F/L F.H.C. Reinke’s Diary, July 19th, 1944
19 July /44 – Wednesday, Linton.
Attended two briefings yesterday to make it probably the most interesting day up here. The first covered the 1000-plane raid on Caen, opening the way for the new offensive, and the second involved a synthetic oil plant at Wesselring, Germany, at the southern end of the Ruhr Valley – known sardonically among bomber crews as “Happy Valley”.
After their operational supper at midnight, the crews slipped off quietly, in two’s and three’s, to the interrogation hut for their briefing. There are no good wishes or parting jokes passed around the lounge: the crews just disappear.
They examine the contents of their lockers in the Nissen hut until the briefing time. Then they flow into the big bright briefing room, heads all strained to the left as they get inside the door to see what course and target have been indicated on the great map which covers the front wall. The whole course, out and in, is indicated by colored tape, complete with arrows: straight down England from base, across the Channel, about-turning at Caen, returning by roughly the same route. The boys are all smiles as the hundred-odd of them (16 Halifaxes) filter down the room to fill the tables and benches. Their previous raid on Caen, knowing they were working with and for Canadian infantry, had been their greatest operational thrill for most of them.
One o’clock, and the acting O.C. [Officer in Command], S/L Bill Hales, steps on the platform, obtains order without word and calls the roll of aircraft captains. He gets down. The met. [Meteorological Service] officer takes over and briefly stats what cloud and wind conditions they may expect, going out and coming in. He asks for questions, then steps down and leaves. The O.C. takes over and generally describes the significance of the attack, on an area only 1_ miles from our own troops.
The Intelligence Officer (F/L Walton) comes in and gets the platform at once. He describes the target in detail, #6 Gp. having one of three targets within a 3_-mile triangle. The one thing continually stressed is guarding against short bomb-aiming (undershooting), to protect our troops. London is to be carefully avoided.
The OC then discusses tactics, speeds and altitudes of various stages.
The conference breaks up in 45 minutes, leaving the navigators to complete the calculations which they had begun at a conference of their own half an jour before the main briefing.
Out in the locker room, the boys get their packets of emergency rations and envelope of foreign currency, just in case… They climb into their Mae Wests and parachute harness, some rear gunners adding their flying suits although they will only be at any real altitude over the target. Then outside the hut, to await a ride out to their respective “kites”.
Earlier in the evening, there’d been an ENSA stage show in the Naafi [Navy Army Air Force Institute] hut, quite above average, according to veterans. A chorus of six girls who could not dance but had figures, several vocalists, comedians and a colored team of piano and voice made up the program. Many of the crews on the night’s Battle Order attended, while others got two or three hours sleep. Some of the former got some “wakie-wakie” pills while dressing. There are believed to be Benzedrine sulphate (actually caffeine).
While the crews are being taken out to their ships, one of the Protestant padres and I set out on bicycles around the perimeter track to visit as many crews as possible to wish them a good trip before the take-off.
It is a black night and only the padre has a light. The field itself is a wage of little blue and yellow ground lights which, from above, mark the runways but from the ground seem only a confusion.
As we arrive at each site, greetings are exchanged. Some of the lads are genuinely glad to see the padre; others break off what they are doing to pass a few polite words. As time rapidly passes and take-off time, 3:06 a.m. approaches, the boys are getting settled in their ships but return the padre’s “Good Trip”.
Finally, we have covered all of 408 sqn, and turn back, with but three minutes to go. We must cross the whole breadth of the field to get to safety, I following the padre blindly. Engines roar more and more loudly. It seems they must me starting to move up to the starting point but they only roar more loudly. We are surrendered by the deafening dim, peddling vigorously to clear the field. Much to my surprise, we make it after the padre has fallen off his wheel once on bitting a mound of earth.
We stand and watch then, as 32 of the big aircraft in succession take off, without any other audience, strictly routine.
On a borrowed bicycle, I rode to my hut a mile away and had a brief sleep, waking in time to get back and see most of them come in. The first one was back at 7:28.
The boys are tired and grimy looking as they stand around drinking big cups of coffee and eating biscuits. They’ll have a meal of ham and eggs at the mess when they have been through interrogation.
Each crew is interrogated separately by an intelligence officer. Four I.O.’s sit in the corners of a big room set aside for the purpose, tho’ it doubles also as the intelligence library. Tho’ its July, a coal fire burns in the stove and has the room cosily warm, for it is chill and damp (as usual!) outside. Benches or chairs for eight form a close semi-circle before each IO’s table. On the table are chewing gum and cigarettes for the returning crews, donated by various organizations back home.
Having doffed their flying rig and had their coffee, the crews are called in, in the order in which they landed. When they come up to the IO’s table, each crew member returns his two packages, the emergency rations and bag of foreign currency, unopened.
The boys were pretty happy about the Caen effort, certain that their loads had been “bang on”.
After interrogation they slip away to the mess to eat, then to bed.