29 April, 2012

29 April 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
29 April, 1945      0820

Good morning, Sweetheart –

Again I find that it’s best I write you at this hour. Later it will be well nigh impossible. I spent a very interesting and busy day yesterday and I stayed over at the camp. I may be here for a few days more. There’s a tremendous amount of work to be done – but honestly – it’s fascinating. It’s almost like a guessing game. A fellow comes in and you guess what nationality he is so you’ll know how to speak to him. They all look alike, too, except the Russians and the Indians – yes we have them also. The Indians walk around with full turbans and full beards. The reason the rest of them look alike is that not one of them is wearing a complete uniform, but stuff they’ve had to pick up along the way. There are Americans wearing U.S. shirts, German boots, English trousers etc. and the same is true of the others. They all haven’t shaved for days or weeks and most of them haven’t had haircuts for months. They’re a sad looking lot, dear, and they’ve made an impression upon us entirely different from anything else so far received.

On sick-call – you see a fellow who looks like a Pole and you say Polski? – in anticipation of calling one of the foreign aid men helping us. The fellow answers “I’m American, sir” – and darling – you feel awful realizing that you’ve let the fellow know he has changed so much. Well – all I can say is that I’ve never worked with more care or patience on any group of soldiers before. I started about 0930 – had a short time out for lunch and supper and got thru at 2100. We had seen by that time 227 patients – with all sorts of conditions – and today will be the same. Soon though the evacuation system will speed up and they’ll all get home speedily.

By the way – I came across a fellow from Boston – he was shot down, flying from Italy. I haven’t had much luck to date in getting anyone to call you and say ‘hello’ for me – but I tried again – and if he doesn’t forget, darling, he’ll give you a ring some day – probably before I can.

I’ve been out of touch with battalion but someone brought my mail to me last evening. I had a V-mail from Stan and another letter from you – from New York – the first nite you arrived. I’m so glad you went, dear, and you were apparently getting a big kick out of it. New York does that for one; I’ve always felt that way when I’ve gone there. I’m glad you’re saving the romantic spots for us, dear, although I’ll have to admit I don’t know my way around New York very well. However – any spot we’ll hit together, sweetheart, will be romantic as far as I’m concerned. And I’m ready for it right now – in case you’re waiting for me to say –

In one of your letters, dear, you guessed the date of our crossing as 29 March. Your dream was exactly one week late, darling – but I’ll excuse you this time because you’ve been so near correct – so often. And I got a letter from Sgt. Freeman written from the hospital in Pa. His spirits were excellent – and more power to him. By now – he may have been home and perhaps you know the full extent of his injuries. He’ll have to have a lot of work done – but he took it like a man.

I, too, wish you knew a way of getting me transferred to the Lovell or the Cushing. Darling – I’m willing. I’ve about seen the end of this thing here. I’ve done my duty and would like to go home. There’s plenty of M.C.s in the States who could come over here for the Army of Occupation – or who could go to Japan. But like everyone else – I’m in the Army and I’ll have to take what comes along. May it be good!

Well, my love, I’m going to cut this off now and get to work. For the first time in a long while I feel I’m doing a little bit of good. And it’s a swell feeling too. It’ll be another big day – but I’m honestly looking forward to it. So for now, darling, so long, love to the folks – and remember always – that I love you strongly and as much as I know how.

All my everlasting love
P.S. This makes 28.
Love, G


about Operation Manna

Following the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day, conditions grew worse and worse in Nazi-occupied Holland. The Allies were able to liberate the southern part of the Netherlands, but their liberation efforts ground to a halt when Operation Market Garden, the attempt to gain control of the bridge across the Rhine at Arnhem, failed. When the national railways complied with the exiled Dutch government' appeal for a railway strike to further the Allied liberation efforts, the German administration retaliated by putting an embargo on all food transports to the western Netherlands.

The Nazi embargo was partially lifted in early November 1944, allowing restricted food transports over water, but by then the unusually early and harsh winter had already set in. The canals froze over and became impassable for barges. Food stocks in the cities in the western Netherlands rapidly ran out.

The harsh winter of 1944-45, is known by the Dutch as the Hongerwinter ("Hunger Winter"). A number of factors combined to create the Dutch famine:

  • Netherlands was one of the main western battlefields
  • The winter of 1944-45 was unusually harsh
  • The war caused widespread dislocation and destruction
  • The retreating German army destroyed locks and bridges to flood the country, ruining agricultural land
  • Distribution of existing food stocks was made difficult by damage to the transportation infrastructure

The adult rations in cities such as Amsterdam had dropped to below 1000 kilocalories a day by the end of November 1944 and to 580 kilocalories in the West by the end of February 1945. As usual it was the civilian population that suffered worst with many old, young and weak dying from starvation and cold. The dire straits the Dutch were in was starkly illustrated by a newsreel of the day:
... there were no cats left, the dustbins were empty ...
From Alistair's blog called "Crivens, Jings and Help Ma Blog" comes this:
By early 1945, the situation was desperate for the three million or more Dutch still under German control. Prince Bernhard appealed directly to the Allies for help to resolve the situation. In response, protracted negotiations began with the occupying German forces. The plan to deliver this humanitarian aid was codenamed "Operation Manna".

