Lancaster (2022) Movie Script

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.
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.
Today, five squadrons
of Royal Air Force Typhoon fighters
are based at Coningsby.
They share the run ways
with one of the most iconic aircraft
in British aviation history.
The Lancaster bomber.
It 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.
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.
I can still hear it sometimes.
It's a whistle that gets
louder and louder and louder
and everything gets darker and darker.
then there was nothing left.
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, Coventry
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 onesided otherwise
it would have been over in no time.
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.
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.
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.
RAF fighter command
had saved the country in its hour of need
but in 1941, bomber command
was not yet equipped to play its part.
There was no equivalent of the Spitfire
in the RAF'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.
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 fuhrer 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.
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.
At aircraft builders Avro
chief engineer Boy Chadwick
thought he could do better.
A twinengined aircraft
called the Manchester.
But its RollsRoyce 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 flawed Vultures
for four proven RollsRoyce 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 1941,
Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
With the Red 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 relieved the pressure
on the russians.
We shall bomb
Germany by day as well as by night
in everincreasing 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 Avro's Lancaster.
Finally he had the means
to take the fight to the enemy.
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 February 1942
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 RAF 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 bombbay,
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.
Ken Johnson: 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 1.1 million people
in 927 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".
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 aircrews
bomber command could raise its game.
In May 1942
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 Stirlings, Halifaxes
and 73 Lancasters,
their first largescale use on operations.
The thousand bomber raid
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.
the new strategy was called area bombing.
Cities themselves rather than the factories
in them became the targets.
Night after night,
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 onthejob 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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
Krefeld. Munster.
The whole lot of them,
all the way through, one after the other.
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.
When we were approaching the target...
You could see the fires
and you could see the flak.
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 antiaircraft 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 navigation aids
they dropped coloured flares 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.
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."
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 '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 carry 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 1955 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 carry the fourton 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 surface of the lake.
No other bomber at that time
was capable of carrying out the operation.
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.
Fiftythree 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.
flying heavily armed, twinengined aircraft
like the Messerschmitt
110 or the Junkers 88
radarequipped night fighters accounted
for the bulk of bomber command's losses.
Now, a night fighter was guided
by a ground radar operator.
and once he picked up your blip,
he would then guide the aircraft on to you.
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 1943,
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 dry 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.
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 1941
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 1.2 million flied for the countryside.
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 RAF reconnaissance had revealed
that Germany had new and terrifying ideas
about carrying the war to Britain.
V2 rockets,
the world's first ballistic missiles
were being developed
at a secret location on the Baltic coast
carrying a oneton warhead
at three times the speed of sound
there would be no defence against them.
the site had to be destroyed
before they could enter service.
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 RAF 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.
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.
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.
The green light flashes on the control tower.
It's our turn to go now
as we start to slowly gather speed
down the mileandahalflong runway.
For eight months from August 1943
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.
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.
There was a tremendous explosion.
Tremendous, woof!
port outer engine's on fire!
Everything happened in slow motion.
I mean ultraslow 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.
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.
RAF losses continued to mount,
yet in March 1944
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.
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.
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 history
the Battle of Berlin
was more than a failure.
It was a defeat
questions 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 1944
bomber command was put
under temporary 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 carry.
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.
Yet despite these achievements
bomber command was still directed
to continue area attacks at night
in February 1945, 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 Russians advancing
Churchill was keen to assist and baste
the Germans as they retreat from Brest.
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.
The attack was planned
as a deliberate effort to destroy morale
and create chaos behind the front line.
I was born in StokeonTrent
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 StokeonTrent."
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 ammunition 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 allLancaster 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.
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.
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, 1945.
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
lifechanging 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."
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.
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