Was it all a Dream



Was it all a Dream
The memoirs of Wartime Bomb Aimer Bill Bailey


Bill Bailey's wartime memoirs, from enlistment, training in UK and Canada and detail of each of 31 operation in Bomber Command. After completion of his tour he was transferred to Lossiemouth to train Free French aircrew. After successful progress he was offered a commission. Later he trained for Tiger Force ops at RAF Wigsley and Swinderby. When the Force was cancelled he became an Equipment Officer at Bicester then Cosford, Brampton and Kimbolton.


Temporal Coverage



45 typewritten sheets and two b/w photographs


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[centred] “WAS IT ALL A DREAM” [/centred]

[centred] The Memories of a Wartime Bomb Aimer Bill Bailey with No. 1 Group Bomber Command February 1942 to April 1947
These things really happened. I now have difficulty in remembering what I did yesterday but happenings of Fifty-odd years ago seem crystal clear, or
Was it all a dream? [/centred]

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Chapter 1. Enlistment – Royal Air Force Training Command.

The story begins on 2 February, 1942, my 18th. Birthday, when I rushed off to the recruiting office in Leicester and enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve as potential aircrew. Being a founder member cadet (No. 6) of 1461 Squadron Air Training Corps was a help. I passed the various medicals, etc[sic] and was sent to the aircrew attestation centre in Birmingham for the various tests for acceptance as aircrew. Like most others I wanted to be a pilot but on the day I attended I think they had that day’s quota of pilots. It was said my eyesight was not up to pilot standard but I could be a navigator. I was said to have a ‘convergency’ problem and would probably try to land an aircraft about ten feet off the deck.. I was duly accepted for Navigator training. The procedure was then to be sent home, attend ATC parades regularly and await further instructions. This was known as ‘deferred service’ and with it came a letter of welcome to the Royal Air Force, from the Secretary of State for Air, at that time Sir Archibald Sinclair, and the privilege of wearing a white flash in my ATC cadet’s forage cap which denoted the wearer was u/t (under training) aircrew.

So it was that on the 27 July 1942 I was commanded to report for service at the Aircrew Reception Centre at Lords Cricket Ground, St. Johns Wood, London. I was now 1583184 AC2 Bailey, J.D., rate of pay two shillings and sixpence per day. We were billeted in blocks of flats adjacent to Regents Park and fed in a vary[sic] large underground car park at one of the blocks or in the restaurant at London Zoo. Talk about feeding time at the Zoo!! A hectic three weeks followed, issue of uniforms and equipment, dental treatment, numerous jabs, endless square bashing - the ATC training helped. Lectures on this, that and everything including the dreaded effects of

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VD, the latter shown in glorious Technicolor at the Odeon Cinema, Swiss Cottage. Not that this was of much consequence at that time because we were reliably informed that plenty of bromide was put in the tea.

One day on first parade I and one other lad from my Flight were called out by the Flight Corporal, a sadistic sod, who informed us we had volunteered to give a pint of blood. Apparently we had an unusual blood group and some was required for what purpose I have never really understood.

Having completed the aforementioned necessities it was a question of what to do with us next.

The next stage of training was to be ITW (Initial Training Wing). but there was congestion in the supply line from ACRC to the ITW’s so a “holding unit” (this term will crop up from time to time) had been established at Ludlow and it was to there that we went.

Ludlow consisted of three Wings in tented accommodation and was progressively developed into a more permanent establishment by the cadets passing through, using their civilian life skills. We were allowed (officially) one night in three off camp so as not to flood the pubs, of which there were many, with RAF bods, and cause mayhem in the town.

Four weeks were spent at Ludlow. It was said to be a toughening up course and it was certainly that.

Next stop from Ludlow was to an ITW. Most ITW’s were located in seaside towns with the sea front hotels having been requisitioned by the Air Ministry. In my case I was posted to No.4 ITW at Paignton, Devon where I was to spend the next twelve weeks living in the Hydro Hotel, right on the seafront near the harbour.

Twelve weeks of intensive ground training. At the end of this period I was at the peak
[handwritten in margin] followed (needs a verb[?]) [/handwritten in margin]

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of fitness and having passed my exams was promoted LAC – pay rise to seven shillings a day.

One of the subjects covered at ITW was the Browning .303 machine gun and I well remember the first lecture on this weapon when a Corporal Armourer giving the lecture delivered his party piece which went as follows: “This is the Browning .303 machine gun which works by recoil action. When the gun is fired the bullet nips smartly up the barrel, hotley [sic] pursued by the gases …”. Applause please!
Another subject learned was the Morse Code and here again the training in the ATC stood me in good stead.

The next phase would be flying training, but when and where?

On New Years[sic] Day 1943 we were posted from Paignton to yet another ‘holding unit’ at Brighton. The move from the English Riviera to Brighton was like going to the North Pole. At Brighton we were billeted in the Metropole Hotel. More lectures, square bashing and boredom, until, after about three weeks, on morning parade it was announced that a new aircrew category of Airbomber had been created and any u/t Navigators who volunteered would be guaranteed a quick posting and off to Canada for training.

Needless to say, yours truly stepped forward and within a week had been posted to Heaton Park, Manchester which was an enormous transit camp for u/t aircrew leaving the UK for Canada, Rhodesia or America for training.

They used to say it always rains in Manchester and it certainly did continuously whilst I was there. Anyone who has seen the film “Journey Together” will have seen a departure parade at Heaton Park in pouring rain. I am told that on the day that film was shot it was fine and the fire service had to make the rain. Sods Law I suppose!

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Chapter II. Canada – The Empire Air Training Scheme.

Next, after a farewell meal of egg and chips (In 1943 a delicacy), and a few words from the C in C Training Command, it was off to Glasgow to board the “Andes” for our trip to Canada.

The ‘Andes’ was said to be jinx ship in port. She didn’t let us down. In the Clyde she dropped anchor to swing the compass and when she tried to up anchor a submarine cable was wrapped around it. After a couple of days we finally left the Clyde and I endured six days of seasickness before arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia and then to yet another enormous transit camp at Moncton, New Brunswick where we enjoyed food that we had not seen in the UK since the start of food rationing. It was in a restaurant in Moncton that I had my very first ‘T’ Bone steak.

The first task at Moncton was issue of cold weather kit to cope with the Canadian winter and Khaki Drill to cope with the very hot Canadian summer. We were at this time in the middle of the winter and colder than I had ever experienced before.. The next stop should have been to a Bombing & Gunnery School but before that there had to be the inevitable ‘holding unit’. So it was off to Carberry, Manitoba, five or six days on a troop train, days spent seeing nothing but trees, frozen lakes, the occasional trace of habitation and the odd trappers cabin. At intervals on the journey across Canada, people were taken off the train suffering from Scarlet Fever. It was believed that this disease came from the troopships.

As we passed through Winnipeg on our journey, for the first time we were allowed off the train and as we went from the platform to the station concourse we were greeted with bands playing a huge welcome from the good people of Winnipeg. They had in Winnipeg the “Airmens Club” and an invitation to visit if there on leave. They

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had a wonderful system of people who would welcome RAF chaps into their homes for a few days or a weekend when on leave. This was to stand me in good stead as you will hear later.

Shortly after arrival at Carberry I fell victim to Scarlet Fever and spent five weeks in isolation hospital at Brandon after which I and a fellow sufferer by the name of Peter Caldwell had two weeks sick leave in Winnipeg and the Airmens Club arranged for us to stay with an English family. Wonderful hospitality. The Canadians were wonderful hosts to the Royal Air Force.

Carberry and Brandon were, of course, on the Canadian Prairies and whilst in hospital at Brandon, one night and day there was a terrible dust storm and despite the usual Canadian double glazing, everywhere inside the hospital was covered in black dust. This is probably of little interest but to me at the time was an amazing phenomenom.

Now it was back to reality and a posting to 31 Bombing & Gunnery School at Picton, Ontario. A two day journey by train around the North Shore of Lake Superior to Toronto and Belleville and then twenty plus miles down a dirt road to Picton. The airfield still exists, on high ground, overlooking the town on the shores of Lake Ontario. The bombing targets were moored out in the lake and air gunnery practice took place out over the lake.

