Interview with Peter Lovatt


Interview with Peter Lovatt


Peter enrolled in the Air Training Corp before joining the Royal Air Force. He went to Walney Island, the Air Gunnery School, and was given the option of becoming a Bevin Boy or an air gunner choosing the latter. Following training on Ansons he joined 223 Squadron, based at RAF Oulton operating B-24s. The squadron took off with the bomber stream and escorted them back home. He recalled some incidents, one involving a German night fighter and said that the Squadron did many Window operations. Another incident was when they were running out of fuel and had to throw equipment out. At the end of the war the squadron tested whether the counter measures had worked and the aircraft guns were tested regularly. Peter remembered members of his crew, with whom he socialised and kept in touch after the war. He stayed in the Royal Air Force after the war and was posted to Germany, RAF Watchet in Somerset and finally Egypt. He admires Bomber Command and has has written a book about their pilot, Roy Hastey.







00:45:52 audio recording


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ALovattP170927, PLovattP1701


DK: I’ll just interview myself. It’s David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre interviewing Dr Peter Lovatt at [buzz] with his daughter Nina.
Other: Nina.
DK: Yeah. I’ll just put that on there.
Other: Ok.
DK: We just have to ignore that.
Other: Ok. That’s fine.
DK: If I keep looking down I’m just making sure it’s still working because I’ve been caught out when the batteries have suddenly gone or the memory has gone.
Other: Ok.
DK: Just [unclear] —
Other: Alright [pause] Let me, shall, shall I just move it off that.
DK: Yes.
Other: So we can, we can access these?
DK: Yeah.
Other: That’s your logbook. And do you want to look at the photos because they might be —
PL: I’d like, I’d like the photos.
Other: Yes. There you go. That’s where you started, dad. Look.
PL: Oh yeah.
DK: Oh right. Ok. [pause] Oh the old pet dogs.
Other: There we go. That’s Walney Island, isn’t it?
PL: Yes.
Other: So do you want to tell David about joining up?
PL: Yes, I’ll tell him about that if you want me to.
Other: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: Please do. I mean that would be my first question. What —
Other: Yeah.
DK: What made you join the RAF?
PL: Well, it was, it was very good. There was tremendous competition between the three Services even though men were being pressed in to the Army and Navy and the Air Force there was still competition between the Services for the better type of chap. And the Air Force appealed to those who wanted to fly and they formed the Air Training Corps.
DK: Right.
PL: And I joined the Air Training Corps and they really were good. They taught me how to navigate and I started to appreciate what mathematics was all about and I took off from there. I was really interested in the Air Force so I joined up and after a year’s wait they sent for me and I went to Walney Island.
DK: Right.
PL: The Air Gunnery School.
DK: So although you were good at navigating you didn’t try to become a navigator then?
Other: You wanted to be a pilot didn’t you, dad?
PL: I wanted to be a pilot.
DK: Right. Ok.
Other: But they gave you a bit of an option didn’t they? They said either, didn’t they offer you to be a Bevan boy or be —
DK: An air gunner?
Other: An air gunner.
PL: So I took air gunner.
DK: Yeah. Rather, rather than going down the pits.
Other: Which was quite harsh wasn’t it?
DK: Yeah.
Other: Yeah.
DK: In fact, a veteran I spoke to yesterday said exactly the same thing
Other: Yeah.
DK: They didn’t do the pilot training and wanted to get in
Other: Yeah.
DK: And given the choice well air gunner or Bevan boy.
Other: Bevan boy.
DK: Yeah.
Other: I think they must have been desperate for air gunners.
DK: Yeah. So, Walney Island then. Was that your first place you went to?
PL: For training, yes.
DK: Training. Yeah.
PL: And I think the course was ten or eleven weeks and the standard was quite high and the training was good. You didn’t need second training.
DK: What, what did the training involve? Were you, were you square bashing at this point or had you moved —
PL: I’d finished that.
DK: Right.
PL: And they assumed, I took two or three exams with the Air Training Corps. They called them proficiency exams and I had part one and part two. Part two was quite unusual as it was fairly advanced so I really started off with a good, a good [pause] a good advantage.
DK: Right. So, at Walney Island then that’s, that was all air gunnery training.
PL: Air gunnery training.
