Archive for April, 2014

467 Postblog LXX: Sunday 30 April, 1944

No operations today for the crews of 463 and 467 Squadrons at RAF Waddington, despite a fine sunny day. The Operational Record Books only record three flights by 467 Squadron aircraft for a total seven hours in the air.

Throughout April 1944,[1] 463 Squadron made a total of 144 operational sorties, for the loss of two crews (those of Pilot Officer Charles Schomberg in LL892 on Brunswick, 22 April, and Pilot Officer Eric Page in LL848 on Munich on 24 April). The story was somewhat better for 467 Squadron, making 147 sorties for only one loss (the crew of Pilot Officer Ken Feeney in ND732 on La Chapelle, 20 April). In fact, the ORB notes, since 1 February 467 Squadron had lost just four aircraft for 357 completed sorties. ‘If this ratio can continue”, Flight Lieutenant McDonald wrote, “we can indeed count ourselves as fortunate.”

While 5 Group had the night off, other bomber Groups were operating tonight.[2] Mosquitos attacked Saarbrucken and Duren and attacked airfields and other aircraft laid mines off the French coast or carried out Resistance operations. In a continuation of the Transportation Plan two marshalling yards in France – at Acheres, which had been softened up by Mosquitos last night, and Somain, south of Lille – were attacked by heavy bombers along with an ammunition dump at Maintenon, south-west of Paris. Acheres suffered what the Night Raid Report called “enormous damage” and the ammunition dump was “virtually destroyed” while leaving the nearby town almost untouched. The bombing at Somain, it says, was centred “on the edge of the target” due to late and inaccurate marking but significant damage was still caused. A single Halifax which was shot down by flak on this target was the only casualty for the night.

 

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] Statistics from the Operational Record Books of 463 and 467 Squadrons

[2] Operational details from Night Raid Report No. 592 and RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944

Ten Veterans

At the 463-467 RAAF Squadrons Association lunch which followed the 2014 ANZAC Day march in Sydney last Friday we were privileged to have no fewer than ten Bomber Command veterans amongst the 50 or so people present. I’m still putting together You can find a full post about the day here, but for now here is a collection of photographic portraits, one of each veteran:

Don Browning

Don Browning

Don Southwell

Don Southwell

Don Huxtable

Don Huxtable

Keith Campbell

Keith Campbell

Alan Buxton

Alan Buxton

Albert Wallace

Albert Wallace

Hugh McLeod

Hugh McLeod

David Skinner

David Skinner

Harry Brown

Harry Brown

George Douglass

George Douglass

 

Photos (c) 2014 Adam Purcell

467 Postblog LXIX: Saturday 29 April, 1944

The last of 27 aircraft returned to Waddington from last night’s abortive raid on the explosives works at St-Medard-en-Jalles at 07.18 this morning.[1] But when the crews awoke from their post-operation slumber they found that ops had been laid on again for tonight, and they were going back to the same target in the south of France. Seventeen out of the nineteen crews sent were on the battle order for the second night in succession. The total offering from Waddington would have been 21, except that it was belatedly discovered that Flight Sergeant Tom Scholefield – who was Dan Conway’s second dickey last night – had not completed any training cross countries or practice flights with his crew since they arrived at the squadron yesterday. They were sent on a Bullseye instead. The 467 Squadron Operational Record Book also notes that one other captain – Pilot Officer Tony Tottenham – did not go either, though no details are recorded about why.

In any case a total of 68 Lancasters and five Mosquitos, again all from 5 Group, were detailed for the new attack on St Medard-en-Jalles. Elsewhere, 59 aircraft, also from 5 Group, bombed a Michelin tyre factory at Clermont Ferrand (about 180 miles east of Bordeaux) and small groups of Mosquitos attacked Oberhausen and the marshalling yards at Acheres (near Paris). Mines were laid in the Frisians and off French ports by 38 Stirlings and Halifaxes, nine Wellingtons from Operational Training Units dropped leaflets over Northern France, 25 aircraft carried out sorties in support of Resistance operations and six Mosquitos went on Serrate patrols. A final Mosquito made a weather recce flight.[2]

The Waddington aircraft began taking off for St-Medard-en-Jalles from 22:30. All nineteen were away by 22:55, but there was one early return when Flight Sergeant Sam Johns had the starboard outer engine fail on LM338 exactly an hour after he took off. He left the stream, jettisoned his full load of bombs over the sea and flew home, landing at 02:04.[3]

The rest of the bombers, though, enjoyed an entirely uneventful trip to the target with minimal opposition. This time the leading aircraft found that, while there was still some slight haze present, in the main the weather conditions were ideal for bombing with no cloud in the area. Almost 200 miles to the east, crews could see a large column of flame marking the attack which was by that stage underway on the Michelin works at Clermont-Ferrand.

Back at St-Medard-en-Jalles, the heavies circled for only a short time the yellow flare that marked the datum point before receiving, at around 02:15, the order to go in and bomb. “From then on”, recorded Pilot Officer Ernie Mustard, “there was one explosion after another.”

It was, said the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, “a very spectacular scene”. Three red spot fires marked the target. A green target indicator was dropped shortly after 02:27, and then the crews were ordered to attack between one red spot fire and the green TI.

