Archive for May, 2014



467 Postblog LXXXb: Wednesday 10 May, 1944

On the night of 10 May, 1944, more than eighty heavy bombers of RAF Bomber Command were attacking railway yards at Lille in France. A new offset target marking technique had failed to work as planned and instead of overshooting onto the aiming point the early bombing fell on top of the red spot fires and obscured or extinguished them. Shortly after 23:40 the Director of the main force, Wing Commander Anthony Heward of 50 Squadron, fired two red Verey cartridges in quick succession and called a halt to the raid to allow the target to be re-marked.

Aircraft that had not yet bombed now began to orbit to the south or east of the target. Heward himself orbited for some sixteen minutes.[1] With more than fifty aircraft milling around the target waiting for new markers to be dropped, things began to feel uncomfortably reminiscent of the disastrous Mailly-le-Camp raid of a week ago.

There is evidence for perhaps two collisions over the target. One 61 Squadron crew – that of Flight Lieutenant HH Farmiloe – reported visually identifying the railway yards in the “light of [an] explosion from [the] collision of two aircraft”.[2] And Pilot Officer RA Dear, also of 61 Squadron, hit another Lancaster that crossed his path from port to starboard, “shearing off about 2 ft of port rudder and holing port elevator.”[3] We do not know which aircraft it was that Dear hit. There are no further reports in the various Operational Record Books of surviving crews being involved in a collision, so it is quite likely that whoever it was failed to return to base – which, if added to the two presumed destroyed in the earlier collision seen by Farmiloe, gives us three potential victims of collisions on this night.

And worse was to come. Nightfighters found the bombers as they orbited and shot down at least four of them. Arnold Easton recorded in his logbook being chased by a twin-engined aircraft. Then another bomber went down in flames. “One chute seen to open”, Easton wrote. His aircraft, DV372 Old Fred, had orbited the target for 23 minutes, finally bombing at midnight.

A number of crews reported seeing so-called ‘scarecrows’ over the target:

Before bombing two dummy runs were made and on a second run two scarecrows burst above and a third scarecrow burst just below aircraft.

-Squadron Leader HR Foley, 9 Squadron

Given that post-war it was established that there were in fact no such things as ‘scarecrows’,[4] it is most likely that what Foley witnessed actually were the sudden ends of three aircraft and crews. His crew bombed at 23:54, one of the first to do so after the order to resume the attack had been broadcast and the ‘green-green’ Verey cartridges had been fired.

The second phase of the bombing, it seems, went appreciably better than the first. Much smoke was again generated and now and again the new markers were obscured by it but most crews thought there was little or no scatter in the bombing that followed. Some crews reported seeing fires but many others did not. Shortly before midnight there were several large explosions. But once again it appears that the bombing was concentrated around the spot fires themselves, against the intent of the offset marking technique. Some crews, like that of Pilot Officer E Berry of 50 Squadron, noted that the bombs were falling on the marker “instead of on overshoot”, and others saw bombs overshooting the markers by 100 yards as planned, but many more, on the face of the limited evidence from the operational record books, thought there was a good concentration of bombing around the spot fires. This suggests that the new technique was not quite working as planned and perhaps showed a lack of understanding among some of the crews.

There is no doubt however that the bombing was effective. The Night Raid Report described a “great concentration” on and around the railways and sidings, and a repair workshop and two locomotive sheds were destroyed. And of course, the cost to the attackers had also been high. As the bombers turned back to the west and then the north-west towards the coast, they were followed by nightfighters which claimed perhaps two more victims on the way home. Flak also destroyed a bomber near Ypres, and crossing the coast a 97 Squadron aircraft was hit by heavy flak. It severely damaged the mid-upper turret and the gunner who was in it at the time, Flying Officer Henry Ward, was badly injured. His crewmates removed Ward from his turret but sadly he died shortly afterwards.[5] The aircraft landed safely.