DK: Yes. So, what did the training involve initially? Did they let you loose on the machine guns or did you have to do a bit of target practice?
PL: Well, they didn’t allow you to fire the machine gun for some time. You had to learn all about the machine gun first of all and then gradually you worked up to the position of firing the gun.
DK: So, you had to learn how to strip the weapon and put it back together again.
PL: That’s it.
DK: Yeah. Can you remember what sort of weapons they were? So, the Brownings or —
PL: Browning 303.
DK: And at Walney Island were you flying at that stage?
PL: Yes. They had Ansons.
DK: Right. Ok.
PL: Almost flying from day one.
DK: Right. So once you were on board the Anson what did the training involve?
PL: Firing the guns.
DK: From the turret?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. And what, what was your target?
PL: A drogue.
DK: Right. And that’s flown by another aircraft then.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
PL: Normally a Martinet.
DK: Right. So you did quite a few trips in the Anson then.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. And how many of you would be on board for this?
FPL: The Anson only took a few. There would be two or three at the most.
DK: Right.
Other: And that’s your record isn’t it of all the trips dad? In the Anson.
DK: And it has here the kinds of training that you were doing here. Tracer. Beam.
PL: Yeah.
DK: Air to sea so you’re shooting down. And cine camera gun.
PL: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. There’s a few abbreviations here. Do you, you don’t remember what they stand for do you? BRST? No. CCG? No. Don’t worry.
Other: That’s the cine camera gun.
DK: That was cine camera gun.
Other: Cine camera. Yeah.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. And QXU there. So it was Number 10 Air Gunnery School then.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. And that, yeah.
Other: And the total flying for the course that’s quite interesting, isn’t it? Twenty one. That’s it. Gone.
DK: Twenty one hours forty minutes. So that was all your training then. All twenty one hours. So then after number 10 AGS can you remember where you went on to then?
PL: We went to 223 Squadron.
DK: You went straight to the Squadron.
PL: Yes.
DK: Ah that’s quite unusual. There was no Operational Training Unit or anything?
PL: Well, they, what they decided to do I queried that and they decided to use the squadron as an OTU and the first few weeks we were treated as OTU people.
DK: Right.
PL: So we did our OTU on our operational squadron.
DK: That is very unusual.
PL: Very unusual.
DK: Yeah. So that was where you met your pilot then.
PL: Yes. On, on arrival at 223 Squadron.
DK: Yeah. And can you remember when they were based?
Other: Yeah. Oulton.
PL: Oulton.
DK: Oulton. Oulton. Right. And what did you think of your pilot? Was he, was he a good pilot?
PL: He was exceptional.
DK: Yeah.
PL: In fact, I thought he was overlooked and we were lucky to have him.
Other: Do you want to tell David about Jock Hastie and his background? Do you remember?
PL: Well, what was his background?
Other: He’d been in the Bahamas, hadn’t he? And he’d trained pilots. He was in his thirties when dad met him.
DK: He was quite old for a pilot then.
PL: Oh yes.
Other: He was old.
DK: Yeah.
Other: And he’d, he’d been a, he’d trained them and he’d been in the Bahamas, hadn’t he, flying? I can’t remember what he was flying. Do you remember?
DK: The Mitchells.
PL: Mitchells.
DK: Yeah.
Other: Ok.
PL: That’s him there.
DK: Right. Ok. So, he, he’d previously been with the rest of the crew in the Bahamas training there and then came back to the UK. I see you’ve got here about a full flight with him as a waist gunner. You’ve put Bullseye.
PL: Yes. That was a night time exercise flown around the UK.
DK: Right.
PL: And I forget what Bullseye was but it was, it was an exercise.
DK: Yeah. Because it’s quite unusual here. Did they tell you anything about what 223 Squadron was doing because it was unusual to the rest of Bomber Command.
PL: Well, they said it was a radio counter measures squadron. They told us that. They didn’t tell us much detail but we assumed we were carrying going to carry equipment which would jam German communications.
DK: And is that what the rest of your crew were doing as special operators then?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. So, the Liberator itself. What did you think of that as a, as an aircraft?
PL: Cold and draughty.
DK: Because I believe the squadron only got second hand ones from the Americans.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. So were they a bit clapped out?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. And do you know the reason for using Liberators because you were the only squadron using them?
