About The Book

Under a Bomber’s Moon is the true story of a New Zealand navigator-bomb aimer with the Royal Air Force and a German night fighter pilot as they fight for success and survival over night time Germany during the bitterest years of the Second World War. In early 1944, after completing one tour of operations and winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exploits, the New Zealander, Colwyn Jones, was killed during a raid on Berlin.

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About The Night War Over Europe

During the Second World War the night sky over Europe was one of the most lethal places to wage war. By 1945 almost half of the airmen who flew with Bomber Command and a third of the Luftwaffe night fighter crew pitted against them had been killed. Many German cities became moonscapes of rubble, their inhabitants the first to experience the reality of ‘total war’ – itself a glimpse of the destructive potential of the nuclear age about to explode in the Far East.

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British ex- POW recalls being attacked by RAF fighters

A crew member of the first Lancaster shot down by Otto Fries died just weeks before the end of the war when his POW column was strafed by RAF Typhoons. A Christchurch man, Maurice Askew, was in that same POW column. He spoke to Stephen Harris about his experiences.

Maurice Askew’s first op was Col Jones’s last - to Berlin, on February 15-16 1944. After the war Askew described this raid as “a gigantic, roaring fireworks display.

“The noise was intense. Bombs were exploding below and fires ravaged the city as Phil [Paddock], our bomb aimer, took over to guide Wally [Jarvis, the skipper] over the target. Pathfinder planes with experienced crew aboard were now being sent in a short time before the main force to light up the centres of the target areas with flares. There was no hanging around. Phil released out bombs. “Bombs gone, let’s get to hell out of here.”

Just four nights later he took off on his second op, serving as flight engineer on 207 Squadron Lancaster EM-A ‘Able’. En route to Leipzig, A ‘Able’ was attacked near Bremen by a Messerschmitt ME110, piloted by Feldwebel Rudolf Frank, one of five bombers Frank destroyed that night.

As the rear of the Lancaster became a comet, Askew, his skipper, bomb aimer and navigator struggled out the front escape hatch before the aircraft exploded at 14,000 feet. Soon after landing by parachute, Askew was captured by Germans, then taken to a police station to identify his three dead comrades. He recalls they were remarkably intact, and still in their flying suits.

POWs attacked by RAF fighters

The RAF attack on his POW column, which the RAF fighter-bombers had mistaken for German soldiers streaming west, occurred 14 months later, as thousands of Allied prisoners were being marched from internment camps in the east. Under a Bomber’s Moon records that one of those killed was a Canadian, Samuel Ramsden, whose Lancaster Otto Fries shot down on 11 August 1943, his first kill.

In that mid-morning attack on 19 April 1945, 33 POWs died, among them at least one New Zealander, Len Hope, of Picton. Six German guards also died and 55 POWs were seriously wounded. The POWs were buried in a common grave, while the German guards were each interred singly. A local German pastor and an RAF padre officiated together at the POW service. In 1947 the bodies of the POWs were exhumed and reinterred in Commonwealth War Cemeteries.

Askew (88) today recalls few details of that traumatic episode, apart from passing ravenous prisoners cutting flesh off a horse killed in the attack. He thinks he wiped the worst sights, sounds and smells, however, from his memory.

 

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