Interview with Douglas Frank Newham


Interview with Douglas Frank Newham


Douglas Newham enjoyed his career as a navigator. Over his career he saw the development of technology in his chosen field. He and his crew spent some of their time as part of North West African Strategic Air Force. Following time as an instructor at an Operational Training Uunit he started a second tour in Europe. He then went on to operations over Burma dropping supplies. Post war he enjoyed a very interesting career in aviation working for BOAC and BA.



IBCC Digital Archive




Julie Williams


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01:33:33 audio recording





Temporal Coverage


GT: Now, I’m with Mr Douglas F Newham LVO DFC and Doug welcome and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for your history and for the history of what you did with Bomber Command to be put forward for the Digital Archives. So, please tell us your story.
DN: Right. My name is Douglas Newham. I was born 13th of November 1921. Consequently, ninety five years of age at the moment. I started my life in, in the RAF by volunteering in 1940/41 and did my first operational tour as a sergeant with a serial number of 1337797. I did my training in the UK. I consider I was very fortunate to do, to do that because right from the word go I got used to flying in weather such as we have over here rather than in the blue skies of South Africa or Canada. So right from the word go I got used to crap weather. Any rate, I did my training in the UK as a navigator observer which was what I always wanted to do. I had no wish to be a pilot. I saw the duties of a navigator as more challenging. Any rate, I did my flying first of all on the dreaded Botha. The Blackburn Botha. And then very quickly they were grounded and we were on Blenheims. The short nosed Blenheim and the long nosed Blenheim for navigation. And my navigation training was from Jurby on the Isle of Man. And most of our navigational exercises were all up and down the Irish Sea and off the west coast of Scotland in glorious, glorious scenery and quite challenging from a navigational point of view. Having finished my navigation, bombing and gunnery training at Jurby, we were then moved up to Kinloss in Scotland, near Inverness. This time flying Whitleys. The old Armstrong Whitworth Flying coffin which looked like a coffin at least. And we finished there our navigation training up there prior to being posted to a Wellington Squadron and that would have been in the tail end of 1941 the beginning of ’42. Strangely enough we were first posted to 156 Squadron which was then still on Wellingtons. And it was the forerunner of one of the Pathfinder Squadrons. As a result of that at a very early stage I was given excellent training on the navigational aid Gee which I loved for the rest of my career. However, that was just as Pathfinder course. 8 Group was being formed and as a consequence of that our crew were posted from 156 to 150 Squadron down in North Lincolnshire. Again on Wellington 3.
GT: Ok.
DN: We stop.
GT: Yeah. Doug, where did you crew up? And who was your skipper and crew please? Could you, can you remember?
DN: Right. We crewed up at our Operational Training Unit at Kinloss in Scotland and I crewed up with a Canadian pilot, Bill Harris. Several years older than, than I was. As a mild diversion at the moment several years after the war I met his sister and married her. So I married my pilot’s kid sister from Vancouver. But that is another long story. Any rate Bill and I and our crew we started our first tour of operations on Wellingtons operating from Kirmington. I remember the first couple of trips were down the north west coast of France. Mining. Dropping sea mines in the channels used by the U-boats. And we dropped mines at probably something like oh five or six hundred feet and encountered a few flak ships. They were very very steep learning curves. I do recall that my [pause] somebody, somebody had suggested to my pilot that unbeknownst to me that it would be safer to do an asymmetric weave. Never to do a regular weave because that could be predicted but to do little bit one way a little bit more that way and then perhaps back. But nothing regular. Well, unbeknownst to me Bill tried this on our first operation. Suffice to say that I think we toured the whole of northwest France but we did find exactly where we wanted to drop mines. Did so and found our way back by which time they thought we were, we were gone because we were about two and a half hours later than we should have been and we were getting a bit short on fuel. Any rate, we carried on. Proceeded with our first tour with further mining operations and then bomber operations over western Germany. Still on the dear old Wellington. Our maximum load was four thousand pounds and we, we had one aircraft that did carry a four thousand pounder. It didn’t even have any bomb doors. It just had an open space and the four thousand pounder was pulled just, just up inside. Any rate, all was going reasonably well there and then there was the allied invasion of north west Africa. Of Algeria. And to our great surprise half the Squadron was sent on this invasion. So we, we flew down to Cornwall. And then from Cornwall down to Gibraltar. And then Gibraltar to an ex-French Air Force airstrip about thirty miles from Algiers. And we had, I think it was twelve aircraft. And our targets were mostly the German ports of Tunis and Ferryville. Then bounced back down the Tunisian coast or over to Sicily. Maybe up to Sardinia. But in the central Mediterranean we were fortunate on one of those operations that we were carrying our four thousand pounder and I did manage to get a direct hit on one of the lock gates at a German port called Ferryville which put the port out of action. Which was rather fortunate. Anyway —
GT: So from that point Doug you’d moved from Bomber Command through to the Mediterranean Command.
DN: Yes. To the North West African Strategic Air Force which consisted of, I think twelve aircraft. Yeah. And our command, commander in chief down there was Jimmy Doolittle who did the Tokyo raids off the carriers. Anyway, so we had started our tour in Bomber Command and then towards the end we went over to, well went down to, posted at away from the UK down to Algiers and moved in to the North West African Strategic. Anyway, came home. Finished there by which time we had lost, well our aircraft was the last remaining aircraft of the twelve that went out there. Most of them I must admit were either accidents or bad weather. Some being shot down. The casualty rate was considerably, considerably less than it would have been had we stayed in Europe. Very much. I mean, we were operating mostly between five and ten thousand feet. We were subject to a lot of light flak but compared to what it was like over Europe in those early days we were extremely fortunate. And recognised it. Germany had a few night fighters out there. Nothing like subsequently developed in Europe. Anyway.
GT: Yeah.
