The Bad Penny
RAF 101 Special Duties Squadron was a Lancaster bomber squadron based at Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire, England. The base opened in June 1943 and 101 Squadron remained there until the end of the war. The squadron's Lancasters were equipped with special radio equipment and antennas (known as ABC or Air-Borne-Cigars) and were used to disrupt German communications over target areas. As a result, the Germans considered these aircraft as prime targets and, over its almost two years of operation, the squadron lost 113 Lancasters to enemy action, one of the highest loss rates of any RAF squadron in Bomber Command.
An RAF 101 Squadron Lancaster, equipped with ABC equipment.
A children's version of the story of Operation Manna and the Bad Penny has been written by author Glen Mitchell. Copies may be purchased in our gift shop.
F/O Bob Upcott of Windsor, Ontario was the pilot of a 101 Squadron crew made up of British and Canadian airmen. The crew referred to any Lancaster they flew in as "Bad Penny", a superstition borne from the popular phrase, "Like a bad penny, it always turns up". In addition, each of the seven-man crew carried a large British penny in their pocket as a good luck charm.
By April 27th, 1945 they had flown their 15th combat mission. The next day they were scheduled for a very special operation.
In the fall of 1944, Allied forces had attempted to end the war early by way of Operation Market Garden, a combined forces attack that would capture strategic bridges in Holland and Belgium and open the way to Berlin. With the help of the Dutch citizenry, the operation nearly succeeded, but the Germans successfully counter-attacked and re-captured the final "bridge too far", pushing back the Allied attack. The Dutch were made to pay by way of the Germans cutting off food supplies and blowing up strategic dykes to slow the Allied advance, effectively destroying the harvest of 1944. The following extremely cold winter is known to this day by the Dutch as "The Hunger Winter". Thousands were to perish of starvation.
As the war neared its end in the spring of 1945, word of the situation in Holland reached the ears of the Allied Command and a plan, known as Operation Manna, was hatched, whereby Allied aircraft would drop food supplies to the starving population.
A tenuous agreement was reached with the German Commander in Holland and, on the morning of April 29th, the crew of the "Bad Penny" and a second Lancaster piloted by Australian F/O P G L Collett, took off from Ludford Magna with bomb bays full of sacks of food. Their target was a racetrack near the Hague and they weren't sure whether the German anti-aircraft guns would fire on them or not, as no formal ceasefire had been signed. As they crossed the Dutch coast, they dropped to 100 feet, a suicidal altitude as they flew straight into the German defenses.
Meanwhile, on the ground, a young Dutch boy named Peter Buttenar, was on his own mission. He was on his way to steal food from the German garrison for his starving family, knowing full well that if he was caught, he would be shot. As he was walking, he heard the sound of the two Lancaster bombers, approaching so low that he was certain they were about to crash, so low in fact that he could see the face of bomb aimer Bill Gray in the nose of the Bad Penny, who waved to him as they passed overhead. Peter turned and ran home in fear, only to find when he got there that the bombers had dropped not bombs but their precious loads of food. They had been saved.
In the air, after dropping their food supplies, Bad Penny Wireless Operator Stan Jones radioed back to base, "Mission accomplished" and shortly after lunch that same day, 250 more aircraft departed for Holland with bomb bays full of food. By May 8th when the war in Europe ended, over 3000 RAF aircraft and 2200 American bombers had dropped nearly 11,000 tons of food.
A Dutch man watches as a Lancaster drops its load of food supplies during Operation Manna.
At war's end, pilot Bob Upcott returned to Windsor and was eventually joined by W/Op Stan Jones and his wife Helen. On April 29th, 1995 a re-union of the entire Bad Penny crew was held at the Canadian Historical Aircraft Association where Windsor's Lancaster bomber, FM212, was dedicated to them. In attendance as well, was Peter Buttenar, who had emigrated to Canada with his family after the war and who, fifty years later, met the crew who flew overhead on that fateful day.
The Bad Penny crew
Top row L-R: W/OP Stan Jones, F/E John Corner, F/O Bob Upcott, Navigator Bill Walton
Bottom row L-R: MUG Ossie Blower, AG Bill Demo, Bomb Aimer Bill Gray
In 2016, the CH2A designed and installed a display in our hangar in honour of the crew of the Bad Penny and Operation Manna. A large banner designed by Polish artist Piotr Forkasiewicz hangs above the display, depicting three Lancasters dropping food supplies during the operation. We recently added a beautiful, forced perspective diorama of the original flight of the two Lancasters on April 29th 1945, built by three CH2A volunteers.