Interview with Dave Fellowes

Title

Interview with Dave Fellowes

Description

Dave Fellowes flew operations as a rear gunner with 460 Squadron. He and his crew survived a mid-air collision with another Lancaster which resulted in an emergency landing at RAF Manston.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-04-06

Contributor

Gemma Clapton

Rights

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

Format

00:38:49 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AFellowesD150406
PFellowesD1501

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

(AP) This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Andrew Panton. The interviewee is David Fellowes. Mr Fellowes was a rear gunner in a Lancaster aircraft. The interview is taking place at The Princess Marina House in Rustington, West Sussex on 6th April 2015. Apologies for the poor sound quality at the beginning of the interview due to static on a tie clip microphone.
(DF) [Static] I’d just passed out of gunnery school number 1 ATS at Pembury South Wales and we all went on leave as brand new young Sergeant air gunners. Whilst we were on leave, we received our postings where we were going to go and what was going to happen to us. In my case, I was posted to 30 OTU in in a place called Hickson in Staffordshire. So I left home [unclear]. The first stop was Crewe and I got to Crewe, we had to change trains to go to Stafford. On the train, there I was sitting alone and all a sudden three Australian Flight Sergeants pilots came bustling in. Well we soon made up a little conversation and I asked one of them whereabouts in Australia do you come from and he said: ‘Sydney.’ I said: ‘Oh yes.’ I said: ‘I know it’s a long shot I have an aunt in Sydney. She went out there after the First World War with her husband and have a sports business.’ ‘Oh,’ he said ‘Do you know what part of Sydney?’ ‘Yes in the district called Marrickville.’ ‘Oh,’ he said ‘That’s funny now I used to live in Marrickville. What road did she live in?’ I told him: ‘Illawarra Road and her name is Mrs Ivy Evans.’ Well he made a rather quick Australian [phone in background] good word and he said: ‘Well that lady happened to be my mother’s best friend. Chapel friend.’ So he said: ‘Well we also have something no much in common so will you be guarding me, we’re gonna be on the same course.’ So I said: ‘Yes, why not indeed.’ So when we did get to Hickson we were on the same course and, of course, I crewed up with him. We made the backbone of the crew. The two of us. Flying at 30 OTU, of course, on Wellingtons you didn’t require a Flight Engineer. When we were posted from Hickson, we went up to 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit to convert from the Wellington on course onto the Halifax. It was here up at Lindholme that we gathered the seventh member of the crew, our flight engineer. In this case we didnt have a choice, we were sitting on one side of the large room and the flight engineers were sitting on the other and names were rung out the captains name and then the Flight Engineer’s name and we were getting a bit close towards the end and there was this very old looking gentleman sitting down over there and I said to my skipper: ‘Hey Art I bet we get the old [unclear] over there.’ And, of course, what happened they called his name out: ‘Sergeant Shephard Flight Engineer you will fly with Flight Sergeant Whitmarshand crew.’ So we got this old gentleman. He was a family man already and, in fact, his trade was, in fact, a master baker, would you believe, but he was an excellent Flight Engineer. He really did know his stuff and we were very well pleased to have him but, of course, he was the daddy of the crew. If I remember rightly, he was about 38 years old. [Mobile phone ringing]. We passed out from the Conversion Unit at Lindholme and it was - we were destined to go to a Lancaster Squadron. So we had to go Lanc finishing school [mobile phone ringing] which was relatively a quick changeover from a Halifax to the Lancaster for the benefit of the pilot. Most of the rest of the crew especially the gunners had had experience on both kinds of turrets on each airplane. Anyhow, so it didn’t really worry us too much. Anyhow our skip did ask us if we could – how we felt going to an Australian Squadron, so we said: ‘Arh yes,’ because we knew there were advantages to going to Commonwealth or Colonial Squadron, and that was they were all on permanent RAF stations and had good quarters, married quarters so when you got there you never saw Nissan huts, wooden huts and things like that. You stayed in a married quarter. Married quarters, of course, were empty because wives weren’t allowed to be on the station during the war. When we got to Binbrook, we were allocated Number 13 Airman’s Married Quarters and it was there that we set up house. When one got to the Squadron, one of course had to check in, you went around with your arrival chit with all the different departments getting the signatures so they knew you were there. You reported and found out what flight you were going to and we went to B Flight which was in Number 1 Hanger. Well we were very lucky. It was a good flight. There was a lot of happy old people there and, of course, before we went on ops we did a training flight and then normally what happened was your skipper would go off with an experienced crew to see what it was all like. Well, low and behold that wasn’t going to happen to us. The Station Commander, Group Captain Edwards VC, DSO, DFC and bar said: ‘Oh, I’ll take Whitmarsh and his crew to Friesburg.’ Well ‘course word gets around the station about who you’re gonna fly with they say : ‘Dear oh dear oh dear.’ ‘Cause he had got a bit of a reputation. Quite a good one really but nevertheless he set off and took us to Friesburg. Coming up before we got to Friesburg , well way before Friesburg before we got to the bomb line we passed over an American sector. AnAmerican sector for some unknown reason didn’t care for us flying over their sector very much and opened fire on us and we did in fact got hit by flak. Well this rather upset the Group Captain [chuckle] which is quite understandable. He – no he wasn’t impressed with that. He did mention something about dropping a little bomb on them to keep them quiet but it didn’t happen. Anyhow the trip went on we did as we did – should have done and then coming home before we came home he had to go down and look at the target to see everything was alright and then, of course, we turned round and came home. My role in Bomber Command as an Air Gunner was to protect the crew from any form of enemy fighter attack. Now in the – I volunteered to go into the rear turret. I erh didn’t want to go in the mid upper turret, my other gunner fortunately did. He didn’t mind sitting up in the turret that would turn 360 degrees all the way round. I much preferred to sit in the rear turret by myself with four Browning 303 machine guns. It was a cold lonely place, yes, it was, it used to get very cold. It could be down to minus 14. Icicles would hang from your oxygen mask and erh – we were lucky though we did have an electrically heated slippers and we also had electrically heated gloves. These weren’t too good because it made your fingers too thick and bulky if you wanted to do anything but nevertheless I survived in the rear turret, though on one occasion while I was in the rear turret we’d gone to Stuttgart and as we were coming out there were two Lancasters signalling down, just behind us on the port side andthere was a Halifax on the starboard side. We did have wireless operator looking out through the astrodome checking on any fighter activity and also to make sure that nobody was going to drop any bombs on us which could happen. We had spotted a Wolfe 190 cruise over us so we thought hello there are fighters about. Then all of a sudden around the back of these two Lancasters, which were just a bit lower than us and on the port side, a JU88 came right in close. I opened fire, the mid upper opened fire and we gave the order to climb port but I can still sit here and see bullets and cannon shells ripping right alongside me into our aeroplane. Well, the tail plane was pretty well damaged and so was one of the fins and rudders, the - one of the fuel tanks was ruptured, the starboard wing fuel tank was ruptured and unfortunately our mid upper gunner got hit in the neck[?] which meant he had to be taken out of the turret, put onto the rest bed, given morphine and well looked after until we got back home. The fighter that I’d had the combat with I maintained firing at it all the time until all of a sudden it flipped onto its port wing nose went down and it went straight the way down and it looked completely out of control. Well we reported all this is our debriefing when we got back home. Made out a gunnery-you know - slip, and then, er, we did hear later that we had it confirmed that we got that JU88. The 7th of January 1945 is a day that I shall perhaps never forget in all my life but we were scheduled to fly to Munich in O-Oboe. Now O-Oboe was in fact our aeroplane. It’s a fact that on our squadron after you had proved yourself and you were doing your job properly and looking after things, you were given your own aeroplane to look after. That meant also you had a ground staff looking after that aeroplane as well. This particular night we were scheduled to fly to Munich which is a fairly long way into Germany. On the main sector down to the River Rhine we were scheduled to fly at 14000 feet so we stuck to the rules be flying at 14000 feet but when we got down to the area just prior to the River Rhine in Alzey[?] which, of course, used to be German territory we found ourselves in very thick nasty cloud and we were bumped around all over the place and you could feel the airplane being kinda damp. It wasn’t very pleasant. It wasn’t very nice at all. Our skipper said that he thought that we perhaps oughta climb and get out of this bad weather and also to get away from any icing up. Well the crew all agreed and so, I do remember him asking the flight engineer for climbing power. I can remember hearing the engines increase in power and away we went to climb up out of the cloud. As we came out of the cloud at the top, I don’t know what the exact height, it must have been about another 15 thou - to 15000 feet or more, there were other aircraft who’d already gone up there and it was quite clear but all of a sudden there was a great big thump – a bump. Well we - somebody said: ‘Christ, we’ve been hit.’ And we were, in fact, hit by another Lancaster coming out the cloud and as we were fly along just above the top of the cloud the other Lancaster came out and put his port wing into our fuselage. Er, our starboard wing we lost round about six foot and we think, we think it just went into their flight deck because that airplane just peeled off and went straight down and we can remember the explosion. Now our aeroplane had received this big thump. We went into a spin for 3000 feet and eventually the skipper got it out. He then ordered bombs to be dropped safe, so the bombs were dropped safe. That just meant that they wouldn’t explode when they hit the ground and from then we sorted it all out and climbed up to 20000 feet, above icing level and we took stock of what had happened. We had, in fact, possibly lost about six foot of the starboard wingtip, the starboard airline[?] was all chewed up and there was hole in the fuselage from the trailing edge of the starboard wing virtually back to the door and floor side of the fuselage and the floor had disappeared. Miraculously the mid upper gunner was still up in his turret. It was decided by the Flight Engineer and the Wireless Operator that they could get him forward ‘cause there was the possibility that the turret could have fallen through. They got him out and up to the front. Well that left me down in the back in my little turret which as still operational ‘cause it worked off number one engine and as I said we were going to go back to the UK to land at Lymonsea[?] Airfield, Manston and it was here on the way that the skipper said to me: ‘You know David that the tail’s swinging. Perhaps you oughta think about bailing out if you wish.’ ‘Cause otherwise, my chances of getting away would have been pretty slim but I declined this offer. I said: ‘No, I can’t do that and can’t leave you lot on your own.’ Besides that there was still the possibility that we could get jumped by a night fighter. So we flew on and flew on at a reduced speed until we got to the French coast. We could see Manston and there we made a long approach. A flapless landing at Man – at Manston. On landing at Manston, a follow me truck went out and we followed that down to where they wanted us to park the aeroplane. The crew in the front of the aeroplane couldn’t get out through the back because of the damage that had been done – the hole – so they had to forward the forward escape hatch. I, myself, was able to vacate my turret and just got out the normal way down through the rear door. They took us up to then the – to be debriefed, but had a look at the aircraft first and we thought Dear God. How did we get this aeroplane back? We were so grateful the fact that all the control rods of the aeroplane ran down the port side of the aeroplane. It was all the starboard side, of course, had sustained all the damage. So, yeah, we considered ourselves very very lucky. Went back up to flying control where we were debriefed, given somewhere to sleep and the next morning we had hoped that one of our own airplanes from the squadron would come down and pick us up. But, unfortunately, bad weather set in, both in Manston where it snowed and also at Binbrook. So, we were stuck there for a couple of days and we were playing snowballs larking about. Nothing to do. And all of a sudden, a voice called out: ‘Right you lot, you’re going back to Binbrook by train.’ So there we were all manner of dress. God, it was really terrible, really. And they gave us some money. We went down to Margate first of all. Got a transport down to Margate to get a train to London. When we got into Margate, we decided well – we hadn’t had a shave for about three days. So we hopped into a barbershop which was run by ladies. Their husbands were looking – had gone off into the army and these ladies were looking after the shop. Anyhow, we sat there and would you believe they gave us a reasonable shave with safety razors. Anyhow, after having a shave and bit tidied up, we went up to – we thought we better have a photograph taken of all this. So we went into a photographers and we got this photograph taken and we all signed it. We’ve all got one each and then got the train up to London. When we got up to London – oh dear oh dear – well you can imagine the state of us holding our parachutes, Mae-Wests, helmets over your shoulders still, flying boots some, some not. And, of course, there happened to be a service policeman and, of course, he stopped us and asked what he thought we were on. Well, our skipper Arthur Whitmarsh he really told him what we were on in good Australian language and we didnt hear any more about that. And from there, of course,then we back up by train up to Binbrook and we were – well, of course, they were pleased to see us again, but inside a week we were flying again. 23 of March 1945 we were briefed for a daytime raid on Bremen. Everybody thought we’re in for a straightforward flight. We were told that if anything went wrong we would have to fire off the colours of the day and the American fighter escort, of Thunderbolts and Mustangs, would come down and give us a close escort. We flew, no problem, through to Bremen. We then dropped our bombs right on target. We were running out of the target and all of a sudden, we were badly hit by flak between the two starboard engines number three and number four. Well they both stopped. They had to be feathered. Then, of course, we started to lose height and, of course, we weren’t so fast either. All the other aircraft were overtaking us. To – we then fired off the colours of the day which was done partly to alert the US fighter boys to give us fighter cover. Unfortunately we didnt see a thing. We were, if I remember rightly, flying round about 20000 feet and, of course, well we weren’t all that far from home anyway Bremen, so we set course back to back to base and well the poor old skipper up the front there, besides having full on rudder on to keep the aeroplane straight and he turned round and said when he landed, he said: ‘I’m sure I got one leg longer than the other.’ But we got back home alright. We made a good two engine landing at Binbrook again. No big problem. There was occasions particularly one unit we went to Hanover[?] when we discovered that the German ME262 was being used in operations against Lancasters. Now we did, unfortunately, have an occurrence where in the area of the raid the ME262, the German jet fighter, was quite prominent in action against Lancasters. Now, we had thought about the best way of combatting this, bearing in mind, of course, that the ME262 was a much faster aeroplane than the JU88, ME109 and the other aeroplanes Wolfe 190 and that we only had a 50 mile an hour overtaking speed gunsight[?],that the best thing to do was to take good avoiding action. But but we did this. The matter of fact if you’re flying straight and level and you spot an aeroplane, shall we say, on your port quarter high when he makes an attack he’s got to make a double back, like this, to get onto your tail and it was when he did that double back that you would then, if he was high, climb port therefore he couldn’t follow and so he’d have to break off the engagement. [Pause] This attack by the Germans JU88 was again, of course, at night time. It was - although it was night time it was very light because I can remember the cloud the way we looked down was covering the German countryside was quite still white and it was quite light up there, but soon as the attack started the JU88 open fire and his, his firing was more continuous. My reply was in short bursts round about four five seconds. This is done deliberately because a you don’t want your guns to overheat. You want to conserve ammunition, of course, as well if necessary. But I could still see the bullets from - well they weren’t bullets in his case, they were cannon shells whizzing past me and , damaging the aeroplane, where my 303 bullets which included tracer firing directly into him. One of the problems we had in aerial combat was that the enemy in German Luftwaffe aircraft they had far better and more powerful guns than we did. They had cannons point 5 where to us all we could offer was the ordinary 303 rifle bullet. Although, we - in our every three bullets that we fired there was one bore, one armour piercing, one err ahh incendiary –
(AP) Lets do that one again.
(DF) - one. Our bullets, we were set in a series of five. We had the ordinary ball bullet. We would have an incendiary bullet; we had an explosive bullet and a tracer. And there – that was repeated all the way along, this way you could see where your bullets were going and also, of course, if they were converged at the right angle at the right time, of course, they could do quite a little bit of destruction. Initially our gun sights was straight forward, ring and bead. That was a fixed ring that had a bead in the centre. This could be lit up at night time and when you rotated your turret, either way, of course, the gun sight went with it. Also, if you elevated your guns the gun sight, of course, went with it. We did later on towards the end had some experimental gun sights involving radar and gyros. We had the Mark 14 gyro sight which, of course, was a much improved version and it even guaranteed 98 per cent hits. So that was a big advantage to us. It – but unfortunately it all came in too late. It didn’t come into the beginning of 1945. [Pause] What did we did really do when we got out to our aeroplane? Well, normally we would have a chat with the ground staff crew and we’d have a last cigarette ‘cause we never smoked inside the aeroplane and normally wanted a quick pee. The usual place was against the tail wheel. Everybody eventually get into the aeroplane and take up their positions and carry out the checks that they had to do and there you’d sit until okay you were given instructions to taxi the aeroplane. The pilot would then taxi the aeroplane away down the taxiway onto the runway. He’d get a green from the runway controller and you’d open the throttles and you’d tear down the runway and Grace of God you got yourself airborne. Now from that onwards, that point onwards sitting in your rear turret well you did have a lot to do. First,you’d done all your checks before you’d take off. You’d done that. And you’d keep a watch out first all for other aircraft coming in towards the bombers stream. So you – you know you would try to miss any other aircraft that were flying around in the stream. Further than that you go on to occupied Germany and there then you’d have to keep your eyes open and look for enemy aircraft. We did this by basically turning the rear turret where search – where you’d turn from port to go right the way round starboard, lift up a little way and right the way back round again and you’d do a square search right up as far as you could see and then start all over again. This way, of course, then your chances of – well you wouldn’t miss any aircraft coming in towards you. Further to that, in our crew we used to roll the aeroplane a little bit to make sure that there was nothing coming up underneath. So you can see, you sat there and you were doing something all the time. This way, of course, prevented you feeling too cold. You were kept active all the time. Your skipper would call you up about anything around every 10 to 15 minutes. ‘Are you alright?’ The main thing being, of course, are you still getting your oxygen which was an important thing?
(AP) What about the bit about beneath the aircraft - the attacks – vulnerable?
(DF) Well –
(AP) Would you talk a little bit about that?
