At 11:00 hrs on 20th April 1943 our Squadron was detailed for yet another raid on Germany, the target being unknown to us. All crews, including my own, were detailed to test their own aircraft, that they were going to take on the raid that evening. The air test only took 45 minutes then we proceeded to lunch.
Briefing, was at 16:00 hrs and every one was most anxious to find out the target and the extent of its defences.
At 16:15 hrs all this curiosity was solved and we found our target to be “Stettin”, a vital supply port to Germany in her supply to the Russian Front.
The briefing Officer told us of the nature of the Ports defences and the dock areas were the points of concentration for the bombing. We were to go low level up to the islands north of Denmark; there we were to climb to 14,000 feet to bomb our target. The object of the low level, was to avoid lights and their radio location, as, on that night the moon was to be full.
At 16:45 hours, all crews began to go out to the aircraft. These were inspected every vital point, paying very great attention to the armament and the security of the bomb load.
I forgot to mention, on this particular raid, there were to be, 500 aircraft, comprising of Lancaster's and Halifaxes.
Our bomb load was 1 four thousand pound bomb and 288, 30 lb incendiaries.
Dead on 17:30 hours the aircraft of the Squadron began to start their engines for take off. We were 4th off the ground, and commenced our trip out. We flew at 1500 feet to the coast of England and aircraft were all around us, their navigation lights, giving us some idea of their position.
We crossed the English coast at 18:00 hours and from there on, all lights were put out and every one was on their toes. From this stage on, we were briefed to fly below 500 feet, and the moon began to shine on us, just as if it were daylight. Occasionally we could see another aircraft, which indicated we were still on track, and not alone.
Just before 20:30 hours we saw the coast of Denmark coming up, this we knew would mean action, as when the first of our aircraft crossed that coast, their defences would immediately come into action, we saw ANTI aircraft FIRE commence, and assumed the first of the boys were across.
The moon was shining very brilliantly now, and as we crossed the coast our altitude being no more than 50 feet, we could see the Promenade and bedroom windows open. On our starboard side light anti aircraft guns were blazing away, but being so low, and our speed being in the region of 200 miles per hour, our aircraft was quite a difficult target.
We continued across Denmark low level, and shortly we came across an anti aircraft Battery on our port bow, these fellows were firing at us, so our Pilot gave orders to the Gunners to open fire. In a few seconds , our front Gunner had silenced the Gun post.
From there on we met very little opposition.
About an hour after our little battle with the Gun post, we saw a car coming towards us with an extremely bright head light, so, assuming it was an enemy staff car, the Gunners gave it one burst and the light went out.
Our next bit of fun was a train, enemy Gunners were firing from the top of it, and so we got as near as we could and our Gunners strafed it from Stem to Stern.
From there on, our journey was uneventiful, and as we crossed the north coast of Denmark, we began our climb over the Baltic to our Bombing height. A few flack ships fired at us, but with very little accuracy.
During our flight across the Baltic, we could see the Stirlings, bombing “Rostock” and the fires were going very nicely, occasionally we could distinguish our aircraft going down in flames, which was not a pretty sight.
At 21:00 hours, we were approaching the target, and flack and searchlights, seemed to be plentiful. 21:30 hours was zero hour and soon we were on the outskirts of the target.
On our first Bombing run, we were covered in searchlights, and could not Bomb and as the Bombing is done straight and level searchlight avoiding action would have only resulted in wrong and inaccurate Bombing.
After 40 seconds of violent evasive action, we got out of those search light beams and came around again for the final bombing run. This time we had a very nice run up, but on the words “bombs gone” from our Bomb aimer, we were covered by search lights for the second time.
This time we got a shell under our Bomb bay, and it tore a very nice hole in our fuselage. There was no time to waste now if we were to get out of the target alive, so the skipper put the nose down and we came out of that target at 280 miles per hour, until we were once more 50 – 100 feet above the Baltic outside the target area. By this time, Bombs were exploding with great flashes, and the fires were very bright and extending. So the Bomber force had once more completed its task.
Now came the hazardous journey back to Base. By this time, the whole of Northern Germany was alive, and possible aware of our homeward route, so we could expect opposition now until we got well into the North Sea once again.
The Baltic now seemed to hold a number of Flack ships, all of which were out to shoot us down.
Ten minutes out of the target, we had a minor battle with one of these Flack ships, but the fire from our aircraft soon demoralised them, and all was quiet once more, but not long after this we were flying along quite nicely just above the water and a search light came on from nowhere, this light was found only too soon, was on a German Destroyer, who meant business.
Our Pilot immediately took evasive action and told all Gunners to open fire, which they did without any hesitation. After a second or two one of the Destroyers shells tore away our starboard rudder, which made the aircraft difficult to handle, but our Pilot was one of the best, and kept up his evasive action, but before we finally evaded our enemy, we were hit once more in the fuselage below my feet. This time the shell had blown all our hydraulic pipes apart, which meant a belly-landing if we got back.
For some time later, we had no opposition and sailed along on top of the water, until our Navigator came up to the cockpit, and looked down for a map reading, this he soon got, and said “Good Heavens “SYLT”. This being a German Navel base, the name brought very quick action to both the Pilot and myself, and we had all the engines wide open in no time at all.
Beneath us were the battleships, but we were over them so soon, they never heard anything but the roar of our engines and we were past them on our final leg home.
Now we could relax a little, and our Navigator informed our time of reaching base was 02:10 hours, this meant a dark landing with a badly damaged aircraft. None of the crew seemed very worried, but we were all very pleased to be on our way home and finally clear of enemy territory.
01:50 hours we could see our aerodrome lights ahead, which to us was a very pleasant sight, and we could see the other aircraft returning from the raid.
We called up the aerodrome and asked for permission to land, this was soon got, and within 5 minutes we were on English soil once again. None of us hurt in any way, we proceeded to interrogation and a nice big meal. Then away to a well deserved sleep.
ended another Blow against the enemy in the war, which was forced upon us all.
(Walter William) Bill Garbett
I am indebted to Nigel Garbeth the son of Walter Gartbet for allowing me to publish this article