Archive for February, 2014

467 Postblog XXX: Saturday 26 – Tuesday 29 February, 1944

Things go on as usual here with work depending mainly on the moon and the weather. The first sticks to the normal routine but the weather is very changeable. We are having a bad spot at the moment… – Letter Phil Smith to his mother, 27FEB44

After the busy few days of operations aircrews were given Saturday off. Phil Smith headed in to Lincoln to send an urgent telegram. He had received some unsettling news in the last day or so. In a letter from his sister Wenda, he was told that his mother had been involved in an accident involving a tram and a Peters icecream truck on Spit Road, just near the family home in Mosman, Sydney.[1] The accident resulted in Edith Smith losing a leg and for the rest of her life she used a prosthetic. Phil followed his telegram up with a letter written the next day (from which the quote that opens this post also comes). “It was rather a shock to hear how bad it really was,” he wrote, “and I am rather glad I did not get incomplete details only in a cable. I do hope that the wound is healing satisfactorily and that the enforced activity does not depress you un-necessarily.”

While he was in Lincoln, to escape the rain Phil went in search of a picture theatre. It appears, however, that the show was not to his taste, and he “walked out and came ‘home’”.

On Sunday it started to snow, heavily. The entire station – air and ground crews alike – was put on snow fatigues to attempt to clear the runways and taxiways. It was a losing battle: “It was quite remarkable how ineffective this project was,” Phil wrote after the war,[2] “apart from the fact that the exercise was very good for us. Our efforts were rewarded with a rum ration at the end of the day.”

Clearing snow at Waddington, probably February 1944. The original caption identifies Fred Smith as the centre one of the five men with shovels. From the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Clearing snow at Waddington, probably February 1944. The original caption identifies Pilot Officer Fred Smith with a shovel at the rear of the group. From the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

The snow clearing operation carried on, in two-hour shifts, all night. Monday found a bright sunny morning with snow 12-18 inches thick blanketing the aerodrome. “Very pretty,” remarked the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, “but it is going to take some shifting.” Almost unbelievably, operations were scheduled for Monday night. Then it started snowing again, and just before seven o’clock the raid was cancelled. The first Bomber Command aircraft to go out on operations since Augsburg was raided three nights ago were eight Wellingtons from Operational Training Units. They dropped nothing more dangerous than thousands of leaflets over France and all returned safely. A Mosquito also carried out a meteorological reconnaissance flight, but the Main Force remained grounded.

It was a “really brilliant day with sunshine all day” at Waddington on the last day of February. But the station was still covered in thick snow and all hands were set to snow clearing again. It would have been a curious sight for two new crews as they arrived at Waddington on posting to 463 Squadron.[3]

Bomber Command’s offensive operations began again later that night, though once again the Main Force was not involved. Fifteen Mosquitos bombed Dusseldorf. One more was sent to a flying bomb site at Sottevast and 20 Whitleys and Wellingtons scattered yet more ‘bumphlets’ over France. One Whitley failed to return.[4]

In all of February, 467 Squadron had operated to five targets, all in Germany. 74 completed operational sorties were flown involving 583 hours of flying, for a total of 356 tons of bombs dropped. Just one crew had been lost (Herbert Stuchbury and crew on Augsburg on 25 February).

February had been not as easy for their sister unit at Waddington. 463 Squadron lost four crews during the month: those of Ernie Fayle (Leipzig, 19 February), Charles Martin and Ron Mortimer (both on Schweinfurt, 24 February) and Kevin McKnight (Augsburg, 25 February).

Next post in this series: 1 March

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] Story of the accident related to me by Phil’s widow, Mollie Smith, in an interview 15JUL09

[2] Smith, Phil. Phil’s Recollections of 1939-1945 War, p.19

[3] 463 Squadron ORB, 28-29FEB44

[4] Night Raid Report No. 539, and RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, February 1944

467 Postblog XXIX: Friday 25 February, 1944

Despite returning at dawn this morning from Schweinfurt there was little rest for the Waddington crews, with a further operation on the cards tonight. In all, 23 crews were on the battle order to attack Augsburg, again in two waves, three hours apart. Twenty of them had operated last night – and no fewer than ten of those had been in the second wave last night but were scheduled for the first tonight. These unfortunates found themselves once again taking off for Germany a little more than fourteen hours after they had shut their engines down at their dispersals.[1]

A number of crews did not go on this raid. 463 Squadron detailed 13 crews but their Operational Record Book only lists eleven as having taken off. 467 Squadron detailed fourteen but had two crews miss out as their aircraft were unserviceable and not able to be fixed in time. Bruce Simpson, who had diverted to Tangmere after last night’s raid, returned to Waddington by lunchtime but was given the night off. And Squadron Leader Smith and his crew were also off. Though the reason for that is not recorded it was probably due to Phil’s position as Flight Commander. EE143, the Lancaster that they had flown in on their last three trips, was instead taken to Augsburg by Flight Sergeant Roland Cowan and crew. Cowan had been a ‘second dickie’ with Phil in the same aircraft last night.

