Lancaster (2022) - full transcript

The Lancaster Bomber, synonymous with the Dambusters and night raids on Nazi Germany.

I fought my war from five miles up.

I dropped at one time
seven or eight tons of bombs on somewhere

came back, had me breakfast,
out on the booze the next day

thought nothing of it.

It was totally another world.

But I realised that what I had done
was fundamentally wrong.

But the circumstances were such
that we did it.

And I can't reconcile those two viewpoints.

I just... I can't reconcile them.

I was 20 years old, very naive.

Didn't have any experience of life at all.

You knew you were
facing death all the time.

Night after night,
after night, after night.

But it's just a thing you accepted.

A pet aversion of mine

it's what I call retrospective historians.

Even now if I met one,
I'd ask them just two questions...

"Were you there, were you personally aware
of the circumstances and conditions

of that time?"

The answer to both those questions is no,
so keep your bloody mouth shut.

Engine rumbles softly

We heard them coming.

We heard the squadrons
on their way to bomb our town.

The Lancaster bombers at night.

There's no second prize
in a war, you win it or you lose it.

And all we could do in bomber command
was to keep on bombing them

and bombing them and bombing them

until someone gives up.

And the Lancaster played
a big part in winning the war.

It was the best of its day.

And it brought us back alive.

Turbines whir

Today, five squadrons
of royal air force typhoon fighters

are based at con/ngsb y.

They share the run ways
with one of the most iconic aircraft

in British aviation histoly.

The Lancaster bomber.

/t is one of only two
that remain airworthy.

Looking back now

I have to tell myself,
"did I really fly one of those aeroplanes?"

It's such a long time ago

maybe it's all...
Maybe it all happened to someone else

and I'm just making it... making it up.

It's a living thing
and it was a living thing.

There were times almost
when she spoke to you.

Or you felt she did.

I could still go to her right now
and press the right buttons I think.

I'd love to. He laughs

Pure nostalgia, pure nostalgia.

Every time I see it in the air
I say "god, look at that. Beautiful."

And there's no question about it

it transformed bomber command
by its pure operational capacity.

It was an amazing, amazing aircraft.

The avro Lancaster was a crucial weapon

in winning the war against Hitler.

But before the bomber's arrival,
britain was fighting for survival.

Air raid siren wails

I can still hear it sometimes.

It's a whistle that gets
louder and louder and louder

and everything gets darker and darker.

Bomb whistles

then there was nothing left.

Explosion booms

my mum had gone into an Anderson shelter.

When she came out

she just went berserk
and she felt the thud in the ground

but of course to see her house gone...

When the London blitz started

I used to stand on the cliff at whitstable

and could see all the German bombers,
hordes of them

coming up the thames estuary.

They bombed about 22 mile of dockland.

There were all timber wharfs
and all that along the thames

and they set them on fire.

And then they just showered
the bombs on the arsenal

woolwich arsenal.

I was in the auxiliary fire service

and I thought, "well, bugger this".

There was ammunition going off, you know?

Exploding and all that.

I can remember one night

my father and I had
to go down the fire escape

because the bombers were so close
and I trod on a huge piece of human flesh.

And that was my...
I suppose my induction to war.

For eight months, the bombs fell.

London, liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow
and most notoriously, co vent/y

were amongst those cities hit.

In all, 43, 000 people were killed

I thought, "well,
if that's the game we're in

that's the game we're in."

You couldn't be one—sided otherwise
it would have been over in no time.

Air raid siren wails

I wanted... always wanted to fly

so I told my dad I wanted
to join the air force

and of course he hit the roof.

Elizabeth mortimer—cook:
And I kept nagging my father

to let me join the raf.

Well, I wanted to be a plotter,
one of Churchill's girls.

Pilots training took anything up to a year

navigators about nine months,
and gunners about eight weeks.

I thought,
"hell, I don't want to miss the war"

so I joined as a gunner.
He laughs

I think one of the factors
is everyone was relatively young.

And of course, when you're young,
you want to really have a go at 'em

and I think this was the attitude
in many respects.

I was the 39th man
to join the royal air force in Jamaica.

We were shipped out

and I remember leaving Jamaica

in the sunset,
and seeing Jamaica fade away

and I wondered if I would ever return.

Engine rumbles

Raf fighter command
had saved the count/y in its hour of need

but in 7947, bomber command
was not yet equipped to p/a y its part.

There was no equivalent of the spitfire
in the baf's bomber squadrons.

Those aircraft they did have were slow
and mostly out of date.

We flew in the Wellington bomber.

It had Bristol Pegasus 18 engines
and they were not powerful enough.

So the result was that
if you lost an engine

there was only one way to go
and that was downwards.

Flying at night with no radar,
weather conditions as they were

sometime the winds were...
Perhaps veered a bit

and you could finish 30 miles off course.

Hello Mac, where are we now?
As though you're likely to know.

I can't find where we are.

I'm not surprised at all that a lot
of the bombs were way off target.

Left, left.


In 1941, if you bombed a target
and got within five miles of it

you reckon that was a bloody good hit.

And all the time
the German defences were getting stronger.

We went into this knowing
that there was going to be losses

and er, we just hoped
it wasn't going to be us.

We were caught in a cone
of search lights, about 15 lights

and they hammered hell out of us.

My turret was on fire.

Suddenly the navigator said

"look out, Dave, for that fighter
on the port quarter"

and of course, went to swing the gun...
He chuckles

turret wouldn't move.

Machine guns rati'le

god, I could have wept with frustration.

Bombs explode
- I was useless.

Ok chaps, don't worry.
Everything's alright.

Then we were given the orders to bail out.

Anybody hurt?

The wireless operator's copped it.

Once I landed

I came across some buildings,
and I thought they were farm buildings

and then a door opened,
and a shaft of light shot out

and a voice said "halt!"

And I put my hands up

and it was a building occupied
by searchlight crews.

And we were regaled with cognac and coffee.

And I remember one guy saying

"don't worry, the war will soon be over,
and our ftihrer will ride on a white horse

up to Buckingham Palace
and take occupation."

