480 minutes with a hero



480 minutes with a hero


A minute by minute account of a night bomber operation on Germany. Found in the papers of an airman recently lost in action. Records every incident in flight of Lancaster.



IBCC Digital Archive




Laura Morgan


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One newspaper cutting





Spatial Coverage

Temporal Coverage


[insert] DAILY MAIL 25TH OCT 1943. [/insert]
480 minutes with a hero
Found among the papers of an airman lost recently in action, this minute-by-minute diary of a night bomber-raid on Germany is the most remarkable thing of its kind I have ever seen (says Colin Bednall).
Calmly and methodically, every incident in the long flight of a Lancaster, from take-off to cut-down, is recorded exactly as it occurred. No normal member of an air-crew would be able to make such a complete diary as this. He - could not have the time. The author was one of the flying-cameramen whose pictures have done so much to show the public what the R.A.F. is doing.
[bold] 18.00 hours : [/bold] We have just climbed into the Lancaster K for King. It is still light outside, and a cool breeze is blowing across the aerodrome. Inside, it is hot and heavy with oil fumes, and sweat is pouring from our faces. All have taken their places and are settling down as the engines start up.
[bold] 18.12 hours : [/bold] We are taxi-ing out cautiously, because workmen are still constructing the aerodrome. Looking from a small window on the starboard side of the aircraft I can see three Lancasters following us around the perimeter track. altogether to-night (sic) well over 600 heavy bombers are scheduled to take off. Germany must be waiting uneasily – knowing the weather to be good.
[bold] 18.16 hours : [/bold] We are now at 6,000ft., still climbing – the aerodrome is over to our port side, just visible through a haze on the ground. Towards the west the sun is beginning to set, mixing up its golden colours with dark grey in long streaks of cloud. Oxygen has been checked and is working perfectly. I always hold my rubber tube until I can feel the gas forcing its way through in bubbles.
[bold] 18.43 hours : [/bold] The wireless operator has wound out the trailing aerial.
[bold] 19.06 hours : [/bold] We are just over 10,000ft. and have put on our oxygen masks. They will be our life-line for the next six hours. We are still climbing, and beneath us, through wispy cotton wool cloud, lies the Humber estuary, England looks so very quiet and peaceful.
[bold] 19.15 hours : [/bold] The aircraft seems to be climbing too slowly, and the flight engineer changes gear. The whole aircraft shudders as though hit, and then starts a more rapid rate of ascent. The temperature is -4deg. C. but I do not feel cold as yet – if anything, a little warm.
[bold] 19.20 hours : [/bold] The navigator has drawn the curtains over his little compartment window where he will remain with his charts, working by the light of a small table-lamp for the rest of the trip.
[bold] 19.31 hours : [/bold] The temperature is -8deg. C., and we are 16,500ft. and still climbing. below us is a thick white blanket of cloud, with a golden sun setting on the horizon.
[bold] 19.50 hours : [/bold] I was sitting next to the wireless operator, but the heat from the aircraft’s heating system was too intense and I have moved through the bulkhead door into the black, greasy seat designated “The Bed”. It is too cold here, but it is impossible to strike a happy medium of temperature anywhere.
[bold] 20.02 hours : [/bold] We are leaving England. The coast below fees so far away as to be almost ridiculous. It is now quite dark: we are 18,500ft. and still climbing. The temperature is -15deg. C. One feels very remote from everything but quite compact in a little hot whirring machine world peopled by men who look like gnomes in their flying helmets and hairy cumbersome garments.
[bold] 20.17 hours : [/bold] The enemy coast can be seen ahead, with heavy flak coming up over to starboard – it will be a little while before we cross it though.
[bold] 20.37 hours : [/bold] We are just crossing the enemy coast. Already through a hole in the bottom of the aircraft I can see the flashes from the flak. The aircraft has just flown straight and level for a few minutes so that the bomb-sight can be set. The bombs are fused.
[bold] 21.08 hours : [/bold] We are flying at 20,000ft., it is bumpy, and the temperature is around -17deg. C. Here at the back of the aircraft one is quite alone, and over the hole the cold can be felt. The cine-camera hangs over the hole, looking quite precarious. Behind me stretches the fuselage of the aircraft, like a long, sombre tomb, with a faint red glow at the end and from the lights where the wireless operator and navigator are working. My mouth feels dry and parched with the oxygen.
[bold] 21.26 hours : [/bold] Things are very quiet – nobody has been saying very much and for the past quarter of an hour there has been scant activity from the ground. We should be at the target in about 20 minutes or so.