The weather during this spell was very hot and flying was limited to a period from very early morning until midday. Canadian built Ansons were used for bombing practice and Bolingbrokes, which were Canadian built Blenheims, were used for air to air gunnery practice. The target drogues were towed by Lysanders.

Nothing outstanding took place at Picton except perhaps for our passing out party which we held in Belleville. In my case, being full of Canadian rye whisky of the

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bootleg variety I literally passed out and for many years afterwards could not even stand the smell of strong spirits.

Having recovered from the passing out the next stop was No. 33 Air Navigation School, RAF Mount Hope, Hamilton. Ontario. Mount Hope is now Hamilton Airport. Navigation training in Ansons was fairly uneventful and ended with us receiving our Sergeants stripes and the coveted “O” brevet. (Known to all as the flying arsehole) The “O” brevet was soon to be replaced with brevets more appropriate to the trade of the wearer, ie “B” for Airbombers, “N” for Navigators, etc. Next it was back to Moncton for the return to the UK.

The return voyage was on the ‘Mauritania’ where there were only 50 sergeant aircrew who were to act as guards on the ship which was transporting a large number of American troops. O/c. Troops on the ship was a Royal Air Force Squadron Leader. To our amazement when the Americans boarded the ship they had no idea where they were going. Most seemed to think they were going to Iceland and when we told them Liverpool was our destination they could not believe it. We were asked where we picked up the convoy and when we told them we did not go in convoy this caused a great deal of consternation. All the troopships going back and forth between the UK and North America were too fast to be in convoys and fast zig zag runs were made across the Atlantic. It was very long odds against the likelihood of encountering a U Boat..

Having safely arrived in Liverpool our next temporary home was yet another ‘holding unit’.

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Chapter III. Flying Training Command.

This time it was the Grand Hotel in Harrogate overlooking the famous Valley Gardens.

The RAF had taken over both the Grand and Majestic Hotels. Sadly the Grand has now gone. I rcall our CO at the Grand was Squadron Leader L E G Ames the England cricketer. Time at Harrogate awaiting posting was filled by swimming, drill, the usual time filling lectures, etc. We did, of course, get what was known as disembarkation leave. I went home and whilst there my granddad, with whom I had always had a very close relationship, took ill and died at the age of 85 and I was very grateful that I had been able to talk to him and to attend the funeral.

Christmas was spent at Harrogate, there being a ban on service travel during the Christmas period. On, I believe, Boxing Day, Maxie Booth and myself were in Harrogate, fed up and far from home, when we were approached by a chap who asked if we were doing anything that night, to which we replied “No”. He then said he was having a small party at home that night and had two Air Ministry girls billeted wit6h his family and would we like to join them. We readily accepted and when we arrived at the party we found that one of the girls was Maxie’s cousin. Small world! Still at Harrogate on my birthday 2 February, now at the ripe old age of 20. My room mates contrived to get me very drunk. I will spare you the details.

After a short time we were posted to Kirkham, Lancs to yet another holding unit, for a couple of weeks and then onward to Penrhos, North Wales, 9(O) Advanced Flying Unit for bombing practice. We were using Ansons and 10lb practice bombs. In Canada the Ansons had hydraulic undercarriages but at Penrhos they were Mk1 Ansons and it was the Bombaimers job to wind up the undercarriage by hand. A hell

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of a lot of turns on the handle – not much fun.

Next move was to Llandwrog, Nr. Caernarvon for the Navigation part of the Course. Same aircraft flying on exercises mainly over the Irish Sea, N. Ireland, Isle of Man, etc. Llandwrog is now Caernarvon airport with an interesting small museum. [handwritten in margin] museum since closed [handwritten in margin]. Llandwrog was unusual in that the airfield and our living site were below sea level, a dyke between us and the Irish Sea. Because of this there was no piped water or drainage on our site and it was necessary to carry a ‘small pack’ and do our ablutions at the main domestic site which was above sea level. I, and a pal or two went into Caernarvon for a weekend in the Prince of Wales Hotel to get a bit of a civilised existence for a change. However our stay at Llandwrog was quite brief.

The 1st. March 1944 was very significant in that it marked the move from Flying Training Command to Bomber Command. 83 Operational Training Unit at Peplow in Shropshire. Never heard of Peplow? Neither had I, it is a few miles North of Wellington. [handwritten in margin] Peplow was formerly Childs Ercall – renamed to avoid conflict with High Ercall airfield, nearby, I understood. [handwritten in margin] We arrived by train at Peplow, in the dark, station ‘lit’ by semi blacked out gas lamps. Arriving at Peplow were Pilots, Navigators, Bombaimers, Wireless Operators and Gunners from different training establishments.

Somehow, the next day, we sorted ourselves out into crews of six, Pilot, Nav, Bombaimer, W/Op and two gunners and were ready to start the business of Operational flying as a bomber crew.. We had never met each other before but were to spend the next few months living together, flying together and relying on each other, and developing a unique comradeship..

Peplow was notable for several things. From our living site, the nearest Pub was five miles in any direction. Having twice walked in different directions to prove the

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mileage we quickly acquired pushbikes. At that time there were no sign posts. One night doing ‘circuits and bumps’ in a Wellington we were in the ’funnel’ on the approach to the runway, skipper put the flaps down and the aircraft started to make a turn to port which he could not control. He ordered me to pull up the flaps and he then regained control. We then climbed to a respectable height and skip asked me to lower the flaps. The same thing happened again, an uncontrollable turn to port and quickly losing height. Flaps pulled up and normal service resumed. Skip then got permission from Air Traffic to make a flapless landing which he managed without running out of runway. We taxied back to dispersal and on inspection found that when the flaps were lowered only the port side flaps came down. Apparently a tie rod between port and starboard must have come apart. Could have been nasty!

On a lighter note, when cycling back to camp from Wellington one night I had a problem with the lights on my bike and was stopped by P.C Plod and booked for riding a bike without lights. Fined 10 shillings.

Another incident clearly imprinted on my mind was one day in class we were being given a lecture on the dinghy radio. I had heard all about the dinghy radio so many times I could almost recite it. I was sitting on the back row in class and I put my head back against the wall and must have dropped off. Suddenly a piece of chalk hit the wall at the side of my head. I awoke with a start and the guy giving the lecture (A Flying Officer) said, “I suppose Sergeant, you know all about dinghy radio”. To which I foolishly replied “Yes Sir”. He then said “In that case you can come out and continue the lecture”. Even more foolishly I did.

When finished I was asked to stay behind to receive an almighty bollocking for being a smartarse.

Finally whilst at Peplow a young lady I met in Wellington gave me a red scarf for

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luck and after that my crew would never let me fly without it.

We were now getting down to the serious business of preparing for actual operations and on the 24.5.44 we were despatched on an actual operation which was known as a ‘nickel’ raid, leaflet dropping over France, a place called ‘Criel’. 4 hours 35 minutes airborne in a Wellington bomber.

[Where is chapter IV?]

Chapter V. No. 1 Group Bomber Command.

On the 26th. June we were on the move again, ever nearer to being on an operational Squadron in Bomber Command. This was to 1667 Conversion Unit at Sandtoft where we were to convert to four engine aircraft ‘Halifaxes’. These were Halifax II & V which were underpowered and notoriously unreliable and had been withdrawn from front line service. In fact Sandtoft was affectionately known as ‘Prangtoft’ because of the large number of flying accidents. One of my pals from Harrogate days, Harry Fryer, got the chop in a Halifax that crashed near Crowle.

So that I do not give any wrong ideas, let me say, the Halifax III with radial engines was a superb aircraft and equipped No. 4 Goup.

It was here at Sandtoft that we acquired the seventh member of our crew, a Flight Engineer, straight from RAF St. Athan and never having been airborne.

