Extracts from war diaries and information on aircraft crews and lists of bombing operations

BCotterJDPCotterJDPv1.pdf

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Extracts from war diaries and information on aircraft crews and lists of bombing operations

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Describes training and crewing up at operational training unit on Wellingtons. Mentions staying in London on leave with RCAF colleague, using the Canadian forces club London and dining at the Ritz. Includes diary entry describing operational baptism. Continues with coverage of training at heavy conversion unit and eventual posting to 158 Squadron. Describes first operations to Hamburg n detail as well as life at RAF Lissett. Relates story of being detailed to ferry an aircraft back from an airfield in the south of England and spending a day in London. Continues recounting other events from diary and mention that squadron lost 15 aircraft in August 1943. Mentions last operation in 1943 and getting his commission, converting to new Halifax and transfer to 640 Squadron at RAF Leconfield. Writes of life on new station and in officers mess. Comments of some of the operations flown and awards of decorations to him and his crew. Mention his last operation to Düsseldorf. Writes about his crew's tactics and dispersal of crew after finishing his tour of operations and their subsequent history. Covers history of other individuals named in the memoir. List crew operations with comments on losses. Follows a list of non-regular crew members he flew with during his tour. Concludes with account of his operation to Nuremburg including mention of aircraft lost.

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2018-08-28

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Nineteen page printed document

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IBCC Digital Archive

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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.

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BCotterJDPCotterJDPv1

Transcription

WING COMMANDER JOHN COTTER DFC

EXTRACTS FROM WAR DIARIES AND INFORMATION ON AIRCRAFT CREWS AND LISTS OF BOMBING RAIDS.

ACCOMPANYING ADDITIONS TO ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW 28th August 2018

[page break]

[underlined] A BOMBER CREW [/underlined]

I arrived at 28 Operational Training Unit, Bomber Command on 23rd February 1943.
The OTU was equipped with Wellington 1c aircraft and located at Wymeswold, near the town of Loughborough in Leicestershire. Most of the aircrew on my course were NCO's – sergeants – all the navigators were Canadian (RCAF). They also all wore the 'O' brevet which indicated that they had been trained as observers, i.e. navigators and bomb-aimers combined. But at this time the Air Force was splitting the duties of navigator and bomb-aimer and we had the new trade of bomb-aimer on our course. Initially most bomb-aimers were commissioned, as it was a new trade, and so most, if not all, the bomb aimers on our course were pilot officers.

There was a great deal of networking among the aircrew to sort themselves out into crews but I let matters take their course and eventually I was allocated a crew. So in my diary for 8th March I have put:

“At teatime in the Mess I met my navigator, a Canadian Called Andy Hicks. He seems a decent sort of chap.”

I think Andy must have been the first person crewed with me as it is not until 17th March that an air gunner, Wally Lomax, a wireless operator, Harry Reid and a bomb-aimer Norman Hawkridge, join the crew. We then started flying together – five of us. On 22nd March I was sent solo in the Wellington and the other 4 seemed quite happy with me. By 30th March we were going out in the evenings together as a crew, all except Norman, the bomb-aimer who lived in the Officers Mess. Anyway that evening we four sergeants went into Loughborough together – to the films (we saw a documentary “Desert Victory” and Alan Curtis in “Remember Pearl Harbour”).

The crew was given its first leave on Sunday 11th April and I invited Andy to come and stay at my home in North West London. Although he came from Calgary he had lost his mother in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1920 and the infant child had been brought over to Truro to be looked after by his grandmother: not returning to Canada until he was 8 years old. I think he had been down to Cornwall on a previous leave so he was glad of a break in London. My younger brother was away in the Air Force so Andy borrowed his civilian clothes for our trips into London. The leave was for 7 days and we packed a lot in during that week as the weather was superb. We met two Canadian friends of Andy who were both in the RCAF but were not aircrew. There is a photograph of the four of us at Hampton Court on a lovely sunny day – Andy and I in civilian clothes and Don and Hal in RCAF uniform. I never saw them again after that leave but Andy knew one of them in Alberta for many years after the War. One night we took my mother to dinner in London and then to the theatre to see Anton Walbrook and Diana Wynyard in “Watch on the Rhine”. We also saw Kay Hammond in 'Blithe Spirit' and a rather weak musical comedy.




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After that leave Andy made my parents' flat his home and he used to spend half his leaves in Cornwall and half with us. When we got to the Squadron in July we found that crews were sent on leave for 7 days every six weeks. So Andy and I would go to my place for 3 days, then he would go to Paddington Station to catch the “Cornish Riviera” express down to Truro for 3 days. On the 7th day we would meet back in London and travel north together, back to the Squadron. We would always take my mother out to dinner and a show on every leave. At that time there was a very famous comedian called Sid Field and we would take Mother to one of his shows whenever he was appearing in London. Sid Field's female lead was Zoe Gail who used to appear on stage dressed in top hat and tails, complete with cane, singing “I'm Going to Get Lit up when the Lights Go On in London”. There was still a blackout throughout the country. Just after the War Sid Field died and then, some 10 years later, his leading lady, Zoe Gail, was crippled in a car accident. The two of us frequented the best restaurants (such as were still open – there was not much choice). Quite often we would dine at the Ritz Hotel which we could quite afford as no restaurant in wartime was allowed to charge more than 5 shillings for a meal. Hotels, such as the Ritz, would levy a cover charge of around the meal price to stop the riff-raff getting in. The only other crew member we would meet in London on our leaves was Bill Griffiths, our mid-upper gunner. Bill lived in Luton and we used to meet him in London or sometimes go up and stay at his parents' house. His mother was a very nice, attractive lady and she used to look after us very well.

