467 Postblog XLIII: Tuesday 21 March, 1944

For the third day running, the Waddington squadrons were told that operations were on tonight. For the third day running the ground crew prepared the aircraft. For the third day running the aircrew sat in the briefing hut to learn their target. And for the third day running, the operation was scrubbed. “The boys are getting plenty of briefing hours in, but that’s all,” lamented the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book.

The Light Night Striking Force was operating however. Mosquitos attacked Cologne, Aachen and Oberhausen, while other aircraft laid mines or dropped leaflets. Three Serrate aircraft from 100 Group went looking for enemy fighters but failed to find any.[1]

Meanwhile, one of 467 Squadron’s aircraft had been causing problems on operations. Allocated to ‘A’ Flight, R5485 was one of the relatively older Lancasters at Waddington. Previous pilots (including Flying Officer William Felstead, who took it on the Frankfurt operation three nights ago) had complained that, when loaded, the aircraft could not climb to reach a normal operating height. The groundstaff had been unable to find any physical fault so it fell to Squadron Leader Phil Smith, as Flight Commander, to see if he could diagnose the cause by taking the offending aircraft on an operation himself. In preparation for this, he gathered up his entire crew and all went down to the dispersal to check over the old aeroplane. “We found all to be in order,” he later wrote,[2] but we removed quite a lot of rubbish, which had accumulated over several years of operations.”

But then the planned raid was cancelled. The mystery of what was wrong with R5485 would have to wait for another day.

 

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] Night Raid Report No. 559

[2] Smith, Phil, undated. Recollections of 1939-1945 War, p.22

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

467 Postblog XLI: Saturday 18 March, 1944

Operations, once again, were on for tonight. It was a big effort from the two Waddington squadrons: between them they got no fewer than forty aircraft airborne. Every crew from 467 Squadron were on the battle order, twenty two in all.[1] “Considering our establishment is 16+4 aircraft,” boasted the Operational Record Book, “tonight is certainly a good one and should be nearly a record for a two-flight Squadron.” The crew of B for Baker were among them, although on this trip bomb aimer Jerry Parker was replaced by the Squadron’s Bombing Leader, Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy. They joined a total of 846 aircraft and crews sent to attack the city of Frankfurt.

As usual, there would be other Bomber Command aircraft out tonight. Almost a hundred of them were sent to lay mines in the Heligoland area, a trip also intended to look to German fighter controllers like a bomber stream possibly headed towards Berlin. A small force of eleven Mosquitos was to make a diversionary raid on Kassel, more Mosquitos attacked enemy airfields in Holland, Belgium and France or flew Serrate patrols to keep the nightfighters occupied and other aircraft flew radio counter-measure sorties. Meanwhile nineteen Lancasters bombed an explosives factory at Bergerac, near Bordeaux in France, with “devastating effect.” In all, more than one thousand sorties were despatched on this night.[2]

The first aircraft departed Waddington for Frankfurt at 18.45. There was one early return, Pilot Officer Jack Freeman and crew of 463 Squadron, though the ORB does not record the reason. Theirs was one of a total of 59 aircraft to abort the flight tonight. For the rest of the force the rendezvous point where the bombers began to form up into a recognisable stream was over the Channel, a position about 25 miles off Ramsgate. The bombers crossed the enemy coast between Dunkirk and Ostend, heading towards the south east.[3] They encountered stiff resistance from flak ships and the coastal defences in this area and it was here that the first casualty of the night fell, shot down from the ground.[4] “Do not recommend routeing in as flak quite active over coastal area,” said Pilot Officer Harold Coulson at interrogation later. Flak would claim one more victim south of Bonn after the stream crossed into Germany.

All across France and Belgium the route appeared free of nightfighters. The simultaneous arrival of two apparent bomber streams, one approaching on a northerly route and the second further south, seems to have induced the German fighter controllers to split their forces. Half were drawn towards the north by the minelaying force. Near the Belgian border with Luxemburg the Main Force turned east north east, onto a leg of some 100 miles that was aimed to appear to be threatening cities like Kassel or Leipzig. It was near this turning point that the first few nightfighters began to catch up with the bomber stream, shooting down four heavies before the target was reached. Most of the defenders, however, had been sidetracked for too long and were too late to make any appreciable impact on the bombers.

