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Operation Manna monument honours Allied food drops

Huge 1945 relief mission

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

ROTTERDAM - A colourful steel monument was unveiled recently acknowledging Operation Manna, the huge food drop operation over the Nazi-occupied and hunger-stricken western part of the Netherlands in late April and early May 1945. The monument was created by artists of the group Observatorium and symbolizes stacks of food parcels inside the cargo hold of Allied bombers. A huge bronze plaque tells the story of Operation Manna.

The massive airlift, code-named Manna (‘bread from Heaven’) after the miraculous food provision for the Israelites in the Sinai desert, saved numerous Dutch city people from starvation following the infamous Hunger Winter.

The relief operation was an initiative of Dutch Prince Bernhard, the commander of the Dutch forces, which fought along-side the Allies. He organized the assembly of some 11,000 tons of food - cans of flour, chocolate and meat - to be dropped in 5,200 flights over occupied territory. Allied commanders reached an agreement with the Germans to open an air corridor and a cease-fire for this air traffic. To achieve maximum effect of this humanitarian aid and as a condition, the bombers were to fly at a very low altitude. Aircraft and personnel from the RAF and USAAF (which dubbed the operation ‘Chowhound’) took part in the drops, together with Polish and Canadian squadrons.

While the airborne operation itself was huge, the efforts to haul away the parcels also required massive manpower. At the Rotterdam drops alone - in the polder Terbregge, now the site of the monument - over 4,000 Dutch men and women helped to recover and move the parcels, totaling about 3,900 tons. Since very few vehicles were available on the ground, the effort relied on manual labour. When the USAAF joined the effort on May 1, the number of humanitarian missions doubled. In all, there were ten drop zones.

Last year, a commemorative flight by a vintage WWII bomber carrying Swedish bread, missed the target where thousands were waiting to witness the re-enactment of an Operation Manna flight. This year a B-25 Mitchell bomber took part in the ceremony with a poignant fly-over.

Dutch Junior Minister of Defense Van der Knaap, together with Rotterdam’s Mayor Opstelten unveiled the monument, an initiative started eleven years ago by local organizer Henk Dijkxhoorn, a 12-year old witness of the 1945 drops. Apparently only one other monument in the Netherlands pays homage to Operation Manna, a small plaque in Wassenaar.

The new monument already has been adopted by an area elementary school. Its students will maintain the monument.