every ex-34 Winger has his story to tell of the German Bodenplatte attack on
Melsbroek on New Years day 1945. Basil Jackson’s adventure on that day had
some particular twists to it. He was working for 140 (Mosquito) Squadron in one
of the 16 big articulated mobile darkrooms belonging to Nos. 1 and 7 Mobile
Field Photographic Sections. These vehicles were parked fairly close to the end
of one of the runways. Here is Basil’s story in his own words:
the time, I was working in one of the photographic enlargement trucks. I well
remember the exact subject of the enlargement in process when the German attack
began. It was of Walcheren Island off the Schelde estuary. With a colleague, we
had just rolled the exposed 1 metre square bromide out into the big development
bath when a line of around twelve bullet and one cannon shell holes ran
diagonally across aside wall, each admitting a bright thin light beam across the
darkened room. Nothing had been heard beforehand, mainly because the vehicle’s
air conditioning plant was running at the time”.
single cannon shell sheared one of the steel ribbons supporting the huge
enlarging apparatus table which crashed to the ground making a terrible noise.
Including other photographers working on contact print light boxes, there were
eight men in the big mobile darkroom. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured
and the eight of us went speedily out through the double doors, jumping into the
adjacent slit trench dug for us many months earlier by the RAF Regiment bods.
The speed of departure must have been a measured one because every man had
performed his daily reflex action of grabbing his overcoat on exit. (That winter
it stayed below freezing the whole season)”.
“The subsequent scenes from the slit trench have been described already in so many writings that it is not necessary to dwell for long on this. To us it appeared that the Luftwaffe had no opposition at all, either from ground gunners or friendly aircraft. It is my opinion that RAF Fighter Command had spent the night in NewYear celebration, whilst the Luftwaffe had gone to bed early and stayed very sober. But we have to remember as well that, excluding V1 and V2 weapons, there had been nearly a year without any sign of enemy air activity behind the lines. This had led to bland complacency by all of us, at least in regard to aerial attack. When the bullet holes appeared in the side of the darkroom, I did not think for a moment of an aerial attack. I seriously believed it must have been a German parachute commando assault on the area”
is a sad personal epilogue to this Melsbroek attack story. Aside from the fact
that almost every allied aircraft on the ground had been destroyed, human
casualties were amazingly low. The bullets entering our darkroom had hit nobody.
Splinters from the cannon shell had caused quite light wounds in non-dangerous
bodily areas of three colleagues. However, a comrade in the slit trench took two
bullets from a Messerschmidt (a dozen firing passes at least went over us just
in our part of the airfield)”.
flight-sergeant crawled to the field telephone to call an ambulance. In all the
danger, chaos and confusion the ambulance arrived a quarter of an hour after the
attack ended. Our colleague had taken a hit in the chest and abdomen. He died in
the ambulance. It was all quite a shock for us. We had been obliged to get used
to witnessing air casualties and deaths within returning aircraft, but there was
a certain closeness of the ground attack strafing that was new for most of us”
140 Squadron Photographer
Email from B. Jackson to J. Shaw, 3 January 2002]
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Mobile Photographic Sections
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