467 Postblog XXXV: Monday 6 – Wednesday 8 March, 1944

The pattern of the last two days continued on Monday with operations scheduled but cancelled late in the day. At the very least 463 Squadron were able to get two cross-country flights away, but that was all.

On a completely different note, a member of the RAAF Public Relations team arrived at Waddington on Monday in conjunction with the Royal Air Force Film Production Unit. They were making a film called ‘RAAF Over Europe,’ the later stages of which would feature 467 Squadron. “Wait until this appears and our Clark Gable’s [sic] come forward!” said the Operational Record Book.

No ops were scheduled for 7 March, but despite having spent three consecutive days shovelling snow or preparing for ops that never happened the crews would not get the stand-down they were waiting for. All available aircrew instead found themselves in the briefing room for the benefit of the cameras. “Whilst the Director conferred with the CO and the cameramen fiddled with their equipment time dragged. Until then I thought film making glamorous,” wrote Dan Conway after the war.[1]

The Wingco [Wing Commander Sam Balmer, 467 Squadron CO] took us through a dummy briefing on a Berlin trip, which was highly entertaining with references to tracking at low level over the Ruhr etc. Maybe because we were laughing he was made to go over the procedure again and then again. Our hopes of an early release were ruined when we had to move to the crew room for shots of us dressing for flight and then clambering onto, and off, transport to the aircraft.

The resulting film[2] features, among others, Phil Smith and three other members of his crew, “all trying to look intelligent while being briefed:”[3] Eric Hill, Gilbert Pate and Ken Tabor. After the war Phil managed to get copies of some stills from this film which he distributed to the families of his crew.[4] This is one of them, from the small collection of photos amongst Jack Purcell’s effects:

Waddington Briefing

Waddington Briefing

Something else was brewing at Waddington at this time. “We are being kept up to the collar recently, no doubt with a big object in view,” wrote Gilbert Pate to his mother.[5] A special operation was planned for some time in the near future and the Squadrons needed to carry out some extra training in preparation for it. “Rumour had it that this was a special raid of the same category as the Dams raid,” wrote Dan Conway. “We were rather proud at being selected.” The exact target – and indeed the exact time that this operation was planned to take place – was still a secret, but the tactics would involve bombing from a much lower height than usual and a special technique for bomb release: “We were to follow the time and distance technique, rather favoured by our Group which had been used by them on the famous Peenemunde raid. The idea was to fly over a marker or pinpoint, on a set heading and speed, then release the bombs at the end of a calculated time.”[6]

Gilbert Pate joined the rest of his crew in a two-hour ‘Special Training’ flight on the night of 7 March[7] and the rest of the squadron followed suit the next day (while the Film Unit took footage of them taxying out, taking off and landing). “This ‘Op’, when it comes off, will be staged by No. 53 Base personnel only,” said the ORB. “One to ourselves for a change.”

As well as the by-now usual Mosquito attacks on Germany to Hanover, Kiel and Krefeld on Monday night and various targets in the Ruhr on Tuesday, other attacks on enemy airfields and special operations on both nights,[8] Bomber Command began a new phase of operations this week as part of preparations for the Allied invasion of the occupied territories. A series of attacks were planned on railway targets in France, Belgium and Western Germany, in order to “prevent the flow of reinforcements and supplies for the German army in the invasion area.”[9] The first of these raids occurred on the night of 6 March 1944, when 267 Halifaxes carried out a “most accurate groundmarking attack on the marshalling yards at Trappes,” near Paris, causing “enormous damage” for no loss. The next night 304 Halifaxes, Lancasters and Mosquitos bombed marshalling yards at Le Mans. Over 100 direct hits were claimed despite unexpected cloud covering the target.[10]

The Transportation Plan would come to play a decisive role in the future of the crew of B for Baker.

Next post in this series: 9 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] Conway, Dan, 1995. The Trenches in the Sky, p.157

[2] Australian War Memorial: F01372, RAAF over Europe

[3] Smith, Phil, Letter to sister Wenda, 11MAR44

[5] Pate, Gilbert, Letter to his mother, 08MAR44. In Gil Thew’s collection

[6] Conway, p.128

[7] Recorded as ‘Special Training’ in Jack Purcell’s logbook. Phil Smith called it ‘Bombing Procedure’.

[8] Night Raid Reports Nos. 545 and 546

[9] Lawrence, W.J. (1951), No. 5 Bomber Group, R.A.F. 1939-1945, p.164

[10] Night Raid Reports Nos. 545 and 546

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