The diversionary Mosquitos went on ahead, Windowing furiously, to drop target indicators and high explosive bombs on Kassel and simulate the opening of a major attack on that city. But south east of Cologne the bomber stream altered course to the east before making a sharp right turn over the city of Giessen. Frankfurt – the real target – now lay almost directly to the south, about thirty miles or less than ten minutes flying time away.

One crew had a hair-raising experience at this point in the flight. It was gradually dawning on Pilot Officer Graham Fryer of 463 Squadron, flying in LM438, that his aircraft was behaving “erratically” and the controls were becoming heavier. With about twenty miles to run to the target, and climbing towards their bombing height of about 20,000 feet, the Lancaster very suddenly fell out of the sky in a violent stall. They lost considerable height before Fryer managed to bring the aircraft back under control. Their air speed indicator had been unserviceable for the entire trip and the artificial horizon and rate of climb indicator had both been “sluggish” so it was later realised that the upset had probably been due to severe icing.[5] They bombed from 18,000 feet, a little lower than most, but would return safely to Waddington.

Having failed to fall for the diversion to Kassel, the second force of nightfighters found the bombers as they approached the target. Heavy contrails were streaming in the wake of many aircraft and these were combining with haze and high level cloud, which might have reduced the effectiveness of the fighters.[6] Nineteen crews reported combats over the target but only one bomber was definitely seen to fall to fighters there, though it is likely that one more was also shot down.

The crews found only a thin layer of cloud below their bombing height, but there was much haze and visibility was poor. Even so, the first Pathfinder markers went down reasonably accurately, a minute early at 21.54. The initial markers were promptly backed up and “at no time during the attack”, wrote the scientists in the Night Raid Report, “were the main force without markers to aim at.” The flak guns put up a loose barrage and a large number of searchlights were active, but the haze meant that they were not as effective as usual. Consequently, though four fell to the target guns, the bombers were more or less unimpeded. The stream was so concentrated that Flying Officer Victor Trimble of 463 Squadron, flying ED611, expressed concern that perhaps there were too many aircraft there. They had other bombers on all sides during their bombing run and so could not manoeuvre, thus missing a chance at getting an aiming point photograph.[7] More seriously, they would also not have been able to evade a fighter, or for that matter another bomber: at least two aircraft are known to have been lost in a collision over the target.

A few other crews encountered difficulties over the target. While not many reported seeing any fighters, they were present and two Waddington aircraft were attacked. Flying Officer Arnold Easton, navigator in DV372, recorded in his logbook that his gunners fired at a fighter in the target area. Pilot Officer Noel McDonald in ED732 was attacked by a JU-88 but managed to dive and corkscrew away without a shot being fired. Flying Officer William Felstead was flying R5485, one of 467 Squadron’s ‘older’ Lancasters, on only his second trip as captain. All four engines overheated, necessitating use of a lower power setting which restricted the aircraft to 16,000ft until the bombs were dropped. They bombed from 15,000 and were among the last few aircraft to return to Waddington.[8]

The bombers hit the target hard. “PFF well concentrated,” said one 467 Squadron crew. “Good prang.”[9] At least two large explosions were reported by numerous crews during the attack. Bombing had strayed a little to the east of the centre of the city, but the docks received heavy damage and bombs had also fallen throughout the built-up area.[10] The last aircraft from Waddington to bomb was EE143 with Pilot Officer Ron Llewelyn at the controls. The aircraft (EE143, Phil Smith’s old one) would not fly faster than about 140mph indicated which made them late on target, bombing at the tail end of the attack at 22.19.

The bombers continued on their southerly track after bombing for another twenty or so miles, leaving the target with fires beginning to take hold. They were followed out by the nightfighters, which claimed three more victories over the first part of the homeward route. Two more bombers fell to flak near Darmstadt, just before the stream turned almost due west to point their noses towards home. Near the town of Morbach the bombers adjusted course slightly to the north west for the long journey to the coast.

At least seven crews complained bitterly that, once again, after leaving the target and for the rest of the way home some aircraft had jettisoned incendiaries that had hung up. “I wish blokes wouldn’t drop incs. all along track,” said Flight Sergeant Roland Cowan. Flying Officer Jim Marshall was more direct: “This lights up [the] track taken back by [the] Bomber Stream,” he said, “and causes much cursing.”[11]

Sadly, it probably caused more than cursing on this trip. It was on the long leg back to the coast that the first force of nightfighters – which had been kept to the north by the threat posed by the mining force earlier in the night – caught up with the stream. They are likely to have claimed two more bombers here. One more aircraft simply disappeared without trace.