The Canadian Forces had a club in London, just off Trafalgar Square, called the Beaver Club. Andy and I used to go there frequently on our leaves. We would quite often run out of money and we would go down to the RCAF accounts headquarters in Kensington. I would wait outside while Andy went in and drew some of his deferred pay to keep us going. On every leave we would pay at least one visit to a Turkish bath. The establishment we frequented was in Northumberland Avenue, just off Trafalgar Square. There, for a few shillings, we would endure a severe pummelling from the masseurs after going through hot, cold and steam baths. This would be followed by a two or three hour snooze followed by a call with tea and hot-buttered toast. We found it a wonderful tonic for a hangover. When my brother Paul had leave at the same time he would join us on our London escapades. Fortunately he had two suits so he and Andy would share the clothes.

Our flight commander at Wymeswold was Squadron Leader Penman and he was the first proper operational veteran that most of us had met. Penman was one of the survivors of a raid, in August 1942, on Augsburg. This was the last daylight raid by Bomber Command for nearly 2 years and had resulted in very heavy losses as only 5 aircraft, from an attacking force of 12 Lancasters had returned. The raid leader, Sqn. Ldr Nettleton, was awarded the VC and Penman received the DSO.

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At operational training unit crews finished off their course by undertaking a nickel raid. A nickel raid was a simple thing really although sometimes crews did not return. One's plane was loaded with leaflets and you flew across to France, Belgium or Holland and dropped all the leaflets which, I assume, encouraged all the occupied people to keep their chins up. So a nickel was a crew's operational baptism, although a reasonably mild one. My diary for 4th and 5th May 1943 reads:

“Got up about 11. Then went up and had dinner (lunch). After that went across to the link trainer and did an hour and a half which finishes me off (completes my link trainer programme). Then met Andy and found out that we were on a nickel. I nearly fainted! Bags of briefing and panic! Took off at 2130 and reached the (southern) English coast at 2359 where we wasted about an hour flying up and down trying to find Beachy Head (our departure point). Then crossed over to France. We had to drop leaflets on Rouen and we got caught in searchlights and then flak. Was I on pins! We were holed 5 times. Landed at Cranage (an airfield in North West of England) at 0400. Had no sleep at all. Got up at 0800: that is out of the chair that I occupied in the dump that the boys at this station call a Mess. I am still full of last night. Hung around all morning until at 1230 we got permission to take off. We got back to Wymeswold at about 1400 and after depositing our kit we went to the Intelligence Officer for an interrogation. Then to the Mess to proceed to shoot a line to all the boys. I was dog-tired however so Andy and I went and had a shower and then went to bed. Boy! Our first operation over – the 5 of us are walking around like fairies”.

At this stage our mid-upper gunner (Bill Griffiths) and our flight engineer (Mickey Rooney) had yet to join the crew. Bill Griffiths in fact joined us the next day, 6th May, and flew with us for the first time in place of Wally Lomax. On the Wellington we only had one gunner's turret – the rear – whereas we were obviously destined for Lancasters, Halifaxes or Stirlings all of which had positions for two gunners: a mid-upper and a rear gunner. When we arrived at this OTU we were told it normally supplied the Lancaster bomber squadrons.

On the 14th May 1943 we passed out, as a crew, from 28 OTU Wymeswold and we were off on 14 days leave. My diary stops at this time not to be resumed until September and then only for a short time. Anyway Andy came home with me for half the leave and spent the other half in Cornwall. We were posted to 1652 Heavy Conversion Unit at Marston Moor, just outside York. HCU's served to convert crews on to the heavy bombers to be flown on operations and when you passed the HCU course you went straight to your squadron. Marston Moor had been the site of a famous battle. On 2nd July 1644 the Royalist forces of King Charles I had suffered their first major defeat there and, consequently, lost control of York and so the North of England.

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1652 HCU was one of three HCU's to feed 4 Group so we were not going on Lancasters but Halifaxes. No 4 Group was one of the two bomber groups stationed in Yorkshire – the other was 6 Group, the Canadian group. The Canadian stations were north of York and 4 Group was south and to the east. 6 Group was run by the RCAF but there were Australians, New Zealanders and British serving in the Group. 4 Group was RAF but many Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and one or two Americans were among our crews.

I was delayed getting to Marston Moor as I was sick at the end of my leave in London so Andy took charge of the crew. And accounts refused to pay them. Andy then went to the Station Warrant Officer to say the crew had no money and was owed 3 weeks pay but he got short thrift from this gnarled old pre-war NCO who probably thought these pip-squeak young sergeant aircrew were a damned nuisance. Just as Andy was protesting the Commanding Officer's door opened and out came the CO – Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, later a VC. He asked Andy the trouble, then turned to the SWO “See that these men are paid at once”. “Yes Sir!” said the SWO standing to attention. Cheshire at that time was 27 and a renowned bomber ace. He had been sent on a public relations tour of the United States and had come back to England with an American bride. This was Constance Binney who was 17 years older than Cheshire and a well-know Broadway actress. Some of the crew, I think Harry, Wally and Bill, were hitch-hiking back from York one day and they were picked up by Miss Binney whom they described as a very fragrant lady.

