An eerie silence hung over Waddington around the time the crews were due back from Berlin this morning. A quick look outside confirmed that thick fog had settled on the aerodrome and it was soon established that all aircraft returning from Berlin had been diverted to other bases. After two long trips on consecutive nights, and with the weather looking like staying duff all day, a stand-down was declared.
Which explained the silence.
The ‘Big City’ had become such a common target in recent months that some ground crew were now beginning to call it the Battle of Berlin. Last night’s raid followed a now familiar pattern: the large force of aircraft found heavy cloud over the target and bombed skymarker flares with unknown success – the only evidence of note being an intercepted German wireless broadcast which referred to ‘attacks against various residential districts of the Reich capital’.
What was certain, however, was that fighters were very active last night and consequently losses were high. The BBC news at midday reported 28 missing aircraft. By midday all but two of the diverted aircraft, had returned to Waddington, but there was one from each Squadron still outstanding. Flight Sergeant Jack Weatherill and crew, in 463’s JA902, wouldn’t come back. They went down over the Ijsselmeer in Holland (five would be taken POW, with the other two killed in action).
But Flying Officer Alex Riley, in ME575, had not been heard of yet either. As the fog cleared, the aircraft began to trickle back in from their diversion airfields. But it was now nearly four and a half hours after Riley had been due to land. The Committee of Adjustment had already collected his crew’s kit and the casualty signals had been made up and were juuuuuuust about to be despatched…. when in the Waddington Watch Office, the radio crackled with a familiar voice and a Lancaster landed. It was Riley, safe and sound with his crew. He’d landed at Lakenheath this morning, but someone forgot to pass the message on to Waddington.
By the time the B.B.C announcer read the six o’clock news, the number of missing had been revised to 27.
This post is part of a series called 467 Postblog, posted in real time to mark the 70th anniversary of the crew of B for Baker while they were on operational service with 467 Squadron at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. See this link for an in-depth explanation of the series, and this one for full citations of sources used throughout it. © 2014 Adam Purcell