Interview with Bob Leedham

Title

Interview with Bob Leedham

Description

Bob Leedham was a flight engineer who carried out twenty-one operations on Stirlings. At the outbreak of war Bob was an apprentice motor mechanic, and along with other apprentices, was left to operate the garage when all the engineers were called up. In 1940 he enlisted in the RAF and following initial training, Bob was selected for pilot training but did not achieve the requirement of flying solo within twelve hours. His engineering background meant he was posted to RAF St Athan and trained as a flight engineer. A posting to RAF Stradishall followed, and conversion to Stirling aircraft. Now part of a crew and posted to 90 Squadron at RAF Ridgewell, operational flying commenced. Bob suggests political interference restricted the performance of the aircraft resulting in a higher casualty rate amongst Stirling crews, and explains how the introduction of Window anti-radar equipment improved this. In Spring 1943 the squadron moved to RAF Wratting Common and in Autumn, converted to Lancasters. With more Lancasters coming into service, there was a lack of experience on four-engined aircraft, and some Stirling’s were deployed to RAF Swinderby for crew training. This move coincided with Bob obtaining his commission and he became an instructor on both Stirling and Lancasters. Late in 1944, Bob was back flying operations with 463 Squadron at RAF Waddington, where he was senior co-pilot/flight engineer. Following peace declaration in Europe, Bob joined Tiger Force in preparation for moving to Japan, but the war ended before this materialised. Bob began a post-war career in civil aviation, initially operating the Avro Tudor, and flying approximately three-hundred operations during the Berlin airlift. He also gives an account of the development of the DH106 Comet and details the faults which resulted in the aircraft being grounded. While undertaking demonstrations in America, Bob was recalled to New York, where his crew discovered they were to operate the first civilian jet flight eastbound across the Atlantic. In 1960, Bob was one of four certified to instruct on the new generation of aircraft, the Boeing 707. An injury sustained from clear-air turbulence curtailed Bob’s flying career, and he progressed into the investigation of aircraft accidents.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2018-12-12

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

02:16:46 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ALeedhamHJL181212, PLeedhamHJL1801

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

HB: This is an interview between International Bomber Command Centre volunteer Harry Bartlett with Mr Herbert, Bob, Leedham, who lives at Ashbourne in Warwickshire. He joined the RAF in 1940, but we’ll no doubt will come to that shortly. Bob, if I can just ask you what were you doing on, in the few years before the war?
BL: My family, my father was a skilled carpenter, but on my mother’s side, she had three brothers all of which were very keen engineers and one of which was exceptionally keen and he worked for a local motor company and he was involved in motor bike racing at Donnington, mainly, and it was him that inspired me with a heavy engineering interest, and consequently when I left school, I was educated in Burton on Trent, the dear old brewing place, I finished up there, I was, won a scholarship to be educated at the main system, which was the central system and the grammar school and so on in Burton and I survived that. And on leaving I decided my real choice was to follow my uncles as it were, into the motor trade, which I did. And I was trained fairly quickly as an apprentice in the motor trade and of course when the war started most of them were already on the reserve and they were the first people to be called up. So myself and a couple of my colleagues of my age, and at that time we are talking about an age of seventeen, sixteen to seventeen, I had already passed my driving test and was driving of course and we were left to run the very large garage very quickly after all the others had been called up, and so it was hands on experience with a vengeance. We were left to run the garage and carry on operations and consequently even a relatively short time I had a good engineering background. However, when I got to seventeen and a half, all my mates that I knew and went to school with and so on had all got into the air force, they’d volunteered in some way or other. In fact some of them were actually called up and I knew that sooner or later I would be called up as soon as I got to the age of I think it was eighteen or nineteen and the chances were that I would maybe put in to the Army. Well I had no interest whatsoever of going into the Army. My first choice was always the air force. Unknown to my parents, at seventeen and a half, I went over to the Assembly Rooms in Derby to the recruiting centre and signed up to join, but I had to give my age as eighteen. They probably accepted this with tongue in cheek knowing that I’d lied a little bit about my age. However, I was accepted and instructed to come for a medical a couple of days later. Very amusing and perhaps interesting thing was, that bearing in mind I had been brought up in a relatively conservative sort of area in Burton on Trent as opposed to big cities and so on, so we were living in a relatively closed environment, despite the fact we were all qualified, and highly qualified tradesmen then. So I went over to have the medical. There was about twenty of us lined up. The doctor came in, he says, ‘right, take your shirts off boys, I’m going to check your hearts.’ So he went along, checking everyone, all the way along, and when he got to the end he says, ‘Right, put your shirts on boys,’ then waited a few minutes, said, ‘drop your trousers then.’ I thought ‘drop my trousers!’, bloody hell! I’d never been exposed to anyone in my life before, you know! And I feel that at that moment I changed from being a boy to a man. That’s the way I felt about it, I couldn’t believe, having to drop my trousers and expose myself even to a doctor. That was the sort of background we were brought up in of course, in those days. It’s totally different now of course. So really from then on the next few days I was down at Cardington for the, attestation and so forth and then I was allocated for training. So initially because of my engineering background the RAF at that time were quite short of experienced engineering people, and they’d set up training units and so on but, they were very good from a theory point of view but nothing in the way of hands on. So I was immediately shuffled into training as a fitter 2E. But I wasn’t happy that, I wanted to fly. So it didn’t last long, and I managed to wiggle my way in to ITW at Blackpool, and found myself on a pilot’s course.
HB: ITW?
BL: ITW: Initial Training Wing.
HB: Right.
BL: Which was at Blackpool in those days and that’s where they carried out the tests as to whether you were suitable to fly in an aircrew capacity. So I was accepted to fly an aircrew capacity to be decided specifically by the selection board’s requirements. And the next thing was, at that time the pilot training was being geared up dramatically. The original pilots in the air force at the start of the war and going right up to probably about the end of 1941, were pre-war pilots, mostly people who’d come from quite wealthy backgrounds who could afford to train them as pilots and by the end of 1941, these were the people that the air force had to rely on in the early days. When I look back historically on some of the situations, bombing raids and that sort of thing using obsolete aircraft like Lysanders and stuff like that, it was dreadful really and by the end of ’41 most of these boys had disappeared: they’d either been shot down, been killed, they crashed or were POWs. Result was that there was a colossal demand for fully trained new aircrew. This was done from a pilot’s point of view in Canada, or America, or Southern Rhodesia as it was then, which is now Zimbabwe, of course. Those were the three, main three areas where the pilots would train from about 1941 onwards. And they set up very, very good systems. But there was a difference between Rhodesia trained and particularly American trained. The American instructors were extremely, quite different to us: they were very hard, very dedicated and they set up a system for training pilots, that if you didn’t go solo in twelve hours, you were thrown off the course. You were downgraded to either a navigator or a bomb aimer or anyone else that had any sort of background which would be useful to the air force, in my case an engineering background. And when you consider, you know, people, ex bank managers if you like, and people from a whole variety of trades in civilian life, there they were, shipped over to America to train as pilots and expected to go solo in twelve hours. Just dreadful really. However, that was the way the system worked. It wasn’t quite so severe in Canada, but nevertheless it was similar to the American system but the ones trained in Southern Rhodesia of course, it was very much more realistic, and they didn’t stick to any specific hours to go solo and things like that you see. So the result was when finely trained aircrew of any category then came back to the UK, the usual routine was Initial Training Wing and then on to type training unit and so on and find a way into things like Wellingtons and Hampdens and Lemingtons, er Wellingtons and things like that.
HB: Can I just take you back a little bit Bob? [Cough] excuse me. When you joined up, you started your initial training as a fitter.
BL: Yup.
HB: But you then went for aircrew training.
BL: Yes.
HB: Did you go to train as a flight engineer, or did you go to train as a pilot?
BL: No, I went to train as a pilot initially.
HB: Right. And where did, which you, where did you actually go train as a pilot?
BL: I went to 32 SFTS in Carbery Manitoba, Canada.
HB: Canada, right.
BL: But I didn’t make the twelve hours solo so I was downgraded, the same as three quarters of them. There were very few, at that time anyway, who were competent enough after twelve hours to go solo. So it was a very hard path really. I came back to the UK, together with many others, who’d been diverted then in to training as a navigator or a bomb aimer or a gunner – I’d forgotten that one – and, but in my particular case the fact that I had the engineering background, which they wanted, they downgraded me to co-pilot and flight engineer. So predominantly I was trained as a full flight engineer, despite the fact I was accepted that on aircraft for instance like the Stirling I had to act as co-pilot as well. So I had to take link training and all that. I was never allowed to take off and land, but I was there to relieve the main pilot and to act as co-pilot duties. And that applied pretty well throughout: Stirlings, Lancasters, Halifaxes and so on. So we were always virtually the number two so far as the mechanical operation of the aircraft was concerned. As opposed to the gunners who had their job to do, bomb aimer had his job to do and the navigator. A number of the early bomb aimers of course were also trained as type of navigators but very few of them flew as navigators, they flew mainly as usually as bomb aimer come front gunner. There was always a front turret, gun turret on the Lancs and the Stirlings and Halifaxes, so the bomb aimers were expected to man the front turret and also act as the bomb aimer so far as the targets were concerned. And the navigators of course, they did the actual navigation guidance to the pilots.
HB: So you came back to England and you went to do your flight engineer training for aircrew.
BL: Yes. At St. Athan.
HB: At, St Athan, right. So at the end of that training, where did you sort of stand in the scheme of things?
