467 Postblog LXXIIIa: Wednesday 3 May, 1944

Sometime in March 1944, a Frenchman named Raymond Basset[1] used false documents supplied by British Intelligence to sneak into the German tank depot at Mailly-le-Camp, some 80 miles east of Paris, to undertake reconnaissance on the ground. A French Army facility dating back to the turn of the century, Mailly-le-Camp had been taken over by the Wehrmacht following the French surrender in 1940, and at the time of Bisset’s infiltration was hosting elements of the 21st Panzer division. After his mission Bisset drew, from memory, maps of the camp and these were eventually passed on to London along with details of what he had found there. His information was enough, imply Molly Burkett and Geoff Gilbert in their 2004 book Not Just Another Milk Run, for Mailly-le-Camp to be placed on the list of targets to be attacked by Bomber Command in the build-up to the invasion of the continent. One of the main tank training centres in use by the Wehrmacht in France, some 15-20,000 troops were believed to be stationed there.[2]

And so it came to pass, as it were, that on this fine morning on 3 May 1944, aircrews of Nos 1 and 5 Groups Bomber Command found themselves summoned to their briefing rooms. “I think we were all relieved when the covers were taken off the maps and we saw that our target was in France”, said Jack Spark, an appropriately-named wireless operator at Elsham Wolds.[3] “The target and route was explained to us at the briefing together with the details of the bomb load we were carrying and the weather conditions we could expect en route. We were told that it would be a piece of cake and we believed it.”

What would eventuate over France, however, was far from a ‘piece of cake’.

At Waddington, meanwhile, Flight Lieutenant Bill Hodge, the compiler of the 463 Squadron ORB, wrote that the airmen “went into the attack with zeal, knowing they were going to kill a few thousand German soldiers, with their Staff Officers, billeted at the Camp.” The squadron sent twelve crews on the operation, with their sister squadron, 467, contributing ten. Take-off was just before 10pm.[4]

Elsewhere, 84 Lancasters and eight Mosquitos were raiding a Luftwaffe airfield near Montdidier in northern France, fourteen Mosquitos attacked an ammunition dump at Châteaudun, south-west of Paris, and 27 Mosquitos hit Ludwigshafen, forty miles inside the German frontier. Subsidiary operations included minelaying off France and the Frisians, radio counter-measure sorties, Serrate and intruder patrols, special operations and leaflet drops.[5] But the night’s biggest raid by far was carried out by the 346 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitos that were sent to Mailly-le-Camp.

The bombers assembled at Reading and set course for occupied Europe via Beachy Head. Ominously, they were flying in bright moonlight. “I could map read accurately by its light,” said Squadron Leader Tom Bennett of 617 Squadron later.[6] “I could never recall doing such a thing before, except perhaps when I had crossed the Alps en route for Italy in mid October 1942.” The bombers flew on. Crossing the French coast at Dieppe, they flew south-east for almost 150 miles before turning south towards Mailly-le-Camp. About 85 miles from the target, passing Compiegne, the first nightfighters appeared. At this stage though, the momentum was with the attackers and three or four fighters were shot down without inflicting any losses on the bombers. This happy state of affairs did not last long.

At Mailly-le-Camp, two aiming points had been designated.The south-easternmost of the two was to be attacked by the first wave, made up of 5 Group aircraft (which included, of course, all of the 22 aircraft from Waddington). The second aiming point was to be attacked about ten minutes later by aircraft from 1 Group. Mosquitos equipped with OBOE were to open each wave of the attack, marking the aiming points with green target indicators, before red spot fires were dropped visually onto the aiming points themselves by the light of illuminating flares.[7] While the marking was underway, inbound bombers were to orbit a route marker dropped at Germinon, some fifteen miles north of the target. It was visible from a long distance away and as the marking at the target progressed, more and more Lancasters could be seen circling the datum point.

If we could see them from that distance, so could the Germans.

– Squadron Leader Tom Bennett, 617 Squadron marker crew[8]

The first target marker fell some 800 metres north of the aiming point[9] one minute before midnight. The second, dropped by Australian Dambuster pilot Flight Lieutenant Dave Shannon, was more accurate and the order to attack was sent to the main force by R/T.[10]

A short aside here to explain the method of controlling bomber raids. Under the 5 Group tactics in use at the time of the Mailly-le-Camp raid, the Master Bomber, who typically was also the leader of the attack flying in a Mosquito, kept in contact with the rest of the marking force via a VHF radio which transmitted his voice. But there were not enough VHF radio sets with which to equip the entire Main Force of bombers,[11] so an intermediary was required. This role was carried out by the man known as the Controller, flying a Lancaster which had a VHF radio specially fitted, who would relay instructions from the Master Bomber to the rest of the force by radio telephone (R/T, which transmitted the pilot’s voice via high-frequency or HF waves) and wireless telegraphy (W/T, sent in encrypted Morse code by the Controller’s wireless operator, also over HF). Both HF systems would be less than effective at Mailly-le-Camp.

The first few main force aircraft to bomb came away evidently quite impressed by the organisation, accuracy and effectiveness of the bombing raid. Squadron Leader Phil Smith in B for Baker thought his might have even been the first aircraft to attack, aiming at 00.06 at a “good concentration of spot fires in buildings themselves. Bombs fell across same buildings.” Half a minute later, Pilot Officer Bill Felstead saw “bombs […] bursting among buildings. A very good attack indeed.” But then the careful plan began to unravel.

Three Waddington aircraft bombed before 00.08 and at least one of those reported that the “order to attack [was] received clearly over W/T”.[12] But after that not one crew reported being able to receive anything on that system. It would later be discovered that the Controller’s W/T set was incorrectly tuned, so while the signals were being sent they were 30 kilocycles off the correct frequency and so were not being received.

Normally, the separate R/T system would cover a failure of the W/T. But at Mailly-le-Camp, R/T control failed as well. Out of the eleven 463 and 467 Squadron crews who commented about communications in their post-operational report, four never heard anything over the R/T, and three of those that did reported jamming or an American broadcast on the frequency. Yet at least one crew (that of Pilot Officer Ernie Mustard) called the R/T control “good”, and a signal sent from 5 Group Headquarters the day after the raid[13] suggested that “in spite of the jamming […] a proportion of the 1 Group and 5 Group force did, in fact, receive their instructions satisfactorily.” But many, it appears, did not.

The result of the confusion was that, after the first few crews had attacked, the raid stalled. Many crews remained circling at the datum point, though there is evidence that some more experienced crews who had not heard the order to bomb on either control channel saw the raid evidently well in progress and went in to bomb anyway.[14] And now the second wave – made up of 1 Group aircraft – was about to arrive.

