Time out for war

BWittyARWittyARv1.pdf

Title

Time out for war

Description

History of wartime experiences of Ronald Witty. Starts with schooling and early employment just before the war in Hull. Mentions German bombing of Hull and volunteering for the RAF. Describes training in London and Torquay before departing on a troop ship for South Africa. Describes navigator training and activities at Woodbrook and Queenstown. Continues with trip back to England and continuation of training at RAF Halfpenny Green, Desborough (Northamptonshire), RAF Chedburgh, and RAF Hemswell. Goes on to describe his operational tour on 12 Squadron at RAF Wickenby including accounts of some operations including some daylight operations during the Normandy campaign and against flying bomb sites as well as mine laying. Tour culminates with award of Distinguished Flying Cross. Concludes with account of subsequent tours as an instructor at RAF Lindholme and other stations and including account of flying on Cook's tour of German cities. Adds chapters about his Lancaster ME758 PH-N "Nan" as well as another on GEE, A.P.I and H2S. Contains many b/w photographs of RAF personnel and aircraft.

Creator

Language

Format

100 page printed book

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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.

Identifier

BWittyARWittyARv1

Transcription

TIME OUT FOR WAR
[black and white sketch of Avro Lancaster bomber]
A factual account of war-time experiences
By Flight Lieutenant Ronald Witty D.F.C., B.Sc., A.R.I.C.

[page break]

TIME OUT FOR WAR
A factual account of war-time experiences
By Flight Lieutenant Ronald Witty D.F.C., B.Sc., A.R.I.C.

[page break]

[underlined]Author’s Foreword[/underlined]
At the insistence of my family, who are somewhat in the dark as regards what I got up to during World War Two, I have compiled the following account.
My memory of the wartime years still remains very clear, helped by some brief notes in diaries, my log book, some letters and, importantly, the navigational logs and charts of all thirty bombing operations in which I took part in 1944. Using them I could still tell you where our Lancaster crew was, within two or three miles, at anytime during those operations of more than fifty years ago.
[underlined]Acknowledgements[/underlined]
Many thanks to my wife Yvonne and my family for their various contributions in getting the raw material organised, and to Mike Fong for his help with the photographs.

[page break]
[underlined] CONTENTS [/underlined]

[underlined] Chapter. [/underlined] [underlined] Page No. [/underlined]

1. Decisions 5

2. The Stirling Castle 15

3. South Africa 21

4. Back to England 33

5. Operations 1 - 20 43

6. Operations 21 - 30 55

7. Instructing “ferry trips” & crewing up for second tour. 69

8. Lancaster ME 758 PH-N “Nan” 81

9. GEE, A.P.I. and H2S 85

10. The German Defences 87

11. Reflections on Survival 89

12. Postscript 93

Bibliography 97

Glossary of Terms 99

1

[page break]

[blank page]

[page break]

[underlined] PHOTOGRAPHS [/underlined]

Following [underlined] Page No. [/underlined]

[underlined] East London, 1943 [/underlined] 32
Left to Right - Fred Rolph, Author, Dorita, ? Parker (uncertain)

[underlined] ‘B’ Flight, Air Navigation Course No. 12 at 41 Air School, Collondale, East London [/underlined] 32
Left to Right - Bond, Chippendale, Cox, Osborne, Jones, Sadler, Author, Hill, Woodland, Wilson, Marshall, Albans

[underlined] Ops Crew, 1944 [/underlined] 54
[italics] Mid Upper [/italics] - Stan Swain, [italics] Bomb Aimer [/italics] - Tom Crook, [italics] Navigator [/italics - Author, [italics] Pilot [/italics] - Fred Holbrook, [/italics] Rear Gunner [/italics] - Tom Tibb, [italics] Flight Engineer [/italics] - John Squires, [italics] Wireless Operator [/italics] - Jock Poyner

[underlined] Ops Crew and PH-N (‘Nan’) [/underlined] 54
Poyner, Tibb, Author, Swain, Crook, Holbrook, Squires

[underlined] The Author and PH-N [/underlined] 54

[underlined] Second Tour Crew, May 1945 [/underlined] 80
Two Gunners, [italics] Wireless Operator [/italics] - ‘Artie Shaw’, [italics] Pilot [/italics] - Bill Addison, [italics] Bomb Aimer [/italics] - Jack, [italics] Navigator [/italics] - Author, [italics] Flight Engineer. [/italics]

3

[page break]

[underlined] The author en-route to Wickenby, June 1945 [/underlined] 84

[underlined] PH-N, June 1945, with the author and member of the old ground crew [/underlined] 84

4

[page break]

[underlined] Chapter 1 : Decisions [/underlined]

Hull Grammar School - an old established seat of learning, with many famous pupils. I was proud of the old school and here I took the School Certificate Examination in June 1937. I passed in eight subjects with a Distinction in Chemistry. A selected group took Additional Maths, taught by the Headmaster, F. Mayor. This introduced me to differential calculus at the age of fourteen. I spent two terms in the Lower Sixth Science pending my sixteenth birthday, in March 1938. Although Maths was my favourite subject, it was more practical at that time to use the Chemistry. In those days, there were fewer universities and unless ones parents were very wealthy, one left school at sixteen.

I started work in the laboratories at British Oil & Cake Mills, H.O.M.Co, Stoneferry, Hull, within easy cycling distance from home. They were part of the Unilever Group, and were a very good firm, with sports and social facilities. I had little spare time for these as I immediately enrolled at the Hull Municipal Technical College, beginning in September 1938. I found that my School Certificate qualification gave me exemption only from the Northern Universities Matriculation and not from the London University Matriculation. This meant that I couldn’t enter for the External London B.Sc. in Chemistry. The difference between the Northern Matric. and the London Matric. was that English Literature was a compulsory subject for the latter. This seemed irrelevant in the context of a Chemistry Degree. However, I entered for the A.I.C. (Associate of the Institute of Chemistry). The A.I.C. and B.Sc. people took the same classes, but instead of taking the Inter-B.Sc. examination, after two years of Evening Classes one was given slips of paper certifying that one was up to Inter B.Sc. standard in Maths.

5

[page break]