BL: I was at training, already I’d had my link training as a co-pilot as well, before I went to St Athan, when I left St Athan, fully qualified, the next thing then was to join a crew on either Lancs, Stirlings or Halifaxes. In fact in my particular case I was posted to Stradishall which was a main training base for Stirlings and then the crew of seven were created. There was nothing directed, they put us all in hangar and between ourselves we had to get to know each other and put ourselves together as a seven man crew, which is how it happened. Once that’s established as a crew then your flight training started, which we did at Stradishall of course, on the Stirlings in our particular case.
HB: Where did your, is it all in this hangar, did somebody come to you or did you think oh I like the look of him, I’ll go with him? Or? How did it work? What were the mechanics of it?
BL: It’s a variety really. Our captain, our skipper, was an ex Birmingham policeman and personally, personality was absolutely first class, but he was a strict disciplinarian being ex-police, of course, and so he was highly respected despite the fact he was definitely one of us, but very highly respected. And we got to know him, chatting away and he said well, he says ‘I’ve just come from OTU from Wellingtons,’ he says, ‘I’ve got a navigator and I probably have a bomb aimer.’ He says, ‘I’m looking for a couple of gunners and a flight engineer co-pilot to get the seven man crew together,’ and so from then on it was a question of who you knew and whether you thought they were capable, and see whether they were already in a crew or not that was how we all created seven together. It was done quite amicably, in various reasons, various forms, whether you knew each other or you say well I know old so-and-so, he’s a bloody good navigator, try and get him on our crew, you know, and that sort of thing. So we finished up as a very tight crew and it so happened, subsequently, that when we were doing our ops on the squadron, the camaraderie within the seven man crew was very tight indeed. The result was we found that we had seven first class crew members. Everyone worked together, helped each other and that was the way it went on the Stirlings. Unfortunately the Stirlings of course had a very bad reputation subsequently. The reason for this was because in its early days, [cough] it was built pre-war of course, a long way pre-war, and was a very good four engined heavy bomber when it was produced, extremely good, but unfortunately it came under the influence of the political decisions, the politicians came along and said that aircraft’s got a wingspan of a hundred and sixteen feet! We won’t get it in to the hangars at Cardington, they’re only a hundred feet, you’ll have to take sixteen feet off the wings. So, reluctantly, they put pressure on the manufacturers and the Stirling was modified to have sixteen feet, either, eight feet either side taken off the wings. Not only that by doing that they had to alter the structure quite considerably and raise the undercarriage very high in order to cope with this. Disaster so far as performance’s concerned, the result was the Stirling was always very, very much – what shall I say - the underdog as far as the heavy bombers were concerned. Result was the highest we could ever get to bomb was about twelve thousand feet. The Lancs and the Halifaxes were up above at twenty two thousand and frequently if your time was slightly out we were bombed by their bombs from above us. Frequently happened, there was a lot of aircraft were lost that way. Just one of those things. So really, although at that stage, when you think that the Lanc didn’t come in to service till towards the end of ’42, so in the early days the Stirling was the only heavy bomber and he was restricted in its performance by this political intervention and consequently it had a reputation of being something of a, I won’t use, I want to use the words death traps, but Bomber Harris had his own ideas on this and he was fully aware of it. In fact as ‘43 went on we were doing the Ruhr bombing and then of course Hamburg and then the start of the Berlin offensive which was in the autumn of ’43, and at that stage our losses were running on average seven, eight percent, we had one occasion when our losses were seventeen [emphasis] percent. And it got to the stage where Bomber Harris, he couldn’t stand it any longer, he was at war with a lot of the politicians himself of course by his insistence that Germany had to be bombed in order to minimise their war effort, and consequently it’s on record in one of, I think it was Max Hastings’ book Bomber Command I think he mentioned it in there, the extract of a meeting that Harris had with Churchill in round about October, I think, or maybe November ’43, and he was thumping the table and he said to Churchill, he says, ‘if I send my boys out [thumping] to get lost any longer in these bloody death trips, death traps called Stirlings they’ll call me a murderer.’ He says, ‘what I want is Lancasters, Lancasters and more Lancasters.’ there was a hell of a row went on and Churchill didn’t say a word. But finally he leaned across and said you’ll have your Lancasters. And it was then that the production on Lancasters was even, set up considerably higher than what it was already.
H: So when [cough] -
BL: So really, just interrupting,
HB: No, no.
BL: so going back from our training at Stradishall as a crew were posted to 90 Squadron to a little place called Ridgewell which was in Cambridgeshire, and not terribly well known and we were the first people in. A couple of farms that had been demolished and replaced with an impromptu quickly built runway. There was no, shall we say buildings, which were you might say were suitable for an operational squadron. There was mud everywhere, conditions were foul. They put a series of nissen huts up for us to live in and also for headquarters and the conditions there were not terribly good at all. However, there we were in the spring of ’41, er ’43, expected to use that as a base to operate, operationally against the various targets which were set out. We were at Ridgewell I think for no longer than about three months, four months, something like that and we moved then to a place called, it was West Wickham when we moved there but it was renamed Wratting Common, and consequently conditions there were far better. Again, it wasn’t a wartime, it wasn’t a peacetime airfield, but it was a good airfield and conditions there were far better airfield than Ridgewell. I don’t quite know what happened to Ridgewell in the end, whether it survived or not. I shouldn’t think it did: it was foul. But nevertheless we went to Wratting Common and we continued to fly our ops from Wratting Common on 90 Squadron, until, as I say, the autumn when the squadron was destined to change from Stirlings into Lancs and consequently they were moved to just outside Mildenhall at Tuddenham.
HB: How many ops did you actually fly in Stirlings for your tour?
BL: On Stirlings alone I think we did about twenty one I think it was, on the Stirlings, before we went on Lancs. As I say during that particular time conditions using the Stirling were very difficult, to make an understatement. Our losses were constant and it was amazing really, I mean for instance there was a Canadian pilot called Geordie Young. He was the senior pilot on the squadron, he’d got a lot of experience, and they went off on their last trip, their thirtieth trip, and they got blown up over Dusseldorf on their very last trip and that was, had a very, what shall I say effect on morale on the squadron, because they were regarded you know, the top boys on the squadron. One of the problems, in those days throughout Bomber Command, not just 3 Group which was a Stirling Group, but all the other groups as well, is that when Don Bennett set up the 8 Group, Pathfinder Group, he got old Hamish Mahaddie who he took on as his recruitment boss to collect all the very best crews off the different squadrons he could get hold of, to go into Pathfinders, and of course there was a colossal amount of opposition to this from all the squadrons. No squadron commander wants to lose their best crews, and consequently there was a war going on particularly on 5 Group, with Cochrane was the AOC on 5 Group in those days, based at Swinderby and he was very, very strongly opposed to it. There was open warfare going on the whole time, and despite the fact that 5 Group at that time of course, was the elite group which contained all the 617 boys and various other specialist crews for specialist bombing trips and he obviously didn’t want to lose any of those. And consequently he managed to get some political background particularly from Arthur Harris two of the Pathfinder squadrons in 8 Group would be transferred back to 5 Group. So he eventually had his own Pathfinder boys. Of course then when Gibson set up 617, that was also again from selecting top quality experienced crews. In the early days that was, but before the Dambuster raid, but not so much later on when they were really struggling to get replacement crews from the various crews they’d lost. So really Bomber Harris, Arthur Harris, he was very much supporting the 5 Group people, it was his elite group in Bomber Command and he always gave it sort of first preference on everything. There’s one, a very amusing aspect came at a conference they were having at Swinderby when at the time Princess Margaret was having this affair with Fighter Command Townsend and there was all speculation in the press about whether she’d marry him or whether she’d marry somebody else, and so on, and at this particular meeting, this conference of crews at Swinderby, it was a bit of a hilarious topic and someone was saying, ‘well it’s unknown who she’s going to marry, but it won’t have any effect on us here in 5 Group.’ And somebody stood up and said, ‘well there’s one thing for certain, whoever she marries, it’s bound to be somebody from 5 Group!’ [Laughter]
HB: Yeah. Can I just take you back a little bit Bob.
BL: Yes of course.
HB: I just noticed in some of your notes, I know this is jumping right back, it says you [cough] were posted to Coastal Command, 86 Squadron and flew on Sunderlands.
BL: Yes. That was when I was on 86. We were, we did a detachment down to Gosport actually.
HB: Oh right.
BL: And then to St, St Athan, when the two battleships Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst were at Brest and they were trying to get up the channel to get away and consequently we went down there with 86 Squadron to carry out operations against the two battleships. But for some reason or other, some of the squadron was detached to, in Coastal Command, to a flying boat squadron, which was 10 Squadron based at Mountbatten, at Plymouth. I don’t quite know why this happened, it was only a very short time, but I was one of the people that went on the flying boats for about three months.
HB: So you were there as a co-pilot engineer?
BL: Yes, on the flying boats. And again, bearing in mind our engineering background was what they wanted more than anything because we had to get involved with the maintenance schedules and so on as well. So I only had three months, I didn’t like it at all. Flying boats was not for me, and that was the main reason I thought that there must be a better way that I enjoy so I volunteered while I was there for Bomber Command. That’s where I started into Bomber Command
HB: Right. It’s all right, I was just trying to get the sequence of events into some sort of order.
BL: That was really how the sequence went through. Of course in Bomber Command, very lucky with our crew to survive a tour on 90 Squadron.
HB: What were the operations, you know, you’re flying operations into the Ruhr in the Stirling, and you’ve very clearly explained the shortcomings of the Stirling. What was it, you know, what was, what were your experiences of those, those individual sort of operations?
