Interview with John Tipton


Interview with John Tipton


John Tipton grew up in Tenby and studied law at University College London. He volunteered for the RAF and trained as a navigator. He was posted to 40 Squadron where he began operational flying before the squadron were posted to Malta. After his tour of operations he began instructing at an Operational Training Unit but was keen to return to operational flying and joined 109 Squadron Pathfinders. He completed another seventy operations with 109 bringing his tally of operations to one hundred and four. He would have continued with operations but was told he had done enough. He became an Oboe controller in Holland. He had a distinguished post war career including at SHAPE HQ where he was a head of air intelligence.







01:14:59 audio recording


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GC: Ok. Hello. This is Gary Clarke and I’m interviewing John Tipton today at his home in Tenby for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. Thank you, John for seeing me today. And there’s nobody else present today and Mr Tipton is happy for the interview to carry on on that basis. Is that ok Mr Tipton?
JT: Yeah.
GC: Ok. Ok. We’d like to, could we start with where you were born?
JT: Well, my name is John Tipton. I was born in Penally, near Tenby.
GC: Ok.
JT: In 1917.
GC: Right.
JT: And I spent my youth all around Tenby. My parents, who were hoteliers in Tenby. And I went to university at University College London. And from there the war broke out just before I graduated, and so I joined the Air Force immediately on the outbreak of war.
GC: Right.
JT: Because I was a member of the University Officer Training Corps anyway.
GC: Yeah.
JT: And [pause] but then they left me to graduate until June 1940 and I, then I joined the Air Force proper. I trained at Pershore, which is outside Worcester and various other places. Prestwick and Porthcawl and Pershore. And from there I went to 40 Squadron in Bomber Command. I arrived there in June ’41, I think and we did some operations from our base at Alconbury which was a satellite of Wyton. And then we were turned out to be the mobile squadron of 3 Group and we went to Malta ‘til, and where I carried on until I finished my tour. There’s not much to say about it.
GC: Ok. You mentioned you were born in 1917 which is in the First World War. So presumably your mum and dad would have had memories of the First World War as well.
JT: They did indeed. I was born on my mother’s birthday in 1917 and my father was away in the war. He was a member of the Royal Flying Corps which became the RAF. And ground crew of course because he was quite old at the time. Forty seven I think. And that’s all I remember. Remember of my dad.
GC: Right. You were very young.
JT: Yes. And I was brought up in Tenby and went to school in Tenby and I went from there to university in London. UCL in London. And at the end of that time we’d got another war on our hands. And so I joined, I joined the Air Force and the training was, the Canadian training had not started at that time. So as I’d been recruited as a navigator we had to wait some time for navigation training which took me to a place at a civilian school at Prestwick.
GC: Right.
JT: I finally succeeded in getting in and then training, and finished my training and went to Wyton. To 40 Squadron where I operated for a short time. And then the squadron went to Malta and stayed in Malta for the rest of my time there. In fact, Malta although we had originally gone on a six week tour the squadron stayed there and stayed in the Middle East for the rest of the time. We came back. Then I instructed at a Wellington OTU for approximately [pause] and I was very fortunate because I went on holiday to Torquay, I think, with a couple of friends. and we met an Australian there. And he said, when we parted he said, ‘I can’t tell you anything about it but I belong to a very interesting squadron which is flying very interesting aircraft and we’re looking for people like you. Well, that was — I was baited [laughs]. I couldn’t resist. Anyway, and so I, he saw his CO and I saw my CO and I rapidly went to 109 Squadron and I found myself on Oboe Mosquitoes.
GC: Wow.
JT: From where I remained until I’d completed seventy operations altogether. And then I went to, that was supposed to be as many as you could stand but one morning we woke up and listened, turned on the radio and found out it was D-Day. And so we immediately rang our old squadron. I was there with this other Scotsman and we got back and we actually operated on D-Day before that and —
GC: So, was, was that with you say your old squadron? Was that with 40 Squadron then or 109?
