[part 1 of 2]
TARGET for TONIGHT
Adapted by PAUL HOLT of the Daily Express
The Book of the famous film TARGET for TO-NIGHT
The Record in Text and Pictures of A BOMBING RAID ON GERMANY
Adapted from the scenario of HARRY WATT (Director of the film) by PAUL HOLT of the Daily Express
HUTCHINSON & CO. (Publishers) LTD. LONDON & MELBOURNE
“Target for To-night” was produced by the Crown Film Unit for the Air Ministry with the full co-operation of the Royal Air Force.
TARGET FOR TO-NIGHT
The screen clears to a cloudy sky. A reconnaissance aircraft crosses, disappears, and where it was there is a tiny parachute swinging, like a handkerchief and stone slung in the air by a boy. The parachute settles, and an aircraftman, gathering it, carries the package attached to an underground door, a dug-out set in a wood marked “Photographic Section—Bomber Command —SECRET.”
From the vast sky to a shallow pan of rippling liquid. The print is washed and rapidly there comes on it a clear picture.
“Not too bad,” says the aircraftman stolidly. “Quite a decent negative.” He looks for sharpness. But when the print is under the magnifying glass of a dark, keen young Squadron Leader it yields something more.
This self-contained young man concedes this remark: “By Jove! I really think we’ve got something here. It’s a colossal installation. They have done a tremendous lot of work. Get me the Freihausen file, please.”
[photo captioned: “DROPPING THE PHOTOGRAPHS”]
Now watch this young man as he studies the file for comparison. Follow his finger. Those tiny parallel lines he points out, that minute mushroom under the fuzz of the wood—if he had not seen them there would have been no story. From that mushroom there springs great drama.
He goes on “You remember we saw it about three months ago—just an ordinary little siding in a wood, nothing much to it, no activity of any kind. Now look at it—greatly increased sidings, pipe installations running down from the wood to these barges in the river—it’s ve-e-ry big!”
Bomber Command Operations Room. There are no actors here. That man sitting at the desk is the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Richard Peirse.
[photos captioned: “RETRIEVING PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE TARGET”; “ON THE WAY TO HEADQUARTERS”]
TWO FULL ROWS OF RIBBONS
Over Sir Richard’s shoulder leans his S.A.S.O, (Senior Air Staff Officer). Sir Richard’s desk is in the middle of a great underground hall. Man-size maps on walls, smaller maps on movable easels with ribbons that trail fiercely from pinpoints to photographs and dossiers at the side. On a table more maps, scale rulers, calipers.
On Sir Richard’s desk there are four telephones, a lamp, a calendar, a wire basket, a “house” telephone system, his spectacles, and a small magnifying glass. Ten feet away stand his naval and military liaison officers; on a dais at a plain desk with two telephones sits his controller. Two W.A.A.F.s hover.
THE DAY’S WORK BEGINS
Against one wall are two ceiling-high ladders, and on the wall facing him a ruled blackboard, 20 feet by 40 feet, divided into squares, each representing a Bomber Group. Under the number of each Group is the number of squadrons in the Group, and against this the type of bomber craft—Stirlings, Wellingtons, Hampdens, and so on.
Sir Richard sits facing his Order of Battle. In the great echoing underground hall the day’s work is beginning.
[photo captioned: “PHOTOGRAPHIC BRANCH AT BOMBER COMMAND HEADQUARTERS INTERPRETS THE LATEST BATCH OF PHOTOGRAPHS RECEIVED FROM A RETURNED PLANE”]
Sir Richard turns to the Controller: “Warn all Groups to carry out Operation K to-night.”
Controller, into the telephone: “Bomber Command to all Groups, . . . Maximum effort to-night. Town 434. Germany. Target—naval docks and barracks.”
The S.A.S.O. leans over Sir Richard’s shoulder: “What d’you think of these Freihausen photographs, sir?”
Sir Richard: “I think they’re excellent.”
He walks across to a wall map, trailing the long flex of a telephone behind him, inspects the target indicated, and speaks into the telephone to the Air Officer Commanding No. 33 Group: “Maitland? I’ve been looking at those Freihausen photographs. I want you to divert one squadron to-night on that target—an experienced squadron that will go in low. That’s it . . .”
Target for To-night has been chosen.
Millerton Airfield, half an hour later. The news of the Target for To-night drifts through. An intelligence officer looks up in bland surprise: “Freihausen? What’s it got that Hamm hasn’t?”
[photo captioned: “THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF, SIR RICHARD PEIRSE, K.C.B., D.S.O., A.F.C., AND THIS SENIOR AIR STAFF OFFICER DISCUSS THE PLANS OF THE RAID; CONSULT THE MAP”]
A gangly youth cycles across the field to where a great gaunt Wellington bomber spreads its black wings against the sun. This is “F for Freddie.” He shouts up to the crew swarming over her: “Operations to-night, fellers!”
A chorus of derisive “How d’you know?”
The boy answers: “Oh, I get around. I get all the gen.”*
A Voice: “What’s the odds to-day, Curly?”
