Archive for March, 2014

467 Postblog LI: Friday 31 March, 1944

Last night, on reflection, could have been worse, thought the Orderly Officer who compiled the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book. But last night’s losses, their first since 25 February, were bad enough. “It had looked like being our first clear month since the Squadron formed”, he wrote ruefully. It had been a busy month, too, with nine operations and 135 operational sorties carried out by the Squadron during March. Their counterparts in 463 Squadron had endured a slightly worse month with two crews failing to return and one lost in a collision near base.

But those who were left could look forward to a little bit of an immediate future. Most crews now went on the leave that they were expecting before the disaster that was Nuremberg. Among them was Dan Conway who, after a short snooze to shake off the worst of the effects of last night’s operation, got the train to 27 Operational Training Unit at Lichfield to visit a friend there. “Despite the Nuremberg losses or perhaps because of them,” he wrote, “it was quite a party that night at Lichfield.” Conway would later catch up with the rest of his crew in London.[1]

The Sydney Morning Herald had sent their London correspondent to Waddington around the time of the Nuremberg raid. Betty Wilson spent three days on the station and the article she wrote about the visit, eventually published on 20 May 1944, captures something of the atmosphere of a bomber station at war.[2] Wilson wrote about the music they played in the Mess:

At the moment, “Salome” is the Australians’ favourite gramophone record, probably because they have their own words which they sing when the W.A.A.F. officers have gone home. Anyhow, they put it on at least 50 times a day.

She wrote about the strange life of bomber aircrew:

These men are living an unnatural life and, at the same time, a completely absorbing one. There are long periods when they have little or nothing to do. There are equally long periods of concentrated activity when all the sickness of waiting and anticipation is crystallised into Lancasters crawling up runways like great earth-bound insects; when the day’s work comes to a climax in the planes’ lovely, inimitable lift as they become airborne and ends, for some men, with a burst of bullets from a fighter’s machine-guns, for others, with breakfast and the “operational egg.”

And she wrote about watching the squadrons taking off for a raid. There is a good chance that it was the Nuremberg operation that she was witnessing:

There is always a knot of people waiting to see them take off, standing there with thumbs jerked up as the Lancasters taxi up to the runway, accelerating with brakes on until the aircraft get off on a sort of a catapult release which will lift them and their bomb-load. The rear-gunner waggles his guns in farewell, and all Lancasters – from A – Apple to Z – Zero – waddle forward to become airborne like great swans and circle the airfield until the sky seems full of planes against the gathering dusk.

And she finishes with an evocative description of the ‘emptiness’ left behind when the bombers were on their way:

The Lancasters get off to their rendezvous. The watchers go back to the crew rooms to tidy up and get ready for the crews’ return. In the mess the gramophone, rewound by W.A.A.F. stewards, still grinds out “Salome” in a horrid – but temporary – emptiness.

And yet the war went on. Still somewhat stunned by the previous night’s disaster, the Main Force was given the night off, but three Mosquitos attacked Essen, 28 aircraft carried out ‘Special Operations’ and fifteen aircraft from Training Command scattered leaflets over France. The only casualty was a Halifax which failed to return from a Resistance supply-dropping mission.[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] Conway, p.137

[2] Wilson, Betty 1944

[3] Night Raid Report No. 568 and RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, March 1944

467 Postblog Lb: Thursday 30 March, 1944

After fighting their way through one of the most one-sided aerial battles of the bomber war, the battered and bruised Main Force are approaching the target area…

The initial marking failed at Nuremberg. Some Pathfinders missed the wind change and ended up over Lauf, a small town with similar H2S characteristics to Nuremberg but about ten miles to the north east. While some realised the mistake and did not drop their markers here, at least four aircraft did.[1] When the Main Force crews arrived a few minutes later, they found two sets of well-defined skymarkers over almost solid cloud: one at Nuremberg and one at Lauf. Indeed, one 463 Squadron crew reported three groups of Wanganuis visible when they bombed at 01.20.[2] The result was very scattered bombing which spread to the east and then crept back along the bombers’ path of approach. The “target [was] hard to pick out,” recorded 467 Squadron navigator Flying Officer Arnold Easton.[3]

But there was one other complication. One of the Pathfinder Mosquitos, which was intended to drop a green ‘floater’ target indicator as part of the early target marking at Nuremberg, suffered H2S failure and had also missed the wind change. He turned at the false turning point to the north and short of the real one above the Thuringer Wald, and when a large city appeared at his estimated time of arrival over Nuremberg and started throwing up searchlights and flak, he assumed he was at the target and dropped his markers.[4] But he was actually at Schweinfurt, some fifty miles to the north west, which had the misfortune to lie on approximately the same bearing and distance from the false turning point as Nuremberg was from the real one. Following Main Force aircraft which had also missed the wind change then came up on a defended area that was marked with a falling target indicator, so also thought they were at Nuremberg and dropped their bombs. Some realised their mistake as they passed the ‘real’ target shortly afterwards but at least 34 aircraft returned bombing photographs that were definitely plotted within three miles of the centre of Schweinfurt[5] and it was later estimated that about 120 bombers had dropped their loads on the city.[6] Two aircraft fell to the flak defences there. Middlebrook records that the citizens of Schweinfurt initially thought that they had been the main target of the night’s operations, but when the German High Command realised that the city had been bombed accidentally they suppressed any mention of it in the German press.[7]