PL: I think it was because the amount of power we used. Electric power.
DK: Right.
PL: And its range.
DK: Right.
PL: And endurance.
DK: So can you recall a little bit about what these special operations involved?
PL: We at the, at the maximum we carried two special operators and they both carried, operated equipment each.
Other: Yeah. Have a look at your pictures dad because you’ll remember.
DK: Yeah.
Other: Here we go.
PL: We didn’t have a lot to do with them because they, they were a bit reticent about talking about their work.
Other: There you go.
DK: Right.
Other: There’s one there.
DK: There’s the Liberator there then.
Other: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
Other: And there’s you standing the crew in front of the plane.
DK: Oh wow.
Other: It was a big crew wasn’t it, dad?
DK: Yeah. Can you recall how many were in the crew?
PL: About eight or ten.
DK: Right. And once again that’s unusual because the normal Bomber Command crew was about seven. So as, as your job as a, as a waist gunner what was your role as a gunner there?
PL: It was to protect the aircraft.
DK: Right. And can you recall any incidents while you were flying then because I believe you saw a German night fighter at one point?
PL: Yes. There was one. One occasion when we were flying and a German night fighter had come up underneath us and unseen and was [pause] came in to view and of course the alarm was immediately entered into and the skipper, normally one would do a corkscrew.
DK: Yeah.
PL: Out of the way of the bullets. But instead of doing a corkscrew he used his head and just throttled back a bit and stayed on course. This put the night fighter pilot into a bit of confusion because he was expecting corkscrews. And we stayed like this for several minutes and something was bound to happen and all of a sudden the Messerschmitt disappeared. I think he realised that he’d been seen and had been spotted and was due to be blasted out of the sky any minute.
DK: So how close was he then? Could you, could you see the pilot?
PL: Yes. Oh yes.
DK: Yeah.
PL: Quite easily.
DK: But you didn’t open fire then.
PL: No.
DK: No.
PL: We were just about to. If he’d stayed another minute we would have done and he would have had .5s. We didn’t carry 303s.
DK: Oh right.
PL: And a .5 bullet makes quite a hole.
DK: So were, can you recall if you were actually fired on at all by the enemy or for the most part you were [pause] they missed?
PL: Well, I think we were. We were either using our equipment.
DK: Yeah.
PL: Jamming the radar so it was unusable or we were just lucky.
DK: Yeah. Because your operations you weren’t actually flying with the bomber streams were you? You were flying separately to them.
PL: Yes. We took off with the bomber stream and returned with the bomber stream.
DK: Right.
PL: So, gave them protection.
DK: Right.
PL: But near the target we went off on our own.
DK: And the special operators would be jamming the radar.
PL: Yes.
DK: And, and did you use Window as well?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
Other: In dad’s logbook it tells you which raids —
DK: Yeah. Ok.
Other: Were Window and —
DK: Ok. And did you used to throw the Window out?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yes. And can you recall what the Window was like? Was there different sizes of it?
PL: Yes. Different lengths.
DK: Lengths. Right. Just going through your logbook here for the sake of this you’ve got another bullseye operation in support of Duisburg so that was where you were flying out with the counter measures.
Other: Yeah. What is interesting about the logbook I’m sure you’ve seen this so the red is active.
DK: Yeah.
Other: Green is training.
DK: Oh, green is night time.
Other: A night time. Sorry.
DK: Yeah.
Other: And the black is —
DK: Yeah. So you, you’ve got here for example Window raid to Denmark. So you flew out to Denmark and then threw the Window out.
DK: So, can you remember how many operations you actually flew?
PL: I have, I have to count them up so —
DK: If I just read through some of these.
PL: Yes.
DK: Just for the sake of the recording here so there is a lot of standing patrols and then, well Window. So as I say you’ve got October the 26th Window to Denmark. Air test. Engine trouble. So, 1st November Window raid to Homberg.
PL: Yes.
DK: 4th of November Window raid to Bochum. 18th of November Window raid to Hanover where you were diverted to Manston on the way back.
Other: Was that when it was foggy and they wouldn’t give you any food? Was it? [laughs] Do you want to tell David that story? Where you got diverted. Do you remember that? [pause] Do you not remember. Ok. It doesn’t matter.