Tactics used by Bomber Command for this raid were very similar to the Schweinfurt attack. The two waves of bombers (594 aircraft in all – 461 Lancasters, 123 Halifaxes and 10 Mosquitos)[2] were supported by diversionary attacks by Mosquitos on Saarbrucken, Mannheim, Aachen and Schweinfurt, continuing to harass the inhabitants of that town following last night’s large attack. There were also large mining operations in Kiel Harbour and the Bay of Biscay. Three Halifaxes and a Stirling from the mining force failed to return.

The route for the Main Force was once again across France and well into southern Germany – Flying Officer K. Schultz from 463 Squadron reported that “Switzerland looked attractive – like pre-war days” – before turning to the north towards the target. Combined with the diversions, this appears to have successfully deceived the fighters so the Night Raid Report[3] records few combats.

The bombers hit the city hard. The first wave found clear weather over the target and could easily identify the aiming point visually. The Pathfinder markers were extremely accurate. Searchlights and fighter flares were observed by a number of crews but the flak was not particularly strong. Pilot Officer Eric Smith’s gunners claimed a nightfighter destroyed over the target. Pilot Officer John McManus, in R5868 (S-Sugar), was coned over the target for some five minutes but managed to get away.[4] The Main Force left many fires burning and the glow from these was still visible up to 150 miles away.

Those fires made it very easy for the second wave to find the target. They simply added to the fires, though their attack spread a little further towards the south east of the town. Defences by this stage were less formidable: “Searchlights on target a little clueless”, said Pilot Officer Clive Quartermaine.

On the ground, the temperature was so low that fire hoses froze over.[5] The Night Raid Report estimated that 60% of Augsburg itself was devastated, with significant damage also caused in the industrial area between the town itself and the river.

21 aircraft were lost on this operation, twelve from the first wave (one to flak, six to fighters, four to collisions over the Channel and one unknown), and nine from the second (two to flak, three to fighters and four unknowns). Two Waddington aircraft, one from each squadron, were amongst those that failed to return. Pilot Officer Kevin McKnight and crew, in DV274, and Pilot Officer Herbert Stuchbury and crew, in LL756, were all in the first wave. McKnight’s aircraft crashed near Liesse in the Aisne region of France with the loss of all crew members. Stuchbury’s crew, only fairly recent additions to the squadron, had completed just three operations when they crashed near Deufringen in Germany. Again, all were killed.[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] Analysis based on details from 463 and 467 Squadron Operational Record Books, 25FEB44

[2] Bomber Command Campaign Diary, February 1944

[3] Night Raid Report No. 537

[4] Reported in the 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 25FEB44

[5] RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, February 1944

[6] Storr, Alan 2006

467 Postblog XXVIIIb: Thursday 24 February, 1944

The Second Wave attacks Schweinfurt. This post follows Part A.

Meanwhile, about two and a half hours before the first attack opened over Schweinfurt, crews of the second wave began taking off from their airfields in England. The first two aircraft, one of which was EE143 piloted by Phil Smith, left Waddington at 20.20 hours, part of a total group of 21 aircraft.[1] The bomber stream followed an identical route to that taken by the first wave over the Channel and across to the turning point south-west of Stuttgart, then north to Schweinfurt. Two bombers from the second wave were seen to be shot down by flak at Stuttgart on the way out, and two more at Frankfurt on the way back from the target.[2]

The Americans had badly damaged Schweinfurt during the day, and the first wave of Bomber Command’s attack had added to the fires. In clear weather, Phil Smith thought the glow from the target was visible from up to fifty miles away,[3] and many other crews reported that the whole town seemed ablaze on arrival. The fires were “glowing like a coal fire as we ran in on target,” according to one pilot’s report in the Operational Record Book.

