467 Postblog XLII: Sunday 19 – Monday 20 March, 1944

It was a bright, sunny day at Waddington on 19 March, and as such the aircrews awoke to find that operations would be on that night. Fifteen crews from 463 Squadron and 21 from 467 were, however, stood down again when the operation was cancelled later.

The next day it happened again. Once again ops were on, once again the crews were briefed, and once again it was all for nothing.

A number of experienced crews were posted away from Waddington on Monday, mostly to Operational Training Units as instructors. Pilot Officer Hugh Hemsworth and crew went to 83 Squadron, part of 8 Group – the Pathfinder Force. This posting, perhaps, is the one referred to in Phil Smith’s post-war recollections. “At one stage I was asked to obtain volunteers for the Pathfinder Force from my flight,” he wrote.[1] “I had to report that there were none and was told that I had to nominate one crew. This presented me with a major difficulty as I had tried to make it a rule that I would not tell anybody to do something I would not do myself, and I was not prepared to volunteer for the Pathfinders. I had to act, however, and still feel bad about it.”

The implications for Hemsworth and crew were significant. Because of the extra investment in training required for Pathfinder crews, the length of a tour was increased to 45 operations, up from the usual 30 (although previous operations completed with other squadrons also counted towards the total – Hemsworth was on his 15th). However, the pay-off was an immediate promotion by one rank and the chance to wear the coveted Pathfinder Badge, a small RAF Eagle, underneath their aircrew brevets.[2]

Life, meanwhile, carried on at Waddington. Phil Smith wrote one of his almost-weekly letters home.[3] It’s in his usual reserved language:

I have not much news, we do a certain amount of work but it is very variable.

Phil was one of those aircrew who preferred to remain on the station where possible. When not operating or otherwise engaged in his duties as Flight Commander, he spent his time reading books, like the novel Main Strut suggested by his brother in law Dick Ashton (“I found it very amusing indeed”), or visiting the Waddington cinema (though “I walked out half way through last time I went”), or listening to music on his much-prized wireless set:

There is rather more good music these days than in the last few years.

As usual, the Mosquitos were out on both these nights. Nine of the wooden wonders harassed the population of Berlin on Sunday, while eight went to Dusseldorf, four to Aachen, three on Serrate fighter patrols and one more on a weather recce flight. On the same night a small force of Stirlings laid mines off Holland and in the Bay of Biscay, five Wellingtons scattered leaflets over northern France and four other aircraft made ‘special sorties’ over the Continent. One special operations aircraft failed to return but all others came back.[4] On Monday, Mosquitos raided Munich, Cologne, Aachen, Dortmund and Duisburg. 20 Lancasters (from 5 Group) caused “great damage” to another explosives factory, this time in Angouleme, north east of Bordeaux, and nine Halifaxes conducted special operations. All aircraft returned safely.

Next post in this series: 21 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] Smith, Phil, date unknown. Phil’s Recollections of 1939-1945 War, p.19

[2] Middlebrook (1973), p.44, 52. Happily, Hemsworth’s Service Record at the National Archives of Australia reveals that he completed 57 operational sorties, was awarded the DFC and Bar and survived to use his operational experience after the war as a pilot with Qantas.

[3] Smith, Phil, 20MAR44: Letter to Mother

[4] Details of night operations from Night Raid Reports Nos. 557 and 558