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Operation Manna / Chowhound Brief Synopsis

by William S. Carter

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Operation Manna was the code name for the Allied endeavour in 1945 to feed three million Dutch citizens in German-occupied western Holland, who were suffering from a severe food shortage. At the time the International Red Cross accused the Germans of “planning to starve the Dutch people to death.” By April 1945, desperate residents of western Holland had resorted to tulip bulbs as a source of nourishment.

On the morning of 29 April, two Lancaster bombers were seen near Waardenburg, flying at an estimated height of less than one hundred feet above the ground. Instead of bombs, they dropped food parcels from the open bomb bays of their aircraft. This event was witnessed by a teenager on his way to steal food from the Germans – a crime punishable by death. The sight of the Lancaster bomber flying so low to the ground with some of the crew waving in friendly greeting to him, was something the young man vowed to remember – and if possible memorialize.

A Lancaster lets go of its food load 50' up.

The British government had received permission from the German authorities in Holland to fly a specific route and release their loads at a precise location. After guinea pig testing the peaceful conclusion of their mission resulted in the return that afternoon of hundreds more bombers carrying foodstuffs for the Dutch.

From April 29 to May 7, 1945, inclusive, RAF Bomber Command delivered 6672 tons of food to the people of western Holland. No. 1, 3 and 8 (Pathfinder). Groups flew a total of 2835 Lancaster sorties and 124 Mosquito sorties.

In July 1997, Peter Buttenaar, the teenager who risked his life to steal food from the Germans and now a developer with his own construction company, dedicated a housing development in Southampton, Ontario, to one of the two Lancaster crews who had bravely tested both Germans’ defenses and resolve. He called the street into the housing site Lancaster Road and he named each of the seven other streets after a crew member.

The grateful Dutch sorting the boxes.

The story of Operation Manna is more than just an account of the “…largest single air transport operation of the war…” it is a remarkable tribute to the courage and suffering of the Dutch, and a grim reminder of the inhumanity of war and depravity of humans that made measures necessary in the first place.

Operation Manna / Chowhound

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