In the lead-in to a bloody phase of the Second World War, RAF crews grimly set about destroying Germany's ability to make war. They had new four-engine machines to carry large loads, radio aids to locate a city, and trained Pathfinders to drop colored flare markers for following mainforce crews to aim their loads on. Bomber Command was preparing to reach farther into Germany's heartland.
23 May 1943, the target would be Dortmund- part of the 'Battle of the Ruhr'. The Hoesch steelworks were the putative target, although anything nearby would be considered adequate. German nightfighters were a problem:
'At that period all the German night fighters were operated in boxes and were directed against individual bombers. This was the reason for the bomber streaming--with so many aircraft flying through a box it was difficult for the ground control to pick out individual aircraft. Hence it was the stragglers and those outside the stream, port or starboard, higher or lower, who could be guaranteed to get most attention.
As the bombers approached the Ruhr the game changed, and masses of searchlights and guns took over. It was estimated at that time that the Ruhr was protected by several thousand AA guns and to meet them on your own was never a pleasant prospect....
For Pathfinders and aircraft in the van of the attack those early minutes of the raid were the most dangerous; the guns and searchlights had the opportunity to pick up individual bombers and send up very accurate predicted fire, and always made the most of their chances. Anyone flying straight and level for more than a few seconds on their own could be certain of some near misses, if not direct hits...' (p. 81; Tom Wingham)
Just after bomb release, the Halifax crew heard a bang, three engines stopped and the plane fell to the right, out of the stream. They got them restarted, limped away from the target and avoided flak concentrations. At base, the ground crew discovered that the flak triggered fire extinguishers on the three engines, which stopped running. However, they were not harmed and once cleared, would run normally. The plane would not fly back to base without. Yet a squadron Engineering Officer gave them dressing down for starting them contrary to a rule book!
Out of 826 planes, losses would later be tallied at 4.8%. There are 22 similarly dramatic stories of survival.
Handley Page Halifax: From Hell to Victory and Beyond, Halifax Squadrons of World War 2 (Osprey Combat Aircraft 14).