[NOTE: PAGES 8 AND 9 MISSING]
and Physics. (These I duly obtained in May 1940.)
Meanwhile, I was fully aware of what was brewing up in Europe with Hitler and his gang making monkeys of the old-school politicians. The ruthless annexation of Austria, followed by that of Czechoslovakia, despite the pathetic delaying tactics of Britain and France, in addition to Hitler’s bellicose threats, made it very evident to me that war was becoming almost inevitable. The facts and figures produced by Winston Churchill underlined the growing military potential of the German forces. The weak capitulation of the British and French diplomats on the matter of the Sudetenland confirmed my belief that it was only a matter of time.
I was heartened when at last Britain and France gave their support to Poland, and actually felt relief when, after the German attack on Poland on September 1st 1939, they honoured their obligations and declared war on Germany. I realised fully how terrible a step it was, but there was no reasonable alternative. Sooner or later we had to face reality.
It was still very eerie when the first air-raid warning sounded on Sunday, September 3rd. 1939.
I carried on with my evening classes (three evenings a week), cycling to and from the Technical College throughout the black-out and occasional air-raid alarms. In fact, I didn’t miss a single class up to the time I went into the R.A.F. in April 1942.
I seem to remember that it was during the very first session of evening classes that I first met Walter Suddaby, who lived in North Hull. He was a quietly-spoken pleasant lad and we had similar ideas of humour and became friends for the duration
6
[page break]
of our time at the Tech. Of course, having full-time day jobs plus three nights a week at the Tech. and other evenings writing up notes and studying at home, we didn’t get together outside the course.
When the war started I was just coming up to seventeen and a half and “Sudd” was about the same age, maybe a month or two older. We followed the events of the war, wondering how it was going to affect us, but with no clear idea what we were about to do in the future.
War came to Hull spasmodically but with increasing intensity as the years passed. The German Luftwaffe found the city an easy option. Placed on a distinctive bend of a wide river estuary, it wasn’t too difficult to spot even at night, when most of their attacks were made. Also it wasn’t a great distance for them to travel, reducing navigational problems on the way. There were many air-raid warnings when inland targets were being sought and the “All-clear” didn’t sound until the last of the enemy aircraft cleared the coast on their way home. Hull often received an extra “bonus” if the Germans couldn’t find their original target.
As the war progressed the age of conscription for service in the armed forces was reduced to nineteen years but there was provision for students who were within two years of the final exams. to obtain deferment until after those exams. I remember quite clearly discussing the situation with “Sudd” and another Tech. student as we stood with our ‘cycles in the middle of the town. We agreed that we wouldn’t apply for deferment because “our qualifications wouldn’t amount to much if Hitler won the war”. “Sudd” and I would volunteer for the R.A.F. and the other lad (I can’t remember his name now) preferred the Fleet
7
[page break]
would be affected by the transition from my mundane earthly existence into the realms of flight. I had at the back of my mind some disturbing recollections of not being too comfortable on fairground rides, so I was just a little apprehensive. On this account I asked my mother not to tell people that I was going as aircrew, so if things didn’t turn out too well I wouldn’t be a public disgrace.
At Lord’s the centre of the famous stretch of turf was cordoned off but the perimeter offices had been converted into depots dispensing all the items of kit we were likely to require plus the inevitable kit-bag. Here we had our introduction to authority in the shape of sergeants and corporals, who shepherded us around the establishment until eventually we were marched off to our billets. My lot were in a converted block of flats in Viceroy Court, St. John’s Wood, which had been re-equipped with service beds and lockers.
It was all very strange, finding oneself amongst a crowd of strangers from various walks of life. The only thing we definitely had in common was that we were “all in the same boat”. We had so many adjustments to make from our previous individual routines that we more readily accepted our imposed companions and most of their idiosyncrasies. The main exceptions as far as I was concerned were smoking and crude language. I had earlier decided that smoking was bad for the health and ruled that out. After hearing some of my new associates, apparently unable to complete sentences without including at least one “f” word, I concluded that the repeated insertion made both the speech and the user appear idiotic and resolved never to stoop to it. I never did.
Various N.C.O.s, mainly corporals, undertook to instil
10
[page break]
some military discipline on our “shower” and in a few weeks we were marching around in shiny boots and brand new uniforms with shiny buttons and getting regular hair-cuts so we didn’t get picked out during inspections.
Although I was in London there was no scope entertainment-wise. Pay for an A.C.2 was 2s. 6d. a day. I was making a voluntary allotment home of 1s 0d. a day, so when pay day came after two weeks I had to quote my last three numbers, 694, step forward, salute and receive the princely sum of £1. I think I managed to get to a Lyon’s cafe once or twice whilst in London. Most of the “entertainment” consisted of walking around some of London’s famous streets.
We all looked forward to getting to an I.T.W. (Initial Training Wing) and acquiring some more useful instruction than the rudiments of drill. Unfortunately, by the time my posting to No. 5 I.T.W. at Torquay came through I had a problem. Due probably to being a little run down towards the end of the evening class session in Hull, combined with swinging arms up to shoulder-level during our marching exercises I developed an abscess under one arm. If I reported sick I would miss my posting and would be stuck in London for another three weeks, so I kept quiet and only mentioned the matter when I got to Torquay on 9.5.42. I was immediately hospitalised with a temperature of 104 degrees F. and operated on the next day.
“Home” in Torquay was the Toorak Hotel, appropriately modified with service beds and lockers. We commenced a range of studies including navigation, meteorology, signals, armament, aircraft recognition, hygiene and anti-gas. We continued with drill and physical training in addition to the regular exercise we
11
[page break]
got marching along the hilly streets in Torquay. The thing that regularly bothered me, being only five feet six and a half, was the constant effort to keep pace with the taller people at the head of the column, generally six-footers. I seemed to be airborne most of the time! We had as our N.C.O. Sergeant Ditchburn, who was the Tottenham Hotspurs goalkeeper. We found him to be quite a reasonable type and certainly preferable to a pre-war regular. He was firm but genial and had a good sense of humour.
As we progressed with our I.T.W. course we were rewarded by promotion to L.A.C. (leading aircraftman) which involved wearing a propeller badge on the sleeve. This embellishment in addition to the white flash worn in the forage cap gave us quite a smart appearance. Pay shot up to 5s. 6d. a day! Much of the time that summer in Torquay we didn’t wear our tunics – it was too warm, particularly when being marched around at 140 paces to the minute. I must admit that marching like that with arms swinging to shoulder height did look impressive and when it was N.A.A.F.I. or W.V.S. break time there was no problem achieving 140 despite the hilly streets, particularly when “racing” other squads.
I can remember learning Morse and using the buzzer and the Aldis lamp, also learning to rectify faults in the Browning 303 machine gun. Two other events associated with those days spring to mind. On one occasion we were all on the beach when we got our first sight of the enemy. A couple of Messerschmitt 109s came swooping in at low level to attack the shipping in the harbour. They also opened up with machine gun and cannon fire at random. We lay flat on the beach and had a very good view of the crosses on their wings. Fortunately we had no casualties.
The other memorable event was a dramatic introduction
12
[page break]
to dinghy drill. An inflated aircraft dinghy floating in the harbour at Torquay was the objective of our escapes from a mock ditching. In turn and singly we had to don a sodden uniform and a Mae West and jump into the harbour and make our way to the dinghy. This was reasonably straightforward for swimmers, but as a complete non-swimmer it certainly presented me with a problem.
For a start the water was about 14 feet below the harbour wall so there was no easy option. It was a case of jumping into the unknown or not showing up very well in front of everyone – so I jumped.
It seemed a long time before I surfaced and then managed rather laboriously to dog-paddle to the dinghy. I realised that it would not have been a realistic exercise in, say, the North Sea for real.
Time passed and we were kept well occupied with lectures, exams and drill (including rifle and continuity drill) and a memorable cross-country run of a mile or two which included ploughing through a duck-inhabited pond. We returned to the Toorak Hotel soaking wet, smelling horribly and legs stinging from nettle contact. On another occasion we were taken by a rather ancient local train and dropped off in small groups at stations along the line skirting Dartmoor and given the task of finding our various ways across country to a pub four or five miles away, somewhere in the middle of the moors. There we downed a pint or two of excellent cider. Fortunately we didn’t have to walk back!
[page break]
[blank page]
[page break]
[underlined] Chapter 2: The Stirling Castle [/underlined]
Eventually, I think it was about 15.10.42, we were posted to Blackpool after some embarkation leave. We were billeted in typical Blackpool boarding houses complete with landladies. Ours was “Holmleigh”, Crystal Road. When “Sudd.” got my letter with the Blackpool postmark he was surprised but rightly deduced that I was going abroad. He said he wouldn’t mind being in my place. He was completing a wireless course at Cranwell. He had at one time also been billeted in Blackpool and had enjoyed his accommodation. He wished me good luck and suggested that to be on the safe side I should send my future letters to his home address in 5th Avenue, North Hull.
I received his letter just before we were moved to Liverpool and transferred to the “Stirling Castle” one of the Union Castle Line’s fleet which had been converted for troop carrying. That was on 26.10.42. Our accommodation consisted of long narrow benches and tables for the day-time and hammocks for sleeping. I recall the awkward and maddening time getting even the blankets to stay in the hammock. At night we must have looked like a tin of sardines. Next day the ship moved out into the river and our time was spent “spud-carrying” (2 hours) and then “fatigues” such as cutting butter, etc. from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Talk about slave labour!
On the 28.10.42 the ship turned to face the river mouth and we had our first boat drill. At 1 p.m. the following day we sailed, leaving Liverpool and the Royal Liver Buildings, then passing the Isle of Man and Stranraer as we headed round Northern Ireland. We got used to the hammocks but there was a snag. They isolated us from the movement of the ship and the full extent of the sea movement was not apparent until we
15
[page break]
dismounted next morning and hit the heaving deck. By now of course, we were getting into the Atlantic. It was better, if somewhat chilly on deck. I was a little sick and didn’t bother about fish breakfast. The afternoon was pleasant and we were entertained watching Aldis signals from escorting warships and a sister ship, the “Athlone Castle”. There were six ships in our convoy.
On the third day our convoy had increased to seven ships with six escorts and we were moving more slowly. Depth charges were dropped during the afternoon. Two days later we were joined by a merchant cruiser but there were now only two destroyers or frigates in sight. The temperature was increasing as we headed in a generally southerly direction and we changed into tropical kit.
We wrote letters and listened to the B.B.C. when we could, and were pleased to have good news of the North African theatre. Pontoon was a popular pastime but we also spent some time swotting our I.T.W. notes. In between we watched flying fish and were fascinated by the phosphorescence of the water. One ship left the convoy, with a small gunboat as escort.
As the temperature rose and we estimated our position as approximately 28 degrees West we speculated about the possibility of visiting South America. Our thoughts were re-focused when a destroyer Aldis message mentioned U-boats. This was a particularly profitable time for the German submarines, as the Royal Navy had not had time to recover from a series of severe set-backs in ’41 and ’42 and had only the minimum capacity for escorting convoys. On the credit side, the German Enigma Code had been broken, (we, of course, knew nothing about that) and so it was possible using devious routes to
16
[page break]
avoid the U-boat packs.
On 10.11.42 we were reduced to two escort vessels. Next day, Armistice Day, I bought a poppy – amazing that someone had such foresight! We reckoned that we were now about 4 degrees S. and 28 degrees W. We were now joined by the cruiser H.M.S. London and were also rejoined by the merchant cruiser. On 12.11.42 we spotted a Catalina flying boat so we knew land wasn’t too far away and from then on we saw aircraft every few hours. It reminded one of the dove with the olive branch. On 14.11.42 we were told we would be in port tomorrow.
AT 0530 next morning I got my first glimpse through a porthole of a low-lying stretch of land on the starboard with an orange-coloured beach, backed by trees, palm and deciduous. We were in an inlet running roughly north-south. A Brazilian biplane (it looked like an Italian C.R. 42) flew past and I spotted a Grumman Goose (American amphibian) and a Catalina – at least the aircraft recognition was paying off! There was a small harbour vessel with white-dressed pilots and officials to see us in, together with what appeared to be a tug (the “Aquina”). We were surrounded by canoes and skiffs of all sizes, fitted with sliding seats and crewed by handsome Brazilian boys. There were sailing boats looking somewhat like Red Sea feluccas. We saw loads of bananas and pineapples passing by and liberty men going ashore in launches. We had arrived at Bahia.
In the evening it was impressive, after weeks at sea and years in blacked-out England, to see all the lights ashore and red flashing street signs, together with the green flashes of trams. The land rose steeply from the sea shore with buildings at the foot and the top with trees in between.
17
[page break]
About 5 p.m. the next day our ship took the place of the “Athlone Castle” at the quayside. We had a London fire-engine pumping fresh water aboard and a British-made crane (Bath) loading stores. Some of the firemen threw oranges and bananas up to us. The water replenishment seemed to go on for quite a bit of the next day.
Wednesday 18.11.42 was a red-letter day. We went ashore for a couple of hours. (We had the “honour” of being the first Allied troops to land in Brazil after their belated declaration of war on the Axis). We were marched through the colourful streets, being followed by children who were delighted to have coins thrown to them. We halted and dismissed for a few minutes in a local park where there was a monument to the foundation of the Brazilian Republic. Everyone was after drinks and fruit, a complication being the exchange rate. I had a shilling, 100 reis = 1/4d.; 1,000 reis = 1 milreis. We then formed up and marched back to the ship.
We left Bahia the following afternoon on the final long leg of our journey to South Africa. We were escorted, presumably as a precaution against loitering U-boats, by a Brazilian “Harvard” fitted with bombs. Our convoy now consisted of three transports, two smaller ships, a destroyer and an armed merchant cruiser. By the next day we were well away from Bahia with no sign of U-boats.
Our time was occupied by tests in navigation, signals etc. We played chess and pontoon, and wrote letters (“airgraphs”). We listened to Wing Commander Ritchie, D.F.C., the author of “Fighter Pilot”. We had boat drills at regular intervals. Then on 25.11.42 we changed back into “blues”, and were duly inspected, prior to our second pay parade aboard the “Stirling Castle”.
18
[page break]
We estimated our position as roughly 25 degrees South and 5 degrees West, i.e. about halfway from Bahia to South Africa. I have a note on 27.11.42 that I saw the doctor and an albatross! I’d been bothered by bronchial catarrh for about a fortnight, possibly due to the stuffy conditions below decks at night-time. I used to take a book to the stairwell and read to get myself good and sleepy before climbing into my hammock so that I had a chance to fall asleep without coughing and disturbing everyone around. I can still remember the label “Mist. Expect.” on the medicine bottle in the sick bay which I visited at regular intervals!
During the next few days we were joined by a merchant cruiser and then saw two Venturas over our convoy. We were obviously in another danger zone and portholes had to be closed during the day as well as at night.
On the afternoon of 30.11.42 we sighted Table Mountain and very soon afterwards the wreckage from a ship torpedoed early that morning. By 8 p.m. we reckoned we were well east of Table Mountain when paravanes were brought into use against the possibility of sea-mines in the seas around the Cape.
We continued out of sight of land until on 4.12.42 we arrived at Durban. Everyone crowded on deck as we edged slowly into harbour at the end of our 5 weeks voyage. We were told to look out for the “Lady in White”, who made it her business to greet all the visiting troops at the dockside. Suddenly, there she was in a long white dress and picture hat.
She began to sing to us, using a megaphone, in a song clear voice several heart-warming songs such as “Rule Britannia”
19
[page break]
and finally “We’ll Meet Again”. At the end of her mini-concert the troops responded with cheers and whistles and the ships’ sirens joined in.
By 6 p.m. we had disembarked in our khaki uniforms and were entrained, six to a compartment, on our way to 48 Air School, a joint R.A.F./S.A.A.F. base, near East London. The journey was fascinating – I suppose being back on land and away from the ship helped a lot. We were back in civilised surroundings, a comfortable train and enjoyable meals served without us having to move a muscle. The scenery was magnificent, rolling hills with rocky outcrops. We often caught sight of forward and rear section of our train as we negotiated the snaking track. The evenings were notable for the brilliant displays of fireflies.
20
[page break]
[underlined] Chapter 3: South Africa [/underlined]
We reached Woodbrook, just three miles outside East London, on 6.12.42 after our two-day rail journey and were pleased by the wooden huts provided for our accommodation. We had an excellent dinner, filled in various bits of paperwork and got the bus into East London for the evening. It really was another world, walking through well-lit streets past well-filled shops, rather like a throw-back to 1939.
We discovered that new courses began every three weeks so we had quite a bit of time on our hands. In the meantime, I reported sick and got further treatment for bronchial catarrh, but really it was just a matter of time and it wasn’t long before I was O.K. again.
It wasn’t long before we were acclimatised, conditions being just about ideal in East London, temperatures being generally about 10 degrees F. warmer than we were used to in England. The coastal situation had quite a modifying effect compared with more inland Air Schools. We had the occasional sharp storm with heavy rain, but generally in short spasms, not enough to inconvenience our exploration and enjoyment of our unexpected “holiday”. Car lifts were readily available to and from the town. The harbour was usually worth a visit – we encountered various nationalities including Dutch seamen from a submarine depot ship. The shops were all set out for Christmas – this seemed at odds with an evening temperature of 70 degrees F. at 19.45 hours. A favourite indulgence was fresh strawberries and ice-cream in a local restaurant. For our entertainment and refreshment there were several volunteer-run facilities including the U-NO-ME Club, Toc H, and S.A.W.A.S., rather like the W.V.S. at home, where you could sit around and chat or play
21
[page break]
games. I was quite keen on table-tennis and snooker which I generally played with my pal Fred Rolph (an ardent Brentford F.C. supporter). It was also quite pleasant on the beach, or attending the “Colosseum” cinema. I also caught up with my correspondence, sending airgraphs and receiving letters from my parents, dated October.
Christmas Day was spent in the camp with lunch served by officers and sergeants. We went short of nothing. There was turkey, pork, pudding, cake, fruit, sweets, nuts, ices, beer etc. In the afternoon we rested and we had little room for tea.
It seemed a life in limbo. There was a world war going on many miles away but we were temporarily detached from it and waiting to get on the conveyor belt.
We obviously had some of our time occupied with lectures, drill etc., but were impatient to get on with something more meaningful. We were intrigued by the political situation and the segregation of the white and black communities. The coloured people did the menial jobs and seemed to accept their lot with resignation. They were housed generally in single-room huts on the outskirts of the European city. Quite a few thousands of black South Africans were enlisted in the Army but they served only in menial ways. Strangely enough they seemed quite keen on Army life. One day when I was on police guard near the main gate I witnessed a squad of them being drilled by one of their own N.C.O.s in their free time on the road just outside the camp. They put quite a lot of effort into it and were trying hard to be smart. They didn’t have any firearms, of course, or we might have been anxious! By and large, the R.A.F. lads sympathised with their situation in their own country.
22
[page break]
On 7.1.43 there were rumours of our course starting on 25.1.43. We filled in the time attending lectures, carrying out various duties, marching etc., and going into town when we were free. About this time I bought myself an Omega watch (£5.10s.) and a Tissot watch for my brother. The Omega watch is worth mentioning as I relied on it exclusively during all my navigation (training and operational). I got them from a Swiss jeweller’s shop in East London in early January ’43. (I still have the Omega, though it was accidentally broken around 1970).
We played a lot of table-tennis and snooker and I wrote home and to Walter Suddaby, and my brother Norman who was also in the R.A.F. (training as a wireless operator). Keeping up with the washing was another regular activity. My wash-day was usually at the weekend and consisted simply of washing my clothes in the wash basin using a bar of “Sunlight” soap, rinsing thoroughly and then spreading them out on large rocks in the sun to dry. Trousers were creased by placing them carefully under the mattress.
Eventually, we started our course proper on Monday 25.1.43, with three periods of dead-reckoning (D.R.) navigation, one period on instruments, two periods on signal procedure and one practicing on the Morse buzzer. From this time on we were kept solidly at our studies for the next eight weeks, including examinations to keep us up to the mark.
It was during this time, however, that Fred Rolph and I were invited to visit the home of Dr. G.J.C. Smyth of 30 St. Georges Road, in East London. He and his family were most hospitable and regularly entertained us when we and two other R.A.F. lads had a few hours to spare at weekends.
23
[page break]
We spent a lot of time in the spacious garden playing tenni-quoits, which was most enjoyable and enabled us to “let off steam”. We maintained this contact until just before we left South Africa. We didn’t see a lot of the Doctor himself, as he was pretty busy, but Mrs. Smyth and the family looked after us very well.
For the flying stage of our training I was posted on 27.3.43 to No. 41 Air School at Collondale which, I was pleased to discover, was only about eight miles from East London, thus enabling me to continue having pleasant weekend breaks at the Smyth’s. Fred wasn’t quite so fortunate, in that he was posted to No. 47 Air School near Queenstown, approximately 100 miles inland, which made it more awkward for his journeys to the Smyth’s. Fortunately he could make it by rail.
After the minimum time to settle in and only three days into our studies our class of twentyfour trainee navigators, divided into “A” and “B” flights, came face to face with reality by way of the Avro Anson. This was a twin-engined monoplane with a great safety record. I can recall it was already practically obsolete from a military point of view, being far too slow and almost unarmed, but provided a good steady platform for training purposes.
Appropriately, my first flight ever in an aircraft was on April 1st. (This by strange coincidence happened also to be the 25th. anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Air Force in 1918). I was first navigator with another pupil as second navigator in Anson “V” (3153) piloted by 2nd. Lieutenant McIndoe of the S.A.A.F. The aim was to give us air experience and to try out our map-reading skills while navigating as best we could from Potsdam, (a nearby village) around a laid-down
24
[page break]
cross-country route of about 250 miles. As first navigator I sat at the plotting table carrying out the chart plot and maintaining the log of events. The second navigator armed with a topographical map (i.e. showing the main ground features on the route) tries to identify features passing below the aircraft which are shown on his map. When he gets a positive identification he notes the spot on the map, the precise time of this observation and passes both pieces of information to the first navigator, who then plots them, using the latitude and longitude on his chart. This flight became the first entry in my flying log-book.
On subsequent flights the two navigators took it in turns to be first and second navigator.
The earlier trips were inclined to be a bit rough and ready technique-wise, but as experience increased we became more confident in our judgement of when to give the pilot an alteration of course. In reality, we had many factors in our favour, navigating in South Africa. The weather was generally very good and so was the visibility. The ground features were easy to interpret, nowhere near as congested as we were to encounter later back in Britain. The aircraft was usually only a few thousand feet up and the pilots were quite familiar with the territory, so although they played the game one was aware that they wouldn’t let things get out of hand navigation-wise. If you spotted a railway track it was a big help because there weren’t many railway lines in the whole of the area. Sizeable towns were few and far between and so were much more readily identified.
At this stage we were already encountering the fundamental problem of air navigation – estimating and allowing for the effect of the wind, a continually varying factor. As anyone observing a light aircraft flying in a crosswind will know,
25
[page break]
the aircraft doesn’t travel in exactly the direction it is pointing. It drifts sideways to an extent depending on the wind-speed and direction, (wind velocity). If the aircraft is supposed to be travelling from point A to point B it is not sufficient to point the nose directly at point B unless the wind is from dead ahead or dead astern, a most unlikely occurrence. One has to apply a correction to the heading according to the wind velocity. Knowing the aircraft’s heading from the compass and its airspeed from the airspeed indicator the navigator can plot an “air position” according to the time elapsed on that course. If at that time he can identify the actual position of the aircraft relative to the ground by visual or other means and plot that “fix”, the line joining the “air position” with the “fix” shows both the wind direction and the effect of the wind over the time of the plot and hence the wind velocity. This velocity can then be used as the most up-to-date information for use in making any necessary alteration of course to allow for the wind effect.
We proceeded with ever more sophisticated exercises as the course progressed, flying mainly with South African but occasionally R.A.F. pilots and included photography, astro-navigation (night-flying), over sea exercises, formation flights, flame-float exercises (also involving night flying), and low-level map reading.
Meanwhile we were kept hard at it with our ground studies which involved D.R. (Dead Reckoning) theory, D.R. plotting, compasses meteorology, maps and charts, instruments, radio navigation, reconnaissance, photography, aircraft recognition, signals (both lamp and buzzer) and Astro-navigation.
With any subject involving calculations I found no real difficulty because I had always enjoyed Maths. Notwithstanding
26
[page break]
the confidence this gave me, I could not see much relevance between the training we were getting and the realities of operating at heights of 10,000 to 20,000 feet on dark nights with the ground practically invisible, under enemy fire. Astro-navigation seemed to be about the only independent means of navigation, but when one thought about what that entailed in practice it didn’t seem such a good idea. Inherently Astro-navigation did not appeal to me as sufficiently accurate. In order to get a fix one needed to take observations by sextant on three stars distributed at reasonable angles in the night sky through the perspex dome in the roof of the bomber aircraft, each observation taking a minimum of 2-3 minutes, not forgetting to note the time of the observation and having to calculate a position line from a book of tables and transfer it along the track on the chart. Then, if one was lucky, one had three lines which crossed producing a sizeable triangle, somewhere within which lay, hopefully, the position of the aircraft. The biggest criticism was the vulnerability of an aircraft flying straight and level at a steady airspeed for up to ten minutes over predicted anti-aircraft fire and being followed by night fighters with radar. At this stage I was puzzled how the job could be done and I just had to hope that all would be revealed in the fullness of time. Meanwhile, I was thankful not to have experienced any ill effects from my encounter with aviation and felt that I should be able to cope reasonably well in the future.
It must have seemed very tame for some of our South African pilots after coming from combat in North Africa to spend time “taxi-driving” we “sprog” navigators. We heard strange stories about some of their antics as they tried to relieve the boredom, but the Anson was a most tolerant aircraft and almost flew itself. In my log book I have the names Jooste, Nasmith, Efroiken, Van Rensburg, Moll, Mannheim, Van
27
[page break]
Heerden, Steyn and Duveen, along with R.A.F. pilots Cowan and Hill.
Suddenly, on 1.7.43 I, with four other members of pour course (No. 12) at 41 Air School was sent for interview by W/C Pettit and two Squadron Leaders. I was genuinely taken by surprise, wearing a somewhat scruffy battledress with two or three buttons missing. I had nothng [sic] to lose and I ran down the C.E.B. exams in general. I noted “it seemed to work”.
The following day, more prepared on this occasion, I was interviewed by Group Captain O’Grady. I was stumped by a question on details of the D.F.C. He was very pleasant and at the end I felt I would have liked to have another interview, knowing more about him. It turned out that I was considered O.K. for commissioning, along with John Tebbut from “A” flight.
I was somewhat surprised, considering that I had at no time applied for or even thought about a commission at this early stage in my training. More so, because during the first interview I had rejected the possibility of staying in South Africa as an instructor on the grounds that pupils would be likely to take more notice of instructors with operational experience. I omitted to say that I would have felt like the blind leading the blind.
[underlined] Results of Courses from 29.3.43 to 10.7.43
Air Navigation Course No. 12 Held at 41 A.S. South Africa [/underlined]
28
[page break]
[underlined] Subject – Poss. – Obtd. [/underlined]
D.R. Theory – 100 – 63
D.R. Plotting – 300 – 229
Compasses – 100 – 74
Meteorology – 100 – 72
Maps and Charts – 100 – 94
Instruments – 100 – 76
Radio Navigation – 100 – 79
Reconnaissance – 100 – 72/A
Photography – 100 – 94/AA
A/C Recognition – P. – P.
Signals – 100 – 96
Astro-Navigation – 100 – 97
Flying times on Course Day 76.45 Night 17.20
A/C Type Anson
Air Exercise Assessment AA (Above Average)
[underlined] TOTAL MARKS OBTAINED 81 PERCENT PASSED [/underlined]
29
[page break]
Remarks: An Above Average Navigator
Signed by W/Commander Pettit
There were still three more air navigational exercises to fit in before our graduation day on 10.7.43. To present our brevets we had Rear-Admiral Scott. When it came to my turn the conversation was as follows:-
“Where do you come from, my boy?” “Hull, Yorkshire, Sir.”
“There’s not much of Hull left is there?” “No, Sir.” etc.
The evening celebration was quite informal but the Group Captain did take the opportunity to compliment us on a good parade.
A big dampener, as far as I was concerned, was the news I had received from Fred Rolph, about the time I had my first interview for a commission. He’d made a mess of the Astro-Navigation exam and then came up against a problem in the D.R. Plotting. He said in his letter of 29.6.43, “Do you think I could remember how to do it? I sat there cudgelling my brains and thinking of Edna” (his girl-friend back home) ”and the Astro exam and I couldn’t think how to do it.” He tried to remedy the plotting but only succeeded in getting deeper in the mire. In fact he needn’t have worried so much about the Astro exam – he obtained 67 percent, but he didn’t know how. It was worrying unnecessarily about the Astro that contributed to his failure in the D.R. Plotting. The outcome was that nine members of his course, including Fred had to re-sit their D.R. Plotting exam a day or two before I was getting my brevet. This meant a delay of three weeks for Fred but he added a P.S. “Edna won’t mind waiting three weeks extra after nine months. (I hope!)”.
30
[page break]
Unfortunately those three weeks meant that he never caught up with me again, and his next letter, posted from the Smyth home on 26.7.43 didn’t catch up with me until four months later, when I had no idea where he would be.
I had done my packing and said goodbye to the Smyth’s and boarded the train for Cape Town. Denis Smyth, probably about eighteen or nineteen years old, took me to the station by car, followed the train and saw me again at Cambridge just down the line. I was really sorry to leave the Smyth’s, after all their kindness. Next day, Tuesday, we passed through Queenstown very early in the morning, and on Wednesday afternoon we arrived at Cape Town. We completed the journey to the I.F.T.C. Westlake (Imperial Forces Transit Camp) by electric railway and we were ensconced in Hut 6/26.
During the next ten days I explored part of Cape Town and did some shopping. I managed to get items such as 1/2 yd. braid (pilot officer), a badge, some shirts, shoes, socks, gloves, hankies, and a raincoat and posted several small parcels of goodies to the family in England.
On Sunday, 25.7.43 I settled up my mess fees, collected my pay and a £15 travelling allowance, packed the little that remained to be packed and was transferred at the last minute to the draft prior to the one I had expected. In a very short time we boarded the “Mauretania”. There were eight of us in a cabin, but it was luxurious compared with the hammocks and benches in the “Stirling Castle”. There were five R.A.F. Pilot Officers, two Navy types and one civilian attached to the R.A.F. Next morning we sailed for England about 11 a.m., after a boat drill at 10 a.m.
Like the “Queen Elizabeth”, the “Mauretania” was
31
[page break]
constructed just before the war and proved extremely useful in transporting troops throughout the war. The “Mauretania” alone carried more than 380,000 troops during 55 voyages and must have been a high priority target for German U-boats. My brother travelled to Canada in the “Mauretania” for his aircrew training, shortly afterwards.

