Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Excerpt from "Parachuting into Occupied France"

Halifax bomber

            My third attempt at a parachute landing was successful. Just in time. It was the night of 22nd to 23rd of September 1943 and the last night of the moon. If I had not been able to jump then, I would have had to wait another month. Our pilots needed the moonlight to see the rivers which acted as landmarks. When they headed south of the Loire, they flew near Blois where there are three rivers, the Loir, Loire and Cher.

           The pilots flew that way frequently, so they knew the route very well, but they were just as frequently attacked by flak -- antiaircraft guns -- which tossed the plane. We were not hit that night because we were too high, but the plane was shaken by the explosions. At first I wondered what was happening but the dispatcher reassured me, "Don't worry," he said, "it's the flak; we're used to it."

           I was in a massive Halifax bomber, equipped to go as far as Poland. Usually, there were long seats running down the middle of the fuselage, opposite each other, where one could lie down. But this time the space was taken up by fuel tanks. It’s a long way to Poland and back!

           The crew had kindly found me a sleeping bag and I lay down in it, on the floor, waiting for the moment to jump. Although the noise was terrible because of the four engines, I managed to sleep. I hadn’t slept the night before, due to the previous unsuccessful landing.

            Around midnight, I began sitting for quite a long time on the edge of the opening I would have to jump through. It wasn’t very warm. The plane circled for a long time while I was waiting there, and I didn’t know why. But in a plane the size of a Halifax bomber, it isn’t easy to pinpoint four little electric torches [flashlights] on the ground. I thought that the torches were always held by hand, but this time, the reception committee had done something different. They had three small torches on the ground, with the fourth one a bit further along, staggered a little to indicate the direction of the wind. At the same time, the fourth torch gave the letter of the landing strip in Morse code. That was essential—if they had not given the right letter, I would have had to go back.

            I just waited for the red light to come on. It wasn’t like our training sessions, when the dispatcher would shout “Action station!” with me on the edge of the hole, in the middle of the fuselage, ready to jump, and then “Go!” He would shout very loudly so there was no hesitation, we just did it. This was different. There were two lights: the green one meant “get ready” and the red one “go.”

When the red light came on, well, off I went...

Excerpt from Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a WWII Special Agent.


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