Bomber Command in Brisbane, 1 June 2014

On Sunday 1 June 2014, Bomber Command commemorations took place all around Australia. In Queensland, the ceremony was held at the Memorial Gardens, near the front gate of RAAF Amberley. Tiana Walker-Adair, whose father was a Halifax navigator, sent me these photos:

Ron Hickey DFC, a pilot with 462 and 466 Squadrons, giving his address

Ron Hickey DFC, a pilot with 462 and 466 Squadrons, giving his address

Ron Hickey DFC with his son David

Ron Hickey with his son David

Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland, with Ron Hickey

Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland, with Ron Hickey

Joanne Adair (who was a former Secretary for Winston Churchill) with Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland

Joanne Adair (who was a former Secretary for Winston Churchill – and is Tiana’s mother) with Her Excellency The Honourable Ms Penelope Wensley AC, Governor of Queensland

Group photo of Bomber Command veterans at Amberley

Group photo of Bomber Command veterans at Amberley

 

Thanks to Tiana for these photos. Only Perth to go now, and I’ve collected the whole set!

 

Bomber Command in Sydney, June 2014

While many of the Bomber Command veterans who still live in Sydney travelled down to Canberra for the commemorations held there in early June, a small number attended a ceremony held at the Cenotaph in Martin Place in the middle of the city. I’m still waiting for ‘official’ photos from one of the organisers but, in the meantime, here are three photos from the 460 Squadron Veterans and Friends Group, courtesy of committee member Ray Berghouse.

460 Squadron veteran Fred Sargeant with his wreath

460 Squadron veteran Fred Sargeant with his wreath

Fred Sargeant laying 460 wreath

Fred Sargeant laying the 460 Squadron wreath at the Cenotaph

A rare photo of the four Bomber Command banners together in Sydney: Left to right, they represent 460 Squadron, the Bomber Command Association, 463/467 Squadrons and 462/466 Squadrons.

A rare photo of the four Bomber Command banners together in Sydney: Left to right, they represent 460 Squadron, the Bomber Command Association, 463/467 Squadrons and 462/466 Squadrons.

 

Images passed on to me via Richard Munro, Honourary Historian, 460 Squadron Veterans and Friends Group.

Bomber Command in Adelaide, June 2014

This is the next post in what I hope will be an occasional series following the events at the various Bomber Command Commemoration Days that happened around Australia earlier this month. This time it is Adelaide’s turn.

The ceremony was held at the Air Force Memorial at the Torrens Parade Ground, just north of the centre of the city. Some 70 people were present, including the Hon Martin Hamilton-Smith, the South Australian Minister for Veterans Affairs. The following photos by Arthur Jeeves were sent to me by Dave Helman, President of the Royal Australian Air Force Association (South Australia), who was one of the organisers.

Bomber Command June 2014 011

Cadet Guard at the Memorial

The Marion City Band at the Bomber Command Ceremony in Adelaide

The Marion City Band at the Bomber Command Ceremony in Adelaide. They donate their time to play at this ceremony each year.

The Padre, Squadron Leader Mark Butler

The Padre, Squadron Leader Mark Butler

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Squadron Leader Dave Helman

Ms Nikki King - daughter of Australian Dambuster pilot Squadron Leader Dave Shannon

Ms Nikki King – daughter of Australian Dambuster pilot Squadron Leader Dave Shannon

Bomber Command veterans and other VIPs amongst the crowd: Left to Right: Squadron Leader Lyne Skinner, Dudley Mitchell, Wing Commander (AAFC)  Peter Gill OC AAFC, Group Captain Ross Bender (92 Wing), Hon Martin Hamilton-Smith (State Minister for Veterans Affairs), Wing Commander Martin Ball (24 Sqn), Wing Commander Bob Macintosh AFC MID. 2nd row far left Squadron Leader David Leicester OAM DFC* (behind right shoulder of Martin Hamilton-Smith)

