Letter and transcript of telephone inteview

BMealingMillsSChandlerCHv1.pdf

Title

Letter and transcript of telephone inteview

Description

Letter encloses a transcript of telephone interview and ask Mr Chandler to check for accuracy and asks specific questions about window, operation briefings, bird strike, being coned on Karlsruhe operation, overcoming fear and did he feel operations were worthwhile. Transcript describes Chick Chandler's joining the RAF and selection as flight engineer. Talks of training at RAF St Athan, joining crew at heavy conversion unit and describes in detail his first trip. Goes on to talk of posting to operational squadron XV and RAF Mildenhall, First 4 operations were on Stirling before transfer to Lancaster. Describes in detail his first operation and second to Berlin. Gives long description of typical day with night operation. Mentions night fighter attacks, scarecrows, master bomber and seeing many aircraft shot down on Nuremburg operation 30/31 March 1944. Gives very detailed description of operation to Dusseldorf 22/23 April 1944 when his aircraft was hit by flack and night fighter with bomb aimer and one other crew killed, two injured and the aircraft damaged and on fire. Talks of two operations on D-Day and others during the Normandy campaign including attacks on v-weapon sites. Mentions use of Schräge Musik and daylight operations. Mentions that four of crew got medals for Dusseldorf but not him. Concludes with tribulations during his rest/training tour when he was volunteered without his knowledge for another tour, the resulting medical downgrade and re-muster to air traffic control..

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2009-08-10

Contributor

Anne-Marie Watson

Rights

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

Format

One page printed letter and seventeen page printed document

Language

Identifier

BMealingMillsSChandlerCHv1

Transcription

1/

10th August 2009

Dear Mr. Chandler,

Rather later than planned, enclosed is the transcript of the recording made during our telephone conversations with additions from the information you sent me. May I ask you to read through it and note any changes you would like to make, no matter how big or small. It is probable that I’ve misheard something, so please don’t hesitate. I will then send you a corrected copy of the text.

I hope you won’t mind if I take this opportunity to ask another few questions that have cropped up in the course of typing your document.

1) At your first main briefing when the question of ‘window’ arose, who did you ask for an explanation?

2) At briefings more generally, were you told to set a height to fly at, or did you just try to gain as much height as possible?

3) On the Karlsruhe trip you were coned for 20 minutes, was that at the target?

5) Given your feelings of concern about operations, what gave you the strength to keep going back night after night, thereby overcoming your fears?

6) When you were flying operations did you feel they were worthwhile and you were achieving good results?

I would especially like to take this chance to thank you for your time. It has been a privilege and source of great interest to have the opportunity to talk to you. With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Sam Mealing-Mill

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I was an apprentice to a very small engineering firm, on war work of course. It was a reserved occupation, the only way to get out of it was by joining aircrew. I got carried away and like most stupid young men at the time I volunteered for aircrew.

I joined the Air Training Corps, most young boys joined the Air Training Corps and everybody had visions of being a pilot, of course. You did all the training, Morse code, navigation and that sort of thing. Eventually you went off and did a test to see what trade you were suitable for. I went with 29 other people and all thirty of us were suitable to be flight engineers. Of course they wanted flight engineers very badly, basically we were flight engineers before we even did the test! Initially I was told in July 1942 – when I went to join up – I would do a two-year course in engineering. The course was actually reduced to six months, so my training was very skimpy indeed. That’s how I became a flight engineer, obviously I wanted to be a pilot like everybody else. I knew nothing about it, but that’s the way wartime works.

You went in as a direct entry flight engineer. We didn’t do Initial Training Wing or anything else. We joined the air force, did six weeks square bashing – sloping arms and that sort of thing – and from there straight to 4 School of Technical Training at St Athan, to start the engineer’s course.

St Athan was a huge camp. We slept in bunk beds, 30 toa room, so it wasn’t particularly good. You had breakfast and then your hut would march to the particular classroom of the day. We did lectures on theory of flight, a bit of navigation and found out the rudiments of how aircraft worked. You studied the particular engines you’d be working on, at the time it was Stirlings with Hercules engines. Then we did electrics, because the Stirling had all electric systems. During my apprenticeship I’d been working on a bench using files and that sort of thing, but I didn’t really find it a lot of use to me at all. I knew the rudiments of how engines worked. At Christmas and Easter the whole school stood down and we got leave. I was very grateful to go home and have some decent home cooking.

We had a test at the end of each week, but, looking back, I must confess I think you’d be hard pushed to fail it. Although I studied very hard in the evenings – as we all did - in peacetime my 60.1% wouldn’t have been anywhere near good enough. I was a bit of a sportsman at the time and, unfortunately, I got quite badly injured playing football. I missed quite a lot of the early morning lectures, because I was at Sick Bay getting my leg tended. Although my course was shorter than it should have been, I didn’t even do all of that. My training was very skimpy to put it mildly. Generally speaking had they not been terribly short of engineers, I would never have passed the engineer’s course, because I really was green at everything I sis. I was a very naïve young man indeed. There wasn’t a big passing out ceremony. You passed your course, got your brevet and striped and went on leave.

