By the beginning of April 1944, the crew of B for Baker had completed their first dozen or so operations. They had been members of 467 Squadron at Waddington for three months and their last time off had been in February. Consequently all seven spent the first week and a half of April away on leave.
But while they were away the war continued. I’ve been having a close look recently at the operations that were carried out during the period that the crew were at Waddington. On 10 April 1944 – the day that they were due back from leave – the rest of the squadron were part of a force of 166 aircraft that were sent to attack the marshalling yards at Tours in southern France. When I first saw the Tours raid in the Operational Record Books, I wasn’t intending to take too much time to study it closely because the crew of B for Baker were not themselves involved in it. But the Tours operation nevertheless shows some interesting parallels when compared with the operation a month later from which they failed to return, an attack on Lille on 10 May 1944.
Both operations were part of the so-called ‘Transportation Plan’, a series of attacks designed to cripple the Germans’ ability to move troops and equipment around France in preparation for the coming invasion of the continent. As such, each was one of a number of attacks made on railway targets on the same nights. 180 aircraft went to Tours, but only 89 went to Lille.
Interestingly, both were a little ‘different’ tactically when compared with the other raids they accompanied. While the four other raids carried out on 10 April (Aulnoye, Ghent, Laon and Tergnier) used Mosquitos to lay ground markers on the aiming point using the Oboe blind bombing aid, at Tours the marking was done visually by Lancasters under the light of white parachute flares, similar to the Pathfinders’ Newhaven tactics. Three other railway targets were attacked on 10 May 1944, each also using Oboe-equipped Mosquitos backed up by visual flares and using a Master Bomber to control the raid (Lens, Ghent and Courtrai). At Lille the same night, however, the marking was carried out entirely by visual means. At this stage in my research I can’t establish why Oboe was used for the other raids but not at Tours or Lille – perhaps it was a capacity issue, and the expected clear conditions and bright moonlight on each night meant that a visual technique was considered sufficient.
At both Tours and Lille, the first markers went down accurately. But on each operation problems arose after the first few bombs had fallen. At Tours, this was because the markers were laid on the actual aiming point itself, and smoke from the resulting bombing obscured the markers for later aircraft. The resulting delay before the target could be remarked caused some aircraft to circle in the target area for up to an hour. A new tactic was developed between the two operations so that markers were laid a short distance away from the actual aiming point, and bomb sights were adjusted accordingly so that bombs still fell onto the actual target, and Lille was the second time that this technique had been attempted. Unfortunately it failed when the first few bombs fell onto the target indicator anyway (perhaps because some early bomb aimers had not made the necessary adjustments to their sights) and it was extinguished or obscured by blast and smoke. A delay ensued, like at Tours, while the target was remarked and the appropriate wind correction was calculated for the bomb sights.
The biggest difference between the two raids, however, was that while the defences of Tours failed to take advantage of 180 bombers circling for up to an hour, at Lille it was rather a different story. Few fighters and little flak was encountered on the Tours trip and only one bomber was lost. But at Lille, while the delay was ‘only’ about 20 minutes and there was slight to moderate flak over the target, the fighters put up stiff opposition and twelve aircraft out of 89 failed to return.
467 and 463 Squadron Operational Record Books for the Tours operation, 10APR44, and for the Lille operation, 10MAY44
Night Raid Reports Nos. 576 and 602
Lawrence, W.J. 1951. No. 5 Bomber Group, R.A.F. 1939-1945, Faber and Faber Limited, 24 Russell Square, London W.C.1, p. 185
© 2013 Adam Purcell