467 Postblog LXXVIII: Monday 8 May, 1944

Gilbert Pate, it seems, was missing home.

He had recently received a parcel from his family, and took the chance today to dash off to the post office and send a telegram thanking them for the goodies he found inside. His message would take five days to reach the family at Bowns Road, Kogarah, NSW. Gilbert also sent a package of newspapers (no doubt purloined from the Sergeants’ Mess at Waddington) to his wife, Grace, who lived in Belmore, less than five miles from Gilbert’s parents. “I have received papers mentioning all the raids that he had taken part in,” Grace would write to Phil Smith’s parents in July 1944.[1]

…if you would like to read them let me know and I will send them on as no doubt Philip was in them, but if you think they will upset you I won’t bother, as I know how I felt on reading such gruesome warfare and knowing my husband was in it…

Also writing letters was bomb aimer Jerry Parker. This, a letter to his wife Ethel, is the only surviving piece of his wartime correspondence and is written on light blue Air Force paper with the RAF Eagle on the letterhead. It’s worth quoting at length.

“Dear Kid,” it begins:

I hope that by now your curiosity about leave has been satisfied, as things stand at the moment, I should be home in just over 3 weeks, and then – bags of staying in bed till dinner time-of course, you could stay in with me if you wished.

Operations were on at Waddington tonight, but the crew of B for Baker had been given the night off:

Our crew is having a rest tonight. It’s going to be funny seeing the kites go off, because we’ve been on the last 8 during the so-called ‘moon period’ or just before then anyhow. One thing though, the Skipper has only one more trip to do in order to finish his 2nd tour of ‘ops’, but I don’t know yet whether he will carry on so that we could finish with him, we’ll have to wait and see.

Jerry signed off thinking of his five-year-old daughter Anne:

I’ve no more news pet, so please give my little chicken a big hug and kiss for me and lots and lots of love for you sweet’

from your ever loving


The targets for the squadrons tonight were an airfield and a seaplane base near Brest, in Brittany. While the crew of B for Baker had the night off, their aircraft did not. Flight Lieutenant Dan Conway headed one of seven 467 Squadron crews on ops tonight. As a relatively experienced pilot he had an extra role to play. This was the first time, according to W J Lawrence,[2] that a new marking method was to be used to try and avoid the common problem of accurate bombing knocking out the red spot fires marking the target at the early stages of an attack. This new technique involved dropping markers on a point some 400 yards upwind of the actual aiming point. Selected, experienced Main Force crews would calculate the wind in the target area and transmit the result to the master bomber, who would average them out and add to them a correction for the offset to create a so-called “false bombing wind”, to be transmitted to the rest of the force. Bomb aimers could then set their sights with the false wind and, theoretically at least, if they then aimed at the offset marker their bombs would fall onto the actual aiming point. Conway was a wind-finder for this raid and so was allocated B for Baker because it had a VHF radio fitted after Phil Smith’s controller cameo two nights ago.

The raid, by 58 Lancasters and six Mosquitos, had the desired effect. There were plenty of searchlights active over the target (Dan Conway was coned by about ten of them over the target and needed to dive away to 700 feet to evade the flak that came with it, and Pilot Officer Ed Dearnaley was coned on the bombing run and did not escape until after it had been completed[3]), light flak made life difficult and there was a short delay in getting the bombing wind to the crews, probably due to the new and somewhat unfamiliar tactics. It appears that some of the markers actually fell onto the hangars themselves and became obscured by smoke and fire so the new tactics were not entirely successful, but clear conditions allowed later crews to bomb the target visually anyway. So while the new tactics did not quite work as advertised the raid was effective and caused “severe damage” to the airfield, hangars and seaplane base.

The Brest operation was one of a number of similar operations throughout France and Belgium,[4] all aimed squarely at preparing for the upcoming invasion. 125 aircraft attacked railway installations at Haines St Pierre near Charleroi in Belgium, devastating “at least half” of the total area of the yards but suffering a relatively high nine losses. There is evidence that a single fighter pilot claimed at least four bombers out of this force. 32 Halifaxes and seven Mosquitos attacked a gun battery at Berneval, north-east of Dieppe. All aircraft returned safely but most of the bombing fell some 6-700 yards west of the actual gun battery and only limited damage was caused. 30 Lancasters and eight Mosquitos were detailed to attack another gun battery at Cap Gris Nez in the Pas de Calais. The Mosquitos were late and the main force bombed visually after identifying the prominent lighthouse nearby but though all aircraft came back safely “no damage was caused to vital elements.” 31 Halifaxes and another eight Mosquitos went to a gun battery at Morsalines on the Cherbourg Peninsula. This was more successful with concentrated bombing and hits and near misses were scored on three guns.

Finally the now usual nuisance raids were carried out by small forces of Mosquitos on Osnabruck and Oberhausen, aircraft laid mines off the Dutch and French coasts, scattered leaflets or carried out special operations and a small number of Mosquitos made intruder patrols over the Continent.

In all, 335 bombing sorties were made tonight to seven targets. Ten aircraft – all from the Haines St Pierre operation – failed to return.


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] Letter, Grace Pate to Edith Smith, 12JUL44. From the collection of Mollie Smith

[2] Lawrence, WJ 1951, p.183

[3] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book

[4] Details of these attacks all from Night Raid Report No. 600

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