In all twelve aircraft failed to return from Lille.[6] Three squadrons lost two aircraft each. From 50 Squadron, LM429 was probably the aircraft that was claimed by flak near Ypres and NN694 crashed near the suburb of Forest-sur-Marque, a suburb some five miles east of the target. 9 Squadron lost LM520 which also crashed near Forest-sur-Marque and LM528, which came down near what used to be called Annappes, now part of the community of Villeneuve d’Ascq, some three miles to the east of the marshalling yards. 97 Squadron lost the raid’s Deputy Controller, Flight Lieutenant John Smith, when JB708 crashed just north of the Lille-Sud, or flugplatz Vendeville Luftwaffe airfield. The other aircraft to go down from this squadron was ND813 which crashed in Lezennes, another suburb of Lille a couple of miles to the south-east of the target.

For Waddington, however, it had been, in the words of Pilot Officer Arnold Easton, a “grim trip”.[7] The two Australian squadrons lost three aircraft each and it would remain their worst night of the war. From 463 Squadron, LL882, captained by Squadron Leader Merv Powell, crashed in a brick pit near Langemark in western Flanders, likely one of the two reported victims of nightfighters on the return leg. LL881, flown by Flying Officer Dud Ward, who had been told just yesterday that he had been awarded a DFC, crashed at Lezennes. HK535, flown by Flight Lieutenant Eric Scott, crashed at Annappes.

467 Squadron, meanwhile, lost LL788 with Flying Officer Bill Felstead and crew, who also crashed at Annappes. Pilot Officer Doug Hislop was flying EE143 – the aircraft that until very recently had not flown straight – when it crashed between Lezennes and neighbouring Ronchin. And the final Lancaster that failed to return from the Lille operation crashed in the north-eastern corner of Lezennes, near what is now a no-frills motel and petrol station.

It was B for Baker.

The last known fact is that at 23:45, around the time the bombing was stopped to allow the target to be re-marked, Dale Johnston was heard to send a signal on his T1154 wireless telegraphy transmitter.[8]

Sometime after that, just as Jerry Parker was at the point of pushing the switch that would send B for Baker’s bombs falling into the smoke below, something catastrophic happened.

Perhaps the aeroplane was hit by flak.

Perhaps a nightfighter attacked.

Perhaps they collided with another aeroplane.

We simply do not know. But whatever the proximate cause was, some time after 23:45, everything on B for Baker suddenly went very hot, and dry, and red.[9]

And then there was nothing.

 

This post – published at 21:57 on 10 May 2014, exactly 70 years since B for Baker took off from Waddington for the final time – is part of a series called 467 Postblog. 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] Wing Commander Heward in 50 Squadron Operational Record Book

[2] Flight Lieutenant HH Farmiloe, reporting in the 61 Squadron Operational Record Book

[3] Pilot Officer Dear in the 61 Squadron Operational Record Book

[4] Hastings, Max 1979, p.197

[5] Ward’s story is mentioned in the 97 Squadron Operational Record Book. He is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery.

[6] Locations of crashes sourced from Jozefiak, 1995 and Storr, 2006. This section also draws from Night Raid Report No. 602 and the various Operational Record Books.

[7] Easton, AR. Flying Log Book

[8] As recorded in the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, this was one of two signals heard from B for Baker. The other had been sent at the beginning of the attack, at 23:30.

[9] Smith, Phil. Recollections of 1939-1945 War. p. 24

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467 Postblog LXXXa: Wednesday 10 May, 1944

Bomber Command sent more than six hundred sorties on operations across much of north-west Europe tonight. Mosquitos attacked Châteaudun, Ludwigshafen and enemy airfields. More carried out radio counter-measure or intruder patrols. 26 Whitleys and Wellingtons scattered leaflets over enemy territory. 26 Lancasters, Stirlings and Halifaxes laid mines at ten locations off the French coast and in the Heligoland Bight. But by far the largest proportion of the aircraft flying operationally on this night were detailed to attack four marshalling yards and one coastal gun battery, all in Belgium or northern France.[1] Bomber Command, on 10 May 1944, was firmly engaged in invasion preparation.

