467 Postblog LXVIb: Wednesday 26 April, 1944

Three bombers from Waddington had had made early returns from the Schweinfurt trip on 26 April 1944, but the rest of the force were flying on. Crossing the enemy coast near Cabourg, the attackers flew a hundred miles inland before turning east near Paris. The route had been designed to avoid wherever possible areas of known heavy flak, and in this it was mostly successful, though three aircraft fell to flak between Troyes, halfway along this 300-mile leg, and Strasbourg, and two more were shot down at Karlsruhe. “This was rather a long trip and required accurate navigation to keep out of defended areas,” said Pilot Officer Thomas Foster.

The fighters had a go as well. Two nights ago an extreme southerly route and multiple bomber streams foxed the fighter controllers, but they did not fall for the same trick tonight. From about Troyes the fighters got stuck into the stream. At least six aircraft fell to fighters on this leg. “Fighters busy from 0400E [approx Troyes] to target,” said Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall. His navigator, Pilot Officer Arnold Easton, was a little more descriptive in his logbook. “Pretty hot trip,” he wrote. “Saw many aircraft shot down between Paris and the target.”

Now a more insidious problem made itself known.[1] The wind strengthened by ten knots and veered by 20 degrees, throwing navigators’ calculations out and delaying and scattering the bomber stream. “By the flak which I saw going up, on route many people must have strayed south of Strasbourg and Stuttgart,” thought Wing Commander Rollo Kingsford-Smith.

The wind change would upset the carefully thought-out plan. The intention was for two waves, 20 minutes apart, to attack the target. The first wave was to support the flare force, flying over the target at 02.00 and heading away for fifteen minutes to allow the marking to proceed. Low-level Mosquitos were to carry out the initial marking with red spot fires. The most accurate ones were to be backed up by green spot fires or cascading green target indicators dropped from Lancasters high above. But the wind scattered the markers and caused the late arrival of most of the marking force so some aircraft needed to hang around in the target area for some time until the markers went down. Searchlights were active in the area and there was some moderate heavy-calibre flak but the ground defences were less than effective. Fighters had reached the area before the second wave did however and are likely to have shot down six bombers near the target.[2]

Eventually at about 02.22 the Controller broadcast by W/T the order to begin bombing the markers through some low cloud and haze which had developed, probably augmented by smoke generators being operated by the defenders. The Main Force did just that, dropping their bombs so closely around the markers that at one point, Pilot Officer Col James reported, a green spot fire was extinguished or obscured by a stick of incendiaries. Good fires resulted around the markers.

“If markers were accurate,” opined Pilot Officer Arthur Bowman, a “good attack should develop.” The problem was, however, that the ground itself was only faintly visible.

Impossible to see whether it was a good do or not. – Pilot Officer Bill Mackay, 467 Squadron

And as it turned out the markers were not quite accurate enough, being displaced to the south of the actual aiming point.[3] So, consequently, was the bombing. Only 18 aircraft were definitively plotted as having bombed in the target area. The controller made an attempt to instruct the crews to overshoot the inaccurate green spot fires but this was hampered by poor radio reception and not all crews complied.  The bombers left Schweinfurt in flames, but the fires were not quite in the right spot.

The bombers turned and flew home over more or less the same route as they had taken to get to Schweinfurt. One more bomber fell to a fighter just after leaving the city. And when a 106 Squadron crew was attacked around this time it led to one of the more stunning stories of courage and luck in Bomber Command history.[4] The fighter’s shells started a fire in the starboard wing and Sergeant Norman Jackson, the flight engineer, asked his pilot for permission to try to extinguish the flames. He had already been wounded in the leg from shell splinters. Jackson tucked a hand-held fire extinguisher into his Mae-West lifejacket, put on a parachute, opened the escape hatch in the cockpit ‘greenhouse’ and climbed out, but his parachute got caught on something and opened, spilling into the cockpit. The pilot, bomb aimer and navigator gathered up the ‘chute and held onto it, paying out the rigging lines as Jackson crawled aft outside the fuselage. Jackson slipped and managed to grab hold of an air intake in the leading edge of the wing, but the fire extinguisher was lost. By this time the fire had spread and, unable to maintain his hand-hold, Jackson was swept backwards through the flames and over the trailing edge of the wing into space. He had been badly burnt and when last seen his parachute was only partially opened and burning in a number of places.

The aircraft was by now beyond saving and the order to abandon was given; four others got out but the captain and rear gunner died in the crash. Jackson himself, amazingly, survived, though he never quite got control of his parachute and landed heavily. With a broken ankle, eye closed through burns and serious hand injuries he crawled to the nearest village at daybreak and was taken prisoner. Jackson spent ten months in a German hospital. It was only after the survivors of the crew returned to the UK at the end of the war that the story came out; Sergeant Norman Cyril Jackson was awarded the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace on 13 November 1945. Jackson died in 1994.

Knowing nothing of this, of course, the rest of the bomber stream were still making their way back to the enemy coast. A couple of crews reported seeing fires and explosions in the direction of Paris as they flew past, likely the effects of the earlier raid on the Villeneuve-St-George marshalling yards. One crew, piloted by Pilot Officer Sam Johns, were attacked by a fighter. Both gunners – Flight Sergeants Ernie Dale in the mid-upper turret and John Fallon in the rear – fired and it was seen to go down out of control and crash. “It was claimed as destroyed,” said the compiler of the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book the next day, “and it was a fine effot on the part of the new crew.” They had made their operational debut on La Chapelle on April 20 and this was their second trip.

There’s a mention in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book that Pilot Officer Dudley Ward lost an engine over the target and then another passing Orleans. After ordering his crew to man ditching stations he managed to get one of the inoperative engines to fire up again and made a successful Channel crossing and emergency landing at Tangmere. The problem, however, is that Ward does not show up in the sortie list section of the ORB, so we can’t confirm which aircraft or who the rest of the crew was.

All Waddington crews arrived back safely, most between 6 and 7am. A few days later Gilbert Pate sent home some newspaper clippings, purloined once more from the Sergeants’ Mess at RAF Waddington. “10th day of attack,” reads the headline on one. With perhaps a little embellishment, the reporter quoted an unnamed airman: “I have never seen a town more desperately defended. If it had been a land battle, you would have said that the place was fighting to the last.”

It had been an expensive night. 21 bombers out of 226 – 9.3% – were lost.

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] Lawrence 1951, p.178

[2] Night Raid Report 588

[3] Account of this operation from 463 and 467 Squadron Operational Record Books, 26APR44,  Night Raid Report No. 588 and Lawrence 1951, p. 178

[4] Following account based on Lawrence 1951, p.179, and Jackson’s Victoria Cross citation, London Gazette 26OCT45, as reproduced at http://www.victoriacross.org.uk/bbjackso.htm

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