Our accommodation was section C3 on C Deck and our Mess No. 69. Mealtimes were pleasant affairs – I have an autographed menu from the luncheon on Wednesday August 11th 1943 in the Officers’ dining room. Nothing pretentious of course, but a big leap back to civilised behaviour. In contrast, acting as orderly officer one day, accompanied by a corporal I had the job of seeing the other side of life and asking the airmen on the mess decks for “Any complaints?” Thankfully everyone seemed reasonably happy with their lot.

So we passed our time in comfort on our fairly direct (apart from a brief call at Freetown), journey back to Liverpool. This took about half of the five weeks of our outward journey on the “Stirling Castle”. By this time the submarine menace had been reduced considerably.

32

[page break]

[photograph of three men and one woman]

[page break

[photograph of the crew with signatures]

[page break]

[underlined and centred] Chapter 4: Back to England [/underlined and centred]

Once we docked in Liverpool we were soon on the train and on our way to No. 7 P.R.C. (presumably Personnel Receiving Centre) at Harrogate on 14.8.43. From there we went on our disembarkation leave. I believe I got most of my officer’s uniform fixed up in Hull and maybe some items in Harrogate, where we had to return before posting.

On 8.9.43 my posting came to 3(O) A.F.U., Halfpenny Green, an airfield situated in the West Midlands between Bridgnorth and Dudley. (Today it is a civil airport). There during the next few weeks, I was to take part in No. 138 Air Observers Advance Navigation Course. It seemed an impressive title although a little anachronistic when the replacement of Observers by Navigators had already spread to South Africa and Canada with the Empire Training Scheme. We were already wearing the “N” brevets which replaced the previous observer “O”, as we arrived for the course.

The “advanced navigation course” conducted on Ansons served two purposes. It showed us the difference between map-reading over the wide-open spaces of South Africa, where it was relatively easy to pick out significant features such as a main road or a railway line, and the more complex problem in European map-reading. The more densely populated areas introduced a corresponding profusion of ground detail. Secondly, it extended our experience quite logically without the further complication, on a short course, which might have been occasioned by using an unfamiliar aircraft. On the other hand, the disquieting feeling remained over the relevance of map reading from a few thousand feet, half the time in daylight, compared with the coming operational navigation mainly at

