467 Postblog LXXI: Monday 1 May, 1944

Starting the month off with war.

-467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 1 May 1944

A return to the south of France this evening for the crews of 463 and 467 Squadrons, Bomber Command, RAF Waddington. The target was the aircraft assembly plant in Toulouse, last attacked almost a month ago on 5 April. Evidently sufficient repairs had been made to the factory in the meantime to enable production to resume, so another visit was in order.

Nine 467 Squadron crews were detailed for the Toulouse trip, along with eleven from 463 Squadron. The entire crew of B for Baker would fly in their usual aircraft, accompanied by a second dickie pilot named Flying Officer Robert Harris, whose crew had been posted to Waddington the previous day.[1]

In all 131 Lancasters and eight Mosquitos, all from 5 Group, were sent to Toulouse, but not all would attack the aircraft factory. A short distance away was the Poudrerie Nationale explosives works, which would be simultaneously hit by the rest of the bombers.[2] The Waddington crews were all detailed on the aircraft factory raid.

Meanwhile, taking advantage of expected fine weather conditions and a half-moon to aid bombing precision, five other targets would be hit tonight as well, spread all over Belgium and France. In Belgium, railway targets at Mechelen[3] and Saint Ghislain were each attacked by forces of more than 130 aircraft. While both attacks caused damage to their respective targets some bombs also fell onto surrounding residential areas. One Halifax was lost at Mechelen and two bombers failed to return from Saint Ghislain.

Near Paris, the large railway depot at Chambly was, by contrast, subjected to what the Night Raid Report called “one of the most concentrated ever” attacks delivered by Bomber Command. 120 aircraft put the depot out of service for ten days, though three Lancasters and two Stirlings were lost. Close by, the Acheres yards were harassed for the third night running but this time only by two Mosquitos. 75 Lancasters went to Lyon to attack a vehicle factory, which they badly damaged for no losses. Some bombs went wide however, damaging nearby railways and factories though it is unclear whether any civilian losses were suffered.

50 aircraft from 5 Group attacked an aircraft repair workshop at Tours, completely destroying the main buildings for no loss. As this bombing photo, from 630 Squadron pilot Wade Rodgers, shows, the bombing was reasonably concentrated and many large craters were left:

Bombing photo from Tours. From the Wade Rodgers collection, courtesy Neale Wellman

Bombing photo from Tours. From the Wade Rodgers collection, courtesy Neale Wellman

To cap off a busy night for Bomber Command aircraft, 28 Mosquitos attacked Ludwigshafen in Germany while others flew radio counter-measure, Serrate or intruder sorties. 35 aircraft laid mines off the French coast and the Frisians and 40 aircraft flew special operations. One Serrate Mosquito failed to return. In all, just over 800 sorties were flown tonight.[4]

The Waddington aircraft got away shortly before 10pm. The flight to the target, it appears, was entirely uneventful. The plan, as was usual on targets of this nature, was to fly to a datum point some distance from the aiming point to wait for the markers to go down. The yellow target indicators marking the datum were not quite on the right spot[5] and it seems the first markers were dropped a little late (Flight Sergeant John Waugh said that there were “no flares over [the] target until 0117 1/2”), but at around[6] 01.22 the order was given by W/T to “attack Reds 11 o’clock 300 yards”.

Squadron Leader Phil Smith and the crew of B for Baker were among the first of the Waddington aircraft to bomb. There was, Phil wrote in his logbook later, “bags of light flak over the target – one burst near enough for us to hear it”, but otherwise defences were fairly weak in the target area. The attack, it seems, opened up in a slightly scattered fashion and very quickly smoke and dust kicked up by the explosions obscured the target. This had happened before – the 10 April 1944 raid on Tours is a case in point – and Bill Brill, for one, wasn’t happy. “Instantaneous fusing on H.E. [is] hopeless for precision targets”, he fumed in the Operational Record Book. “Dust and smoke obscure Target after first bomb is dropped.”

The Master Bomber evidently agreed. At 01:35 a signal went out by wireless telegraphy and by radio telephone to stop bombing to allow the target to be remarked. To reinforce the order two red Verey cartridges were fired.[7] Even after all of that, some crews were still seen dropping their bombs while the target was remarked.[8] These errrant crews may not have been entirely culpable. Phil Smith was one of two captains who reported bad interference or jamming of the raid controller’s early broadcasts, though he did say that it improved upon approaching the target and once in the actual target area it was very good. From the data available in the Operational Record Books no Waddington crews bombed during the lull.

In any case, the target was marked again and less than ten minutes after it had been stopped the bombing was ordered to recommence. This time the marking was spot on. “Red spot fires appeared to be on roof of main assembly shop”, said Pilot Officer Bill Felstead, who bombed on his third run over the target. The smoke continued to make life difficult, however, and numerous crews reported not being able to see the red spot fires at all.

The marking, while it was reasonably accurate, does not seem to have been particularly clear to see amongst the smoke and explosions of the aiming point. Adding to the confusion was the concurrent attack on the explosives works, just a few miles to the south east. “The other target being marked very much better than ours,” suggested Pilot Officer Noel Sanders, “[we were] apt to bomb the wrong one.” Pilot Officer Fred Cassell suggested a possible solution to the problem: “We think that it would be better when two targets are close to use distinctive marking. If it could be certain that both could be marked simultaneously with the same colour there would be no difficulty but there is uncertainty then at times the markers may have gone out or are not visible on one target but can be seen on the other one as was the case tonight.”

But in the end both attacks were successful. Numerous large explosions were reported towards the end of the raid (though as the distance from the target increased it would have become more difficult to discern from which of the two factories that were hit in Toulouse they came) and later reconnaissance found that severe damage was caused. The only opposition was the light flak which Phil Smith and crew, among others, encountered over the target and there were no casualties from either of the Toulouse raids. Pilot Officer John McManus reported that his aircraft was hit by flak in the fuselage under the mid-upper turret and Pilot Officer Ernie Mustard noted, not unreasonably, that “bombing within range of light flak is a detriment to accuracy.” Possibly also resulting from the flak damage, the starboard outer engine on McManus’ LL846 caught fire on the way home and needed to be feathered. They landed at Tangmere as a result. Everyone else, it seems, had an easy trip home.

 

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] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 30APR44

[2] RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary May 1944, and Night Raid Report No. 593

[3] Mechelen is the Dutch/Flemish name of this city, referred to in the Night Raid Report by its French name of Malines

[4] Details of other operations from Bomber Command Campaign Diary, May 1944, and Night Raid Report No. 593

[5] As reported by Flight Lieutenant Dan Conway and Pilot Officer Ernie Mustard in the 467 and 463 Squadron Operational Record Books

[6] One pilot recorded in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book that the order to bomb was given at 01.22, but another said 01.25

[7] As reported by Pilot Officer Bryan Giddings in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book

[8] Pilot Officer Tom Davis, 467 Squadron Operational Record Book

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