467 Postblog XXXII: Thursday 2 March, 1944

Another one of those night jobs

– Gilbert Pate, annotation on a newspaper report about the Stuttgart trip that he sent to his family

More than 550 aircraft were in the bomber stream headed for Stuttgart in the very early hours of Thursday morning. They were over thick cloud for most of the way and this, combined with an apparent overall failure of the Gee navigation aid, made work difficult for the navigators.[1] As expected, the stream was in bright moonlight until about an hour before the target.[2] Nevertheless, the outbound trip was a reasonably quiet one, with only limited flak en-route. Though “the enemy controllers were obviously making real efforts to intercept the stream” and numerous fighters were seen, no attacks were reported and the bombers remained “almost unmolested.” The Munich diversion is likely to have distracted the fighters enough to delay their arrival at the target. [3]

Various crews were dealing with mechanical issues during the approach to the target. Pilot Officer Alan Finch reported intercom trouble, a broken mid-upper turret and a faulty oxygen system. Warrant Officer Jack Purcell, Phil Smith’s navigator in EE143, had to contend with a broken compass on top of the unserviceable Gee system right from the start of the trip. Pilot Officer Jim Marshall, on his first trip with his own crew, lost the use of the Monica early-warning radar an hour and a half before the target. The rear turret failed in Flight Lieutenant Jack Colpus’ aircraft an hour before the target. And five minutes before reaching the target area Flight Lieutenant F.D. Wilson’s flight engineer needed to go to the assistance of the rear gunner whose oxygen tube had split.[4]

The bombers found the target area eerily quiet. Flight Sergeant Ed Dearnaley, bombing towards the end of the attack at 03.16, reported that “all that could be seen was Wanganui flares, some flak bursts and a glow beneath cloud”. Stuttgart was covered in thick cloud with occasional small breaks. There was some heavy-calibre predicted flak but clouds severely restricted the effectiveness of searchlights and most crews considered the defences only slight. Indeed, only a single aircraft would fall to flak over the target. The first Pathfinder markers went down on time but it appears the subsequent marking never achieved the concentration that was hoped for. This was, according to the Night Raid Report, mainly due to poor serviceability of H2S radar among the backer-up Pathfinder crews.

What comes through from a reading of the 463 and 467 Squadron Operational Record Books is a feeling of being somewhat let down by the Pathfinders. Not many flares were actually dropped and those that were tended towards the scattered side.

A single Wanganui skymarker flare was visible when Phil Smith’s crew ran into the target in EE143. Bomb aimer Sergeant Jerry Parker directed his pilot:

Left… left… steady… right right… steeeaaaaady…

Then, with the flare squarely in his sight, he pressed the bomb release button. And…

Nothing happened.

All the bombs had ‘hung up’ and were still firmly in the bomb bay. They were forced to ‘go round again’, turning against the bomber stream to go back and make another run on the target, while Parker tried to work out what was wrong with the bomb release circuit. The second time everything worked and the bombs were dropped manually at 03.13.

Jim Marshall was on his bombing run when his aircraft was attacked suddenly by a FW190. A cannon shell put a large hole in the starboard wing and put the flaps out of action, and another destroyed the radio and set a fire under the wireless operator’s desk, which was put out using an extinguisher. They were the last Waddington aircraft to bomb, at 03.19, and then they turned into the wind and set course for home in their damaged aircraft.[5]

The fighters finally became organised as the bombers left the target. Seventeen combats were reported in the first 100 miles of the return route and three bombers were shot down near Strasbourg as a result. No combats were reported west of that city however, apart from one near Nancy.[6] The rest of the trip home was uneventful for the majority of the force.

The first Waddington aircraft, ED657 with Pilot Officer Bruce Simpson at the controls, touched down at exactly 07.00 on Thursday morning. Just under an hour later the last one arrived (HK536 with Flight Sergeant Eric Page and crew). All Waddington aircraft landed safely, but not all at their own base. Four aircraft had diverted. The headwinds caused Pilot Officer Victor Trimble to land at Tangmere, short of fuel. Flight Sergeant Roland Cowan in LM338 diverted to Dunsfold, presumably for the same reason.[7] Jim Marshall, who had been shot up over the target, nursed his damaged aircraft back to England but decided he had gone far enough and landed at Wittering with no flaps, no W/T radio and not much fuel.

Phil Smith also diverted. The ORB notes his TR1196 radio had failed so he would have had difficulty contacting the control tower at Waddington. Phil apparently decided it was too dangerous to try and ‘push in’ to the circuit without a radio and, with only 40 gallons of fuel left in each wing, he was unable to wait until the last aircraft landed. So he instead landed at Coleby Grange, an airfield just three miles from Waddington. “A bloody awful trip”, he wrote in his logbook afterwards, “with lots of small snags”.

The bombers left Stuttgart with a “deep red” [8] glow visible through the clouds from up to 150 miles away and later on Mosquitos reported several fires scattered throughout the city. Photographic reconnaissance from 9 March revealed “very considerable industrial damage,” although because the 20 February raid appeared to the crews to be much more concentrated than this one did it’s likely that most of the damage was attributable to the earlier operation.[9]

The Night Raid Report lists a number of factories and railway workshops that were severely hit, with some residential areas also damaged. There was no spread of fire.

Against this, Bomber Command lost just four aircraft missing, with two more Halifaxes being damaged beyond repair in landing and taxying accidents on return. “The loss rate is small for an operation of this penetration and strength”, wrote the scientists in the Night Raid Report.

With most aircrews still asleep from the effects of their night’s work, the only activity at Waddington during the day on Thursday was the continued clearance of snow under a sunny sky, five local flights and the arrival of three new aircraft for 463 Squadron, all collected from Coningsby.[10] There was some night flying in the evening, but no operations for the two Australian squadrons.

Other parts of Bomber Command, however, did not sleep. Halifaxes attacked an aircraft factory at Meulan les Meureaux, near Paris, with such a concentrated raid that the Germans abandoned it entirely afterwards. Lancasters from 5 Group attacked an aero engine factory near Albert with similar success. Mosquitos went to the Ruhr and the flying bomb site at Sottevast again, and other aircraft laid mines off France, dropped leaflets and attacked enemy airfields. ‘From the night’s operations”, said the Night Raid Report, “all our aircraft returned undamaged.”

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] Three 463/467 Squadron crews – including Phil Smith’s – reported ‘Gee u/s from the start’ or words to that effect in the ORBs

[2] As reported by Pilot Officer H.S.A. Hemsworth of 467 Squadron in the ORB, 01MAR44

[3] Night Raid Report No. 540

[4] All accounts from the 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 01MAR44

[5] Account from 467 Squadron ORB, 01MAR44, and an entry in Arnold Easton’s logbook (navigator on this aircraft)

[6] Night Raid Report No. 540

[7] This is a hand-written amendment on the 467 Squadron ORB; no reason is given but Dunsfold is only about 20 miles north of Tangmere and close to the bombers’ route back from making landfall at Beachy Head.

[8] P/O J.W. McManus in R5868 in 467 Squadron ORB, 01MAR44

[9] Night Raid Report No. 540

[10] 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 02MAR44

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