Friday, March 25, 2016

Fullbore Friday

Can you get a FbF for just surviving?

In this case? I think you'll agree, "Sure."

Via the The RAF Museum;
... Alkemade’s crew were detailed to raid Berlin on the night of 24/25 March 1944. One of 811 aircraft destined to attack the German capital, Alkemade’s aircraft, DS664, a Lancaster II coded A4-K and christened Werewolf by its crew, took off from RAF Witchford, Cambridgeshire at 18:48 and set course for Berlin.

Werewolf carried her seven crew members to Berlin on time and as planned, but the return journey was to be a different story. An unusually strong north wind blew many of the returning aircraft far to the south of their intended track and Werewolf was pushed towards the Ruhr with its heavy concentration of anti-aircraft defences.

Shortly before midnight on 24 March, a Junkers Ju 88 night-fighter flown by Oberleutnant Heinz Rökker of Nachtjagdgeschwader 2, intercepted Werewolf and attacked from beneath with cannon and machine-guns. Werewolf’s starboard wing and fuselage were shredded and erupted into flames which streamed back beyond Alkemade’s rear turret, the Perspex glazing from which had also been completely blown-out, exposing him to the frigid night air. The fight was not totally one-sided, Alkemade managing to get off a burst at the enemy with his four machine-guns, though reports of damage to Werewolf’s sailant proved wide of the mark.

The brief combat had mortally wounded Werewolf, and before long FS James Arthur Newman, Werewolf’s pilot, ordered the crew to take to their parachutes. A Lancaster’s rear turret was too cramped for the gunner to wear a parachute. Instead it was stored in a canister in the rear fuselage, to be clipped-on to a chest harness when needed.

Centring his turret and opening the doors, Alkemade was greeted by a vision of hell. His parachute was already well alight and the fierce flames seared his exposed face and wrists. His rubber oxygen mask, clamped tight over his mouth and nose began to melt.

The immense heat forced Alkemade to close the turret doors again. He was trapped. Falling through the sky in a burning and abandoned aircraft. 3½ miles above enemy territory. And it was about to get worse. The conflagration devouring the aircraft now breached the rear doors and set the turret’s hydraulic fluid alight. The liquid-fuelled flames spread to Alkemade’s clothing. What could have been going through his mind? I’ll let him tell you: “

I had the choice of staying with the aircraft or jumping out. If I stayed I would be burned to death – my clothes were already well alight and my face and hands burnt, though at the time I scarcely noticed the pain owing to my high state of excitement...I decided to jump and end it all as quick and clean as I could. I rotated the turret to starboard, and, not even bothering to take off my helmet and intercom, did a back flip out into the night. It was very quiet, the only sound being the drumming of aircraft engines in the distance, and no sensation of falling at all. I felt suspended in space. Regrets at not getting home were my chief thoughts, and I did think once that it didn’t seem very strange to be going to die in a few seconds – none of the parade of my past or anything else like that.”

Falling head-first, looking back towards the stars twinkling in the night sky, FS Alkemade, serenity itself, hurtled towards the ground at 120 mph. At some point in the descent, Alkemade lost consciousness, possibly his body’s reaction to the pain where the flames had licked around his skin. Above him, Werewolf exploded.

Three hours later, Alkemade opened his eyes. He was lying on snowy ground in a small pine wood. Above him the stars were still visible, only this time they were framed by the edges of the hole he had smashed through the tree canopy. Assessing himself, Alkemade found that he was remarkably intact. In addition to the burns and cuts to the head and thigh, all received in the aircraft, he was suffering only bruising and a twisted knee. Not a single bone had been broken or even fractured. Both of his flying boots had disappeared, probably torn from his feet as he unconsciously struck the tree branches. Being of no further use, Alkemade discarded his parachute harness in the snow.
Of course, you need to read it all.

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