The coastal battery was at Dieppe, hit by concentrated bombing from 60 Lancasters and eight Mosquitos around “well-laid” markers. Transportation Plan targets included marshalling yards at Lens, Ghent, and Courtrai, all attacked by forces of between 90 and 130 bombers. Ghent was bombed accurately and the raids on Lens and Courtrai were concentrated but centred somewhat outside the target areas. But for this story we have a special interest in the final marshalling yard on tonight’s target list: Lille.

It was to be a short flight and I thought it would be simple but I could not have been more wrong.

-Wing Commander Rollo Kingsford-Smith, 463 Squadron[2]

There would be 85 heavy bombers, all of 5 Group, making the hop across the Channel to Lille. They were supported by four Mosquitos of 627 Squadron, 5 Group’s own target-marking unit. Tactics were broadly similar to those used elsewhere on Transportation Plan raids: by the light of flares dropped by Lancasters from 97 Squadron, the target would be marked with red spot fires by the Mosquitos.[3] Lawrence[4] writes that this would be the second time that the newly-developed ‘offset marking’ technique would be used. The spot fires were intended to be deliberately dropped a short distance away from the aiming point and a ‘false bombing wind’ calculated and transmitted to the main force to use when aiming their bombs so that they dropped onto the actual aiming point and clear of the markers themselves. As for the Sable-sur-Sarthe raid of four nights ago, the role of Controller[5] for this raid was taken by Squadron Leader Harry Locke, a former 467 Squadron Flight Commander, who was now with 97 Squadron. His Deputy Controller was a New Zealander from the same squadron, Flight Lieutenant John Smith. There is evidence[6] that suggests that Squadron Leader Phil Smith also had a Deputy Controller role to play in this raid. Meanwhile the man in charge of the target-marking Mosquitos of 627 Squadron, was Squadron Leader Norman MacKenzie.

LM475 B for Baker was one of seventeen aircraft from 467 Squadron and fourteen from 463 Squadron to depart Waddington for this operation. The first bomber to take off, B for Baker left the runway at 21:57. EE143 was one of the following aircraft, departing eleven minutes later. Evidently cleared of its inability to fly straight, it was being flown by Pilot Officer Doug Hislop.

There were two early returns. A 9 Squadron Lancaster suffered an engine failure and turned around not long after taking off from Bardney,[7] and a 50 Squadron aircraft jettisoned its bombs off the Norfolk coast before returning to Skellingthorpe after the rear turret failed.[8] But the rest of the force carried on, crossing the Channel from Clacton in Essex to a point between Dunkirk and Ostende. From there they turned south-east to the Belgian border near Courtrai. Then, in clear air but with some haze visible lower down, they headed south-west towards the target.

The illuminating flares were dropped on time over Lille by Lancasters of 97 Squadron, most of which had identified the target by H2S. Harry Locke thought the initial flares were somewhat scattered, but Mosquito DZ468 dropped a red spot fire about 150 yards south of the marking point four minutes before H-Hour.[9] The bombing wind was calculated and broadcast to the Main Force “in good time”[10] and the first recorded aircraft to drop bombs was DZ418, a Mosquito, at 23:34. Over the next eleven minutes some 28 aircraft would drop their loads of high explosives. While some crews thought the bombing was not as concentrated as usual, many others considered the attack highly successful, with bombs exploding in close proximity to the marker. But they were too close:

As bombs were about to be released the red spot fire was hit by another bomb and practically extinguished.