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The other members of the crew started off at Operational Training Unit as a crew of five. The crew of five came to Heavy Conversion Unit, where they picked up a flight engineer and mid-upper gunner. We crewed up almost immediately, the names of the pilots and engineers were simply called out. I remember feeling very disappointed when the list was called out. Somebody had a squadron leader pilots and somebody else a flight lieutenant and when it came to me, I had a sergeant pilot. That was Oliver Brooks. At the time I didn’t realise that because he was a sergeant pilot, it didn’t necessarily mean he was a bad pilot. In fact he was a particularly good pilot, but I remember feeling dejected at the time, thinking, ‘Everybody else got these high ranking officers and I get a common sergeant!’ The whole crew of seven were all sergeants.

Oliver Brooks was a good bloke, easy to get along with. His hobby was boxing so he was quite a big, strong man. He could fly the aircraft extraordinarily well and he managed the aircraft very well. You’ll find it hard to believe, but he was a bit short sighted; he had to wear glasses. That was unusual. I had differences of opinion with him at the early stages.

My introduction to flying came when I met the crew and we got airborne. The pilot was flying a different type of aircraft so he had a screen (instructor). I was brand new to flying, so I needed a screen as well. The rest of the crew were doing their normal jobs. After just 90 minutes of circuits and bumps the two screens left us to carry on by ourselves. On the very first circuit the undercarriage would not come down: leave it all to the new flight engineer! Sadly, when I reached the offending equipment I found the obsolete Mark I undercarriage and I had been trained on the Mark III. (I distinctly remembered that the training said we would not encounter the Mark I. Probably true on operational aircraft, but not so on this battered relic on H.C.U.)

After much instruction from the ground I was able to wind the undercarriage down by hand. After stooging around for ages, I was able to announce we had two green lights and the undercarriage rev-counter was reading 000. For some unaccountable reason I had misgivings and on final approach I nipped back, gave one more turn and distinctly heard the mechanical lock engage (Both wheels). That remained my little secret.

We arrived at Mildenhall and were allocated to “B” Flight, XV squadron. We all lived together in married quarters. That was pretty good, we had fires and we could make hot water. We had to pinch coal and wood now and again, but it was reasonably comfortable. We hung together, very much as a crew. We did most things together, except when the pilot got his commission and the bomb aimer started courting. Generally speaking the rest of us went out to social events

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together, the cinema, the local fairground or local pub. We didn’t go very far; the six weeks on the station we were on call all the time. We hung around waiting for things to happen, basically. After six weeks being on call you had six days leave. I always went home. The minute I got my leave I’d get on a train and come back here to Alton, where I was born and my mother was living. I’d spend the six days with my family.

We hadn’t been at Mildenhall long before we went on operations. We did circuits and bumps, cross-countries, night cross-countries, loaded climbs, beacon [deleted] calls [/deleted] crawls and bulls-eyes. We went through the gambit of what we would do operationally.

Our first two trips were mine-laying operations – which was standard procedure. I was nervous right from the word go; I was never terribly brave, I’m afraid. Our first mine-laying operation was to the Frisian Islands, that was uneventful, and we did our second mine-laying operation to the Gironde River and that was also uneventful. Then we did our first trip to Mannheim.

At our very first Main Briefing I felt quite over-awed by it all. It was all very new to me and my in-experience was highlighted when I heard, “Engineers, Window one a minute on reaching enemy coast, two a minute 40 miles from target.”

This was complete Double-Dutch to me so I whispered, “What’s Window?” “I’ll show you outside.”

I was duly shown a strip of window with the explanation that, “It buggers up the enemy r.a.d.a.r.” (On reaching the enemy coast I duly dispatched a strip of window as shown. Later I discovered the whole bundle of about 500 strips should have gone).

Having reached the halfway point it became apparent to me that we would have to feather the starboard outer engine because it had high temperature and low oil pressure. My advice was to jettison our bomb-load and make an early return to base. I’d only finished training a few weeks before and it was very clear in my mind that we had lost oil in that engine. The obvious thing to do was feather the engine and return to base.

This led to quite a big argument in the aircraft would you believe? We were on our first main operation, I insisted we return and the pilot was petrified of being branded Lack of Moral Fibre. Obviously he didn’t know me and I didn’t know him. He wasn’t very happy with the flight engineer saying, “Let’s go back to base.”

He said, “We can’t go back, they’ll say we’re LMF”

Fortunately the bomb aimer, who was a little older than us, said, “Look, he’s not telling you your job, don’t tell him his.”

The pilot was not at all impressed, but bowed to common sense and we returned to

[Underlined] C.H. ‘Chick’ Chandler Flt Eng – XV & 622 Sqns [/underlined]

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base. Had we carried on we’d be down to 8,000 ft and 20 minutes late on target. We would most assuredly have been killed had we gone on.

You can imagine my trepidation when we got down. The engineering staff and CO climbed up into the aircraft and we told them what had happened. The warrant officer said, “It’s a good job you feathered the engine, otherwise it would have caught fire.” If he’d said I shouldn’t have feathered the engine I’d have been in real trouble. I really was very green, but I didn’t want to get killed.

