467 Postblog LVII: Wednesday 12 – Monday 17 April, 1944

No operations for a few days at Waddington so the crews took the opportunity to do some flying training. On Thursday 13 April Phil Smith took the crew of B for Baker on a ‘height test’ in JA846. Interestingly this was a 97 Squadron machine. The fact that two representatives of Avro, the makers of the Lancaster, came along for the ride suggests that this was perhaps a test flight at the request of the Avro repair facility at Bracebridge Heath, which was just across the road from RAF Waddington. In any case, they climbed all the way to 26,000 feet, well over the 18-21,000ft range of most operational trips, and Phil said after the war that it was the highest he ever went in an aeroplane he was flying. “It was a clear but hazy day and the view of the ground was similar to that seen from a modern jet.”[1] Later that night they took B for Baker out for some night circuits. Other crews completed air-to-sea firing or bombing practice.[2]

Twice during this period, on Friday 14th and Monday 17th, operations were laid on but were scrubbed at late notice, one as the aircraft were warming up their engines before take-off. The preparation kept the air and ground crews busy but didn’t achieve much else. Two new crews arrived at 467 Squadron on Wednesday 12th April. “This will give some of the others a rest for every crew has had an aircraft lately which means all crews operate every time work is to be done,” said the Operational Record Book.

Phil Smith wrote a couple of letters home during this period. He was able to tell his mother that he “thoroughly enjoyed” the Messiah performance he saw on leave in London (“it was conducted by Malcolm Sargent and included the following soloists – all very fine singers – Isobelle Bailie, Kathleen Terries, Hiddle Nash and Robert Easton”) and said that he “‘went to war’ the first day back”, which was the Aachen trip the previous day. [3]

Here they have their own slang for operational work – instead of saying that ‘ops are on’ they say that the ‘war is on’ or not on as the case may be. When flights are authorised the duty used to be described as ‘ops as detailed’ but here they put ‘into battle’.

Also writing letters was Phil’s rear gunner, Gilbert Pate. One of them – to his mother and sister, Joyce[4] – is a fantastic summary of his time in England to date. It describes what happened after his first pilot (with 49 Squadron) went missing in November 1943, how he crewed up with a Canadian pilot until the pilot’s nerves played up and the crew was split up and how he came to be posted to Phil Smith’s crew at Waddington. He even looks towards the future, one of the only times this sort of thing appears in the quite extensive collection of Gilbert’s letters that I’ve seen.

As things stand now, I think I should wind up my tour of ops about August + then I shall have to do a course of instructing which I am not repeat not looking forward to. Of course there is a possibility of my going home but I can’t see that happening before another 12 or 18 months

There’s also a hint of bitterness here:

Of course there is a lot of talk about the war ending soon, but most of that comes from people who aren’t really in there slogging.

There are similar sentiments in another letter written to his mother the same day:

Still appears quite a lot of dodgers in this country, I don’t know how they manage it.

It’s unclear what brought on these feelings.

Elsewhere, of course, other elements of Bomber Command were still out and about during this period. On Wednesday 12 April, 39 Mosquitos made a harassing raid on Osnabrück, 50 Stirlings and Halifaxes laid mines off the Friesian and Dutch coast and in the Heligoland Bight. 11 Wellingtons dropped leaflets over France. Two Mosquitos made a Serrate patrol and another made a weather recce. Finally, 21 Halifaxes and Stirlings made special operations over Europe. The two Stirlings which failed to return from the latter were the only two casualties of the night.

The next night, 29 Mosquitos went to Berlin, six to Duren and three to Dortmund. 16 Stirlings Halifaxes were sent to lay mines off three French ports (one returned early with engine trouble). And on Monday April 17, 26 Mosquitos attacked Cologne, two went to the marshalling yards at Le Mans and 20 Stirlings and Halifaxes laid mines in Kiel Harbour and the Frisian Islands. Two Mosquitos made uneventful Serrate patrols and 20 Wellingtons with two Stirlings dropped leaflets over France, Holland and Belgium. One of the minelayers failed to return.[5]


Next post in this series: 18 April

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, Recollections of 1939-45 War, p.22

[2] As recorded in Arthur Easton’s logbook

[3] Smith, Phil, Letter to Father, 12APR44

[4] Pate, Gilbert, Letter to Mother and Joyce, 14APR44

[5] Other operations recorded in Night Raid Reports Nos. 578-580