We obviously survived ‘Prangtoft’ and then moved on the 22 July to LFS (Lancaster Finishing School) at Hemswell, which supplied crews to No. 1 Group, Bomber Command, which was the largest main force group flying Lancasters. We were only two weeks at Hemswell, the sole object being to familiaise[sic] with the

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Queen of the skies, the LANCASTER. A beautiful aeroplane, very reliable, able to fly easily with two dead engines on one side, and to withstand considerable battle damage and still remain airborne.

Chapter VI. The Tour of Operations. 103 Squadron.

Now for the real thing. On the 10th August we joined 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds, in North Lincolnshire.

At this point I should like to introduce our crew:

P/O George Knott. Pilot & Skipper.
F/Sgt. Ron Archer. Navigator.
F/Sgt. Bill Bailey. Bombaimer.
F/Sgt. Gus Leigh. Wireless Opeator.
F/Sgt. Wally Williams. Flight Engineer.
F/Sgt. Jock Greig. Midupper Gunner.
F/Sgt. Paddy Anderson. Rear Gunner.

After a bit more training we eventually embarked on our first operation on the 29th,. August. I now propose to go through our complete tour of Operations as recorded in my flying log book and other documents.

Before doing that perhaps I should give an insight into Squadron procedure. We were accommodated in nissen huts on dispersed sites in the vicinity of the airfield, two Crews to a hut. The huts were sleeping quarters only and were heated by a solid fuel stove in the centre. Bloody cold in the bleak Lincolnshire winter. The messes were on the main domestic site. Every morning (provided there was no call out in the night)

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it was to the mess for breakfast, check if there was an Order of Battle and if you were on it. If not, we made our way to the flight offices and section leaders. I would go to the Bombing Leader’s office where we would review the previous operation and look at target photographs. Releasing the bombs over the target also activated a camera which took line overlap pictures from the release point to impact on the ground.. We would then return to the mess to await the next orders or perhaps take an aircraft on air test, although after ‘D’ day this practice was discontinued because the aircraft were kept bombed up in a state readiness. Temporarily at least Bomber Command was being used in a close support role to assist the Armies in France.

When a Battle Order was issued, the nominated crews assembled in the briefing room at the appointed time and when everyone was present the doors were closed and guarded. On a large wall map of Europe in front of us was a red tape snaking across the map from Base to the designated target. The length of the tape dictated the reaction of the assembled company.

Pilots, Navigators and Bombaimers did their pre-flight planning prepared maps and charts ready to go. Each crew member received a small white bag into which he emptied his pockets of everything. The seven bags were then put into one larger bag and handed to the intelligence office until our return. We, in turn, were given our ‘escape kits’ and flying rations. The escape kit was for use in the event of being shot down and trying to evade capture and return to England. We also carried passport size photographs which might enable resistance workers in occupied countries to get us fake identity documents. Phrase cards, compass, maps and currency notes were also included. The flying rations issued were mainly chocolate bars (very valuable at that time) also ‘wakey wakey pills’, caffeine tablets to be taken on the skipper’s orders. All ready to go. Collect parachutes, get into the crew buses and be ferried out to the

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Dispersals A visual check round the aircraft and then climb aboard. Start engines when ordered, close bomb doors, complete preflight checks and taxi to the end of the runway. The airfield controller’s cabin was located at the side of the runway and on a green lamp from him, open the throttles and roll. We were on our way. The Lancaster had an all up weight for take-off of 66000 lbs and needed the full runway, into wind, for a safe take-off. The maximum bomb load on a standard Lancaster was 7 tons but operating at maximum range the bomb load would be reduced to about 5 tons to accommodate a maximum fuel load.

On return from operations, after landing and returning to dispersal, shut down engines, climb down and await transport back to the briefing room for interrogation by intelligence officers. Hot drinks and tot of rum available and back to the mess for the customary egg, bacon and chips..

At this time were confined to camp because of the possibility of being of being[sic] called for short notice operations.


No. 1 29.8.44 Target – STETTIN.
Checked Battle Order to find our crew allocated to PM-N.
Briefing for night attack on the Baltic Port of Stettin. Bomb load mainly incendieries.[sic] The route took us across the North Sea, over Northern Denmark, S.W. Sweden and then due South into the target, bomb and turn West to cross Denmark and the North Sea back to base. The force consisted of 402 Lancasters and 1 Mosquito of 1,3,6,& 8 Groups. It was a very successful attack and 23 Lancasters were lost. We suffered no damage from anti-aircraft fire and saw no fighters. Whilst crossing Sweden there was

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a certain amount of what was called friendly flak, shells bursting at about 10,000 ft whilst we were flying at 18000 ft

This was my first sight of a target and something I shall never forget, smoke, flames, bombbursts, searchlights, anti-aircraft fire. It was also very tiring having been airborne for 9 hours 25 minutes and flown some 2000 miles.
Used full quota of ‘wakey wakey’ pills.

No. 2. 31.8.44. Target .Flying Bomb launch site. AGENVILLE France.
Daylight attack, Master Bomber controlled This was one of several targets to be attacked in Northern France. Seemed like a piece of cake after the long trip to Stettin. Not so! We were briefed to bomb from 10,000 ft on the Master Bomber’s instructions. On approaching the target area there was 10/10 cloud and the call from the Master Bomber went like this: “Main Force – descent to 8,000ft and bomb on red TI’s (Target indicators). – no opposition” We descended to 8,000ft and immediately we broke cloud there were shells bursting around us, Fortunately dead ahead was the target and I called for bomb doors open and started the bombing run.. At the appropriate point I pressed the bomb release and nothing happened. A quick look revealed no lights on the bombing panel. Whilst I was checking the main fuse the rear gunner was calling “We are on fire Skip – there is smoke streaming past me” The ‘smoke’ proved to be hydraulic fluid which was vaporising. We climbed back into cloud and assessed the situation. Whilst in cloud we experienced severe icing and with the pitot head frozen we lost instruments which meant skip had no way of knowing the attitude[?] of the aircraft and for the one and only time in my flying career, we were ordered to prepare to abandon aircraft and I put on my parachute pack. However we emerged from cloud and normal service was resumed. We had no

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electrics, no hydraulics, bomb doors open and a full load of bombs still on board Skip decided to head for base via a North Sea designated dropping zone where I could jettison the bombs safely. This was accompanied by going back along the fuselage and using a highly technical piece of kit, a piece of wire with a hook on the end, pushing it down through a hole about each bomb carrier and tripping the release mechanism.

Having got rid of the bombs it was back to base, crossing the coast at a spot where we should not have been and risking being shot at by friendly Ack Ack gunners. We arrived back at base some one and a half hours late. Now for the tricky bit. The undercarriage, in the absence of hydraulic fluid, had to be blown down by compressed air. This was an emergency procedure and could only be tried once, a now or never situation. Now we have to make a flapless landing and hope that the landing gear is locked down and does not collapse when we land. Not being able to use flaps means the landing speed is greater than normal and then we have no brakes. Skip made a super landing but once on the runway could only throttle back and wait for the aircraft to roll to a stop. This it did right at the end of the runway.

On inspection after return to dispersal it appeared that a shell or shells had burst very near to the bomb bay and shrapnel had severed hydraulic pipes and electric cables in the bomb bay. I should think we were very close to having been blown to bits. This trip was a little bit sobering to say the least. The aircraft resembled a pepper pot but luckily no one was injured.

No. 3 3.9.44 Target Eindhoven Airfield, Holland. Daylight Operation.
Allocated to PM-X (N having been severely damaged on our last sortie)
A straight forward attack on the airfield, one of six airfields in Southern Holland

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attacked by.675 aircraft a mixture of 348 Lancasters and 315 Halifaxes and 12 Mosquitoes, all very successful raids and only one Halifax lost.
This was my first experience of the ‘Oboe’ target marking system now used by Pathfinders flying Mosquitoes.. A very accurate system – the markers were right in the middle of the runway intersections. Very impressive.

No.4 5.9.44. Target – Defensive positions around LE HAVRE.
Aircraft allocated PM-W. Bomb load 15,000 lbs High Explosives. Daylight operation.
This attack was in support of Canadian troops who were demanding the surrender of the German garrison. The first phase of Lancasters orbited the target awaiting the outcome. This was negative and the attack took place. In clear visibility our riming point was 2000 yards in front of the Canadian troops and the area around the aiming point was completely destroyed.