 

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] Basset’s story is related in Burkett & Gilbert 2004, p.7

[2] Lawrence 1951, p.187

[3] Burkett & Gilbert 2004, p.58

[4] 463 and 467 Squadrons Operational Record Books, 03MAY44

[5] Other operations detailed in Bomber Command Campaign Diary, May 1944, and Night Raid Report No. 595

[6] Quoted in Burkett & Gilbert 2004, p.16

[7] Plan of attack from Night Raid Report No. 595

[8] Bennett is quoted in Burkett & Gilbert 2004, p.16

[9] Burkett & Gilbert, p.11

[10] Reported by Pilot Officer Noel sanders in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book

[11] Lack of VHF sets implied in NAA: A11234, 34/AIR Enclosure 9A

[12] This was Pilot Officer Bill Felstead, in the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book

[13] NAA: A11234, 34/AIR Enclosure 9A

[14] At least three 463/467 Squadron crews reported in their respective Operational Record Books bombing despite not hearing an order to do so

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

467 Postblog LXIX: Saturday 29 April, 1944

The last of 27 aircraft returned to Waddington from last night’s abortive raid on the explosives works at St-Medard-en-Jalles at 07.18 this morning.[1] But when the crews awoke from their post-operation slumber they found that ops had been laid on again for tonight, and they were going back to the same target in the south of France. Seventeen out of the nineteen crews sent were on the battle order for the second night in succession. The total offering from Waddington would have been 21, except that it was belatedly discovered that Flight Sergeant Tom Scholefield – who was Dan Conway’s second dickey last night – had not completed any training cross countries or practice flights with his crew since they arrived at the squadron yesterday. They were sent on a Bullseye instead. The 467 Squadron Operational Record Book also notes that one other captain – Pilot Officer Tony Tottenham – did not go either, though no details are recorded about why.

In any case a total of 68 Lancasters and five Mosquitos, again all from 5 Group, were detailed for the new attack on St Medard-en-Jalles. Elsewhere, 59 aircraft, also from 5 Group, bombed a Michelin tyre factory at Clermont Ferrand (about 180 miles east of Bordeaux) and small groups of Mosquitos attacked Oberhausen and the marshalling yards at Acheres (near Paris). Mines were laid in the Frisians and off French ports by 38 Stirlings and Halifaxes, nine Wellingtons from Operational Training Units dropped leaflets over Northern France, 25 aircraft carried out sorties in support of Resistance operations and six Mosquitos went on Serrate patrols. A final Mosquito made a weather recce flight.[2]

The Waddington aircraft began taking off for St-Medard-en-Jalles from 22:30. All nineteen were away by 22:55, but there was one early return when Flight Sergeant Sam Johns had the starboard outer engine fail on LM338 exactly an hour after he took off. He left the stream, jettisoned his full load of bombs over the sea and flew home, landing at 02:04.[3]

The rest of the bombers, though, enjoyed an entirely uneventful trip to the target with minimal opposition. This time the leading aircraft found that, while there was still some slight haze present, in the main the weather conditions were ideal for bombing with no cloud in the area. Almost 200 miles to the east, crews could see a large column of flame marking the attack which was by that stage underway on the Michelin works at Clermont-Ferrand.

Back at St-Medard-en-Jalles, the heavies circled for only a short time the yellow flare that marked the datum point before receiving, at around 02:15, the order to go in and bomb. “From then on”, recorded Pilot Officer Ernie Mustard, “there was one explosion after another.”

It was, said the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, “a very spectacular scene”. Three red spot fires marked the target. A green target indicator was dropped shortly after 02:27, and then the crews were ordered to attack between one red spot fire and the green TI.

Just after this message was sent Pilot Officer John McManus was flying LL789 on its bombing run. His wireless operator passed him the message at a critical time and upset the run so, in the interests of bombing accuracy, McManus turned away and came around again. By this stage the attack was well underway with explosion after explosion lighting up the area, lighting fires and creating huge plumes of smoke. The confusion was enough to spoil McManus’ second bombing run as the spot fires were “unrecogniseable”, so he decided to take his bombs home. The bombing, meanwhile, had blown out the spot fires that had been dropped by the target markers[4] so that by 02:36 the raid Controller was telling crews to aim at the centre of a large fire in the target area[5], but by this time McManus was already on his way back. (Despite not attacking the target, McManus and crew would still be credited with a completed sortie for this trip).

In amongst the bombers, of course, was LM475, B for Baker, and her crew. Squadron Leader Phil Smith reported that there were so many rapid-fire explosions during their run-up to bomb that he couldn’t count them. They dropped their bombs and were waiting for the camera to turn over when, at 02:29, the world seemed to blow up:

“…some other Lanc put his 12,000lbs of goods down right on some big Ammo factory – Boy I thought our time was up.”

– Flight Sergeant Dale Johnston, wireless operator, in a letter to his father, 01MAY44[6]

“…our machine was almost blown out of the sky. Flames must have been almost 500ft high.”

-Flight Sergeant Gilbert Pate, rear gunner, in a letter to his sister Joyce, 01MAY44[7]

“We thought we had bee [sic] hit […] Heard the ‘crumph’ above the noise of the engines. The light of the explosion lit up the country for miles around.”

-Squadron Leader Phil Smith, logbook entry, 29APR44

The fact that we have accounts or descriptions of this incident from three different members of the crew of B for Baker suggests that it was one of the more memorable occurrences of their tour. Being a French target accuracy was the key, and to facilitate this the bombers went in at quite low level – most between 4,000 and 6,000 feet. In Phil Smith’s opinion, the explosion they encountered at 5,000 feet was so great that aircraft one thousand feet lower would probably have been destroyed by it. “A safety height of well over 4,000 feet should have been fixed for the raid”, he reported later. In fact, the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book says that “it became necessary to order the force to raise its bombing height,” though this does not appear to be reflected in a comparison of the actual recorded bombing heights and times in the 463 and 467 Squadron Operational Record Books.

About the only thing not present over the target was much sign of enemy resistance. Their close escape after the previous night’s raid was aborted had evidently not encouraged the Germans to improve defences deployed around the factory and virtually nothing, save some “very fierce”[8] light flak south of the aiming point, was encountered. Only one aircraft on the entire raid was attacked by a fighter.[9]

All aircraft returned safely from tonight’s operations. The target was, according to the Night Raid Report, heavily damaged, “especially around the boiler house and the group of buildings, half of which were damaged and m[any] destroyed.”

On the front page of The Sheffield Telegraph, 1 May 1944 edition, was a short article headlined “30-Minute-Long Explosions”.

Crews saw smoke rise to 5,000 feet in a series of colossal explosions which were still going on half an hour after the bombs went down during Saturday night’s attack by R.A.F. Lancasters on the French Poudrerie Nationale explosives works at St-Medard-en-Jalles, nine miles from Bordeaux.

 

A copy of this article is highlighted with pen, presumably by Flight Sergeant Gilbert Pate, who had pilfered it from the Mess and sent it to his family. With them it remains, clearly stamped “R.A.F. SGTS’ MESS WADDINGTON.”[10]

 

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] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 28APR44

[2] Other ops detailed in Night Raid Report No. 591 and RAF Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944

[3] Details from 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 29APR44

[4] As reported by Flight Lieutenant Eric Smith in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book

[5] Reported in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book by Squadron leader Merv Powell

[6] Dale’s father Charles transcribed parts of this letter and sent a copy to Don Smith in a letter on 16 July 1944. From the collection of Mollie Smith.

