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Henry Sheridan was prone in the front cockpit where Alf had been busy plotting our course. Jimmy Ward, with nothing to do at this stage, was on my right as we came within a minute or two of releasing our bombload on the target. There was some new flak around, much of it close, for we could discern the red heart of the black shellbursts when they got near to us. Henry had begun relaying his directional orders over the intercom. as soon as he had the target in his bombsight. The flak seemed to be nearer – it was a lovely, clear day and the Germans on the ground would have been having no difficulty in plotting us and identifying us even without their radar, for which they had no need. We were on those last two vital minutes of the bombing run, my task being to keep the Halifax rock steady and level as Henry’s voice came through to my headphones:


‘Right! – Steady – Right – Steady – CHRIST!’ ‘What’s the matter, Henry?!


‘Oh! Nothing much – except that there’s a nine-inch hole in front of my nose where the perspex used to be!’ ‘Are you all right yourself?’ ‘Yes, skipper. Left, left – Steady – Left,left – Steady! Bombs gone!’ We had been hit. There had been several bumps in the last minute of our run-up to the target as the flak had found us at a time when we could do nothing but keep on the steadiest possible course, with no weaving and no attempt to avoid what was coming up at us from below.. The bombs had to be dropped on what they were intended for and not till they had gone could I throw the Halifax through 180°, put the nose down and make for friendly territory and safety as quickly as was possible. There were not many miles between us and the comfort of the front line.


Paddy O’Connell, monitoring the engine instruments behind me, was the next on the intercom.: ‘We’re losing pressure on both starboard engines!’ he called. There was no time to waste. Both engines had been hit and they had to be feathered before the oil pressure which did that job was lost altogether. But it was too late – the pressure was insufficient to rotate the propellers to fully coarse pitch and we were left with two starboard Hercules still windmilling as we made for the frontier and now without any oil pressure at all. They perhaps would sieze up or blow up.


Jimmy was by now standing up by my right elbow to get a better view of what was happening to the starboard wing which supported the two damaged engines. He gave a quiet running commentary to the rest of us. ‘The wing tanks are on fire!’ he told us. ‘Is it spreading?’ After a pause – ‘Yes, it looks pretty bad!’ And then: ‘Skipper – you know where our starboard wing used to be?’


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