Over a million Allied airmen flew missions over occupied Europe during WWII. Many of their planes were shot down, but the parachute played a pivotal role in saving the lives of tens of thousands of these troops. Fascinating stories of miraculous parachute drops abound. Today's post covers a few experiences of Royal Air Force (RAF) flyers. If you missed the previous stories, you can find them here and here.
|Blenheim Aircraft Used by the R.A.F. Courtesy of Canadian Forces via Wikipedia. Public Domain.|
In July 1940, Sergeant Roger Peacock's Blenheim was seriously damaged by flak when returning to Britain after a bombing run near Wilhemshaven, Germany. Peacock was the mid-upper gunner on the flight. (See the gunner turret midway back on the aircraft pictured above.)
After both engines stopped on the Blenheim, the pilot gave the order to bale out at 6,500 feet, and he and the observer jumped. Unfortunately, Peacock didn't hear the order. The aircraft went into a slow spiral dive at about 4,000 feet, and Peacock didn't know if the pilot would recover in time.
Twice Peacock called over the intercom, asking if he should bale out, but no one responded. He figured the guys up front were too busy to reply. After waiting until the plane had descended to 1000 feet above the ground, he asked again if he should bale out. No reply. So he removed his parachute and moved forward to the cockpit. Finding he was the only person left on the aircraft, Peacock returned for his parachute, clipped it on and looked out the escape hatch. The altimeter registered he was at 450 feet.
Peacock jumped. Even though it was dark, he detected the black carpet of the ground below him. His parachute began to stream; however, he knew he'd jumped too late. Then a miracle unfolded. "The Blenheim crashed under him and exploded. A blinding orange flash lit up the ground for hundreds of yards." This caused "a great upsurge of hot air. A few feet from the ground the blast snapped his canopy fully open and blew him upwards and sideways away from the blazing aircraft. When he landed safely a few moments later he was some distance from the wreckage, in another field."
Because Peacock stayed with his aircraft for so long, he overtook the pilot and observer who had baled out much earlier, and he reached the ground before them. The pilot came down close to Peacock five minutes later, and the observer landed in a ditch several miles away.
|R.A.F. Vickers Wellington|
On a training flight in a R.A.F. Wellington, Sergeant F. W. R. Cumpsty baled out right before his aircraft crashed in the Welsh mountains. He was only fifty feet above a mountain top. A gale-force wind carried him away from the top and into a valley, allowing time for Cumpsty's chute to open. "He landed safely 200 feet below the peak."
Return on June 1st to read more stories of miraculous parachute escapes during WWII.
Mackersey, Ian. Into the Silk: The Dramatic True Stories of Airmen Who Baled Out - and Lived. Sapere Books.