At the end of WWII there was so much death, destruction, illness, and starvation occurring in European countries torn by the conflict. In today’s post I will discuss a military operation to bring mercy and light to those suffering in the Netherlands with no food after a freezing winter in the spring of 1945 by allied forces such as Great Britain and the U.S.
Operations Manna and Chowhound occurred during the end of April into early May 1945 and saved the starving Dutch in German-occupied Netherlands. The Allies used the four-engine British Lancaster and American Flying Fortress bombers to drop crates of food after the unsuccessful operation Market-Garden which was a costly failure in gaining an allied foothold in the Netherlands and freeing the territory from occupation.
Operations Manna and Chowhound was very complicated. It depended on several factors to be successful. First, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, had to form negotiations with the German officers in the Netherlands with the help of Swiss and Swedish emissaries. Both Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt had to agree to allow the negotiations. The goal of the negations was to create a window of time for certain areas to be opened for the planes to make their food drops without German anti-aircraft artillery firing upon them. They were positioned to take out allied aircrafts traveling their way to Germany. The biggest concern was that the Soviet Union would be offended and suspicious between any agreement Western Allies made with Germany leading to a separate peace treaty if Josef Stalin felt betrayed.
The main goal was to feed starving people. According to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans “Dutch people were stricken with what is referred to as the Hongerwinter or “hunger winter.” The famine, paired with a lack of fuel for warmth, led to an estimated 20,000 civilian deaths. With only half of the country liberated, those in the northern and western portions suffered from continued occupation by German forces, limited food supplies, and the cold season of northwest Europe”. The Dutch needed this humanitarian operation to go off without a hitch because people were dying every hour from starvation.
An estimated three-million Dutch were under German control in early 1945, so with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt permission negations began. Air Commodore Andrew Geddes and his team of allied officers met with German officers led by General Johannes Blaskowitz to ensure the safety of allied forces bringing the Dutch food.
Operation Manna started out with a test flight with the first aircraft being a RAF Avro Lancaster nicknamed the “bad penny” following the expression “A bad penny always turns up”. At the time the Germans hadn’t officially agreed to a temporary cease fire. The crew which was made up of seven people went anyways. They faced very bad weather, possible fire from German anti-aircrafts, and difficult maneuvering in order to achieve victory. On the first day over five-hundred tons of food dropped in the Holland. John Funnell, a navigator on the operation, says the food dropped was tinned food, dried food and chocolate. The following description is his account of the people’s reaction.
“As we arrived people had gathered already and were waving flags, making signs, etc., doing whatever they could. It was a marvellous sight. As time went on, so there were also messages, such as Thank you for coming boys. On the 24th April, we were on battle order at Elsham Wolds. We went to a briefing and were told the operation was cancelled because Bomber Harris thought it was too dangerous for the crews. The idea was we would cross the Dutch border at 1,000 feet, and then drop down to 500 feet at 90 knots which was just above stalling speed. On the 29th, we were on battle orders again. There was no truce at that point, and as we crossed the coast, we could see the anti-aircraft guns following us about. We were then meant to rise up to 1,000 feet, but because of the anti-aircraft guns we went down to rooftop level. By the time they sighted on us, we were out of sight. A lot of people were surprised we went without armaments, in case of any trigger-happy tail gunner. Originally, it was going to be ‘Operation Spam’ which was in my log book. We also went to Lyden, but dropped the food at Falkenburg. We navigators are interested in the latitude and longitude of the place, rather than the name.”
There was some concern that innocent citizens and bystanders in need of the food being dropped might get injured if hit by crates so first aid was set-up by dutch authorities to be on stand by if anyone should need aid. During these operations German officers were worried that they would be betrayed and something other than food might be dropped so according to author Hans Onderwater precautions were established stating “The Germans decided that anti-aircraft guns would be placed near the four food drop sites. That way they could react immediately if it turned out that the Allied aircrafts dropped paratroopers instead of food. SD’ers (The German military police (author)) would take samples of the dropped packages to verify if it was indeed food that was dropped and not guns or other sabotage utilities.
Operation Manna proved to be successful over a few day period when the United States joined in with Operation Chowhound delivering four-hundred ton of food to those in need. They weren’t aware that the British officers involved in Operation Manna had not been fired upon and there was no guarantees that the German’s would keep the same truce with Americans but luckily they did. This allowed food to be dropped at several different points. Many lives were saved through these operations.
Manna In Heaven by Maaike Steenhoek:
In January 1945, the food was getting scarcer and people started dying. In Crooswijk alone, one of our neighbourhoods, seven thousand people starved to death. The food from the soup kitchens was strictly controlled by the Health Ministry to keep unsafe things out of it, but it became more watery and tasteless as the weeks went on.
My family sometimes ate nothing but sugar beets and tulip bulbs. My Mum said the bulbs tasted horrible, very bitter. Recently my uncle said to me: “You don’t know what it is like to wake up in the morning before going to school, and there is not even a crumb of bread in the house.”
There were people who even ate their dogs and cats. My mother and her brother were always hungry, and my Mum said she sat in the classroom while her stomach growled. At her age it was really embarrassing.
One day when my Mum and Gran were walking when they saw a man dressed like a real gentleman. Someone had spilt a little soup in a puddle of rain. My Mum was so shocked to see this elegant gentleman bend over to fish a few peas out of the water. That’s how desperate people were for food.
All they thought about all day, and at night when they could not sleep, was food. Each night they heard the drone of the bombers going to Germany and my Mum was terrified, because she feared being bombed. Rotterdam was bombed in 1940 by the Germans and she remembered that to her dying day.
And they were terribly cold. Houses in those days were not insulated, so it was very, very cold and they sat as close to the stove as they could and stayed in bed as much as possible to keep warm.
By March 1945, the number of Dutch people who had starved to death was around twenty thousand (no one knows the precise numbers) and the Dutch government in exile asked the Allies for help …
At first my family was terrified because they thought the low-flying Lancasters were going to drop bombs. But in wartime, news travels fast and soon they heard the aircraft were dropping food.
People cheered and waved when the aircraft came over. My Mum said they were so low that she could see the crews waving at her from the open gun-positions. Everybody danced and screamed. Some people took out their hidden flags to wave at the aircraft. My Mum said she almost fainted because she was so weak from lack of food.
My mother and uncle talked about this all their lives….
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