JT: No. No. Not 40. In the masters. We were in 109. And so I started a third tour against, we operated from D-Day through to the closing of the Falaise Gap which saw the last of the Germans bundled out of France. And so it was a rather nice finish. Then I was, my pilot who was Australian was posted back to Australia and well, I was willing to carry on and many people did. The group commander navigation officer said no. I’d done enough. And so I, by which time my total operations were a hundred and four. And so, I still wanted to see action so I trained as a controller on Oboe which was what we, what our squadron was using. And I went as an Oboe controller and I went to Holland and saw the rest of the war out in Holland.
GC: So, you spent a lot of time, you know to do, is it a hundred and four. A hundred and four operations and then you still volunteered then to go to Holland to help with the Mosquito directions then was it? Or —
JT: Yeah. Well, 109 Squadron and later 105 they operated as Pathfinders using equipment called Oboe. And this we were called was anti-aircraft ground control. And the, and the ground control stations followed the army up through France, Holland and Belgium. And so, I was in Holland until virtually the end until we crossed the Rhine and went across into Germany and finally came to an end. The end of the war. And we, I returned to Britain and started life in the peacetime Air Force.
GC: Yeah, so —
JT: Having been awarded a permanent commission.
GC: Of course. Yeah. So, in in this time, so you’d done, well being from the time of volunteering and becoming operational was about, was that four years?
JT: About that I suppose.
GC: About four years. And did you get to see your family much in that time?
JT: We had leave every six weeks in Bomber Command. Which was very good because by having a fixed term leave you only had six weeks to look ahead. The Americans on the other hand operated on a different system and people did a tour of thirty operations and they didn’t see anything. They had leave in between but the leave was really according to requirement. And this was very bad, and bad for morale because we only looked six weeks ahead and they looked, had to look ahead to thirty operations and back to America and it was bad for morale. I think we, the Air Force had really studied a book which was written by Lord Moran, I think who was Churchill’s doctor and had been a doctor during the First World War. And he wrote a book called, “The Anatomy Of Courage.” Which really meant that you’d got, each individual had a certain amount of courage to use up. You could either use it at one or you could spin it out. And the I think the Air Force learned this lesson and it was a very good one because by looking only six weeks ahead to the next leave there was always hope of survival in that length of time. And the, so you, you never looked in to a, into infinity as Americans did. And so I think that Bomber Command was an extraordinary organisation, and quite wonderful. And there was really no more of a problem physical anyway at all that you saw and I think it was because they’d followed this principal of rationing the use of a man’s courage. I think it’s a short amount.
GC: They could look after their crews then, were they?
JT: Yes. And they looked after the men much better which was good.
GC: So, do you remember how you originally crewed up together then for 40 Squadron or —
JT: Crewing up. Well, crewing up for 109 Squadron which of course was two, which was very simply done on the squadron but the crewing up for Wellingtons was very odd. They put everybody, because they went, they arrived at OTU and there did a certain amount of ground school. The pilots did taxiing and so on. They were learning to fly the aircraft. And navigators did navigation school. The gunners, the wireless operators did ground school. Then one day they put them all in a bunch and they said, ‘Now sort yourselves out into crews.’ God knows why. It was very odd and, but it worked remarkably well because they didn’t know each other. Perhaps in different training streams up and down at the time. And it completed with room full of strangers and the thing with strangers the pilots found a navigator. Then the two of them found a wireless operator and the rest of them found a rear gunner. It worked. I don’t know why it worked but it did.
GC: Yeah. So, so was your first crew with 40 Squadron, were they all British or were they multi-national?
JT: They were all British. And as I said the pilot was a clerk with the dashboard err with the Gas Board in Windsor. The two wireless operators were schoolboys really. And I was out of university. And the rear gunner was a mature chap, a butcher by trade from Gateshead.
GC: So was he —
JT: A butcher.
GC: Was he the smallest then if he was the tail gunner?
