Give the forgotten heroes of Bomber Command the honor they deserve.
They lost 534 men in one night, with just 40% surviving, but they were treated as the RAF’s dirty little secret. Now, as a new film tries to correct the record, we speak with the soldiers who risked their lives.
Russell “Rusty” Waughman, who is 98 years old, is still haunted by recollections of the Nuremberg attack. His recollection of the hell he saw from the cockpit of his Lancaster bomber is razor-sharp. Perhaps it’s not surprising; the night of March 30, 1944, is remembered as one of the darkest in the Royal Air Force’s history.
In Bomber Command’s worst night of losses, 534 aircrew were killed, more than all of Fighter Command’s casualties throughout the Battle of Britain, and 96 aircraft were shot down. Other planes that made it back to safety were too heavily damaged to fly again.
“Every few minutes, another plane would fly away, and you knew you’d never see that crew again,” Rusty recounts.
“I’ll never know how we lived, but we made it through unscathed.”
He was a fresh-faced 22-year-old pilot with 101 Squadron, a special tasks squadron, based at Ludford Magna in Lincolnshire. Few expected to live long, given the 60% attrition rate.
The squadron operated four-engine Avro Lancasters, and an eighth crew member was frequently assigned to operate top-secret ABC jamming equipment that could also listen in on German night fighter communications.
“We were told in the briefing that we would be flying 265 miles from Belgium to Germany, including over a massive lake, with plenty of cloud cover,” Rusty recalls. “We’d be flying over two German radar towers, and we knew there’d be 240 German night fighters in the region, so cloud cover was essential.
“However, because there were no clouds, visibility was excellent. They didn’t need radar because we were visible in the moonlight as we flew over the lake. It was chaos. I witnessed 60 planes being shot down. We had almost 700 planes, but we were losing one per minute. It was really stressful, but we had no choice but to keep on.
“In the midst of the mayhem, a number of bombers were disoriented. “Brinkwire Summary News” stated that some were 50 miles off the beaten path.