A bright and sunny day began at Waddington with the news that operations were planned for the coming night, and so the aircrews would be going to war. Before they began their preparations for the coming night’s work, however, navigator Arnold Easton’s logbook shows that his crew took a French sergeant from the Intelligence Branch and someone called ‘Taffy’ along on a combined cross country and fighter affiliation exercise in the morning. He did not however record what their two passengers thought of the evasive manoeuvres that would have been part of the flight.
Though the crew of B for Baker were due back from their leave today they were not among the 35 crews on the battle orders of both squadrons. Those that were would be part of a force of 166 aircraft, all from 5 Group, sent to attack the marshalling yards at Tours in southern France. Similar forces were sent to other railway targets at Tergnier, Ghent, Aulnoye and Laon. Elsewhere, Mosquitos were to attack Hannover and Duisburg, Wellingtons would drop leaflets over Northern France, 54 special operations sorties would be flown, some Stirlings would lay mines off France and a small number of Lancasters and a Mosquito from 617 Squadron would attack a Luftwaffe signals depot and airfield at St Cyr, very close to the Palace of Versailles west of Paris.
It was a reasonably late take-off, with the first aircraft – captained by Squadron Leader Arthur Doubleday – rolling down the Waddington runway at 22.39. Just under fifty minutes later all 35 were away. There were no early returns.
The bombers flew down through England via the town of Newbury, then left the coast as usual at Selsey Bill and crossed the Channel to Cabourg. Pilot Officer Bill Felstead suffered an engine failure at this point in LL788. The recalcitrant powerplant was feathered and the trip completed on three. At a point east of Le Mans the bombers turned almost due south for a point about 12 miles west of the target. A flare marked this datum point, though a couple of crews did not see it and others complained that it did not burn for very long.
The marshalling yards at Tours, between the Loire and Cher rivers, stretch some two and a half miles from west to east. There are two distinct sections with a ‘bottleneck’ of train tracks joining the two.
No. 5 Group sent two groups of bombers to Tours on this night: the first was to attack the eastern section and the second wave, of which all the Waddington aircraft were planned to be a part, were to bomb the western part. With clear conditions and bright moonlight expected over the target red spot fires were to be dropped by the leaders of each force, with a Master Bomber to assess the markers and issue instructions to the rest of the force by radio.
Unfortunately the available information for these smaller operations to France is not as detailed as it is for the bigger city-busting operations, so the exact plan – and therefore how far actual events deviated from it – is unclear. The following has been reconstructed from a detailed reading of the Night Raid Report and the 463 and 467 Squadron Operational Record Books. The latter two sources in particular do not include much of the story from the point of view of any of the other squadrons that took part in the attack but if we take it as representative of crews in the second wave there is enough detail to build a picture of what happened.
The first markers fell near the bottleneck in the centre of the two sections of the yards, and the Master Bomber ordered the force to aim their bombs 500 yards to the east of the bright red spot fire. The resulting bombing was described in the Night Raid Report as “most concentrated,” though it did not look like this to crews in the second wave.
While most aircraft appear to have been carrying 13,500lb of general purpose high explosive bombs, a proportion of crews had one 4,000lb ‘cookie’ and 8,400lb of incendiaries in their bomb bays. The problem, however, was that the incendiaries caused fires to break out, resulting in a great deal of smoke to rise from the target. An easterly wind at ground level then blew that smoke westwards, over the second portion of the marshalling yards, and into the path of the second wave of attackers.
Next: The second wave arrives at Toulouse…
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