[7] From the collection of Gil and Peggy Thew

[8] Reported in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book by Flying Officer Dudley Ward

[9] Night Raid Report No. 591

[10] From the collection of Gil and Peggy Thew

467 Postblog LXVIII: Friday 28 April, 1944

Operations again tonight, as 28 Waddington crews were detailed for a raid on a munitions factory at St Medard-en-Jalles, near Bordeaux in the south of France. This would be an all-5 Group affair with a total of 88 bombers and four Mosquitos sent to attack the third out of four French State explosives works.[1] One crew was cancelled before take-off (for reasons not explained in the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book) but two others took second dickie pilots – Flight Sergeants Thomas Scholefield with Dan Conway and John Waugh with John McManus – and an unknown airman flew with Wing Commander Willie Tait as an extra “mid-under” gunner. For Scholefield in particular it was a quick introduction to squadron life, having arrived at Waddington on posting earlier the same day.

The crew of B for Baker all flew in their normal aircraft, LM475. Rear gunner Flight Sergeant Gilbert Pate scribbled a quick note to his mother while waiting for the crew truck to pick them up and take them to their dispersal, enclosing as he frequently did a newspaper clipping. This one covered the Schweinfurt raid of two days ago. That trip had been, he said, “a long stooge and one that I never felt happy on.”

Bombers began rolling down the runway around 22.30 in the evening. As well as the crew that was scrubbed before take-off, one aircraft returned early. Flight Sergeant Colin Dixon was setting course for the first leg, south-east towards Harwich, when the starboard inner engine on his Lancaster began overheating and caught fire. The flames died upon feathering the engine, but carrying on was not a safe option. They flew out half way over the North Sea to jettison their full load of bombs and returned to Waddington just after 01.30.[2]

The remainder of the force turned sharply south-west upon reaching the English coast and flew over the sea, overflying Brittany before they turned left and more or less followed the French coast southbound. Near the coast thirty miles west of Bordeaux itself was the datum point, which was marked by yellow flares. Aircraft began assembling there from about 02.30, circling round it to await the order to go in and bomb.

About twenty minutes ahead of the Main Force were the wind finders and target markers. They found no cloud over the target but the ground was shrouded in thick haze which made identification of the exact aiming point extremely difficult. Some of the illuminating flares reportedly set fire to nearby woods[3] and the resulting smoke only made matters worse. The Master Bomber, having dropped his red spot fire, called for more flares to assess its accuracy, but eventually decided that the haze was too thick to be able to guarantee the high degree of accuracy required for an attack on a French target and decided to abort the operation, ordering the crews home.

The problem now became one of communication. There was much back-chat from the pilots orbiting the datum point[4] and some signals were confused. Phil Smith himself heard a transmission saying “flares on red spot fires,” which he misinterpreted as an order to move in for the bombing run, but before they got there they heard another signal to stand by and orbited in the target area instead of at the datum point. The misinterpreted signal was probably the Master Bomber’s order to the flare force to illuminate the spot fire he had dropped.

Not many of the crew reports in the 463 and 467 Squadrons Operational Record Books include such detail, but of those that do the first order to cease bombing came around 02.50. Just after 3am the first crew reported receiving an order to return to base. It appears that many aircrew did not receive the first message and the orders were repeated regularly for the next half an hour or so, with most aircraft leaving the datum point having circled it for upwards of 45 minutes. Even then, one crew still reported bombing the target as late as 03.20. A green flash which was seen by Gilbert Pate from the rear turret of B for Baker was interpreted by Pilot Officer Tony Tottenham in R5868 (S for Sugar) as a verey cartridge, which he saw at 03.08 and understood as an order to bomb. Tottenham was one of 26 pilots in total who reported bombing the target but the remainder held off and went home, flying north over land.

The only other pilot from Waddington to definitely bomb was Flight Sergeant Sam Johns, who was attacked by a fighter on his bombing run and again on leaving the target. Apart from this one attack there was very little enemy activity enroute or at the target, with only desultory flak and very few searchlights encountered.

A basic aeronautical fact is that, all else being equal, the heavier an aeroplane is the more engine power is required to keep it airborne and therefore, the more fuel is required for a given flight. In planning the fuel loads for bombers engaged on an operation, of course, it would have been anticipated that each aircraft would lose some 12,500lb of weight when they dropped their bombs on the target, so less fuel would be required on the homeward journey. As they turned for home tonight however it now became clear on many aircraft that, having retained their bombs, the fuel remaining would be insufficient for the task given the unexpected extra weight still on board. Consequently out of the 26 Waddington aircraft that made it to the target, nine jettisoned some or in many cases all of their bombs on the way home. Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall and Pilot Officers John McManus and Tom Davis made the decision early, flying just off the coast and jettisoning there, but others made it the length of France before becoming aware of their fuel situation and dropped their loads after crossing the coast again near Normandy. Pilot Officer Bill Felstead made it back to England but evidently discovered he had pushed it a little too far to make Waddington and instead decided to land at an OTU aerodrome at Wing, near Aylesbury, some 90 miles short.[5] There were no casualties from this operation.

There’s an interesting footnote to this raid hidden in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book. Pilot Officer Murray Pratten made it to the target, dropped his bombs and came back safely. Yet next to his name is recorded the words “sortie NOT completed,’ implying that he and his crew were not credited with a sortie towards their tours from this trip. His report gives a fairly detailed account of signals and the times that they were received and appears to justify his decision to attack – and certainly the other two Waddington crews that bombed were credited with completed sorties – so it’s curious that this crew was not. A possible explanation is that the justification given for going into bomb was hearing a message in the clear on the W/T at 03.09:

From No. 1 drop your load.

This same message was also reported by Wing Commander Kingsford-Smith, though he said it came “between 02.38 and 02.42hrs” and was “ignored.” Perhaps its being in plain text and not encrypted raised Kingsford-Smith’s suspicions that the message might not have originated from a legitimate source, and not crediting Pratten with a completed sortie was a punishment for being taken in by it. One suspects this would not have been a popular decision with either Pratten or his crew.

A number of other Bomber Command units were operating elsewhere on this night. 51 Lancasters and four Mosquitos bombed an aircraft factory in Oslo, an effective attack in clear weather. 26 Mosquitos made a harassing raid on Hamburg and 40 Stirlings, Halifaxes and Lysanders carried out Resistance support operations. A couple of Mosquito intruders and a weather recce aircraft were also flying over the Continent. There were no casualties.

Meanwhile, the explosives factory at St Medard-en-Jalles survived for tonight. Tomorrow, it would not be so lucky.

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] Lawrence 1951, p.188

[2] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 28APR44

[3] RAF Bomber Command Diary, April 1944 and Lawrence 1951, p.188

[4] Reported by Wing Commander Kingsford-Smith, 463 Squadron Operational Record Book

[5] My copy of the Operational Record Book is unreadable at this point – thanks to Graham Wallace for picking up the error and decyphering it for me.

467 Postblog LXVIb: Wednesday 26 April, 1944

Three bombers from Waddington had had made early returns from the Schweinfurt trip on 26 April 1944, but the rest of the force were flying on. Crossing the enemy coast near Cabourg, the attackers flew a hundred miles inland before turning east near Paris. The route had been designed to avoid wherever possible areas of known heavy flak, and in this it was mostly successful, though three aircraft fell to flak between Troyes, halfway along this 300-mile leg, and Strasbourg, and two more were shot down at Karlsruhe. “This was rather a long trip and required accurate navigation to keep out of defended areas,” said Pilot Officer Thomas Foster.

