Interview with Ken Oatley


Interview with Ken Oatley


Initially too young to enlist at the outbreak of war, Ken Oatley served in the Home Guard until he was able to enlist in October 1940, when after initial training he undertook pilot training. After basic flying training he went onto Canada training on Oxfords. It was whilst there Donald Bennett was forming the Pathfinder Force. Five pilot trainees were taken from each course to retrain as navigators and Ken was selected for transfer. Eventually posted to 627 Squadron at RAF Woodhall Spa on Mosquito aircraft, Ken flew a total of 22 operations. He describes how 627 Squadron operated within Bomber Command operations, explaining how their role was to arrive and illuminate the designated targets for the following bombers. This included the operation on Dresden in February 1945. At the end of the war, Ken served with the Bomb Development Unit at RAF Marham, before being demobbed in 1946.




Temporal Coverage




01:03:33 audio recording


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AOatleyK170321, POatleyK1701


DK: I’ll just introduce myself, so, this is, this is David Kavanagh introduce, interviewing Ken Oatley at his home [file missing] borne, 21st of March 2017. So, I’ll just put that down there.
KO: Surely.
DK: Hang on, If I keep looking down I’m just making sure it’s still working
KO: Still functioning,
DK: Still functioning, yeah. It’s, it can be a bit temperamental at times, that looks, that looks ok. [unclear] that. I’ll just like to ask so first of all, what were you doing before the war?
KO: I was going to be a professional violinist.
DK: Really?
KO: My father, I won a scholarship to the Royal Academy when I was fifteen,
DK: Right.
KO: But I had no one to live with in London so I had to put it off for another year, then I had to take an examination that year to get the exhibition the year after that which actually brought me up too far close to the war and, even then, I had a year to go before I could get into the Air Force so I joined the Home Guard, did my duties as far as I could from then, and at that time, it was the 13th of September I think of ’39 that I was in headquarters and the phone rang and call out all the home guard, we’re anticipating the invasion immediately, so that passed over of course and October came and I thought, well, really it’s time and I just was old enough then to volunteer so I volunteered for aircrew in October of 1940.
DK: [unclear] back to me, when you were in the Home Guard, what were your sort of roles then? What were you actually doing, were you guarding anything or?
KO: No, I was in headquarters most of the time, but I had to take out messages or anything that required, you know, but I was there nights and so forth.
DK: So were you mostly young men there waiting to be called up or sort of [unclear]?
KO: No, no, they were all a lot much older than me.
DK: Alright. Alright, so you applied then to the Air Force, so
KO: Mh.
DK: It was always your intention then to,
KO: I always wanted to fly.
DK: Alright. Yeah, so did you actually go into pilot training then?
KO: Yes, in, I started flying in April of ’41, it was April so, anyway. And did the usual six weeks at Blackpool and then waiting for a course to come around they sent me to Northern Ireland guarding an auxiliary airfield there against the IRA and then in Maytime they sent me over then to Scone, that Scone, there was at, oh God! This is, my memory is, north of, in Scotland,
DK: Ah, ok.
KO: On the east coast top, anyhow that was the biggest town north. We were there prepared to go down to ITW then at Scarborough, by, by June then I was flying from Sealand on the wirrell
DK: What type of aircraft were you flying?
KO: Tiger Moths.
DK: Ah!
KO: Which I did, I loved flying and I had the aptitude for it and I really thoroughly enjoyed my time there, it was wonderful.
DK: What did you think of the Tiger Moth?
KO: Oh, I liked it very much and I, our last hour or two that we had on the course, my friend and I, we were supposed to be going out for three quarters of an hour flight at night in the evening, come back and report and then go back and do another three quarters of an hour so I said to my mate, well, this is a bit of a waste of time, I’ll meet you over the river Dee and we’ll have a dogfight, which we did. When time came to, to come back to report in, he disappeared and I thought, well, I don’t know where the heck I am [laughs], we wandered about somewhat for three quarters of an hour so I had, eventually I had to give up and I saw a farm with smoke coming out of the chimney and I decided, well, that looks alright so I made a forced landing into this field, knocking out a host of surveyors posts on the way down and a ditch that was half way across which I hadn’t noticed. Anyhow I landed there and a motorcyclist came in and I got out and spread my map on his handle bars and asked him where I was and he gave to, I was in the middle of Lancashire so I flew back and,
DK: You’ve gone that far south?
KO: Yes. So, anyway, I was up for the wing code the next morning,
DK: Were you able to take off out the field then?
KO: Yeah, I did, half the field
DK: Yeah, so that was
KO: It was,
DK: Damaged the aircraft?
KO: No, no, it was a bit dodgy, there was a wood at the end of the field and I just caught the width to the corner of it and I managed to get through, anyway we landed there and the next morning I was up in front of the CO and charged which it was going to be a court martial but he let me go on [unclear] cause I was the first one to solo [unclear] thirties so I thought, you know, I’m made for this and so I was taken off the Spitfight posting and ended up in Canada flying Oxfords. We were on the Oxfords for some while and then there was, Bennett was just do the Pathfinders setup and he had no navigators, only map readers really, observers, don’t tell him I [unclear], but he had no navigators so he took five pilots off of every pilots course in Canada, brought us home to do the Middle course on the navigators, then go onto flying,
DK: So, you were actually on a pilot’s course in Canada.
