A bomber pilot’s journey through WWII



A bomber pilot’s journey through WWII


Biography of Squadron Leader David James Baikie Wilson, DSO, DFC and Bar (1917 - 1947). He flew operations as a pilot with 214, 196 and 617 Squadrons before becoming Head of Aerodynamic Development and Testing, and Test-Pilot at A V Roe & Co Ltd. He was killed 23 August 1947 in the Avro Tudor crash.




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[underlined] A bomber pilot’s journey through WWII. [/underlined] Page 1.

(A Veteran from 617 Squadron – David Wilson).

Sqd. Ldr. David James Baikie Wilson, DSO, DFC and Bar – Head of Aerodynamic Development and Testing, and Test-Pilot, A.V. Roe & Co Ltd.

April 8th 1946 to August 23rd 1947 (killed in Tudor crash)

David James Baikie Wilson was born on January 16th 1917, in Highgate, London, to his Scottish mother and Norfolk-born father. His mother came from a tough sea-faring family called Baikie living in [inserted] Brisbane Street, [/inserted] Greenock, on the River Clyde, to the west of Glasgow. From her, David inherited a great resolution of character, and from his father he acquired a brilliant academic brain – a combination that does not often lead to its owner becoming a test-pilot.

David was the only child in the family, and his mother inserted the name of her Sea-Captain father, James Baikie, between “David” and “Wilson” to perpetuate the family name – as is the wont of many Scottish families.

David’s father and mother had moved down to North London prior to the birth, and remained in that area while he grew up. Attending the local Kingsbury County School, and later Berkbeck College in Fetter Lane, David soon proved himself extremely bright, academically, obtaining [inserted] School Certificate [/inserted] “Distinctions” in Pure Maths, General Physics and Chemistry and “Credits” in Advanced Maths, French, History and English. He left the College with Higher School Certificate in Pure and Applied Maths, Chemistry and Physics, and then went straight to London University, to try to gain a degree in some of these subjects. True to his academic form, he gained a B.Sc. (General) in Chemistry, Physics and Pure Maths in July 1937 and then studied Chemistry for a further two years, gaining a “First” in the “Special” B.Sc. category and [inserted] starting work at the British Oxygen Company in November 1938. [/inserted]

Combining a taste for something more exciting, with his studying, David was already very keen

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on aircraft and flying, and as the inevitable War loomed up he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), and was called up for deferred service in January 1940, training at Hendon (his nearest RAF base) for six months until June that year. Then he was called up properly to attend initial RAF training and selection, and spent the next two months being drilled and graded – as David had hoped – for pilot training in the Commonwealth. September 1940 saw him arrive in Southern Rhodesia at No 25 Elementary Flying Training School at Salisbury, and his pilot training started on September 18th with his first flight there in a Tiger Moth flown by his instructor, Flt/Sgt Marsden.

[Underlined] Pilot Training in Rhodesia [/underlined]

Flying in the [inserted] dry, [/inserted] sunny climate of Southern Rhodesia, David was able to [inserted] thoroughly [/inserted] enjoy his airborne experiences, and progress rapidly with the training routine. He went solo after 18 hrs 25 mins dual flying – indicative not so much of his own ability but the steady and rigorously adhered to procedures followed at the EFTS there, to cut down the early accident rate. It was not a spectacular time in which to go solo – rather the opposite – but David learned slowly but surely, and once learned, he never forgot, becoming a very sure-handed pilot.

Training progressed rapidly – David making three or four flights a day at times, and a lot of attention was paid to aerobatics, spinning, forced landing practice, and even night flying on the Tiger Moth! Some instrument flying was also done on the Tiger, and – a curious exercise – “abandoning an aircraft in flight”. His qualifying Cross-Country on October 31st was from Salisbury to Gatooma and back, and then he was posted out the same day, categorised a “Average” as a pilot, and recommended for “twin-engined types” in furthur training. He had gained his “Wings” on the Tiger Moth.

After a weeks’ leave, David now attended the No 21 S.F.T.S. at [inserted] Kumalo, [/inserted] Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, to start training on Oxford aircraft. He had by now clocked up 65 hrs flying, 28 hrs 30 min of which

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was solo. His first flight in an Oxford was now made on November 11th 1940, with his [inserted] new [/inserted] instructor, Flying Officer Wood. David actually failed his first solo test on the Oxford, but managed all right on the second occasion, on November 14th, and from there on never looked back. As the training progressed, he passed a “Height-Test”, “Navigation”, “Navigator Test”, “Cross-Country”, “Low-flying”, “triangular cross-country on instruments”, “Formation”, “Progress”, and finally his passing-out test by the Chief Flying Instructor, Sqd. Ldr Hendrikz. With a total of 115 hrs now (55 hr 55 mins solo), David passed the first stage of the twin-engined Oxford Course on Dec 18th 1940, again classified as “Average” as a pilot.

The second stage started on December 30th now concentrating on tactical flying – making reconnaissance sorties, low-level bombing practice, and a lot of instrument and cross-country flying. There were night landings by floodlight, and many more low-level bombing runs at 1,000 ft, during which David’s mean bomb-dropping error crept down from 126 yds to 88 yds, and finally to 42 yds on average. Then they indulged in a bit of aerial gunnery from the Oxford, firing 90 rounds off from the Oxford’s single target gun. Near the end of the course, there were “ZZ” approaches, photography – “stereo pairs”, and “line-overlap”, and finally, formation flying. David passed out of No 21 S.F.T.S on February 12th 1941, with an “Average” grading again, having now flown 163 hrs 35 mins, of which 99 hrs 15 mins was solo. He was now posted to No 11 Operational Training Unit on Wellington bombers, at Bassingbourn, back in England.

[Underlined] Operations with 214 Squadron [/underlined]

At Bassingbourne [sic] David rapidly completed a further 75 hrs 40 mins flying on Wellington IO and IA aircraft, starting on May 21st 1941. He solo-ed on the Wellington after some 21 hrs 10 mins “dual” and “2nd pilot” flying, and then started to do a lot of night flying ranging from “circuits and bumps” to cross-country flying, mock bombing raids, air-to-air firing [inserted] and [/inserted] a North Sea Sweep. [Deleted] and [/deleted] Cross-country instrument flying was invariably from Bassingbourne [sic] to Wittering and Andover

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to Upper Heyford and return. At the end of all this, on June 26th 1941, David passed out of the O.T.U. and was posted to No 214 [inserted] (Federated Malay States) [/inserted] Squadron based at RAF Stradishall in Suffolk. This Squadron – as its name implies – was supported by the Malay Federation in WWII and several aircraft were paid for by funds raised in the States, including a Wellington II, W5442* coded BU-V, which David Wilson flew the first evening he arrived at the Squadron. After having an “Air Test” with one of the Flight Commanders, Sqd. Ldr. Field, in the morning of July 9th, David flew as Second Pilot to the Squadron Leader that same evening on his first operation – carrying a 4,000 lb “dookie” to drop on Osnabruk.** The raid was carried out by a total of 57 Wellingtons from No 3 Group, and, as discovered after the War, not many bombs fell on the target area. Two Wellingtons were lost that night, but David returned safely.

Only five days later, David was off on his next operation – this time to Bremen, to drop three 500 lb bombs and clusters of incendiaries. After this, raids followed in quick succession every two or three nights; Cologne, Rotterdam, Mannheim, Hamburg, Hanover, Duisburg, Keil, etc. Each time David was flying as Second Pilot to the Squadron Leader, or to a Sgt. Foxlee. On the night of July 25/26th, after raiding Hamburg with Sgt. Foxlee, they had to divert to Debden on the return, as their own base had poor weather and low visibility. The same thing happened on August 12th, on their return from Hanover, but this time David and Sqd. Ldr. Field diverted to Newmarket instead.

At this time, these attacks were mostly being directed at German ports, shipping and naval bases, or railway yards, but [inserted] their [/inserted] accuracy – or [inserted] the [/inserted] damage [inserted] caused [/inserted] - at this stage in the war, in hindsight, did not reach any great measure of success.

David recorded his longest operational flight so far on September 7th 1941, when he acted as Second pilot again for a Pilot Officer Barnard, and they bombed Berlin, taking 8 hrs 15 mins for the entire flight. Two sorties later – and on his own 6th operation – David was

* This Wellington was named “Sri Guroh” and had already completed some 25 successful raids before David flew it.

** See appendix 4 for details.

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the Captain of the aircraft for the first time, and this particular trip was a short one across the Channel to Le Havre. He flew a Wellington IC, N2850, but there was ten tenths cloud over the target, and they eventually dropped their bombs in the sea before returning to base

After this, David was the Captain on all his future operations, which included an attack on Hamburg on the night of September 29th carrying a 4,000 lb High Capacity blast bomb – and flying W5442, the old aircraft of the O.C. “B” flight, Sqd Ldr Field.

David was now allocated Wellington IC X9979 for his own crew to use, and this “Wimpy” stayed with him from October 2nd 1941 right up to the end of David’s tour of operations on January 31st 1942.

Many of his raids in October over the German sea ports were plagued by solid cloud cover, or bad weather, and they often bombed “blind” over the top of the targets. On November 7th David set out for Berlin again with six 500 lb bombs, but there was extremely bad cloud and icing over Germany, and Berlin, and so he unloaded his bombs over Osnabruck instead, on the return journey. This was one of Bomber Command’s biggest raids on Berlin to date, and there would be no more large raids on the capital until January 1943. The weather was equally bad over England on the return, and David [inserted] had to [/inserted] divert to another airfield.

Back [inserted] on [/inserted] September 1st, David and others in 214 Squadron began a series of low-level bombing practices, flying over their ranges at [inserted] Foxcote at [/inserted] 200 ft and dropping six bombs at a time. By December 9th they were dropping up to eight practice bombs a time, and on the 11th David, again flying at only 200 ft, dropped a massive 4,000 lb bomb from this low altitude! The end of the year 1941 arrived with David bombing Brest on December 23rd and 27th, trying to hit the Port area.

In January 1942, David was sent to Brest on four more occasions, having to divert to land at Harwell on one of these raids because of bad weather on the return. On January 21st he flew to Bremen to drop a 4,000 lb HC bomb, and then on the 28th came the final “Op” of the Tour – a raid on Münster. The cloud cover was again so bad that they returned home without dropping the bombload, and diverted to Waterbeach to land. David had safely completed his first Operational Tour, having flown

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289 hrs 50 mins in all with 214 Squadron, of which 199 hrs 35 mins were on actual operations. * He was now graded as “Above Average” as a pilot by 214’s C.O., Sqd. Ldr. Carr.

[Underlined] Becoming a Flying Instructor [/underlined]

For his traditional rest from operations, David was now posted to No1 Flying Instructors School at Church Lawford, near Rugby. He arrived there on February 24th 1942,[inserted] to start on the No22 War Course, and [/inserted] to be trained to teach others how to fly multi-engined aircraft. This course here lasted to April 21st, and during this time he was given intensive instruction on Oxford I’s and II’s, and (surprisingly enough) on some single-engined pre-war Avro Tutors!

David underwent day and night instruction, his mentor being a Flt. Lt. Mann, and sessions of any of the half dozen Avro Tutors were interspersed with the twin-engined flights on Oxford trainers. Between March 27th and April 2nd, he was sent down to Upavon to pass the 24th “Beam Approach” Course with flying honours (being graded “Above Average” again, and “Fit to Instruct”). This Course, in fact, was run as part of the Central Flying Scool [sic] of the RAF.

Then it was back to Church Lawford on the Oxford and Tutor, until he was finally passed out as a qualified instructor on April 20th 1942, rated as “Average” on both single and twin-engined aircraft.

[Inserted] David had been commissioned as a Pilot Officer out in Rhodesia, and on completion of this Course was made up to a Flying Officer, preparatory to commencing duties as an Instructor at RAF College Cranwell. [/inserted]

He arrived at Cranwell on May 1st [inserted] as a “B” Category Flying Instructor [/inserted] to start to instruct pupils at the College [inserted] Flying Training School [/inserted] how to fly the Oxford. Most of these were ordinary Leading Aircraftsmen (LAC’s) or Corporals, or Lieutenants (presumably the College Officer Cadets). By late June, a few Miles Master II single-engined trainers had been acquired, and David instructed on these as well. And at the

* See appendix 4 for details.

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end of July he was posted to No 7 Flying Instructors School at Upavon. This time to train others how to become “Instructors”!

David was becoming restless to be back on operations again, but had to put up with the daily round of flying Oxfords, Magisters and Masters again at Upavon, until the beginning of November 1942, when the CFI, Wing Cmdr GFR Donaldson, graded him out as “Above Average” again on David’s posting to 196 Squadron – a brand new night-bomber squadron formed on November 7th at Driffield in Yorkshire.

[Underlined] Second Tour, with 196 Squadron [/underlined]

David reported to 196 Squadron at Driffield on November 7th, and then was immediately sent off on a new Course called the “Captains of Aircraft” at Cranage [inserted] near Holmes Chapel [/inserted] in South Cheshire. It was the 12th intake at this Course, and David was lectured there on Navigation, and had to undertake six long cross-country exercises on Ansons, flown by a Course pilot, with David and two others on board having to act as Navigators in turn. The Course was an adjunct of the RAF’s Central Navigation School, and was intended to refine operational Captain’s navigating skills, for posting them to Coastal Command, or to Bomber stations where new 4-engined bombers with only one pilot were the norm.

While he was posted to Cheshire over the Christmas period of 1942/43 [inserted] Dec 21st to January 3rd [/inserted], David had some chance to attend some local functions and festivities, as he did not have time to return to his parents in Hendon. It was while the Station was giving a Dance for local people that David met a Cheshire girl called Elsie, who worked at a nearby I.C.I. Works connected with the Salt industry Elsie was a very personable girl, with a number of boyfriends, and David was a shy and quiet person, but the two became immediate friends, and kept up correspondence with each other when David re-joined 196 Squadron (now moved to Leconfield) after Christmas. One other course David had to attend for a few days, was at Westcott in Buckinghamshire, at No 1 Engine Control Demonstration Unit (E.C.D.U), to learn “Engine Handling”

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and “Petrol Consumption” there on the Wellington Mk III. (No flying was involved). Finally, on January 14th 1943, he took to the air at Leconfield on Wellington X HE179, to try some “circuits and bumps” on this new Mark of the bomber He then had a few “working-up” flights to get his [inserted] brand- [/inserted] new crew shaken down, trying out air-to-air firing with his gunners, and practice bombing using [inserted] new [/inserted] infra-red photography to record the results.

David’s first sortie with 196 Squadron [inserted] and the Squadron’s second operation [/inserted] was on the night of February 7th 1943, when he dropped seven 500 lb bombs on a new type of “area-bombing” raid on French ports with German U-Boat pens. This directive had been issued by the War Cabinet on January 14th, and because the new U-boat pens of solid concrete were too thick to penetrate, the towns themselves were obliterated instead (the French civilians had been warned to evacuate them).

Some 323 aircraft bombed Lorient that night, with the [inserted] new [/inserted] Pathfinders marking the target well. Seven aircraft were lost, two being Wellingtons. David’s crew obtained a good infra-red photograph of the bomb bursts.

It was back again to Lorient on February 13th, this time forming part of a raid of 466 aircraft in all, and dropping over 1,000 tons of bombs for the first time on a Bomber Command target. The French town of Lorient received more devastation, but the U-boat pens survived. Then it was Cologne on the 14th, and Emden on the 17th, but the latter raid was abandoned by David’s aircraft, due to heavy cloud cover. Just six Wellingtons had been sent to Emden that night to test the infra-red bomb sights, but only three found the target, and bombed it. David brought all his bomb load back.

Before February finished, David had been to Cologne again on the 26th (where two of his three 500 lb bombs “hung up” and he had to return to base with them) and St Nazaire on the 28th (again dropping a “mix” of 500 lb bombs and incendiaries).

In March David went to Hamburg, Essen (twice) Duisberg and Bochum, dropping a 4,000 lb “Cookie” on one of the Essen raids. This was the beginning of the “Battle of the Ruhr”, devised now by Bomber Command to paralyse German Industry. There was an increasing flow of new four-engined bombers to the Squadrons, and a build-up of the Pathfinder

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Force and their new marking techniques using Mosquitos guided by Oboe equipment, * and Lancasters etc, to continue illuminating the markers dropped by the “Mossies”. All this now led to ever more accurate raids on the German Ruhr industrial zone.

The first Essen raid, on March 5th, was well marked by the Pathfinder Force (PFF), and David’s Wellington was in the second of three waves over the target – the Krupps industrial complex. This night marked Bomber Command’s 100,000th sortie of the war, and it is likely that David’s 4,000 lb bomb was one of the many that helped destroy an area of the Krupps works that night. A week later he was over the same target again, with the more usual mixture of 500 lb bombs (many fuzed for a long delay action) and incendiaries. Even more of Krupps was reduced to rubble that night.

David normally flew with a crew of four in his aircraft, and his regular crew consisted of Pilot Officer Parkin, Sgt. Wakeley, Flt. Sgt, Allen and Sgt. Lund. Occasionally he would take another Sgt. Pilot on board to give him operational experience for the odd flight or two (before he went off to captain his own aircraft). His O.C. in “A” Flight was Sqd Ldr Ian R.C. Mack, and the 196 Squadron C.O. at this time was Wing Cmdr. A.E. Duguid.

David only had one “Op” in April, to Kiel on the 4th, but May was another intensive month, with successful visits to Dortmund, Duisburg, Bochum and Düsseldorf. Most of the aircraft sent on these raids were now four-engines types, and of 110 Wellingtons sent to Dortmund, six were lost. The equivalent numbers [inserted] of Wellingtons [/inserted] sent to the other three points were: Duisburg 112 (10); Bochum 104 (6); and Düsseldorf 142 (6). The last two raids did not have the desired effects as the Germans were now starting decoy markers and fires outside the cities, to lure the PFF and bombing aircraft away. But the Duisburg raid had been highly successful, the Port and August Thyssen steel factories being badly hit.

