Ops are on. Maximum effort



Ops are on. Maximum effort


A memoir by Joe Harrison of his first operation in 1943. He describes the initial briefing, the events during the bombing run, the damage to their aircraft and his subsequent illness. Includes descriptions of the post-op analysis and good crew relationship.




Temporal Coverage



Two typewritten sheets


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Ops are on. Maximum effort.
September 27th, 1943. 156 Squadron Path Finder Force, Warboy’s, [sic] Huntington. All aircrew on duty to be at briefing at 1400 hrs, meals 1440 hrs, and take off 1545hrs. In the briefing room, all crews were now assembled, awaiting the entrance of the Station and Squadron flight commanders.
On their entry, we all stood, and were told “Sit down gentleman.”
The Station commander stood at the small raised platform, and drew the curtain covering the target, opening the briefing with the words, “The targets tonight are the factories and railway yards in Brunswick, Germany.” We all looked at the target, with me and other gunners taking note of where the fighter attacks en route would likely take place. Specialists took over the briefing, showing the routes into, and away from the targets. The route, into and out of the target being marked by the ac-tual routes shown from base, to the target, and return, with dog legs shown. These route briefings showed where the main searchlight and gun batteries were to be encountered, with known enemy fighter stations marked, and followed with details of how the actual marking of the target would be undertaken, firstly by primary marking crews, dropping red target indicators, with backers up drop-ping green and or yellow markers. Our role in this attack was as a supporter to the primary marker crews, to try and draw the night fighters, and flak away from them as they marked the aiming points for main force to hit, carrying only some markers, and bombs.
After the main briefing, the pilots and navigators, and nav/bomb aimers attended separate briefings, with the wireless operators, flight engineers and gunners being briefed by our various leaders.
We were all given a hefty meal of eggs and bacon, and went to our hut for a lie down, and maybe a short nap. O.k. boy’s wakey-wakey, and it is off to our lockers to get dressed in our flying kit. I had an electrically heated suit to wriggle into, and then into my other flying clothes, with wool lined boots, warm jacket, and then parachute harness, topped off with my helmet, goggles, and fur lined gloves. Contrary to some reports my gloves were not heated. Fully dressed at last, with some ribald com-ments as one tried to make oneself comfortable in certain places. All dressed, and it is pick up your parachutes, and, for me, a shuffle to the outside and all to get picked up by the crew bus, with some other crews, and taken to dispersal.
Arriving at our aircraft, it was with a few catcalls aimed at the other crews on the bus, such as “Don’t get lost”, or “Make sure that heap of yours gets you there and back”
Before take-off, Bob our pilot chatted to us all as we stood at the base of the ladder before climbing on board “Y: Yorker our Lancaster bomber. We had all had a look into the bomb bay, and had seen our 4000lb bomb, and others all neatly arrayed side by side, waiting for the doors to be closed. He stressed to us that we relied on each other, and to put into practice the tactical planning we had done together.
This was our first crossing into Germany, and as it was our very first op., and never having been on operations before joining Pathfinders! It was with a sense of apprehension that we approached the target area. The area was swarming with enemy fighters, and the flak was intense. Fighters were pick-ing out their targets, and I saw a fighter converging onto our tail.
“Rear gunner to skipper, fighter coming in on our port side, dive port GO!” Cannon shells hit our air-craft, and I opened up on him with my guns. He veered away, and I shouted to Monty, our mid-upper gunner, “Breaking to starboard Monty” and he opened up with his guns as the fighter climbed away. He soon had another target, as a Lancaster careened to earth as a flaming ball of fire, a short distance away.
Lancaster’s were being shot down very close to us, and in my rear turret I was keeping up a barrage of gun fire to try and keep the fighters away, with the mid-upper joining in when the fighters entered his area of control. I could not believe my eyes, as I saw so many of our aircraft shot down, and thought “what have we let ourselves into?” We were hit many times with cannon shells, and our aircraft was badly damaged. The cannon shells hitting our aircraft sounded like a lot of thumps and bangs, and I was flung about in my turret as I called to Bob to dive, or corkscrew, and at times was standing up in my turret, and trying to get sight on a fighter as it climbed towards us. Spraying the area he was fly-ing into.