When I arrived at Marston Moor the crew introduced me to Mickey Rooney our flight engineer who was just joining us and now the crew was complete. I only had two instructors converting me to the Halifax: Sqn. Ldr Hadyn RAAF and Flt Lt Fisher, both very good. Shortly after we started flying the Halifax all the pilots were loaded into a 15cwt truck and driven east across Yorkshire. We were all going on a real operation that night, flying as second pilots. There were about six of us and one of us was dropped off each at a separate squadron base. Eventually I was the only one left on the truck and I was driven to the most easterly airfield – Lisset the home of 158 Squadron. The raid was to Cologne and I was put with Sgt ‘Bluey’ Mottershead and his crew. I had nothing to do, of course, but to sit in the right-hand seat and watch. Thank goodness our flight was uneventful: the weather was clear, the city was on fire long before we reached it and we did not come across any fighters. But Bomber Command lost 27 aircraft that night with 156 aircrew killed. When we turned for home after bombing I was so exhausted with the tension that I started to fall asleep. Bluey told me to go back and sleep on the rest bed and the next thing I knew was when the wheels touched the runway back at Lisset. Returning westwards in the 15cwt I was eventually joined by the others: we had all come through!

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Towards the end of July the course finished and my crew was posted to 158 Squadron where I had just been. Lisset is near the East Yorkshire coast and just south of the seaside resort of Bridlington. We travelled across to Lisset on Thursday 22nd July in another 15cwt truck to start our operational career and it was a nice sunny summer day. I recall we stopped and bought strawberries at a wayside stall on the way over. It was fairly late when we arrived at the Squadron base – I think about 2230. In those days the blackout and the absence of all road signs throughout Britain made road journeys rather long and tedious. Norman went off to the officers’ quarters and we six sergeants were allocated a Nissan hut as our very own. I think all six of us then drifted along to the Mess in search of something to eat. It was quite a sight when we reached it as there had just been a dance. Various chaps were occupying all the mess settees, accompanied by Waafs (Womens Auxiliary Airforce) with greatcoats covering their antics. The floor of the anteroom was covered in debris: cigarettes, glasses and beer spillages. At the far end of the long room a combined snooker and crap game seemed to be in progress with about 20 participants dominated by a tall, blonde flight sergeant dressed in the dark blue of the Australian Air Force. Six weeks later, after the Squadron Commander and one of the 3 Flight Commanders had been lost, that Australian had jumped 5 ranks to Squadron Leader and was our Flight Commander; remaining so nearly until the end of our tour.
Friday 23rd July was spent settling in and flying one of the Squadron aircraft for about 4 hours on a handling flight. Then, the next day, we were off on our first trip for the start of what became known as the Battle of Hamburg. This was the first of 4 successive attacks on the City in 9 days. This operation was notable for a new defensive device carried by the bombers called “Window”. Window consisted of small metallic strips of foil that were thrown out of each aircraft as it approached the target area. Harry, the wireless operator, had the job of throwing out the window strips, thousands came from each of the Wellingtons, Stirlings, Halifaxes and Lancasters taking part in this operation. Window confused the German ground and airborne radar and so we only lost about 12 aircraft that night, including one from our squadron.

We took off around 2200 and Andy expertly navigated us to Hamburg, although once we were within 50 miles of the City the fires on the ground indicated the target. I was the only one of the crew to cause a problem that night on our first proper operation. As we were running in over the target Norman found the bomb release did not work. After we had passed over the City with the bombs still on board Mickey, the engineer, came up to the cockpit to see what was wrong. I had pushed the bomb door lever down instead of pulling it up to open the doors. By now we were well to the north east of Hamburg and heading towards Lubeck. Instead of turning straight for home and safety we turned and completed a large circuit round the burning city and some half hour later we were on our second bombing run and this time I operated the lever correctly. When we bombed everyone else had finished and long since cleared the area. We should have been a

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sitting duck for the night fighters but all those metallic strips floating in the air must have protected us. We took part in all four raids to Hamburg, although we aborted one operation when we turned back with engine trouble.

Lisset was a typical airfield built during the War with accommodation in well-dispersed Nissan huts. We 6 sergeants were in our own hut some half mile from the Sergeants Mess. The hut was heated by a coke-burning stove and was not too comfortable. We were saved by meeting Company Sergeant-Major Albert Hawkins. CSM Hawkins, known to all as 'Q', was in the Tank Corps and he was in charge of an Army sergeants mess located in a very nice house on the seafront in Bridlington. He persuaded his Mess to adopt our crew and from then on we lived and messed with the Army. Q provided us with transport whenever we were needed at the airfield but most of the time we were in Bridlington. By Christmas Day 1943 both Andy and I, as well as Norman, were commissioned but we spent the day with the Army serving Xmas dinners to all the squaddies.

When we arrived on 158 the Squadron was commanded by Wg. Cdr T.R. Hope, DFC. He was a big, bluff, likeable officer : a pre-war civil pilot. But we hardly knew him as some 3 weeks after our arrival he failed to return from a trip to Nuremburg. And, after another 3 weeks Sqn. Ldr Elliott, one of the flight commanders, also failed to return. The new squadron commander was the highly decorated Wg.Cdr. Jock Calder, DSO, DFC.