No.5 10.9.44 Target – LE HAVRE again. Daylight operation.
Aircraft allocated PM-E Bomb load 15000 lbs High Explosive. Daylight operation. 992 aircraft attacked 8 difference German strongpoints only yards in front of Canadian troops. All were bombed accurately. No aircraft were lost.

No.6 12.9.44. Target FRANKFURT. Night operation.
Aircraft allocated PM-G. Bomb load 1 x 4000lb Cookie plus incendiaries.
This was an unusual operation in that we were one of several crews who were briefed to bomb 5 minutes ahead of main force, identifying the aiming point ourselves. The

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object was to occupy the defences whilst the pathfinders went in low to mark the aiming point for main force. Our route to target took us South into France, near Strasbourg and then a turn North East towards Frankfurt. Our navigator Ron at some point realised we were well off track because he was getting wrong positions due to distortion of the ‘Gee chain’, wither by jamming or almost out of range.

As well as being bombaimer I was also the H2S radar operator and so I switched this on to try to verify our position I managed to identify Mannheim on the screen and was then able, with Ron, to fix a course to the target. As we approached the target there were hundreds of searchlights but instead of combing the sky they were laid along the ground in the direction of our track. It took a few minutes to realise that what they were doing was putting a carpet of light on the ground so that any fighters above us would have us silhouetted against the light. Gunners be extra vigilant! I dropped the bombs and we headed for base without incident. Intelligence reports said it was a very successful attack.

No. 7 17.9.44 Target Ammunition Dump at THE HAGUE, Holland Daylight.
Aircraft allocated PM-B, Bomb load 15000lbs Gen. Purpose bombs.
This attack by 27 Lancasters of 103 Squadron only and was carried out without loss.

No. 8 24.9.44. Target CALAIS. Close support for the Army. Daylight.
Allocated aircraft PM-B Bomb load 15000 lbs GP Bombs.
103 & 576 Squadrons were chosen to attack this target, gun emplacements, at low level (2000 ft) in the interests of accuracy. The weather was atrocious, almost as soon as we got off the runway we were in cloud. However we set course for Calais flying

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at around 1000 ft so as to keep the ground in view. As we approached the Channel the cloud lifted a bit and we were able to climb to 2000 ft but as we approached the target the cloud base lowered again and we had to descend again to 1000 ft for the bombing run. A we approached the aiming point, I was lying in the nose and could see everything on the ground. And being in the best position to see what was going on. could see where I thought the worst of the anti-aircraft fire, and indeed small arms fire was coming from.. I therefore ‘suggested’ to skip that when I say “bombs gone” you put her over hard to port and get down on the deck. Bugger the target photograph, we’ll have a picture of the sky! George did this and where we would have been if we had gone straight on whilst the camera operated, were shell bursts. We got out of that unscathed. Of the 27 aircraft that started that attack, one was lost, 8 landed away with various degrees of battle damage and of the remainder only 3 aircraft returned to base undamaged. “B” was one of them. As Ron recorded in his notes “Oppositions – everything”.

No. 9 26.9.44. Target Gunsites at Cap Gris Nez Daylight.
Allocated aircraft PM-B Bomb load 15000 lbs GP Bombs.
This was a highly concentrated and successful attack with very little opposition. Obtained a very good aiming point photograph.

No. 10 27,9,44.
We were briefed to bomb in the Calais area again on 27th. Sept but this operation was aborted due to the bombsight being unserviceable.
This ended our operational career at 103 Squadron. Only two of our operations had been at night.
Ourselves and one other crew from ‘A’ flight were transferred to 166 Squadron at

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Kirmington, one of the three stations forming 13 Base, to form a new ‘A’ flight at 166.Squadron.

As a matter of interest, Kirmington is now South Humberside Airport. Before moving on to the next phase I should explain that operational aircrew were given six days leave every six weeks which will explain some of the gaps in the story.

Chapter VII. The Tour of Operations. 166 Squadron.

166 Squadron, Kirmington, Lincs.
When we arrived at Kirmington we were allocated a hut on a dispersed site in Brocklesby Wood, about as far as could be from the airfield. Primitive living arrangements, but not too far from the Sergeants Mess.

By now we were no longer confined to camp and “liberty buses” were run from camp to Grimsby and Scunthorpe. Most of us used to go to ‘Sunny Scunny’ where there was a cinema two well known pubs, The Bluebell and The Oswald, the latter became known as 1 Group Headquarters. This establishment had a large function room with a

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minutes after other aircraft had set course. We took part on second aiming point and catching up 20 minutes on round trip landed No.3 back at base.

No. 14 28.10.44 Target COLOGNE
Allocated aircraft AS-D Bomb Load 1 x 4000 lb Cookie plus incendiaries.
Daylight operation. 733 aircraft despatched to devastate residential areas in NW of the City There was heavy flak opposition and our aircraft suffered some minor damage A piece of shrapnel came through the Perspex dome in front of me whilst I was crouched over the bombsight It hit me on the shoulder on my parachute harness but did me no harm.

This was a very good operation as ordered.

No. 15 29.10.44. Target Gunsites at DOMBURG. Walcheren Island, Holland. Allocated aircraft AS-M Bomb Load 15000 lbs HE. Daylight attack. 6 aircraft from 166 squadron together with 19 others attacked 4 aiming points. All were accurately bombed. There was no opposition.

No. 16 30.10.44. Target COLOGNE, Night operation.
Allocated aircraft AS-K Bomb Load 1x4000lb Cookie plus 9000 lbs HE.
No. 1 Group was assigned to attack aiming point which was not successfully attacked on 28th. October. Over the target there was clear visibility, moderate flak opposition. This was considered to have been a very good attack.

It was on this operation, whilst we were on the bombing run an aircraft exploded ahead of us. At least I believe it was an aircraft although the Germans used a device which we called a “scarecrow”. This was a pyrotechnic device which exploded to

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simulate an exploding aircraft. Presumable meant to put the frighteners on us!

On the 31,.10.44 we were again briefed to attack Cologne but having climbed to operating height a crew check by the Skipper revealed that Paddy our rear gunner was unconscious in his turret. Gus, wireless op went back and pulled him from the turret and onto the rest bed in the centre of the aircraft. He fitted him up with a portable oxygen bottle and skip made the decision to abort and return to base where an ambulance was waiting to whisk paddy[sic] off to sick bay. Apparently the problem had been a trapped oxygen pipe in the turret. We had been airborne for 2hrs 15 mins.
To depart for the moment from the tour of operations, it was about this time when I developed at[sic] rash on my face which turned to a weeping eczema which meant that I could not shave and I had to report sick. The Doc took a look and said, “OK You’re grounded”. I replied “You can’t do that Doc, my crew will have to take a spare bombaimer and I shall have to complete my tour with other crews”. After pleading my case Doc agreed to allow me to continue flying provided each time before flying I reported to Sick Quarters and had a dressing put on my face so that I could wear my oxygen mask. The Doc was treating me with various creams which had little or no effect until one day the WAAF medical orderly who applied the treatment said to the Doc “Why don’t we try a starch poultice”. The Doc suggested that was an old wives remedy. However as nothing else had worked he agreed to let the Waaf[sic] give it a try. I know not where this young lady learned her skills because I gathered she was a hairdresser in civvie street, in Leicester, my home town. She applied the said poultice and the next day I reported back to sick quarters where she removed the poultice and whatever was clinging to it. I went back to our hut and very carefully shaved. The starch poultice had done the trick. I thought frostbite had probably caused the

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problem in the first place but I was to learn some months later the real cause which I shall reveal later in the story.

No. 17. 2.11.44. Target DUSSELDORF. Night operation.
Aircraft allocated AS-C. Bomb load 1 x 4000lb Cookie and 9000 lbs HE.
“C” Charlie was now to become our regular aircraft, for which we developed a great affection and a very special relationship with the ground crew.
992 aircraft attacked Dusseldorf of which 11 Halifaxes and 8 Lancasters were lost. It was a very heavy and concentrated attack with extensive damage and loss of life. This was the last major Bomber Command raid of the war on Dusseldorf.