[Inserted] On May15th [inserted] 1943 [/inserted] the [deleted] Press [/deleted] [inserted] London Gazette [/inserted] released the news that David had been awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (D.F.C.), for (as the citation stated) “completing numerous [inserted] operational [/inserted] missions, flying on many occasions to targets such as Cologne, Berlin, Kiel and Hamburg, where the fiercest opposition is encountered.

“Since the beginning of his operational career, his single aim has been to press home his attacks as accurately and efficiently as possible, and in this he has had many successes. His courage, skill and determination against all hazards have been an inspiration to the Squadron”. [/inserted]

In June 1943, David flew sorties to Düsseldorf, Krefeld and Wuppertal, using his normal Wellington X HE901 on most flights (he

* “Oboe” was a system in which radio beams were sent out from English points, to cross over a specific target, and the RAF aircraft fitted with the receiving equipment could tell exactly when to drop their markers.

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had previously used HE170 and MS488 for long spells at a time, all with 196 Squadron’s code letters ZO-. Two of his crew had been commissioned by now – Wakeley and Allen had been made Pilot Officers. (David himself was now a Flight Lieutenant). The Düsseldorf raid was very successful, and that on Krefeld equally so, devastating the city centres. Just prior to the Krefeld raid on June 21st, some “Monica” sets had been fitted to some of 196 Squadron’s Wellingtons, HE901 being one of them. David and his crew had conducted air teats with the new equipment on June 16th and 17th, and aerial exercises with fighters, to try out the operational aspects. “Monica” was the code name given to equipment which, installed in RAF bombers, would give warning of the approach of German night-fighters from the rear. This radar equipment gave out its own transmissions however, and later in the war, when a German Ju88 night fighter landed by mistake at Woodbridge on July 15th 1944, it was discovered that its “Flensburg” radar transmission detector set could “home in” from 50 miles away onto an RAF aircraft using Monica. The increasing losses of Allied bombers was being blamed on Monica, [inserted] “H2S” radar, [/inserted] and “I.F.F.” (Identification Friend or Foe) signals emanating from their aircraft, and instructions were immediately given to remove all “Monica” sets, use “H2S” only sparingly, and switch off “IFF” altogether over German territory.

The raid on Wuppertal on June 24th 1943, in which David dropped an entire load of incendiaries, devastated the Elberfeld half of the town (the other half had already been hit). Some 94% of the town was destroyed that night. 630 aircraft having taken part, and 6 Wellingtons out of 101 being lost (together with 28 Lancasters, Halifaxes or Stirlings).

David now made the last operational sortie of his second Tour, to Cologne again on July 3rd 1943. He was flying Wellington X HE901 [deleted] again [/deleted], with a new member of crew, Flt. Lt. Reaks (who had replaced P/O Allen), and the PFF successfully marked the industrial area of the town, on the East bank of the Rhine. Again, David’s load consisted entirely of incendiaries, and they bombed the target accurately, but on returning to England after a flight lasting 5 hrs 5 mins, had to divert to Westcott, Bucks, because

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of ground fog and bad weather in the North. This raid was noted for something else – the beginning of mass night-time attacks by German night-fighters over the target area – something not met before by the RAF – where the Luftwaffe units attacked from above, using the mass of fires, target indicators (T.I.’s) and searchlights below as illumination for the bombers. On this raid 30 aircraft were lost out of 653 despatched – 12 being claimed by the Luftwaffe night fighters. In hindsight David was lucky to finish his second Tour at this point, as the RAF raids over Germany began to meet increasing fighter opposition, leading to many losses.

[Underlined] Lancaster Conversion Unit [/underlined]

Again classed as “Above Average” [inserted] in his recent capacity as “Master Bomber” of 196 Squadron [/inserted], David Wilson was now posted to a Lancaster Conversion Unit [inserted] No 1660 [/inserted] at RAF Swinderby, to convert to flying four-engined heavy bombers. The reason he had had a shorter Tour than usual at 196 Squadron was because the Squadron was moving [inserted] its [/inserted] base down South now, and re-equipping with Stirling bombers. David neither liked the Stirling, nor the future role of the Squadron, which was to be on glider-tug and troop dropping rôles, and so he had quickly opted to go for a Lancaster Squadron posting. [Inserted] He had in fact volunteered to join 617 Squadron (now known as the “Dambusters”), who were now looking for a few more seasoned and “Above Average” graded pilots to replace the eight lost on their famous raid of May 16th/17th. Only men of exceptional experience and calibre would be accepted, and all crews had to show a very high accuracy in their bombing experience. David’s name had gone forward for consideration by 617’s C.O., Wing Cmdr. Guy Penrose Gibson, V.C., DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, who was still in charge but about to be posted onto a temporary staff duty as a rest (against his wishes!). Provided he converted to the Lancaster successfully, he would be accepted. [/inserted]

And so Flt. Lt. David Wilson started at Swinderby on July 23rd 1943, learning the tricks of flying the mighty Lancaster – an aircraft that would endear itself to him for life. The Course was not long, only five weeks, and finished on August 30th, when David had completed his multi-engine transition to the big Avro machine designed by Roy Chadwick. The Lancasters at the Unit were old Mk I’s from early production runs by A.V. Roe & Co Ltd at Manchester, or Metropolitan-Vickers at Trafford Park, and some had originally been laid down as Manchesters, and converted on the line.

David firstly had “circuits and landings” practice, then “stalling”, “three and two engine flying”, “fire action”, and “three-engine overshoots”. Then came cross-country exercises, “time and distance”

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runs (practicing dropping bombs after a measured run-in from a known geographical position) “corkscrewing” (to avoid fighters at night), and “fighter affiliation” (practice in being “attacked” by fighters). Finally David made some bombing runs, dropping four bombs on Wainfleet Sands, then eight (getting a mean error of only 71 yds from the target), and finally a round-the-UK cross-country flight at night, from Swinderby to Ely, Bicester, Sidmouth, St. Tudwells (where he dropped two bombs, and hit the target), Strangford [inserted] Lough [/inserted] in N. Ireland Dumfries in Scotland, Aberdeen and back home! A large part of the return trip was flown on three-engines, the whole flight taking 5 hrs 35 mins – just like a typical raid over Germany.

Wing Cmdr. Everitt, the CO. of 1660 Conversion Unit, passed David out [inserted] on August 30th [/inserted] as “Above Average” once again on the Lancaster this time, and David thus had his posting to 617 Squadron confirmed, and joined them the same day at Coningsby, Lincolnshire. [Deleted] – the already famous 617 Squadron, otherwise known now as the “Dambusters”. [/deleted]

[Underlined] Joining the “Dambusters” [/underlined]

David Wilson joined 617 Squadron on August 30th 1944, the date the Squadron moved its home from Scampton to Coningsby, in Lincolnshire. Since its famous [inserted] first [/inserted] raid on the German dams on the night of May 16th/17th 1944, [sic] the Squadron had [inserted] briefly [/inserted] returned to [deleted] a rest period, and started [/deleted] operations again on July 15, raiding power stations in Northern Italy and landing [inserted] at Blida [/inserted] in N. Africa afterwards. [Inserted] (Blida was a [inserted] captured [/inserted] Allied aerodrome a few miles south-west of Algiers, in French North Africa). The Squadron’s third raid had been on the Italian port of Leghorn on the way back from Blida. And its fourth was a mass leaflet raid on major Italian cities on July 29th 1943, after which the aircraft landed at Blida again. (This time they positioned back to England without raiding any target on the way). [/inserted] With its high level of training [deleted] and accuracy [/deleted] in bomb dropping especially [inserted] at low level [/inserted] the Squadron was now being used for attacks on major targets which required a great deal of accuracy in placing their weapons. These targets by definition, were also likely to be very heavily defended.

David was airborne on September 1st, the second day after he arrived at Coningsby, and was promptly sent off on a low-level cross country. (With the “Dambusters”, low level meant just that – at 200 to 330 ft altitude! [inserted] all the way [/inserted]). Wing Cmdr Guy Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar had just relinquished command of the Squadron [inserted] on August 3rd) [/inserted] to [inserted] Acting [/inserted] Wing Cmdr George Holden, DSO, DFC [inserted] and Bar? [/inserted]

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and there were 10 [deleted] complete [/deleted] Lancaster [deleted] crews [/deleted] pilots left at that moment out of the original 21 that had been in the Squadron when the raid on the Dams was mounted. * Apart from David, the other new pilots [inserted] ① who had joined 617 since the Dams raid were F.O. W.H. Kellaway, DSO; at the end of June; P.O. B. [deleted] (“Bunny”) [/deleted] W. Clayton, DFC, CGM, early in July; [deleted] and [/deleted] Flt. Lt. R.A. Allsebrook, DSO, DFC, also early in July; [inserted] and Flt. Lt. E.E.G. [inserted] (“Ted”) [/inserted] Youseman, DFC, at the end of July. (Ted came from David Wilson’s old 214 Squadron). [/inserted]. All these pilots – like David – brought their old crews along with them as well, and so all eight men in each Lancaster found themselves suddenly flying with the famous “Dambusters”. One of these new arrivals had also crashed on August 5th on Ashley Walk Bombing Ranges, when it hit the slipstream of another Lancaster, but luckily the crew survived, but with the exception of one gunner did not fly with 617 again. [/inserted]

The [inserted] surviving [/inserted] Lancasters which had been used for the Dams raid were in the process of being returned to A.V. Roe & Co to have the special fittings removed and the enlarged (bulged) bomb doors put in their place. For the purpose of keeping the crews in training, however, other Lancasters had to be borrowed or drafted in, and the Lancaster which David flew on September 1st was one such – ED735 (KC-R) from 44 Squadron (where it had been called KM-K). This Lancaster had just [inserted] ② been fitted with new “deep-section bomb doors by Avros, to take the new 12,000 lb High Capacity Blast bombs, and was sent to the A&AEE at Boscombe Down this month, to measure the Position Errors. [/inserted]

The Dambusters had moved from a grass airfield at Scampton, to one with hard runways at Coningsby and were sharing the latter airfield now with other Lancaster Squadrons. [Deleted] No 619 [/deleted] (Another Lancaster Squadron that would henceforth [deleted] to [/deleted] work closely with 617 was No 619 [inserted] - based nearby at Woodhall Spa - [/inserted] ) David flew Lancaster EE144 (KC-S) on September 14th – this aircraft was normally used by Sqn Ldr. Holden.

David was [inserted] then [/inserted] engaged in intensive low-level cross-country flying for the first two weeks of September, working himself and his crew up to the required accuracy of bombing, air firing, and low-level navigating as befitted the high standards expected of the specialist squadron. Two of these flights were on aircraft that had originally been on the Dams raid – ED886 (AJ-O flown then by P.O. Bill Townsend) and ED921 (AJ-W of Flt. Lt. Les Munro). These had been altered back to carry normal bombs, and in common with 617’s other permanent Lancasters were now fitted with new radio altimeters which could be set to give the pilot warning of dropping below, say, 75 ft above the ground (where a “hiccuph” could mean flying into the deck”).

All this preparation was for 617’s next scheduled raid on one of the War’s earliest, and by now most heavily defended targets – the Dortmund-Ems Canal. It had been decided to try to breach this by moonlight, and at low level. The canal was of vital importance to the German War industry, as it joined the steel plants of the Ruhr

*(for Note see over →③

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[Underlined] footnote ③ FOOTNOTE [/underlined]

* The original [inserted] 21 [/inserted] pilots of 617 Squadron at the time of their first operation – the Dams raid – consisted of Wing Cmdr. Guy Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar; Flt. Lt. J.V. Hopgood, DFC; Flt. Lt. H.B. Martin, DSO and Bar, DFC and two Bars, AFC; Sqd Ldr. H.M. Young, DFC; Flt. Lt. W. Astell, DFC; Flt. Lt. D.J.H. Maltby, DSO, DFC; Sqd. Ldr. Henry Maudslay, DFC; P.O. L.G. Knight, DSO; Flt.Lt. D.J. Shannon, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar; Sqd. Ldr. J.C. McCarthy, DSO, DFC; Sgt. [inserted] V.W. [/inserted] Byers; Flt Lt R.N.G. Barlow; P.O. Geoff Rice, DFC; Flt. Lt. J.L. Munro, DSO, DFC; F.O. W.C. Townsend, CGM, DFM; Flt Sgt. K.W. Brown, CGM; Flt. Sgt. Cyril [inserted] T [/inserted] Anderson; P.O. [inserted] Warner [/inserted] Ottley; P.O. [inserted] L.J. [/inserted] Burpee (all of whom had flown on the raid); and P.O. W. [inserted] G. [/inserted] Divall and Flt. Lt. Harold [inserted] S. [/inserted] Wilson (both of whom had not been included on the Dams raid).

The [inserted] eight [/inserted] killed on the raid were Hopgood, Young, Astell, Maudsley, Byers, Barlow, Ottley [inserted[ and [/inserted] Burpee; Guy Gibson, of course, had now been rested from “Ops”; Cyril Anderson had decided to return to his original Squadron, and Bill Townsend had been posted away to 1668 Conversion Unit. All this left just 10 of the original pilots.

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with the Baltic, enabling iron ore from Sweden to be barged to the steelworks, and finished parts (Eg of U-boats) to be sent North to the German ports.

It was lucky for David that he was still getting into training at that moment. On a cross-country on September 13th, he practiced low-level bombing from 300ft and 500 ft, and gained a mean error of 73 yds from the target centre; and on September 14th he dropped bombs on the ranges from 200, 300, [inserted] and [/inserted] 400 ft high, and got his average error down to 36 yds.

David was assigned to “B” Flight, under the leadership of Flt. Lt. J.L. (“Les”) Munro (a survivor of the Dams raid who had been hit by flak en route to the Sorpe Dam and had had to turn back because the radio/intercom had been destroyed). But due to his “working-up” period, he was not selected for the raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal on September 14th/15th. This was meticulously planned – as usual – and eight of 617’s Lancasters would take part, dropping new 12,000 lb High Capacity thin-cased, bombs from low level (fuzed for an adequate delay). The crews selected were the new C.O., George Holden, Dave Maltby, Les Knight, Dave Shannon, Harold Wilson [inserted] (no relation to David) [/inserted], Athelsie Allsebrook, Geoff Rice and Bill Divall. All but Holden, and Allsebrook [deleted] and Divall [/deleted] were survivors of the original 617 Squadron, and they set off on the evening of the 14th, but en route to the target received news back from a “recce” Mosquito in front, that the weather was too bad over the target area for low-level bombing. Regretfully they turned for home, but as they did so at low level over the North Sea, Maltby’s Lancaster hit someone else’s slipstream, dipped a wing into the sea, cartwheeled – and that was that. Maltby and his crew all perished.

Back home at Coningsby, they re-planned the raid for the next evening, the 15th, and Mick [deleted] y [/deleted] Martin just back from leave, filled Maltby’s place. [Inserted] David Wilson flew two more cross-country flights on this day, using one of the original Dams raid Lancasters, ED886 (AJ-O) [deleted] glued back again [/deleted] They were his last practices, and he was not called up for the raid that night. [/inserted] As the [inserted] others [/inserted] flew low over darkened Holland, Holden, flying with [inserted] Guy Gibson’s old crew [/inserted] and leading the two flights, was hit by flak and he climbed to avoid a church steeple in a small town while the others behind swung low around the outside of the built-up area. Holden’s Lancaster, trailing flames, went down and his 12,000 lb bomb exploded with a blinding flash of light.

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[Insertion for previous page]

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It was his 30th birthday.

Over the target area, a ground mist obscured the markers they dropped, there was a lot of light flak about, and the escorting Mosquitos found it difficult to silence the flak, and the 617 pilots found it very difficult to see the canal. Allsebrook, who now acted as leader, dropped his bomb and helped to direct others onto the target, but then disappeared. He had been shot down leaving the area. Knight, flying low, hit some trees which damaged his two port engines, and asked Mick Martin’s permission to jettison the bomb. He tried desperately to get home, but after allowing his crew to bale out over Holland, was killed trying to crash land the Lancaster alone.

Rice tried in vain for an hour to find the target, was holed by flak, jettisoned his bomb and managed to return home to Coningsby. Harold Wilson was hit by flak too, and had to crash-land his Lancaster with the bomb on board. It went up soon after, killing all on board before they could escape. Divall was [inserted] also hit and crashed. [/inserted]

// Dave Shannon flew around for 70 minutes, before he managed to spot the Canal and drop his bomb. It hit the towpath and did not seem to breach the canal banks. And Mick Martin flew around for a long 90 minutes, repeatedly getting hit by flak, and finally dropping his bomb on his 13th run in. He was two hours overdue when he landed back at Coningsby, to find only Shannon and Rice there before him. There were just the three Lancasters back, out of the eight that had set off. And nothing to show for the losses.

Next day Mick Martin was made a Squadron Leader by the A.O.C. No 5 Group, Air Vice-Marshal the Honourable Ralph Cochrane, and temporarily given command of 617 Squadron. Martin immediately volunteered to go back to the Canal the next night, and said there were six of them left who could try it (Martin himself, Shannon, Rice, Les Munro, Joe McCarthy and Ken Brown). In addition to these Martin could now call on the newly posted Captains - David Wilson, Ted Youseman and Bunny Clayton.

Fortunately Sir Ralph insisted on the three latest survivors being rested for 617’s next raid, on the Antheor Viaduct near Cannes in the South of France, on September 16th. And because

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this operation followed on without a break, the three “new boys”, and [inserted] the three veterans, [/inserted] Munro, McCarthy and Brown [deleted] (all had taken part on the original Dams raid) [/deleted] were supported by six Lancasters from 619 Squadron as well, and all placed under 619’s C.O., Wing. Cmdr. Abercromby.