The first aircraft arrived back at Waddington at 00.38. When Noel McDonald touched down in ED732 a little more than an hour later, one aircraft was still missing from the 463 Squadron dispersals. Pilot Officer James Gardner and crew, in EE191, were among the 22 aircraft which failed to return from Frankfurt, crashing just east of Frankfurt with the loss of all crew.[12] Their aircraft was on its 115th operation. The Night Raid Report also records that 34 bombers were damaged on the raid and two Lancasters got home but were wrecked in landing accidents. Two other aircraft collided in mid air but “luckily escaped without serious injury.”

For such a large target and force of bombers sent, this was a remarkably small loss rate. On the other side of the ledger, the bombers shot down three German nightfighters, and the Serrate Mosquitos accounted for three more near Frankfurt. No further Bomber Command losses – other than the 22 Main Force aircraft – were sustained during the night’s operations.

It had been one of the more successful operations of its type: while just 64 aircraft were definitively plotted as having bombed the target area, at least 180 and possibly as many as 626 were believed to have bombed within three miles of the aiming point. The exact damage caused to Frankfurt was unable to be determined because photographic reconnaissance was not available until after further attacks on the city by separate British and American forces, but all three raids together caused considerable damage, hitting industrial and transport facilities as well as commercial and residential premises throughout the city.

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] Details of force sent from Waddington in 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 18MAR44

[2] Details of tonight’s operations come mainly from Night Raid Report No. 556, supported by the RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, March 1944

[3] Route details recorded in Arnold Easton’s logbook and plotted on Google Earth

[4] Locations of casualties throughout this post from Night Raid Report No. 556

[5] Episode described in 463 Squadron ORB, 18MAR44

[6] Several crews reported contrails; among them Wing Commander Sam Balmer and Flight Lieutenant Jack Colpus, both in 467 Squadron ORB 18MAR44

[7] Reported in 463 Squadron ORB, 18MAR44

[8] 467 Squadron ORB, 18MAR44

[9] F/L W.D. Marshall, in the ORB 18MAR44

[10] Night Raid Report No. 556

[11] Both quotes from 467 Squadron ORB, 18MAR44

[12] Storr, Alan 2006

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

467 Postblog XXXIX: Wednesday 15 March, 1944

After a much-welcomed break of a few days, war was on again for the Waddington squadrons tonight. It was a bright, sunny day as the ground staff began to prepare the aircraft with 1,950 gallons of fuel and more than ten tons of bombs each,[1] and the crews began their own preparations. Phil Smith was among a number of crews who took their aircraft on air tests during the day. Also on the air test with him was Pilot Officer Anthony Tottenham, a new pilot who would also accompany the crew of B for Baker on the operation tonight.

The target was Stuttgart and it was to be a big effort from both squadrons: 463 detailed seventeen crews and 467 had nineteen on the battle order, with at least one of them (skippered by Flight Sergeant Roland Cowan) taking a 463 Squadron aircraft as their own was not available.[2] For Pilot Officers Roland Llewelyn and John Roberts it was to be a significant day. They were on their first solo operations as captains.

The first aircraft to depart Waddington, with Roberts at the controls, departed at 19.04 hours. They faced a flight of some 1500 miles, or almost eight hours in the air.

In all, a force of 863 bombers were sent to the city. Ten Mosquitos were sent on a diversionary raid to Munich in support of the Main Force, to drop spoof route markers and target indicators in a bid to look like the opening of a large attack. Meanwhile more Mosquitos were to attack Stuttgart ten minutes before the Main Force arrived, then twice more after it left. Other planned targets were to be the Amiens marshalling yards by 140 Halifaxes and Stirlings, an aero-engine factory at Woippy (near Metz) by 22 Lancasters and airfields in Holland by Mosquitos. Finally, other aircraft would be engaged on Serrate anti-nightfighter patrols, mining sorties, Resistance operations and some leaflet trips by Operational Training Unit crews.[3]

The two Australian squadrons flew their aircraft via Reading to cross the coast near Selsey Bill, just east of Portsmouth. Not for the first time, the crew of Flight Lieutenant Jack Colpus encountered mechanical trouble in JA901. On this trip most of the crew felt ill from a defect in the oxygen system, and there was also a problem with the hydraulics that powered both turrets. The mid-upper gunner needed to refill the ‘spindle’ that supplied the system with oil “at least 40 times before getting to [the] target.”[4] At least on this occasion they reached their objective and returned safely: since late January, mechanical breakdowns had forced this crew to make two early returns from operations.

