About The Book

Under a Bomber’s Moon is the true story of a New Zealand navigator-bomb aimer with the Royal Air Force and a German night fighter pilot as they fight for success and survival over night time Germany during the bitterest years of the Second World War. In early 1944, after completing one tour of operations and winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exploits, the New Zealander, Colwyn Jones, was killed during a raid on Berlin.

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About The Night War Over Europe

During the Second World War the night sky over Europe was one of the most lethal places to wage war. By 1945 almost half of the airmen who flew with Bomber Command and a third of the Luftwaffe night fighter crew pitted against them had been killed. Many German cities became moonscapes of rubble, their inhabitants the first to experience the reality of ‘total war’ – itself a glimpse of the destructive potential of the nuclear age about to explode in the Far East.

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11 - Coping With Loss EXTRA MATERIAL


This section provides insights into both the personal impact and the staggering scale of Bomber Command losses.

Col Jones' letter to VC hero's mother

Surviving the elusive 30 ops - and all who didn't make it

Photo shows 149 Squadron veteran, the late Fred Coney, standing next to the grave of Rawdon Hume 'Ron' Middleton VC at Beck Row Cemetery, next to Mildenhall Airbase, Suffolk, in 2007.

Col Jones’ Tribute to VC Hero Middleton When an Australian friend and 149 Squadron comrade, ‘Ron’ Middleton, was killed on 28 November 1942 after an heroic feat of airmanship that won him a posthumous Victoria Cross, Col Jones wrote to Middleton’s mother on behalf of other friends on the squadron. Jones’ reference to this letter is on page 137 of Under a Bomber’s Moon. 

I tried to trace the original of this letter through the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, but with no success. Then I bought a second-hand copy of an anthology of “incredible stories of the World War II airmen in their own words” – Voices in the Air, edited by Laddie Lucas. Luck can sometimes better careful research, as when I chanced upon a CD with a BBC recording in which Jones’ skipper recounts the ditching episode in chapter 2 of my book. 

And so it proved again. Lucas’ anthology contains an excerpt from the letter, after recapping Middleton’s self-sacrificing act of shepherding his mauled Stirling back from Turin to England to enable his crew to bale out, despite having lost an eye and sustaining serious wounds to his body from flak. Middleton then flew out to sea to avoid the risk of crashing into housing. The excerpt of Jones’ letter to Middleton’s mother reads as follows: 

“Greatly as his country has honoured your son, he deserved no less. He could not possibly have done more. We, who knew him, also honour him, and we would like to tell you why.

“He was so quiet and unostentatious. He was so quiet, in fact, that he was not easy to get to know. His crew did the talking when they were interrogated after an op. He spoke only to give his judgement when that was needed or asked. Yet underneath that quiet was a strength of character and a gentleness that only the strong possess. How strong he was we suppose you always knew. We only suspected it, or, at best, half knew until – well, until he won the Victoria Cross.

“He would hardly be noticed in a crowded room….Yet there was always a constant turning to him for confirmation of a point. “Didn’t we, Ron?” or “Wasn’t it, Ron?”…was so often heard. He was so popular, though he never sought popularity. His crew thought highly of him as a captain, a pilot – and a man. We who fly know what the high estimation of a captain means. “Victoria Crosses are only rarely awarded. You know why. They only go to the bravest among the brave. His exploit caused a tremendous wave of emotion through out the country. We knew he would not have wished it, but such things could not have been in his power to prevent…

“We, in the RAF, are accustomed to hearing of bravery, so much so that our appreciation of it tends to be blunted. But this was just outstanding, “unsurpassed in the annals of the RAF”, the official citation itself said. So it was…

“We have some appreciation of his fortitude in bringing that machine back, wounded though he was, but other men have done that. What made his courage “unsurpassed” was that when he flew his machine out to sea he knew exactly what would happen….Of him it soberly might be written, “For greater love hath no man than this….”