But back to Nuremberg. The skymarkers were scattered, first by the Pathfinders themselves and then by the wind, but the cloud meant that searchlights were not effective. Two aircraft were shot down by flak, two collided and were seen to go down in flames and five more fell to the nightfighters which were still hanging around.[8] There were other dangers too:[9]

 We were late getting to the target and I don’t think we got a photo for we were chased by a fighter and then a very twitchy Lancaster gunner tried hard to shoot us down. – Flight Lieutenant Walter Marshall, 467 Squadron

On three engines after the earlier combats with the JU88, Dan Conway’s Lancaster was running behind schedule. In fact, it would be the last aircraft over Nuremberg, bombing at 01.35 – thirteen minutes after the attack had been scheduled to end. With an engine out and the airspeed indicator useless, they limped away for home.[10]

The bombers planned to continue south for another 30 miles after leaving the target before they turned southwest towards Stuttgart and then west to home. The nightfighters needed to land to refuel so their attacks dropped off a little but even so they still accounted for at least four more aircraft on the way out. Pilot Officer Keith Schultz was attacked by a JU88, but his gunners drew hits on its wings and fuselage and they claimed it as probably destroyed.[11] Flak claimed a bomber at Strasbourg and another at Le Tourquet on the way home.[12]

Schultz crew in front of ME580 JO-Q 'Queenie' of 463 Squadron. Photo from the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Keith Schultz and crew in front of ME580 JO-Q ‘Queenie’ of 463 Squadron. Photo from the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Having beaten the odds over Europe, the surviving Waddington aircraft were close to base when Mother Nature played one last trick on them. Fog began to form. “I can distinctly recall a sharp deterioration in the weather after return to base but this did not affect me personally,” said Squadron Leader Arthur Doubleday later,[13] who was the first pilot back. Most aircraft managed to beat the fog to the airfield, but B for Baker was among those which diverted, landing at Wittering, 35 miles to the south. They had been struggling with a supercharger fault and a brake fault for almost the entire trip, but the brakes cleared themselves on landing.[14]

The weather was more of a problem for those aircraft struggling home on less than their full complement of engines. Bill Brill, on three since being hit by bits of an exploding bomber near the target, had a little difficulty but eventually got in, the last aircraft to land at Waddington by a long shot. “He always caused me some anxiety,” wrote good friend Arthur Doubleday after the war.[15] On shutting down at their dispersal a belt of .303 ammunition was found embedded in the cowling of the busted engine.[16]

Dan Conway, however, had rather a more interesting time of it. Navigation had been difficult without an airspeed indicator and, crossing the French coast, it was discovered that their Gee set was also unserviceable. Shortly afterwards two fighters flew at them “aggressively”, but once they were recognised as Spitfires and the colours of the day had been fired off, the two aircraft formated on the struggling Lancaster and provided an escort until they reached the coast. Conway briefly thought about landing at the emergency airfield at Woodbridge which they passed, “FIDO equipment in full blaze,” but decided to leave it to “those aircraft worse off than ourselves.” He later admitted that “another consideration could have been that we were due to go on leave that day”! Navigating by dead reckoning, the relative volume on their otherwise unintelligible radio telephone and a lucky pinpoint, they found Waddington but it was not over yet.[17]

There was the usual problem with fog, as the Drem system was not visible in the denser patches. Having some trouble seeing and lining up on the runway, the approach must have looked spectacular. Just before passing the Control Van it was necessary to do a steep turn to regain alignment. We then landed smoothly and safely, well down the runway. I remember the startled faces of those assembled to welcome the boys home. Afterwards some of them claimed I had put my starboard wing tip outside the Control Van and was lucky not to have hit it. There was no choice, for going round again in those conditions was not on, with our fuel perilously low.

467 Squadron lost two aircraft on the Nuremberg raid, those captained by Bruce Simpson (on his thirtieth trip) and Roland Llewelyn (sixth). While all 463 Squadron crews got home safely, it was clear that it had been a disastrous night. The 5 Group Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice Marshal Ralph Cochrane, was visiting Waddington when the bombers came back and he asked Arthur Doubleday how the trip went. Doubleday replied, “I believe the Jerries scored a century before lunch today.”[18]

Doubleday was not far from the mark. In all, 94 bombers failed to return from Nuremberg, plus one special operations Halifax and an intruder Mosquito. The number eclipsed the 73 missing from Berlin a week ago and the 79 missing from the Leipzig raid in February 1944. As well as the 94 aircraft, of course, Bomber Command also lost 94 trained crews. 545 airmen were killed in action and 159 became prisoners of war. Amazingly, fifteen of those shot down evaded capture.[19]

616 aircraft reported attacking the target and while a large number undoubtedly dropped their bombs on the correct city, because of the cloud not one of them was plotted in the target area at the time of bombing. No post-raid reconnaissance was carried out either, so it’s unclear how much damage was actually done to Nuremberg. The Night Raid Report resorts to quoting a German communiqué, which said that some damage was caused and some casualties incurred among the population. Damage was scattered between Schweinfurt, Nuremberg and numerous small towns and villages outlying both cities. The civilian death toll as reported by Middlebrook was sixty Germans and fifteen foreign workers killed by the bombing in Nuremberg and just one child killed in Schweinfurt.[20]

After his eventful landing at Waddington, Flight Lieutenant Dan Conway walked to the Mess with the WAAF Station Officer:[21]

…a motherly and usually happy soul, who was most distressed […]. For myself, I was unhappy about the losses but glad to feel Old Mother Earth beneath my feet as the fog began to disperse.

