467 Postblog LXVIa: Wednesday 26 April, 1944

Squadron Leader Phil Smith’s old problem was back.

As the Flight Commander, ‘A’ Flight of 467 Squadron, one of his duties was to allocate crews to particular aircraft for operational flights. While some aircraft were always flown by the same crews, there were also some ‘orphan’ bombers on strength with the Flight which had no normal crews and which were flown by whoever was available on a particular night. Individual Lancasters varied greatly in quality and performance, depending on how hard they had been flown, and in every Squadron or Flight there were always one or two ‘dogs’ which no-one wanted.

And, on A Flight, 467 Squadron, no-one wanted EE143, the aeroplane we last saw in late March that wouldn’t fly straight. It seems that Avro had been unable to find a fault with its structure or dimensions and so the aeroplane was back at the squadron. Unwilling to send it on operations without a test flight and unwilling to force anyone else to so it, Phil decided today to take the aircraft up himself. His logbook does not specify the crew he flew with but it’s likely that at the least flight engineer Ken Tabor went with him. Navigator Jack Purcell did not record this flight in his logbook so it was probably intended to be a local flight only. In any case, Phil took off into a fine and sunny sky and headed towards Syerston, another RAF station about 20 miles south-west of Waddington.[1]

Meanwhile, Waddington was gearing up for operations again tonight. It would be another long one, though not quite as far as the Munich trip two nights ago. This time the target was Schweinfurt.

Bomber Command had attacked Schweinfurt properly for the first time only in February, which incidentally was one of the operations on which Phil Smith took EE143. Notwithstanding the mistaken bombing by crews who thought they were at Nuremberg in March, the city had more or less been left alone ever since. It was still however the centre of Germany’s ball-bearing industry, and since Sweden had reportedly ceased its supply of that resource[2] Schweinfurt now assumed an even greater importance and Bomber Command Headquarters decided it was time for another attack. Strongly defended with smoke screens and decoys and well beyond Oboe range,[3] it was a tricky target and it was thought that the recently developed No. 5 Group marking tactics might prove successful. 226 aircraft were sent.

The Waddington contribution to the force was intended to be 30 aircraft, but three 467 Squadron crews were cancelled. One (Pilot Officer Len Ainsworth) had gone sick and one missed for unrecorded reasons (Pilot Officer Tom Davis), but the third was the result of an accident. Flight Lieutenant Jack Colpus’s crew were readying their aircraft for the operation when the mid-upper gunner’s clothing accidentally fouled the mechanism of his guns, and they started firing. The bullets hit the perspex of the rear turret which shattered, lightly injuring the rear gunner who was inside it at the time. Because of the shock and the damage to the aircraft, the crew were stood down from the operation.

Perhaps Phil Smith was also supposed to go on this operation. But it’s also possible that he stayed at Syerston overnight after landing there on his test flight. His logbook records another test in EE143 the following day, and the aircraft does not appear to have been on the Schweinfurt operation. There’s insufficient information available in the records to be sure either way.His logbook records landing at Syerston on the test flight in EE143, and another air test in the same aircraft the following day. EE143 does not appear to have been on the Schweinfurt operation so it’s possible that he stayed away overnight.

Three other members of Phil’s crew, however, did attack Schweinfurt. Gilbert Pate again flew with Pilot Officer Bill Mackay and Jack Purcell went with Pilot Officer John McManus. It is also likely that Eric Hill flew as part of a scratch 463 Squadron crew captained by Wing Commander Willie Tait. The bombers began to take off from about 21.15, their track south passing the now familiar waypoints of Reading, Selsey Bill and Cabourg.

Bomber Command despatched more than 1,000 sorties again tonight, for the fifth time in nine nights. The biggest group attacked the Krupps works at Essen, an accurate raid by 493 aircraft. 217 aircraft caused great destruction to the railway yards at Villeneuve St George, south of Paris. Stirlings attacked railway targets at Chambly, Mosquitos went to Hamburg and carried out intruder patrols and Serrate patrols, a small force of heavies laid mines and there were some Resistance operations.[4]

Meanwhile, all was not well in the aircraft that had departed Waddington. Three crews made early returns. Pilot Officer John Sayers, in ED657, had been late to take off after an engine overheated on the taxiway. He tried to make up time by tracking direct to Cabourg and flying faster than usual but the need to run at a higher engine power setting caused the recalcitrant engine to overheat again. To keep height it was necessary to jettison the full bomb load and they limped back to Waddington, landing just before 1am.

And passing Peterborough about half an hour after departure, Pilot Officer Fred Cassell’s rear gunner, Flight Sergeant Max Milner, reported that his rear turret was unserviceable. On investigation it proved impossible to repair while airborne, so Cassell decided to abort the mission. He turned east and flew half-way across the North Sea to jettison his incendiaries and returned home with the 4,000lb ‘cookie’ still in the bomb bay, landing just after 3am.

Finally Flight Lieutenant Eric Smith of 463 Squadron turned back near Northampton because his rear gunner (Sergeant GR Pike[5]) fell ill. ‘He was quite willing to go on,” reported Flight Lieutenant Smith in the Operational Record Book,

but was unable to stand up and was having trouble in breathing. He was in much pain and was getting worse as height increased. Confirmation can be obtained from Medical Officer.

They flew over the sea to a point sixty miles east of Waddington to jettison half their incendiaries and brought the rest back home.

Next: The rest of the bombers fly on

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] Story of EE143 from Phil’s Recollections typescript and from his logbook

[2] Claim in 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 26APR44

[3] Lawrence 1951, p.178

[4] Bomber Command Campaign Diary April 1944, and Night Raid Report No. 588

[5]  Pike was not RAAF so his full name is unknown

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