Raid on Gelsenkirchen: 6th November 1944

BIN 6-11-44 // 8 17500 080° 14:03 Gelsenkirchen
INC 4000 22x4 c 5 secs F/O Owen K2 460 - Black puffs in centre are oil storage blown up.

Log book states – This photo is of a daylight raid on the 6th November 1944. However the report is on the raid on the 18th of July 1944.

A Hell of a Fright

Excerpt from "Flying into the Mouth of Hell" by Laurie Woods

The same night taking off in K2 "Killer" at 2300 for our ninth raid on oil installations at Gelsenkirchen, had us realising how tired we were. We had taken off in the morning at 0335 which meant we had started our preparations and meals before midnight, and yet here we were again airborne at 2300 hours. After take off we climbed for a height of 12,000ft at our rendezvous point over Mablethorpe.

We had on board our first loading of the block buster 4,000lb bomb, known and easily identified as "Cookie", The total bomb load was 1 ? 4,000 lbs. and 16 ? 500 lbs. filling all possible bomb stations.

The 4,000lb Cookie had a thin casing, which increased to four times its normal size then exploding. This factor created the blast effect. It was also dangerous, as had been proven when the bomb dropped from a plane to the ground in the dispersal. The bomb had exploded wiping out the plane and also damaging adjacent planes.

If hit in the bomb bay by a piece of ack ack, and the cookie exploded there was nothing left after the blast. The crew was always very happy when the Cookie had been dropped. It always felt so much safer, not having it riding just under our feet, with only a thin aluminium floor between the bombs and us.

This was our first block buster "Cookie". It was for maximum blast effect in the oil installations, and hopefully this would cause a lot of property damage.

It was also our first raid into the Ruhr Valley, and we had been briefed to fly on a route avoiding bad ack ack locations.

Flying a circuitous route from Mablethorpe to 53 00'N 03 00'E to 52 35'N 04 35'E to 52 20'N 07 05'E then the target (marked in our log books thus) then 51 38'N 06 20'E to 52 20'N 05 20'E to 52 20N 03 00'E then Cromer – Mablethorpe – Base.

These different courses were set up hoping to confuse the German defences and the fighter controllers, for a little while. We always hoped that the ploy would work and keep the fighters away, but we seemed to attract fighters like bees to a honey pot. It was a deadly guessing game.

Which way was the raid heading, and where was the best place for the fighters to intercept the raiding bombers? It was a constant battle to see who could outwit the opposing forces, and gain an advantage. We had been told to expect a concentration of about 300 searchlights, with a possibility of around 500 ack ack positions.

The numbers didn't mean very much, excepting it sounded like, and turned out, a terrific amount of defences.

How can one describe flying into a rainstorm of ack ack shells bursting all round us, of violent explosions in the air, of explosions on the ground. The fighters and heavy flak 105mm and 128mm guns, bursting just around and above us as the gunners got onto our height.

The radar–guided 88mm guns which fired predicted flak and could pick off individual bombers at considerable heights. The lighter flak guns of 50mm, 37mm and 25mm, with their red green and yellow tracers arcing up toward us as though it was water being sprayed from a fireman's hose.

All guns being fired as fast as the gunners could load them. It was quite a sight as rings of shock waves, came up out of the inferno on the ground, as the Cookies blasted many into eternity. These shock waves were like circles of shimmering light, ever widening, rising through the smoke and fires.

I was absolutely petrified. How could anyone survive this fusilade of death and destruction? Someone had said when you are really frightened get your mind on to something else. I started saying to myself

"Into the valley of death, rode the six hundred, guns to the right of them, guns to the left of them".
"Yes, I'm thinking, what about the guns below them, and the ack ack shells curving upwards at my belly".

There goes a plane down in flames to port and another one underneath us. I grabbed my parachute putting it between my legs, and lay on it, at least perhaps I could preserve my manhood. This felt fine, and so my rolled up parachute was used on many more raids, for my personal comfort and protection.

With perhaps five minutes left on the run into the target, all sorts of jumbled thoughts flew in and out of my head.
"The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want, He leadeth me beside still waters". "Into the valley of death rode the six hundred, and he will protect us".

There go another two planes. They must have collided in this air alive with flak.

"Surely goodness and mercy. Have mercy on us".
How could we possibly survive? The flak was unbelievable.

I was shaking like a leaf and my thoughts were jumbled. I was beginning to wonder if I could drop the bombs because of my shaking. This waiting and watching and seeming to crawl up to the target was dreadful.

My thoughts were becoming more jumbled the closer we got to bomb dropping. Suddenly there was a blinding flash less than 100feet above us accompanied by a shocking blast which shook our plane and then the mid–upper's voice: "Gawd, he's blown up, and his engine, white hot, just missed me as it went down between our wing and our tail plane!"
Ted had swung hard, when the explosion occurred and this had possibly saved us from the engine, which just missed the fuselage of our plane.