DK: Just going on here. So you got a Window raid to Essen, November the 28th. 30th of November Window raid to Duisburg. So, it’s mostly Window you’re doing then. And then December the 2nd ops to Gladbach. You’ve got here, I don’t know if you remember this one. December the 4th ops to Merseburg. Oxygen leak and returned to base. You had an oxygen leak.
PL: Yeah, but as we were on, we were on oxygen very early.
DK: Right.
PL: From about fourteen thousand feet. But we were flying fairly high so we needed oxygen badly. If we ran out of oxygen we were finished so we were caution, precautionary returned early I think.
DK: Right. So December the 4th Karlsruhe. And then December the 12th ops in support of Essen. So I’m assuming that’s radio counter measures again. Radar counter measures. Then December the 15th ops to Ludwigshafen. December the 17th ops to Ulm. And then December the 21st again Window over the Ruhr. So you’re [pause] and then December the 24th Mannheim. So there’s a lot of operations there [pause] And you flew on February 13th dropping Window in support of the Dresden raid.
DK: And then you’ve got one here February the 23rd Window raid to the Ruhr. It mentions a combat with a JU88 or was that when you saw the aircraft then?
DK: There was a lot of operations there wasn’t there? We’ll count them up later.
Other: What was it like in the aeroplane, dad?
PL: Cold and draughty.
DK: Yeah.
Other: And noisy.
PL: And noisy.
DK: Did, can you recall if you got much support from the Americans because they were doing similar operations?
PL: We didn’t. We didn’t talk about it if we knew. I think we must have known but we didn’t talk about it.
DK: No. [pause] And can you, can you recall the names of your crews still?
PL: Oh yes.
Other: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
Other: We’ll get to the picture of the crew. Let’s get a big picture. That’s just really, that’s [pause] there we go. There you are.
DK: There you go. Can you name them now?
PL: Yes.
DK: Go on then.
PL: Bob Lawrence.
Other: That was dad’s good friend.
DK: Yeah.
PL: Roy Hastie. I don’t, I can’t see who that is.
DK: Right.
PL: That, that was known as Wee Jock. He was a wireless operator. Navigator Soapy Hudson. Flight engineer, co-pilot Chris Spicer.
Other: Which one’s Syd Pienaar dad? Is that? That’s, is that Syd Pienaar there?
PL: Yes.
Other: Yeah.
PL: Yes.
DK: So, did you get, did you get on well together?
PL: We got on very well.
DK: Yeah. And did you socialise together?
PL: Very much so.
DK: So what did you do on your time off?
PL: Well, we socialised with one another. We didn’t do much socialising outside the crew.
DK: No. And what did you do in your times off then? Did you visit the local pubs?
PL: The local pubs. Yeah.
Other: It was a long walk because dad was stationed at Oulton and he used to go to the Black Boy, didn’t you? So Soapy and, Soapy Hudson and Bob Lawrence and dad they were the three babies of the crew, weren’t they? So they used to walk quite a long way to the Black Boy Inn for a beer didn’t you? And if you were lucky you had bicycles and the Canadians used to steal your bicycles didn’t they?
PL: Yes.
Other: And they dumped them in the duck pond and your bicycle got shot up by a Messerschmitt didn’t it? In the duck pond. So there was quite a lot of pranking going on I think. So —
DK: So, so did you stay in touch with the crew after the war then?
PL: For as long as they stayed alive. Yes.
DK: Right. And did you regularly meet up again then?
PL: Not regularly.
DK: No.
PL: But we did meet up.
DK: So you’d go back to the pub where you used to —
Other: Yeah. And —
DK: Used to drink.
Other: And there’s pictures of having meals at people’s houses and, but Jock Hastie died quite young, didn’t he?
PL: Yes.
Other: So the pilot died quite young. Syd Pienaar went to South Africa. He was South African wasn’t he?
PL: Yes.
Other: And you’ve had contact from his son recently. And Bob Lawrence and Soapy Hudson you stayed in touch with, you know, closely.
DK: Yeah.
Other: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
Other: I don’t know about Chris Spicer. He went to Canada, didn’t he?
PL: No. I don’t know what happened to him. No.
Other: Ok. Ok. Ok. And then you’ve done a lot through 100 Group Association.
DK: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
Other: So dad’s been a regular.
DK: Yeah.
Other: Regular participant in 100 Group activities. Haven’t you, dad?
