I was on the bombing raid to Munich on 24 April 1944, with my Australian and New Zealander crew, as a flight engineer on board Lancaster “K” for Kitty.
As air crew we received seven days’ leave every six weeks because of the dangerous nature of our work. This was our fifth operation and we were very apprehensive because, if we survived, were due seven days leave on our return.
We were stationed at East Kirkby on 630 Squadron. We were briefed that this raid would probably be one of the longest bombing trips a Lancaster would make. We had to trick the Luftwaffe night fighters by flying over the French Alps into Italy and then on to Munich, making a round trip of more than 2,000 miles.
After our run-up to check he engines and pre-flight checks, and owing to the limited amount of fuel we could carry, we were to taxi to the runway take-off point, shut down our engines and receive a last-minute top-up of fuel before taking off.
If we survived the raid, we would be running short of fuel by the time we arrived back in England so we were instructed to land in the south, which meant we would miss a day of our leave. Our captain, a New Zealander, did not take kindly to this and, on our return following the raid, asked the rest of us what we thought. We all agreed that we should press on despite the risk and head back to East Kirkby in order to benefit from our full seven days leave. Luckily for us the weather was good and we landed safely after ten hours and twenty-five minutes in the air. As we started to taxi back to dispersal all the engines cut out. We had completely run out of fuel! We were towed in. They couldn’t believe we had flown all the way back and risked our lives on a few drops of fuel just to get an extra day of leave!
At our debriefing we were severely reprimanded by the Flight Commander for taking this risk. At this point the Group Captain walked in asking if that was an aircraft that had just landed. The Commander replied yes it was these fools from the Munich raid. The Group Captain smiled and said “Well done Lads”. We received a good handshake all round for getting back in one piece. The rest of the squadron had kept to the rules and landed in southern England. Later we heard that this was the longest non-stop operation a Lancaster had flown during the war.
In those days they called me 'Ackney Arry' because I was from Hackney and before the age of 20 I had flown 36 operational raids from East Kirkby.
The Australian and New Zealander aircrew I flew with were all a bit crazy. I remember we once upset a few officers at Skegness with our unconventional flying. In the early days at East Kirkby we used to fly out to sea and fire all our guns to test everything was working correctly. On this occasion we were flying below the level of Skegness pier. It was rather strange skimming along the surface and looking up to see the pier above us. There was one chap in a boat who leapt into the water when he saw us coming. On the way back we decided to take her over Butlins and the naval base where they were having a full military parade. We shot over their heads really low and they all ducked. Needless to say we were later taken into the group captain’s office and given a good telling off. We heard later that the officer in charge of the parade had said the next time we tried it his men would open fire on us.
The crew of “K” for Kitty were an incredible bunch. The pilot, Joe Lennon, had worked on a dairy farm in New Zealand, whilst his countryman, Bruce Reece, our navigator, owned a racehorse. The rest of us were just ordinary guys. Our bomb aimer, Jim Hurman and the rear gunner Joe Pollard, were from Australia, the mid upper gunner, Joe Malloy, came from Liverpool. I was the youngest. I met my wife, Mavis, in Lincoln shortly after the war ended and have lived here ever since.
Note: Also published on the BBC WWII People's War website as 'The Longest Lancaster Operation - 10 Hours 25 Minutes' 29 January 2006.