It was time to bomb and suddenly, after this violent manoeuvre threw me against the side of the plane and the blast of the explosion, I was as cool as a cucumber.

"Bomb aimer to Skipper, bomb doors open".
"Left, left, 20 degrees".
"Steady––––––––––––Steady–––––––––––Right five degrees–––––––––Steady–––––––––––Steady––––––––––bombs gone.
Close bomb doors–––––––hold for photo ––––––– hold––––––OK photo taken". I always tried to have the bomb doors open for the least possible time. I felt safer with them closed.

The fires and the explosions on this raid were awesome and unbelievable. On the run up to the target there was a terrific explosion and flames shot up 4/5,000 feet, so bright that the searchlights were blotted out momentarily. It appeared almost like day for about fifteen seconds.

A smaller explosion, a minute later, indicated considerable damage had been done to the oil storage. As we flew out of the target area the German fighters were diving in among the bombers and the tracer bullets were flying in many directions. On the ground the fires were lighting up the whole area, and it was satisfying to see we had hit the target area good and hard.

Everyone was on tenterhooks with reports on fighters too close for comfort but, fortunately for us, they were not attacking us. Tracer bullets were flying from some of the planes and we saw a couple of fighters firing their cannon shells into one unfortunate bomber. After receiving two or three sustained bursts of fire the plane suddenly blew up, heeled over on its side and went down in flames. It all happened so quickly and the shell busts on the plane were so deadly that the crew didn't have a chance of parachuting.

On our return to base, as we climbed into the crew bus to be taken to interrogation, I heard one bright spark say "The flak was so thick we could have put our undercart down and landed on it". I was in silent agreement.

Another crewman passed an opinion that those German fighter pilots sure had guts as they risked being shot down by their own flak over the target in their hunt to get a shot at one of the bombers, as well as risking being shot down by one of the bomber gunners.

Of course we all knew that over the target in the bombing run flying straight and level the bombers were at their most vulnerable. However we would raise our hats to the German fighter pilots and to their courage.

When the aircrews came into the light at interrogation and again in the mess, they had a queer look about them. It suddenly struck me that their cheeks were sunken, and they were sullen with none of the usual spark and light chatter. Their eyeballs gave the impression of sticking out of their heads, and they were listless and moved like old men.

The two raids took 27 hours without a rest or sleep. The continual roar of the engines hour after hour, the nervous tension, and long hours were having their effect.

The next morning making an inspection of our plane in daylight, Sgt. Bill Young and Cpl. Jack Hill (Melbourne) "K2" chief groundcrew climbed into "Killer" and came out looking very subdued when they discovered most of the top of the pilot's canopy had been blown out by the explosion.

With 34 individual holes in the top of our plane Bill Young's comments were "Jeez what happened last night, you poor buggers, don't worry, we'll soon have her fixed up like new!" and they wanted to know what had happened. Miraculously no one was injured, except for the awesome fright of our young lives.

On the return, many airmen didn't attempt to get food but headed to their rooms, where they just flopped down clothes still on, too fatigued to undress and get into bed. Most aircrew found it impossible to sleep after these raids. The mind seemed to go round in never ending circles, and we were only able to doze. The deafening roar of the engines was still with us for many hours.

Still in our clothes, after 3 to 4 hours dozing, some of us drifted back to the mess for some food. Others had a pick at the meal. We all drank a lot of fluid because flying above 12,000 feet, we had to use oxygen which had a very drying effect on our bodies. We then usually headed back for a shower, mainly looking to moisten our bodies. Only then were we able to lie down and get some sleep.

Without oxygen at 20,000 feet, we were told we could only survive for four minutes. Therefore its use was absolutely necessary. Crew members always had to be alert at all times, to make sure none of their crewmates were suffering from lack of oxygen.

When asked by the new crews what it was like over Germany, this raid became our measuring stick. "Wait until you raid Gelsenkirchen, then you will know how tough it can get", became our standard reply.

Speaking with Bert Uren, navigator in P/O G. Stone's crew he said they had Group/Capt. Hughie Edwards as their skipper on the Gelsenkirchen raid and the crew thought they were extremely lucky to survive. On the run up to the target almost on the point of bombing the mid upper gunner reported a bomber just above and he felt they might be hit by the bombs which he could see in the open bomb bay just above them.

Group/Capt Edwards in his true "press on regardless manner" ignored the warning and when the 500lb bombs were released one bomb just missed the leading edge of the wing and the next bomb just missed the trailing edge.

Almost immediately a plane just in front of them received a direct hit and with a blinding flash blew to pieces. It was possibly the same plane which blew up just above us. It was so close they flew through the debris from the plane which had been blown apart. How lucky can you be?

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