Lancaster JB662 AR–R caught fire while taking off: 18 April 1944

Vic Neal, Pilot & Bill Gourlay, Navigator account on the incident when getting ready to go for a raid on 18th April 1944.

Vic and Bill told us of the end of Lancaster JB662 AR–R, when on the 18 April 1944 sixteen aircraft were detailed for operations, but only eight took off because JB662, piloted by Bob White caught fire whilst taking off and eventually blew up, rendering the runway unserviceable for several hours.

According to Bill, "when accelerating to be airborne, the plane suddenly swung badly and hitting a light at the side of the runway, crashed on to the asphalt and burst into flames. The rest of the squadron, lined up, each crew waiting its turn to go, were horrified witnesses to this event, which was quickly followed by a massive explosion of the bomb load.

Operations for the night were immediately cancelled and sadly we taxied slowly back to the dispersal points and gathered up our gear wondering what about the poor crew?

After putting their flying gear away, they moved down to the mess, then what joy, for there sitting around, white and shaken, were all the members of the crew. Bill said to his good mate Ken Tweedie, (navigator) "However did you get out of it?" and he replied, I have no recollection of my movements at all – I only know there was a crash and the flames and then I was about 100 yards away, face down behind a low mound, watching the explosion."

The staff Medical Officer (Dr Roberts) had grabbed a vehicle and rushed straight out to the scene, risking his life trying to get near the burning wreck to give help. He returned to the control tower and reported, "It was no good the whole crew has been lost."

Later Ken told Bill that "I had no recollection of getting out of the Lancaster, but after a beer or two, supplied free by those who didn't have to fly, thanks to us, the sequence of events did come back to me.

When the flames started Bob, the skipper ordered us in no uncertain terms to get out. I used the escape hatch in the top of the fuselage, then onto the wing which was touching the ground, then off.

Bob checked us all getting out and hadn't seen me. He called out "Where are you Snowy?" My voice from 100 yards away reassured him I was OK. We all broke every record in the books, and luckily were safely away sheltered from the explosion".

Col Wheatley, a member of Dan Cullen's crew, reported: "We were in the take off line about two aircraft behind, so we just had to switch off and go and lie on the grass, waiting for something to happen. We all expressed approval at the speed at which you vacated the "burning deck". So athletic.

After watching the ammo go up and the other pyrotechnics, we heard the big bang – what a beauty – followed by a hail of engines, turrets, guns, all hissing like a big bag of snakes, so they must have reached a great height. As far as I know' none of the hundred or so of us lying around were hit."

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