"So god knows how many searchlights we had on us and we were pretty well blinded. And then naturally, the Ack-Ack guns – the anti-aircraft guns – concentrated on us…"
My name is Jim Letros. I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. I was there between 1942 and 1945. The rank I achieved was Warrant Officer Second Class and I was a bomb aimer. I started out as a pilot, got washed out at elementary flying school. Then re-mustered to the bomb aimer course.
After getting overseas, I was attached to 576 Squadron, Number 1 Group. That's the long- range bomber group flying Lancasters. Now all our trips were over Germany. And we were fortunate enough to do 32 operations. We had six daylights and 26 night trips. Over Wiesbaden, we were going into the target and the Pathfinders were ahead of us. But we were a little ahead because we were the flight leaders and the Pathfinders ahead of us all got shot down. And then the target wasn't marked. Because they marked the targets. So we decided to do a circuit and go round again which is practically suicide. But we did anyway, 'cause we wanted to make sure that we dropped our bombs at the target indicators. As we were going around, we were coned by the searchlights. And once you get coned by the searchlights, they all concentrate on you. So god knows how many searchlights we had on us and we were pretty well blinded. And then naturally, the Ack-Ack guns - the anti-aircraft guns - concentrated on us. And we're just getting hit one after the other. It was like somebody standing outside with a sledgehammer just banging on your fuselage.
I don't know how we got around the circuit but we did and we went out to evasive action and got out of the searchlights. We came back to the target and we dropped our bombs. Then we had to work our way back to our aerodrome and we finally got back. And later on the aircrew told us that we had over 60 holes in the aircraft. How that Lancaster made it I don't know but that was one of the virtues of the Lancaster. It's amazing how so many of them got back to base - badly damaged.
Another one of the experiences I had... and when I think about it now, if I had to do it now, I wouldn't have dropped my bombs on this particular target. Of course, you were used to obeying the orders without question. It was Dresden. It was towards the end of the war. And we were helping the Russians coming in from the East. And as we were coming up to Dresden, we could see the flames. And, Dresden was a beautiful city. A very ancient city. The whole thing was burning. We dropped our bombs, and feeling sorry for what was happening down there. And we got back to base. And later on we found out that it was so bad and the whole city was in flames for such a long time, that they had what they call a firestorm.
When you have a firestorm that means all the oxygen in the air is being burnt up. And as the oxygen is being burnt up, more oxygen is rushing in from the outer fringes, which creates windstorms. And that's what they call a firestorm. And the winds get so strong, you know, they get up to 50-60 kilometres an hour. And the people, unfortunately, the people in the ground in Dresden, they were hundreds and hundreds of them suffocated from lack of oxygen 'cause the oxygen was being burnt out. And the heat was so... so bad down there, that the asphalt in the roadway was melting. And people actually getting stuck in the asphalt and burning to death.
It was a terrible, terrible thing and thousands of people died. And that's when I say, now, if I had to do it, I don't think I would drop the bombs. 'Cause they found out later on there... two or three of the crews - maybe even more - that when they saw what was going on, they did not drop their bombs. They brought 'em back and dropped 'em out over the English Channel.