The Strain of Operational Flying with Bomber Command
The following excerpt, from "A Thousand Shall Fall" by Murray Peden DFC, vividly illustrates what night bombing operations were like with RAF, and the incredible strain these placed on the aircrews:
Each time I found myself on the battle order the ordeal of waiting - an ordeal punctuated by the ritual of air test, briefing, and flying meal - seemed intensified, the muscles of the abdomen hardening until they felt like the extended ribs of a miniature umbrella. The tension would ease briefly as we finally got started and raced down the runway on takeoff, then it returned with redoubled force as we approached hostile territory, to reign supreme and worsen progressively as the trip wore on. Time moved with the glacial slowness that overtaxed nerves can occasion, making operational flying an exacting test of nerve and self control.
To a person wanting to visualize how intense the strain could become, how suppressed fear could swell and gnaw inside, I offer the following as a comparison, perhaps easier to imagine than the unfamiliar surroundings of a darkened bomber cockpit framed in faintly luminous dials.
Imagine yourself in a building of enormous size, pitch black inside. You are ordered to walk very slowly from one side to the other, then back. This walk in the dark will take you perhaps five or six hours. You know that in various nooks and crannies along your route killers armed with machine guns are lurking. They will quickly become aware that you have started your journey, and will be trying to find you the whole time you are in the course of it. There is another rather important psychological factor: the continuous roar emanating from nearby machinery. It precludes the possibility of your getting any audible warning of danger's approach. You are thus aware that if the trouble you are expecting does come, it will burst upon you with the startling surprise one can experience standing in the shower and having someone abruptly jerk open the door of the steamy cubicle and shout over the noise. If the killers stalking you on your walk should happen to detect you, they will leap at you out of the darkness firing flaming tracers from their machine guns. Compared with the armament they are carrying, you are virtually defenseless. Moreover, you must carry a pail of gasoline and a shopping bag full of dynamite in one hand. If someone rushes at you and begins firing, about all you can do is fire a small caliber pistol in his direction and try to elude him in the dark. But these killers can run twice as fast as you, and if one stalks and catches you, the odds are that he will wound and then incinerate you, or blow you into eternity. You are acutely aware of these possibilities for every second of the five or six hours you walk in the darkness, braced always, consciously or subconsciously, for a murderous burst of fire, and reminded of the stakes of the game periodically by the sight of guns flashing in the dark and great volcanic eruptions of flaming gasoline.
You repeat this experience many times - if you live.
A MAAF B-24 Liberator explodes after being hit by flak over Romania