The attack was scheduled to open at 01.05. The first Pathfinder blind marker crews managed to bracket the aiming point with their green target indicators. The visual markers dropped their red target indicators accurately and so the early bombing was also on the target. Once again however the backers-up bombed short and the bombing slowly drifted backwards (though the report notes this time it was only about half as far).[4] Phil Smith’s crew bombed red Pathfinder Target Indicators at 01.16, and Phil later recorded in his logbook that their target photo was plotted about 5,000 yards or nearly three miles south of the aiming point.

It was an eventful few minutes. Phil also noted that both gunners fired at a nightfighter while over the target, the only time that we have clear evidence of Gil Pate and Eric Hill using their guns in anger.[5] This was one of nine combats reported over Schweinfurt.[6] Another was experienced by Pilot Officer Noel McDonald: [7]

Overshot some red TIs by a few seconds owing to approach from stern of a fighter during bombing run, which necessitated corkscrew manoeuvre.

Schweinfurt was well alight by the time the bombers left. Many crews reported still seeing the fires from as far as 200 miles away on the homeward journey.[8] To fox the German defences further, the return route for the second wave differed to that of the first. After bombing, the aircraft overflew the target to the north-east before flying west for 20 miles. From there, instead of continuing roughly westwards towards home, they turned back towards the south and went out the same way they had come in, via Stuttgart and Dieppe.[9] Once again, many crews (including Phil Smith) complained of jettisoned incendiaries up and down the route. “It appears that this has been quite often the case of late”, lamented Flying Officer McDonald.[10]

33 bombers failed to return from Schweinfurt, a total that the Night Raid Report somewhat exultantly calls “a small proportion for so distant a target”.  While 22 of those (5.6% of the 392 sent) were lost from the first wave, just eleven (3.2% of 342) failed to return from the second. The German fighter controllers actually moved their fighters away from Schweinfurt, perhaps not believing that the British could be so bold as to attack the same target twice in one night. Consequently, though at least nine of the total losses could not be definitively accounted for, just four bombers were believed to have actually fallen to fighters during the second wave.[11] (Two Stirlings from the mining force and one Serrate Mosquito also failed to return.) On the other side of the balance sheet, two enemy twin-engined nightfighters were claimed as destroyed by the bombers over both waves.

The new tactics had, at least to some extent, worked.

Reconnaissance photographs were not obtained until 5 March, a week and a half after the raid. They revealed significant damage to the ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt, such that it was estimated that seven weeks’ production was lost by one factory and five weeks’ by the other. Some residential and commercial premises in the town itself were hit, and there was also damage caused in the outlying villages of Garstadt (five miles south-west of the city) and Grafenrheinfeld (two and a half miles).[12]

The initial marking was accurate during both waves, so the early bombing was also accurate and it’s likely that the twenty-two aircraft that got aiming-point photographs were in the initial waves of Pathfinders or Supporters during each phase. The plot of photographs in the Night Raid Report shows that very few aircraft overshot the target. It’s a reasonable assumption that the 260-odd aircraft that bombed within three miles were also in the early stages of the attack, and when the marking drifted outside three miles, so did the bombing (and photographs) of the rest of the force. With these inaccuracies it is however not possible to tell with any certainty which damage had been caused by Bomber Command or what was from the American daylight attack of earlier in the day.

Bombing photo from 630 Squadron of the Schweinfurt attack. Image courtesy Neale Wellman

Bombing photo from 630 Squadron of the Schweinfurt attack. Image courtesy Neale Wellman

All 467 Squadron crews returned safely from Schweinfurt, though not entirely free of misadventure. Walter Marshall, in ED953 (with the photographers on board), was shot up by flak, damaging the main plane, tail planes, fuselage and pilot’s Perspex panel. Pilot Officer Bruce Simpson, in ED657, landed at Tangmere short of fuel.

But two bombers from 463 Squadron were still missing from their places on dispersal.

LM444, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Charles Martin, was hit by flak over the target, crashing near Edelshohe, five miles north west of Schweinfurt. The navigator got out and became a prisoner of war but the rest of the crew were killed.