DN: Back to the UK where the crew were dispersed. I was dispersed to Abingdon which was an Operational Training Unit with Whitleys and I was in a Navigation School doing, trying to convert the navigators from their, their early theoretical navigation practices into more realistic operations. Training. Training flights and then more realistic of what it was like over the other side. Now, for some reason, and I have no idea why I was selected to go to the Central Navigation School for a staff navigator’s course. I have no idea why I was picked out. I get to this school and I find that I am the only NCO on the, on the course. They were mostly flight lieutenants and there was one wing commander and I was the lonely sergeant. As a result of that my social life was nil because they were all in the officer’s mess. I was in the sergeant’s mess. So I had, really had nothing else to do but study and I was absolute. I mean I I loved the course. I had, had always hoped as a youth that maybe I might get to university but that was not on in those days. But here I was on what was virtually a university course on navigation and everything to do with it. Astronomy, compasses, radio, tides, astronomy, huge amount of mathematics. And I loved it. I had got nothing else to do. Then I became an absolute bookworm and a swat and it got a bit embarrassing when the only sergeant on the course came out top and I was not very popular with my other course mates. But anyway my commission came through just as I finished that course and I went back to my Operational Training Unit only to find out that one of the conditions of such a course, the staff navigator’s course was that you were obliged to stay in a training position or a staff position for at least a year before you could go back on operations. Any rate I tried to wriggle my way around that and I very nearly got to the Mosquito Met Reconnaissance Flight but it was cancelled at the last moment and I was obliged to stay for that year. However, on the three hundredth and sixty fifth day after finishing the course I was called down to Group Headquarters and offered a job of navigation leader on a Squadron of Halifax aircraft up in 4 Group. So I grabbed that and from, from Abingdon, from my Operational Training Unit went up to Melbourne, just outside York on Halifax 3s. Initially I was not a member of 8 Group and I could only put myself on operations if somebody, somebody went sick. But then one of the flight commanders lost his navigator and he and I then lined up together. That was Squadron Leader Bill Allen who was on his second tour. And Bill and I hit it off precisely. We both had the same view on flying duties. We both trusted one another implicitly and equally the rest. Trusted the rest of our crew. He was a flight commander. I was the nav leader. We both had similar views on our administrative and leadership duties. Bill, for example would always ensure that if there was a new pilot he would never send a new crew up on a long distance difficult flight as their first operation. Whereas some of the other, other flight commanders would take a brand new crew and stick them on anything. I mean I’ve had a little bit of a tussle with one flight commander and indeed with my Squadron commander because we had a brand new crew and they put them on Leipzig which was a ten hour flight. And I objected to this for a new crew. I got overruled and they operated and the crew concerned did a bloody good job but that was, that was lucky. But any rate my own skipper he and I had very similar views and we would not infrequently take lame ducks with us. And any rate we Bill would too, too frequently choose the rough targets rather than the easy targets. But he, he believed in leadership in its, in its true sense. We did, on one occasion towards the end of the war lead a three hundred. I think it was three hundred and fifty or four hundred raid of Halifax aircraft. We were the lead aircraft on a German oil target north of the Ruhr. But in the end we got separated because we were operating more frequently then Group thought we should. They wanted us to stay so that we would remain in our admin capacity for a longer period. Frankly we didn’t give a damn about that. We operated when we wanted to. As a result of which Bill was promoted to a wing commander and moved elsewhere and I was disciplined. However, Bill, I’d say he was a bloody good pilot. He ended up with a and DFC. And any rate I then finished my spell with 10 Squadron during the ’39/45 European war. I would fly with anybody who needed a navigator and chalked up my operations. Anyway, the end of the European war came and the Squadron was immediately, I think it was the second day after the, after the European war was declared over if I remember correctly we converted to Dakotas for glider towing and paratroop dropping for the Malaysian invasion. Well, they wanted to put me in a staff post somewhere but the Squadron was going out on operational duties so I managed to pitch it that I stay with the Squadron. And we went out with, well we converted to paratrooping and glider towing down in Oxfordshire. That was quite entertaining too. We were towing gliders. Let’s see what it’s like to fly in one. These troop carrying gliders that have, I mean they had a descent angle like a brick. They had flaps as big as barn doors. You came down at a hell of an angle. And on the flight I was doing in a glider and we, we disconnected from the tug and the glider pilot stuck the nose down. I was standing behind. I lost all sight of the sky. All you could see was the patch of ground where eventually you hoped you were going to land and he’d get each flap as I say like two bloody great barn doors and very low altitude pull the stick back into his stomach and you’re down. I tried to have a go at seeing what it was like to join with the paratroopers who were, we were dropping. But I got down to the dropping zone and unfortunately the surface wind was too strong so we had to call that operation off. Otherwise I would have had a go at that. Anyway —
GT: Doug, before we leave the European theatre for you just quickly going back to the Halifax. It seemed to be always the third cousin of the four engine heavies. To you guys and where you flew it was she as good as the Lancaster? How did you guys feel?
DN: We on, on the Halifax, we frankly loved the aircraft and thought it was better than the Lanc. We believed it was tougher. It could take more damage than the Lancaster. It couldn’t, it’s true it couldn’t carry the same load and it couldn’t fly at the same altitude but we certainly in the last, the last few months of the war until the Halifax 3 came in with the uprated Hercules engine we were certainly below the Lancasters and we couldn’t as I say we couldn’t carry the same bomb load. Later however in the later marks of Halifax we were damn nearly as good as the Lanc in those respects. It wasn’t as convenient an aircraft for a crew. I mean the wireless operator was sitting almost underneath the pilot’s seat. Feet. In the nose of the aircraft. And the navigator was sitting in front of him. So, to get, if you wanted to get back or even get up towards the pilot’s compartment I had to get out of my seat, walk past the wireless operator and up a couple of steps. So as I say you were way down below the pilot’s feet. It wasn’t as sociable shall we say but I think those of us who were operating on Halifaxes had every much as faith in our aircraft as a Lancaster. There was always rivalry between Lancs and Halifaxes. I still say I’d just as soon fly in a Halibag as I would in a Lanc. Sadly, I never flew in a Lancaster. In fact I never even, no I’ve never even been on board a Lancaster. You know. On the deck. But a Halifax yes. I enjoyed that and had great faith in it. Yeah.
GT: Many of the crews I’ve talked with have talked of how corkscrewing with the Lancaster or the Stirling was was a special art and and most pilots managed it. Some did not. How did the Halifax deal and did your pilot master the art of corkscrewing?