KO: Yeah, yeah.
DK: Got called off by Bennett,
KO: Yeah,
DK: Because he needed navigators,
KO: Yeah,
DK: How did you feel about that at the time?
KO: Not very happy, I must admit, but anyway.
DK: How were you chosen, was it almost a lottery or?
KO: Well, I don’t know, I think probably I wasn’t landing them very well. I came down [unclear], the approach was hundred percent, I touched down on the wheels, nice and quietly, as soon as the tailwheel had dropped, which off the runway we’d had, my instructor never once told me that I should be doing three point landings, never mentioned, then when the CFI took me up, I did the same thing and he then asked my instructor whether he’d taught me three point landings, of course he said, oh yes, of course he has, and so I was one of the five that got tucked out.
DK: So, it might have been poor training on the trainer’s part, not I suppose, [unclear]
KO: Well, I mean, it seems simple enough, things say you should be doing three-point landings. I landed quietly and smoothly, you know, and,
DK: And this would have been the Oxford, would it?
KO: Yeah, yes. Anyhow I came back home, nearly torpedoed on the way home.
DK: Can you remember which ship you came back on?
KO: [unclear] Dam and just out of Halifax I was on my sway hammock and there was an enormous bang, I thought, my God, we’d been torpedoed, and I bet, I was four flights down and I bet I was, tops of that before anybody else [laughs]. However, there happened to be a torpedo, a destroyer had come alongside and for no apparent reason, and he happened just to take the torpedo and the thing was sunk with all hands and we just carried on, there was fire
DK: You can’t remember the name of the destroyer that was lost?
KO: No, no, no.
DK: No. Did you actually see it go down or?
KO: No,
DK: No.
KO: But we were told.
DK: Yeah.
KO: But you see, we were in two passengers, well, one was obviously a passenger ship and we were in a sort of half and half but there were five hundred aircrew on board ships, then we had several destroyers flying around us all the way back across the Atlantic. It took three weeks coming home cause we went all over the place and got back to England and put me on the navigation course which we did one course at Grand Hotel, oh, Eastbourne,
DK: Right. Yep, yep.
KO: Six weeks and then we were sent off on a ship again, I thought, we are going back to Canada again, which I didn’t like cause I got engaged to a girl in Canada while I was out there. Anyway, we went to South Africa and I was, from start to finish it was nearly eight months, wasted out of my flying time, going down there, doing the course and coming back again and we spent three weeks at Clairwood race course in tents. Then they moved us to East London and we were there for another six weeks and while we were there I met somebody there quite out of the blue, he asked me what we did, what our hobbies were, said well, I played the violin, oh, he said, I know somebody who’d be interested in you so he took me up the road to this gentleman and he said, would you like to play me something? So I played him one of the better class pieces that I used to perform and he said, would you like to play with the municipal orchestra on Sunday? This was Thursday, so I did that and did that the following month, so that was the virtually, the last time I played the violin at all, really.
DK: So you never played it since then?
KO: No, not really, no.
DK: No, no.
KO: So, anyway we got back and messed about for ages and I did,
DK: How did you feel when all this was going on, you were going to South Africa [unclear] was there a certain amount of frustration or?
KO: Yes I, you know, it was very enjoyable,
DK: Yeah.
KO: But it wasn’t what I wanted to do. Anyway we got back and there was so many aircrew trained here messing about Bournemouth was full of them all the time, they didn’t know what to do with us, anyhow we ended up at Harrogate, we were sent off on a commander course to start with at Whitley Bay, six weeks and then they sent me up to Scone to sit in the back seat of a Tiger Moth with a [unclear] recently qualified pilot in front and I was another six weeks messing about there, well, that was barely started the navigation course properly so I don’t think I was gonna get there.
DK: Was navigation something you took to easily, was it?
KO: Oh yes, I was, no worries about that, and then I was onto OTU and from what I understand I was, uhm, was the top of the class in both flying and ground subjects and,
DK: Can you remember which OTU it was you went to?
KO: I can never remember the name of it, was north of Oxford.
DK: Right. Is not in there, in the logbook.
KO: It would be, I suppose. It’s more likely in the back of my pilot’s, pack of pilot’s
DK: That one.
KO: But in the back,
DK: Oh, right, ok. So, what year are we talking about now then? It’s,
KO: That’ll be ’42.
DK: ’42, alright. So that’s the Oxford, so that’s ’41, ’74, you are still flying in ’74.
KO. Oh that’s, that’s flying here.
DK: Right.
KO: It’ll be very, very close to, no, but it wouldn’t be in there, yes, on the back, on the back page, I got all the
DK: Ah, right.
KO: All the,
DK: Ah, right, ok, so ’40,
KO: In, here, up here.
DK: [unclear] ’43.
KO: And here.
DK: 16.
KO: 16.
DK: Ah, right, so, I’ll just say this for the benefit of the tape so it’s 16 OTU Upper Hayford. So you were there from the 10th of August 1943,
KO: Yeah,
DK: Yeah.
KO: Then we went onto Scampton and then to Swinderby.
DK: And that was,
KO: On Stirlings
DK: 16
KO: We did Wellingtons at
DK: 16 OTU
KO: 16 OTU,
DK: Yeah,
KO: And then we went on the Stirlings
DK: And that was at Swinderby
KO: Yes and then the Lancs
DK: Right, so, at 1660 Conversion Unit, Swinderby, that was the Stirlings.