-Pilot Officer H Forrest, 9 Squadron

This, of course, was precisely what offset marking was supposed to counter. The smoke was rising almost to the height from which the bombers were attacking and it was being blown by the wind back along their bombing runs. This was enough for Wing Commander Anthony Heward, the man in charge of the Main Force, to fire two red Verey cartridges at about 23:40 and call a halt to the bombing via W/T.[11]

Next post: The target is re-marked and the bombing begins again

 

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] Sortie statistics and targets from Night Raid Report No. 602

[2] Kingsford-Smith, Rollo 1999

[3] Night Raid Report No. 602

[4] Lawrence, WJ 1951, p.184

[5] Bending, K, 2005. p.121

[6] Smith, Phil, Recollections of 1939-1945 War, p.24

[7] 9 Squadron Operational Record Book

[8] 50 Squadron Operational Record Book

[9] Night Raid Report No. 602

[10] Pilot Officer Ed Dearnaley in the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book

[11] Harry Locke in 97 Squadron Operational Record Book

467 Postblog LXXIX: Tuesday 9 May, 1944

Good news came to Waddington today.[1] Two officers, one from each squadron, found out that that had been awarded immediate Distinguished Flying Crosses for actions on operations over the last couple of weeks. For 467 Squadron, the lucky man was Flight Lieutenant John Kennedy, the bomb aimer who flew to Munich with Walter Marshall’s crew on 24 April. The aircraft was hit by flak which punched a small hole in the bomb aimer’s Perspex dome – and also put a small hole in the bomb aimer himself. Kennedy kept quiet about the resulting wound, which was under one arm, and carried on with his job until the aircraft landed back at Waddington. The 463 Squadron recipient was Pilot Officer ‘Dud’ Ward. On an operation in April Ward had lost an engine after bombing and shortly afterwards two more stopped. Losing height, the crew manned ditching stations but Ward managed to cross the Channel at low level and they landed safely at Tangmere. There is a little confusion about precisely which operation it was on which he earned his decoration (the Operational Record Book states 6/7 April but nothing happened on that night) but it seems most likely that it was Schweinfurt on 26 April. Even then this is not certain because though the story is related in the monthly summary of operations in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book on 26 April, there is no corresponding sortie record for Ward on that night.

In any case, for most crews of the two squadrons there were no operations for tonight. Some high level bombing practice was prescribed instead. Wireless operator Dale Johnston described the task in a letter[2] to his brother Ian (who was serving with the RAAF in Australia) as being for the benefit of “our ‘best passenger’, Jerry Parker the bomb aimer.”

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Dale described a typical raid for his crewmate:

Like many more of his comrades we carry them thousands of miles to drop eggs, after that they sleep peacefully and generally ask us if there was any flak about – back home.

They flew, in B for Baker, for an hour and twenty minutes, out to the bombing range at Wainfleet, about 35 miles east of Waddington. And when they got there, wrote Dale:

…we dropped 6 bombs (11lb practice) on a target on the coast, then looked around for a playmate. As we couldn’t find a Mossie or a Spit, we got into a Stirling. It’s real fun, pal, diving port, climbing port, diving starboard etc., and is the best means of shaking off a Jerry night fighter.

A high level bombing flight also appears in the logbook of Arnold Easton. And, unusually, just one 467 Squadron crew went on operations tonight. Flight Lieutenant Walter Marshall took the camera ship ED953 to a suburb of Paris called Gennevilliers. 55 other Lancasters and eight Mosquitos went there to attack a metal-working factory, which was heavily damaged by very accurate bombing. Accurate it might have been, but Marshall thought it was not too spectacular and so was “useless for [the] camera operators”. A bomb sight fault meant that the aircraft could not carry any munitions, and indeed his bomb aimer stayed home on this trip, so Marshall felt it had been, for them, a “wasted effort.”[3] Five bombers were lost.

As had become the pattern over the last few weeks, there were more raids of about 30-50 aircraft each tonight against targets throughout France. A ball bearing factory was attacked at Annecy and gun batteries at Merville, Calais, Mardick, St Valerey, Morsalines, Borneval and Cap Gris Nez. One aircraft was lost from Mardick. 30 Mosquitos attacked Berlin, six went to an ammunition dump at Chateaudun and the usual small forces carried out minelaying, leaflet raids, special operations and fighter sorties. Four more aircraft were lost from these subsidiary operations.[4]

 

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] Operational Record Books of both 463 and 467 Squadrons

[2] While the original has been lost, Dale’s letter, dated 9 May 1944, was transcribed by Phil Smith’s father, and a copy exists in the collection of Mollie Smith.

