Berchtesgaden “Hitler’s Hideout” – 25.04.1945 – 39th Operation by Harry Parkins

After thirty-six operations on a Lancaster Bomber in 1944 I had no intention of doing a second tour of operations, now being a qualified Flight Engineer Instructor on Lancaster Bombers. I was quite content until Pilot Flight Officer Fry approached me and said his Flight Engineer had gone off sick and unless he could get another to finish off the training he would miss the war and have nothing to tell his children if and when he was married, so would I volunteer and help him and his Crew and fly with him.

This was an all-English crew; my previous crew were English, Australian and New Zealanders. I felt sorry for him and agreed to help out. We completed his training and I went back on ops with him, a total of three operations, the last one of the War being to Hitler’s hideout at Bechesgarten.

It was a daylight raid on a lovely clear day with hardly any enemy action. On the way back I was taking an interest in the H2S radar system with Smithy our navigator. By experience I could tell from the sound that the port outer engine had been feathered. Chips Fry was annoyed that I wasn’t keeping an eye on the engine gauges. I looked up and told him not be stupid because I knew what he had done. With that he reached over and pressed the wrong button to unfeather the engine and actually feathered the port inner engine. He realised his mistake and in a slight panic to put things right he again pressed the wrong button and feathered the starboard inner engine. I pulled his helmet back and shouted in his ear without the crew hearing over the intercom “what the bloody hell do you think you are doing, leave all the button alone”.

At this point we were only flying on one engine, the starboard outer, and losing height. Imagine returning from a successful bombing operation with the thoughts of baling out or crash landing when there was actually nothing wrong with the engines. If we survived surely we would be crucified by the powers that be.

Through the pilot’s panic he had used up the batteries and we had no generators to recharge them. The pilot was Captain but the crew trusted me more because of my experience from my first tour of 36 ops. So I told them first to say a prayer then to make sure their parachutes were at hand (many aircrew were lost through panic and jumping out without their parachutes).

Luckily there were no enemy fighters around to spot us, as flying on one outer engine meant the pilot was unable to take any evasive action and we would have been sitting ducks. I did wonder if he had suffered lack of oxygen, because we all needed to use oxygen when over 10,000 feet.

We were rapidly losing height when I thought about cars; that is the battery goes flat when continually attempting to start up, but if the battery is rested the engine often starts. We were down from 19,000 to 7,000 feet, so I told the pilot to go into a slight dive, with the crew switching off everything electrical.

He thought I was mad but he did it all the same. I then pressed the inner button that had a generator and slowly with what little charge was left in the battery and the slipstream from the dive, the engine started unfeathering. Luckily with the generator going I was able to get all engines back to normal and the pilot was able to climb back up to 19,000 feet.

It was a very frightening experience. We all liked our pilot very much, so we were all sworn to secrecy that this incident would never be reported and it wasn’t.

We landed back safely at base in Fiskerton, Lincolnshire.

Note: Also published on the BBC WWII People's War website as 'Berchtesgaden “Hitler’s Hideout” – 25.04.1945 – 39th Operation' 29 January 2006.

Note: The attack on Hitler’s hideout at Bechesgarten was the last bombing operation of the war by 576 Squadron. 25 Lancasters and crews from the squadron took part in the raid. The squadron then took part in Operation Manna to drop food to the starving Dutch. 576 Squadron was disbanded at Fiskerton on the 13 September 1945.

Lincolnshire ~ Harry Parkins ~ 576 Squadron ~ RAF Fiskerton
(c) Keith Parkins 2006 -- January 2006 rev 0