Our next trip was to Berlin, where we received a very hot reception, as you can imagine, at 13,000 ft. It was a little bit frightening. We actually arrived early – we never did that again, of course – because the navigator made a boob. We had to go round and start again. We saw quite a lot of action, but most of the action seemed to be taking place above us; we weren’t involved in it. We saw several Pathfinder Force kites blow up. We didn’t see anything actually attacked, but we saw quite a lot of aircraft exploding. In our naivety we thought they were Scarecrow flares, we said, “Oh, there’s a Scarecrow.” But there were no such thing as Scarecrows, it was the real thing. They were in fact PFF kites blowing up. I think the air force deliberately engendered the idea of Scarecrows so aircrew might not be quite so frightened. We did our bombing run and I read afterwards the raid was very successful.

After the Berlin trip even the pilot acknowledged it would have been suicidal to carry on to Mannheim. When the crew realised how serious it had been my prestige went up considerably. They conferred with me on allsorts of things after that, whereas before I was just a sprog engineer who knew nothing. My sense of self-preservation (for want of a better phrase) proved to be very useful in the end.

I only flew Stirlings on four operations. We did, mining trip, mining trip, early return from Mannhein, and then Berlin in Stirlings. They were very comfortable aircraft to fly in and not too noisy. I was at the front along with the pilot. The fuel cocks were back down the fuselage, but you sat by the pilot and went back to transfer fuel. There were 14 fuel tanks, which meant a lot of juggling with fuel: balancing the tanks using the fuel cocks. My training on that was quite good and I don’t remember any problems with it. Apart from the fact we lost an engine on our first main operation, it was a reasonably good aircraft. I wasn’t aware, of course, it was quite a dangerous aircraft to fly on operations. As far as I was concerned everybody was in the same boat, I didn’t realise that 7 or 8,000 ft above us the main force was flying while we cruised at 13,000 ft. The Berlin operation was our last trip on Stirlings, then we went on to Lancasters.

We went to ground school and spent a couple of weeks learning about the Lancaster’s engines and systems. Then we went flying with a screen (instructor)

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and he told us what to do. After a few trips we went off on our own. It didn’t take very long at all, just a few weeks. It was a very much safer aircraft. I felt safer in a Lancaster than I did in a Stirling, but the Lancaster was very noisy. When we flew Stirlings our wireless operator, Les Pollard, could cope with the noise, but when we changed on to Lancasters he had a problem with the noise. He stayed on Stirlings and a man called Barnes took his place. Barnes moved in with us to make up the crew of seven. I don’t know what happened to Les Pollard at all.

On Lancasters I remember the gunners’ oxygen masks had icicles hanging from them, but at no time was I ever conscious of being cold. I was conscious of fear, but not cold. I went in a Lancaster a couple of years ago and I realised how cramped it was, but at the time it didn’t seem cramped at all. The first operation on Lancasters was again to Berlin, but at 22,000 ft instead of 13,000 ft, which felt a lot more comfortable. As I recall we saw a lot of activity, but at no stage were we attacked. Having done six months training on Stirlings I mostly flew in Lancasters (24 ops). (4 on Sterlings [sic].)

Mid morning a Battle Order would appear in the crew room. If your crew appeared on the Battle Order, you would be told what time to attend briefing. When you went along to briefing there’d be armed guards on the outside door of the briefing room. Briefing would cover the route – they would give details of any heavily defended targets we might pass close to - and the load we were carrying. They also gave us the Aiming Point (the first trip to Berlin the A.P. was a police station). You got briefing on the weather, what to expect on the way back and any icing conditions (I can’t recall icing at all). Later on they began to realise we might form a contrail – which is very bad. I only had one incident of that. They covered diversion airfields and how much fuel we’d need to reach them; that was my department.

We had an aircrew meal in the Mess, usually eggs and bacon. We’d be getting ready about half-an-hour before the coach took us along to the aircraft. We wore several layers of clothing. I wore long-johns, a flying suit, two pairs of gloves – a silk pair and a pair of leather gloves on top of them – Mae West and parachute harness. I was well padded up in one way and another. I always carried my old Glengarry, superstitiously stuck in the lapel of my tunic. We had the new escape boots, which had a little pen knife in the side, so if you were shot down you cut the tops off and had had a pair of ordinary shoes. We had a silk map, a compass in a button (I wish I’d kept that), and some glucose sweets in an escape kit. We took a flask of coffee, which was nearly always cold by the time you got round to drinking it. We also had some energy giving boiled sweets and chocolate.

We wore our parachute harness all the time and in my case it was always done up. A lot of people left the bottom straps undone, so they could move about more easily. Mine was always very tightly done up, so I walked like a baby gorilla.

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I knew that if we had to jump there wouldn’t be enough time to do up parachute straps. I wanted mine on; I was belt and braces all the way through. We didn’t wear the parachute, you stored that somewhere near your position. We also had our Mae Wests on. Looking back, it seemed quite natural. It must have been a little uncomfortable, but, because we were quite young, we didn’t notice.

We always got down to the aircraft early, we aimed to be at the dispersal about an hour before take off, to check over the aircraft. We always made sure the pitot head cover and the undercarriage locks were removed. We also checked for tyre creep. The tyres tended to move around the wheels on landing, so two white blocks about an inch square were painted on the wheel and the tyre itself and you had to make sure they lined up. The pilot would run up the engines and check the magnetos. In my case the pilot did that himself.