33

[page break]
night, largely out of sight of the ground and at around 20,000 feet, while covering the ground more rapidly in a four-engined aircraft and with the added distractions caused by the opposition.
The thirty-eight and a half hours flying time accrued at Halfpenny Green, brought my total flying time to one hundred and thirty-two and a half hours, roughly one-quarter being night flying. My one recollection of those days was, on the completion of a particular night exercise, walking from the airfield to the hut on a beautiful Autumn night along a narrow country road with not a soul in sight and humming a popular tune of those days.
The next posting was to No. 84 O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit) at Desborough in Northamptonshire. That was on 12.10.43. This was a recently established O.T.U. and the roadways had only been laid that Autumn. It was also pretty wet weather during the first few weeks there and we aircrew, marching between our Nissen huts and lectures found ourselves on roads covered with mud from the soil excavated during their construction and piled nearby.
The O.T.U. was equipped with Vickers Wellington twin-engined bombers, which had been the main-stay of Bomber Command for some time but was being progressively replaced by four-engined types. However, the Wellingtons, or “Wimpeys” as they were usually called, looked large and impressive and very business-like compared with the Anson to which I was accustomed.
Other huts were occupied by other categories of aircrew – pilots, bomb-aimers, wireless operators and air-gunners. Very soon we would have to perform the transition from individuals to aircrews. To this end we were assembled in a large hangar and
34
[page break]
told to get ourselves sorted out. This was very much a lottery. We were teaming up with people we had never met before to undertake dangerous operations during which we would be bound to depend implicitly on these strangers being able to do their jobs efficiently. I suppose this was accepted because we were “all in the same boat”. In hindsight, I don’t think anyone could have suggested a rational alternative.
I cannot remember just how it came about but I found myself “crewed up” with three sergeants (pilot, Chris Derrick; wireless operator, John (Jock) Poyner; a rear gunner, Tom Gibb from Glasgow), and a Pilot Officer bomb-aimer making up the crew of five for the Wellington. This was the stage at which the division between commissioned and non-commissioned aircrew became apparent. We commissioned “types” were quartered in huts segregated from the huts of the N.C.O.s, and we had separate messes. We attended lectures according to our aircrew duties, e.g. navigator or whatever and only got together as a crew when flying was in the offing. It wasn’t done for officers and N.C.0.s to go around in “matey” groups.
On the morale-boosting side, we navigators were soon relieved to learn that our big worry about how we could possibly navigate accurately at night would be considerably relieved by our introduction to an almost magical device known as a Gee box. Basically this measured the aircraft’s distance from each of two ground stations and where these measurements coincided gave the geographical position of the aircraft. On the debit side it was jammable by the enemy and could not be relied upon beyond the enemy coast. Nevertheless it would give us a sound beginning to our task when we went out on operational flights.
We flew in a “Wimpey” for the first time on 8.11.43 with
35
[page break]
a “screened” pilot instructing our pilot, Sgt. Derrick on the take-offs, circuits and landings, commonly known as “circuits and bumps”. The significance of this dawned on me in the course of time.
Our pilot was given his solo check, went solo (with members of the crew) and had three further lots of “circuits and bumps”. Then we took the gunners on an air-firing exercise and did some dual “circuits and bumps”, two thirds of them with six different screened pilots. I think we must have met most of the instructors of “B” flight, some of them several times. Sometimes we were airborne several times a day, four times on three occasions. Our pilot seemed to have some trouble with his steering around the perimeter track and wandered off it occasionally. When this happened we were liable to be bogged down as the ground was so muddy.
On a couple of occasions I flew in the rear turret because the gunners were occupied with ground training and the policy was for there always to be a pair of eyes in the rear turret to warn of the proximity of other aircraft both in the air and on the ground. I did not care for the cramped conditions and I cared less about the landings, when my helmeted head hit the turret. In my ignorance I thought it was just one of the things that went with flying heavy aircraft. I was thankful I was a navigator.
Now the bomb-aimer had to “get in” a bit of practical work, dropping eleven and a half pound practice bombs at the local bombing range. We had been to the bombing range once at night and once by day, both times with a “screened” pilot. Now we had to carry out the same exercises “solo”. The high-level bombing by day was carried out, apparently satisfactorily but night bombing presented difficulties. We had bomb-sight trouble
36
[page break]
on a number of occasions and four attempts were aborted. On the last occasion our bomb aimer was sick and on our return to base our pilot reported “bomb-aimer u/s” instead of “bomb-sight u/s”.
At this stage we parted company with Chris Derrick – he was considered unsuitable as the pilot of heavy bomber aircraft. We heard that he carried on flying Oxfords, twin-engined aircaft. [sic] We also saw no more of our bomb aimer, F/O Valentine. I missed listening to his gramophone and classical records of an evening.
During these early weeks we were rudely brought up against the realities of the job. One of our Wellingtons was shot down one night by a German intruder aircraft from a height of about 10,000 feet, possibly on a practice bombing exercise. Two members of the crew, including the F/Lt pilot, who had some operational experience on other aircraft, were fellow occupants of the same hut as Valentine and myself. I was one of the bearers at the funeral service in the local church.
Within a few days we had a replacement pilot, Sgt. Redman, a rather taciturn character and we were transferred from “B” flight to “D” flight. We also had a replacement bomb-aimer, Sgt. Tommy Crook.
Obviously Sgt. Redman had already satisfied the Air Force that he was competent to fly Wellingtons because, without any preliminaries whatsoever, our first outing with him was on a daylight cross-country (i.e. navigational exercise) in the company of a screened pilot. That was on 28.12.43. By the 10.1.44 we were completing our series of navigation exercises (in which we suffered simulated attacks by R.A.F. fighters) in what must have been record time, as the Air Force attempted to
37
[page break]
makes us catch up on lost time.
Unfortunately the cross-country on Route 92/19 turned out to be a somewhat traumatic experience. (In those days I don’t think the word “traumatic” was part of the vocabulary as it is today). Part of the route during a five and a half hour flight took us about 100 miles out over the North Sea and everything was going satisfactorily and the Gee set was working O.K. when Sgt. Redman suddenly announced that the aircraft had stalled. In front of me on the navigator’s table, was a duplicate altimeter, showing 8,000 feet. I watched, somewhat numbly, as the needle began to “unwind”. I can only suppose the other crew members were similarly afflicted. There was certainly no chatter and no panic.
We all knew that the next words from the pilot were most likely to be “Prepare for ditching” which would mean taking up positions to minimise injury when the aircraft hit the sea. The altimeter continued to “unwind”. There was no instruction from our pilot to the wireless operator to try to inform base of our predicament and no word as to what was happening. At 4,000 feet, halfway down to the cold North Sea with virtually no chance of survival, the aircraft levelled off, still without a word of explanation from our pilot. It transpired what had happened was that the pitot tube, which feeds the air pressure for the airspeed indicator had “iced up” so the air-speed appeared to fall. The pilot, partly through inexperience, had feared the worst and informed us accordingly. We were relieved to get “home”.
In unanimous agreement the crew decided that we had no confidence in our pilot and did not wish to fly with him again. Because of my commission, I had the unpleasant job of forwarding the crew’s views to our superiors and we did not
38
[page break]
meet Sgt. Redman again. However, by the contribution of our two pilots, the rest of the crew were deemed to have completed the O.T.U. course, and after a spot of leave we were posted to a holding unit at Methwold, in Suffolk on 8.2.44.
It must have been at Methwold that, whilst puzzling over the fate of our temporarily headless crew, I happened to meet an American lieutenant pilot serving with the R.A.F. He had a very English name, Braithwaite, and hailed from Hollywood and had lots of flying hours behind him before he left the U.S.A. He was waiting to be given a crew. He didn’t have a pronounced American accent and discussing our mutual situation we got on very well together. We both thought it would be the ideal solution if we could join forces, i.e. if he could take our pilotless crew. Unfortunately, the authorities preferred to give him a crew who had lost their pilot doing an operation as second pilot with another crew for experience before operating with his own crew.
Our crew was posted on 25.2.44 to No. 1653 H.C.U. at Chedburgh, (also in Suffolk), which was in No. 3 Group of Bomber Command. Here we were in the land of the Stirling four-engined bomber – we would much rather have been on Lancasters. However, looking back on those days, I am certain that it was a turning point as far as our crew was concerned. In addition to acquiring a new pilot, Sgt. G.F. (Fred) Holbrook and a mid-upper gunner, Sgt. Stan Swain, we were joined by our flight engineer, Sgt. Johnny Squires, an extremely useful asset over the next six months or so. Johnny was already serving in the Army when the war started and had got to the rank of Captain in the Black Watch, pretty good going considering he wasn’t much taller than my five foot six and a half inches! Anyway, during the middle years of the war the Army had a comb-out of junior officers of 40 years and more and it was
39
[page break]
decided that he would be better employed in his basic occupation, engineering, in civilian life. He was not enraptured with the idea and, knocking ten years off his age, joined the R.A.F. for aircrew training as a flight engineer.
He was, of course, much older than the rest of us. I was just coming up to 22, our wireless operator, John Poyner, was just 22 and Fred Holbrook was probably about the same age. The rest of the crew were younger, the gunners probably 19 or 20. You could say he was almost a father-figure, but we daren’t have suggested any such thing at the time.
He was really first class at the job, always calm and never at a loss, whatever the circumstances. He was a really steadying influence and, personally, having already “lost” two pilots along the way and now having a third unknown factor taking over, I felt much happier about our future knowing that Johnny was sitting up there alongside Fred. That feeling was reinforced as we progressed steadily with the local flying and then with navigational exercises on Stirlings (Mark I and III).
The Stirling, which was the first of the R.A.F.’s four-engined bombers, built to a 1936 specification, gave the impression of a long dinosaur waiting to attack or pounce. The undercarriage was enormous and at first sight made me wonder what the altimeter in the cockpit read! It was a good aircraft but had serious limitations, the main one being its maximum altitude. I understand that this was due to its wingspan being limited by the standard hangar width of the day.
Whilst other Bomber Command aircraft normally operated at about 20,000 feet, this ‘plane could barely manage 15,000, so it seemed it would be unwise to get mixed up with
40
[page break]
people dropping things from a mile above.
After five weeks at Chedburgh we were able to erase such thoughts from our imagination as we went on leave prior to being transferred to the Lancaster Finishing School at Hemswell in No. 1 Group. I still have one souvenir from the Stirling era, a horizontal scar on the bridge of my nose, due to colliding with the rear end of the tailplane whilst walking around a Stirling on a very dark night. Fortunately it was only local flying – not a navigational trip – and I was able to clamp my first aid dressing on to the spot immediately and stop the bleeding until we returned. That was to be the only injury I sustained in the Air Force.
41
[page break]
Walter Suddaby
I kept in touch with Walter at varying intervals throughout our R.A.F. careers and I knew he’d been with his crew to 1658 H.C.U. (Heavy Conversion Unit) at Riccall (halfway between York and Selby) to train on Halifax bombers. I had plenty of reminders when I later travelled through Riccall on my way to and from work at Selby. I heard when he got onto 158 Squadron at Lissett, near Bridlington and then no more.
I cannot remember just how it happened that his brother, Frank, cycled over from their home in North Hull and found me home on leave, but his tidings were terrible and I was shocked. Walter had been killed in extremely unfortunate circumstances. In “The Bomber Battle for Berlin”, Air Commodore John Searby explains what happened on the night of 24/25th March 1944. “Over the Dutch coast P/O Simpson” (Walter’s pilot) “called base saying his port and starboard outer engines were damaged”. (It would be Walter transmitting the message). “and nothing more was heard until he was reported having crashed at the water’s edge at Ingham near Cromer, Norfolk, where a minefield was laid years before against possible invasion. The aircraft blew up and all were killed.” Apparently, having little altitude, the pilot attempted a crash landing on the beach, and had either forgotten about the mined beaches or had little alternative but to take the risk.
A later publication, by W.R, Chorley. reported the crash as happening on the sand dunes near Winterton-on-Sea, Norfolk.
42
[page break]
[underlined] Chapter 5: Operations 1-20 [/underlined]
I can still remember my first close-up encounter with the Lancaster – no, I didn’t bump my nose. Compared with the ungainly appearance of the Stirling, the Lancaster looked sleek and business-like. On entering the cockpit I was greatly impressed by the appearance of the in-line Rolls Royce Merlin engines, of which I had heard so much since I became interested in aviation. My confidence soared. It increased further when I heard about the H2S (air-borne radar equipment) and the A.P.I. (air position indicator). Not that I had any time for practice at Hemswell – the object of the exercise was the transference from one four-engined bomber (the Stirling) to the other (the Lancaster) which mainly meant lots of take-offs and landings for our pilot and familiarisation with the new aircraft and its numerous instrument panels and dials for pilot (Fred) and flight engineer (Johnny).
We were airborne for a total of barely eleven hours (some day and some night) during our brief stay at Hemswell and in no time at all we were making the short journey, on 26.4.44, by crew bus I believe, to Wickenby and No. 12 Squadron. At Wickenby, which was a war-time constructed airfield, I was again segregated from the rest of the crew as they were all sergeants. My accomodation [sic] on the officers’ site was in a Nissen hut, similar to that of the crew on the N.C.O.S’ site, which I later wandered over to inspect.
I had a distinctly unusual and rather disquieting introduction to my new “home”. There was only one person there when I arrived, P/O Adam (Jock) Varrie, who I believe hailed from Lockerbie. (Currently domiciled in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe). He had lost his crew on operations whilst he was ill,
43
[page break]
and had been given the job of assistant to the Flight Engineer Leader. He had arrived at Wickenby in September ’43 and had done quite a lot of ops. before losing his crew. He told me that during his time at Wickenby he knew of only one crew and “one odd bod” who had survived a tour of 30 operations, i.e. from the two squadrons Nos. 12 and 626, operating from Wickenby. I decided there was no point in worrying and to take a limited objective.
I had a few science books with me and I did look at them on several occasions but I decided to defer the idea. Instead, I suppose partly in bravado, I decided to read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” which I found in the Library at Wickenby Officers’ Mess. I wondered how far I’d get with it under the circumstances. I did in fact get through the lot, more than 1,000 pages, in instalments! For moral support I said the “Lord’s Prayer” each night as I lay in bed, trying to give full interpretation to the words. Secondly (and rather trivially) I always polished by flying boots before going off to briefings. It was rather foolish in hindsight, because if I’d had to parachute down in enemy territory, polished boots would not have been a good idea, if one was trying to evade capture even if you managed to rear off the leg parts. Looking back, I suppose it was a case of “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”.
At the Navigation Office I encountered F/Lt. R. Stancliffe, our Squadron Navigation Officer and was impressed by his relaxed and friendly attitude. I soon encountered something which I found very inspirational. In some pigeon holes or racks in the Nav. Office there were a few navigators’ logs, one of which left an enduring impression on me. It had been compiled by F/O D.A. Colombo who had gone missing, along with his crew, on the Berlin raid of 24/25 March ’44, i.e.
44
[page break]
just over a month earlier and the one on which Walter Suddaby and his crew were lost. His log seemed to me like a work of art, hardly the kind of craftsmanship one would have believed possible, given the circumstances prevailing at that particularly hazardous period in the history of Bomber Command. I decided, then and there, that if I couldn’t make Colombo’s standard I’d have a good try. I never met him but I never forgot him.
Our crew was placed in “B” Flight of 12 Squadron and we were airborne just twice, both on 28.4.44, for “fighter affiliation” (i.e. dodging a Spitfire) combined with air-sea firing practice for the gunners and a simulated night attack on Bristol. I don’t remember whether we managed to fit in a short leave but just over a week later we were detailed for our first op. on 7.5.44.
The first and second ops. were not very demanding, one on a target near Rennes in France and the second to a target in Belgium. The latter attack was aborted on the instruction of the Master Bomber, due to poor visibility and we were ordered to return with our load.
Between our first and third ops. we got in quite a lot of navigational practice (and much needed H2S practice) on five cross-country exercises. This period also helped very considerably in getting us working together as a crew and becoming familiar with our surroundings, both aloft and on the station.
Our third and fourth ops. were on German territory, but only just over the border from Belgium. They were attacks on two marshalling yards at Aachen and met with considerable resistance, the loss rates being 6 percent in the first case and 7 percent in the
45
[page break]
second.

Railway marshalling yards were beginning to assume very considerable importance in view of the impending invasion of Europe by the Allied Armies. Anything that would impede the free transit of German forces to the coast could obviously be helpful to our forces, and Aachen was an important railway junction in that respect.

On the second of the Aachen trips we made the aquaintance[sic] of Lancaster Mk.1 ME758, PH-N, the former being the Manufacturers (Metropolitan Vickers) number and the latter comprising No. 12 Squadron’s letters and the aircraft letter. This was to become our regular aircraft, in which we were to do 25 of our 30 ops. The Aachen trip was N-Nan’s tenth.

On all night operations and quite a lot of the day ones I travelled secluded from the outer world by my black-out curtain. I sat at the navigation table, which was situated to the rear of the pilot’s armoured back-rest (the only armour in the aircraft), facing the port (left) side of the aeroplane. The reason for the black-out precaution was, of course, the angle-poise light which illuminated my chart and navigation log. Any emerging light would not have been appreciated by the crew as a whole and would not have been good for the pilot’s night vision.

I had devised my personal system of navigation in an effort to simplify the calculations. In fact, I had gone decimal and worked in tenths of hours and tenths of minutes instead of minutes and fractions. For example, in the early stages of an operation when I wanted to ascertain the actual wind velocity, which was ever-changing and sometimes considerably at variance with the meteorological information, I took Gee-fixes at

46

6-minute intervals or sometimes 12, knowing it was then simple mental arithmetic to multiply the measured vector from the air position (thank goodness for the A.P.I.) to the fix by 10 or 5 respectively to find the wind speed in knots (nautical miles per hour). This saved a lot of messing about with the manual computer.

It was just as essential to keep in touch with the wind velocity as with your actual position so that you had the ability to correct your course in order to hit the next turning point on your route. It was always a case of working with hind-sight. You could only assume that the wind affecting you over the next few miles would be similar to what you had just experienced.

Miscellaneous observations such as times of bombs being fused and released, times to drop and rates of dropping of “window” (i.e. anti-radar aluminised strips), times and rough location of the positions of aircraft being shot down (including some alleged to be “scarecrow” devices fired into the air by the enemy to pretend they were R.A.F. aircraft which had been destroyed in mid-air), whether parachutes were seen, sightings of enemy aircraft, target indicators, radio information via the wireless operator, and anything which might be of use to “intelligence”, all had to be logged with time of occurrence and estimated positions relative to our aircraft and its heading.

We fitted in yet another cross-country exercise on 29.5.44 for H2S practice. (See page 88. for technical details). The log book entry reads “Window (aircraft) lost and aileron damaged. A.S.I. (Air Speed Indicator) read 360 m.p.h. plus in dive”. The necessary repairs were soon made.

With the invasion imminent we got a number of short-

47

[page break]

haul trips, including attacks on a radar-jamming station near Dieppe which was later found to have been made “with great accuracy”, a gun position at Sangatte, near Calais, (as part of a deception programme to keep the enemy guessing where the landings would come), and the attack on a coastal battery at St. Martin de Varreville on the Normandy coast on the eve of the invasion. On the latter occasion the H2S screen was covered with numerous luminous pin-point echoes of the invasion fleet on its way across the Channel.

On the next evening we were supposed to bomb a railway switch-line at Acheres in the suburbs of Paris, but there was too much cloud for the safety of French civilians so the Master Bomber ordered us to return with our loads. (Not much fun, landing with a full bomb load!)

That counted as our eighth operation. The next couple of night operations were also concerned with inhibiting the Hun, one being against a landing-ground at Flers in Southern Normandy and the other attacking the important railway junction of Evreux, about 50 miles west of Paris. So far our ten ops. had not been too stressful and had averaged only about four and a half hours night flying.

Targets were marked by the Pathfinder Force (PFF) with various coloured devices which could be varied according to pre-arranged plans during the period of the attack and could be over-ridden by instructions from the “Master of Ceremonies” (Master Bomber) according to eventualities arising during the progress of the raid.

By the time I was operating, the P.F.F. system had been developed over the better part of two years into a formidable

48

[page break]

system, but there were occasional human errors. When this happened the whole or part of a raid could go awry.

On the night of 12/13 June 1944 we took part in the first raid of a new oil campaign, the target being the Nordstern synthetic oil plant at Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr. In addition to my normal duties I was one of a number of navigators on the operation to be detailed for “wind-finding”. The idea was for the force as a whole to have the benefit of the information obtained from selected navigators and apply it to their individual needs. We calculated the wind velocities at successive stages en route and had our wireless operators transmit the coded information back to base for analysis and consideration by meteorological staff, who then reported back to the main force the outcome of their deliberations in terms of up-to-date information on wind vehicles.

From my log for the trip I see that I sent back wind velocities from seven stages of the outward and return trips. I was quite happy with the navigation and had given the pilot the final correction to the course to the target, then calculated and given a wind velocity to Jock Poyner, our wireless operator, when our pilot spotted what he believed to be the target markers about 30 degrees to starboard and altered course towards them despite my disbelief, when we were approximately 20 miles from the target. Our clear instructions were to bomb the markers so that is what happened. We bombed just after 0101 hours, i.e. within our allotted range of 0100 to 0104 hours.

