Archive for April, 2014

467 Postblog LXI: Friday 21 April, 1944

Good weather in the morning turned into a wet afternoon but, having operated the previous night, the Waddington crews were given today off. There was no local flying today, not even training flights.

Most of the rest of the Main Force was also rested on this night, but the Mosquitos were among the aircraft that were sent out over Europe. A small number went on intruder patrols or bombed airfields and 24 attacked Cologne again, a harassing raid designed to keep the sirens going in that city for the second night running after 379 aircraft had raided it last night.

Elsewhere, 15 OTU crews scattered leaflets over France, a small number of Halifaxes and Wellingtons carried out special sorties and 58 Stirlings and Halifaxes laid mines off the Frisians, the Dutch coast, Brest and Lorient. All aircraft involved in tonight’s operations returned safely to base.[1]

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


[1] Night Raid Report No. 583

467 Postblog LXb: Thursday 20 April, 1944

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.[1] 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.[2]

The standard ‘tour of operations’ for Main Force Bomber Command squadrons was thirty trips, or the equivalent thereof.[3] 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


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


[1] Easton, Arnold, Flying Logbook

[2] Storr, Alan 2006. 467 Squadron p. 63

[3] Middlebrook, Martin 1973, p.52

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


[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

467 Postblog LIX: Wednesday 19 April, 1944

Nothing doing today – 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 19 April 1944

Which summed it up, really. Nothing of any note whatsoever occurred at Waddington on Wednesday. Some 463 Squadron crews took part in some fighter affiliation exercises in the afternoon but apart from that there was no flying. No other Bomber Command units operated tonight either – even the leaflet-droppers got the night off.

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

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.


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


[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.

467 Postblog LVII: Wednesday 12 – Monday 17 April, 1944

No operations for a few days at Waddington so the crews took the opportunity to do some flying training. On Thursday 13 April Phil Smith took the crew of B for Baker on a ‘height test’ in JA846. Interestingly this was a 97 Squadron machine. The fact that two representatives of Avro, the makers of the Lancaster, came along for the ride suggests that this was perhaps a test flight at the request of the Avro repair facility at Bracebridge Heath, which was just across the road from RAF Waddington. In any case, they climbed all the way to 26,000 feet, well over the 18-21,000ft range of most operational trips, and Phil said after the war that it was the highest he ever went in an aeroplane he was flying. “It was a clear but hazy day and the view of the ground was similar to that seen from a modern jet.”[1] Later that night they took B for Baker out for some night circuits. Other crews completed air-to-sea firing or bombing practice.[2]

Twice during this period, on Friday 14th and Monday 17th, operations were laid on but were scrubbed at late notice, one as the aircraft were warming up their engines before take-off. The preparation kept the air and ground crews busy but didn’t achieve much else. Two new crews arrived at 467 Squadron on Wednesday 12th April. “This will give some of the others a rest for every crew has had an aircraft lately which means all crews operate every time work is to be done,” said the Operational Record Book.

Phil Smith wrote a couple of letters home during this period. He was able to tell his mother that he “thoroughly enjoyed” the Messiah performance he saw on leave in London (“it was conducted by Malcolm Sargent and included the following soloists – all very fine singers – Isobelle Bailie, Kathleen Terries, Hiddle Nash and Robert Easton”) and said that he “‘went to war’ the first day back”, which was the Aachen trip the previous day. [3]

Here they have their own slang for operational work – instead of saying that ‘ops are on’ they say that the ‘war is on’ or not on as the case may be. When flights are authorised the duty used to be described as ‘ops as detailed’ but here they put ‘into battle’.

Also writing letters was Phil’s rear gunner, Gilbert Pate. One of them – to his mother and sister, Joyce[4] – is a fantastic summary of his time in England to date. It describes what happened after his first pilot (with 49 Squadron) went missing in November 1943, how he crewed up with a Canadian pilot until the pilot’s nerves played up and the crew was split up and how he came to be posted to Phil Smith’s crew at Waddington. He even looks towards the future, one of the only times this sort of thing appears in the quite extensive collection of Gilbert’s letters that I’ve seen.

As things stand now, I think I should wind up my tour of ops about August + then I shall have to do a course of instructing which I am not repeat not looking forward to. Of course there is a possibility of my going home but I can’t see that happening before another 12 or 18 months

There’s also a hint of bitterness here:

Of course there is a lot of talk about the war ending soon, but most of that comes from people who aren’t really in there slogging.

There are similar sentiments in another letter written to his mother the same day:

Still appears quite a lot of dodgers in this country, I don’t know how they manage it.

It’s unclear what brought on these feelings.