[Underlined] The Anthéor Viaduct [deleted] preparing for the Tirpitz [/deleted] [/underlined]

It was against this backdrop of tragedy that David Wilson now flew his first “Op” for 617 Squadron. The atmosphere couldn’t have been worse, but morale was still high. Other Squadrons were [inserted] now [/inserted] beginning to call 617 the “Suicide Squadron”, and there were [inserted] noticeably [/inserted] fewer requests from other pilots to transfer to it [deleted] now [/deleted]! However, the intensive training, and the work involved in the briefing to the raids, kept David’s mind off all that (and the fact that his namesake, Harold Wilson, had died the night before).

This was 617’s seventh operation (including the first abortive Dortmund-Ems sortie), and the target was difficult to find, not counting hard to bomb accurately when they reached it. The main railway link between Central and Southern France and Italy, ran along the coast from Fréjus/St. Raphael to Cannes, and a typical curving viaduct lifted it across a ravine at a point just east of Cap du Dramont, a few miles on the Cannes side of St. Raphael. This little place was called Anthéor, and was 617’s next headache.

David flew in [inserted] company with the other 617 veterans, [/inserted] his “B” Flight Commander, Flt. Lt. John Leslie Munro, DFC, [inserted] RNZAF [/inserted], Pilot Officer Kenneth Charles McCarthy, DSO, DFC, [inserted] RCAF [/inserted], Pilot Officer Kenneth William Brown, CGM, RCAF, and two other “new boys”, Flt. Lt. “Ted” Youseman DFC, and Pilot Officer “Bunny” Clayton, DFC, CGM. Although the target was on France’s South coast, they were expected to return to England on this raid – not land in N. Africa.

David took Lancaster JB 139 on this raid, (coded KC-X and recently transferred from 49 Squadron). His bomb load included one 4,000 lb “Blockbuster” and three 1,000 lb bombs, and his crew consisted of Flt Sgt Hurrel, F.O. Parkin, Flt. Sgt. Barrow, P.O. Allen, Sgt Lowe and Sgt Mortlock. When they found their target, they jockeyed for position down the

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ravine to the sea, and David [inserted] and the others [/inserted] released their bombs from 300 ft. [Inserted] The idea was to lob the bombs onto or between the arches of the bridge, but all seemed to go through the arches instead. [/inserted] The viaduct seem [sic] unscathed, however, - although it and the rail tracks were peppered with holes – and they flew back in the knowledge it would probably need further attempt.

After a flight of 10 hrs 20 mins, David Wilson put his Lanc down at Predannack in Cornwall, to refuel, before flying back to Coningsby later.

[Underlined] Preparing for another Dams raid [/underlined]

Mick Martin was firmly in charge of the Squadron now, interviewing new would-be 617 pilots, thinking about a method of them taking flares with them on future raids to mark the target and make it easier for all to bomb, and liaising with the A.O.C. 5 Group with regard to future targets for 617.

In fact Cochrane was scheming up another attack on a dam, this time the big installation at Modane in Northern Italy, which lay deep in the hills. But Cochrane duped even Mick Martin for a time – he pretended it was to be a raid on the German battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord, and this required flying over the hills, down the steep slope, across a short stretch of water and then over the ship (in reality, the dam in Italy)!

So Martin went looking for a suitable site to practice on, and found a hillside near Bangor in N. Wales, near the coast, where he could get 617 to try flying down the face of the slope to level out over the sea. He experimented with putting down his landing flaps, to 40° or so, but found although the Lanc would sink down the hillside better, he had to exceed the max speed with flaps down by some 60 mph, and thus risk [inserted] their [/inserted] collapse – with undoubted fatal results to aircraft and crew.

David flew in [inserted] Mick Martin’s [/inserted] Lancaster (EE150 [inserted] coded KC-Z [/inserted]) to the scene on September 18, with Dave Shannon, (one of the three Flight Commanders, with Munro and McCarthy) in the cockpit beside him, and the two of them took it in turns to try flying up and over the hills that Mick Martin had found. Next day David was up in the Midlands [inserted] in the same aircraft [/inserted], this time with his

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own Flight Commander, Les Munro, the two of them doing practice runs across the Derwent reservoir at very low level, and then they tried the hill near Bangor again, Les trying it out and handing over to David. It was all intensely demanding work, and the adrenalin flowed very freely!

Between September 19th and 23rd, the “dams” type training intensified, David flying dummy attacks over Derwent reservoir in ED735 (KC-R) [inserted] on the 19th, [/inserted], then on September 20th he used Guy Gibson’s old aircraft ED932 (AJ-G) of Dams raid fame to take up one of the special “Upkeep” weapons that they still held in store and he dropped this on a dummy low-level attack in the Wash. (Guy Gibson’s old aircraft, unlike the majority that had survived the Dams raid, had [inserted] not yet [/inserted] been converted to have the bulged bomb-doors, and the old cylindrical “Upkeep” canister was used on the original Barnes Wallis-designed release mechanism). Then, in the next three days came low-level cross-country formation flying, dropping bombs on the Wainfleet ranges. David dropped the first lot (of four bombs), getting a mean error of 64 yds, and on the second occasion dropped eight bombs from 800 ft high. Then came a night time cross country at low level on astro fixes only, and finally a trip to Castle Kennedy, and Turnberry in Ayrshire, carrying 14 [inserted] staff [/inserted] passengers in connection with these trials.

However, the very next day, September 24th, came a complete change of policy, and training. The reason was the development of a new, more accurate bomb-sight, and its ability to deliver two large new weapons that Dr Barnes Wallis had been developing recently – the 12,000 lb streamlined “Tallboy” bomb, and its big brother, the 22,000 lb “Grand Slam”. The Chief of Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, had been agonising over the future rôle of 617 Squadron with Sir Ralph Cochrane, and had concluded that it should stay in the latter’s 5 Group, and now become a “Special Duties” Squadron. Cochrane, on his part, decided to press ahead with Wallis’ new weapons, and get 617 equipped as fast as possible with the new bob-sight, to start dropping these expensive weapons.

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[Underlined] The Stabilising Automatic Bomb-Sight. [/underlined]

This SABS sight had been developed at the RAE at Farnborough back in 1941 by a man called Richards, and used the gyro principle in its stabilising system. It had been held up in its development by the fact that although it was a great deal more accurate than its predecessors, it did require a very careful straight and level approach at high altitude, on the run in to the target. Consequently the likelihood of Bomber Command taking heavier casualties from flak and fighters because of this, had resulted in its being “shelved” for the time being. But now, the development of these special weapons merited another look at it. A certain Sqd. Ldr. Richardson was now despatched post haste from the RAE to 617 Squadron at Coningsby, to see the SABS fitted, and perfected, in their Lancasters.

From September 24th, therefore, everything changed in David’s training. No longer was it low-level dams-type exercises, but he flew in EE150 [inserted] (KC-Z) [/inserted] this day, with Joe McCarthy acting as Captain for some of the time, making [inserted] the first [/inserted] high level dummy runs with the new SABS fitted. The next day, David took Bunny Clayton up with him, and Sqd Ldr. Richardson (by now dubbed “Talking Bomb” by the Squadron, for his propensity to talk bomb-sights from the moment he woke, until the moment he went to sleep), to check out the SABS in EE150 again.

Sqd Ldr Richardson was busy fitting the new SABS into all the aircraft, and then checking the installation by flying with it. He also knew that it took two to be accurate – the pilot on the one hand (to fly at a given height, and airspeed, on the final run in), and the bomb aimer on the other (who had to feed the correct data into the sight, and advise the pilot when he strayed off the necessary heading/approach speed). With the Squadron C.O. (Mick Martin), Richardson then evolved a system of each pilot being checked out, by someone senior, and each bomb-aimer being paired with different pilots – cross-checking the results against each other.

Thus David [sic] third flight (on September 26th) was with Mick Martin (now elevated to Sqd. Ldr. status),

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and they did high level bombing (HLB) from 6,000 ft gaining an average bombing error of 60 yds (this altitude was not “high” in the view of most other squadrons – but where 617 was normally flying below tree-tops and between haystacks, 6,000 ft really was “high” to them!

Next day (the 27th) David had two training sorties – one taking up Ken Brown to show him the ropes, dropping bombs at Wainfleet from 10,000 ft this time, and recording a mean error of 61 yds; the next sortie being with Bunny Clayton and flying at 5,000 ft and 7,000 ft, recording an error of 50 yds. (It was getting better!)

Next day David took Geoff Rice up, and also made a sortie by himself. On the latter he dropped three bombs from 10,000 ft, but an error in the altimeter setting led to a mean drop error of 143 yds this time. All this showed how essential it was to get all the readings correct, and here they ran into the problem of calculating the exact [inserted] ground level [/inserted] barometric pressure reading over the target so as to be able to correct the altimeters to give their exact height. Another problem was to obtain absolutely accurate outside air temperatures, and the exact speed of the Lancaster (determined by a combination of airflow and Static Pressure vents in the instrumentation, and known errors (Position Errors) in the Static Pressure System (caused by the location of the vents in the fuselage airflow). All this was essential but complicated and the RAE and A&AEE had to make tests on the Lancasters to give 617 the most effective results, and to increase the accuracy of information fed into the SABS.

For a few days the weather held up training, but it resumed in October with a vengeance. David was flying different Lancasters on each sortie, a new [inserted] Mark III [/inserted] DV246 (KC-U) that had just been delivered, ED932 (Gibson’s old aircraft now recoded AJ-V) [inserted] for low-level sorties [/inserted], JB139 (KC-X), ED915 (AJ-Q), or EE146 (KC-K). He [inserted] sometimes [/inserted] went up three times a day, usually it was twice each day, and his bombing errors read consecutively: 74 yds from 10,000 ft, 182 yds (10,000 ft) then only 21 yds from a 200 ft high low-level sortie, 26 yds (200 ft), 96 yds (10,000 ft), 88 yds (10,000 ft), 101 yds [deleted] (10,000 ft) [/deleted], 86 yds [deleted] 10,000 ft) [/deleted], 57 yds (all at 10,000ft)

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60 yds (from 12,000 ft), 47 yds (1,000 ft), and so on. They had great difficulty getting the accuracy to any greater limits – which really was going to be essential if Barnes Wallis’ big, expensive bombs were to be dropped (These had streamlined aerodynamic fins, and would spin at an increased speed as they dropped, giving different trajectories to the normal, unstreamlined weapons).

Slowly the results of the RAE and A&AEE testing were incorporated on the Lancasters, and Sqd Ldr Richardson’s observations, and things at last began to come together.

Mick Martin went up with David and acted as the bomb-aimer himself on October 16th, flying in ED932 on a low-level sortie. He managed a mean error of 105 yds from 250 ft altitude – not very good! (He obviously then appreciated the level of accuracy David’s normal bomb-aimer could achieve – of 21 to 26 yds!)

David tried a run at 15,000 ft on October 17th – getting an error of 70 yds. But next day doing exactly the same, he only registered a mean error of 128 yds. (On both occasions he was flying ED932, now fitted up with the SABS system).

In the meantime, Mick Martin had been told by Cochrane to get the Squadron up to strength again in pilots and crews, and a good deal of interviewing had been carried out. Martin knew now that an extremely high degree of training and ultimate accuracy in dropping the new bombs was going to be needed, but the crews were going to have to be well blooded already with records to show that they could unflinchingly carry out day after day, the steady, straight run in to the target, whatever flak or defending fighter status. He sought only the very best and bravest of men, therefore, and rejected many applications on instinct. By the first week or so in October, however, he had selected a few more, including Pilot Officer F.E. Willsher – a young fair-haired boy of 19, only a year out of the school classroom; Flt. Lt Thomas Vincent O’Shaughnessy; Flying Officer Gordon Herbert Weeden; [deleted] and [/deleted] Warrant Officer “Chuffy” Bull; Flying Officer

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Geoffrey Stevenson Stout, DFC, [inserted] Flt Lt. R.S.D. Kearns, DFC, DFM; [/inserted] Pilot Officer Nicholas R Ross; [inserted] Sqd. Ldr William [inserted] R [/inserted] Suggett (to take over “A” Flight) [/inserted]; and Flying Officer J. (“Paddy”) Gingles. They all soon settled into the training routine, although both Ross and Bull hit trees on low-flying exercises, narrowly avoiding disaster each time.

David Wilson took up young Willsher on October 9th, to show him how the SABS worked on a 10,000 ft high-level bombing run, and in the afternoon of the same day, he flew ED932 at low level all through the Lake District and the Scottish Glens, taking 5 hrs 30 mins for the cross country. On the 11th he tried the SABS at 12 000 ft and got his error down to 60 yds, and then over the next few days he used it at 1,000 ft (Error=47 yds), 250 ft (with Mick Martin acting as bomb aimer again (Error=105 yds), then at 15,000 ft (Error=70 yds, with Sqd Ldr Richardson on board), then 15,000 ft again (128 yds). And so it went on with David flying his new Lancaster DV 246 [inserted]KC-U) [/inserted], or the two originals from the Dams raid, ED932 (AJ-V), or ED 924 [inserted] (AJ-Y) [/inserted], which had been flown by Cyril Anderson.

David took “Talking Bomb” down to the RAE at Farnborough on October 18th to have some modifications made to the SABS, then he flew the Sqd. Ldr. (who had been a Great War pilot in the RFC) up to the bombing range at West Freugh (near Stranraer) where they checked the bombsight out again at 14,000 ft and 8,000 ft.

As October drew to a close, the bugs seemed to be getting ironed out of the SABS system, as the various modifications were made to it, and after the sight went U/S two days running on practice bombing on 22nd and 23rd, at long last, on the afternoon of the 23rd, David flew over West Freugh again at 14,000 ft and dropped one 4,000 lb “Cookie” this time. It hit the 3-storey target building [inserted] at Braid Fell [/inserted] fair and square in the middle, demolishing it! (Average error = Zero!). On his next run, on the 25th, he dropped six 1,000 lb bombs from 14,000 ft, hit the target with one, gained a very near miss with a second, and put the other four close by ([inserted] Mean [/inserted] Error = 79 yds). Things were getting better!

[Underlined] Restarting Operations [/underlined]

November started off the same way – with more

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high and low level exercises. David had been allocated Guy Gibson’s old aircraft (ED932, AJ-V) on a permanent basis now, and he flew it on most of the practices. He did a run at 12,000 ft and dropped four [inserted] bombs (with [/inserted] an average error of 146 yds), then three bombs from 2,000 ft (53 yds), and then switched to one of Mick Martin’s latest ideas – bombing a PFF red Target Indicator from 15,000 ft. He scored a “bullseye” on it on November 5th (appropriately for Guy Fawkes night!), and with things now obviously getting to the stage where 617 Squadron was ready for operations with the SABS, David showed a VIP around his aircraft on November 6th (believed to be Roy Chadwick, Avro’s Chief Designer) and flew him back to Ringway in the afternoon.

Cochrane at Group had meanwhile decided it was time to test the SABS in action, and so Mick Martin was informed [inserted] that [/inserted] they were to raid the Anthéor Viaduct in Southern France again on November 11th – this time from 8,000 ft to avoid the flak from recently installed German defences.

On the morning of November 11th, David made one more practice flight in ED932, dropping 6 bombs from 15,000 ft and getting his mean error down to 89 yds. It was the best they could do, and he [inserted] then [/inserted] prepared for the evening’s operation. The Squadron despatched 11 aircraft, starting at 18.15, with Ted Youseman first off, and each being bombed-up with one 12,000 [inserted] lb [/inserted] H.C. Blast bomb. Mick Martin himself was leading the raid, and Dave Shannon and Les Munro were also flying, but Shannon had engine failure on take-off and had to abort. The others all got off safely – O’Shaughnessy, Rice, Bull, Clayton, Brown, Kearns, and David Wilson – and set course for Anthéor (David had two new members of his → [inserted] crew on this “op” – Flying officer Chandler and Warrant officer Holland, who were to stay with him ‘for some time (“Chan” Chandler had already survived 8 days in a dinghy in the N-Sea, after ditching in a 49 Sqd Hampden, returning from Düsseldorf in the early hours of July 1st, 1941). [/inserted]

They found the viaduct in half moonlight this time, but there were guns and searchlights to avoid, and there was another similar viaduct just to the West, in the bay by Agay, and this confused some crews sufficiently enough to aim at that. There were no direct hits, but Mick Martin’s bomb hit the railway line to one side of the viaduct, and several more got near misses, David’s bomb [inserted] being 30 yds out. [/inserted] But the viaduct survived, and the 10 Lancasters flew on to Blida again,

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[Insertion to previous page]

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in Algeria. There had been some ships just off the shore at Anthéor which had opened fire on some of the Lancasters, but none had been hit, and they all landed safely in N. Africa. They had a four day break there (taking full advantage of it as they had done before, to sample the local wines and unrationed food and fruit. [sic] They left on November 15th for Rabat in Morocco, and on the 17th flew home from Morocco to Coningsby, via the Bay of Biscay, loaded with Forces Christmas mail for home and fruit and wine. But one Lancaster never made it back – Ted Youseman and his crew were probably picked off by a German fighter, and were believed to have ditched in the sea south-west of Brest, perishing in the process.

{Underlined] New C.O.; new ideas. [/underlined]

While they had been away in N. Africa, a new C.O. had arrived to take command from Mick Martin (who had only been in charge on a temporary basis). His name – Wing Commander Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, DSO and Bar, DFC – and he had dropped a rank from Group Captain, in order to take over 617. Mick Martin had some burning ideas now about marking targets first with flares, so the rest could bomb with the SABS system, and so did Cheshire too. He was to change 617’s role quite dramatically with his ideas – how dramatically, and how successfully none of them would have guessed in their wildest dreams!

