"During the previous campaigns we had lost at least 50% of our experienced flying personnel; some had been shot down, while others had finished their tours."
[Editor's note: The following is not a direct transcription of the audio recording] I am Dr. Bruce Mackenzie and I would like to give you a short summary of my four years as a "Fighter-Bomber" pilot during World War II. Prior to enlisting in the Air Force in 1941. I had the dream of attending the University of Alberta, but economics prevented me from achieving this at that time. My years of service in the war would change this. At the age of eighteen, I graduated as a Sergeant Pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force. By the time of my retirement from the Air Force at the age of 23, I had attained the officer rank of Flight Lieutenant. My early experience flying fighters (Hawker Hurricanes) was initiated off the east coast of Newfoundland. We flew from Torbay Airfield near St. John's. These aircraft were equipped with two 250 pound depth charges slung under each wing in addition to our four 303 machine guns. Our responsibility was to provide coastal patrols searching for German submarines which were known to frequent the coves of Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island. These submarines were sinking the iron-ore laden cargo ships stationed dockside at Bell Island in Conception Bay. Our second task was to provide a deterrent to the battleship Tirpitz (which carried a spotter aircraft) in the event she approached our shores looking to do surveillance and sink allied vessels. We flew patrols in a single engine aircraft and covered areas as far as 60 miles to sea. We only had compasses and our innate navigating instincts to guide us. The radios only provided contact between each other and the base. They were not "very high frequency." At time we would return to Torbay, exhausted from the day's sojourn, only to find the runway thick with fog. Our limited range did not allow us to land elsewhere. Adverse conditions and in adequate equipment made for some high adrenaline landings. I suppose that is what is meant by "… coming in on a wing and a prayer." We did both. As the Allied efforts began turning the tides of war in January of 1944, we were posted as a squadron to England and we then converted to the famous Spitfire fighter aircraft. We flew as "Fighter Bombers" with the Second Tactical Air Force carrying a 250 pound bomb under each wing and a 500 pound bomb under the fuselage. We were also equipped with two 20 mm cannons and four 303 machine guns. With the armory on boards, we were assigned to provide close army support. As we moved from station to station, we lived "under canvas." Prior to D-Day (Operation Overlord) and the assault on enemy occupied Normandy, we helped pave the way for the upcoming invasion by dive bombing V1 sites and the anti-aircraft gun emplacements. We strafed enemy trains and motor transport which provided the enemy supply links to the coastal regions. Our squadron made sweeps deep into France searching out and destroying Nazi fighters and bombers. These operations "prepped" the area for the infamous D-Day Invasion. On the actual invasion day, our squadron was assigned to cover the landings of the British Army Units on the beaches of Normandy. We did two sorties that day – one at dawn and then later in the afternoon of June 6, 1944. It was a harrowing experience. We had a bird's eye view of the tremendous fleets and heavy bombardments from the Navy. We could also view the landings and the fierce tank battles inland towards the city of Caen. Interestingly enough, no German fighters or bombers appeared to challenge our airspace. We provided air coverage daily until we established an airstrip on the Beach Head. On D-Day plus nine (June 15, 1944), our entire unit moved to established ourselves on a field called B3 – just in from the cliffs of Arromanches. We were the first Wing to be stationed and fly from French soil since the Dunkirk evacuation. Our field was visited nightly by German bombers droning continuously above us as we slept in tent covered slit trenches – "army style." During the Normandy Campaign, our squadron was credited with damaging or destroying nearly 500 enemy motor transports. We accounted for some 40 enemy fighter planes from the time prior to D-Day up to and including the closing of the Falaise Gap. We lost aircraft and men to ground fire and the Folk Wolfe 190s. Two of our squadron leaders were shot down by the anti-aircraft ground fire and became prisoners of war. My aircraft was badly shot up at the time of the closing of the Falaise Gap, but I was lucky enough to be able to limp back and crash land behind our lines. We continued to follow the army as they pursued the Germans up through France and Belgium. We were now stationed at Antwerp, Belgium while we took part in "Operation Market Garden." We were given the task of guarding the bridge over the Rhine at Nijmegen. As a result, the German aircraft were unable to destroy or damage it. There came a lull after the failure of the Market Garden Campaign. We were then transferred back to England at Folkstone. During the previous campaigns we had lost at least 50% of our experienced flying personnel; some had been shot down, while others had finished their tours. Now our assignments were to escort heavy bombers (Halifaxes and Lancasters) as they attacked factories in the Ruhr Valley. My tour of operations was completed after 131 missions over enemy held territory, always subjected to very heavy anti-aircraft fire during our bombing, strafing and escort runs. Victory in Europe (May 8, 1945) was observed in the middle of the Atlantic by yours truly as we plied our war homeward aboard a ship. We hoped the German U-Boats had learned the war was over! I received my discharge back in Canada and then went on to study Dentistry at the University of Alberta by courtesy of the Veterans' Allowance. It had proved to be a long and gruesome road in reaching my goal. Being one of the fortunate ones to survive, I was grateful to be able to pursue my dream of attending the University and become a Dentist with a Specialty in Pediatrics.
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