A BOMBERS – LOT…

16 Jun

 

“Approaching target skipper. Hold her steady.” 

The pilot fought to keep the bomber on course as the pressure bursts from exploding anti- aircraft shells rocked the aircraft. The bombers moved through the night skies above Germany, their objective clearly lit by the torch of Berlin burning in the distance. As part of the thousand bomber raid their squadron was the last scheduled to fly over the target. The firestorm that raged twenty thousand feet beneath them was more than adequate to hold them on course. The pathfinder squadron had done their job well

Berlin was home to the Nazi party, the Gestapo and the feared S.S. The source of the fascist jackboot stamping its way across Europe, subjugating and confiscating as it went. Nobody was safe from the evil that emanated from the city. Berlin housed armament factories, the party headquarters and even the private residences of some of the most despotic leaders the world had ever seen. The storm clouds of war, that coursed across scorched earth all emanated from this one place. If destroyed and reduced to ashes the world would once again be a safe and harmonious place to live. 

This was the Lancaster crews’ thirtieth mission, and if successful would mean six months of well deserved rear echelon duties – the possibility of training assignments and a cushy billet in South Africa or the States. Exotic locations where peace reigned supreme, where they could share, with up-and-coming aircrew, the richness of their own horrific experiences. Not quite as lucky as the Yank-flyers who could call it quits after twenty missions, there was little respite for the British crews. Once their six month was done they’d be back in enemy skies risking life and limb to bring peace to their besieged island. 

If the raid was a success then maybe the Brass would be right for a change and the war would be over by Christmas? They would have earned the right to go home. Peace after fighting and winning the Second World War of 1939 – 1943! 

“Watch out for those searchlights skipper. We don’t want to get caught by those bastards.” 

Huge pillars of light fingered their way through the blackness trying to pinpoint the enemy aircraft and so bring their ack-ack guns to bear. The crew had borne mute witness on previous missions to aircraft pinioned by light, before being blasted into oblivion. 

“Roger that number two.”

* 

The crew crowded into the briefing room to hear the word, a lecture from a senior commander, who would pontificate over the injustices between the evil-empire and their own sovereign nation. How they were bringing the sword of righteousness to the battle field and how along with the Americans and French could also count on God as an ally. The group commander stepped up onto the stage, drew the curtain on the wall to reveal the mission map, and turned to address the bomber crews. The map showed red chalked lines leading from their island home, pointing towards the doomed target deep into the depths of enemy territory. Unaware of the hell fire and damnation about to be brought down upon them, Berliners would be going about their daily business. Men cycling to work, wives tending homes, children playing in the street. There was no sympathy from the crews who’d seen enough of their own crash-and-burn and who’d witnessed the Luftwaffe-bombed streets in their own neighborhoods. It was the right thing to do, to take the fight to the enemy, to crush the beast in its nest. 

“Berlin, gentleman. Finally we’ve set our sites a little higher. Anyway there’s nothing left to bomb in the Hamburg docks and the Ruhr is as flat as a pancake.”

 A cheer went up from the men. It had cost hundreds of lives to do it, but they’d moved the mission forward. Berlin, the city that housed those who threatened to rape pillage and burn the good people of the England, was about to receive divine damnation. It was time to strike back, to crush evil in its bed. 

The officer went into mission details, followed by an intelligence flight-lieutenant who addressed way-points and grid locations. After an hours briefing the crews knew all there was to know.  Now it was down to them. Brave men in canvas-covered steel that would bring the battle to the Bosche doorstep. 

“Remember gentlemen. Steer clear of the eastern batteries and don’t get yourself caught in those search lights. You been briefed you know your mission. God be with you and good luck.”

The men grabbed their caps and cigarettes and made for the door. Two hours until take-off. It was time to suit up and get ready. 

*

 The Lancaster bombers stood on the tarmac, their crews safely loaded. Pilots, navigators, bomb-aimers, radio-men and gunners, all fingering good luck talismans and saying final prayers. Nervous before the off, but confident in their abilities. The flight line mechanics waved their flags, fitters dragged chocks from wheels and pilots pressed starter buttons. The huge Merlin-engines coughed, spat, and then breathed flame as they crashed into life. The four hug propellers rotating faster than the eye could see, creating the thrust necessary to lift the bomber, its fatal load and the seven brave souls into heaven. The yellow tipped blur whirred before the ground crews eyes as the planes pulled away, waddling precariously towards the runway.

*

At twenty thousand feet the air was frigid, the air so thin that the men would suffocate without the masks strapped to their faces. With their sheepskin collars pulled about their ears and their electrically warmed suits, they looked like revenging angels preparing to swoop like vengeful Valkyrie upon an unsuspecting enemy. 

“Enemy at four o’ clock skipper. Bank to starboard, to starboard,” screamed the rear- gunner into his throat microphone. The pilot’s headphones crackled and he expertly maneuvered the stick, slipping the aircraft sideways. The shadow of a German night fighter prowled in the darkness beyond the tail-gunner’s eyes. The two machine guns crashed into life, spitting flame and destruction – the hot brass cartridges cascading onto the floor. Tracer whipped away from the ball-turret, streaking through the darkness toward the enemy aeroplane. Flashes could be made out where the bullets struck home on the steel fuselage, and then imperceptibly a ball of flame erupted. 

“Got the bastard skipper. He’s a gonna!” 

“Well done scotty. I’ll get you that beer I owe you when we get back.” 

 Scotty grinned into his mask, one final mission and a dead jerry to boot. 

The radio lay in tatters, the blackened paneling still smoking from where the flight engineer had extinguished the flames. The dead radio man lay on the floor. The antiaircraft shell had caught them amidships and the shrapnel from the exploding shell had riven devastation inside. Blood streamed down the pilots face, the navigator slumped dead in the seat next to him. Of the seven of them who’d taken off, there were only three off them left. Through the gun shot wind screen the captain could see the silhouettes of the other planes in the squadron ahead of him. 

Had to hang on, had to make it. This was there last bloody trip. 

“Steady as she goes skipper. Steady, steady, bombs away.” 

The cargo hold opened and the bombs fell away into the darkness to join the others already exploding on the ground below. 

In the city, shrapnel cut down the running civilians. Fire swept through the streets, the flames leaping from building to building. As the inferno intensified, the draft increased,  the ensuing firestorm consuming everything in its path. Bodies were instantly charred as the air was sucked from their lungs, the flames devouring their corpses. The city had ceased to exist. What had once been a thriving metropolis was now a smoking mass of rubble and molten flesh. 

Seeing the desperation in the city the gunners renewed their efforts, determined to revenge themselves on the English cowards high above. 

“Achtung. Schnell,” screamed the unterofficiers. 

The guns banged away, the search lights stalking the night sky for victims. Suddenly transfixed in the light was an enemy bomber. As if made of stone, the aircraft was petrified in a million watts of candle power. Other searchlights quickly honed in on the hapless victim and within seconds there was no escape, the sheltering darkness no longer obtainable. Gunners adjusted their sights, and guns screamed blue-murder into the heavens. 

The Lancaster stood no chance. The remaining crew, blinded by the light, covered their eyes. Each man petrified in the bright white of search-lit revenge. The guns found them quickly, the high explosive ripping the plane to pieces. 

Far below the doomed bomber, the city shimmered in fire.

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