JT: No. He wasn’t. No. Quite a reasonable size. And we carried on then together until one day in Malta we were lined up because in Malta you couldn’t keep the aircraft on the airfield because they wanted to get immediately get a bomb to it because the aircraft, the island was permanently overflown by the Luftwaffe who were only ten minutes away anyway. So the aircraft were taxied out at, by last light from a place called Safi Strip where they had an airstrip. And then they were brought up and operated and they were taxied back again before it got light to keep everybody safe if they could. But this night we were all brought up and they were lined up ready and we were going off first to see because we did a weather check. One aircraft would go and check the weather for the others because you know as soon as we split up and [unclear] very great. And so we were the only crew up there at that time. And a German intruder dropped a bomb. Apparently, apparently right in, in the middle of us. And we were gathered together under the double identifier, the light of the aircraft, in a little circle. Just the aircrew plus one member of the ground crew. And we were all thrown in different directions and I landed under the port wing tip about thirty feet away. And I was alright except for a piece of shrapnel in my leg which wasn’t too difficult at the time and went back to the aircraft which was then burning. And under the aircraft was the pilot and I thought that he was still alive and went and fetched him and dragged him clear. And the ground crew member, he had found the rear gunner who had lost his leg. And the, so we had the four members, the four only near the aircraft. We dragged the two bodies clear until the, and we dug ourselves in more or less while the tanks went up with raw fuel. And then again we dug ourselves in until the bombs went off. And then people approached the aircraft and found us and took us away to sick, to sick quarters. And I was, I wasn’t kept very long but poor Sydney, he lost his leg. There’s a photograph of him after the war because he actually got a false leg and he stayed in the Air Force for some years after. After the war. And he, he continued to fly but not operationally of course. And it was rather amusing because people had all sorts of mascots of their own which they hanged, draped across the navigation table and his mascot happened to be my scarf. I didn’t know. But after he had got a false leg he went flying again and he wrote to me and asked if he could, if I would send him my scarf because it had been his mascot. Which was a perfectly ordinary scarf I used to wear because the aircrew overalls were rough around the neck. Well, it had no sentimental value for me at all. I thought it was rather amusing. That was quite something. And, and as I said before I went to OTU and trained crews for operations. And went from there to Mosquitoes. Which was very fortunate again I landed on Mosquitoes where the loss rate was lower than the main force. And also had the the satisfaction of knowing exactly what you’d done by the time you came back. You had a record of exactly what you’d, what you’d done. So you had knowledge of how you’d, how you’d finished. Oboe was radar control and it was very satisfying work that you knew just what you’d achieved by the end. And I stayed there until I totalled seventy operations. And then I went off test flying with not of my old pals but with another chap. And we woke one morning listening to the news and found it was D-day. So we rang the squadron and we found our way back that day. We operated before D-Day was over and we stayed and we re-joined our original crews and continued until, as I say the Battle of Falaise Gap which the Americans were pushing the Germans down from one end and we were pushing the Germans from another. The Falaise Gap was the gap between the two from which the Germans were escaping from France into Germany. So I did succeed in seeing it all. In seeing France cleared of Germany. Which was very satisfying.
GC: So then, so how was your Mosquito set up? Was it set up for bombing then or —
JT: Well, Mosquitoes came in every shape and size. Well, same shape and size but inside there was various things. Ours were Pathfinder Mosquitoes and they were well equipped with a fairing in the nose. And they were very intriguing to other, to the members of the, of a Lancaster squadron on the same station because we used to go out to the aircraft just carrying a little board with us with a [unclear] map on it and, and nothing else when they were loaded down with maps and sextants and things which we were used to, being on Wellingtons. But we just used to climb on board the two of us. And —
GC: So, as with being in the Mosquito and, let’s say the Pathfinder then — so before the operations who would you be going, who would you be with in discussing the actual operation? How it was going to go ahead.
JT: We had a very careful briefing of course. But once the briefing was over then we operated, as we dropped a marker bomb [unclear]. And although we, we dropped a fresh marker every two minutes throughout the duration of the bombing so we had a fresh marker in case we bombed out or something. And so we put a fresh one down every two minutes. And of course the aircraft, you know the number of aircraft and there it was. We came back and we found out what we’d done. A little chart of our bombing run by that time and we saw our error at the end and the error was nearly always within fifty yards which was nothing really when you were following up a thousand bombers. And so it was very satisfying work because not only was it satisfying from doing a good job in a nice aircraft but you found out how well you’d done when you went home.
GC: So, how far ahead would you be in a Mosquito of the main force? The main attacking force.