Bomber Command veterans and other VIPs amongst the crowd: Left to Right: Squadron Leader Lyne Skinner, Dudley Mitchell, Wing Commander (AAFC) Peter Gill OC AAFC, Group Captain Ross Bender (92 Wing), Hon Martin Hamilton-Smith (State Minister for Veterans Affairs), Wing Commander Martin Ball (24 Sqn), Wing Commander Bob Macintosh AFC MID. 2nd row far left Squadron Leader David Leicester OAM DFC* (behind right shoulder of Martin Hamilton-Smith)

Squadron Leader Dave Helman with Group Captain Robert Black AM RFD and Wing Commander Bob Macintosh AFC MID

Squadron Leader Dave Helman with Group Captain Robert Black AM RFD and Wing Commander Bob Macintosh AFC MID

Kevin Fisher and Bill Burnett

Kevin Fisher and Bill Burnett

Squadron Leader David Leicester OAM DFC*, of the Pathfinders

Squadron Leader David Leicester OAM DFC*, of the Pathfinders

Following the ceremony there was an opportunity for drinks and conversation at the Combined Mess at the Parade Ground.

So it looks as if the Adelaide ceremony also went well. I’m hoping to source some photos from the three other events that were held around the same time in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. I’ll post them when I get them.

All photos on this post courtesy Arthur Jeeves via Dave Helman

 

Scredington and the crew of Lancaster ED439

It is right, that the nine men who perished that day, ready and willing to defend the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and all those standing with us… are remembered with honour and dignity on the quiet walls of an English church.

With these words, Reverend Chris Harrington closed the service held last year to dedicate a memorial stone to the crew of 83 Squadron Lancaster ED439, which crashed in the English village of Scredington 71 years ago today.

I’ve posted about Scredington before, but I recently received a small package in the mail from the UK. Mike Galvin – Honorary Secretary of the National Service (RAF) Association, Lincolnshire Branch – sent me a DVD made up of footage that was taken on the day. It’s quite a production.

St Andrews Church in Scredington is fairly small, as these things go, though it does have an imposingly tall steeple. The building – decorated for the occasion with red white and blue RAF standards – can nominally seat 145 people, but somehow on the day they managed to squeeze 185 inside, including 33 relatives of six members of the crew. The ceremony appears to have gone off to plan. A reading from a book written by a local man who was a young lad at the time of the crash set the scene. Neil Trotter, the man whose childhood memories and dedication sparked the memorial project, addressed the congregation and made a point that resonates with the ethos behind somethingverybig.com.

Having retired after 37 years serving in the Royal Air Force, Neil wanted to find out what he could about the crash he remembered as a child. He wrote a letter which was posted online and, eventually, seen by someone who knew more of the story and got in touch. This contact came about because of the extraordinary reach of the internet. I’ve had similar success connecting with people from all over the world as a direct result of posts I’ve made on this blog. In part, that’s why I write here. It lets me get the story out to a much wider audience than has ever been possible before, and the power of search engines means that anybody with an internet connection can find it and get in touch. It’s certainly been a really useful concept for my research so far, as it was for Neil.

The main section of the video ends with the bugler inside the church. It’s been over-dubbed and merged with footage of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster making a fly-past over the village. The Merlins swell as the Last Post rings out.

It’s spine-tingling stuff, even if you weren’t there.

 

There’s a television news report from ITV available online here, and footage of the Lancaster flypasts here.

©2014 Adam Purcell

Guest Post: Bomber Command June Commemorations in Melbourne

This post written by Squadron Leader (Retired) Ron Ledingham, Shrine Governer, Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, who I worked with on the committee which organised the Melbourne event

The annual Victorian Memorial Bomber Command service was held at the Nurses Memorial Centre (NMC) St Kilda Road Melbourne at 2 PM Sunday 1 June 2014.

All up some 100 people attended and we all but bulked out the NMC facility. The Shrine of Remembrance was unavailable due to the significant extension works currently underway there so the nearby NMC facility was chosen instead. The NMC staff were very helpful and of great assistance.

Of interest, as we did not have the traditional direct support of the Shrine facilities, we ported all of the service music requirements, etc to a lap top computer and ran this through the NMC integrated IT network-worked well. We also introduced specific Bomber Command popular band music and pictures from the Bomber Command Memorial in London-all well appreciated by those attending.

