Archive for January, 2014



467 Postblog XIII: Thursday 20 January, 1944

Early fog cleared at Waddington by the mid morning, so the flag was run up over the 463 Squadron ‘A’ Flight office[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

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] Fallon, p.126

[2] Among other sources, described in Hannaford, 2000 p.4

[3] 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 20JAN44

[4] Night Raid Report No. 511and RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, January 1944

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467 Postblog XII: Saturday 15 – Wednesday 19 January, 1944

Still more of nothing […] this is a very quiet period with little doing as the weather is not behaving at all well.

So wrote Flying Officer Alan McDonald, the officer who had the job to compile the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, on Tuesday 18 January. And that more or less sums up this period for Bomber Command. Even the Mosquitos left Germany alone.[2] At Waddington it was foggy on Saturday, and foggy with frost on Sunday. It cleared up a bit on Monday morning before the weather closed in again in the afternoon, there was a low cloud base on Tuesday and then it was very wet and miserable on Wednesday.

Even so, Phil Smith wrote to his mother on Saturday that the winter hadn’t been, in his opinion, particularly bad – “but there is still plenty of time I suppose.”[3] Having been in the UK since August 1941, this was Phil Smith’s third British winter. As he sat down to write his weekly letter home (albeit six days late), he was clearly of the opinion that, while the weather had prevented much happening in terms of operations while he’d been at Waddington, he had seen worse before. He was, however, quite impressed with the food that the RAF fed him, and credited it with a quick recovery from a mild cold he had suffered last week.

Gil Pate also took the opportunity to write a couple of letters home, getting one off to his mother on Sunday,[4] to thank her for a recently received parcel. He was also getting regular parcels from his father usually containing a newspaper or a ‘Bulletin’ magazine. Once he’d finished with the periodicals, he would forward them on to his uncle Herbert, who lived in Padiham in Lancashire.

Otherwise, airmen’s time was taken up with some more lectures or films. On Sunday the Squadron Medical Officer presented “First Aid on Operations” with the aid of a ‘volunteer’ airman who, standing in the cold being poked in the ribs, only made everyone else “feel colder than ever”. “Ditchings and Dinghy Drill” was covered on Tuesday and “Fuel Consumption” on Wednesday. Perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps not, the 463 Squadron Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Rollo Kingsford-Smith, took off shortly after the last one for a fuel consumption test in a Lancaster… but the weather closed in again in the afternoon and he had to divert to Acklington. Some physical training was carried out in both the gym and on the playing field as the 467 Squadron rugby competition continued on Monday.[5]

There was a little flying carried out in breaks in the weather. Phil Smith and his entire crew caught a lift in a Lancaster, flown by Pilot Officer Stephen Grugeon, to Little Snoring on Monday on their way to collect the aircraft that had been left there by another crew after they diverted on the way back from the Brunswick operation on Friday night. They flew the aircraft (serial DV240) home themselves, an uneventful trip of a little more than half an hour each way.[6]

They also took the opportunity to carry out an Air Test on Wednesday (19th) in Lancaster DV378, a flight which included practice bombing at Owethorpe near the Wainfleet range.[7] On arrival back at Waddington they carried out a practice three-engined overshoot; perhaps a response to the engine failure of six days previously. Their 1.25hrs of flying (including 0.20hrs on instruments – ie in cloud) contributed to a total of three hours in four flights carried out by the Squadron as a whole on this day.

Next post in this series: 20 January

 

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]  467 Squadron ORB, 18JAN44

[2] There are no Night Raid Reports covering this period

[3] Smith, Phil; Letter to Mother, 15JAN44

[4] Pate, Gilbert; Letter to Mother, 16JAN44

[5] All recorded in 467 Squadron ORB

[6] Flights are recorded in logbooks belonging to Phil Smith and Jack Purcell.

[7] Route described in Jack Purcell’s logbook; aircraft and time in Phil Smith’s logbook

The crash of Wellington LP437, 30 July 1944 – appeal for information

It was on a training flight from nearby 27 Operational Training Unit, RAF Lichfield, when Wellington LP437 apparently stalled, crashed and caught fire in a field near Stafford, England, on 30 July 1944. The crew – six Australians – were all killed in the crash.