Flight Lieutenant R.J. Mortimer, in LL740, was on his 30th trip. Passing Stuttgart on the way to the target, the aircraft was shot down by a nightfighter. Mortimer kept his blazing aircraft under control long enough to ensure that most of the other members of his crew could bale out, but he and his bomb aimer, Pilot Officer Ian Young, were both killed in the ensuing crash.[13]

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] Or possibly 22; see note 9

[2] Night Raid Report No. 536, route plotted on Google Earth

[3] 467 Squadron ORB, 24FEB44

[4] Details from Night Raid Report No. 536. See [this post] for a more detailed explanation of the different sorts of Pathfinder techniques

[5] Interestingly there is no mention of any nightfighter contacts in the Operational Record Book

[6] Night Raid Report No. 536

[7] Night Raid Report No. 536

[8] As reported, among others, by P/O K.H. McKnight in LL790 – 463 Squadron ORB

[9] Route details from Night Raid Report No. 536, and plotted on Google Earth

[10] 467 Squadron ORB, 25FEB44

[11] Night Raid Report No. 536

[12] Night Raid Report No. 536

[13] Storr, Alan 2006

467 Postblog XXVIIIa: Thursday 24 February, 1944

Sat at his window in the Sergeant’s Mess at RAF Waddington, rear gunner Gilbert Pate was in a contemplative mood. The weather had improved from the snow and cold of the past few days, and the knowledge that this meant that operations would be scheduled for tonight made his thoughts turn to home. So as he sat he wrote a letter to his mother. “At present it is a lovely spring morning which makes everyone feel grand + miss home more than ever”, he wrote. “Hope everything at home is going along quite well… I can well imagine the pup is stretched out in the usual place by the back door.”[1]

It appears that Gilbert had some time to spare on this fine morning, for he also wrote to a distant cousin of his father’s. A digger from the First World War who had visited the Pates at home in Kogarah (Sydney) in 1934-5, Raymond Smith (no relation to Gilbert’s pilot) now lived in California. Gilbert had attempted to get in touch with Raymond while he passed through the US en route to England, but spent no appreciable time on the West Coast and so missed him. This letter[2] also shows signs of homesickness: “The sun is shining and it is like a lovely warm spring day in Sydney, just the kind of weather that makes Bondi Beach look an awfully long way off.” Gilbert then explained what he was doing in England:

 Our trips by night are right into the heart of Germany, as the coastal areas of occupied territory’s [sic] are done by the day bombers which as you know are mostly American forces. Between us we are hitting Jerry pretty hard and as you must have done in the last war, I am hoping that the end is just around the corner.

While Gilbert was busy writing his letters, the squadron’s groundstaff were already beginning to prepare the aircraft for the night’s operation. The target was Schweinfurt and was to be attacked by two distinct waves of bombers, two hours apart, a new tactic which Flying Officer McDonald, the compiler of the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, considered a “grand idea and no doubt the target will be well marked for the last wave.”[3]

Well over 200 American bombers had raided Schweinfurt during the day today – part of their ‘Big Week’ campaign – but this was to be the first time that Bomber Command sent its own crews there.[4] Sir Arthur Harris had been reluctant to divert his forces from the strategy of area bombing but in early 1944 he had been, Martin Middlebrook wrote, “formally instructed” by the Air Ministry to attack the city,[5] which was the home of most of Germany’s ball-bearing industry and thus a vital target. In all, he despatched 734 aircraft to the city: 554 Lancasters, 169 Halifaxes and 11 Mosquitos.

Other aircraft were sent on various feints and diversions to draw German defences away from the main force. Mosquitos carried out intruder Serrate patrols. Mines were laid in Kiel Harbour, the Kattegat and the Bay of Biscay. More Mosquitos carried out precision raids on Aachen and a diversionary attack on Kiel itself.[6] And in a further distraction, almost 180 training aircraft carried out a “Combined Command Bullseye exercise”[7] over the North Sea to a position about 160 miles north east of the Lincolnshire coast, in an attempt to look like a large force headed for Berlin. It was hoped that these diversionary operations, combined with the new tactic of splitting the Main Force into two separate waves to the same target, would deceive the German fighter controllers and so reduce losses on such a deep penetration into Germany.

Phil Smith took a ‘second dickie’ pilot on this trip, Flight Sergeant Roland Cowan, and there were also two members of the RAF Film Unit in ED953 with Flight Lieutenant Walter Marshall. “Last trip they did the shots were shown in all newsreels and most of the daily papers”, boasted Flying Officer McDonald in the ORB.[8]

There were at least nine[9] Waddington aircraft in the first wave, taking off from 18.30. There was one early return: the port inner engine on Flight Lieutenant Jack Colpus’ Lancaster (JA901) caught fire and he was forced to drop his bombs in the middle of the North Sea before returning home on three.[10]

JA901 'Naughty Nan' and her crew at Waddington during the winter of 1943-44

JA901 ‘Naughty Nan’ and her crew at Waddington during the winter of 1943-44. Photo from the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Meanwhile the rest of the force crossed the Channel, making landfall just north of Dieppe. The bombers headed east-south-east until a point thirty miles south-west of Stuttgart. On this leg, two aircraft fell to flak, one each at Metz and Saarbrucken. The bomber stream then turned towards the north, on a direct track for Schweinfurt.