PL: Yeah.
Other: And that’s where he’s met other people that were stationed at Oulton. But as he said, you know they socialised in their crew.
DK: In just their crews. Yeah.
Other: So —
DK: Can you recall much about what you were told before an operation? At the briefings?
PL: They were very thorough and very methodical. Including very accurate weather forecasts.
DK: Right.
PL: It was like having your own personal weather forecaster and generally they were accurate. Occasionally they were wrong. Very wrong. But generally they were spot on.
DK: And presumably the briefings involved what would happen with the special operators and the points you’ve got to drop the wing nose.
PL: Yes.
DK: And when they’ve got to block the —
PL: Yes.
DK: German signals.
PL: Yes, indeed. They must have gathered a lot of information. With two of them carrying two different types of equipment they must have covered an awful lot of territory.
DK: Yeah. And what was it like then? Did you, because you were away from the bomber stream could you see much of the targets when they being bombed or were you away from that?
PL: No. We were right in it.
DK: Right.
PL: In fact, when, when the cloud was thick you were in thick cloud.
DK: And that was right over the target then.
PL: Yes.
DK: So as the bomber stream comes in are you circling the target area then?
PL: Well, I think that may have been the theory but in practice you got, you got stuck in.
DK: Right. So you were within the bomber stream itself.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. And, and did, did the rest of, you may not know the answer to this did the rest of Bomber Command know about you? Did they know that there was this special squadron?
PL: I’ve asked myself that question. It’s still a question being asked, I think. Some of them did know. Others didn’t.
DK: And, and because you were doing something out the ordinary was there any special instructions about if you were ever taken prisoner?
PL: Just to keep your mouth closed.
DK: Right.
PL: Not say anything.
DK: And, and were any of the Liberators lost on operations?
PL: A few. Not many. A few were lost.
DK: So, as you, as you’ve come back from an operation you’re landing back at your base what was it, what was the feeling like when you landed?
PL: Oh, absolute jubilant. We were let off. We let off steam.
DK: Yeah.
PL: Down to the nearest pub.
DK: Yeah.
PL: Celebrate.
DK: And then sometimes I assume you were flying again the following night.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. And how did it work because not all of you were flying out, flying these operations at the same time? Did you have crews that were sort of sleeping and then you came in?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
Other: And you didn’t have a regular plane, did you? You just took a plane.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
Other: So they didn’t have like a, I thought that quite interesting.
DK: Ok.
Other: It was just a pool, a pool plane.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. And do you think that was a good idea with a different Liberator each time?
PL: Well, we tried to. It was more popular to fly your own aircraft.
DK: Yeah.
PL: But if your own aircraft wasn’t available so be it. You took the one available which was serviceable.
DK: Yeah.
PL: That was the main thing.
DK: Yeah.
PL: All the equipment was serviceable.
DK: And then as the war was coming to an end what did, what did you do then? Did you, were you posted somewhere else or was there, was there talk of you going to the Far East?
PL: Yes, there was but it didn’t happen. Eventually peace crept up on us and we [pause] peace was declared and we just went our separate ways.
Other: You [pause] you did more. Dad told a great story. I don’t know if he remembers this but we asked him at the end of the war how did, you know how did dad feel? Bearing in mind he was a very young man.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
Other: And dad said they had, you had to carry on doing some missions because they wanted to test see if it had worked.
DK: Oh right.
Other: So you carried on doing a few missions after the war, didn’t you? But you didn’t get your eggs and bacon flying rations so, and dad said, ‘I was just cross. I didn’t get my eggs and bacon anymore and I was still flying.’ Do you remember that?
PL: Yeah.
DK: So, oh that’s quite interesting. So after the war is finished you were still flying. Well, they’re not operations but it was still —
Other: No. Tests. They were tests.
DK: Tests. With the, with the captured German equipment.
Other: Yeah.
PL: Yes.
DK: Right.
Other: Yeah.
DK: Oh right.
Other: To test it.
DK: To test it to see whether your counter measures —
Other: Yeah.
DK: Had worked during the war.
PL: That’s right. That’s right.
DK: And can you recall these tests you did? Did it show that the counter measures had worked?
PL: In most cases. Yes.
DK: So, it was worth, worth doing then.
PL: Absolutely.