The station commander was Group Captain John Whitley, DSO. He had been shot down earlier in the War, evaded, and walked across the Pyrenees to Spain and freedom. He used to regale us with the story of the powerful American footballer in his evading party who had collapsed crossing the mountains – [underlined] because he was not fit [/underlined]. To this end he would have us running around the perimeter track on the occasional non-operational day. Fortunately our crew missed most of these exercises as we were probably lurking with the Army in Bridlington.

One crew who had been with us both at Wymeswoold and at Marston Moor had also arrived at 158. This was Sgt Doug Robinson and crew. Our favourite watering hole in Bridlington was the Brunswick and one night our two crews were there together. Doug's navigator was a Canadian, Dave Rosenthal, and he happened to say to me that if he was shot down he would not stand much chance as he was Jewish. It was the first time I began to think about what was happening to the Jews of Europe and then some weeks later Doug and crew failed to come back from Berlin.

By October 1943 our crew had completed 13 operations. I had now been promoted to flight sergeant and very pleased I was: my pay had gone from 12/6 to 16/6d a day. In the middle of that month David Leicester, our flight commander, asked us to travel to an

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airfield in the South of England to ferry back an aircraft that had been repaired. We jumped at the chance as this meant a night in London on the way down. My diary again:

“Up at 0830 (in the Army sergeants mess in Bridlington). The weather rotten but we had to go back to camp. Leicester asked me to take the crew down and collect a kite from Middle Wallop. We had to go by train from Hull. Norman went home to Leeds but the rest of the boys came with me. We had to stand in the train all the way from Doncaster to London. Got to London at 1930 and went along to the Regent Palace hotel and booked two double rooms. Bill and I had one room and we smuggled Wally into it and Andy and Harry got Mickey into their room.”

The point of this is that, in those days, a single room in the Regent Palace was 12/6d and a double was 19/6d, so we saved ourselves a few pennies. We slept three to a bed in the two rooms and in the middle of the night the air raid sirens went off. I don't know about Andy's room but in our room there was panic with all three of us trying to dive under the bed. Although my diary does not say as much, I have no doubt that our nerves were brittle because we had been out on the town that night and we probably all were a little smashed. My diary for the following day, Monday 18th October 1943, reads:

“Caught a bus for Andover at 0900 and we had to stand all the way for the two hour journey. At Andover had to find another bus to get us to Middle Wallop which turned out to be a night fighter base. After a lunch and messing about all afternoon found we could not take off. So we all had tea and went down to Andover to the movies. Saw Lana Turner in 'Slightly Dangerous'. Harry and I missed the last bus back to camp and we had to stay in the White Hart Hotel for the night which cost me 12/6d, all the money I had.”

What Harry Reid and I were doing to miss the bus I have forgotten but I expect we were up to no good!!

Diary for the 19th October :

“Harry and I caught the 0825 bus to Middle Wallop and heard that we could take off straight away. Got back to Lisset at 1200 to learn we were on ops. So had dinner and went up to the billet (spelt 'billett' throughout my diaries) to get changed. Wally reported sick so we were given a spare gunner. Got briefed and the target was Augsburg. Had ops meal and then went to locker room. Norman had not turned up but luckily the op was scrubbed. Met Norman on the way to Q's (CSM Hawkins our Army friend in Bridlington) So he came down with us. He had only just got back from Leeds.”

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Another diary entry is for Saturday 30th October 1943. This must have been one of the rare nights the crew slept at the RAF base rather than with the Army in Bridlington:

“Got up at 0610, washed, dressed and had breakfast. Went down to the flights at 0900. Once again there were ops on so went out (to the aircraft) to do my D.I. (inspection). After that went up to the billet and got changed into battledress (obviously when we got up that morning we had dressed in our walking-out uniform expecting to Saturday off and a trip into Bridlington). Then had lunch and went down with Andy to navigation briefing. Once again target was Leverkusen. Went to main briefing at 1400 and then had lunch. Take off was 1630 so we went out to the kite and we were all ready when it was scrubbed. So Any, Wally and I stayed in and lit a fire. Later Andy and I went down to The Bull for a drink. It was more like a brothel than a pub”.

It looks, from the above that we had two lunches that day. In fact the second lunch would have been our take-off meal. Our crew, of course, very rarely used the local pubs in Lisset. The Bull, which I do not remember, must have been packed that Saturday night with Waafs and aircrew.

August 1943 was a bad month for the Squadron with 15 aircraft lost, 9 of these on two raids to Berlin (or the 'Big City' as it was known to the crews). It was an intensive month for Bomber Command with the last of the raids to Hamburg at the start, followed by the attack on the rocket installations at Peenemunde and rounding off with the first Berlin offensive to close. On a beautiful summer evening on 2nd August we were briefed for the 4th successive attack on Hamburg to the announcement that only the brothel and residential areas had not been destroyed and they were our target. Most of us gave a cheer at this news.

I think it is fair to say that most of our crew thoroughly enjoyed squadron life. In wartime Britain operational aircrew lived very well and, provided one could cope with the constant danger, it was a life of Riley. Consider:

Before every operation crews were given a super meal consisting of cholesterol building agents – eggs, bacon, chips etc.

On return from an operation we were greeted in the debriefing room by Waafs with mugs of coffee liberally laced with navy rum. And if you smiled sweetly at the Waafs you might get a second mug at the end of the debriefing.