We said, "wait and see".

David Fraser's captors
did not have to wait too long.

In the works were new aircraft
that could take the blitz back to Berlin.

Birds twiti'er

I suppose, really,
it's ironical that, er...

How the lanc was developed
almost accidentally.

Two of these new bombers,
the stirling and halifax

were already on order for the raf.

A t aircraft builders a vro

chief engineer boy Chadwick
thought he could do better.

A twin—engined aircraft
called the Manchester.

But its balls—boyce vulture engines
were causing trouble.

They were a completely
revolutionary type of design

but it was never successful.

The minute they got airborne
they got problems straight away.

Nothing but engine failures,
one after another.

Although already in production

the fate of the Manchester
hung in the balance.

With the raf desperate for new bombers,
Chadwick suggested a radical solution.

He swapped the two fia wed vultures
for four proven balls—boyce Merlins

the same engine that powered the spitfire.

And they were so amazed
at the difference in performance

and that's really how the Lancaster
developed almost accidentally.

There were six of us, all trainee gunners.

We were in having lunch

when we were told,
"right, gentlemen, you're all going back

to such and such a hangar

and they'll be a lot
of other air crew there."

And then this was almost
out of monty python.

They said "well, gentlemen,
we've all completed our training

and now we've um,
we've got to get together to form crews."

And what we were told then

you pick your own crew.

Well, we thought this was madness.

You had no idea of people's abilities
or their background whatsoever.

And we wandered around looking
at people and looking at their brevets.

From the brevet on your uniform

it indicated what you were in the crew.

"N" for navigator

"s" for signals
or wireless operator, etcetera.

So the first thing you think about is

"how do I find a pilot who is going
to get me through the war?"

You had to think a bit about this because
you realise "I'm stuck with these guys".

You would think,
"gosh, I don't fancy him as a pilot!"

You're going to live or die with them

so you made sure you were going to live.

You'd go around saying,
"I'm short of a navigator

would you like to fly with me?"

"We haven't got a rear gunner,
let's see if we can find a rear gunner."

And if you liked who you were talking to,
you'd offer to go in the crew with them.

If I'd handpicked the best,
I couldn't have done better

because we just gelled.

It was like a dating agency in a way.

A little bit of wizardry, I think.

I didn't know it at the time

but I was joining the best crew
in the air force.

Every crew thought they were the best crew.

Everybody got on very well with each other.

That was the great part of it
because after all

the whole thing was about teamwork.

In June 7947,
Germany invaded the Soviet union.

With the bed army overwhelmed

it was vital that britain support
its new ally in the fight against Hitler.

We have offered
to the government of Soviet Russia

any technical or economic assistance
which is in our power.

Churchill knew there was only one way

he could rel/e vs the pressure
on the buss/ans.

We shall bomb
Germany by day as well as by night

in ever—increasing measure

casting upon them month by month
a heavier discharge of bombs.

A few weeks later

the prime minister met the aircraft
that could help him win the war.

It was a prototype of a vro's Lancaster.

Finally he had the means
to take the fight to the enemy.

Engine roars

But this is only a beginning.

From now henceforward,
the main expansion of our air force

especially in heavy bombers,
proceeds with gathering speed.

In februa/y 7942

a new man was appointed
to lead bomber command

Arthur Harris.

His intention was to show the world
what strategic bombing could achieve.

The Nazis entered this war

under the rather childish delusion
that they were going to bomb everybody else

and nobody was going to bomb them.

At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw
and half a hundred other places

they put that rather naive theory
into operation.

They sowed the wind and now
they are going to reap the whirlwind.

That whirlwind was to be unleashed

by the new aircraft being delivered
to baf bomber stations.

I was posted down to raf wyton

which became my base.

And I remember I went to bed

next morning there were
22 brand new lancasters

all round the perimeter road.

And they'd all been flown in overnight

by women and other people
from the ferry service.

Blokes couldn't believe it.

When we went to lancs,
the impression was how cramped it was.

It was obviously a machine made for war.

Noisy, uncomfortable, cramped

difficult to move in,
but did the job.

It was basically a flying bomb—bay,
wasn't it?

When you got in the aircraft

the pilot would go through
with his parachute to sit on

and then the bomb aimer would go
right through so he was down on the floor.

I had the best view in the aircraft
in the bombing hatch

lying prone, looking down.

And then the rear gunner

I would get in and lock him in
and put his parachute outside

because there wasn't room for that.

I was very comfortable in my turret.

I always said I was the first
to start flying and the last to land.

I'm coming from the back
of the Lancaster there.

The rear gunner is back there,
I'm coming further along

and the first thing you get to
is the mid upper turret.

It was very limited room
in a mid upper turret

so a small bloke like me were,
it were ideal.

And then I had to get over the main spar

and the wireless operator's sitting there
on the port side.

And there is two sets there.

The receiver and transmitter.

But the side of him had a little passage

and that would be the navigator's seat

so I'd be sitting
facing the port side of the aircraft.

And then flight engineer for the engines
and the pilot next, they were up a bit.

The seat was comfortable.

You got a good view.

All the throttles were nicely put together.

It was... it was um...
Sounds a bit presumptuous

it was a pilot's aeroplane.

It was responsive but very powerful.

I loved the thing.

Lancasters are being built

in several factories in britain and Canada,
built in terrific numbers.

With every man and woman
engaged in their construction

one thought is upper most

the raf is depending on them
for lancasters, more lancasters

and yet more lancasters.

consisting of over 55, 000 separate parts

were made in sections in avro's factories
in Manchester and the north of england.

Most were then assembled
here in woodford.

It was a vast undertaking.

Six major organisations
employed over 7.7 million people

in 920 separate companies.

Over 7300 of the bombers were built.

As part of their training

some aircrew were sent to woodford
to learn more about the aircraft.

Coaches came
and took us all to Manchester.

And as we got off the coach

there were loads and loads of girls.

They were coming up to us
and, "hello, I'm so and so"

and this young lady came up,
she was about the same age as me

and she said, "oh, my name's Yvonne".

And I managed to meet her every evening.

