My Last Flight

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My Last Flight

2:05am Sunday 26th July 1942 - "There I was!"

"A piece of cake!” some of the boys said before we took off. "An easy six hours" cracked the SGT. Little did we know that there would be one kite short in the morning.

At the stroke of 23:00 hours on the 25th July 1942, we reared across the floodlit flare path in one of England’s mightiest bombers, the Avro Lancaster. After circling the drome once, we set course for out target, and so we flew on, and on, and on.

In my rear turret, I was the last to see the shores of England disappear into the misty blue. We were all very confident of doing our job successfully, with little opposition from the enemy, and to return once more to breakfast of bacon and eggs. Little did I realise how long it would be before I would again see the shores of dear old England.

The weather had been quite good with a full moon shining on our starboard door, but on crossing the French coast we encountered thick cloud. Immediately we started to climb and within a few moments we broke cloud and were once more in bright moonlight. Owing to the brightness of the sky, I was kept busy looking around for ‘night fighters’, which were known in the vicinity. I stared out into the night until my eyes ached and coloured lights seemed to dance before them.

By this time I began to feel rather thirsty, so I proceeded to gulp the hot coffee from my thermos flask, which quickly refreshed me. The silence had reified supreme, for what seemed like hours, until I heard the navigators voice over the inter-com warn the pilot that we would soon be approaching the target area. The pilot replied "right-ho chaps, keep your eyes open as we are going to loose height and there maybe flak ships around". As we were losing height, the pilot periodically reported our altitude until we levelled out at our operating height.

We had been flying for a few minutes, when suddenly a search light appeared on the starboard quarter. I immediately warned the pilot who gave evasive action and told me to give it a burst if it should pick us up. I did not have the privilege of firing my guns, as the light was soon extinguished.

Shortly afterwards, I again heard the pilots voice. This time to warn the Bombardier to get ready to release our cargo. As we were turning for the ‘run up’, a flak ship opened up at us on the starboard beam. Without hesitation, I turned my turret towards the ship. Lighting up, I returned fire with three short bursts. This succeeded in stopping their fire which had at times been dangerously close. As this was the first time I had used my guns on operations, I was congratulated by all the crew on my success.

We were on the target now and I could hear the Navigator counting the seconds as the Bombardier released the mines. “One, two, three”. As the third mine left the aircraft a load of hell was hurled up at us from another flak ship, which according to the direction of the fire, was directly beneath us. Before we had chance to avoid this second lot, we were hit all along the fuselage. Flames started to shoot past both sides of my turret. I immediately called up the pilot, but I received no reply. Then suddenly to my horror, I realized the inter-com was dead, this being the only means of connecting me to the rest of my crew. From now on it meant that I had to work on my own initiative. I tried to rotate my turret but the hydraulics had been shot away. So I tried operating it manually. This time succeeding, I opened my turret doors and was met with intensive heat and flames. The sparks from the fire burnt holes in my scarf. I reached for the fire extinguisher, which was situated just outside the turret on my right. Ammunition was exploding all around me.

Before I could combat the fire, I felt a sudden shudder through the aircraft, quickly followed by another greater than the first. Water immediately started gushing through the turret which made me quickly realise that we had crash landed on the sea. I started rotating my turret to port as I knew if the dinghy had been released it would be floating on the starboard side. But to my greatest consternation my turret jammed after turning only a few inches. Water had now reached my waist. Seconds were precious and my only chance to escape from this now doomed aircraft was to squeeze through the small opening from the turret into the fuselage. After struggling for what seemed like hours, I dragged myself free and fell underwater which had now three quarters filled the fuselage. I made a frantic grab around me for some object in which to pull myself to my feet. I luckily found the handle of a door situated in the starboard side of the aircraft. The water pressure on the outside forced the door inwards giving me exit from this still fast sinking aircraft. Now having my exit before me I felt far safer and I began to think about the rest of my crew, wondering if they had also managed to get out. So in an attempt to satisfy my mind I yelled up the fuselage, "okay fellows?" Apart from the lapping of the water, only deathly silence greeted me.

There was a sudden lurch as the aircraft plunged beneath the waves carrying me with it. I leaned forward and pulled the lever on my ‘Mae West’ and felt a sudden tightening around my chest. I knew then my life jacket was inflated which shot me to the surface. I turned and pressed my parachute harness release, which slipped from around me and sank. On looking round I was amazed to see the front portion of the aircraft still floating with its broken back pointing to the sky. Seeing none of the crew floating around, I started shouting aloud in hopes that they may have drifted from the wreckage. I was greatly relieved to hear someone reply from the other side of the still floating wing. I answered, "Is there anyone there?" He shouted back that he was the only one and that I should swim round to him as he was in the Dinghy.

On swimming round the wing, the remains of the aircraft were lit up by a beam of light from a boat which was speeding towards us. The Pilot and I were picked up a few minutes later, immediately searched and given dry clothes. Later we learned that this was the flak ship which had shot us down. We were treated very well and later taken ashore at a French port. Here a car was waiting to take us to a Luftwaffe camp, where we received our first interrogation. This soon proved a failure, so we were taken to separate rooms where we were allowed to rest for the first time since our ordeal.

At 9 o'clock, on the evening of the 26th July, we were both taken by car to a railway station where we were transferred by the 10pm train to Paris. We arrived at Paris at 6 am on the morning of the 27th, where we were taken by car to a Luftwaffe Aerodrome on the outskirts of Paris. We were again placed in separate cells and left to stagnate for 14 hours.

At 9 o'clock in the evening we were once more taken by car to the Paris Railway Station to catch a train which took us to Frankfurt. We arrived at Frankfurt at 11am on the 28th July and taken by train to the POW Camp Dulag Luft. We were immediately placed in solitary confinement and more thoroughly interrogated. At 8pm on July 30th, we left the ‘hot house’ and went to the centre camp. Here we were treated a little better than we were in the ‘cooler’.

August 3rd 1942 11:50am, we left Dulag Luft for a three day ride in a cattle truck. We arrived at the army camp Stalag VIIIB on the 5th August 1942.

July 21st 1943, we left Stalag VIIIB with 74 other foreigners and once more taken by cattle truck to Stalag Luft III arriving at 1pm the next day.

January 7th 1944, we left Stalag Luft III for a new camp a few kilometers away called Belaria located on a barren hill.

January 29th 1945, we evacuated Belaria. After several days on the march we arrived at 12 o’clock in Spremburg. Here we rested a couple of hours and then boarded a cattle truck, which brought us to Stalag IIIA arriving at approximately 6pm on Sunday 4th February 1945.

April 22nd 1945, Stalag III A was finally liberated by the Soviet forces.

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My Last Flight - written & illustrated by Arthur E. Adams

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