DK: Yeah. And that’s an interesting question because your role wasn’t to drop bombs it was actually to save other airman’s lives, wasn’t it?
PL: Yes.
DK: So, how does that make you feel?
PL: Well, it made us feel very good.
DK: Yeah. Because your role is to protect.
PL: Yes.
DK: Fellow servicemen, isn’t it?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. It’s strange because its something that’s not very well known is it? These missions.
PL: No. Hardly at all.
DK: Yeah. And the, did you stay in touch with the special operators after the war?
PL: Not particularly.
DK: No. So they were never able to tell you what they were doing when they were —
PL: No.
DK: No. And can you remember whereabouts in the aircraft they were, they were sitting?
PL: Yes. They had a position side by side. Very close to the wireless operator’s position.
DK: Right. So the Liberator itself it had all its bombing equipment taken out.
PL: Mostly, yes.
DK: And how big was the, can you remember how big their equipment was?
PL: About as big as the ordinary radio equipment.
DK: Right. Right. And they were, did they have curtains around them so you couldn’t see what they were doing?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. So although you flew these operations it was a bit of a mystery as to what they were actually doing.
PL: Yes.
DK: How did that make you feel? Not quite knowing what was going on.
PL: Well, we knew roughly what was going on and that seemed to be good enough.
DK: Yeah. Ok. So the war’s ended then and presumably you stayed in the RAF then did you?
PL: Yes.
DK: And what were you doing post-war?
PL: Mainly training.
Other: Here we go. [pause] This is what he did. RAF Gutes —
DK: Gütersloh.
PL: Gütersloh. Yeah.
Other: Gütersloh.
DK: So you —
Other: In 1946.
DK: So you were posted to Germany soon after the war then.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. And did you see much of Germany post-war?
PL: Yes.
DK: And did you go to some of the cities that had been bombed?
PL: Yes.
DK: And what sort of condition were they in then?
PL: Pretty grim.
Other: And then you went to Egypt, didn’t you?
PL: Yes.
DK: Oh. You visited the Mӧhne Dam.
Other: Yeah, this is, this is from dad’s time in Germany.
DK: Oh wow. So you went to see the Dams then.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
Other: I think there was an RAF Leave Centre at the Mӧhne Dam.
DK: Right.
Other: That’s what dad’s written there. Do you remember that dad? And there’s like sailing on the lake. And then you were in Watchet in Somerset next. And then you went out to Egypt didn’t you? This is in Egypt.
DK: Right.
Other: In 1952.
DK: Oh right. So what sort of training were you doing post-war? Was it air gunnery again?
PL: It was gunnery. It wasn’t air gunnery. It was gunnery.
DK: Right. So, kind of looking back now all these years later how do you look back on your time in RAF Bomber Command. How does it make you feel now?
PL: I thought it was very educational and something not to be missed. It really was first class.
DK: You look back on what you were doing with a sense of pride.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. And how do you feel how Bomber Command has been treated since then?
PL: Well, I think they’ve been treated fairly. They may not have had a lot of publicity but they’ve had their share. I think they’ve done well and they’ve reacted enormously.
DK: Yeah. And, and the Liberators then. Do you miss flying in those? Would you go back up in one now?
PL: I would go back in one.
DK: You would. Ok.
PL: But it was very noisy.
DK: Yeah.
PL: And draughty.
DK: Yeah.
Other: And cold wasn’t it, dad?
PL: Cold.
DK: So you never actually fired your gun in anger in the end then.
PL: No.
DK: No. Did you used to test fire them as you were?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
PL: Especially in bad weather. In cold weather.
DK: Right.
PL: We tested them regularly. Made certain they worked.
DK: Right. And you obviously had the American .5 inch Brownings then. Were they a better machine gun than what the others had? The .303s.
PL: I don’t think they were any better. They just carried a larger bullet that was all which did tremendous damage.
DK: Right.
PL: To take a broadside of .5s was quite something.
DK: Right. Because you’re quite unique really in veterans I have met who actually flew on the Liberators so I’d just like to ask did you feel safe flying in them?
PL: With the hand, with Jock Hastie at the controls. Yes.
DK: Right.
PL: But you needed a competent pilot.
DK: Right. So they were difficult aircraft to fly then were they?
PL: They were.
DK: Yeah
PL: To fly properly.
DK: And did you see any that were badly flown?