Yeah, that was quite a, um...
Enlightening experience.

She taught me more about the facts of life
than they did about the Lancaster.

Well, I've often said, "thank you".
He laughs

but it was fantastic to see the aircraft
being built at woodford.

They had hundreds of aircraft there
all in the stage of being assembled.

I can still picture it in my mind now.

Now, with sufficient aircraft and aircre ws

bomber command could raise its game.

In may 7942

one of Harris ' first moves was
a spectacular operation against Cologne.

I think Harris wanted to draw attention

to the fact that we could put
a thousand aircraft in the air

to bomb Germany.

Amongst those bombers
were stir/ings, hal/faxes

and 73 lancasters,
their first large—scale use on operations.

The thousand bomber bald
was a major success.

Churchill wrote to Harris

”this proof of the growing power
of the British bomber force

is also a herald of what Germany
will receive city by city from now on. ”

And at the heart of it
would be the Lancaster.

Typewriter clacks

the new strategy was called area bombing.

Cities themselves rather than the factories
in them became the targets.

N/ght after n/ght,
orders were issued for their destruction.

messengers, teleprint operators

the orders pass along a chain,
staffed by air women.

I was in signals section.

From command
headquarters to group headquarters

from group to station,
from station to squadron.

Obviously we knew when ops were on

it was just part of our life.

We were connected to headquarters,
to bomber command

and um, you'd get messages of course

which we then had to give
to the ops room or whatever.

So we got ready for our first operation.

Nobody can actually tell you
what it's like to go on ops.

You've got to experience it.

You have to do the on—the—job training,
as it were.

I certainly had butterflies in my stomach.

I began to feel,
"well, this is the real thing now"

we were going to fly
on an operational sortie.

The announcement
came over the loudspeaker.

"Crews number so and so, so, so, so, so,
report to the briefing room."

You were always wondering

what the target was going to be for...
For the night.

We walked in and there is
a curtain drawn across the backboard.

And then in walked the co

and he would be followed
by a whole string of officers

who were all, in theory anyway,
experts in their field.

Then the commanding officer
would pull back a curtain

that was covering the huge map
on the wall of Northern Europe

and he would announce to us

"your target tonight, gentlemen, is..."

It was dramatic, the revelation
when they drew back the curtain

and told you where you were going.
He laughs

and if it was Berlin or
some of the big ones

there would be a groan
going round the briefing room.

There would be various exclamations

of blasphemy and whatnot.

"Oh lord, not going back there again!"

"Not that place again!"
He laughs

there was always an air of suspicion
over the met forecasts.

They were always laughed at
and shouted down, you know?

"Oh, the met man",
cos they could never get it right.

He laughs

the weather's good, we hope,
so you should have no difficulty

in finding the target,
so prang it and prang it hard.

Alright, chaps? And good luck.

On that first op you were more
in wonder what was gonna happen.

But I did realise that,
from what people had told me

you didn't stand an earthly.

Indistinct chati'er

I was young,
18 years old, and I was scared.

Scared, scared, scared.

Cos we was all fresh, but we
were all very confident in our pilot.

I suppose at that age as well
I was 18, still 18

it was the excitement, I suppose,
of fulfilling all your training.

I was apprehensive from the word go.

I started off more apprehensive
than the rest of the group

cos I think they thought
it was gonna be a doddle

but I thought,
"this isn't gonna be easy".

We were definitely nervous

and I remember the wing commander
coming round in his car

knowing it was our first

and said, "best of luck, boys".

And I remember the ground crew, wonderful

they said to us,
"your uncle will never let you down".

When an aircraft takes off it goes.

There's no room for turning

stopping and looking back.

It goes, so everything gotta be right.

Engine sputi'ers

Engines rumble

When those four Merlins cough

and you start to hear
the exhaust it's er...

It's like something
that's almost born again.

When it started,
you felt all the noise and the...

In your chest.

The er... the feeling
of the power and the...

Everything about it.

And then the ground crew said, "cheerio"

and you taxied out and you
got into this long chain of aircraft

taxiing round to take off.

I had no fears, I was...

"Get on with the job."

We were at war.

But as far as being
a Christian is concerned...

How could you ask your god
to give you a blessing

when he knows
that you're carrying a load of weapons

that's gonna to kill people?

But I'm afraid,
what was going on in the world...

Something had to be done.

I had no other feelings
but, "get this done".

Target Germany.

These were some of the main centres
of German heavy industry.

Nuremberg, where they made
u boat engines, guns, tanks, bombers.

Berlin, aero engines,
the electrical industry

a great railway centre.

The ruhr,
the heart of German heavy industry

coal and iron, steel and power.

In 1943

every operation we did
on the ruhr was an epic.

There's no other word for it.

Take the krupp works at essen.

Enormous importance to the Germans.

It was an obvious target
that was always gonna be attacked.

I would say that er...

Sixty percent or 70 percent
of our trips were to the ruhr valley.

Duisburg. Gelsenkirchen.

Dortmund. Wuppertal.

- Dusseldorf.
- Essen.

- Hamm.
- Monchengladbach.

Krefeld. Munster.

The whole lot of them,
all the way through, one after the other.

Alarm! — alarm rings

the ruhr was also known
as happy valley.

It was anything but happy.

It was probably
the most heavily defended area in Germany.

The defences were just unbelievable.

Guns boom

When we were approaching the target...

You could see the fires
and you could see the flak.

Explosions boom

The sky is filled with bursting shells.

I really mean filled.

Fireworks. Er...

Now I'm not so keen on fireworks

because it's such a reminder
of what it was like then.

When you look
at the new year's Eve fireworks

over Sydney harbour

that is what you're looking at roughly
at the target in Germany.

And you think to yourself

"how the hell are we gonna get
through that lot?"

If the anti—aircraft fire
is getting close to you

you'll know how close it is
cos you'll smell it.

You could smell the cordite.

That's how close they were putting us down.

I know the first time I smelt cordite

I thought,
"Christ, the next one's gonna hit us."

It really only needed a tiny piece
of a shell fragment to hit an engine

which would catch on fire
and that would be it.

