Lawrence Benner, the tail gunner tells his tale

Lawrence Benner, a crew member of the Lancaster bomber aircraft reflects on his journey as a tail gunner during the Second World War. A Tail gunner is a crew member of a military air craft who attacks the enemy fighters sitting at the back or tail of the aircraft. Lawrence Benner with his profound interest of becoming a pilot and serving the nation during the Second World War joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in September 1943. Benner is from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He was seventeen years old when he made this decision. However, now he say, “nobody likes war, it’s cost to many young lives.” “I wouldn’t want to go again, I sure as hell wouldn’t.”

Though his inclination was towards becoming a pilot, he was chosen as a tail gunner about which he never imagined. Since, he was the smallest amongst the other crew members; he was chosen to be the tail gunner on a Lancaster after his completion of the training session in McDonald, Man and Edmonton. On Lancaster, he was supposed to sit for unlimited hours in a small chamber which was backward facing and was at the bottom of the plane. Benner said, “I go to fly alright but the wrong way.” “I always saw where I’d been, never where I was going”.

The job of a tail gunner on a Lancaster bomber was very dangerous as compared to other available jobs on the crew. At the time of the Second World War these Lancaster were used by the Royal Air Force which acted as their main heavy duty bombers. There existed seven members on this air crew which included pilot, navigator, flight engineers, radio operators, rear gunner, front gunner, and mid-upper gunner, the Calgary Herald reports.

Lawrence Benner often has to face extreme temperatures like -45 degree Celsius while he was sitting and preparing inside the back turret of the crew. He said, “We all wore our Mai West suits in case we ditched.” “We never had to use them, thank god for that. I was in charge of the dingy if we ditched. I couldn’t even swim.”

For a moderately hot temperature the crew was equipped with electrical suits that hardly worked. During the war Benner’s Lancaster bomber got hit for once which caused a big hole inside the turret. He says, “If it was just a foot lower, I wouldn’t be here.” After the end of the war most of the Lancaster bombers were departed to Belgium and France to bring the war prisoners back to England. He said, “We picked up thirty guys at a time.” As a Lancaster Bomber tail gunner Benner successfully completed twenty seven missions over each of the enemy territories during the second world war. Benner says, “A lot of Lancasters were shot down.” “It was terrible. I am now beginning to think – and believe – I’m just dam lucky to be here.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE