1317hrs, Wednesday, 25th December 1945, airborne above North-West Eire.
Smoke poured from the two outboard engines, leaving parallel lines in the sky as the crippled B24 Liberator tried to make the nearest friendly territory.
Despite the obviously fraught situation, everyone aboard the Coastal Command aircraft was calm and there was even laughter amidst the serious activity of their real mission.
It fell to the navigator to spell failure or success, for his skill would bring the Liberator directly to the precise point where they would achieve the task set them… or they would fail.
There would be no repeats, so it was imperative that the B24 hit its mark right on the button.
He thumbed his mike.
“Navigator, Pilot. Come left two degrees, Skipper, course 89°.”
After a short delay, the navigator, sweating despite the extremely cold temperatures, spoke again.
“On course, Skipper. Estimate seven minutes to game point.”
“Roger, Nav. Bombs?”
“I’m on it, Skipper.”
The bombardier shifted to one side of the modified nose and checked for the umpteenth time that the internal heating circuit was functioning.
“Bombs, Pilot. Ready.”
The pilot looked across to his co-pilot.
“Time for you to play.”
It was Christmas Day and most of those still asleep bore all the hallmarks of heavy encounters with the local brews, Russian and Irishmen alike.
A few, an unlucky few, had literally drawn short straws and found themselves sober and alert, providing the security whilst others spent the day acquainting themselves with their blankets or, in the case of a few, the latrines.
Seamus Brown was one of the selected few and it was he who first heard the sounds of an aircraft in trouble.
The staccato sound of misfiring engines and the drone of their fully working compatriots mingled and grew loud enough to be a warning in their own right.
The camp was occasionally overflown, so there were provisions for this moment and Brown instigated them immediately.
A large bell was rung, only a few double blows from a hammer were needed to warn the base what was about to happen. It was a question of keeping out of sight for most, but balancing that with having a few bodies in sight so as not to make the place seem deserted which, quite reasonably, they had all agreed might make the camp suspicious, even though half of it could not be seen from the air.
Brown dropped his rifle into a wheelbarrow and started to move across the central open area, his eyes searching the sky for the noisemaker.
“Nav, Pilot. Thirty seconds.”
“Roger. Bombs, over to you.”
The Bomb Aimer looked through the unfamiliar sight and decided that he could proceed.
The finger hovered above the button pressed hard and the shooting commenced.