BL: Well it varied actually. But the Ruhr targets at that time I can remember them vividly. Dortmund, Dusseldorf, Duisburg, Krefeldt, Essen. And Essen was the one everyone hated [emphasis] because at that time that was the home of Daimler Benz, Krups and all the munitions factories, and they had a ring right the way round Essen, three thousand anti aircraft guns and radar controlled searchlights and when you’re flying towards Essen and you looked ahead, you think, ‘Christ you’ve got to get through that to get to the target point,’ and usually at briefing when the curtain was finally pulled back - we were never told what the target was until the very last minute of course - and when the target was pulled back you see Essen area, ‘oh Christ, not Essen,’ you know. However, going from what I say, first five trips Essen, then we went on to Gelsenkirchen, Wuperthal, Mulein, Bochum, Cologne, Munchen Gladbach. Now in my history of 90 Squadron book, there’s various aspects of the work that we did, and there’s a typical battle order printed there as an example. And that was August the 26th I think it was, on Munchen Gladbach and we were on the battle order for that particular night. I think the squadron was putting up something like thirty two aircraft or something that night. There was eight hundred and fifty on the, the full main force. And at that time the procedure on ops on the squadrons was that you didn’t do, as a pilot or co-pilot or anything like that, you didn’t go out with your own crew until you’d done a familiar flight with an experienced crew as a supernumerary and it just so happens that on that battle order I had one under supervision and there was one other crew with another one under supervision. It was on the 31st of August ’43. And these two chaps, I had one of them under supervision, and another crew had the second one. Out of curiosity, in the back of the book there’s seven pages of casualties on the squadron, and when I looked for the names down, both these boys’ names were down on the casualties, one, bear in mind, was on the 22nd of September bear in mind that was just 22nd, twenty two days after we had taken them on the supervision. One of them went on the 22nd, the next night the second went on the 23rd. So they only survived twenty three days on the squadron. And that was typical, absolutely typical. We used to live in a long nissen hut, seven beds each side, two crews in there. Three times we had a new crew come in, and three times we’d wake up after an op the night before, about midday, be woken up by the military police going through the, collecting the bits and pieces, belongings of the other crew who had got the beds on opposite. Three times we had new crews come in and three times we lost them very quickly, in two cases within the first three ops, and consequently we had, as a crew, we had a reputation of being a Jonah crew and nobody would move in with us. [Laughter] But in all seriousness that was the way it happened, you know and we lost some very quickly and didn’t even get to know them. There we were, soldiering on and finally got to the stage as I say, when the Stirlings were taken out of service and deployed on other work, mainly glider towing and things like that. Then the Lancs took over as the Lancaster production of course, got higher and higher.
HB: What do you put down to, I don’t want to use the word success, your ability to have got through those twenty something operations?
BL: A lot of people would say you must have been one of the lucky ones. Yes, to a point. But we had a very good crew; highly [emphasis] dedicated crew to the individual job they had to do and it was, there were various aspects of the operation that needed high concentration and dedication to execute that. I mean our rear gunner, Eddie, he’s still alive now in New Zealand, and he had eyes like a bloody hawk; he could spot these fighters coming in and he would control the operation immediately if he saw a fighter, to the pilot at the front, saying, ‘corkscrew, corkscrew,’ and instead of flying at straight and level from a to b to a target on our particular crew, we would fly perhaps just for a minute or so, then start weaving like that, so that there was no chance of the fighters beaming on to us in, as if we’d been flying straight and level they had a much easier job of coming in to us, and under from mid or something like that, shoot us down. But by weaving like that, was one of the things which we did continually, it was uncomfortable but it was very safe. But apart from the anti aircraft of course, it certainly kept the fighters at bay from us and I mean I think three times we were attacked by fighters and three times we got away from them. Largely due to Eddie in the rear turret. Who shot one of them down actually.
HB: Did he?
BL: Yup, He opened up, he waited till he got it in his sights, and let fly and it blew up in front of him, or behind him should I say. So really that aspect of it is the thoroughness of the type of flying and the operation which was necessary, but on the other hand of course, where anti aircraft was concerned it’s a different story. We, in the Stirling we were in the middle of it, weaving through it and if you had a direct hit or a hit which say damaged the aircraft severely you could say right you were just bloody unlucky like Geordie Young on his thirtieth trip, and that sort of thing, so. The worst night of for Bomber Command for all losses was the Nuremburg flight, you may or may not have heard of this, but it was on the Nuremburg trip when the met people made a complete balls of the forecast. They were forecasting plenty of cloud so that you could fly comfortably in and out of cloud and the fighters couldn’t detect you quite so easily. But on this occasion the weather didn’t turn out as they predicted and consequently it was a full moon clear, crystal clear night and the result was that the main force – there was eight hundred and fifty aircraft on that particular target. This was in the autumn of ’44, I think it was, and that particular night we lost ninety four aircraft on that night, and when you think there were seven men in each aircraft. Work that one out. That was the worst night ever [emphasis] for Bomber Command.
HB: And your crew were on that.
BL: No. We weren’t on that.
HB: You weren’t on that one.
BL: It just so happened that we were on leave at the time so we weren’t on it. But that was, that’s the hard statistics of it.
HB: Because I was interested in the, in the thing you were saying about the Lancasters and the Halifaxes going at twenty two and you know, the Wellingtons, obviously the Wellingtons were at eighteen thousand and the poor old Stirling’s down at twelve.
BL: Yeah.
HB: I mean that must have, that must have influenced your pilot and your crew at that point, when you were on, when you were on the bigger raids.
BL: Well, yes, to a point, but you had to admit it was one of those things. I don’t think, it was only when we got to grips with the Stirling and training and so on and realised what effect the modifications had had on the performance of the aircraft. It was not easy to get off the ground with a full load on. For one thing the inertia of the engines meant that it was, always had this sort of pull to starboard, to the right, which you had to maintain correction on, and not only that but the fact that the undercarriage had been raised quite considerably, very high up. There’s a picture here will show: that was our aircraft and the one that saw us all the way through our tour, and it was so high up it that when this sort of inertia from the engines, it was very difficult to keep it straight down the runway. In fact there was numerous occasions when the aircraft just couldn’t control it with a full bomb load on and it crashed or something and numerous messy situations like that developed. But this is why as I say, I meant occasionally that when I went from Stirlings up into 5 Group, I was posted up to the elite group. How that happened was, that at that time the Lancs were coming on stream and 5 Group at Swinderby was the training base for the Lancs, but again they needed them on the squadron so rapidly that they were pushing the crews through probably too fast, not quite enough training. And the result was that a lot of the crews had been trained on the twin engined Wellingtons and stuff like that, which didn’t give them any [emphasis] experience on four engined stuff. So in the, when we finished a tour on Stirlings, it was decided then by the powers that be as it were – Harris and co – they’d put a few Stirlings up to be based at Swinderby to get, be engaged on the Lancaster training programme so that we could give them experience on another four engine aircraft which was more difficult to handle than what a Lancaster was, and consequently I was one of the eight crews that were, instructors that went up there and that’s how I got in to 5 Group, posted up there on the Stirlings. And I always remember when we got up there about 7 or 8 o’clock in the evening. So we parked the aircraft went over to the officers mess, went in the bar straight away for a drink of course, and we were standing there and there was another group of the instructors and so on and amongst them was Dave Shannon and Mickey Martin – ex 617 – and quite a number of others who’d survived and they were curious as to who we were. And finally old Dave Shannon, who was a big Australian as you probably know from 617, came across and said, ‘who are you blokes then and what are you doing here?’ ‘Oh we’ve brought some Stirlings up to give you some help in the training programmes here.’ ‘Stirlings!’ he says,’ bloody hell!’ He said, ‘have you done a tour on Stirlings?’ I said, ‘yes’. He rubbed his hand over here, says, ‘Well where are your VCs then boys?’ [Laughter] And that was their attitude towards us.
HB: Yes. That tells the tale.
BL: But there again, life’s about winners and losers isn’t it, you know. And what we had we had went out to do the best you can, and as I say, it’s sad really that our losses were consistently high.
HB: So when you’d done, you did, you know, when was you last operation that you did with the Stirling? Can you remember?
L: It was on, I think it was either Hannover or Stuttgart, it was not the Ruhr, north of the Ruhr, but that was my, our last op. We did two Berlins on the Stirling, surprisingly, and relatively quiet trips too, long trips but relatively quiet, for us anyway.
HB: What was your feeling on, you know, you’re going to do your thirtieth or your last tour on the Stirling? What was going through your mind then?
BL: I don’t really think there was any feeling about it. I mean on our crew there wasn’t any suggestion of any feeling of stress or concern or the fact that you might be, the crew expression was – you might get the chop. No, we were a very good competent crew. We operated very correctly and safely as far as we could and I think that had a, that was the predominant factor in the crew. I mean a lot of people today often say to me well what about all the stress and everything? I said well the simple answer was we couldn’t even spell the word. You know, I mean the stress wasn’t there, it was concern. Admittedly we had one occasion when our mid upper gunner, Mick, suddenly went down with something, tonsilitis or something and he couldn’t, he had to go sick and consequently they stopped him flying that night and we were doing an op that night, on, I’ve forgotten where it was now, somewhere in the Ruhr, so we had to have a mid upper gunner, spare mid upper gunner who apparently for some reason or other he’d lost the rest of his crew, he’d done no ops at all, but he was spare, so they said oh you’re joining Cawley’s crew tonight because the gunner’s gone sick so he came to us and was a dreadful situation. He was absolutely petrified of the thought of going on ops, and halfway towards, over the Dutch coast on the way to the target, he suddenly started firing off indiscriminately at what he thought were fighters but they were clouds. And of course it immediately was bloody dangerous because if fighters around they see tracer bullets going out they home in on us. And Charlie was absolutely crackers, he went mad. What the hell’s going on? Go back and have a look!’ And this bloke was sitting in his turret there, absolutely terrified and it happened again, at a very dangerous point, he suddenly started firing off. Anyway when we, we survived the op, we got back and we landed, the crew bus was there to take us back to the base for intelligence and debriefing and he never said a word, wouldn’t speak, he wouldn’t get on the bus, he walked back and of course when he was interviewed by the Station Commander he said, ‘what’s the problem?’ The medical people there saw the condition of him and the RAF had a very cruel aspect of dealing with situations like that. They immediately used to braid you, used to name you as Lack of Moral Fibre which was dreadful really. You were immediately stripped of your rank back to basic and sent off to a unit which was down at Brighton to deal with these people who were so called Lack of Moral Fibre and that went on your records throughout your, a very cruel way of looking at it really. But that happened to us on this particular flight and as I say amazing really, the bloke was just absolutely petrified. Couldn’t face up to what he was asked to do, despite the fact he’d gone through training and managed to survive to train to become a qualified gunner, but there we are. Just one of those things.