DN: Yes. The early Halifaxes had significant problems in that they, they could get in deep trouble by stalling the rudders. That was when the Halifax had a kind of defect. A fin. And then later, it was in the later Halifaxes it was made into a rectangular fin which overcame the problem of stalling of the rudders. But Bill could certainly corkscrew the Halifax and throw it around the sky like nobody’s business. And he did [laughs] No. I say the Halifax did not have as good a reputation. Bomber Harris for example disliked the Halifax and would have, all his memoirs and books about him indicate that he would, he would have sacrificed a year of production of Halifax aircraft if the factories could have been turned over to Lancasters. But that was not agreed and the Halifax did not, never did have the same reputation. I think a bit unjustified but it was based primarily I think on the fact of it had less bomb load and less range than the Lancaster did. But as far as the attitude of the crews and the confidence in the crews in their aircraft it was certainly equal. Equal to the Lancaster.
GT: Now, Doug it has been made mention that if they lended total production to the Mosquito that having thousands more Mosquitoes and not the four engine seven man bombers they could have saved a lot more air crew but still achieved the bombing of Germany. What’s your opinion on that?
DN: It, I mean statistically it’s true. You’d have had to have had a lot more. A lot more Mossies. It was questionable whether we’d got, whether we got enough airfields because obviously you’d have to have three or four Mosquitoes for every Lancaster or every Halifax. You might not have had some of the precision of the mass bombing that the Lancs and the Halifaxes achieved although with [pause] with Oboe and some of the other navigational aids the Lanc — the Mossies were capable of accurate bombing but I can’t see the big mass raids being conducted by what would achieve the same bomb load per raid as the, as the Lancasters and the Halifaxes. I mean a raid comprising just of Mosquitoes would have been at most six seven of four thousand or five thousand pounds so you’d have had to have had two or two and a half times as many aircraft. And then there would have been the problems of concentration and mid-air collisions and the density of traffic. Have you got enough runways and aircrews in the UK to do that? So no. I think we probably had it about right. Although the Mosquito, Mosquito was a very fine aircraft. Again, I would have loved, I would have loved to have gone in those. But no. My own job as a navigator in a heavy bomber I I really loved it. I think I was good at it. My navigation aids of Gee and H2S and Air Position Indicator. I was paranoid about accuracy. Way over the top and quite unrealistic. I admit that. But I used to fix my position either by Gee or by H2S every six minutes. I had my Air Position Indicator and I was working to the nearest decimal of a minute. So I was working to the nearest six seconds and I was fixing every, every [pause] every six minutes. The reason being if I did it every six minutes I didn’t have to work out how many miles or knots I was doing in an hour. Just moved the decimal point. So I had a, a very very strict navigation procedure and discipline for myself which a number of others on the Squadron followed. I mean if you did a ten hour, a ten hour trip and you were fixing every six minutes, you know. That, you’d be doing ten fixes, ten calculations of ETA and track and distance of track I’d say every six minutes. They’d do that ten times in an hour. If you’re on a ten hour flight you got a hundred. It was a bloody high workload. However, I loved it. That was my job and I loved it. Yeah.
GT: Yeah. Yet the Americans obviously were pretty thick to the last couple of years of the war in the air during the day and I was also made aware that most of the flights of the American bombers only had a navigator aircraft. And so most of the aircraft didn’t actually have a navigator.
DN: Yeah.
GT: Did you have contact with the Americans in any way? And what’s your thought on the fact that they went in with one aircraft with one navigator for a bunch? With your experience on the Halifax there.
DN: I think that was probably misguided. But their whole technique was very different from ours. I mean, we were operating at night because, well we had to. We could not defend ourselves by day against the Germans fighters. We had difficulty doing so at night. I mean we were very near, I believe Bomber Command was very nearly overwhelmed by the German night fighters. Witness Nuremberg. The number we lost there. But the only way we could operate during most of the war was certainly at night where obviously you had to have one navigator per aircraft. When we were operating by day once we got air superiority and I mentioned the occasion that we led a three hundred and fifty or four hundred aircraft on on this oil target it’s true that the others could have followed us. I think it would be, it would be foolish to do so because you had no, no insurance policy. If that one aircraft got clobbered the others would be in trouble. I, I was of the opinion that most of the American aircraft had at least a second pilot was able to to have a fair bit of expertise at navigation but to be honest I’m, I’m not adequately familiar with what the Americans could do. We certainly had, well, to me navigation was an art and I loved it. Yeah. Very different for tactical if you were on tactical target by shall we say smaller aircraft like the Boston or the North American. That would have been a lot, a lot different from my type of navigation. It would have been a lot more map reading than. I mean I was doing mostly, would be by Gee and H2S and traditional DR navigation. Occasionally, very occasionally you’d resort to a bit of astro but Gee and H2S were my, my two main nav aids.
GT: And were they cutting technology for the time? Was, was that, was that really awesome designs and futuristic equipment that they gave you to work with?