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If successful in getting the second helping of rum you then tottered out of the briefing room to another meal of eggs, bacon, chips and increased cholesterol.

7 days leave came round ever 6 weeks.

At a time when petrol for pleasure motoring was banned aircrew were an exception as we were allowed enough petrol to run our cars and motor bikes.

Lord Nuffield, the motor magnate, sponsored a scheme whereby aircrew could stay at many of the best hotels in the country at a 50% discount.

In October Andy Hicks was commissioned and my own commission came through a few weeks later. Our final operation for 1943 was an attack on Leipzig on 3rd December (my diary stops in October so I now rely on memory.) Christmas was spent with our Army friends in Bridlington and we were only involved in training flying until the end of the year. Part of this training was to convert to a new Halifax, the Mark 3, which had better engines and an improved performance. 158 squadron consisted of 3 flights and our crew in C Flight was commended by the aforementioned Squadron Leader David Leicester, the blonde Australian flight sergeant we had noticed on our arrival at Lisset the previous July.

At the beginning of 1944 C Flight, together with our new Halifaxes, left 158 Squadron to become A Flight of a new Squadron – 640 – based at Leconfield. We left behind the temporary, wartime airfield at Lisset, with its Nissan huts and winter warmth provided by coke stoves and moved to a pre-war permanent station with brick buildings and central heating. Leconfield is about 30 miles from Lisset near the ancient market town of Beverley with its 10th century minster. At the time of the move our crew was on leave, with Andy and I down in London with my mother. I think we had also spent a night or two of that leave with Bill Griffiths and his parents at Luton, 35 miles north west of London. We came back to our new base, with its creature comforts, where Andy, Norman and I took up residence in one of the pre-war married officers quarters. We had, at this stage, completed 20 operations – more than halfway through our assumed tour of 30. We had to say goodbye to our good friends in the Tank Corps at Bridlington and settle into a new social life centred on Beverley and the North Sea fishing port of Hull a little further away.

Possibly our social life was now more focused on the Officers Mess where there was a lot of activity. Whereas 158 had been the only squadron at Lisset our new base was home to two squadrons: 640 with crew members from the RAF, the RCAF, the RAAF and the RNZAF and even one USAAF officer; and 466 an RAAF squadron with mainly Australian aircrew but a few British, Canadians and New Zealanders thrown in. Our


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station commander was Group Captain Waterhouse who had been one of the 3 officers sent over to Canada in August 1939 to help start the Empire Air Training Scheme. He had come back home with a lovely Canadian wife who lived on base. Our squadron commander was Wing Commander 'Ruby' Eayrs who had returned from a posting in Australia. With 2 squadrons on the base there was a great deal of rivalry that used to culminate in Mess games on non-flying nights.

Our time with 640 included the second Berlin offensive in February, that also included an attack on Leipzig, and the notorious Nuremberg raid at the end of March when the Command suffered very heavy losses. In early March I was called in to see Ruby Eayrs and questioned about my tour up until then. Some two weeks later I had finished a comfortable lunch and was fast asleep in one of the deep mess armchairs when I was woken by Alan Smart. I had just been awarded an immediate DFC, the first decoration to be awarded on our new squadron. A little later I was called once more to see the squadron commander, to be told that my crew had been awarded a further three decorations and I had to recommend the recipients. This was an extremely hard task but I eventually put forward Andy Hicks, Mickey Rooney and Bill Griffiths. So Andy received the DFC and Mickey and Bill the DFM. In truth all the crew had earned these decorations.

Our crew completed 13 trips at Leconfield, finishing with an operation to Düsseldorf on 22nd April. As it was the period just before D-day we completed slightly more operations than the normal 30, our extra sorties being attacks on French targets – mainly rail junctions. Norman Hawkridge, our bomb-aimer , had left us the previous month when he had been sent on a bombing leader's course. This is why Norman does not appear in the crew photograph, taken that April outside the house at Leconfield where Andy and I lived.

The sad thing about that last operation was that two crews were on their final sortie that night. Colin Penfold, a New Zealander, and his crew had joined 158 Squadron at the same time as us and had moved with us to 640. They were lost over Düsseldorf with all the crew killed except the second pilot who managed to bail out just in time.

Looking back there is no doubt that we were blessed with good fortune during our squadron life. We had no serious combats with German fighters and although occasionally coned in searchlights we had always broken free. Colleagues, such as lan Smart had fought off night fighter attacks and sustained severe aircraft damage whereas we were very lucky. We would fly towards or away from the target watching others of our bombers being shot down either side of us.

Quite early on in our tour we had adopted our own tactics which may have helped. A Bomber Command operation in 1943 and early 1944 would usually consist of about six

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waves following the pathfinders who would be in the lead. Waves would be allocated a specific time and height over the target, they would be separated by around 10 minutes and would have a bombing window of about 5 minutes.

After take off aircraft would climb to bombing height and set course from an assembly point: Goole for the northern bomber groups if flying east, or Reading if going south east. Bombing height was around 22000 feet for the Halifax 3 and crews were briefed to fly out at that altitude. However, we usually flew much lower, at about 8000 feet, on the premise that the German aircraft would sooner hunt in the main stream above us than try to pick off the odd single aircraft. Some ten minutes before the target we would climb up to the correct height, bomb and descend when well clear of the area.

