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below, which could be seen in the puffs of black smoke which broke around us, puffs which, if they began to show a red centre, meant that they were far too close for comfort.


With F/O Atkinson in charge – the skipper – we got safely back to Full Sutton after a flight of 6 hours 5 minutes. There we were greeted in a debriefing session which was accompanied by coffee laced with rum. Ifelt a glow of satisfaction that it had seemed comparatively easy and that we were all still alive. After all, Bomber Command had been losing its crew at a 5% rate – which meant that if 20 aircraft took off, only 19, on average, came back and as a squadron like our own would try to supply some 18 or 20 Halifaxes for a raid, it would be likely that one would be missing every raid or so.


That had been October 30th. It was followed no more than 24 hours later by yet another call to bomb the city of Cologne – and this time I would be with my own crew.


This was the period of the mass bomber raids on Germany and we were told


at the briefing which we attended in the early afternoon of that day that this was to be a very big show indeed – 1,000 bombers to fly over Cologne with forty minutes between the times of the first and last bombs to be dropped. These big raids were planned so that a ‘box’ of bombers flew over the target, all on the same heading, but dispersed in terms of time by that forty minute period between first and last and, in terms of height, by being allocated a specific altitude which meant that the bombers would fly at levels separated so that there would be a total of 3,000 feet between the lowest and the highest, and the force would be split up at 500 feet intervals within that box. That still left an awful lot of aircraft flying very close to one another and one of the earliest exercises which the new science of Operational Research turned to was to estimate the collision frequency likely to arise in such raids. Operational Research got it right – 1,000 bombers through a target area in forty minutes in a 3,000 feet box, split up at 500 feet intervals in height, would occasion one collision per 800 aircraft. That it what they calculated and that is what actually transpired. So my crew and I were really thrown into the deep end – if flying at 19,000 feet can be called the deep end – at this very early stage in our operational life. I know a good deal about this particular trip, not because of any particularly vivid memory of it, but because I have kept over all these years the pilot’s ‘crib’, a summary of all the details of the operation which the pilot carried on his knee during the flight so that he could check on the instructions his navigator was continuously passing to him. The navigator had the major responsibility for getting his aircraft to the target and back, and he sat in the front cabin of the Halifax with a much more detailed flight plan and with his navigation instruments in front of him. But the pilot had a summary plan showing the various legs of the flight, with the turning points, the speeds for each leg, the heights to fly at, and the essential timing.


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