Operation Manna (iii)

'Manna' (iii) was a British air operation, in parallel with the US 'Chowhound', to paradrop food to the starving civilian population of the German-occupied Netherlands (29 April/8 May 1945).

Food deliveries to this region had been halted by orders from Berlin after the Dutch railway network had been crippled by a strike at the time of 'Market' and 'Garden' in September 1944.

By a time arly in 1945, the situation had become desperate for the three million or more Dutch persons still under German control. Prince Bernhard appealed directly to the Allied supreme commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, but this US officer lacked the authority to negotiate a truce with the Germans. While the prince sought and received the permission from Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eisenhower had Air Commodore Andrew Geddes begin the immediate planning of the required airlift, and on 23 April authorisation was given by the US Army’s chief-of-staff, General George C. Marshall.

Allied agents negotiated with Reichskommissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart and a team of German officers, and it was agreed that the participating aircraft would not be engaged by the Germans within specified air corridors.

With the tacit approval of the German occupation forces, therefore, 33 bomber squadrons of Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris’s RAF Bomber Command’s Nos 1, 3 and 8 Groups, commanded by Air Vice Marshals R. S. Blucke, R. Harrison and D. C. T. Bennett respectively, and totalling 145 de Havilland Mosquito light bombers and 3,156 Avro Lancaster heavy bombers, flew 3,298 sorties.

Two Lancaster bombers chosen for a test mission on the morning of 29 April lifted off in poor weather to fly to the Netherlands without the benefit of any formal ceasefire agreement with the Germans. The lead aeroplane dropped its payload successfully and was able to radio the fact back to base. This opened the way for 'Manna' (iii) to begin in full.

The drop zones marked by the Mosquito aircraft of Nos 105 and 109 Squadrons were at Leiden (Valkenburg airfield), Den Haag (Duindigt race course and Ypenburg airfield), Rotterdam (Waalhaven airfield and Kralingsche Plas) and Gouda.

In the course of 'Manna' (iii), Bomber Command delivered some 6,672 tons of food from heights as low as 400 ft (120 m) to ensure an accurate drop of free-falling packages. While the plan was for the Dutch to gather and redistribute the food, some were so hungry that they started to eat the provisions as soon as they arrived from the air. An unfortunate aspect of the fair distribution of the food was that it took as much as 10 days for some of the rations to reach their recipients, and some people therefore received their shares only after their liberation by the Allied ground forces, which allowed the opening of the area to road and water transport.

Even so, many lives were saved. In addition to this British effort, some 400 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers of the USAAF dropped 800 tons of K-rations on 1/3 May over Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. There had earlier had been a distribution of white bread made from flour shipped in from neutral Sweden and baked locally. Additional supplies were delivered by sea in 'Placket C'.