Just after this message was sent Pilot Officer John McManus was flying LL789 on its bombing run. His wireless operator passed him the message at a critical time and upset the run so, in the interests of bombing accuracy, McManus turned away and came around again. By this stage the attack was well underway with explosion after explosion lighting up the area, lighting fires and creating huge plumes of smoke. The confusion was enough to spoil McManus’ second bombing run as the spot fires were “unrecogniseable”, so he decided to take his bombs home. The bombing, meanwhile, had blown out the spot fires that had been dropped by the target markers[4] so that by 02:36 the raid Controller was telling crews to aim at the centre of a large fire in the target area[5], but by this time McManus was already on his way back. (Despite not attacking the target, McManus and crew would still be credited with a completed sortie for this trip).

In amongst the bombers, of course, was LM475, B for Baker, and her crew. Squadron Leader Phil Smith reported that there were so many rapid-fire explosions during their run-up to bomb that he couldn’t count them. They dropped their bombs and were waiting for the camera to turn over when, at 02:29, the world seemed to blow up:

“…some other Lanc put his 12,000lbs of goods down right on some big Ammo factory – Boy I thought our time was up.”

– Flight Sergeant Dale Johnston, wireless operator, in a letter to his father, 01MAY44[6]

“…our machine was almost blown out of the sky. Flames must have been almost 500ft high.”

-Flight Sergeant Gilbert Pate, rear gunner, in a letter to his sister Joyce, 01MAY44[7]

“We thought we had bee [sic] hit […] Heard the ‘crumph’ above the noise of the engines. The light of the explosion lit up the country for miles around.”

-Squadron Leader Phil Smith, logbook entry, 29APR44

The fact that we have accounts or descriptions of this incident from three different members of the crew of B for Baker suggests that it was one of the more memorable occurrences of their tour. Being a French target accuracy was the key, and to facilitate this the bombers went in at quite low level – most between 4,000 and 6,000 feet. In Phil Smith’s opinion, the explosion they encountered at 5,000 feet was so great that aircraft one thousand feet lower would probably have been destroyed by it. “A safety height of well over 4,000 feet should have been fixed for the raid”, he reported later. In fact, the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book says that “it became necessary to order the force to raise its bombing height,” though this does not appear to be reflected in a comparison of the actual recorded bombing heights and times in the 463 and 467 Squadron Operational Record Books.

About the only thing not present over the target was much sign of enemy resistance. Their close escape after the previous night’s raid was aborted had evidently not encouraged the Germans to improve defences deployed around the factory and virtually nothing, save some “very fierce”[8] light flak south of the aiming point, was encountered. Only one aircraft on the entire raid was attacked by a fighter.[9]

All aircraft returned safely from tonight’s operations. The target was, according to the Night Raid Report, heavily damaged, “especially around the boiler house and the group of buildings, half of which were damaged and m[any] destroyed.”

On the front page of The Sheffield Telegraph, 1 May 1944 edition, was a short article headlined “30-Minute-Long Explosions”.

Crews saw smoke rise to 5,000 feet in a series of colossal explosions which were still going on half an hour after the bombs went down during Saturday night’s attack by R.A.F. Lancasters on the French Poudrerie Nationale explosives works at St-Medard-en-Jalles, nine miles from Bordeaux.

 

A copy of this article is highlighted with pen, presumably by Flight Sergeant Gilbert Pate, who had pilfered it from the Mess and sent it to his family. With them it remains, clearly stamped “R.A.F. SGTS’ MESS WADDINGTON.”[10]

 

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] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 28APR44

[2] Other ops detailed in Night Raid Report No. 591 and RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944

[3] Details from 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 29APR44

[4] As reported by Flight Lieutenant Eric Smith in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book

[5] Reported in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book by Squadron leader Merv Powell

[6] Dale’s father Charles transcribed parts of this letter and sent a copy to Don Smith in a letter on 16 July 1944. From the collection of Mollie Smith.

[7] From the collection of Gil and Peggy Thew

[8] Reported in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book by Flying Officer Dudley Ward

[9] Night Raid Report No. 591

[10] From the collection of Gil and Peggy Thew

467 Postblog LXVIII: Friday 28 April, 1944

Operations again tonight, as 28 Waddington crews were detailed for a raid on a munitions factory at St Medard-en-Jalles, near Bordeaux in the south of France. This would be an all-5 Group affair with a total of 88 bombers and four Mosquitos sent to attack the third out of four French State explosives works.[1] One crew was cancelled before take-off (for reasons not explained in the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book) but two others took second dickie pilots – Flight Sergeants Thomas Scholefield with Dan Conway and John Waugh with John McManus – and an unknown airman flew with Wing Commander Willie Tait as an extra “mid-under” gunner. For Scholefield in particular it was a quick introduction to squadron life, having arrived at Waddington on posting earlier the same day.

The crew of B for Baker all flew in their normal aircraft, LM475. Rear gunner Flight Sergeant Gilbert Pate scribbled a quick note to his mother while waiting for the crew truck to pick them up and take them to their dispersal, enclosing as he frequently did a newspaper clipping. This one covered the Schweinfurt raid of two days ago. That trip had been, he said, “a long stooge and one that I never felt happy on.”