It’s now approaching 70 years since the accident, and this has prompted a local historian and archaeologist, Bruce Braithwaite, to begin work to trace the families of the six airmen, with an aim to appropriately commemorating the anniversary when it comes around in July.

The details of the crew are as follows:

Pilot: 424927  Flight Sergeant Frederick Luckman Stephens, from Sydney
Navigator: 430243 Flight Sergeant Ray Kethel Bolger, from Williamstown in Melbourne
Bomb Aimer: 432627 Flight Sergeant John Hilary Normyle, from Sydney
Wireless Operator: 436249 Flight Sergeant Jack James Manners, from Sydney
Rear Gunner: 435557 Sergeant Earl Hume Beatson, from Queensland
Mid Upper Gunner: Sergeant 44993 Hugh Alexander Smyth, from Brisbane

The burials of the crew of LP437. Photo via Bruce Braithwaite

The burials of the crew of LP437. Photo via Bruce Braithwaite

If anyone has any information on any of these aircrew or their families, please get in touch through the handy form on this page.

467 Postblog XI: Friday, 14 January 1944

After more than a week with no operations, the two Waddington squadrons were tonight going to war once more. And for the first time since arriving at the squadron, some members of Phil Smith’s crew found themselves on the battle order for the night’s trip. Phil himself “elected to follow custom”[1] and went as second pilot with Pilot Officer Doug Harvey and crew, in Lancaster LM440. Eric Hill joined Pilot Officer Hugh Hemsworth in LM376, filling in for Hemsworth’s own mid-upper gunner. The rest of the crew, though, were still waiting to make their operational debuts.

In all, 467 Squadron sent sixteen aircraft on the operation and 463 got thirteen away, out of a total force of 498 Lancasters. The target was Brunswick in central northern Germany, and take-off from Waddington commenced from 16.15hrs.

Elsewhere, military targets in Northern France received attention from Bomber Command, and diversionary raids were made to Berlin and Magdeburg. Other aircraft “laid mines off the Frisians and in the Bay of Biscay, dispersed leaflets over France and completed intruder patrols” for no loss.[2]

Unfortunately Pilot Officer Clive Quartermaine returned to Waddington in DV372 a little over an hour and a half after take-off with multiple aircraft defects[3] and one 463 Squadron aircraft came back with compass trouble,[4] but for the rest of the crews it was a good trip, and everyone from Waddington was safe (though Pilot Officer Bill Mackay, in DV240, landed away at Little Snoring). Menacingly, no fewer than three 467 Squadron machines showed evidence of damage from incendiaries and bombs dropped from higher-flying aircraft – they were declared ‘Cat. A/C’, to await the attentions of Avro for repair.

The Pathfinders achieved a good concentration of skymarker flares at the beginning of the raid[5] and a good fire glow was seen by Harvey’s crew (including, of course, Phil Smith), but thick cloud over the target would prove decisive and later reconnaissance revealed only minor damage in the town itself, with many groups of craters well to the south of the aiming point. German defences were very active. Harvey reported no less than eight aircraft seen going down in flames near or over the target area, and Eric Hill received a worrying introduction to ops when his aircraft was hit by flak over Brunswick itself. In the end it would be determined that at least 23 aircraft were lost to fighters and six to flak. Another nine were lost to unknown causes, for a total of 38 bombers missing – including eleven Pathfinders. In return, five enemy aircraft are known to have been destroyed by the attacking Lancasters.

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

[2] Night Raid Report No. 510

[3] 467 Squadron ORB

[4] ED606 of 463 Squadron, captained by P/O ARS Bowan – 463 Squadron ORB

[5] Description of raid comes from Night Raid Report No. 510 and 467 Squadron ORB, 14JAN44

467 Postblog X: Thursday 13 January, 1944

There was some commotion at Waddington this morning preparing for a visit by the Australian Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Jones, to the two Australian squadrons, accompanied by the Air Officer Commanding, RAAF Overseas Headquarters, Air Vice Marshal Wrigley. In the end, however, the two senior officers simply “had a hurried look around the Squadrons, stayed for lunch and departed for Binbrook.”[1]

It was a busy day for Phil Smith though. Not only did he officially assume command of ‘A’ Flight from the outgoing (and promoted, since the last time we saw him) Squadron Leader Forbes today, in the afternoon he presented a lecture to the aircrew of 467 Squadron about Bomber Command tactics and he was also detailed, along with his crew, for a practice bombing flight after that.

