John Mitchell - some early wartime experiences



John Mitchell - some early wartime experiences


Writes of being attacked by fighters on an operation to Norway. Mentions flying over oceans, combatting weather conditions, the stress of returning with damaged aircraft and worried about possible ditching. Goes on to discuss other worries of engine failures and forced landings. Mentions difficulties of operations to Italy as well as convoy patrols. Describes his first operation (dropping leaflets) of the war on Whitley when he crash landed in France.


Spatial Coverage




Four page handwritten document


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We have all suffered at the hands of enemy fighters chasing us all over the sky whilst shooting bits off our aeroplanes. From Norway in 1939 with mine laying in rotten weather at low level with mountainous coasts very close to our operations. Crossing many miles of ocean to reach our target, flak ships and fighters in the area, and then hundreds of miles of sea to cross on our return to base.

The repeated efforts to combat weather conditions on our way to continental targets with fog, ice, winds unknown together with night fighters, flak and closeness of other aircraft to avoid, we have all experienced the stress of returning to base with aircraft not behaving correctly through damage which could not be ascertained but which gave concern through the controls that something could

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give out at any time. The concern about the possibility of ditching in a cold sea with survival chances nil.

Everyone has experienced engine failures in various degrees, when faced with low cloud and fog, when trying to find base and facing a difficult landing, whilst tired and not quite with it in the early hours of morning after flying all night.

We have all had experience of forced landings away from base & a crash landing thrown in at other times, only to feel lucky that we have made it again.

Many of us will remember our efforts to reach Italy to bomb factories but only after flying through thunder storm heavy icing, hail & snow. Remember the Whitley radial engines which would have problems with air intakes becoming blocked by snow & ice resulting in engines loosing[sic] [indecipherable word] & height in dangerous areas of high[?]

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with very high safety heights, then after clearing these problems facing another series heading off to North Africa.

The return flights were just as hazardous with the usual difficulties in weather conditions for landings after ten hours & shortage of fuel to contend with.

Those on Whitley aircraft [deleted word] whilst suffering from engine failures on continental ops were sent on convoy patrols off the south coasts & France, whilst new engines were found.

I write this whilst considering your request to write some historical fact for you look up [deleted] records [/deleted] memories before we all pop off.

In the end I decided to describe the first operations of the war in a Whitley when after doing our bit we crash landed in France I returned for more

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a swing bridge was seen through the mirk but a [indecipherable word] to starboard brought the aircraft alongside a field of maze,[sic] slithering down one side of the crop about 10 ft tall we then faced an oak tree but failed to reach this coming to a comfortable stop a few yards short.

Clambering out at great speed we were faced by a crowd of people who appeared hostile but explained they had seen the leaflets written in German & had assumed the worst. The implements they had brough with them however did not look very friendly.

We were gathered up by Gendarmes & housed in army tents with straw covering the ground which looked as though it had been prepared to stabling [deleted] of [/deleted] horses. We were flown home three days later & back to base.




J E F Mitchell, “John Mitchell - some early wartime experiences,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2023,

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