The first aircraft to fall to enemy action was shot down by a nightfighter over the Channel. The bombers crossed the French coast near Le Havre, where flak claimed another aircraft. South-west of Paris, the bombers turned towards the east for a long leg of some 350 miles. A number of crews complained that the length of this segment of the route made navigation difficult. “Suggest on such a long leg as tonight a route marker off track would have given a good check,” said Flying Officer Alan Finch in his post-raid interrogation report. Perhaps this contributed to the loss of four aircraft which were shot down by flak on this leg.[5]

An hour before reaching the target, Pilot Officer Colin James of 463 Squadron had a starboard engine catch fire and lose oil pressure. He feathered the engine but was struggling to maintain height on three. They jettisoned their two thousand-pounders, discovered they could now just about stay in straight and level flight, and so limped on to Stuttgart.[6]

Seeing the large force of bombers approaching on their radar screens, the German nightfighter controllers had to judge where the likely target would be and subsequently where they should deploy their aircraft. Tonight they split their forces into two: one group was positioned near Metz, north of the bombers’ outward track – perhaps drawn there by the Woippy force – and the second was even further to the north. The first group caught up with the main stream near Epinal. From here they fought a running battle all the way to the target, making a reported 24 attacks and in the process claiming ten bombers. Not far from Lake Constance on the Swiss-German border (which would become infamous as the site of one of the world’s worst mid-air collisions in 2002), the diversionary Mosquitos continued another 120 miles east towards Munich. The Main Force, however, turned north towards the real target – Stuttgart.[7] But the controllers were not deceived by the spoof flares and bombs at Munich. They moved their second group of fighters into the target area, waiting for the bombers.

During an operation, experienced crews would act as ‘wind finders’ for the entire force (Jack Colpus’s crew were tasked with this role on this trip). The navigators of these crews would calculate the wind they were experiencing at regular intervals, and then transmit it back to Bomber Command headquarters, where it would be compared against the results of all other windfinders, and an average re-broadcast to the rest of the Main Force. Tonight, it was discovered that the wind was stronger than forecast and the stream was running late. The first Pathfinder markers dropped at 23.09, one minute before the planned zero hour but four minutes later than scheduled. Subsequent Pathfinders and Main Force crews were up to fifteen minutes late, and the attack became a little drawn-out. Some crews even dropped their bombs on a flare believed to have been a German decoy (possibly the one seen by Pilot Officer Victor Trimble, about 20 miles short of the target).

Reading the crews’ post-raid reports in the Operational Record Books, the salient feeling is one of disappointment. The Pathfinders were late, and though there appear to have been short periods when the target indicators were reasonably concentrated there were other times where only a single Wanganui skymarker flare was visible. One crew were even forced to bomb the “estimated centre” of the position where they had just seen three Wanganuis fizzle out (this was the crew of Pilot Officer Fred Cassell, who had lost an engine earlier in the trip and were the last Waddington aircraft to bomb as a result[8]). Many crews reported seeing incendiaries burning on the ground well short of the aiming point. The stream itself appears to have been reasonably concentrated however: at 23.24 hours no less than nine Waddington aircraft bombed in the same minute. One of them, captained by Flying Officer Jim  Marshall, passed so close behind another aircraft it was thrown around by wake turbulence violently enough to upset the gyro compass.[9]

Surprisingly, the target was only relatively lightly defended. The flak guns put up a loose barrage as the bombers arrived, and there was virtually no searchlight activity. Even so, the ground defences claimed three attackers. Many crews reported seeing fighters over the target and twenty three attacks were reported, but only two more bombers were shot down at this point.