It appears that the Bullseye and mining forces did distract the nightfighters away from the bomber stream, for a while, anyway. The controllers held many of their aircraft towards the north, perhaps anticipating another heavy attack on Berlin. The fighters were moved progressively further south as the list of possible targets narrowed, and they finally caught up with the bombers about eighty miles before they turned north towards Schweinfurt. In the words of Pilot Officer Clive Quartermaine, it was “very lively” from this point to the target, with “numerous combats” seen. Five bombers went down near Saarbrucken and three between Saarbrucken and the target and two others had fallen earlier in the flight while the stream was still over France.[11]

According to the scientists who wrote the Night Raid Report, the first Pathfinder flares went down over Schweinfurt seven minutes before zero hour. Four minutes later the first of the visual marking crews dropped their red target indicators (one falling within half a mile of the exact aiming point). By zero hour (23.05) the target was well marked. Conditions were clear, with snow visible on the ground. Many crews reported smoke and fires when they arrived over the target, and they left it in an even worse condition:[12]

When aircraft left target area, many incendiary fires burning and several good orange fires – glow could be seen 40 minutes after leaving target area. – Pilot Officer Freddy Merrill in DV274, bombed at 23.11.

On arrival there were some fires and a good deal of smoke, but whether these were from day attack is difficult to say. – P/O John Roberts, in DV374, bombed at 23.12.

Fires well concentrated in one compact area. Streets distinguished by lines of fires. – P/O John McManus in R5868 (the famous S for Sugar), bombed at 23.15.

Some crews had a tough time over the target. During the first phase of this attack, two aircraft were shot down by nightfighters and two more fell to flak over the target itself. Pilot Officer Alan Finch, in DV373, almost joined them, being ‘coned’ in an estimated 24 searchlights for three or four minutes. “Target more formidable than briefed”, he nonchalantly reported on arrival back at base.

Finch bombed at 23.15 hours, just three minutes after Dan Conway, who had an altogether different experience:

Believed A.P. [Aiming Point] over block of warehouses in factory. […]Target defences slight.

Conway managed to sneak through the target entirely unmolested, and considered therefore that opposition had been negligible. Finch got coned and instead considered the defences stronger than expected. Yet they had been in the same general area within three minutes of each other. This is a good example of how big a part luck played in survival on operations.

Conway also believed that he was bang on the target. It would appear, however, based on his time of bombing and assuming he dropped his cargo on the target indicators as briefed, he was most likely actually a good deal south west of the planned aiming point. Though the initial marking had been accurate, as the raid progressed the subsequent Pathfinder backers-up began to suffer from ‘creep-back’ and the bombing fell back along the line of approach. “The main force”, wrote the scientists, “followed the backward drift of the backers-up only too faithfully”. The result was an undershoot of almost six-miles by the time Conway bombed at 23.13. In the end, photographs plotted only seven aircraft as definitively in the target area (though at least 110 more bombed within three miles of the aiming-point).[13]

After flying through and attacking the target, the bombers turned back to the west, to a point between Bonn and Koblenz. From there, they flew over Belgium before crossing the enemy coast near Dieppe again. Many crews reported jettisoned incendiaries along the route, both on the way out and on the way home, a dangerous practice that could attract nightfighters to the bomber stream.

In Part B: The Second Wave

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] Pate, Gilbert, Letter to mother, 24FEB44

[2] Pate, Gilbert, Letter to Raymond Smith, 24FEB44

[3] 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 24FEB44

[4] RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, February 1944

[5] Middlebrook (1973), p.79

[6] Night Raid Report No. 536

[7] Bullseye numbers from RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, February 1944; all other details from Night Raid Report No. 536

[8] Smith, Phil, Flying log book and 467 Squadron ORB, 24FEB44

[9] Perhaps there was a tenth; one record in the 463 Sqn ORB has been pencilled in, with a note “Bill Brooker’s log”. No times or any further details are given so it is unclear whether this aircraft was in the first or the second wave.