The boy, fishing a scruffy piece of paper out of his cap: “Hanover, Wilhelmshaven, the Channel ports—two to one. Gelsenkirchen seven to one. Hamburg and Cologne eight to one. Any others, tens.”
A voice: “I’ll have a tanner on the Channel ports, Curly.”
Behind a door marked “Crew Room, Flying Crews only,” there is a wash of voices. Pilots lounge against the fireplace, against tables. The talk subsides and men in mid-sentence switch their eyes to a blackboard where a messenger is chalking “OPS TO-NIGHT.” The badinage that breaks out shows relief, indicates a rising excitement. These boys are gentle killers.
WAITING IS NOT DRAMATIC
Now there comes the difficult time. It can only be hinted at in the film, for waiting is a duty and must not be made dramatic. The pilots and the airgunners, the observers and the radio operators who played their parts in
* R.A.F. slang for the real news, the genuine stuff.
[photo captioned: “OPERATIONS ROOM AT BOMBER COMMAND HEADQUARTERS WHERE THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF PLANS THE TARGETS FOR THE NIGHT”]
[photos captioned: “THE BRIEFING—THE CREWS OF THE AIRCRAFT ARE GIVEN THE DETAILS OF THE NIGHT’S OPERATIONS”; “THE BOMBER CREWS GET THEIR FINAL INSTRUCTIONS AT THE BRIEFING”]
this film would not have allowed the director to have shown any nailbiting in the Hollywood fashion. Still, he succeeds in suggesting a certain rise in temperature.
They talk a little louder. They make bad jokes. Says a Canadian sergeant observer: “Who was it said he wasn’t sure if he was over Hanover or Hampton Court?”
The young Scot at the receiving end of this savage quip answers solemnly: “Och! That was a joke, mon.”
The “Briefing,” the instruction for the raid, is timed for 2.30 in the afternoon and take-off time is not until 7.30. Five hours to wait. Five hours for six men to be normal in. Five hours in which to conceal the mounting excitement. Do you remember the day of that race at school, how you ate as though the food were flannel and talked in the back of your throat? This is it—ten times larger.
It is the time now to meet the crew of “F for Freddie,” that great bomber waiting on the tarmac. We’ll meet them in the briefing room, where the air crews sit quiet on their forms and listen to what the intelligence man, the weather man, the bombing man, the wing commander have to tell them.
THE CLASS IS WITH HIM
The wing commander is a handsome young man, square jaw, curly hair, a mouth that tries to conceal its owner’s sense of humour. He leans his
[photo captioned: “THE CREWS GET A LAST WORD OF ADVICE AND GOOD LUCK FROM THE STATION COMMANDER”]
chin on a map pointer as he talks in a drawl, like a schoolmaster who knows his class is with him.
Wing Commander: “The crew of ‘F for Freddie’ . . .? Oh, Dickson—you’re captain, aren’t you . . .?
(Dickson is plump and blasé. He smokes a pipe, and his expression never changes. He looks 35, though he hasn’t yet blown 28 candles on the cake.)
“. . . You’ll take Lee as radio operator instead of Catford. Bad luck, Catford . . .
(Lee is a dark young man with soft eyes and a sensitive manner.)
“. . . So your crew will be Dickson, Willett, MacPherson, Lee, Jones and Harrison.”
(Willett is a second pilot, chubby, dark, inclined to be a wag. MacPherson has a curly tuft and a strong nose. He has the magnificent Scottish ability to take all remarks seriously and treat them on their merits. His sense of humour is a thing apart. Harrison looks a good fellow.)
THIS IS THE ONE LEFT OUT
You hardly notice Catford. He’s the one left out. But the wing commander’s words arc like a flash bulb in a tunnel. Bad luck, Catford. The attitude is so perfectly the stance Englishmen take when they play a game with death.
[photo captioned: “THE CAPTAIN OF ‘F FOR FREDDIE’ (SMOKING) IN THE CREW ROOM WATCHING THE BOARD ON WHICH THE PLANES FOR THE NIGHT’S OPERATIONS ARE LISTED”]
Bad luck, Catford. There was an air picture taken, a parachute dropped, a negative developed, a file consulted. The Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command approved, the Air Officer Commanding No. 33 Group chose Millerton Station, the Wing Commander chose the crew of “F for Freddie.” But you stay at home. Six men are chosen. It’s next time for you.
FREIHAUSEN, HERE WE COME
The Wing Commander gives his instructions to the crews: “You can see from your target maps that your objective looks like an unimportant local siding. In fact, as you will be shown from photographs, it is the site of large oil dumps. These are very well camouflaged and will be difficult to locate . . . Your job to-night, lads, is to find it and destroy it.”
Squadron Leader Wilson, the senior intelligence officer, now has the lights out and describes the target in detail as it is flashed on a screen: “There are considerable indications of oil storage in the wood here and there, but the main feature is the large accumulation of oil wagons on the sidings and barges on the river. The river, as you will see from your target maps, runs away to the north after it gets off the photograph. The canal runs east to west. I suggest you make your bombing run parallel to the canal from east to west. It should bring you right up to the target.”