Many years later I read an illuminating account in “Bomber Command News” in an article spanning “Six months in the life of Bomber Command, a day-by-day account of support for the Allied invasion forces.” This covered the period 23.5.44

49

to 31.12.44, including the attack on Gelsenkirchen. It reported – “Owing to the good work of the Pathfinders the attack opened with exceptional accuracy. Later a rogue target indicator fell ten miles short of target and was bombed by 35 aircraft. All production at the oil plant ceased with a loss of 1,000 tons of aviation fuel a day for several weeks.” On my part, I compared the photograph taken automatically when our bombs were released, with the large wall mosaic in the Intelligence library of photographs taken by R.A.F. reconnaissance aircraft. Not having the benefit of the information which was quoted so many years later in “Bomber Command News”, I estimated from our last alteration of course before the target approximately where to look on this huge map for the place we had actually bombed.

From a few distinctive features on our photograph I was able to find the matching spot on the wall map – with a difference. Our picture showed unmistakably a dispersal point on the perimeter of an airfield which must have been constructed during the years since the reconnaissance photographs were taken. So the airfield personnel probably had an exciting night! The probable explanation is that whilst the real target was obscured by thick smoke from burning oil, the markers dropped ten miles away in open country were clearly visible. Seventeen Lancasters were lost, 6.1% of the Lancaster force of 286.

For a bit of variation we flew the following night for a couple of hours practicing night fighter evasion (with an R.A.F. fighter).

On the evenings of 14th and 15th June ’44 we operated in Bomber Command’s first daylight raids since May ’43. The objectives were the fast German motor torpedo boats (E-boats) and other light German naval forces based at Le Havre and

50
[page break]

Boulogne, which were threatening Allied shipping off the Normandy beaches. We flew in loose “gaggles” (there had been no training in formation flying) escorted by Spitfires of 11 Group. The E-boat threat to the invasion beaches was almost completely removed. R.A.F. casualties were very light.

We next had an aborted attack on a switch-line at Aulnoye, about 20 miles south of Mons. After a discussion between the Master Bomber and his deputy it was decided not to risk civilian casualties as it was too cloudy to bomb with accuracy, so we set off back with our loads, jettisoning the delayed-action bombs shortly after we left the French coast.

On the night of 12/13 June ’44 the Germans began their V-1 (flying bomb) attacks on London. Between 15-16 and 16-17 June, 144 flying bombs crossed the Kent coast and 73 reached London. This stung the British authorities into action and Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the invasion forces, agreed that retaliatory action (code name CROSSBOW) should rank second in priority only to the urgent needs of the battlefield. From mid-June to mid-August attacks on V-weapon objectives became one of Bomber Command’s major concerns, absorbing about 40% of its effort and correspondingly reducing its ability to bomb Germany.

Our first involvement came with a daylight attack on a flying-bomb site about 10 miles south-west of Calais. As the promised target indicators were not visible at the stated time we bombed on the Gee co-ordinates. That was on 22.6.44.

I think we must have had a week’s leave after our 15th “op”, because “N-Nan” flew five operations with three other crews before we returned to the fray. Then it was back to the