After they were once more back at Coningsby, David tried out his SABS from 18,000 ft now, gaining an error of 137 yds for [inserted] dropping [/inserted] six bombs, and made a few routine air tests of his Lancaster (ED932) early in December. Cheshire also loaned out from 617 crews with McCarthy Clayton, Bull and Weeden, for a few days to the Special Duties Squadrons at Tempsford. They were needed to make pinpoint drops of guns and ammunition to the French Resistance [inserted] near Doullens (on the River Outhie in Northern France) [/inserted] on December 10th. The raid went badly, flak bringing down both Bull and Weeden’s aircraft with two of Bull’s crew, and all in Weeden’s being killed. McCarthy couldn’t find the target, and so he and Clayton went back on December 11th, and were successful this time. Cheshire and 617

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had lost two more valuable crews.

Almost immediately after this, 617 was detailed to bomb a [inserted] V1 [/inserted] Flying Bomb [inserted] launch [/inserted] site in the Pas de Calais, and Group decided to try out the SABS again at night, but this time, working on Martin and Cheshire’s ideas, arranged for the P.F.F to mark the wood concerned with incendiaries. [Inserted] → Mick Martin [inserted] – as Cheshire’s Deputy - [/inserted] had now taken over as O.C. “B” flight from Les Munro, and David Wilson was now flying as Mick’s right hand man. [/inserted] Nine Lancasters were [inserted] therefore [/inserted] sent off from 617 Squadron on December 16th, [inserted] led by Cheshire with Martin as his Deputy [/inserted] to bomb the “Ski-site” ** at Flixecourt on the Somme between Abbeville and Amiens. A single PFF Mosquito used the “Oboe” beam system of marking the target [inserted] with incendiaries [/inserted], and all nine 617 Lancasters dropped their single 12,000 ln H.C. Blast bombs as close to the burning wood as possible. David dropped his, and his bomb-aimer took a photograph of the aiming point to check on their return. [Inserted] His sortie lasted for 3 hrs 40 mins in all. [/inserted] Subsequent “recce” pictures showed the Squadron had collectively achieved a mean error of 94 yds – but the “Oboe” Mosquito had marked 350 yds from the target – and so all the bombs were wide! Cheshire was not amused.

David was up again on December 18th, doing a practice drop from 2,500 ft (Error-70 yds), and on the [inserted] morning of the [/inserted] 20th from 15,000 ft (Error=60 yds). This was a good, consistent result from differing altitudes and in different aircraft (ED932 and ME557). In fact ME557 [inserted] (KC-O) [/inserted] was a brand new Lanc, and David took a Ministry of Aircraft Production official up on the practice to check the [inserted] Napier [/inserted] compressors [inserted] supplying air to the SABS system [/inserted]. * It was also one of the first Lancasters fitted out to carry Barnes Wallis’ new 12,000 ln Tallboy streamlined bomb to be delivered to 617.

The next operation was on [inserted] the evening of [/inserted] December 20th to [inserted] the Cockerill steelworks [/inserted] [deleted] an armaments factory [/deleted] in a residential area of Liege, in Belgium. The bombing had to be accurate to avoid civilian casualties, so eight PFF Mosquitos preceded eight 617 Lancasters. The Mosquitos marked the target, but [deleted] as [/deleted] low cloud prevented the markers being seen, [inserted] Cheshire dived low to see for himself, and found the markers were well off the target. He therefore ordered [/inserted] the force [inserted] to [/inserted] return without bombing. David (and the [inserted] others [/inserted]) brought their 12,000 lb H.C. bombs back, and Geoff Rice was shot down by a night fighter, miraculously surviving alone out of his crew, to be taken prisoner. One more of the original 617 founders had gone.

* Recoded later as KC-S, this was the aircraft in which Flt. Lt. “Bill” Reid, VC, was shot down on July 31st 1944 (he survived).

** So-called because of the shape of the curved ramp V1 launch site.

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Two days later, on December 22nd, David was off again [inserted] (in AJ-V) [/inserted] to attack a [inserted] V1 [/inserted] Flying Bomb [inserted] launch [/inserted] site near Bellencombre, south-east of Dieppe, this time taking Flying Officer Len Sumpter, DFC, DFM as his [inserted] bomb-aimer [/inserted] [deleted] crew [/deleted] instead of F.O. Parkin. Sumpter had flown on the original Dams raid, been rested, and had just come back for a second tour with 617, [inserted] normally flying with Dave Shannon [/inserted]. But the PFF Mosquitos failed again, and David brought all 11 x 1,000 lb bombs back. There were no casualties, fortunately, but Cheshire was not impressed by these PFF failures

David had a few days leave, and resumed flying on the 31st, after Christmas. He missed the new attempt by 617 on December 30th to bomb Flixecourt again, with 10 Lancasters helped by six PFF Mosquitos. Once more the markers were 200 yds off target, 617 accurately straddled them, but because [inserted] of their accuracy [/inserted] missed the main target.

[Underlined] Sorting out the marking problem; a new base [/underlined]

At the beginning of January 1944, David was up on bombing practices again – high level from 15,000 ft (with an average error of 127 yds – and one bomb that toppled); then another of the same height with a better error (98 yds). That was on the morning of the 4th, and in the evening David was one of 11 Lancasters put up for attacking another Flying Bomb [inserted] launch [/inserted] site in the Pas de Calais area [inserted] – this time at Fréval. [/inserted] With the others, he bombed a PFF Target Indicator that they had dropped at very low level this time – but the T.I. was four miles from the target, however, and David brought a photo back to prove it. He blamed the PFF once more! This was obviously not good enough, and whereas 617 Squadron was now trained up to be the RAF’s most accurate bombing squadron, it was the Pathfinders who were now plainly not up to scratch! It was no good having accurate bombing on inaccurate target markers, and so Cheshire, Martin and Bob Hay (Flt. Lt. Robert Claude Hay, DFC and Bar, RAAF – 617’s bombing leader, and Mick Martin’s own bomb-aimer from the first raid on the Dams) put their heads together to work out their own in-house method of marking a target, and then bombing it with the rest of the Squadron. But they first had to prove that the System worked, and to do this they needed Cochrane’s

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permission from Group to discontinue using PFF assistance Cheshire, with his innocently youthful and matter-of-fact ways, soon got this.

Meanwhile, determined to get everyone’s accuracy up even further, David and the rest of 617 went on practicing, day after day, over the next 17 days of January. They made high-level bombing runs, low-level cross country flights, and usually pin-pointed targets all the way round in woodland areas – just like the V1 Flying Bomb sites. David flew these separate and original 617 Lancasters during this period – ED915, ED924 and his own ED932

On January 9th, after a practice over the Wainfleet Sands at low level, he and the others landed at Woodhall Spa – to be their new base from now onwards. Cochrane had decided that 617, with its special techniques, top priority targets – and more importantly, the forthcoming new Tallboy and 10-ton Grand Slam bombs they were to use – deserved a special one-squadron base secluded away from other camps. Woodhall Spa was a one-squadron aerodrome, and so 619 Squadron there moved to Coningsby (which could hold several squadrons), and 617 transferred in the reverse direction on January 9th 1944. → [Inserted] A few more pilots joined 617 at this time, including Lt. Nick Knilans, DSO, DFC (USAF), Flying Officer Geoffrey Stevenson Stout, DFC, and Flying Officer J.L. Cooper. [/inserted]

Over the next few days, operations now from Woodhall Spa and billeted in the delightful Petwood House Hotel (which served as the Officer’s Mess) David flew on low-level cross country sorties, but this time in formation. He flew his (and Guy Gibson’s old aircraft) ED932 for the last time on January 18th [inserted] across to Coningsby, [/inserted] and this veteran Lancaster was left there to be used by 61 Squadron in future (it survived the war intact, only to be eventually scrapped). On the 20th, David started some new tactics that Cheshire was devising – low flying over the Wash at only 60 ft high, and then flying across, and down, the aerodrome’s flarepath at 60 ft, practicing the tactics of dropping more Target Indicators onto a cluster dropped already by the leader (using the runway lights as imaginary markers). It was during this practicing on → [inserted] the 20th that O’Shaughnessy misjudged his height and hit a sea wall at Snettisham, crashing on the beach. He and one of his crew were killed, but the rest (one badly injured) survived to fight again. The Squadron had lost another [inserted] good [/inserted] pilot. [/inserted]

Next day, January 21st, Cheshire announced he had got permission to strike at a V1 [inserted] launch [/inserted] site again – but this time without using the PFF at all. That evening, they set out with even greater excitement than usual, for they knew they had to get a good result

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this time, to substantiate all their training.

David took another of his old mounts, JB139 [inserted] (KC-X) [/inserted], on this raid, and 617 put up 12 aircraft in all. The target was at Hallencourt, a few miles South of Abbeville, and Cheshire and Martin carried out their own new “Pathfinder” technique. First of all the leading pair dropped [inserted] Red Spot [/inserted] flares from 7,000 ft, then dived down [inserted] to about 400 ft, [/inserted] using their illumination of the target area to drop long-burning Target Indicators right on top of the Ski-site.* The rest of 617 then flew over, dropping their bombs on the T.I’s. David, in fact, carried 2 x 1,000 lb, 13 x 500 lb bombs and 6 flares in his Lancaster, and, in common with others, would have used the flares if necessary to help Cheshire and Martin to go on marking the target if their first T.I’s had gone out. But David didn’t need to use the flares on this occasion, nor did he drop all his bombs – only 7 x 500 lb and 1 x 1,000 were let go, and he brought the rest back. He got a good photograph of the aiming point [inserted] from his bombing level of 13,000ft, [/inserted] and when the crews got back to Woodhall Spa, they were jubilant. It had worked, and later “recce” pictures confirmed they had blasted the main target area – for a change!

Once again, in the next few days, David was hard at Cheshire’s new tactics again, doing low-level [inserted] (60 ft high) [/inserted] runs over Uppingham Reservoir, and practicing aiming at the flarepath at their base – or carrying out “Tomato” exercises (as they now referred to them). Then on January 25th came their second “Op” using their own marking [inserted] techniques [/inserted] on a V1 [inserted] launch [/inserted] site. Now it was Fréval [inserted] again [/inserted], and David was one of 12 617 Lancasters to head for the target, flying a Mk I (DV385, KC-A). [deleted] from 50 Squadron for a few days [/deleted] He carried 13 x 500 lb and 2 x 1,000 lb bombs and Cheshire and Martin dived in low again aided by a green Target Indicator dropped [inserted] in the general target area by the PFF, [/inserted] marked the target [inserted] with Red Spot flares [/inserted] in very gusty wind conditions, and David and the rest dropped their bombs exactly on target. It was a case of two out of two “bullseyes” for 617, and there were no losses from either raid.

[Underlined] Picking off the targets [/underlined]

Cochrane now realised that Cheshire and 617

* Cochrane had insisted that the marking had to be done from above 2,500 ft, but Cheshire and Martin had worked out the dive-bombing technique down to 400 ft!

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were now thoroughly capable of using their low-marking techniques on any number of specialised targets – and Cheshire had eventually told him of their habit of dive-bombing their Lancasters right down to 400 ft over the target. So Cochrane now picked a beauty for them – the new engine works at Limoges, in mid-western France. This was to be on February 8th, and so in the days leading up to this, David found himself practicing once again, this time dropping bombs on the ranges from 1,500 ft, 2,000 ft, then at 8,000 ft, 10,000 ft and finally 14,500 ft (at West Freugh). At low-level his mean error was 222 yds, but at 10,000 ft he got it down to 39 yds, and at West Freugh to 65 yds.

Finally, the 8th dawned, and in the evening 12 Lancasters took off for the Gnome et Rhône aero engine works at Limoges. Cheshire and Martin left 15 minutes before the rest – led by Dave Shannon and consisting of David, Ken Brown, Bob Knights (a new pilot), Knilans, Ross, Kearns, Willsher Clayton and Suggitt.

Para // Cheshire had worked out a special technique for this raid , as most of the workers were French, and the factory was close to a built-up area where many of them lived. There was cloud right along their route, but it broke just before they reached Limoges, on the River Vienne. Cheshire then flew over the factory roof three times, down to about 100 ft to warn all the night shift workers to leave, and take shelter. His aircraft, DV380 (Coded KC-N) had had some modifications to accommodate an RAF Film Unit crew, led by Sqd Ldr. Pat Moyna. Half its fuselage door was cut away to instal [sic] two 35mm movie cameras, and two large mirrors were fitted underneath to reflect as much light as possible (had Roy Chadwick, the Lancaster’s designer known, he would doubtless have considered it as sacrilege)!

After Cheshire’s third run, his crew could see the French workers streaming out of the factory, to their air raid shelters, and after waiting a few minutes, Cheshire went in to drop his cascading incendiary markers and Red Spot fires directly on top of the centre of the factory roofs. The Film crew had a beanfeast, obtaining some of the most remarkable shots of the War, as the cascades of light lit up the factory, river and railway yards nearby.

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Mick Martin then followed Cheshire in, flying his Lancaster DV402 (coded KC-P), and dropped his markers on top of Cheshires – After that Cheshire told the main force overhead to bomb, and he cruised around the area at 5,000 ft, to let the film crew record the event. They had a grandstand view, as the other 10 Lancasters (David was flying ME559, KC-Q) unloaded their weapons on the factory. Five of them carried 12,000 lb H.C. Blast bombs, the other seven – like David – [inserted] each [/inserted] dropped 12 x 1,000 lb bombs, and most of them were within the factory perimeter. David reckoned his stick fell slightly off target, and straddled the railway lines away from the factory.

Cheshire then ordered all crews home, but he flew around the burning, smoking factory in the moonlight at 100ft (or less) for half an hour, letting the Film crew complete a unique task. Even Cheshire’s crew got fidgety, trying to egg him on gently to start for home. As Moyna said afterwards: “Cheshire seemed as unconcerned as an assistant arranging a group photograph in a studio”! Finally, they turned out to the Bay of Biscay, and flew back over the sea. They all arrived back safely – Cheshire about an hour behind the rest. And the main achievement (for Cheshire) was a perfect record on film to show the AOC and all the others at Bomber Command HQ, illustrating how effective low-level marking could be.

[Underlined] Third attempt at Anthéor. [/underlined]

After the attack on Limoges, David’s next flight with 617 was another operation on February 12th – back to the Anthéor viaduct again. The Squadron had already attacked it twice, and the USAF once, but it was still intact and carrying almost 100,000 tons of German supplies down to the Italian Front each week. All these attacks had, however, served only to get the Germans to defend it more heavily each time, and the defences were formidable this time.

Once again 617 fielded 10 Lancasters for the “Op”. but Cheshire was concerned about the range at their disposal, for Cochrane refused permission for them to carry on to Sardinia this time, saying he needed 617 back in the UK after the raid. In order to squeeze every gallon of petrol into their tanks, they flew

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their Lancasters down to Ford aerodrome, between Bognor Regis and Littlehampton on the South Coast, using it as an advance base to refuel. Then Cheshire and Martin took off ahead of the others, climbing through bad icing conditions, and arrived some five minutes ahead of the main force.

It was a pitch black night and the narrow valley was full of all types of ack ack guns, which opened up in an absolute hail of flak. Cheshire tried three times to dive down the valet over the viaduct, and drop his load of markers and flares, but each time he was blinded by the flak and forced off course and out to sea. Martin then had a go, and Cheshire tried to get back inland to draw off the fire as he ran in, but was out of position as Mick slid down the dark ravine. As Mick levelled out over the viaduct, a 20mm cannon shell exploded through the bomb-aimers’s cupola, and Bob Hay was killed instantly, and the Flight Engineer, Ivan Whittaker injured in his legs.

Cheshire ordered Martin to fly on to Sardinia, and land there (where he had wanted the entire Squadron to go), and then he went in again himself, this time at 5,000 ft, above the ravine and out of range of the cannon fire. There was still a mass of heavy flak bursts, and David [inserted] in Lancaster ED763 (KC-D), [/inserted] and the others flying overhead thought it looked impossible for anyone to survive in that holocaust. Cheshire managed to drop some of his Red Spot markers, but they drifted to the beach side of the viaduct. With time over the target limited by having to return to the UK, Shannon up above now commenced the high-level bombing, and David and the others followed. David dropped his single 12,000 H.C. Blast bomb [inserted] from 9,500 ft [/inserted] and turned for home. Only one of these weapons dropped close to the viaduct, the rest falling closer to the beach, and once again the bridge remained intact! Finally, after a flight lasting seven hours exactly *, David touched down at Ford again, to refuel and rest, before flying back to Woodhall Spa that morning. [Deleted] The Lancaster he had used this time was ED763 (KC-D). [/deleted]

But fate had not finished with the Squadron yet, for next morning, as the 617 crews left Ford to fly up to Woodhall Spa, Sqd. Ldr. Bill

* David’s previous sortie to Limoges lasted 7 hrs 25 mins altogether but this was from Woodhall Spa. It took about an hour each way from there down to Ford.

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Suggitt climbed out to the West, and turned to starboard in DV382 (KC-J) to set course to the North-east. He had to climb up through the clouds shrouding [inserted] the [/inserted] South Downs, and just after 08.30 a tractor driver at Duncton Hill Farm saw the Lancaster impact on Littleton Down, above him. Wreckage spread everywhere, and all Suggitt’s crew died instantaneously, although Suggitt himself died two days later, still in a coma. Flight Sgt. John Pulford, DFM, the last but one survivor of Guy Gibson’s original raid crew, died in the crash. (The last survivor, Flt. Lt. Richard Trevor-Roper DFC, DFM, was killed on a 97 Squadron operation just 20 days later).

[Underlined] Improving the techniques. [/underlined]

After Mick Martin returned from Sardinia later, his Lancaster temporarily patched up, Cochrane sent him off for a rest period – much against his will. But Cochrane preferred living Flight Commanders to dead ones, and he had few survivors left now, of the original 617 founding pilots.

