The raid on Nuremberg on March 30, 1944, saw more men from RAF Bomber Command killed in one night than the total RAF losses during the whole of the Battle of Britain. Wendover’s Alan Payne was one of the survivors.
When he and his crew were told they would be bombing Nuremberg that night, they breathed a sigh of relief. Having been involved in several hairy raids on Berlin, they expected the target to be a walk in the park by comparison. It turned out to be anything but.
A bomb aimer in 630 Squadron’s Lancaster at the time, Mr Payne said: “The Met people said there would be cloud cover but there wasn’t any. The route was a disaster, it was a straight run over a Nazi airfield.
“Our planes were dropping off left, right and centre around us.
“We were lucky, we didn’t really have any trouble at all.
“There was always a gap in the flack and we always seemed to be in it.”
That night, 795 aircraft set out for Nuremberg. Nearly 100 aircraft and 700 men did not return.
Mr Payne said: “We knew it had been pretty rough, but it was only when you came back to the briefing room and you saw all the names that had been rubbed off the board and had not made it back that it sunk in.
“People often remember the Dambusters raid as a victory, but the Nuremberg raid was a disaster.”
The 89 year old joined the RAF aged 18 in 1942, with only a temporary job in Aylesbury separating his time at Wycombe Technical College from his air force days.
After training in South Africa, Mr Payne began going on operations towards the end of 1943. As well as flying over Germany, he also took part in operations on Palestine.
Despite being so young at the time, Mr Payne said he was never scared about doing the job.
He said: “When you’re young you don’t see danger. The recruiters liked getting young people in for that reason, because they didn’t have any fear.”
Palestine in 1946 was Mr Payne’s last operation with the RAF. After leaving the service, he got a place at Oxford studying architecture, a career he pursued until his retirement.
Mr Payne said: “I had done so much bombing of places I thought it was about time I built them up again.”
Born in Wendover, Mr Payne still lives there today. He met his wife Gwendoline, who died four years ago, while at a base in North Wales. They had two sons together and he has five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
The story of the Nuremberg raid, including those from Mr Payne’s crew, are told in John Nichol’s new book, ‘The Red Line’.
It is available online and in bookshops, RRP £20.