AR banner
search tips advanced search
You Are To Carry On, Good Luck Z-Zebra

 CHAPTER 7  

A Wartime Log 

(William G. Schrader's account of the crew's last mission)


A WARTIME LOG

William G Schrader

RAAF 413434

P.O.W. 42


On the night of the 27th May 1943, we were briefed for Essen. We were to set course over base at 2400 hours and rendezvous over Sheringham at 0022 and proceed to the target via Egmond and back over Texel and then back to base.

We were airborne at 2300 hours and after climbing to about 15000 ft. over base the mid-upper gunner, Jack Grant, reported that his turret was U.S. (unserviceable). After inspection it was found that the oil-pressure pipe was burst and so the turret could only be operated by hand, and that of course was useless in the case of combat. The Skipper asked what we thought would be the best thing to do. The wireless-operator and the bomb-aimer both requested that we should jettison and abandon the trip. The rest of us said nothing. I think the general feeling was to abandon the effort; with a useless turret the danger was certainly increased. Also the knowledge of the deficiency of the fighting power of the gunners caused a psychological effect on all of us, that caused us to wish that the trip was called off. After a short consultation with us, the pilot decided to break radio silence and call up control and get official instructions.

As soon as we called them up, we got simultaneous replies from each of two controls. One drome stated, "Hullo Z-Zebra, proceed to sea and jettison." The other said, "Hullo Z-Zebra stand by for further orders." 

We asked again and again, got the same reply and then of course the pilot had to ask the controls to identify themselves as it was necessary for us to know what our own squadron ordered. Both controls asked us to identify ourselves first and then they came back with their identification call-signs and orders. We discovered then that 101 squadron said to jettison, and our squadron control came through with "Hullo Z-Zebra, this is saucepan (460) calling. You are to carry on, good luck Z-Zebra." So Z-Zebra proceeded to get under way.

By this time we were behind time about two minutes and still a bit of height to make up, so we set course immediately and endeavoured to increase speed and get back to lost time. The first check I made on the wind was that it was 12 miles an hour slower than the one forecasted. This meant that to maintain the briefing schedule, we still had to gain some height. We also had two minutes lost to account for and an extra 12 m.p.h. that we should have got from the wind. 

On crossing the enemy coast we had not improved our time but were another four minutes behind. By this time we were weaving. As we were behind time and out of the concentration of aircraft and exposed to more danger, it was necessary to make the weaving fairly violent, with large alterations of course and height. We were taxing the engines to their utmost to get the maximum airspeed. The engineer was very concerned with overheating and was forced to throttle back at times. 

In spite of efforts to gain time, we did not do so. We had been briefed to cruise at 160 on the clock and in trying to maintain the extra 10 m.p.h. for the wind, the engines were feeling the strain. We were carrying a full bombload* with 1500 gallons of petrol. Furthermore, on account of the weaving we had got first a bit too far to port and then too far to starboard and finally when we did run in over the target we were twelve minutes late. 

* 2000lb of bombs which meant a total load of 8½ tonnes without the crew of 7. 

There was about nine-tenths cloud below us at the target and the city below was not visible at all, although there was a bright red glow showing through the cloud wherever it thinned out, caused by the bombers ahead of us. Through one hole in the cloud a single searchlight was thrusting up into the sky. This alone with the glow through the clouds made things comparatively light. The flak was fairly pelting up through the cloud and although we were not in the searchlight, the RD was apparently picking us out fairly well. We felt several bumps and one piece of shrapnel made a hole right through the kite just behind the mid upper turret.

On approaching the target we saw the last P.F.F. (Path Finder Force) red marker go down, but it went out before we could complete the run up. So we had to bomb by judgement of the red glow and where the marker had been. We let the bombs go down on the unseen city below. 