The worst night in the history of Bomber Command was over.

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] Middlebrook, p.181

[2] This was Pilot Officer Schultz in ME580 – 463 Squadron ORB, 30MAR44

[3] Easton, Arnold, Flying Log Book, 30MAR44

[4] Middlebrook, p.204

[5] Night Raid Report No. 567

[6] RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, March 1944

[7] Middlebrook, p.260

[8] Night Raid Report No. 567

[9] Middlebrook, p.189

[10] Conway, p.134 and Middlebrook, p.191

[11] 463 Squadron ORB, 31MAR44

[12] Night Raid Report No. 567

[13] Taylor, Geoff 1979 p.151

[14] Smith, Phil, Flying Log Book

[15] Quoted in Blundell 1975, p.18

[16] Blundell 1975, p.18, quoting Arthur Doubleday

[17] Quote, and story, from Conway, p.136

[18] Doubleday quoted in Blundell 1975, p.18

[19] Middlebrook, p.279

[20] Ibid., p.214 and p.259

[21] Conway, p.136

467 Postblog La: Thursday 30 March, 1944

There was not a little surprise at Bomber Command’s airfields when it was announced this morning that the squadrons would be operating tonight. It was quite late in the moon period with a bright half-moon expected so the surprise turned to dismay when they found out that the planned trip would be a long one.

The forecast was for cloud over Germany[1] which was expected to provide the Main Force with cover from the moonlight. The plan was that once the moon set the return journey could be made in darkness. The forecast was subsequently altered following two weather reconnaissance flights which showed the expected cloud was not present, but the operation proceeded. The target, in the south of Germany, was Nuremberg, and 795 aircraft were sent.

162 aircraft would be involved in operations designed to support the Main Force tonight[2]. 49 Halifaxes, simulating a large force perhaps bound for Hamburg or Berlin, were to lay mines in the Heligoland area, approaching the enemy coast at the same time as the Main Force. 13 Mosquitos were to attack nightfighter airfields. Three spoof raids, also using Mosquitos, were planned to Aachen, Cologne and Kassel. Sundry operations included small forces of Mosquitos to Oberhausen and Dortmund, Stirlings laying mines off Texel and Le Havre, a number of ‘special’ sorties and some OTU ‘Bullseyes.’[3]

The Nuremberg briefing was routine except there was some talk among the crews that this was the first major attack for a long time to penetrate deeply into Germany so late in the moon period. – Flight Lieutenant Dan Conway, writing after the war[4]

It was a maximum effort at Waddington with 35 aircraft dispatched, the most out of any one station.[5] It could have been even more but one pilot (Pilot Officer Anthony Tottenham) was ill just before take-off so he and his crew missed out. LM475 B for Baker was the third Lancaster to depart Waddington, taking off at 21.42. The normal crew were on board with the exception of bomb aimer Jerry Parker, who had been replaced on this trip by the Squadron’s Bombing Leader, Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy (we last saw McCarthy when he flew to Frankfurt with Phil Smith a week and a half ago). There were two early returns to Waddington: Flying Officer Bruce Buckham returned just after midnight after the rear turret failed on ME701 and an hour later Pilot Officer Noel McDonald came back in LL792 when the electrically heated suits of the bomb aimer and both gunners failed.

The bombers passed their last positive visual fix in England, a vertical searchlight set up at Southwold, and crossed the North Sea. They made their landfall near Brugge in Belgium. The bombers were in bright moonlight and, ominously, there was no cloud.

The first bomber fell to flak guns near Namur, just after the bombers turned east for what Middlebrook called the ‘Long Leg’. A second was shot down by flak near Aachen (where red Target Indicators were to be dropped for the spoof raid on that city), two more at Bonn and another near Koblenz. But tonight would belong to the nightfighters. The German controllers decided early that the Heligoland Halifaxes were indeed a diversion. To cover an attack anywhere in the southern half of Germany they had ordered their aircraft to take off and assemble at two radio beacons: one called ‘Ida’, south-east of Cologne, or, for the later-arriving aircraft, another called ‘Otto’, north of Frankfurt. Unfortunately for the bombers, these beacons sat virtually astride their planned route.

The first bomber to fall to a nightfighter was a 467 Squadron machine: LM376 with Flight Lieutenant Bruce Simpson at the controls. Middlebrook quotes Unteroffizier Erich Handke, the radio operator on the aircraft that shot him down[6] near the German frontier:

Weather was marvellous – clear sky, half-moon, little cloud and no mist – it was simply ideal, almost too bright. It was a Lancaster flying nicely on a steady course so that, when we were comfortably positioned underneath and from about fifty metres, Drewes [his pilot] opened fire with the upward firing cannon at one wing which immediately caught fire. We followed the Lancaster for five minutes until it crashed below with a tremendous explosion.

The Lancaster had fallen to scräge Musik, or ‘jazz music’, a relatively new German innovation. At the time of the Nuremberg raid this weapon was still unsuspected by the Allies.[7]

Happily, Simpson and his entire crew were able to bale out more or less unhurt. The same, however, could not be said for many other crews over the next hour or so. The spoof raid on Cologne, intended to draw fighters away to the north, failed when the German controllers recognised the Main Force heading almost straight for the fighters waiting at the Ida beacon.  Low cloud developed shortly after the bombers crossed the Rhine, silhouetting them “like flies on a table-cloth”.[8] And nature had one more trick up its sleeve:

Due to some unusual and unforeseeable quirk of the weather, vapour or condensation trails, not normally found below 25,000 feet, had started to appear behind each bomber. The dead-straight streams of pure white cloud could not have given away more clearly the path the bombers were taking[9].

