As we were getting closer to our target [Kiel, Germany] we started to see huge balls of flames and black oily smoke in front of our aircraft. This was frightening and gave us shivers, as we knew another plane had been shot down carrying our mates, and we wondered if we would be next. Needless to say we always ‘carried on regardless’ to reach our targets.
On our way back there was plenty of ack.ack fire but at 20,000 feet we were above it. A terrifying thing happened, however, when we were caught in a searchlight. This was like being naked on stage with everyone looking at us. Our skipper, Joe Lennon, was an excellent skilled pilot and immediately took evasive action with a vicious corkscrew that felt as though the wings or engines would drop off. Luckily it got us out of the searchlight, but minutes after he levelled out I spotted a German fighter, JU88, homing in on us. I shouted “fighter on our starboard side, near the tail”. Once again the skipper did another amazing corkscrew, just as the fighter fired off his machine guns with tracer bullets, which you could see coming straight for you. The bullets hit the fuselage just as our mid upper and rear gunners, Joe Malloy and Joe Pollard, took aim with their guns and down went the fighter in flames. After the skipper was level and on course for home again, I took my torch and connected on a bottle of oxygen to walk down the plane to see if we had any serious problems (no luxury of pressurised cabins on Lancasters!). I couldn’t see any bad damage except for many holes, which I reported back to the relief of the crew and that we could land safely back at base, provided we encountered no more trouble.
When we landed our dedicated ground crew were very upset when they counted ten bullet holes and thought our plane may not be in a position to be patched up for flying again. Nevertheless they were always pleased to see us safely down without injuries.
At our debriefing we mentioned planes being shot down in front of us and how frightening this was. The officer in charge told us that not all these sightings would be planes shot down, as the German fighters were dropping explosive air fire bombs in front of approaching bombers deliberately to frighten us and lower our morale. We never found out whether or not this was propaganda to put us at our ease.
Our ground crew were unsung heroes. Apart from servicing our Lancasters, one of the important jobs was to keep the Perspex windows perfectly clear. When we were on night bombing raids any marks on the windows could often be mistaken for an enemy night fighter, which would be extremely unnerving.
Note: The raid took place from East Kirkby on Kiel in Germany.
Note: Also published on the BBC WWII People's War website as
'Caught by Searchlight' 29 January 2006.
Note: Also published on the BBC WWII People's War website as 'Caught by Searchlight' 29 January 2006.