[10] 467 Squadron ORB, 24FEB44

[11] Night Raid Report No. 536

[12] All in 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 24FEB44

[13] Night Raid Report No. 536

467 Postblog XXVII: Monday 21 – Wednesday 23 February, 1944

After flying two operations in a little more than 24 hours, the crews of the Waddington squadrons breathed a sigh of relief on 21 February, when a stand-down was declared. A few crews took the opportunity to carry out air tests on their aircraft and one crew – that of the recently-arrived Pilot Officer Jim Marshall – went on a Bullseye training trip in the evening.[1]

Operations were scheduled for the next night, but the weather turned wet and snowy and it was no surprise to anyone when at 17.30 they were scrubbed. The groundcrews were particularly unhappy. They had toiled all day to bomb up and service all the aircraft, only to then need to unload the bombs again when, given the weather, ops were never going to be likely. “They are becoming quite ‘browned off’”, wrote Pilot Officer McDonald in the ORB.

Waddington Lancasters in the snow, February 1944. Photograph taken by the Station medical Officer, Flight Lieutenant Howarth. The control tower is visible at the left of shot. From the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington heritage Centre

Waddington Lancasters in the snow, February 1944. Photograph taken by the Station medical Officer, Flight Lieutenant Howarth. The control tower is visible at the left of shot. From the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

With nothing much doing, Phil Smith sat down to write his weekly letter home.[2] It’s worth quoting at some length, giving a good idea of how airmen filled in their time, and a flavour of the atmosphere of wartime England:

 Dear Dad,

The only letter since I wrote last was an airgraph from you written when the book on counters arrived. I was glad to hear that you found it interesting. I can’t think of much to write about these days as very little happens beyond our work. I have become hardened to the cold I think as I can go out on frosty mornings without tingling ears and aching hands. I keep pretty healthy these days the only troubles I have are with teeth and occasional sore throats. I very seldom get out of camp these days and still have not had a look at Lincoln cathedral. The town itself is very crowded with service people these days queues at barber shops tea shops and the cinemas. […] My main source of diversion is the camp picture show where we get a change on programme every second day. As at Esham [sic] I find that the mess is not a very pleasant place because of an automatic gramaphone [sic] which is used almost continuously at full volume. The watch you bought me is again giving good service after a spell of inactivity with something wrong – it is quite a hard job getting repairs done now. Love from Philip

Also writing letters home was Gilbert Pate. Of interest here, his mention of specific targets of his bombing operations, and his thankfulness for not being in the infantry:[3]

 Dear Mum,

Very happy to hear you are all quite well.

Today here is cold + snowing so I’m keeping indoors.

Would welcome a cake instead of a parcel.

I have been twice to Berlin + expect to go again to finish it off, so far we have had fairly good trips. I have posted Grace papers of the raids in which I took part.

Things aren’t to [sic] bad over here + when I see the ‘newsreels’ of the fighting in New Guinea + Italy I think I am quite well off.

Hope you are all well at home + Dad isn’t working too hard.

Tell Joyce I’ll try to send her some pictures.

Lots of love,

Gil

The Main Force again carried out no operations on Wednesday. There was some break in the monotony at Waddington with a visit by members of the Public Relations Branch of RAAF Overseas Headquarters, but apart from a few more air tests nothing else happened.

During this three-day period while the Main Force had a break, Bomber Command’s Mosquitos continued the pressure on Germany. On Monday, they harassed Stuttgart and attacked the steelworks at Duisberg and flying bomb sites at Sottevast and Harbouville. The minelayers were out off the French Atlantic ports and the Frisian islands (one Stirling failed to return), and Wellingtons scattered yet more leaflets over Northern France. On Tuesday the Mosquitos went to Stuttgart and Duisberg again, and also attacked Aachen. More Stirlings were sent to lay mines in Kiel Harbour, the Kattegat and the Heligoland Bight, but this force was recalled as the weather deteriorated at their home bases.[4] Finally, on Wednesday a Mosquito force attacked Dusseldorf dropping 4,000lb bombs – the first time Mosquitos had dropped a ‘cookie’ – more leaflets were scattered by Wellingtons over Northern France and some more Mosquitos carried out intruder patrols and weather reconnaissance flights.[5]

 

Next post in this series: 24 February

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, 21FEB44

[2] Smith, Phil. Letter to father, 22FEB44. From Mollie Smith’s collection

[3] Pate, Gilbert. Letter to mother, 22FEB44. From Gil Thew’s collection

[4] Night Raid Report No. 534

[5] All details from Night Raid Reports Nos. 533-535

467 Postblog XXVI: Sunday 20 February, 1944

A “sticky” trip. Weather poor over base, bags of light over parts of the route and had microphone trouble. – Phil Smith’s logbook

In the very early hours of Sunday morning, thirty five Lancasters droned from Waddington eastwards across the North Sea, flying through light snow and low stratus cloud.[1] They were part of an overall force of 816 heavy bombers and seven Mosquitos en route to Leipzig.