Everything was now in favour of the defenders. As Handke suggested, weather conditions were perfect: bright moonlight, low cloud, an unrecognised weakening of the expected wind that scattered the stream to the north a little,[10] and now the contrails. Add to this the mass of fighters lying in wait just ahead at Ida, and the stage was set for carnage.

The combats began in earnest south of Aachen. Sergeant Ray Tanfield, Flight Engineer in LM450 (Dan Conway’s aircraft), counted seven bombers going down in flames at one point. with another eleven wrecks burning on the ground.[11] Conway’s navigator, Sergeant Joe Wesley, would normally record on his navigation log any reports of aircraft going down, but not on this night. Conway had told the crew to stop mentioning them:[12]

We could not afford to have the intercom overloaded with reports when at any second, one of them might call up to report a fighter. Self preservation overruled statistics and I did not propose to become one.

“Now I know how those poor bastards in the Light Brigade felt”, Conway thought to himself. Earlier they had seen a Lancaster drifting across their path only 200 feet above them. “We could have shot it down ourselves with no trouble,” Conway said. Middlebrook records an instance of exactly this happening somewhere on the Long Leg when a 101 Squadron Lancaster fell victim to the itchy trigger finger of an unknown Halifax gunner whose aircraft had drifted across the top of it. Five of the crew of the Lancaster were killed.[13]

Pilot Officer Fred Smith, in LL788, counted thirty aircraft shot down between Aachen and the target. Interestingly he reported noticing on the last half-dozen trips that many aeroplanes had been seen going down in flames from their operational height for no particular reason. “I would suggest that [the] enemy are using [a] new type of ammunition,” he speculated in the Operational Record Book. In fact this was likely one of the earliest reported sightings of scräge Musik.

Just after crossing the Rhine, twenty Mosquitos left the bomber stream and headed for Kassel, “dropping German-type fighter flares to draw the enemy fighters and also Windowing furiously in an attempt to make themselves look like a large force of heavy bombers.” It was a perfectly executed ‘side-step’ but, apart from plotting it in their operations rooms, the Germans “ignored it completely.” Another spoof had failed to distract the defenders.[14]

The battle raged on. A small number of German fighters were shot down by either Serrate Mosquitos or by bombers, but the scoreboard was otherwise woefully lopsided. By the end of the Long Leg, fifty nine bombers lay blazing on the ground along the route. All had been shot down in the hour after midnight. “It is unlikely that a single hour, before or since, has seen a greater rate of aerial destruction,” wrote Middlebrook.[15] Some pilots – among them Rollo Kingsford-Smith – recognised that with the contrails came great danger and willingly disobeyed orders by flying higher than briefed to get above the zone. “From there I could see a mass of contrails below us; they were like a formation of American day bombers,” said a 76 Squadron pilot who did the same thing.[16]

Many Waddington crews were attacked. One – DV240 under the command of Pilot Officer Roland Llewelyn – was shot down by a fighter quite close to the Ida beacon. The bomb aimer, wireless operator and mid-upper gunner bailed out and became prisoners of war, but the other four were killed.[17]

Other crews were luckier. Pilot Officer Dave Gibbs of 467 Squadron, flying DV277, was threatened by a Messerschmitt ME210 soon after passing Cologne. The fighter was driven off by the mid-upper gunner after the guns in the rear turret failed. Dan Conway’s aircraft was attacked twice by a Junkers JU88 on the final leg to the target. His gunners both fired at it and saw smoke coming from one of its engines so they claimed it as damaged. “Gunners did a good job, saw JU88 first both times,” he later reported.[18]   But Conway’s port outer engine was damaged in the attack so it needed to be shut down. The Lancaster carried on on three. This was one of five JU88s claimed damaged on this night, amongst a small number of other fighters.

B for Baker itself had a close call when a nightfighter shot down another Lancaster five hundred yards behind and to one side of them, the bomber exploding in the air. “That night I thought my time was up,” wrote wireless operator Dale Johnston to his brother later, “and how I thought of you…”[19]

A 578 Squadron Halifax pilot named Pilot Officer Cyril Barton was also attacked on the way to the target. His aircraft was badly damaged and three crew members, including the navigator, bailed out after a miscommunication. With one engine knocked out and the aircraft badly damaged, he pressed on, bombed the target and attempted to fly home despite the absent navigator. Pushed off track by the wind, he made landfall near Sunderland, ran out of fuel and crash landed. The three remaining crew members were only slightly injured but Barton died in the crash. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his heroism on this flight.[20]

The bombers turned south over a large forest called the Thuringer Wald, with no easily-recognisable features or towns nearby. Add to this the length of the leg they had just flown without a positive fix, the disruption to navigation from evasive action to escape fighters and the incorrect broadcast winds and it is clear how easy it was to miss the exact turning point. “The average bomber turned well to the north of the correct point and slightly short of it”, wrote Middlebrook.[21] This would prove critical in what was to come. The fighters, meanwhile, saw the turn and reported it to their control rooms – and now, for the first time, the nightfighters’ running commentary began mentioning Nuremberg. While fighter activity decreased slightly after the turn, they were still around in force and ten more bombers fell in the first half of this leg.[22]

With the target area looming ahead, Squadron Leader Bill Brill ran into the debris of an exploded Lancaster. Something hit his aircraft (ME614) and an engine stopped, but he flew on. Just after dropping his bombs a fighter attacked but he turned quickly and the fighter didn’t come back for a second go. A second engine failed and they were close to bailing out but when one of the engines came back to life he decided to fly home.[23]

Next: The bombers arrive at Nuremberg

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] Night Raid Report No. 567

[2] Middlebrook, Martin (1973). The Nuremberg Raid. The definitive history of the Nuremberg operation, I have drawn heavily from this book for this post. See https://somethingverybig.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/467-postblog-citations-for-all-sources-used/ for full citation.