They took off uneventfully in a Lancaster[2] but part way through the flight, the starboard inner engine spluttered and failed. Even with one engine out, however, the Lancaster barely noticed. “After feathering the propeller the machine seemed to be remarkably little affected in level flight”, Phil later wrote, “and the subsequent landing was trouble free.”[3]

Later in the evening, the Officers’ Mess hosted a “merry” going-away party for Bill Forbes. And elsewhere, the Mosquito light bombers were out again. Twelve aircraft went to Essen, nine to Duisburg, and two each to Aachen and Koblenz. One failed to return from Essen but all others came home safely.[4]

Squadron Leader Bill Forbes and crew in late 1943. L-R: P/O H Robertson (nav), Sgt AJ Norman (RG), P/O F Miller (F/E), S/L WA Forbes (Pilot), Sgt F McLeod (W/O), P/O H Garth (MUG) and P/O W Grimes (BA). Photo: The Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Squadron Leader Bill Forbes and crew in late 1943. L-R: P/O H Robertson (Nav), Sgt AJ Norman (RG), P/O F Miller (F/E), S/L WA Forbes (Pilot), Sgt F McLeod (W/O), P/O H Garth (MUG) and P/O W Grimes (BA). Photo: The Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

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] 467 Squadron ORB 13JAN44

[2] Phil’s logbook des not record a serial for this trip

[3] Smith, Phil, Phil’s Recollections of 1939-45 War

[4] Night Raid Report No. 509

467 Postblog IX: Sunday 9 – Wednesday 12 January, 1944

The weather at Waddington this week varied between cold, rain, fog, snow, or various  combinations of all four. Consequently operations were never on the cards for the two Squadrons. There was a Church Parade on Sunday and a dance in the N.A.A.F.I. on Tuesday night, and ground training took up more time during the days: an Intelligence film on Sunday, lectures about Prisoners of War and Pathfinder tactics on Tuesday and the Monica early-warning radar system (again) on Wednesday.[1]

In an apparent effort to keep airmen occupied, a rugby competition was organised on Wednesday afternoon, with aircrew playing seven-a-side as individual crews. Results were unfortunately not recorded in the Operational Record Book. 467 Squadron also received a number of visitors, with young members of the Air Training Corps being shown over the Squadron’s aircraft on Sunday and the Inspector General of the Royal Air Force, Air Vice Marshal Sir E.R. Ludlow-Hewitt G.B.E., K.C.B., C.M.G., D.F.C., M.C., alphabet and Bar dropping by on Monday. He arrived, inspected pronounced himself satisfied and left again.[2]

It began to snow on Monday afternoon. For the Australians on the station this was a great novelty, many of them never having seen snow before. With training flights planned for later in the evening, the ground crew were given shovels and told to clear the runway of the falling white stuff.[3]

Snow at Waddington in the winter of 1943-44. The Lancaster is ED606, JO-E of 463 Squadron. From the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Snow at Waddington in the winter of 1943-44. The Lancaster is ED606, JO-E of 463 Squadron. From the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Given the poor weather, many airmen found the time to write a quick letter or two home. Dale Johnston wrote to his father. He knew that he was getting closer to going into battle and sought to reassure his family:[4]

Perhaps next week we will be going on ops […] but don’t worry, there is nothing to panic about. I firmly believe that in these times, if a fellow has got to go, he will. If your number is up, then you are for it. Myself and the rest of the crew are all anxious to get into it, especially with the new skipper.