Then came some top-level Group and Command meetings – at one of which Cheshire appeared on the one hand, proposing greater use of his and Martin’s low-level marking techniques (preferably using Mosquitos in future), and on the other hand Air Vice Marshal Don Bennett [inserted] of 8 Group [/inserted] was strongly defending his PFF high-level marking (and being generally dismissive of 617 Squadron’s techniques).

Cochrane, however, gave Cheshire some leeway in his 5 Group, and set a string of targets now for 617 to attack where Cheshire could devise the necessary low-level marking himself. With Martin gone now, Cheshire took Les Munro as his Deputy, and Les became “B” Flight Commander, with David Wilson as his right hand man. Cheshire did not yet put in a bid for two Mosquitos (but he was busy making the necessary high-level contact in the RAF in order to obtain them quickly and painlessly when he needed them). He knew that the light, fast and manoeuvrable Mosquito would help to make diving onto the target so much easier, and also assist in avoiding the defensive flak.

The last half of February 1944 passed for David with no more than four training flights or air tests

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being flown, due to bad weather. The last of these, on February 29th, was a bomb-dropping exercise from 15,000 ft, where David’s crew scored a 100 yd average error. Then came another practice from 10,000 ft on the morning of March 2nd, followed by 617’s next operation the same evening – this time to the aero-engine works at Albert in the Pas de Calais, between Amiens and Bapaume. Because this was believed to be heavily defended (repairing as it did, vital BMW engines for Focke Wulf FW 190 fighters) Cochrane ordered Cheshire not to mark below 5,000 ft this time. This was Leonard Cheshire’s 75th operation, and David Wilson’s 67th, yet 617’s three Flight Commanders – Dave Shannon, Joe McCarthy and Les Munro were some way behind these totals themselves. Both McCarthy and Munro were now promoted to Squadron Leaders.

David’s aircraft, DV246 (KC-U) was loaded up completely this time with [inserted] 248 x 30 lb [/inserted] incendiaries, and Cheshire and Munro (as deputy) went ahead to position themselves down to 5,000 ft so as to identify the target when the flares were dropped by the leading 617 Lancasters [inserted] of the 13 flying [/inserted] overhead. Cheshire went in under the flares to drop his markers, but his aircraft’s SABS bombsight went U/S on the approach, and while he stood off [inserted] for his bomb-aimer [/inserted] to try to get it working, he called in Munro to drop markers [inserted] just [/inserted] as the flares burnt out. Munro’s markers were spot on, and 617 bombed the factory from higher up, practically all their bombs and certainly David’s load of incendiaries [/inserted] (dropped from 9,200 ft) [/inserted] hitting the factory dead-centre. It was a text book operation, and Cheshire’s diary entry was almost right when he wrote: “This factory will produce no more engines for the Hun!”

Two nights later, on March 4th, 617’s target was the small, but important [inserted] La Ricamerie [/inserted] needle-bearing factory at St. Etienne (to the South-west of Lyon). It was a very small target, in a narrow valley with 4,000 ft hills on either flank, and once again in a built-up area, meaning it had to be picked out surgically, without harming the French citizens if possible.

Again, 15 Lancasters were put up that night, Cheshire and Munro leading (the latter on three engines, as one had packed up after take off). But there was ten-tenths cloud over the target, as David Wilson recorded. He was carrying a Sqd Ldr. Doubleday that night in his usual mount, JB139 (KC-X), and 1,000 lb

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bombs. But Cheshire couldn’t mark the target because of the bad weather, and so they all brought their bombs back that night. David’s flight there and back lasted exactly four hours.

Six days later, with better weather forecast, 617 tried to hit St. Etienne again. This time 16 Lancasters set off for La Ricamerie factory – on the same night that 5 Group bombed the Michelin works at Clermont-Ferrand. This time Cheshire made six attempts to mark at very low level in the blackness, dropping them accurately on the last run, but they bounced beyond the factory. Munro followed, and dropped short, Shannon tried and his markers bounced beyond, and finally Arthur Kell (a new Australian pilot) made a low-level dive and planted incendiaries in the factory. The rest of 617 then bombed the incendiaries (to Cheshire’s commands), and David unleashed his 11 x 1,000 lb bombs [inserted] from X “X-Ray” on the second run in [/inserted] in two sticks, [inserted] dropping them from 8000 ft. [/inserted] When they returned safely, David’s bob-aimer believed they had missed the target, but when “Recce” photographs were obtained, 617 was delighted to see the target had been completely destroyed, and there was no damage to the built-up area outside!

There was no more training at the moment, and the next “Op” was on March 15th, to an aero-engine works at Woippy, on the Northern outskirts of Metz (on the R. Moselle, East of Paris). It was freezing cold weather and 617 and 619 Squadrons sent a combined 22 Lancasters up this night, but the target was hidden by cloud [deleted] again [/deleted]. David was carrying a single 12,000 H.C. Blast bomb in his [inserted] JB139 [/inserted] X “X-Ray” again, but there was no hope of bombing, and so they all brought their bombs back. This was a longer sortie – 5 hrs 30 mins – and one [inserted] 617 [/inserted] crew, flying with Flying Officer Duffy, were attacked by three night fighters on their return leg, and claimed all three shot down!

Next day, March 16th, 617 was off again, this time to bomb the Michelin tyre factory at Cataroux, Clermont-Ferrand. The 15 Lancasters they put up were joined by six from 106 Squadron that were fitted with [inserted] the [/inserted] new [inserted] H2S [/inserted] radar bombing equipment. These latter aircraft dropped the flares this time, and Cheshire

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Made his usual low-level dives over the Cataroux Michelin factory to warn the [inserted] French [/inserted] workers to take cover, dropping his markers on the third run – but a little short. He was being extremely careful once more, because the factory had these major sheds in its complex, but a fourth large building – the French workers canteen – had “on no account to be damaged, if possible”, (Group’s instructions). Cheshire then called in his three Flight Commanders, Munro, Shannon and McCarthy, and they all managed to drop their markers directly on the factory sheds. To do this, they had to have a constant rain of flares to illuminate the target, and David Wilson in JB139 released his six, to help their aim. Then Cheshire called up the others to bomb the newly laid markers and David released his [inserted] single [/inserted] 12,000 Blast bomb *, right on target, and turned for home. This trip lasted 6 hrs 40 mins in all, with the separate run-ins to drop flares, and then the weapon, and with poor weather conditions back at Woodhall Spa, David landed at Coningsby on the return, positioning back to base [inserted] later [/inserted] in the morning.

The “recce” pictures next morning showed the works entirely in flames – and yet the canteen was intact! In fact Cheshire had once again carried Sqd Ldr Pat Moyna and his Film Unit in his Lancaster, and filmed the progress of the bombing from low-level.

Off again on March 18th, David was one of 13 Lancasters this time from 617 Squadron, to bomb the French [inserted] “Poudrerie Nationale” [/inserted] explosives factory at Bergerac, on the R. Dordogne east of Bordeaux. Cochrane had meanwhile told Cheshire that he would try to obtain two Mosquitos, to carry on the low-level marking in greater safety, and therefore until they came, Cheshire must not do any more low-level marking below 5,000 ft. On this raid therefore, six other 5 Group Lancasters, using H2S, joined 617 Squadron, and Cheshire marked from 5,000 ft – spot on – followed by an equally accurate Munro. Shannon and McCarthy both marked an ammunition dump close by. Then the others started to bomb, and before David [inserted] (in JB139 again) [/inserted] dropped his 12,000 lb weapon on the factory [inserted] from 10,000 ft [/inserted], Bunny Clayton dropped his on the nearby

* Six crews carried this weapon on the raid (those with the most accurate bombing averages). This weapon was now referred to as “The Factory Buster”.

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ammunition dump, which exploded in a 15-second long, gigantic flash that blinded everybody. Cheshire, down below, looked up and saw the rest of 617’s Lancasters silhouetted above him against the sky. Then David’s bomb slammed into the powder works, and it disappeared in turn beneath a series of vast explosions. “The powder works”, Cheshire noted, “would appear to have outlived their usefulness!”

This route also took 6 hrs 40 mins from take-off to touch-down, and two days later (as usual now) on [inserted] March [/inserted] 20th, David was off again [inserted] in JB139 [/inserted] to another explosives works – this one at Angoulême, [inserted] North-east of Bordeaux [/inserted]. The pattern was repeated, six 5 Group Lancasters using H2S to drop flares, Cheshire leading 617’s total force of 14 Lancasters and marking from 5,000 ft again. This explosives factory, on a bend on the R. Charente there, performed in the same manner as the one at Bergerac. David dropped 1 x 8,000 lb and 1 x 1,000 lb bomb from 8,300 ft on top of this works, and the factory was completely – and spectacularly – destroyed. Some 6 hrs 5 mins later, David was safely back at Woodhall Spa, as were all 617 crews, and the Film Unit in Cheshire’s aircraft again.

[Underlined] Lyon – third time lucky [/underlined]

The fact that 617 would never leave a “demolition job” half-finished was becoming equally well known to Germans and British alike. The Germans were, in fact, beginning to draft in more defences to the vital plants in France that were supplying their War Effort. But nowhere was this reputation more tested than with their attack on the SIGMA aero-engine works near Lyon on the night of March 23rd 1944. Again six Lancasters of 106 Squadron were to act as the Flare droppers, and 617 put up 14 aircraft.

Cheshire told the 106 crews when to drop their flares, but the first lot were too far North, the second try fell short to the South, and final corrections failed to illuminate the actual target. Cheshire now had to send in his own 617 flare droppers, at altitude, and he just managed one dive over the target at 5,000 ft before they went out. He was not sure his markers had hit, but ordered the rest of 617 to bomb them. David was carrying 11 x 1,000 lb bombs [inserted] in JB139 [/inserted] this time, all fitted with long delay fuses (for the safety of the French

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civilians), so Cheshire had to fly around on his own afterwards to assess the results. They exploded eventually, and certainly something had been hit fair and square.

On the return, all but one 617 aircraft diverted to Tangmere – a fighter station near Chichester – only Nick Ross getting back to Woodhall Spa [inserted] (David’s sortie had lasted 6 hrs 45 mins by this time). [/inserted] There was very limited accommodation, and Cheshire and his Flight Commanders slept with some of the 617 crews in their billets, and on the floor – being last in that morning! When they returned to Woodhall Spa after resting, it was to discover that their target was untouched – they had bombed the wrong factory!

So, next day, March 25th, they went back again to finish the job. This time there were 22 Lancasters in all, including the half dozen from 106 Squadron, but Cheshire had re-organized the Flare-dropping force this time, putting 617’s Kearns in charge of all such flare usage – be it by 106 or 617 Squadron. Cochrane had allowed Cheshire to mark at low-level this time, if required, and as the flares went down Cheshire once again realised they were off target. Eventually he and Kearns got them back on the right target, and Cheshire and McCarthy simultaneously marked underneath. Cheshire then realised they had dropped their spot markers on the wrong buildings, and went in again, his second lot of red spot incendiaries again overshooting. Finally he called in McCarthy again, who hit the target with his last markers, and Cheshire ordered these to be bombed by the rest. Due to problems of communication, however, all the 617 crews orbiting overhead then bombed the early markers – missing the target once again! David’s load this time consisted entirely of 500 lb incendiary clusters and they obtained a good aiming point photograph – proving once back home again 7 hrs 20 mins later, that they had missed the right aero engine works for the second time!

Once more, therefore, 617 set out again on March 29th to try and complete the demolition job. This time 106 and 617 put up 19 Lancasters, and Cheshire was ordered to mark from 5,000 ft again. The flares

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dropped by 106 this time failed to ignite, and Kearns therefore ordered 617 crews to drop their flares. These were accurate, and Cheshire then marked carefully, getting his spot fires just a few yards out of the target centre. When David and the rest above bombed these, their average error put their bombs within the target area this time. David was carrying 1 x 8,000 lb and 1 x 1,000 lb bomb [inserted] in JB139 [/inserted] this occasion, [deleted] flying his usual X “X-ray” [/deleted], and his crew knew immediately that they had at last scored a “bulls-eye”. It took just 7 hrs this time, before they were back at base, third time lucky!

[Underlined] Mosquito marking; and marshalling yards. [/underlined]

Two days before this operation – the last that Cheshire flew and marked in a Lancaster – Cochrane said he had obtained the use of two Mosquitos for marking in future. Cheshire went to see them at Coleby Grange on the 27th, and then later on the day he returned from Lyon (the 30th) he had an hour’s dual instruction on it before flying it to Woodhall Spa. He decided that [inserted] McCarthy [/inserted], Shannon, Kearns and Fawke should join him on the Mosquitos as pilots, and they did some rapid dual instruction and test flights. And within two weeks Cochrane had given them two more Mosquitos.

David Wilson was on a few days leave at the beginning of April, and missed the next operation to the aircraft repair plant at Toulouse-Blagnac aerodrome on April 5th. This was the first time Cheshire used his Mosquito to do the target marking, and this time he was marking not just for 617 Squadron – in the lead – but for the whole of 5 Group which joined in the raid for the first full scale rest of operations to come. In addition to Cheshire’s Mosquito, 617 Squadron fielded 17 Lancasters, and 5 Group put up another 127 altogether. Cheshire found the target clear of cloud, and dived three times, dropping his markers right on target, despite considerable flak of all types. But the Mosquito was fast and agile, and the flak was inaccurate because of this. Munro and McCarthy had marked with Lancasters, and then 617 and other 5 Group Lancasters unloaded their bomb

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loads on the aircraft factory, and on other nearby targets too. All were destroyed, but Cheshire had to leave the scene early, as he was not sure of the range of the Mosquito at low altitude, without extra wing tanks.

When David returned from leave, he was immediately scheduled on the next raid on April 10th, this time to the Luftwaffe’s Signals Equipment Depôt at St. Cyr, by Versailles. He was given the new Lancaster, LM485 (KC-N), which Les Munro had flown in the Toulouse raid on the 5th, and bombed-up with 1 x 8,000 lb and 6 x 500 lb bombs. This raid was just carried out by 617, using Cheshire’s Mosquito and 17 Lancasters, and Cheshire eventually dive-bombed the target [inserted] down to 700 ft [/inserted] with his markers, after having trouble finding it in the dark. But he was spot on again, and David and the rest bombed the target [inserted] from 13,600 ft, [/inserted] destroying most of it.

Discussions at Bomber Command HQ now led to the C-in-C, Harris, agreeing now to let Cochrane have his own Pathfinder Force, within 5 Group, built around the special marking techniques developed by 617 Squadron. Thus Cochrane now received back two Lancaster Squadrons – 83 and 97 – which had originally been seconded to 8 PFF Group, and one Mosquito Squadron – 627 – [inserted] also [/inserted] from 8 Group, (much against the wishes of their A.O.C., Don Bennett).

The object now was to use the Mosquito squadron, and 617’s Mosquitos, for marking large targets, have the Lancasters of 83 and 97 Squadrons dropping the flares and acting as back-ups, and use 617 as the lead bombing squadron, and the others to bomb from a higher level. The next target was just such a place – the marshalling yards at Juvisy, 10 miles South of Paris.

David, meanwhile, had been back over the ranges again with 617, honing their skills all the time. He had “Talking Bomb” up with him on one high level from 15,000 ft, did some low-level flying, and then, on April 18th, was off to Juvisy with 201 other Lancasters in the Group, plus 617’s four Mosquitos [inserted] flown by Cheshire, Fawke, Shannon and Kearns.) [/inserted] Flying LM 485 [inserted] (KC-N) [/inserted] again, David was designated (as was the whole of 617 Sqd) to mark the target for the [inserted] Group’s Lancasters. [/inserted], and carried 6 x Red Spots,

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[inserted] 6 x 1,000 lb, and [/inserted] 4 x 500 lb bombs. The railway yards were on the West bank of the R. Seine, just on the south-east corner of Orly aerodrome, and [deleted] they covered such a large aera that the raid was split into two waves – one to attack the Southern half, the next (one hour later) to attack the Northern section. [/deleted] Cheshire found the Southern aiming point under flares dropped by 83 and 97 Squadrons above (although he had suffered a compass [inserted] failure [/inserted] in the Mosquito). He marked the yards successfully, and was backed up by the other [deleted] of the [/deleted] 617 Mosquitos, and David and the 617 Lancasters then unloaded their markers and bombs from 6,500ft fairly accurately on the target, [deleted] David and his 617 colleagues being the most [/deleted] with the rest of 5 Group – being trained in area (rather than spot) bombing – then carpeting the whole area. [Deleted] soon marked for the second wave, in Northern half of the yards, and again the results were accurate. [/deleted] The combined 5 Group method was becoming one of Bomber Command’s [inserted] most [/inserted] successful weapons!

On [inserted] the morning [/inserted] April 20th, David made his highest practice bombing run yet on Wainfleet Ranges – from 20,000 ft this time. He did not know it, but Cochrane was anticipating the arrival shortly of Barnes Wallis’ new Tallboy Bomb, and the higher it would be accurately dropped, the deeper it would penetrate in the ground before exploding, and creating an “earthquake” effect – bringing any building crashing (even if made of solid concrete).

The same evening (April 20th) David took part in another massed 5 Group attack – this time on the marshalling yards on the North side of Paris, at Porte de la Chapelle, just up the line from the Gare du Nord. He was flying LM485 (KC-N) this evening, and because these yards were very close to the residential tenement blocks surrounding them, extreme care was needed in dropping both markers and bombs. This raid was also even bigger than the one in Juvisy, because 5 Group also borrowed the services of some 8 Group PFF Mosquitos to drop markers by their Oboe equipment (using converging radio beams from UK stations), before 617’s Mosquitos, and Lancasters [inserted] of [/inserted] all three 5 Group marking Squadrons (617, 83 and 97) did their marker and bomb dropping, and then the 5 Group’s Lancasters bombed the target. There was a total of

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247 Lancasters, and 22 Mosquitos in all involved this night, and the raid was split into two waves, each about an hour apart, which attacked the Southern and Northern halves of the yards separately.