DN: I think so. I mean there was other stuff coming along later. The Americans used Loran and I believe some of, some of 8 Group and 5 Group used Loran. They also used GH which I didn’t use. But certainly H2S was, I believe pretty cutting, cutting edge stuff. And they, I mean even in my time they, they got working to shorter and shorter wavelength. They, we had introduced gyro stabilised standards so the aerial scanner was, was stabilised. So you could move the aircraft and the, the Gee pitch, the H2S picture on your screen didn’t change because the scanner itself, the rotating scanner was gyro stabilised. We had variable rates of scan so you could change the speed of scan to take better definition or better accuracy. So we were getting better accuracy because the frequency reduction has got shorter wavelength. We had various variable speed scan and gyro stabiliser and those, those modifications were being introduced while we were operating. So I think that, I mean much of that stuff went on at Malvern which was a kind of centre of, one of the centres of research. And I think they did a bloody good job of keeping up to date. I mean there’s been a lot of criticism about navigational ability and bombing inaccuracy in the early part of the war and there was a government, government inspired survey of this. And results were pretty horrible. I can’t remember the details now but it was less than a fraction of our bombs were getting within kind of five or twenty miles. And I think that was justified but they were in the early days of the war and then at the same time there was a lot of development work going on with new compasses, gyro stabilisers, distance reading compasses, with H2S, with Gee, with the Air Position Indicator. There were lots of developments that were coming along in those early days of the war and kept coming along. And I think the development guys were doing, you know a brilliant job all the time in trying to improve things. Perhaps we in 4 Group didn’t see as many of those clever things that perhaps 5 Group or 8 Group but I think there was a lot. A huge amount of credit due to those guys who were in the development. Equally, on the, some of the radar counter measure stuff which is another one of my interests on how we, how we tried to fox the German radar and the German night fighters. Ok. They, they out foxed us with their upward pointing cannon and Schrage Musik and it was on, but it was on a programme with the BBC some years ago about the see-saw activity that was going on. The Germans would introduce something. We would either counter that or better it. And it didn’t matter whether it was radar or weaponry or tactics it was, it was a swings and roundabouts, see-saw developing, changing all the time. And if you look at some of the, I’d say the German radar and the systems of Fighter Control while they were changing that we were introducing new measures to detect their fighters to make life difficult for them. I mean, we, you probably know we had, we had microphones in the engine nacelles of our aircraft. So if we were over the other side our wireless operators would tune in to the frequencies used by the German fighter controllers. Then blast the noise of the engines on that frequency to drown out. The most brilliant thoughts of all were the Germans realised that we were doing our damndest to mess up their radar and their fighter control system and they suddenly introduced women controllers. So the German night fighters only took notice of a woman controller because they didn’t whether it was a German controller or a British controller. And at one stage we were carrying German speaking radio operators in 100 Group aircraft who would come up on the same frequency and German speaking Brits who would direct them to return to base. The weather was closing in. Or don’t take this vector take another vector. And they were, putting it bluntly they were trying to bugger up the fighter control system by using German speaking Brits. So the Germans overcame that by suddenly introducing women controllers. So the German night fighters only took notice of a woman controller. And within forty eight hours we had British German speaking women who were taking over and issuing conflicting instructions to the night fighters. I think the brilliant thinking that our own people had thought this was what they might do so we’ll be ready for it. And that kind of see-saw of activity and counter activity went on. Well, it wouldn’t have been just in aviation it would have been in anything else. But I found it fascinating.
GT: The crashed aircraft must have fallen into German hands. Do you think that, that Oboe and H2S and similar equipment the Germans managed to analyse that and better their own from it?
DN: Unquestionably. I mean all of those equipment had explosive devices in them with crash switches so that if the aircraft did crash there was an inertia switch inside which would set off the explosives and destroy the critical part of those bits of equipment. But inevitably that didn’t always work and the Germans did get at our stuff and were trying to, well they got certainly got into H2S and discovered, you know the frequencies in use and produced Naxos. I don’t know whether you know they was a, they had a session with the BBC some years ago. There was a German night fighter operating, operating out of Denmark, got itself lost. It hadn’t, it flew south west rather than north east and landed at Woodbridge, one of our emergency airfields down in Suffolk which was virtually running out of fuel. The German pilot and observer radio guy had got themselves completely lost. Our scientists got at it and found that it had got an equipment which was code named Naxos which could home onto our H2S. So the German night fighter could be directed by his ground controller in the general vicinity of the bomber stream and with this Naxos equipment he could home right in on our H2S. And anyway we then developed equipment to home on to Naxos. So some of our night fighters could home onto their night fighters. And it was this, and it’s a fascinating topic this see-saw in technical developments. Fascinating. Yeah.
GT: Now, the, the Schrage Musik.
DN: Yeah.
GT: The upward firing cannons —
DN: Yes.
GT: Of the German night fighters to, to, because the Halifax, Lancaster and Stirling didn’t have a, well —
DN: Yeah.
GT: Ball turrets.
DN: Yeah.
GT: As the B17s, and I’ve been made aware that some Lancasters had belly guns. Did any of the Halifaxes ever been modified with such?
DN: Yes. Yes, but you couldn’t have an H2S at the same time. And they were called Y aircraft. And they had, they, the blister with the rotating scanner that of course was removed and there was a half inch, a single half inch calibre gun on a hand mount with a gunner sitting there freezing his whatsits off. Just looking down.
GT: So, so there was an eighth member of the crew then. Deliberately.
DN: Yeah.
GT: An eighth member.
DN: Yeah. Yeah. And in fact one of my books over there on 10 Squadron operations and I’ve got one or two sample crew lists of before an operation and you’ll find here and there will be a Y aircraft with an extra crew member known as an under-gunner. But it’s not a power operated turret. I never operated on one of those. We always had upper turret, rear turret and H2S. Not that we had a choice. That was allocated by somebody I don’t know. But what my skipper used to do was he would every so often he would drop a wing one way and then drop a wing the other way so particularly the mid-upper could peer over the side and get a better view. And with the rear gunner and the upper gunner cooperating with one another and knowing that the Schrage Musik was around and they could come up from underneath you and with the wireless operator looking at Fishpond and some of the other devices which could detect other aircraft coming towards you. What with that and a bit of extra vigilance as I say. Rolling the aircraft. Somehow we managed it. But it was a very deadly weapon was Schrage Musik. Two bloody great cannons and right underneath you.
GT: With the aircraft and the streams did you ever encounter any aircraft above you that you managed to avoid?
DN: Yeah.
GT: Bombs dropping on you?
DN: Yes. I’ve been underneath an aircraft and looking up into his bomb bay where he probably wasn’t more than twenty feet above us. And you look up there and you could see everything but the kitchen sink up and he’s got his bomb doors open. Edging in to get on to target. And your bomb aimer was down in the nose telling the skipper left left or right and you’d be looking up and seeing a Lanc or another Halifax above you with his bomb door open and everything but the kitchen sink in there. The navigator. The bomb aimer would be saying, ‘Left. Left.’ And you’d tap the skipper on the shoulder and say [laughs] No. And there were, there were a number of occasions of course and the operational research people had worked out what the expected rate of bombs dropping on our own aircraft. In fact, do you know, have you ever heard of Bill Reid? Bill Reid was the last Victoria Cross and a good friend of mine. And Bill got his Victoria Cross on on an early operation and then went back later on a second tour. And he was hit by bombs being dropped from a Lancaster above him and managed to bail out and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. So I mean it did happen. We knew it. We knew it would happen inevitably. The flight engineer and, and the mid-upper gunner and occasionally the pilot but certainly as a navigator once I had handed over to the bomb aimer I would be up there looking. Adding another pair of eyes. Trying to keep out of the way.
