Thursday 29 April 2010 by Dianne Rutherford. 14 comments
Collection, Aerial Operations, Second World War, 460 Squadron RAAF, Rations, Anniversaries

65 years ago a very special operation began to provide food to the starving civilians in the German occupied Netherlands.  During the harsh winter of 1944-1945 the Dutch population endured a major famine. Known as the ‘hungerwinter’ it was concentrated in the densely populated urban areas bounded by Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague. By 1945 the daily ration had been reduced to 600 calories – a third of what it had been in 1941.

Loading up a Lancaster bomber for Operation Manna Loading up a Lancaster bomber for Operation Manna P00813.001

On 29 April 1945, RAF aircraft took off from England to take part in the first of several missions to drop food to the starving Dutch. The British poetically named this mission ‘Operation Manna’, in reference to the ‘food from heaven’ in the Bible. The Americans began their food drops from 1 May, calling their involvement ‘Operation Chowhound’.

A photograph showing the total load of one Lancaster A photograph showing the total load of one Lancaster SUK14311

Although the operation began on 29 April, negotiations with the Germans to allow Allied aircraft to fly over their occupied territories was not finalised or signed until 2 May. Despite this the early missions successfully flew over German occupied territories and dropped their cargo.

460 Squadron June 1945 460 Squadron June 1945 P00940.001

On 30 April, the RAAF also became involved, with 21 aircraft from 460 Squadron setting out on the first of seven food drops over the Netherlands. The first plane took off at 2.24 pm, dropping its load over The Hague at 4.15 pm.  In only seven minutes, these 21 aircraft dropped a combined total of over 50,000 kilograms of food from only 150 metres above the city!

For some air crew, it was a change from the destructive bombing missions over Germany and occupied Europe. For others it was their only opportunity to take part in an operational mission. Near the end of the war, air crew numbers were high but there was not enough aircraft available for them.

The format of the Manna flights were very different from the normal bombing missions. The aircraft had to fly within designated areas and at low altitudes. They were within easy reach of any German weapons, including small arms. The German soldiers had instructions not to shoot the aircraft flying within the designated zones (although it occasionally did occur, there were no fatalities as a result of the arms fire).

REL/13153 Medallion commemorating the 40th anniversary of Operation Manna

The aircraft flew at such low levels because the amount of silk required to make parachutes for the food parcels was unavailable. The parcels were crammed into bomb bays and held in place during flight by the aircraft’s hydraulics. To disperse the supplies, the Bomb Aimer simply opened the bomb doors and free dropped the food over the designated area.

The food parcels were not aerodynamic, and their dispersal often caused dents in the leading edges of the tail plane and fins when they collided with the rear of the aircraft (causing the rear gunners to instinctively shrink out of the way as the supplies whizzed around them!).

REL41908 Commemorative tile made by Royal Delfte. Given to Flying Officer R R Lewis, 460 Squadron by a survivor of the hungerwinter after the war

For their own safety, the local population were instructed to remain indoors during the food drops, but many were too excited to follow the instructions; air crew reported seeing people outside, cheering and waving as they flew past. Although the supplies generally landed in the designated area (often a field or sports oval), sometimes they were dropped too soon or too late. In some instances parcels damaged buildings, and in some very unfortunate incidents, civilians were killed when they were hit by falling food parcels.

The final Manna run by 460 Squadron, on 7 May 1945 was also the largest for the squadron, with twenty eight aircraft taking part. With the end of the war in Europe on 8 May, Operation Manna concluded. Further food supplies were brought in by land. Although the situation in the Netherlands was still extremely difficult, Operation Manna provided a major morale boost for the occupied nation.

Over 340,000 kilograms of food in total was dropped over the Netherlands by 460 Squadron alone, which would have been enough to feed 400,000 people for one day.

Date  Number of aircraft  load per aircraft (pounds)  Approx Load per aircraft (kilograms) total load for mission (pounds)  Approx total load for mission (kilograms)  Dropping zone 
 30/4  21  5739 lbs  2603 kg  120,519 lbs  54,666 kg The Hague
 1/5  23  5739 lbs  2603 kg  131,997 lbs  59,872kg Rotterdam Area
 2/5  23  5310 lbs  2408 kg  122,130 lbs  55,397 kg Rotterdam Area
 3/5  24  5310 lbs  2408 kg  127,440 lbs  57,805 kg Rotterdam Area
 4/5  10  5310 lbs  2408 kg  53,100 lbs  24,085 kg Rotterdam Area
 5/5  10  5310 lbs  2408 kg  53,100 lbs  24,085 kg Leiden Airfield
 7/5  28  5310 lbs  2408 kg  148,680 lbs  67,440 kg Rotterdam Area
             
Total Aircraft  139   Total loads dropped 756,966 lbs 343,350 kg  

 

Further Reading:

  • Operation Manna/Chowhound : the allied food droppings April/May 1945 / Hans Onderwater, Romen Luchtvaart, Unieboek, c 1985.
  • AWM64 1/295 Operations Record Book No 460 Squadron RAAF January 1944 to October 1945
  • The Hunger Winter: Occupied Holland 1944-1945 / Henri van der Zee, University of Nebraska Press, 1998

Comments

Also for further reading, there is the book, "The Flying Grocer" by Rupert Guinness published in 2007 by Random House. This provides an account of a connection formed by an airman and one of the recipients of the food drop.

