"Every Hampden made a bombing run on the cruiser, but we were thrown off course by a shell burst and had to pick a target in line with our new heading - a troop ship being pulled to the wharf by a tug."
Andrew Cox. I enlisted in the Royal Air Force, England in 1936. I was age sixteen at the time. My position on the aircraft was a radio operator/air gunner. I managed to do forty-four combat missions. I was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal after thirty trips.
April 9th, 1940, seven Hampdens from our squadron were detailed for a bombing raid on enemy shipping at the Port of Bergen in Norway. We formed up over our airfield in V formation with Squadron Leader Cooper in the lead aircraft. After almost four hours of flying at low level, it was a relief to open up the formation and start climbing to 10,000 feet at which altitude we crossed the coast south of Bergen. It was eight o'clock in the evening and still daylight. A German light cruiser was in the port area surrounded by several small escort vessels. We encountered no opposition as we flew up the coast of Bergen. But once we were directly overhead we were met with an incredibly intense anti-aircraft barrage, which we call flack, from the German word for anti-aircraft fire. Flack was primarily of two kinds: powerful high explosive shells and a smaller type known as flaming onions. As many as six came up tight together, they had a bright luminous glow of various colours. Primarily, red, green and yellow. They were easily avoided for they could be seen almost as soon as they left a gun and could be tracked all the way to the aircraft. Should they touch any protruding part of the aircraft, however, the result was, without question, complete destruction. A long string of shells tied together would wrap themselves around the fuselage like the end of a whip around a stick, and all six shells would explode at the same time. Every gun down below seemed to open fire at the same time. At times the thud of the bursted shells drowned out the noise of the engines and shrapnel could be heard rattling on the fuselage. It was impossible to maintain a formation under those circumstances, so Squadron Leader Cooper gave the order, "Abandon formation," and had taken line astern. By this time all the other pilots were using every maneuver possible to escape the heavy shells exploding. We were all at different levels. This reduced the intensity of the anti-aircraft fire because the flack gunners had to alter their range for each aircraft. Every Hampden made a bombing run on the cruiser, but we were thrown off course by a shell burst and had to pick a target in line with our new heading - a troop ship being pulled to the wharf by a tug. The tug sustained a direct hit with one of our five hundred pound bombs. We assumed the tug would sink, but we didn't hang around to find out. Flying Officer French, an Australian pilot and Pilot Officer Malloy, a New Zealander, acting as French's navigator, were flying directly behind our aircraft and they managed to get a bomb down the funnel of the cruiser, which exploded a few seconds later. We eventually formed up in V formation and headed for home just as night was closing in. The darkness gave us protection from German fighter aircraft, which, by now, would have been fully alerted. The raid was a remarkable success. No aircraft were lost, although some sustained minor damage from shrapnel.
The following day a Coastal Command aircraft on a photographic reconnaissance mission confirmed that one cruiser had been sunk, leaving part of its superstructure sticking out of the water.
For this episode, French was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Now, I was shot down, of course, over Hamburg on September the 8th, 1940 and I spent four years, eight months as a prisoner of war. When I was shot down I was 143 pounds and when I was released my weight had dropped down to slightly under 80 pounds.
Fortunately, when I came home my wife was there waiting to see me and she really spoiled me and I put on weight in no time at all, due to her good cooking and the way in which she looked after me.