Veteran Stories:
Robert Howard O'Connor

Air Force

  • Robert O'Connor in Red Deer, Alberta, December 10, 2009.

    Historica Canada
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"” And he said, “You might, when you find out what you’re going to do, and what you have to do,” he said, “you may feel a little sick.”"


When we finished advanced flying, we were posted to a station just north of Oxford in England, and we got there and saw all these [de Havilland] Mosquitoes sitting on the line, couldn’t believe our good luck because everybody wanted to fly a Mosquito. So I interviewed by Squadron Leader Oakley and he said, “I see that neither of you fellows have done any operational.” And we said, “No.” I just came straight from training command. And my skipper had said, well, he had two years of instructing. So he said, “Well,” he said, “when you go to your first briefing,” he said, “you may be a little nervous.” And he said, “You might, when you find out what you’re going to do, and what you have to do,” he said, “you may feel a little sick.” And he said, “If you look around the room, the briefing room,” he said, “look at the old timers there,” he said, “they’ll probably look half as sick as you do.” (laughs) Well, it was, of course, being the youngest crew on the raid, I think we had 12 aircraft out that night, that gardening mission. And we were the ‘tail end Charlie’ [last plane in a formation]. And we were to cross the coast at about two minute intervals. We were told to fly at 1,500 feet. I don’t know why they chose that, but it was just an ideal height for light flak. So we flew out over the North Sea, and when we got to where we were supposed to turn inland, we could see up ahead of us as each aircraft went over, you could see the light flak coming up and finally it was our turn. Didn’t know any better, nobody had told us anything, so we just stooged in at 1,500 feet and we were just cruising over. And I remember just as we hit the coast, whether they knew the track that we were going to be coming in on, I don’t know, but man, the light flak started and it just, looking down at us, it’s just like a little carpet of stars, just kind of floating up towards you, and as we got up closer it got, the faster it came and suddenly, there were just tracer bullets all around you and everything. And suddenly, you realize, God, for every one that I can see streaking by, there are four or five that I can’t see. (laughs) But at any rate, Hutch, he realized what was happening, and he jammed the throttles wide open, and he dove down and so we managed to pass through all these things. Once we got through the, sort of the light flak, once we were inland, it all died away. We had a few shots and we zig-zagged around and found the Elbe River and started down at 300 feet. As the river narrowed, then the light flak on either side of the river, they were shooting crossways at it. And so we went down to about 100 feet and this. And they followed us down, but they were starting to hit one another on either side. And there was also some intruders, some Mosquito intruders there and they were strafing both sides of the river. So we got through that. We were still at about 100 feet, and I had very, very good night vision, and I suddenly saw this other shadow up in front of us, and I said to Hutch, “I, I think there’s something in the river there.” And he just pulled up and we just went over top of the ship, what was coming down the river. So we got our things in and dropped two mines. But then they routed us back, the same route that we’d come in on. At any rate, we had enough sense to, we started out, when we were getting close to the coast, we started a shallow dive with full throttle and going in. And so we got to the coast, we were only about 200 feet and going about close to 400 miles. So by the time the, the gunners got lined up on us, we were long gone. And so we got out to, to sea and thought we were safe, and started to climb up to a reasonable height, we were going to fly home at about 500 feet or something, I should say 5,000. And we were just about close to getting up there and it was a bright moonlit night. I guess both Hutch and I just, at the same time, just happened to look up, and here were three flak ships anchored like, one, two, three. Hutch realized what it was right away, and he put the nose down, and full throttle again, and just as we did, we just, you know, we must have gone a couple of hundred, dropped a couple hundred feet and all those three flak ships let go. Goddamn, just a solid stream of flak went just over our head. But by the time they corrected their aim, we were long gone. (laughs) We were down to 50 feet and they could still see the waves, the white cap, and we stayed there until we got about 15 or 20 miles out to sea before we climbed back up. Probably was just sheer luck that saved us that day.
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