The fighters had a go as well. Two nights ago an extreme southerly route and multiple bomber streams foxed the fighter controllers, but they did not fall for the same trick tonight. From about Troyes the fighters got stuck into the stream. At least six aircraft fell to fighters on this leg. “Fighters busy from 0400E [approx Troyes] to target,” said Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall. His navigator, Pilot Officer Arnold Easton, was a little more descriptive in his logbook. “Pretty hot trip,” he wrote. “Saw many aircraft shot down between Paris and the target.”

Now a more insidious problem made itself known.[1] The wind strengthened by ten knots and veered by 20 degrees, throwing navigators’ calculations out and delaying and scattering the bomber stream. “By the flak which I saw going up, on route many people must have strayed south of Strasbourg and Stuttgart,” thought Wing Commander Rollo Kingsford-Smith.

The wind change would upset the carefully thought-out plan. The intention was for two waves, 20 minutes apart, to attack the target. The first wave was to support the flare force, flying over the target at 02.00 and heading away for fifteen minutes to allow the marking to proceed. Low-level Mosquitos were to carry out the initial marking with red spot fires. The most accurate ones were to be backed up by green spot fires or cascading green target indicators dropped from Lancasters high above. But the wind scattered the markers and caused the late arrival of most of the marking force so some aircraft needed to hang around in the target area for some time until the markers went down. Searchlights were active in the area and there was some moderate heavy-calibre flak but the ground defences were less than effective. Fighters had reached the area before the second wave did however and are likely to have shot down six bombers near the target.[2]

Eventually at about 02.22 the Controller broadcast by W/T the order to begin bombing the markers through some low cloud and haze which had developed, probably augmented by smoke generators being operated by the defenders. The Main Force did just that, dropping their bombs so closely around the markers that at one point, Pilot Officer Col James reported, a green spot fire was extinguished or obscured by a stick of incendiaries. Good fires resulted around the markers.

“If markers were accurate,” opined Pilot Officer Arthur Bowman, a “good attack should develop.” The problem was, however, that the ground itself was only faintly visible.

Impossible to see whether it was a good do or not. – Pilot Officer Bill Mackay, 467 Squadron

And as it turned out the markers were not quite accurate enough, being displaced to the south of the actual aiming point.[3] So, consequently, was the bombing. Only 18 aircraft were definitively plotted as having bombed in the target area. The controller made an attempt to instruct the crews to overshoot the inaccurate green spot fires but this was hampered by poor radio reception and not all crews complied.  The bombers left Schweinfurt in flames, but the fires were not quite in the right spot.

The bombers turned and flew home over more or less the same route as they had taken to get to Schweinfurt. One more bomber fell to a fighter just after leaving the city. And when a 106 Squadron crew was attacked around this time it led to one of the more stunning stories of courage and luck in Bomber Command history.[4] The fighter’s shells started a fire in the starboard wing and Sergeant Norman Jackson, the flight engineer, asked his pilot for permission to try to extinguish the flames. He had already been wounded in the leg from shell splinters. Jackson tucked a hand-held fire extinguisher into his Mae-West lifejacket, put on a parachute, opened the escape hatch in the cockpit ‘greenhouse’ and climbed out, but his parachute got caught on something and opened, spilling into the cockpit. The pilot, bomb aimer and navigator gathered up the ‘chute and held onto it, paying out the rigging lines as Jackson crawled aft outside the fuselage. Jackson slipped and managed to grab hold of an air intake in the leading edge of the wing, but the fire extinguisher was lost. By this time the fire had spread and, unable to maintain his hand-hold, Jackson was swept backwards through the flames and over the trailing edge of the wing into space. He had been badly burnt and when last seen his parachute was only partially opened and burning in a number of places.

The aircraft was by now beyond saving and the order to abandon was given; four others got out but the captain and rear gunner died in the crash. Jackson himself, amazingly, survived, though he never quite got control of his parachute and landed heavily. With a broken ankle, eye closed through burns and serious hand injuries he crawled to the nearest village at daybreak and was taken prisoner. Jackson spent ten months in a German hospital. It was only after the survivors of the crew returned to the UK at the end of the war that the story came out; Sergeant Norman Cyril Jackson was awarded the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace on 13 November 1945. Jackson died in 1994.

Knowing nothing of this, of course, the rest of the bomber stream were still making their way back to the enemy coast. A couple of crews reported seeing fires and explosions in the direction of Paris as they flew past, likely the effects of the earlier raid on the Villeneuve-St-George marshalling yards. One crew, piloted by Pilot Officer Sam Johns, were attacked by a fighter. Both gunners – Flight Sergeants Ernie Dale in the mid-upper turret and John Fallon in the rear – fired and it was seen to go down out of control and crash. “It was claimed as destroyed,” said the compiler of the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book the next day, “and it was a fine effot on the part of the new crew.” They had made their operational debut on La Chapelle on April 20 and this was their second trip.

There’s a mention in the 463 Squadron Operational Record Book that Pilot Officer Dudley Ward lost an engine over the target and then another passing Orleans. After ordering his crew to man ditching stations he managed to get one of the inoperative engines to fire up again and made a successful Channel crossing and emergency landing at Tangmere. The problem, however, is that Ward does not show up in the sortie list section of the ORB, so we can’t confirm which aircraft or who the rest of the crew was.

All Waddington crews arrived back safely, most between 6 and 7am. A few days later Gilbert Pate sent home some newspaper clippings, purloined once more from the Sergeants’ Mess at RAF Waddington. “10th day of attack,” reads the headline on one. With perhaps a little embellishment, the reporter quoted an unnamed airman: “I have never seen a town more desperately defended. If it had been a land battle, you would have said that the place was fighting to the last.”

It had been an expensive night. 21 bombers out of 226 – 9.3% – were lost.

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] Lawrence 1951, p.178

[2] Night Raid Report 588

[3] Account of this operation from 463 and 467 Squadron Operational Record Books, 26APR44,  Night Raid Report No. 588 and Lawrence 1951, p. 178

[4] Following account based on Lawrence 1951, p.179, and Jackson’s Victoria Cross citation, London Gazette 26OCT45, as reproduced at http://www.victoriacross.org.uk/bbjackso.htm

467 Postblog LXVIa: Wednesday 26 April, 1944

Squadron Leader Phil Smith’s old problem was back.

As the Flight Commander, ‘A’ Flight of 467 Squadron, one of his duties was to allocate crews to particular aircraft for operational flights. While some aircraft were always flown by the same crews, there were also some ‘orphan’ bombers on strength with the Flight which had no normal crews and which were flown by whoever was available on a particular night. Individual Lancasters varied greatly in quality and performance, depending on how hard they had been flown, and in every Squadron or Flight there were always one or two ‘dogs’ which no-one wanted.

And, on A Flight, 467 Squadron, no-one wanted EE143, the aeroplane we last saw in late March that wouldn’t fly straight. It seems that Avro had been unable to find a fault with its structure or dimensions and so the aeroplane was back at the squadron. Unwilling to send it on operations without a test flight and unwilling to force anyone else to so it, Phil decided today to take the aircraft up himself. His logbook does not specify the crew he flew with but it’s likely that at the least flight engineer Ken Tabor went with him. Navigator Jack Purcell did not record this flight in his logbook so it was probably intended to be a local flight only. In any case, Phil took off into a fine and sunny sky and headed towards Syerston, another RAF station about 20 miles south-west of Waddington.[1]

Meanwhile, Waddington was gearing up for operations again tonight. It would be another long one, though not quite as far as the Munich trip two nights ago. This time the target was Schweinfurt.

