Veteran Stories:
Jim McCorkle

Air Force

  • Mr. Jim McCorkle, March 2012.

    The Memory Project
  • Mr. McCorkle's medals, from left to right: Air Force Medal; 1939-1945 Star; Atlantic Star; Air Crew Europe Star; Africa Star; Burma Star; Italy Star; Defence Medal; War Medal 1939-1945; General Service Medal (1918); General Service Medal (1962); Royal Air Force Meritorious Service Medal.

    Jim McCorkle
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"So they both go to the turret, to the mid-upper, and they get Sergeant Giles out. But he is dead. He’s gone. His turret is in shambles. Everything was broken up; torn apart. "


You’re now in the part of the flight which is the most dangerous, when you have to fly absolutely straight and level. He’s got the targets, and you can see the [de Havilland DH 98] Mosquitos [British multi-role combat aircraft] ahead of the pathfinders [target-marking bombers in RAF Bomber Command]. They’ve been dropping their flares. You know the colour of a flare, you’re looking for, in our case it was a green... you see the green flares. And then the bomb aimer starts to say, “Okay, I have it. Straight and level, hold your heading, hold your heading, steady, steady. You’re drifting a little bit right, left, left, left, slightly left, steady, steady. Right just a little, steady, steady, steady.” And then he says, “Bombs gone.” And he doesn’t have to say that, because when you drop 12,000 pounds, the aircraft goes like that! It gains three, four hundred feet. But you’ve got to hold it straight, and keep the wings level, because the camera is now recording that the bombs are going down. And they want to record that the bombs hit the proper area. The target.

The rear gunner at this time chooses to tell me in his Glasgow accent, he said “Hey Skip, you can tell these four thousand cookies [a nickname for 4,000 lb bombs] a lot different from a 500-pounder. You can tell them, the 500-pounders look like hiccups.” And you can see other aircraft around you and the whole sky is ablaze with searchlights and Ack-Ack fire [anti-aircraft fire], clouds of smoke and explosions. And you wonder how in the hell they’re missing. They’re coming straight at you. And then they disappear to one side or behind you. Explode above you or below you. And at that point, once the two minutes and that is over. And, said okay, bomb doors closed. I know I’m free to do what I want. I do a dive and a turn. I’m getting out of that area as fast as I can.

And there’s four or five thousand feet, build the speed up. And by this time the starboard engine, has stopped wind-milling, its run out of oil and it’s frozen. It’s not... wind-milling anymore; it’s not creating anymore drag. So the speed builds up a little bit from there. But I’m now diving, and I’m going at maximum speed. And I’m turning to get away from the area where the bombs are coming from up above. You don’t want to bumble that and get hit by your own friends’ bombs.

And then I was, finally, I flied into the outside row – [he said,] “We did lose some fuel; we have to make a straight trip back. We can’t divert. And so we’ll just try and avoid the more built-up areas if you can and let me know.” The bomb aimer said, “You grab a map and get yourself up front. In the meantime we’ll try and stay in cloud as much as we can.”  The anti-aircraft fire can still locate you on radar and gets your height. But the night fighters might have a chance to see you. So we’re now flying blind in cloud, and heading back on three engines [instead of the usual four].

And, the clouds are starting to break up again. So we’re going in and out of cloud. And, Sergeant Giles in the mid-upper turret shouts, “Enemy fighter, nine o’clock!” Oh, geez, which way? All I can do really is gain height. Try and get out of it that way. And then I turned into a war zone. We’re corkscrewing, we’re getting hit several times with cannon fire. The rear turret is working like mad. He’s firing away. Nobody in the front could fire, because the front guns are never used. Nobody attacks you from the front. So we’re corkscrewing like mad.

And then the mid-upper turret stops firing. The navigator and the wireless operator both report in and say Giles has been hit. So, “I’ll get him out of the turret” and [to] the wireless operator, “you take over.” Because he is the wireless operator/gunner. So they both go to the turret, to the mid-upper, and they get Sergeant Giles out. But he’s dead. He’s gone. His turret is in shambles. Everything was broken up; torn apart.

