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Black Night for Bomber Command

AviationPosted by Peter Smith Sun, February 04, 2018 17:15:02

This is the title of a book that I've just read by Richard Knott. Whilst there were many bad nights during the course of the bomber offensive in WWII the night of 16/17th December 1943 claimed many aircraft over the UK as a result of extremely bad weather - thick fog. Poor conditions on take off resulted in a couple of fatal collisions and the weather worsened for the return of Lancasters on a mission to Berlin, particularly in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. Including SOE missions the same night involving Halifaxes and Lysanders the RAF suffered crashes to 43 aircraft over home territory. Some were simple overshoots on landing but, sadly, many were aircraft impacting higher ground or running out of fuel whilst trying to find an airfield, with tragic consequences. As I read the book I realised that I had in fact visited one of the crash sites a couple of years ago at Ingles farm near Gravely where F/O McLennan and most of his crew perished.

There were one or two lighter moments in the book, including this snippet about a gunner from a crew that bailed out as a last resort:

They all got down safely, although rear gunner Bradshaw’s experience was singular: his exit from the aircraft was messy – he caught his right foot between the door step and the fuselage and this swung him under the aircraft. He hit his head on the tail wheel and the impact knocked him out. Somehow he landed – albeit roughly, bumping his head again in the process. When he came round he could see flames in the fog – presumably a fiery blend of FIDO and crashed Lancasters – but in his confusion he assumed he had bailed out over Germany and what he could see were the fierce fires consuming Berlin. He snapped in to action, knowing that the Germans would be on the scene soon to search for survivors. He removed his badges and anything which revealed his rank, buried his ‘chute, flying suit etc in a ditch and set off in the darkness. He avoided houses and walked for a long time. He was thirsty. Finally he decided to give himself up. What followed was a bizarre scene where the farmer’s wife assumed he was a German spy and Bradshaw grappled with the conundrum as to why this country hausfrau spoke impeccable English. It took some time to get the roles sorted out. Bradshaw was finally collected by local police who took him back to Bourn. Once there, still concussed and obsessed with avoiding what he still believed to be German captors, he escaped, only to be picked up again near a railway siding in Cambridge.

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