KO: Yes.
DK: Yeah, and then at Syerston,
KO: Yes,
Dk: That was 5 Lancaster finishing school.
KO: Yes.
DK: So, at Upper Hayford was the Wellingtons?
KO: Yes.
DK: Yes, so what was your feeling about the Wellington then as an aircraft?
KO: Oh, fine and my pilot that I had there, although he hadn’t all that many arrows in, he was fine and we got on very well, our crew was first class and everything we did, we were quite well appraised for.
DK: So how did your crew get together then?
KO: Oh, we all, they put us in a hangar and said, I’m sorry, sort yourselves out, so to speak, you know.
DK: You just found yourselves a pilot,
KO: Yes, from
DK: Do you think that worked well?
KO: Yes, it did in our case.
DK: Yeah.
KO: I had an excellent crew and I was very sorry that we went on from there to Metheringham,
DK: Right.
KO: With Gibson squadron.
DK: 106 Squadron.
KO: And my pilot went on a Second Dickey trip with his, with a crew that were on their last operation,
DK: Right.
KO: And failed to return. So, we were sent back to Scampton again in to be recrewed. If they’d given us another pilot, which would have been more sensible, they split the whole crew up as far as I can [unclear] gave us another crew of odd bodies that they had and he wasn’t too bad, he wasn’t as good as my other pilot, you know, they were a little bit lumpy, but see my trouble was, my navigator’s seat was well back from the front and as I remember it seems I had a little office of my own now, the only,
DK: This was the Wellington,
KO: Stirling.
DK: Stirling, right, ok.
KO: And my only chance of talking to the pilot was on the intercom.
DK: Right.
KO: So I never was anywhere near him. It was when we got on to Syerston to the Lancaster, I was sitting right behind him as you realised and he had the most dreadful body odour that you could ever imagine, it really was out of this world,
DK: Oh dear,
KO: And so I took the crew up to the wing commander after we’d just sort of finished the early stages with the Lanc and I said, I can’t fly with this bloke, we all agreed, nearly court martialled, I [unclear] go for, go for a [unclear] you know and anyway we sent back to Scampton again and,
DK: So, you’ve gone back to Scampton for a third time.
KO: Yes, yes.
DK: Alright. When you, just going back to 106, you never met Gibson then, did you?
KO: No.
DK: I, just for the, slightly confusing that for the tape, just for the benefit of the tape, what I’ll say here is where you were, so initially it was Upper Hayford with 16 OTU from the 10th of August 1943, then it was Scampton 15th of December ’43, then 1660 Conversion Unit at Swinderby from the 8th of February ’44 on Stirlings,
KO: Yes.
DK: Then 5 Lancaster finishing school at Syerston,
KO: Yes.
DK: from 28th of March ’44, obviously on Lancasters, then 106 Squadron your pilot went missing as a Second Dickey, so back to Scampton again, then Swinderby,
KO: Yes.
DK: Then 5 Lancaster finishing school, Syerston again,
KO: Yes.
DK: Then back to Scampton because it’s problems with the pilot,
KO: Yes. On 106.
DK: On 106, and then on, I’ve got here, then onto 627, so that was, that’s the next question,
KO: Yes, yeah.
DK: Yeah, ok. So, you’ve complained about your pilot then and what happened then?
KO: Oh, they didn’t do him any harm or anything, I’m just, my memory gets so bad at times, other times I can go with, like, you know, what was the question?
DK: It was, you’re back at Scampton and you complained about the pilot, cause of the body odour,
KO: Yes.
DK: So what happened then?
KO: Well, straight away I was sent to Woodhall Spa from there.
DK: Right, ok. And that’s with 627 Squadron.
KO: 627 Squadron, yes.
DK: Yeah, ok. So, what were you flying at 627 then?
KO: Mosquitoes.
DK: Yeah. What did you think about the Mosquito?
KO: Oh, marvellous.
DK: Yeah.
KO: Yes, I, never complaints about the Mosquito.
DK: Was it a bit of a shock when you’ve gone from four engine bombers?
KO: It was lovely.
DK: Yeah. So you,
KO: Oh. Beautiful.
DK: So you never flew any operations on the four engine bombers?
KO: No, not again, no, no, no. It was all on the Mosquitoes from there on.
DK: Alright.
KO: And then of course the first, the move from Metheringham to Woodhall Spa was like chalk and cheese, you know, [unclear] it, well, every moment we, there we enjoyed the flying and the operational side of it and,
DK: Yeah.
KO: It was just something once in a lifetime, you know.
DK: What was Woodhall Spa like as an airfield then?
KO: It was big enough for what we wanted cause they were flying 617 from there as well so they had to cover the twenty thousand pound bomb weight on runways cause it was just a small camp, on the outside there was no main buildings to it at all, we were very much countryfied.
DK: Did you go to the Petwood Hotel at all?
KO: No, that was 617’s privilege that was,
DK: Ah, right.
KO: We were in the Nissen huts.
DK: [laughs] oh, ok.
KO: Which was a bit of a comedown.
DK: Did you get to know anyone of the 617 crew?