Elsewhere, of course, other elements of Bomber Command were still out and about during this period. On Wednesday 12 April, 39 Mosquitos made a harassing raid on Osnabrück, 50 Stirlings and Halifaxes laid mines off the Friesian and Dutch coast and in the Heligoland Bight. 11 Wellingtons dropped leaflets over France. Two Mosquitos made a Serrate patrol and another made a weather recce. Finally, 21 Halifaxes and Stirlings made special operations over Europe. The two Stirlings which failed to return from the latter were the only two casualties of the night.

The next night, 29 Mosquitos went to Berlin, six to Duren and three to Dortmund. 16 Stirlings Halifaxes were sent to lay mines off three French ports (one returned early with engine trouble). And on Monday April 17, 26 Mosquitos attacked Cologne, two went to the marshalling yards at Le Mans and 20 Stirlings and Halifaxes laid mines in Kiel Harbour and the Frisian Islands. Two Mosquitos made uneventful Serrate patrols and 20 Wellingtons with two Stirlings dropped leaflets over France, Holland and Belgium. One of the minelayers failed to return.[5]


Next post in this series: 18 April

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


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

[2] As recorded in Arthur Easton’s logbook

[3] Smith, Phil, Letter to Father, 12APR44

[4] Pate, Gilbert, Letter to Mother and Joyce, 14APR44

[5] Other operations recorded in Night Raid Reports Nos. 578-580

467 Postblog LVI: Tuesday 11 April, 1944

The Gestapo Headquarters in Den Haag, the Netherlands, was a white five-storey building near the Peace Palace. A former art gallery, the building now housed the Dutch Central Population Registry, holding copies of all the legally-issued identity papers of Dutch civilians, which allowed papers falsified by the Resistance to be recognised. As such, the Dutch requested that the RAF smash the building from the air. On this fine April morning, in an operation described later as “probably the most brilliant feat of low-level precision bombing of the war,” six Mosquitos of 613 Squadron attacked and completely destroyed it. The leader of the highly successful raid, Wing Commander R.N. Bateson, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order as a result, and later added to it the Dutch Flying Cross, presented by Prins Bernhard of the Netherlands.[1]

Meanwhile, an operation was laid on for the night for the two Australian squadrons at RAF Waddington. The target was Aachen, in particular its marshalling yards, and as the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book said, “this time it is a full trip.” While it is inside the seven degrees of latitude line which was used as the trigger point on French, Belgian or Dutch raids, Aachen is also – just – inside Germany. Consequently this operation would count for a full trip for the purposes of counting a tour of operations rather than the ‘third’ of a trip earned for the previous couple of raids that were on French targets. Fifteen 463 Squadron crews were briefed for this trip, which would see a total of 350 Lancasters and Mosquitos fly to Aachen. Eighteen were on the battle order from 467 Squadron but one crew missed out when their skipper – Pilot Officer John McManus – fell sick before take-off.[2]

An hour or so before departure, in fine conditions and with the beginnings of a sunset filling the sky, the crew truck deposited the airmen at their dispersals. As ground staff made last-minute adjustments and plugged in the trolley accumulators, the crews gathered around their aircraft, waiting for the time to climb aboard, fire up the Merlins and taxi out for take-off. It is this scene – showing B for Baker and her crew and based loosely on the conditions as they were for the Aachen raid – which was painted in 2010 by aviation artist Steve Leadenham:

lancaster_7-little1 copy

Also preparing for operational sorties on this night were the usual bunch of Mosquitos to carry out intruder operations, Serrate patrols and attacks on Hanover, Osnabrück and Duisburg. They would also hit airfields throughout France, Holland, Belgium and western Germany. Some training aircraft would scatter leaflets in France and 26 aircraft were to fly special Resistance support operations. Finally, a small force of Halifaxes and Stirlings were planned to drop mines off Brest and in the Kattegat.[3]

The first aircraft took off from Waddington at 20.15. There was one early return with Pilot Eric Scott’s aircraft (LL795 of 463 Squadron) suffering an engine failure approaching the Dutch coast. They jettisoned eight of their fourteen 1,000lb bombs and turned back, landing at Waddington at 23.14. This was one of eight aircraft to return early out of the 350 dispatched to Aachen.

The rest of the force converged on the rendezvous point, off the Dutch coast about 40 miles west of Rotterdam. They formed into a highly concentrated[4] stream that headed directly to Aachen. A few fighters were encountered patrolling the islands in the South Holland delta but they made no serious attacks and, except for one bomber which wandered south of track and fell to the guns of Antwerp, none were lost until the target was reached. Half the nightfighters had apparently been drawn north by the small force of bombers dropping mines in the Kattegat. Most of the remainder were sent to Bonn, some 35 miles beyond Aachen, trying to cover a possible deeper penetration by the bombers. Four Mosquitos, as part of the overall deception, also dropped spoof fighter flares at Almelo in the east of the Netherlands, some 115 miles north of Aachen, perhaps intending to make the Osnabrück or Hanover deceptions look more convincing to the defenders.