Then we waited on the dispersal to see whether the operation would continue or be cancelled. Very often it was cancelled, for whatever reason weather or security leak. They fired a red or green Very flare from the control tower. We might go 3 or 4 times before we actually got airborne. If they fired a red we went back to bed, a green and you carried on as briefed. I’d done all the checks before we took off. We’d get in, start our engines and taxi round to take off. Very often various people – WAAFs particularly – would line up beside the caravan and give us a wave as we went.

On take-off. a lot of engineers had some control of the throttles, but I didn’t have control of the throttles at all, my pilot insisted on having the throttles himself. Oliver Brooks was a great big man and he had complete control of the throttles in one hand. I just stood by his side and watched the instruments as we were getting airborne [1]. They allowed a minute an aircraft for take-off. The first aircraft was airborne probably half-an -hour before the last, so aircraft started orbiting and gradually set course. I don’t know what the drill was because that was the pilot’s role. On our crew conversation was confined to absolute necessities throughout the flight, Brooks was very keen we do everything right. Chatter was not encouraged.

After take-off, I sat down and worked on my logs. In the Lancaster my position was next to the pilot on a little canvas seat, on the right hand side of the cockpit. Funnily enough I never used the canvas bucket seat: I stood most of the way there and most of the way back. If I was filling in my log, I sat on my tool box gazing at the instruments on my side of the aircraft. I was concerned with all the recordings and logging that one did as flight engineer: petrol consumption, temperatures and oil pressures of the engines. Mainly I was concerned with fuel consumption, trying to make sure we didn’t run out of fuel. The basic rule was: as much boost as you could and as few revs as possible. My job as flight engineer was to nudge the pilot and get him to knock the revs back to reduce fuel consumption. You could work out a very rough average, a gallon a minute per

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engine. Obviously we used a lot more than that taking off and climbing.

On a clear night the coastline is visible even on a very dark night. From the moment we crossed the coast going in, until you came back in the circuit, you could expect trouble. The bomb aimer would try to get a pinpoint as we crossed the coast, to see how close we were to our route. He would tell the navigator, who would make any necessary corrections. Again when we crossed the enemy coast we hoped to pick up another pinpoint, if it was cloudy we couldn’t, it was always an advantage to get a good pinpoint position.

On our aircraft I did the windowing every time. You’d start at the enemy coast, one a minute, and two a minute 40 miles from the target. That was my responsibility. The window chute was fitted on the side of the Lancaster, right opposite my position. It was no effort at all; it didn’t seem a particular problem. If it was something to save my life I was very careful to make sure I did it to the best of my ability.

When we got to the enemy coast, I spent most of my time looking upwards and backwards to make sure we weren’t being attacked by fighters. I filled in my log as we went along. Interestingly, after I’d done a few operations, I was well aware we’d go through the target using a lot of fuel. I had a pretty good idea of what revs and boost and fuel consumption would be, so I would cook my log 20 minutes before and 20 minutes after the target and I spent the next 40 minutes watching out for fighter, just occasionally looking at the instruments. I kept a fairly good log – nobody ever complained about it – and fuel consumption always seemed to work out as it should.

For myself, I didn’t look down at the target, I was too busy looking up in the sky behind the aircraft. I’m sure a lot of crews were lost because everybody was gawping at the fireworks display below them. I didn’t want to see that, I wanted to see a man who was going to attack me from behind and blow me out of the sky. That happened on the Nuremburg raid, 30/31st March 1944, I actually saw the fighter coming to attack us. I’d been on fighter affiliation exercises, that paid dividends, I knew he was much closer than he should have been. There was only time for me to scream, “Corkscrew starboard, go!” Such was the terror in my voice no one recognised it. Each gunner thought it was the other and the crew thought it was one of the gunners. We had a petrol tank holed in the attack, but fortunately it was an outboard tank and I’d already transferred the fuel – 114 gallons – to the inboard tank. That was the drill, you always transferred the fuel in your outboard tanks to your inboard tanks. The standard procedure was to leave 20 gallons in the tank because it was safer to leave some petrol in, than to have it completely empty, leaving a very explosive vapour mixture.

Very often there’d be somebody telling the bomb aimer which Target Indicators to bomb. Obviously there was quite a number of yellows, greens and

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reds, and they were fairly well scattered on occasions. The Master Bomber would say, “Bomb the reds” or “Bomb the greens”, whatever he decided. The bomb run would start quite some little time before the target and, [deleted] unfortunately [/deleted] the bomb aimer would then take over directing the aircraft, “Left, left. Right.”

Unfortunately we generally had to do quite a long run in. That was not very safe, flying straight and level and your course could be predicted from the ground. Once you dropped the bombs you flew straight and level for another 17 seconds to take a photo when the photoflash went off. It was quite a harrowing few minutes, you were well aware that some-one below might be picking on you to blow you out of the sky.

Everybody came back on the same set route, in a big group, the same as we went out. We more or less got back to the coast before going our separate ways, up to Yorkshire, Lincolnshire or Suffolk. On just one occasion we had difficulty getting back to base with poor weather, which was a bit frightening. We groped our way in with our fingers crossed.