JT: We had, we continued during the operation of the main force with two minutes follow up. So that we kept a marker going throughout the whole of the raid. But our original one went out. Then saw two minutes ahead so that the bomber crews flying and searching, flying and when they were two minutes off the target and saw the marker ahead they went to bomb the marker, turned and came home.
GC: Yeah. One thing I was really trying to understand as well is obviously you say all these squadrons came amassed together then, didn’t they?
JT: Yes.
GC: From different airfields in the UK.
JT: Yes.
GC: How long would it take for them to —
JT: Assemble.
GC: To assemble. Yeah.
JT: I don’t know. But less than an hour. But of course they were assembling only because then every, any, every individual aircraft in Bomber Command operated by itself. And it handled its own navigation and it dropped bombs as an individual on the target. Whereas the Americans of course operated in daylight and they operated an entirely different system. They, and they all dropped on a lead navigator. I don’t know. It wasn’t as an effective bombing. Omaha Beach for example which because immediately before the landings off the ships there was a force of Bomber Command hitting the beach defences. So that they’d be stunned by the chaps arrived off the ships and the landing craft. And the British or Canadian beaches were well covered. And one of the American beaches was well covered too. But the, but Omaha Beach the formation missed entirely and they dropped their bombs way behind the beach leaving the Omaha Beach defences almost intact. With the result that Omaha was a terrible battle to gain a foothold and they had awful losses there. But they don’t, the Americans never mentioned why it happened. It happened because of the failure of the Air Force.
[recording paused]
GC: So, what was [pause]
JT: Could have been anywhere. They’re not chronological.
GC: So, let’s say we go back to Malta. What was the airfield like in Malta? What was the base like? Was it mainly British there or —
JT: All British.
GC: Yeah.
JT: Apart from Maltese of course [laughs] And the airfield, as I said you couldn’t leave aircraft on the airfield because the Germans were in strength and were only twelve minutes flying away. So they operated over freely. We had no fighters when we were there. And we’d originally had four old Hurricanes I think and they were all shot down because they, Malta had very poor radar to the north. And so that’s where the Germans came from [laughs] and they frequently missed the top cover entirely. And I think these four old Hurricanes and we, they disappeared all at the same time. Mainly because they didn’t set off [unclear] . The main thing anyway, of course the famous lot were Faith, Hope and Charity. Three Sea Gladiators which were in, stacked up in packing cases and they took them out of the packing case and they were flown by staff officers and the main purpose was to keep safe rather than get shot down. But never the less their purpose was tremendous morale. And Faith, Hope and Charity were famous aircraft at that time. And then we had occasional fighters we mainly got in in ones and twos. But otherwise at that time there was nothing.
GC: So were there, were, the billets were obviously away from the airfield then were they? So you could keep safe? Or not?
JT: Originally the aircrew lived in a place called [pause] it was a hospital anyway and half a nunnery. Because we arrived in Malta at night of course as one obviously would and found a bed for the night and got up in the morning and just wearing a pair of pyjama trousers and a towel around the shoulder I went out and immediately met a couple of nuns [laughs] You know. And that’s how it was. Then they split us up to spread us around the island. And we were in a place called the National Palace. And it was very poor because we were very poorly looked after and we used to live, the only food we had was really Maconochie’s meat and vegetable stew. I don’t know where they got it from but they got piles of it and we had to wait in turn for a spoon because there were only, we were about a hundred I suppose in the sergeant’s part and I think we only had three or four or five spoons between us. We had to wait until, meat and vegetable stew which was horrible. I remember after the war when I was married my wife bought a tin which she managed to buy. A triumph. But it took, the sight of it turned me off. And we, as I say we were very poorly looked after mainly due to this same management who’d didn’t keep records of the flying. Because they, it didn’t matter at all really and so we were fed this way. And you know it was a pity but there we are.
GC: So, were there on, on, were there opportunity to socialise with the local Maltese people or —
JT: No. No opportunities at all because as I say the squadron broke many records. We were operating virtually every night. So you slept in the daytime and operated at night. And we did the whole time. We didn’t know any Maltese. I knew them afterwards of course. I’ve been back and forth to Malta since then. But they’re fine people but we didn’t see much of them.
