Veteran Stories:
Ralph Earl “Earl” Scofield

Air Force

  • A Handley Page Halifax bomber with 148 Squadron, RCAF.

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"If they caught you in the beam they would spread the beam and then all the other search lights would come on you and then they would fire at you. You were like the target then and you were like a sitting duck."


When you were flying over German territory, you were always conscious of the flak [anti-aircraft fire] the German 88-millimetre artillery guns would be firing at us and shrapnel shells were exploding all over, especially when you were over the target. Then the German search lights -they had I don’t know how many, hundreds or thousands of them - on the ground. If they caught you in the beam they would spread the beam and then all the other search lights would come on you and then they would fire at you. You were like the target then and you were like a sitting duck almost, I guess. So you were always conscious, trying to get away from the searchlights. You had to watch when you were over the target because you were stacked up at different elevations, and some would be at 28,000 feet, 20,500 feet, 21,000 feet and so on like that so you’d look up and you had to watch that you didn’t collide with some of your own aircraft. You’d look up and here’s a guy up above you and he’s opening up his bomb doors. He would drop that whole load of bombs on you so you had to get over, you had to move. You had to watch, you couldn’t afford to go to sleep. You could not afford to doze off. You had to watch continually. The first trip, I think we made a trip over to Heligoland, over the German submarine pens. We were flying at about 20,000 feet and they were firing at us until we started dropping the bombs. Then they quit firing at us. That was right over the North Sea. They shot down four or five of our aircraft. I watched some of them jump out in their parachutes and they landed in the North Sea. They wouldn’t live long in that ice-cold water. You had 15 to 20 minutes then you would perish. One night we were over German territory and we saw the German jets. Now this was towards the end of the war. The German jets came right up; they just flew straight up. You had to lead them a long way. You had to fire way ahead of them because they were so fast. By the time your shells got there you had to lead them a long way to hit them. The hydraulic turrets didn’t move that fast. The range of our guns was limited, too, so you were lucky if you got a shot at them. There were a few of them that were shot down by air gunners, but not too many. It was very thankful that it was towards the end of the war and the Germans were running out of jet fuel for the aircraft, because they were deadly aircraft and much faster than anything we had. And there’s something we ought to remember: the German fighter planes had a wingspan of say, 30 feet, whereas our bombers had a wingspan of 80 feet or more, so they had a much larger target to shoot at than what we did, you know what I mean? On hindsight, thinking back, I think there were a lot of mistakes made because on one raid to Nuremburg, the Bomber Command under the orders of Air Marshal [Sir Arthur] Harris had sent all the bombers out to Nuremburg on a moonlit night and we lost [96] aircraft that night. That was a big mistake. A big loss. The Americans were losing so many aircraft; they were flying mostly daylight raids. The RAF [Royal Air Force] and the Canadian RCAF [Royal Canadian Air Force] were flying at night mostly. We did not have any fighter cover but the Americans were losing so many aircraft that they started putting Mustang fighters with Rolls-Royce engines in them, and they were highly successful in protecting their bombers. You never could tell what would happen. You carried what we called a “Mae West” which was an inflatable life jacket if you had to land in the water. If people saw you go down and they reported where you went down, they might try to rescue you if they knew where you were. We carried a certain amount of foreign money in case we were shot down over enemy territory. We carried different sums of money to try to get back to England. At one time they gave us a pistol, a revolver, but you were better off without it because then you had more chance to be taken as a prisoner. But if you landed sometimes in a territory where there was a lot of hostile farm women working with a pitchfork in their hands, they hated being bombed. They hated the Air Force and Hermann Goering [commander of the German Air Force] said that the Germans would never be bombed, but we gave them back some of the bombs that they dropped on England. This was a kind of retribution.
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