Into the Heart of the Storm
It was a dark and stormy night when it happened. The rain was beating down heavily on the roof of the camouflaged tents we had resurrected earlier that day in the base where we were staying. We had positioned the tents a short distance from our bomber planes just in case we were called out that night and as the wailing siren began to sound we realised that our prediction had been correct. We had hoped that the enemy wouldn't attack in such appalling weather conditions but it was too late to think about that. We clambered from our tents and ran to our planes, spinning the propeller and hauling ourselves into the cockpit of our planes. My co-pilot, Arthur Dorey, had reached the plane before me and had already switched on the controls and the radio was crackling wildly as the position of the enemy was radioed to us. We smiled grimly at each other as the plane began to roll forwards as the wheel clamps were removed and we began to speed down the runway. The wheels left the ground and we were thrown directly into the heart of the storm.
The thunder was rolling madly across the sky that surrounded us and a flash of lightning illuminated our squadron around us. Another crash of thunder rolled through the sky as we were sent forwards towards the enemy. By the time the next flash of lightning illuminated our surroundings we were not far from the vast open ocean where we would meet our enemy and the ships that were caught at sea were illuminated through the blanket of darkness and rain.
On a normal day the drone of the engine and the sound of the radio transmission hissing and crackling in the background would drown out the sound of any rain or storms outside but not today. Today the thunder claps were so loud that the engine could barely be heard and we barely noticed the silence coming from the radio. We had lost contact with the base. The rain was beating down so heavily on the front screen of the plane that the view was almost entirely obscured and the wind blowing against the plane was almost enough to knock us off course.
Another flash of lightning illuminated our squadron a fair way in front of us and we realised that we were dropping behind. I glanced at Arthur to see what he was doing but I couldn't see his face. He was preoccupied with something out of the side window. Another crash of thunder brought his eyes back to the front screen but the view was entirely blocked by the rain. A few seconds later we were able to see once more but had drifted off course. Our squadron was now quite far ahead and we knew we were alone.
The lightning flashed wildly and we realised in a split second that we had found the enemy. Three planes were headed straight for our own. Three against one in a storm that was partially blocking our view meant trouble. Big trouble. I glanced briefly at Arthur to see a look of grave concern on his face but my eyes snapped back to the front screen when our plane was hit by bullets from one of the planes ahead of us. We had no choice but to open fire on them, despite chances of survival being slim. We dived under one of their planes just in time to avoid a massive collision only to be met by more of them. Arthur dropped a bomb on the planes below us, hoping that the distraction may be enough to get away. It didn't work but one of their planes was sent spiralling into the ocean by one of our shots as we swerved violently to avoid colliding with another plane. I noticed the grim smile on Arthur's face as we brought our plane back up above some of theirs.
Another plane came down beside us and also spiralled into the ocean, yet we hadn't fired at it. I glanced out of the window to my right and I saw another plane from our squadron. They had come back for us. Relief filled my chest as I realised that we were no longer alone. I looked at Arthur and he looked at me and we both smiled before flying back up into formation. The rain was still falling but not nearly as much as it had been before and the storm had passed over us. The drone of our planes was audible once more but the radio still remained silent. We assumed that the base hadn't managed to relocate us amidst the storm but the enemy had left now. They had either been removed from action or had flown from the fight to save their lives.
We turned our planes around and returned to the base where we had taken off from not so long ago. As we flew over the base and landed in formation on the runway the engineers were cheering. We jumped down from the cockpit as soon as the wheel clamps were firmly in place once more and we were greatly congratulated.
"You made it back!" my flight engineer exclaimed, looking highly surprised about our presence back at the base. He then went on to explain that the location of all the planes had been lost and the radios couldn't be reconnected because of the storm. As they had been unable to connect to us again they had assumed that we had been among the many planes that had been lost that night on the sea and we had been presumed dead.
Now that I look back on what happened that night I know that we were extremely lucky to have survived, especially when there was the enemy planes surrounding our own, but we lived on to see many more flights like that. I soon learnt that this was just a typical night in the life of a Royal Air Force pilot during the Second World War.