467 Postblog XXIII: Tuesday 15 February, 1944

The crews at Waddington awoke to find that operations were on, for the first time in sixteen days. This was particularly significant for two members of Phil Smith’s crew: navigator Jack Purcell and bomb aimer Jerry Parker would make their operational debuts on this night.

Not having flown in so long, Phil decided to take his aircraft on an air test during the day. He flew for 25 minutes in EE143, one of the veteran aircraft belonging to his flight, though it is not clear which of his crew came with him.[1]

Seventeen aircraft from 463 Squadron and eighteen from 467 were, once again, detailed for an attack on Berlin.[2] It would be the biggest attack of the war on the German capital in terms of numbers sent, with 891 aircraft despatched. At the same time, a small force of Lancasters “carried out a diversionary attack on the marshalling yards at Frankfurt-on-Oder, beyond Berlin, while Mosquitoes bombed Aachen and airfields in the Low Countries.”[3] Mine laying took place in Kiel Harbour and the Bay of Biscay and some Mosquitos carried out intruder patrols.

Squadron Leader Arthur Doubleday led the crews from Waddington off in LL746, at two minutes past five o’clock in the evening. The last Lancaster roared over the fence at 17.36. 35 aircraft had departed at a rate better than one a minute.

Phil Smith in EE143 opened the four throttles at 17.25.[4] But all was not well on the take-off roll. Well after the war, Phil wrote about what happened: [5]

When we were about two thirds way down the runway with a full load of petrol and bombs, I glanced down at the airspeed indicator to check that we were at about the right speed to float off the ground. I was horrified to find that the instrument was not working. I decided immediately that it would be impossible to stop before the end of the runway and that we would have to proceed with the take-off. I climbed away at a much smaller angle than usual. I remember wondering if anybody on the ground noticed our unusual take-off and wondered if we were in trouble.

They were able to climb away flying on recommended power settings, and decided to jettison their bomb load before returning. This required going well out to sea to avoid endangering lives on the ground. Once over the water though, and after attempts by both Phil and flight engineer Ken Tabor to fix the problem behind the instrument panel, they were well on their way towards Denmark and could feel the slipstreams of other aircraft around them.

“Clearly,” Phil wrote, “we were on track and with the mob going to the target.”

And having got that far, he thought, why not keep going?

I put it to the crew who came to agree with me, so we carried on and dropped our bombs somewhere in the Berlin area.

A long way in front of Phil Smith and his crew, the first Pathfinders arrived at Berlin and began marking the target, a little early, at 21.11. The planned ground-marking was once again foiled by cloud, but the skymarking attack that developed appeared to most crews to be well concentrated.

Jerry Parker, in the bomb aimer’s position in the nose of EE143, could see no skymarker flares in the early stages of the run-up to bomb,[6] but just in time some fresh ones were dropped by a preceding Pathfinder aircraft and he pressed the ‘tit’ that sent the bombs tumbling from their hangers at 21.31, twenty minutes after the first flares went down.[7] The attack was scheduled to finish four minutes later but there were some stragglers. The final aircraft from Waddington bombed at 21.45. Pilot Officer Freddy Merrill and crew, of 463 Squadron, would have felt quite lonely, having the defences of Berlin more or less to themselves by that time.

Having completed the entire operation without an airspeed indicator, Phil Smith was becoming a little concerned as he neared home about how a landing would go without such a vital instrument. But in the end it was a non-event.

Following the usual settings and techniques and with much help from the glide path indicators we landed reasonably with only a slight bump. What a tremendous relief it was to be safely on the ground and taxying back to our dispersal.

They landed at 00.40 hours having logged seven and a quarter hours in the air. Thirteen minutes behind them was Pilot Officer Clive Quartermaine and crew in LM338, who had arrived back overhead the airfield at the same time as a big bunch of other aircraft They were delayed in the air, and Quartermaine felt compelled to note his frustrations in his interrogation report:

Had to circle base for 40 minutes before landing. Quick Landing Scheme disappointing.

Though Quartermaine may have found it ‘disappointing’, it was still an impressive display of safely recovering many aircraft in a reasonably efficient manner. Between midnight and 1am, 30 aircraft landed at Waddington – including three in a single minute at 00.15.[8] All Waddington aircraft returned safely, though there had been a couple of early returns due to oxygen problems in one aircraft and an overheating engine on another.

Raising a mug at Waddington to their rear gunner (Sgt Cliff Fudge) after the Berlin raid of 15 February 1944 is the crew of Pilot Officer John McManus (on right in hat). It was Fudge's 21st birthday. The Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Raising a mug at Waddington to their rear gunner (Sgt Cliff Fudge) after the Berlin raid of 15 February 1944 is the crew of Pilot Officer John McManus (on right in hat). It was Fudge’s 21st birthday. The Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

It was not as successful a night elsewhere however. In all, 42 aircraft were missing. Of these, fourteen were observed to fall victim to flak (eight on the way out, two over the target and four on the way home), and seventeen were lost to fighters, the German controllers failing to fall for the spoof raid on Frankfurt-on-Oder. A further seven aircraft were destroyed in landing accidents.

Against this cost, German broadcasts reported some damage to “residential districts, cultural monuments and hospitals.” The bombers left the target burning steadily with a column of smoke later reported rising to 20,000 feet.[9]

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 logbook records “crew” as going along but this flight does not appear in Jack Purcell’s logbook.

[2] 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 15FEB44

[3] Night Raid Report No. 530

[4] 467 Squadron ORB, 15FEB44

[5] This and subsequent quotes on this story are from Smith, Phil, Phil’s Recollections of 1939-1945 War

[6] Night Raid Report No. 530 records no flares were burning between zero+12 and zero+14. Other details of this raid come from the same report, or from Smith, Phil, Flying Logbook 1940-1945

[7] Time of bombing is from 467 Squadron ORB, 15FEB44

[8] Figures from my own analysis of landing times as recorded in both 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs for 15FEB44.

[9] Casualty figures and extract of German broadcast in Night Raid Report No. 530

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