[3] Night Raid Report No. 567

[4] Conway p.132

[5] Middlebrook p.98

[6] Ibid., p.134

[7] Ibid., p.70

[8] Ibid., p.160

[9] Ibid., p.140

[10] Night Raid Report No. 567

[11] Conway, p.132

[12] Ibid., p.132

[13] Middlebrook, p.135

[14] Ibid., p.166

[15] Ibid., p.170

[16] Ibid., p.140

[17] Storr, Alan 2006

[18]467 Squadron ORB, 30MAR44

[19] Johnston, Dale, letter to brother Ian 20APR44. Transcript in Mollie Smith’s collection

[20] Bomber Command Campaign Diary, March 1944

[21] Middlebrook, p.176

[22] Ibid., p.176

[23] Story from Blundell, p.18 and Nelson, p.184

467 Postblog XLIX: Monday 27 – Wednesday 29 March, 1944

I have been fairly busy just lately but have no adventures at all to write about

– Squadron Leader Phil Smith, writing to his mother, 27 March 1944

Following the reasonably high intensity of operations over the last little while, the airmen of both Waddington squadrons were much relieved to find that, despite a bright sunny day, operations were not scheduled for Monday and most crews were stood down early.[1] Phil Smith took advantage of that to cycle into Waddington village to send a telegram home. He also caught up on a few letters. “I have given myself a brand new aeroplane which helps matters along very nicely”, he wrote to his mother, referring to B for Baker.

As Flight Commander, however, he had a problem to solve. EE143, which had been his previous aircraft, had been the subject of many complaints from pilots. The main issue was that, whatever they did, the aeroplane always appeared to be flying on its side a little. Pilots were (and still are) taught to always trust their instruments, a vital skill for flying in cloud where the horizon is not visible, and they found it hard to do so in this Lancaster. It would only fly straight with the judicious and unusually large application of trim tabs, and in this condition refused to climb above 20,000 feet with a full bomb load.[2] The aircraft flew last night to Essen but does not appear in Phil’s logbook until the end of April, nor is it known to have flown operationally until May. This is therefore the most likely time when it was sent, probably at Phil’s request, to the Avro works at Bracebridge Heath, adjacent to Waddington airfield, for inspection. We will revisit the story of EE143 later on in this series.

Tuesday was misty. Though it cleared into a nice spring day, once again no operations were planned. No stand-down this time, however, with parachute and dinghy drill on the programme. Phil even gave a lecture about Air-Sea Rescue during the afternoon.[3] He and his crew also took Lancaster LL792 up for some fighter affiliation practice for an hour and a quarter (though this flight does not appear in Jack Purcell’s logbook).

Flight Sergeant Gil Pate found time to write a wistful letter to his mother. He wrote about the weather in Sydney, his family’s chickens and his old dog, ‘Jig’. There’s much evidence that he was beginning to miss home a lot, and the only sign of his service was a clipping from today’s ‘Daily Express.’ It mentioned Sunday’s raid on Essen, to which Gil added the concise comment “Another one in the book”.[4]

He would have put “another one” in his logbook the next day, but after most of the preparations for an operation to Brunswick were complete on Wednesday the planned raid was called off at 17.00 because of unfavourable weather conditions.[5] This was fortunate for the aircrews because they could then join in farewelling Group Captain Charles Elsworthy, the Waddington Station Commander who was about to leave, at a party which had been planned in the Officers’ Mess after dinner.

As usual, while the Main Force was not operating during this period, smaller forces of bombers were still out and about. On Monday (27th), Mosquitos attacked Krefeld and Duisburg. And on Wednesday (29th), 84 Halifaxes and Mosquitos attacked a marshalling yard in Vaires, near Paris, causing immense damage in bright moonlight. On the same night a small force of Lancasters raided an aero engine factory at Lyons and Mosquitos went to Kiel, Aachen and Cologne. One Halifax that failed to return from Vaires was the only casualty of the period.[6]

Next post in this series: 30 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] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 27MAR44

[2] The story of EE143 and attempts made to solve the problem are related in Phil Smith’s Recollections of 1939-1945 War

[3] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 28MAR44

[4] The original clipping has since disappeared, but it and Gil’s annotation are referred to in a note believed prepared by Gil’s sister Joyce and send by his father to Don Smith, father of Phil, 10JUL44. Part of Mollie Smith’s collection.

