On 7 June 1944 we were called to a briefing about an operation, our 16th, that had to take place despite thundery weather and clouds over the target (Balleroy, France). Intelligence had received a message that there was a large build up of enemy tanks in a forest that had to be knocked out at all cost and the operation would not be cancelled because of the weather. A Mosquito aircraft would mark the target with a red flare.
On our way to the target the weather was really awful with thunder and lightening. When we were almost on the target and the bomber aimer, Jimmy Hurman, spotted the red flare we received a call to fly round and round because the Germans had infiltrated our code and had dropped a red flare well away from our target. We had to wait, therefore, for another colour flare before we could continue and drop bombs. Flying and circling around meant there could easily be a mid air collision, because it was so dark in the clouds. This was so much so that when another Lancaster almost flew on top of us I was so scared I did the unthinkable on a raid and switched on the navigation lights. To my surprise all the other bombers did the same until the night marker flare went down and we dropped our bomb load.
On the way home we had to fly through dangerous cumulus nimbus clouds and we could not circle round or climb above. We experienced violent up and down draughts, which meant one minute I was putting on full throttle with the aircraft going down and the next minute it was an up draught when I had to pull the throttles fully back. Eventually we flew out of this type of cloud, but next came another frightening experience when lightening kept flashing and the static electricity from the aftermath caused tiny blue lights (similar to a gas ring) to keep jumping all around the propellers and the wings, which lit us up like a massive blue star. I even had these little blue lights dancing on my fingers, because I wasn’t wearing gloves, whilst writing up my log. Some people called them the northern lights. They did no great harm other than to charge the plane with static electricity, which, because everything was earthed together, just went into the ground via the graphite in the tyres on landing. After about half an hour the lights gradually disappeared, much to our relief, as enemy fighters would easily have spotted us.
On arriving back to base safely one pilot at our debriefing reported that some idiot put his navigation lights on over the target, but he added thankfully everyone else followed and put theirs on too, which obviously saved many lives. Our Crew never mentioned it was their Engineer Harry Parkins!
On our Lancasters we had a chute fitted next to the second pilot’s seat on the starboard side. The seat was always used by the Engineer and as well as completing our log and looking out into the dark night sky for enemy fighters, we had to throw out many bundles of tin foil strips via the chute, which was called ‘window’ to blank out the enemy radar when we were getting near to our targets. Over Germany we also had to push out hundreds of propaganda leaflets together with many fake German ration tickets to disrupt their food organisation.
The raid took place from East Kirkby on Balleroy in France.
Also published on the BBC WWII People's War website as
'Hidden German Tanks - Special Target' 29 January 2006.
Also published on the BBC WWII People's War website as 'Hidden German Tanks - Special Target' 29 January 2006.