Operation Manna and Chowhound 1945

Blown Periphery, Going Postal

The Allied Riposte to the Germans’ use of Mass Starvation as a Weapon of War

The winter of 1944/45 was known as the “Hunger Winter” in the Netherlands.  The Dutch people had lived in an occupied country for nearly five years.  The Nazis had invaded the Netherlands in 1940 and in those years the Dutch had formed resistance groups, helped Allied airmen who were shot down over their country, watched the aerial battles over their heads by day and night and above everything else, they hoped.  They tended the graves of Allied airmen who had spiralled down in burning bombers to be imbedded in the polders.  German night fighters flew from airfields in the Netherlands.  They hoped for a time when their detested neighbours would be booted out of their country.  In September 1944, the Market Garden operations had turned hope into a reality, only for this to be dashed due to Allied ineptitude, the monstrous ego of an overrated general and a failure to listen to the occupants of the country they were trying to liberate. Despite the Arnhem airborne operations being doomed to failure, the Dutch people had tended-to, hidden and helped to escape, the remnants of the British 1st Airborne Division. And how they suffered for it. Because the railway workers had been ordered to strike by the government in exile in Britain, when Market Garden failed, thousands of men were rounded up and deported to Germany as slave labour.

By the first months of 1945, over three million Dutch people were still under German occupation.  Throughout the war, the Dutch had just about been able to feed themselves and the rationing system held up, but as the war progressed, the Germans requisitioned more and more foodstuffs and cattle to feed their armies.  The Germans also flooded over 50,000 acres of agricultural land, partly to hamper the Allied advances, but also as revenge for the Dutch support of the Market Garden operations.  They requisitioned barges and there was no petrol for lorries, which made the distribution of food all the more difficult.  The situation was worse in the Western Provinces, which had the largest cities and the least agricultural land.  The winter of 1944/45 was exceptionally harsh with rivers and canals freezing and in the unliberated cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, the population was starving.  It is estimated that 20,000 Dutch citizens died of cold, malnutrition and disease during the Hunger Winter.  The International Committee of the Red Cross did send some food to the Netherlands, but it was nowhere near enough.

Prince Bernhard appealed directly to the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower to help the Dutch people.  Eisenhower directed Air Commodore Geddes to begin planning air drops of food, while agents negotiated with the Reichskommissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart and a team of German officers.  It was agreed that air corridors to drop zones would be set up and the Germans would not fire on the aircraft if they remained in the agreed air corridors.  There was a critical shortage of transport aircraft, so it was decided to use bombers as they were running out of targets in Germany.  There would be two elements to the operation, Manna for the British and Chowhound for the Americans.  For Operation Manna, the British had aircraft from Numbers 1, 3 and 8 Group, consisting of 145 Mosquitos and 3,156 Lancaster Bombers.

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
The Netherlands and the flooded areas

On 29th April 1945, a single Lancaster, The Bad Penny, took off in bad weather and flew to the Netherlands, where she dropped five tons of food and returned safely to its base.  The Lancaster received no hostile fire, despite there not yet being a cease-fire in place, so it looked as though the Germans would honour their part of the deal.  The Lancaster crews had been practicing dropping sandbags as the sacks of food had no parachutes.  It was a difficult transition for the crews used to flying at over 20,000 feet and it was found they were dropping from too high and the sandbags were bursting open on impact.  The aircraft would need to go as low as 300 feet, in order for the food to be delivered in one piece.

Operation Manna began in earnest, with Pathfinder Mosquitos from 105 and 109 squadrons marking the drop zones at Valkenburg airfield, The Hague race course, Ypenburg airfield, Rotterdam Airfield, Kralingse Plas and Gouda.  The Mosquitos used Oboe blind bombing marking for accuracy.  John Funnell a navigator on one of the Lancasters, gives this account of one of the first Manna sorties:

As we arrived people had gathered already and were waving flags, making signs, etc., doing whatever they could. It was a marvellous sight. As time went on, so there were also messages, such as Thank you for coming boys. On the 24th April, we were on battle order at Elsham Wolds. We went to a briefing and were told the operation was cancelled because Bomber Harris thought it was too dangerous for the crews. The idea was we would cross the Dutch border at 1,000 feet, and then drop down to 500 feet at 90 knots which was just above stalling speed. On the 29th, we were on battle orders again. There was no truce at that point, and as we crossed the coast, we could see the anti-aircraft guns following us about. We were then meant to rise up to 1,000 feet, but because of the anti-aircraft guns we went down to rooftop level. By the time they sighted on us, we were out of sight. A lot of people were surprised we went without armaments, in case of any trigger-happy tail gunner. Originally, it was going to be ‘Operation Spam’ which was in my log book. We also went to Lyden, but dropped the food at Valkenburg. We navigators are interested in the latitude and longitude of the place, rather than the name.

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
Lancaster low over the Rotterdam Drop Zone

The food drops mainly contained fats, sugar, tinned meat, dried egg powder and flour and had been put together by personnel from the Ministry of Food for their nutritional value.  The planning had called for the drop zones to be guarded to prevent looting, and for first aid teams to be available in case anyone was hit by the food sacks.  Food was collected and itemised before being distributed to the cities.  Understandably some people couldn’t wait and the gorged themselves on the food, the concentrated fats causing refeeding syndrome which led to vomiting and in some cases, death.

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
Loading a Lancaster with food sacks, the night before delivery

From the 29th April until 8th May 1945, the RAF flew 3,298 sorties and delivered 7,142 tons of food.  Operation Chowhound started on 1st May until 7th May 1945 and delivered 3,770 tons of food.  Three-and-a-half million people were supplied food by air for the loss of one Lancaster and three B17s.  The Germans did fire on some aircraft and many returned with bullet holes.  For the men of Bomber Command, who had by now become an embarrassment to church leaders and the politicians, Operation Manna was a much-needed humanitarian salve to the soul and for many it was the best Ops they flew on.

I would suggest to Mrs May before she starts her EU negotiations that she picks up the sturdy book: Purnell’s History of the Second World War, reads it, takes it to Europe with her and uses it to batter the Germans and French around their heads.  This is to remind them of the sacrifices the British people have made so that unelected technocrats can pretend to have their European utopia, a maggot-ridden zombie that’s coughing up blood and will expire, God Willing, within my lifetime.

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
Gathering sacks on a drop zone

© Blown Periphery