[page break]
During a brief lull, Bob called each member of the crew to ascertain if they were o.k. sending Mick, our wireless operator down the fuselage to assess the damage, and to see if I was o.k. He said I had sounded funny on the intercom, and Mick discovered that my oxygen hose had been severed. Bob dropped us down to about 12000 ft, and I was soon feeling better. Fortunately we were in a lull, and were soon heading for home.
Searchlights had been constantly searching the sky looking for us and other bombers, and all in all it seemed so unreal. There was considerable damage done to us from the fighter and ack ack guns, and on landing back at base we all realized [sic] how lucky we had been. The cannon shells had luckily missed our vital controls, but my turret doors were peppered with shrapnel pieces, and the side pan-els were damaged. The tail units were holed in a few places with canon shells. One stream of shells had ripped through the aircraft missing the Mid-upper turret by inches, causing the mid-upper to comment that he was obviously the target, being so important! Luckily the shells had not exploded, going straight through.
Landing back at base, and getting to our dispersal point, we managed to force the damaged rear door open, with the help of ground staff, to enable us to get out. Engines off, and repairs were under way almost immediately.
I was at a loss as to why we had been hit so many times by fighter cannon shells, and wondered whether our tactics were working, and where I had gone wrong. Talking things over with the crew, after we were through interrogation, it emerged that maybe we gunners were opening fire too late on the enemy, through trying to get them in our sights, as this was extremely difficult, especially with the target aircraft being so small, and their speed, and darkness, and with our aircraft twisting and diving as I called the skipper to take evasive action. The next day, we all got together in our room, to discuss what had happened during this our first operation. Studying our graphs, Bob and I devised a new tactic of spraying the area the fighter would fly into, and hoping for more hits on the enemy. The enemy fighters with fixed guns had to fly straight and level to get us in their sights that made them such a small target for our guns. The rest of the crew went through their various recollections of what had happened, and it was with renewed spirits that we looked at each other, and were indeed a crew. On the 7th of October I was admitted to Ely hospital suffering from the after effects of bruises, and lack of oxygen. I had found it painful to take deep breaths, and was quite sore bodily. I should have reported sick earlier on, but as bad weather set in, we were attending lectures etc. I spent from the 7th of October, until the 2nd of November 1943 in hospital recovering.
Bob had insisted with the Squadron commander that he would not accept another permanent rear gunner take my place, but would wait my return from hospital.
On my discharge from hospital, I was pronounced fit to fly, and I re-joined my crew on November the 2nd. 1943.
I spent a couple of hours that afternoon checking, and sitting in my turret and getting the feel of things again, as I admit I was feeling quite nervous. “Y” Yorker had been extensively repaired, and had been air tested the day before my return. My crew had done a few sorties during my absence with different rear-gunners, on different aircraft, causing me a lot of anxiety, and were all delighted at my return, bantering me and accusing me of sneaking off for a holiday, and deserting the crew, with the stern admonishment from Fred, the nav/bomb aimer, that a repeat would not be tolerated.
We are on ops. on November the 3rd. 1943. But that is another story. Cologne was the target.
The crew comprised of,
Pilot. Sgt Mclean, Navigator, P.O. Hunting. Nav/Bomb aimer, Sgt Whybrow. Flight Engineer Sgt Burn. Wireless Operator, Sgt Wenham. Mid-upper gunner Sgt Mortimer. Rear Gunner, Sgt Harrison.
Copy right. Joseph Stanley Harrison D.F.C. Lo Honour.
[signature of Joseph Harrison, DFC. LoH]



Joe Harrison, “Ops are on. Maximum effort,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 15, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/17867.

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