Bomber Command had attacked Schweinfurt properly for the first time only in February, which incidentally was one of the operations on which Phil Smith took EE143. Notwithstanding the mistaken bombing by crews who thought they were at Nuremberg in March, the city had more or less been left alone ever since. It was still however the centre of Germany’s ball-bearing industry, and since Sweden had reportedly ceased its supply of that resource[2] Schweinfurt now assumed an even greater importance and Bomber Command Headquarters decided it was time for another attack. Strongly defended with smoke screens and decoys and well beyond Oboe range,[3] it was a tricky target and it was thought that the recently developed No. 5 Group marking tactics might prove successful. 226 aircraft were sent.

The Waddington contribution to the force was intended to be 30 aircraft, but three 467 Squadron crews were cancelled. One (Pilot Officer Len Ainsworth) had gone sick and one missed for unrecorded reasons (Pilot Officer Tom Davis), but the third was the result of an accident. Flight Lieutenant Jack Colpus’s crew were readying their aircraft for the operation when the mid-upper gunner’s clothing accidentally fouled the mechanism of his guns, and they started firing. The bullets hit the perspex of the rear turret which shattered, lightly injuring the rear gunner who was inside it at the time. Because of the shock and the damage to the aircraft, the crew were stood down from the operation.

Perhaps Phil Smith was also supposed to go on this operation. But it’s also possible that he stayed at Syerston overnight after landing there on his test flight. His logbook records another test in EE143 the following day, and the aircraft does not appear to have been on the Schweinfurt operation. There’s insufficient information available in the records to be sure either way.His logbook records landing at Syerston on the test flight in EE143, and another air test in the same aircraft the following day. EE143 does not appear to have been on the Schweinfurt operation so it’s possible that he stayed away overnight.

Three other members of Phil’s crew, however, did attack Schweinfurt. Gilbert Pate again flew with Pilot Officer Bill Mackay and Jack Purcell went with Pilot Officer John McManus. It is also likely that Eric Hill flew as part of a scratch 463 Squadron crew captained by Wing Commander Willie Tait. The bombers began to take off from about 21.15, their track south passing the now familiar waypoints of Reading, Selsey Bill and Cabourg.

Bomber Command despatched more than 1,000 sorties again tonight, for the fifth time in nine nights. The biggest group attacked the Krupps works at Essen, an accurate raid by 493 aircraft. 217 aircraft caused great destruction to the railway yards at Villeneuve St George, south of Paris. Stirlings attacked railway targets at Chambly, Mosquitos went to Hamburg and carried out intruder patrols and Serrate patrols, a small force of heavies laid mines and there were some Resistance operations.[4]

Meanwhile, all was not well in the aircraft that had departed Waddington. Three crews made early returns. Pilot Officer John Sayers, in ED657, had been late to take off after an engine overheated on the taxiway. He tried to make up time by tracking direct to Cabourg and flying faster than usual but the need to run at a higher engine power setting caused the recalcitrant engine to overheat again. To keep height it was necessary to jettison the full bomb load and they limped back to Waddington, landing just before 1am.

And passing Peterborough about half an hour after departure, Pilot Officer Fred Cassell’s rear gunner, Flight Sergeant Max Milner, reported that his rear turret was unserviceable. On investigation it proved impossible to repair while airborne, so Cassell decided to abort the mission. He turned east and flew half-way across the North Sea to jettison his incendiaries and returned home with the 4,000lb ‘cookie’ still in the bomb bay, landing just after 3am.

Finally Flight Lieutenant Eric Smith of 463 Squadron turned back near Northampton because his rear gunner (Sergeant GR Pike[5]) fell ill. ‘He was quite willing to go on,” reported Flight Lieutenant Smith in the Operational Record Book,

but was unable to stand up and was having trouble in breathing. He was in much pain and was getting worse as height increased. Confirmation can be obtained from Medical Officer.

They flew over the sea to a point sixty miles east of Waddington to jettison half their incendiaries and brought the rest back home.

Next: The rest of the bombers fly on

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] Story of EE143 from Phil’s Recollections typescript and from his logbook

[2] Claim in 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 26APR44

[3] Lawrence 1951, p.178

[4] Bomber Command Campaign Diary April 1944, and Night Raid Report No. 588

[5]  Pike was not RAAF so his full name is unknown

467 Postblog LXIVb: Monday 24 April, 1944

The Munich raid of 24 March 1944 was an attack delivered almost entirely by No. 5 Group, Bomber Command. It used, for the first time, a variation of the low-level marking system which had been so successful over French railway targets.[1] The first wave of the bomber stream overflew the target without bombing to provide support to the flare force which dropped hooded white flares to illuminate the target area. The Main Force then continued on a short distance and orbited, clear of the defences, north-west of the target, awaiting the order to come in again to bomb.

Unsurprisingly the requirement to cross Munich twice was not a popular one. Befitting its status as the spiritual home of the Nazi Party and as a major city in Germany, Munich was well-defended. Searchlights were extremely active and any aircraft unfortunate enough to be caught in them would find itself the target of a barrage of accurate, intense heavy-calibre flak. At least three aircraft are known to have gone down to flak over the target, two of them seen by Pilot Officer Dave Gibbs, who himself was coned but managed to escape.[2] Pilot Officer Jack Freeman was also amongst those coned over the target. It was, he said, a “very grim affair.”[3]  Flight Lieutenant Walter Marshall’s aircraft, LL846, was hit by flak and his bomb aimer – Pilot Officer John Kennedy – received a wound under an arm. Kennedy pressed on regardless and not entirely rewardless however, doing his job and telling no-one about his injury until after the aircraft landed. He would later be awarded a DFC for his actions on this operation. [4]

“The idea of flying through the target area while waiting for order to bomb is in my opinion totally unnecessary, particularly so on a target such as Munich,” seethed Pilot Officer Bill Felstead later. “Suggest orbit away from a defended area,” said Pilot Officer Arthur Bowman.[5]

But it seemed to work. The four target-marking Mosquitos led by Wing Commander Cheshire “arrived punctually at the moment when the first flares were dropped.” Conditions were clear and visibility was almost perfect. Cheshire swooped in at around 700 feet and reportedly dropped the first flares while coned in searchlights and lit by the flares falling from the Lancasters above. Under fire he managed to identify the aiming point and dropped his red spot fire markers accurately. The remaining Mosquitos followed to back up the original markers and the first wave of the Main Force, still circling to the north-west, could now be called back in.