So it was alarming but I just ignored it
and got on with my job.

To help increase bombing accuracy

experienced crews were formed
into special squadrons called pathfinders.

Using the latest na v/gation aids

they dropped coloured fiares known
as target indicators on the aiming point.

It meant the bombers coming in

now had visual reference on the ground
that that was the target.

When we get to the target

at a certain distance out
the bomb aimer takes over.

My job was to align the bomb sight
with the target

and drop the bombs.

Bombs explode

I said to Dickie,
"I'll point you in the right direction

and you get it right first time

cos we drop the bombs on the first run,
we are not going round again."

Bomb doors open.

And this is where he is giving you
this, "left, left, right, right

steady, steady, steady."

And when he was over the target
he'd say, "right, bomb's gone".

Bomb whistles
- Bomb '5 gone.

But you didn't escape straight away

because we had to take a photograph
of where your bomb's burst.

And then you put the nose down

pointing to where you were going
as fast as you could

and got the hell out of it.

Harris ' campaign
against the industrial cities of the ruhr

was devastatingly effective.

But less conventional methods of bombing
were also being considered

one was an idea
from inventor Barnes Wallis.

It harnessed the full capability
of the Lancaster

and would put it on the world stage.

Wallis was developing a secret bomb

to destroy the dams
that powered the ruhr factories.

A special unit was formed
to car/y out the operation

squadron x.

Squadron x was 617 squadron, eventually.

Its leader was wing commander guy Gibson.

He was arrogant and a strict disciplinarian

but the true essence of his leadership
comes in the attack itself.

He was no doubt a brilliant attack leader.

That's your main target, the mohne dam.

The stay of the attack
was immortalised in the 7955 film.

If you can blow a hole in this wall

you'll bring the ruhr steel industry
to a standstill

and do much other damage besides.

I'm showing you the targets

but you'll be the only man
in the squadron who knows

so keep it that way.
— very good, sir.

And these are the models
of the two other dams

the eder and the sorpe,
but the mohne is the most important.

I see, sir.
— come along and study these

as often as you like.

Having proved the concept

Wallis had to work out
how to get the weapon on target.

The Lancaster was adapted
to car/y the four—ton bomb.

To fly at precisely 60 feet

spotlights measured
the aircraft's height above the water.

A motor was used to spin
the weapon before it was dropped

which would then skip
across the sun'ace of the lake.

No other bomber at that time
was capable of canying out the operation.

Engine roars

Well, the training's over.

For obvious reasons you've had
to work without knowing your target

or even your weapon.

The aoc was there

station commander,
Gibson, of course, doing the briefing

Barnes Wallis was there.

You're going to attack
the great dams of western Germany.

Gibson explained that he would take off

with two others in three formation
and they would head for the mohne

and once it had been breached,
they'd go over to the eder and attack that.

Five crews were briefed for the sorpe

and that had to be different.

They had no towers,
so there's no sighting means of it

and it was so placed in the hills
that it couldn't be attacked head on.

Instead we were briefed
that we had to fly along the dam

and to drop the bomb as near as possible
as you could estimate

to the centre of the dam.

It meant we weren't going to use
any of the bombing techniques

we'd used in training.

As the film showed

the operation was bold, daring,
and extremely dangerous.

As we crossed the coast

we had to fly down at low level
to avoid enemy fighters.

Our pilot Joe McCarthy saw a couple
of sand dunes on the coast

and went down between them.

At zero feet, our biggest problem
was the guns down there.

We got to, eventually, the sorpe.

The first thing that we saw
was on the side of the hill

down which we were supposed to attack

there was a church steeple,
which I don't remember seeing on the model.

And so Joe decided
to use that as a marker.

Not an easy thing.

We'd had no practice
at that sort of attack at all.

If I wasn't satisfied, I
called, "dummy run."

If he wasn't satisfied, he just pulled away
before we hit the hills on the opposite side.

And after about the
sixth or seventh of these

a voice from the rear turret,
"won't somebody get that bomb out of here?"

And I had to realise I had become
the most unpopular member of crew

in double quick time.

I'm sure Joe thought that the lower we got

the easier it would be
to estimate the dropping point.

So on the tenth run,
we were down to 30 feet

and when I said, "bomb gone"

"thank Christ" came
from the rear turret just like that.

And he estimated that that tower of water
went up to something like a thousand feet.

We had crumbled the top of the dam
for a distance of about ten yards.

So then we set course for home

and that for me
was the highlight of the trip.

It took us over the mohne.

We knew by radio that it had been breached.

There was water everywhere.

It was just like an inland sea
and it was still coming out of that dam

even what, 20 minutes, maybe half an hour
after it had been breached.

But my god, what a loss.

Eight aircraft.

Fifty—three aircrew killed
and three taken prisoner.

What a devastating result for one squadron
on one night's operation.

I went back to the mess where the
waitresses, some of them were crying

because of the number of empty seats
there were in the mess, the dining room.

And the chief said,
"I think you better go back to bed, girls.

Come back in the morning,
you might feel a bit better."

Was it worth it?

I wonder.

But that was, of course, was the loss side.

There was a gain side
which was more important.

We all thought what a magnificent effort

had been made, you know?

Er, these chaps going in over water

flying at 240 miles an hour at 60 feet.

Just spellbound by it

wondering whether we could ever
have done the same thing.

Whatever it achieved was to our advantage.

It proved to Hitler
and the German hierarchy

that what they thought was impregnable

the royal air force
could get through and destroy.

When people saw this and read about it

I thought, "well, what a marvellous thing
that the raf has done

and is this a sign
of what they can do in the future?"

Perhaps its greatest effect

was on the morale
of the people in this country.

It raised the thought,
"we're winning something.

Is this a turning point in the war?"

It may have been, I'm still not sure.

But at least it didn't get worse than that.

The dams raid caused great destruction

but enemy engineers were quick
to repair the damage.

Despite these setbacks at home
and on other fronts

Germany remained a formidable enemy.