The Shrine did provide direct support in the form of:

  • SQNLDR RAAF (Retired) Ron Ledingham, Shrine Governor, as the convener of the service on behalf of the Shrine Trustees.
  • Supply of 100 poppies.
  • Printing of a number of Order Of Service (OOS) booklets.
  • Printing and distribution of a flyer for the service particularly since it was being held off site from the Shrine.

We also received support from the Air Cadets and had some 8 boys and girls with adult escorts who held banners and basically assisted with seating of guests and general support during and after the service.

The list of dignitaries was most impressive including the Hon.Josh Frydenberg MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister who laid a wreath before departing to Canberra. Some 12-15 wreaths total were laid.

Wreathes at the Bomber Command Commemoration in Melbourne. Photo: Ron Ledingham

Wreathes at the Bomber Command Commemoration in Melbourne. Photo: Ron Ledingham

The service was opened and managed by Ron Ledingham . He explained why we were holding the service at the NMC in lieu of the Shrine and also pointed out that it was for this year only due to the extension works current being done at the Shrine.

There were three speakers being Wing Commander Peter Isaacson AM DFC AFC DFM (key speaker), Group Captain Terence Deeth as RAAF PAF Representative and the Hon Ted Baillieu, Chairman, Victorian ANZAC Centenary. All were very well received. Peter in particular was actively sought out by many after the service for signatures and conversations and delivered a very moving talk.

Peter Isaacson giving the Keynote Address Photo: Ron Ledingham

Peter Isaacson giving the Keynote Address Photo: Ron Ledingham

 

Group Captain Terrence Deeth, RAAF. Photo: Ron Ledingham

Group Captain Terence Deeth, RAAF. Photo: Ron Ledingham

The following people carried out official roles during the ceremony:

Key Guest Speaker                 Wing Commander P.S.Isaacson AM DFC AFC DFM

Chaplain                                     John Brownbill RFD KSJ

Jan Charlwood                          Daughter of Don Charlwood

Laurie Williams                        Ode

Jan Dimmick                             Bomber Command Poem

Brian Smith                               MC

Following the service light refreshments with hot finger food were provided.  This was also very well received and created a very interactive and friendly opportunity for people to mingle and catch up. A group photo was taken of all veterans present and many, many photos were taken.

Bomber Command veterans in Melbourne, June 2014. Robyn Bell, Committee convenor, front left. Photo: Ron Ledingham

Bomber Command veterans in Melbourne, June 2014. Robyn Bell, Committee convenor, front left. Photo: Ron Ledingham

The after service get-together proved to be just as important as the service itself and was considered by all to whom I spoke to be a key component and opportunity to care and share. I was personally approached by a number of people who really appreciated the service and efforts taken to pull it together as well as other questions and offers relating to the Shrine and memorabilia.

Overall it was a very moving and very well attended and received service function. The numbers were up by about 50% on last year even though it was held off site.

In 2015 the annual memorial service will return to the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance.

 

Words and photos (c) 2014 Ron Ledingham, on behalf of http://www.somethingverybig.com

Tactics and the Transportation Plan

On 10 April 1944, 467 Squadron joined a force of 166 aircraft from 5 Group sent to attack the railway marshalling yards in Tours in central France. The Tours trip occupies an interesting period of the bomber offensive when ‘precision’ targets were being attacked more frequently than big cities, so, springboarding off my earlier Tours post, here is an examination of how tactics developed during this time.

