467 Postblog LVIII: Tuesday 18 April, 1944

A full week after the Aachen operation, and after two planned trips had been scrubbed at short notice, Waddington was finally back at war tonight. Preparations were made under an almost cloudless blue sky as the crews worked towards their 20.30 take-off time.

Bombing up DV280, JO-S "Snifty from Sunny Sidney" for Juvisy, 18 April 1944. Photo from the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

Bombing up DV280, JO-S “Snifty from Sunny Sidney” for Juvisy, 18 April 1944. Photo from the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

The target for tonight was the railway marshalling yards at Juvisy, about ten miles south of the centre of Paris. This would be one of four attacks on railway targets on this night, all part of the Transportation Plan. The other targets were at Rouen, 40 miles east of Le Havre, which was bombed by 273 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitos, Noisy-le-Sec north east of Paris attacked by 181 aircraft, and Tergnier, south of St Quentin and attacked by 171 bombers.[1] Other Bomber Command operations on this night included 168 heavies laying mines in Swinemünde, Mosquitos attacking Berlin, Osnabrück and Le Mans and assorted Radio Counter-Measure, Serrate and training sorties.

463 Squadron crews in the briefing hut before the raid on 18 April 1944. From the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

463 Squadron crews in the briefing hut before the Juvisy raid on 18 April 1944. From the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

More than 200 aircraft were sent to Juvisy, including seven Mosquitos. Waddington’s contribution was 37 Lancasters: 17 from 463 Squadron and 20 from 467. All got away though not without some excitement. The 467 Squadron Operational Record Book shows that one aircraft, ND732 being flown by Pilot Officer Ken Feeney, swung off the runway on its first take-off roll, but after taxiing back to the start of the runway for another go Feeney took off successfully. Pilot Officer Bill Felstead lost brake pressure in ED657 at the critical moment and also took to the grass. The fault was easily rectified and they were eventually on their way only a few minutes behind the rest of the bombers.

As they had not been on the Tours operation a little over a week ago, this was the first time that the crew of B for Baker took part in a Transportation Plan ‘pre-invasion’ raid. Joining them as second pilot in LM475 was Waddington’s new Station Commander, Group Captain David Bonham-Carter. “He was, in my view, quite an elderly chap,” wrote Phil later. “I would put him between 40 and 50 and not ‘fit full flying duties”.[2]

The bomber stream flew across the Channel via Selsey Bill and tracked between Caen and Le Havre to a point near Argentan. There they turned south east and flew nearly 80 miles to a point south of Chartres. They then turned north east.

It was at the final turning point before the target that Phil Smith committed what he later called “one of the classical flying errors:”

We approached the target flying about east until we were just south of Paris. We then had to make a sharp turn left for a very short leg up to the target. The course was to be 009, however the target markers did not turn up almost immediately, as expected. It quickly became clear that we were on a course of 090 instead of 009.

Once he recognised the error he was able to make a quick course correction and they bombed only a few minutes late, but Phil was quite embarrassed to have made such an elementary mistake in front of the new station commander.

The attack was to use tactics which by this stage of the war were becoming routine for Transportation Plan raids. It would open with three 8 Group Mosquitos dropping green target indicators as ‘proximity markers’ in the general target area. Guided by those markers, other aircraft would drop ‘hooded’ parachute flares to light up the target area. By the light of those flares, Mosquitos would mark the two aiming points with red spot fires. The Master Bomber, also in a Mosquito, was to assess the fall of the markers and instruct the Main Force to bomb accordingly. One aircraft – the Controller – was to act as a relay between the Master Bomber and the Main Force.[3] Bombing was to be from a much lower level than that used on German targets – the heights recorded in the 463-467 Squadron Operational Record Books vary between 7,000 and 11,000 feet.

It appears that the first ‘proximity markers’ were dropped some seven miles west of the aiming point, but “before anyone bombed more flares were dropped over [the] marshalling yard and red spot fires followed.”[4] The illuminating flares went down at zero hour (23.15) and there ensued a delay of about fifteen minutes while the target was marked and the markers assessed. The orbiting caused some dramas for a few skippers because of the sheer number of aeroplanes and lack of a defined plan. “Definite position should be given when a/c [aircraft] have to orbit target,” said Pilot Officer Col James of 463 Squadron. “Not so much orbitting [sic] as at Tours but still needs improvement.”[5]

Notwithstanding the delay, once the markers were down and bombing commenced a highly concentrated attack developed. There was no cloud and no moonlight. Some crews reported clear weather and that the marshalling yards were clearly visible, either by the naked eye or with the aid of illumination from the hooded flares or exploding photo flashes, but later on smoke and haze kicked up by the bombing spoilt the otherwise ideal conditions. But the markers had fallen true and many crews reported seeing bombs bursting on or very near to the target indicators.

