467 Postblog XVIII: Saturday 29 January, 1944

It was just after midnight last night that the Lancasters of 463 and 467 Squadron roared into the air, en route once more for the German capital, Berlin. There were three early returns. Pilot Officer Thomas Foster, in DV229, encountered icing that he couldn’t climb above, landing back at base just after 03.30 hours. Pilot Officer Lindsay Fairclough, in ED545, had the same problem, returning some two hours later. And an embarrassing navigational error saw Pilot Officer John McManus boomerang early in JA901, when he misinterpreted a new course passed to him by the navigator and inadvertently flew its reciprocal instead. By the time the error was realised, they had lost about half an hour and did not relish the prospect of having all of Berlin’s defences to themselves after the rest of the force had left the target area, so they set course for home, arriving a quarter of an hour before Fairclough.[1]

The outbound route took the bombers out over Denmark, before they turned south east towards the target. Defences were fairly active, with six bombers shot down by flak on the outbound route and at least twelve by nightfighters before the target was reached.[2]

Once again Berlin was covered in broken cloud, and though some groundmarking was possible the attack eventually required the less accurate ‘Wanganui’ skymarking technique. Despite this, most crews thought that this appeared to be one of the best attacks on Berlin yet. Phil Smith reported “three distinct areas of fire glow on clouds; good fires must have been below.”[3] The defences, he wrote in his logbook, “seemed weak”. His impression was later confirmed when it was determined that flak probably destroyed only one aircraft over the target itself. There was a moderate barrage of heavy flak and some intense light flak near the marker flares, but the searchlights were much hampered by the heavy cloud cover.

Fighters were however very active. Over the target at least 150 were sighted – including one which followed DV372, with Gil Pate and Eric Hill keeping a very close eye on it from their turrets until it sidled off into the darkness once more.[4] “Altho’ the place was lit up by the fires like the worlds fair”, wrote Dale Johnston,[5] “we never saw another kite. Bar a Jerry, but we gave him the slip and he disappeared in the clouds.” Some 27 combats were reported over Berlin and six more heavies were shot down there.

In all, 43 aircraft were reported missing, or some 6.3% of the attacking force. Seven were known to have been lost to flak and 21 to fighters. The rest, thought the scientists of Bomber Command’s Operational Research Service, were “almost certainly due to fighters”.[6]

Despite Phil’s later recollection of this as a “straightforward”[7] trip, it was not entirely without trouble. After dropping their load of 4000lb high explosives and 5000lb incendiaries towards the end of the attack at 03.30hrs (only one of Waddington’s aircraft bombed after them, at 03.32), they were on the homeward journey when Gilbert Pate’s oxygen failed in the rear turret. Wireless operator Dale Johnston went back to give some help, but his portable oxygen also failed. When flight engineer Ken Tabor went to help and suffered the same fate, Phil needed to descend to about 15,000 feet to bring everyone around again.[8] They eventually arrived back at Waddington  at 08.30 on the morning of the 29th – the third last aircraft to return.

Sadly each Waddington squadron lost a crew on this operation. Flight Lieutenant Norm Cooper, flying HK537, and Ivan Durston, in ED867, both disappeared without message or signal being received. Post-war it was discovered that Cooper’s aircraft had collided with an 83 Squadron bomber, crashing on the Danish island of Als. All on board died. Durston, who had been the last to depart Waddington last night and was “one of our most popular pilots and an excellent crew,”[9] had been on his 27th trip. It’s not known where his aircraft crashed but all seven members of the crew are buried in the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery.[10]

Because of the very late return this morning from the Berlin operation, there was much sleeping during the day and the squadrons were stood down for the afternoon. There was “the usual Saturday night dance” but very little else happened.

Elsewhere, Bomber Command sent small forces of Mosquitos to attack a steelworks on Duisburg and a flying bomb site at Herbouville in France tonight, and a small group of Whitleys dropped leaflets over Northern France.[11] A force of enemy aircraft was seen on radar heading towards the English coast during the night. Bombs were dropped across Hampshire, the Thames Estuary and Suffolk. It’s thought that one of the raiders was shot down by a Beaufighter of 68 Squadron.[12]

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

Sources:


[1] Details on arrival times from 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 28JAN44

[2] Route details and losses are detailed in Night Raid Report No. 516

[3] 467 Squadron ORB, 28JAN44

[4] This fighter is mentioned in Smith, Phil 1940-1945, Flying Logbook

[5] Johnston, Fannie, Letter to Don Smith 24AUG44 – transcribes part of one of Dale’s letters.

[6] Night Raid Report No. 516

[7] Smith, Phil, Phil’s Recollections of 1939-1945 War, p.20

[8] Incident described in a letter Dale Johnston wrote to his brother Ian, 20APR44. Transcript (probably by Don Smith) in Mollie Smith’s collection.

[9] 467 Squadron ORB 28JAN44

[10] Storr, Alan 2006

[11] Night Raid Report No. 517

[12] Bowman, Martin W., p.129

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