Bombers began rolling down the runway around 22.30 in the evening. As well as the crew that was scrubbed before take-off, one aircraft returned early. Flight Sergeant Colin Dixon was setting course for the first leg, south-east towards Harwich, when the starboard inner engine on his Lancaster began overheating and caught fire. The flames died upon feathering the engine, but carrying on was not a safe option. They flew out half way over the North Sea to jettison their full load of bombs and returned to Waddington just after 01.30.[2]

The remainder of the force turned sharply south-west upon reaching the English coast and flew over the sea, overflying Brittany before they turned left and more or less followed the French coast southbound. Near the coast thirty miles west of Bordeaux itself was the datum point, which was marked by yellow flares. Aircraft began assembling there from about 02.30, circling round it to await the order to go in and bomb.

About twenty minutes ahead of the Main Force were the wind finders and target markers. They found no cloud over the target but the ground was shrouded in thick haze which made identification of the exact aiming point extremely difficult. Some of the illuminating flares reportedly set fire to nearby woods[3] and the resulting smoke only made matters worse. The Master Bomber, having dropped his red spot fire, called for more flares to assess its accuracy, but eventually decided that the haze was too thick to be able to guarantee the high degree of accuracy required for an attack on a French target and decided to abort the operation, ordering the crews home.

The problem now became one of communication. There was much back-chat from the pilots orbiting the datum point[4] and some signals were confused. Phil Smith himself heard a transmission saying “flares on red spot fires,” which he misinterpreted as an order to move in for the bombing run, but before they got there they heard another signal to stand by and orbited in the target area instead of at the datum point. The misinterpreted signal was probably the Master Bomber’s order to the flare force to illuminate the spot fire he had dropped.

Not many of the crew reports in the 463 and 467 Squadrons Operational Record Books include such detail, but of those that do the first order to cease bombing came around 02.50. Just after 3am the first crew reported receiving an order to return to base. It appears that many aircrew did not receive the first message and the orders were repeated regularly for the next half an hour or so, with most aircraft leaving the datum point having circled it for upwards of 45 minutes. Even then, one crew still reported bombing the target as late as 03.20. A green flash which was seen by Gilbert Pate from the rear turret of B for Baker was interpreted by Pilot Officer Tony Tottenham in R5868 (S for Sugar) as a verey cartridge, which he saw at 03.08 and understood as an order to bomb. Tottenham was one of 26 pilots in total who reported bombing the target but the remainder held off and went home, flying north over land.

The only other pilot from Waddington to definitely bomb was Flight Sergeant Sam Johns, who was attacked by a fighter on his bombing run and again on leaving the target. Apart from this one attack there was very little enemy activity enroute or at the target, with only desultory flak and very few searchlights encountered.

A basic aeronautical fact is that, all else being equal, the heavier an aeroplane is the more engine power is required to keep it airborne and therefore, the more fuel is required for a given flight. In planning the fuel loads for bombers engaged on an operation, of course, it would have been anticipated that each aircraft would lose some 12,500lb of weight when they dropped their bombs on the target, so less fuel would be required on the homeward journey. As they turned for home tonight however it now became clear on many aircraft that, having retained their bombs, the fuel remaining would be insufficient for the task given the unexpected extra weight still on board. Consequently out of the 26 Waddington aircraft that made it to the target, nine jettisoned some or in many cases all of their bombs on the way home. Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall and Pilot Officers John McManus and Tom Davis made the decision early, flying just off the coast and jettisoning there, but others made it the length of France before becoming aware of their fuel situation and dropped their loads after crossing the coast again near Normandy. Pilot Officer Bill Felstead made it back to England but evidently discovered he had pushed it a little too far to make Waddington and instead decided to land at an OTU aerodrome at Wing, near Aylesbury, some 90 miles short.[5] There were no casualties from this operation.

There’s an interesting footnote to this raid hidden in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book. Pilot Officer Murray Pratten made it to the target, dropped his bombs and came back safely. Yet next to his name is recorded the words “sortie NOT completed,’ implying that he and his crew were not credited with a sortie towards their tours from this trip. His report gives a fairly detailed account of signals and the times that they were received and appears to justify his decision to attack – and certainly the other two Waddington crews that bombed were credited with completed sorties – so it’s curious that this crew was not. A possible explanation is that the justification given for going into bomb was hearing a message in the clear on the W/T at 03.09:

From No. 1 drop your load.

This same message was also reported by Wing Commander Kingsford-Smith, though he said it came “between 02.38 and 02.42hrs” and was “ignored.” Perhaps its being in plain text and not encrypted raised Kingsford-Smith’s suspicions that the message might not have originated from a legitimate source, and not crediting Pratten with a completed sortie was a punishment for being taken in by it. One suspects this would not have been a popular decision with either Pratten or his crew.

A number of other Bomber Command units were operating elsewhere on this night. 51 Lancasters and four Mosquitos bombed an aircraft factory in Oslo, an effective attack in clear weather. 26 Mosquitos made a harassing raid on Hamburg and 40 Stirlings, Halifaxes and Lysanders carried out Resistance support operations. A couple of Mosquito intruders and a weather recce aircraft were also flying over the Continent. There were no casualties.

Meanwhile, the explosives factory at St Medard-en-Jalles survived for tonight. Tomorrow, it would not be so lucky.

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] Lawrence 1951, p.188

[2] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 28APR44

[3] RAF Bomber Command Diary, April 1944 and Lawrence 1951, p.188

[4] Reported by Wing Commander Kingsford-Smith, 463 Squadron Operational Record Book

[5] My copy of the Operational Record Book is unreadable at this point – thanks to Graham Wallace for picking up the error and decyphering it for me.

