Interview with Herbert Tinning


Interview with Herbert Tinning


Herbert Tinning trained as an aircraft fitter but later remustered and flew operations with 51 Squadron as a navigator. After the war, he build a career as a town planner and later as an architect.




Spatial Coverage




01:19:54 audio recording


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ATinningHW160314, PTinningH1601


AP: So, this interview of the International Bomber Command Centre with a Mr. Herbert Tinning, who was a 51 Squadron Halifax navigator during World War Two. The interview is taking place, at Herbert’s place in Preston, in Northern Melbourne. My name is Adam Purcell, it is the 14th of March 2016. So, Herbert, we might start at the beginning, uhm.
HWT: [unclear]
AP: It is a very good place to start, isn’t it? Can you tell me something about your early life, growing up, the education and first job, perhaps?
HWT: Oh yeah, I grew up on the other side of the river, mainly around Prahran and Toorak and Carnegie, I, I went to the, the Fawkner Park State School up until the sixth grade. Then I went to Toorak Central, seventh and eighth grade and then I went to Melbourne High for, to leaving. And then I went, I managed to get, no, I went to work first in a, no, no, I got an apprenticeship with the Victorian Railways as a fitter and turner, which a highly competitive job thing in those days and in waiting to go there I went and worked for a gasket maker called Ferrer, a company, that would be for about six months, and then I spent nearly three years in doing my apprenticeship at Newport during which time the World War Two broke out and I wanted to get into it but I was in a protected industry so I had to [unclear] quite big struggle but I managed to get a release providing I went into a technical trade which I, which I did do, I trained as a, what’s that called, a fitted away, which rear [unclear], I did that, then I was posted to a communication flight as a fitter and I again kept trying to get to [unclear] into aircrew, which I eventually managed and, uhm, and then I trained in Australia at, uhm, at Sale and Nhill and Cootamundra and then I was posted overseas and went to UK and ended up in Bomber Command as, I was trained as a navigator, bomb aimer but I was chosen to be a navigator and I went through the usual initial training et cetera and whilst I was at, what they called pre airview, which is because of the difference in map reading between Europe and Australia we had to get used to the greater quantity of identifiable objects and so we did a pre airview in Tiger Moths, would I tell you the story about that?
AP: Go for it.
HWT: Uhm, whilst we’re training, we used to do three, three day cross countries in flying in groups of three, big formation and I led this formation into Northampton and, as we’re turning over Northampton to, for another aircraft in which my mate was the navigator and the pilot [unclear] slipped under us too closely and wiped it up the main plane off on our undercarriage and we were in about 800 feet and he, they had to get out because the plane just went straight in and fortunately to this shoot [unclear] this happened in time [unclear] could land or crash land this thing so seemed so low, I straightened it and crash-landed it and that was that. Now, I tell you that as a preamble to we went on through training, we did our OTU on Wellingtons and we went to squadron, I went to 51 and he went to a different squadron and anyway I’m about, sometime later I heard that he is missing believed killed and I learned that on their fourteenth trip, I’ll tell you the, he went to 467 Squadron instead and anyway on the 8th of July ’44 he was on a French target, Saint-Leu-d’Esserent and he was shot down, it was night of course and they were on fire the Halifax navigator set out the forward straight patch so he tended to jettison the straight patch and he grabbed his parachute in his hand and he shot the [unclear] up because of his previous experience to just fall out and try to keep it on the way down but he clipped it, apparently he clipped it on a one clip and it held but he was ok and the only, the only one that could help was the bomb aimer, that was that I didn’t know anything about that at the time but he was missing believed killed. So the years went by and I finished my tour and I was appointed radar officer for the squadron and I’d been on leave and I was on my way back to squadron when we stopped at a place called Peterborough and just as the train was pulling out, the back wing doors on the bar, which is on the station, swung open as a fellow went out and I had a quick glance inside and I saw this, sort of head in silhouette, with this peculiar nose cause, in the bailout he’d, of the Tiger Moth he’d hit his nose on the tireplane [?] and it broke and he had mended it in a peculiar way. So anyway I grabbed my bag and I jumped out of the train and went back into the bar and, sure enough, it was Jim Walsh. He’d been picked up by the Free French and he’d spent the remaining years of the war until they were, until that part of France was, ehm, was occupied by the Allies, uhm, and he’d only been repatriated two days and there he was, you see. So, it was quite a good reunion, uhm, you have to believe in these units, I did you know, anyway I went on my way then and he went on his way and I’ve never seen him again. He was a Queenslander and in those days, it was much more expensive and difficult to travel into [unclear] as it is now of course and you get tied up with marriage, family, all the rest of it. So, that was that but I just tell you because of the incident that we had in the Tiger Moth and that [unclear] mine, uhm, we, that sort of saved his life in a way because if we hadn’t had the previous [unclear] he would have hesitated and try and put his shoot on, straight out of the escape hatch, it would have been too late. So anyway, that was that and then, as I say, I went to Waddington on 51 Squadron and there I did a tour with a mixture of French and German targets.
AP: Pretty good. Uhm, so you were working for the railways when you heard that war was declared. How old were you at that time? What were your thoughts? And how did you [unclear]?
