Ellard Yeo (2nd from the right) with his crew in front of their Lancaster, 1944.Ellard Yeo
Ellard Yeo (third from the left), and his crew in 1944.Ellard Yeo
An Avro Lancaster, United Kingdom, 1944-45.Ellard Yeo
A photo taken from Ellard Yeo's bomber during a raid on Bremen in 1945.Ellard Yeo
The aftermath of Ellard Yeo's raid on Bremen, Germany in 1945.Ellard Yeo
"And so he came in over the rising flames and then dropped, bang, like a pancake down onto the runway and that was the last time we saw that aircraft."
What I wound up doing was being transferred in England in 1944 to the RAF [Royal Air Force] and was further trained as a radar navigator. Radar was a no-no word in those days. And then was posted to one of the six or seven Pathfinder squadrons at Downham Market [England], which was just about six miles south of The Wash [estuary].
On a normal bombing raid, there would be at least the master bomber and sometimes a second or third master bomber in case that one was shot down. And very often in Europe, there was cloud cover or partial cloud cover over the target, so coloured flares were developed, very brightly burning coloured flares, some reds, greens, yellows, blues or whites, and the master bomber would assess as best he could how close to the real target were the bombs falling and would break radio silence and advise the rest of the squadron planes coming in to disregard the red one and bomb on the green one, or whatever the colour was chosen.
Then the Pathfinder squadron would circle around and make a second run and drop their whole bomb load and then head back for home. A bit scary, particularly with the German anti-aircraft guns firing. On my second trip over the Ruhr [Germany], we were hit with anti-aircraft fire, came right through to the inside of the cabin of the plane -they were not pressurized in those days - and my regular navigator sitting beside me was cut in the face. And, and my pilot had the windscreen broken and his hand was badly cut and bleeding. And he took evasive action to spiral down and to try to get out of the range of the anti-aircraft guns and I said to myself at that time, being the second trip, if this is what it’s going to be like, I’m going to, if I ever get back to England, I’m going to say I’ve had enough and I’ll just voluntarily chicken out. There you go. But I didn’t have any more trouble of that type until about the fifteenth exercise orsortie.
It was quite a long one - and incidentally, most of my flights were at night; this was a long one and on the return, one of the engines was not working properly, so the pilot feathered the propellers and over the North Sea on the way back, a second engine stopped completely. So he asked me to find an airport, any kind of an airport where he could try to land with just two engines working. And I identified one just on the east coast where they had burning what was called FIDO: Flame Intense Diversion [Fog Intense Dispersal Operation], which was just burning oil along the edges of one runway. And so he came in over the rising flames and then dropped, bang, like a pancake down onto the runway and that was the last time we saw that aircraft.