HB: What did you do when you got back from your last op?
BL: [Laughter] Well I normally drink a gin and tonic but I think I had something a bit stronger than that that night! No. we had a, all went down to the pub locally and had a nice evening and then we knew the next day we’d be posted out, we’d all be posted to different directions and it was a question then where everybody went. It just so happened that in my particular case I was posted, for a very short time, to a place called Wilfort Sludge which is on the A1, but from there of course this deal came up to send some Stirlings up to 5 Group, so I was then posted out of 3 Group into 5 Group. And previous to that I’d, before I finished my tour I’d been recommended for a commission so my commission had come through so I was, and that came through six months late, so I went straight in as a commissioned Flying Officer then and went to Swinderby then as an instructor and it was, the rest of the crew: Johnnie went up to, he was the captain, he went up to near High Ercall, which is up near, in Shropshire somewhere, near Whitchurch to start training Stirling crews up there to tow gliders in anticipation, of course, of the Arnhem offensives and so on, so he went up there on towing gliders. The two rear gunner, the two gears, er gunners, the mid upper gunner and the rear gunner, they were posted to somewhere on special duties. Where they thought they were going on rest they suddenly found they were on ops again, on the special duties, doing, dropping these Resistance guys in France and so on. Harry our wireless operator, the navigator by the way, suddenly when I went to Swinderby I found he was already there and I was sharing a room with him in the mess for a while. Unfortunately, he’s the son of a clergyman in Cornwall, highly religious, he used to spend all his time playing the organ in the local church where we were down the pub having a drink, but he had a heart attack right at the end of the war and died straight away. The bomb aimer, little Barry, little short bloke, he went on rest for a short time and then decided he’d go on a second tour, But got shot down on the third trip of his second tour, but he was lucky. He managed to bale out and he was a prisoner of war for about the last six months. But Harry, our wireless op, his previous job in life he was, worked in the Metropolitan Police, on the vice squad and he was absolutely obsessed on flying against the Germans on Bomber Command, absolutely [emphasis] obsessed. His one aim in life was successful bombing Germany and when we were tour expired and they say, sent out as instructors or rested and so on, and what they called screened as they said, screened from operations. He refused point blank he says, ‘No, I’m not going,’ he said, ‘I’m going to carry on.’ There’s a little bit of discussion with the commanding officer about it and the adjutant and so on, but anyway he got his way was posted on to a Special Duties squadron somewhere, and he carried on flying. He did seventy four ops in the end. And in the end he got shot down over Denmark I think, on one these special, highly secret operations on his seventy fourth. If you go back to Lincoln his name is on the, one of the what do they call it, the metal -
HB: The walls.
BL: The walls.
HB: wall 118.
BL: That’s what happened to all of us in the end. And as I say, the two gunners they survived, despite the fact they were amazed to find themselves on this resistance dropping and that sort of thing. So that was where we all finished up.
HB: So you ended up at Swinderby as the instructor on, you know, giving people experience on four engines.
BL: Yes. So, when I went to Swinderby I was instructing on Stirlings and Lancasters at the same time.
HB: Right. So how did you, how would you relate to the engineering side of the ground crew?
BL: Well, very closely indeed, in fact the whole crew did. I mean our ground crew was our survival in many respects and we respected them, we had a very good ground crew. They kept our aircraft serviceable against unprecedented odds at times. I mean there’s numerous occasions we’d come back with shrapnel holes down the fuselage and that sort of thing, and there was one occasion when there was, we had a near hit, this was Dusseldorf again funny enough, the intelligence people used to say well when the anti aircraft batteries are shooting at you, if you can’t hear on, if you can’t hear any noise you know you’re safe, but if you hear a bang you’ll know it’s very close. We heard this bloody great bang over Dusseldorf and that was very close and it finished up with Norm Minchin, the mid upper turret, with the perspex turret round his head, a piece of shrapnel came up and cut right through the back of the perspex and cut the back of his turret off, and he didn’t know it! Without touching him at all! It just cut through this Perspex and the back, and after we had left the target we were flying back home and he came on the intercom and said, ‘Christ it’s bloody cold up here, have you got some heating on?’ Didn’t even know it had happened! Of course when we got back to base not only that but there was a hole in the side of the aircraft you could damn near crawl through. So the maintenance people had a pretty big job, you know, to patch up all the holes on it. And that sort of thing, but the, yeah, the ground crew were very much part of the team, very important and we had a very good ground crew, very good.
HB: And when you got to Swinderby, you would, you would continue that relationship as you do in the training of the crews.
BL: Well not with the ground crew, not at Swinderby.
HB: Right.
BL: No, I mean we were, at Swinderby all we were concerned with was training the new crews coming through, and the ground crew was general ground crew, not to with, nothing to do with individual aircraft whereas on the squadron each aircraft had its own maintenance crew and its own flight crew and that was our particular aircraft which took us all the way through.
HB: Ah right, yeah.
BL: That finished up by the way, when we handed that over to another crew, actually I read historically in one of the books somewhere it was listed, I forget where the, I think it was the Bomber Command Diaries, every aircraft that was lost they gave indications where they were lost and where they were found and so on and our particular aircraft, the other crew that had it and it finished up in the Zuider Zee!
HB: Oh right.
BL: It was recovered eventually, by the Dutch people, who were, the Dutch people were doing the archive details and so on and there was actually some photographs of it being pulled out of the sea, they’re printed in the Daily Mail I think it was actually, so I couldn’t believe it when I saw this, when I saw the number on the side BF524, that was its serial number. WPNN and it was just being pulled out the water and you could just see the name, the number BF524 on the side of it. Couldn’t believe it. Recovered it and there’s a bloke, a very elderly gentleman, he’s a semi historian based at Alconbury and he’s very much a Stirling enthusiast and he’s got a workshop there full of all the bits and pieces of crashed Stirlings and so on and he works hand in glove with the, his counterparts in Holland and one of the major museums in Holland loan him parts of aircraft which he’s, he’s rebuilt a complete cockpit of a Stirling.
HB: Has he!
BL: At this. Yes, Andrew found this out and took me over there and we had a morning with him. I was intrigued and he’s got this bloody old shed there, old hangar I think it is, a small hangar, packed with all these bits and pieces of a Stirling and in the middle he’s got a cockpit he’s already built. And when we went over there he was sorting out an undercarriage and he was showing us that the Dutch archive people were loaning him stuff out of their museum which he photographed and copied and so on and sent it back to them. He said he had a very good rapport with them. Very interesting this guy. I can’t remember his name. Andrew knows it, but it was at Alconbury where he is based.
HB: Well I think, what we might do, Bob, is we might just have a break now because I’ve just gone to check the battery and we’ve now been talking for over an hour! So if we have a quick five minute break. I’m going to have to change the batteries anyway. So we’ll just stop the interview for the time being.
BL: Yeah. Okay, fine.
HB: Well we’ve had a comfort break and we’re just going to, we’ve had a battery change. So we’re just going to resume the interview -
BL: Oh these bloody things! I hate these!
HB: Just having a problem with a hearing aid battery at the moment. [Whistling]
BL: That’s better.
HB: So we should be go, on the run now. So we’re all settled now for our second part of our interview.