The Oboe markers were a little late over the target and there were inevitably some communication problems with all the aerial units involved, and Cheshire trying to control the different facets of the operation. But these were overcome, and another accurate blitzing of the target was achieved. David dropped [inserted] 6 x Red Spots, 6 x 1,000 lb and 4 x 500 lb [/inserted] bombs this time [inserted] from 6500 ft [/inserted], and achieved a direct hit on the aiming point. His sortie lasted 4 hrs 10 mins this time, and once again, all 617 aircraft – Mosquitos and Lancasters, returned safely, although 6 Lancasters from the other squadrons were lost. On the subject of Squadron losses, 617 itself was now very much below the average of most squadrons in this respect, helped no doubt by its training, and the fact that it had concentrated recently on French targets, rather than those in the most heavily defended parts of Germany. There were other reasons too – such as Cheshire’s acquaintance with an RAF officer who was [inserted] the [/inserted] Senior Controller of Beachy Head radar station, near Eastbourne. This had some new American equipment that gave long range cover for Fighter Command deep into France and the Low Countries, and the officer suggested that it could be used at night to warn 617’s Lancasters if they were being stalked by German nightfighters. Cheshire then had 617’s Lancasters fitted with special crystal pick-ups and the latest VHF sets (all with Cochrane’s approval) and from there on, they had valuable radar protection on their missions into the Continent.

[Underlined] Tallboys, and “Taxable”. [/underlined]

The next operation Cochrane planned for 617 was an attack on a German railway centre, and the first he chose was Braunschweig (Brunswick), to the east of Hannover, on the evening of April 22nd. This was historically important, as it was the first time that 617 and 5 Group employed their low-level marking activities over German soil. David, however, missed this operation, and the next ones on Munich [inserted] on April 24th [/inserted] (marshalling yards again) and the German

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tank and troop park at Mailly-le-Camp (May 3rd) – because he was busily engaged in working [inserted] up [/inserted] himself and a few [inserted] other [/inserted] specially selected 617 crews on the Barnes Wallis Tallboy bomb technique. For the most accurate bombing crews on the squadron had been selected to drop these new 12,000 lb weapons (and later, the 22,000 lb Grand Slam bombs too).

It is worth recording, however, that the Braunschweig raid saw 238 Lancasters and 17 Mosquitos of 5 Group, and 10 Lancasters of 1 Group take part, The result was not good, chiefly because there was low cloud and although 617 marked the yards successfully (in the light of flares dropped by 83 and 97 Squadron Lancasters above), other H2S aimed markers were inadvertently dropped farther South, and much of the main force bombed these. One Lancaster of 5 Group had left its radio transmitter on, and it jammed every direction Cheshire tried to give to the other crews. Four Lancasters were lost, but none from 617.

The Munich raid, on April 24, was by contrast an immense tactical success. A mixed force of 260 aircraft once more struck the railway yards there (as well as spreading out over other areas of the town) after Cheshire and 617 Mosquitos had marked the target, [inserted] and Cheshire flew around at low level through a considerable curtain of flak and searchlights. Diversionary raids were flown to Karlsrühr (by the main force), and on Milan (a spoof “Window” dropping exercise by six 617 crews), and the only casualty 617 suffered this time was Flt. Lt. J.L. Cooper (a recent joiner from 106 Squadron). His Lancaster was shot down en route to Munich as Aichstetten, just North-east of Lake Constance, and although his bomb-aimer was killed, the rest of the crew survived to be taken prisoner. [Inserted] Eight other Lancasters of 5 Group were also lost this night. [/inserted] They were lucky to be in Bavaria – for there was now a large price on the heads of 617 crews caught in France!

[Inserted] After this raid on Munich, Cochrane ordered 617 crews to have a weeks complete leave, and most used the rest to good effect. But one or two stayed behind, David Wilson being one.

One factor worth noting about this raid was that Cheshire could not obtain extra fuel tanks for 617’s four Mosquitos. They had to fly these to Manston, refuel on the runway and take off without warming up the engines, to be sure of getting to Munich. None of them believed they could get back to Manston, and yet all just made it – despite a German night fighter in the circuit when they landed! [/inserted]

The Mailly raid upset 617’s and 5 Groups recent success patterns with a vengeance – but it was [inserted] just [/inserted] one of these things (C’est la Guerre”). Mailly was a large French military training area South of Chalons-sur-

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Marne (itself just a few miles [inserted] South-east [/inserted] of Rhiems). Here, it was known the Germans had a Panzer division and their equipment in transit.

Cheshire and 617’s other three Mosquito pilots, Shannon, Fawke and Kearns, were ordered to mark at Mailly, but 617’s Lancasters were not detailed for this raid – which was just as well. Cheshire marked the target perfectly, and ordered the 5 Group Controller to order the first wave of Lancasters to bomb. But things started to go wrong then, as the [inserted] latter’s [/inserted] radio was subsequently found to be seriously off frequency, and his VHF set was being drowned by an American Forces broadcast. After some delay they started to bomb, but because the second wave was held back, Shannon and Kearns had to remark the target in the face of considerable flak. The second wave also bombed accurately, but in the delays caused by the lack of communication, and while Cheshire had to get the Deputy Controller to take over, German night fighters began to arrive in large numbers, and harried the Lancasters all the way back to Northern France. All the 617 crews returned safely, but 42 Lancasters were lost out of the 340 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitos sent on the raid by 5, 1 and 8(PFF) Groups. (This was an 11.6% loss rate – some three times the normal)!

David missed Braunschweig and Munich, because on April 22nd (the day after his return from La Chappelle) he took his old JB139 (originally KC-X, but now changed to KC-V) down to Boscombe Down to carry out trials with Barnes Wallis’ 12,000 ln Tallboy bomb. Sqd Ldr Richardson (“Talking Bomb”) was also there and over the next four days, David took him up several times daily, making high-level trials dropping prototype Tallboys from 18,000 ft each time. On the 26th he returned to Woodhall Spa, carrying seven of the scientists concerned with these tests. He had to break off the special Tallboy dropping exercises in May, however, as all 617’s crews were now engaged on one of their most boring exercises – yet [deleted] as [/deleted] it turned out, it was to be perhaps their most successful and decisive of all – Operation “Taxable”.

The [deleted word] squadron was being trained up to conduct a major “spoof” exercise on the day before D-Day.

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This would entail [inserted] two waves, each of 8 [/inserted] [deleted] 16 [/deleted] Lancasters, flying on instruments in short overlapping circuits, and dropping “Window” to try to indicate to the German shore defences that an invasion fleet was heading their way. (And of course it would be in a very different direction to that taken by the real fleet). The whole operation, once started, would have to be kept up [deleted] continuously [/deleted] for some four hours or more. [Deleted] to seem on the German radar as if a vast number of ships was slowly advancing in their direction. [/deleted] The continuous orbiting by the Lancasters had to be at low level [inserted] 3,000 ft [/inserted], start at a pre-arranged time near Dover, and advance gradually over a group of 18 surface vessels flying barrage balloons, as the vessels sailed beneath them towards the coast below Calais. Bundles of “Window” would have [inserted] to be dropped out every 12 seconds during the four hours. [/inserted]

The month of May, 1944 was probably the most boring in the Squadron’s history, as they practised, day after day, and usually for an hour or so at a time, the intricate navigational exercises that would enable them to fly these continuous orbits. David flew a total of 26hrs 20 mins altogether on these exercises, between May 6th and June 4th, in his Lancaster I, LM485 (KC-N). As the continuous orbiting was going to be a taxing operation, each Lancaster would have to have two crews on board, one relieving the other at the halfway point. David had as his relief pilot a Pilot Officer Sanders and his crew, and after May 13th they always flew together.

On May 18th, David tested out a new “automatic pilot” (or “George”) that Avro’s had fitted to his aircraft, to alleviate the strain of the exercise. These were fitted to all the other Lancasters. At the end of May the Squadron flew up to Yorkshire to practice over the North Sea, and dovetail the second wave of 8 Lancasters into the tricky take-over from the first wave – to keep dropping the “Window” without any gaps (lest the German radar show some strange interruptions in the “fleet’s” progress).

Finally, all was ready on the night of June 5th, and the first wave of 617’s Lancasters set off at about 23.00, the first wave finishing their intricate movements halfway across the Channel

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between Dover and the Pas de Calais coast at around 02.30, and being relieved by the second wave, who finished at around 05.00, after daybreak and by which time they were in sight of the French coast. Another Squadron, No 218, used six Stirling bombers fitted with G-H blind bombing radar units, working in the same fashion but a little more to the East of 617.

In the event, as David noted in his log book, the exercise was “believed very successful”. His total sortie lasted for 4 hrs 40 mins, and the entire Squadron was heartily glad when it was over!

[Underlined] Effect of the Tallboy raids [/underlined]

Two days later, 617 Squadron was back on its normal type of bombing operations again, but this time the raid was laid on suddenly, at short notice, to try to prevent a German Panzer Division reaching the D-Day bridgehead. They were moving up from Bordeaux, and Cochrane ordered 617 to take the newly arrived Tallboy bombs, and try to block a rail tunnel on their route. This was at Saumur, on the R. Loire West of Tours, on the South side of the river just before the railway crossed the Loire on a long, low bridge.

The Squadron was hurriedly bombed up with the 12,000 lb streamlined Tallboy, which had a casing of hardened chrome molybdenum steel and a filling of some 5,000 lbs of Torpex D1 explosive. It was some 21 feet long, and 3ft 2 ins in diameter, with four aerodynamically shaped fins, offset slightly to the airflow in order to spin the bomb as it dropped.

David flew his usual Lancaster (KC-N), which accommodated the Tallboy in its bombay, and had the latest deep-section bomb-doors which closed around the bomb and were also flush with the fuselage – except at the rear end, where they left a [inserted] small semi-circular [/inserted] gap around the bombs tail-fin. The rest of 617’s earlier Lancasters [inserted] in the “DV” or “JB” serial range [/inserted] had been similarly modified, or exchanged for newer aircraft with “ME” or “LM” serials. David’s crew – which had changed slightly over the last few months with postings, etc – consisted of → [inserted] Flying Officer G.A. Phillips (Flight Engineer), F/O J.K. Stott (Navigator), F/O D.W. Finlay (Bomb Aimer/Front Gunner) Warrant Officer H.G. Allen (Radio Operator), Flt. Sgt. H.D. Vaughan (Mid-upper gunner), and Flt. Lt. E.B. Chandler (Rear-gunner), [/inserted] [deleted] F.O. [inserted] D.W. [/inserted] Finlay, W.O. [inserted] H.G. [/inserted] Allen, Flt Sgt. [inserted] H.D. [/inserted] Vaughan, and Flt. Lt. E.B. Chandler, [/deleted] and everyone was looking forward to seeing what these new “Earthquake” bombs could accomplish.

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Cheshire marked the target in his Mosquito, as usual, dropping his markers by the light of the flares from four Lancasters of 83 Squadron above, and placing his Red Spots by the tunnel mouth at the Southern end. He was followed in by his other two Mosquitos (Shannon had had to return home with engine trouble, soon after take-off), and then he called up the 25 Lancasters of 617 that were circling above (this raid was a “maximum strength” affair)!

David’s bomb-aimer released their Tallboy at the → [inserted] end of his seventh run-in over the tunnel. On all the earlier 6 runs his bomb-aimer was unable to see the markers clearly at the tunnel’s South end. He waited for the North end to be marked – the secondary aiming point – and then bombed on the seventh run-in. His Tallboy fell away at the [/inserted] end of a careful, steady run-in, and – like the others – they were disappointed to see only a small red splash [inserted] of light [/inserted] below, as it buried itself deep in the ground – not the blinding, white flash that their 12,000 lb Blast bombs always made, lighting up the countryside. Because of this the 617 crews were a little doubtful whether the tunnel, or railway cutting had been hit properly, until “Recce” pictures [inserted] arrived] [/inserted] next day. These were remarkable. David had written in his log: “Operations – Railway Tunnel at Saumur. 12,000 lb Special. Poor shot, but tunnel badly damaged” [inserted] and his sortie had lasted exactly 6 hrs 20 mins [/inserted]. Which crater applied to which 617 crew was impossible to verify, but the aerial reconnaissance pictures showed all the huge round craters clustered around the Southern end to the tunnel. Two Tallboys had hit the railway lines fairly and squarely in the middle, on the tunnel approach (wrecking an overhead road bridge too), three had landed on the top edges of the cutting by the tunnel mouth, cascading earth onto the lines, but one (and to this day, nobody knows who dropped this) hit the hill above the tunnel some 50 [deleted] hundred [/deleted] yards from the tunnel mouth, and did just what Barnes Wallis had predicted – [deleted] buried itself in [/deleted] penetrated the ground right down by the tunnel roof, and blew an enormous crater in the hillside, exposing the tracks at the bottom and dumping thousands of tons of rubble on them. The 617 crews were greatly heartened by the result, and there had been no casualties.

The next Tallboy raid was on June 14th, and this time Cochrane had sought Barnes Wallis’ advice about using the weapon on German E-boat pens at coastal ports like Le Havre. These torpedo boats were proving a pest at night amongst the convoys of ships off the Normandy beach-head, and so the idea [inserted] was both [/inserted] of dropping the Tallboys to create “tidal waves” to swamp the E-boats

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in harbour.

The raid was Bomber Command’s first daylight raid since June 1943, and was to be a big one on the Port area of Le Havre. Two waves of Lancasters, from 1 and 3 Groups, were to attack in the evening, and at dusk (it was almost Midsummer’s day), but 617 were to go in first with Cheshire and two other marker Mosquitos, followed by 22 Lancasters each carrying the Tallboy bombs.

The 617 aircraft took off, with a fighter escort of Spitfires accompanying them, as it was still broad daylight over the target area. There was heavy flak over Le Havre, but Cheshire [deleted] Shannon and Fawke [/deleted] dived his Mosquitos right down into the thick of it, getting down to 7,000ft over the Pens, and dropped his Red Spot markers by the E-boar quayside Shannon, Fawke and the leading Lancasters who were watching, marvelled at the way Cheshire flew through a dense curtain of all types of A.A. fire, and survived.

Cheshire then told his other Mosquito pilots not to bother marking (as the first Spots he had laid were very visible), and told 617 to start to bomb on these. David’s Flight Commander, Les Munro, then led the Lancasters in at around 17,700 ft (several had already been hit in the engines and wings by flak, and turned back), and David and his crew [inserted] in LM 485 [/inserted] recorded a “Direct-Hit” with their Tallboy on the E-boat [deleted] Pens and [/deleted] wharves. All the 15 Tallboys dropped by 617 hit the target area (one went right through the roof of a large concrete E-Boat Pen), and the E-boats were literally blasted out of the water onto dry land, or blown apart. The post-raid photos showed 617 had wreaked immense damage in the Port area, and the subsequent two waves of 199 Lancasters in all, blitzed the rest of Le Havre, rendering the German Naval presence completely ineffective after that. Again, 617 had no losses.

With this success behind them, Cochrane sent them up again next day (June 15th 1944) to do the same at Boulogne. For these Tallboy operations, David always had a seven-man crew (rather than the old six-man complement), and he had now added a Sgt. King to his regulars. Still using [inserted] LM485 [/inserted] (KC-N), David was up with 21 other 617 Lancasters that evening. There was thick cloud over

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Boulogne this time, and Cheshire (his Mosquito heavily patched up from its ordeal by flak the previous day) dived down below the cloud to drop his markers from around 6,000 ft, once more in a hail of anti-aircraft gunfire. Although his Mosquito was hit several times he survived again, and his markers hit the E-Boat Pen area. He ordered the 617 Lancasters in, but as it was now dark and the cloud had thickened up at 13,000 ft, 10 of the crews could not see Cheshire’s markers below the overcast, and regretfully turned for home taking their precious Tallboys back (they had strict instructions never to waste them!). The remaining 12, however, (mostly more experienced, and leading crews) dived below the clouds, enduring the same barrage of flak that Cheshire had, and lined up over the Pens to drop their bombs. David was one of these, following Les Munro in, and himself followed by McCarthy, Kearns, Clayton, Howard, Poove, Knights, Stout, Hamilton and two others. Most of their aircraft were hit by flak, but David dropped his Tallboy from 8,000 ft, and recorded “Believed Good Shot”. His aircraft was hit by flak, and holed as well.

All the 617 crews got back to base (David was only airborne for 2 hrs 35 mins altogether – against 3 hrs 40 mins for the previous Le Havre raid), but several crew members of other aircraft were injured. Following 617 in to attack had been 133 other Lancasters and 130 Halifaxes, aided by 11 Mosquitos of 8 (PFF) Group, and these had bombed the rest of Boulogne. Only one Halifax [inserted] had been lost [/inserted], out of all the aircraft taking part, and in the two raids taken together, 617 had been largely responsible for the wrecking of some 133 German boats (mostly E-boats).

[Underlined] V2 sites. [/underlined]

The moment they had returned from the Boulogne raid, there was a lot of patching up of the aircraft to do. David’s KC-N was too badly holed to be quickly back in service, and so he was allocated another – DV 380, Wing. Cmdr. Cheshire’s original Lancaster (KC-N), but now re-coded KC-X.

The very morning they had returned from Boulogne, Cochrane had alerted Cheshire to get ready for a

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very important operation that evening (the 16th). Cheshire had only just got to bed but was told to get up again and attend an intelligence briefing right away. The V1 Flying Bombs had started dropping on London, and Intelligence sources had warned the War Cabinet of the imminent firing of two other secret weapons at London – the V2 rockets, and in the V3’s case, huge shells fired through incredibly long [inserted] “Super” [/inserted] gun barrels being built across the Channel in France (a forerunner of the Iraqi “Super”-guns of 1991). The concrete blockhouses hiding these weapons had to be attacked with Tallboys immediately, as the War Cabinet thought on the one hand they might have to order the evacuation of London, and on the other – if aimed at Portsmouth and Southampton, etc, they might interfere [inserted] with [/inserted] the invasion of France, and put it in jeopardy.