Just before our final trip we attended a briefing by an intelligence officer from Command who told us that only three large German cities remained free from attack: Chemnitz, Breslau and Dresden and that all would be bombed eventually. And during the War I never heard anyone, service or civilian, object to the policy of saturation bombing. We all admired our Commander in Chief. He was known to the bomber crews as Butch Harris, not Bomber Harris.

Our crew was now dispersed: I was sent to Scotland to a training unit and Andy went to a similar station in the West Country. But we arranged our leaves to coincide so that Andy spent half of each leave in North London with us and the other half in Truro. When news came through that my brother had been killed at Boundary Bay in Canada I was in the North of Scotland but Andy went to my home immediately to help my mother handle the shock.

In September 1944 I had to attend an investiture for the award of my DFC and, as I was serving in Scotland, the ceremony took place at Holyrood House in Edinburgh while the King was in residence there. I was allowed to invite two guests and Andy brought my mother up from London.

Our last meeting, before Andy returned to Canada, was on 2nd July 1945 when he was best man at my wedding. Bill Griffiths was the only other crew member to attend that day. Andy had been due to return home earlier in the year but he delayed for the wedding. On our wedding night Margaret and I were staying at a London hotel after leaving the reception. When we went out to eat later that evening we found that Andy, together with another guest, Lois Hammerbeck, had come to the West End and tracked us down to the restaurant where they joined us.

After the War the crew went their separate ways:

[underlined] John Cotter [/underlined] remained in the RAF until 1962. He then flew with an airline until finally retiring in 1983. He now lives in Brighton.


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[underlined] Andy (Vic) Hicks [/underlined] returned to Canada and worked in accountancy and the hotel industry. He eventually retired to Calgary where he died in 1997.
[underlined]Norman Hawkridge [/underlined] worked in banking and insurance before retiring to Cumbria. Norman died on 20th May 2005.
[underlined]Harry Reid [/underlined] was demobilized in Rhodesia where he was stationed. He worked on the railways but he and his family returned to the UK in 1961. Harry died in 1998.
[underlined]Mickey Rooney [/underlined] stayed in the RAF and was commissioned. He was killed in an aircraft accident c1950.
[underlined]Bill Griffiths [/underlined] emigrated to Australia in 1961. After some years of ill-health Bill died in 2003.
[underlined]Wally Lomax [/underlined] returned to Lancashire and died in 2001.

Other personalities mentioned:

Sqn. Ldr. Penman DSO, DFC remained in the RAF after the War. He died in 2004.

[underlined] David Leicester DFC* [/underlined] completed his tour 3 weeks before I did. He went straight to a Lancaster conversion unit and then to a pathfinder squadron – No. 35. After completing 68 operations, without a break, he returned to Australia in January 1945. On applying to Qantas he was found to be unfit for civil flying and he left aviation. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.

[underlined] Wg. Cdr. T. Hope DFC [/underlined] was shot down over Belgium on a raid to Nuremburg. Only 3 crew members survived to be taken prisoner: Hope, his flight engineer and mid-upper gunner. After the War Hope resumed his civil flying career as Chief Pilot with Scottish Aviation.

[underlined] Sqn. Ldr. Neil Elliott [/underlined] was shot down on a raid to Berlin on a night when the Squadron losses were 20%. His 2 gunners were lost and the rest of the crew became prisoners. Neil Elliott stayed in the RAF and when I went through Staff College in 1958 he was on the directing staff. He died of a heart attack in the 1960’s.

[underlined] Wg. Cdr. Jock Calder DSO*, DFC [/underlined] completed his second tour as CO of 158. In 1958 he was on the same course as me at Staff College. He died in 1997.

[underlined] Gp. Cpt. John Whitley DSO [/underlined] retired from the RAF in 1962 as an Air Marshal. I met him several times after the War. A very nice man.

[underlined] Gp. Cpt. Leonard Cheshire VC, DSO** DFC [/underlined] became a legend in Bomber Command and received the VC. After the War he founded the Cheshire Homes. He was the Principal Speaker at the first 4 Group Dinner I attended in 1992. He died a few years later.

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[underlined] Douglas Robinson. [/underlined] Just after the War I was a flying instructor at Moreton-in-Marsh and we were refreshing returned ex-pow pilots. Low and behold Doug Robinson appeared on the course and later, when he worked in teaching, he would bring cadets to the RAF for annual camps and we met a couple of times. He published a book in 1997 from which I found that Doug had had a very tough war – in sharp contrast to my own lucky run. On returning from training in South Africa his boat was torpedoed off the West African coast and Doug spent 8 days in an open boat. Midway through his tour his crew was about to go on leave when they were called out for an attack on Berlin. His aircraft was badly damaged by flak and the crew had to bale out over Holland. The flight engineer’s parachute had been destroyed so Doug stayed with the engineer and crash-landed the aircraft in a field. If anyone deserved a gallantry medal he did, but he did not get one. And he did not have a very pleasant time in prison camp.

[underlined] Dave Rosenthal. [/underlined] After prison camp Dave returned to Canada and I met him again at a 158 reunion in the ‘90’s.

[underlined] ‘Bluey’ Mottershead. [/underlined] ‘Bluey’ completed his tour and was awarded the DFC. After the War he formed the 158 Association and ran the squadron reunions for many years.

[underlined] Alan Smart DFC [/underlined] Alan completed his tour and after the War returned to commerce in the Hull area. Alan died on 3rd October 2002.

