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Twisting and turning, diving and climbing were all ponderous movements


for the Halifaxes and Lancasters of Bomber Command, and once coned the fate of a bomber was usually sealed, either by flak concentrated on what was now visible from the ground, or by German night fighters who were still operating in considerable strength. The approach to the line of searchlights busy seeking out the earlier waves of any raid was as nervewracking an experience as one could wish for. There was one advantage about not being in the earliest wave of a big raid – if an aircraft ahead was coned, then the safest way to get through the line of searchlights without trouble was to get as close to that unfortunate bomber as possible, without getting too close. The hope was that all the searchlights on the ground beneath were busy with what they had caught, and there would be none trying to fasten their beams on new targets. In the whole of January 1945 we were engaged in only two raids, to Saarbrucken on the 13th and Stuttgart on the 27th, for the weather was bitterly cold and pretty dreadful. It was coming back from the first of these that I thought we had really run into disaster. We were well on the return to base, flying happily at about 17,000 ft., when suddenly the whole aircraft was lit up in a blaze of blinding light.


‘Christ!’ I cried, ‘We’re coned!’ Then my wits returned. We were actually half way across the North Sea, with no possibility of any German searchlight reaching us – and it was unlikely that a friendly one, even from one of our own ships, would have been directed to us from the ocean below. The light was intense, blue and flickering. It was St Elmo’s Fire, dancing around our propellers and the Halifax’s fuselage in the most frightening, but at the same time, most attractive way. We breathed a sigh of relief and our blood pressures returned to normal. Just one more flying experience to help to turn a handler of aircraft controls into a proper pilot. Of the six operations we flew that February, only two, to Wanne-Eickel and Reisholtz, were by night. The daylight raids were on Wesel (aborted and followed by a landing with full and live bomb load at North Creake in Norfolk, for Full Sutton was fog-bound), Essen, Kamen oil refinery and Mainz. I recollect the Essen raid most clearly. It was meant to damage the great Krupps steelworks, and it did, in spite of the fact that not a single bomb-aimer of the main force caught even a glimpse of the target. We were flying between two solid layers of stratus cloud, ourselves at 20,000 ft., an eerie experience because the atmospheric conditions were causing all the bombers to leave behind them great vapour trails from each of their four engines. These stayed in the sky which was full of them and, for once, there was something stationary at our height to give us the impression of speed as we flew through and past them. The raid was conducted by a technique operated by the Pathfinder squadron which had gone in ahead of us and well below us, but still above the lower layer of stratus. They had identified the target area with their own specialised equipment and released


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