- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Flt Lt Max Chivers DFC
- Location of story:
- Bay of Biscay
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 September 2004
Flt Lt Max Chivers DFC at Duxford, September 2004
It was April 1943, and we were sent on a raid to Spezia in Italy. I was a pilot of a Lancaster bomber at that time, part of 61 Squadron.
Somewhere over France we were attacked by night fighters. We followed the standard evasion procedure which was to sharply cork-screw down. We got away, and settled down at 20,000 feet. I called for a check on our course, but my number 2 was hidden under a table, having had a breakdown. I decided to carry on anyway, and followed the original basic plan we had been issued with.
Well, we arrived all right, but needless to say, we were the last ones there. A combination of evading the fighters, and my navigation!
On the way back, I managed to miss the Alps. I saw some water ahead, which I recognised as the Bay of Biscay, and so we set off low over the sea. I was then told the good news that our fuel had been registering as empty for the last half hour. We had a fixed length radio aerial which measured 50ft. I ordered this be lowered, and we went down until it was touching the water. I was then able to reset my altimeter and set of north towards England.
When one of the engines gave out though, I knew I was going to have to ditch it. I managed to land the Lancaster on the sea, and got all seven of the crew out into the dinghy. In fact the only casualty of the landing was the pigeon we used to carry to send messages back in just such a situation. The plane actually stayed afloat for about two hours, the lack of fuel in the tanks aiding buoyancy; although the bullet holes wouldn’t have helped!
We were afloat in the dinghy for three days before a patrolling Whitley saw our flare. Once spotted, the Navy came out from Scilly to pick us up. I had only been married two weeks when this happened. I still tell my wife I had been trying to escape to France!
During the Battle of Britain, I had been a gunner on an airfield near Southend. We were getting hit every two or three days. I decided then that it was much too dangerous, and decided to become a pilot instead!
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