After bombing, we swung round onto a course north as we had to return via the island of Texel, up north. We cleared the Ruhr and were away from the concentrated flak, but still 13 minutes behind time. We now had plenty of height and speed, no bomb load, so I thought it would be advisable to make a short cut out over Holland as we were too far behind to have the protection of the concentration of aircraft. I called the pilot up on the Inter-com and consulted him on the advisability of such a step. He replied that he would leave it in my hands, as he said I would have a better idea which would be the best to do. The Bomb-aimer was all for going out via Holland. The rest of the crew said nothing, so I gave the pilot instructions to turn onto a course of 281 compass, which made us track slightly north of due west.

We were now maintaining about 180 m.p.h. on the clock which at 22000 ft. was about 240 true air speed. Things seemed quite peaceful. After all the stress and turmoil we had been through over the previous three or four hours, it looked as if we were going to settle down to a peaceful and uninterrupted flight right back to base. The "G" signals were again quite distinct and I got our fix quite accurately and worked out an E.T.A. (Estimated Time of Arrival) for the Dutch coast. This was at 0202 and the E.T.A. was 0225. I completed this entry into the log and informed the crew of the position. At 0207 I got another fix.

Then "Crash" !!! We were on fire all along. The wireless operator was dead and the aircraft was literally dropping out of the sky. A night-fighter had got us fair and square with a burst of cannon shell. 

The kite was starting to develop a shudder with the excess speed of the dive.

The pilot gave orders to bale out. Jack the M.U. replied that he was leaving his turret. Jim in the rear also acknowledged the order. He had told us that the tail plane was all alight. I am afraid that the terrific fire and heat were the main factors in making Jack fail to get out. Jack had told us over the Inter-com that the petrol tanks were hit and pouring out petrol all on fire. In fact, all the starboard motors, the bomb bays and all the belly and tail of the machine were on fire. Colin, the bomb-aimer by this time had the escape hatch open and was leaving. Dick, the engineer was getting himself clear of his oxygen and electric leads.

At the first impact I got out of my seat and went forward to just behind the engineer and could see at once that we were all alight. The altimeter was at 10000 ft. which showed that we had lost about 10000 ft. in an incredibly short time. I moved back and disconnected my Inter-com and oxygen, removed my helmet and mask, and grabbed my 'chute, put it on, moved forward in preparation to get out. 

Dick at this time was just getting rid of his electric and oxygen connections and for a while I had to stand and wait. Each moment we were racing straight at the deck at about 500 m.p.h. However, Dick got clear. Then I reached down and got the pilot's 'chute from behind his seat, put it on for him and scrambled down to the nose to the escape hatch when Dick was just going. I assisted his departure with a shove with my foot and then lowered myself onto the edge of the opening. As soon as my feet went out into the slip-stream, the impact of air immediately tore one of my boots off. I fell forward and out.

While I had been putting the pilot's 'chute on him he had held the control column right back against him endeavouring to pull the machine out of the dive. However, apparently the control surfaces were burnt out or the control rods severed, as when he moved the column forward to make room for his 'chute it did not affect the aircraft at all. The control column was shuddering violently, the engines were all cut off, but even then there was a terrific roar from the open hatch. Charlie was still trying to hold the machine when I left. 

I fell out and was spun over and over. I remember seeing a terrific rush of fire and the tail wheel rush by. Then I pulled the rip cord and was immediately swung into an upright position. As far as I could judge I was stationary in space with a big canopy of white swishing in the breeze above me. 

Simultaneous with my pulling the rip cord, there was a terrific crash like gunfire. The aircraft had exploded and disintegrated just a matter of two or three seconds after I left it. All around me were pieces of burning material falling down. This explosion may have been caused by the fighter hitting us again, but as far as I could judge it would have been caused by the explosion of the burning petrol tanks. The three remaining members of the crew were no doubt killed at that instant. 

After all this rush, roar and noise, everything was quiet and peaceful, the only noise being the swish-swish of the wind in the silk and cords of the 'chute. From far below I could also hear some cows bellowing. They had no doubt been disturbed by the crashing of the broken up machine. The contrast of this peacefulness and quiet to the previous turmoil was immense. I also experienced a tremendous feeling of relief. During the crisis I had not had time to reflect but had acted. Now, however I was peacefully floating down to solid earth in absolute quietness with nothing to do but think things over. The reaction was such that I was not in the least concerned by the landing I would shortly experience. As far as I was concerned I was safe and also thought that the other members of the crew would also be out and safe too. 