The markers were accurate (save for one which dropped wide after the marking aircraft had to take last-minute avoiding action to prevent a collision with another aircraft at the point of bombing, and another off to the west of the aiming point which was thought to have been a German decoy) and the bombers hit the target hard. The bombing was, particularly for early crews, highly accurate:

Best concentration of [incendiaries] I have ever seen – Pilot Officer Roland Cowan

Attack was the best that I have ever seen by far – absolutely perfect – Flight Lieutenant Fred Smith

Wizard prang. – Flight Lieutenant Freddy Merrill

The accuracy of the attack is illustrated by the fact that 463 Squadron recorded five aiming point bombing photographs on this raid. One of the successful pilots was Flying Officer Bill Purdy, his second consecutive aiming point from only his second trip overall:

Bill Purdy provided this copy of his aiming point photo from Munich
Bill Purdy provided this copy of his aiming point photo from Munich

The exact middle of the photo is where the bombs theoretically would land and this apparently was directly over Hitler’s favourite beer parlour. I received a message from Group saying that whilst war is a dirty and bloody business it was considered bad form to go around destroying the opposition’s pubs.[6]

The fires brightly illuminated the target – one crew said it looked like a photograph – and features like individual streets and even church spires stood out clearly.[7] Phil Smith could easily see the river as B for Baker left the target. A wireless failure meant that they could not receive the order to “bomb the red spot fires” which was broadcast around 01.44. Instead they stooged around and simply attacked when they saw other aircraft bombing.[8]

The bombing was undershooting and became a little scattered as the attack went on, but it did not matter. The ground defences appeared to be almost overwhelmed by the ferocity and force of the attack and were putting up a much reduced effort by the time the bombers left. Many smaller fires joined into large conflagrations and an hour after the attack, a large area of the centre of Munich was burning so strongly that the reconnaissance aircraft encountered trouble from smoke at 19,000 feet.[9]

Now began the long flight home. The glow from Munich could still be seen as far as the French border. Fifty miles north of the nominal return track, crews could see fires burning at what looked like Karlsruhe.

Few fighters were reported by crews returning from Munich, and it appears that the four different streams heading across Europe earlier in the evening – the Munich force, the Karlsruhe force, the OTU diversion and various groups headed to France – successfully thwarted attempts by the German fighter controllers to guess the target. The Night Raid Report suggests that for much of the night the Germans anticipated that Nuremberg or Frankfurt would be attacked. At least one aircraft did fall to a fighter over Munich, however, and others would be lost at Ulm and Strasbourg[10] in the first two hundred miles of the homeward journey. At least one crew was attacked by a fighter after stumbling off track over Paris. The rear turret was unserviceable and neither gunner saw the enemy aircraft but Dave Gibbs’ evasive action was successful in losing the fighter.[11]

Dawn was approaching as the stream crossed the French coast on the way home and it made many crews nervous. Strong headwinds slowed the return journey and sapped already stretched fuel supplies so numerous aircraft diverted to aerodromes in southern England. Two 467 Squadron aircraft were among those that diverted: R5868 (S for Sugar) with Pilot Officer Tony Tottenham and crew landed at Market Harborough, fifty miles short of Waddington, and DV372 (F for Fred) with Flight Lieutenant Jim Marshall and crew, landed at Ford, just after safely crossing the English coast at Selsey Bill.

The Munich operation of 24 April, 1944, at ten hours and five minutes, is the longest flight to appear in Jack Purcell’s logbook. It was so long that several wireless operators (among them Sergeant Macdonald on Flight Lieutenant Jack Colpus’ crew[12]) tuned their radios to the BBC news while airborne over England on the way home, and heard that Munich had been bombed last night and ‘x’ aircraft had failed to return. And they hadn’t even landed yet.

Original caption reads: "Lancaster JO-Q 'Queenie' (ME580/G) of 463 Sqn just about to touch down on 24 Apr '44 following an attack on Munich (Flying time 9 hrs 35 mins)." Courtesy RAF Waddington Heritage Centre
Original caption reads: “Lancaster JO-Q ‘Queenie’ (ME580/G) of 463 Sqn just about to touch down on 24 Apr ’44 following an attack on Munich (Flying time 9 hrs 35 mins).”
Courtesy RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

The roundabout routing – while long – achieved its goal and casualties were much lower than usual. Nine bombers failed to return from Munich: four by flak, three by fighters and two to unknown causes. Sadly, one of the missing aircraft was a 463 Squadron machine. Pilot Officer Eric Page and crew disappeared in LL848. This was most probably the aircraft seen to fall to a fighter over Munich. They crashed near the village of Sulzemoos, sixteen miles north-west of Munich. There were no survivors.

A few days later Gilbert Pate sent one of his many letters home to his parents in Kogarah, in Sydney’s southern suburbs. He included the front page from Wednesday’s Daily Mail newspaper, which he had pinched from the RAF Waddington Sergeant’s Mess.

“RAIDS PRODUCING MASS CHAOS,” blares the headline. “RAF Out Again Last Night in Force.”

There was an incessant roar over the coast last night as our heavy bombers set out again for the Continent. Radio Luxemburg closed down just after 10.50pm because of “approaching Allied planes.”

…By night the battle is more severe. Munich and Karlsruhe, deep inside Germany, were still burning yesterday after Bomber Command’s great attack during Monday night.

Operating in very great strength the R.A.F. showered more than 500,000 incendiaries and a great weight of high explosive on these two manufacturing and transport centres.

…The Munich raid lasted from 1.35am to 2am. It was described by the Germans as the city’s ‘worst ever’.

‘We must not be broken by the terror; we must answer it with a soldier-like courage’, said a radio spokesman.

“Munich was my target,” Gilbert scribbled on the front page. “Ten hours is a lifetime in the air.”

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] Description of tactics for this raid taken from Nigth Raid Report No. 586 and Lawrence 1951, p.175-7

[2] Night Raid Report No. 586

[3] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 24APR44

[4] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 09MAY44.

[5] 463 and 467 Squadron Operational Record Books, 24APR44

[6] Purdy, Bill, pers. comm. to the author, 21DEC13

[7] Various reports in 463 and 467 Squadrons Operational Record Books, 24APR44

[8] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 24APR44

[9] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 24APR44

[10] Night Raid Report No. 586

[11] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book, 24APR44

[12] Colpus, Jack 2003, interview at Australians at War Film Archive

467 Postblog LXIVa: Monday 24 April, 1944

Our latest big effort was on Munich so we put paid to Hitler’s beer cellars. – Dale Johnston in a latter to his father, 1 May 1944[1]

It was going to be a long night.

The fuel tanks on the bombers scattered at their dispersals around RAF Waddington had been filled ‘to the gunwales,’ a maximum figure of 2,154 gallons.[2] At nearby Skellingthorpe, the aircrew of 50 Squadron had the disquieting revelation at briefing that even with full tanks they might be cutting it fine to get back home:[3]

On arriving at the briefing room and being shown the map of England and Europe, we asked why the cotton track-marking thread finished in the middle of nowhere, or should I say, near the Ruhr Valley on the ‘wrong side’. We were then given to understand that if and when we arrived at that point there would be nowhere else to go except straight through, because by then fuel would be getting low…

At Waddington, the crews were making a similar discovery. Like their comrades at Skellingthorpe, they were off to Munich, deep in the south of Germany. But, in one of the more extravagant examples of route planning during the war, the bomber stream would fly south over France, cross into Italy almost to Milan before turning north over the Swiss Alps and setting course via parts of Austria for their target.  In a sign that this attack would be aimed directly at the city itself rather than its industries, bomb loads were almost entirely made up of incendiaries. Only two crews carried high-explosive bombs from Waddington. Squadron Leader Bill Brill captained one of them.