KO: I did but I can’t remember the names now. [laughs] Funnily enough, one of the well known ones that flew with Gibson on the dams, I went into the sergeants mess one day and he was playing cards with a table full of crews there for 617 and he said, can you lend me a pound? So, I lend him the pound, never expecting to get it back again, when I came out of the Air Force about four years after that, I happened to be standing in front of my restaurant in Northampton and who should come in? This chap I’d lent the pound to. So, I caught him and I got me pound back on it [laughs].
DK: [unclear] oh excellent, [laughs], well he did owe it to you.
KO: Yeah, having done the dams raid he was lucky to.
DK: Yeah. So, you can’t remember who that was then now?
KO: I, a flash came into my head, I got an idea whose name, was Monroe, was it?
DK: Les Monroe? Yeah, Les Monroe.
KO: Yeah.
DK: The New Zealander?
KO: Yeah.
DK: Yeah, yeah. He owed you a pound [laughs].
KO: Yeah. He just walked in the shop, not knowing I was there.
DK: Yeah.
KO: I just recognized, I said, hey you.
DK: I actually met Les a couple of times when he came over to UK, last few years. So, you’re now on a Mosquito squadron, so what was your actual role then as 627 Squadron, what were you?
KO: We were at 99 percent for marking, for main force.
DK: Right.
KO: And we were the only squadron that did what we did. We were way ahead of everybody else, and we had to dive, we introduced dive bomb marking which was not heard of before 627 Squadron was formed. But they started off the first two or three months joining in with the, flying backwards and forwards to Berlin in those days and then when we moved up with 617 Squadron, we started doing what we did, that was our thing, and that was flying ahead of main force and being there three minutes before the actual time we needed to be there because that was ten minutes between, let me try to explain it a different way, the flares, the target was illuminated by one or two squadrons of Lancasters from our station to drop thousands of luminating shares over the target area and five of us went out separately to the target and stood off until the first markers went down illuminating, lights went down and on the, dead on the spot, they were there ten minutes before the time for bombing and we went in, in that ten minutes under the flares, dive bombed the marker onto the target for about, well, anything from three, two, three hundred feet, from fifteen hundred feet and it was purely up to the pilot because he dropped the bomb, the had a china graph pencil mark on his windscreen and he, that was his only guide he had to drop his markers, and they used to put that according to how they saw it in height and that sort of thing that needed to be very careful and then we would drop off the markers at about two hundred feet, something like that.
DK: Two hundred feet.
KO: Well, we, we flew round Dresden at three or four hundred feet, probably five hundred feet for nearly ten minutes.
DK: Yeah, yeah. So, the illuminators went in first,
KO: Yes.
DK: They illuminated the target area.
KO: Yes.
DK: So you could then see where to drop your
KO: That’s right.
DK: drop your indicators by
KO: Yes.
DK: [unclear] moving on the target.
KO: Yes.
DK: And then the main force came in.
KO: After that, yes.
DK: Yeah. So, how was that controlled then? Was it?
KO: Just on timing.
DK: Literally on timing, so there’s no one there.
KO: No, no, no, no, we had to be there three minutes before the, ten minutes if you like,
DK: Right, yeah.
KO: Thirteen minutes, three minutes we had to get in our track in to go in and do our dive in.
DK: Right.
KO: That was just for error, for coming from, over from Holland down to Dresden, we had that little margin of difference, so at ten to the target, the Lancasters then came in, they had ten minutes to bomb on the markers that we had laid.
DK: So, can, just stepping back one bit, can you remember where your first operation was to then?
KO: Uhm, Bremen.
DK: Bremen. And how many operations did you actually do then?
KO: I, we did twenty-two operations altogether.
DK: Twenty-two.
KO: They were spread over a little bit but, see we only did, we had enough crews that we only did one every five.
DK: Right.
KO. We had thirty crew, thirty crew men on the, for fifteen aircraft and we only ever sent five aircraft out on an operation, so we had, there was, sort of,
DK: It’s quite a long period between flight then,
KO: Yeah, yes.
DK: So, can you remember when the tour started and when it ended, how long it was for, roughly?
KO: The first tour?
DK: Yeah.
KO: I’m having a particular bad day today, I don’t know why it is, but, oh Jesus! [laughs] I’m lost.
DK: Is it, will it be recorded in here anywhere?
KO: Yes, it was about, the middle, the middle of June-July of forty
DK: ’44.
KO: ’44.
DK: Ok, here we go, yeah, so, that’s 627 Squadron
KO: Yes.
DK: At Woodhall Spa.
KO: Yes.
DK: So, on the 25th of July
KO: Yes.
DK: ’44, so that’s all practice
KO: Yes. Our night operations were in red.
DK: Right.
KO: So, we did, only did one in every three.
DK: Ok, that way we’ll, so, that’s all practice so, uhm, cross country, practice.
KO: We practiced at least five times for every operation we did.
DK: Alright. Ok, so we got off ways to see if we got Gladbach, that’s Monchen Gladbach presumably.
KO: So, that was where Gibson got lost,
DK: Right, alright, ok.
KO: So, that was his own fault.
DK: [laughs] We’ll come back to that in a minute. Ok, [unclear]
KO: Yes, I think we did four in one week, which was an exceptional.
DK: Right.
KO: My first op was a day run to L’Isle-de-Adam, a bomb dump north of Paris. We had a fairly leisurely time as you can see.