Allied contingency planners eventually devised a system whereby food could be air-dropped by bombers, using panniers (called 'blocks') four of which could be fitted to a standard Lancaster bomb bay. Each block held 71 sacks (giving a total weight of 1254 lbs per block) variously containing sugar, dried egg powder, margarine, salt, cheese, tinned meat, flour, dried milk, coffee, cereals, tea, high vitamin chocolate, potatoes, etc. - all supplied from the Ministry of Food's reserve stockpiles. Before the introduction of 'blocks', a variety of possible delivery systems had been devised by squadrons acting individually. As is customary, user trials were flown, one of which involved Canada's 153 Squadron. Fl/Lt Bill Langford recalled,
On April 21st, I flew 'V' Victor to Netheravon, carrying a mixture of goodies, in sacks, slung from ropes on a home-made device in the bomb bay. We were to demonstrate to an assembly of RAF and Army brass, just how food would be dropped to the starving Dutch. Approaching the airfield at around 200 feet, wheels and flaps down for minimum flying speed, we lined up the white cross on the ground, and pressed the button….. when it all went wrong! Sacks of peas, tins of Spam, and all sorts of containers rained from the sky, scattering the assembled brass in all directions. Not what was intended.
Negotiations with the German Occupying Authority for a limited truce to allow food drops to begin, assumed a critical state as the death toll rapidly mounted. At Scampton, as on other stations involved, crews practised low speed/low flying techniques and simulated drops. Eventually, on Sunday 29th April 1945, the codeword "Operation Manna" was issued; this was an inspired choice, for not only does it stand for "bread from Heaven" but it means exactly the same in Dutch. 153 Squadron promptly dispatched 18 aircraft (each carrying 284 bags of food) to a dropping zone at The Hague - all following drops were on Dundigt Racecourse.

On 29 April the people of Holland heard BBC radio announce:
Bombers of the Royal Air Force have just taken off from their bases in England to drop food supplies to the Dutch population in enemy-occupied territory."
Many crews were initially apprehensive over the realization that they would be flying, in broad daylight, at a very low level, in full view of the German A/A defenses, whose gun barrels could be seen to be tracking their flight. However, the reception by the beleaguered Dutch people, who flocked on to the streets, the rooftops and all open spaces, to wave anything to hand, calmed all fears. Subsequent sorties were flown with panache, at very much lower levels, while crews (most of whom parceled up their flying rations of chocolate and sweets and attached them to "parachutes" made from handkerchiefs, as personal gifts for the children) exchanged waves with those below. After dropping their loads, many pilots continued to fly at a very low altitudes, waggling their wings and 'buzzing' the crowds to give them a thrill, with their bomb-aimers flashing "V" for victory on the Aldis signalling lamp. It became a carefree, cheerful occasion for the aircrews, and many could not believe that Manna drops were to be allowed to count towards an operational tour.

Over the ten-day period ending 8th May, the Squadron mounted 111 sorties, shared between all 40 of the active crews, to successfully deliver 271 tons of life-saving provisions. In total, the RAF dropped 7,029.9 tons; the USAF who commenced drops two days later due to concerns about the truce, contributed 4,155.8 tons.

Crews could see the German anti-aircraft guns tracking them, including the fearsome 88mm guns accurate to 20,000ft, and said he felt like they could have reached up and slapped his backside.It was an eerie feeling for crews who were used to bombing from 15,000ft or more to be flying a slow pass over enemy guns at just a couple of hundred feet. Several Lancasters, Dad's included took some rifle fire from below but luckily no one was injured. Dad's pilot retaliated by diving onto a tented German camp, gunning the engines and blowing the tents apart! He also recalled one trip where the pilot took the Lancaster up a wide boulevard in a town at absolutely zero feet while the crew looked up at the cheering faces in the house windows on either side. For men used to dropping destruction it was an incredibly moving experience.

Dutch girl Arie de Jong, a seventeen-year-old student at the time, wrote in her diary:
There are no words to describe the emotions experienced on that Sunday afternoon. More than 300 four-engined Lancasters, flying exceptionally low, suddenly filled the western horizon. One could see the gunners waving in their turrets. A marvellous sight. One Lancaster roared over the town at 70 feet. I saw the aircraft tacking between church steeples and drop its bags in the South. Everywhere we looked, bombers could be seen. No one remained inside and everybody dared to wave cloths and flags. What a feast! Everyone is excited with joy. The war must be over soon now."

Here is short clip of Operation Manna,
taken during a drop.

No comments:

Post a Comment