The other was Phil Smith’s crew. They took their normal aeroplane, LM475 B for Baker. Phil had a second dickie pilot along for the trip as well. Pilot Officer Tom Davis was on his third observation trip as a new captain, having in the past week flown with Bill Mackay to La Chapelle and Brunswick.[4]

The Munich raid would be carried out by a significant force of heavy bombers. In all 244 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitos were sent, mostly from No. 5 Group. But this would not be the biggest operation of the night. 637 aircraft were sent to Karlsruhe, just over the French border near Strasbourg. The raid would be spoilt by unexpected cloud over the target and strong winds which affected the accuracy of the Pathfinders. Various parts of the Main Force even got lost and bombed Mannheim (30 miles to the north) and a small number of other German cities instead.[5] Nineteen bombers failed to return. Elsewhere, a small number of Stirlings attacked a railway target at Chambly in France, Mosquitos bombed Dusseldorf and there was also the usual mining sorties (off French ports and the Frisians), Serrate and intruder patrols, leaflet drops and special operations. 165 OTU aircraft made a diversionary sweep over the North Sea, getting within 75 miles of the coast (two were lost). And finally, in direct support of the Munich operation, six 617 Squadron Lancasters dropped target indicators and flares only – no bombs – as a diversion on Milan.[6]

Take-off was from around 20.45 in the evening. With Double British Summer Time in force, sunset was not until around 11pm local time so for once, the ‘send-off party’ of WAAFs and ground staff who gathered at the end of the runway each time the Squadrons took off for an operation were clearly visible.[7]

Original caption reads: "The take-off for Munich on 24 April 1944. Sunset at Waddington as one of the heavily loaded Lancasters taxies round to the take-off point; waved on their way by the usual crowd of well-wishers." Courtesy RAF Waddington Heritage Centre
Original caption reads: “The take-off for Munich on 24 April 1944. Sunset at Waddington as one of the heavily loaded Lancasters taxies round to the take-off point; waved on their way by the usual crowd of well-wishers.”
Courtesy RAF Waddington Heritage Centre

The bombers crossed the French coast near Cabourg and headed south. Near Orleans they turned more towards the south-east and aimed for a point which would see them skirting just south of the Swiss border.

Before they got there, though, Pilot Officer Col James of 463 Squadron encountered carburettor icing in all four engines north-west of Lyon. They were unable clear the fault and, struggling to maintain height and with the very high terrain of the Alps looming further down the route, it was pointless going on. With heavy hearts they turned for home, having already flown almost as far east, and a good deal further south, than they did when they went to Aachen almost two weeks ago.  They landed at Waddington having been airborne for a tick over six hours. The Aachen trip took them four and netted them a full operation onto their individual tallies – but frustratingly, this early return would get them nothing.[8]

Meanwhile, of course, the majority of the force flew on. Near Lake Annecy they turned east and were treated to spectacular views of the Alps to starboard and the spoof flares and target indicators going down on Milan to port. (To assist with the deception, the crews carrying out the Milan part of the operation were reportedly told to use their radios to issue instructions and talk on the VHF as if a major attack was commencing.[9]) Pathfinders dropped red route markers at turning points over the Alps and they “made a terrific sight cascading down the sides of snow covered mountains.”[10] 165 miles east of the Annecy turning point lay a further route marker to indicate the rendezvous point. To ensure saturation of the defences it was essential that the bomber stream remained compact when it arrived at the target. Crews were therefore ordered not to leave this point until a specified time.[11] At that time, the bombers turned north-east and flew almost directly towards Munich. They crossed Switzerland and Austria and then, fifty miles ahead, was the target.

 

Next: Over Munich, and the long flight 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] Quoted in a letter by Dale’s father Charles Johnston to Don Smith, Phil’s father, 16JUL44. Part of Mollie Smith’s collection.

[2] Both Phil Smith and Arnold Easton note this figure in their respective flying logbooks

[3] AUS414986 F/L Ernest ‘Bill’ Berry, a 50 Sqn pilot, quoted in Blundell, HM 1975, p.19

[4] 467 Squadron Operational Record Book

[5] Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944

[6] Night Raid Report No. 586 and Bomber Command Campaign Diary, April 1944

[7] Berry, Bill, in Blundell, HM 1975, p.19

[8] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 24APR44

[9] Lawrence, WJ 1951 p.175

[10] Berry, Bill, in Blundell, HM 1975, p.20

[11] Lawrence 1951, p.175

467 Postblog LXIIa: Saturday 22 April, 1944

More operations tonight. And just for something different, the Waddington crews would leave French railway targets alone for a night and go back to a German city.

But first, Wing Commander Arthur Doubleday was posted out today. The outgoing ‘B’ Flight Commander of 467 Squadron had been at Waddington since 10 December last year, and went to take command of 61 Squadron[1] at nearby Skellingthorpe. His replacement would not arrive at Waddington for another two weeks.

There was also some daytime flying. Phil Smith’s logbook records a half-hour-long “Air Test for AVRoes” in Lancaster W5004. This was not a 467 Squadron aircraft. It appears that it had come out of a period of maintenance or repair, and in May 1944[2] it went to 5 Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Syerston, about 20 miles south west of Waddington. It’s likely that this air test with Phil Smith was part of the re-acceptance of the aircraft after its rebuild, possibly something to do with the Avro maintenance unit based at Bracebridge Heath which was immediately adjacent to Waddington airfield.

Phil did not record names of the airmen he flew with on non-operational trips in his logbook, referring to them as simply “CREW”. While this can normally be understood to include all members of his usual crew, it’s probable that on this occasion he only took the bare minimum (perhaps only flight engineer Ken Tabor). If it was only a local flight a navigator would not necessarily be required – and indeed Jack Purcell’s logbook does not show this air test. Instead, Jack flew to Predannack and back in Cornwall with a 463 Squadron crew, with a different pilot in each direction.

And after all that, the crew of B for Baker were not on the battle order for tonight anyway. Pilot Officer Doug Hislop took LM475 again and the only member of Phil Smith’s crew to operate was Flight Sergeant Gilbert Pate who once more filled the rear turret of LL792 with Pilot Officer Bill Mackay’s crew.

In all more than 1100 aircraft would be flying for Bomber Command tonight. The largest single raid was carried out by 596 aircraft which attacked Dusseldorf. Other operations included 181 aircraft on railway yards at Laon, diversionary raids to Mannheim, Wissand and airfields throughout north-west Europe, some Serrate patrols, leaflet flights and special operations. Meanwhile 463 and 467 Squadrons would be part of a 265-strong force of Lancasters and Mosquitos sent to Brunswick, home to 100,000 people with an aircraft component works as its main industry.[3]

For the past few weeks, Bomber Command – and 5 Group particularly – had been heavily engaged in attacks on French railway targets in preparation for D-Day. The need for more careful bombing on these sorts of operations saw the development of some specialised tactics for improved marking and bombing accuracy, mostly using low-flying Mosquitos to mark the aiming point visually with red spot fires. It was decided to see if these tactics would also work on a larger-scale city-busting attack, and Brunswick was chosen for the first test.