DK: I see there is an awful lot of practice between the actual raids, isn’t it?
KO: Yeah, it was about five, one in five. Really, what brought that about was we had to have the aircraft on for that night, and they had to have a morning test before,
DK: Right.
KO: And we used the test to go and do a bombing run on the sands at
DK: [unclear]
KO: [unclear], yeah.
DK: So, navigation then and timing clearly needs to be very accurate.
KO: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
KO: But we didn’t do anything really, we flew, normal thing was that we flew out to Holland and turned from just over the coast of Holland, turned down to the, wherever we were going, from there it was, we had no troubles [unclear], we went more or less our own way, we knew what time we had to be there and that but.
DK: So, I think this is your first operation the 6th of October ’44 to Bremen.
KO: That was the first time when we used our dive bomb technique.
DK: Right, ok.
KO: It was, they didn’t know really what it was gonna be like and they told the CO that he wasn’t to go on that operation.
DK: Oh, alright. So, then you got the Mittelland Canal on the 6th of November ’44.
KO: They were easy.
DK: So, it’s got bolted flares over [unclear]. And then you’ve got, 21st of November the Dortmund-Ems Canal.
KO: Mhm, there were two or three of those.
DK: And then I’ve got here the 13th of December ’44, the Cologne and Emden ships cruisers.
KO: Yes, that was in, that was in the Oslofjord, but they moved them by the time we got up there and it was a wasted trip.
DK: So, this is [unclear] called off by marker one.
KO: Yes, well.
DK: So, it was a
KO: I can, this, as I was saying to my friend today, I’ve worried about that ever since and I cannot understand because I was absolutely dead on track all the way up there, I said the only thing I can excuse myself in is that the pilot was running ten miles an hour, he was on three hundred and twenty instead of three hundred and thirty and he would jump down my throat if I suggested that but I couldn’t find no other reason for being late cause we were dead on course for everything.
DK: Yeah, [unclear] this, that’s [unclear].
KO: That’s, that was stacked down for a purpose. Probably made a mess of it so.
DK: So, then we got 14th of January ’45 and it’s oil refinery at Mersberg. So, that’s and it’s got here two times one thousands, so that’s two one thousand pound bombs.
KO: Yeah.
DK: And the red target indicators. So that’s [unclear] what you’ve dropped and. So, then it’s 2nd of February ’45 Karlsruhe. It says target obscured by cloud. Sky marking only.
KO: Yes.
DK: So then, 2nd of Feb, Dortmund.
KO: Dortmund.
DK: It says one target marked.
KO: I’m doing well, aren’t I? [laughs]
DK: And then, 8th of Feb, Politz-Stettin, oil refinery. Stettin oil refinery, yeah. And then the 13th of Feb ’45, ops Dresden. Marker two. And then backed up, one one thousand pounder, red TI. So, just talking about that then, what actually happened on the Dresden raid? Was..
KO: Well, the, there was a trade wind blowing to start with and normally, starting off from home, we would climb to the operating height, going out and we would take a fix every three minutes and find an average wind which we would calculate to fly us on from there to Dresden. But this MIG wasn’t working particularly well and when we got to the turning point, it was a question of hops and choices to how you carried on from there. So I part guessed well I could [unclear] what I’d got already to choose from and then I realised that the thing that we had installed in the aircraft which I’d never used before, I’d never been instructed on because it was introduced while I was on leave, I thought, well, I’ll give it a go and see if I hadn’t have the charts with me and so, I took him, took him down on that, bearing as it was, there was a line running straight through Dresden that I could put up on the machine, that was terrible cause on a Gee box you had to two stroves running like that, but on this particular case, when I went on to the LORAN, it was like that and right across the thing as you couldn’t tell which was which, you had to take a guess at it and fortunately I guessed right and I didn’t navigate all the way down there. I just kept on one line and then I could, guide him down along this line all the way down to Dresden and then there was a one, there was another line crossing the second line there which went through Dresden and as soon as I kept switching backwards and forwards to that, and when that line came up, I said, right-oh Jock, we’re here now. We were three minutes early and doing the right one turn, another one [unclear] the arrival and then the main force came, we had the, the uhm, the squadrons that were dropping in there, illuminating flares came in at ten to eleven and we were just on the edge of the city, sitting there, waiting for them. We had to put those down and then we went in and dived in and we were just, just about to call out marker two, tally-ho, and number one tally-ho didn’t just in front of us so we had to go round again and
DK: So you, so marker one got his markers in first
KO: He was the flight commander anyway,
DK: Right, ok.
KO: So, couldn’t, he couldn’t
DK: Right. So, your markers then were the second to go.
KO: Yes.
DK: Right.
KO: Btu we were the most accurate.
DK: Right.
KO: On that.
DK: And how low would you’ve been when you dropped the markers?
KO: About three hundred feet.
DK: As low as that.
KO: Well, we were so low, that as we flew away from there, my pilot was looking back to see if he could see where they’d dropped and I had a shout at him because we were just gonna hit the spires of the cathedral, so I had to pull him up on that one. And then we just circled around Dresden for three or four minutes at five hundred feet and then we came home.
DK: And did you see much of the main force bombing then in that five minutes?
KO: They just started to bomb,
DK: Right.
