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. 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. 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.
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.
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