(DF) The - they started to use – the Germans started to use the JU88 – I can’t remember the name of it – something music.
(AP) Shraeder music.
(DF) Shraeder music. And, of course, they came up, to hit you not in the body of the aeroplane because if they did and the aeroplane blew up, they’d most likely get blown up as well. They really aimed at your fuel tanks in the wing and once they were really afire, well of course, your chances of doing anything about it were not very very good. Some aeroplanes towards the end did have armour piercing protection and have [unclear] so that the tanks wouldn’t catch fire – but, no, that music, we just used to roll the aeroplane just so we could see underneath.
(AP) I mean, the bit about removing the Perspex? And the flak, the flak must have been going off. Little pings.
(DF) Yeah but you didn’t think about it.
(AP) No.
(DF) You accepted it, you know. Part of life’s rich pattern. [Unclear] What you wanna talk about first?
(AP) Hang on.
(DF) To aid your vision we thought that it’d be a good idea to remove a lot of the Perspex from your rear turret. Now, there was good reason for this as well – as well as including good vision the Captain and the Flight Engineer used to clear their engines round about every 20 minutes to half and hour, that means they would take them up to full power and, of course, it burnt off carbon which used to fly out from the exhaust. Now, we didnt like this because it would give away that you was an aeroplane somewhere there and the other was those little specks of carbon would stick on your Perspex, and if you had a little dot on your Perspex you’d immediately think it was a fighter. An enemy aircraft. So, to get out of all of this we asked to have all the Perspex taken out. And they took the Perspex out and there it solved the problem. But also, yes, it was a little bit colder but the other good thing was you didn’t have a lot of Perspex to clean.
(AP) What about the noise and ping-ping?
(DF) When one was approaching the target I often used to think that, there was the Pilot, the Flight Engineer and the Bomb Aimer up at the front of the aeroplane they could see all what was happening. They could see searchlights up ahead penetrating the sky often in groups of three or more with blue and one which was a master search light and the others were attached to it. The akk akk often was a bit more fierce [unclear] as you approached the target and, of course, there was always the risk of other airplanes dropping bombs on you or you colliding with them. Flak in itself used to come up. You’d hear the bang. Then you’d often hear ping. Ping as the little pieces of the shrapnel casing penetrate the aeroplane. The ground staff used to count these when you got back home, but also you could sometimes smell all the cordite from the shells themselves when they exploded. I used to sit in my turret and, of course, I didnt see all of this until, as we had - the bomb aimer dropped his bomb we’d flown straight and level for the required length of time, so we got a photo flash and then, of course, I said to myself : ‘Good God. Did we go through all that lot?’ You know, say ‘Oh well. That’s it.’ But, of course, by that time the skipper dropped the nose down and we’re turning round and we’re off back home which – prior to going on any raid it was important that before you went for your briefing and crew meal before the flight that you got as much rest in as you can. So normally, you would go and have a good lie and a sleep before you went for your crew meal in the mess and then went to the debriefing. Now, of course, there was all of you together, the seven of you and you were chatting away. You weren’t – never showed any signs of fear or – can’t think of the real word – but they all felt quite pleasant, happy about what we got to do and you got into your aeroplane and you settled down and comfort relatively and away you went. I don’t think we ever thought about it. How long it was except you knew it would be good when you got back home and had another crew meal and, of course, the promise of a large glass of rum, which was an incentive. [Chuckle]. People wonder about why we did all this. Well first of all, of course, we volunteered for this kind of work. The RAF couldn’t make you fly as aircrew. So we knew what we were going into. We knew that there would be short trips, heavily defended; we knew there’d be long trips to do and it was part of the day’s work. We knew what – we knew what we were up to and people just didnt really think about the bad side of it. You just got on and did a job of work which we were paid for. In our particular crew, we did a lot of training. We made up our minds we were gonna survive and, of course, we did.
(AP) And you –
(DF) And I think a lot of that was due to the fact that our attitude to the job.
(AP) You you never felt that terror or fear? You just got on with it?
(DF) No, no but also one of the other things of course, some of us would have in mind, of course, that terrible thing called if somebody got to a stage where they didnt want to fly any more, they’d had it. They’d go LMF Lack of Moral Fibre, but, of course, the hardest part of that was going to the CO and admitting it, it was a big thing to admit.

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Citation

Andrew Panton, “Interview with Dave Fellowes,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 26, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3400.

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