A record of Leslie Lamb's operations recorded in his log book.Leslie Lamb
A photograph of Leslie Lamb (at podium) taken in 2009.Leslie Lamb
Halifax bombers in flight.Leslie Lamb
A photograph of Leslie Lamb taken in 1945.Leslie Lamb
Leslie Lamb and his crew in front of their new Halifax bomber in early 1945, after their previous aircraft crashed in England.Leslie Lamb
"On a daylight raid, when we had ten tenths cloud, which means the cloud was solid below us and we were bombing on radar. Just after we bombed on radar, we did come to an open space in the clouds. And what we saw below was fields, lots of fields with bomb holes in them."
I did my first operation, which was at Le Mans in France, just after D-Day, a week or two after D-Day, and we dropped leaflets telling the people of France mainly, of course, how the landings were going, how the invasion was going because apparently the Germans had cars that could tell when people were listening to radios, and they would stop, bust into the house and check what they were listening to; if they were listening to British war reports, the people were immediately shot. And so to save them turning on the radios, we dropped lots of leaflets to tell them what was going on.
One of my jobs at that time over enemy territory was to drop through a little chute alongside my position bundles of foil, which was called ‘window’ [a type of chaff or radar counter-measure], the code name was ‘window,’ and this used to, as it went out of the aircraft, it would flutter and thousands of strips would block the enemy radar screens, like we call it snow, and they could not predict the anti-aircraft fire. If they, if they could predict it, they were very accurate, and would put six or seven shells across your nose and one of them would hit you. But if we concentrated on throwing lots of ‘window’ out, you protected the people behind you. And that cut the losses quite a bit.
There were heavy losses, by the way, as has been noted. We used to joke about it because we were particularly young, we used to joke with other crews about who was going to come back and who wasn’t and so on. But it was just one of those things that young people do I guess. Because we kind of joked about it, and sometimes we put little bets on as to who was going to come back and who wasn’t.
Our skipper, our pilot, was an Australian named Anderson and in no time at all, he was called ‘Landaway Andy,’ because we landed away many times, something went wrong. We were either damaged or we would run out of fuel or something didn’t work properly or it was damaged. And we had to land at several emergency airports and airstrips in Britain, which were for that purpose anyway.
The, the first bomb aimer that we had had a weak bladder. And it was too far for him to go down to the toilet, which was near the rear turret. So he used to carry little cans with him for the purpose you know. He would pass those cans back to me and I would put them in a pouch alongside my seat. And over the target, while he was dropping bombs, I used to drop those little cans, down that little chute alongside me that I used to drop the ‘window,’ strips of foil out of. I used to drop those little cans. Now, at the time, it was quite a serious thing that was going on. It used to kind of help to take my mind off really the, that’s the most dangerous part of a trip, at the time you drop your bombs. Because there are planes above you, planes below you, planes to either side of you and the stream of bombers going into a target kind of close in, get close to. Prior to getting to the target, you’re flying kind of wide and lots of room. But as you approach the target, you come in and the stream gets very narrow. So it’s quite a tense period. Anyway, that used to relieve the tension a little. I was pretending I was dropping bombs, you see, but I wasn’t. You know what I was dropping.
And the second bomb aimer we had was a joker. He liked to be a little funny at times. Even at quite serious occasions. Such as one trip, I forget the target, but we were on the bombing run where the bomb aimer is in command. And he has the, like what we call the button in his hand to release the bombs and he’s giving instructions to the pilot, to either go steady, steady, left, left or right a little and so on, until he’s got the, he’s looking through a bombsight as well, and once he has the target in the position he wants it, then he just presses this little button and the bombs are released.
So he was doing this, steady, steady, on the bomb run into the target and steady, left, left, left, left, steady, steady, oh, gee whiz, go back a bit. Well, you can’t go back. But at that time, that was just his type of humour. The aircraft rises, when the bombs leave the aircraft, the aircraft rises. You can feel it. Because you’ve just let a terrific weight leave the aircraft. So while somebody shouted, what, he may have said something not too nice, but the bomb aimer was just joking. He had done his job, he let the bombs go and he was just pulling somebody’s leg, the pilot’s maybe, because a split second after he said that, we knew instinctively that the bombs had gone anyway, because of the aircraft rising. So, but that was just his nature.
Another time, on a daylight raid, when we had ten tenths cloud, which means the cloud was solid below us and we were bombing on radar. Just after we bombed on radar, we did come to an open space in the clouds. And what we saw below was fields, lots of fields with bomb holes in them. I don’t know what, why we got the readings on the radar that made the bomb aimer drop them like that, but that’s what happened. And when we got back, every trip, when you get back from a trip, you get debriefed by intelligence. And they want a description of your bombing run and what you saw and so on, did you hit the target, did you, did you take a photograph. Of course we couldn’t because it was ten tenths cloud and we bombed on radar. Anyway, the bomb aimer again, in his usual witty way, said, “No we bombed on radar, and then we just after we dropped the bombs we saw an opening in the clouds, and we saw nothing but field below, bomb holes on the fields and people singing.” And the intelligence guy says, “Oh, come on, smarty, what do you mean, people singing?” “We heard people singing.” He says, “Oh yeah, what were they singing?” He said, “They were singing a hymn, We plow the fields and scatter/The good seed on the land.” [We Plow the Fields and Scatter, by Matthias Claudius] I don’t know if you know that hymn or not, but it’s quite a popular one.