Veteran Stories:
Harry Sandgren

Air Force

  • Harry Sandgren in the cockpit of a Halifax bomber.

    Harry Sandgren
  • Harry Sandgren

    Harry Sandgren
  • Harry Sandgren's Halifax bomber crew (standing) and ground crew (sitting). The bomber crew, from left to right: Milton Harding (rear gunner), Frank De Marco (air bomber), Bill Shaw (engineer), William Dobson (wireless operator), Harry Sandgren (pilot), unknown first name O'Hallerand (gunner), Harry Bristow (gunner), Frank Stanyard (navigator).

    Harry Sandgren
  • Harry Sandgren receiving his Distinguished Flying Cross from King George VI, 11 August 1944. The citation reads, "This officer has a splendid record of successful operational flying. He has attacked many of the enemy's most vital targets in Germany including Berlin, Essen, Duisburg and Cologne. The determination with which he has pressed home his attacks in the face of intense opposition has been proved by excellent photographic results. An outstanding captain of aircraft, the fine spirit with which he has inspired his crew is a tribute to his qualities of leadership."

    Harry Sandgren
  • Harry Sandgren's medals, from left to right: Distinguished Flying Cross, 1939-1945 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, Defence Medal, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, War Medal (1939-1945).

    Harry Sandgren
  • Harry Sandgren at the George Derby Center, Burnaby, British Columbia, November 2011.

    Historica Canada
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"So then I had to whip the other way, flop the other way over to get the rear gunners. And he fired on it and the shots were bouncing off the ship there and sparks flying and everything else and there was no more, they didn’t reply at all."

Transcript

For the transfer, they just took me in a camp there and I was just, literally this camp janitor, and I worked in the office there for a while. The colonel wouldn’t sign the paper to transfer. So one day, he went north because this RCAF or RCE [Royal Canadian Engineers] outfit went and they ended stationed in Alaska. And so when the colonel went up there to check things out, the captain, he says, “What are you sitting around here for anyhow?” and I said, “Well, I have this paper here to transfer and the colonel won’t sign it.” He says, “Give it to me.” And he signed it. I still remember his name, it was Halliburton. So then I went and started in there [with the RCAF].

The first second dickie trip [a sortie a pilot did with a different crew as a part of his training] I did, we took off, I think we were going to Cologne [Germany] and two engines failed. So we ended up throwing everything that we could get our hands on to lessen the weight. And I got to give them a hand, they didn’t, I thought for a minute they wanted me to jump too. But anyway, we threw batteries out or they called them accumulators and that wrecked the engine that ran the generator for the power. It was one of the ones that wasn’t running. So we didn’t have any wireless to find any QDMs [a magnetic heading needed for navigation] or anything. So we sort of headed in the right direction but we lost altitude because we took off so late.

And we were flying over France at broad daylight on two engines at 500 feet and I looked down and I could see people bicycling to work. And then we eventually found the coastline and they shot some tracer bullets [bullet with small pyrotechnic charge which, when ignited, allows aiming corrections] and like Bofors guns [anti-aircraft cannon], so we had to turn sideways and go in another direction. But anyway, we started across the Channel and the next thing I knew, there were two [Supermarine] Spitfires [fighter and photo reconnaissance aircraft] on each side, escorting us. We landed at, what’s the name of that, I can’t remember right now. Anyway, there was a grass field and the pilot made a beautiful landing on two engines, I can tell you.

When we were coming back [from a bombing trip to Stettin, Germany, now Szczecin, Poland], my bomb aimer had a little, what they call a Vickers machine gun and he wanted to fire that thing off. And his name was Frankie or Frank actually. And I said, “Well, you get the first shot in on that ship down there and I’ll dive down on it as best I can.” And so down we went and I thought it was a minesweeper. And so we dove down on it and just as we got down about, I don’t know, not too far, maybe 2,000 feet or 1,500 feet, he says, “I can’t see it.” And all of a sudden, no sooner got the words out and the whole sky erupted like the Fourth of July, well, the Bofors guns from the ship and it turned out to be a flak ship [anti-aircraft ship]. And they didn’t turn away. I thought, “He’s going to get it,” so I whipped over, just flipped over and yelled for the mid upper gunner, “Let him have it!” But there was no response. So then I had to whip the other way, flop the other way over to get the rear gunners. And he fired on it and the shots were bouncing off the ship there and sparks flying and everything else and there was no more, they didn’t reply at all. And later on, they said there were later reported a ship on fire. So I think we got the best of that one. But when you look after, what was happening, that flak ship had us sighted all the way and if I hadn’t been diving, because he thought we were flying more or less level, if I hadn’t been diving, we would have got the whole full force of that volley.

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