Memorial Day

May 26, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

This is a picture of my Dad who flew as Flight Engineer in Europe in World War II on B17s as part of the mighty Eighth Air Force. He arrived in Europe in early 1945 near the end of the war and flew as part of a humanitarian effort called Operation Chowhound in the spring of 1945.

During the war the Germans had cut off food and supplies to large parts of the Netherlands and food supplies grew very scarce. By the time the blockade was lifted in November 1944, the canals had frozen the movement of food was nearly impossible. Thousands of Dutch - including purportedly Audrey Hepburn - suffered through the Hunger Winter.

In April and May of 1945 the American and English Air Forces flew missions to drop supplies in territory still controlled by the Germans. A deal had been secured with the German officer governing the Netherlands assuring the English and Americans that the Germans would not fire on the planes as they dropped rations. Of course nobody knew whether this was really going to be the case until the first flights of what the Royal Air Force referred to as Operation Manna and which the Americans called Operation Chowhound.

The bombers, B-17 Flying Fortresses and British Lancasters were used to dropping bombs from 20,000 feet or so. To drop the food supplies - which did not include parachutes - they would try dropping from as low as 400 feet. My Dad remembers how the B-17's were retrofit:

Plywood sheets were fitted to make a floor for the bomb bay. The floor was hinged on the outside and held with a cable to a bomb rack in the center. The bomb bay was loaded with British rations in small boxes and at the proper moment, the Armor Gunner would press the bomb release and the floor would fall out from under the food. The Flight Engineer and the Radio 0perator would stand in the cat walk to make certain the boxes did not jam.

The first plane that flew the mission was nicknamed Bad Penny for good luck and actually took off before the truce has been formally agreed to. The German indeed held their fire and between Operations Manna and Chowhound over 5,000 sorties were flown dropping rations to starving Dutch citizen. My Dad remembers how the Dutch expressed their thanks:

We dropped food in a huge stadium full of people who had card signs much like the UCIA students have at a football game but this one read 'Thanks Yanks'. 

Here is a photo from Wikipedia showing Many Thanks spelled out in tulips.

Several years ago my Dad related this story to us. He also explained how years later after the war, he met a young KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) flight engineer who, after hearing that Dad had participated in these food drops, related that he and his family had been reduced to eating tulips when the planes came.

Thanks to all our veterans on this Memorial Day and thanks to these bits of humanity that emerged in the midst of such suffering.

 


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