GC: So, are your operations in Malta, are they in to North Africa or into Europe or a mixture?
JT: Oh, variously. A lot in to Italy. And a lot into Greece and North Africa. We spread ourselves around quite, quite a bit. As well as we could. There were two Wellington squadrons. One Merlin engined Wellington from 4 Group, I think. Or 5 Group. And Wellington 1Cs from 3 Group. So, but we didn’t see much of the other squadrons we had because we were billeted in different parts of the island.
GC: And the engines coped ok with the heat in Malta?
JT: They seemed to. Yes. With all the difficulties the ground crew did a remarkable job I think. As they usually do in keeping them serviced. As I said you taxied off the airfield and hidden away in a place called Safi Strip for the daytime and were only brought out at night.
JT: It was an odd place to operate but I think worthwhile. I’m very glad I was there. If only because I’ve since had connections with Malta and feel very close to it.
GC: So then you did — was it forty four?
JT: Sorry?
GC: How many operations did you do with 40 Squadron?
JT: Thirty [pause] thirty four I think. And I did seventy with 109.
GC: Did you have a choice to — when you went to 109 was there a choice with whether you became crew of a Mosquito or Pathfinder Lanc or Lancaster then?
JT: 109 was solely Mosquitoes.
GC: It was. Right.
JT: 582 was our sister Lancaster squadron on the same station. And then 105 Squadron which was a low level Mosquito squadron that converted on to Oboe and sent to us. So we had two squadrons going. And after the aircrew were interchangeable between the two squadrons but they didn’t live together. We lived separately because I think the eggs in one basket principle finally split us up because we operated on behalf of the whole of the Command and I think before the invasion they felt slightly vulnerable to do things like parachute raids or something on more vulnerable airfields. And if I’d had all the Pathfinders, all the Oboe Pathfinders which were particularly accurate. You couldn’t have them all on one station. So this was better.
GC: Could the Germans detect Oboe? Were they able to?
JT: Did they detect it? Well, yes because they had to. As well as the fact the Oboe had a very interesting history because it started off with a flight of aircraft, Ansons really trying to find out how the Germans managed to bomb so accurately during their Blitz on England. And from that Oboe developed in a, it was very interesting because Oboe was very much better than the Germans because they could only, oh you know [pause] but it was, it had a strange development but it turned out to be very good. Very good indeed. It could put the marker down within fifty yards. And you usually theoretically zero depending on your, on the aerodynamics of the marker bomb was but they were very carefully looked after to try and ensure that the aerodynamics were right.
GC: Did you have any superstitions? Or —
JT: No. Not at all.
GC: Or rituals or anything? No.
JT: None at all. People used to collect in my Wellington days. The people were superstitious. They all had mascots which they used to drape around the table. I remember having a bra on the, hung on the knobs of my astrodome [laughs] and I don’t know whose they were. I had none at all. And quite deliberately. I reckoned it was a bad thing to have mascots which you were likely to lose. But so I had no superstitions of any sort. Which is better I think. Then of course once the war ended I, the peacetime Air Force was rather busy. I rather expected it to be very leisurely and I could continue with my law studies but I didn’t have time. I was kept nose to the grindstone doing courses and things. And I went to New Zealand and I was there for two and a half years. Came back. Went to Staff College which the entrance exam was held while I was in New Zealand so I tried there. And from Staff College I went to command a squadron. 527 Squadron which is, and the distinction of being the largest squadron in the Air Force at the time. Probably not so big as wartime. And from then on I went to a variety of jobs until I sorted the, I went back to the station, the only active station in the Air Force, and found very very paper bound. And so I tried the Civil Service exam and fortunately I passed it. I said entry to the civil service at a rank higher than my, I was leaving the Air Force as a wing commander and entering the civil service as a principal which was a rank up. [unclear] And I went on from there. And, and a way, for a process like that. I think it was a good, a good time to leave the Air Force. And I had the best of it.
GC: So, and where were you living at that time?
JT: We lived at Farnborough. Purely for commuting purposes.
JT: And when I left the civil service it was time to retire anyway.
GC: Yeah. And you did some volunteering then as well afterwards.
JT: Sorry I did what?
GC: You did some volunteering then afterwards.