At about his [this] time friendships were struck up. In my case I was returning from leave and whilst waiting for my train at Lincoln Station to Barnetby (where I had left my bike) I met a Waaf, also returning from leave and who was, surprise, surprise stationed at Kirmington. I asked how she was getting from Barnetby to Kirmington and she said she was walking. No prizes for guessing that she got back to Kirmington on the crossbar of my bike. (No it was not a ladies bike). We became good friends and she along with others, would be standing alongside the airfield controllers cabin at the end of the runway to wave us off on operations.

Also at about his [this] time George and Gus acquired friends from the Waaf personnel, one of whom was a telephonist and the other a R/T operator in the control tower. When returning from operations George would call up base as soon as he was able, to get instructions to join the circuit. First to call would get the 1000’ slot and first to land. The procedure then was to make a circuit of the airfield around the ‘drem’ system of lights, report on the downwind leg and again when turning into the funnels on the

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approach to the runway. We would then be given the OK to land or if there was a runway obstruction, go round again. I understand that word was passed to those who wished to know that “Knott’s crew were in the circuit.”

No. 18. 4.11.44. Target BOCHUM. Night operation.
“C” Charlie. Bomb load. 1 x 4000lb Cookie plus 9000lbs HE.
749 aircraft attacked this target. Unusually Halifaxes of 4 Group slightly out numbered Lancasters. 23 Halifaxes and 5 Lancasters were lost. No. 346 (Free French) Squadron, based at Elvington, lost 5 out of its 16 Halifaxes on the raid. Severe damage was caused to the centre of Bochum, particularly the important steelworks.

This was the last major raid by Bomber Command on this target
It was about at this on return from an operation, I felt the need of a stimulant and so, instead of giving my tot of rum to Jock, I put it into my ovaltine, which curdled and I ended up with something resembling soup and a chastising from Jock for wasting ‘valuable rum’.

No. 19. 11.11.44. Target DORTMUND Oil Plant. Night operation.
“C” Charlie. Bomb load, 1 x 4000lb Cookie plus 9000lb HE.
.209 Lancasters, all 1 Group, plus 19 Mosquitoes from 8 Group (Pathfinders) attacked this target. The aiming point was a synthetic oil plant. A local report confirmed that the plant was severely damaged. No aircraft were lost.

No. 20 21.11.44. Minelaying Operations in OSLO FJORD Norway.

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Aircraft AS-E. Bomb load 6 x 1800 lb Accoustic[sic] and Magnetic Mines.
Six Lancasters from 166 Squadron and 6 from 103 Squadron detailed to plant ‘vegetables’ in Oslo Fjord. AS-E to mine a channel half a mile wide, between an island and the mainland. This was to catch U Boats based in the harbour at MANNS. The attack was carried out at low level and required a very accurate bombing run.. It was a major sin to drop mines on land as they were classified Secret This was a highly successful operation with no opposition and no aircraft lost. Time airborne 6hrs 45mins

No. 21. 27.11.44. Target “FREIBURG” S.W. Germany. Night operation.
“C” Charlie. Bomb load 1 x 4000lb Cookie plus incendiaries.
Freiburg was not an industrial town and had not been bombed by the RAF before. However. No. 1 Group 341 Lancasters, which was maximum effort for the Group, plus 10 Mosquitoes from 8 Group, were called upon to support the French Army in the Strasbourg sector. It is believed the Freiburg was full of German troops. The target was accurately marked using the ‘OBOE’ technique from caravans based in France. 1900 tons of bombs were dropped on the target from 12000 ft in the space of 25 minutes. Casualties on the ground were extremely high. There was little opposition and only one aircraft was lost…

On this operation we carried a second pilot as a prelude to his first operation. He Was Charles Martin, a New Zealander and he and his crew were to claim “C” Charlie as their own when Knott’s crew had finished their tour. Martin’s wireless operator was Jim Wright, who now runs 166 Squadron Association and is the author of “On Wings of War”, the history of 166 Squadron.

This crew completed their tour on “C” Charlie and the aircraft survived the war.

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No. 22. 29.11.44. Target DORTMUND. Daylight operation,
“C” Charlie. 1 x 4000lb Cookie plus 9000 lbs HE.

This was no ordinary operation, 294 Lancasters from 1 Group plus the usual quota of Mosquitoes from 8 Group. At briefing we were told that as Bomber Command had been venturing into Germany and particularly Happy Valley in daylight, and, unlike the Americans, had not been attacked by large numbers of fighters, there was concern that because of our techniques in Bomber Command, each aircraft making its own way to the target in the Bomber stream, we might be very vulnerable to fighter attack. We could not possibly adopt the American system of flying in mass formations and do some boffin somewhere had come up with the ‘brilliant’ idea that we should indulge in gaggle flying. No practice, mind, just – this what you do chaps – get on with it.. The idea was that 3 Lancasters would have their tail fins painted bright yellow and would be the leading ‘Vic’ formation. All other aircraft would take off, find another squadron aircraft and formate on it. Each pair would then pack in together behind the leading ‘vic’ and the lead Navigator would do the navigating with the rest of the force following. The route on the flight plan took us across Belgium crossed the Rhine between Duisburg and Dusseldorf then passing Wuppertal and North East into the target area. All went well until we were approaching the Rhine when the lead navigator realised we were two minutes early. It was important not to be early or we would arrive on target before the pathfinders had done their job. The technique for losing two minutes was to do a two minute ‘dog-leg’. When ordered by the lead nav, this involved doing a 45 degrees starboard turn, two minutes flying, 90 degree port turn, 2 minutes flying, 45 degree starboard turn and we were then back on track.

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Unfortunately the apex of the dog-leg took us directly over Dusseldorf, a town which was very heavily defended. All the flak in the world came up, especially among the three lead aircraft and suddenly there were Lancs going in all directions. I actually saw a collision between two aircraft which both spiralled earthwards. Once clear of this shambles we found we were now in the lead and so we continued to the target and there being no markers down, apparently due to bad weather, I followed standard instructions and bombed what I could see. We had suffered slight flak damage but nothing to affect “C” Charlies[sic] flying capabilities and we arrived back at base 5 hours 35 mins after take-off. Six Lancasters were lost.
This was our one and only experience of ‘gaggle flying’.

No. 23. 4.12.44. Target KARLSRUHE. Night operation.
“C” Charlie. Bomb load 1 x 4000lb Cookie plus incendiaries.
The railway marshalling yards were attacked by 535 aircraft. Marking and bombing were accurate and severe damage was caused. A machine tool factory was also destroyed. 1 Lancaster and 1 Mosquito were lost.

No. 24. 6.12.44. Target Synthetic Oil Plants “MERSEBERG LEUNA” Nr. Leipzig.
“C” Charlie. Bomb load 1 x 4000 lb Cookie 6000 lbs mixed HE.
475 Lancasters and 12 Mosquitoes were called upon to destroy Germany’s largest synthetic oil plant following numerous ineffective raids by the U.S. Air Force. This was the first major attack on an oil target in Eastern Germany and was some 500 miles from the bomber bases in England. “C” Charlie and crew were detailed to support pathfinder force (We were now considered to be an experienced crew). This meant we were to attack six minutes before main force. Weather conditions were

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very poor and marking was scarce and it was thought the attack was not very effective. However, post raid photographs showed that considerable damage had been caused to the synthetic oil plant and it was later revealed that the plant manager reported that the attack put the plant out of action and the second attack on 14.1.45 was not really necessary. 5 Lancasters were lost.

No.25. 12.12.44. Target ESSEN. Night attack.
“C” Charlie. Bomb load 1 x 4000lb Cookie 10000 lbs HE bombs.
This was the last heavy night raid on Essen by 540 aircraft of Bomber Command. Even the Germans paid tribute to the accuracy of the bomb pattern on this raid which was thanks to “OBOE” marking by pathfinder Mosquitoes.
6 Lancasters lost.