Bombing photo from mid-way through the attack. Courtesy Neale Wellman
Bombing photo from mid-way through the attack. Courtesy Neale Wellman

After bombing, the stream flew on another twenty or so miles beyond the target before starting a big turn towards the south west (Jim Marshall’s aircraft got a little lost here and ended up passing between Karlsruhe and Mannheim, a little to the north west of the intended track, a result of the compass upset they suffered over the target). Two bombers fell to nightfighters before the French frontier was reached south of Strasbourg, and flak claimed one more there as the bomber stream turned west towards the coast. A further two aircraft were shot down by radar-controlled nightfighters over France.[10] A few crews complained that, once again, some bombers had jettisoned incendiaries on the way home. Pilot Officer Harold Coulson opined afterwards that Something Should Be Done to stop the practice as the route home was marked clearly by them, increasing the risk of fighter interception. The crew of one bomber bailed out near Beauvais on the final run to the French coast, though it was not certain whether or not this was due to enemy action.[11]

The bombers finally crossed the enemy coast again near Dieppe, returning to their bases the same way they came out via Selsey Bill and Reading. Approaching Waddington just before four o’clock in the morning, the crew of 463 Squadron Lancaster ED606 – captained by Pilot Officer William Graham – could perhaps have been forgiven for relaxing just a tiny bit. After all, they had just completed their very first operation as a crew. They had flown deep into enemy territory, taken part in a massed bombing attack and were now back safely over a friendly country. But disaster struck while they were circling overhead the airfield awaiting their turn to land. A 625 Squadron Halifax, returning to its base at Kelstern (22 miles north east of Waddington), flew straight through the Waddington ‘stack’ and collided with the Lancaster. They crashed at Branston, just a couple of miles from Waddington. All on board both aircraft were killed.

All 467 Squadron aircraft returned safely, but as well as the men involved in the collision so close to home, 463 Squadron lost one more crew on this trip. ME573, captained by John Roberts, had been the first aircraft to depart Waddington earlier in the evening. Their Lancaster crashed just north of Stuttgart with the loss of all on board.[12]

Roberts led one of a total of thirty six crews which failed to return from Stuttgart. Nine of these were known to have fallen to flak and seventeen to nightfighters. Two were believed destroyed in a collision over the channel. The remaining ten simply vanished. The two aircraft which collided near Waddington were in addition to these losses, as were a further three aircraft damaged beyond repair in landing accidents and one lost in a ditching. On the other side of the ledger, seven enemy fighters had been destroyed.[13]

The general impression of the raid, according to one 463 Squadron crew, was that the attack “generally fell short.” Another crew called it a “very poor prang.” Pilot Officer James – who had suffered the engine failure an hour before the target, jettisoned his thousand-pounders and carried on to attack on three engines – said it was “not a very healthy trip.”[14] James also had to deal with the failure of the Monica early-warning system, half the guns in the rear turret and the entire mid-upper turret. In the circumstances this comment is a remarkable understatement.

Phil Smith’s logbook shows that his target photograph was plotted some six miles south-west of the aiming point. He would not have been alone. The crews’ initial impressions would prove correct when the photo reconnaissance results came in a week and a half later, showing that the raid was “scattered over a large area, mostly to the S.W. of the target.” [15] Staggeringly, no bombing photographs, according to the Night Raid Report, showed evidence that any aircraft (out of the 778 that reported attacking the target) got within three miles of the aiming-point. Once again, the critical importance of the Pathfinders had been made clear. If the Pathfinders were on target, the bombs would fall on the target. But if the markers missed, so did the following bombs. On this occasion, the Night Raid Report records, the weight of the attack “evidently fell outside the town”. Nevertheless, there did occur what it called “useful industrial damage,” albeit in suburbs and outlying districts rather than in the city itself. It also records a direct hit on a large railway viaduct and damage to a number of factories, but cautions that, as American bombers had attacked the city after this operation and before photographic reconnaissance was able to be carried out, some of the damage found must also be attributed to that later raid.

While the Stuttgart raid was perhaps not the most successful in terms of damage inflicted, the Amiens force had better success. They caused heavy damage to the marshalling yards, for the loss of three heavy bombers. But the factory at Woippy escaped entirely when the attacking force found the target covered in cloud; all bombers brought their bombs home safely. The only other casualty from the evening’s operations was one Mosquito which failed to return from a Serrate patrol.[16]

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] Easton, Arnold, Flying Log Book

[2] 467 Squadron ORB, cross-referenced with Robertson (1964)

[3] Details of all operations for this night are in Night Raid Report No. 553

[4] 467 Squadron ORB, 15MAR44

[5] Night Raid Report No. 553

[6] 463 Squadron ORB, 15MAR44

[7] Nightfighter activity in Night Raid Report No. 553

[8] 463 Squadron ORB, 15MAR44

[9] Navigator on this aircraft was Arnold Easton, and the incident is mentioned in his logbook

[10] Night Raid Report No. 553

[11] Night Raid Report No. 553

[12] Casualty details from Storr, Alan 2006

[13] Night Raid Report No. 553

[14] 463 Squadron ORB, 15MAR44.

