The second wave of bombers arrived at La Chapelle having flown 60 miles south-east from Cabourg, turned east for a further sixty miles and then headed north east for the final leg towards the target, which was situated less than five miles north of the centre of Paris. There was no cloud but much smoke and some fires in the area caused by the earlier attack.
While very few fighters had been seen on the way out, the French capital was a defended city and flak, both heavy and light, was fierce on the run-up to the target. This was not entirely surprising considering that their route took the bombers directly over the centre of Paris and passed within a couple of miles of the Eiffel Tower. The intensity died off somewhat closer to the aiming point itself but it still packed a fair punch. Pilot Officer David Gibbs called it the “hottest flak experienced yet.” Flight Lieutenant Fred Smith saw two aircraft get hit and go down over or near the target. Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall’s navigator, Flying Officer Arnold Easton, saw an aircraft shot down over the target and his bomb aimer, Flight Sergeant Jack Bormann, had a lucky escape when a piece of flak went through the nose of their aircraft. But Pilot Officer Noel McDonald’s crew endured one of the more ‘exciting’ experiences over the target on this operation. Their first bombing run was “unsatisfactory” so they made a tight right-hand circuit to come around for a second try. This time however the run was upset by a flak burst just as the red spot fires marking the aiming point were reached. They went round again for a third attempt – but just when they were about to bomb they “were attacked by [a] JU.88. Defensive manoeuvre again spoiled bombing run.” Shaken by the experience, they decided they had tempted fate enough and turned for home with their bombs still on board.
As happened during the first wave, the spot fires fell directly on the aiming point. One or two fell wide but it appears that the Master Bomber was effective and no bombs were seen to go down there. The bombing, in turn, was accurate, leading to problems for later crews (notably that of Flying Officer Bruce Buckham, at 01.50 the last Waddington aircraft to bomb) when smoke and fires obscured or even obliterated the markers. On French railway targets, where accuracy was so important not only for the effectiveness of the attack but also to reduce casualties among the civilian population, this was becoming a common problem, and if the Transportation Plan was to produce the results required of it a solution would need to be found.
The bombers set off on the homeward journey leaving more smoke, fires and the occasional large explosion in their wake. Later photo reconnaissance revealed that the damage caused to the marshalling yards was significant. The Night Raid Report states that the southern part of the yards suffered the most. This was, of course, the target for the first wave, who did not have existing smoke or fires to contend with when they arrived at the target as the second wave did. Tracks, rolling stock, installations and industrial plants and buildings were all heavily damaged.
Six Lancasters failed to return from the La Chapelle raid. Four were missing from the first wave and two from the second. Sadly for 467 Squadron, among the latter was the crew of Pilot Officer Ken Feeney and crew, flying in ND732. They were hit by flak and crashed about six miles east of the target, and all on board were killed.
The standard ‘tour of operations’ for Main Force Bomber Command squadrons was thirty trips, or the equivalent thereof. Any operation into German territory counted as a full raid, but flights to France (such as the La Chapelle raid) or other targets in occupied Western Europe were seen as somewhat ‘easier’ in comparison and as such only counted for one-third of an operational sortie for the purposes of administering the length of an airman’s tour. On operations such as Tours or Juvisy the bombers had hardly been troubled by any defences (and correspondingly had suffered just a single loss on each raid) so it could be argued that this was fair enough. Certainly the effort, tension and danger faced on trips of this nature was far less than what crews needed to contend with on, for example, the Nuremberg raid or on any Berlin trip. But with the increasing frequency of shorter flights into France in preparation for the coming invasion – which, though the crews did not know it was by this point less than seven weeks away – defences on French targets were heating up, and the 463 and 467 Squadron crews were starting to think they were getting a rough deal. The Operational Record Books for the La Chapelle raid are full of thinly-veiled ‘suggestions’ that, despite the shorter length of time spent getting there and back, railway targets were beginning to rival German cities for ferocity of defences:
Don’t mind going to WAINFLEET for 1/3rd of a trip, but this target was a bit too warm. – Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall, referring to a practice bombing range
As these present Targets are as vitally important as previous GERMAN Targets, suggest they be counted as a WHOLE trip and not as a THIRD. – Flight Lieutenant Alexander Vowels
SHOULD BE WORTH MORE THAN ONE-THIRD. – Squadron Leader Bill Brill
There are more entries expressing similar sentiments. Most eloquent out of the Waddington crews, though, is that from Pilot Officer Harold Coulson. He had seen a couple of aircraft go down during this trip, most likely including Ken Feeney’s. “They did not have three chances,” he said. “There is no question of their going for a third of a burton.”
The airmen would, as it turned out, get their wish. But it would not be applied entirely retrospectively and it would take a disaster before the authorities took any notice.
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