GT: So, in the bomber streams did you, you were in formations of Halifaxes and Lancasters?
DN: No. No.
GT: No. You were just all a mix.
DN: No. You [pause] you had each, each Squadron, each flight, almost each aircraft, not quite, you had a time span when you were, it was your turn to be on target. The raid might be forty minutes in length shall we say? Thirty to forty five minutes depending on the number of aircraft. And each Squadron had its own height band and its own duration on target. So it would have perhaps eight minutes on target out of a total of forty five. And each Squadron would have that. And each Squadron would have its own height band. So you knew darned well and of course the Halifax not having the performance of the Lanc it was generally the Halifax who would be at a lower level. Which would prompt you to keep a good look out. But I mean there were occasions when the aircraft, there might be an aircraft two thousand feet above you and you wouldn’t have a hope in hell of seeing anything coming down. But yes not only mid-air collisions but being bombed by your own aircraft was a known and anticipated factor but again the operational research people, the whizz kids with their mathematics and probabilities way beyond the Squadron activity did work out what was an acceptable risk and consequently worked out what was an acceptable density of a bomber stream. If you got it too dense then yes you’d be increasing the chance of mid-air collision. You’d be increasing the chance of being bombed by somebody above you. And they would adjust the density of the bomber stream to meet those parameters.
GT: What, what was the likelihood of you getting out of the Halifax if it was going down?
DN: Well, I had an escape hatch immediately under my seat. So if I had to get out in a hurry I had to stand up, lift up my, fold up my seat, get my parachute pack and clip it on my chest and kick open the door and just go straight out. Unless, which I’m sure would have happened you were checking. I mean there were four of us in the front end. There was the bomb aimer, the navigator, the radio man. Well, the flight engineer into there. And the pilot. And we were all in a pretty, pretty congested area. And then we, there was an escape hatch above the pilot and this one which was underneath my seat. I don’t know.
GT: Now, Doug, you mentioned earlier about the actual accuracy of the bombing raids. And you likened it with the navigational equipment you had. But the bomb aimer’s role was to direct the aircraft to drop their bombs on target. So was there a correlation of equipment between the navigational and the bomb aiming equipment? Did they combine together or were they totally separate items?
DN: On the actual bombing it was either one or the other. In the early days it was entirely visual and that was from a relatively, relatively rudimentary bombsight where you would, where the bomb aimer would make adjustments for the height of the aircraft and, and the anticipated wind. And then he would look down and get two pointers in line with whatever the target was. Now, later on later developments of the bombsight had gyro stabilised bombsights where much of that mattered. Many of the parameters that were essential for bomb aiming were undertaken automatically. The height would be fed in from a, from an altimeter computer. The speed would be fed in by the same system as would register on the airspeed indicator. And as I say some of those parameters would be fed in automatically. Nevertheless, you would be the bomb aimer and this is what one hoped for pretty well every time was that the bomb aimer could see the target markers, target indicators on the ground and would be instructing the pilot which way to turn in order to get that cross right on that player and then push the tit. Now, if the weather was crap and there was no direct vision then it would be the navigator who would do so either through Gee or more likely and preferably through H2S. And I had my H2S set here and I could, I could, for example if there were a lake or an open space, a known open space in the centre of the city and you, your aiming point you would have calculated back to what was given you at briefing. If you can’t see, get a direct visual sight on the markers then aim for, for one five four degrees, three and a half miles from this park. And if you could identify that park on your H2S which frequently you could do if you were a good H2S operator then you could. You could get yourself to that position in the right direction and then you, the navigator would push the tit. And then it would probably come up, that method probably twenty thirty percent of occasions because so frequently you get over land the bomb aimer couldn’t see the markers. So we had, we had the means of dropping on either H2S or on Gee. Gee was a bit different. But the navigator would, I’d say swap over with him. The bomb aimer ideally, and this would happen in a good crew the navigator would train the bomb aimer to be able to operate the Gee or the H2S as accurately as he could himself. So the navigator could, well could supervise the thing and, and refine it whilst the, whilst the bomb aimer would be following it on on the radar.
GT: Now, you’re initial navigation training. What was that like compared to when you went back as an instructor yourself? Had, had they progressed in those years? Did they move forward with the new equipment? And, and how did you feel then becoming the instructor?
DN: Well, when I trained in the early days it was, it was pretty basic. We were flying Blenheims and you were doing ninety percent of it by visual pinpoints or by bearings or a bit by radio. Perhaps, not very much, by astro. When I went back as an instructor by then Gee had come in. H2S was just coming in. The Air Position Indicator was just coming in. So your techniques were changing. And one of the things I, I did when I was an instructor down at Abingdon was to devise exercises that were, as I saw it, much much more realistic. That reflected the kind of situations and procedures that one would encounter in the nav, in the real. You take, you take a crew or a crowd of navigators through and then you’d say and now you have H2S has gone u/s. What do you do? You know. And [they didn’t really know] [laughs]
GT: And what was the, what was the result? Did they come up with the right —
DN: Well I, I’m pretty damned sure that, that I ended up as an instructor exposing my pupils to a much more realistic situation. In fact, two or three of my my old pupils had said and I’m not trying to spread my own bullshit, did say that, you know, ‘You introduced us to practical navigation.’ I mean, I did, I did love navigation in every aspect and if I wasn’t operating I I think I became a good instructor because I enjoyed it.
GT: So your instructing role actually made, made you a far better navigator then you would have if you’d have just done one tour and then gone away.
DN: I think so. Yes. I say I, my, my period as an instructor was not in the final stages of training of a crew but in a fairly advanced. Advanced stage of their training. And I tried to make that as realistic to the real thing as I could.
GT: So how long did you actually serve with Bomber Command?
DN: How?