KO: And I think they let a couple of four hundred, four thousand pounders off as we weren’t all that high and we could feel the, [unclear] get out quick now
DK: I just, for the benefit of the tape, I just read what it says here, so, 13th of Feb ’45, you took off at 2000 as, Mosquito F, so your pilot was flying officer Walker and your navigator so it says, ops Dresden, marker two, which you mentioned backed up, so is that meaning you backed up marker one?
KO: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
KO: Well, we got in, it was a football stadium
DK: Right.
KO: We got our marker in the football stadium.
DK: Alright, ok.
KO: And the others were in a bunch, nearly [unclear] a hundred yards,
DK: Yeah.
KO: Way but,
DK: So, your second ones down was actually the more accurate and then it’s got one thousand, so you got a thousand-pound bomb and red
KO: They were a thousand-pound flares.
DK: Oh sorry, so you dropped one-thousand-pound red target indicators
KO: Yeah, yeah.
DK: Sorry, yeah, so one thousand red target indicator. And you
KO: And the others all backed up after that.
DK: Yeah. So, you arrived back at 0540?
KO: I know my, my history today to you doesn’t sound very much but on my claim for a commission, my squadron commander and the camp squadron commander both put down that we were the best crews, one of the best crews of the squadron.
DK: Oh!
KO: We did do well, I mean, we felt that we, if we dropped our markers that was bloody well close on it and of course the last operation we did was at Tonsberg oil refinery at the
DK: Right.
KO: The, first up towards Oslo and
DK: So, were all the operations with Walker?
KO: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. And was he a good pilot?
KO: He was a good pilot and he was good at dropping the bombs too. We were the best on that one as well. But, I know it sounds terrible, our successes and that sort of thing but sometimes they went right and sometimes they didn’t and sometimes if our radar wasn’t working up to scratch, we
DK: So, when you were briefed for Dresden then, it was just an ordinary briefing
KO: Yes.
DK: And an ordinary target.
KO: Yes. When I was allocated onto a new job I’d only been on the squadron about six weeks, two months when I was sent to RAF Wyton 1409 Met Flight
DK: Right.
KO: For a two week crash course on wind reporting then I found myself that we were doing a big operation in south Germany and we had to stop at Manston to refuel and my job then was to decide two hundred miles from the target whether it was gonna be satisfactory for the main force to continue on to attack the target and if I didn’t think it was gonna be satisfactory, my job was to call them out and send them home.
DK: So, you’ve gone out and checked the weather in effect then.
KO: No, that was all we were supposed to be doing,
DK: Yeah.
KO: But fortunately the fog came down and we were, the thing was called off. It was never reinstated again but I think that somebody up a loft had said, well, this is a bloody silly idea in the first place.
DK: That, was that with 1409 Met Flight?
KO: Oh, that was where I was sent for those two-week crash course.
DK: Right, ok. Ok, so you’ve done the training at 1409 Met course.
KO: What there was there of it.
DK: Yeah. So, you, did you get?
KO: I was
DK: Did you get back to Manston then or?
KO: Oh yeah, yes, well we uhm, I think we came in that night, I think we came into, probably into Woodbridge.
DK: Alright. Cause there’s one here you’ve been here the 12th of October ’44, it says from Manston, yeah. You went to Manston the day before. So that idea of going out early and
KO: Cause we used the wing tanks up, you see, we needed all the petrol that we could carry to get there and back so we’d use the wing tanks up going down to Manston until we had to refuel then and while that was being done, we were a little bit early, the fog came down and the whole thing was scrubbed.
DK: Alright. That’s what it’s saying here that you remained at Manston. Yeah. So, just going on here then, 16th of March ’45, Wurzburg, ops to Wurzburg.
KO: Wurzburg.
DK: Yeah, so you’re marker two. So, one thousand [unclear] red target indicator, one one thousand yellow target indicators,
KO: That’s what we carried.
DK: Right. But we carried a red, yellow and a green, as the Germans had a funny act of if the red ones went down they’d light another red one up somewhere away from it, you see, to distract it, so we’d have to go back in again and drop the green beside the red or whatever and
DK: Is this when you’ve got the master bomber’s there then that were telling
KO: Yeah, the master bomber’s up there.
DK: Yeah. So he’s then telling who, the rest of the main force who, which coloured markers to bomb. Has he mentioned you on the same operation that Gibson was lost on
KO: Yeah, yes.
DK: You didn’t know him cause he flew a 627 Mosquito force [unclear], didn’t he?
KO: Yes, yes.
DK: You didn’t meet him there then?
KO: I’ve met him on several occasions but, you know, not sort of personally, we were, [unclear] had social occasion or on one occasion he tried to, he came into our little bar, as you can imagine, we were in Nissen huts and they were all posh in and they came down to our officer’s mess and we, that was an airman’s hut actually, the whole mess, and the kitchen that was all part of it but we had no bar arrangements or that, so we had a builder of one of the boys in the squadron, so he built the bar and built a fire in there for us so we could have an officer’s drinking area. And one night my pilot and three Australians were in there having a drink and the door opened and Gibson appears and nobody sort of moved and he came, don’t you normally stand to attention and when a senior officer comes in? And they looked at each other, said, no, no, no. So, anyway, he created such a fuss, they grabbed hold of him, took him outside, took his trousers off and told him not to come in again. The next morning, there was an officer’s parade which he officiated, went down the line and of course the Australians all six foot something in their dark uniforms and my pilot who was a real dural Scotsman,
DK: This was Walker, was it?