The biggest problem encountered by the bombers was that the forecast winds were significantly different to the actual winds encountered in flight. The result was that most of the bomber stream needed to lose significant time en route – Squadron Leader Phil Smith noting the figure of 14 minutes – meaning that almost all crews had to orbit, fly doglegs or otherwise waste time. Phil suggested the use of a ‘floating’ zero hour in future as a way to avoid this, an idea shared by Pilot Officer Anthony Tottenham, who put it rather more bluntly:

No future in continuous orbiting.

The target was blanketed in broken cloud when the bombers arrived overhead, but it was only thin and would not cause any problems. There was some accurate predicted flak in the early stages of the attack but it soon died down into only a loose barrage, and only a single bomber was lost to the ground defences of Aachen. There were a small number of combats with fighters over the target but with no conclusive result for either side.[5]

Though the Night Raid Report says that the bombing was “well-timed”, there are a number of reports in the Operational Record Books which suggest that the Pathfinder Mosquitos that were supposed to precede the Main Force into the target area were in fact a couple of minutes late. Apparently some airmen got sick of waiting for them, perhaps frustrated by the need to orbit in the target area, because numerous crews reported seeing incendiaries dropping before the first target indicators went down, drawing complaints from other pilots. “Cannot something be done to stop this prevalent practice,” complained Flight Lieutenant Freddy Merrill. Whatever the case, once the markers did go down they were highly accurately placed and “could be plainly recognised”[6] through the thin cloud. The Main Force then proceeded to drop their bomb loads almost entirely unharassed by the defences. The bombing was so concentrated that crews reporting seeing sticks of bursting bombs straddling the target indicators, and some fires were beginning to get a hold in the city as the bombers left. “A wizard prang if PFF spot on”, thought Flight Lieutenant Walter Marshall. About the only trouble encountered was that four 467 Squadron aircraft had bombs hang up over the target, including B for Baker. The crew attempted to jettison the offending munition over the North Sea on the way home, but it was frozen in place and they had to land back at base with the bomb still hanging in its rack.

After bombing the force continued east over Aachen for another few miles before turning to the north and, eventually, back towards home. It was on the homeward journey that the nightfighters finally began to have a little success, claiming five bombers on this leg. The first was shot down near Roermond, then another fell south of Eindhoven, a third near the Luftwaffe nightfighter base at Gilze-Rijen, the next at Overflakke in the South Holland delta and a final victim over the North Sea. One crew reported seeing air-to-air rockets on the homeward journey but it is unknown if any bombers were shot down this way.[7] Some nightfighter intruders did follow the bombers back to their bases and several returning aircraft came under attack from them but it does not appear that any were shot down.

The first aircraft to land back at Waddington did so at 00.22. B for Baker was home thirteen minutes later after a little less than four and a half hours in the air. DV372 with Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall at the controls landed at 01.05. Their radio was unserviceable on return so, unable to call the control tower, they needed to wait until everyone else was down before commencing their approach.[8] With their arrival, all 32 Waddington crews were safely back on the ground.

Nine aircraft failed to return from this operation. Seven had fallen to known causes but the losses of the remaining two remain a mystery. Seven aircraft returned damaged by flak, fighters or ‘friendly’ incendiaries. The effect of the bombing on Aachen was significant. The bombers left the city in flames that were visible from some distance away on the return flight, and the Night Raid Report records that the attack was “well centred on the station and marshalling yards” and the centre and south of the town was hit hard. It lists serious damage to the passenger train station, loco and goods sheds and the marshalling yards themselves. Even the bridge spanning the middle of the yards was hit by three bombs. Textile factories and residential property, particularly in the southern suburb of Burtschied, suffered “severely”.[9]

It was for the city of Aachen the worst raid of the war.

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


[1] Bowman 2003, p.190

[2] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 11APR44

[3] Night Raid Report No. 577 and RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944

[4] As reported by Flying Officer Arnold Easton in his logbook, and by Pilot Officer Arthur Bowman in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 11APR44

[5] Weather and defence details from Night Raid Report No. 577

[6] Pilot Officer David Gibbs in the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book

[7] Nightfighter kills from Night Raid Report No. 577, rockets reported by Pilot Officer Noel McDonald in the 467 Squadron ORB

[8] Easton, Arnold, flying log book, 11APR44

[9] Catalogue of damage from RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944