There were three airfields in close proximity, so you had a lot of aircraft milling around until they went in to land at their respective airfields. There was a stage when German fighters flew back with us and attacked aircraft as they were orbiting to land with their navigation lights on. We didn’t encounter it ourselves. I don’t remember any unduly long delays in landing. Very often somebody would call for an emergency landing, which obviously had priority.

We taxied back to dispersal and the ground crew took over. We’d point out any problems or damage, but we did nothing at all to the aircraft. The gunners took their guns out and returned them to the armoury, but all I took out was my tool box and parachute. We were taken to the debriefing room and some-one would ask us what happened on the trip. The thing I remember at debriefing: we very often had cocoa with rum in it – one of the pleasant aspects. Then a meal and then to bed. Initially I had no difficulties getting to sleep, later on I did have some problems. Generally speaking I slept quite well, but towards the end – as my tour became more difficult – I was getting more and more tense and I had a little trouble sleeping. I never had to take the sleeping tablets some people did take, I managed quite well normally.

On the Nuremburg raid Conditions were very bright, you could see for miles. I think we were extremely lucky in that we were in the first wave after the backers up. The fighters came in to attack behind our position in the stream, so we missed the worst of it. We were attacked, but only on one occasion. We could see lots going on behind us. We did in fact see fifty aircraft shot down. If you saw an aircraft shot down the drill was to call the navigator and he logged it. In the end he said, “I haven’t time to log any more, so stop telling me about them!” After that we

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didn’t pass him any information and we lost count. We saw a lot of aircraft shot down.

Our crew had a disaster at Dusseldorf on the 22nd/23rd April 1944. We were on our bombing run, flying straight and level for some time – as we had to. At the very moment the bomb aimer released the bombs, at 0110, a heavy flak shell burst immediately below the aircraft. At the same time we were being attacked by an Me109. When we were hit the bomb aimer didn’t have time to say, “Bombs gone.” His death convulsion was to push the bomb release, luckily for us.

I was standing with my head in the blister to watch for any fighter attack from the starboard side, as was usual during our bombing run. I heard a tremendous explosion, which knocked me on my back, onto the floor of the aircraft. As I lay there, I saw a stream of sparks pass a few feet above the cockpit and it was some little time before I realised they were tracers from a fighter. In my assessment of the situation, I thought the aircraft had been hit by the shell and the tail had been blown off. We went into a vertical dive and I thought, ‘I ‘m not going to get out of the nose, I’ll get out through the back where the tail’s been blown off.’ As it happened I couldn’t move because of the ‘G’. I was pinned to the floor on my back, my face turned towards the side of the aircraft. I couldn’t get up to clip on my parachute. My frustration was immense, I thought, ‘I’ve got to get up. I’ve got to get out the back of the aircraft.’

We were hit at 22,000 ft and it wasn’t until we pulled out at 14,000 ft, the skipper said, “Bale out.” Before anybody could bale out we went into another dive. We pulled out again at 7,000 ft. It was all very hectic for quite a few minutes. When we sorted ourselves out we found three parachutes were burnt, so there was no question of baling out. When Brooks had said, “Bale out” I put my parachute on and realised the parachute harness felt slack. I always had it done up very tight – so I walked with a stoop – so I convinced myself it was nerves and the harness wasn’t slack at all. When we landed it was found there was virtually no back to my parachute harness: the straps were shot away, hanging by a few threads. Had I jumped my parachute and I would have parted company!

Oliver Brooks really had his work cut out trying to control a heavily damaged aircraft. We had the port inner engine on fire and the starboard outer engine controls had been damaged so the props were on coarse pitch – I wanted them in fine pitch – so we were only getting half power in that engine. The H2S inside the aircraft was on fire. We had no hydraulics because of what the navigator described as glycol swilling about in the aircraft, was, of course, hydraulic fluid. We had no gun turrets, the bomb doors stuck open, no undercarriage and no flaps. The aircraft was a sorry mess.

The Graviner system operated to put the port inner fire out, but once the fire

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was out I couldn’t restart the engine in case it caught fire again. I feathered the engine, put the fire out and the engine was then dead. The H2S, on fire in the middle aircraft, was put out by the mid-upper gunner. He had to go off intercom while he put out the fire, so he couldn’t pass messages on and we didn’t know what was going on. He had to put out the fire by himself in fact, but the three parachutes stowed on the H2S were burnt.

My next job was to go round and check for damage and casualties. I went down to the nose of the aircraft, to the bomb aimer’s position. My sheltered life had not prepared me for the sight that met my eyes. The nose of the aircraft had caught the full blast of the flak and to the bomb aimer had suffered the most appalling injuries. Suffice to say I was sick. I’d heard him screaming when he was hit, but he must have died within a few seconds. When I risked using my torch to check the bomb-load they had all gone, luckily.

I went all the way back through the aircraft, checking the navigators and the empty wireless operator’s position. (The wireless operator stood by the flare chute on the bomb run to check the photoflash had gone). The mid-upper gunner had reoccupied his turret, temporarily. When I reached the flare chute, I found the wireless operator had sustained very serious injuries. He was still alive, but so badly damaged I was pretty sure he was not going to live. The rear gunner [2] gave me a thumbs up sign, so I concluded he was O.K. Then I had to report back to the pilot that two of the crew had been killed in the explosion, the mid-upper gunner had suffered a wound to his ear [3] and the navigator was slightly wounded.

