Ross Pilot Hero of Bomber Drama

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WITH incendiary bombs alight in the bomb bay only a few feet from a 2000-lb. bomb, three men in a Halifax attacking Frankfort on Monday night fought to save the life of a wounded comrade.

The Press and Journal, Tuesday, December 28th, 1943.

"WITH incendiary bombs alight in the bomb bay only a few feet from a 2000-lb. bomb, three men in a Halifax attacking Frankfort on Monday night fought to save the life of a wounded comrade.

Although exhausted from lack of oxygen. they took it in turns to give him their own supply.  The captain of the aircraft was Plt. Officer. A. L. Mackenzie (22), Edderton, Ross-shire, commissioned only two months before. The wireless operator. Flt. Sgt. G. Marlowe Liverpool; the Flt. Engr., Sgt. W. Whittock, Whitchurch. Salop; and the mid-upper gunner. Sgt. J. King, Hexham, did all they could to save the life of the bomb-aimer. He died soon after they had crossed the enemy coast on the way home. Others of the crew were Sgt, T, Solomon. Hammersmith, London, the navigator and Sgt. K. Booth, Derby, the rear-gunner.

When the Halifax was twenty minutes from Frankfort the rear gunner saw a vivid flash which lit up the whole bomber, but he could see no enemy fighter. The Halifax was filled with fumes and smoke, and the pilot called up the crew. "All right, boys?" he asked. In a matter-of-fact voice, the rear gunner answered, "Our tail's been hit." The mid-upper gunner said, "It is tattered a bit." In fact, the port elevator had been shattered and was no more than a broken, dangling framework. The captain decided to go on to the target. "It seemed an awful pity to get so far and then turn back while we still had four engines working," he said. " We went on, but when we were on the fringe of the target area we were attacked again.

The bomb-aimer was wounded. The fumes were so strong in the mid-upper turret that the gunner asked permission to leave his post. A cannon shell had set light to three incendiaries, which were blazing only a few feet from a 2000 - pounder. The navigator flipped a parachute to the wounded bomb-aimer in case they had to bale out, and then he and others tried to release the bombs. But the bomb doors would not open fully. The wireless operator went to help the bomb aimer and found that he had flung off his helmet and was without oxygen: He put his own oxygen tube into the wounded man's mouth, and then he and the engineer and the mid-upper gunner took it in turns to share their oxygen with him. They were so short of oxygen themselves that it took them twenty minutes to get him back from the nose of the bomber to the rest position. They were the only men of the crew who could be spared from their posts. As it was. the whole defence of the aircraft had to be left to the rear gunner. He stuck to his post while flames and sparks were being continually blown back from the fire against his turret.

"When they at last succeeded in getting the bomb-aimer back," said the pilot. "the wireless operator and the mid-upper gunner took off some of their own kit and wrapped it round him They gave him first-aid and coffee from their flasks until he died. "Cold air was rushing in through holes. and the navigator was almost frozen. but he stuck to his job and did wonders. When the rear-gunner spoke to me over the intercom his voice was always perfectly calm, though flames and sparks were blowing past him. "The transmitter key of his wireless set was in pieces, but the wireless operator made it work and sent out a message to base." The captain knew it would be dangerous to land the aircraft in its damaged state and with the bombs still on. He told his crew when they had crossed the English coast that anybody who chose could bale out. "They said some uncomplimentary things to me for suggesting it," the captain said. "The navigator answered that he was frozen as it was, and didn't intend to get colder by jumping out." Over their own base, the crew went to crash positions. In spite of all the damage the pilot, with the help of the engineer, the navigator. and the mid-upper gunner, made a safe landing, though a tyre had been burst by a cannon shell. "No captain could have had a finer set of men with him," said the pilot. "Every one of them behaved exactly right." Pilot, Officer. Mackenzie is the eldest son of Mr Murdo Mackenzie, schoolmaster Edderton, Ross-shire. He was well-known and popular in the village and took a keen interest in sports. Educated at Edderton School and Tain Royal Academy. he went to Edinburgh University to study engineering."

(The twenty-two-year-old Alasdair Lesley Mackenzie was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, on the 14th of January 1944, for his bravery during this flight but he was tragically killed in action only one week later on the 21st of January 1944. He is buried in Berlin War Cemetery and listed on the Edderton War Memorial.)