Event: Bomber Command Commemorations in Canberra, 31 May – 1 June 2014

Following are details for the Bomber Command Commemoration Day events to be held in Canberra on the weekend 31 May – 01 June 2014. There are three key parts to the weekend:

  • Meet & Greet
  • Ceremony
  • Luncheon

The Meet & Greet:

  • ANZAC Hall, Australian War Memorial
  • Saturday 31 May 2014
  • 6.00pm to 8.00pm
  • $50 Canapés, hot & cold with beer, wine, soft drink and juice.

The Ceremony:

  • Sculpture Garden, Australian War Memorial
  • Sunday 1 May 2014
  • 10:50am for 11:00am
  • Wreathlaying: Contact Anna Henry

The Luncheon:

  • Rydges Lakeside Hotel
  • Sunday 1 June 2014
  • 12:30pm for 1.00pm until 4.00pm
  • $55 Two course, sit‐ down lunch with tea/coffee. Private donation wines with cash bar.

Contact and RSVP:

If you are planning to attend any of these three events, please contact Ros Ingram:

  • (02) 9570 6176
  • ros@ingram.org
  • RSVPs close 26 May 2014

Full details, including payment information, on this document (PDF).

 

 

 

467 Postblog LXVII: Thursday 27 April, 1944

Yesterday’s air test clearly yielded no good results, so again Squadron Leader Phil Smith took to the air in EE143, the ‘dog’ of the ‘A’ Flight, 467 Squadron fleet. Another “Air Test for A.V. Roe’s”, this time he flew for an hour and twenty minutes. It’s possible that it was in fact a return from Syerston, where he had landed yesterday, but there is insufficient detail in his logbook to be sure. Again, he did not record the names of any crew who went along with him, but as the navigator and both gunners of his normal crew all operated last night and did not land until around 06.00 this morning, it’s unlikely that they were on board. The flight certainly does not appear in Jack Purcell’s logbook. It is most likely that, despite the maker’s assurances, Phil was still unhappy with the aeroplane and sent it back to Bracebridge Heath for another inspection.

Meanwhile other personnel were being flown between various airfields all over Britain. It will be remembered that last night Pilot Officer Dudley Ward of 463 Squadron force-landed at Tangmere on two engines on the way home from Schweinfurt. He and his crew were still stuck there with a busted aeroplane, so Squadron Leader Bill Brill took a Lancaster, filled it with ground crew and went down to see if the broken one could be repaired. On the way they stopped at Skellingthorpe, another 5 Group airfield close by Waddington, to pick up some staff who had been posted to Tangmere, and after dropping them and most of the ground staff off Brill continued to Ford to deliver another fitter who had been posted to 453 Squadron based there. After lunch at Ford Brill flew back to Tangmere – only about seven miles away – to find that the engineering staff had declared the broken aeroplane ‘Category A/C,’ meaning it was beyond the ability of the operational unit to repair on site. Three engines had suffered flak damage during the Schweinfurt trip and the fourth had been overcooked in attempting to compensate. Leaving the aircraft to the attentions of maker Avro, Brill flew home with his groundstaff and Pilot Officer Ward’s crew in the back.[1]

467 Squadron reported the arrival of a new crew, led by Flight Sergeant John Wright. The only other recorded flying at Waddington were three ‘Bullseye’ training sorties, though one of the crew involved (Pilot Officer John Sayers) were attacked by fighters four times and reckoned it was “harder than ops.”[2]

Bomber Command was still out in force. More than 320 bombers were sent to the city of Friedrichshafen, on the shores of Lake Constance. Again the bomber stream was routed over Switzerland on approach to the target. Being so far south meant that the bombers were on the very edges of the German air defence system and they managed to reach the target and deliver a highly effective attack which levelled some two-thirds of the build-up area of the town, but the fighters arrived while the attack was in progress and eighteen bombers were lost. Even so, the Night Raid Report called the losses “relatively light for so deep a penetration.”

Elsewhere,[3] railway targets were hit at Aulnoye (one bomber lost) and Montzen (on the Belgian border with Germany, very close to Aachen), causing great damage at the former but only hitting part of the latter. The Montzen force was intercepted early by fighters and fifteen bombers were shot down out of 144 dispatched. Finally, a large force of training aircraft carried out a diversionary sweep over the North Sea, mines were laid off Brest and Cherbourg, Mosquitos made a feint attack at Stuttgart and there was the usual assortment of Serrate patrols and special sorties. One further Serrate Mosquito was added to the casualty list. In all, 35 aircraft were lost out of some 961 sorties – a busy night for Bomber Command.

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 story related in Blundell, HM 1975, They Flew From Waddington, p.21

[2] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 27APR44

[3] Details of other operations from Night Raid Report No. 589 and from the RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944.

467 Postblog LXVIb: Wednesday 26 April, 1944

Three bombers from Waddington had had made early returns from the Schweinfurt trip on 26 April 1944, but the rest of the force were flying on. Crossing the enemy coast near Cabourg, the attackers flew a hundred miles inland before turning east near Paris. The route had been designed to avoid wherever possible areas of known heavy flak, and in this it was mostly successful, though three aircraft fell to flak between Troyes, halfway along this 300-mile leg, and Strasbourg, and two more were shot down at Karlsruhe. “This was rather a long trip and required accurate navigation to keep out of defended areas,” said Pilot Officer Thomas Foster.