Morale in bomber command
was very low indeed

because the losses were building up

and we didn't seem to have any positive way

of getting over these defences that
the Germans were improving all the time.

The most effective of these defences

was the luftwaffe's night fighter force.

Engine roars

flying heavily armed, twin—engined aircraft

like the messerschmitt
770 or the junkers 88

radar—equipped night fighters accounted
for the bulk of bomber command's losses.

Now, a night fighter was guided
by a ground radar operator.

Man speaks German

and once he picked up your blip,
he would then guide the aircraft on to you.

Man speaks German

That's how most aircraft got shot down

was between that team.

It was very efficient.

Very efficient indeed.

But British scientists
came up with a deceptively simple device

to counter the enemy's radar.

It was codenamed ”window”.

Window was a strip of metallic paper

which we scattered from the aircraft

and it gave the impression
to the German radar

of an enormous amount of planes so
they couldn't pick up an individual plane.

The German defences
were poleaxed in a way

because they just didn't know
what they were doing.

In July 7943,
using window for the first time

Harris planned four attacks on the heart
of German y's shipbuilding industiy.

With the defences blinded

the bombers were targeting
not just the shipyards

but the workers' housing too.

We went to Hamburg to bomb that place.

After the first night,
place was still burning.

On the second night

hot and diy weather conditions combined
with the blazes started by the bombing

created a firestorm
that swept through the city.

The second night,
I remember asking my navigator

to come and have a look.

He didn't like to see towns burning,
and yet that's what our task was.

You could see it from a long way off.

The whole city on fire,
and it's quite an alarming sight.

And you're adding to it.

And the bomb aimer has the best view
of them all as you can imagine

through the front perspex.

Bombs explode

I can see it now.

The firestorm was started
on the submarine pens

went right the way through,
right up the river elbe

right to the other side
and Hamburg was literally wiped right out.

I was sorry that we had to do
so much damage to it.

of the eighth United States air force

taking off from aerodromes in england

continue their round the clock devastation
of war plants in Nazi Germany.

America had come
into the conflict in December 7947

and now it too
was taking the war to Germany.

The daylight raid on Hamburg

was the first time us bombers
joined the raf in the attack.

In broad daylight,
mighty squadrons roar across the north sea.

Over Hamburg,
tons of bombs rain from the skies...

The allied raids shattered
the city and rocked the Nazi leadership.

Aerial photographs show the results...

40,000 people were killed
and 7.2 million fied for the countiyside.

The Germans were absolutely shattered

but war is war,
whichever way you look at it.

The hard facts are we had a job to do
and we had to get on with it.

There were no ifs and buts that er,
"well, perhaps we shouldn't do this

or we shouldn't do that."

We were given the target

we were told why we were taking
that particular target

and we had to get on with it.

It was taking the war to Germany
by the only means possible at that time

and nobody, in arguing against it

has come up with another solution

for carrying the war to Germany.

But baf reconnaissance had revealed

that Germany had new and terriij/ing ideas
about canying the war to britain.

V2 rockets,
the world's first ballistic missiles

were being developed
at a secret location on the baltic coast

car/ying a one—ton warhead
at three times the speed of sound

there would be no defence against them.

Explosion booms

the site had to be destroyed
before they could enter sen/ice.

Well, the first thing we noticed
when we got to the briefing room

was that there were more raf police
on the door than was normal.

We thought, well, you know,
"what's going on?"

And of course when we got in

and sat down and they
drew the curtains back

we couldn't believe what we were seeing.

The ribbon going all
the way up the north sea

across Denmark to a tiny place

called peenemunde.

It was a strange feeling

to know that we were going
a little bit into the unknown.

Peenemunde was... it was a long journey.

Full moon.

To try that over Germany...


So we went low level across the north sea.

We were told that it was
a very, very important target

which could affect the outcome of the war.

And if we didn't do the job that night

we'd go back the following night

and the night after,
and the night after that

until it was obliterated.

And then arriving at the target,
you could see everything quite clearly.

A brilliant, lovely night,
and yet we were there to destroy and kill.

When we went in on our bombing run

there was a bit of flak, not too serious

and we were able to bomb and get out

without too much trouble.

You could clearly see the ground
and what you were trying to hit.

But of course
it was a brilliant moonlight night.

When the fighters got there,
they had a bit of a field day.

We lost over 40 aircraft.

245 baf aircrew were killed

along with approximately
700 people on the ground

but the raid delayed development
of the rockets by many months.

It was enough to ensure that the v— weapons
would not be the war winner

that Hitler hoped for.

We were quite proud
to think that we'd taken part in that

and of course very much relieved
that we didn't have to go back

cos that was...

Well, we thought that that would be it

if we had to go back.

That that would... that would be...
That would be the chop.

So that was a huge sigh of relief.

We were stood down.

The most atmospheric place you can ever be

is in a bomber station.

If there's been a stand down for two days,
there's a station dance

and every station had got
a dance band of some sort.

A one, two. — fingers click

"Little brown jug"
by Glenn Miller

They used to use the hangars,
they'd push the aeroplanes back

there's a bar, there's the station band
belting out Glenn Miller.

It's... it's electric.


We laughed and joked with each other

and some paired off.

Some were a bit naughty and... you know.

These boys became very precious.

Very precious.

They were bomber crew.

Just to hold hands
or hug a boy was magic.

Beer and girls.

And this was the...

We drank an awful lot,
even when you weren't flying.

Six, eight pints a night was nothing.

You never knew the guy
that you were drinking with

whether he's going
to be there tomorrow or not.

We took it for granted.

You didn't sit in the mess and dwell

you just got on with living.

And the girls were
so affectionate and so lovely.

Charles, look.

Who's that smasher over there?

One of my friends said,
"thank god for sex, it's kept me sane".

What would you say
if I asked you for a dance?

I should rather be saying... yes.
— lovely.

Well, I'm damned.

Well, I met this young man

his name was Bruce,
he was a pilot in a lanc.

And he asked me to dance

and I mean, we just...

You know, we fell in love really.

We used to meet whenever he wasn't on ops

or I wasn't on duty.

So that was just wonderful.