The result of all this was that [inserted] David and the other [/inserted] [deleted] the [/deleted] Squadron crews were aroused, and after briefing, stood by all day at their aircraft dispersals, waiting for the signal that the cloud cover over the target had cleared. The Lancasters were bombed-up, but then had to be unloaded, one by one on a rota, to avoid straining their undercarriages. Food was brought out to dispersals, but late in the evening the raid was cancelled – the cloud was still unbroken over the target. Not long after, they were stood-to again, and then stood-down, and so it went on over three days!. Eventually the crews were living in a detached state of limbo, with too little sleep and their metabolic clocks thoroughly upset.

Finally, on June 19th, the cloud cleared and they were off at last. The first target for 617 was a large concrete structure to the [inserted] West of [/inserted] Watten (North-west of St. Omer), on the edge of the Forêt d’Eperlecques. [Inserted] This was one of two large “Bunker” sites for launching V2’s, consisting of huge [inserted] semi- [/inserted] underground concrete bunkers, with large armoured doors. Both these sites were constructed to initially fire the vertical-standing V2 rockets at London, but they were intended later to launch V2’s with nuclear or chemical war-heads, directly as the USA. [/inserted] David took off from Woodhall Spa [inserted] in DV380 (KC-X) [/inserted], with 18 other Lancasters, and Cheshire and Shannon in their Mosquitos. As it was a daylight raid, they were escorted again by Spitfires, and Cheshire went down to 8,000ft over Calais, to find the target beyond the town. He was engaged by a terrific flak barrage, so dived flat out down to 2,000 ft, and released smoke markers (for daylight use) on the target.

* The remains of this structure, called “Blockhaus”, are kept today as a tourist museum.

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Having come through the barrage miraculously unscathed, Cheshire’s markers then failed to ignite, so Shannon then went in through a haze that was developing as the day wore on. He dropped the last of the smoke markers, and as Cheshire believed they were close enough to the blockhouse, ordered 617 to bomb it. David dropped his [inserted] Tallboy [/inserted] like the others, from 18,000 ft, but it “hung-up” momentarily, and recorded a near-miss on his aiming point – the smoke indicators. The rest dropped their weapons close to or on top of the markers, but when the raid was over and “Recce” pictures obtained, it was established that the markers had been some 70 yds wide of the target. Some Tallboys had dropped far enough away from the markers to fall beside (and one on top of) the concrete structure, and this proved sufficient to encourage the Germans not to use the site afterwards. * For some reason (perhaps connected with the repeated bombing-up and down over the three day wait) several Tallboys besides those on David’s Lancaster also “hung-up” – including those of Knilans, Ross and Howard (two of these were “freed”, but one had to be brought back).

Next day, the 20th, the second of these large “Bunker” sites, at Wizernes (just to the South-West of St. Omer) was given to 617, and this time 17 Lancasters set off, with Cheshire and two more Mosquitos in the lead David was still flying DV380, but he had only flown as far as Orfordness, near Woodbridge when Cheshire, in front of them, received information the cloud cover was too thick over the target, and recalled the Squadron (complete with Tallboys).

Two days later, they tried again, and reached the target area this time, but there was ten-tenths cloud over the area, and once more they brought [deleted] back [/deleted] the Tallboys back. Not to be outdone, 617 made a third attempt [inserted] the morning of [/inserted] June 24th, and this time the clouds had cleared. [Inserted] Again they had a fighter escort, [/inserted] and two Mosquitos led 16 Lancasters to the quarry in the North-facing hill near Wizernes station and Cheshire dived in to mark. His markers hung up, however, and he called Fawke in behind him. The flak was intense, and Fawke’s Mosquito and several 617 Lancasters above were hit, but David dropped his Tallboy from 17,400ft, recording a “Good Shot”. On the run in, John Edwards’ Lancaster DV413 (KC-G) was hit, and went

* After Allied troops had captured this site in Autumn 1944 → Barnes Wallis persuaded Bomber Command to let several Lancasters drop the new 22,000 lb Grand Slam bombs on this structure in mid November, to test their destructive force. [/inserted]

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down out of control, [inserted] some crew baling out on the way. [/inserted] The Lancaster exploded as it levelled out, [inserted] its pilot fighting [/inserted] desperately to effect a crash-landing, [deleted] in a field [/deleted], and the rest of the crew were trapped [deleted] out [/deleted] amongst the debris, or flung out onto the field where it pancaked. Only the Navigator, Wireless Operator and Bomb-aimer survived, to become POWs. The rest of the Squadron returned safely, albeit many of the aircraft had flak damage.

As David’s aircraft was also damaged, he promptly air-tested his old aircraft, LN485 (now itself repaired), the same afternoon (June 24th), and next day he was off [inserted] in it [/inserted] with 617 to attack a huge underground storage area for V1 Flying Bombs – at Siracourt, just South of the main road from St. Pol-sur-Ternoise to Hesdin (and East of Le Touquet). The Squadron put up 17 Lancasters, 2 Mosquitos – and a North American Mustang fighter flown by Cheshire.

Para // There was quite a story behind the acquisition of the Mustang, but suffice to say that the Station Commander at Woodhall Spa, together with Cheshire’s friendship with the American Air Force Generals Spaatz and Doolittle, resulted in their sending a Mustang over [inserted] on the morning of the 25th [/inserted] for Cheshire to try out. The 617 ground crews had to work hard to modify the under wing bomb attachments, to fit the necessary smoke markers and the Squadron navigator had to plot Cheshire’s courses for him, and help him jot down the information on his knee pad – for the Mustang was a single-seater. Cheshire had never flown one before, nor a single-engined aircraft for some time, and by the time it had been prepared he was adamant that he would use it on that evening’s raid. He also knew that he had no time to do “circuits and bumps” in it, to get to know its landing techniques – his first take-off would have to be on the operation, and his landing back would have to be in the dark!

As the Mustang was a fast aircraft, David and the other 16 Lancasters and two Mosquitos took off ahead of Cheshire, and by the time they arrived at Siracourt, their C.O. was there, diving in to mark the concrete roof of the underground site with smoke indicators, and followed in by Shannon and Fawke. Then the 617 “gaggle” was called in to drop their Tallboys on the smoke, and David recorded a “Direct Hit” [inserted] from 18,800ft [/inserted], together with some of the others, while other Tallboys fell close by. Someone’s bomb pierced the

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16 ft thick concrete roof of the structure, [inserted] resulting in a spectacular collapse of the walls and ceiling, and others undermined the sides. [/inserted]

Three hours and five minutes after take-off, David was back on the ground at his base, and all had returned safely, including Cheshire in the Mustang.

There were still more sites to attack, but bad weather and thick clouds prevented 617 Squadron from further attacks for some days. [Deleted] In the days [/deleted] During this period, David only managed to get in one practice “Formation flight” and an “Air Test” (involving air-to-sea firing practice). Several times they stood by from dawn [inserted] onwards [/inserted], but raids were cancelled by the late afternoon. The urgency was in everyone’s minds, as the V1’s were now landing in London and the South-East in increasing numbers.

Finally the weather cleared again for the morning of July 4th, and they were briefed to attack a new V1 launch site located in underground caves in the limestone hill overlooking the River Oise, at St. Leu-d’Esserent, a little village North-west of Chantilly. These caves had been used before the war by French mushroom-farmers, but were now reinforced with concrete to store the V1’s, and their launching rails. [Deleted] and the gigantic barrels of the V3 guns [/deleted]

David’s Squadron put up 17 Lancasters, Cheshire in the Mustang, and his back-up in a single Mosquito for this daylight raid. Fawke in the Mosquito went ahead to get weather information, and then Cheshire arrived, dived very low over the caves and dropped his smoke markers accurately on top. Les Munro led in the Lancasters above, through fairly heavy, [deleted] and [/deleted] accurate, flak which caught several aircraft, but the Tallboys started to rain down on the site. One hit the main building, others dropped in the cave mouths and around the entrances to the site, all destroying a great deal of machinery. Many Germans [deleted] workers [/deleted] were trapped underground and some were entombed forever. David [inserted] flying in LM484 again, [/inserted] described his Tallboy hit [inserted] from 18,700ft [/inserted] as a “Fair Shot”, obtaining a good photograph of this exploding near the cave mouth. Once the limestone dust and debris had started to hide the target, some Lancasters had difficulty finding the aiming point, one was hit in all four engines and had to jettison the [inserted] Tallboy [/inserted] over the Channel on the run home [inserted] and [/inserted] one had its bombsight go u/s. Thus only 11 out of the 17 dropped Tallboys on the target,

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but the results were once again spectacular – although in many of these Tallboy raids, these were only seen at first hand after the Allies had captured the area, later in 1944.

All 617 crews returned safely [inserted] David’s own sortie lasting 4hrs 05 mins this time [/inserted], although some had been injured by shrapnel from Flakbursts. [Deleted] but [/deleted] Bomber Command sent in another force of [inserted] 5 Group [/inserted] Lancasters later that same evening – totalling some 231, with 15 Mosquitos for marking. German night-fighters were very active, and shot down 13 of the Lancasters around the target area – a high price to pay.

[Underlined] Last “Op” with 617 – V3 Site. [/underlined]

Two days later, [inserted] on July 6th 1944 [/inserted], David took off on his last operation with 617 Squadron, this time another daylight raid on a V3 site at Mimoyecques, where several “super-guns” were being set up. Cheshire flew his Mustang again, with a Mosquito to back him up, and the usual “gaggle” of 17 617 Lancasters followed higher up (usually around the 18,00 ft level). The “gaggle” was so named by Cheshire, but referred to the pattern 617 was now adopting in its bombing formations – normally four parallel rows of Lancasters (four or five to a row), each of the leaders flying at carefully planned 200 ft or 300 ft vertical separation from each other, and behind each of them, every subsequent Lancaster flying [inserted] in turn [/inserted] at 400 ft lower than the one in front. Thus the “gaggle” had the best chance of avoiding each others bombs in the run-up to the targets, and had a better sighting of the target as it began to become obscured from the markers and first hits. Generally speaking, if the Lancasters adhered closely to this box formation (which was not always possible), the last aircraft’s Tallboys should have released before the first started to explode (they were frequently given delayed-action fuzes).

The V3 site at Mimoyecques was in the chalk hills behind Calais, and Cheshire once again went in very low and dropped his markers on top of the tunnels. The rest then dropped their Tallboys, and David’s went down on target [inserted] from 19,000 ft [/inserted], but the burst wasn’t seen by his crew. Then he flew LM 485 (KC-N) back to

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Woodhall Spa, joining the others who all arrived safely. “Recce” photos later showed the V3 site to have been hit and straddled by the Tallboys and completely wrecked, once more entombing some Germans.

[Inserted] Sub heading [underlined] Leaving 617 Squadron [/underlined] [/inserted]

After landing from this short flight (David had been airborne only 2 hrs 45 mins on this last occasion), [deleted] their C.O. [/deleted] Cheshire was summoned to Cochrane’s Group HQ. Cochrane looked at Cheshire, and said quietly to him: “I’ve been looking at the records, and see you’ve sone 100 trips now. That’s enough, it’s time you had a rest!” And he told Cheshire it was no use arguing! He also added that his three Flight Commanders, [inserted] Dave [/inserted] Shannon, [inserted] Joe [/inserted] McCarthy and [inserted] Les [/inserted] Munro had to come off as well, with David Wilson too. Mimoyecques had been David’s own 90th Operation [/deleted] as well [/deleted], and although the Flight Commanders had done fewer trips, they had [inserted] all [/inserted] been flying on “Ops” continuously for some two years.

So David was rested simultaneously with his CO and Flight Commanders. He had joined 617 in time for its seventh operation (and its first visit to the Anthéor viaduct) on September 16th 1943, and had been with the Squadron for over two months before Cheshire had arrived to take over from [inserted] Mick Martin [/inserted] the temporary C.O. When he joined there had been 10 of the original Dams raid pilots still flying in 617, but when he left, the last three – the Flight Commanders – left with him. It was the end of an era in 617, and David was very proud to have fought and lived alongside those famous names. As for himself, he has never really had the recognition that he deserved for his part in the 40 Operations mounted by 617 between September 16th 1943 and July 6th 1944, but this is no doubt because he was an inherently shy man – though a very tough one in his quiet [inserted] Scottish [/inserted] way.

With all of them being suddenly rested from 617, the 5 Group A.O.C. began to confer some long deserved awards on them. Cheshire had been given a second Bar to his DSO on April 18th 1944 (while with 617) and now, two months after leaving, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, for four years of continuous bravery (unique because it was not for one specific act of gallantry). Shannon was awarded a Bar to his DSO, and Munro was awarded a DSO (McCarthy had just been awarded a Bar [inserted] to his DFC. [/inserted] David was justly awarded a Bar to his DFC (gazetted on June 29th

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1944. This was [inserted] then [/inserted] followed up on November 26th 1944 by his second decoration with 617 – a DSO. (The delay in the award of the DSO was probably occasioned by the departure of Wing Cmdr Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, VC, DSO and two Bars, DFC, M.I.D., and the arrival and settling-in of his successor at 617, Wing Cmdr J.B. (“Willie”) Tait, DSO and Bar, DFC, MID).

The citation for David Wilson’s Bar to his DFC read: “Since the award of his first DFC in May 943, this officer has completed a third tour of operational duty, during which his experience, determination and devotion to duty have been displayed in the course of many sorties As a captain of aircraft, he can always be relied upon to complete his tasks in the face of the heaviest enemy opposition. He has a long and distinguished record of operational flying.”

And when the DSO was gazetted on November 26th this citation said: “This officer has taken part in numerous missions over enemy territory, including attacks on Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Cologne and Mannheim. He is now in his 3rd Tour, and has completed many sorties demanding a high standard of skill and accuracy. He has proved himself to be an ideal leader and his example has been most inspiring.”

“. [sic]

It is interesting to look back on David’s three tours of operations to see the difference in training required by any pilot flying with 617, and the other squadrons. In his time with 214 Squadron (his first tour) David flew a total of 289 hrs 50 mins, of which 199 hrs 35 mins was on operations, and just 90 hrs 15 mins doing Squadron training and exercises, etc. In this case the training hours amounted to 31% of the total. With 196 Squadron, training hours (34hr 35mins out of a total of 135 hrs 40 mins) amounted to 25%. But in 617 Squadron, David’s training accounted for 239 hrs 45 mins out of 420 hrs 55 mins – or a massive 57% of his total time! For each operational hour flown, he had flown over an hour’s worth of practice – nearly all bomb-aiming. This just illustrates the degree to which Guy Gibson (who started it), followed by Mick Martin and Geoffrey Cheshire, had insisted on the very highest level of low and high-level bombing accuracy.

At the end of his third tour, David had flown 90 missions, lasting for a total of 481 hrs 50 mins, and trained for a further 364 hrs 35 mins in these squadrons.


[Inserted] As for David’s Lancaster [deleted] that [/deleted] [inserted] in which [/inserted] he finished his days [deleted] in [/deleted] at 617 (LM485, KC-N), this aircraft survived a further V1 site attacks, two attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz in Norway (as KC-U), and further raids on Norway, etc, [deleted] in 1945, [/deleted] surviving the War to be scrapped in October, 1945. His other favourite, JB139 (KC-X, and later -V) was shot down over Brest on August 5th 1944, piloted by Don Cheney, R.C.A.F., who survived, with three of his crew (four were killed). The remains of the Lancaster can still be seen in the shallow water of St. Anne-la-Palud Bay, nearby. [/inserted]

[Underlined] Marriage, No5 L.F.S, and the E.T.P.S. [/underlined]

Now that David had obtained a welcome break from operations, he and Elsie were married on July 22nd 1944, and he snatched a quick two weeks leave before finally saying goodbye to 617 Squadron [inserted] at a mammoth farewell party [/inserted] on August 7th, and reporting to his new posting, No5 Lancaster Finishing School at Syerston, Notts, the next day.

David was now made [inserted] up to [/inserted] a Squadron Leader, and [deleted] at first [/deleted] put in charge of “B” Flight at 5 LFS. He was later [deleted] at Syerston until March 13th 1945, becoming [/deleted] appointed the Chief Flying Instructor of the whole School on October 4th, and remained its CFI until he ended his posting there on March 13th 1945. During this time he put many other budding Lancaster pilots through their paces on the School’s well worn (and operationally expired) Lancasters. They were mostly Flying Officers, but there were a few Warrant Officers, Pilot Officers and Flight Lieutenants, and the odd Squadron Leader converting onto the four-engined bombers.

David put all his pupils through the full training steps, which included “stalling practice”, “steep turns”, “three and two engine flying”, “three engine overshoots and landings”, apart from routine circuits and bumps, and night flying.

On several occasions he managed a trip in a Lancaster, or the unit’s Oxford “hack”, to visit 617 at Woodhall Spa, usually taking Sqd Ldr. Poore over as well (both of them had served with the Dambusters). And a number of the Lancasters David taught on at the LFS had once flown in 617 Squadron.

In March 1945, having come to the end of his

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Posting to the LFS, David applied to go on one of the Engine Test Pilot’s Courses at Boscombe Down. He was accepted on the No 3 Course there, and started the Course on March 15th 1945.

This was the third and last of the early Courses to be held at Boscombe Down, due mainly to the construction of hard runways on the aerodrome, leading to a veritable log-jam of aircraft taking off or landing on the restricted grass areas.