PL: Well, we, Chris Spicer was our co-pilot.
DK: Yeah.
PL: He occasionally made a misdemeanour and I remember Roy Hastie saying, ‘Get that wing up quickly,’ you know and obviously Chris was flying one wing low and it was getting very low.
DK: Yeah.
PL: And Roy Hastie intervened and said, ‘Get it up immediately.’
DK: Right. So he, he knew then there was a problem. Yeah. And did, did Hastie’s not passed away I assume then did he?
PL: He has now.
DK: Yeah. And did you stay in touch with him?
PL: For a long time.
DK: Yeah.
Other: And his widow. You stayed in touch with his widow, didn’t you?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
Other: I think he died in his fifties.
DK: Oh, right.
Other: It’s a long —
DK: You obviously wrote a book about him.
Other: A book about him. Yeah.
DK: Yeah. I’ll just read this out for the recording. “Ordinary Man, Super Pilot - the Life and Times of Roy Hastie DFC AE.” By Peter Lovatt. So you obviously thought a lot of him to write a book about him.
PL: He was very impressive. He was out of the ordinary.
DK: And, and do you think he got the recognition for this? Or —
PL: Yes. I think he did. I think he was fairly recognised.
Other: He got a DFC didn’t he?
DK: Yeah. And did he carry on flying after the war? Do you know?
PL: He did. I think he did for a short while.
DK: And then left the RAF did he?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
Other: But you stayed in touch with his widow until she died, didn’t you? This came out of dad’s PhD.
DK: Right. Ok.
Other: So dad did a PhD in radio counter in history and it was around radio counter measures wasn’t it dad? And the book came from that but you had promised Ida that you would write Jock’s story didn’t you?
DK: Ok. If I stop that there then. Well, I should say thanks for your time. It’s been interesting with all this.
[recording paused]
Other: France, is it?
PL: Yes.
Other: Yeah.
DK: Can you remember the name of the other gunner?
PL: Bob Lawrence.
DK: Bob Lawrence. Yeah.
PL: Soapy and Bob. Soapy and Bob were dad’s good friends.
DK: Right. Did, this is another question actually did you have to work closely with the other gunners?
PL: Fairly closely. Yes.
DK: So the other waist gunner stood next to you then is he?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. And then what would happen if one or either of you saw something a bit dangerous?
PL: Well, he’d tap me on the shoulder and get me to look.
DK: Right.
PL: And confirm or not confirm.
DK: And is, is night vision important then?
PL: Very important.
DK: Yeah. So if you, can you name them still?
PL: Yes. Soapy Hudson.
DK: Navigator.
PL: Navigator.
DK: Yeah. That’s you.
Other: That’s you.
PL: Bob Lawrence. Oh. That’s Hastie.
DK: Yeah.
PL: That’s the engineer.
DK: Jamie Brown.
PL: Jamie Brown.
DK: Yeah.
PL: And then that’s Wee —
Other: Is that wee Jock? Somebody Watson.
PL: Wee Jock Watson.
DK: Wee Jock Watson. Yeah.
Other: Yeah. And Syd Pienaar.
PL: Syd Pienaar.
DK: Syd Pienaar. Yeah. And what’s it like seeing a picture of the Liberator behind you?
PL: Yeah.
DK: So were you, were you about to go flying when the photo was taken?
PL: Yes.
DK: There’s, there is mention here about you returning to a base somewhere isn’t there? And you got no food.
Other: That’s right. That’s right.
DK: Yeah. Is that —
Other: So, that’s the story when you went to the base and they wouldn’t let you have anything to eat. You had to do a landing so you were running low on fuel.
PL: Why?
Other: And it was foggy.
PL: Why did they say they didn’t —
Other: I don’t know [laughs]
DK: See if we can find it [pause. Pages turning] There? Should have counted these last time. So there’s the story here of the, the BF110 pilot that wasn’t very experienced and your pilot just throttled back.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
Other: Do you remember you told us the story that you were, that it was foggy at Oulton and you were low on fuel so you had to divert to another airfield and you got a bit of a hostile welcome when you got there. They didn’t give you any rations. Do you remember that?
PL: Vaguely.
Other: Vaguely [laughs]
DK: See if I can find it [pause] Oh, where’s it gone?
PL: They’re all marked with this.