Operations were indeed getting closer; and to prove that they had learnt something during their operational training Phil Smith and his crew in Lancaster DV373 were among those who took off after nightfall (and after the snow had been cleared from the runway by the long-suffering groundcrews) on Monday 10 January for a ‘Bulls Eye’ trip. They spent five hours and twenty minutes flying a mock operation, with all members of the crew involved. Phil flew the aeroplane, with Ken Tabor managing fuel and other systems on the Lancaster. Jack Purcell found the target, and the way home again. Dale Johnston listened out for instructions from base. Fighter Command provided aircraft to act as enemy nightfighters, so Gil Pate and Eric Hill were keeping a good lookout. A flare dropped over an English city was the target, which Jerry Parker had to ‘bomb’, with a camera to record how close to the aiming point they got. With searchlight units also part of the exercise it was a fairly realistic simulation of a real operation.[5]

Meanwhile, despite the weather keeping the Main Force of Bomber Command on the ground during this period, limited operations did take place with smaller forces and smaller aircraft on Monday night. Ten Mosquitos went to Berlin, seven to Solingen, two to Koblenz and one to Krefeld, and all returned safely.[6]

 

Next post in the series is due on on 13 January.

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] Descriptions of daily activities at Waddington from 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 9-12JAN44

[2] 467 Squadron ORB, 10JAN44

[3] Blundell, HM 1975, p. 12

[4] Johnston, Dale. Letter to his Father, 09JAN44, as transcribed by Don Smith. From Mollie Smith’s collection.

[5] Description of Bullseye operation from Fallon, p. 55

[6] Night Raid Report No. 508

467 Postblog VIII: Saturday 8 January, 1944

After a couple of days off, aircrew were woken early this morning for the ‘usual weekly parade’. The weather was cold and dull.[1] No operations were scheduled, but finally some flying happened for Phil Smith and his crew. It was a training flight to learn the 5 Group ‘Quick Landing Scheme’, the procedure used for recovering the Squadron’s aircraft in a safe and efficient manner following an operation.

The scheme was based around the lights of the Drem System which marked the circuit around an aerodrome. Arriving aircraft would call up on the airfield’s frequency and be told to orbit at specified heights (with newer arrivals ‘stacked up’ above aircraft that had been waiting longer). When it was their turn to join the circuit for landing, aircraft changed to a second frequency to report passing a number of positions around the circuit: ‘Upwind’, ‘Downwind’ and ‘Funnels’. After landing, they reported clear of the runway. The idea was that each following pilot would hear those reports and could therefore keep himself one position behind the one in front in the circuit. As each aircraft left the bottom of the stack circling over the aerodrome, those still waiting above it could be stepped down a level until they were at the bottom, and therefore next to join the circuit. It sounds complicated, but in practice worked very simply and effectively in reducing the risk of collisions over base and had an added benefit of speeding up the process so aircraft needed to wait as short a time as possible before landing. To learn the scheme, pilots attended a lecture in the classroom, and then a “demonstration on the ground with officers walking around an oval and calling at the checkpoints”.[2] Finally they gave it a try in the air. Phil Smith’s logbook records flying for almost an hour in Lancaster DB372.[3]

RAF Waddington Flying Control. From the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington heritage Centre

RAF Waddington Flying Control. From the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington heritage Centre

In the afternoon, the crew saw a lecture on “Raid Damage to Germany”, delivered by a visiting officer called Squadron Leader Morris.[4]

Later in the evening Gil Pate sat down and wrote a letter to his mother.[5] Like his pilot, he recently received a parcel of goodies from home, and was particularly looking forward to getting stuck into the Christmas cake that was in it.

Meanwhile, Bomber Command sent 23 Mosquitoes to attack various targets in Germany. One ditched in the ocean on the way home and one other was lost without trace.[6]

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] 467 and 437 Squadron ORBs, 08JAN44

[2] Description of the 5 Group Quick Landing Scheme is in Conway 1995, p.123

[3] This flight is referred to as ‘Quick Landing Practice’ in Phil Smith’s logbook. In Jack Purcell’s it is shown as a ‘N.F.T.’, or Night Flying Test – I suppose for the navigator it would have felt much the same!

[4] 467 Squadron ORB, 08JAN44

[5] Pate, Gilbert. Letter to Mother, 08JAN44

[6] Night Raid Report No. 507


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