A little later I floated through a layer of cloud. After passing through it I could discern a white road below me which I took to be a river, so judged myself to be higher than I actually was. Just then there appeared another 'chute floating down quite close to me and in the darkness it was impossible to notice who it was. So I called out, "Is that you, Dick or Col?" but received no answer. I concluded that whoever it was being discreet as we were getting close to the ground and would be trying to prevent any possibility of being captured. 

While watching this 'chute I fell down between some small trees and hit the deck. I was not in the least hurt and after taking off my harness and "Mae West" I pulled the silk out of the tree and bundled the lot up at the foot of it. On looking around I saw the other chute in a small field across the road all spread out. To get to it I had to climb over a ditch, over some barbed wire, cross the road, and over another lot of barbed wire.

On approaching the white spread out chute I found that the person was still attached to it and was lying motionless on his back. I bent down over the body and recognised it as Charles the pilot. He was either unconscious or dead and on further examination I found that he was quite dead. It seemed on summing up the events that when the plane had exploded and disintegrated, he had been mortally wounded by inward concussion. He may have been conscious long enough to pull his own chute. On the other hand the chute may have been pulled by contact with some object when being thrown from the aircraft. He had been bleeding profusely from the mouth and nose but had no broken limbs. Charles also had no boots on and so I could not relieve my plight there.

After getting back to the road I had to make my mind up what to do and where to go. I knew from the navigation that I was in Eastern Holland but could not see the stars to know which direction was North, South, East or West. At this time I realised that I still had the handle of the rip-cord in my hand and must have unknowingly held it there all along.

I had to guess which way to go so I started off in the direction of which I instinctively thought was south, heading for France. However I was only half-hearted in my intentions to escape as I only had one boot and that a clumsy flying boot. It would certainly make one look conspicuous and helpless.

About half a mile down the road I walked into a group of people. They were Dutch and appeared very friendly. Although I could not understand them I think that they would have assisted me to get away, but just then two German soldiers came up and I became a prisoner of war. 

I was taken to a sort of look-out post, no doubt used for aircraft spotting. I was conducted to a small room to which one had to climb a ladder, was given a seat near a small stove and there I sat from about three a.m. till about eight. The room was a sort of kitchen-living room, and guard room combined. On the walls there were several pictures of German aircraft, a small map of the world, several shelves, a couple of benches, a telephone and a communication tube to the observer on the roof. One guard remained in the room with me.

My face had blood down one side from a scratch caused by the chute when it opened up, and my hands were also covered in blood from examining Charlie. So to the Jerry postern I must have presented a rather pitiful appearance, especially as I had only one boot and the sock on that foot was wet and muddy. He brought me a basin of water and a cake of Ersatz soap and I managed to clean up a little. Later he gave me a cup of Ersatz coffee which was cold, and a lump, about 2" thick of black German bread, both of which were horrible but which I nevertheless ate.

The effect of the wakey-wakey pills which I took at the squadron base was now wearing off and as the room was quite warm I got very sleepy and actually slept while sitting on my stool near the fire. I had not slept previous to this for about 24 hours and during that time had done two flights, one of them a formation flight over England and the other the one that had just finished so disastrously. I felt dead tired and when I woke up from my doze there were three guards in the room looking at me with no small amount of curiosity.

I was feeling hungry and very depressed. The reaction was starting to set in and I was wondering about the fate of the rest of the crew. By this time I would be posted as missing and very shortly Barbara would be notified of the fact. That thought worried me quite a lot for the next few weeks as I could visualise her at home receiving the news. For weeks I was unable to send any communication which would also take a long time to get home.

While sitting there I realised that the two emergency packets that I carried were still unopened in my inside pocket of my battle jacket. As I had never actually seen what they contained, I decided to have a look at them. I did not like opening them in front of the guards so made them understand that I wanted to go to the lavatory. Once in there I opened them. In one of them there were 2000 French francs (equivalent to about £10), a small hack-saw set in rubber, two maps of Eastern Europe printed on silk, two small compasses, a small rubber water bottle, Horlicks tablets, some dried milk chocolate, and several other small items in the way of concentrated foods. There was nothing I could do with them so I put them back in my pocket.