The fighters had a go as well. Two nights ago an extreme southerly route and multiple bomber streams foxed the fighter controllers, but they did not fall for the same trick tonight. From about Troyes the fighters got stuck into the stream. At least six aircraft fell to fighters on this leg. “Fighters busy from 0400E [approx Troyes] to target,” said Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall. His navigator, Pilot Officer Arnold Easton, was a little more descriptive in his logbook. “Pretty hot trip,” he wrote. “Saw many aircraft shot down between Paris and the target.”

Now a more insidious problem made itself known.[1] The wind strengthened by ten knots and veered by 20 degrees, throwing navigators’ calculations out and delaying and scattering the bomber stream. “By the flak which I saw going up, on route many people must have strayed south of Strasbourg and Stuttgart,” thought Wing Commander Rollo Kingsford-Smith.

The wind change would upset the carefully thought-out plan. The intention was for two waves, 20 minutes apart, to attack the target. The first wave was to support the flare force, flying over the target at 02.00 and heading away for fifteen minutes to allow the marking to proceed. Low-level Mosquitos were to carry out the initial marking with red spot fires. The most accurate ones were to be backed up by green spot fires or cascading green target indicators dropped from Lancasters high above. But the wind scattered the markers and caused the late arrival of most of the marking force so some aircraft needed to hang around in the target area for some time until the markers went down. Searchlights were active in the area and there was some moderate heavy-calibre flak but the ground defences were less than effective. Fighters had reached the area before the second wave did however and are likely to have shot down six bombers near the target.[2]

Eventually at about 02.22 the Controller broadcast by W/T the order to begin bombing the markers through some low cloud and haze which had developed, probably augmented by smoke generators being operated by the defenders. The Main Force did just that, dropping their bombs so closely around the markers that at one point, Pilot Officer Col James reported, a green spot fire was extinguished or obscured by a stick of incendiaries. Good fires resulted around the markers.

“If markers were accurate,” opined Pilot Officer Arthur Bowman, a “good attack should develop.” The problem was, however, that the ground itself was only faintly visible.

Impossible to see whether it was a good do or not. – Pilot Officer Bill Mackay, 467 Squadron

And as it turned out the markers were not quite accurate enough, being displaced to the south of the actual aiming point.[3] So, consequently, was the bombing. Only 18 aircraft were definitively plotted as having bombed in the target area. The controller made an attempt to instruct the crews to overshoot the inaccurate green spot fires but this was hampered by poor radio reception and not all crews complied.  The bombers left Schweinfurt in flames, but the fires were not quite in the right spot.

The bombers turned and flew home over more or less the same route as they had taken to get to Schweinfurt. One more bomber fell to a fighter just after leaving the city. And when a 106 Squadron crew was attacked around this time it led to one of the more stunning stories of courage and luck in Bomber Command history.[4] The fighter’s shells started a fire in the starboard wing and Sergeant Norman Jackson, the flight engineer, asked his pilot for permission to try to extinguish the flames. He had already been wounded in the leg from shell splinters. Jackson tucked a hand-held fire extinguisher into his Mae-West lifejacket, put on a parachute, opened the escape hatch in the cockpit ‘greenhouse’ and climbed out, but his parachute got caught on something and opened, spilling into the cockpit. The pilot, bomb aimer and navigator gathered up the ‘chute and held onto it, paying out the rigging lines as Jackson crawled aft outside the fuselage. Jackson slipped and managed to grab hold of an air intake in the leading edge of the wing, but the fire extinguisher was lost. By this time the fire had spread and, unable to maintain his hand-hold, Jackson was swept backwards through the flames and over the trailing edge of the wing into space. He had been badly burnt and when last seen his parachute was only partially opened and burning in a number of places.

The aircraft was by now beyond saving and the order to abandon was given; four others got out but the captain and rear gunner died in the crash. Jackson himself, amazingly, survived, though he never quite got control of his parachute and landed heavily. With a broken ankle, eye closed through burns and serious hand injuries he crawled to the nearest village at daybreak and was taken prisoner. Jackson spent ten months in a German hospital. It was only after the survivors of the crew returned to the UK at the end of the war that the story came out; Sergeant Norman Cyril Jackson was awarded the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace on 13 November 1945. Jackson died in 1994.

Knowing nothing of this, of course, the rest of the bomber stream were still making their way back to the enemy coast. A couple of crews reported seeing fires and explosions in the direction of Paris as they flew past, likely the effects of the earlier raid on the Villeneuve-St-George marshalling yards. One crew, piloted by Pilot Officer Sam Johns, were attacked by a fighter. Both gunners – Flight Sergeants Ernie Dale in the mid-upper turret and John Fallon in the rear – fired and it was seen to go down out of control and crash. “It was claimed as destroyed,” said the compiler of the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book the next day, “and it was a fine effot on the part of the new crew.” They had made their operational debut on La Chapelle on April 20 and this was their second trip.

There’s a mention in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book that Pilot Officer Dudley Ward lost an engine over the target and then another passing Orleans. After ordering his crew to man ditching stations he managed to get one of the inoperative engines to fire up again and made a successful Channel crossing and emergency landing at Tangmere. The problem, however, is that Ward does not show up in the sortie list section of the ORB, so we can’t confirm which aircraft or who the rest of the crew was.

