A Brief History
On April 29, 1945, the British Royal Air Force aided by units of the Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, and Polish Air Forces began Operation Manna over the occupied part of the Netherlands (Holland) with the acquiescence of the German occupiers. The United States Army Air Forces started their own, similar, operation 2 days later called Operation Chowhound. As you may guess from the code names given the operations, the military action was feeding the starving civilian population of occupied Netherlands, dropping food from bomber aircraft.
In all, more than 11,0000 tons of food were dropped to the hungry people below, enough to avert an immediate starvation threat but not nearly enough to continue to sustain the population. Thus, a ground operation called Operation Faust was mounted using 200 military trucks to bring food to Dutch civilians behind German lines.
The truce allowing the unimpeded delivery of food by airdrop and trucks was negotiated by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands with the permission of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt. Reichskommissar Arthur Syess-Inquart and military commanders represented the Germans. (Canadian future environmentalist, author and poet, Farley Mowat, was part of the Allied delegation. Incredibly, Mowat was denied entry into the United States in 1985 because of his environmentalist writings and activism that was apparently deemed too radical for America! Mowat died in 2014 at the age of 93.)
Most of us are familiar with the carnage caused by bomber aircraft dropping bombs, whether on London during the “Blitz” or by burning Tokyo and killing 100,000 people in one day. The 2 atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945 come to mind when we think of bombers, but high explosives, nuclear bombs, and fire bombs are not always the cargo. Bombers have been used to drop food and supplies to friendly troops and to civilians as noted above. Bombers have also played a role in dropping propaganda leaflets, including during the First Iraq War when Iraqi defenders of Kuwait were notified by leaflet that the next fleet of bombers would be B-52’s dropping incredible amounts of bombs on them. Many of the Iraqi soldiers got the hint and vacated their defenses!
Bombers have also been adapted for use in dropping water and fire-retardant chemicals on wild fires and have been used in cloud “seeding” operations in which silver iodide or other chemicals are dropped on clouds in the hope of causing much needed rain. For many years the obsolete American B-29 bombers had been converted to use as hurricane monitoring aircraft (though not dropping things). Other bombers were used to drop life rafts, food and water to sailors adrift at sea. British and American bombers were used to drop food and supplies to Soviet surrounded West Berlin during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949, a good use of the obsolete Lancaster and Liberator bombers.
Of course, bomber aircraft have been used for many other purposes other than dropping things, as well, such as reconnaissance, scientific and weather studies, transportation, and testing new weapons. Question for students (and subscribers): What fascinating uses of bomber aircraft can you think of that we failed to mention? (Especially in the role of dropping something other than bombs.) Please share any information you have with us in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Gunsaton, Bill. Bombers (Classic Aircraft). Grosset & Dunlap, 1978.
Overy, Richard. The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945. Viking, 2014.
Yenne, Bill. B-52 Stratofortress: The Complete History of the World’s Longest Serving and Best Known Bomber. Crestline Books, 2017.