At about 9 a.m. a German army officer and a postern arrived on a cycle and side-car and took me to the house of the local prefect of police who of course was a Dutchman. This was in the village of Oosterhaut. I found that Dick and Col were already at this house - they had been rounded up earlier in the morning and taken there. I was informed that three men had gone down with the plane which meant that we were the only survivors. Jack Grant, Jim Kerr, Charles Harrison and Bill Blackwell had all been killed. 

The Germans informed me that two had not got out of their positions, and another had been thrown clear of the machine but had not had his 'chute attached. Bill, I think, had been killed by gunfire and as Jack was getting out of the mid-upper turret when I left, I think he would have been the one thrown out. It is invariable that when a Lancaster crashes or blows up it breaks through the mid turret, and also in Jim's case, it would have been extremely difficult to get out of a burning turret. Charlie, as I related, came down near me and also was apparently thrown out by the explosion. One of the bodies had the head and one hand completely severed. Col and Dick were quite surprised to see me as they were sure that the only other survivor (they had been informed that there was another) would have been Jack, as he had told us he was going. 

We were told that we would have to stay at this house until a Luftwaffe coach arrived in the afternoon to take us. The Dutch, as soon as the Germans were out of the way, became very friendly and could not do enough for us. We were let go to sleep in the lounge-room and later on a school teacher who could speak English came in and talked to us for quite a long time. He gave Col a pair of shoes (the Germans had given me one of Jack Grant's boots they had picked up). Word must have gone round the village very quickly that there were three English fliers at the Prefect's house because for the rest of the day numbers of visitors came to see us. Those who were English speaking seemed very friendly and all out to help. The Dutch seemed to be very anti-Nazi. Their one hope and desire seemed to be an English invasion of Europe and several asked us straight out when it would eventuate, so sure were they that it was coming. 

The place we were staying at was next to a big public school and at play hour there were dozens of them looking in at us. When I waved at them they all cheered and crowded round. About four of the teachers who could speak English came in and spoke to us and also interpreted for us and in this way we spent quite a pleasant day. These Dutch people impressed on us the fact that the severe, thorough and powerful Nazi rule could do nothing to make these people give their support but instead the Dutch seemed only to hope that the invasion would come and their freedom would be restored. We were shown pictures of Queen Wilhelmina and were asked where she was. 

For lunch we were given roast mutton, potatoes, carrots, stewed cherries and later in the afternoon a cup of tea and some biscuits.

About four o'clock a Luftwaffe unter-offizier (corporal) and about eight or ten soldiers came in a motor coach with a trailer attached. In the trailer they had the four coffins containing the bodies of the deceased members of the crew and also three empty coffins. I understand that whenever a bomber crashes in Germany they proceed to the crash with seven coffins, and there on the trailer was a coffin that had actually been intended for me. 

The unter-offizier marched in, took down our names and particulars and all we had in our pockets was taken. They returned some things such as handkerchiefs and pencils but all the escape packet goods and letters and money were confiscated. This officer also gave us the particulars of the fate of the rest of the crew which up to this time we had not known they were killed. The Unter-offizier said that two were burnt, one thrown clear and horribly mutilated and one found dead beside his opened chute. 

After this we were conducted to the coach and proceeded to move off. 

                                            


The front cover and title pages of the Y.M.C.A. booklet issued to Bill Schrader whilst a prisoner of war and in which he recorded details                                        of the final mission of Lancaster ED804 AR-Z.  (Images not actual size)  -  Courtesy Mr John Schrader



                                                                               Contents                                                             Chapter 8    

RW 04.10.2015

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them. - Laurence Binyon

All site material (except as noted elsewhere) is owned or managed by Aircrew Remembered and should not be used without prior permission.
© 2012 - 2017 Aircrew Remembered
Last Modified: 04 October 2015, 15:35