[3] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book

[4] Night Raid Report 601

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

Jerry

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

Sources:

[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

467 Postblog LXXVII: Sunday 7 May, 1944

The bombers returned quite early this morning from the “Fourth of July” effort overnight on Sable-sur-Sarthe so a day of rest was declared and after breakfast they went to sleep. Only two non-operational flights were made all day, though the Operational Record Books do not contain any details of these.

Other units did go on operations tonight however. Mosquitos went to Châteudun and Leverkusen again and elsewherecarried out radio counter-measure sorties, intruder patrols and fighter sorties. Other aircraft laid mines off the Frisians and the Cironde estuary or completed special operations. Two Halifaxes engaged in the latter were lost.

The heavies were also in on the action. Numerous forces of up to 100 aircraft ranged over France, detailed to attack an airfield at Nantes (accurate bombing but one Lancaster lost), a coastal gun position at St Valery near Dieppe (no losses but the target was missed), an airfield and ammunition dump at Rennes (no losses but a village to the south of the target received most of the bombing), an ammunition dump at Salbris (heavy damage but seven bombers lost, mostly to fighters) and the airfield at Tours (one Lancaster and one Mosquito lost for heavy damage). This photo of the Tours operation – from one of three runs he made over the target before bombing – comes from ME739, a 630 Squadron machine piloted by Flying Officer Wade Rodgers:

Tours, 07MAY44. From the collection of Wade Rodgers, used courtesy Neale Wellman

Tours, 07MAY44. From the collection of Wade Rodgers, used courtesy Neale Wellman

Rodgers bombed considerably later than the rest of the force. As he wrote post-war:[1]

The last other aircraft to bomb had a photo showing three hangars standing side by side, but P.R.U. [Photographic Reconnaissance Unit] photos the next morning showed the hangars flattened and we got the credit.

The only Waddington aircraft to fly tonight went on the Tours trip. It was ED953, flown by Wing Commander Tait with two photographers, this time by the names of Pilot Officer Herbert and Warrant Officer McNaughton along again. But as a photographic expedition the sortie was “disappointing”. An electrical fault shortly after take-off caused the nose camera to fail and the results of the bombing, though accurate, were “not spectacular”. They landed at Waddington shortly after 05:30 on Monday morning.

 

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] Rodgers, Wade 1988, p.50

467 Postblog LXXVIb: Saturday 6 May, 1944

Take-off for the Waddington crews detailed to attack Sable-sur-Sarthe in France was after midnight. They proceeded normally to the datum point, finding the green target indicators burning there as briefed. The target markers had been at work, dropping their spot fires and backing them up accurately in what appears to have been a timely fashion. There was no delay in Phil Smith passing on the order to bomb and the Main Force could come straight in. “It was a clear night,” Phil wrote later, “and everything went to plan.”[1]

Crews were initially told to aim 50 yards from a red spot fire but after about ten minutes the bombing had blown out or obscured the markers and Phil instructed the remaining crews to just bomb the concentration of fires. “Considered it would have been impracticable to re-mark”, Phil reported afterwards[2], perhaps keeping in mind the disastrous consequences of the delay at Mailly-le-Camp three nights ago.

Dropping bombs onto an ammunition dump is highly likely to produce some impressive detonations. And that is exactly what happened at Sable-sur-Sarthe. “Many explosions in target area, increasing in number and violence as attack progressed,” said Pilot Officer John McManus. “Red, green, blue, yellow flashes. Definitely the way these attacks should be be carried out.” It was, said Pilot Officer Tom Scholefield, “a perfect 4th of July exhibition below.”[3] The raid did not go absolutely perfectly of course – Scholefield also mentioned seeing a few bombs overshooting to the south-south-west, Flying Officer Bob Harris needed to ‘go round again’ after spotting another aircraft below on his first bombing run and Pilot Officer Sam Johns found his bomb bay doors wouldn’t open on the first attempt[4] – but overall the display was extremely satisfying. And after dropping his bombs Wing Commander Tait, with the photographers in tow, circled around the target at low level letting the cameras capture the sight in glorious black-and-white. This still from the resulting footage[5] was obtained by Phil’s uncle Jack Smeed, who was working at the time for a London film studio:

Attack on Sable-sur-Sarthe, 06MAY44

Attack on Sable-sur-Sarthe, 06MAY44

A number of crews reported being able to feel the explosions over the target at their bombing height and the footage, which is soundless but spectacular, shows clearly how bumpy flying conditions were. And the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book claims that it was taken after the biggest of the explosions had died down.

