Operation MANNA – or food from Lancasters


ON 17 SEPTEMBER 1944 Operation MARKET – the airborne part of MARKET GARDEN was launched as nearly 40,000 Allied paratroops tumbled from transport aircraft and the gliders that skidded to a halt over Holland.

But the Netherlands would not be liberated as quickly as it fell in 1940 and nine months later the fighting was still going on.

In an effort to aid the Allies the Resistance organised a rail strike to hamper the German transport and supply system. The Germans retaliated by withholding food from the Dutch.

Ten days after the parachutes bloomed in the September skies there was only enough food for two months.

The harsh freezing winter of 1944 cost the invader, conquered and liberator alike. Prince Bernhard Command in chief of the Dutch Armed Forces appealed to General Eisenhower on behalf of millions of Dutch citizens. People ate tulip bulbs. By March 1945 thousands of Dutch people were dead form starvation.

Churchill and Roosevelt were persuaded to help and negotiations were opened on their behalf with Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the Reichskommisssar

Out of these talks came the idea of safe air corridors, agreed drop zones and a commitment that aircraft flying in the corridors would not be fired on.

On 29 April 1945 two Lancasters braved bad weather to make a proving flight to one of the drop zones – the Duindigt racecourse near the Hague. The area was already known to the RAF – it had been a V2 missile site.

Having navigated by man-made landmarks the leading aircraft passed the last, a five-storey hospital marked with a red cross. Climbing to fifty feet (around 15 metres) the Lancaster lined up on the racecourse and opened its bomb bay.

The load of vital foodstuffs missed the flat racetrack and instead hit the stands, crashing through the wooden seating. As the aircraft pulled up and set course for home the crew saw a group of nurses on the roof of the hospital waving a Union flag.


Image: A page from Bob Upcott’s logbook. Upcott was the pilot of the first Lancaster to drop food over Holland. His aircraft was named ‘Bad Penny’ – after the expression that ‘Bad pennies always turn up’.Image from http://www.badpennybook.com/bobupcottgallery.html

The second Lancaster saw something else. A German tank trained its gun on the aircraft but didn’t fire.

The proving flight was a success and the order to begin the full operation was broadcast.

Monitoring RAF radio communications, the German’s sent troops to four of the six zones to ensure the operation wasn’t a cover for a mass parachute drop – in addition SS intelligence officers were instructed to open the supplies at random to ensure that they weren’t containing arms for the Dutch Resistance.


Image: An Avro Lancaster on Operation MANNA. Image from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lincolnshire-32388511

Over the next ten days, 145 Mosquito aircraft marked the drop zones and, dropping from 300 feet instead of 20,000 feet (100 metres instead of 6,000 metres) more than 3,000 Lancasters delivered more than 6,500 tons of food. In a separate operation – CHOWHOUND – the USAAF dropping some 4,000 tons between 1 and 8 May. German forces surrendered on 8 May 1945.

Three aircraft were lost – one due to an engine fire and two in a collision. Several aircraft were found to have has small arms bullet holes.

More information:




‘Operation Chowhound: The Most Risky, Most Glorious US Bomber Mission of WWII’ by Stephen Dando-Collins published by St. Martin’s Press (2015).