Bob Upcott: Pilot of the first bomber to drop food over
Normally our squadron bombers on
their mission had an extra crew member on board who could
speak, or at least understand German. While in the air with
the other bombers on a mission, he would scan the frequencies
with his radio-equipment and when he came across a frequency
that was used by the Germans, he would send out a jam signal.
in the morning of the April 28th 1945, my crew and I, along
with another crew with an Australian pilot were briefed.
Our Lancasters were the only two bombers on Ludford Manga
airfield without secret radio-equipment installed at that
moment. We were informed they had been filled with food to
be dropped over Holland. The ground personnel had pulled
all the food in through the bomb-bay by climbing through
a small opening in the bomb doors and simply stacking the
food on the bomb doors. We were chosen to make a test-run.
We were very excited
about the drops. The Germans were still occupying Holland
when they began. We had to fly low to the targets in order to drop the food without
damaging it. We were told to carry NO AMMUNITION for our guns and we had to stay
within a strictly defined corridor while over Holland for our approach and then
away from the target area.
We were not only excited about the food drops
we were also scared. We had been flying over Holland at altitudes
of 15.000 to 20.000 feet on our way to targets in Germany
and suddenly we were asked to fly at 400 feet while German
soldiers still manned the 88mm and 105mm flak guns near the
corridor the Germans had prescribed us to fly through. If
our mission was a success and we dropped our food without
being shot at, Operation Manna would be launched.
Germans Guns Were Trained On
We weren't able to get our heavily loaded bombers
off the ground due to bad weather on the morning of the April
28th and the mission was postponed. The clouds began to break
early in the morning of the 29th so we took off. Crossing
the Channel we flew on instruments because it was still misty.
Over the continent the weather cleared and we could see where
While crossing the Dutch coast the anti-aircraft
guns pointed directly at our planes. I recall seeing German
flags on many buildings as we approached the target for the
drop and I saw German soldiers standing guard at railroad
bridges over canals. We approached the target area at less
than 400 feet above the ground. At that altitude we could
see the people on the ground quite clearly. For the drop
we had to lower our flaps and wheels in order to slow down
the aircraft. The target area was open ground just outside
of Utrecht. There were no parachutes attached to the load,
just free-falling boxes.
We saw tanks trying to keep their
masterpiece on us. We were looking right down a number of
barrels. All the guns were still manned since the war was
still going on. We were very lucky that they observed the
truce and held their fire. We were hit by small arms fire
however. (When we returned from our mission, the ground personnel
discovered that a 9 mm pistol had slung a small hole on the
right side of the aircraft, near the tail.)
There were very
few people on this first mission as no one knew we were coming.
Then we saw our drop zone for the day – the
Racetrack Duindigt. We could fly in directly without circling.
The Australian pilot was flying echelon on my port side.
agreement had yet been signed when the first Lancasters approached
Occupied Holland. At an extremely low altitude of 100-1,000
feet the large four-engined bombers would have been easy
prey for the may anti-aircraft guns the Germans could still
deploy in the besieged Fortress Holland. Even if the Germans
had opened fire and killed hundreds of young Britons and
other Allies, they had the right to do so. The responsible
commanders of the RAF knew the risk they took – the
terrible tragedy that could have happened over Holland if the Germans had opened
fire. Above all they knew that any German reaction would be legitimate. The commanders
knew it and so did the pilots and their crew members.
I dropped first when we
were over the racetrack, while the Australian dropped at
almost the same moment. I had waited a little bit too long
with the drop, partly overshooting the drop zone. Half of
the load slammed into the beaches on the end of the racecourse.
I hadn't noticed that my load had dropped on the wrong place
until a Dutchman told me forty years later that he had seen
the two Lancasters drop on that first day. He happened to
be on the Racecourse and he saw the first bomber (me) dropping
The first part of the
mission was a success. We then had to follow the corridor
back to the North Sea. The second part of the mission also
did not provide any problems. As soon as we were back over
the North Sea, our radio operator transmitted the message
to our base that the mission had been successful. Around
noon that day the BBC broadcast the news that Operation Manna
was commencing that day. Two hundred Lancasters would appear
over Holland at two o'clock bringing food to the starving
population of Holland. The Dutch population reacted en mass
on this news. When the bombers flew over the Dutch landscape
they were waved at by many civilians.
Everyone was very enthusiastic
that they were going to drop food for the starving Dutch
population. The orders were to fly in loose, low-level formation.
The drop zones were clearly marked. We came in low enough
to see the expressions on the faces of the people in the
fields. It gave us a real thrill to watch these people waving
and cheering us on. Of course we couldn't hear them over
the noise of our engines, but you could see they were yelling
their lungs out. I can speak for the whole crew when I say
it brought a lump to our throats. At that time we knew little
about the plight of the Dutch people so we could only imagine
the horror of living under the Nazi regime for five years. To see the people
waving at us and to see "Thanks Boys" and "Many Thanks" spelled
out with flowers gave us a warm glow. Just sitting there in the pilot seat and
looking at them brought tears to my eyes and I'm not ashamed of it either! To
think that that day we did good instead of blowing towns and people to hell made
me realize there was still some good left in the world.