"Thank your lucky stars..."


by: Phillip Massey

Navigator, No 61 Squadron, RAF


published with permission from Phillip Massey's wife and son


copyright: Phillip Massey, 1941


Updated: January 2008

Philip Massey (751039) was a navigator in Bomber command from the beginning to the end of the war and whilst serving with 61 Squadron in 1941 he flew from Hemswell which is listed, and from North Luffenham which is not. It is in what was the original county of Rutland. He also flew whilst in 180 squadron, in Mitchells with the 2 TAF. He passed away on Christmas Day 1999.

After his death his wife Adele Massey found his log book and a letter which he had written to her 09/08/41 on the same day as he returned from a raid on Kiel. Adele wrote out the letter, less the more personal parts, and gave it to her son....

North Luffenham.  09.08.41


You can thank your lucky stars you’re not a widow at this moment! I went to Kiel last night, and oh boy! What a night it was. Never before has death been so terrifyingly close to me since war began.


To start with it was a lovely trip over 410 miles of sea to the coast of Denmark with pure white cloud below and a full moon giving the effect of broad daylight shining on us from above. A perfect fighters dream night. We saw about six other Hampdens and a couple of Whitleys going over. For once my navigation was almost perfect. I got a glorious landfall just north of Sylt on the Danish coast, and as we were flying towards Kiel across the Baltic we could see trails of condensation from Jerry night fighters criss crossing above us. I could see fires and ack ack at Kiel 50 miles before we got there. We saw some of the fighters but they did not appear to see us. Anyway they didn’t attack and we went in a bit east of Kiel – boy it was a glorious night and I could see the coast and inland lakes perfectly in the moonlight so we went in behind the A.A. and searchlights at 12,000 feet. It was nearly two o’clock in the morning as we approached the target – about four miles from the harbour – Street (pilot) cut the engines and started to glide noiselessly in through the cones of searchlight beams towards the ship building yards that I’d picked out. Already there were two large fires raging there. We had intended bombing from 10,000 feet but it took us a bit longer than expected to glide in and consequently we lost more height than we liked doing. About a mile from the target Street (pilot) had to give a short burst of engine to keep our speed up – and ten searchlights came straight on to us from God knows where, temporally blinding us. Tracer started pouring towards us, but I had to keep on an even course to hit the target with my bombs. I let them go in the middle of the ship building yards from 8,000 feet! Immediately they had gone the A.A. bursting intensified close to the tail, but I still had two photos’ to take.


We couldn’t wait to take the second one properly as the W/op. said the ‘Shit’ was right round our tail and we were full in at least six searchlights – Street (pilot) put the nose down and opened up the engines again – God! I’ve never seen anything like it. A plane straight in front of us went straight down and exploded on the ground, and then another was hit and blew up in mid air. After that the Huns focused all their attention on us. We couldn’t get out of the deathly searchlight beams and as we dived and twisted this way and that I could see stream after stream of shells racing towards us, passing six inches below then ? inches above my cockpit. A pan of ammunition was blown off the rack behind me as a shell burst horribly close beneath us and the pan hit me on the head and bounced onto the bombsight in front. We were screaming down at 300 m.p.h. as I yelled to Street to turn now left now right to try to dodge the stuff as it came up. Suddenly, as one lot came straight for the nose of the kite – Street pulled up and we skipped over the top of it missing it by a few feet. I fell off my seat on to the floor of the kite. I fought madly to regain my balance and help the pilot to get away out to sea and only then did I wonder where my ‘chute was. It would have been no use however for as I glanced at the altimeter it showed zero feet. I thought of you and prayed like hell. My mouth had gone so dry that my chewing gum was stuck to the roof of my mouth and I couldn’t move it. At fifty feet we hurtled over the coast and out to sea. I was just wondering how the hell we had got away alive when Street yelled in muffled voice ‘Navigator, I’ve been hit’. I nearly died! I could imagine myself collecting the DFM for flying the kite back to England! We could all hear old Street panting and blowing over the intercom, so I asked him if he wanted me to come and take over. He said he thought that he would be alright though he couldn’t feel his left hand at all.


I worked out a safe course for us to steer and told him I’d come and patch his hand as soon as he thought it wise for me to stop watching for fighters. They were near us all the time. Then, after a while, he called again and said he thought his hand was OK. The glove was cut open and his hand was scratched but the shock had numbed the whole of his arm. As soon as we were in comparative safety I went up behind him, dropped his armour plating and gave him some hot coffee. He’d got a bit of frostbite! I was sweating cobs!


It must have been at about 3 a.m. when we saw the Danish coast and cruised steadily homewards at about 1,500 feet with the moon shining eerily on the water and the clouds hiding us from the fighters above. We came in just north of Skegness and landed safely at our own aerodrome at five past six this morning. You bet we did some line shooting! Not many people have flown across Kiel through such intense flack and searchlights – and a balloon barrage too, at 50 feet and lived to tell the tale. Our squadron lost two machines and a third had its port engine shot away but they got back on one to the English coast and forced landed successfully on the beach just as the other engine packed up – and that’s what I get paid 12/6d a day for!