anything of it and I also have never had a souvenir of your burned KO-K, but I shall inform with other people if they have still accidentally some souvenir of it.
Herewith I send you a photo of the old farmhouse where we lived then and where you parachuted softly and fortunately. At that moment we were standing in that little circle looking to the burning plane when you came down behind us. The trees on the photo are still there however the farmhouse has been demolished 3 or 4 years ago.
All this is in short my information of your landing in Nijnsel a part of Sint-Oedenrode.
Written by Don Bruce - Observer 115 Squadron -POW Stalag VIIIB
© Jean Darley 2013. Please respect the copyright.