[bold] 21.40 hours : [/bold] We have altered course for the target, which is lying straight ahead.
[bold] 21.42 hours : [/bold] There is a fair amount of flak bursting in flashes underneath the aircraft. Everybody is keyed up to bomb, and my camera is just waiting the flick of a switch to set it in motion.
[bold] 21.59 hours : [/bold] We are just leaving the target area. As we approached the target, the flak seemed to die down, and flares came up to help the German night-fighters. We made a big swing to port, and went into the bombing run. As the bomb-doors opened, the whole aircraft vibrated and the noise and whistle of the wind increased. I switched on my camera as the target came into view. As our bombs left the aircraft, the incendiaries seemed to scatter away from me like sticks of liquorice. There was a lurch as the 4,000lb bombs parted company with us. I could see the ground beneath, and although early in the raid the fires seemed to be getting well started, if a little scattered.
[bold] 22.15 hours : [/bold] Although clear weather over the target, the cloud is now 10-10ths beneath us. I have been working on the same piece of chewing gum for the last hour and find it very bitter in the mouth.
[bold] 22.19 hours : [/bold] We have altered course. I can still feel bumpiness from the slipstream of other bombers. They must be all around us.
[bold] 22.24 hours : [/bold] Sparks stream out from the engine exhausts, in fact, have been all the time. As they whip past the tail, one feels as though we are leaving a very conspicuous fire trail behind us. My helmet is very irritating to my ears and my oxygen-mask chafes my cheeks. We are still at 20,000ft. and the temperature is -17deg. C.
[bold] 22.47 hours : [/bold] Nobody has said a word for 20 minutes. We have left Germany behind and are now over France in the fighter belt. The Aircraft is behaving perfectly : all four engine temperatures being perfectly even.
[bold] 22.56 hours : [/bold] “George” the automatic pilot, is flying the aircraft. The trailing aerial is let out again by the wireless operator. It is very dark and black below the aircraft and quite cold. I shall be relieved when I can move back to the warmth of the nose cabin.
[bold] 23.01 hours : [/bold] The navigator has altered course. Everybody is very quiet.
[bold] 23.15 hours : [/bold] On my body I have a vest, shirt, collar and tie, pullover, roll-neck sweater, long red scarf, battledress top and trousers with wool underpants, Irving jacket, with long leather fur-lined trousers, Mae West and parachute harness; on my head a helmet; on my hands two pairs of gloves: and on my feet three pairs of socks and flying wool-lined boots – but I still feel as though I’m sitting in a refrigerator.
[bold] 23.20 hours : [/bold] The long silence has been broken by a pungent remark from the navigator, telling us we may expect flak ahead very shortly. We are about 40 miles south of Paris. Moisture dripping from my oxygen-mask on to my knees sticks there forming little pools of ice.
[bold] 23.37 hours : [/bold] From Chartres some flak is being shot up, but it is about 10 miles away and nothing to worry about. The navigator says that he has managed to get a fix and finds us on track. The cold is really bitter.
[bold] 00.00 midnight : [/bold] Everything very quiet in the aircraft and on the ground. A deluge of sparks is spraying from the engines. My ears are quite painful.
[bold] 00.02 hours : [/bold] We alter course and start to descent. The French coast is expected to be crossed in around 12 minutes. I expect they’ll have a pop at us as we leave – they nearly always do. My torch is growing very faint – it will just about last me back to base.
[bold] 00.14 hours : [/bold] We are just leaving the French coast, and contrary to expectations they did not fire a shot or put up a searchlight. We are descending and steering due north.
[bold] 00.18 hours : [/bold] The flight engineer has changed gear again and the whole aircraft seemed to stop for a moment, shudder then surge forward. We are at 16,000ft. and the temperature is -2deg. C. At last I am beginning to regain my circulation.
[bold] 00.32 hours : [/bold] Crossing the English coast – I think everybody breathed a sigh of relief. There are a few beacons flashing, but the navigator does not really need them. We are still descending.
[bold] 01.20 hours : [/bold] Base called up on the R/T. There are five aircraft to land before us, and we have started circling base at 4,000ft. We shall probably go around for half an hour before it is our turn to land.
[bold] 01.45 hours : [/bold] Control has told us to prepare to land. There are seven other aircraft to land after us. Our wheels are down.
[bold] 01.50 hours : [/bold] Control tells us to PANCAKE.
[bold] 01.59 hours : [/bold] Landed in a shower of sparks from all engines. The aerodrome seems very dark as we taxi to our dispersal point.


Daily Mail, “480 minutes with a hero,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 13, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/19016.

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