467 Postblog LVb: Monday 10 April, 1944

Target Photo shows smoke at 01.42 during the first attack - from the Wade Rodgers collection, courtesy Neale Wellman

Target Photo shows smoke at 01.42 during the first attack – from the Wade Rodgers collection, courtesy Neale Wellman

The first aircraft of the second wave arrived over Tours around fifteen minutes before 2 a.m. When the leader got to the marshalling yards he found thick clouds of black smoke from the earlier attack billowing up to and beyond his bombing height, stretching west and obscuring the western part of the target and preventing an immediate identification of their briefed aiming point. The Master Bomber thus ordered crews of the second wave to stand off to allow time for the exact aiming point to be identified and marked, and the new target indicators assessed. At this stage the last aircraft of the first wave were still bombing and some crews of the second – who perhaps had missed or even ignored the order to stand by – decided that the bombing they could see in progress was most likely the raid of which they were supposed to be part, and proceeded to drop their bombs as well. At least two Waddington crews bombed before 02.00 and eight more before 02.15, probably among crews of the other squadrons that were also on this raid. One was Pilot Officer Harold Coulson who ruefully reported that their error was “realised on return journey when we saw red spot flares going down.” While it’s understandable why Coulson bombed when he did, the “indiscriminate bombing” and “unauthorised chatter on R/T” induced 467 Squadron Commanding Officer Wing Commander Sam Balmer to label the operation “a failure from a disciplinary point of view.”[1]

It took some time for the spot fires eventually seen by Coulson to be dropped however, the delay mainly caused by the blanket of smoke obscuring the target and the desire to ensure the accuracy of the markers to avoid French civilian casualties as much as possible. It would appear that the target was finally marked at around 02.24, and due to the smoke and the easterly wind crews were ordered to bomb from east to west, on the reciprocal to their planned heading, and told to overshoot the spot fire by 100 yards.

There is a report by one crew in the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book that a second order to stand by was received at 02.32 after about nine more Waddington aircraft had bombed. Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall was the only pilot to report this however (it came as they were on their bomb run so they did not drop anything and returned to the datum point again), and other aircraft continued to bomb. It was only a short break however and shortly thereafter the Master Bomber ordered the attack to continue.

By far the majority of the Waddington crews bombed between 02.29 and 02.48, dropping 28 bomb loads in all in nineteen minutes. Interestingly four crews bombed twice in this time. They were some of the crews carrying cookies and these were dropped first. They then made another run to drop their incendiaries. The concentration of bombers was so heavy over the aiming point that one pilot – Freddy Merrill – needed to corkscrew out of the path of another aircraft which, bomb doors agape, was directly above him and about to release its munitions.[2]

The continual stop-start progress of the attack, combined with undisciplined radio chatter, communication difficulties and the smoke that obscured the target resulted in much confusion and probably explains why so many crews simply carried on bombing despite orders to hold off. Some aircraft had been waiting, circling either the target area or the datum point, for up to an hour and by now fuel was a potential issue for the homeward journey. Defences were almost ludicrously light. No fighters were seen and the flak at the target was described by one pilot as “negligible.” The bright moonlight and clear skies reduced the risk of collisions between the bombers. But Jim Marshall’s crew reported seeing a ‘scarecrow’ (allegedly a German pyrotechnic designed to simulate the demise of a bomber) exploding at 02.45 and two minutes later the Master Bomber called the bombing off. [3]

There’s no future in this – stop bombing and return to base.

Since in fact the Germans had no such things as ‘scarecrows’[4] and only one aircraft was lost to light flak over the target, there is a good chance that what Marshall saw actually was the lost bomber blowing up. Perhaps this made the Master Bomber recognise that they had tempted fate long enough. The bombers flew home more or less uneventfully, most of the Waddington aircraft arriving back at base between four and five in the morning.

Despite the smoke and confusion over the target itself, the operation was successful. Six of the 17 crews from 463 Squadron returned an aiming point photograph (Flight Sergeant McMahon – Bill Brill’s bomb aimer – being congratulated in the Operational Record Book for obtaining the “best photograph in Base”) and out of the five marshalling yards attacked on this night, the one at Tours suffered the heaviest damage. Interestingly, Flying Officers Eric Scott and Keith Schultz both suggested that delayed action bombs may have been more appropriate for concentrated, multiple-wave precision operations like these. They were perhaps influenced by their experiences on the successful Toulouse raid on 5 April where this tactic was used.

The exploding Halifax possibly seen by Jim Marshall was the only casualty from this part of the night’s operations. Ten aircraft failed to return from the 167 sent to Tergnier (a high percentage which the Night Raid Report speculated may have been caused by the bright moonlight), seven from Aulnoye and one from Laon. All returned safely from Ghent. Three Special Operations aircraft – two Stirlings and a Halifax – were the only other casualties.[5]

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] 467 Squadron ORB 10APR44

[2] 463 Squadron ORB, 10APR44

[3] 467 Squadron ORB 10APR44

[4] Hastings 1979, p.197

[5] Night Raid Report No. 576

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