No. 26. 13.12.44. Target Seamining [?] KATTEGAT. Night operation.
“C” Charlie. Bomb load. 6 x 1800 lbs mines.
6 aircraft from 166 Squadron and 6 from 103 Squadron were detailed to lay mines in the Kattegat. This force took off in poor visibility but over the dropping zone the weather was good. On this occasion the mines were to be dropped using the blind bombing technique. I was to use the H2S radar which was a ground mapping radar. The dropping point was a bearing and distance from an identifiable point on the coast which gave a good return on the radar. On reaching the dropping point the pilot had to steer a pre-determined course and I had to release the mines at say, one minute intervals. The H2S screen was photographed so that the intelligence bods back at base could check that the mines had been put down in the right place. In this case – spot on!! We then received a signal from base informing that the weather had

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clamped and we were diverted to Lossiemouth. We landed at Lossie having been airborne for 5 hrs 45 mins. At Lossie we were given beds and of course food, with the intention of returning to Kirmington the following morning.

The next morning we were given the Ok to return to Kirmington and went out to the aircraft. One engine failed to start and a faulty starter motor was diagnosed. A replacement was to be flown up from Kirmington. There we were dressed in flying kit with no money or toilet requisites and not knowing when the aircraft would be serviceable It certainly would not be today. We managed to secure a bit of cash from accounts and towels, etc from stores. That night Jock and I decided to go out on the town breaking all the rules about being out in public improperly dressed. However we got away with it. On the 17yth. “C” Charlie was serviceable and we were permitted to return to Kirmington. When we joined the circuit we could see Flying Fortresses on our dispersals having been diverted in the day before. The weather was certainly bad in the winter of 44/45.. The Americans crews allowed us to look over their Fortresses and we in turn invited them to look at our Lancaster. Their main interest centred on the Lancaster’s enormous bomb bay compared with their own.

21/12/44/ Seamining BALTIC Night operation.
Aircraft AS-H. Bomb load. 5 x 1800 lb mines.
This operation was aborted shortly after take-off due to the unserviceability of the H2S which was essential for the accurate laying of the mines. The visibility at base was very poor and we were given permission for one attempt at landing and if unsuccessful we were to divert to Carnaby in Yorkshire which was one of three diversion airfields with very long runways and overshoot facilities. We therefore

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jettisoned fuel to reduce the landing weight and made the approach. The airfield controller was firing white Very lights into the air over the end of the runway to guide us. We crept in over trees in Brocklesby Wood, trees which had claimed other Lancasters coming in too low, and made a perfect wheeled landing. It does not bear thinking about what would have happened if the undercarriage had collapsed, we were sitting on top of 9000 lbs of High Explosive. Good work skipper! Did not count as an operation.

The Squadron had a stand down at Christmas and on Christmas Day there was much merriment and a fair amount of booze put away and we went to bed a bit the worse for wear. It was therefore a bit upsetting to be got out of bed at 3am on Boxing Day morning, sent for an Ops meal and told to report for briefing at some unearthly hour. So to operation No. 27.

No. 27.. 26.12.44. Target “ST-VITH” Daylight operation.
Aircraft ‘B’. Bomb load 1 x 4000lb Cookie and 10000lbs HE.
“The Battle of the Bulge”, the German offensive in the Ardennes was in progress. A large force from Bomber Command was called upon to support the American 1st. Army trying to stem the German advances in the Ardennes. The attack was concentrated on the town of St. Vith where the Germans were unloading panzers to join the battle.

The whole of Lincolnshire was blanketed in fog with ground visibility of only a few yards. After briefing we went out to the aircraft, climbed aboard and waited for the time to start engines. Just before time there were white Very Cartridges fired from the

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control tower which indicated the operation was scrubbed. We returned to the mess and were given a new time to go out to the aircraft. Another flying meal.

We went out to the aircraft again and had a repeat performance. Third time lucky, we sat in the aircraft and although there was still dense fog, time came to start engines. This time no scrub. A marshall appeared in front of the aircraft with tow torches signalling us to start taxying and we were guided to the end of the runway. A glimmer of a green from the airfield controller and we turned onto the runway, lined up, set the gyro compass and we roared off down the runway at 1.15pm. Airborne and climbing we came out of the fog at about 200 ft and it was just like flying above cloud. We set course according to our flight plan and visibility across France and Belgium was first class. No cloud and snow on the ground. We did not really need navigation aids, I was able to map read all the way to the target. Approaching the target area there were a few anti aircraft shell bursts and it was apparent the Germans had advanced quite a long way. We bombed from 10000ft and the bombing was very concentrated and accurate. In fact it was reported that 80% of the attacking aircraft obtained aiming point photographs.

It was now time to concern ourselves with the return to Kirmington. The fog was still there and the only 1 Group airfield open was Binbrook, high up on the Lincolnshire Wolds, which stuck out of the fog like an island. The whole of 1 Group landed at Binbrook. There were Lancasters parked everywhere. Whilst we were in the circuit awaiting our turn to land, I was looking out of the window and noticed a hole in the wing between the two starboard engines. When we had landed and shut down the engines, we went to look at the hole. On top of the wing it was very neat but on the underside there was jagged aluminium hanging down around the hole. Obviously a shell had gone up and passed through the wing on its way down, without exploding.

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An airframe fitter looked at the damage and said the aircraft was grounded. This meant that after interrogation we were allowed to return to Kirmington by bus and proceed on leave.

Our next operation was not until 5.1.45 but some of us returned early from leave to attend a New Year party in the WAAF mess which was actually situated in Kirmington Village.

No.28. 5.1.45. Target HANOVER Night operation.
“C” Charlie. Bomb load. 1 x 4000lb Cookie plus incendiaries.
325 Aircraft of Nos. 1 and 5 Groups were briefed for the second of a two pronged attack on Hanover.

Nos. 4 and 6 Groups had bombed the target two hours earlier with bomb loads of mainly incendiaries. When we crossed the Dutch coast, the fires could be seem[sic] from at least 100 miles away. Our track took us towards Bremen and was meant to mislead the enemy into believing that was our target. However we did a starboard turn short of Bremen and ran into Hanover from the North. The target was well bombed and rail yards put out of action. I don’t know what we did right but “C” Charlie arrived back at base 4 minutes before anyone else.

No. 29. 6.1.45. Seamining. STETTIN Bay. Night operation.
Aircraft AS-D. Bomb Load 6 x 1500lb Mines.
Knott and crew started their third and final gardening trip (As seamining was known) 48 aircraft of Bomber Command were detailed to plant ‘vegetables’ in the entrance to Stettin Harbour and other local areas. The enemy was able to pick up the force 100 miles North East of Cromer because bad weather condition forced us to fly at 15000

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ft to the target instead of the usual 2000ft,. As a result of this early warning enemy fighters were waiting and the target area was well illuminated by fighter flares. It was believed that the enemy thought this was a major attack on Berlin developing. Knott and crew dropped their vegetables in the allotted area, securing a good H2S photograph and again returned to base first.

No. 30. 14.1.45. Target MERSEBERG LEUNA (Again) Night operation.
“C” Charlie. Bomb load 1 x 4000 lb Cookie plus 5500 lbs HE.
200 Aircraft attacked this target to finish off the job started on 6th December. A very successful attack.

No. 31. 16.1.45. Target Oil refinery ZEITZ Nr. Leipzig.
“C” Charlie. Bomb load 1 x 4000lb Cookie plus 6000 lbs GP Bombs.
This was the one we had been waiting for, our last operation. We went into briefing and were told by the intelligence officer that although we were being briefed the operation might be cancelled because a large force of Amercan[sic] Fortresses and Liberators had been to the target earlier in the day and a photo recce Mosquito had gone out to photograph the target and assess the results. Before the end of briefing it was confirmed that that[sic] the Americans had missed and our operation was on. At 1720 on the 16th January we took off on this operation. Over the target there were hundreds of searchlights, the markers were in the right place and we completed our bombing run. The target was well ablaze and there were massive explosions. At one point Paddy called out “We’re coned skip” meaning we were caught by searchlights.