So... We lost a man. We’ve lost two guns. […], from the rear turret, reports in: “Well, the fighter’s gone now, I guess he’s run out of ammo and me too. Maybe I hit him, I don’t know.” So once more you resume, hopefully, straight and level flying. But I’m, looking at my instrument panel, and it’s full of holes. My gyroscopes are gone. My air speed indicator’s got a hole in it. I can see outside; I’m clear of cloud at this particular time. But we’re sitting ducks. We’re flying along a little while longer, and then the navigator – […] at the rear turret says once more, “I said I’m not sure, but I thought I saw somebody behind us and below us.”

Now the Junkers 88 [German multi-role combat aircraft] by this time was a twin-engine night fighter. Used as a light bomber or sometimes as a night fighter. And they’d also fitted a cannon, pointing up at an angle, about 45 degrees or so. So he could sit behind and below and strafe us with cannon. So I immediately headed for cloud. I dived down into more cloud. Now trying to fly in cloud without proper instruments is not easy. If you are level, the air speed works it out anyway, would know if the nose goes down, the air speed would start to build up a little bit. But your nose is already down. If you pull the nose up, it takes a while before the air speed would decrease. So you could wind up doing this trying to stay level, just looking at your air speed indicator.

Your altimeter is slow to register air loss. You can lose 100 feet before it’s really showing you’re going down. And vice versa the other way. Your directional gyro is gone. And if you’re not level, your magnetic compass weighs around, it’s telling lies all the time. But the navigator, he has some instruments there; he can tell. So he’s telling me if I’m getting anywhere near angles to bank, or anything like that which I shouldn’t be. And I’m flying on my own experience. And you’re just trying to stay level.

So we managed to soldier on like that, we’re lucky because the Junkers 88 – if it was there - didn’t see us anymore. We’re now getting closer and closer to the coastline. I’m willing the aircraft forward. You can actually see the ground and the bomb aimer now is using a map. The wireless operator’s no use because his set has also been damaged. The navigator is going by what he can on air space and direction and clock. And we’re lucky. We can pinpoint where we are when we cross the coast and we head to North Sea. We make it across to England. And we can pick up where we are in England, so we take a proper heading back for a course. And I’m ready to land at any airfield at all. The first one I can see.

Every airfield had what they call a pundit, a few miles from the field. And it was a big... It was like a trailer and pump out two letters, AK for instance, LR, to identify the airfield. But it wouldn’t be on the airfield. You knew if you were over that pundit, if you steered a certain heading you’d be over the airfield in a matter of a couple of minutes. So, obviously I saw this pundit flashing away, and it was our pundit. And somebody must’ve just been ahead of me and requested it, so he had steered for base. So I flew over and I steered for base, I dropped down to a thousand feet. And I told everybody, “Okay, we’re visual, we can see.” The radio operator’s got his Very [flare] Pistol ready. And when we get close to base he fired off a two-signal cartridge with two flares in it, two signals. Proper time of the day, the air. And when we are identified as friendly they put the... the runway lights on. I came round and we’re landed, and the navigator was calling the speed out for me on the way down. The flight engineer was handling the throttles and the flaps. And I’m just handling the controls. We made a beautiful landing; a graceful landing. We were back home.

We taxied into dispersal, shut our main [engine] down. I told the boys to do what they usually do; they got out all the gear, wait for a truck to come around and pick it up. And I always walked across the airfield. That was my way of slowing down to the normal pace of being back on the ground again. Then we attended a debriefing, had a breakfast, with a real egg.  A real egg. Then went to bed.

When I got up I had to write a letter to Sergeant Giles’ [family]. Actually, he just received his promotion, he would’ve been putting a crown above his three tips; he would’ve been a Flight Sergeant. So he was buried as a Flight Sergeant. I had to write a letter to his family. And they wrote back. And of course they wanted to be there for the funeral.

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