All Waddington crews arrived back safely, most between 6 and 7am. A few days later Gilbert Pate sent home some newspaper clippings, purloined once more from the Sergeants’ Mess at RAF Waddington. “10th day of attack,” reads the headline on one. With perhaps a little embellishment, the reporter quoted an unnamed airman: “I have never seen a town more desperately defended. If it had been a land battle, you would have said that the place was fighting to the last.”

It had been an expensive night. 21 bombers out of 226 – 9.3% – were lost.

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] Lawrence 1951, p.178

[2] Night Raid Report 588

[3] Account of this operation from 463 and 467 Squadron Operational Record Books, 26APR44,  Night Raid Report No. 588 and Lawrence 1951, p. 178

[4] Following account based on Lawrence 1951, p.179, and Jackson’s Victoria Cross citation, London Gazette 26OCT45, as reproduced at http://www.victoriacross.org.uk/bbjackso.htm

467 Postblog LXVIa: Wednesday 26 April, 1944

Squadron Leader Phil Smith’s old problem was back.

As the Flight Commander, ‘A’ Flight of 467 Squadron, one of his duties was to allocate crews to particular aircraft for operational flights. While some aircraft were always flown by the same crews, there were also some ‘orphan’ bombers on strength with the Flight which had no normal crews and which were flown by whoever was available on a particular night. Individual Lancasters varied greatly in quality and performance, depending on how hard they had been flown, and in every Squadron or Flight there were always one or two ‘dogs’ which no-one wanted.

And, on A Flight, 467 Squadron, no-one wanted EE143, the aeroplane we last saw in late March that wouldn’t fly straight. It seems that Avro had been unable to find a fault with its structure or dimensions and so the aeroplane was back at the squadron. Unwilling to send it on operations without a test flight and unwilling to force anyone else to so it, Phil decided today to take the aircraft up himself. His logbook does not specify the crew he flew with but it’s likely that at the least flight engineer Ken Tabor went with him. Navigator Jack Purcell did not record this flight in his logbook so it was probably intended to be a local flight only. In any case, Phil took off into a fine and sunny sky and headed towards Syerston, another RAF station about 20 miles south-west of Waddington.[1]

Meanwhile, Waddington was gearing up for operations again tonight. It would be another long one, though not quite as far as the Munich trip two nights ago. This time the target was Schweinfurt.

Bomber Command had attacked Schweinfurt properly for the first time only in February, which incidentally was one of the operations on which Phil Smith took EE143. Notwithstanding the mistaken bombing by crews who thought they were at Nuremberg in March, the city had more or less been left alone ever since. It was still however the centre of Germany’s ball-bearing industry, and since Sweden had reportedly ceased its supply of that resource[2] Schweinfurt now assumed an even greater importance and Bomber Command Headquarters decided it was time for another attack. Strongly defended with smoke screens and decoys and well beyond Oboe range,[3] it was a tricky target and it was thought that the recently developed No. 5 Group marking tactics might prove successful. 226 aircraft were sent.

The Waddington contribution to the force was intended to be 30 aircraft, but three 467 Squadron crews were cancelled. One (Pilot Officer Len Ainsworth) had gone sick and one missed for unrecorded reasons (Pilot Officer Tom Davis), but the third was the result of an accident. Flight Lieutenant Jack Colpus’s crew were readying their aircraft for the operation when the mid-upper gunner’s clothing accidentally fouled the mechanism of his guns, and they started firing. The bullets hit the perspex of the rear turret which shattered, lightly injuring the rear gunner who was inside it at the time. Because of the shock and the damage to the aircraft, the crew were stood down from the operation.

Perhaps Phil Smith was also supposed to go on this operation. But it’s also possible that he stayed at Syerston overnight after landing there on his test flight. His logbook records another test in EE143 the following day, and the aircraft does not appear to have been on the Schweinfurt operation. There’s insufficient information available in the records to be sure either way.His logbook records landing at Syerston on the test flight in EE143, and another air test in the same aircraft the following day. EE143 does not appear to have been on the Schweinfurt operation so it’s possible that he stayed away overnight.

Three other members of Phil’s crew, however, did attack Schweinfurt. Gilbert Pate again flew with Pilot Officer Bill Mackay and Jack Purcell went with Pilot Officer John McManus. It is also likely that Eric Hill flew as part of a scratch 463 Squadron crew captained by Wing Commander Willie Tait. The bombers began to take off from about 21.15, their track south passing the now familiar waypoints of Reading, Selsey Bill and Cabourg.

Bomber Command despatched more than 1,000 sorties again tonight, for the fifth time in nine nights. The biggest group attacked the Krupps works at Essen, an accurate raid by 493 aircraft. 217 aircraft caused great destruction to the railway yards at Villeneuve St George, south of Paris. Stirlings attacked railway targets at Chambly, Mosquitos went to Hamburg and carried out intruder patrols and Serrate patrols, a small force of heavies laid mines and there were some Resistance operations.[4]

Meanwhile, all was not well in the aircraft that had departed Waddington. Three crews made early returns. Pilot Officer John Sayers, in ED657, had been late to take off after an engine overheated on the taxiway. He tried to make up time by tracking direct to Cabourg and flying faster than usual but the need to run at a higher engine power setting caused the recalcitrant engine to overheat again. To keep height it was necessary to jettison the full bomb load and they limped back to Waddington, landing just before 1am.