The raid would take place in two waves. The first wave of the Main Force would fly over the target to support the ‘flare force’, which dropped hooded flares to illuminate the ground, against the defences. The Main Force was then told to orbit clear of the target to allow the Mosquitos to do their bit. After the accuracy of the markers had been assessed the Main Force would be called back in, and after bombing they would make a hard right turn and vacate the target area heading south. By this time the second wave would be approaching and would have renewed red spot fires to aim at. If the spot fires were off the target or the enemy put up spoof flares, cascading green target indicators (Wanganui flares) would be dropped to emphasise the correct spot fires for the Main Force to aim at, with full Wanganui skymarking available as an ultimate back-up if the weather failed to cooperate. And for the first time, the new ‘J’type’ liquid-filled incendiary bomb would be used in operations.

 

Next: The Waddington crews take off for Brunswick

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] Service Record, 402945 Doubleday, AW

[2] Robertson, Bruce 1964, p.155

[3] 463 Squadron Operational Record Book, 22APR44

467 Postblog LXIIb: Saturday 22 April, 1944

The Waddington contribution to the Brunswick raid on 22 April 1944 was 20 aircraft from 463 Squadron and 18 from 467. Two pilots from the latter went sick before take-off so the final tally was 36. Take-off was from 22.30.

To keep the German defences guessing, the strategy called for a twisting, turning route to the target. From England, the bombers flew eastwards to a point just north of the island of Terschelling, in the Frisian chain. They turned south-east for sixty miles, then crossed the German frontier on another sixty-mile leg heading almost due east (passing Emden at this point, off track to the north, Pilot Officer David Gibbs reported being engaged by flak, but no damage was recorded). Just when it would have looked like the target could have been Bremen, Hamburg or even Berlin itself, the bombers jinked again to the south-east, now threatening Hanover or perhaps Leipzig. The final turn to Brunswick was made south of Hanover, with a cascading green target indicator dropped nearby for the benefit of the early crews. “Numerous alterations of course on route seemed to be a very good idea”, said Flight Lieutenant Eric Scott, and indeed it was, with very few fighters seen by crews on the way out and no combats recorded. About the only trouble to befall a Waddington crew on the way to the target was a dicky engine on Flight Lieutenant Freddy Merrill’s 463 Squadron Lancaster, LL790. They climbed a few more thousand feet while the engine was still producing power, but eventually it needed to be shut down and they consequently gradually lost height until the heavy bomb load left the aircraft over the target (without the benefit of either the bomb sight or the Monica anti-fighter warning system, which were both run by power generated by the errant engine.[1] Merrill later said that subsequently his “gunners were human Monica’s” [sic].

The Waddington crews were all to be part of the second wave. Ahead of them, the markers were going in to do their work. There was some low, broken thin cloud present and some crews had to duck beneath more cloud at their operating height to be able to bomb. The flare force illuminated the target successfully and the Mosquitos dived in to drop their spot fires. The markers were assessed as being in the right spot so the first wave was called back in to bomb.

While the Night Raid Report claims that some 60% of all attacking aircraft successfully bombed the ground markers, slant visibility through the cloud made it difficult for the bomb aimers to sight the markers until they were almost on top of them, if they saw them at all. Adding to the confusion, the new J-type incendiaries were burning with an orange colour which too closely resembled the glow of the red spot fires.

This was precisely the situation for which green target indicators had been included in the marking crews’ loads. The TIs were dropped, but an unspecified ‘technical hitch’ meant they went wide, a few miles south of the aiming point. By the time the second wave arrived, the scene in front of them included smoke from the earlier bombs and incendiaries, haze and cloud and a confusing mix of the unfamiliar J-type incendiaries and red spot fires burning on the ground with the occasional green target indicator slowly drifting in the air. Crews simply bombed what they could find.

The confusion is best illustrated by a quote from Wing Commander Willie Tait, who once again was flying with a 463 Squadron crew and aircraft:

When attack opened 2 Red Spot Fires seen, one backed up with green T/I to the north. Principle bombing appeared around Southern Red Spot Fire. 1 red T/I seen to N.W. Some bombing seen around this believed spoof. Ran up to target after flares had been released and as first red spot fires went down. 2 markers about 1 to 2 miles apart and a red T/I were visible, so we orbited to North and approached again. One of the markers had been backed up by a Green, so we made a bombing approach. Marker and Green seemed to go out but a new Green T/I went down, and we bombed it. Red Spot Fire was then faintly visible.

The idea of using a distinctive green target indicator to emphasise the correct aiming point, and to assist in finding the flares marking the correct aiming point in conditions of poor ground visibility such as those encountered at Brunswick, was certainly sound:

There was a good fire burning around the Green T/I. This T/I made it easier to steady on a run. Doubtful if red spot fires only would have been seen in time. – Pilot Officer Graham Fryer, 463 Squadron

Green T/I is much more easily distinguished than red spot fire and in our case enabled us to get lined up and carry out a good bombing run. – Flying Officer Bruce Buckham, 463 Squadron

The bombing of the cascading green marker itself was certainly accurate. The problem was that it needed to be in the correct position itself, and at Brunswick it was not. Several crews realised that the marker was illuminating fields instead of the built-up area, but it still attracted much of the bombing.

But despite the scattered nature of the attack, Brunswick was left burning with fires developing as the crews left the target. An hour later a reconnaissance aircraft reported a “large conflagration”[2] at the city. German defences were unusually quiet. Flak over the target was only moderate or even negligible, and the fighters only arrived when the attack had been underway for some 20 minutes. “They made some attempt to harass our bombers on the way home, but even so only ten attacks were reported,” said the Night Raid Report. This was probably a result of the twisting, turning route taken to Brunswick and the distraction caused by the other bomber streams that were also out tonight.

Bombers began arriving back at Waddington around 04.30. There was some bother caused by interference on the Waddington frequency but a little over an hour later all were back on the ground.
Except one.

Pilot Officer Charles Schomberg and crew never came back. After the war it was discovered that their aircraft – LL892 – crashed on the outbound journey a little north of track near Groningen in the Netherlands. All on board were killed.[3]  It was one of only four bombers to be lost on this trip and was the first 463 Squadron loss since Pilot Officer Gardner and crew failed to return from Frankfurt on 18 March.

The raid itself had been a mixed bag. “Think it should be O.K.”, thought Flight Lieutenant Walter Marshall. He was only partly right. While six 463 Squadron crews and three 467 Squadron crews came back with aiming point photographs, only about 160 of the total force of 265 managed to bomb within three miles of the target. Areas south of the centre of the city suffered serious damage and various sites associated with the railways through Brunswick were also hit, but some of the attack also fell on open fields. As for the new ‘J’type incendiaries, they burned brightly and quickly and gave off less smoke than the standard incendiaries did. But when burning on the ground they were easily confused with the red spot fire target indicators and during ten trials conducted on operations between April and September 1944, it was discovered that they were “only half as effective per ton as the 4-lb incendiary”[4] and production was discontinued.

Of the other forces operating tonight, 29 aircraft failed to return from Dusseldorf and nine from Laon.

 

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] The bomb sight was operated by an air compressor run by this engine, and a generator also attached to the engine supplied power to various services including radios – Air Ministry 1944, p.10 and 36

[2] Night Raid Report No. 584

[3] Storr, Alan 2006, 463 Squadron p.19. Thanks also to Graham Wallace for the serial number correction.

[4] Harris, Arthur 1995, section II