Tours and four other marshalling yards attacked that night were included in what was known as the Transportation Plan, part of the preparations for the upcoming invasion of Europe which by this time was less than two months away. The Plan called for the “destruction of thirty-seven railway centres in France, Belgium and western Germany, and especially of the locomotive depots and repair and maintenance facilities in these places, in order to prevent the flow of reinforcements and supplies for the German army in the invasion area.”[1] A key aim was the avoidance wherever possible of French civilian casualties, so accuracy was a priority (indeed, Max Hastings recounts the internal battles between Harris and Churchill on one side and Eisenhower and Tedder on the other about the ability or otherwise of Bomber Command to be accurate enough for the task[2]). The first railway target – Trappes in France – was attacked by 267 Halifaxes and Mosquitos on 6 March 1944 and over the next three weeks, Bomber Command would visit Le Mans, Amiens (twice), Laon, Aulnoye and Courtrai. By 10 May, the Lille raid was by my count the 43rd operation in the series, to a total of 26 distinct railway targets.[3]

For the first month or so of the Transportation Plan, the bombers used Parramatta tactics, very much like those used on German cities, where bombs were aimed at ground markers dropped by Oboe-equipped Mosquitos. The Main Force would attack in one or two waves, usually with a ‘reserve’ period in which the marking would be kept up for any late-running bombers. Crucially, on French targets crews were told not to drop their bombs until the markers went down and if no markers were visible at all, they were to bring their bombs back (as occurred for the second wave on Laon on 23 March). This was clearly an attempt to ensure bombs only fell, wherever possible, on the actual target and not on civilian housing nearby.

Though these attacks were in the main reasonably successful, there were improvements that could be made. Oboe was normally a sufficiently accurate system for city-busting raids but it was fiddly to work with, occasionally failed and was sometimes not accurate enough for precision targets like marshalling yards. If the markers went wide, so did the bombs – a situation seen to varying degrees at Amiens on 15 March, Aulnoye on 25 March, Courtrai on 26 March and Lille on 9 April. In an apparent attempt to reduce French civilian losses (and to avoid wasted effort), on 10 April a Master Bomber was introduced to direct the second attack on Aulnoye. In this case the Mosquitos still dropped their markers by Oboe but instead of then heading for home they stuck around to direct the bombing by radio.

This was, of course, the same night as the Tours operation. Tactics on this raid were somewhat different from the pattern which had become the ‘norm’. Surprisingly, no Mosquitos were sent to Tours and Oboe was not used. The raid was a 5 Group only affair. Lancasters dropped white ‘hooded’ flares to illuminate the ground, and the Master Bomber himself – flying a Lancaster – marked the target visually, by their light. The Main Force attacked in two waves and whilst the first part was highly accurate, the second was hampered by the smoke and flames caused by the earlier raiders and there was subsequently a delay while the Master Bomber re-marked the target.

The Tours trip occurred during a period of clear weather and a three-quarter moon, which meant reasonably bright conditions for bombing and resulted in accurate marking. The vast majority of subsequent railway operations were conducted with another refinement in tactics, which would have helped when the general light levels were not so bright. The pattern was set on 18 April 1944 on a marshalling yard at Juvisy, near Paris.

Oboe Mosquitos would first drop their ground markers, followed immediately by illuminating flares by Lancasters in the Newhaven style. The Master Bomber would assess the fall of the target indicators by the light of the flares, determine the required correction or even drop his own markers and instruct the Main Force to attack accordingly. The results, when everything went to plan, were immediate and effective. Juvisy suffered “immense” damage. On the same night, Rouen got “exceptionally severe” effects from a “magnificent” concentration of bombing.

The problem, however, was when things went wrong. At Tergnier, also on 18 April, the Oboe Mosquitos failed and the visual markers fell wide. So did the bombing. Communications between the Master Bomber and the Main Force were absolutely critical. It was an unwieldy system because if the Master Bomber was in a Mosquito he could not talk directly to the Main Force. The VHF radios in the Mosquitos were in relative short supply, so a ‘Controller,’ whose Lancaster had been fitted with one of the VHF radios, was required to relay instructions to the rest of the Main Force over standard radio and wireless telegraphy. When communications failed, so, on many occasions, did the bombing, such as what happened to the second wave at Villeneuve-St-George on 26 April and Malines on 1 May. But when everything worked it proved most effective in highlighting which target indicators the crews should aim at. On 6 May, for example, 143 aircraft attacked the marshalling yards at Mantes-Gassicourt. The first Oboe marking failed so the illuminating flares dropped first, followed by three loads of target indicators which were scattered wide of the aiming point. Crews were ordered to bomb in between all sets of markers, until a salvo of reds landed bang on the aiming point. The Master Bomber was able to adjust and instruct crews to aim at the new, accurate, markers, until more reds fell off the target. The resulting confusion was resolved when a set of white markers was dropped accurately, but by now smoke and fire obscured all the indicators, so the Master Bomber ordered crews to simply aim at the fires. Had the Master Bomber not been there, or had the radio been jammed or otherwise unavailable, the raid would certainly have been far more scattered than it was.