The tactic, to keep the German fighter controllers guessing, was to approach the enemy coast at low level, climbing sharply just before the island of Texel.[2] But because of cloud conditions at the start of the outward route[3] and incorrect wind forecasts[4] many crews found themselves approaching the coast early. They needed to fly ‘doglegs’ to lose time, a dangerous practice in such crowded skies. At least one collision was seen and “it [was] wondered if the concentration [was] not becoming too heavy.”[5]

To further confuse the enemy fighter controllers, other aircraft were heading for a spoof attack on Berlin, a diversionary minelaying operation in Kiel Harbour and attacks on nightfighter airfields in Holland. While the Kiel operation attracted some of the fighters, the remainder were held in reserve probably as a result of the Mosquitos attacking the airfields – and so by what the Night Raid Report[6] called “unlucky chance” they were airborne and not very far away when the bomber stream crossed the coast. Consequently the bombers fought a running battle all the way to Leipzig and not less than twenty bombers were seen to be destroyed on the route out to the target.[7]

Many crews found themselves reaching turning points early, necessitating doglegs and orbits enroute (and even over the target) to try and lose time. This was a difficult trip for the navigators, and the Operational Record Books for both 463 Squadron and 467 Squadron are full of crews complaining about timing and flight planning for the raid:

Considerable inconvenience caused due to flight planning timing being too early. Numerous doglegs. – Flying Officer Dan Conway in LM450

Many aircraft seen doing doglegs up to Posn A, necessitating nav lights on. – Pilot Officer Milton Smith in LL788

Good trip spoilt by very bad timing over whole route, causing orbiting both en route and in target area. – Flying Officer Alan Finch in DV373

Bad trip. Timing all wrong. Had to orbit for 10 minutes to bomb in correct wave. – Flight Lieutenant Alex Vowels in HK356

Winds favourable but arrived 13 minutes too early. – Flight Lieutenant Ron Mortimer in LL740

Despite the best efforts of the navigators, many aircraft arrived over the target early and were forced to circle around the city until the first Pathfinder flares went down (themselves six minutes early, just before four o’clock in the morning), over solid cloud. The attack started in a fairly concentrated fashion but later on became scattered as subsequent marking accuracy reduced. When Phil Smith and crew arrived over the target area, it was quite a sight: there were “fighter flares of all types and TIs of all types spread over a large area” and a “red and white glow showed against [the] cloud.”[8] A heavy flak barrage was being fired at the bombers and though the searchlights themselves could not penetrate the cloud they illuminated its base to silhouette the bombers against it for the nightfighters, which claimed at least another three victims over the city.[9] There were several minutes during which no target indicator flares were burning (from 04.11 to 04.15). It was at the tail end of this period that Jerry Parker released the bombs from EE143.[10] Then they turned tail and dived out of the target area.

The return journey was just a little bit easier than the outbound one. Having initially been sent towards the diversionary mining force, the nightfighters had been in the air for a long time and were running short of fuel. Consequently they “pursued the bombers with less than their usual persistency,” and only four more bombers are known to have fallen victim to them on the way home.[11]

It had, however, been an expensive night. The nightfighters claimed at least 27 bombers and flak at least another twenty. The full toll was much higher. “When we heard 79 were missing we couldn’t believe it” wrote Flying Officer McDonald in the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book.

LONDON, Sunday.- The R.A.F. lost 79 bombers last night in massive air strikes at central and western Germany, France and Holland. The loss is the heaviest the Allies have suffered in any single day or night operation in the war. – The Daily Telegraph, 21FEB44

