In April 1945 the plight of the Dutch was desperate. Large tracts of land in Holland had been rendered unproductive because of flooding and communications to some areas had become impossible. Even the German occupiers admitted the serious plight of the people and acknowledged their own inability to do anything about it. RAF Air Commodore Andrew Geddes negotiated with the Germans that there would be no opposition to Allied food-carrying aircraft in an operation called ‘MANNA’ – named after the food that miraculously appeared for the Israelites in the book of Exodus.
The Dutch were promised a speedy alleviation of the situation but bad weather held up the delivery of food for some days. Eventually, on the 29 April, Lancasters of Bomber Command took off from English bases with a great assortment of food packed in specially designed slings.
The Germans marked the areas where the food could be conveniently dropped on airfields at Lieden and Rotterdam and on the racecourse and airfield at The Hague and at Gouda. The dropping zones were marked by the Germans with a white cross and a red light in the middle, surrounded by a circle of green lights. The dropping zones were also marked by Bomber Command Pathfinder Mosquitoes of Nos 105 and 109 Squadrons.
During the operation, Bomber Command delivered 6,680 tons of food including aircrew rations of chocolate and boiled sweets wrapped into bundles dropped by the bomber crews. They attached these tiny bundles to home-made parachutes and dropped them into gardens and streets. Some of the packages bore the message, ‘Vot Hot Kind’ (for the children).
The operation lasted until 8 May 1945 and required the bomber pilots to fly at much lower levels than they were used to, with some drops made as low as 400 feet above the ground. On the ground there were difficulties in distributing the food. However, many lives were saved because of this humanitarian operation and it also gave hope to the Dutch that the end of the war was in sight.
THE MUSEUM’S DISPLAY ON OPERATION ‘MANNA’ IS LOCATED TO THE REAR OF THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN HALL.