Australians in Bomber Command

Australians contributed to, and suffered greatly in, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command.

Of the 55,000 aircrew who ‘failed to return’ or were ‘missing air operations’ during World War II, 3486 were Australians of Bomber Command. These men represented 20% of all Australian service personnel ‘killed in action’ in all theatres of the war.

No 460 Squadron dropped the greatest tonnage of bombs and flew the most Lancaster sorties during the war. The Roll of Honour lists the names of 589 Australians who died serving that squadron.

I have not had any mail from you since I last wrote…Things are going rather well lately and am creeping the ops in one by one. I have twelve more to do now and then I have finished for six months. We were going to have a big party tonight to celebrate Australia Day but ops are on so that is scrubbed.

[Flight Sergeant J F Worley, letters, 3DRL/7166 AWM]

Flight Sergeant John Worley was 20 years old when he wrote to his parents in Murwillumbah, New South Wales on 26 January 1944. He had already flown eighteen operations in Lancaster bombers over Germany with 460 Squadron RAF and that night he set off on his nineteenth 'op', another raid on Berlin. John was the rear gunner, an isolated position in the tail of the aircraft. Seated there, away from the rest of the crew, the tail gunner's task was to watch out for night fighters coming up from behind or beneath the Lancaster. John's aircraft failed to return after the raid that night and the aircraft was later discovered to have crashed with no survivors.

The worst moment for the crews of the heavy bombers of RAF Bomber Command – the Halifaxes, Lancasters, Stirlings and Wellingtons, was the bomb run over a blazing German city. Inside a heavy bomber, the crew members would have to cope with the long and tense outward trip to the target, the release of the bombs and the fear of being hit by flak or by shells from a night fighter.

If they were lucky enough to land safely, the crew would return to the operations room to be debriefed. There, or at breakfast, they would discover how many of their friends in the other aircrews had returned.

Flight Lieutenant Don Charlwood RAAF, who flew with 103 Squadron RAF Bomber Command, wrote of how it felt after an 'op':

It's all over now; we straggle through the ops room to go to breakfast. Further crews have come in – crews late because they had been lost, or been shot up by flak or fighters, or lost engines. Some faces have not yet appeared – probably will never appear.

Geoffrey Swindells of Bomber Command wrote several poems reflecting on his wartime experiences, including:

Bomber Command — (High above Germany)

FEW SURVIVED.  The ones who died went to the
Well once too often — caught in the
Roulette wheel of flack, fighters,
mid-air collisions, engine failure. Sometimes it was their
first raid, sometimes their last. Well I remember !

Then the next raid, another night,
Searchlights flicked across the belly of the aircraft,
Blue, radar-controlled — a Master Beam.
Instantly lights from all around the target found our aircraft —
Perspex that glittered in the apex of the beams.

Flack poured up the cone —
88mm canon fire, accurate, bracketing the plane.
Their gunners had plenty of practise.
The acrid smell of explosives – “Jesus Christ!
I must have been crazy to volunteer for this!
Down went the nose, speed, more
Speed. Pilot and engineer both at the controls.

We dived 8,000 feet. We lost the lights.
Night vision Slowly returned. We had to get height.
We laboured upwards. Then into target again and there were so
Many bombers. Flack! Searchlights! Flares!
Falling bombs! “Bomb the green TI’s!” called the Master Bomber.
“Stand by!” “The TI’s are knocked out. Orbit! Orbit!
Then standby, don’t bomb. We hated this, going round again.
Hundreds of aircraft circling the city,
batteries of guns throwing up shells.

Fighters looking for our silhouettes against the glare
And the sky was burning. “Left! Left!” called the Bomb
Aimer — “Steady!” Then – “Bombs gone.” Then —
“steady” again for the photo flash! Steady! Steady!” —
Four thousand pounders, bundles of incendiaries. Cities
On fire — homes — shops — gardens — men — women —
Thousands! Were they like us? Did Hamburg, Munich, Berlin,
Brunswick equal Coventry, Bristol, London?
We turned west. Leaving the rage
of fire behind us. Our home Base lay that way.
We settled down to fly over the North Sea.

We made Base at dawn, interrogation by Intelligence Officers. 
“Did you bomb the TI’s ?
Was the target heavily defended? Cloud cover?
How many combats? How much opposition?
Were the forecasts accurate?
The words falling away like a stick of incendiaries.
Finally breakfast and bed.
Probably the next night we will do it all again.
(TI’s stands for ‘target indicators’ dropped on the aiming point for the main force.)


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Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Australians in Bomber Command, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 19 April 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/events/air-war-europe-1939-1945/australians-bomber-command
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