[5] Middlebrook, Martin (1973), p.82

[6] Night Raid Reports 565 and 566

467 Postblog XLVIII: Sunday 26 March, 1944

The last couple of weeks of March 1944 were quite busy for the Waddington bomber crews. In the last ten days, they had flown four operations and had three scrubbed. Tonight they would be operating again, five of the crews involved being on their third consecutive raid in as many nights.[1]

The target was what the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book called “an old favourite:” Essen. It would be the first major attack on that “already half-devastated” city, home to a good portion of the German arms industry, in about eight months. The crew of B for Baker were on the Battle Order for this trip but for unknown reasons wireless operator Dale Johnston was not included. He was replaced by Pilot Officer Thomas Ronaldson, who appears to have been a ‘spare bod,’ completing operations with many different crews after his own pilot was posted tour-expired in December 1943. Curiously Phil Smith’s logbook does not mention Ronaldson by name, containing only ‘crew as above.’

Two aircraft were not ready in time for take-off and there was one early return but the groundcrews nevertheless managed to get a total of 31 aircraft away from the two Waddington squadrons. They were part of a total force of 705 Lancasters, Halifaxes and Mosquitos on their way to Essen. Other heavy bombers out tonight attacked railway facilities in Cortrai in Belgium and laid mines off the French Atlantic coast while Mosquitos flew Serrate patrols and attacked airfields in Belgium, Holland and Northern France.[2]

The Main Force flew east from their airfields heading towards Holland, passing close to the Dutch town of Julianadorp, which that night was subjected to a raid by three Mosquitos. The most recent few targets attacked by large forces of bombers had mostly been far inside Germany, and it’s likely that the German defenders were once again expecting a deep penetration. The Main Force flew a course that looked like it might have been headed for Hanover, and indeed a small force of Mosquitos made a harassing raid on that city, but just past the Ijsselmeer they suddenly turned south east and headed straight for the Ruhr. More Mosquitos raided Aachen but the bombers’ true target was now dead ahead.

Not that the crews could see it, looking at the ground. They had been flying over a solid layer of cloud since they had been half-way across the North Sea. This was not entirely unexpected but the forecast, reproduced in the Night Raid Report, had not been particularly confident and included the words “very uncertain conditions” for the north of the country:

Probably much strato-cumulus, but cloud may clear right away.

Or maybe it wouldn’t. The crews found that the cloud had not cleared at all. One pilot, albeit only on his second trip, was unnerved by the complete lack of anything to be seen: [3]

The navigator said to me, “Five minutes to the coast.” And then he said we were crossing the coast. And it was pitch black. There were no searchlights; there were no guns, nothing. And I thought, “Something queer here. I think we’re lost.” And on we went, and we were ten minutes from the target, and there was still nothing. Eventually, not long after that, I saw some flares go down ahead of me. So I realised then we weren’t lost.

Despite a small risk of some strato-cumulus cloud over the target itself, the met. boffins thought that at Essen it would “probably” be clear. On the strength of that, the attack was planned using ‘Musical Parramatta’ ground-marking tactics: Oboe-equipped Mosquitos would drop red Target Indicators that would be backed up visually with greens by Pathfinder crews following in Lancasters.

There was only one tiny flaw in the plan.

The forecast was entirely wrong.

The crews, trailing huge white contrails at high levels, arrived over the target to find it blanketed in 10/10ths thick cloud up to about 10000 feet. The Mosquitos dropped their target indicators but they quickly dropped out of sight in the murk. Consequently most crews could only bomb the estimated position of the target indicators via their glow coming through the clouds. At least two 463 Squadron crews saw no Pathfinder pyrotechnics at all and bombed on estimated time of arrival instead.

The cloud made it difficult to see any results of the raid while it was in progress, but there were signs that the bombing had been reasonably concentrated. The glow of fires was visible up to a hundred miles from the target and two distinct palls of thick black smoke were becoming evident as the crews left the target. Despite this, though, a number of crews were not certain if the raid had indeed been successful, and couldn’t understand why the Pathfinders had not carried skymarker flares to transition to an ‘Emergency Wanganui’ attack as soon as the solid cloud cover at the target was recognised. “An excellent Wanganui night”, lamented Wing Commander Arthur Doubleday. In fact the plan did include Wanganui flares, but they were dropped by Mosquitos as intended two miles east of the actual aiming point to distract the flak guns. In this they succeeded, with flak flashes seen nearby the falling parachute flares, and they also served to assist the Main Force in locating the general area of the target, but finding definite markers at which to aim the bombs proved more frustrating for the crews. “Wanganui backing up would have given [a] more definite aiming point than was possible with TI passing through cloud,” suggested Pilot Officer Laurence Hawes.

The cloud did, however, mean that searchlights were all but ineffective. While the heavy flak guns fired a loose barrage it was “not like old times.”[4] Some fighters had been led astray by the raid on Courtrai and the rest, probably distracted by the feint raid on Hanover, were held in reserve deeper in Germany in anticipation of an extended penetration by the bombers. There were reports of one or two combats on the way in to the target (there is some evidence that these were possibly attracted by the contrails[5]) but in general the fighters caught up with the stream late, claiming one bomber near Bonn just after leaving the target and four more on the way to Brussels. Flak got two bombers over the Ruhr and one when the stream turned for home near Charleroi. One more aircraft was seen to go down to unknown causes on the south-eastern run out of the target. These nine were the only aircraft that failed to return – a loss rate of just 1.2%. One returning bomber was damaged beyond repair by a fighter attack and two were written off in landing accidents.[6]

Every bombing photograph obtained by returning crews showed solid 10/10ths cloud, and the 463 Squadron diarist thought it was too early to assess results yet. As it turned out however, the Pathfinders, with the benefit of the highly accurate Oboe, dropped what the Night Raid Report called an “excellent concentration” of target indicators on the aiming point, and enough bombers aimed accurately at the correct glow to drop a “great weight” of bombs on the centre and south of the town. The Krupps munitions factories were seriously damaged.