GT: How long did you actually serve with Bomber Command in the end?
DN: Well, that would have been nineteen [pause] 1941 until ’45 with, with a break of a few months when I was down in North Africa. But in that period I was still, as an instructor I was still in Bomber Command. Yeah. And I didn’t really come out of Bomber Command until I went out to to India to do glider towing and supply dropping and other silly things. Yeah.
GT: And by the end of your Bomber Command time you had accrued operations. Forty odd. Thereabouts.
DN: I did thirty on my first tour. Then I did my second tour. We had, with my skipper a number that didn’t necessarily go in the logbook. Yeah. My eyesight without going through my logbook over there I can’t tell you exactly how many. But I guess it was somewhere around about sixty five.
GT: And the Squadrons you flew on in Bomber Command?
DN: 156, 150 and shiny 10.
GT: And where were they based at that time please?
DN: 156 was at Warboys. W A R B O Y S that’s in what became 8 Group. 150 Squadron was in Kirmington which is in North Lincolnshire. And then out in a place called Blida in Algiers. Then 10 Squadron was at Melbourne. Just outside York. And then, and then out to India. India and Burma. Yeah.
GT: So —
DN: Oh, and Abingdon was where I did most of my instruction. Yeah.
GT: So your Bomber Command time was up and you received new posting orders. Did you seek something new or was that just the next thing on the rack for you? Where did you move to from there?
DN: Mostly accepted that that’s what was on, you know. In later years I got to get bloody awkward and would challenge it. When I, when I finished on the Halifax they wanted to, because I got my staff navigators qualification when I went to the staff nav school I mentioned earlier they wanted me to go to some unspecified staff post. And for some crazy reason I said, ‘No. I want to stay with the Squadron on operational duties.’ A bit bloody stupid in retrospect but [laughs] one was like that occasionally. Yeah.
GT: So you headed off to Burma then. Was that the next step after Bomber Command?
DN: Yeah. Yeah. Well, we were in India on general transport duties because although you went out there to participate in the invasion of Malaysia and we, we knew all about or knew some about glider towing and supply dropping and paratrooping that was off the cards then. But we, we did have a period up in northern Burma where we were supply dropping to some Burmese tribes. When the Japanese, I mentioned where I went with Bomber Command when the Japs were in northern Burma to a large extent they lived off the land and they stole their food, or requisitioned it from the locals. And a number of the British political, political agents who had been in the Burma Civil Service were parachuted into northern Burma and persuaded the locals to burn their stocks of rice which made, made life difficult for the Japanese who then had of course to provide their own food for their troops. So when the war was over the Burmese tribes concerned having burned much of their stocks of rice including their seed rice were on the point of starvation. So obviously the Brits were morally obliged to re-supply them. Well, the army did a lot of this with trucks but in some of the high mountain regions in the extreme north of Burma where the Kachin tribes lived, K A C H I N, it was way beyond the ability to get trucks and there were no railways. So the decision was made to supply them, supply, re-supply them with rice by air which is where we came in. And the terrain up there is very very difficult terrain. The mountains. Some of the mountains go up way over eighteen, twenty thousand feet. But the lower ranges you still had to if you want to get into some of these areas you’ve got to get up to about eleven thousand, twelve thousand feet. And the villages are generally built on the ridges. On the spine of the ridges. They had to go over, go down, spiral down, do your supply drops, climb up and out. And we were flying in Dakotas and we had the rice in sacks. No parachutes. Rice in sacks. In three sacks. One inside another so that we chucked them out of the door, or toppled them out of the door. And when they hit of course the inner sack might burst and the outer sack might tear. The chances of all three going were pretty remote. So we would, we would fly to the area, circle down and then we would stack the sacks of rice up in the — no door. Take the door off the Dakota. Put the sacks up. My favourite position was to stick a sack of rice on the floor on the starboard side and get my shoulders against it and feet against these sacks of rice. And while the co-pilot and the pilot and co-pilot would bring the aircraft down, normally you would come along the ridge. Never go across it because you could never judge the, judge the approach altitude accurately enough, so you would come along the ridge, getting lower and lower and honestly you’d only be twenty or thirty feet above the trees until you came over to the, the centre of the nominated village and a light would change above the door and you’d heave and pop the sacks of rice out and then go around again and do this. And we were engaged in that for about a month. Living in tents on an old Japanese airstrip at Meiktila. And then one particular sortie to a new, new grid, never been there before. There were four of us. Four aircraft and we were number one. So we flew, let down, did our drop and climbed up again and then went back to an advanced base to pick up some more rice and we saw number two aircraft starting to circle down. Any rate, to cut a long story short number four aircraft, we don’t know what happened to him. He never came back. And numbers two and three didn’t come back from their second drop. So out of the four aircraft who was the lucky one? Yes.
GT: And that was 10 Squadron you were with.
DN: Yeah.
GT: And they converted to C47s to go out.
DN: Yeah. Yeah.
GT: To the Burma time.
DN: Yeah.
GT: Ok.
DN: And that, details of that is in the latest 10 Squadron booklet.
GT: Marvellous. So, how long were you in that area for? In Burma.
DN: Came back in ’46. Yeah.
GT: And you carried on in the RAF?
DN: No. No. I would have carried on in the RAF but they would only offer me a short period and I wanted to go. If I was going to go in I wanted to go in for a career and they were hanging up on me. I think it was something like four years. And I said no thank you. So I then applied as a navigator with BOAC. The forerunner of British Airways. And they said, ‘Ok. But wait ‘til you get — ’ I applied while I was in India. So when I came back I applied and they said , ‘We don’t need any more navigators.’ However, I did stay with BA. With BOAC, BA for the next thirty five years in operational posts on the ground out in, oh Cairo, Khartoum, Basra, Kuwait. And then back to this new airport called Heathrow. And then from a series of luck and luck believe you me from what I’ve already told you luck played an extremely important part in my life in the RAF and my survival. Anyway, luck played a bloody big part in post-war and I stayed in British Airways, BOAC, British Airways for the rest of my career and ended up as general manager operations control in charge of minute to minute operations worldwide. If everything went alright I didn’t have a job. If anything went wrong I did have a job. So it didn’t matter if it was crew sickness, aircraft unserviceability, somebody digging up a runway running short of fuel, a war, a bomb warning, a hijacking then that was mine. Which was very exciting. It called on all of my experience and all I knew and I loved the job and I stayed there for the rest of my career. Wonderful job. Best job in the airline. Very exciting. All, if anything went wrong it was mine and I enjoyed it.