DK: Yeah. So there you are. So this is your crew here then. So you’ve got the pilot is Hastie, Second Pilot Spicer, Navigator Hudson, Flight Engineer Brown, Wireless Operator Watson, Special Operator Beacroft.
PL: Yeah.
DK: And then Front Gunner Lockhurst, Mid-Upper Gunner Weston, waist gunner your good self, the other waist gunner Lawrence.
Other: Bob Lawrence. Yeah.
DK: And Rear Gunner Pienaar.
PL: Yeah.
Other: Didn’t you go, or didn’t you have to go as a rear gunner once and you didn’t like it?
PL: Yes.
Other: It made you feel sick.
PL: Yes.
DK: So you preferred the waist position then did you?
PL: Yes. I did.
DK: What was it like being in the rear gun turret? You’re being pulled backwards.
PL: Claustrophobic.
DK: Right. Where has that story gone? Typical isn’t it? Oh, here we are.
Other: There we are. Yeah.
DK: Yeah. It is. So this is the waist gunner, yourself. It says, “Coming home the German flak around Hamburg was extremely accurate at twenty two thousand feet and hit our aircraft severely damaging number two engine.” Then it says, “Propeller had to be feathered.” And then you said you realised, “There was limited fuel to get back so you started throwing everything out.” Do you remember throwing everything out the aircraft?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. So what would you have thrown out? The guns?
PL: Yes, guns and ammunition.
DK: Right.
Other: Heavy stuff.
DK: So, your pilot then, Roy has got the aircraft back to Oulton only to be told to divert because of bad weather and you were diverted to RAF Barford St James in Oxfordshire. This was not far away but the extra distance certainly added to the pilot’s problems. Barford was a Mosquito training station and they clearly liked their sleep. A Liberator arrived overhead to find not a single light showing below. Firing a red verey cartridge or two provoked some reaction and the airfield lights reluctantly switched on. You said here with his usual superb airmanship Roy landed his much bigger aircraft on the unfamiliar runway. As he taxied to the dispersal the three working engines cut out. The fuel exhausted. It had been a close run thing. Do you remember that?
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. You don’t mention here in the book that they then didn’t give you any bacon and eggs.
PL: No. No.
DK: So you got no breakfast.
PL: No.
DK: I hope you complained.
PL: We did [laughs].
DK: So that, so that wouldn’t be too unusual then diverting to another base.
PL: No.
DK: No.
PL: No. The weather did change and it was a surprise because the forecasters were generally very good but sometimes the weather took hold.
DK: Yeah.
PL: And the weather changed and you couldn’t land in your own airfield. You had to go somewhere else and you weren’t very popular if you woke them up.
DK: And what was it like flying through bad weather because normally when I fly it’s in an airliner. We are flying over the weather but what’s it like as you go through it?
PL: Well, pretty grim.
DK: So you buffeted around a lot.
PL: Yes.
DK: Yeah. So can you hear the hailstones?
PL: Yes. Oh, indeed. Yes.
DK: And did your aircraft ever freeze up at all? Ice up I should say.
PL: No. Not whilst we were flying. It did whilst it was on the ground.
DK: And, and what was the feeling then when in the mornings you were earmarked for operations?
PL: Well, we thought if we had to go we would have to use somebody else’s aircraft.
DK: Yeah.
PL: Which was never very popular.
DK: No. Ok, well let’s, let’s stop that there then.
[recording paused]
DK: So, sorry you were saying there that, can you say that again? That —
PL: Well, not all trips counted as an operation.
DK: Right.
PL: A quick trip to Duisburg dropping Window probably didn’t count as a full op.
DK: Oh right. So would that have been counted like a half an operation or something?
PL: Yes. Something like that. So you had to be very careful when you were adding up.
DK: Right.
PL: I probably did something like seventy trips but they didn’t all count.
DK: How did that make you feel then? Because you’re still facing the enemy gunfire.
PL: Yes.
DK: And everything else.
PL: It didn’t make us feel very happy.
DK: So when you came back then were you told when you’ve come back that it would only be a half a mission? Or were you told before you went?
PL: No. We were told much later.
DK: That’s not very nice is it?
PL: No.
DK: Oh well when I count these up I’ll count them as full missions [laughs]
PL: Alright [laughs]



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Peter Lovatt,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 4, 2024,

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