And yet we never spoke about what he did.

We didn't talk about it.

And in a way it was right really.

That was done.

And then it was on to the next one.

Engine roars into life

Wynford vaughan—thomas: The
green light flashes on the control tower.

It's our turn to go now
as we start to slowly gather speed

down the mile—and—a—half—long runway.

For eight months from August 7943

one in three
of bomber command's major operations

were against Germany's capital.

Harris said to Churchill

”we can wreck Berlin from end to end if
the us army air force will come in on it.

It will cost between
us 400 to 500 aircraft.

It will cost Germany the war. ”

We're crossing the coast in good company.

Another Lancaster away
and over our broad starboard wing.

Right before us now
is the darkness and Germany.

It was a long way, four hours to Berlin

and then you had to get four hours back.

At the back of your mind you were thinking

"well, Berlin is gonna be
very heavily defended"

so you were a bit apprehensive
as to what you might expect.

The Germans became very adept, of course.

Our bombing techniques improved

but also German technique
of shooting us down improved.

I'm just glancing
back now, I can see our mid upper gunner

his turret moving,
searching in the darkness.

We're in the land of the night fighter.

The first thing would be
the thunder of guns.

Fighter coming in port quarter, skipper!

I screamed, "corkscrew starboard go!"

The evasive manoeuvre was corkscrew.

You put full aileron on

you pushed the stick right down
to 360 miles an hour.

When you get to the bottom

with some physical effort,
you pull the bloody thing like that

and pull it up the other side.

You dived down and climbed up
and you're flying this corkscrew pattern.

Down goes the nose of the Lancaster.

We feel like as if we've been flung around.

A furious angle,
up comes our starboard wing.

And then you repeat the operation
by which time either you're dead

or he's shoved off.

First thing
we can see now is a stream of red sparks.

Away to the starboard,
tracer from night fighters.

I saw a tracer
and I'm like "where is the so and so?"

And all of a sudden he's appeared

and I just kept my fingers
on the triggers.

Machine guns rati'le

and then I saw licks of flames
coming off his wings.

And all of a sudden he turned over
and went down in flames.

I got him! I got him!

And I thought to myself then,
"I hope my bullets have killed them"

cos there's nothing worse
than to die by fire.

Look! Look! They've got him!

The boys, they make it a junkers 88.

I only did two berlins.

We did four trips on Berlin altogether.

I think I did six if I remember rightly.

I think I made seven raids on Berlin.

We went there eight times.

Eight trips to Berlin.

So we knew the way,
we knew what it was gonna be like.

Bombs explode

There was a tremendous explosion.

Tremendous, woof!

Bombs explode

port outer engine's on fire!

Everything happened in slow motion.

I mean ultra—slow motion.

You felt yourself going,
you went down like a sack of bricks.

And as you were going down

you saw sparks going above the cockpit.

Machine guns rati'le

what I thought was sparks were in fact
tracer shells from an me 110

that was attacking us and I didn't know.


and I could hear the screams
of the bomb aimer.

So I went to the nose of the aircraft
and well, dreadful sight.

I... actually, I vomited.

He was dead.

And then the wireless op,
he died on the way back in fact.

For some unaccountable reason

perhaps I resigned myself to my fate

or perhaps I was too busy
working out the fuel

I wasn't frightened.

That was the only time I wasn't
absolutely petrified. I don't know why.

Couldn't raise the bomb doors,
couldn't lower the under carriage

couldn't use the flaps.

And we descended quite rapidly
until we reached the coast.

Our first sight of england

a little light from a beacon flashing up
to us from the darkness below.

We all here heed a
heartfelt sigh of relief.

We landed, I was the first one out

and the thing I remember vividly
was kissing the ground.

Well, I used to ring him every day

but you had to ring before 12 o'clock
because once they'd had the first briefing

you couldn't.

And this particular day,
I didn't get to the phone in time

and I didn't speak to him.

And next morning, I knew the moment
I walked in that he hadn't come back.

I was devastated.

And I was so, so, so devastated
I wasn't able to say

"goodbye, darling. God bless."

I felt it was almost my fault.

But that was war.


He was only 22 when he died.

The battle of Berlin was in its final phase

but it had not, as Harris had promised,
cost Germany the war.

Baf losses continued to mount,
yet in march 7944

Harris insisted on one last operation
in the campaign

despite being advised against it.

However, the final trip was not to Berlin

but nuremberg,
symbolic home of the Nazis.

The weather forecast was

"you're gonna be in cloud
all the way to the target

and the target's gonna be clear."

But a freak wind came up
and blew all the cloud away

and when you had a clear night
with this lovely moon

it was like flying in daylight.

Very bright moon that night.

Another Lancaster moved across.

And suddenly, with no warning whatsoever...

Boom! Gone.

The Germans had sent 240 night fighters

right into the bomber stream.

We saw them flashing past

but we'd see aircraft
just blowing up and disappearing

others literally
just falling out of the sky.

We saw over 40 aircraft, separate aircraft

reported by the crew as going down.

We were sitting ducks shot to buggery.

The last 200 miles was just
a straight run in to nuremberg.

But instead of being clearer,
it was cloudy over nuremberg

and most of the aircraft missed the target.

So the raid was a failure.

Birds twiti'er

When we'd landed and got out the aircraft

normally you were chatty and a bit
exuberant, but that night we never spoke.

Just said "hello", "alright?"

Well, how do you get on?

And then we had to go to be debriefed.

Indistinct chati'er

We actually saw 50 plus aircraft shot down.

We actually saw it.

But when we landed back at base,
they wouldn't believe us.

They said,
"well, you saw it, you saw it, you saw it.

That's only one aeroplane, not three."

The crew were a mad lot.

They used to have a little kitty
in between them

and the one who guessed most accurately
the number of aircraft shot down

got the kitty.

And curly, cos he was looking out
all the time, said "ooh, 60 to 100".

And he won the kitty that night

because 96 aircraft
were shot down over Germany.


In one night.

That's 672 empty chairs at breakfast.

Empty chairs at empty tables.