51

[page break]
Pas de Calais to attack the Domleger V-1 site, (my log says “flying-bomb supply lines”) in another daytime operation on 2.7.44. It was rather cloudy so again we “homed” to the target on Gee before the bomb-aimer, Tommy Crook, was able to take over and bomb visually.
Now followed a trio of fairly lengthy night operations all involving railway marshalling yards at important centres in France. On the nights of 4/5, 5/6, and 12/13 July, we visited successively Orleans, Dijon, and Tours (not exactly Cook’s tours). On the first night the loss rate was 5 percent, on the second nil, and on the third about 3 percent. This was rather strange because the Dijon trip was by far the longer route, taking eight and a quarter hours, compared with about six hours for each of the others. The results were satisfactory, particularly at Orleans.
I had cause to remember the bombing of the French railway system just over a year later when involved in flying our forces home on leave from Italy because the French railway system was still in a mess from our efforts in 1944 (see later). There was also an occasion when I was attending a symposium on analytical chemistry at Birmingham University in either 1954 or 1958 when I became involved in a discussion with a young French scientist, whilst queueing at the refectory. When he asked me if I’d been to France, I said “Not exactly” and admitted I hadn’t set foot in France although I had visited during the war.
I had no idea what his reaction would be, and was greatly relieved and pleased when he slapped me on the back and spoke warmly of his admiration for the way the R.A.F. had managed to knock out railway goods yards close to the towns whilst causing the minimum of civilian casualties. He did not have such a good opinion of the U.S.A.A.F. with whom he chose to make the
52
[page break]
comparison. I wish that I had made a note of his name and address! It was a completely unsolicited testimonial. After a gap of another week we went on our 20th operation to the railway yards and junction at Courtrai (or Kortrijk as the Belgians have it nowadays). Both targets were devastated. Casualties were 3 percent.
53
[page break]
54
[page break]
[black and white photograph of 7 airmen in uniform standing in a row in front of a Nissen hut]
[page break]
[blank page]
[page break]
[black and white photograph of seven airmen in front of an aircraft, four standing in the back row and three kneeling in the front row.]
[page break]
[blank page]
[page break]
[black and white photograph of an airman leaning against the wing of an aircraft]
[page break]
[blank page]
[page break]
[underlined] Chapter 6: Operations 21-30 [/underlined]
Taking part in the first major raid on a German city for two months, on the night of 23/24 July, we went to Kiel. It was our twentyfirst [sic] operation. The elaborate deception and the surprise return to a German target must have confused the opposition because Bomber Command lost only four aircraft out of 629 taking part. Kiel suffered heavy damage. The bombing force appeared suddenly from behind a Mandrel jamming screen, operated by the Radio Counter-Measures squadrons of 100 Group, and took the defences by surprise. In the space of 25 minutes nearly 3,000 tons of bombs fell on the town and port, inflicting enormous damage to the U-boat yards and many other areas.
Rescue and repair was hampered by 500 delayed-action bombs and unexploded duds. There was no water for three days, no trains and buses for eight days and no gas for cooking for three weeks. Looking at my log, I see that I had a fault on the H2S and also that when we were well on the way home I had a dabble with the bubble sextant, taking three star shots for practice. I was glad I wasn’t dependent on them.
On the night of 24/25 July we took part in the first of three heavy raids on Stuttgart. This was a more arduous trip, the return trip taking eight hours forty minutes. I had to Sellotape two Mercator charts together to lay down the route which took us via Normandy and south of Orleans to just beyond 9 degrees E longitude, and the majority of two double-sided log forms. Once again, I had the added duty of “wind-finding” for the main force. As it happened, the winds were the lightest I encountered on operations, barely reaching 20 knots at any stage and often less than 10 knots from between west and north-west.
55
[page break]
From the intercom. and audible noises off I gathered, in the seclusion of my snuggery, that the reception committee was doing its best to welcome us as we neared the target. Someone spotted a night-fighter immediately ahead of us but fortunately it was crossing our route and was banked away from us, probably after some othe [sic] prey.
(See page 91 “The German Defences” for further information on the tactics of the night-fighters).
We bombed within half a minute of the time I had in my flight plan and speeded up to the next turning point on our route, just three minutes beyond the target, where we made a sharp turn to starboard on to the next leg of 18 nautical miles, before another starboard turn over the Schwabische Alb range. We had just settled onto our homeward route when trouble arose. The port inner engine packed up, probably due to flak, and had to be feathered.
That meant we had ahead of us, all being well and no further complications, a four hour journey on three engines. We hoped we didn’t encounter any night fighters and were thankful for light winds for the next part of our journey.
Actually, being relieved of the bomb load, “N-Nan” managed very nicely on its three Rolls Royce engines and I was able to continue the job of sending wind velocities back to base, the first on our return journey being only fifteen minutes after “losing” the engine. Altogether, on this op. I see that I managed to send back ten wind velocities covering various stages en route. We did lose a little time but by the time we crossed the south coast of England we were only ten minutes later than our planned time and we didn’t have to queue for landing back at Wickenby. Casualties amounted to 3.4 percent of the 614 attackers.
56
[page break]
Two days later, on 27.7.44 we were airborne locally to air test the new engine and also the replacement for a damaged tail-fin, do some air-sea firing and take a passenger to Sandtoft.
Our 23rd operation was much shorter and less exciting. On 30.7.44 we were part of a very large force of 692 aircraft sent to bomb six German positions in front of a mainly American ground attack in the Villers Bocage-Caumont area. Our target was near Caumont. Cloud caused difficulties and we had to orbit and descend to see the target indicators before bombing. Only four aircraft were lost. We were down at Wickenby after four hours.
During the previous week I had been greatly surprised to see among new arrivals on 12 Squadron an old acquaintance from South African days. Furthermore, he was the other navigator commissioned at the same time and so we had consecutive Air Force numbers. We had both been on No. 12 course at 41 Air School though he was in “A” flight and I was in “B”. Due to the vagaries of the R.A.F. posting system, he had arrived at Wickenby three months after myself. He was F/O J.A. (John) Tebbut. We were naturally both excited by this coincidence – he could easily have gone to one of the many other airfields and squadrons and I hadn’t encountered any of the other navigators of No. 12 course since I left 41 Air School.
I readily agreed to fly with him locally (and unofficially I believe) so that I could help him master the H2S equipment. We flew in “N-Nan” on a local cross-country lasting just over two hours on 31.7.44. When he wasn’t tied up with his crew we had a good natter about things in general and then he asked if I would like to borrow a book he had been presented with at Christmas 1943. I still have the book in front of me as I write, with its
57
[page break]
inscription “from Harold and Sylvia”.
Operation No. 24 couldn’t have been more brief. It was on a flying-bomb site at Les Catelliers, in the Pas-de-Calais. Navigation was normal down to the south coast near Selsey Bill except that I concentrated on H2S to the exclusion of Gee equipment. After that I relaxed as our formation was led to the target by Mosquitos. (I do not thing the Navigation Officer approved – he scribbled “Average Nav.” at the foot of my log). We were home again after three and a half hours.
Next day, 3rd August, we were briefed for a daylight attack on a flying-bomb site at Trossy St. Maximin, not far from Chantilly, about 25 miles north of Paris. The wind was light and the navigation straightforward. This time I relied mainly on Gee and my decimal-hour system taking Gee fixes at 1215, 1221, 1227, 1233, 1239, 1245, 1251, 1257, and 1303 hours i.e. 6 minute intervals and obtaining seven measurements of wind velocity in that time. For the next fix, at 1309, my fix was a bearing and distance from Selsey Bill, using H2S.
On crossing the coast the bombs were fused and selected and we proceeded at our eventual bombing altitude of 11,000 feet. We kept “bang on” our route and crossed the French coast within seconds of our predicted time. Other Lancasters were visible all around. At position “H” on our route the time was 1408 as we turned (dead over the turning point according to Tommy Crook, our bomb-aimer, and headed towards Compiegne, our last turning point before the target. Compiegne was only 14 nautical miles (4.3 minutes) away at this time and I thought I would have a look at this historic place as we turned towards our target. It was the place where the Armistice was signed in a railway-carriage in 1918 and the self-
58
[page break]
same place where Hitler insisted on reversing things in 1940.
I moved forward into the cockpit and was feeling pleased as Compiegne appeared below our banked wing-tip. Then I looked for our accompanying aircraft and eventually spotted them as small specks ahead of us. They had obviously cut the corner, missing out the right-angled bend at Compiegne and were well on the way to the target. There was only one other Lanc. anywhere near us and it was probably half a mile away on the beam.
We were now faced with a straight run onto the target of 21 nautical miles, which would take over 6 minutes, at only 11,000 feet in a cloudless sky and with no-one with whom to share the flak. The odds were very heavily stacked against us, but we carried on according to form. No-one panicked – we were all pretty quiet – but that run-in onto target seemed to take an awful long time.
We were subjected to very intense anti-aircraft fire – the gunners must have been rubbing their hands in anticipation. The conditions were ideal for them – a large aircraft at moderate height on a steady course in clear visibility. We were surrounded by shell-bursts, to the extent that the crew of the other aircraft thought we’d “had it”. We bombed in the middle of our allotted time bracket for bombing, which was obviously not the case with the vast majority of our companions, who were now miles away. Our aircraft was very fortunate to survive. Our recent replacement port inner engine was hit and had to be “feathered”. One of the other engines was damaged and three petrol tanks hit.
Our bomb-aimer, Tommy Crook, and flight engineer,
59
[page break]
Johnny Squires, received minor injuries from the “flak” which they later professed to be worthwhile in exchange for the wound-stripes they were then entitled to wear on their sleeves.
About 12 minutes after leaving the target and nearly halfway back to the coast, we saw a Lancaster on fire about five miles ahead and counted five parachutes opening as the crew baled out. That Lancaster “hit the deck” two minutes later.
It might just as easily have been our aircraft. Once we had crossed the French coast we breathed a sigh of relief and reduced the airspeed to ease the burden on our remaining engines. We were only 8 minutes later than scheduled back at Wickenby.
It so happened that our Squadron Navigation Officer had taken part in this operation and he was obviously in one of the aircraft which had taken the short cut, missing out Compiegne. I quite surprised myself by marching into his office later and telling him what I thought about it. I wondered, later, if it wasn’t our pilot I should have had words with, as he should have realised what was happening and stayed with the “gaggle”, or at least told me what was afoot. On the other hand it was possibly a throw-back from the Gelsenkirchen raid when he missed the target by sticking strictly to orders rather than follow my directions.
The outcome was that our aircraft “N-Nan” needed extensive repairs, having between 50 and 60 flak holes. (Johnny Squires gave me a piece of German flak found in the Lanc. – I still have it). It didn’t take part in operations again until ten days later, piloted by F/O G.S. Whyte to Falaise on 13/14 August.
60
[page break]
In the meantime we were sent on a sea-mining (or “Gardening”) operation in Lancaster PH-W off the French coast to the west of La Rochelle on 10/11 August.
This was our 26th op. and in this regard our crew was running neck and neck with another crew captained by F/Lt G.C. Owens, with a Canadian navigator F/O G.L. Wistow, who were both in my hut on the Officers’ site. I didn’t know George Wistow all that well, but I knew he was very well thought of in Canada. Mail delivered to the Mess was generally placed in a pigeon-holed framework but the “W” pigeon-hole was inadequate for the volume of Wistow’s letters so his were tied in a separate bundle placed just below the W’s. Like many Canadians he was a very outgoing type and usually went around with his pilot in his free time. Although only eight aircraft were taking part in this operation, Wistow’s was one of them, PH-X, JB716.
The object was to lay mines (or “Vegetables”) in channels believed to be used by U-boats operating from La Rochelle. This was where our H2S was to be of use in determining the dropping points of the mines on a bearing and distance from a feature on the Ile de Oleron.
The obvious hazard was the flak we were likely to encounter at our mine-dropping height of only 5,000 feet from both the Ile de Oleron and the Ile de Re. Night fighters wouldn’t have to make much altitude either.
Our route took us via Bridport on the south coast, then south across the Channel and the Brest peninsular and descending gradually to 5,000 feet to reach a turning point at 47 degrees N and 4 degrees W over the Bay of Biscay, from where
61
[page break]
we headed south-east towards our destination.
The islands indicating our mining zone appeared quite clearly on the H2S so I directed our route, map-reading by the H2S for the last few miles. When we reached our release point on a bearing of 335 degrees (true) from Boyard Ville we dropped our mines at 4 second intervals whilst maintaining the same bearing. There was a considerable amount of light flak but we did not receive any damage and were soon climbing back to 10,000 feet on our way home. Our mines had been dropped around 0058 G.M.T., i.e. within the 0050 and 0100 range allotted and we landed back at base at the time our pre-flight plan had calculated for our arrival, all despite a certain amount of apprehension about having to use a different Lancaster from our old faithful “N-Nan”.
Unfortunately, PH-X, with F/Lt Owen’s crew did not return. We heard later that they were badly shot up by flak near the mining area, struggled back to England but left it too late to bale out, crashed and caught fire. The wireless operator and the mid-upper gunner were the only survivors. They were both badly injured but fortunately they managed to crawl out without getting burned. They were in hospital for some time but both survived the war. Stan Canning, the wireless operator still lives in Birmingham. (I managed to contact him in 1997).
There were continual reminders for me in the post-war years of both George Wistow and Walter Suddaby as I journeyed between York and Selby. On the main road I passed through Riccall where Walter was stationed at the H.C.U. (Heavy Conversion Unit) prior to going on to Lisset and 158 Squadron. On the alternative route I had to pass through the village of Wistow.
62
[page break]
I think our crew must have gone on a week’s leave because the next entry in my log book was ferrying Lancaster PH-Z from Wickenby to Ludford for a major inspection on 21st August. Perhaps it was a good job it was only a twenty minute flight! Anyway we travelled back by road.
We discovered, on our return from leave, that John Tebbut and his crew had gone missing during our absence, so I was left with the slim blue book on “Cloud reading for pilots.” which he had lent me two or three weeks before. By this time of course, all his kit and possessions had been collected and I couldn’t see a lot of point in trying to catch up with them for the sake of the small inexpensive book which remains among my souvenirs.
Very strangely, a couple of years ago, I found John Tebbut’s name recorded on the Wickenby Roll of Honour with the date 24th June 1944 although my log book records my flight with him on 31st July 1944. W.R. Chorley in “R.A.F. Bomber Command Losses in 1944” obviously had the same source of information, reporting the loss of John’s crew “without trace” on 24th June during an operation on Saintes. I know they’ve got the records wrong but how can I do anything about it after 54 years? So many people were involved in making the records of operational casualties that inevitably mistakes were made. One such instance I can point to is the appearance on the Wickenby Roll of Honour of the two crew members who survived the crash which killed George Wistow and four of his crew mates. One of them, the wireless operator, is still alive and the other, the mid-upper gunner died in 1992. I presumed they must have died of their injuries until I came across their names in the Register of Members!
63
[page break]
By the time we renewed our acquaintanceship with “N-Nan” she had completed two more missions, her 42nd and 43rd, with two other 12 Squadron crews. We got her back for her 44th and our 27th operation on 25/26 August. This time the target was the Opel motor factories at Russelheim, E.S.E. of Mainz, where amongst other products, components were being made for flying-bombs.
Navigation was becoming pretty routine by this stage in my career, and although it was a nine-hour trip I managed to keep my concentration all the way, filling in reams of calculations with no noticeable variation in quality right through the exercise. This was recognised by the commendation “Very good nav.”. from our Squadron Navigation Officer written on the bottom of the log. Wind-finding for the main force was again an extra duty. Our scheduled time on the target was 0106 to 0110 – we actually bombed at 0107.
My log included two entries at 0054 and 0126.2 recording aircraft being shot down, with rough bearings relative to our heading. Also noted was a precautionary practice stall with just over twenty minutes to go to Wickenby. Our tailplane had received some damage and it was considered best to try out pre-landing manoeuvres whilst we still had plenty of height (about 8,000 feet). Anyway it can’t have been too bad. One thing I found was that after so many hours of continuous concentration, and then going through de-briefing, I didn’t have any problem sleeping!
The verdict on the operation, not immediately available, was that it inflicted very considerable damage and that the forge and gearbox factory were put out of action for several weeks. The attack was considered ”much more profitable, both in
64
[page break]
damage inflicted and in the lighter losses incurred” than the visit by a force a fortnight earlier.
Operation 28, our second attack on Kiel, turned out to be a rather bumpy ride. On the outward journey we stayed at 2,000 feet, heading E.N.E. until we were three-quarters of the way to Denmark before climbing on the same track to 12,000 feet. At 7 degrees East we turned to starboard and headed almost S.E. as if to attack Hamburg. Navigation was simplified by the fact that Heligoland stood out quite sharply on the cathode ray tube of the H2S with, of course, no confusing signals possible. I obtained bearings at ranges of twenty seven and three quarters and nineteen nautical miles as we passed well to the north of the islands, placing us right on track. At the same time we were climbing to 19,000 feet, and I sent back to base the third of the wind velocities I had dutifully measured.
We crossed the German coast dead on track, crossed the Kiel Canal still heading as if for Hamburg, but when about 25 nautical miles short we turned sharply port on a north-westerly heading to Kiel. As we turned we saw red target indicators going down S.E. of us, so it looked as if there was a diversionary attack on Hamburg. Ahead we saw the first illuminating flares going down but it looked as if there would be low stratus cloud over the target. Then we saw red indicators going down ahead of us. Using the H2S I measured the remaining distance to Kiel at 15 nautical miles, or 3.6 minutes time-wise. Then the green target indicators appeared dead ahead and our bomb-aimer, Tommy Crook, took over. The bombs were dropped at 2309.7 so we were very close to our planned time on target of 2310. We turned away at 2310.1 and, looking at the H2S, I reckoned we must have been “bang on” our aiming point.
65
[page break]
Our H2S fix at 2312.3 showed us right on track to our turning point over Kiel Bay, from which we turned westwards to cross the narrow neck of Germany roughly 20 nautical miles south of the Danish border. From our next turning point on the western German coast, we were to descend from 19,000 feet to 7,000 feet as we put the nose down and pushed up our airspeed from 160 to 200 knots. We had only left the coast between 10 and 15 miles astern when we saw a burning aircraft falling about five miles away on the port beam.
At 2340 all was going well and we were only 2 miles south of track, but only seven minutes later we were encountering static in heavy cloud at about 17,000 feet so Fred altered course, first onto 150 degrees, and then 180 degrees and then 210 degrees, as I could see from my repeater compass, to try to go round to the south of the cumulo-nimbus band. I managed to get a fix using Heligoland which now showed us 14 miles south of track, but we were still heading predominantly south looking for a gap in the clouds. We levelled out at 12,500 feet and turned onto 240 degrees. We were now about 24 miles due west of Heligoland and 20 miles south of track.
Fred decided to descend below freezing level on a heading of 270 degrees (west), but we encountered severe turbulence which upset some of our instruments, (apart from the crew!) and without any action by the pilot the aircraft was thrown around onto an easterly heading, all in the space of a couple of minutes! Fred turned south once more and I got another fix on Heligoland which showed that in a period of almost six minutes we had actually made good only 5 miles and that in a southerly direction. We kept on trying to avoid cloud, first on 240 degrees, then 210 degrees and back to 240 degrees.
66
[page break]
Another fix at 0010 hours showed us only 10 miles north of Nordeney, in the East Friesian Islands, known to be the outposts of German flak batteries. We weren’t keen on re-entering German territory and fortunately we found a gap in the clouds and altered course, thankfully, onto 290 degrees as an estimated direction whilst I calculated a more accurate course to intercept our originally intended track back home.
By 0051 we were practically back on track and hastening homeward at 220 knots. I resumed full navigational control of the aircraft and was soon back in the old routine. We arrived over Wickenby only 15 minutes later than our flight-planned time, thanks partly to using a somewhat higher airspeed than planned over the last hour of our journey, despite a certain section of our route seeming rather like an eternity.
The Navigation Officer’s comment written on my log was “Must have been a big, big cloud!!!” I wish he’d been with us to enjoy it! I think we had probably encountered what is know as a “line squall”. The report in Bomber Command News“ (Summer 1988) says “472 aircraft attacked, very heavy bombing in the town centre with widespread fires fanned by strong winds. 17 Lancasters were lost. In W.R. Chorley’s “R.A.F. Bomber Command Losses in 1944” six Lancasters are individually listed with their crews as “lost without trace” and two as “crashed in the North Sea” on that operation. One of the aircraft lost without trace was PH-A from 12 Squadron. I wonder whether they had cloud trouble but fared worse than we did?
Looking back on this experience I marvel not only at the robustness of the Lancaster but also that of the gyrocompass and the air position indicator (A.P.I.) which it served.
67
[page break]
It was back to routine on our 29th operation, which took us by day over Reading and Eastbourne to another flying-bomb site at Fromentel in the Pas-de-Calais. This was such a short-haul trip, lasting barely three hours, that we were able to take our maximum bomb load of 15,300 lb, or very nearly 7 tonnes in today’s parlance. One innovation this time was that the bomb-aimer took over the navigation from the French coast onwards and map-read us the 21 miles to the target, which was in any case, well marked with red target indicators, (T.I’s). We bombed one minute later than planned, but it was all pretty uneventful.
Our final (30th) operation took us on a daylight attack on a V-2 rocket store at St. Riquier, just a few miles from Abbeville. Eight other V-2 stores were being attacked on the same day, involving a total of 601 aircraft. Again things went very much according to plan and we bombed right on time. We did, however, climb to 14,500 feet to avoid flak as we headed back for the coast near Dunkerque. There was some flak damage to the aircraft, just to prove it’s not wise to take things for granted. Six Lancasters were lost. So we ended our operational tour of 30 ops. tidily on the last day of the month (31.8.44). I got an “excellent” proficiency assessment from the O.C. of 12 Squadron, Wing Commander Maurice Stockdale, which is recorded near the end of my log book. That gentleman now lives in Fleet, Hampshire.
One outcome of a successful tour of “ops” was my receiving the D.F.C., gazetted on 12 December 1944. I later learned that our pilot Fred Holbrook (who began his tour as sergeant, progressed to warrant officer half-way through the tour, and was commissioned after 23 “ops”) also received this award.
68
[page break]
[underlined] Chapter 7: Instructing, Ferry Trips & Crewing up for second tour [/underlined]
Just as quickly as our crew assembled in O.T.U. days we were dispersed. We went on leave, (I think it was for a week and I visited the B.O.C.M. laboratory early in September. The only home address I had for a member of the crew was for Johnny Squires. It’s such a long time ago I can’t remember how and when we got our postings, but I can’t remember meeting up again with the others at Wickenby. I was posted to No. 1656 H.C.U. (Heavy Conversion Unit) at Lindholme, near Doncaster, early in September.
I found I was amongst a bunch of experienced navigators condemned to instructing pupil navigators in the use of H2S (airborne radar). Part of the instruction we could do using simulators in a sort of classroom but the nitty-gritty part was actually flying with them on cross-countries. The four-engined aircraft at Lindholme were at first mainly Halifaxes (Mk II) but over the time I was there, (nearly eight months), they were steadily being replaced by Lancasters.
The one common factor in the flying instructing in H2S was that on each occasion (and there were forty-six of them) I flew with a different trainee crew who were leaving the airfield for the first time in a four-engined aircraft without the assurance of a “screened” pilot aboard. In every case they were all complete strangers to me, with the occasional exception of the navigator who I might have met on ground training exercises, and so there was a considerable element of the unknown when one took off with them on a four or five hour cross-country exercise. This might sometimes be extended to include simulated bombing by H2S or the dropping of small practice bombs at the local
69
[page break]
bombing range. When the “screened” pilot flew with a “sprog” crew he at least had his salvation in own hands in the case of emergency – while I knew nothing about piloting an aircraft for real. A “screened” pilot had generally successfully completed a tour of “ops” which was a fair enough way of sorting out the men from the boys.
Maybe I shouldn’t have put it quite like that – after all I was now a “screened” navigator, not that I felt all that screened in this situation. Anyway, I did my best to pass on my experience to a succession of navigators and there was never any suggestion of my being “grounded” and someone else doing the job.
Generally the H2S simulated bombing was done at the turning points on the navigational exercise. When the bombs would have been released if we were bombing for real, we operated (without looking out of the aircraft) a downward pointing camera to give us a line-overlap series of photographs which could be examined later to check the expertise of the use of the H2S as the sole bombing aid.
I still have some line-overlap series as souvenirs of the time we “bombed” Luton, Skomer Island (off S.W. Wales) and the Skerries (just to the N.W. of Anglesey). These were most impressive when the target happened to be largely obscured by cloud that would have made visual bombing difficult and yet there were identifiable points visible through breaks in the clouds on the photographs to prove that the bombing run had been “bang on”. As the H2S was just as effective by night as by day, these photographs helped instil confidence of its effectiveness in the pupil crews. Later we had a more sophisticated camera attached to the H2S set which took pictures of the scene on the cathode ray tube.
70
[page break]
Inevitably there were tricky moments. I can well remember coming in to land at Lindholme after a cross-country with one pupil crew. The pilot misjudged his landing and we touched down on the grass some distance from and running roughly parallel to the runway. Ahead of us loomed some large building. The pilot tried to turn the Lancaster and the undercarriage collapsed, so we skidded to a belly-landing. As calmly and unhurriedly as I could, I suggested that we got out quickly in case the aircraft caught fire. (We might have ruptured a petrol tank and the engines were still hot). Fortunately all was well and no-one was hurt. I have a picture in my log book of this unhappy Lancaster lying on its tummy and the succinct comment on the exercise of 15.1.45 – “Last trip by “X”. In another similar incident “Jock” Niven, another of our flying nav-instructors had to leave an aircraft somewhat hurriedly and, in squeezing his rather plump form through the emergency exit, got out either without his trousers or with them in disarray.
On another cross-country the powers that be tacked on a fighter affiliation exercise (to practice evading fighters) which upset my stomach somewhat and I had to go back down the fuselage to use the Elsan (chemical toilet) – in my log book I have a minute sketch of myself as a match-stalk man, being sick into a bucket! I survived other fighter affiliation exercises without undergoing that particular indignity.
It was just before the half-way stage of my sojourn at 1656 H.C.U. I learned that I had been awarded the D.F.C. for my work on 12 Squadron, and when I went on Christmas leave Mother presented me with a cutting from the “Hull Daily Mail” – I’ve no idea what happened to that.
Judging from the gap between entries in my log book I
71
[page break]
presume I had another leave after completing my duties as an instructor because the next entry shows me flying as navigator in a crew headed by F/Lt Bill Addison, who had acted as flight commander towards the end of his duties at Lindholme.
We were part of a newly assembled crew, each member having completed a tour of thirty operations, preparing for a possible second tour of operations. We had been laid off for a minimum six months (in my case eight months), to rest us from our first tours and at the same time make use of us in the training of further batches of aircrew.
In typical inflexible service fashion we found, much to our chagrin, that we were treated as beginners without an “op” behind us. Another possible explanation is that with the ending of the war in Europe, the R.A.F. had to keep us temporarily occupied and this was the easiest way to do it. For a couple of months (May to July ’45) we went through the same routine that our first crew had to undergo at No. 1653 H.C.U., omitting the “circuits and bumps” but making up for this by doing twice as much of the other H.C.U. catalogue. Halfway through this our crew was transferred to No. 576 Squadron, based at Fiskerton near Lincoln. To use a prevalent expression we were all “cheesed” or “browned off” with our lack of recognition. The war in Europe had ended but we were expecting to be sent to tackle the Japanese.
On 17.7.45 we had a cross-country with a difference, code-named “Cooks Tour”, visiting Rotterdam, Arnhem, Essen, Cologne, Aachen and Antwerp. The idea was partly to impress the natives and partly to let us see the havoc wrought by Bomber Command during the recent campaign. I believe we carried a few ground-staff personnel as observers.
72
[page break]
Then the R.A.F. at last found something to keep a large number of bomber crews occupied. We were used as troop carriers, flying to and from Italy, taking service personnel from and on leave, respectively. This was, I suppose, a kind of poetic justice. We had wrecked the railway system in France so that it was impossible to transport troops by land at anything like a reasonable speed, if at all, so we got the job.
On our first trip, early in August, we went to Bari, on the Adriatic coast and brought back on leave twenty members of the 8th Army. It can’t have been at all comfortable for them, sitting on the metal floor of a Lancaster, but I expect the novelty of the situation helped to distract them, and at least they were getting home quickly. Another novelty was that their kit bags were slung up in the bomb bays of the aircraft in place of bombs, but we didn’t drop any. On arrival in England we had to land at an airfield with Customs facilities, where the troops had to display their acquisitions (or loot).
The second trip was to Naples on 22.8.45. We had glorious views of Vesuvius on the approach to Pomigliano airfield. The next day was free and we managed to visit Pompeii. In Naples we were beset by bare-footed urchins competing with one another to swop lire for pound notes. Some R.A.F. types took packages of coffee to sell at inflated prices to the deprived Italians. On the following day we were due to carry another twenty passengers back to England.
Bill and I had to attend an early morning briefing, ready for a very early start, but take-off was postponed for a few hours and we had to attend a second briefing. Bill was rather tired and asked me to modify our official route by cutting off one of the corners. Instead of taking a north-westerly route running roughly
73
[page break]
parallel to the west coast of Italy and then heading due west towards the French Riviera I was to go over the top of Corsica to the French Riviera. As the highest ground on Corsica rose to about 9,000 feet it would be essential to be sure of a good safety margin for our passengers but as we didn’t have oxygen for them we would have to compromise – I reckoned that if we crossed Corsica at 11,000 feet that should be satisfactory. In fact I observed the approach to the east coast of the island on the H2S. We climbed to 11,000 feet and stayed there until we left the west coast behind us and then descended to our authorised height for the rest of the journey. The twenty minutes or so at 11,000 feet had negligible effect on our passengers. (The rule was that you needed to use oxygen if you flew over 10,000 feet for more than one hour).
The results of this change of route, whilst not affecting our passengers, remained to be seen. Whilst the pilot and myself were attending our second briefing some of the other members of the crew had wandered off to our aircraft where they were accosted by an R.A.F. groundstaff airman who was on leave in Italy but would rather spend his leave in England. Our crew members didn’t see why not and when the rest of us reached the Lancaster they seemed to have got it all arranged. Bill didn’t like it, but surprisingly, agreed on condition that if this “hitch-hiking” was discovered we knew nothing about it.
Our stowaway apparently got away from the Customs airfield at Glatton and went on his way. The trouble began when my chart was routinely scanned by the Navigation Officer and our short cut was revealed. Bill and I were interviewed separately about this breach of discipline but as I was subject to the captain’s instructions it largely devolved on Bill. Whilst the matter was still under consideration our stowaway put his
74
[page break]
spanner in the works. He had somehow to get back to Italy before his leave expired.
He knew we were from 576 Squadron from the aircraft’s lettering and notwithstanding the fact that he had already put us in jeopardy with his outward flight from Italy, he tried to get to our airfield at Fiskerton, near Lincoln, in the hope of a return trip. Unfortunately, he got mis-directed to our base airfield, where, being dressed in khaki drill whilst everyone else was in blue, the service police soon spotted him and took him for questioning. He told them almost the whole story – the only thing he didn’t give away was with which crew he had travelled. The pilot and I were confronted with this chap and we both denied having seen him – I truthfully didn’t recognise him as I hadn’t paid particular attention to him at the critical time.
We could have been right up to our ears in it but for our station intelligence officer withholding a vital piece of evidence. He knew from the time of the ‘bus that our stowaway had caught from Glatton that ours was the only aircraft from our squadron which could possibly have landed him in time, thanks to our cutting the corner on our route and being one of the first aircraft back to England. The intelligence officer told us later how he had worked things out. I suppose one or both of us might possibly have been court-martialled for this serious breach of discipline but nothing happened. Except, one day Bill Addison had to report to Group Headquarters where he saw one senior officer and was reprimanded for cutting the corner, then went (on the same visit) to see another officer to be told that he had been awarded the A.F.C. for his work as an instructor, to add to the D.F.C. he already wore. As it happened, I didn’t fly again with Bill Addison as his demobilisation cropped up very soon afterwards.
75
[page break]
The Japanese surrendered that August, so now there was a general feeling of anti-climax. Personally, I knew I couldn’t throw away four years of studying and I couldn’t get out of the Air Force quickly enough now that the “raison d’etre” had been removed. I tried to get back into the habit of studying science at Lincoln Technical College but found the available course too elementary and had to give up that approach. Later on I had a piece of good news from our R.A.F. education officer. He had made enquiries and discovered that London University had modified its regulations, my School Certificate of 1937 now being acceptable and giving me exemption from the London Matriculation exam. This meant that when I did get back to studying I could aim for the London B.Sc. Special qualification, which had the advantage of an intermediate examination (with certificate) en route.