BL: Yes. What I was going to say was, when we were talking about the losses on the Stirlings, the turning point I think, was when it was decided, when Goebbels was boasting that the German fighters and defences were quite adequate against the RAF Bomber Command, he made statements saying that they’ll never touch Berlin or our second biggest city, Hamburg, they’re quite safe with our defences and so on, they’ll never touch them. And that was the challenge which Bomber Harris took up, and decided in conjunction with the naval people, who were very concerned because all these u-boats and subs were based at Hamburg and they were going out into the Atlantic to pick off the convoys and so on, and naval people said we’ve got to get rid of these u-boat pens at Hamburg. So Bomber Harris decided we’d obliterate Hamburg; it’s in July ’43. And at that time, as I was saying, particularly on the Stirlings, our losses were very high indeed and morale was very low and they introduced for the first time this metal foil thing called window. That was these patches of metal things which we discharged through the flare hatch at the back of the aircraft every twenty seconds I think it was, or every thirty seconds, something like that, and these packs, when they went out into the slipstream, developed into a big screen of metallic which completely killed the German radar defences and those, radar, the German defences were based, anti aircraft, were based on the radar picking up the aircraft or picking up the target with a blue, bright blue light, searchlight and once it picked you up, it then brought all the other normal searchlights into a cone and you were in the middle of it, and once you were coned like that, it was curtains it just picked you off then because they had you, and the whole secret of their success was this radar control and when we used this window for the first time it killed their radar. The result was, the first time it was used on Hamburg, it could have been used very early in 1943 but the politicians and defence people were so concerned they thought that if we use it early the Germans will follow this, copy it, and use it against us. So they were very reluctant, but it was only that when our losses got so high they had to introduce it. And our losses immediately on Hamburg dropped to one percent: fantastic! I we went to Hamburg, we did the four nights out of six: I did all four of ‘em. The fourth one was a disaster in that the first three were completely successful and I can remember it now, looking down, a whole wave of fire throughout, it just wiped this whole place out, just like that. The fourth night we went of course the met people again, they were predicting storms, but nothing like as severe as we found. The result was I think of, the storms were so bad, we were struck by lightning and St Elmo’s fire which is on the windscreen, and goes down the fuselage, all the compasses were knocked out and our radar and Gee box was knocked out. We hadn’t the faintest idea how we were, how to navigate back again and I think out of seven or eight hundred aircraft there’s only about twelve or fourteen actually reached the target. All the others had turned back because of the weather, and we were icing up very heavily and on the Stirlings the oil coolers were slung underneath the engines and you know what happens to diesel vehicles in cold weather, the fuel starts waxing and clogs up the carburettors, and the engines stop and that’s exactly what used to happen to us. These coolers which start icing in the middle, and what we call coring, and you had to keep hot air flow going through them in order to keep them serviceable. We suddenly found that we’d got two engines with, suffering from this icing and then there was chunks of ice coming off the wings, battering against the side of the fuselage like, dreadful we had to abandon short of the coast. We jettisoned our bombs into the sea and the only way we could navigate back to the UK was star navigation, and Cyril, our navigator, he was particularly good, he could take star shots with his, with his, my blinkin’ names, what my memory’s going.
HB: Sextant.
BL: Sextant, yes, with a sextant. And a combination of that and following the stars he managed to get us going back in the direction of the UK. When we finally hit the coast instead of being, coming over the coast over Essex or somewhere, we were in the north of Scotland, over the Hebrides and that’s where we came in and of course we immediately identified where we were and we were able to fly back down to, in fact we made an emergency landing ‘cause we were running a bit short of fuel, at Wattisham, in Suffolk. That was on the fourth trip, but the first three were so highly successful, we absolutely wiped the place out, and as I say the losses dropped right down to one percent because of using this window. The rise in morale then was just fantastic, you know after that. Of course sooner or later the Germans found that they could, they changed their system and they found that they could nullify this window by using different types of radar and so on, so it didn’t last, obviously, but we were able to use it for some months actually, and it was very good. We’re just having a new kitchen put in at the moment.
HB: Ah right. That explains the banging.
BL: And the other thing about the ops on the Stirling, in ’43 when our losses were so high, when you counted the number of ops you’re doing, the way it was calculated by Group headquarters, it was decided that because when they analysed the losses and how it was happening and so on, they came to a system of doing thirty ops in a tour and the total would depend entirely on the type of ops. For instance when 90 Squadron went to Tuddenham on Lancasters in the end of ’44, or half way through ’44, their main job - they did very, very little main force bombing – but ninety percent of the jobs of their work and I’ve got it all listed in my history book of 90 Squadron, was on either, was mainly on resistance work dropping resistance and equipment for low level intervention into Europe, dropping arms and equipment to the French and the Dutch resistance movements and so on, and consequently this was done individual very low level operations and the result was that the ops compared with ’43 were very easy and the losses were very low and consequently because, and the short ops as well, and because of this to count one trip as an op they had to do four trips to count as one on the tour, and consequently this system which was introduced before we finished, was that because of the severity of a lot of our ops on the Ruhr operation were so incredibly high losses and so very difficult that they allocated that some of the ops, because of their severity, would count, you had to do one op was counted as two on your tour, because of the severity of the operation and the high level of losses. So it wasn’t, it didn’t always follow that you did a straight forward thirty trips, you could have done say twenty five trips but they counted as thirty on your log book and the severity of the targets.
HB: Did you ever do mine-laying, gardening?
LB: Mining? Yes. Gardening as they called it. Yeah. We did two actually. One off Le Creusot and one other, I’ve forgotten what it was now. We did, our particular crew we only did two mining operations, those were, they were easy ones too.
HB: Yeah. So. You got to Swinderby. You’re doing the training there. How did you move forward from there? So that would be 1944.
BL: Well it was the end of, Christmas, yes Christmas time ’43 when I went to Swinderby, and most of ’44 and as I said earlier I was a fully qualified instructor on Lancs and Stirlings then and towards the end of ’44, I think it must have been round about September, October, something like that, some of the Lanc squadrons in 5 Group were having very heavy losses and the analysis of those losses, was in many cases put down to the fact that, to inexperience, training not sufficient for them, because they’d been rushed through very quickly because squadrons, with their losses, need quick replacements and so on. The result was that at East Kirkby 57 Squadron and 630 Squadron were both there at East Kirkby, and 57 particularly although they’d been engaged on very difficult targets their losses were astronomically high and a hell of a lot of them put down to pure inexperience. So myself and Dicky, we were both instructors at Swinderby, we were seconded to 57 Squadron for three months to set up a revised training unit there, which we did, to give the training, give the operational crews quite a bit more familiarisation and training and so on to try and cut these, some of these losses down. So I had that period there. And it was whilst I was at 57 and about to go back to Swinderby, ‘cause I was still on the strength at Swinderby despite the fact I’d been loaned to 57 at East Kirkby to do this training programme, 463 Squadron at Waddington, the Aussie squadron, had been suffering a few losses here and there, and the, one of the leaders of the squadron, the co-pilot and flight engineer leader there had been lost, so I was posted to 463 as his replacement and I was lucky to stay there until the end of the war.
HB: So that was back on to operations.
BL: So, yes, so I went back on to ops. Of course when I was at 463, because I was the boss of A flight, I was the leader, I didn’t have a crew, so I could only put myself on to do ops when there was a, somebody had gone sick or something you see, so I did them with any crew, and by extremely strange coincidence, I said to you about Essen earlier, my very first trip on my second tour here was a low level daylight on Essen. [Laugh] I couldn’t believe it! But I’ll tell you what, it was so bloody easy, it was so different to 1943. But, so I stayed there really, and at the end of the war as I said earlier, I went to Skellingthorpe, just outside Lincoln when Tiger Force was set up. I was posted on to Tiger Force.
HB: And Tiger Force was - ?
BL: That was the equivalent to 617 to go to Japan to do the [cough] vital targets into Japan, very similar to what 617 had been doing, because the adjacent to 617 Squadron was 9 Squadron. They were both based then at Woodhall Spa and Wing Commander Cheshire was the, was one of the commanding officers at 617 at that time, amongst others. But so when I went to 463 as I say, I was there till the end of the war then, and doing ops from there, and because I was the leader there the flight engineer leader on 463, I was posted to Skellingthorpe to join Tiger Force and I was promoted then at Tiger Force to be in charge of that particular section to go to Japan and we were half way through their training when the bomb was dropped of course and it all came to a halt then. Consequently I found myself in civil flying.
HB: Yeah. You did tell me before the interview started, you were, you were made an offer by the RAF before you -
BL: Yes, offered a, I was a substantive flight lieutenant then, and for a very short time I was an acting Squadron Leader but only for four weeks! [Laugh] Because it all ended then. But I was offered a extended seven year flying, extended flying committee, er, commission and given the choice. I didn’t know much about, well I didn’t know anything about civil flying. I didn’t even understand what BOAC meant until I got there.
HB: But you were originally offered Transport Command weren’t you.
BL: Yes.
HB: What was your view on that?
BL: But I turned that down. I turned that down flat. But there’s a very, there’s another, a very ironic twist that I’ll tell you about. So immediately because we were then seconded from the air force to BOAC we had to get civilian licences. We had to get civilian licences and then they decided what they were going to train us on, so we had to go through the basic theory and all that sort of stuff to get civilian licences and we were allocated I think it was about either fifty or a hundred block licence numbers in the very early days. Once we’d done type training on, at that time on Avros produced the very first post-war airliner called the Tudor and the first dozen Tudors were just being built and they were destined to go to BOAC to start up to date pressurised passenger aircraft. They were quite nice aircraft actually, very good. So since we’d just, we were the first people to be trained on the Tudors. So we did our training on the Tudors and when they were just about to start to take, BOAC to take delivery of the Tudors, for some reason there was a political change and instead of coming to BOAC, they went to British South [emphasis] American Airways, and at that time was run by the old 8 Group Pathfinder chief, Air Marshal Don Bennett, who was a real press on type. [Cough] Highly successful with Pathfinders of course and he was the boss at British South American. They’d previously been running some converted Lancasters into what they called Lancastrians before long distance flying in South America and so on, and they hadn’t got a particularly good record they’d lost three or four of them I think, for different reasons and so they took delivery of the Tudors. Tudor 1s these were, Mark 1s. And I did quite a bit of flying with the, on the Tudors on the South American routes, down to Bermuda, and the Caribbean and so on, and I was put in charge of training at BSA as well. And then, as things went on, we got as far as 1948 I think it was, ‘46’ 47’ ’48 I think it was, yes, ’47 ‘48. Suddenly the Berlin Airlift comes up, and from nowhere I suddenly found BSA, because of their Tudors, the air force was already in force on the Berlin Airlift using mainly Dakotas, the old C47s and they couldn’t cope with, couldn’t make it that economical to cope with the heavy loads that was necessary so they asked a lot of the civilian charter companies and so on, if they could provide crews and aircraft to come on to the Berlin airlift to increase the load factors, and British South American got one of the contracts to, with two Tudors, to go on the Berlin Airlift and I was one of them selected to go on the first one. So I found myself flying over to Wunstorf near Hannover where we were based, to fly on the Berlin Airlift these two Tudors between Wunstorf and Gatow, Berlin. And ironically, I think, when I think that three years before, when I did my last operational trip with 463, there we were still bombing and knocking hell out of ‘em; three years later, there I was at Wunstorf flying into Berlin to try and keep the so-and-so’s alive. Ironic really, they were three years the difference. Anyway, I stayed at Wunstorf for nearly a year, I think it was. I did nearly three hundred flights between Wunstorf and, there were only three of us on board.
