It is 70 years since the beginning of Operation Dynamo and the evacuation of Dunkirk, but 27 May 1940 was also a personal military failure for one Captain Warren of the RAF.
He and his crew took off from Dishforth in Yorkshire at 8:30pm on a mission to bomb a German airfield in Holland. As the Whitley bomber crossed the North Sea, they found themselves rocked by an electrical thunderstorm and Warren asked his navigator to plot a new course to escape the buffeting.
It was dark by the time they crossed the Dutch coast and they searched for a landmark, finally spotting the Rhine estuary. They followed the river as anti-aircraft tracers flew upwards and finally turned starboard, as planned, to seek out the airfield. Suddenly the second pilot called out: ‘I’ve got it! Bombs away!’ and Warren turned for home.
At first light, as they should have been nearing home, the bomber emerged from the clouds and below them was a city with the sea beyond. Warren realised the awful truth — the city was Liverpool.
According to my calculations, we can only have bombed something inside England. Christ, what are we to do?
Their magnetic compass had been completely stuffed by the storm and the river they had followed had been the Thames. It had been friendly AA fire that had failed to stop them dropping their load across the runway of the Fighter Command base at Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire.
Fortunately, no-one was hurt — and neither was the runway. Having risked so much, what Warren and Bomber Command learned from this fiasco was that a full bombload dropped directly on an airfield did virtually no damage at all.
Poor Captain Warren was demoted and was known thereafter as Baron von Warren — two Spitfires later dropped Iron Crosses on RAF Dishforth — and then the entire episode appears to have been wiped from the history books. I say this because I can find no verification of the incident on the web. Apart from one.
Newgate News also corroborates the story in ‘Captain Warren’s Mistake‘ also published today. Unfortunately, we both cite the same source — The Wrong Kind of Snow by Antony Woodward and Robert Penn. Just goes to show that there is no such thing as an original blogging idea. And, if this story is made up, how bloggers can make it become true!