ABANDON AIRCRAFT

Extract from a detailed paper prepared by P/O Gordon Grange Wright

At approximately 8 o’clock in the evening of October 3rd, 1943, our Stirling 4-engined bomber took off with a load of 6,000 of incendieries which were destined for Kassel, an industrial town on the Weser river in west central Germany. My position in the aircraft as bomb-aimer entailed among other duties, the job of pin-pointing positions on the ground over which we were flying and transmitting these to the navigator who compard them with positions he obtained through plotting or the use of navigational aids.
As we crossed the Zuyder Zee over Holland I obtained a good pin-point which I at once gave the navigator. He however, had difficulty in finding the spot on the map that I had indicated. Since I was going back amidships to throw out window ( thin strips of paper, silver on one side, black on the other, which we used to confuse Jerry’s radio-location system) I told the navigator I would point out on his map the spot I had marked. That was the last I remembered until five days later. However, from accounts given me by the pilot and navigator I pieced together what happened to the crew, the aircraft and myself after I left the navigator’s table.
Evidently I continued aft and relieved the wireless operator who had been throwing out “window” for the previous ten minutes. I took over his position on the floor in front of the main spar, and started the rather boring job of ejecting bundle after bundle of these pieces of paper. I couldn’t have been on the job for more than two or three minutes when suddenly the rear gunner exclaimed “Go port”! I might mention here that the crew had been thoroughly drilled in the procedure of reporting enemy aircraft. The member of the crew, usually the rear or mid-upper-gunner, who spotted an enemy fighter, would say to the pilot, in effect, “Me109 eight hundred yards to right and below”, then “Prepare to go port”. When the fighter approached within six hundred yards, which was the range of our Browning 303 machine guns, the rear-gunner would say “Go port go” The pilot would then go into a dive to the left.
To get back to our case, as soon as the rear gunner said “Go port” which meant he had just suddenly discovered the fighter, the pilot started to put the aircraft into a dive to port. At the same time the sound of the rear gunner’s machine guns could heard opening fire. A fraction of a second later Jerry opened fire on us. We were plastered with bullets from the tail of the aircraft straight up to the co-pilot’s seat. At the time we were hit, the pilot was in his seat controlling the aircraft: the engineer was consulting his instruments forward of the main spar; I was behind the main spar lined up approximately with the trailing edge of the main plane; the wireless operator was standing by the flare chute ahead of the tail assembly preparing to throw out a four - pound incendiary by which the rear gunner was going to take a drift, his finding to be reported to the navigator.
Whether the raider’s bullets hit the tail assembly is a matter of conjecture as we were unable to communicate with either of the gunners due to the fact that the hydraulic and inter-communication systems were put out of operation. Also, a few minutes after the attack the centre of the fuselage started to burn, thus preventing us from contacting the gunners.
Immediately we were attacked the wireless operator came up forward from the flare chute. He had been seriously injured in the right hip, but as is often the case in time of danger, took little notice of it. I should have mentioned earlier that shortly before the attack the navigator on a request from the pilot had left his table and got into the co-pilot’s seat to verify the pilot’s assertion that searchlights of Hanover were dead ahead.
After the attack he left the co-pilot’s seat in a endeavour to rescue his maps which were being blown about due to a large hole just above the navigator’s table. Had the navigator not left his table when he did, he would undoubtedly have been instantly killed. He was in the act of trying to recover his maps and instruments when he was confronted by a rather dazed wireless operator who wished to know what we were going to do. By this time I had joined them, having stepped over the dead body of the engineer in so doing. The navigator then enquired of the pilot, who was frantically engaged in keeping the aircraft right side up; the pilot’s reply was “Abondon aircraft”!
I then took the pilot’s chute from behind his seat and fastened it on him after which I followed the wireless operator to the front parachute exit in the nose of the aircraft. I am still in doubt as to whether I left the aircraft before or after the wireless operator. The navigator was the third man to come forward; he found to his dismay that the hatch had swung shut; meanwhile the aircraft was turning a slow spiral, now dropping suddenly, now levelling out; this jerkiness impeded our attempt to leave the ship, as we were constantly either hugging the floor or kissing the roof.
After considerable difficulty the navigator managed to open the door again and successfully left the aircraft. Before doing so he notified the pilot, who after a minute or so switched the control to “George” the automatic pilot. He then left his seat and made his way forward, only to find that the hatch had again slammed shut. The aircraft had by this time dropped to less than three thousand feet, the right wing was burning furiously as was the centre section of the fuselage, and the incendaries were still in the bomb bay. We hadn’t been able to drop our bombs because of the failure of the hydraulic system, which prevented us from opening the bomb doors. The aircraft was becoming more difficult than ever to “navigate” in and the pilot was hard put to re-open the escape hatch, however, he finally managed it and left the aircraft when it was approximately fifteen hundred feet above the ground.