Explosions were still occurring as the bombers left the target for the almost uneventful trip home. Defences were almost ludicrously light with a few fighters seen but no attacks reported and only a few light guns at the target which, Pilot Officer Bill Felstead reckoned, were “immediately put out of action at [the] beginning of [the] attack.[6]” Flying Officer Bruce Buckham was coned by searchlights crossing the coast on the way back but the accompanying flak that they were expecting never came up.

The ammunition dump had been hit hard by a very accurate bombing raid: [7]

A concentration of damage occurred within the target area, while the surrounding country escaped almost unscathed.

And best of all, every aircraft returned safely from Sable-sur-Sarthe. Much of the circumstances of tonight’s operation were broadly similar to those three nights ago at Mailly-le-Camp – the bright, clear, moonlit night, the general tactics used and the damage caused to the target – but at Mailly of course the casualties were very much greater. So what was different?

While the weather and tactics were similar for both raids – moonlight, a datum point to hold the Main Force while the aiming point was marked, a Master Bomber to make the decisions and a Controller to pass orders to the Main Force – at Sable-sur-Sarthe the force used was very much smaller than at Mailly and the single aiming point avoided complicating the scheduled timeline of attack. This simplified things significantly and provided less opportunity for things to go wrong. Perhaps haunted by memories of the disaster of Mailly-le-Camp, crews after tonight’s operation were clearly happy that there was no delay over the datum point. “Effect on enthusiasm of crew, when one can go straight in and bomb, very noticeable,” thought Pilot Officer Arthur Bowman.[8] Tonight, once the target was marked, in a very accurate and timely manner, the Main Force was called in without needing to orbit over enemy territory. The single wave of attackers did not need to wait for a previous force to vacate the target, which is what compounded the delay originally caused by the faulty communications at Mailly.

Sable-sur-Sarthe showed that getting straight in and straight out minimised the chances of nightfighters getting stuck into the bombers. Mailly showed what could happen when crews were forced into extended orbiting over enemy territory. The next major raid undertaken over France by the crews of 463 and 467 Squadrons would prove, once again, how fatal delays could be.

 

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] Smith, Phil, Recollections of 1939-1945 War, p.23

[2] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book

[3] McManus and Scholefield quoted in 467 Squadron Operational Record Book

[4] All from 467 Squadron Operational Record Book

[5] AWM: F02607, Ammunition dump at Sables-sur-Sarthe (Ops 153). Note the original caption on the footage mis-spells the name of the target with an extra ‘s’ in “Sables”

[6] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book

[7] Night Raid Report No. 598“

[8] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book

467 Postblog LXXVIa: Saturday 6 May, 1944

After nearly two weeks the replacement arrived today for Wing Commander Arthur Doubleday, who had left Waddington on 22 April to take command at 61 Squadron. The new ‘B’ Flight Commander was another Australian, Squadron Leader Lloyd Deignan. With the exception of his flight engineer Deignan’s entire crew were second-tour men and thus the Squadron was “expecting a lot from them all.[1]

Preparations, meanwhile, were underway for operations tonight for the crews of 463 and 467 Squadrons. In all 64 Lancasters of the Main Force would be joined by four target-marking Mosquitos, all of 5 Group, to attack a munitions dump between the townships of Sable-sur-Sarthe and Louaille, in western France. The Master Bomber for this raid was Squadron Leader Harry Locke, a former 463 Squadron[2] man now of 97 Squadron and based at Coningsby, and the role of Deputy Controller was given to one of Waddington’s most experienced pilots: Squadron Leader Phil Smith.