After a hasty consultation we decided to set course for the emergency landing strip at Woodbridge. I carried out a check on our fuel. From the gauges it looked as though we had not sustained any major damage to our main tanks, but I thought it prudent to carry out a visual check on the outside. Any fuel coming from the mainplane would indicate at least one tank holed. It was then I discovered that where our dinghy should have been, there was a gaping hole in the mainplane. The dinghy had been shot away and ditching was out of the question.

I sat down on my tool box to work out how much fuel we had left and the rate of consumption. We had two engines at full bore, one giving half power with the propellors in coarse pitch, and one feathered. I was double-checking my figured when the navigator asked our flying time. I stalled for time, saying I hadn’t quite finished, and asked how much time was required. When he gave me his figure I felt a flood of relief; my consumption figures gave us 20 minutes in hand.

Our predicament obliged us to make a direct return from Dusseldorf to Woodbridge, steadily losing height. I can remember very little of the actual trip, but I cannot recall being unduly alarmed, possibly because I resigned myself to my fate. We were coned by searchlights at between 3,000 – 4,000 ft, but in our crippled condition evasive action was out of the question. Although we were well

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within range of even light flak, we weren’t engaged.

I was able to concentrate on our critical fuel condition. I became more confident as each check bore out my original figure of 20 minutes to spare. Sitting on my tool-box, gazing at the instruments on my engineer’s panel, I became very aware of the red warning lights indicating the loss of our port inner engine. They appeared to be glowing like beacons, to be seen by any fighter that happened to pass. My remedy was to chew some chewing gum and stick it over the lights.

We staggered back, just over the sea, throwing overboard as much equipment as possible. Eventually we dumped all the ammunition and guns overboard to try and gain height. We had the navigation leader with us and he took over the navigation while our navigator took over the wireless operator’s position and sent out S.O.S. messages, all to no avail because the aircraft was too low for the calls to be received.

With the bomb doors open, one engine feathered, one engine producing half power, a gaping hole in the starboard wing and other small holes all over the aircraft, we were using fuel at an alarming rate. But the fact we had used so much fuel reduced our weight, allowing Brooks to coax the aircraft up to 500 ft on crossing the cost.

As we approached Woodbridge the undercarriage should have been lowered by hydraulics, but we didn’t have any hydraulics. Instead an emergency system would, in theory, lower it by pneumatics. We couldn’t try it, of course, the minute the main wheels came down the drag meant the aircraft would fall out of the sky. The deal was to wait until we got over the threshold of the runway, then the engineer pulled the lever which should lower the undercarriage by air. In our case it didn’t work. The aircraft was crabbing very slowly from left to right and I waited for the crash.

The crew sat in the crash position with their backs to the main spar, but the mid-upper gunner opted to stay at the rear of the fuselage and cradle the wireless operator (Barnes had actually died of his wounds before we reached England). I didn’t have time to get to crash position, we hit the ground with me standing by the pilot, hanging on to his seat. We did a belly landing and as hit the ground, the Perspex blister on the starboard side broke away. I was standing as we careered down the runway, and at the end of the crash-landing run I was still standing there! In theory I should have gone through the windscreen. I was very quickly through the top escape hatch, situated almost immediately above the flight engineer’s position, and I was so relieved I got to my knees and kissed the ground!

An aeroplane flew down next morning and took us back to base. We were debriefed when we got to Woodbridge and again when we got back to Mildenhall. We got back to Mildenhall late afternoon on the 23rd and on the 25th we were off

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again to Karlsruhe. I was very nervous as you might expect; I had extricated myself from a very bent Lancaster at Woodbridge. The pilot, rear-gunner and myself were part of our original crew, the other positions were filled by spare bods – the CO, W/Cdr Watkins, taking the deceased bomb aimer’s position.

Nearing the target, the dreaded order, “Corkscrew Starboard, go” came from one of the gunners. I did not see our attacker, but did see the lines of tracer shells speeding towards us. I instinctively ducked. As we plunged downwards I received a very heavy thump on the side of my right leg, just below the knee. At this stage I remembered the medical officer giving me a briefing saying that if hit and feeling pain thin [sic] injury would probably not be too serious, but if a numb feeling was felt it was probably very serious. I had certainly been hit, but felt no pain. Being too frightened to look, I felt with my gloved hand from knee to ankle; leg still there. I then removed my leather glove and felt with the white silk inner glove: no blood. It transpired I had been hit by a portable oxygen bottle that had broken loose from its attachment. (Caused by the violent manoeuvre of the corkscrew). We were actually attacked twice.

We were also picked up by the searchlights and once one picked you up they all picked you up. In the log book it says we were coned 20 minutes so we spent the next 20 minutes weaving and dodging trying to get out of the searchlights. I was dazzled, I couldn’t see much at all. If I looked out all I could see was light, which ever way we swerved the searchlights followed, but we got away with it.