Our crew was broken up and despatched to various points of the compass. I received a letter from our wireless operator, “Artie” Shaw a year later, just after I was demobilised, from R.A.F. Seletar, Singapore but never heard from any of the others. However, by strange coincidence I did run across Bill Addison again. I encountered him at Lloyd’s Bank in York somewhere about 1960, and it turned out that he was living in Osbaldwick, barely half a mile from our house on Hull Road, York

I was posted to 50 Squadron at Sturgate, a recently constructed airfield near Gainsborough and joined the crew of F/O Titchener. That was in September 1945. We were soon on the Italian ferry trips again, flying to Naples on three more occasions to bring home service personnel. Twice we brought twenty army types and once we afforded the ladies a bit more room to spread themselves by seating only fourteen of them

76

[page break]

(A.T.S. and Q.A.I.M.N.S.) in the space normally occupied by twenty army blokes, but it was the same metal floor.

After that it was back to routine with plenty of cross-countries thrown in. I see that on one night exercise, operation “Bullseye”, we went via Hamburg, among other places, to a target on the island of Spiekeroog in the German chain of East Frisian Islands. This was very near the scene of our memorable exploits whilst battling with the elements during our return from Kiel about sixteen months previously. This time however, things were entirely different – no cumulo-nimbus and no danger of flak. On the way back to Sturgate there was a problem. Visibility had seriously deteriorated and for the first time in my flying experience our aircraft was diverted to Carnaby, near Bridlington, where there was a special emergency airfield, much used during the war. This had exceptionally long runways to accommodate crippled aircraft returning from ops and also an emergency flare path called F.I.D.O. (Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation) which used containers of burning gasoline down the sides of the runway to cause local dispersal of the fog.

We landed safely and found that we would have to stay there till next day. We didn’t think much of the food or the very cold accommodation (it was early January 1946). Maybe there was some problem with our aircraft because another Lancaster from 50 Squadron collected us the following afternoon and flew us back to base.

Nissen huts were never warm in the winter. I can well remember a period during the winter at Sturgate when icicles formed on the inside of the door and my bed was one of the two either side of the entrance.

77

[page break]

The solid fuel stove was halfway back down the hut and I finished my insulation by piling the contents of my kit-bag on the bed before trying to sleep. Some of the stuff consisted of flying gear which I never needed on operations because the Lancaster was warm enough without it.

By late January, 50 Squadron was transferred to the much more hospitable Waddington airfield, just south of Lincoln. Waddington was constructed originally during the first world war and opened as an R.F.C. flying training station in 1916. Now it was a thoroughly modern establishment with permanent accommodation, workshops and offices. I was soon pottering around with various pilots on trivia like bombing at the local range, air-sea firing (for the gunners), four short cross-countries with A.T.C. cadets, air tests (one with an A. V. Roe test pilot who managed to take off in less than half the length of the runway).

There was operation “Frontline”, a propaganda tour of the British Zone in Germany. Just for a change we did a couple of meteorological trips (code name “Operation Seaweed”, both lengthy exercises in excess of eight hours, which took us up to latitude 62 degrees North, passing Fair Isle and the Shetlands with a turning point roughly halfway between the Faroe Islands and the most westerly coast of Norway.

We carried a meteorological observer to take the required data readings, to which I was able to contribute the locations in latitude and longitude and measurements of wind velocity at our height. It was all rather boring but after seeing such wide expanses of ocean for such a long time it was nice to return to land.

78

[page break]

Then there was the novelty of my one and only trip in a Lincoln bomber, the successor to the Lancaster, in which we would probably have done our second tour of operations (against the Japanese). My last flight in the R.A.F. was an abortive air sea mission on which we had to search an area of the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. We did sight an empty dinghy, which was very good going considering how tiny they are from any appreciable height, but no sign of any people or aircraft debris. The lost aircraft was later found in the hills of Northumberland.

To fill in a few more weeks before I was demobbed, in August 1946 I was sent, under protest, on an instructor’s course at Finningley. It was interesting in that I got to appreciate more fully the equipment I had been using on a regular basis, but futile from the teaching point of view since I would be leaving the Air Force almost immediately. I suppose our C.O. had been required to send so many persons and it was just a matter of making up the numbers, the Air Force being well into a state of disintegration.

79

[page break]

[photograph of the crew in front of their aircraft]

[page break]
[blank page]
[page break]
[underlined] Chapter 8: Lancaster ME 758 PH-N “Nan” [/underlined]
Whilst I was home on leave, sometime in June 1945, it so happened that my brother Norman was also at home. We took our bicycles and crossed the Humber by paddle steamer, then cycled south to Wickenby. By great good fortune we found my old aircraft, ME 758 PH-N “Nan” still very much in existence. She had eventually completed more than a hundred operations, the latest ones being to drop food to the starving Dutch just before the Germans capitulated. There was also one of our old ground crew in attendance and he told us that “Nan’s” next exercise would be to take part in a fighter affiliation exercise, i.e. manoeuvering [sic] violently with a fighter aircraft. This didn’t seem at all considerate after what that aircraft had gone through! Anyway Norman took a photograph of “Nan”, myself and my ground crew corporal to add to tone he had already taken of me and my bike! I still have both pictures.
It was only a few years ago that I learned more about “Nan”. That was when I obtained a copy of “Claims to Fame. The Lancaster.” by Norman Franks. This book celebrates the Lancaster “centenarians” – 34 machines that achieved the remarkable goal of flying 100 or more operations. A Lancaster crew’s first tour of duty stood at 30 operations, but both men and aircraft often failed to reach even half of that total. Skill, training and team work would all increase the chances of survival, but luck played a large part in deciding which Lancaster would be found by a night fighter or hit by flak and which would escape to attack again. Only 34 Lancasters in Bomber Command survived 100 operations, about 1 percent of the number which were lost on operations. “Nan” was the only centenarian from Wickenby which was the base for two squadrons, 12 and 626. Franks, through some meticulous
81
[page break]
research has been able to compile a fairly comprehensive narrative for each Lancaster, including crew changes, missions flown and events and incidents during the service career of the aircraft.
Our crew flew in PH-N for the first time when we did a two and a half hours cross-country exercise on 26.5.44 after we had completed three ops. on different Lancasters. We did our fourth op. in her (it was her tenth) when we went to the Rote Erde railway marshalling yards at Aachen. The defences were strong and losses 7 percent (12 out of 170). A day later, 29.5.44, we did another cross-country in her and it turned out to be a rather “hairy” experience.
My log entry merely states “Window lost and aileron damaged. A.S.I. (air speed indicator) read 360 m.p.h. + in dive”.
I cannot remember the cause, but no great harm was done. The damage was repaired and we began a series of eleven ops. in her over the next three weeks up to 22.6.44 covering a variety of targets, including the first daylight raids by Lancasters since 1943, when we attacked the docks at Le Havre and Boulogne, on two successive evenings and virtually ended the E-boat threat to our cross-channel invasion shipping.
This took our total of ops. to 15 and “Nan’s” to 22. Whilst we enjoyed a week’s leave, “Nan” did five more operations with three other crews. We then did four of “Nan’s” next five ops., three of them being to the important French marshalling yards at Orleans, Dijon and Tours, bringing us to 19 and “Nan” to 32.
“Nan” then managed two more trips without us before
82
[page break]
we did three night ops. in five days, returning from Stuttgart on 24/25.7.44 on three engines. Two days later we were air-testing “Nan” with a new engine and tail fin. This damage was not mentioned in Norman Franks’ account nor indeed was there any mention of the operation on Stuttgart, which was our 22nd and “Nan’s” 37th op.
After a couple of short daylight ops. to French targets we were scheduled to attack the V-weapon launching site at Trossy St. Maximin. This, as I have already described in some detail, was the worst experience of our tour and which we were very lucky to survive. Once again this was not mentioned in Norman Franks’ account. In fact he summarises “Nan’s” record as follows:-
“Nan” was almost totally free of mechanical problems, although towards the end of its career the aircraft’s starboard engine caught fire on 2nd February 1945, causing the crew to abort a trip to Wiesbaden. This particular Lanc. was also lucky to escape serious damage from the German defences: only once was damaged recorded when its hydraulics were hit by light flak at 0612 hours during the attack to support Operation “Goodwood” – the Allied breakout from Caen on 18th July 1944.”
This was one of a couple of ops. done by other crews, presumably whilst our crew was on leave after our 19th op. on Tours. That damage cannot have been too bad because the Caen trip was followed, the same evening, by an op. on Scholven!
In the aftermath of the Trossy operation we had to do our next op. in PH-W whilst “Nan” was being repaired. “Nan” didn’t get back on ops. until ten days after Trossy – a long lay-off in
83
[page break]
those days!
We had “Nan” back for the op. on Russelsheim on 25/26th August. Our tailplane was damaged to the extent that we practised landing manoeuvres whilst we still had plenty of height before actually landing at base on our return. With the exception of our op. in V-“Victor” on 28.8.44, when “Nan” was not flying with any crew, possible due to overhaul, we completed our tour in “Nan”, receiving light flak damage on our last operation.
So once we’d got “Nan”, after our three “starter” ops., we did 25 of our remaining 27 trips in her, which must be something of a record in itself.
Altogether she completed 106 operations, six “Manna” sorties (taking food to the starving Dutch people) and two “Exodus” trips (the flying home of released prisoners of war).
Looking back it seems such a shame that after seeing out the war she was “struck off charge” on 19.10.45 and “reduced to produce” i.e. scrapped.
84
[page break]
[black and white photograph of airman in uniform on a bicycle leaning against a wall]
[page break]
[blank page]

[page break]

[photograph]

[page break]

[blank page]

[page break]

[underlined] Chapter 9: GEE. A. P. I. and H2S [/underlined]

My work as a navigator was enhanced out of all recognition by three devices put at my disposal over a six-month period. “Gee” was a godsend after the dismal future I had anticipated relying to any extent on str-navigation. It was a system based on the transmission of synchronised pulses from a “master” (A) and two “slave” (B and C) ground stations. The two “slaves” were situated about 200 miles apart, with the “master” in the middle, and the cathode ray display on the “Gee” set in the aircraft showed the respective differences between the times at which the AB and AC signals were received. When these measurements were plotted on a special chart covered with two distinct sets of parabolic lines it was a simple matter to fix the aircraft’s position with great accuracy. This accuracy gradually declined as the distance from the transmitting stations increased and the crossings of the two sets of curved lines became more acute. Furthermore it was susceptible to interference from enemy jamming stations to the extent that it could not be relied upon beyond enemy shores.