HB: What sort of things were you taking in?
BL: Well when I first flew out there, we were taking huge packs of canned meat and stuff like spam and all that sort of stuff, corned beef, and all that, which was fairly easy to handle, in big cases and so on. And then the RAF were getting a bit uppity about what they were going to do and what they were carrying and bear in mind that the US air force was also on the operation with their C54s and Skymasters and so on, they were based at Schleswigland I think it is. I’ve got maps showing all the different air bases that we used over there but we always used Wunstorf and because we were larger aircraft, they decided that instead of carrying packs of food and so on, we suddenly found ourselves carrying coal, huge packs of coal, great big sealed bags of coal, about a hundredweight apiece. So we spent some months then, this coal at Berlin. Landing at Berlin was quite something. It was the ground force of people doing all the unloading and so on was predominantly very elderly German ladies, old grandmothers and mothers and so on, and it was sad to see them. They were dressed, whatever they could find to wear, and they used to come on board. They did all the work of loading and unloading, all the heavy work and they used to come on board to us carrying these lovely family heirlooms like Leica cameras and stuff like that to exchange. They were desperate for two things: cigarettes and coffee, and you could get anything for a couple of packs of coffee, in fact I got a lovely Leica camera in exchange for two bags of coffee at one stage. They used to come up, had it all laid out on the nav table there when they were unloading and they’d bring these heirlooms up and do deals with us. Anything we could, anything they wanted we could give it to them, you know. Children we gave cigret – we gave sweets and chocolate to the children. The children loved it. The Americans set up, at one stage, when they flew into Gatow, over the Frohnau beacon flying on to finals for landing, all the children used to sit round the lake underneath waving to the Americans going over and the Yanks were throwing out chocolate and sweets to them. At one stage they set up, got large handkerchiefs which they tied up sort of like a parachute, and tied these bags of sweets to them, were throwing them out and in dropping them out and the kids loved it. Absolutely fantastic.
HB: Amazing.
BL: But anyway, as I say, another aspect came up then, some time after been carrying the coal, which was a very dirty operation, dust and everything in the aircraft and they suddenly decided that what they wanted desperately in Berlin was medicinal, what do you call it? Two things they were short of, one was straight run gasoline and the other one was, oh dear me, some large amount of some sort of medicinal fluids. I’ve forgotten what they were now, what they were called. But these were in great big packs but the hospitals were desperate for them. So when it was decided that they’d fly the stuff in, it meant that the aircraft that were going to do this had to be modified with huge tanks in the back to carry it. And the air force said point blank they wouldn’t do it, they refused absolutely point blank to carry straight run gasoline in bloody great tanks down the back of the aircraft, they said its far too dangerous, so they refused point blank to do it. So the civilian contracts were asked to do it and we had then replaced our two Mark 1 Tudors with two Mark 5s which had been built and never been put into service but they were much larger and so our two Mark 5s were then equipped with these bloody great tanks for straight run gasoline and this medical stuff and so for the last few months we were flying that into Berlin.
BH: How did you feel about that?
BL: Oh dear me. Well it was just a bloody big laugh I thought, we thought. Bear in mind we’ve still got this enthusiasm from Bomber Command which we’d brought from the air force to the civilian and it was such a big change, you know, but to us it was more of a bloody big laugh than anything else. But anyway, we settled down to it and it was a good operation, it worked extremely well. When you are turning on to final approach into Gatow, Berlin, you came in over the lake on the outskirts of the city and the final beacon was at a place called Frohnau, Frohnau Beacon, you had to call over the beacon which was virtually the outer marker for final approach and the timing was so accurately it had to be done. The timing of aircraft over Frohnau was every twenty seconds between aircraft.
HB: Blimey.
BL: When you think there was a variety of aircraft, everything from small Bristol freighters to Dakotas and converted Lancs and Halifaxes and anything the charter people could lay their bloody hands on. They buy them for peanuts and take them out there to take part because the airlift they pay very big money and we were no exception with our Tudors and it’s an amazing operation really.
HB: So you went through the Berlin Airlift. Just one thing just I’m just quite curious about. You started off I think, on particular kinds of aircraft as a fitter.
BL: Yeah.
HB: What was, what was the system for re-training you when you went to different engines and different engine management systems?
BL: Well there were various training stations set up. I think the initial one for fitter 2Es, or 2As, that’s the difference between fitter rigger and fitter engines was at Kirkham, Lancashire and that was the number one training base, apart from Halton of course which is still there and still doing it today! And Halton of course was always the base of the so called Halton Brats as they call them. They go there as small, young apprentices and three year training straight away and they’re still doing that today. Yeah, they’re still churning out young lads from Halton.
HB: Right. So when you were working with the Stirling –
BL: Yeah.
HB: And then you go on Lancasters, obviously you’ve got Merlin engines, you’ve got Hercules engines, you’ve got all sorts, you’ve got air cooled, liquid cooled. You’ve got all these different engines.
BL: Yes.
HB: So was there an element of self training or was it all formalised?
BL: Well it was to us, to a point where we were fully trained and fully experienced with a lot of hours in on Stirlings when we went up to Swinderby, the 5 Group elite Group., but we hadn’t been trained on Lancs. So we had, it was virtually self-training on the Lancs there by virtue of working on them and flying on them and training every day. So that part of it, yes, was to a large extent I think we did, there were short courses laid on for us. I did one at Cosford for instance, and places like that, but generally speaking more than anything you were self taught, and as instructors you were expected to be experienced and knowledgeable on all the different aspects, so that was how it worked. But go back to the Berlin Airlift though, when that finished, I came back, by that time British South American, there was a lot of demands because they had a very poor safety record. We lost Star Tiger and we lost Star Ariel, both in the Caribbean. Those were Tudor 1s, from the first Tudors that we trained on. The first one was lost over the Bermuda Triangle as they call it, up at twenty thousand feet, no idea what happened to him; it just disappeared. And the second one was, had flown out of the Azores which at that time was a very difficult operation, flying over the south Atlantic from the Azores to South America and weather conditions and very poor nav and all rest of it was very prevalent round the Azores; very difficult route to operate.
HB: How many passengers did the Tudor 1 carry then?
BL: It varied, on whether, the Tudor 1s, I’ve just forgotten. I think up to about eighty or ninety passengers, something like that. The Tudor 5s were much larger but they didn’t actually go into passenger service after the Berlin Airlift. I don’t know what happened. They were scrapped I think, in the end. But anyway, as I say, because of the loss of the two Tudors and the BSA had lost quite a few Lancs so Don Bennett was criticised very heavily and finally he was forced to resign. So he was taken over by BSA who was then taken over by one of the old traditional north Atlantic BOAC captains, Gordon Storr his name, and it was Gordon Storr who I was with, on the, we were the first two Tudors at Wunstorf when the Airlift started and then shortly afterwards after Bennett had left, they decided BSA would be would up so what was left of it came back into, it came into BOAC. But that stage I was still being paid as a flight lieutenant substantive from the air force, seconded to BOAC so I was paid by BOAC who in turn seconded me to BSAA so I was paid by three companies, very interesting situation. But then of course, having come back to BOAC then, BOAC were operating Yorks and converted Halifaxes called Haltons, and, oh there was still a few Dakotas being used, but generally they were waiting for the next civil airliner which came from Handley Page called the Hermes and that was a very good aircraft. I liked the Hermes very much. Performance wise it hadn’t quite got good altitude performance as such, but it was a very easy aircraft to fly, very comfortable, it was designed specifically for the comfort of passengers and so on. And it was after then that the Comet 1 came in from De Havillands, the DH106, which was designed and built by DHs and was at least twenty years before its time. And then of course to us anyway, a huge attraction to get on the first jet aircraft into service. So in no time at all I was, I joined the Comet 1 fleet. We were flying, first of all flying down to Johannesburg and then it was extended to the Far East and out to even as far as Tokyo and Hong Kong and so on. Then of course you know the story that Xray Kilo blew up over Elba on its way between Rome and London. They were immediately grounded, no one could understand why it had, how it had happened. There was a huge inquiry and after ninety-odd modifications they decided that one of them must have been the reason so they put it back into service. And in no time at all they lost a second one which blew up over Naples Bay. That was flown by a South African crew who were on loan to BOAC. We’d also got French crews flying them, and it, so it was then decided that because two of them had blown up, they couldn’t leave them into service any longer. Unfortunately a third one went. The third one was out of Calcutta and that had just taken over from Calcutta and was flying through heavy cloud and they put that down to the fact that it flew into a cunim cloud and the stresses were so great the aircraft just broke up. So then they were grounded completely and when Farnborough rigged up the test rig there, and put a whole aircraft on this water test bed, and they found out exactly why it had happened. The general opinion from the public and in aviation generally was that the pressurisation caused the windows to blow out but that wasn’t true at all. The fault arose through bad engineering practice on the design of the hatches in the roof. The hatches which covered the radio communication, adf system and these two hatches were like that square like that. Engineering practice is that if you design something that’s a square and it’s put under pressure, you see that little crack there, where that join is -
HB: Showing me on the photograph frame.
BL: That little crack there.
