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was rather a work of supererogation, for surely the time had already passed when we could safely be despatched on this raid.


The faulty engine having responded to treatment, we lost no time in taxying out to the runway’s end, all of us convinced we would be given a red, not a green light and that we were too late to take off now and catch up with the rest of our Squadron’s contribution of something like eighteen Halifaxes. A red light would cancel the operation as far as we were concerned. We had been told at briefing that we were right at the end of the stream of aircraft which was scheduled to bomb Soest, a large marshalling yard in central Germany. So we knew that if we set course more than fifteen minutes after the others, we would be quite unable to catch up with the main flow and would be flying over Germany on our own, not to mention arriving at the target after the others had bombed, alerted every night fighter within range, and made for home. We were astounded, perhaps a bit horrified, when we got a green light. There was nothing for it but to waste no time in getting airborne and setting course with the throttles opened rather more than normally, to try to catch up with the rest of the boys and safely join the main flow.


As soon as we were on our way I asked Alf to work out the earliest time we could reach the target area if I flew the Halifax at the highest speed I could achieve without overstraining the Hercules engines. The reply was not encouraging – the other bombers would have dropped their loads and gone by the time we got over the target, which would now be ablaze and a well-illuminated venue for those unwelcome night fighters whose pilots would know the objective of our attack and would swarm towards it.


I had my little flight crib on my knee. Our track to Soest was a typical one


– down to Beachy Head, over the Channel nearly to Paris, then turning port towards the German border, but not yet aiming for the ultimate target, which would be reached by a dogleg in the hope of fooling the Germans about our objective.


I saw that we had two choices. We could follow the flight plan and fly courses to take us on the tracks laid down. Flight plans were, it was hoped, devised to keep us as clear as possible of well-defended areas of enemy territory. If we simply followed the flight plan as presented to us, we would arrive over Soest a few minutes after the main body had left it, so we would fly right over a blazing marshalling yard as a perfect target ourselves for every night fighter attracted to it, and a perfect target too for the ack-ack guns on the ground whose radar would pick up a solitary aircraft with precision. There was an alternative. I could decide to straighten out a dogleg, fly one side of a triangle instead of two, and make up enough time to be able to join the last minutes of the raid. That meant, again, flying alone and out of the main stream over territory which might have more defences in action than we would have met if we had been on the right track. It meant too that radar could pick us up with ease.


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