Escape at Mailly
This picture features Bill Viollet's escape from a burning Lancaster during the RAF attack on the German tank and lorry depot near the village of Mailly-le-Camp in the Aube area of north central France in May 1944. It was commissioned as a gift for Bill, in his 94th year, by a pilot friend of his.
As part of the build-up to D-Day, 346 Lancaster bombers and 14 Mosquitoes were sent out on the night of 3/4 May. Communication difficulties forced a delay. While circling the target under clear skies and a bright three quarters moon, and on the way back, the Lancasters fell prey to numerous German night fighters. A total of 42, almost 12% of the attacking force, were shot down.
One of those was LL743, AS-U of No 166 Squadron, based at RAF Kirmington in Lincolnshire. Hit by flak on the way in, its No 2 (port inner) engine caught fire. This was extinguished, and the crew made their bombing run. It is thought it was then attacked by at least one night fighter, and fires broke out fore and aft - trapping Wireless Operator Bill Viollet in between.
As he struggled from the top escape hatch his parachute snagged and became partly dislodged, but somehow he went over the side. On the ground, Bill joined the French Resistance and gave them weapons and wireless training, for which he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur in 2014 by the French Government. Following D-Day, in August, Bill met advancing US infantry and returned to England, where he learnt that his elder brother Bob had been killed in the rear turret of a 49 Squadron Lancaster.
Two of LL743's crew were killed at Mailly and the other four became prisoners of war.
J.A. Sanderson RNZAF