 

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] The five crews were those of Pilot Officers Victor Baggott, Laurence Hawes and Tony Tottenham, and Flying Officers Bruce Buckham and Dudley Ward – 463/467 Squadron ORBs, 24-26MAR44

[2] Details of tonight’s operations in Night Raid Report No. 564

[3] Rackley, Lionel 2003

[4] 467 Squadron ORB, 27MAR44

[5] As reported by Pilot Officer Milton Smith in the 467 Squadron ORB, 26MAR44

[6] Casualty data from Night Raid Report No. 564

467 Postblog XLVII: Saturday 25 March, 1944

As part of the developing strategy to disrupt the movement of German troops and equipment around the planned invasion areas, Bomber Command tonight turned its attention to the small town of Aulnoye, in northern France. In the north-eastern corner of the built-up area in that town was a large railway marshalling yard, and tonight depriving the occupying forces of the use of that facility would be the objective of almost two hundred aircraft. Ten of them – five from each squadron – were from RAF Waddington.

Being a French target, this was not expected to be defended with as much vigour as a normal German city might. “All crews on seeing the programme sensed an easy trip and all wanted to go,” says the Operational Record Book for 467 Squadron. But precisely because it was supposed to be an easy trip, the crews chosen to go from Waddington were all relatively inexperienced. The crew of B for Baker were among those who were given the night off.

And it turned out, indeed, to be a not particularly challenging operation. “Could do with more of these trips,” quipped Flying Officer Lindsay Giddings.[1] The forecast winds were slightly off, forcing some crews to orbit outbound at the English coast to lose time for the relatively short transit across the Channel, but otherwise no troubles were encountered. The route was quiet and the bombers arrived over the target to find a concentrated collection of target indicators burning in a thin layer of ground haze and almost all of the Waddington crews had the satisfaction of seeing their bombs bursting on or very close to the markers. Many also reported several large explosions in the target area up to an hour into the homeward journey. “If the markers were dropped correctly, the attack will be very successful,” said Flying Officer Dudley Ward.[2] The bombers flew home with a sense of a job well done. “Shouldn’t be much left of the target,” reads the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book the next day.

Unfortunately the ground haze reduced visual detail to the point where it concealed the real story. The marking aircraft had been a small force of Mosquitos and, while Oboe worked perfectly, the markers actually fell just a little wide of the target, perhaps pushed away by the wind. The haze made it difficult to visually identify the aiming point itself so the main force could only trust that the Pathfinders were on the money. They faithfully followed the markers and as a result their bombs mostly fell wide also. It wasn’t quite the ‘wizard prang’ that the crews believed it had been, though the marshalling yards still received numerous hits.[3]

Other operations that took place tonight included a small force of Lancasters that returned to the aircraft factory at Lyons, adding to the severe damage they caused there two nights ago. Mosquitos kept up the harassing raids on Berlin and made a precision attack on a railway bridge at Hamm in north-west Germany. The usual groups of aircraft dropped mines, scattered leaflets or made Serrate patrols. The only loss from the evening’s operations was one of the Serrate Mosquitos which failed to return.[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] 463 Squadron ORB, 25MAR44

[2] 463 Squadron ORB, 25MAR44

[3] Details of actual results from Night Raid Report No. 563

[4] Operations recorded in Night Raid Report No. 563

467 Postblog XLVIb: Friday 24 March, 1944

Just after 10pm on the night of 24 March 1944, more than 800 bombers were bearing down on Berlin. The first Waddington aircraft bombed at 22.27 and the last at 23.01. But much stronger winds than realised were playing havoc on navigation and timing. The crew of Flight Sergeant Ed Dearnaley, for example, first sighted Pathfinder flares behind their aircraft. They overshot the target, turned around and lost so much time flying back into the headwind that they bombed at 22.57, the second last aircraft from Waddington to do so.

Despite flying doglegs to try and waste some time on the final leg to Berlin, the tailwind was too strong for Dan Conway’s crew and they also overshot the aiming point. So they turned back and went around again:

This was quite an experience. Here we were chugging along at something like 120kmh groundspeed, taking about 15 minutes. Meanwhile other aircraft were flashing past us at over 600kmh. There was no way of avoiding them, so we just held on and prayed.[1]

They ended up bombing on a reciprocal heading to the rest of the stream. “We would not have been too popular,” Conway later admitted.

As always, the Germans defended their capital city fiercely. The fighters were still active, making many interceptions and shooting down four aircraft over the target itself and at least two more just south-west of the city.[2] There were many searchlights in the area and the heavy flak guns put up a fearsome barrage, claiming seven more bombers. With thin cloud below the bombers and explosions from bursting cookies all around, it was a “most dramatic spectacle”.[3]

In the end, even the Pathfinders were not immune to the effects of the wind. While their initial markers appear to have fallen close to the aiming point, later in the attack the concentration drifted some miles to the south-south-west. The Night Raid Report places the blame for this drift squarely at the feet of the wind, though it notes that German decoy flares may also have contributed. Either way, like on many Berlin trips the raid became rather scattered, despite the Master Bomber’s reported encouragement (“Keep it up, good show!”[4]).

