A newly-formed bomber aircrew’s operational flying career has to start with its first “Op”. Puffing nervously on cigarettes, they check and recheck their flying kit, harnesses and straps that are correctly webbed up, nothing too slack that would snag on anything and trap them in the event of a Bale-out emergency as the pilot is taken through the Form 700 with the “Chiefy”. A fatherly man to the new crews he’s seen coming and going on the unit. His groundcrew have been busy since morning preparing the aircraft for this night’s “Op” Oiled, fuelled and bombed-up, the Engine Mechanics work with a flashlight as they connect the starter and ground earth cable to the port inner Merlin for start-up.
These seven airmen have been training with their Lancaster B.I for perhaps, two weeks since forming together after leaving their Training units for life on an operational front-line Bomber Squadron.
They have already seen the empty tables at breakfast after the previous night’s operation from their Station. They didn’t know the men who were lost. But they know it will be their turn on a “trip” soon enough. So for these young lads, it has been nightflying tests and working-up training flights by daylight to knit them all together as a crew.
Tonight they will be doing it for real. And will see them tested over a target deep inside Hitler’s Ruhr valley steel and munitions industries. And finding their way home to their airfield in the dark, if they survive this night, will not be so easy. As with many Bomber Command aircrews, they are not, by any means, an all-British crew. The Navigator wears a CANADA flash on his upper-arm sleeve. The Wireless-Operator is also a trained air gunner and comes from Australia.
The Pilot signs the form700 and the Lancaster becomes “his”. And so begins the first Operation to Hitler’s Europe. As the moon slips into clouds that will cover their RAF Bomber-Stream in pitch- black darkness… and no moon tonight.
Copyright Image and Text Simon W. Atack