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This bombing photograph from the Juvisy raid shows flak or bomb bursts in the target area with some ground detail also visible. The time of bombing has been scratched out, possibly by the censor. The caption on the rear of this photograph indicates that the crew concerned – piloted by C Wade Rodgers of 630 Squadron – achieved an aiming point. From the Wade Rodgers collection, courtesy Neale Wellman

As had become more or less standard on railway raids, the bombers each carried fourteen 1,000lb Medium Capacity high-explosive bombs. Most were fused with a 0.025 second delay to allow the bombs to bury themselves slightly before they went off, thereby maximising their crater-digging potential and ensuring their blast effects did not dissipate harmlessly at ground level. Other aircraft, though, carried bombs with a six-hour delayed fuse to make life difficult for repair crews. Indeed, there were later reports that bombs were still exploding up to a week after raid at Noisy-le-Sec which also occurred on this night.[6]

If anything the bombers were too concentrated. Photo flashes were going off everywhere and causing problems for some bomb aimers and 463 Squadron Commanding Officer Wing Commander Rollo Kingsford-Smith reported being bracketed by exploding photo flashes dropped from aircraft flying above. Pilot Officer Fred Smith said the risk of collision over the target was high. “Photograph will probably be unsuccessful”, he reported, “because of a very near collision with another Lanc. just before [the] camera turned over.” And Pilot Officer Roland Cowan complained that the red spot fires at which the crews were to aim were “soon knocked out by bombs bursting on them.” This would be a problem which would plague Bomber Command’s railway raids for some time – and it would, on a future operation, prove critical for the crew of B for Baker.

Flight Lieutenant Jack Colpus had one of his thousand-pounders hang up over the target. Sometime after he closed the bomb bay doors the bomb fell from its hooks and was rolling around on the doors in the bottom of the bomb bay. Colpus nursed the munition half way to the French coast before he opened the doors and it fell out into open French countryside 60 miles north west of the target.

The bombing continued almost entirely unhindered by enemy activity. Very few fighters were seen and flak was generally described as ‘negligible’. The defences was not entirely absent however, as some crews found out the hard way. The only loss suffered by the force that attacked Juvisy was a single 9 Squadron Lancaster which was seen to explode on leaving the target.[7] Flight Lieutenant Dan Conway, meanwhile, was tempting fate a little. He made a dummy run over the target in LM450 while waiting for the order to bomb, and then aborted a second run because he was not quite on the correct bombing heading. So they went round again, and the flak finally got them on their third run. It damaged the fuselage, mid-upper turret and bomb sight and punched a few odd holes elsewhere in the aeroplane. The damaged sight caused yet another aborted run as the bomb aimer adjusted to using it as a fixed sight. The matter-of-fact way this is reported in the Operational Record Book exemplifies the press-on-regardless attitude to getting the job done and demonstrates the great emphasis on accuracy placed on French targets in particular by the crews of Bomber Command.

But otherwise, everything went off nearly perfectly. Communications between the Master Bomber, Controller and Main Force worked well, the markers were accurate and the bombing was well concentrated. On the way home the returning bombers could see the night’s other operations in progress – Fred Smith judging that “quite a good show appeared to be going on at each” – and the return was trip was more or less uneventful. After some five hours in the air the first aircraft returned to Waddington shortly after 1am and by 02.30 all were safely home.

The 463 Squadron Operational Record Book called the devastation caused at Juvisy “very complete”, and modestly noted that sixteen out of a possible seventeen crews from that unit returned aiming-point photographs:

Good show!

The Night Raid Report shows that immense damage was caused to the marshalling yards, with tracks and rolling stock hit and engine sheds, carriage works and freight sheds all “at least 80% destroyed.” Further damage was caused to railway flyovers, road bridges and an oil depot and other factories located outside the target. Sadly, considerable damage was caused to residential areas to the north west of the target.

Juvisy and Rouen sustained the most crippling damage out of the four railway targets attacked on this night, but Noisy-le-Sec and Tergnier were also hit hard. Ten Halifaxes were lost on the latter two operations, as well as three bombers from the mining force and another three from the Rouen force, shot down by intruders while approaching to land at their bases at Binbrook and Littleport.

The Buckham crew at debriefing after Juvisy, 18APR44. Left to right, they are: F/S EJ Holden, Sgt W Sinclair, F/O RW Broad, F/O BA Buckham, F/O EH Giersch, F/S LJ Manning, P/O A Giles (Intelligence Officer) and F/O JW Muddle

The Buckham crew at debriefing after Juvisy, 18APR44. Left to right, they are: F/S EJ Holden, Sgt W Sinclair, F/O RW Broad, F/O BA Buckham, F/O EH Giersch, F/S LJ Manning, P/O A Giles (Intelligence Officer) and F/O JW Muddle. From the Waddington Collection, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

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] RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944

[2] Smith, Phil, Recollections of 1939-45 War, p.22

[3] Description of tactics from Night Raid Report No. 581

[4] Colpus, Jack, in 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 18APR44

[5] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 18APR44

[6] RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944

[7] Easton, Arnold, Flying Logbook, 18APR44, and Night Raid Report No. 581. While the Night Raid Report says this aircraft – LM361, flown by an Australian, F/S Dudley Bates – fell to a fighter, Theo Boiton’s Nachtjagd War Diaries suggest it was actually shot down by flak.

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