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It was briefly very light in the cabin but the light was caused, not by searchlights but by the explosions from the target.

Of the 328 Lancasters that attacked the target, 10 were lost.
When we returned to base all of our ground crew, including one guy who had returned early from leave, were there to welcome us and join in a little celebration.

George Knott was awarded an immediate Distinguished Flying Cross, said to be a crew award for completing a tour of operations.

All seven of us were posted from Kirmington, on indefinite leave to await our next assignments.

Apart from activities in the Officers and Sergeants Messes, and trips into Scunthorpe where the “Oswald” was the central drinking point, the main point of activity was the pub in Kirmington village. The “Marrow Bone & Cleaver” or the “Chopper” as it was known, was the meeting place for all ranks. The pub is now a shrine to the Squadron, there is a memorial in the village, lovingly cared for by the villagers’ and memorial plaques in the terminal building at Humberside Airport.
There is also a stained glass window in Kirmington Church.

I have mentioned our off base activities but, of course, a lot of time was spent in the Mess and the radio was our main contact with the outside world. I think the most popular program was the AFN (American Forces Network). They had a program which I believe was called the “dufflebag program”. Glen Miller and all the big [inserted in margin] this sentence needs a verb! [/inserted in margin] bands of the day. The song “I’ll walk alone” was very popular and was recorded by several singers. The British one was Anne Shelton, an American whose name escapes me and another American called Lily Ann Carroll (Not sure about the spelling of that name). This girl had a peculiar voice but it had something about it.

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Since the war I have not been able to find anyone who ever heard of her but I did hear the record placed on one of the archives programs on BBC, two or three years ago. If anyone knows of Lily Ann Carroll I would love to know.

I can’t remember where it was but on one occasion when we were out together as a crew, someone asked what the “B” meant on my brevet. Quick as a flash Paddy jumped in “It means Big Bill Bailey the bastard Bombaimer”.

The completion of our tour of operations was of special relief to Gus Leigh, our wireless operator who incidentally had a few weeks earlier had[sic] been commissioned as Pilot Officer. Gus was married and his wife Enid was pregnant and lived in Kent. George our skipper had relatives who lived near Thorne which was quite near to Sandtoft and not really too far from Elsham and Kirmington so it was arranged that Enid would come to stay with George’s relatives and Gus would be able to see her fairly regularly. As we approached the end of our tour you can appreciate the tension. I was to hear later that after we had left Kirmington, Enid had a son and then suffered a massive haemorrhage and died. What irony, a baby that so easily could have been fatherless was now motherless.

Before leaving the scene of operations, so to speak, I would like to clear up one or two points.

I have often been asked the question, were you frightened? I can only speak for myself and maybe my crew. I don’t think ‘frightened’ was the right word, apprehensive, maybe but except for a very few, I believe all aircrew believed in their own immortality. It was always going to be the other guy who got the chop, never yourself. Had this not been the case then we would never have got into a Lancaster.

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Ron Archer used to tell me he thought we were the luckiest crew in Bomber Command.

There were, of course, a very few aircrew who lost their nerve and refused to fly. All aircrew were volunteers and could not be compelled to fly but if that became the case then they would be sent LMF (Lack of moral fibre) and would lose their flying badge and be reduced to the ranks.

Much has been said and written in recent years about the activities of Bomber Command and in particular our Commander in Chief, “Bomber” Harris. I believed then, and still believe that what was done was right. I did not bomb Dresden, but had I been ordered to do so, I would not have given it a second thought.

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Chapter VIII. Lossiemouth.

I was at home in Wigston, Leicestershire and my 21st birthday, the 2nd February was fast approaching. Parents and friends were trying to organise a party, meagre rations, permitting. They need not have worried because I received instructions to proceed immediately to 20 OUT Lossiemouth, At 9.30 pm the eve of my birthday I caught a train from South Wigston station to Rugby and then onto a train bound for Scotland. I arrived at Lossiemouth at 11pm and following day. What a way to spend a 21st birthday!

The next day having completed arrival procedures I duly reported to the Bombing Leader for duty. At the same time I discovered that George Knott had also been posted to Lossiemouth as a screened pilot. I flew with him ocassionally[sic] when he needed some ballast in the rear turret when doing an air test.

The role of 20 OUT was to train Free French Aircrew, again flying Wellingtons and my job was to fly with them on bombing exercises to check that they were using correct procedures. I used to say, “Patter in English please”, which was alright until they got a bit excited and lapsed into French. Bombing took place on Kingston Bombing Range, on the coast East of Lossiemouth. One of my other jobs was to plot the bombs on a chart using co-ordinates given by observers at quadrant points on the

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range. These were phoned through to the bomb plotting office. The student bombaimer then came to the office to see the results of his aiming efforts. 10 lb smoke bo9mbs were used for daylight bombing and 10 lb flash bombs for night bombing. In the summer at Lossie, night flying was almost impossible due to the short night in those Northern parts. It was quite common to take off after sunset and then see the sun set again.

After a few weeks I was attached from 20 OUT to 91 Group Airbomber instructors school at Moreton in Marsh for 3 weeks before becoming an official instructor. I returned to 20 OUT and shortly afterwards was again sent off on a course, this time to the Bomber Command Analysis School at Worksop. Here I became an alleged expert on the Mark XIV Bomsight.[sic] This was a gyro stabilised bombsight [sic] which was a tactical bombsight [sic] rather than a precision bombsight.[sic] It consisted of a computor[sic] box and a sighting head and obtained information of airspeed, height, temperature and course from aircraft instruments plus one or two manual settings and converted this information into a sighting angle. The only piece of vital information to be added was the wind speed and direction which had to be calculated by the Navigator. The bombaimer was then able to do a bombing run without the necessity of flying straight and level.. It took account of climbing, a shallow dive and banking. The sequence of events when bombing was, when the bomb release (hereafter called the ‘tit’ [)]was pressed several things happened, the bombs started to be released in the order set on the automatic bomb distributor, so that they were dropped in a ‘stick’. The photoflash was released, the camera started to operate and as the bombs reached the point of impact almost immediately beneath the aircraft, the photographs were taken. Having used this equipment for the whole of my tour of operations I can vouch for its performance. The Americans had their much vaunted Norden and Sperry Bombsights [sic]

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which were claimed to be very accurate but required the aircraft to maintain a straight and level flight path for an unacceptable time against heavily defended targets. The Mk XIV was so good that the Americans adopted it for their own aircraft and called it the T1 Bombsight. Many T1’s were used by the RAF in lieu of the MkXIV. A matter of production I guess.

On my return from Worksop, with glowing reports from my two courses, the Bombing Leader said “OK Flight Sergeant you had better apply for a commission.” This I did and after going through all the procedures was commissioned in the rank of Pilot Officer (198592) on the 5th June, 1945.

Of course ‘VE’ Day took place on the 5th May after which it was only a matter of time before the OTU’s were run down and in the case of Lossiemouth this was to be sooner rather than later. The Wellingtons were all flown down to Hawarden in Cheshire for eventual disposal, I must record one tragic incident which happened whilst I was at Lossiemouth. One Sunday morning a Wellington took off on air test and lost an engine on take-off and the pilot was obviously trying to make a crash landing on the beach to the East of Seatown. He didn’t make it and crashed on top of a small block of maisonettes killing most of the inhabitants who were still in bed. A tragic accident!

The question now arose as to where next we would all go. We were given the option of being made redundant aircrew, going to another OTU or going back to an operational Squadron. My problem was solved for me, ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, ‘A’ Flight Commander, came into the plotting office and said “I’m going back on ops, I want a bombaimer”. Thus I joined his crew and other instructors made up a full crew with the exception of a flight engineer, all having done a first tour. Johnnie had to revert

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from his Squadron Leader rank to Flight Lieutenant. All the other members of the crew were officers.

Chapter IX Tiger Force.

