Maastricht bomb strike, 11-12 May 1940 discussion
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Maastricht bomb strike, 11-12 May 1940
11 Blenheims lost out of a force of 42 ordered to attack Bridges near Maastricht, Hasselt and Tongres to stop advancing enemy troops. AASF aircraft continue to suffer alarming losses. Six Battles from No 12 Squadron are detailed to attack the vital bridges in the Maastricht area still standing after the previous day's failed attempts to destroy them. One of the aircraft went unserviceable prior to take-off, leaving the remaining five to attack bridges at Veldwezelt and Vroenhoven. Ahead of the bombers were eight Hurricanes from No 1 Squadron. Suddenly, the fighter pilots saw the sky fill with German Bf109s - 120 in all. Despite the fearful odds, the Hurricanes fought as best they could, accounting for 3 Germans but losing six of their own. The first Battles were now attacking the bridge at Vroenhoven. The first attack managed to drop his load, and the bombs hit one end of the structure. As the aircraft crossed the bridge at barely 100 feet, it was hit by a bank of flak and was forced to crash-land. All three crews survived, but were captured by German troops. The bombs of the second Battle fell short, failing to add to the damage. Again, withering fire struck the aircraft and the port wing caught fire. The pilot ordered the others to bail out and managed to nurse the stricken bomber to within a few miles of home before crash-landing. Five minutes later, the second bridge came under attack. The leader, Flying Officer Donald Garland lead his flight in at low-level. One aircraft was hit and caught fire on the run-in - the pilot managing to drop his bombs before crash-landing on the banks of the Albert Canal. The second aircraft was hit and went into a vertical climb, burning from wingtip to wingtip, before diving into the ground and killing all three crew members. That left one more aircraft - that of Flying Officer Garland. After pitching up, Garland pointed nose of the aircraft at the metal bridge. The aircraft, still carrying its bombs, crashed into the western end of the structure. The explosion killed the three crew, but did destroy one end of the bridge. For their action, two of the aircraft's crew, Flying Officer Garland and his observer, Sergeant Tom Gray received the Victoria Cross - the first such awards for action in the air of the war. For some reason, their rear gunner, Leading Aircraftman Reynolds received nothing. French bombers carried out attacks on the same targets later in the day, but suffered terribly at the hands of German flak units. The AASF's Battles carried out one further operation during the afternoon when 15 aircraft attacked German troops near Bouillon. Six aircraft failed to return. During the day, the Battles had suffered an amazing loss rate of 62%.