Though crews began arriving back at Waddington safely from about 06.40 on Sunday morning, there was to be a little bit more excitement before the raid was over. Pilot Officer Noel McDonald encountered difficulties while landing, when his flaps would not go all the way down – until the airspeed bled right back in the flare to land, whereupon they extended suddenly. The nose came up, the aircraft ‘pancaked’ violently, a tyre burst and the undercarriage collapsed. This pulled the Lancaster sideways and the aircraft (LM448) finished up off the runway with damage to its port wing, both port propellers and both fins. Pilot Officer Freddy Merrill, of 463 Squadron, diverted to Leconfield and was the last of the Waddington aircraft to land, at 08.15, perhaps as a result of this crash. Though all crews walked away, when combined with the ground collision before take-off 467 Squadron had badly damaged three aircraft in accidents in a single night. The news was worse for 463 Squadron, however, with one of their aircraft – DV338 with Flying Officer Ernie Fayle and crew – failing to return. It disappeared without trace.[12]

Despite the early morning arrival home from Leipzig today, there was little rest for most of the Waddington crews, with both Squadrons sending aircraft and crews on an operation to Stuttgart. In all 30 aircraft were detailed, though one was not serviceable in time and there were two early returns, both due to engine failures. Phil Smith and his crew were not on the battle order for this trip.

Visibility was excellent over the target (with individual blocks of buildings visible) and the crews considered this “quite a good prang.”[13] Later reconnaissance revealed that the bombing was somewhat scattered, perhaps caused by heavy cloud over much of the target area (except for the clear patch that the 467 Squadron crews reported) but considerable damage was caused to factories and suburbs in Stuttgart. Bomber Command sent almost 600 aircraft on this raid for a relatively light loss of just nine bombers, but the trip was not entirely without its dramas. One 467 Squadron crew (that of Flight Sergeant Ed Dearnaley) had an oxygen failure and needed to evacuate their rear gunner from his turret. Noel McDonald (who, you will remember, had crashed on landing on return from Leipzig earlier that day!) was attacked twice by nightfighters but successfully evaded, with the mid-upper gunner opening fire on the attacking aircraft (though without noticeable result). And Pilot Officer Clive Quartermaine was also chased by a Messerschmitt but corkscrewed immediately and the fighter disappeared into the blackness. All returned safely to Waddington.

Elsewhere tonight, 156 aircraft from both training units and operational squadrons made ‘Bullseye’ flights across the North Sea in a “preliminary feint” which likely distracted the German fighter controllers and contributed to the lower than usual casualty rate for the main Stuttgart stream. Mosquitos raided Munich and attacked Dutch airfields, several Serrate patrols were flown and other aircraft dropped mines in French waters for the loss of one Wellington.

And in welcome news, Phil Smith’s navigator, Jack Purcell, received a promotion to Warrant Officer effective today.[14]

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] S/L Arthur Doubleday, quoted in Blundell 1975, p.19

[2] Ibid.

[3] Smith, Phil, reported in 467 Sqn ORB, 19FEB44

[4] Night Raid Report No. 531

[5] 467 Sqn ORB 20FEB44

[6] Night Raid Report No. 531

[7] Ibid.

[8] 467 Squadron ORB, 19FEB44

[9] Night Raid Report No. 531

[10] Ibid.; also 467 Squadron ORB 19FEB44

[11] Night Raid Report No. 531

[12] Storr, Alan 2006

[13]Most information for the Stuttgart raid comes from 467 Squadron ORB 21FEB44, with some details and other operations from Night Raid Report No. 532.

[14] Purcell, Royston William, Service Record

467 Postblog XXV: Saturday 19 February, 1944

On a cold, cloudy and slightly snowy day[1] both Waddington squadrons briefed for a maximum effort operation for the coming evening. And for once, it was not to Berlin. The main force was bound for Leipzig, Germany’s fifth-largest industrial city at the time,[2] situated some 100 miles south west of the capital. Every available aircraft and crew – eighteen in all from 463 Squadron and nineteen from 467 – geared up for a take-off scheduled for just before midnight.

It was not, however, an entirely uneventful preparation. The great hulking bombers started their engines and began trundling from their dispersals and onto the perimeter track some time after 23.00 hours. But then, in the words of the ORB, “one aircraft didn’t like the look of another and ran into it.” The two aircraft – both from 467 Squadron – were not severely damaged but it was enough to ground them for the night and both crews (those of Flying Officer Doug Harvey and Flight Lieutenant David Symonds) had to sit out the trip.

The first aircraft rolled down the runway at 23.25. Phil Smith, in EE143 (the same aircraft he had taken to Berlin four nights ago), took off at 23.47, and the last Lancaster disappeared into the cloud just under half an hour later.[3]

 

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] Blundell, 1975 p.13

[2] Massive Attack on Leipzig, article from The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 February 1944. From Mollie Smith’s collection

[3] Timings from both 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 19FEB44