It still gave us the all-important chance of determining accurate measurements of wind velocity and so getting off to a good start on every operation. It also helped to verify one’s position on the way home after leaving the enemy coast and simplified getting back to the right airfield. The Air Force had understandably kept the information about “Gee” from us until it was absolutely necessary to introduce this master stroke. It certainly “bucked up” we navigators no end.

The second of the marvellous pieces of equipment was the air position indicator (A.P.I.). This showed the changes in latitude and longitude of the moving aircraft which would occur

85

[page break]

if there were no wind. It was a mechanical device which combined the inputs of the gyro compass and the air speed indicator, keeping a continuous record of the actual courses and speeds flown, including all deviations from the intended, and including “spur of the moment” tactical manoeuvres. This made life a lot easier by removing much of the drudgery in the manual plotting of lines on a chart by means of ruler, protractor, dividers and calculator.

The third item was airborne radar, known as H2S. This had a rotating transmitter, known as a scanner, housed in a “blister” beneath the aircraft and a receiver at the navigator’s side, the whole system being self-contained. It produced, on a cathode-ray tube, a rough picture of the ground over which the aircraft was flying, irrespective of cloud or darkness.

Water areas, which reflected none of the transmitting signals from the rotating scanner showed darkly on the screen. Land areas (or ground returns) appeared green, but a more reflective area such as a built-up area showed up as a more luminous patch often, but not always approximating in outline to the shape of a town. It was up the navigator to use his other information gleaned en route to decide which town he was observing on the screen. The chief use was navigational for there was a range-finder on the screen and a bearing indicator so one could obtain a bearing and distance from an identified town or feature. It was also possible to carry out bombing attacks without sight of the ground and the equipment could not be jammed by the enemy.

Unfortunately, German night-fighters had, for some time before our tour of operations, the capability of homing onto H2S transmissions - more about this later under “The German Defences”.

86

[page break]

[underlined] Chapter 10: The German Defences. [/underlined]

To counter R.A.F. and U.S.A.A.F. attacks the Germans had to deprive the German forces of 75% of their heavy anti-tank weapons. These 88mm guns had to be used for ant-aircraft purposes, scattered all over Germany and occupied territories because the possible targets were so numerous. 900,000 soldiers manned those guns and, in addition, hundreds of thousands of expert tradesmen could not be used by the German Army because their skills were needed to repair bomb damage. Meanwhile, the increasing requirement for day and night-fighters for defence against the bomber offensive, deprived the German Army on the Russian front of much of its accustomed close support as Messerschmidt 110s and Junkers 88s were drawn westwards.

Our most deadly opposition came from the German night-fighters. The German pilots had long known that the blind spot of the British bombers was below the fuselage but had not been able to exploit this fully because the fighter had generally to be aimed at the bomber to make use of its fixed forward-firing weapons and this could be difficult at night. However, in the autumn of 1943, an ingenious fitter at a Luftwaffe airfield devised the prototype of the deadly “schrage musik” - “jazz music” - a pair of fixed 20mm cannons pointing upwards at 60 degrees. Having located a bomber with the aid of radar or using the bomber’s radar (H2S) transmissions, the fighter pilot could then fly unseen and fairly safely manoeuvre below their target and fire incendiary cannon shells into the petrol tanks between the two motors in the wing, being particularly careful to avoid the bomb bay in the belly of the aircraft. It was then only a matter of seconds before the bomber exploded. The victims had no chance.

87

[page break]

Using this technique, an experienced night-fighter pilot could account for several four-engined bombers in a single excursion, there being so many targets available.

I sometimes wonder if and at what stage our superiors realised the situation and whether they had to decide between warning the crews of the dangers of H2S transmissions and maintaining the advantage of the navigational aid. I am sure a lot of H2S sets would have been little used over Germany if the crews had been presented with the true scenario. To be fair, our leaders would not at the time have been in a position to accurately attribute the proportion of bomber losses due to night fighters as opposed to anti-aircraft fire, but they must have had a rough idea.

What other crews saw was a sudden mid-air explosion and burst of flame. Someone put out the story that these were “scarecrows” fired into the air by the Germans with the intention of making the crews believe they were bombers being shot down and thereby affecting the bomber crews’ morale!

88

[page break]

[underlined and centred] Chapter 11: Reflections on survival [/underlined and centred]

Many factors contributed to my survival, beginning with my decision that I wanted to do the navigation on a bomber aircraft. At the time I volunteered for aircrew this was one of the two jobs of the observer, who was also responsible for dropping the bombs. The latter task was subsequently delegated to a specialist bomb aimer. When I enlisted in November 1941 (after passing the preliminaries three months earlier), there was a bottle-neck in the training scheme for navigators. I was deferred for five months, otherwise I would have been starting my tour in the winter of 1943-44, probably about January. That would have been a rotten time with bad weather and numerous long-distance trips including a high proportion to Berlin.

Then there was the length of the training period which took two years from the end of my deferred service to reaching the operational squadron, partially due to the necessity of fitting in to laid-down training schedules at the succeeding stages, notably:-

(a) the gap between completing the I.T.W. course and catching the boat to South Africa,
(b) five weeks at sea on a circuitous submarine-evading route to South Africa via South America,
(c) several weeks between arriving at 48 Air School, South Africa and starting the course there,
(d) the return to England,
(e) several more weeks delay at O.T.U. whilst the R.A.F. decided that our original pilot wouldn’t make the grade.

All these delays took me nearer to D-Day and the invasion of Europe by the Allied Armies. The increasing

89

[page break]

diversity of the targets needing to be attacked in order to assist the coming assault meant that there was a greater proportion of shorter range tactical targets and only seven over Germany itself. (Air Marshal Harris would have preferred to keep hammering away at German targets but had to give priority to the invasion requirements.) In the final stages before the landings there were attacks on coastal batteries, and radar stations, but the longer term “softening up” was by attacking a large number of railway centres to seriously impede German troop movements and supplies to the invasion front.

We were fortunate in not being “downed” by anti-aircraft fire on a few occasions, particularly near Stuttgart, when we returned on three engines and on the occasion near Compiegne when we got 50-60 holes in the aircraft and two of the crew received minor injuries. We were lucky in our encounter with the severe storm on the way back from our second trip to Kiel. And we were never attacked by a night-fighter, despite getting a close-up view of one on the Stuttgart operation.

On the positive side, we had a well-disciplined crew who didn’t waste time on unnecessary nattering on the intercom. What’s more, there was never any visible or audible sign of fear or distress.

We kept very close to our scheduled routes and times on almost all occasions, i.e. we kept in the middle of the bunch so it wasn’t quite so easy to be singled out.

I am sure that the toughest time for bomber crews was in the six months prior to us joining 12 Squadron. Nevertheless, I was surprised to discover in an “Analysis of Total Losses of Lancasters by Months” in the Wickenby Register Newsletter of

90

[page break]

May 1994 that 12 Squadron lost 31 Lancasters in the six months Nov. ’43 to April ’44 and 27 in the four months that our crew was operating. I suppose that might be explained by the ops. not being so frequent during the winter months.

91

[page break]

92

[page break]

[underlined and centred] Chapter 12: Postscript. [/underlined and centred]
After all these years I cannot remember just when or where I was demobbed and received my “civvy” suit. I know that officially my last day of service was 16.10.46 but I believe I was out a few weeks earlier.

I know that I picked up where I left off. I went back to work for B.O.C.M. at the laboratory in Stoneferry and I re-enlisted for Hull Technical College evening classes. As an ex-member of the forces and a background of studying chemistry for almost four years I knew I was eligible to apply for an educational grant of something over £3 a week to proceed on a full time course to a professional qualification. (Out of this, textbooks etc. had to be purchased). This would have meant giving up the day job which paid over £4 a week.

I knew that after four and a half years complete absence from my studies I would have to revise from the very beginning, but now that my School Certificate was accepted as giving me exemption from the London Matriculation exam. I decided that I would defer my application for a grant and aim to take the London Inter B.Sc. examination the next June. The Inter B.Sc. course took two years of evening class work so it meant I would have to cover one-half via the 1946-47 evening class course and the other half by swotting up from textbooks and my old notebooks. If I succeeded in passing the exam, comprising Maths., Physics and Chemistry, I would at least have that certificate to my name and I couldn’t have been further on if I’d taken advantage of the grant. Anyway I took the gamble although I found the readjustment rather tough. It was very amusing when attending an early lecture in Physics to hear the same old lecturer, Mr. Robson, repeat the same hoary joke that

93

[page break]
Walter Suddaby and I had heard in 1938 concerning his friend’s dog who was christened “Hysteresis” because it was always lagging behind.

Back at home there was a problem. My parents had been separated for some years, partially due to the war. The Luftwaffe destroyed Spillers’ flour mill, where my father worked, during a night raid in July 1941. Shortly afterwards, his firm offered him alternative employment at their Wallasey mill, which he accepted. At the tip of the Wirral peninsula he was now well over a hundred miles from Hull, so he wasn’t able to come home every weekend. My brother Norman, although a year younger than I, joined the R.A.F. shortly before I left home, due to my five months deferred service.

So by the time I had to report to the R.A.F. in London my mother, in a matter of a few months, was reduced from a family of five to my young sister Hazel and herself. This was very hard for her in the middle of the war, particularly as the air raid alerts still sounded regularly in Hull.

It was assumed that we should resume as a family when the war was over, although no-one knew when that would be or whether it would be possible. My father settled in Wallasey and mad regular payments to mother. At one time he tried to persuade her to join him in Wallasey but she declined for two reasons. She had worked hard all her life and used a very small legacy from a relative in New Zealand to enable the family to move into a modest home of our own and she was intent on having it ready for our return.

By the time I was “demobbed” things had become more complicated. My father had formed a relationship with his

94

[page break]

landlady and had no intention of returning to Hull. Mother’s situation was uncertain unless there was a legal separation, which would obviously take some time to come to court.

After passing the Inter B.Sc. exam, in June ’47, I had another decision to make. I could apply for the ex-serviceman’s grant or continue at evening classes for another year and then take the Subsid. Maths qualification, clearing the way to the B.Sc.(Special) in Chemistry. This would mean dropping all contact with chemistry for a year. Being slightly mad, but having confidence in my maths, I carried on at the Tech. evening classes for another session! and continued to work full-time at B.O.C.M. I duly passed the maths exam in June ’48.

In the meantime, the legal formalities of my parents’ separation had been formalised on a proper financial basis.

When I got my exam results I composed a letter applying for an educational grant as an ex-member of the forces, pointing out that I had already saved the country money by completing part of the course via evening classes. How could anyone resist that? I got a favourable response and I arranged to leave B.O.C.M. and complete my education full-time but still at the Hull Technical College, commencing in the autumn.

My two post-war years at B.O.C.M. had been spent on the routine testing of ingredients for animal feedstuffs, a boring occupation which I had now endured for six years altogether, plus six years of evening classes. I knew it had to be full-time or nothing.

Fortunately for me those last two years at B.O.C.M. were by no means wasted because it was there that I met a charming

95

[page break]

young lady assistant. Yvonne and I found that we had very similar outlooks and much in common and, although I was transferred to the Foster Street laboratory for the latter part of my stay with B.O.C.M., we maintained contact. In subsequent years I must have cycled a few hundreds of miles between North Hull and East Hull!!

It was rather odd attending the degree course. There were a couple of other ex-forces students, but the majority of our fellow pupils were about eight years younger. An advantage over attending a university was that the staff and the geography were all familiar and I had great faith in the staff, especially Messrs. L. Balmforth and G. R. Dennis.

I proposed to Yvonne on New Year’s Eve ’48 – ’49 with the proviso that I had to concentrate on first passing my final exams in 1950. Fortunately, she accepted!

I found those final two years hard going but I took my A.R.I.C. exams in April and the B.Sc. Special in Chemistry (London External) exams in June 1950 and waited in some trepidation for the results. I didn’t wish to go through all that again. I was now 28 and I’d had enough of college for my lifetime! However, all was well and I had both qualifications.

Now the way was clear to seek employment and plan for the wedding, which took place on September 30th, 1950. It rained all day! Subsequent events would take another book!

96

[page break]

[underlined and centred] Bibliography [/underlined and centred]

FRANKS, Norman

“Claims to Fame. The Lancaster” (Arms and Armour, 1994)

RICHARDS, Denis

“The Hardest Victory. R.A.F. Bomber Command in the Second World War.” (Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. 1994)

HASTINGS, Max

“Bomber Command” (Michael Joseph Ltd. 1979)

CHORLEY, W.R.

“Royal Air Force. Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War. Vol. 5 Aircraft and Crew Losses. 1944” (Midland Counties Publications. 1997)

SEARBY, John (Air Commodore)

“The Bomber Battle for Berlin” (Guild Publishing, 1991)

HARRIS, Sir Arthur

“Bomber Offensive” (Greenhill Books, 1998)

97

[page break]

98

[underlined and centred] Glossary of R.A.F. Terms. (Official and Unofficial).

A.P.I.
Air Position Indicator

A.S.I.
Air Speed Indicator

“Bang on”
Spot on, “Wizard”, 100%

“Cheesed off”
Browned off, fed up.

“Circuits and Bumps”
Practice take-off and landing

Cumulo-nimbus
Thunder clouds

D.R.
Dead reckoning with a calculated wind

Elsan
Aircraft toilet

Feathered
Engine switched off with propellor blades turned to reduce air resistance

Flak
Anti-aircraft fire

F.I.D.O.
Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation

“Gardening”
Laying sea mines

GEE
Radio navigation aid, grid box

H2S
Radar navigation and bombing aid

99

[page break]

I.T.W.
Initial Training Wing

O.T.U.
Operational Training Unit

P.F.F.
Path Finder Force

Pitot/tube
An open-ended tube mounted externally on the aircraft facing directly into the air flow to provide a convenient and accurate measurement of the aircraft’s speed.

“Screened”
aircrew rested from ops at end of tour and transferred to instructing

“Solo”
Unsupervised flight

Sprog
Inexperienced aircrew

V1 and V2
Robot flying bombs used by the Germans commonly called “doodlebugs”

“Vegetables”
Mines laid by the R.A.F.

“Window”
Aluminised strips used as an anti-radar device.

100

Collection

Citation

A R Witty, “Time out for war,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 30, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/32365.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.