Veteran Stories:
James Henry “Granny” Vollans

Air Force

  • 153 Squadron RAF, badge.

    Source: Royal Air Force History - Bomber Command 60th Anniversary

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"On our first mission, of course, everybody’s uptight, you know, on that one. That’s a toughie. We were going to bomb Karlsruhe [Germany] [...]"


To me it was unusual but I imagine lots of fellows had the same experience. On our first mission, of course, everybody’s uptight, you know, on that one. That’s a toughie. We were going to bomb Karlsruhe [Germany] and Karlsruhe was on the border between France and Germany. Of course, things weren’t going too smoothly but we did reach the target and the navigator said: ‘That’s the target.’ I said: ‘I could see the fires there.’ And the pilot said: ‘Oh, that’s not the target, he said, that’s a dummy target.’ Because the Germans used to sometimes start fires outside the city to make you think that that was the city and so that you’d bomb this dummy. And miss your regular target. Anyway, he said: ‘That’s not it, he said, I can see the target up ahead.’ And that was about at Hildebrand, which was about 40 or 50 miles further into Germany than from Karlsruhe. So he said: ‘That’s the target, he said, that’s it.’ So he kept right on going right towards this Hildebrand. And Hildebrand was being bombed that night by, I think it was number six group were the Canadian group [No. 6 Group, Royal Canadian Air Force]. And they were bombing that target at the same time we bombed Karlsruhe. And so we got, we kept on going and we went another 40 or 50 miles into Germany and by the time we got to the target, they’d even turned the searchlights out by the time we were coming up to it. So anyway, we headed on in and that pilot said: ‘That’s the target’, so that was it. When we got there, of course, they turned on the searchlights again and we were of course the only plane as far as I know over this target. And of course, they coned us with the searchlights and what they used to do is cone you in the light and then they’d hold you in [these] cone searchlights, so that the night fighters can shoot you down. So anyway, we were coned and we finally worked to get out of that by diving and climbing and so on. And as we were coming out of it, we were attacked and the fighter shot out our starboard inner motor. So of course, you have to feather that. And we staggered out of the target and I think that the fighter, he only made the one pass and I think he was out of fuel, that’s why he didn’t continue the attack, because he’d already been trying to protect the target on the real raid, the raid before we got there. So anyway, we staggered out of that on three motors and we were on our way back to England. And naturally, we were all by ourselves. Our regular bomber stream had bombed the right target and they were gone. And of course, the pilot and the navigator got into a big argument and he said he didn’t need a navigator to fly him back to England. And it was just a shambles. And we were almost shot down by, we were attacked by antiaircraft [guns] on the [English] coast, went over one of the smaller cities on the English coast. And when we got back, I think we were over an hour late getting back to our base. The name of our plane was V Victor. And we had nicknamed it the Mrs. Virgin. When we come back to base, we called in the Mrs. Virgin, and of course, everybody on this base knew us, knew that plane, and we landed. And I thought that they would be happy to see us. But the wing commander and the group captain and all the staff went out to meet us and they really tore a strip off the pilot and the crew and said that we shouldn’t be back, we should be pushing up daisies in Germany.
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