[15] Night Raid Report No. 553

[16] Night Raid Report No. 553

467 Postblog XXXVIII: Saturday 11 – Tuesday 14 March, 1944

After the build-up, training and flying the Marignane operation, and then recovering all the diverted aeroplanes from Cornwall, the Waddington crews would not fly operationally again for a few days. Both squadrons had recently been joined by some new crews so, mainly for their benefit (though everyone else joined in as well), a certain amount of training was carried out: Bullseye exercises on Saturday, night flying on Sunday and again on Monday and some more training and cross-country exercises on Tuesday. Phil Smith logged 1.40 hours on the Monday on a night-time High Level Bombing sortie, though the flight does not appear in Jack Purcell’s logbook.

Otherwise, very little happened at Waddington. 463 Squadron Commanding Officer Rollo Kingsford-Smith went on leave for a few days, to be temporarily replaced by Squadron Leader Bill Brill. Three 467 Squadron officers received promotions to Flight Lieutenant, among them Dan Conway. The RAF Film Unit was still hanging around on Saturday taking some more footage. Phil Smith wrote to thank his family for a telegram he had received a few days earlier to celebrate his 27th birthday (which was on Monday 13th). A Church Parade was held at Waddington on Sunday and the usual Squadron Parade on Tuesday. Later that same day 467 Squadron aircrew were shown a film about ‘Pre Flight Inspection of Aircraft.’[1] Life was, for the moment, about as normal as it got on a bomber airfield.

Of course, other Bomber Command units were continuing the fight. A look at Saturday night (11 March) gives a good overview of the various sundry activities that were carried out on most nights throughout this period in the war. Twenty Mosquitos were sent to Hamburg, eleven to München-Gladbach, five to Krefeld, seven to Aachen and four to Duisburg. 43 heavies laid mines off the French Atlantic ports and the Frisians. Twenty Wellingtons and Whitleys dropped leaflets over France, three Mosquitos carried out Serrate patrols and 10 Stirlings went out on ‘special operations’. One Stirling minelayer was the only casualty of the night.

On Sunday night (12 March), eleven Mosquitos went to Aachen and three to Duisburg, for no losses. On Monday, 222 Halifaxes and Mosquitos attacked marshalling yards at Le Mans, for the loss of one heavy bomber, the Mosquitos were out again, making harassing raids on Frankfurt and the Ruhr and other aircraft laid mines off the French coasts, attacked enemy airfields and dropped leaflets. One minelayer and one fighter were lost. Finally, on Tuesday night thirty Mosquitos were sent to Dusseldorf. Another Mosquito made a weather reconnaissance flight and five other aircraft took part in special operations. All aircraft returned safely.[2]

 

Next post in this series: 15 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] Details of activities at Waddington from 463 and 467 Squadron ORBs, 11-14MAR44. Phil Smith’s letter to sister Wenda was written 11MAR44.

[2] Night activities for this period recorded in Night Raid Reports Nos. 549-552

467 Postblog XXXVII: Friday 10 March, 1944

After a few hours sleep, the Waddington crews who had been on the Marignane raid last night left their diversion airfields in Cornwall and began trickling back to their own station, where the fog had cleared. After a two-hour flight the first aircraft arrived back at about 11.45.

463 Squadron left three aircraft unserviceable at Predannack. Almost joining them on the list of the broken was 467’s LM450 at St Eval. This was the aircraft which had apparently suffered an overheating port outer engine on the homeward flight last night. The Coastal Command engineers at St Eval had a look and couldn’t fault the engine, though they were not Merlin experts, and suggested that the trouble may have been a defective gauge in the cockpit. With that in mind, and not wanting to spend another day in Cornwall or risk the chance of a long train trip back to Waddington the aircraft’s captain, Dan Conway, discussed with his crew and decided on an unorthodox and highly unofficial plan of action: [1]

I said to Engineer Ray, ‘It’s a long runway and possible to get off on three motors. What say we start it up and let it run at low revs? Probably the gauge anyhow. Once about ready to get airborne you can shut it down and we can always unfeather it again to look good on landing. I can’t see the Flying Control letting us take off with one engine feathered.’