“We do not offer sympathy. But at the risk of intrusion we would like to say that we humbly share your pride. He was not wasted. With the inspiration of such an act behind him, what other man, whether in the fighting services or not, would dare to do less than his best? The British Commonwealth is safe while it sends out men like Ron Middleton.”

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Bomber Command aircrew were required to complete a tour of 30 operations against the enemy before being 'screened' - assigned to ground or other non-operational duties - for around six months. Most were then required to begin a second tour of 20 operations. Col Jones completed his first tour in 1942. The mathematical probablility of surviving the first tour was worse than even once the average loss rate on operations exceeded 2.3%. Until late 1944 the loss rate was well above this percentage. The result is captured well in this excerpt, referring to January 1943, from a book written after the war by an Australian who was one of the few from his muster to survive.

 "Our fourth month on the squadron passed, but no one reached the elusive thirty operations. Very few indeed reached ten. Each time we sighted the fantastic picture of the Ruhr we felt convinced afresh that to come through it alive was impossible. In the moments before the bombing I stood, as hundreds of others stood, my heart booming above the roar of the engines, my chewing gum dry and tasteless in my mouth; my stomach contracted to a stone. I was conscious then of waiting for sudden oblivion. We were men before a firing squad of erratic marksmen. Kill us tonight or tomorrow night; kill us by next month they could scarcely fail to do....We became accustomed to seeing planes disintegrate beside us and to learn on our return that in them were probably men we had known and admired; we even became accustomed to the idea that to reach thirty ops was no longer possible, that home was a place for which we could afford no longings."

From D.E.Charlwood, No Moon Tonight, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1956.

 Behind the numbers: Of the 125,000 aircrew who served with Bomber Command during the war, more than two in every five (44%) were killed and almost two-thirds (59%) became casualties, as the following explains:

Killed in Action, or died when prisoners of War47,268 
Killed in flying or ground accidents  8,195 
Killed in ground battle action       37 
          Total fatal casualties to aircrew in Bomber Command 55,500
Prisoners of war, including many wounded   9,838
Wounded in aircraft which returned from operations  4,200 
Wounded in flying or ground accidents in the UK 4,203 
          Total wounded other than prisoners of war   8,403
   
          Total aircrew casualties in Bomber Command 73,741

Source: Michael Varley, Aspects of the Combined British and American Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany 1939-45, Including an Asessment of RAF Bomber Command and 8th and 9th US Army Air Forces' Casualties and Losses in World War Two, an independent paper, 2005, revised 2007. Varley's analysis draws on many other reputable sources, including The National Archives, London.

Who served?

The Canadian National Defence Air Force Heritage and History section in Winnipeg provided these statistics about the numbers who participated in the British Commonweath Air Training Plan in Canada.

A total of 49,694 RCAF air crew and 45,569 RCAF groundcrew served overseas, with the majority of aircrew serving on bomber squadrons.  Total air and ground crew serving in RCAF 249662. Peak strength: 215,200. The RCAF had 47 squadrons overseas at the end of the war. Of the Bomber Command aircrew, some 10,000 were killed.

 

RCAF Total 72, 835:

Pilots 25,747; Navigators 12,855; Air Bomber 6659; Wireless Operator/Air Gunner (WOAG) 12,744; Air Gunner 12,917; Flight Engineer 1913.

RAF Total 42,110

Pilots 17,796; Navigators 13,882; Air Bomber 7581; WOAG 755; Air Gunner 1392; Naval air gunner 704.

RAAF Total 9606

Pilots 4045; Navigators 1643; Air Bomber 799; WOAG 2875; Air Gunner 244. Of this total, some 4000 were killed.

RNZAF Total 7002

Pilots 2220; Navigators 1583; Air Bomber 634; WOAG 2122; Air Gunner 443. Of around 6000 who flew with Bomber Command, some 1850 were killed.

Note:The majority but not all of the above flew with Bomber Command, in which a total of 125,000 served as aircrew during the war.

Copyright: underabombersmoon.com

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