JT: Oh yes. I had to find something to do in Tenby. I was willing to do anything but I was very fortunate in getting hold of the museum and being the curator there for thirteen years was very rewarding. I was very lucky [pause] At which point I retired. I quite enjoyed myself. Very.
GC: So was it easy? Was it easy to get home on your, on your leave? When you had leave?
JT: Oh, perfectly easy. After we’d landed anyway. And we used to [pause] my Australian pilot he would normally come home on leave with me and we used to spend a night in London and then come to Tenby. And he, when he went back to Australia I was posted back. That was when I finished because the group navigation officer, a chap called John Searby said I’d better stop. I thought the war was coming to an end at that time. I mean driven the Germans out of France in some state of confusion. But of course there was a lot of war left. But I saw that in as a controller in Holland which was very miserable and intense but it passed all right. But Holland was very dark. They’d taken the occupation very hard I think. But we used to have a headquarters down in Brussels. And occasionally we used to have to go to Brussels and it was like, going into Belgium I think they’d taken the occupation much more lightly. They’d been in the black market and all sorts of activities I think. And they’d survived very much better. And they really, that was a lot of fun. While Holland had no fun at all. None at all. But they had lots going on in Brussels. And you could buy, I don’t know why, but the Germans had only just left. We followed in after and you could buy anything in Brussels. Things you wouldn’t imagine, you know. Like beautiful notepaper. Lined notepaper. Perfume. I remember standing by a fellow saying I could use a bottle of Chanel Number 5. And unfortunately she, at a mess party she left it for the entire, anyone to take a turn at it and somebody knocked it over. The place must have stank [laughs] But it was amazing how all these things were available.
JT: But I said we’d been to New Zealand [unclear] all we did was in Paris so it was never easy. I was at SHAPE headquarters which was Supreme Headquarter Europe which was out of Versailles. And life was very easy. And there I was in air intelligence. I was chief of air, of air intelligence and my deputy was a German. The head of the, of the sort of branch which dealt with a lot of things was an Italian. And although I’d got a Norwegian and somebody else in my group I got on terribly well with the German and the Italian. Which I don’t know whether it was accident or design but the German was great fun and we, not only did we get on well together but we felt great friends with the [pause] and the Italian was remarkable because he’d been a prisoner of war in Kenya. He was taken, and they’d kept on as he was an officer and they’d farmed him out to families and he married the daughter of the family. Then this daughter inherited this great business in Kenya and inherited another big business in South Africa. And then unfortunately she died and so he left. Alberto left the Air Force for some time but obviously he’d got two children and he was looking after them because the children inherited a lot of money from the two sides of his wife’s family. And so he stayed out of the Air Force, out of the army actually for some time and looked after the finances. And he was terribly, he didn’t profit out of it at all. Not at all. He dedicated his life to them. Eventually he married again. A Dutch woman whose husband was the, whose father was the head of medical services to the Italian army, I think. And they had two children. Lovely children. But he made it quite clear that the children, the elder children of his first marriage were looked after and he had all their money sorted away in Switzerland to avoid tax as Italians do. And he, and so dedicated his life really to two children of his first marriage. Which was rather hard on his second wife naturally. But I mean I’ve never known anyone quite as ethical. Alberto.
GC: Did you keep in touch with the German chap you mentioned?
JT: Oh yes. Until he died eventually. Then his wife died. And I was in touch with his daughters after that. He had two daughters. And one was in Singapore at the same time as my daughter was living in Singapore. Both my [unclear] my people in the process and did very well. But one of the German daughters came and lived with us for about six months learning English. The German, he was the second chap in the job. The first one was very laid back, an Austrian who was, he was as laid back as you imagine [unclear] to be. He was a fighter pilot. And it was only after the war he elected to be to take German nationality because he’d had a house which had been destroyed in bombing. And the only way he could get compensation for that was by taking German nationality. But he was a very laid back chap the second one. The one I took which was a friend of mine he was he never met an Englishmen before. And he’d learned English because after the war of course they were left abandoned. So he went to university to do architecture and when they opened the forces again he re-joined the German forces as an architect and he was on airfield building for quite some time. Then he joined and came in to intelligence and but he, he was apparently very serious to start with. He was a Prussian. And he was, he’d never met an Englishman before. But we sort of became great friends.
