Operation on Turin


Operation on Turin


David Donaldson reminisces an operation on Turin, describing the crossing of the Alps at night and the awe-inspiring sight of Mount Blanc. David stresses the uniqueness of the operation, only comparable to a previous one on Munich, and mentions the keen interest of the navigator, who had been a mountaineer. The interviewee provides details on the attack to FIAT works, anti-aircraft fire encountered, and the really bad weather on the return leg of the journey.


Temporal Coverage




One oral interview


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And, C, the raid on Turin.
This was the first time our Squadron had done the Italian trip. We'd heard a rumour about a week before that we might be getting the job. Everyone was quite thrilled at the idea of a run over the Alps. We were told in the morning we were going to Turin, so we started at once drawing our tracks and getting the navigation generally weighed up. My navigator was particularly keen on the show because he's something of a mountaineer, and had done a fair bit of climbing in the Alps. The route we were taking worked out at between 12 and 1300 miles there and back. We had to make a bit of a detour to keep clear of Switzerland because we had special instructions to avoid infringing Swiss neutrality. Briefing was at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and we took off just as it was getting dark. To start with, the weather was poor and we had to come down to 600 feet over the English coast to pinpoint ourselves, then we climbed up through what was becoming really nasty weather, and crossed the coast on the other side fairly high. By that time the cloud was what we call ten tenths, that is to say it obscured everything. Eventually we got above cloud and then we had the light of the moon which was in its first quarter. Before that it had been very dark indeed. We were flying blind above cloud until we arrived 40 or 50 miles east of Paris and we ran into clearer weather, the clouds gradually decreased below us until we could see the ground. And when we reached southern France the weather was perfect. It was one of those clear moon-light nights and the stars seem stand out in the sky; you feel you can put out your hand and grab one. As we flew on toward the Alps we could make out some of the little mountain villages against the background of snow. You could see their lights twinkling in the trees. The aircraft was going wonderfully well and we cleared the highest mountains by 3 or 4000 feet. You could see the ridges and peaks well defined and the moon shining on the snow. Flying over this sort of scenery was something completely new to us and pretty awe-inspiring because the nearest we had got to it was on the Munich raid when we'd seen the Bavarian Alps in the distance. The navigator came up and pointed out Mont Blanc away on our port side, he was able to identify it from its shape because he had actually climbed it. He was telling us how he was beaten by the weather when he had got to within 600 feet of the summit. Immediately we got to the other side of the Alps with no snow about it seemed by comparison intensely dark for a bit, it was like coming out of a lightened room into the blackout. Soon after that we started to glide down, loosing height very gradually and arrived slightly west of Turin. Other planes were already over the target because you could see their flares and there was a barrage of anti-aircraft fire in the sky. Our target was the Fiat works, and the whole time we were looking for them we were still gliding down to our bombing height. Actually we picked the works up in the light of somebody else’s flare. They were unmistakable. I’d never had such a target before. There seemed to be acres of factory buildings. We almost wept afterwards because we hadn’t got any more bombs to give them. Having located our target, we flew four or five miles away, turned round and made our run up over it. The wireless operator came along and stood beside me to have a look at the bombing, otherwise he wouldn’t have seen anything from his usual position. When he saw the light flak coming up from the works he said ‘Gosh, look at the Roman candles’. We made two attacks. As we came round afterwards to have a look, the fires which we'd started were going strong. There was a big orange-coloured fire burning fiercely inside one block of buildings. Having finished the job, we climbed to get enough height to cross the Alps again. Altogether we were over or round about the town for three quarters of an hour, and, whilst we were circling to gain height we saw somebody hit the Royal Arsenal good and proper. Going home, the Alps didn't look quite the same. The moon almost set then, and the mountains had lost their vivid whiteness. The last two hours of the journey were – frankly – plain misery. It started with the aircraft suddenly beginning to get iced up. I tried to climb but she wouldn’t take it. Ice was coming off the airscrews and hitting the fuselage. We came down to about 7000 to thaw out and then we ran into an electrical storm. All this time we were in cloud. It was frightfully bumpy and the aircraft was bucking about all over the place. At one point, the front gunner called me up and said ‘Are you’re quite sure you’re flying the right side up? because I think I can see white horses in the sky.' That was when we were over the North Sea. When eventually we left the clouds, we had to come through snow and sleet and the final bit of the journey we made in a howling gale which reduced our ground speed a lot. Never had we ever taken so long to get inland to our base from the coast. We got there safely in the end.



David Donaldson, “Operation on Turin,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 16, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/16151.

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