[underlined] ‘Ruby’ Eayrs DFC. [/underlined] Retired from the RAF as a Group Captain. He merited a long obituary in the Telegraph when he died in 1992.

[underlined] Crew Operations: [/underlined]

1. 28 OTU 4/5/43 Rouen - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Lomax

2. 158 Sqn 28/6/43 Cologne – Cotter (2nd pilot with another crew)

3. 158 Sqn 24/7/43 Hamburg – Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/ Reid/Rooney/ Griffiths/Lomax Log book records – Fighters none seen, Flak negligible, Weather good, Large fires, Bomb Load 1 x 2000 lb. 12 Aircraft lost. Landed Eastmoor short of fuel.

4. 158 Sqn 29/7/43 Hamburg – Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax Flack negligible, Heavy concentrations of searchlights, Weather clear over target, Large fires south of City. 30 aircraft lost.




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5. 158 Sqn. 2/8/43 Hamburg – Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. 10/10 cloud over target, Heavy thunderclouds up to 20000 feet, AA barrage, No fighters seen, Fires scattered over target area, Bombed heaviest concentration, Bomb load – 2x1000 48x30 630x4lb 31 aircraft lost

6. 158 Sqn. 9/8/43 Mannheim - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. More than half cloud over target, Fighter encountered over Boulogne, Landed Barford St John fuel short, 16 aircraft lost

7. 158 Sqn. 17/8/43 Peenemunde - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Weather clear, Smoke screen over target, Bright Moon, Flak negligible, Searchlights nil, No combats seen, Bombed @ 0013 – 1x2000 1x1000 6x500lb, Landed Wymeswold, 41 aircraft lost

8. 158 Sqn. 22/8/43 Leverkusen - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Full cloud over target, AA barrage, 2 fighters & 1 combat seen over target. No pathfinder markers seen, 5 aircraft lost.

9. 158 Sqn. 16/9/43 Modane Italy - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Ran into heavy cloud 30 minutes from target. Forced to turn back owing to severe icing over Alps. 5 aircraft lost.

10. 158 Sqn. 22/9/43 Hannover - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Large concentrations of searchlights ringed round target. Flak heavy in cones, 5 British aircraft seen going down over target, weather good, large fires. 31 aircraft missing.

11. 158 Sqn. 23/9/43 Mannheim - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Searchlights heavy, flak cooperating with them, many fighters over target, heavy fires seen, weather good, 2 engines cut on landing approach, fuel short. 37 aircraft missing.

12. 158 Sqn. 27/9/43 Hannover - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Good weather, searchlights and fighters cooperating effectively over target, 38 aircraft missing, landed at Downham Market.

13. 158 Sqn. 29/9/43 Bochum – Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax/plus Sgt Cipriani as 2nd pilot. Good visibility over target, heavy concentrations of searchlights, little flak, no fighters seen, heavy fires in target area, 8 aircraft missing.

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14. 158 Sqn. 3/10/43 Kassel - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Weather clear, defences weak over target, attack well concentrated, 24 aircraft missing.

15. 158 Sqn. 4/10/43 Frankfurt - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Cloudy over continent, target clear, large numbers of searchlights surrounding target, successful prang, 12 aircraft missing.

16. 158 Sqn. 23/10/43 Kassel - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax plus Flt Sgt Vicary as 2nd pilot. Flying in cloud most of way but target clear, defences moderate, no combats seen, landed Catfoss, 44 aircraft missing.

17. 158 Sqn. 3/11/43 Dusseldorf - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax plus Flt Sgt Edwards as 2nd pilot. Full cloud en route but target clear, no flak, searchlights weak owing to ground mist, many combats sighted, fires well concentrated, 19 aircraft missing.

18. 158 Sqn. 22/11/43 Berlin - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax plus Sqn. Ldr. McCormack as 2nd pilot. Full cloud below us over whole of Germany, heavy flak at defended areas along the route, especially Hannover, bombed on Wanganui flares, 26 aircraft missing.

19. 158 Sqn. 25/11/43 Frankfurt - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Full cloud over target, flak nil, no fighters seen, fires rather scattered, 13 aircraft missing.

20. 158 Sqn. 26/11/43 Stuttgart - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax plus F/O Thompson supernumerary. Heavy searchlight defences over Frankfurt, many combats sighted, also combats over Frankfurt, heavy flak over target, flak damage sustained over Saarbruken, landed Tangmere, 32 aircraft missing. (Flying Officer Thompson was a schoolmaster and officer in the Air Training Corps and he had a gammy leg due to a World War I wound. The crew thought he was pretty brave to come on an operation like this as a volunteer).

21. 158 Sqn. 3/12/43 Leipzig - Cotter/Hicks/Portsmouth/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax plus Sgt Wisbey as 2nd pilot. Many combats sighted en route out, full cloud over target, accurate flak over Dessau, 24 aircraft missing.

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22. 640 Sqn 30/1/44 Berlin – Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Wong/Salvoni/Lomax. Full cloud over target and all Europe, many rockets seen over target but no combats, number 5 and 6 tanks froze up, (water in fuel) landed Little Snoring, have lost 247 gallons, 33 aircraft missing.

23. 640 Sqn 15/2/44 Berlin – Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax plus F/O Cameron as 2nd pilot. Full cloud over target, bombed on Wanganui flares, no combats, flak ineffective, very quiet for Berlin, bomb load all incendiaries, 43 aircraft missing.

