On February 21, 1944, Squadron leader Arthur Oxlade and navigator Lt. Donald Shanks of the 464 Squadron, prepared to take off on what turned out to be an almost impossible mission.
Their plane was the De Havilland Mosquito, Mark IV with tail number mm-401. This wasn’t your ordinary Mosquito though, as it’s been fitted with an experimental IFF transponder, a device used during the war to identify friend or foe. Thus, this has been specifically designed to mimic itself as a Luftwaffe aircraft, appearing friendly to long-range radar.
Top Secret Mission
The two men were to embark on a top-secret mission, doing a tactical strike on the B1 flying bomb sites that were heavily defended over Northern France.
Being constructed mostly out of wood, the Mosquito was one of the first planes of WWII to fully exploit its stealth properties against radar with a low radar signature, and maintaining flight at sea level means that they could stay under the radar while causing havoc in the skies.
Their flight plan was to avoid as much land mass and anti-air defenses as possible. Then, at the bomb site, they would conduct a tactical strike before circling back and leaving France the way they left.
Technically, the two men only had a five-minute window before the enemy would scramble to intercept them. As they entered France, they saw hundreds of search spotlights and built-up defenses around the area. It was the most heavily defended site they’ve ever seen.
To successfully bomb their target with precision, they need to enter a slight climb from sea level at an altitude of 250 feet. As they started their climb, a lone spotlight spots the tail section of their plane. They quickly maneuvered to get out of sight, but as they were doing so, a number of spotlights now focused on them, showing their Mosquito in the night sky.
With just four minutes remaining, they’re left with two options- turn or head back home, or disregard the odds, and carry out the mission. Without hesitation, they continue.
On Their Own
Cannons defending the city had their sights set on them and opened fire. When they went for an attack run, they were hit with half of their wing missing. Another hit- the Mosquito was now flying half a wing, a single engine, and no radio.
Arthur was shocked that his plane was flying relatively well, having lost an engine opposite the missing wing, it helped him balance the aircraft somehow. Remarkably, they also conducted their bomb drop on the side as planned, destroying two large hangers of V1 flying bombs and a command center.
With their mission completed, the pair knew that heading back home northwest wasn’t possible. Instead, the pair knew of an airbase known as RAF Friston in East Sussex- an emergency landing ground. However, they’re not sure whether or not their plane still had the power to take them home.
Miraculously, they managed to limit their plane to 30 miles over the double strait. When the pair landed safely, they couldn’t believe how they landed on half a wing, a missing landing gear, and one engine.