"You had to be awfully careful there because searchlights would come up at you and you’d decentralize your engines...If it didn’t work and one or two searchlights were on you, in a matter of seconds almost you had almost 20 searchlights on you. And in that case, you had to get out of there damn fast."
If you were dispersed on a cross runway, then you would get the signal to start your engines and, eventually, the first man would go out and go off. They’d give you a certain time interval until he was off the ground and away, and then the second man would go off, and so on, in rotation. You never saw another aircraft from the time you got off until you got home again unless you saw them silhouetted against the cloud, or unless you were so close that you were bumping into one. And if you did bump into them, you didn’t come back, so you wouldn’t know anyway.
I would take off myself — and you had to be careful with the [Vickers] Wellington* because all of the props swung in one direction. And you had to stand to take off with your full opposite rudder and opposite throttle until you went down the runway, and you could bring the other throttle up and bring the rudder back and get your tail off the ground. And then put on full power on and beam down to the end of the runway, which you hoped would long enough to get off, which it usually was. And although the station was closed and nobody could phone up or phone out, or have any communication with the outside, there was always people from the adjoining town would be out at the end of the runway to watch us take off.
Whether we got away with it or whether we pranged on takeoff, was a moot point. I would climb the aircraft until on course, until we got to a good height. Then I would turn it over to the second pilot. And I would stand by him, get the courses from the navigator and tell him what to turn onto, and watch him all the time. He was under training, you see. And he would take it down to, say, England when we had to turn and go out the to the east coast, say over the Wash, and go over towards Holland. And once we were out over the Channel and get pretty well towards the Dutch coast, he would leave the seat and I would get in. And from then on, it was my problem.
The bomber aimer — at least the second airman — would usually get down in the bomber-aiming window so that he could see if there were any flashes of gunfire from the ground. If they came from the left, we would go right, and if they came from the right, we would go left. We would try to maintain our track as much as possible. But, I found out that it was a good thing not to maintain our track, but to turn off 15 degrees, climb maybe 500 feet, parallel it for a minute or so, re- cross our track. The navigator, of course, would follow all this with his compass, and he would give us a change in course if we got too far one way or another. We’d climb up and parallel it away and go back, go down, parallel it again. We’d keep this up pretty well all the way.
In 1941, in June or July, before the Russian front started, there was a thick band of searchlights and flak on the latter part of Holland before we got into Germany. And you had to be awfully careful there because searchlights would come up at you and you’d decentralize your engines to see whether or not the decentralization would pull the searchlights over or back. And you could fiddle the red ones around, if this was the case, you could move the searchlights around like that. But, if it was radar controlled that wouldn’t work. So, what you did in that case, you would turn the IFF,** which is like the modern transponder, you would turn it on to see if that works or turn it on to emergency to see if that works. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t. If it didn’t work and one or two searchlights were on you, in a matter of seconds almost you had almost 20 searchlights on you. And in that case, you had to get out of there damn fast because you never knew if the sky was going to be filled with flak or if it wasn’t, there was some German fighter come in on you.
*The Vickers Wellington was a medium bomber and reconnaissance aircraft in service with the Royal Air Force.
**The Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder was used to distinguish friendly Allied aircraft from enemy aircraft.