Bulletts Whistled Past my RAF Parachute (1939)

This eye-witness report below came from an RAF Gunner who parachuted out of his plane when it was brought down over No-man’s Land during 1939.

From his bed from an RAF medical receiving station hiden away in the woods ‘somewhere in France’ a Welsh air gunner described an air battle over the Seigfried Line against heavy odds.  The gunner told of his remarkable escape when after he had brought down his opponent, his own plane fell in flames.  In spite of the severe burns on his face he grinned cheerfully as he took an English cigarette.
“We were a handful of British planes out on a reconnaissance flight over the Siegfried Line,” he said, “The Germans spotted us almost at once, and their AA batteries opened fire; but we went up well above 20,000 feet and continued our work.  We were three in a plane – the pilot, the observer and myself as gunner.  It was a wonderfully clear day and we could see for miles.  Suddenly from far down below, we saw enemy planes swirl up towards us. They were Messerschmitts, three formations of six each.
“We were out numbered by more than three to one, but we prepared to give battle.  The enemy began with their favourite tactics of swooping up at us from underneath, machine gunning as they came.  Then one of the planes attached itself to the tail of my plane and a terrific duel began.
“I could hear the bullets ripping through the fabric behind me.  I looked round and saw the observer in a crumpled heap in his seat.  He had been shot through the head.  The enemy were using incendiary bullets, and suddenly I realised that the plane was on fire and that is was only a question of time before the flames reached us.
“Then, just as my clothing began to smoulder, the plane behind us swooped up and offered me a lovely target.  I gave him all I had, and as the flames blazed into my face I just had time to see him go into a spin and disappear beneath me.  If I had not been on fire I could easily have shot down two more.  It was real bad luck, but my pals accounted for three besides the one I hit.
“Half unconscious, I started to struggle out of my cockpit.  I must have pulled the strings of my parachute, for I suddenly saw it open and felt myself dragged out of the plane.  I got a nasty blow on the leg from the tail of the plane and then for a moment I suppose I feinted. Next I remember floating down whilst the battled continued above me.  I knew it was Germany below me, and I began to calculate whether there was any hope of the wind carrying me over to the French lines.  It seemed very doubtful.
“I saw a German aerodrome, but could not identify it.  Then, when I had got quite low, I heard firing and realised that bullets were whistling near me.  I was above the German lines and they were shooting at me. It was a terrible situation, but I saw that there was just a hope that I might get right past the German lines before I landed.  They went on firing at me almost until I was on the ground.
“I released my parachute and started to crawl desperately to a little thicket in the hope of hiding there.  There was a wood on one side and flat country on the other, where the Germans had their lines.
“I saw the Germans leave their trenches and come running towards me.  I thought I was done for, but suddenly I saw that men were running from the wood as well.  I recognised them as French Algerian Soldiers.  Both sides were racing for me.  Most of the French began to fire at the advancing Germans, but one man came running straight towards me as hard as he could go.  He picked me up, slung me over his shoulder and staggered with me into the woods.
“I was safe, but it was a very near thing.  The pilot of my plane did not have to jump out until a little later and he came down safely in French territory.”
The Welshman paused for a moment, and added, “The Observer must have died at once. He was shot right through the head.”
The air-gunner is going back to England to get over his burns, but he expects to return to his squadron soon.
He is not deeply impressed by his experience, “It is all in the day’s work” were his parting words to me.

Source: War Illustrated 1939

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