HB: In the corner. [cough]
BL: If a crack occurs, it will always come from a corner, and find its way across and finally disintegrate and that’s precisely what happened to the Comet. It was bad engineering practice because if you round the corners those cracks wouldn’t occur. Simple [cough]. Again, in fairness to De Havillands, they produced some very fine fighter aircraft, put in their own engine, the Ghost 50 engine in them, Vampires and stuff like that but they had no experience ever of high altitude pressurised aircraft, and so they built them to what they considered would be strong enough and so on. But I’ve got a book upstairs which Andrew’s been reading, of the whole story, the whole official story of the enquiry and the way they found out all the reasons for it at Farnborough. The summing up at the end of it, when they said officially you know, that the initial fault was the adf hatches that disintegrated because of the bad engineering practice, how it was designed. The general feeling was that the aircraft was twenty years before its time but it simply wasn’t strong enough, because De Havillands, or anyone else for that matter, had experience enough to build them strong enough, when you think that at forty two thousand feet the pressurisation equivalent in the cabin was only eight thousand feet. That was the highest the cabin pressure was ever taken up to give passengers comfort without having to go on to oxygen. So the difference between eight thousand and forty two thousand across the structure of the aircraft was eight and a half pounds per square inch which is massive [emphasis] from the outside to the inside, and it has to be extremely strong, the sort of structure, in order to withstand these pressures. So you can imagine that it was not only not built strong enough, but of course the fault occurred on the hatches which caused it to blow up anyway. The first one that went, Xray Kilo, I had flown that on quite a number of occasions, got it in my log book in a number of places prior to it blowing up. I think previously I’d, we operated it from Tokyo to Hong Kong only the day before I think it was, before it blew up at Elba, but that aircraft had only done seventeen hundred hours. The second one that blew up over Naples had done just over two thousand hours and the one that disintegrated at Calcutta had done less than two thousand hours. They were all going at the, virtually the same time. That was another factor that the inquiry of course dug up, when they said that, Tom Butterworth I think it was, that because of lack of experience at DHs on high altitude stuff the aircraft simply wasn’t built strong enough. You’ve got to go back to Con Derry who was the chief test pilot at De Havillands a few years before when he was doing demonstrations at the Farnborough air show in a, I think it was a Vampire, he was doing very, very tight turns demonstrating and on one of those tight turns the bloody wings came off. He crashed into the crowd there and killed a few people, including himself. That was another example that under extreme stress conditions, that DHs aircraft wasn’t strong enough.
HB: Yes.
BL: So all those factors, you know. So result was that going back to the Comet days, I was involved very heavily with the whole Comet story because then it was decided that they’d have to, they’d build the new aircraft much stronger and up to date. The other thing was, by the way, that De Havillands had their own engines, the Ghost 50 which only produced five thousand pounds thrust, which was quite adequate for the fighters, but for a aircraft like the Comet 4 Ghost 50 engines, they insisted on putting their own engines in and all the experts said no, we needed Rolls Royce Merlin engines, or Avon engines they were, but they refused point blank, they said no, its our aircraft, we’ll put our own engines in and they simply weren’t strong enough. We couldn’t even do a safe level cruise at altitude, you had to do a five degree climb the whole time to get to top of descent, largely because by continuing to fly like that you’re reducing your fuel flow and consequently you had adequate fuel to start your descent. It was because of the consumption levels and the lack of real thrust on these DH engines, it was extremely [emphasis] critical on fuel, extremely [emphasis] critical. They devised this method of five degree climb. You had to fly, when you flight plan you fly backwards starting at top of descent instead of top of climb and things like that, you know. So anyway, when it was decided then they’d build the new Comet 4 much stronger and it would have Rolls Royce engines of much higher quality and it had Rolls Royce Conway engines. So, they’d, after the 1s, they built some Comet 2s, which were destined to go to the air force. But of course after the crashes they never even got airborne, never even delivered, they were just stuck there at Hatfield. So they decided that they’d have to carry out a two year test flying programme to make sure that everything that was being put into the Comet 4 had been well proved, correctly and properly using these two Mark 2s which were used as test beds. So they modified these two Mark 2s, strengthened them up and made sure they were adequate to do the work. They put the standard Conway engines on the inboards and then the new big 524 engines on the outboards which were destined to go into the new Comet 4. So they hadn’t got any crews to fly these at De Havilland, so they asked BOAC if BOAC could loan them I think it was six, was six crews to fly a two year test flying for De Havillands on these Comet 2s, 2Es as they called them. So I was one that went on to those, on to test flying. The first year we, every day we flew non-stop to Beirut from London and back, every day for a year. The aircraft hadn’t got a certificate of airworthiness, of course it was experimental, so there was only three of us allowed on board, no one, none of the boffins were allowed on so they got all the, all the usual test equipment and everything was loaded all the way down the fuselage and it was all fed up to the cockpit where we were and we used to have, they used to give us a list of things we had to check and write the results down, the results of this stuff as we flew, and we had to fly at thirty two thousand feet and record all this stuff for them which was really interesting. I loved it actually. It was a bloody good programme and extremely well paid as well! [Laugh]
HB: Right!
BL: So the first year we did London Beirut every day and the second year they decided we’d have to do the Arctic North Atlantic trials to make sure it was adequate for very low temperature conditions so then we started a programme going from London to Keflavik in Iceland and then across to Goose Bay and Gander in to the Maritimes and then back to London. So we did that for six months. That was a very interesting programme, I liked that part of it particularly. And then of course decided to try and get permission to fly into America. So the Americans were very keen on noise abatement and the Comet did make quite a bit of noise on take off of course, and so they said yes you can fly in to America but not land there, and not do take offs and landings. So then we had a period where we were flying out to different places around America using the new VOR navigation systems and so on, and then eventually politically we got permission to do landings over there and it was at that time then when a lot of the American airlines were looking very enviously at the jet Comet to replace traditional old fashioned piston engine aircraft and we did a series, we were doing a series of demonstration flights when, at the time when Pan American, the number one American outfit had just received, they’d just taken delivery of the first of the civilian Boeing 707s and they were pushing out a lot of typical American bullshit that they were going to be the very first pure jet passenger flight on the Atlantic, transatlantic ‘Fly American. Fly pure jet’, and all that, you know. Anyway, at the time we were down in Detroit doing some demonstration flights for United Airlines, they wanted to buy some of these Comets, so we were doing demonstration flights there. And it was there when we suddenly got a call to fly back to New York and, for some reason, and we found we got to New York we were going to do the first transatlantic flight the next day. We beat the Yanks by sixteen days! And when the Yanks had put all this, all the usual stuff in the papers, and they got the big banners out: ‘Fly Pan American the first jet flight across the Atlantic’ and so on. And after we beat them like that they had to change it all and where it said, ‘we are the first,’ they had to put in: ‘we are one of the first.’ They never bloody forgave us for it! Amazing story! [Laughter]
HB: Oh dear.
BL: But anyway, as I say I was very, very strongly involved in -
HB: How many people were on -
BL: - the whole Comet programme from start to finish.
HB: How many people were on that first trans-atlantic flight?
BL: I think we had about sixty, sixty passengers, something like that, yes. You’ve seen the menu of course.
HB: Yes, yes. Got a copy of the menu there [cough]
BL: We got back to London and it was a very historic occasion. They gave us immediate take off at New York and cleared all the flights from London to give us number one priority to land. BBC and everyone were all were there in force to welcome us, and it was headed by Eamon Andrews on BBC.
HB: Oh right. Yes.
BL: They got our wives there and so on waiting. There was two aircraft actually. We did the eastbound New York London and the other one went the other way, London New York and we crossed over at about twenty degrees west I think it was and acknowledged each other, but you know, two of them, one going one the other. And when we went through all the procedure at London old Eamon Andrews said, ‘We’ve got a coach here for you, we’re taking you up to,’ um to, I’ve forgot where the studios were now, I’ll think of it in a minute, ’taking you up to, see we want to put you on TV tonight.’ They’d decided to put us on that programme ‘What’s My Line?’ And old, the panel at that time dear old, oh my bloody memory’s going, bloke who was extremely well known on the BBC, was the chairman of the panel there. Anyway we went on TV and on this programme and all that sort of publicity and so on; it was really interesting. And then of course the following year I was picked to go to, one of the flight crew to go to Ottawa, Canada to pick up Duke of Edinburgh, Philip. We went in the Comet; he was very keen to fly in the Comet, so we went there to pick him up. He’d been there doing a series of talks and so on. The Queen was at Balmoral at the time so we were to pick him up at Ottawa and fly him back to Leuchars in Scotland, which is quite close to Balmoral, drop him off there. But anyway, we picked him up at Ottawa and we were just, hadn’t been airborne very long when a signal came through to say there’d, a big mining disaster had just occurred at Monckton in the Maritimes and would we divert to Monckton and so the Duke could just put in a quick royal visit, two hours royal visit to the disaster area. So we dropped him off at Monckton and then we flew down, further down to Gander and we waited at Gander for him to come, come back and then we brought him from Gander and flew him to Leuchars, dropped him off there. Oh it’s here somewhere I’ve got a picture of it. On board on the way back he was fascinated with the Comet 1, he loved to fly in the Comet, oh the Comet 4 I should say and on the way back he got a lot of individual special pictures of himself and he signed one each for us, and a handshake.
HB: Oh lovely.
BL: I thought she’d got it up here, it’s been on the wall here somewhere. She must have put it away. But it’s personally signed: Philip.
HB: Oh lovely.
BL: Which is, very has, carried a lot of weight, in the years to come. It’ll be worth a few bob I should think!
HB: So when did you actually stop flying Bob?