The other issue with direct marking of the aiming point happened when the bombing was, well, too good and the markers were obscured by smoke. This, of course, is what happened following the first wave of the attack on Tours, and it happened again at La Chappelle on 20 April. On this occasion the aiming point requiring remarking slightly away from the original target indicators.

Yet another development in target marking was devised to counter this. It was first deployed in an attack against an airfield at Lanveoc-Poulmic, near Brest, on 8 May.[4] Here the markers were deliberately dropped upwind of the actual aiming point. The Master Bomber would determine how far away and in what direction from the aiming point the markers had fallen and then calculate a ‘false bombing wind’ which could be fed into bombsights. The theory was that, if the sight was aimed at the marker, the adjusted wind setting would ensure that the bombs themselves landed on the real aiming point. It was a good theory and the resulting bombing was highly accurate. The only problem was that it took time for the markers to be dropped and assessed and for the false bombing wind to be calculated. The Main Force was timed to arrive having allowed sufficient time for the process to be completed but it needed good communications and good timing from all crews to be practical.

The next night the new system was used again. The date was 10 May 1944, and the target was Lille. Like the Tours trip, this used slightly different tactics to others in use at the time. While the three other railway raids carried out on the same night (to Courtrai, Ghent and Lens) all used Oboe Mosquitos, the target at Lille was marked visually under the light of illuminating flares – a classic Newhaven attack. Unfortunately what happened was exactly what offset marking was intended to avoid, when the first markers were extinguished by the early bombing, perhaps because crews were not yet used to the new tactics and simply forgot to apply the correction. After a short period the master bomber called a halt to proceedings so that new markers could be dropped, but it appears the resulting delay of some 20 minutes allowed the defences to get their act together, and they extracted a heavy price. Twelve out of 89 aircraft failed to return, among them B for Baker.

© 2013 Adam Purcell


[1] Lawrence 1951, No. 5 Bomber Group, R.A.F. 1939-1945, Faber and Faber Limited, 24 Russell Square, London W.C.1, p.164

[2] Hastings, Max 1979. Bomber Command. Michael Joseph Ltd London, p.327

[3] Stats extracted from Night Raid Reports Nos. 545-600. This tally does not include a raid to Aachen (11APR44) as this target was in Germany

[4] ‘Offset Marking’ and the Lanveoc-Poulmic raid are described in Lawrence 1951, p.183-5

“Sablé bombardé : un Australien raconte” – some French media coverage for somethingverybig.com

Early last month I had just published my 467 Postblog Part LXXVI which covered an attack on a munitions dump outside the French town of Sable-sur-Sarthe on 6 May seventy years ago. I was subsequently contacted over Twitter by a journalist from “Les Nouvelles de Sablé”, a weekly newspaper based the town. Lucile Ageron was her name, and she was wondering how someone all the way over here in Australia might be sufficiently interested in her little town to write about it.

Truth be told, I’d never heard of the place until I saw its name in Phil Smith’s logbook (it’s not even in Jack’s – he mistakenly entered the target in his own logbook as Louaille, a nearby town, and he got the date wrong too). But it was a highly siccessful raid and some rather spectacular film footage of the raid has survived.

Having read my posts, Lucile sent me a list of questions, I answered them, and now she’s written an article for her newspaper. Particularly with the anniversary of the D-Day landings coming up tomorrow, it’s great to get a bit of media coverage for my little website – and of course for getting the story of the seven airmen in the crew of B for Baker out there once more.

If you can read French (or even if you can’t), an online version of the article can be found here.



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