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Further aft than Paddy and his bulkhead instrument panel sat the two remaining members of the seven-strong crew. These were the two gunners, one at a perspex bubble on top of the Halifax’s fuselage, the other in the perspex rear gunner’s little compartment at the tail end – ‘tail-end Charlie’. I have already confessed that details of my Sergeant mid-upper gunner have escaped my memory, but one short incident involving him has lived in it quite vividly. The pilot of a heavy bomber could carry out only a limited drill if his aircraft were attacked by an enemy fighter. Obviously, at night, which was the only time German fighters dared by this date to venture to attack their enemy, these fighters would come in from behind and, more often than not, from underneath. From there they could send a rake of fire into the underbelly of a bomber steady on its course with every chance of success. So not only the gunners but each crew member who was not otherwise occupied had to keep a sharp look-out for intruders as well as for the possibility of collision with the other bombers in the flow, especially over the target area where the first wave of any bombing attack would have alerted the enemy as to our position and where the stream of Halifaxes and Lancasters would be at its most congested. The gunners had a special responsibility for looking out for fighters,having indeed nothing else to do. And the limited action which a heavy bomber pilot could take if a fighter should be reported to appear to threaten from the rear was so to handle the rather cumbersome aircraft as to present a target to the fighter which would be as far from steady as possible. This was accomplished by throwing the bomber into a corkscrew flight path, with a diving turn one way, then the other, to be followed by a climbing turn one way and then the other, and carrying on like that to try to cause the fighter to fire his guns at a target flying initially, as far as it was able, at right angles to his approach. This would call for fire from his guns which would need to be aimed some distance in front of the target, and the nearer to right angles the flight paths of the two aircraft were, the more difficult would be that judgement and the better the chance that the result would be a miss and not a hit. If a gunner identified an enemy fighter approaching in this way, with ourselves as the apparent target, he would give the command to his skipper to carry out this corkscrew manoeuvre. This would tell the pilot to make his first diving turn to starboard if the enemy approached from the starboard rear, and to port if the attack should be from that direction, this giving the fighter the need for a ‘maximum deflection’ shot. On only one occasion did I receive such an order. The drill was for the gunner concerned to call ‘Bandit attacking!’ or some such preliminary warning to alert the pilot, and then ‘Corkscrew right (or left) – GO!’ It was my mid-upper gunner who gave me the order on that one occasion. He passed me the warning and I was clutching the control column ready to throw the Halifax into a diving and steep turn in the required direction. Then it came: ‘Corkscrew left – GO!’


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