GT: What were the airliners that were about at that time when you were? The airliners that they were flying for BOAC at the time.
DN: Well, we had Concorde and we had the Jumbo. I mean when I started it was the flying, the old Flying Boats and the Lancastrians and converted York which was a development of the Lancaster. I mean, by, by agreement during the war the Americans took on the development of civil aviation and a definite agreement that Britain would not do that. So when the war ended we did not have a civil aviation industry. So we adapted the Lancaster to the Lancastrian. We modified it to make a York. We had the Halton which was a development of the Halifax. But the Lancastrian would take, I think it was nine passengers. And we did a cannonball service from Sydney to London and it landed, I think nine times. With nine passengers. And that was the crème de la crème of British civil aviation. I mean we had Flying Boats. Well, you had TEAL. TEAL had Flying Boats down, down under. And we had those when I was in Basra. But it took a, took a long time. And, and Britain didn’t have the money. Didn’t have the dollars to buy American aircraft. Quite a long time before we managed to get ourselves on our feet with, with decent aircraft. But when I left we, certainly we had the, we’d gone through the Britannia. We’d had that. We’d gone through the VC10 and we had by then the Jumbo which was after 707 and then the Jumbo and then Concorde. But that was before we had any of the [pause] what do you call it? The French manufacturer. Anglo French manufacturer.
GT: Aerospatiale.
DN: Yeah. Yeah. Before that had really got, got in to many of the civilian aircraft like the Airbus.
GT: Did you have anything to do with the Berlin Airlift? Being involved.
DN: No. No. No.
GT: Not with the airlines you had there.
DN: No.
GT: What about family then Doug? How did you get on with family? You got married. Did you have children?
DN: Yes. Two sons. One who you spoke to and an elder one who lives in London. The younger one he’s lived a very unconventional life [laughs] Has spent more time in the Antarctic than anywhere else with the British Antarctic Survey. More in the Arctic. And the elder one much more conventional. He’s an accountant. Or was an accountant and he now is a senior executive with a manufacturing company. And I mentioned that I had married the kid sister of my, the first pilot I had. So, so we had a [pause] I’ve had a bloody marvellous life. Luck has played a huge, huge amount. Opportunities that have arisen. Sheer luck.
GT: I understand you had some time with the royal family.
DN: Yeah. One of my jobs in BA was any time royalty was travelling for example if the Queen was coming out to New Zealand then I would get a phone call saying now we’ve got a flight coming up for the Queen to wherever. Give me the date. ‘How many?’ ‘Oh, about the usual crowd.’ [laughs] Allow for seventy five and seven and a half tons of baggage. Which way do you want — well for example going to New Zealand, ‘Which way do you want to go? Do you want to go east about or west about? ‘ ‘Well, you know a bloody sight more about that than I do so come up with some suggestions.’ And I, I had, I’ve got a list of over two hundred and fifty flights that I did for members of the royal family. I mean if it was the Queen then [pause] then I would decide which way. What kind of range do we want? Do we want a long range aircraft to do it in a minimum number or perhaps a smaller aircraft? And then gut the inside of the aircraft and divide it up with bulkheads to provide a lounge area, a dining area, a sleeping area and what have you. And all of the arrangements. I mean, it was good fun. And I had a fairly small team who who would get involved in that and we all took it as a challenge. So we had a lot of those.
GT: These were BOAC aircraft that you would do that to —
DN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
GT: The queen did not have a Queen’s Flight at that time.
DN: No.
GT: Of her own aircraft?
DN: No. She had a number of small aircraft. They were mostly, well in the latter years they were Vickers or, anyway twin engines. Small. I can’t remember it. The old mind. But they weren’t, their own aircraft on the Queen’s Flight were essentially for use within the UK or within Europe. Or if they were going to do a big tour we would position them out there. I mean, I remember we did one where we took the Queen out to New Zealand and then she went from New Zealand to Oz and then up through the Solomon’s and what have you. And the Queen’s Flight I think positioned some of their smaller aircraft for flights between the islands. And then we went then and brought her back. That was, that was quite amusing. Before they went I said to the captain of the Queen’s Flight, ‘Well, what happens if while you’re away there’s an election?’ Because we were in a ghastly political uncertainty at the time. He said, ‘Oh, don’t worry.’ Queen Elizabeth, err Princess, ‘Princess Margaret is authorised to dissolve parliament.’ I said, ‘I’m not worried about that but if while you’re away there’s an election we’ve got to get the Queen back in time to appoint the new prime minister.’ And I remember Archie, Sir Archie Winskill who was captain of the Queen’s Flight, ‘Good thinking, my boy.’ [laughs] So I said, ‘If the election is on the Thursday as it always is you let me know where you’re going to be every Wednesday,’ which included the Cook Islands and Solomons and what have you. I said, ‘You let me know where you’re going to be every Wednesday and I will develop a plan to get home.’ So, anyway I developed these plans. Labelled each one of them with an identification letter. I said, ‘You have a copy in your briefcase and I’ll have a copy in my briefcase so at least we’re ready for it.’ And it was, oh it was a long tour. I remember it was a couple of weeks later I get a phone call. I was at home at the time but I was working on my wife’s rust bucket of a Morris Mini and my wife came and said, ‘There’s Buckingham Palace on the phone.’ And the message merely said, ‘Plan Sierra.’ And Sierra being the identity of when we were going to get her back. And we didn’t exchange another word but on the day there was our aircraft waiting for her and brought her home. And that was the kind of [pause] if you like it was good fun and everything was different. Yes. It was important and you get in trouble if you got it wrong. But no. I’m, it was a very nice simple airline job wasn’t it? Rewarding and it was exciting in a different way as my RAF time. I mean, I was extremely, extremely lucky.
GT: How long, how long were you working with the Queen’s Flight for? Or for the royal family.