That's where John used to sit,
that's where Harry used to sit.

Bomber command
lost more aircrew on that one night

than fighter command
during the entire battle of britain.

At night you could see other aircraft

and you could certainly see them
being shot down.

We all saw them and our attitude was
"it's not our turn tonight".

You know, you sympathise,
you're sorry to see them go

but your attitude is,
"well, it's not our turn.

It might be tomorrow night,
but it's not our turn tonight."

We never thought
that anything was going to happen to us.

When I look back, it's crazy.

I mean, the odds were staring you
in the face.

In the mess, if anybody disappeared

we'd just shout "hard luck! Hard luck".

Tom's gone. "Hard luck!"

That's the only way we could do it.

When somebody got the chop

you used to go down to the mess and say,
"here's to good old so and so

and here's to the next one to die."

And you just accepted
you weren't gonna live.

One accepts certain things in a war

that you don't accept in life,
and you don't think about it.

It's sad to talk about these things.

Very... um, moving.

According to
bomber command's official histoiy

the battle of Berlin
was more than a failure.

It was a defeat

ouestions were asked of Harris ' leadership

and a week after the nuremberg raid,
he threatened to resign.

His superiors backed down.

But change was in the air.

In the spring of 7944

bomber command was put
under temporaiy new management

allied generals needed the heavy bombers

to pave the way
for the liberation of Europe.

The German gunners

and coast defence troops
along the seine bay

were called very early
on the morning of June 6th

by 8500 tons of bombs

dropped upon them by lancasters
and halifaxes of bomber command

fortresses and liberators
of the United States air force.

We were told that we were going to be sent

to a beach off the coast of normandy

and bomb a target, five naval guns

and no one knew that it was in fact,
the run up to d—day.

So we were to cross and to drop

probably 1800 thousand pound bombs

on an area less than
a city block, for sure.

And it just wiped out the whole place.

We took half the cliff
and the gun emplacements

everything else away.

And as we turned to come home

I'm sure we all just went, "ahh".

It was a sight
that will never ever be seen again

because the first of the landing ships
with the troops on were coming in.

That was the start of d—day.

As we come across the channel

we looked down,
you couldn't see the sea for boats.

All the landing barges
and everything was going in

the gliders were going in
with the airborne divisions

and it was a magnificent sight.

I reckon I could have put my wheels down

and taxied home

because there was just not a piece
of the channel left for us.

It was just all covered with ships.

The war was not won

but the tide was turning.

After four years of flying at night

bomber command resumed
daylight operations.

With the allies in control of the air

the Lancaster and her crews would prove
that precision bombing was now possible.

Our job was to be the heavy artillery.

The German troops and tanks
assembled at the caen area

and we bombed very, very accurately

which bomber Harris
didn't think we could manage.

That pinpoint bombing
was taken a step further

by the lifting capability of the Lancaster.

Barnes Wallis had developed
two new bombs

that only the lanc could car/y.

One was the tallboy at 12,000 pounds

and the other was the grand slam
at 22,000 pounds, the ten ton bomb.

So immediately after d—day

the squadron found itself
equipped with the tallboy.

And the first operation
was on a major rail tunnel.

German troops had been sent
through that tunnel

heading towards the normandy beaches

and therefore it was essential
to knock it out, which we did.

So we were achieving
great accuracy with our bombing.

Engine rumbles

Yet despite these achievements

bomber command was still directed
to continue area attacks at night

in februaiy 7945, the stage was set

for the most notorious bombing raid
of the war.

My father got me into a school in dresden

which was about 50 miles away

from my hometown, chemnitz.

Most of the war we felt safe
and we were safe

because we were so far east.

In those days they didn't have
enough fuel or whatever.

They didn't come to us.

Until later on.

With the buss/ans advancing

Churchill was keen to assist and baste
the Germans as they retreat from bres/au.

Four cities in front of the Soviet push
were selected as potential targets.

Of those cities,
the bed army requested that dresden

as an important transport hub,
be bombed

to disrupt German reinforcements
coming into the battle area.

And dresden was full of refugees

who had run away
from the Russian army coming.

They all came
because, well, that was safe.

"Waltz of the flowers"
by Tchaikovsky

The attack was planned
as a deliberate effort to destroy morale

and create chaos behind the front line.

I was born in stoke—on—trent

commonly known as the potteries

so dresden to me was meissen pottery.

That... that did affect me at the briefing

that I thought, "this is rather like...

Bombing stoke—on—trent."

The briefing was no different

to any other target.

We were told to Mark the marshalling yards
and that sort of thing

in the centre of the town

and we were told it was
to help the Russian advance.

People think that we bombed a little town

that was full of shops
selling dresden China.

It wasn't, it was full
of munition factories.

It was also a staging point
for the people defending Berlin.

This was bomber command
at the height of its power.

One thousand six hundred heavy bombers

three quarters of which were lancasters,
in 73 squadrons.

And dresden would be
an all—lancaster operation.

796 of the aircraft
were launched against the city.

I remember at the time we thought...

Well, I don't know what's the right word

very privileged to be going
on such a big raid

at such an important stage.

And then on the 13th of February

I was at home in chemnitz on half term.

I was then 16

and we could hear
the Lancaster squadrons above us coming.

You could hear it on the glass vibrating.

Such big squadrons coming over.

So many.

The sound of it alone made you frightened.

Engines rumble

And we thought, "that must be dresden."

That's the direction, you know?
"That's dresden.

They got... they gone...
They're bombing dresden."

We were dropping
a target indicator on dresden.

We were pathfinders,
we were one of the first.

We were about three or four minutes
before main force

and it gave us a little bit of leeway.

Main force were then called in to bomb.

Explosions boom

We got to a point where
the bomb aimer took over for the run in

and I could see out of the dome.

I can't relate to anything

where the fire and the destruction

was so vast over an area as dresden.

And it was such an inferno

that we saw it on the sky
going red at night.

As the rear gunner, coming out of dresden

all I could see was one
massive great red sky

and I could see those flames
over a hundred mile away.

You could see the big glow in the sky.

Every single way you looked
was red with flames.