24. 640 Sqn 19/2/44 Leipzig - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax plus Flt Sgt Burke as 2nd pilot. Full cloud over target, ran into heavy searchlight at Emden, missed markers and hit Berlin, many combats seen, 79 aircraft missing.

25. 640 Sqn 20/2/44 Stuttgart – Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Stilliard. Moderate cloud over target, fires well concentrated, flak moderate, quiet trip, 10 aircraft missing.

26. 640 Sqn 24/2/44 Schweinfurt - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax plus Lt Kornegay USAAF as 2nd pilot. Clear over target, fires well concentrated, flak heavy, searchlights weak, combats seen en route, 35 aircraft missing.

27. 640 Sqn 6/3/44 Trappes – Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. No opposition at all, Bombed railway lines with 12,000lbs HE, aiming point photograph.

28. 640 Sqn 7/3/44 Le Mans – Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. A little heavy flak over target, bombed railways through heavy cloud cover, bomb load 11,500lbs.

29. 640 Sqn 15/3/44 Stuttgart – Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Austen plus Flt Lt Cassells as 2nd pilot. Much cloud en route, heavy opposition from fighters, landed at Westcot, 40 aircraft missing.

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30. 640 Sqn Nuremberg – Cotter/Gray/Sproulle/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Half cloud cover en route, fighter opposition heavy in extremes, opposition fierce over target, coned at Calais on home route, 96 aircraft missing. *See note.

31. 640 Sqn Paris – Cotter/Hicks/Sproulle/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Full moon, attacked marshalling yard at Villeneuve, souther suburbs, flak moderate, 11 aircraft missing.

32. 640 Sqn Tergnier – Cotter/Hicks/Broadbent/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Full moon, clear over target, no fighters seen, rocket flak bursting at 12,000ft on route out. 22Aircraft missing.

33. 640 Sqn Tergnier - Cotter/Hicks/Broadbent/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax. Marshalling yards bombed, aiming point on photo, rockets seen in bomber stream, 14 aircraft missing.

34. 640 Sqn Dusseldorf - Cotter/Hicks/Sproulle/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax plus P/O Maxwell as 2 nd pilot. Searchlights numerous but no flak, no combats, weather good, 42 aircraft lost.

[underlined] Aborted Operations [/underlined]

1. 27/7/43 Hamburg - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax
Turned back before enemy coast with one engine surging badly.
2. 24/8/43 Berlin - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax
Turned back before enemy coast with rear gunner's oxygen supply unserviceable.

3. 8/10/43 Hannover - Cotter/Hicks/Hawkridge/Reid/Rooney/Griffiths/Lomax
An engine failed just after take-off

The second pilots shown above were new arrivals on the Squadron and the procedure was they were sent out on one trip with an experienced crew before operating on their own. Also, a number of other crew members flew with me during the tour and all non-regular crew members are shown below:

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Sgt Cipriani RAF - Later killed in action 22/10/43
F/Sgt Vicary RAAF – Later bailed out over UK 16/2/44 and left the Squadron
F/Sgt Bush RAAF – Shot down, POW 31/3/44
P/O Portsmouth RAF – Completed tour
F/Sgt Edwards RAAF – Later killed in action 20/12/43
S/Ldr McCormack RAAF – Shot Down, POW, 29/1/44
F/O Thompson ATC – Schoolmaster
Sgt Wisbey RAF – Killed in action 28/6/44
Sgt Wong RAF – Completed tour
F/O Salvoni RAF – Killed in action
F/O Cameron RCAF Killed in action 17/6/44
F/Sgt Burke RCAF – Killed in action 31/3/44
Sgt Stilliard RAF – Killed in action 31/3/44
Lt Kornegay USAAF - Completed tour
F/Lt Cassels RAF – Completed tour
F/O Austen RAF – Shot down, POW, 31/3/44
W/O Gray RCAF – Completed tour
F/Lt Sproulle RAF – Completed tour
F/Sgt Broadbent RAF - Completed tour
P/O Maxwell – Not known

[underlined] Note. Nuremburg. [/underlined] Once again we had a trip without running into any opposition. Norman had gone off on his bombing leaders' course so Tommy Sproulle, the Squadron Bombing Leader, came with us. Andy was also away and was replaced by a Canadian navigator on his first trip. It was a moonlight night and all the way out and back we saw combats to the east of us with our aircraft invariable going down in flames. Because I had the Bombing Leader on board I flew at the briefed operating height, mixed in with the stream. Shortly before we reached the final turning point for Nuremburg the navigator was unsure of his position. Then I saw target indicators going down ahead and told the crew that I had Nuremburg in sight, even though we were some 15 minutes ahead of ETA. Tommy bombed on the markers and we set course for home for a personally uneventful return. Then as we flew north over Lincolnshire all the airfield lights were out and at Leconfield the Drem flarepath had to be turned on for us. We were 30 minutes ahead of ETA because we had bombed Schweinfurt instead of Nuremburg. Our squadron lost 3 aircraft with 18 killed. All the Captains were RCAF including Jim Laidlaw, married the month before, and F/Sgt Burke who had flown with me only a few weeks earlier. In total the Command had 545 men killed.

JDC/Revision 2/Jun 05

Citation

J D Cotter, “Extracts from war diaries and information on aircraft crews and lists of bombing operations,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 16, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/31388.

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