And so they did, taking off with all four props turning to keep up appearances for the controllers, feathering the offending engine shortly afterwards and proceeding to Waddington on three. But by this time the Waddington weather had closed in again and they found themselves diverting to nearby Bardney, where they unfeathered the propeller so it windmilled on arrival, again looking good for the tower. And finally, when word was received that Waddington was again clear, they went through the same process for the short flight back to base, where a ground inspection revealed – surprise, surprise – that the oil temperature and pressure gauges were both unserviceable. The Lancaster had performed beautifully on three engines. “As a matter of fact”, Conway later wrote,[2] “the tricky bit was the taxying on the port inner and starboard outer, rather than using the two outer motors as usual. This was because the two outer throttles were longer than the others and bent in over them for ease of taxying normally.”

Waddington crews would be given the night off, but 5 Group were still active elsewhere on Friday night. Small forces of Lancasters were despatched to four factories throughout France. One aircraft failed to return but all targets were hit hard. Particularly noteworthy was an attack by 16 aircraft from 617 Squadron on a needle bearing works at La Ricamerie, near St Etienne. Both the leader (Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire) and the deputy leader encountered trouble while trying to mark the target as cloud meant they could not see it from an angle, only from directly above it. Essentially on the fly, Cheshire came up with a new marking technique. Diving low under the clouds, he dropped 30lb incendiaries on both the eastern and the western edge of the target area, and told the crews to aim at the middle of the glow coming through the clouds. Later photo reconnaissance showed the improvised technique had been most effective and the factory was completely destroyed.[3]

Bomber Command also sent Mosquitos to Duisburg and almost a hundred aircraft on various special operations over the Continent. One Stirling was lost.[4]

 

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] This quote, and the story, is from Conway (1995), The Trenches in the Sky, p.128-9. The ORB makes no mention of shutting down the engine on return from Marignane.

[2] Conway (1995), p.129

[3] Lawrence, W.J. (1951), No. 5 Bomber Group, R.A.F. 1939-1945, p.161

[4] Night Raid Report No. 548

467 Postblog XXXVI: Thursday 9 March, 1944

It was on.

Eleven crews from each Waddington squadron discovered at briefing that tonight they would use the special tactics that they had been learning over the last few days. The target was an aircraft factory at Marignane, near Marseilles – a long stooge south into France. Half of the 44 aircraft detailed for this raid came from Waddington. 9 Squadron at Bardney and 50 Squadron at Skellingthorpe made up the rest.[1]

For Phil Smith and his crew, this would be their first operational flight in B for Baker. Squadron Leader Bill Brill, flying LL790, led the two squadrons away at 20.19 hours. The bombers flew across France at fairly low level (10,000 feet), in good visibility and bright moonlight. They even went far enough to see the Swiss Alps from the air. “It has always been my ambition to see Switzerland though I should like to get a closer look”, Phil commented wryly when describing the incident in a letter written to his sister a few days later.[2]

It was a thoroughly uneventful trip. “It turned out a bore”, wrote Dan Conway.[3] “Everything was quiet, which possibly stretched our nerves more than usual.” The operation did not entirely go to plan however. A Gee coding failure made the use of that navigation aid difficult, and a number of pilots (including Phil Smith) later complained[4] that the incendiaries marking the rendezvous point – from which the timed bombing runs were planned to begin – were badly placed, leading to a delay in locating the target (one crew, who arrived at the rendezvous point with everyone else, would fail to find the target at all and ended up bringing their bombs home[5]).

But in the end it didn’t matter much. There was a little flak around but not much. Revelling in the complete lack of nightfighters, the bombers circled around the target area while waiting for the red spot fire target marker to be dropped.

And then they blew the factory out of existence. Most aircraft bombed between 8,000 and 10,000 feet, though Wing Commander Arthur Doubleday and Squadron Leader Bill Brill were right down at 6,000 feet when they dropped their cargo. While some incendiaries appeared a little scattered, many crews reported seeing their high explosives bursting on the target buildings and one (Flight Sergeant Eric Page in HK595) even claimed to have felt the blast of his own bombs. A large explosion, “orange-red in colour and lasting 2-3 secs”[6] was seen at 01.30, in the middle of the attack, followed by a thick pall of smoke reaching up to six or seven thousand feet. “Should be a complete wipe-out,” reported a very satisfied Pilot Officer Clive Quartermaine later.