Shortly afterwards our crew broke up. An experienced pilot had taken an inexperienced pilot and crew on an operation and all eight people were lost. Oliver Brooks took over the experienced crew without a pilot [4]. The rear gunner and myself were transferred to 622 squadron, to fill positions on that squadron in different crews. I thought it was a pretty raw deal. I finished up in a Nissen hut – quite a difference. I joined Flt. Lt. Hargreaves’ crew. I never found out what happened to his old engineer. He was a good pilot, not the same calibre as Brooks, but he was alright. I didn’t ever feel accepted as part of the crew. We didn’t have a crew, we had a crew and a flight engineer. I always had the feeling I was the odd man out. That’s the way I felt most of the way through.

Initially I wasn’t used to doing the throttles and Hargreaves thought I was. His previous engineer had done it, but when I moved to the crew I was completely new to them and their actions were completely different to mine, so he actually took over doing the throttles. He was a little more lax than Brooks. I certainly had a little trouble with him on the first trip because he allowed smoking. I said, “If you allow smoking again, I won’t fly with you. I don’t want people smoking in an aircraft full of petrol fumes.” Being the engineer I realised the danger and I don’t

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think they did. That little contre temp on our first trip was soon sorted out because I just wouldn’t fly with him.

The two trips I did on D-Day got a lot of kudos, but they were the easiest trips I ever did. The first one to Ouisterham was a [deleted] daylight [/deleted] NIGHT and there was no cloud so we could see the target. Our attack came completely out of the blue, we ran in and did our bombing run, which was very successful. We didn’t see an aircraft fired at and nobody fired at us. We didn’t even see a fighter. We came back unscathed and when we went to briefing later that night for the next operation, a message came through saying the guns at Ouisterham had not fired a single round.

We went that night to Lisieux, a communications target, and again we didn’t see any opposition. The following morning crews got quite a hot reception, but certainly the two trips I did on D-Day were the easiest two trips anybody ever did. As far as I was concerned D-Day was a piece of cake, but I felt very sorry for the people down below. I didn’t realise if was D-Day and again I spent most of my time looking upwards and behind, to make sure I wasn’t going to be attacked by a fighter. I didn’t really see the effort, although looking back I wish I had; it was much more important to stay alive than to see what was going on beneath me.

On the Bomleger raid, 21st June 1944, we were one of only seven aircraft to drop bombs. We were in the leading Vic of seven aircraft, leading a loose gaggle of bombers and bombed before the raid was called off. The trip was aborted because of cloud cover. We couldn’t see the target and the bombing leader called the operations off, obviously because of the possibility of bombing French people.

We were bombing the V-2 storage depots at Wizernes [deleted] 2nd [/deleted] 6th. July 1944. It was a very bright moonlit night and another Lancaster formated on us, just behind, to our right and below. It suddenly blew up and in its place was an Me110. At the time we didn’t know what it was, but it was a Scrage Musik fighter with upward firing canon. He’d sneaked up on the other chap, but had to attack us conventionally. He made three attacks and we shot him down. At the time I wasn’t convinced we had shot him down because I couldn’t see what was happening directly behind. The gunner told us he had shot it down, but I was a little doubtful. Immediately a Ju88 attacked us. He made four attacks and we shot him down, though again I was doubtful. Two years ago the 622 squadron historian produced an eye witness who actually saw our gunners shoot the fighters down [5]. Even I was convinced then. We shot down two aeroplanes in about 10 minutes, that must be very close to a record. The rear gunner got an immediate award, which he very richly earned.

We corkscrewed all through the attacks; I was shattered. I don’t know why

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he didn’t shoot us down, he had all the advantages. At one stage we had just one gun firing in each turret. It was a ridiculous state of affairs; hard to believe. At the time we didn’t know we’d been hit at all. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago photographs were produced showing the bullet holes through the aircraft that occurred on that operation. Our normal aircraft was GI-L, Love, and for some reason we took GI-P, Peter on that particular trip – ours was probably unserviceable. Because we weren’t flying our own aircraft we taxied it back to its dispersal not knowing it had been damaged. Our navigator was sick and the navigation leader came as navigator. Both trips I had a hairy do we had navigation leader with us. He must have been a bit of a jinx.

We did a daylight to Nucourt, 10th July 1944, bombing a V-1 storage site. I didn’t like daylights, although they were much easier. I remember seeing the fighter escort, which was very comforting, but you could also see the flak. The flak was just puffs in the sky which didn’t do any damage because it was already gone, but it was disconcerting to see so many of them; the sky was littered with black puffs. They were there at night, of course, but you couldn’t see them. I went to bed that night and a corporal policemen came and woke me up the next morning and told me my tour was finished. I remember him saying, “Your tour’s over mate!” It was great. In a matter of days I was on my way and I went as an instructor. There were no farewell drinks with the crew.

With Brooks’ crew, four of the eight got medals on that night trip to Dusseldorf. Two got killed and two wounded. I was the odd man out, I didn’t get a medal, I didn’t get killed, I didn’t get wounded. I was the lucky one. On Hargreaves’ crew, three of the crew got medals. The pilot got a gong and the rear gunner got a gong for the Wizernes trip. All around I was surrounded by medals and death; more medals than death, luckily.

From the very word go I was quite apprehensive, to put it mildly. After a few operations I was quite frightened. In the end – when we were shot down and crashed at Woodbridge – I was petrified, quite frankly. I just kept my fingers crossed. A lot of people said it couldn’t happen to them, but I knew it could happen to us. I was very, very grateful when I finished my tour.