David’s Course lasted until October 2nd that year – a period of 6 1/2 months – and David was one of 31 test-pilots to complete it successfully. Amongst other subsequently famous names on the course with him were [inserted] Lt. [/inserted] Peter Twiss RN (to become Chief Test-Pilot for Fairey Aviation), [inserted] Sqd. Ldr. [/inserted] Charles McClure, who then took over from “Roly” Falk as Wing Cmdr. And Chief Test-Pilot at the R.A.E. at Farnborough, Flt. Lt. J.O. Lancaster who went to Boulton Paul, Saunders Roe, and finally Armstrong Whitworth; Ron Clear, from Airspeeds; and Lt. Cmdr. J.B.V. Burgerhorst, who went to Fokkers.

Five of the 31 on the Course were to lose their lives testing aircraft (the corresponding losses on the 1st Course were 5 out of 13, [deleted] and [/deleted] on the 2nd 7 out of 28, and the 4th, 7 out of 33). This eventual “loss” rate from the early courses was on average almost 23% , illustrating the high price paid in the lives of exceptionally brave and talented young men, by the advancement of Britain’s and other countries’, aviation industries.

As described in the chapters in these Volumes about Jimmy Owell, Ricky Esler and Jimmy Nelson, etc, the ETPS Course proceeded for David along the normal lines. The previous Commandant, Gp. Capt. J.F. McKenna [inserted] AFC [/inserted], had just been killed in a Mustang at the beginning of David’s Course, and his place was taken by Gp Capt. H.J. Wilson, AFC, who had been a senior test-pilot at the RAE. The Assistant Commandant was Wing Cmdr H.P. “Sandy” Powell, AFC, who also acted as the Chief Test-flying Instructor.

David flew the [inserted] range of [/inserted] ETPS aircraft, which at that time included an Oxford, Harvards, Lancaster

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2/58 [sic]

Swordfish, Mosquitos, Tempest [inserted] I and II and V, [/inserted] Spitfire IX and XXI Boston, [deleted] Sptifire IX [/deleted], [inserted] and the [/inserted] Meteor I. The last machine was the first jet aircraft that David had flown, but it provided no undue problems for him.

By the beginning of October, David had passed the difficult classroom studies, and the flying examinations, with ease, and after qualification, he accepted a post as test-pilot in “B” Squadron ( [deleted] the [/deleted] multi-engine aircraft) at the A & AEE at Boscombe Down, to last until his demob on March 15th 1946.

At the A & AEE, he started flying there on January 10th 1946, and undertook some firing trials on a new Avro Lincoln, flew a Lancaster to measure “speed/power curves”, practiced bombing runs in a Mosquito VI, and carried out other tests on a Halifax III, Dakota, Warwick, etc. Then his Service career was over, and David was demobbed.

[Underlined] A Career at A.V. Roe & Co. [/underlined]

With his brilliant academic qualifications, his war-time record, and qualifications now as a test-pilot, David Wilson [inserted] now [/inserted] had a great deal to offer the world. He was immediately offered a job at RAF Cranwell, and in fact the College was very keen to employ him, but David had written to Sir Roy Dobson, Managing Director now of A.V. Roe & Co. Ltd. at Manchester, to seek a post there – not necessarily in the Flight Test Dept., but perhaps connected with the Design side.

Sir Roy offered David the post of “Manager – Aerodynamic Development and Testing”, and David promptly accepted, starting work at Woodford [inserted] on April 8th 1946 [/inserted] at a salary of £800 per annum, with the promise of an early rise to £900 p.a. He was now 29 years of age, and had a total of 1807 flying hours to his credit.

David’s new job was immediately very tied up with examination of the Tudor airliner designs – both the Mark I and Mark II that were on order for BOAC and BSAA. A considerable amount of aero-dynamic research was going on into the problems affecting these designs, and several establishments

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Apart form Avro’s were engaged in a dramatic race to find the answers. The description of these problems can be found in the stories of Bill Thorn and Jimmy Orrell in these Volumes, but suffice to say that David and his Dept. were soon very busy liaising with Roy Chadwick, [deleted] the [/deleted] Avro’s Chief Designer (and from February 1947, their Technical Director), and the Test-pilots at Woodford to try to overcome the Tudor’s bad stalling characteristics, and excessive drag problems.

Once settled in at Woodford, David decided he had better keep his hand in at flying, and so [inserted] he had a medical on January 1st 1947, and [/inserted] took out a Civilian Flying Licence (No 24644) on March 26th 1947, not valid for flying Public Transport aircraft, but enough to cover him for test-flying at Woodford.

[Inserted] It was also early in 1947 before David and his wife were called to Buckingham Palace to receive the DSO he had won in 617 Squadron – so great had been the queue of people at the end of the War. As he was now a civilian, David had to receive the decoration in civilian clothes. [/inserted]

David was by now living at 3, Leith Rd, Sale, Cheshire, some miles from Woodford and closer to the Southern side of Manchester, and he and his wife Elsie now had a baby daughter, Carol. He was very satisfied with his work at Woodford, and he was starting to fly as Second pilot to Ken Cook and others, and rapidly getting the taste of flying back again. → [Inserted] For instance he went up with Ken on November 25th 1946 [inserted] and Reg Knight on November 27th [/inserted] in the Anson C.Mk XIX Series 2 VL 310, to conduct “Trailing Static Tests”[inserted] “Asymmetric and P.E.” tests. On December 1st he was flying with Reg Knight in Tudor I G-AGPF, doing tests at 25,000’. [/inserted] On December 30th and 31st he was up again with Ken in the Anson XII NL172 doing “Trimmer Setting” tests with the C of G fully forward and full aft, and “Single-engine” tests loaded up to 10,000 lbs weight.

In January 1947, David was flying with Ken again, doing “Trim” tests and “Loop swinging” on York MW322, checking “Stalling speeds” [inserted] and “P.E’s” [/inserted] on Avro XIX G-AGNI, and conducting “Pressurization and Heating” trials on the Tudor I G-AGRJ. And in May 1947 he was flying with Reg Knight in the Tudor I G-AGRI, Anson VM172 and Tudor IV G-AHNI, carrying out “stalls”, “stabilities”, “levels” and other aero-dynamic tests. [/inserted] And it was because of his flying ability, coupled with his interest in sampling the stalling characteristics of the new Tudor II, and observing the reaction of the [inserted] newly-shaped [/inserted] wool-tufted wing fillets fitted to it that he flew as Second-pilot with Bill Thorn on [inserted] that fateful [/inserted] August 23rd 1947. He was not originally → [inserted] scheduled to be the No 2 pilot on this flight as Bill had intended to take Reg Knight up with him. But Reg (see the next Chapter) had to go down to see his mother at Nuneaton, at very short notice, due to a dispute she was having over a new house. And Fate thus decreed that David would take his place. [/inserted]

So Bill Thorn and David Wilson taxied out in G-AGSU that sunny Saturday morning at a little after 10.50 (GMT), carrying Roy Chadwick (Avro’s Technical Director) and Stuart Davies (now the Chief Designer), with their Flight Engineer Eddie Talbot, and radio operator J. Webster. And soon after lift off on the main runway, Bill Thorn got into difficulties with Britain’s largest passenger aircraft (at that time), because of the aileron circuits being mistakenly reversed during work in the factory. The Tudor tilted right over onto

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Its starboard wing, the tip touched the ground and the Tudor II sideslipped slowly into a field, crumpling the wing, sliding along the stubble on its belly, and then decelerating into a group of oak trees surrounding a deep pond. The trees broke up the fuselage and wings, and the long nose of the Tudor fractured, and dropped the cockpit end into the pond, drowning the two pilots. But for the presence of water, they would undoubtedly have survived.

Thus, David’s career with Avro’s came to a sudden halt, along with the great Chief Test-pilot sitting beside him, and the man in the back who had designed all these magnificent machines, - and the Lancaster bomber in which David had spent so much of an eventful wartime career, and survived because of its strength and performance. Certainly, if he had to die, he could not have died in the company of any greater men than these.

Roy Dobson, who should have been on the test flight himself, but had skipped it because he was called to his office for an urgent ‘phone call, tried to cope with the tragedy that afternoon from his office at Woodford. The relatives of the other occupants, dead or injured, were contacted by various means, but David’s wife Elsie was mistakenly overlooked for a time. With a young daughter to bring up, and a home to try to keep together, things looked bleak. But when Sir Roy realised how difficult things were, he went out of his way to do all he could for Elsie. He had Avro’s arrange to pay off the mortgage, [inserted] and [/inserted] and give her a monthly sum for quite some time. He sent presents for Carol from time to time, and used to bring them back for the little girl from his overseas trips.

Sir Roy was greatly affected by the accident, and genuinely grief-stricken over the deaths of his life-long friend and colleague, Roy Chadwick, and Bill Thorn and David Wilson. He advised Elsie Wilson to brief a good solicitor and sue A.V. Roe & Coe for damages, so that she could be awarded compensation, and although Elsie found this difficult, and at times could hardly understand what was going on, eventually she was awarded damages and these were held by the Court in 2 1/2 % War Loan on trust for her daughter, with the income being paid regularly.

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In fact David’s daughter Carol was eventually offered a Dr. Barnes Wallis Scholarship, had her mother wanted to accept this (out of the two per year that the great aircraft and bombs designer had set up out of his own money). This could have entitled Carol to attend Christ’s Hospital (Girls School,) in Hertfordshire, but Elsie declined, in order to keep the family close together.

David was buried in Woodford Church, near Roy Chadwick and Bill Thorn, and where Sir Roy and Lady Dobson now also lie. The funeral was a very grand affair, attended by hundreds of colleagues of the crew from all walks of life, the Ministries, RAF and 617 Squadron, and other Aviation companies. Afterwards, Sir Roy said of David:

“He was a brilliant young man, and a technician of extraordinary aptitude and ability, who would soon have made his mark on the company. His loss is going to be most severely felt”.

And it was, no less than by his daughter Carol, who to this day remains devoted to the war hero father she scarcely remembers, and her mother Elsie, who has remarried, but still lives in Cheshire not many miles from Woodford, and under the flight path to Ringway Airport.

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[Underlined] Appendix [/underlined] P1

[Underlined] Sqd. Ldr. David James Baikie Wilson, DSO, DFC & Bar [/underlined]

[Underlined] List of Operations (3 Tours) [/underlined]

[Underlined] With No 214 Sqd: [inserted] (Wellington IC). [/inserted] Target Bomb load make-up Total Bombs dropped [/underlined]

1941 July 9* Osnabrück. 1 x 4000 4,000
July 14* Bremen 3 x 500 + Incendiaries. 1,500 +
July 17* Cologne 1 x 4000 4,000
July 20* Rotterdam 1 x 1,000, 3 x 500, + Incendiaries 2,500 +
July 23* Mannheim 1 x 4000 4,000
July 25* Hamburg ? ?
Aug 12* Hanover ? ?
Aug 16* Duisburg ? ?
Aug 19* Kiel 6 x 500 3,000
Aug 22* Mannheim ? ?
Aug 27* Mannheim ? ?
Aug 31* Cologne 1 x 1000, 5 x 500 3,500
Sep 2* Frankfurt 1 x 4000. (Retd, engine trouble) –
Sep 7* Berlin ? ?
Sep 8* Kassel ? ?
Sep 11 Le Havre ? ?
Sep 15 Brest 1 x 1,000, 4 x 500, 1 x 250 3,250
Sep 17 Karlsruhe 1 x 1,000, 4 x 500 3,000
Sep 29 Hamburg 1 x 4,000 HCMI 4,000
Oct 3 Antwerp 1 x 1,000, 6 x 500, 1 x 250 4,250
Oct 10 Cologne 1 x 1,000, 5 x 500, 1 x 250 3,750
Oct 12 Bremen ? ?
Oct 13 Dusseldorf 1 x 1,000, 5 x 500, 1 x 250 3,750
Oct 21 Bremen 1 x 1,000, 5 x 500 3,500
Oct 23 Kiel 1 x 1,000, 3 x 500, 1 x 250 2,750
Oct 31 Bremen Bad Wx, retd with bombs. –
Nov 7 Berlin 6 x 500 (Bad Wx, Osnabruck bombed) 3,000
Nov 9 Hamburg 6 x 500, 1 x 250 3,250
Dec 23 Brest 6 x 500 3,000
Dec 27 Brest 6 x 500 3,000
1942 Jan 2 Brest ? ?
Jan 8 Brest ? (Bad Wx, bombs returned) –
Jan 11 Brest 6 x 500, 3,000
Jan 21 Bremen 1 x 4,000 4,000
Jan 26 Brest 6 x 500 3,000
Jan 28 Munster ? (Bad Wx, bombs returned) –

[Underlined] TOTAL = 36 MISSIONS Total hours with Squadron = 289:50 [/underlined]
[Underlined] Total hours on “Ops” = 199:35 [/underlined]

* Flying as Second-pilot on these raids (Rest as Captain).

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[Underlined] Appendix [/underlined] P2

[Underlined] With No 196 Squadron. (Wellington X) [/underlined]

1943 Feb 7 Lorient 7 x 500 3,500
Feb 13 Lorient 3 x 500, 6 Containers 1,500 +
Feb 14 Cologne 3 x 500 6 Containers
Feb 17 x Emden ? Bad Wx. Bombs returned. –
Feb 26 Cologne 3 x 500, +Incendiaries (2 x 500 bombs hung up, returned) 500 +
Feb 28 St. Nazaire 3 x 500 + Incendiaries 1,500 +
Mar 3 Hamburg 3 x 500 + Incendiaries 1,500 +
Mar 5 Essen 1 x 4,000 4,000
Mar 12 Essen 3 x 500 + Incendiaries 1,500 +
Mar 26 Duisburg 3 x 500 + Incendiaries 1,500 +
Mar 29 Bochum 3 x 500 + Incendiaries 1,500 +
Apr 4 Kiel 1 x 4,000 4,000
May 4 Dortmund 2 x 500, 6 x SBC 1,000 +
May 12 Duisburg 1 x 4,000 4,000
May 13 Bochum 1 x 4,000 4,000
May 25 Düsseldorf 2 x 500, 7 x SBC 1,000 +
June 11 Düsseldorf ? ?
Jun 21 Krefeld ? ?
Jun 24 Wuppertal (Elberfeld) Incendiaries only. ?
Jul 3 Cologne Incendiaries only ?

[Underlined] Total = 20 Missions Total hours with Squadron = 135:40 [/underlined]
[Underlined] Total hours on “Ops” = 101:05 [/underlined]

[Underlined] With 617 Squadron. (Lancaster I and III) [/underlined]

1943 Sep 16 Antheor Viaduct. 1 x 4,000, 3 x 1,000 7,000
Nov 11 Antheor Viaduct. 1 x 12,000, HC 12,000
Dec 16 Flixecourt xx 1 x 12,000 HC 12,000
Dec 20 Liege 1 x 12,000 HC Bomb returned, raid abortive (due PFF) –
Dec 22 Abbeville-Amiens. xx 11 x 1,000. Bombs brought back (due PFF failure) –
1944 Jan 4 Pas de Calais (Flying Bomb Site) ? Bombs dropped 4 miles from target due PFF error ?
Jan 21 Hallencourt. xx 2 x 1,000, 13 x 500, 6 Flares. Only 1 x 1,000 and 7 x 500 dropped 4,500
Jan 25 Fréval (Pas de Calais) xx 2 x 1,000, 13 x 500 8,500
Feb 8 Limoges 12 x 1,000 12,000
Feb 12 Antheor Viaduct 1 x 12,000 12,000

x Daylight raid.
xx Flying bomb site. (V1 weapon).

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[Underlined] Appendix [/underlined] P3

[Underlined] With 617 Sqd cont’d [/underlined]

1944 March 2 Albert All Incendiaries ?
March 4 St. Etienne. ? Bad Wx. Returned –
March 10 St. Etienne 11 x 1,000 11,000
March 15 Woippy (near Metz). 1 x 12,000. Bad Wx. Returned. –
March 16. Clermont Ferrand 1 x 12,000, 6 Flares 12,000
March 18 Bergerac 1 x 12,000 12,000
March 20 Angouleme 1 x 8,000, 1 x 1,000 9,000
March 23 Lyons 11 x 1,000 11,000
March 25 Lyons ? x 500, Incendiaries ?
March 29 Lyons 1 x 8,000. 1 x 1,000 9,000
Apr 10 St. Cyr. 1 x 8,000, 6 x 500 11,000
Apr 18 Juvisy 4 x 1,000, 4 x Red Spots 4,000
Apr 20 La Chapelle 12 x 1,000 12,000
Jun 5 D-Day decoy mission
Jun 8 Saumur Tunnel 1 x 12,000 Tallboy 12,000
Jun 14 Le Havre Pens 1 x 12,000 Tallboy 12,000
Jun 15 Boulogne Pens 1 x 12,000 Tallboy 12,000
Jun 19 Watten xx 1 x 12,000 Tallboy 12,000
Jun 20 Wizernes xx – Tallboy Raid recalled over Channel –
Jun 22 Wizernes xx Tallboy Bad Wx. Bomb brought back. –
Jun 24 Wizernes xx 1 x 12,000 Tallboy 12,000
Jun 25 Siracourt xx 1 x 12,000 Tallboy 12,000
July 4 St. Leu d’Esserent. Xx 1 x 12,000 Tallboy 12,000
July 6 Mimoyecques xx 1 x 12,000 Tallboy 12,000

[Underlined] Total – 34 Missions Total hours with Squadron = 420:55 [/underlined]
[Underlined Total hours on “Ops” = 181:10 [/underlined]

[Underlined] Grand total (3 tours) = 90 Operational Flights. [/underlined]

[Underlined] Grand total of flying hours with Squadrons = 846:25 [/underlined]

[Underlined] Grand total of flying hours on Operations = 481:50 [/underlined]



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Peter V Clegg, “A bomber pilot’s journey through WWII,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2023, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/20634.

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