Veteran Stories:
William Dane

Air Force

  • Royal Canadian Air Force groundcrew and aircrew posing in front of an Avro Lancaster bomber, August 18th, 1944. Mr. Dane flew as a navigator in a series of bombing missions over Germany, including the infamous raid over Dresden in February of 1945.

    Library and Archives Canada
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"And on this particular night McClanahan aircraft was in for the 100th hour inspection and not available to fly. He was shot down and I guess two days later he was in for interrogation by the intelligence people from Germany and he did nothing but give them his name and his rank and so on."

Transcript

That was the most obvious. There were two attacks the first night. We were in the second one and the fires could be seen for a long way away. It was a clear night. When there’s good visibility it’s amazing how far you can see. Well as far as we were concerned it was just like any other raid. We came in over the target. Mind you, there had been a first attack before we got there so there were fires burning from that attack and we just had to make sure that we were trying to hit someplace that hadn’t been really put under. But it was a – I’m not sure if they really needed to go back again the next day. The Americans went back the next day and I don’t think our airplanes went again that night. I think actually that we bombed a place called – it was another city not all that far away from Dresden and we bombed that one on the second night, not Dresden.

Well that was not unusual, approaching targets. If you were in the 10th minute of the attack there was going to be a lot of bombs down ahead of you until you know where you’re coming. One night we were flying on three engines [instead of four] because when we took off we couldn’t – and shut down the starboard outer engine and it was a break in the linkage and so it was going to run at 3,000 revolutions a minute if we didn’t shut it down. But we had great tactics that night. The initial run was about – part of the raid was 7,000, then we went up to 10,000 feet, which we were able to make, then they went up to 14,000 feet. Well we couldn’t get up there but they came back down again to 10,000 to bomb. And so because of our flying with four engines only when it was essential to make up a little ground or maintain speed, we were the first to bomb on this target which was an oil refinery and oil storage tanks. And I was able to go up and peer over the bomb-aimer’s shoulder on that night and we were dead over a whole string of storage tanks. And I don’t know exactly where we hit but we could be – with a 4,000 pounder we could be in-between the oil tanks and it’s sure going to do them a lot of damage. That was the only one that I really saw but we did get credit for a direct hit and a raid on Hanover in daytime. The aircraft all carried a camera that was set off at the same time your bombs were going to hit the target. So we had pretty good pictures. And this one showed us right where we should be, right over the target.

Some fellows had quite an experience of – there was one pilot. He was on his second tour and – a fellow by the name of McClanahan and most of his crew were experienced. But they were on a raid that we made on a little place called […]. […] was a hotbed of cottage industries and they were doing all kinds of precision work. They’d never been bombed before until we bombed them and it was about a half an hour at the most that we were in and out over that target and we allowed 16 aircraft. The Germans – we were bombing at 7,000 feet but the Germans had some of their pilots up there and they were working in pairs. One would fly down on the starboard side of the aircraft and one of the gunners would see him and say okay, we’ll take some action. The tail gunner already has this fighter in his sights and even maybe get a chance to pull the trigger before they have to take evasive action. So there were things. That was that kind of a trip. But anyway McClanahan was taken prisoner and the aircraft that he flew was Howe, H Howe. And there was another aircraft, Sugar and they were both closing in on 100 sorties.

And on this particular night McClanahan aircraft was in for the 100th hour inspection and not available to fly. He was shot down and I guess two days later he was in for interrogation by the intelligence people from Germany and he did nothing but give them his name and his rank and so on. And he was walking out of the room when the interrogator said to him, “Oh McClanahan, tell me. Why were you not flying your own aircraft the other night when you were shot down?” They knew that his aircraft generally was Howe, but they knew that he was not flying Howe on that particular night. Well McClanahan had to ignore that. He was back for another interrogation the next day and they said, “Oh McClanahan, you’d be interested to know that your flight squadron leader’s wife gave birth to a baby boy yesterday.” Now that really didn’t shake McClanahan too much because he knew this was going to happen in very short order. But they had the news. They didn’t know what was going to happen but they got the news. It was amazing where all the information was picked up and it wasn’t going to win the war, but it might just send everybody off.

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