DN: For really twenty four years.
GT: And I understand you received an award for your time.
DN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
GT: And that award is?
DN: That was the Royal Victorian Order. I’m a lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order.
GT: And the letters are?
DN: Does it do me any good? No.
GT: And I understand also you were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
DN: Yeah.
GT: Can you please describe what that was for? And when?
DN: Well, that was for really for my second tour. Not for, not for any specific operation. For whether the citation refers to the standard of the whole Squadron. Navigation standard. The whole Squadron. And gives me credit for that. And and for leading. Leading the whole of the group on one or two operations like the one when we went for the oil target and I do, I can assure you that we were going over the Channel and my skipper said, ‘Doug, come back here.’ So I come from my little compartment in the nose. He said, ‘Put your head up in the astrodome and have a, have a look behind.’ And of course there’s three hundred and fifty bloody aircraft following me. I said, ‘I don’t want to know. Don’t remind me [laughs] Just shut up.’ [laughs] Oh well. No. I was extremely fortunate. I had lots of, lots of good friends. Lots of excitement. But the, I’d say one of which experiences was the way, the way these challenges seem to come out of nowhere and I enjoyed them.
GT: Bomber Harris, your boss at the time came in for a lot of criticism.
DN: Yeah.
GT: Specifically for carpet bombing and for that of bombing major cities.
DN: Yeah.
GT: That’s potentially weren’t strategic targets.
DN: Yeah.
GT: What’s your take on that? From, from being with it.
DN: We were in a situation of total war. It wasn’t a question of tit for tat. We were [pause] it was either them or us. And by then it was obvious that as far as Hitler was concerned he didn’t give a damn about what was right and what was wrong. Whether you should bomb civilians or not. And we were in total war and I for one accepted that. I know that there were times when I pushed the bomb tit and there would be grandma and grandad and the kids down below. Ok. Sorry. We were at war. I have, I regret having to do that kind of thing. I’m not ashamed of it. And if it happened again I’d do it again. I think towards the end Harris, what Harris did think he could do he could do it on his own. And it went, proved that he couldn’t. Nuremberg for example. The Nuremberg raid demonstrated very clearly that we were [pause] that German night fighters got their act together and we were, we were up against it so. But in the, in the perhaps slightly earlier days when we were really clobbering Germany city after city after city yeah. ok. War had descended in to that and I, I have no regrets. No conscience. And I think under the circumstances Harris was right. It cost many many many many of my mates. And others as well. But sorry. That’s war.
GT: Could they have done it any other way?
DN: I don’t think so. No. I don’t think so. We couldn’t, we, the army couldn’t have done it. And we didn’t have the capability of being that precise that we could pick out targets.
GT: Some have said that without the war happening and the methods and the designs of many things in aviation aircraft and your navigation equipment that that the world actually paced forward five years.
DN: Oh.
GT: Very quickly.
DN: Unquestionably. Certainly electronics, communications, navigation aids. A lot of, oh mechanical things must have developed at a hell of a pace. Plastics. Zips. You know, you can think of a billion things that came about through war. Stimulate. It did stimulate development. God, you’re up, you’re up against it. I mean, before I, before I joined the RAF I was in a UK government research, communications research laboratory, and funnily enough developing part of the radar. The ground. Ground defences radar that we had. So as a, as a youth I was exposed to that kind of development stuff pretty well soon after I left school. Yeah.
GT: In your later years you’ve been involved with Air Force Associations. Can you tell me something about the ones that you were associated with and the titles you’ve, you’ve ended up with?
DN: Well, I was very busy with the Bomber Command Association when I was living down near London and near Oxford and I was on the Executive Committee and we were very involved in the, in the Bomber Command Memorial in London. But then when we moved up here that was impractical and I joined, well I was in the RAF Association. So I joined the local branch where we have about [pause] we had I think twenty nine members when I joined the branch. And we now have sixteen. And [pause] we don’t do very much. That’s probably Brian. Is that you Brian?
Other: Yeah.
[recording paused]
DN: When I came up here I joined the RAF Association up here where we had a very small number of members and saw even fewer. And we’re, we’re now up to about seventy members. We, we rarely see more than about a dozen of them. So we’re not able to provide much in the way of social activity and as a result most of, most of our activity is connecting, collecting for the RAF charity. The RAF charity or the RAF Benevolent Fund. So I’ve done my stint of tin rattling. And as I say we have a very small band of loyal, very loyal volunteers. And we’re trying to, desperately trying to make it more active. To get ex-RAF people up here to participate more. We’re, we’ve got a website that will be up and going in the next few weeks. We’re on Facebook. And as I say one of, one of my problems is we collect money for RAF charity. We have problems in finding local people who need it or who will accept help. And it’s a pleasure if we’re, if we can, we can find somebody who, whom we can help. So much of the money goes into an overall pot and yet up here I’m sure there must be ex-RAF people who need help. And one of my ambitions has been to try and get those people to come out of the wood work and let us know they need a bit of help. I’ve found one or two but the number of, out of our seventy members we don’t have more than about ten or twelve people who between you and me get off their backsides to do much. So there we are. Anyway, that’s it.
GT: So currently you’re the president of the Royal Air Forces Association Cockermouth Branch.
DN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Correct. Yeah.
GT: And I believe thank you for your services.
DN: You’re welcome. Yeah.
GT: Is in order. Doug, it has been a pleasure talking with you today. Thank you very much for allowing me to add to the IBCC’s Digital Archive. Specifically of your Bomber Command history and experience, and, and no less at all your experiences before and your time after. And so thank you very much for that.
DN: You’re welcome.
GT: And this —
DN: It has been a crazy life you must admit. Yeah.
GT: And you’ve obviously had a time and your, your willingness to sit and chat with me is —
DN: Yeah,
GT: Is very special. Thank you. On the 27th of July 2017 I’ve been talking with Doug Newham and he, from his house here in Upton Caldbeck in Cumbria this is Glen Turner from the IBCC Archives in Lincoln and the New Zealand 75 Squadron Association secretary. And we’re signing off now. Thank you very much, Doug.


Glen Turner, “Interview with Douglas Frank Newham,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 27, 2020,

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