And passing Peterborough about half an hour after departure, Pilot Officer Fred Cassell’s rear gunner, Flight Sergeant Max Milner, reported that his rear turret was unserviceable. On investigation it proved impossible to repair while airborne, so Cassell decided to abort the mission. He turned east and flew half-way across the North Sea to jettison his incendiaries and returned home with the 4,000lb ‘cookie’ still in the bomb bay, landing just after 3am.

Finally Flight Lieutenant Eric Smith of 463 Squadron turned back near Northampton because his rear gunner (Sergeant GR Pike[5]) fell ill. ‘He was quite willing to go on,” reported Flight Lieutenant Smith in the Operational Record Book,

but was unable to stand up and was having trouble in breathing. He was in much pain and was getting worse as height increased. Confirmation can be obtained from Medical Officer.

They flew over the sea to a point sixty miles east of Waddington to jettison half their incendiaries and brought the rest back home.

Next: The rest of the bombers fly on

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] Story of EE143 from Phil’s Recollections typescript and from his logbook

[2] Claim in 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 26APR44

[3] Lawrence 1951, p.178

[4] Bomber Command Campaign Diary April 1944, and Night Raid Report No. 588

[5]  Pike was not RAAF so his full name is unknown

467 Postblog LXV: Tuesday 25 April, 1944

The crews who had attacked Munich last night only returned to Waddington between six and seven this morning. Consequently aircrew were rather scarce for most of the morning. It was therefore no surprise for Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall and his crew when they returned from Ford this morning to find that a stand-down had been declared.

It was, of course, ANZAC Day, and a ‘smoko’ was organised to mark that auspicious date. Australians serving on other stations in the area were all invited and a crowd of some 500 had gathered by the early evening. “Needless to say”, wrote the officer compiling the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book before going on and saying it anyway, “a good time was had by all.”

Following the large effort the previous night most of the rest of Bomber Command was also stood down tonight. But some crews still sallied forth across the North Sea. Three Mosquitos attacked Cologne, 25 Stirlings laid mines off the northern and western French coasts, nine Wellingtons scattered leaflets over Northern France and a single Mosquito made a weather reconnaissance flight. No casualties resulted from the night’s operations.[1]

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. 587

467 Postblog LXIVb: Monday 24 April, 1944

The Munich raid of 24 March 1944 was an attack delivered almost entirely by No. 5 Group, Bomber Command. It used, for the first time, a variation of the low-level marking system which had been so successful over French railway targets.[1] The first wave of the bomber stream overflew the target without bombing to provide support to the flare force which dropped hooded white flares to illuminate the target area. The Main Force then continued on a short distance and orbited, clear of the defences, north-west of the target, awaiting the order to come in again to bomb.

Unsurprisingly the requirement to cross Munich twice was not a popular one. Befitting its status as the spiritual home of the Nazi Party and as a major city in Germany, Munich was well-defended. Searchlights were extremely active and any aircraft unfortunate enough to be caught in them would find itself the target of a barrage of accurate, intense heavy-calibre flak. At least three aircraft are known to have gone down to flak over the target, two of them seen by Pilot Officer Dave Gibbs, who himself was coned but managed to escape.[2] Pilot Officer Jack Freeman was also amongst those coned over the target. It was, he said, a “very grim affair.”[3]  Flight Lieutenant Walter Marshall’s aircraft, LL846, was hit by flak and his bomb aimer – Pilot Officer John Kennedy – received a wound under an arm. Kennedy pressed on regardless and not entirely rewardless however, doing his job and telling no-one about his injury until after the aircraft landed. He would later be awarded a DFC for his actions on this operation. [4]

“The idea of flying through the target area while waiting for order to bomb is in my opinion totally unnecessary, particularly so on a target such as Munich,” seethed Pilot Officer Bill Felstead later. “Suggest orbit away from a defended area,” said Pilot Officer Arthur Bowman.[5]

But it seemed to work. The four target-marking Mosquitos led by Wing Commander Cheshire “arrived punctually at the moment when the first flares were dropped.” Conditions were clear and visibility was almost perfect. Cheshire swooped in at around 700 feet and reportedly dropped the first flares while coned in searchlights and lit by the flares falling from the Lancasters above. Under fire he managed to identify the aiming point and dropped his red spot fire markers accurately. The remaining Mosquitos followed to back up the original markers and the first wave of the Main Force, still circling to the north-west, could now be called back in.

The markers were accurate (save for one which dropped wide after the marking aircraft had to take last-minute avoiding action to prevent a collision with another aircraft at the point of bombing, and another off to the west of the aiming point which was thought to have been a German decoy) and the bombers hit the target hard. The bombing was, particularly for early crews, highly accurate:

Best concentration of [incendiaries] I have ever seen – Pilot Officer Roland Cowan

Attack was the best that I have ever seen by far – absolutely perfect – Flight Lieutenant Fred Smith

Wizard prang. – Flight Lieutenant Freddy Merrill

The accuracy of the attack is illustrated by the fact that 463 Squadron recorded five aiming point bombing photographs on this raid. One of the successful pilots was Flying Officer Bill Purdy, his second consecutive aiming point from only his second trip overall:

Bill Purdy provided this copy of his aiming point photo from Munich

Bill Purdy provided this copy of his aiming point photo from Munich

The exact middle of the photo is where the bombs theoretically would land and this apparently was directly over Hitler’s favourite beer parlour. I received a message from Group saying that whilst war is a dirty and bloody business it was considered bad form to go around destroying the opposition’s pubs.[6]

