Operation Manna – how Allied airforces saved millions of Dutch people from certain death

The date was 29th April 1945; a teenage girl along with 12 other people was in hiding from German troops. She was frightened, trembling with fear, weakened with hunger; she had no idea of her fate.

The Gestapo was hunting for Theodora Tielrooy and her family who helped few Jews escape from the Nazi claws and now were hiding in a Dutch village named Sloterdijk. Cold and Starvation was slowly killing them and their morale was deteriorating at a in increasingly faster pace. The family was determined to keep their Jewish friends safe, but now their own safety was hanging by a thread.

They had already fought and somewhat defeated another enemy, famously known as Hongerwinter, the cold winter of 1944-45, when Nazis banned the food and fuel into the major cities and towns of Netherlands. This Nazi embargo killed scores of people – 20,000 according to some estimates- but Theodora and her family somehow survived the ‘Cold hell’.

Theodora could not imagine a sudden and devastating transition in her life, from tranquility to utter chaos, from soothing piano lessons to running barefoot, from warm springs to cold Hongerwinter.

The spring brought no joy for the people, and the family in that small house in Sloterdijk, starving and desperately holding on to whatever they had left. They had to eat the cattle food in order for them to survive; they had lost all hope of any help from anyone.

B-17 from 390th BG releasing food packages over Holland during Operation Manna-Chowhand 1 May 1945

Now a retired teacher, Theodora, 81 – now Mrs. Coleman – remembers the day when God sent help from the skies bringing an end to their ordeal. She recalls the day when they heard on the radio that RAF and US planes were on their way to help the starving people of Netherlands. For a moment they felt at ease, but it quickly turned into despair when they realized that they are not in a city and prospects of RAF planes coming to help them in a small village were really small.

But then everything changed, when the next day they heard the loud rumbling of rescue planes, and soothing sounds of the bomb bays opening. Planes dropped food on their house. Theodora says that it is impossible for her to replicate or even express what she felt after seeing the planes and eating the food they had delivered, The Independent reports.

The operation was codenamed ‘Manna’, after the food sent by the God to the starving Israelites. In the first leg of the mission RAF bombers dropped a total of 7,030 tons of food for the Dutch. US weighed in with the drop of the food supplies weighing 4,150 tons. Operation ‘Manna’ had reportedly saved more then 3.5 million Dutch civilians from starving and certain death in the hands of Nazis.

Ian Harvey

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