Veteran Stories:
Kenneth “Alan” France

Air Force

  • Kenneth "Alan" France's log book from Bomber Command.

    Kenneth Alan" France"
  • Kenneth "Alan" France's log book from Bomber Command.

    Kenneth Alan" France"
  • Kenneth "Alan" France's log book from Bomber Command.

    Kenneth Alan" France"
  • Kenneth "Alan" France's log book from Bomber Command.

    Kenneth Alan" France"
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"The other fighters are over on my starboard side. And, of course, I’m just silhouetted against these flares. So we were having a hell of a trip. It was not enjoyable."

Transcript

The Halifaxes [bombers] were very good down low. When we got above 10 000 feet, Lancasters [bombers] left us behind. They could bomb from up to 23 ̶ 24 000 feet. We were lucky to bomb up anything above 20 000 at all. I rarely got as high as 21 000 say. But down below 10 000 feet, we had lots of power. In fact, one day an American came down in a [B-17] Flying Fortress and he came down behind me, so he had lots of airspeed, came down on my port side. And he obviously wanted to drag. We were just flying up on a training mission of some sort. He came zooming along right beside me so I think, I can show you something, mister. So I stopped my port inner [engine] … Yeah. So, anyway, I did this and, of course, the blades are just sitting there stopped and I opened my other three and just left him sitting there. And that was a proud day in my life because up until then, all we heard about was Flying Fortresses, how they were going to win the war and do this and do that, you know. So to be able to show them they weren’t any better than we were, it was kind of nice.

About our third or fourth trip, it was a daylight trip and my port inner got hit with flak. And it burst into flame right away. And, as you are aware, you do a lot of cockpit drill before you fly an airplane. And we did our cockpit drill blindfolded, when we’re tested on it. And it sure paid off on this occasion because I can remember, we had four buttons right above our head. I didn’t even look. I just went like this and I hit the right button and feathered [adjusting the propeller to correct an engine malfunction] the port inner engine. The engine stopped. I’m not sure I feathered it, but the engine stopped. And that shot off a fire extinguisher into the engine. So this was great, except we had smoke just pouring out of it. It’s daylight, we didn’t do a lot of daylight trips but we just crossed over the Rhine and there’s broken cloud and, fortunately, the master bomber, because the target was in the Ruhr, the target was covered in cloud, he said, bomb freehand. Well, that means we just pick out a target anywhere we could find, if you see a bridge or a railway yard or something like that. So that was great because here I am, smoke pouring out of one engine and I’ve already lost quite a bit of height. And so the rest of the 500 aircraft or whatever it is, are up above me and I’m dragging behind now on three engines. So I was able to get rid of my bombs but I became a real target because everyone on the ground saw the smoke. So, fortunately, there was enough cloud around, we headed towards Holland and there was enough cloud over Holland that within 10 minutes, I was able to be above cloud. So they could still go after me with radar, but they couldn’t see me visually with all the smoke coming out because they wanted to finish me off at that point.

One of my hairiest trips, we were southwest of Berlin and we got hit right in the rear end of the aircraft and we had a master compass right at the back of the aircraft to keep it away from the motors. And it had repeaters [transmitters] to me, to the navigator, to the bomb aimer. Well, anyway, when it went out, all our compasses run out except I had a P4 [magnetic hand-held compass]. After we dropped our bombs, we dropped them at say 18 000 feet, and then the instructions were to go down to about 3 000 feet and head home at that height. This was at night, and we’d never done this, and the night fighters found us in no time. They had a smart idea. What they would do, the night fighters, one aircraft would fly along and drop flares along that side, I’m in the middle here, they drop flares along there. The other fighters are over on my starboard side. And, of course, I’m just silhouetted against these flares. So we were having a hell of a trip. It was not enjoyable.

Then we got towards the Dutch border with Germany. And we were to climb again back up to 18 000 feet. So far, my P4 is fine, everything’s good. We start climbing and obviously, we were in a big cumuliform cloud. My P4 started just going around in circles. Did you ever hear of St. Elmo’s Fire? Well, it’s a windscreen; all around the windscreen are just little lightening flashes. It was weird. I had never seen it before. Well, anyway, we got St. Elmo’s Fire going wild, my P4 is going around in circles, we’re lost. We’re lost. We knew we were close to the German - Dutch border. The bomb aimer worked the radar, he couldn’t find us. Sounds easy, but it isn’t. (laughs) Anyway, he couldn’t find anything. We kept going up and up and up, and we were pretty close to 18 000 feet. We’re still in cloud and there’s a bright light, a brilliant light. And it’s down on my port side as far as I’m concerned. And I’m flying on the left hand seat. So I’m looking at this light and I figure this light is on the ground and I’m sitting there like this. And, obviously, I start turning. I’m in quite a good bank because I’m seeing this light. Well, what really is happening, this light is coming up, I’m following the light up. Well, actually, I’m over this way. Because the light’s up here now. I still think it’s on the ground. I look at my instruments, I just don’t believe them. Having all our P4 going wild and everything, I thought maybe all my instruments are gone haywire. So I’ve got close to 2 000 hours flying at this point, so I have a lot of experience. And I had a hell of a job getting back to believing my instruments.

Well, I eventually did and what really saved my day was my rear gunner said, Jesus, Skip, that was a V2 [Vergeltungswaffe 2 long distance rocket]. Well, a V2 rocket had been fired from the surface and it’s gone up and it’s heading towards London. But it’s up in an arc like this. Well, I just start here and I follow this V2 up and, of course, I’m over like this. Well, that really sort of saved the day and it also told us more or less where we were because we knew they were firing V2 rockets from close to the Zuider Zee. And the Zuider Zee’s a good landmark for the bomb aimer to pick it up on radar. So, that saved the day. And then from then on, we got out of cloud and about another 10 minutes, and we were home free with no other problems the rest of the way.

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