467 Postblog LXXXV: The End

Phil Smith’s safe return to the United Kingdom was arguably the final direct act in the story of the crew of B for Baker, and hence is where we leave this 467 Postblog series. Before we sign off however, there are a few loose threads to tie up.

After Lille and Mailly-le-Camp it was becoming clear that French targets could be just as heavily defended as the big German cities. As we saw on 20 April and 3 May, the aircrew had begun to protest in their post-raid interrogations after some of the ‘hotter’ operations such as La Chapelle and Mailly-le-Camp about being credited with just one-third of an operation for French trips. In early May someone at Bomber Command Headquarters evidently realised that the policy was perhaps a little unreasonable. There is a document at the Australian War Memorial[1] which, while it is incomplete, comes from the 467 Squadron Orderly Room and contains aircrew names against a list of their operations. Critically, it includes a ‘running total’ of operational sorties against each trip. While the longer flights to French targets like St-Medard-en-Jalles and Toulouse were awarded a full trip from the outset, the operations to Tours on 10 April and La Chapelle on 20 April were each been credited with only one-third of a sortie. But from 8 May, French targets (like Brest on the 8th, Lille on the 10th and Tours on the 19th) were given full sorties. So somewhere in May, the policy evidently changed.

What is interesting, however, is that some of the records show evidence of having been changed retrospectively. The trips to Mailly-le-Camp on 3 May, Louailles on 6 May and Tours on 7 May were all originally given only one-third credit each, but at some stage these were all amended to full trips. And it appears that Mailly-le-Camp was the catalyst. The airmen got their wish and, finally, French operations from the beginning of May 1944 onwards were given the credit they deserved.

[After Mailly-le-Camp and Lille] there was no more talk of French targets counting a third of an ‘op’. These were two exceptionally bad nights, but they were a tough reminder of what the Luftwaffe could still do, give the chance. Lingering around a target for accurate visual marking could be fatal.[2]

Between 1 January and 11 May 1944 a total of 1091 operational sorties were flown from Waddington. The Squadrons operated on 40 out of 132 nights, attacking 26 different targets. In the course of these operations 38 bombers were lost, seventeen from 467 Squadron and 21 from 463. One Lancaster failed to return to Waddington approximately every 29 sorties. 268 airmen failed to return with the missing aircraft. The majority of these – 241 airmen – were killed in action. Twenty were taken prisoner of war and just seven became evaders.[3] If you were on one of the aircraft that went missing, you had an almost 90% chance of being killed.

Five aircraft were lost on the 30 January 1944 raid on Berlin, and this number of missing aircraft would be seen again after the period covered by the 467 Postblog on Prouville, 25 June 1944, and Konigsberg, 29 August 1944. But the Lille raid, with six missing aircraft, remained the worst night of the war for 463 and 467 Squadrons. The Battle of Berlin period is generally considered one of the more dangerous times to have been flying in Bomber Command – of course the Nuremberg raid also fell in this period, with a total of 94 losses across Bomber Command (467 Squadron lost two) – and there is no doubt that losses dropped off as French targets became the norm throughout April and May. But, as graphically demonstrated at both Mailly-le-Camp and Lille, on occasion things for the attackers could go very, very wrong and loss rates could climb dramatically.

And so the crew of B for Baker found themselves flying to Lille on 10 May 1944. They were just seven out of an estimated 125,000 airmen who flew in Bomber Command. Just six out of 55,573 killed. Just one out of some 2,500 evaders. Their stories are of entirely ordinary men, living an extraordinary existence and doing extraordinary things. I can only hope that, over the last four and a half months, 102 posts and more than 81,000 words, I’ve managed to capture and convey a little of what it was like for these seven men as they played their parts in the most dramatic period of 20th Century history.

 

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] NAA: AWM64, 1/434

[2] Hastings, Max 1979, p.342

[3] All stats in this paragraph compiled from the 463 and 467 Squadron Operational Record Books by Christopher Dean, RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

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1 Response to “467 Postblog LXXXV: The End”


  1. 1 Jeanette Peryman May 16, 2014 at 21:01

    This series “467 Postblogg” has been a journey of discovery about the day to day lives of the airmen. It is a sad story, but one which I am grateful to Adam for sharing. Jack Purcell is very much a part of my family tree and I for one feel so very much closer to knowing him through this story. All of those men who were part of Bomber Command during WW2 and lost their lives should be remembered and all those who survived should be held in high esteem and deeply respected. Such a war should never occur again. Jack Purcell and the crew of B for Baker will remain in my thoughts. Thank you Adam.


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