KO: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
KO: He was standing at the end of the line and he got him and he put him in the glasshouse for three weeks. So, he didn’t remain very popular with our crowd.
DK: Alright.
KO: So I was flying odd bits with anybody who was needing it, the navigator, flew all that three weeks when he was
DK: Well that, I mean, that meant you had another pilot you had to fly with then that. So you, you weren’t too pleased about that then?
KO: Well, we didn’t [unclear]
DK: Alright, ok. They were just
KO: I might have gone on a night flying test.
DK: Alright, so you didn’t do any operations while he was in [unclear]
KO: No, I mean, I had a very, very nice round of it really, I mean, some of the ops we did, we, yeah, you had to have your head on and I was, I was considered to be one of the better navigators although it didn’t sound like it. You know, you don’t know the circumstances of how things go.
DK: So, what was it like then if you were, you know, you are flying the Mosquito there, you’re over enemy territory, what does it feel like, it’s very dark and you’re being shot at?
KO: Well, we weren’t being shot at, that was just the point you see. Everybody else, the main force went out on allocated circuit. We went out, there was only five of us, we went out and more or less did it the way we thought we would, we didn’t stick to any plan as long as we were there sort of three minutes before the flares went down
DK: Right
KO: Thirteen minutes before the bombers came in. So rise up and up and when cross sort of thing on the machine I said right-oh, Jock, we’re here now and three minutes early, do a right one turn, wind off three minutes and that should bring us on time, that moment in time, the flares started to come down and we turned to going to find the thing and the number one saw it just as, we were just, there’s a story in my book there, he pressed the [unclear] just at the same time my pilot was just going to so we had to go off and go round again. And that happened several times and on one, where we had to bomb Wesel, because the commanders had taken over, they crossed the river there and they were outside of Wesel, we had to mark Wesel and we went, there was five of us, we went in and we had to put our markers on the, uhm, the, what’s, I don’t know what you call it, uhm, on the stone part of the pier sort of thing
DK: Alright, ok.
KO: On the river
DK: Yeah.
KO: And both our pilots [unclear] at the same time, both pressed the button, that cut out transmission then we couldn’t hear anything else. We went in, they went in, and we went in, dropped our markers at the same time and they landed in the same, virtually the same place at the same time so how far we were apart where we dived in there, we couldn’t have been more than twenty feet apart, never saw them and they didn’t see us.
DK: I’m just reading there from your logbook, so, that’s the 23rd of March ’45 and it’s ops to Wesel, army support. And you’ve marked with a thousand-pound red target indicator. So, you both dropped at exactly the same time.
KO: And exactly the same spot.
DK: Onto a pier.
KO: Yeah.
DK: On the river.
KO: Yeah. We didn’t realise what had happened until we got back.
DK: So then just going on here, I’m just reading this out for the recorder here, so, you then got the 10 of April ’45 ops the marshalling yard near Leipzig. So, backed up number two, thousand-pound red target indicator, carrying a thousand-pound yellow target indicator.
KO: Yes.
DK: So that probably would have been your last operation then, would it or?
KO: [unclear] read, read.
DK: Oh, ok.
KO: I know that [laughs] I found out that since that my sister married a family in Northampton, they’re apparently of Jewish extraction and they came down to the grandfather had had property in East Germany,
DK: Oh, right.
KO: And nobody knew where it was or anything and it wasn’t until after the war that they set the wheels rolling and apparently there’s two blocks of very luxury apartments and we’d blown one block up and so they only got reparations for the one, who’d been getting the rent for the other one [unclear] up until that time nobody came to the fore.
DK: Oh, hang on, there’s another op here, so, uhm, so Norway, so 25th of April ’45 Tonsberg, Norway.
KO: Yes, that’s the last one I did.
DK: That’s the last one, yes, so [unclear]. So at that point the war’s ended, how did you feel then?
KO: Well, that was about the first or second op I did from commissioning.
DK: Right. So you were commissioned at this point. Yeah.
KO: But I didn’t, I didn’t bother, we didn’t know what was going to happen to us though, where we were going to go, and what happened, what happened then lot of the Ozzies were sent home and we brought in some new people because there was the Far East war and we were going to take part in that and so we were going out there to mark for 5 Group, was only 5 Group that was going out there and we were the Pathfinder Force for 5 Group but we weren’t going to do our dive bomb marking there, somebody got the bright idea of using H2S and we would fly over the target two thousand feet straight and level for two minutes and drop our markers out. You know, that was a ridiculous idea, we wouldn’t even know where the bloody markers had gone and we would’ve much rather continue what we were doing previously and knowing where it was but.
DK: This would’ve been part of Tiger Force then.
KO: Yes, this was Tiger Force and we were supposed to be leading it.
DK: So, the atomic bomb’s dropped then, how did you feel that you weren’t now having to go out to the Far East?
KO: I was a bit disappointed in some respect because I rather looked forward to the exploratory flight out there really but on the other hand, see, there was a five hundred miles from Okinawa to the landfall in Japan,
DK: Yeah.
