Early fog cleared at Waddington by the mid morning, so the flag was run up over the 463 Squadron ‘A’ Flight office to signify that war was on for tonight. The target, once again, was Berlin.
463 Squadron had eleven crews detailed for the night’s operation, including Wing Commander Kingsford-Smith, who arrived back from Acklington just in time for briefing. 467 Squadron named sixteen crews, but one aircraft broke down before take-off so fifteen got away in the end. For unknown reasons Phil Smith and his crew were once again not on the battle order, so it’s likely that at least some of them were beside the runway with the usual crowd of WAAFs and ground crews watching the take-off. The first aircraft, ED532 with Flying Officer Stuart Crouch at the controls, got away at 16.16, with each successive aircraft following an average of about 90 seconds thereafter.
Apart from one early return (Flying Officer Jack Colpus in JA901 ‘boomeranged’ with an unserviceable rear turret and icing inside the fuselage), all aircraft from Waddington got away OK.
They bombed through thick cloud and returned safely. “The consensus”, wrote Flying Officer McDonald, “was that it was an easy night’s work”. Sadly, however, tragedy struck on board DV274, a 463 Squadron machine piloted by Pilot Officer Freddy Merrill. The crew encountered trouble with their oxygen system, and all were in some way or other affected by it. The mid-upper gunner was affected worst of all and was unconscious by the time the crew left the target area. “All efforts were made to disentangle [him] from his turret, and every effort was made to revive him for fully two hours, but this was of no avail”, and Sergeant Bertie Turner was dead on arrival at Waddington.
Unfortunately for the bombers, it also turned out to have been an easy night’s work for the German nightfighters. There was some attempt to confuse the defending fighter controllers with a route swinging towards the north of the direct line to Berlin, and feint attacks were sent to Kiel, Hannover and Dusseldorf, but “the diversions were not large enough to deceive” and nightfighters got stuck into the stream early. They accounted for at least sixteen of the 35 heavy bombers that failed to return, out of a total of 769 sent against the German capital.
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