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The Thousand-bomber Raids

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Tom Dailey
Location of story: 
Cologne, Germany
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A4616273
Contributed on: 
29 July 2005

This story was submitted by Garry Lloyd, a CSV volunteer, on behalf of Tom Dailey, who has given his permission for his story to be added to the website and understands the terms and conditions of the website.

A collective sigh of relief eddied through the flight briefing room of 158 Squadron, in Driffield, Yorkshire, on May 30, l942, as the Squadron Leader identified our latest mission. “Your target for tonight,” he announced “is Cologne.” The port city on the Rhine was in relatively easy reach, just two or three flying hours away and therefore less time for being shot down.

A gasp followed his next utterance. “It will be a big one. We intend to send over 1,000 bombers.” No air raid on this scale had ever been conceived before. Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, head of Bomber Command, was out to make an impression - his controversial carpet-bombing of Germany. I was a wireless operator/air gunner, known in the jargon as a W/OP/AG.

Before we took off there was the usual banter “Can I have your bacon and eggs if you don’t come back?” A flash from an aldis lamp, on the darkened runway, was the only signal for our five-man Whitley V bomber to lumber into the air. The sound of a thousand engines would have been deafening as we passed over the east coast of England heading across the North Sea. But at 10,000 feet, it was bitterly cold. There was no formation flying at night. Each aircraft was alone. As W/OP/AG I used morse to obtain coded fixes, triangulated from ground control, for the pilot to set our course.

The atmosphere aboard was edgy. But no one was biting their nails. There was always fear of the unknown, but you didn’t show it. Training bolstered your spirits and we had already been blooded on previous sorties. Still miles from the target the skipper called me up to the cockpit: “Tom, come and have a look at this.”

It was astounding. The night sky was a swirling fire of red, orange and yellow. Cologne was alight. We were in the second or third wave, and the bombers which had gone in ahead of us had dropped incendiaries. In our plane was a feeling of exultation. This was payback. We had suffered the Blitz for all those years and were full of venom and hate for all things German. I was 20 years old and twice, before I joined up,I was nearly killed by bombs falling on London.

As we went in on our bombing run we had to observe WT silence. Flak was bursting around us. Our bomb aimer, lying prone above the open hatch, was guiding the pilot. Left was always repeated twice, to avoid confusion. So it was: “left, left, right a bit.” Then the words we all waited for. “Bombs gone!” Two tons of high explosives, and incendiaries in canisters, had been delivered to their destination.

We felt the aircraft lift, and then tilt as the pilot put on full throttle and banked to the left, heading for the North Sea and home. Apart from a few small holes in the fuselage we were unscathed. But dirty, dog-tired and sweaty. Beneath our sheepskin flying jackets we all wore three or four woolen vests to keep out the cold.

At breakfast we had our bacon and eggs. But there were gaps around the mess tables. Nobody mentioned them. Two nights later we were on our second thousand-bomber raid this time to the Ruhr city of Essen and Hitler’s war factories. Later I flew in Lancaster bombers, a vast improvement on the obsolescent Whitleys. I did my full tour of 30 operational flights before a bang on the head, when the plane lurched, grounded me with double-vision. After recovering I become a wireless instructor, where there was less competition for my bacon and eggs.

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