Operations Manna and Chowhound

During the winter of 1944/45 approximately 20,000 citizens died in the so-called Hunger Winter, the Dutch famine. A German blockade cut off food and fuel shipments from farm towns. Some 4.5 million were affected and survived thanks to soup kitchens.

As the war was wrapping up in April of 1945, in an effort to alleviate the suffering of the Dutch, the Allies devised a plan to deliver much-needed food via airlift. In a pre-cursor to the famous Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, the plan was complicated for several reasons, one of the biggest being the fact that the Germans had their anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) positioned to shoot flak up at the Allied bomber formations on the way to their raids over Nazi Germany. Another was that the Allies and Germans were still at war and the British advance was still pushing forward in the area where many of the rations would need to be dropped. Lastly was the ever-present concern that Josef Stalin would be suspicious of any negotiations between the Western allies and Germans, fearing that it would lead to a double-cross and secret and separate peace without the Soviet Union.

By early 1945, the situation was growing desperate for the three million or more Dutch still under German control. Prince Bernhard appealed directly to Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, but Eisenhower did not have the authority to negotiate a truce with the Germans. While the prince got permission from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eisenhower had Air Commodore Andrew Geddes begin planning immediately. On 23 April, authorisation was given by the Chief of Staff, George Marshall.

Allied agents negotiated with Reichskommissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart and a team of German officers. Among the participants were the Canadian future writer Farley Mowat and the German commander-in-chief, General Johannes Blaskowitz. It was agreed that the participating aircraft would not be fired upon within specified air corridors.

The operations were going to be named Manna and Chowhound

Manna (29 April – 7 May 1945), which dropped 7000 tonnes of food into the still Nazi-Occupied western part of the Netherlands, was carried out by British RAF units, as well as squadrons from the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and Polish air forces. Chowhound (1–8 May 1945), which dropped 4000 tonnes, was undertaken by the United States Army Air Forces, for a total of over 11,000 tonnes[of food.

Below are some impressions of those operations.

The missions went off practically without a hitch. The Germans honoured their word, almost entirely, that no coordinated anti-aircraft would fire upon the planes, and countless Dutch civilians benefited from this “manna from heaven.” From April 29 through VE-Day, May 8, 1945, the combined efforts saw over 5,500 sorties b an estimated 10,000 tons of food on the starving and grateful Dutch. One of those who had survived the Hunger Winter and benefited from /Manna-Chowhound/ was the malnourished granddaughter of the former mayor of Arnhem—a teenaged Audrey Hepburn at the site of the infamous Bridge Too Far.

Audrey Hepburn 1941

“I went as long as three days without food,” Audrey Hepburn recalled of the early months of 1945, “and most of the time we existed on starvation rations. For months, breakfast was hot water and one slice of bread, made from brown beans. Broth for lunch was made from one potato and there was no milk, sugar, cereals of any kind.”





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