I was posted to a training establishment as an [sic] ground instructor. (No 3 Group Aircrew School as far as I can remember). I explained the new fuel and hydraulic systems to new crews. I did a one hour lecture a day to the various crews. Operations would always crop up and my tip to the engineers was always keep a good look-out behind and above. The business of looking down at what’s happening was fatal. You’d no control over what’s happening below, but if you’re being attacked you can do something. As I was told, “Always search the dark part

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16

of the sky.” Which I used to do, in fact. I was very happy instructing, much happier on that than I was flying operations.

After about three months I fell foul of a very junior officer who ordered me to clean his car. Here again the fact that I was very naïve showed through, because I told him in the very best swear words what to do with his car. Unfortunately for me a few days later my immediate boss (a Flt/Lt.) was killed in a flying accident and this flying officer became my temporary C.O.

His first act of revenge was to send me off as an escort to a deserter. In my absence from the unit he volunteered me for a second tour of operations. Here again my actions were all wrong. My correct action would have been to see the Officer Commanding the unit then, failing satisfaction from him, applied to see the A.O.C. This would have stopped the thing in its tracks. Being very green I argued with him and various other ranks going up – I should have started at the top.

After just a few days I found myself standing in an aircraft dispersal with a parachute and tool-box. I was introduced to a Squadron Leader pilot starting a second tour with an all volunteer crew. I can’t recall the station, but almost certainly it would have been an H.C.U. in 3 Group. At this stage I informed the pilot that I was not a volunteer. I would fly on training trips, I wasn’t prepared to go back on ops. I wanted my full entitlement of six months rest, end of story. He was very understanding, but said I was no use to him and a screen instructor was detailed to take my place on their first trip. After one roller landing the aircraft climbed to about 300 ft, turned sharply left and crashed on the airfield; literally in front of my eyes. Just one survivor, the rear gunner, was pulled from the wreckage very badly burned.

This hardened my resolve to have my full entitlement of six months rest, but, as a result of these events I was accused on being L.M.F. (Lack of Moral Fibre). There followed about ten weeks of sheer hell where I was subjected to allsorts of psychological pressure and threats. That part of my time is all a blur. I was a leper, I didn’t have any duties.

Finally I was posted to Kersley Grange where my fate was to be demotion and stripped of brevet. Here, in front of a board of three officer [sic], my case was heard for the first time (and actually listened to). Almost immediately the Squadron Leader in charge of the board agreed that my actions were fully justified. However, he pointed put that my entitlement of six months rest would expire in two weeks. What was my intention then? My reply was that, since the past three months had hardly been a rest, I would hope to get a three month extension. This response seemed to cause some confusion to the board members and I was told to leave the room.

After what seemed to be a very long tine, I was recalled. The Squadron Leader was now on his own and told me that I had failed an aircrew medical. On starting to inform him that I had not had a medical he said, “Flight Sergeant, you

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have failed and aircrew medical and you are dismissed.” Even I, naïve as I was, saw that I was being given an opportunity to solve a difficult situation and obeyed the order, “Flight Sergeant, March out.”

I re-mustered to Air Traffic Control. In the early days it was a piece of cake. I sat in a caravan at the end of the runway and my equipment consisted of a red and green Aldis lamp and a Very pistol to fire reds, greens or yellows – depending on what happened. It soon changed to having a radio fitted, so you had radio contact with the aircraft you were controlling, instead of just lamps. Then it progressed so you went on a radar course, from that course you went onto another radar course and another and finished up as either a Talk Down controller, which I liked very much indeed, or the Area Controller, which I didn’t go much on.

The first station was Valley, which was excellent. I moved from there to Colerne, near Bath. From there I went abroad to Fassberg. That was a very isolated station in Germany and you couldn’t go anywhere from Fassberg except Fassberg. Luckily it had wonderful sporting facilities. My immediate boss was a very keen golfer and we built our own course on the airfield. My mother bought me a set of golf clubs at a local sale – she paid 10 shillings for a set of 11 wooden clubs in a bag, which I thought pretty good value. From then I’ve played ever since. I’m still playing, in fact I’ve been in the local golf club for so long they’ve given me life membership. When I was in the air force I never let my membership lapse, every time I was posted abroad I sent my subscription. I’ve done very well out of my golf. I’ve enjoyed it very much indeed, it keeps me fit as well. I retired from the air force in 1978. I was a professional air traffic controller and I like to think I was pretty good.

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1 I just had one very dodgy take off. That’s when I was detailed to go on an air test with a different pilot and he lost control on take off. We actually bounced over another aircraft at one stage. He finally got airborne. We didn’t go on ops that night, it was cancelled.

2 Because we had no hydraulics the gunners’ positions couldn’t be operated, but the rear gunner remained in his turret.

3 That kept him off flying for a few weeks.

4 When Oliver Brooks’ new crew finished their tour, they all got medals although nothing had happened to them. A very sore point with me!

5 This was a man called Bernie Dye, who asked his pilot if he could join in and his pilot said, “No, let them fight it out.”

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Citation

S Mealing-Mills, “Letter and transcript of telephone inteview,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 31, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/26310.

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