An elaborated legend - based on an actual event with 463 Squadron RAAF at Waddington UK
Geoff Raebel 2000
It happened in 1944, day after day men winched great docile iron bombs into the bellies of bombers. Looking back it seems so senseless that men who started this work at 18 should now be 22 or so. They had spent their whole working lives contributing to the reign of terror over Europe. Freedom for Europe was still a year away.
They were good at their jobs, well trained and experienced. The bombs were safe enough, no bomb was armed until it had fallen far enough for a small propeller in the base or nose to unwind and arm the fuse. It was true that the armourers had had some dreadful frights. At the start of the year one of their Lancasters aborted a mission due to engine trouble. Flying now over The Wash they jettisoned their load of American 500 pounders “safe” only to have the whole load detonate under them.
The aircraft landed safely but never flew again such was the damage from the explosion shockwave. Then more recently a Lancaster at a nearby base had inexplicably blown up while being armed. This had caused serious loss of life and damage. Now in 1944 the armourers connected the two cables to the 1000-pound bomb and winched it up to secure it to the bomb release gear in the aircraft. Instead of moving the trolley under the next shackle point they elected to drag the bomb slightly sideways on the existing cables.
The arming propeller assembly was sheared off by a trolley support as the bomb slewed under its own weight on the cables. In that instant the armourers looked at each other, mentally saying “goodbye”, but oblivion did not come.
“ Everyone stop! Be quiet! Don’t move! We have a live bomb on the hoist”. Yelled the corporal armourer.
The engine fitter changing spark plugs on number four engine stopped. The instrument fitter in the pilot’s seat called “Don’t move everybody, we are sitting on a live bomb”
“You” the corporal pointed to “Dusty” Miller “Belt off to the Adjutant’s office and get the field cleared, don’t let any pompous pommie stop you.”
“You jokers” he shouted to a group standing dumbly by the rear of the aircraft. “Run around all the dispersals, tell them not to start aircraft engines but to run for the main gate” The group took to their heels, scattering as they went.
“You mechanics” He pointed to engine fitters on high trestles, “Climb down and clear out” The corporal continued ”Now you on the engine, climb down carefully and once on the ground run.” Turning his attention “In the aircraft there!” He called to the white faced instrument fitter at the pilots window. “Tell everyone to get out one at a time but don’t rock the plane.”
“Ok Corp” came a not too confident reply.
Bodies began to tumble from the aircraft, confused wondering why they were still alive.
“If you value your hides, run for he main gate” called the Corporal malevolently.
“Now exactly what is going on here?” The corporal spun on his heel to stare straight into the face of the Warrant Officer who calmly asked again “What’s the problem”
The corporal was suddenly nervous and gulped “You shouldn’t be here sir. The arming vane was sheared off a 1000 pounder. It’s armed and the whole load could go at any moment”.
“Mmmnn” came the unconcerned reply “Everyone clear?”
“Well, let’s stroll up to the Adjutant’s office and see if he has called bomb disposal yet.”
So they walked away calmly like gentlemen. The corporal knew he had to hold himself together to get the men clear. Now all of his wound up nerves told him to run. He also knew the story would go down in legend when they were seen to be walking calmly away from 10,000 pounds of Tri-nitro-toluene sitting under 5 tons of 150 octane aviation spirit.
“You did very well corporal” The W/O said conversationally. “I’ll be recommending you for a gong” The corporal straightened up walking proud. “Thank you sir.”
The corporal and the W/O are fictional reconstructs in a true story of 463 (RAAF) Squadron.
Last Updated (Tuesday, 04 January 2011 06:13)