Sunday, May 09, 2010

To save and succor

Dutch civilians wave and eagerly wait as food supplies are dropped from a low-flying Lancaster of RAF Bomber Command.

Sixty-five years ago on 8 May 1945 the guns fell silent in Europe for the first time since 1 September 1939. The shattered remnants of Nazi Germany had surrendered unconditionally to the Allied powers of Great Britain, United States, the USSR, and allies. Tens of millions had died or were murdered between those two dates and whole countries devastated.

Even as the Soviet forces enveloped Berlin and took it as part of their Great Patriotic War, in the West British Commonwealth, American, and French forces also pushed eastward to liberate and pacify. Even as bullets were still being fired in anger, something extraordinary was happening in what was still German occupied Holland.

The winter of 1944/45 was brutal in this last year of a brutal war. The part of Holland still German occupied was cut off from any major sources of food as a reprisal for Operation Market Garden. The Dutch were reduced to eating their cats and even grass to survive. This was called the ‘hungerwinter.’ The plight was transmitted to England and soon a plan was hatched to help. An informal truce between the Germans and the Allies was hammered out to allow food to be air dropped in certain zones. The RAF called it Operation Manna while the USAAF called it Operation Chowhound. But however it was called, between 29 April and the surrender of Germany on 8 May, the Allies dropped more than 10,000 tons of food to the starving Dutch during a total of 5300 flights.

"Bombers of the Royal Air Force have just taken off from their bases in England to drop food supplies to the Dutch population in enemy-occupied territory” announced the BBC on 29 April, 1945.

The flights by Lancasters and Flying Fortresses were carried out at extremely low altitude because they had no parachutes for their precious food cargo. So the planes were loaded up and the bombays closed. Once over target, the doors were opened and out fell all the parcels. One RAF pilot recalls waving up at people standing on a windmill balcony as he dropped his life-saving supplies. For these bomber crews, Manna/Chowhound ranks as their proudest moment. Even as the war raged on, they were actually saving lives in the very bombers that daily carried death to the heart of the evil Nazi war machine. This also presaged an event just three years in the future when RAF and USAF air crews risked their lives to save the people of Berlin from a similar fate with an even more massive airlift.

Sources/further reading:
Operation Manna-Chowhound.
Lancaster Musuem.
460 Sqn in Operation Manna.
Reunion of RAF aircrews and Dutch civilians in 2010.

On a personal note, I must thank the RAF and USAAF for these missions of mercy for without them I might not count as a very dear friend who's mother endured WWII in Holland as a child. Just another reason why those who served in WWII are the Greatest Generation.


Brigid said...

My Dad was in England during it all. Area police officer at an air base. He doesn't talk about it much. I wish he'd put those stories to paper. Glad some people still do.

Mike's America said...

I've been watching the World at War series on the Military Channel.

It's good to keep acquainted with history so we don't have to relive it.

Anna said...

Brigid real heroes don't boast. Look at the MoH winners, they all say they were merely doing their duty and those who really deserve are not here. Your Dad is a hero of that generation. My grandfather never talked of his WWII service, it was not until the German E-boat attack as they practised Overlord was declassified did we find out he was on one of those transports and he lost friends. The Depression harden them to reality. How I miss that generation.

Mike, we maybe acwauinted with history. But too many others really think history is subjective. I see Greece going under and dragging the EU with it into chaos. Then it will be a dog breakfast I fear as they squabble over the remains. Its hard not to ponder parallels to Weimar.