On the 6th. July we went to 1654 Conversion Unit at Wigsley, were not wanted there and were sent to 1660 Conversion Unit at Swinderby. It was necessary to do a conversion course becaused[sic] Johnnie had done his first tour on Halifaxes and needed to convert to Lancasters. We also picked up a Flight Engineer who was actually a newly trained pilot, who had also done a flight engineers course, there now being a surplus of pilots. He happened to be a lad I knew from my ATC days.

We were now part of “Tiger Force” which was 5 Group renamed and we were to fly the Lancasters out to Okinawa to join in the attack on Japan. The Lancasters would shortly be replaced by the new Lincoln bombers which were bigger, more powerful and had a longer range.

We commenced our training, for my part I had to familiarise myself with ‘Loran’ which was a long range Gee for use in the Pacific. I did say earlier in the story that I would tell you about my ‘rash’. At Swinderby I had a recurrence and immediately reported sick. The Doc took a look at me and said “Oh! We know what that is, it is oxygen mask dermatitis, when you sweat your skin is allergic to rubber. We will make you a fabric mask. Problem solved. The new mask was not needed, however,

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because the war ended and with it my flying career.

VJ Day was a wild affair, In the “Halfway House” pub at Swinderby my brand new officer’s cap was filled with beer when I left it on a stool.

In a final salute to the mighty Lancaster, Swinderby had an open day to celebrate the end of the war and the Chief Flying Instructor, the second on three, the third on two and finally the fourth on one engine. What an aeroplane! What a pilot!

Chapter X The last chapter.

There followed a strange period. First to Acaster Malbis, nr York where all redundant Aircrew handed in their flying kit. Then to Blyton, Nr. Gainsborough where we were given a choice of alternative traded. Seldom did anyone get their first choice and I was chosen to become an Equipment Officer and after a brief spell at Wickenby was posted to the Equipment Officers School at RAF Bicester. A four week course and I was meant to be a fully qualified equipment officer. I was posted to Scampton but not needed there and so was posted on to RAF Cosford where I was put in charge of the technical stores. The Chief Equipment Officer was fairly elderly Wing Commander who took me under his wing and kept a fatherly eye on me. The Royal Air Force was beginning to return to peacetime status and Wingco[sic] warned me that it was probably not a good idea to fraternize with my ex Aircrew NCO’s in the “Shrewsbury Arms”. If you must, get on your bikes and go further afield, was his advice.

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One Monday morning I was called up to the WingCo’s office to be asked “Where is F/Sgt. Brown (Not his real name) this morning”. “I don’t know sir” I replied. “Well I will tell you” he said. “He is under arrest at Shifnal Police Station”

This particular ex Aircrew NCO lived in a village quite near to Cosford and had permission to ‘live out’. It transpired that almost everyone in his village had new curtains made from RAF bunting and quite a few people were wearing RAF or Waaf shoes. I was ordered to do a stock check on my section and for his part he was charged by the Civil Police and at Shifnal Magistrates Court received little more than a slap on the wrist. No doubt his war service stood him in good stead. Because he had been dealt with by the Civil Courts he could not be charged and Court Martialled by the RAF and all that happened was that he was posted away from Cosford and released early into civvie street.

At the time, lots of POW’s were passing through Cosford on their way from POW Camps in Europe to their homes.
Monthly “Dining In” nights were also resumed in the Officers Mess. Due to officers leaving the station or being demobbed, at every “Dining In” we were “Dining Out” those departing., always ending in a wild party. I remember one night which was extremely boisterous ending with Bar Rugby, footprints on the ceiling, the lot. I had better leave to the imagination how the footprints on the ceiling were achieved. That night I went to bed at about 3 am and when I went in to breakfast the following morning the mess was immaculate. The staff had obviously been up all night cleaning up.

On the 4th. November 1946 I received my final posting from Cosford to Headquarters Technical Training Command, at Brampton Nr. Huntingdon to be Unit Equipment

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Officer. The Headquarters Unit consisted of a Squadron Leader C.O., a Flight Lieutenant Accountant Officer, a Flight Lt. Equipment Officer and their staffs. I had a hairy old Sergeant Equipment Assistant who I believe was a regular airman and probably looked upon me as not a real Equipment Officer. However, his knowledge and experience were invaluable.

I enquired as to the whereabouts of my predecessor to be told that he had already gone having been posted abroad. There was, therefore, no handover of inventories. The next surprise was even greater, I was told that I also had RAF Kimbolton to finish closing down. I took myself to Kimbolton to find a ‘care and maintenance party’ of three airmen and one Waaf. Two were out on the airfield shooting rabbits and the other two were dealing with some paperwork. The entire camp had been almost cleared, barrack equipment to a storage/disposal site, fuel to other sites and/or the homes of the local population. Legend had it that a grand piano from the Sergeants Mess had gone astray. One day a Provost Squadron Leader came into my office and said: “Bailey, I want you to come with me to St. Neots Police Station to identify some rolls of linoleum which they have recovered from a farmer”. We went to St. Neots and a police sergeant showed us several rolls of obvious Air Ministry linoleum standing in a cell. I examined the rolls and could find no AM marks so I told the Provost that I could say the rolls ere exactly similar to AM Lino but I could not positively identify them as AM property. The provost told the police sergeant to give the lino back to the farmer. Heaven only knows how many houses had their floors covered in Air Ministry lino in the Kimbolton area. No doubt this sort of thing was happening all over the country. The politicians were so anxious to get servicemen back into civvies street that establishments were seriously undermanned.

When I, a mere Flying Officer, did the final paperwork for RAF Kimbolton I raised a

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write off document well in excess of £1 million at 1947 prices and this only involved equipment known to be missing.

With regard to Brampton itself, the winter of 46/47 was extremely severe with heavy snowfalls. Even the rail line between Huntingdon and Kettering was blocked. When the snow thawed there was severe flooding. One weekend I went home and returned to Camp on Sunday afternoon to find that the previous night there had been a severe storm with gale force winds and Brampton was a scene of devastation. Trees had been blown down crushing nissen huts. The camp was flooded and the sewage system was completely useless. The following morning I located a stock of portable loos (Thunder boxes so called). A four wheel drive vehicle was despatched through the flood waters surrounding Huntingdon, to RAF Upwood to collect these things. Things gradually returned to something like normal but it was a terrible time. The Officers Mess at Brampton was in the large house in Brampton Park and the Headquarters Staff from the C in C Technical Training Command down, were housed in Offices adjacent to Brampton Grange. There were far more senior officers at Brampton than junior officers because of the very nature of the place.

The PMC of the mess was a Group Captain and one day he came to me and said “Bailey, we are going to have a Dining In and I thought it would be nice if we could have some proper RAF crested crockery and cutlery”. I informed the PMC that these items were not on issue whereupon he suggested that I use my initiative.

It just so happened that whilst I was a[sic] Cosford I learned that in the Barrack Stores the very things I was being asked to get were in store, having been there throughout the War. I spoke with the Wing Commander, my former boss, who

agreed to release a quantity of crockery, etc. I informed the PMC of my success and he arranged for a De Havilland Rapide aircraft from our communications flight at nearby Wyton to take

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me to Cosford to collect the two heavy chests of crocks. I am sure the Rapide was overloaded on the flight back to Wyton but the mission was accomplished and the PMC was able to show off his ‘posh’ tableware at the next Dining In.

I was shortly to have to make a major decision, the date was fast approaching for my release back into civilian life, I had agreed to serve six months beyond my release date and had made an application for an extended service commission which would have kept me in the Royal Air Force for at least another six years. However my civilian employers became aware that I had done the extra six months and were not amused. I, despite having access to ‘P’ staff at Brampton could not get a decision from Air Ministry and I made the decision to leave the service.

On 1st. April, how significant a date, I headed off to Kirkham in Lancashire to collect my demob suit. A very sad day.

This is the end of the ‘dream’ but not quite the end of my love affair with the Royal Air Force. But that, as they say, is another story ……

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Two photographs in RAF uniform; one in 1942 aged 18 and the other in 1945 aged 21.

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Bill Bailey, “Was it all a Dream,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10044.

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