GC: Ok then. Mr Tipton, is there anything else you can think of? Or anything else you want to say?
JT: I don’t think so [pause] So, after the war I went around various things in the Air Force including I think I was the first navigator to command a squadron. So I will leave with that and before staff college I got that and that was quite an interesting job. But there we are.
GC: And so after the war was — what were your feelings about Bomber Command and obviously —
JT: I think Bomber Command was very badly done by. Largely because it was a remarkable organisation. As I said there were twenty one nationalities in the Great Escape who were shot. And they, they carried on the war on for a long time. They were the only people who carried the war to Germany and it was very important that the Germans should feel that they were getting punished for what they were doing. Otherwise there would have been nothing at all. Bomber Command carried the war on its own shoulders really from the time of, from Dunkirk on until the invasion. Solely because otherwise the Germans would have been quite happy and not realised the war was on really. And they were made conscious of it by the bomber offensive. And at the end of the war one of the targets turned out to be Dresden which was not a target which Butch Harris wanted to attack at all.
GC: No.
JT: The Americans didn’t want to attack either but it was forced upon us by the Russians who in their advance wanted Dresden destroyed. And [pause] and so it was. And the orders came to Bomber Command from above really. And it was because it was not on their list of targets. And yet of course there was a great fuss about the destruction of Dresden and what was done which was done by politicians passing it down on behalf of the Russians who wanted it done. And it was the American and British Bomber Commands who were most very reluctant to it. It was done and it was, it gave, it put a bad name. I don’t know why particularly they pick on Dresden but it gave the bomber offensive a bad name. And Churchill, when he spoke after the war he thanked everybody down and including the Cub Scouts and left Bomber Command out. And we carried the war on our own shoulders for years. And yet he had no thanks for them. And yet during the time he’d been a neighbour of Harris and they’d been friends. And they were, you know he was very appreciative of what was done but he completely abandoned them after the war. I felt very sad. Very bad it was. They didn’t deserve that.
GC: Yeah. But things, things have changed now over the last sort of ten, fifteen, twenty years do you think?
JT: In which direction?
GC: In appreciation of what Bomber Command did. You know, by —
JT: I’m not conscious of it.
GC: Which is why it’s important now to have, you know, the Memorial. The Bomber Command Memorial in Lincoln.
JT: Yes. That of course was set up Bomber Command itself, not by — by friends. The Memorial wasn’t set up by the government at all. But why they should turn on it when it had carried the war on its own shoulders for three years, three or four years when nothing was happening at all to the Germans. And it was very important that something should be happening and something pretty bad and so it was. And it was, I think a serious let down.
JT: But there you are. You get no thanks for something. But to end on sacrifice because although I went through and did an enormous number of operations the majority of people disappeared on their first tour of operations. Very few people survived their first tour. And then the second tour they became Pathfinders and Master Bombers and they had to face worse things and carried on for another tour. So the final people who finally achieved seventy operations and must have been a very small percentage indeed. Very small. One or two percent. But then of course after D-Day it was a free for all [laughs] Everybody was having fun. But things got confused rather because they were so busy. But I was very happy to carry on. But some people carried on much much, for much longer than I did. But it’s the group navigation officer who said I should stop. There was one character who, I must speak on him because he was, he’d be completely unknown but he was the man who did the most operations in Bomber Command. He did a hundred and forty seven. And these were proper ones. He was on Wellingtons first. And the rest of the time on Mosquitoes and but he was a very odd character. As they were [laughs] but mind you he would be. He unfortunately he finally died living in a flat in Cambridge. Alone. Blind. And deserted by everybody. And that was the end of the hero of a hundred and forty seven operations.
GC: That’s an incredible service. Like yours is. Yeah. Right.
JT: But the reason he did so many operations is another thing to do with his character. But I knew him quite well. But it was sad really because his, you’ve never heard his name or know anything about him but he died in obscurity.
GC: Yeah.
JT: And sad. Very sad. His name was Benson and I’m probably the only person left who knew him.
GC: Ok. Well, thank you Mr Tipton. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
JT: Well, I haven’t been very good I’m afraid.
