An anxious moment



An anxious moment


Describes events during a mine laying operation in a Stirling to the Gironde River near Bordeaux. Relates how the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire which damaged the tail and an engine as well as wounding the flight engineer. Describes the struggle to regain control, treat wounded and the return flight to England culminating in a crash landing at RAF Boscombe Down. Mentions after flight activity including some details of the debriefing.


Temporal Coverage



One typewritten sheet


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One moonlit dawn on 28th March 1943 from base in East Anglia we headed south over Selsey Bill. France and the Gironde River near Bordeaux was our objective – to lay mines.

My task in the second pilot’s seat was to help with controls when flying to the target, to go down into the bomb bay and, when there, release the bombs or mines in a stick formation to cause maximum damage to enemy shipping.

Seven boys aged around 20, clad in leathers, harnesses, helmets with intercom mike and earphones, plugged in for oxygen, flying at 15,000 feet. Our four-engine Stirling Q-Queenie was slow compared with the Lancaster.

Nothing challenged us across France and we were hoping the trip would be easy. This turned out to be far from the case. Over the target all appeared quiet and sleepy. The ships moored in the river were not showing lights. What a peaceful scene! I asked for “Bomb doors open”. “Bombs gone!” Just then all hell broke loose. One of the seemingly docile ships turned out to be an anti-aircraft vessel. We were right overhead and he couldn’t miss. Our tailplane [sic] was shot off and fuel was leaking from the tank. The engineer turned on the reserve fuel tank, but he then cried out as a shell left its mark. Ready hands tried to stem his wound whilst Ken and I struggled to pull back on the controls with engine revs at full strength.

Miraculously, as the giant engines clawed the air and we hovered for what seemed ages – but in reality were seconds – we seemed to be doomed to fall back into the river. Somehow we edged forward on full throttles and regained some height – sufficient to be able to pull away from a possible drowning end. We later found out tailplane [sic] had been completely shot off. In addition, we were down to three engines, so regaining height was another problem. Meanwhile, first-aid – albeit rather crude – had been enough to stem the engineer’s flow of blood and we covered him with a blanket to keep him warm.

The route home over France was quickly passed from navigator to pilot and, dreading a possible attack to further destroy our ailing craft, we limped towards the coast at 2,000 feet, dropping height all the way. At last I spied through cloud, the English coast as we limped over the Channel. A hundred feet over the cliff we called up Boscombe Down for permission to crash-land, giving details of our state as far as we knew. Directions were given and we staggered over the lights switched on a moment before we scraped down. A truck appeared with helpers as we almost fell down our steps from the hatch. An ambulance crew took

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charge of our wounded crew member as we made our way to the control tower. Our Irving jackets unzipped, our faces blackened with oil and grease, we looked a sorry sight. But we were home.

A briefing officer asked questions about our trip whilst we drank tea, also puffing on a cigarette. Some memories remained vivid, others dimmed in a need for rest and sleep. Charts were produced by the navigator as we endeavoured to recall every little thing of significance; the strength of the flak around the target – the attack by enemy planes – plus the behaviour of our aircraft engines, controls, armaments and so on. We traced our route to and from Gironde as best we could.

At last we could walk across to the Mess for something warm, stumbling thence to our billets and bunks. Often we were unable to undress, but flopped on to our beds to try and sleep.

The next night was another story!


Antony Bartlett, “An anxious moment,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2023,

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