Flying Under Fire: Canadian Fliers Recall the Second World War


252 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Index
ISBN 1-894004-79-5
DDC 940.54'4971'0922





Edited by Selected and edited by William J. Wheeler
Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


This collection of articles, all previously published, is a treasure.
The fliers include not just pilots, but also ground crew assigned to
flying duties, navigators, and gunners. Nor are the aircraft all combat
machines; they include trainers, target drogues, and reconnaissance and
spotter aircraft. Vi Warren, for instance, was a ferry pilot with the
Air Transport Auxiliary. Among her many accomplishments was flying a
prototype Westland Welkin, a twin-engined, high-altitude interceptor,
developed from the Whirlwind. The latter alone saw action in the

The queen of all these brilliant aircraft was the de Havilland
Mosquito, an extremely versatile twin-engined aircraft that flew too
high for the flak and too fast for the night-fighters, and that could
not be tracked by radar because it was made of wood. The reader can
sense the excitement of Jim Coyne flying the Whirlwind, George Stewart
the Mosquito and Jack Brown the deadly Typhoon fighter-bomber.

Pride of place goes to the late Don Bell, the navigator in a Lancaster
crew of RAF 617 Squadron, the Dam Busters. His pilot was Nick Knilans, a
gifted American in the RCAF. The Squadron was to attack the German
battleship Tirpitz in Alten Fiord in September 1944. They would first
fly to Russian airfields in the Arctic, then attack the Tirpitz with
“tallboy” bombs from high altitude on the return run to Scotland.
Bell’s description of their reception by the Russians is rare and
hilarious, with a hair-raising account of landing in Russia, then the
raid itself, which disabled the battleship permanently. Bell recounts
the whole saga of the Tirpitz, which was finally sunk by the Dam Busters
in November 1944. Bell himself received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
A testimony to the extreme talent of these fliers was that the crucial
hits in both raids were scored by the bomb-aimer, the Canadian Danny
Daniels and his pilot, “Tirpitz Tait.”


“Flying Under Fire: Canadian Fliers Recall the Second World War,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,