Squadron Leader Phil Smith and his crew bombed target indicators burning on the ground, visible through “thin filmy cloud.” Their bombing photo showed “fire and cloud.”[5] It probably looked something like this one, though this is from a different crew and was taken some eleven minutes later:

Berlin under attack. Photo from the Wade Rodgers Collection, courtesy Neale Wellman

Berlin under attack. Photo from the Wade Rodgers Collection, courtesy Neale Wellman

After bombing, the plan was to continue on past Berlin for some 40 miles before turning to the west near Luckenwalde, to avoid known areas of heavy defences. But the wind was still making navigation difficult and many crews wandered. As a result, the Night Raid Report records that aircraft were engaged by defences at places significantly off the planned track: Leipzig, Münster and Kassel without apparent casualty, and Magdeburg, where four victims fell to flak and two to nightfighters, Nordhausen  where one bomber was shot down by a nightfighter, and Osnabrück (six to flak and one to a nightfighter).

But it was the Ruhr area that aircrews feared the most, and though a dogleg to the north had been designed into the route to avoid it, disbelieving crews found themselves flying into what at the time was probably one of the most heavily defended areas from air attack on the planet. The experience of Warrant Officer Clayton Moore’s crew was probably not unique: [6]

 An unusual and most heated argument blew up between our Captain (Bill Siddle) and the Navigator (Dick Lodge) concerning our position. Siddle insisted that we were heading for the heart of the dreaded Ruhr and the Navigator insisted this was far from being the case: he was using the latest wind speed and direction radioed from Bomber Command, anyway, we were in the centre of the bomber stream – we couldn’t all be wrong and off course! […] Finally, the argument ended with the Navigator being invited up to the flight deck to ‘see this bloody lot ahead for yourself’. There followed a brief pause in the dialogue after which the Navigator was heard to remark, ‘You’re dead right Skipper, that is the Ruhr – let’s get to hell out of it…’

No fewer than seven bombers fell to the Ruhr flak guns. It was, said Flight Sergeant Roland Cowan afterwards, “no fun.”

The extent of the navigational chaos became clear when crews got pinpoints upon crossing the enemy coast on the way home. The crew of B for Baker came out 20 to 30 miles south of track, and they were not unusual. At least six other 463/467 Squadron crews reported the same thing. But all the Waddington aircraft returned safely, two diverting to nearby Metheringham.[7]

This was the sixteenth and last of the mass raids on Berlin (though the Light Night Striking Force – Bennett’s Mosquitos – would continue to harass the city until the end of the war). It was also by far the most expensive. In all, 72 bombers failed to return, almost nine percent of the force sent. This operation was a good example of how things could go wrong for Bomber Command, even with mechanisms in place to impart some flexibility in case things changed after the bombers had taken off. The ‘floating’ zero hour concept and the Broadcast Winds system were good in theory but as seen on this raid Bomber Command was by this time a very large and complex organisation and just one error could cascade throughout the entire raid. In this case that error would appear to have been misjudging the true strength of the wind which then led directly to navigational difficulties. In an effort to reduce losses, Bomber Command’s tactics at the time involved an organised ‘stream’ flying a carefully designed route that would avoid known areas of heavy defences wherever possible. Accurate navigation to remain in the (relative) safety of the stream and to stay clear of those ‘hot’ zones was therefore critical. Navigating to the required standard of accuracy was very difficult without an accurate wind value and as seen particularly in the Ruhr area on this trip, wandering off track could have disastrous consequences. When the error was made by a single navigator, just one aircraft blundered over a defended area and could have been shot down. But when it was in the ‘official’ broadcast winds it became a systemic error and affected the entire bomber stream, causing loss rates like those seen on this Berlin raid.

There were two other interesting incidents that also occurred on this night. One of the aircraft that failed to return from Berlin was DS664 of 115 Squadron. Somewhere near Schmallenberg (east of Kassel and, unsurprisingly, well south of the planned homeward track), it was shot down by a nightfighter. Four members of the crew died and two made successful parachute jumps, but the rear gunner’s ‘chute had been damaged during the attack. Sergeant Nicholas Alkemade jumped anyway, apparently preferring death by impact than by fire. Incredibly, his fall was apparently broken by a fir tree and he landed in a deep snow drift, surviving with only a few superficial cuts and bruises. He was captured by the Germans (who naturally were reportedly suspicious of his story) and remained a prisoner for the remainder of the war.

The other episode is perhaps one of the most famous stories of all that came out of the Second World War. At a camp known as Stalag Luft III, seventy six prisoners of war escaped through a tunnel dug out under the wire. The Great Escape, as the episode became known, would turn to tragedy. Seventy three of the escapees were recaptured and fifty were executed as a result. Just three of the men made ‘home runs’. Stalag Luft III was near the town of Sagan (now Zagan in Poland), about 100 miles south east of Berlin. It’s not inconceivable that while they were breaking out, the escapees could hear the bombs as the attack on the German capital progressed.

 

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] Conway 1995, p.130

[2] Night Raid Report No. 562

[3] Conway 1995, p.130

[4] Pilot Officer Dechastel of 463 Squadron in the ORB, 24MAR44

[5] 467 Squadron ORB and Smith, Phil, Flying Logbook, 24MAR44

[6] Quoted in Searby 1991, p.88. 

[7] Flying Officer Bill Felstead in DV372 and Anthony Tottenham in JA901