There was a little excitement over the target for the crew of B for Baker. On the run-up to the target, Phil Smith heard an urgent call from Eric Hill in the mid-upper turret:

Weave, Skipper, weave – there’s a bloke right above us with his bomb doors open and I can see the eggs hanging there!

With all the aircraft milling around in the target area, however, evasive action was impossible. The crew nervously watched and waited, but eventually the other aircraft drifted off to one side and they carried on to drop their bombs “none the worse, apart from being frightened.”[7]

The bombers left the target well pranged with a mass of fires burning, and much smoke and dust rising. The Night Raid Report[8] lists a catalogue of damage:

All the buildings of the factory had been damaged, especially the assembly shops, the heat treatment shops, M/T. park, stores, and flight and repair hangars. The adjacent airfield also suffered heavily, many hangars and administration buildings being affected by fire and blast. Hits were scored on roads bounding the site and on the internal network of roads

It had been an extraordinarily accurate raid, with eight out of ten successful 467 Squadron crews scoring aiming point photographs. The only two to miss out were the leaders, Balmer and Doubleday, who both suffered photographic failure.[9] Despite circling the target for over half an hour, out of the total force of 44 Lancasters just three received minor flak damage and nightfighters were entirely absent.

Marignane, well and truly under attack. Photo: The Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre
Marignane, well and truly under attack. Photo: The Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Flight Lieutenant Dan Conway’s crew encountered a little trouble on the homeward leg when their port outer engine apparently overheated and needed to be feathered.[10] As forecast, fog formed at Waddington overnight rendering the airfield unusable so the entire force was diverted to Cornwall. 463 Squadron were sent to Predannack, a nightfighter base in the south, where Wing Commander Rollo Kingsford-Smith complained they landed “in poor visibility without any flying control assistance of any kind.”[11] 467 Squadron went to St Eval, a Coastal Command base on the western coast. With the sudden influx of crews accommodation was at a premium. After nine hours and fifty minutes in the air Phil Smith in B for Baker was the last to land (at 06.30), so they would have had to make do with whatever they could scrounge.

Elsewhere, eight Mosquitos bombed Dusseldorf and two made Serrate patrols over the Continent. No aircraft were lost from the night’s operations.[12]

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] This was a 53 Base only operation, notes the ORB. The other two stations under 53 Base, apart from Waddington, were Bardney and Skellingthorpe, each hosting one squadron (9 and 50).

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

[3] Conway, Dan (1995), The Trenches in the Sky, p.128

[4] Reports are in both the 463 and 467 Squadrons ORBs, 09MAR44

[5] This was P/O H.W. Coulson in DV240 and the 467 Squadron ORB records that, despite almost getting there, he and his crew would not be awarded credit for this operation.

[6] F/O M.F. Smith in LL788, in 467 Squadron ORB, 09MAR44

[7] Smith, Phil, Phil’s Recollections of 1939-1945 War, p.21

[8] No. 547

[9] 467 Squadron ORB, 10MAR44

[10] Conway, 1995 p.128

[11] 463 Squadron ORB, 09MAR44

[12] Night Raid Report No. 547

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

Event: ANZAC Day 2014 in Sydney with the 463-467 Squadrons Association, NSW Branch

ANZAC Day approaches again, and once more the NSW Branch of the 463-467 RAAF Squadrons Association are planning a luncheon to follow the Sydney March.

Note: There have been some significant changes to the ANZAC Day March in Sydney. WWII veterans willl now lead off at the front of the March. Descendents and family members are no longer permitted to march behind the Squadron banners with the veterans, but are encouraged to join in at the end of the march instead.

Because of the earlier start for the veterans, lunch has been brought forward. Here are the details:

  • Venue: Pullman Hotel Hyde Park (formerly the Sydney Marriott)
  • Includes: A two-course lunch with beverages
  • Time: Refreshments begin from 11.00am. Lunch to be served from 12:00.
  • Cost: $54 per person
  • RSVP by 10 April 2014 to David Southwell, davidrfs@icloud.com

This is always a great occasion and offers a chance to catch up with and pay tribute to veterans of these two fine Squadrons (and a few others). I’ll be travelling up from Melbourne for the day.