Veteran Stories:
Donald Cuthbert Munroe

Air Force

  • Donald Munroe's flight log listing a crash landing his crew made in Greece, 1943.

    Donald Munroe
  • Donald Munroe with his flight crew and ground crew in Misurata, Libya, 1943.

    Donald Munroe
  • Donald Munroe, 2010.

    Donald Munroe
  • Donald Munroe's Wireless Operator's Badge.

    Donald Munroe
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"Sometimes over the target, there would be heavy flak and sometimes this would do us damage and I remember we would start off with four engines, but by the time we got back to base sometime, one engine was feathered."

Transcript

When I was first shipped overseas, we went to England and there we were basically sent on to operational training unit in Northern Ireland, Limavady, Northern Ireland. We received advanced training there. While we were there, we were trained on torpedo bombing on dummy ships and then we were posted to southern England, where we were supposed to be shipped to Malta, they do torpedo bombing from Malta. However, they changed their mind about the number of crew on the [Vickers] Wellington, so I was reassigned to another crew that wound up flying a Wellington to Cairo to join a squadron there.

I was attached to [No.] 462 Squadron, RAAF, Royal [Australian] Air Force. But this was more or less under the control of RAF, the RAF sort of thing. But it was an Australian Squadron, [No.] 462. Out of a little airport called Misurata, between Tripoli and Benghazi [Libya].

Our ships were strictly night flying and we would take off say around midnight and we’d have an ETA [Estimated Time of Arrival] and we were bombing bridges, railway place, anything we could do to help drive [Field Marshal Erwin] Rommel off of North Africa because he was on his way off. The Germans had stopped sending him supplies and so he couldn’t go any farther. And we had a fellow out there by the name of [Field Marshal Bernard] Montgomery from Britain and he was our general, British general, and he was instrumental in driving Rommel off.

We flew in the [Handley Page] Halifaxes so the, several times more than eight hours on a trip. And several times it’s seven hours a trip. And some not at six or one thing or another. So this piled up your hours sort of thing. And this is what they more or less judged at how many trips they would give you a credit for. You know, out there, you ran into electrical storms. So we would start off, one night we started off at 11:00 or so, an hour towards the target, we hit an electrical storm. And we got bounced, you know, the turbulence. Anyway, the turbulence bounced us up and we went into a … My wireless trap station was right underneath, the back of my head was right underneath the rudders, the pilot’s rudders, right underneath there. And we get into the solo spiral, one thing or another, and the skipper said to me, and we started into it, in the solo spiral, and he said, “Don, grab the rudders now and straighten them out.” So I turned around and I got a hold of where his feet were and I’m working with him with his feet, and the centrifugal force is terrific. And anyway, we were about 11 000 feet at the time. His rudders, his feet rudders were right behind my head and we were going into the spiral, he wanted to get the rudders straightened out. So I helped him with him and his feet and me with my arm, by strength we got the rudders.

And we came out of it less than a thousand feet above the sea. So we come out of that and we got straightened around, and the skipper said to the navigator, “Can you get me a fix?” And somehow that navigator got a fix, yeah, he got a fix and he said that we went right onto the target. Sometimes over the target, there would be heavy flak and sometimes this would do us damage and I remember we would start off with four engines, but by the time we got back to base sometime, one engine was feathered and the other one wasn’t too good, we had to land that way. So that meant for either rocky landings or crash landings. Then there’s one time when we were landing and the flak had damaged our undercarriage, so we only had the one wheel was down and we didn’t know which one it was. So we come in with an eeny meeny miny moe. We happened to hit the good one, but it was an awful crash. Yeah.

I was in three crash landings. One of them was particularly bad. We were carrying flares and we didn’t get a chance to dump them in the sea before we landed. We had to return to base and we didn’t get a chance to, and we landed with the thing and it crashed and the plane split. We all had to get out. We got out, I got out and we got out and I checked with my crew and I said, all of a sudden I says, “Where’s Tommy?” He was our skipper. Anyway, it was pitch black where we landed on our little strip. You thought you had a long way to go when you’re off the wing, but it was on the ground, so you hurt yourself more jumping off this far than, little ways than you did …

But anyway, so I went back up on the plane where the pilot’s thing is and he was, he had been groggy. He bumped his head, so I shook him and I got him out of the way and then we got out partway and I said, “Where’s Charlie, our rear gunner?” And he was still trapped back at where the split was. So I went back in again because I was the one who knew how to operate the turret. So we got back in and I got the turret going, got him out to the side door, to the middle of the plane and at that time, got the hatch up. And then the other guys were there to sweep the debris away that was in the way and the two of us got out that way. And then we got over, backed off a ways away from the plane and they’re away, they’re watching the, and all of a sudden, the plane bursts, started going up in flame. And the little Charlie I got out, from Stoke-on-Trent [England], “Ooh, just like Guy Fawkes.” That was a big holiday. Just the firecrackers and all that actually just like Guy Fawkes day.

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