467 Postblog XL: Thursday 16 – Friday 17 March, 1944

Thursday 16 March 1944 dawned cold and misty at RAF Waddington. Aircrews awoke to find that the flag was up over the Flight Offices, which meant that war was on again tonight. The ground crews loaded the aircraft, the crews went to briefing, at least one crew went up for an air test… and at 18.45, the operation was cancelled.[1]

There would be no war tonight for the airmen of 463 and 467 Squadrons. But other units did operate. 130 aircraft went again to Amiens to attack the marshalling yards there, inflicting heavy damage and incurring no losses. 21 Lancasters attacked a tyre factory at Clermont-Ferrand in the middle of France. They scored “hits on every building” and again suffered no loss. Mosquitos went to Cologne and Duisburg and other aircraft carried out minelaying and fighter patrols. All returned safely.[2]

The next day was a sunny morning but no operations were planned for the Waddington crews. Instead, the Ground Staff challenged the Aircrew in a game of Australian Rules football. The Aircrew came out on top, six goals six (42) to three goals eight (24).[3]

At some point on Friday Gilbert Pate found time for a quick letter home. Before he joined the crew of B for Baker, Gilbert had been posted to 49 Squadron. His pilot in that crew (Pilot Officer Johnnie Teager) went missing on a second dickie trip to Dusseldorf on 3 November 1943. Gilbert was also on this operation in another aircraft, filling in for a sick rear gunner, but after the loss of their pilot his crew was subsequently broken up. In this letter Gilbert shared the sad news that two of the lads who had been part of that crew had now gone missing also, “just a month after I left the crew.”[4] The two men, posted to 9 Squadron when their original crew was split up, were navigator Flight Sergeant David Cohen and bomb aimer Sergeant Felix Fitzsimmons. They were part of a crew which disappeared without trace on a raid to Stuttgart on 20 February.[5] “Second chances don’t come very often”, Gilbert commented.

Mosquitos were the only Bomber Command aircraft to operate on Friday night, attacking Cologne and Aachen while a single ‘special’ sortie was carried out by an aircraft from 100 Group.

Next post in this series: 18 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

[1] 463 Squadron ORB, 16MAR44

[2] Night Raid Report No. 554 and RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, March 1944

[3] 467 Squadron ORB, 17MAR44

[4]Pate, Gilbert, letter to mother, 17MAR44

[5] Audis, Roger, pers. comm. with author 18-19JUL2010