A Pilot Officer: “Would it be O.K. to go in low, sir?”
Wing Commander: “This is a very difficult target to spot. Phillips and Anderson, you will go off a quarter of an hour ahead with incendiaries. Your job is to find the target and set the wood on fire. Take your time and the others will follow you.”
Phillips and Anderson nod.
Wing Commander (to the rest): “But all of you check your position before you bomb. After all—even an Anderson is human. O’Reilly, you’ll go in last and make sure.” (“O’Reilly’s mad enough for anything,” the group captain had said.)
O’Reilly, snub-nosed, grinning, answers happily: “O.K. I’ll do that, sir.” Wing Commander’s face gets serious again. He says: “But remember. No risking aircraft unnecessarily.
[photo captioned: “GETTING READY”]
Your job is to bomb the target and bring your aircraft back safely.”
(These are standard instructions given to all pilots at Bomber Command briefings.)
The Group Captain stands up now. He’s a famous pilot now grounded. He led the first air raid on Sylt, pioneered with a score of fellows for the thousands who now take on the job of blasting Germany. He is plump, cheerful, a wit, but his face is grim now as he says: “Well, chaps, we’re on a jolly good one to-night . . . Go in and flatten it! And good luck to you . . .”
Now the drama bustles along. The flying crews are like schoolboys in the locker room before a big match. They shout. “Hi! Somebody’s pinched my boots!”. . . “She slapped my face, so of course, being a gentleman, I turned the other cheek” . . . “Hi! You owe me half a crown.” “Don’t be an
[photos captioned: “THE CORPORAL ARMOURER TAKING DETAILS OF THE NIGHT’S BOMB LOADS”; “THE GROUND CREW CHECKING UP”]
ass. I can’t pay my mess bill, let alone you” . . . “You’ll get a cone of searchlights about here and maybe some light flak. And ten to one over you’ll see the Coastal people bashing the Channel ports”. . . “All of ‘F for Freddie ’ here?” . . . “Here . . . Here, skip . . . All ready.” . . . “Well, that’s a change, anyway.”
Through the door appears the lugubrious face of an aircraftman. Silence as he says, mournfully: “It’s here,” and then babel again, the pitch of noise rising higher . . . “Oh, I’ve lost my helmet.” . . . “Ah, there you are” . . . In a wild, untidy surge the flying crews tumble out to the lorry that takes them to the field. As the last man leaves the camera swings slowly round the empty room. The quiet is thunderous with portent.
The dusk deepens every minute and men and machines lose their roundness and become flat against the dying light. Into the gaping belly of the black, towering monster “F for Freddie” crawl Dickson, Willett, MacPherson, Lee, Jones and Harrison.
They are muffled and goggled and quiet. The boisterousness of the crew room has left them. In the plane they settle in their seats and they busy themselves with their jobs. The two pilots ease themselves into their chairs. Radio man Lee plugs in and turns dials. MacPherson gets out his maps. Rear Gunner Harrison tucks himself into his lethal solarium in the tail of the plane.
You can see Dickson’s face through the glass in the nose and hear him shout: “Start her up!” Ground mechanic shouts back: “Contact port, sir,”
[photo captioned: “‘F FOR FREDDIE’ IS FUELLED AND SERVICED FOR THE NIGHT'S RAID”]
and then there is the coughing roar of the engines taking life. This dulls down to an even purr.
As “F for Freddie” gets ready a strange, H. G. Wellsian contraption rolls on to the field. It is known as Bertram Mills’s Circus by the station. On the roof is a small, round, glass bowl, big enough to take a man’s head, and through this vaguely, headphones on and hand microphone to his lips, can be seen the squadron commander. His job now is to get his squadron of Wellingtons off the ground. He can see all round him, knows the order and timing of their take-offs.
His head, in the twilight, looks like a Hallowe’en turnip under a Victorian waxed fruit bowl. Seen this way his position is comfortable and comical, but that is deceptive.
Now you can hear the metallic tone of radio talk. “C for Charlie calling flare-path. C for Charlie calling flare-path. May we taxi up and take off? May we taxi up and take off? Over.”
“Hullo, C for Charlie. You may taxi up and take off. You may taxi up and take off.”
A black bomber trundles by, and with a great roar disappears into the gloom.
Wing Commander: “Hullo, control. C for Charlie airborne. 19 hours 35 minutes.”
So it goes on. The nasal voice. The roar. “F for Freddie airborne, sir. 19 hours 42 minutes.”
Now “F for Freddie” is nosing a way out of England, across the North Sea, and the routine of battle comes into play. Checking up, testing. All the time the detail proceeds, the hum and throb like a beating of blood in the ears seem to gain in intensity and purpose.
[photo captioned: “‘F FOR FREDDIE’ WHOSE FORTUNES ARE FOLLOWED IN ITS BOMBING RAID OVER GERMANY”]