As daylight broke
on the returning lancasters

a huge force
of American fortresses and liberators

were rising from British airfields.

For 450 of them,
the target was again dresden.

The beauty of these aircraft in flight
is in curious contrast

to the unavoidable ugliness
of their essential mission.

Well, of course I lost my school.

I never saw it again.

Nobody ever went back.

It was a terrible destruction

and the dead just lying around in heaps.

Mountains of dead people

which had burned to death.

It was really terrible.

Approximately 25, 000 people were killed

in the attacks on dresden.

For lads 19, 20, 21...

We'd never known maturity

because we'd lived in a strange world.

One where we would go out

and we would have killed
hundreds of people that night

and not known a thing about it.

War's a dirty business, isn't it?

A month after dresden

Churchill sent a draft memo
to Charles portal, head of the raf

critical of bombing policy.

Although it was later re— written,
lasting damage was done

to both bomber command's
and Harris ' reputations.

I'm pretty sure politics came into this

cos Harris, obviously he wasn't
the easiest bloke to get on with

but his instructions came
from air ministry and the government.

Churchill sent to the portal
a list of targets

which had to be bombed.

When he wore his tin hat he was good.

When he put his bowler on, he was
a different man altogether, wasn't he?

He was more interested in politics

and winning an election
than the war, wasn't he?

And he wanted to wash his hands of dresden.

Well, he couldn't because he ordered it.

He was afraid of the consequences,
that he'd ordered this slaughter

and when it had been accomplished
he didn't want to know.

So poor old Harris was blamed

for what the politicians
had told him what to do

so he carried the can.

The war in Europe
ended on may 8th, 7945.

I still think that it was necessary.

We lost a lot of men,
we lost women and children

and so did the Germans.

But then, wherever you go,
war is war, isn't it?

And it's always the civilians
that cop it the worst.

I suppose one could say
that it was futile really

but what would have happened
if we hadn't have gone to war with Germany

and did what we did?

We know now
that they killed six million Jews.

Any country which can sanction that
deserves any punishment that they can get.

If we hadn't have bombed Germany,
we wouldn't have won the war.

So I think that that saved a lot of lives

and in the concentration camps.

There wasn't
much left of Berlin, was there?

Or Cologne or Frankfurt,
or bremen or Munich in the south.

I know it was terrible

but I mean to say, what could you do here
in england fighting the Germans?

That was the way they fought each other,
was bombing each other.

I mean

I didn't think that,
well, I was too young then

but now I think,
"what else could they have done?"

The world that we live in today

owes a lot to what those guys did
75 years ago.

This aircraft is a living memorial.

It has an emotional effect on people,
probably down to what she represents

because of
125,000 bomber command aircrew

of whom all were volunteers

55,573 is the official figure

for those that were lost

and that does not include
life—changing injuries

that we would possibly count today.

So there are very few families
in this country

who don't know someone
who was involved in some way

with bomber command.

The greatest feeling you get
when boarding the aircraft

and making your way to your seat
and sitting there

is thinking about the guys
who did this before you

and you can't help but think
how the mixture of emotions

must have been affecting
these much younger chaps than us

as they climbed on board to carry out
the task that they were given.

But also we have a tradition

that every time we get
on board the Lancaster

we have a memorial plaque
to the rear of the aircraft that we touch

and the idea is that by touching this

we're taking some
of those guys along with us.

We all do it and all think about them
when we get on board.

Switching off. Got that!

At the end of the war

all the top politicians didn't seem
to want to know about us

even Churchill himself

which was a... a bit of a blow.

I really was upset about Churchill

the fact that he sort of
turned his back on us

when we'd previously done
such a good job for him.

After the war
we just got used to not thinking about it

and never even talked about it.

Nobody asked us.

And so it went on, time went on.

I'd been married 35 years

and it was only at our first reunion
when we got together

and my wife said to me

"you never told me any of this.
I didn't know this."

I said,
"well, we haven't talked about it".

Nobody... bomber command,
if you mention you was in bomber command

you were looked at
as though you were a murderer.

We didn't realise
that people wouldn't like us

after all we'd gone through.

We just couldn't understand it.

And I can remember
one poor chap saying to me

"was it all in vain?"

And it wasn't until later on

when the bomber command memorial
was built

that the public had a better understanding
of what we'd done.

We worked hard doing all sorts of things

for ten years, I think it was

to get enough money to build that memorial.

It was built by us,
not by the government, any government.

It's a wonderful memorial.

I was asked to do the reading

and that touched me.

It still does.

"As the father is tended
towards his children

so was the lord tended
to those that fear him

for he knows of what we are made.

He remembers that we are but dust.

We are but grass.

We flourish like a flower of the field.

When the wind goes over it, it is gone

and its place will know it no more.

But the merciful goodness
of the lord endures forever and ever

amongst those that fear him."

Engine roars

It's so different,
Lancaster was so different.

It was always the best aeroplane
you ever flew.

But when you finished
your operational flying

you realised how bloody lucky
you must have been to survive, you know?

When you think of all the friends
that you've lost.

This affected you
for the rest of your life.

At night now when I go to bed
and tonight going to bed

talking about all this during the day

when I go to bed,
put my head down on the pillow

I can see flak bursting,
little red lights, flak bursting.

But it doesn't bother me,
I know what it is.

It's alright, no problem whatsoever,
but these memories are still there.

Engine roars

"We are the heavy bombers"
sung by the rushmore male voice choir

♪ we are the heavy bombers ♪

♪ we try to do our bit ♪

♪ we fly through concentrations ♪

♪ of flak, we signed for it ♪

♪ and when we drop our cargoes ♪

♪ we do not give a damn ♪

♪ the eggs may miss the goods yard ♪

♪ but they muck up poor old hamm ♪

♪ And when in adverse weather ♪

♪ the winds are all to hell ♪

♪ the navigator's ballsed up ♪

♪ the wireless ballsed as well ♪

♪ we think of all the popsies ♪

♪ we've known in days gone by ♪

♪ and curse the silly effers ♪

♪ who taught us how to fly ♪