Last time, I talked about a Lancaster, Lancaster LM360, which apparently had a great number of mechanical problems, such that the pilot ordered the entire crew to bale out in an effort to save their lives. This they did, and they all had a jolly time making their way back to their base from Norfolk where the winds of Fate had carried them. Meanwhile, the pilot found that the plane was seemingly recovering from its funny turn and was able to carry on, such that Flying Officer Fitch was able to make a safe landing at RAF Winthorpe. Here it is today, with its fossilised runways:
One of the happy survivors this time was Harold William Pronger. He was a 33 year old married Australian from Bundaberg in Queensland and by March 29th 1944 he was still a member of 61 Squadron. In 2015, Bundaberg had a population of 70,588. It is on the River Burnett in southern Queensland and looks a lovely place to spend a summer, despite the recent floods which reached nearly 30 feet above normal. The town is nowadays famous for its rum, usually sold in special Australian sizes :
During the night of March 30th-31st 1944, Harold was again on board a 61 Squadron Lancaster, serial number EE176, squadron letters QR-M. They took off from RAF Coningsby to attack Nuremburg. This was an extremely long trip from Lincolnshire, some 700 miles at least.
The raid proved to be the biggest disaster in the history of Bomber Command. 795 bombers were sent to Nuremberg but there were very high winds to blow them off course, a clear sky without cloud cover, bright moonlight and perfect meteorological conditions for the formation of contrails:
In addition, the target was clouded over when they got there. All of these potentially disastrous problems had been revealed by a Mosquito meteorological reconnaissance flight just before the raid set off, but the top brass decided that it was best to keep calm, to ignore the evidence the Mosquito had brought back and carry on.
All of these meteorological circumstances helped the German night fighters enormously. They moved into the attack as soon as the bomber stream crossed the Belgian coast. Hardly any damage was done by the RAF to the target and a sizeable number of aircraft were more than 60 miles off course when they bombed Schweinfurt by mistake, immediately after it was target marked in error by two Mosquito pathfinders.
At one point, the bombers were losing one aircraft per minute for just under an hour. Almost 100 bombers were destroyed and around 550 RAF aircrew were killed. You would think it could not get any worse, but for Harold William Pronger, it did. On his way back, after experiencing severe sleet and hail near Hannover, suddenly, at around 0530 hours, just before they would have crossed the English coast, Lancaster EE176 met up with a huge and violent electrical storm:
The storm was too big to fly either over or around, so instead, they were obliged to plough straight through the snow, the sleet, the hail, and the torrential rain. Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, the Lancaster was struck by lightning.
All of the crew were severely stunned. The pilot and some other members of the crew were temporarily blinded. For a short period, with effectively no pilot at the controls, the aircraft careered all over the sky. The pilot, still blind, ordered everybody to bale out, thinking that they had already crossed the English coast. The aircraft continued to plunge all over the sky, but its main direction was earthwards.
When the Lancaster reached just 1,000 feet above the cold raging waters of the North Sea, the pilot suddenly regained his eyesight. Not perfection, not 20/20 vision, but enough to take over control of the aircraft.
He then started to check that everybody was OK. They weren’t.
The rest of the story, next time.