KO: And we didn’t have that great deal of overlap of petrol to do that, so we were waiting for Mark 40 Mosquitoes to come, which were pressurized and we were flying at forty thousand feet out, taking the trade wind to blow us there, then we go down and do our marking role for drop our markers whatever to do there and then we were gonna come back at sea level because the trade wind would,
DK: Yeah, yeah.
KO: Well that was what the theory was anyway, that would blow us back, blow us there and blow us back. Which we weren’t particularly thrilled with the idea.
DK: Oh, I can imagine.
KO: As you can imagine, sort of being dropped in the sea in the middle of the Pacific there.
DK: [unclear] Get blown back [laughs].
KO: [laughs] No, some people spark ideas, I don’t know.
DK: So the war’s ended then, what were you
KO: Yeah.
DK: You carried on [unclear]
KO: What happened then was, I was supposed to be leaving the [unclear] and they started sending the Ozzies back then because the war was,
DK: Yeah.
KO: Virtually finished then and they started importing a few other crews to come in, to go on the Okinawa job and [unclear] I was gonna say now, I lost the thread or something.
DK: So, the war’s ended, you’re [unclear] not going.
KO: Yes, so a lot of the new boys that they’d brought in were dispersed amongst other stations and so forth and we were just left to [unclear] we were the only crews that were taken out of the squadron and sent firstly to Feltwell and then, I can never remember the other airfield and then ended up at Marham,
DK: Right.
KO: On a bombing development unit. Now we were supposed to think up different ways of attack for future things, well, that was a waste of time really but that was all we were doing. All the rest of the them, down the squadron as it was left, cause they’d imported a lot of aircrew, and sent the Ozzies back, and they were sent to uhm, 19th Squadron, something like that,
DK: Right.
KO: And within months it was, they were all released from it.
DK: And what happened to yourself, then you, did you leave the RAF at that point?
KO: I was still on bombing development unit.
DK: Right.
KO: We just, from there we just five crews of us there.
DK: Yeah.
KO: And I stayed on till June and I was then pat to hand in me notice so to speak.
DK: So that would have been June 1946.
KO: Yeah.
DK: Yeah, yeah, you’re at Marham. So, you’ve left the Air Force in ’46 then. Yeah. So, what did you after that then?
KO: Well, it’s a bit of a long story really, I wanted to, I wanted to get engaged to one of the WAAFs in the squadron who was a parachute packer.
DK: Right.
KO: And I wanted to get engaged, this was at Christmas time, and I went home that weekend, took a photograph and my father said, no, you’re not marrying that girl. So, I sort of, I [unclear] a little bit, he said, no, you’re not going to marry that girl, if you do, he said, we shall sell the business up, we shall go back to America cause my parents were American born.
DK: Alright, ok.
KO: So, I said very briefly, well, that’s what you want to do, that’s what you left to do. Anyhow, they didn’t go back, the father bought a bungalow outside the town and I left myself thinking that this was the route I was going to take, that he changed his mind about being awkward and he bought two limited companies in Northampton and when I came out to take on the businesses which was a great help to me because I only had one other option which was to stay in the Air Force.
DK: Yeah.
KO: But that wasn’t very good because they really didn’t want anybody else in the, in there but that’s. So where I went and I was in Northampton then for five or six years working on the family business and then we divided up from there into the different companies and so forth.
DK: [unclear] The family business actually involve?
KO: A restaurant and bakeries.
DK: Oh, alright, ok. So, so looking back now, after all these years, several years, how do you feel about your time in the Air Force?
KO: I mean, for good or bad?
DK: Both [laughs]
KO: I thoroughly enjoyed it.
DK: Alright.
KO: No, it was a great experience, I learned a lot really from it, you know, and I wouldn’t have missed a day of my experiences there I mean [unclear] fly in the Air Force, when I came home and joined the local flying club and I was flying several hundred hours [unclear].
DK: So you did eventually get your private pilot’s license, then.
KO: I got my private pilot license, yes.
DK: Yeah. And, one other question I’ve got, did you know anything about the controversy of 627 Squadron moving from Bennett’s 8 Group to
KO: Oh, it was a bit of an argy bargy about that.
DK: Yeah.
KO: But, no, that’s what, what came away and that’s what we accepted.
DK: So, when you initially joined 627, you were part of 8 Group, were you, under Bennett.
KO: Yes. And 6
DK: And then moved to 5 Group under Cochrane.
KO: Yes. And 617 Squadron were on the same station with us.
DK: Right.
KO: So, it was quite a nice association really.
DK: Yeah. And you got on well with 617 Squadron.
KO: Oh yes.
DK: Yeah, yeah.
KO: Was a really good arrangement really.
DK: So, that controversy then, you just accepted you were going to another group.
KO: Well, that was all you could do really.
DK: Yeah.
KO: Hadn’t got a great deal of option [laughs].
DK: Ok. Well, absolutely marvelous.
KO: I’m sorry I’ve been so
DJK: You’ve been absolutely wonderful, brilliant, don’t worry, it’s useful having the logbook here cause we’ve gone through the various
KO: My memory seems to be worse at times than others and
DK: You’ve been absolutely marvelous, no, it’s been good
KO: Good. It’s been absolute rubbish from my point of view.
DK: That’s been good. Right, I’ll turn that off now.
KO: Ok.
DK: Ok, thank you very much.



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Ken Oatley,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 1, 2024,

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