Sunday, 10 April 2011
'Black night for Bomber Command' 16 December 1943 - The Battle for Berlin
review Des Evans
"...Its taken me a few months to get round to reading this fine book As soon as I started reading it I was back at Bourn on that dark damp foggy night, its difficult to put into words the atmosphere one felt in the very early hours of the Friday morning when the bombers were due to return. I remember standing at our dispersal point waiting and waiting, you could hear the drone of the Lancasters engines as they circled trying to find a gap in the fog to get down, and for so many, time ran out as the fuel in their tanks diminished to zero. Richard Knott describes everything so well in his book. I can only relate to 97 squadron as we lost so many wonderful young guys, it was the squadrons worst night, not through enemy action, but lousy British weather and bad weather prediction by whom I know not..What this book reminded me of was the bravery of these young aircrews. Names come back to me with clarity and some of those who managed to get down were to lose their lives very shortly afterwards on similar raids to Berlin. I was ground crew, a flight mechanic, these guys although of higher rank than me were friends, and many of my friends who were ground crew shed many tears that night.We mixed well with our aircrews, trouble was we would just get to know them well, and then suddenly they were gone, and a day or two later you were introduced to a new young crew.---how long would they last--that was the question. In most cases, not very long. I recommend this book. When I'm asked, what period of your life was the best. This book is the answer. I learnt trust,comradeship and loyalty AND I learnt about sadness...."
by Martin Bull (writing on ww2f.com in 2003)
"...This winter is the 60th Anniversary of Bomber Command's 'Battle of Berlin' : winter '43/'44. A battle which the German Nachtjagd and the weather conclusively won, the RAF losing 625 bombers and 2,690 aircrew killed. One of the squadrons to suffer the highest losses was 97(PFF), operating from Bourn, Cambs and yesterday I made a small pilgrimage up to the old airfield. As I drove up the A1, the weather closed in, with light mist and drizzle turning to sleet and snow flurries from low cloud. But in a way, this was fitting because on the night of 16/17 December 1943 ( 'Black Thursday' ) 97 lost five Lancasters around Bourn, all crashing in the fog trying to find their base. As I stopped the car on the remains of an old dispersal, the rain dripped onto the windscreen and even getting out of the car was a miserable prospect - what must it have been like to live in Nissen huts here ? Nearly all the buildings have gone - even the respirator store, still here when I last visited in the Summer, has now vanished - but the perimeter track and runways are still used for light aircraft flying. No flying today, though - so I walk through the open gate to the end of runway 07/25, its' full 1,960 yards still intact, to take some photos through the drizzle and to ponder on the 60 Lancasters and 24 Mosquitoes which left this runway, never to make it back 'home'. Back near the car, the area where the briefing rooms, flight offices and other admin functions once stood, is now thick with trees and brambles. I push through the dripping undergrowth and stumble over pathetic heaps of rubble, brick and concrete. Something white is sticking from the ground by a tree root : I pull and twist and half of an old NAAFI dinner plate appears,cracked and caked with earth. I bring it home as a souvenir of RAF Bourn. The last thought goes to a veteran, not of 97 but of 44 further up the road in Lincolnshire. From Martin Middlebrook's 'The Berlin Raids' , Pilot Officer John Chatterton :
'The Battle of Berlin that winter was my tour. My mind is full of night takeoffs, climbing through cloud, icing, Berlin flak - the sheer length and breadth of it - not of night fighters; we never saw one of those....no sitting on the grass or playing cricket with the groundcrew for us. We waited in the dark and cold and rain - that was our tour.'