I enjoyed the information regarding 'operation manna'.and 460 RAAF squadron. My only disappointment was the lack of any detail regarding what type of food was dropped. I imagine deprivations in the UK were still pretty high in May 1945 and that cooking facilities in the occupied Netherlands at the time (including energy to heat stoves etc) may well have been available in only limited numbers...so were 'army dog- biscuits' dropped, tinned food and lollies for children? It staggers me that in the stupidity of war, humanity can still reign supreme...... congratulations to negotiators on both sides of the channel. Ironically a friend of mine was still sending food hampers to the UK in the middle nineteen eighties from Australia including the much sought after 'legs of lamb and sides of beef.'

DEAR SIRS,MY FATHER WHO IS NOW 86 WAS A 115 SQN QUALIFIED PILOT OPERATING ON LANCASTERS AS AN FLT ENGINEER.HE TOOK PART ON OPERATION MANNA FOOD DROPS ON APRIL 30TH TO ROTTERDAM,MAY 2ND AND AND 7TH TO THE HAGUE,HE WAS FLYING FROM RAF WITCHFORD IN CAMBRIDGESHIRE,ENGLAND.115 SQN DEVELOPED THE PANNIRES THAT WERE TESTED AT RAF WITCHFORD FOR THEIR SUITERBILITY.MY FATHER NAME IS JOHN EDWARD MILNER,KNOWN AS JACK.HE REMEMBERS AFTER MANY OPS TO GERMANY,HAVING TO TRUST THAT THE GERMANS WOULD AGREE NOT TO FIRE ON THEM AS THEY FLEW LOW TO DROP THE FOOD.IF ANY ONE REMEMBERS HIM PLEASE GET IN CONTACT WITH MYSELF,THANKING YOU GEOFF MILNER 01403-241238

my father harold a. pender was with 460sqn and is listed with the photo of the sqn.in front of the hangar.wonderful to be able to see that he was able to help so many people .thank you very much ainslie gates

Hi Garry, the foods dropped were generally dried or tinned foods, such as dried egg, beans and milk powder, tinned meats, cheeses, and other products - the photograph on the collection database SUK14311 (also show above) illustrates the size of an average load and its contents. Chocolate was included in the official parcels, but some airmen also dropped their own small parcels made up of items from their rations - usually including sweets or cigarettes.

Hi Ainslie, my grandfather flew with 460 Squadron, which is where my interest in Operation Manna developed as he flew in four Manna missions. He is also in that large photograph in front of the hangar.

Hi Tony, thanks for mentioning the Guiness book. It's one I have not had a chance to read yet.

hello di ,i think it is amazing that after all this time we can learn that there was something else to the war that made sense.my dad passed away in 2001 but his efforts will not be forgotten.ainslie

Hi Anyone who wants to find out stuff about particular squadrons might try www.rafcommands.com/forum as they have lots of threads about them. Also there is a list of Sqn Assns at http://www.associations.rafinfo.org.uk/ I would like to thank all Australian Air/groundcrew and their families whatever era of the war for what they gave and kept on giving during the war. Dee

Can anyone tell me if the F/O R. R. Lewis to whom the Delfte plaque was given was RAF or RAAF?

Dear Dianne or any contributor, As secretary of the Mildenhall Register, I have been asked by a number of members about obtaining the medal commemorating Operation Manna. Can anybody tell me how it was obtained and where to apply. You may reply to my e-mail: - geoff.reynolds1@hotmail.co.uk Many thanks Geoff Reynolds Secretary Mildenhall Register

Hi David, R R Lewis served with 460 Squadron RAAF. Cheers Di

I have responded to Mr Reynolds directly, but in case anyone else is interested in the medallion I thought I would also post a message here. Unfortunately I do not think the medallion is available from the manufacturer, although some may appear in the secondary market. I believe it was made in the Netherlands for the 40th anniversary in 1985 but do not know who manufactured it. There are some references to this medallion online, including one website that says it was presented to Operation Manna veterans visiting the Netherlands for the commemorations in 1985. If anyone does have information about the production and issuing of the medallion, please post a message here. Thanks Di

My father flew these missions with 153sqdn based at Scampton. My post on his sqdns experiences of operation manna including photos and a short homemade dutch film of food drops can be seen here. http://crivensjingsandhelpmaboab.blogspot.com/2010/04/153-sqn-29th-april-1945-operation-manna.html