Operation Manna



Operation Manna


An account of how the operation came about and evolved. Describes the events leading up to the need for food relief in Holland, a brief account of how the operation was set up and executed.



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Spatial Coverage




Two typewritten pages


IBCC Digital Archive


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MLeavissED1818433-151116-250001, MLeavissED1818433-151116-250002


[underlined]OPERATION MANNA[/underlined]
For almost six long years Bomber Command took the war to Nazi Germany, helping to force the enemy on to the defensive and steadily weakening his powers of resistance. Towards the end, however, it was becoming clear that missions of a different type would be essential once hostilities ceased: in particular there would be tens of thousands of prisoners of war in urgent need of relief and repatriation.
Then by April 1945 it was apparent that a desperate situation had developed in the densely populated areas of the Nether1ands. The persecution of the Jews and the deportation of industrial workers, among other things, had been causing bitter hostility to the German occupation forces; in September 1944 the Dutch transport workers had gone on strike in the attempt to help the Allied forces during the Battle of Arnhem, and this had led to the Germans ordering an embargo on the movement of food to the urban areas; then during the hard winter fuel supplies too had virtually run out. Yet amid this situation the Germans were determined to hold on, not least because their V2 rocket offensive against London could be mounted only from the Dutch launch sites. So as the Allies advanced into the heart of Germany in March and April, cutting off the strong German forces based in the Netherlands, the great majority of the Dutch people faced starvation.
For some time before this Queen Wilhelmina, in London, had been leading urgent pleas for Allied help in avoiding "a major catastrophe", and the possibility of using Bomber Command's Lancasters to drop food supplies had been carefully examined. One thing, however, was certain. Flying by day at low speed and little more than treetop height they would be sitting ducks, and only if the Germans undertook not to open fire would the operation be remotely feasible. Such were the objections to doing any sort of a deal that not until 24 April, with the local situation now critical, did General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, feel able to force the issue by contacting the German commander and announcing his intentions to the Dutch people. There followed an interchange of messages in the attempt to ensure the bombers safe passage but when Allied and German delegations first met formally on the 28th none of the necessary guarantees was forthcoming. Air Commodore Geddes, who as Director of Operations and Plans, Headquarters 2nd Tactical Air Force, was to mastermind the operation, was full of foreboding.
Yet further delay was out of the question; stem warnings were given of the consequences should the Germans try to interfere; and on 29 April - amid understandable apprehension on the part of the crews - the first missions of Operation Manna were launched. After the dropping zones had been marked by 18 Mosquitos the first Lancasters delivered their loads, a total of 258 sorties being flown on that first day. The Germans responded sullenly but the anti-aircraft guns which were trained on the bombers and could so easily have shot them down remained silent; only the shaking of fists and the occasional burst of small arms fire marked their frustration. For the local inhabitants on the other hand, it was an unforgettable moment. As a Dutchman, then a young schoolboy, later wrote:
“We heard them coming, Each Lancaster opened its bomb doors and out came a cloud of bags like confetti. My father and lots of other grown-ups were sobbing like children. It may have been the sound of the engines, but it was probably because now they knew they would stay alive".
For the aircrew, sometimes flying as low as 100ft, the sight was unbelievable. People were going mad, screaming with delight; waving previously hidden flags, tablecloths, anything they could grab; rushing towards the sacks, some of which had burst, and eating the contents straight off the ground.
Over the next ten days Bomber Command doubled its daily effort, greatly extending its dropping zones, and the Flying Fortresses of the United States 8th Air Force shared the task in what they called Operation Chowhound. On 7 May the Germans surrendered, thus enabling land and sea supply to take over, and the next day the last drops took place. Altogether, despite bad weather having restricted them on several days, 33 RAF squadrons
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had carried out 3,191 sorties, delivering 7,000 tons of food, and a further 3,700 tons had been dropped by 1 O USAAF bomb groups in some 2, 189 missions. It was an operation which has remained etched in the memories of all who took part. As a 576 Squadron navigator recalls:
“All the crew took along something extra, a bat of chocolate or bag of sweets, to throw out to the kids. I slipped mine out of the sliding window above the nav table. It was one of the big emotional experiences of my life."
Instead of bearing death and destruction he and his comrades had at last been able to switch to missions of mercy, and what they did is recalled to this day with the deepest gratitude by those who received the help they delivered.
Not long afterwards, by remarkable coincidence, Dutch men and women were among the beneficiaries of a second operation, far less remembered but just as critical for those involved. Code-named Mastiff, this was undertaken in August and September by Dakotas and Liberators of Air Command South-East Asia to bring relief to prisoners-of-war and where possible to internees who had survived the appalling rigours of being held captive by the Japanese during the Far East war. Here too the airmen were at last able to tum their skills to humanitarian tasks, setting a pattern for so many similar operations that have been undertaken by the Royal Air Force in the subsequent half century.
Air Commodore Henry Probert 1995



Air Commodore Henry Probert, “Operation Manna,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 7, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/32276.

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