British Gunner



British Gunner


A magazine article written by an American journalist about bombing operations.




One printed photograph and one printed sheet.


This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit and



MHayhurstJM2073102-170725-370001, MHayhurstJM2073102-170725-370002



[page break]


[emblem] ENGLAND – A small village lay tucked away in the fold of a valley just below the high, windswept, bleak plateau where a Lancaster bomber station was situated. Housewives were busy in the kitchen preparing food, and the men had left their ploughing to come in for the noon-day meal. In the lichen-covered Gothic church, the minister's wife was arranging decorations, and placing on the altar freshly cut chrysanthemums that had managed to escape the north winds, and were still blooming in December.

The placidness of the village life was in sharp contrast to the bustling activity at the airfield. It seemed as remote from war as any hamlet could possibly be, although the provident farmers, living so close to an obvious military target, had wisely provided themselves with shelter trenches at the edge of each ploughed field.

Nevertheless, the name of this quiet, lovely village had spread far. By borrowing it, the bomber station had made it one to strike terror into the heart of the Nazi High Command.

At the airfield, V-for-Victor's crew lounged around B Flight office waiting to see if operations were on. They kept looking up into the sky as if trying to guess what the weather was going to be like. Some of the men chuckled. "Papa Harris is so set on writing off the Big City that he hardly even notices the weather," one of them said. "The last time there were kites stooging around all over the place. The met boobed that one."

It was a strange new language. What the airman was saying was that the last time out, the meteorological men had given a wrong steer on the weather, and the planes had been flying all over looking for the field, on the return trip. "Papa Harris" was Air Chief Marshal Harris, chief of Bomber Command.

V-for-Victor's captain came back from operations room with the news that there would be ops. That settled the discussion. You seemed to be aware, without noticing anything in particular, of a kind of tension that gripped the men; like they were pulling in their belts a notch or two to get set for the job ahead.

And with the news, everybody got busy – the aircrews, the ground crews, the mechanics, the Waafs, the cooks. The ships already had a basic bomb and fuel load on board, and the additional loads were sent out in ammunition trailers and fuel trucks. The perimeter track lost its usually deserted appearance and looked like a well-traveled [sic] highway, with trucks and trailers, buses and bicycles hurrying out to the dispersal points. It was just like the preparations at any bomber base before taking off for enemy territory – but going over the big city was something different. These men had been there before. They knew what to expect.

In the equipment room, June, the pint-sized Waaf in battledress, was an incongruous note. Over a counter as high as her chin, she flung parachutes, harnesses and Mae Wests. The crew grabbed them and lugged them out to the ships. You kept thinking they ought to be able to get somebody a little bigger for the job she was handling.

In the briefing room, the met officer gave the weather report and the forecast over enemy territory. There would be considerable cloud over the target. The men grinned. An operations officer gave a talk on the trip. The route was outlined on a large map of Germany on the front wall. It looked ominously long on the large-scale map. He pointed out where the ground defenses [dic] were supposed to be strong, and where fighter opposition might be expected. He gave the time when the various phases should be over the target. He explained where the "spoof" attacks were to be made, and the time. He told the men what kinds of flares and other markers the Pathfinders would drop. There was the usual business of routine instructions, statistics and tactics to be used. The group captain gave a pep-talk on the progress of the Battle of Berlin. And all the while, that tape marking the route stared you in the face, and seemed to grow longer and longer.

Outside, it was hazy and growing more so. But this was nothing new. The men were convinced that the weather was always at its most variable and its dampest and its haziest over their field. What could you expect? Ops would probably be scrubbed after all. Hell of a note!

In the fading light the planes were silhouetted against the sky. They looked, on the ground, slightly hunched and menacing like hawks. Seeing them there, in the half light, you would never guess how easy and graceful they are in flight. Nor would you realize, when you see them soaring off the runway, what an immense load they take up with them. It is only when you see the open bomb bay, on the ground, that you get some idea of a Lancaster's destructive power. The open bomb bay seems like a small hangar. The 4,000 pound block-buster in place looks like a kitten curled up in a large bed. It is a sobering sight.

In the evening some of the men tried to catch a few winks; most of them just sat around talking. The operational meal followed. It was only a snack, but it was the last solid food any one would get until the fresh egg and bacon breakfast which has become a ritual for the proper ending of a successful mission.

A YANK correspondent went along with the RAF Lancasters as they made two of their historic night raids on the "Big City" – and watched them drop their "blockbusters" and incendiaries on the nerve centre of Europe's evil genius. From these two trips he learned what all RAF night bombing crews have learned – that usually you either get back intact or you don't get back at all. This is the story of one of those missions over Berlin.


“British Gunner,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 30, 2023,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.