The Biggs' Boys

By Ken Stofer

Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved

The Air Gunner

   Two Fitters were heard discussing a certain Sergeant Air Gunner. One of them said to the other, "He is only a jumped up N.C.O. anyway." What had prompted their remark? True enough, the airman in question had attained the rank of Sergeant long before he would have under normal service conditions, but on the other hand as a gunner, this N.C.O. was definitely first class. Through his good work an aircraft had been saved, and two badly injured members of its crew given immediate and effective first aid on the spot.

    What did it take to make the kind of Air Gunner squadrons were clamouring for? First and foremost, he had to be of reasonable intelligence because his responsibilities were considerable.

    The training of an Air Gunner was long and tedious, and at times positively "binding," but he had to take this in good part. It wasn't possible to make an Air Gunner one day and have him shoot down Jerries the next. During the long time that he was in training it was up to him to "pull out the old finger" and really get down to hard work. He could never know too much and every spare moment was spent in obtaining "gen" on the subjects that might mean life or death to him later on. Secondly, he had to have first rate information on the guns he was using and be able to strip and re-assemble them in complete darkness. He watched over them as a mother watches over her children, understanding and caring for them, and at all times maintaining them in absolute perfect condition.

    Thirdly, he had to be able to judge the type, the range, and the speed of an aircraft contemplating an attack upon him, and maximum efficiency in this line was only attained by hard and constant practice during his O.T.U. stage and all spare moments on his squadron.

    During the daring raids in day time the job of the Air Gunner became even more arduous than previously imagined. His responsibilities increased considerably as the chances of interception by large fighter forces became more probable. Not only did he have to possess a complete understanding and knowledge of the art of air gunnery, but he had to possess courage and resoluteness in the face of ever increasing difficulties.

    Try to imagine what it was like to sit in a cramped turret for eight hours with temperatures well below zero, flying through complete darkness with nothing but the unfriendly sea, or hostile territory beneath you. A feeling of complete and utter solitude surrounds you and it is only the roar of your engines that bring back to you the reminder that you are engaged on a mission of utmost importance to the war effort. Suddenly the heavens appear to be lit up as numerous searchlights hover around you, their glare flashing across you all the time.

    It seems to you that they must hold you and immediately you are on the alert for the fighters you know cooperate with these searchlights. Meanwhile, your pilot is taking evasive action but still heading towards the distant target. Sometimes the stillness of the night is disturbed without warning by the dull crump and the orange flash of heavy flack which rocks the aircraft and makes the whole crew feel anything but comfortable. You know immediately that you are in a barrage and that your next few moments may be your last, as your pilot takes violent evasive action. You can see the tracers shoot up from the ground, going past you at high speed bursting above you. You smell the cordite as you fly through the black puffs of ack-ack fire. Occasionally you will be intercepted by a night fighter and months and months of training will hold you in good stead for these next few seconds which will be the most important in your life.

    The gunner's job was not all glamour, but required a fully trained man upon whom the responsibility of defending an aircraft and the lives of his crew was placed. His job was of great importance, and he was the last one who really got any kick out of an operational trip. The pilot flies the aircraft, the observer navigates, but the poor old gunner just sits, thinks, and watches, through hours of boredom and may have only a few seconds to shine and show that he is worthy of the badge he wears and the rank he holds.

Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved

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