467 Postblog LXa: Thursday 20 April, 1944

The Waddington crews were back on operations tonight.

The aircrew busied themselves with preparing for the night’s operation and some also managed to fit in some training. Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall and his crew in DV372 ‘Old Fred’ took their aircraft for a quick trip to the Wainfleet bombing range for some high-level bombing practice. They were able to get up to 10,000 feet but all their bombs overshot the target, due to an apparent fault in the bomb sight.[1] The fault was repaired in time for the evening’s raid, however.

Also at the training range was Squadron Leader Phil Smith and the entire crew of B for Baker. Because of low cloud they were restricted to dropping their practice munitions from 2,500 feet before returning to Waddington. However, Gilbert Pate would be the only member of Phil Smith’s crew to operate tonight, flying in the rear turret of LL792 with Pilot Officer Bill Mackay at the controls. It would be the first of three extra trips Pate would complete in April. The rest of the crew had the night off, and their aircraft was taken by another crew flown by Pilot Officer Doug Hislop. B for Baker’s usual wireless operator Flight Sergeant Dale Johnston used the time off to write a long letter home[2] to his twin brother Ian. In it he described his aircraft, and told of his crew and the nicknames some of them went by:

She is the latest thing in kites, four Merlin 28s and boy she behaves well over the other side. We took her from the hangar for her first trip. The skipper the boss of ‘A’ Flight liked her so much he decided to let another crew keep our old kite, and we kept this one. […] The Skipper is a grand guy, Ian, a Squadron Leader at 26, Smith by name but [he] gets Smithy from us all. I get Rex, Pepper, Johno, some of the others I won’t mention.

The target for those who did go out tonight was another railway marshalling yard, this time at La Chapelle in the north of Paris. Nineteen aircraft from each Waddington squadron joined a total force of 269 Lancasters and Mosquitos on the raid which was to be split into two parts, timed to be an hour apart. They were to attack two distinct aiming points, the first in the southern part of the yards and the other in the north. The Waddington crews were all part of the second wave.

Other railway targets in the firing line for tonight were Ottignes (near Brussels, attacked by 196 aircraft), Lens (175 aircraft) and Chambly (14 Stirlings). The largest force of the night was made up of 379 Lancasters and Mosquitos which attacked Cologne. Elsewhere, Mosquitos attacked Berlin, carried out intruder patrols and harassed airfields in France, Holland, Belgium and western Germany. 30 Stirlings and Halifaxes dropped mines off the French ports and Wellingtons scattered leaflets.[3] In all some 1,155 sorties were flown by Bomber Command on this night, it being hoped that so many bomber streams flying in so many different directions would confuse the German fighter controllers.

The bombers began taking off shortly before 11pm. They flew south via Reading to leave the English coast via their usual point at Selsey Bill. One 463 Squadron crew suffered a generator failure at take-off. They pressed on to Northampton (about 70 miles down the track) but when a smell of hot wiring developed and both accumulators became too hot to touch, Pilot Officer Keith Schultz turned ME611 around and returned to Waddington.

An hour ahead of the Waddington crews, the first wave of the attack were beginning the raid on the southernmost of the two aiming points at La Chapelle.

Both waves would use the same general tactics. A small force of Mosquitos from No. 8 Group opened each attack by dropping cascading green target indicators by Oboe to guide the following bombers to the approximate area. Over the next three minutes No 5 Group Lancasters would drop illuminating flares, by the light of which Mosquitos from 617 Squadron were to sweep in at low level to visually identity the aiming point and  mark it with red spot fires. A Master Bomber would then assess the accuracy of the spot fires, remarking himself if necessary, and would then direct the main attack. The Oboe Mosquitos of the first wave were a fraction late and communications between the marking and controlling aircraft were not entirely effective but the markers, when they were dropped, were accurate and the bombing that developed was concentrated.[4] Three aircraft of the first wave were shot down over Paris (one to a fighter, one to flak and one to an unknown cause) and one was lost to a fighter on the homeward leg near Beauvais.

Meanwhile the second wave of the force crossed the enemy coast near Cabourg. They lost one of their number to a fighter near Bernay, 35 miles inside the coast, and another of the Waddington contingent returned early. This time it was the aircraft commanded by Base Operations Commander Wing Commander JB ‘Willie’ Tait, who despite holding a non-flying desk job still regularly flew operations with Waddington crews. He had borrowed the crew of Pilot Officer Tom Davis from 467 Squadron and Lancaster LM438 from 463 Squadron for this trip but, with an unserviceable airspeed indicator he felt that he would be “unable to perform the bombing operation successfully”.[5] Halfway between the French coast and the target they turned around, jettisoning their bombs off the coast near Le Havre. They would not be credited with an ‘op’ for this trip despite having flown most of it, perhaps doing so to set an example for the rest of the crews. One wonders how Davis felt about that decision. In all nine aircraft ‘boomeranged’ from both waves.

 

Next: The second wave reaches the target…

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] Easton, Arnold – Flying Log Book

[2] Johnston, Dale, Letter to brother Ian, 20APR44. Transcript in Mollie Smith’s collection.

[3] Details of tonight’s other operations from RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944, and Night Raid Report No. 582.

[4] Tactics and first wave results from Night Raid Report N. 582 and RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944

[5] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 20APR44

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