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on the occasion of the Red Alert at Brize Norton. I had stood in St Aldate’s in Oxford on June 6th 1944 and had watched the swarms of aircraft flying south for D-Day. Now I was due to fly south myself, and someone was actually going to be shooting at me.


And somebody was. On the night of October 30th, I took off in the 2nd Pilot’s seat, which was normally filled by the bomb aimer, under the command of F/O Atkinson who was to introduce me to the hazards of a real operational flight. Our destination was Cologne. We had been told of the target just two hours before take-off in the briefing session which preceded every raid, had grabbed a hurried meal and climbed into the open truck which took crews around the perimeter track to their individual Halifaxes. Then it was a careful check of everything the pilot could check, first the flying controls and then, when the pre-arranged time came to start up the four great engines, the instruments and their indication of the health of the Bristol radials.


The atmosphere before a flight like this was always the same, but this was the first time I had experienced it and probably thought it had only affected me because it was indeed my first trip. It was an atmosphere of slightly forced gaiety, the exchange of wise-cracks and light-hearted comment about life in general, and operational squadron life in particular. In fact it was a feeling which persisted throughout our tour and one which affected every member of every crew. It only lasted until the moment came for taxying out ready for take- off; and I can only speak for myself, but I am sure it was equally universal that, once the operation was under way, all one’s mental energies were concentrated on the task in hand – the need to fly accurately in terms of speed , height and course, and the desire to get to the target destination precisely as had been planned in the briefing.


That first flight introduced me to practically everything I would encounter on our subsequent tour of duty. The track we followed, flying quite individually and in no gaggle or formation, took us down the centre of England to Beachy Head, across the Channel into France and nearly to Paris; then with a turn to port we aimed not directly at Cologne, which would have alerted the enemy as to our intentions, but to another point well to one side of it, with a final turn heading dead on to the target for the last steady leg to approach the point at which bombs would be dropped on a pre-determined heading. Once bombing had been completed, it was usually nose down and out of enemy air space as quickly as the Halifax could manage whilst still following a flight plan for course, speed and height. In the meantime our rear and mid-upper gunners were looking out for German night fighters. We two pilots were scanning the air around us to make sure there would be no collision with the dozens of Halifaxes and Lancasters which would be following the same course at the same height and with timing near enough to ours to make collisions a permanent hazard. And there was the greatest danger – flak from the German anti-aircraft guns


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