At some stage over the last few weeks, a new radio had been installed in B for Baker.[3] It was a VHF set to be used to talk to the target-marking Mosquitos, which tonight would come from 627 Squadron, based at Woodhall Spa. To discuss tactics, Phil was ordered to go to Coningsby to “visit the target-marking people”:[4]

I duly went over there in our Oxford aircraft, a type I had not flown for more than a year. I received a cold reception there, which seemed surprising. Obviously our Group Captain had not prepared the ground for me and the Coningsby people were very security conscious. This incident did not harm the cooperation experienced during the raid.

Coningsby was the headquarters station of No. 54 Base, which also included Woodhall Spa and nearby Metheringham. It was a short flight, Phil’s logbook recording 30 minutes for the return trip.

The tactics to be discussed for the night’s operation were simple. A datum point about fifteen miles north-east of the target was to be marked with green target indicators. (Phil suggests that Oboe may have been used here but the Night Raid Report does not specifically mention it.) The four 627 Squadron Mosquitos would then mark the aiming point itself with red spot fires, and “the main force were to bomb as directed by the Master Bomber or his deputy”[5] – who was Phil Smith. H-Hour was set down for 02.45.

There were eleven crews on the 463 Squadron battle order tonight, accompanied by twelve from 467 Squadron. One of the latter was captained by Wing Commander ‘Willie’ Tait, the Base Operations Commander, who took ED953 with a standard crew plus two extras: Pilot Officer Morris and Flight Sergeant Kimberley, photographers from the RAF Film Unit. The aircraft had been specially fitted out with cameras to record what was evidently expected to be a spectacular raid.

As usual, of course, there were other raids taking place tonight as well. The Transportation Plan continued with more than 140 aircraft attacking railway yards in Mantes-Gassicourt, 30 miles west of Paris. While the Night Raid Report says it was an “accurate and damaging attack in moonlight” and that “damage and destruction were most severe in the stores depot, locomotive shed and repair shops” the Campaign Diary[6] shows that local records suggest some of the bombing fell outside the target, in the western part of the town and the nearby hamlet of Dennemont. There were only two active flak guns but fighters apparently caught up with the bombers on the way home and three heavies were lost.[7]

Elsewhere 52 Lancasters went to another munitions dump, this time near Aubigné in central-western France. This was a highly accurate attack resulting in “sheets of flame [coming] from the exploding ammunition, and dense smoke up to 5,000’.” The entire target, continues the Night Raid Report, was “almost completely destroyed” for the loss of just one aircraft which fell to a fighter on the way home.

(This loss was notable in that the second pilot of the 576 Squadron Lancaster was Air Commodore R Ivelaw-Chapman, who had recently taken command of No. 13 Base from Elsham Wolds. Previous to this job he had been a staff officer who knew details of the upcoming invasion, which now was exactly a month away. He survived being shot down and became a prisoner of war. There was consequently much anxiety in England that he might have been handed over to the Gestapo for questioning but it appears the Germans never realised his importance. Ivelaw-Chapman was apparently the highest-ranking officer lost on operations in a Lancaster. He survived the war.[8])

Other operations tonight included Mosquitos attacking Chateudun, Ludwigshafen and Leverkusen and various airfields in France, Holland and Belgium. There were also the usual minelaying, leaflet and special operations and fighter patrols. One Mosquito failed to return.[9]

Next post: The Waddington bombers take off for Sable-sur-Sarthe

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 06MAY44

[2] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 06MAY44

[3] Smith, Phil, Recollections of 1939-1945 War, p.23

[4] Smith, Phil, Recollections of 1939-1945 War”, p.23

[5] Night Raid Report No. 598

[6] Bomber Command Campaign Diary, May 1944

[7] Night Raid report No. 598

[8] Bomber Command Campaign Diary, May 1944, and Blundell, 1975 p.21

[9] Night Raid Report No. 598


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