The fires brightly illuminated the target – one crew said it looked like a photograph – and features like individual streets and even church spires stood out clearly.[7] Phil Smith could easily see the river as B for Baker left the target. A wireless failure meant that they could not receive the order to “bomb the red spot fires” which was broadcast around 01.44. Instead they stooged around and simply attacked when they saw other aircraft bombing.[8]

The bombing was undershooting and became a little scattered as the attack went on, but it did not matter. The ground defences appeared to be almost overwhelmed by the ferocity and force of the attack and were putting up a much reduced effort by the time the bombers left. Many smaller fires joined into large conflagrations and an hour after the attack, a large area of the centre of Munich was burning so strongly that the reconnaissance aircraft encountered trouble from smoke at 19,000 feet.[9]

Now began the long flight home. The glow from Munich could still be seen as far as the French border. Fifty miles north of the nominal return track, crews could see fires burning at what looked like Karlsruhe.

Few fighters were reported by crews returning from Munich, and it appears that the four different streams heading across Europe earlier in the evening – the Munich force, the Karlsruhe force, the OTU diversion and various groups headed to France – successfully thwarted attempts by the German fighter controllers to guess the target. The Night Raid Report suggests that for much of the night the Germans anticipated that Nuremberg or Frankfurt would be attacked. At least one aircraft did fall to a fighter over Munich, however, and others would be lost at Ulm and Strasbourg[10] in the first two hundred miles of the homeward journey. At least one crew was attacked by a fighter after stumbling off track over Paris. The rear turret was unserviceable and neither gunner saw the enemy aircraft but Dave Gibbs’ evasive action was successful in losing the fighter.[11]

Dawn was approaching as the stream crossed the French coast on the way home and it made many crews nervous. Strong headwinds slowed the return journey and sapped already stretched fuel supplies so numerous aircraft diverted to aerodromes in southern England. Two 467 Squadron aircraft were among those that diverted: R5868 (S for Sugar) with Pilot Officer Tony Tottenham and crew landed at Market Harborough, fifty miles short of Waddington, and DV372 (F for Fred) with Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall and crew, landed at Ford, just after safely crossing the English coast at Selsey Bill.

The Munich operation of 24 April, 1944, at ten hours and five minutes, is the longest flight to appear in Jack Purcell’s logbook. It was so long that several wireless operators (among them Sergeant Macdonald on Flight Lieutenant Jack Colpus’ crew[12]) tuned their radios to the BBC news while airborne over England on the way home, and heard that Munich had been bombed last night and ‘x’ aircraft had failed to return. And they hadn’t even landed yet.

Original caption reads: "Lancaster JO-Q 'Queenie' (ME580/G) of 463 Sqn just about to touch down on 24 Apr '44 following an attack on Munich (Flying time 9 hrs 35 mins)." Courtesy RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Original caption reads: “Lancaster JO-Q ‘Queenie’ (ME580/G) of 463 Sqn just about to touch down on 24 Apr ’44 following an attack on Munich (Flying time 9 hrs 35 mins).”
Courtesy RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

The roundabout routing – while long – achieved its goal and casualties were much lower than usual. Nine bombers failed to return from Munich: four by flak, three by fighters and two to unknown causes. Sadly, one of the missing aircraft was a 463 Squadron machine. Pilot Officer Eric Page and crew disappeared in LL848. This was most probably the aircraft seen to fall to a fighter over Munich. They crashed near the village of Sulzemoos, sixteen miles north-west of Munich. There were no survivors.

A few days later Gilbert Pate sent one of his many letters home to his parents in Kogarah, in Sydney’s southern suburbs. He included the front page from Wednesday’s Daily Mail newspaper, which he had pinched from the RAF Waddington Sergeant’s Mess.

“RAIDS PRODUCING MASS CHAOS,” blares the headline. “RAF Out Again Last Night in Force.”

There was an incessant roar over the coast last night as our heavy bombers set out again for the Continent. Radio Luxemburg closed down just after 10.50pm because of “approaching Allied planes.”

…By night the battle is more severe. Munich and Karlsruhe, deep inside Germany, were still burning yesterday after Bomber Command’s great attack during Monday night.

Operating in very great strength the R.A.F. showered more than 500,000 incendiaries and a great weight of high explosive on these two manufacturing and transport centres.

…The Munich raid lasted from 1.35am to 2am. It was described by the Germans as the city’s ‘worst ever’.

‘We must not be broken by the terror; we must answer it with a soldier-like courage’, said a radio spokesman.

“Munich was my target,” Gilbert scribbled on the front page. “Ten hours is a lifetime in the air.”

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] Description of tactics for this raid taken from Nigth Raid Report No. 586 and Lawrence 1951, p.175-7

[2] Night Raid Report No. 586

[3] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 24APR44

[4] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 09MAY44.

[5] 463 and 467 Squadron Operational Record Books, 24APR44

[6] Purdy, Bill, pers. comm. to the author, 21DEC13

[7] Various reports in 463 and 467 Squadrons Operational Record Books, 24APR44

[8] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 24APR44

[9] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 24APR44

[10] Night Raid Report No. 586

[11] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 24APR44

[12] Colpus, Jack 2003, interview at Australians at War Film Archive


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