BL: Well, from then on, after the Comet programme, first BOAC decided to buy the Boeings so they ordered these new Boeing 707s from Boeing of course, from America and in January 1960 the first delivery of, or first Boeing 707 was ready for us to collect. And there was nobody trained on it or anything at that time of course, since we hadn’t got any Boeings. But in America the military version of the Boeing was the KC135 and they’d already built eight hundred of those, they’d all gone to the American air force and the American navy and so on. So having had that number built, all the bugs and problems had all been ironed out, needless to say, unlike so many of our aircraft you see. So it was a well [emphasis] tried and well proven aircraft before it even went into service. So in January ’60 I was, one of the, I was, been an instructor on Comets for some time I’d always been instructing quite a lot and so there’s four instructors, myself and three others were sent out to Seattle to get trained on the 707 and the first Boeing 707 to come off was number hundred and eleven off the line, the production line, so we were still quite a way behind other airlines. Anyway, when we got to Seattle we were trained by the Seattle test flight crew. At that time there’s no civilian aircraft, aerodromes rather, in the UK that could take the 707 except Heathrow and obviously you couldn’t use Heathrow for training but they could use it for service, not for training. Shannon hadn’t got a long enough runway at that time anyway, but they were building a new one. So there was nowhere in the UK where they could train us. So Boeings decided, got permission to use Tucson, Arizona. So Tex Johnson was there, er Tex, not Johnson, Tex Gannard, Tex Gannard was the Boeing Chief Test Pilot at that time and he decided that we’d, he’d take us down to Tucson and we’d set up a training base there and he would train us as instructors and so on, to stay on at Tucson to train the BOAC crews as they were sent out from the UK. So we stayed there to run the training unit [cough] and the crews had come from London, we trained them and they went back and then flew the aircraft in service. So we had a very nice six months so, Tucson and the trainer, super that was. But hard work. I’ll tell you what impressed me more than anything else when I went to Seattle, to Boeings: the difference between the British way of life in [coughing] workload, dedication and that sort of thing in the British aviation industry, was so different to that of the Americans. Soon found the Americans are far ahead of us in their dedication to the work they were doing. It was a bloody eye-opener, believe me. Hard work, but they knew how to do it and it was an absolute revelation to us. For instance when we were doing flight training unit details at London they’re usually about two and a half to three hours at the most, something like that, and then the time we went to Tucson the thing that surprised us was that the minimum flights times were five hours! [emphasis] Bloody long details, oh Christ, but that was typical of the Americans and the hard work they put in. They had three of the test pilots at Tucson with us and a fleet to train us and certify us as being fully trained instructors on Boeing aircraft. And I’ve got a certificate to say that.
HB: Yes. That’s grand.
BL: And anyway, BOAC then got a bit hot under the collar about the cost of running Tucson and all the British bases, so they got permission to use St Mawgan at St Athan, at Newquay. They got permission from the aircraft, from the air force for us to move from Tucson to Newquay and used St Mawgan for training from then on so I then moved, as I say, from Tucson to the Bristol Hotel in Newquay. And being a typical seaside resort, very popular, they didn’t want any weekend flying Saturdays and Sundays, there’s all sorts of objections from the local authority and so on, so it was a bit of a doddle down there.
HB: Good grief!
BL: So it was on the 707 where eventually that was my last flying for BOAC.
HB: I see. There’s a good few years in the air there Bob!
BL: Forty years.
HB: Can I just –
BL: The reason I retired in the end by the way, I was very close to retiring at that time, but I was on training at Shannon at the time on the Boeing fleet. We were doing our winter training at Shannon and one of the details we had to do was to demonstrate the capabilities of the aircraft at high, high speed characteristics of the 707. The normal cruising in the 707 was point eight one mach, but the “never exceed” was about point eight eight, which you should never exceed on a Boeing and we used to have to demonstrate though as you got somewhere near the point eight eight the flight control characteristics changed aerodynamically and you had to be aware of this to happen should you ever stray up there in flight. So we had to demonstrate this and we used to fly at forty odd thousand feet from Shannon across to five degree west in the Atlantic then back again doing these high speed runs and I was doing one of those with two students and we suddenly hit a bloody air pocket – bang! It threw us up in the air and down again, hit it really hard, couldn’t, didn’t even realise it was there just clear air turbulence, and I got thrown up on the ceiling and when I dropped down I dropped right across the arm of the co-pilot’s seat with my hip like that and it buggered up something in my hip and I couldn’t even walk off the aircraft carrying my briefcase. So I had to go sick straight away. I went through all the usual palavers of different Harley Street specialists and lord knows what and all they could tell you, ‘oh you’ve slipped a disc in your back,’ you know and all this. They threatened to send me off for a laminectomy operation, but the BOAC doctor at Heathrow who looked after the flight crews, he was ex-RAF and he was bloody good doctor, Doc civil and liked gossip here with the boys, and he really looked after us, one of us, you know.
HB: Very much so yes.
BL: He says, when finally I got to the end of my tether, I couldn’t clear this up, the bloody pain was there, could virtually, almost couldn’t walk and he says, ‘I tell you what,’ he said, ‘I’ll pull a few strings for you,’ he said, ‘you’re an ex RAF officer’ he says, ‘I’ll get you in to Hedley Court.’ So a couple of days later he says, ‘I’ve managed it, you’re going off to Hedley Court they’ll sort you out there.’ So I went off to Hedley Court which of course is very famous today because all these guys from Afghanistan are going in there for amputainees and that sort of thing you know, so I went into Hedley for three months. Within three days of being there they found out exactly what was wrong with me. What I’d done when I fell down like that over this arm, I’d stretched what they call the sacroiliac joint in my hip, it’d stretched it and bent it and that was the cause of all of the trouble.
HB: Good grief!
BL: And they found that after three days there! All these bloody Harley Street specialists I went to see kept telling me all I’d got was a bloody slipped disc. But the outcome was that I spent three months there and they cured it ninety nine percent. And when I finally got to, they wanted to discharge me I went to see the old Group Captain medical and he says, ‘Well,’ he says, ‘we’ve cleared it up for you,’ he says, ‘you’ll be all right,’ he says, ‘there might be the odd occasions when you get a recurrence but the only thing is,’ he says, ‘I’ll have to put a four hour restriction on your licence,’ and of course BOAC wouldn’t accept that because I was on a world wide contract so they said no we can’t accept that but you’re very close to retirement we’ll give you an immediate retirement on pension. So that’s really how I finished. But it didn’t end there.
HB: Oh right.
BL: Another little facet came. I’d been very interested in act, different aircraft accidents and accident investigation. I was on the accident committee for a few years before that, while I was still flying and somebody at BOAC obviously realised that I’d got experience on them and they said well we’ll keep you on but not in a flying capacity, would you like to become a CAA FIA flight accident investigator. I said yes, so they said right. So they sent me off to the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, to do the full official FIA accident inspector’s course so I had a couple of months over there, and did the course in the university and I qualified, graduated and got my little badge and everything, as an official accident investigator. So I came back to London and I went on two of the accidents actually, one of which was a Boeing which landed with a wing on fire at Heathrow after one of the engines had dropped off into the Staines reservoir. I’ve got a photograph of that landing, with the wing on fire, amongst this lot here somewhere.
HB: Good grief. Yeah.
BL: And anyway after that I found it was a bit boring and of course by that time I’d got a farm in Surrey and I’d got, we were milking a hundred and twenty five Jersey cows, and I’d got thirty thousand chickens, got five vans on the road delivering fresh eggs and cream around London and it was taking up so much time I thought well I haven’t got bloody time to go in so I finally decided I’d quit completely and carry on farming and that really was the end of it.
HB: Yeah, it does bring it to an end, doesn’t it really.
BL: So, quite a lot of various incidents in my career.
HB: Just a few, just a few. Just going back, I meant to actually ask you this ages ago. When you were on 463 Squadron -
BL: Yes.
HB: With the old, the Australians, that would be towards the end of ’45. Did you ever, when you were there on operations did you ever come across the German jet fighters?
BL: Er, no. Not, not the jets, no.
HB: No. All right.
BL: Incidentally, talking about that, of course, when Peenemunde came up, it just so happened, we didn’t, on the Stirlings by the way, the Stirlings from the squadron, I think we put about a dozen Stirlings up on the Peenemunde operation and we’d been briefed from weeks and weeks and weeks that something very special was coming up, no one knew what it was except it was something very special operation but it was tied in very closely to the right weather. It had to be absolutely perfect on weather forecast and of course it turned out it was Peenemunde. And it just so happened that when the Peenemunde trip came up we were on two weeks’ leave. So we missed it.
HB: Yeah. Right.
BL: But it was from then on of course we were very active on bombing these flying bomb sites in France and various parts of Europe. But we never came across any of the jet fighters at all. No definitely not.
HB: Right. Well I think. I think Bob, we’ve come to a natural sort of end, and I just thank you very much. Absolutely fascinating.
BL: Well I hope I haven’t bored you too much.
HB: Oh no! Well I haven’t gone to sleep! [Laughter] No absolutely fascinating, absolutely fascinating.
BL: I’ve been lucky really in a sense, that you know, had all these different variants, military and civilian, I’ve very lucky to be on you know, these special products, projects. Rather like the as I said, the two years I was test flying with De Havilland, that was really interesting.
HB: Yeah. I’m going to, one of the things I forgot to do at the beginning, I didn’t actually say at the beginning: it’s Wednesday the 12th of December 2018. I forgot about that at the beginning, I got a bit excited! So I’m going to terminate the interview Bob and get on with the paperwork. Thank you very much again.
BL: Yeah.

Collection

Citation

Harry Bartlett, “Interview with Bob Leedham,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 9, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11304.

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