GC: It’s been an amazing interview. You know. It’s been a real honour to meet you.
JT: I don’t see why but [pause] The other thing that has always been on mind was that the, unfortunately this organisation is very much Lincolnshire and Yorkshire orientated. But nevertheless it worried me that because the head of the Pathfinder Force was an Australian called Don Bennett who was on a short service commission with the RAF and but he’d written a very first class book on navigation before. He left the Air Force and he was with British Overseas Airways for some years and came back during the war. He was given the job of, eventually of forming the Pathfinder Force. The head of 5 Group, I think it was 5 Group was Sir Ralph Cochrane who was a regular officer and a nobleman to boot and who felt that Bennett was an upstart which he was of course because he’d been, did a first, a short service in the Air Force and then went out to BOAC. What it was called in those days and then he came back in. Still, and, but Cochrane, who was the head of 5 Group was jealous of him, I think. And so he set up 5 Group as a separate command running his own operations and doing his own marking. Well, there was no need. Oboe marking would mark anything anywhere within fifty yards of an aiming point. Cochrane’s method of marking was to flood the area with light, with lots of light and then send someone down at low level to identify the target which had already been marked by Oboe by the way. He took precaution of that. And this was spectacular. You could see a 5 Group operation carried out from a hundred miles away. And we would fly home in perfect peace knowing that all the fighters in Germany would be accumulated by this mass of light. And some of the things, there was an example of I can’t remember the name, [unclear] I think but it was a target. Obviously a German Panzer training ground and it was about five minutes over the coast. Over the French coast. A Bomber Command normal, a normal operation would have had an Oboe marker on it. They’d have bombed it and turned and there would have been probably no losses at all. 5 Group, they took this on. They had an Oboe marker of course which they called a proximity marker. And in order to get, to get their method working well they failed completely. And they had squadrons of 5 Group milling about, getting lost to fighters, collisions and all sorts of things and were over the target for about an hour. And failing to, failing to, they got an Oboe marker stuck there which they were supposedly taking no notice of and yet trying to identify by means of a low level. With this system. They had somebody low level flying around, finding the target area and marking it again and they wouldn’t accept the Oboe marker at all. And they lost a number, a large number of aircraft. I don’t know how many but there was quite large number because they’d got squadrons milling about under no direction because the Master Bomber, whoever he was I don’t know what trouble he was having but they lost hundreds of air crew that night. Well, a normal operation we would have lost none at all. I think that is mad and somebody at 5 Group should have been made to pay for it because it was their only failure but it was awful. Having the aircraft all milling round awaiting for something which wasn’t going to happen anyway and they got a marker stuck anyway, you see. I think it was a crime. This was the only one. Just one example but it was a bad one. And somebody’s head should have rolled but unfortunately the head that rolled should have been Sir Ralph Cochrane because hundreds of people died unnecessarily and it was very very sad. Just one example. And the, also he employed the people who flew down on the target searching for it. He employed people like Cheshire and Guy Gibson. Guy Gibson was killed on it and he should have been retired years before. He only kept going on because he’d gone on using his name. He should have been rested permanently ages before. But I think fortunately Cheshire survived of course but the, the whole thing was a mess due to one man alone. I think that was Ralph Cochrane.
GC: But then he accepted the Pathfinder Force set up afterwards then did he?
JT: No. He carried on to the end of the war. It only developed towards the end of the war but it was a damned silly system anyway. But [pause] but he wanted to set up his own Air Force in his own command separate from the Bomber Command which was quite wrong. And he should have been made to pay for it because lots of people were lost unnecessarily on his operations. So, that and bloody Dresden and Mr Churchill at the end of the war thanked everybody including the Boy Scouts but he didn’t Bomber Command at all. Deliberately ignored it. And ignored it because of Dresden which Bomber Command would do to it.
GC: No.
JT: But it was the Russians. The politicians. However, there we are. That’s life.
GC: Ok then, Mr Tipton thank you very much.
JT: That’s alright.
GC: I’ll stop this recording now shall I?
JT: Yeah.
GC: Yeah. Thank you very much.



Gary Clarke, “Interview with John Tipton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 2, 2024,

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