HWT: Well, I must have been, I must have been, uhm, eighteen, because it was the age you could enlist and I was only, I always wanted to fly and a fellow who I knew was a pilot in the Air Force, he told me that you gotta get a speciality to, you know up until that, normally in the Air Force is a five year commission and you’re out. But if you had some speciality they would give you a more permanent job, you see, well, this fellow specialised in Photography and he was kept on as a aerial photographer. And because I was interested in engineering mechanical things, I thought, oh well, I’ll get an engineering diploma and then I’ll try for the Air Force. Instead I was on my third, in my third year, or just started my third year. But, it must have been during, it must have been, nearly in towards the end of my first year as an apprentice as the war broke out and I spent, you know, a year or so trying to get out of it, which I ultimately did and that was it.
AP: You, uhm.
HWT: Is that enough?
AP: Yeah, no, no, that’s alright, we’ll, [laughs] we’ll got plenty to cover, uhm, so I guess you’ve already answered the question of why you picked the Air Force.
HWT: I suppose I better finish it off and then, before I got an apprenticeship, I missed out that bit, after I’d finished with leaving, I went to Melbourne High and I was there for three years now, I’ll say it again, after I finished State School which is the eighth grade, then I went to Melbourne High and I finished there in my leaving year and went to the railways.
AP: Ok. Uhm, can you tell me something of the enlistment process for the Air Force? Did you have to do any testing, any interviews, any medicals, things like that?
HWT: Oh yeah, there were [unclear] interviews, there were, uhm, medicals of course, which sight was the main, was one of the principal things and [unclear] fine [laughs]. When I was, I got the notification to go and had my medical for remustering to aircrew, a couple of mates and I went out and had a bit of a party you know and anyway the next morning I had to do this medical test you see and, which I did but my sight must have been caught up to it because one eye was a bit weaker than the other. So, they, uhm, so I didn’t get the choice of a pilot, I was navigator bomb aimer and I always put it down to the fact that I’d perhaps had a bit too much booze that night but the, uhm, cause the thing is, post war when I was sort of older, I passed certainly a less stringent test but the eyesight test was just as stringent I think. Uhm, and I got the ok for a pilot’s license. So I think I’ve had a bit too much to drink at the wrong time.
AP: [laughs] pretty good. Uhm, were you on the reserve at any stage?
HWT: No.
AP: Because you went straight in as the trade of course.
HWT: Went straight in as a, as a trainee 2 A and well actually you didn’t do that as [unclear] but now they, you went in as an AC 2 and that’s we had a little white flash in our forage caps [unclear] to sending into [unclear] trainees and you did a three, four weeks of square-bashing down at Laverton and then you, during which time you, the selections were made and then you went to, in my time, Ascot Vale for engineering training and so, uhm, so I think I must have been about, almost nineteen when the war broke out.
AP: So, the white flash you are telling me about, I always thought that denoted air crew training specifically but it was
AP: It was aircrew training specifically. Ok, yeah, that’s what I thought. Uhm, alright, so, you did, once you transferred to air crew, presumably you had to go to initial training school and do all the square-bashing again.
HWT: Yes, that’s right.
AP: Where was that? What happened?
HWT: The square-bashing was down at, uhm, at, oh god I must [unclear],
AP: Somers, perhaps.
HWT: Mh?
AP: Somers?
HWT: Yeah, Somers, yeah, that’s right, [unclear] bad, we did square-bashing then and pre airview at Somers. Incidentally it was, there was a well-known champion bike rider called Hubert Opperman, I don’t know whether you’ve heard of him but anyway he was, I came across him at Laverton first, where he was, a sergeant, no, he wasn’t a sergeant, I think he was DO, and then, when I went to Somers there he was again as an officer and he was doing, taking the PI training, organising and so on, nice bloke, anyway you had to gotta do that to. Anyway that’s where I did my initial training for aircrew. Then I went to Cootamundra and had training as a navigator. And then to Sale, training as a bomb aimer and gunner and then to Nhill, to do astronavigation. And then back to Ascot Vale, yeah, Ascot Vale for posting.
AP: So, I’m particularly interested in Nhill, I’ll tell you why later on, but, uhm, the first time you went into an aeroplane, presumably that was Cootamundra?
HWT: No, I had a passenger flight, you know, in a Tiger Moth, or was that a Gypsy Moth in those days, pre-war and while I was, fitted away, I had two Hawker Demons and a Lockheed Hudson in my charge, you see, and, anyway I used to, uhm, hit the odd flight [?] in a Hawker Demon, which we flew down over [unclear], anyway we flew down over to [unclear] anti-aircraft shooting, training, you know, and we, in a dive bomber [unclear] and so I got a, but then I fit [unclear] to it and I got a little bit of dual time on it, you know unofficially. So, yeah, that was, so I found a bit [unclear].
AP: [laughs] excellent, very good. Did you, when you were doing your training but particularly in Australia, did you see any accidents or anything like that?
HWT: Accidents?
AP: Along the way? Yeah.
AP: Or did you know of any accidents?
HWT: Oh, I knew, when I was at, when I was, just after I had been to Sale, I’m not sure which now, there was a string of accidents of aircraft going in and have a best strike and there were, I think there three of them, before they discovered what it was and what they were doing was torpedo bomb training with a damaged torpedo, see, and they had made the torpedo run which could have been made almost underwater and released the torpedo and [unclear] away you see, but I have been doing dry rounds without torpedoes and then I fitted them with these damaged torpedoes, which is the same weight as number one. And of course the pilots were used to unlighten [?] pulled out but, and because with the heavy weight they squashed a bit to say and that’s what they were doing, they were squashing into the sea and but they lost I think three before they discovered what the problem was. So, there were those and, uhm, [pauses], you know, you’d hear of accidents but they weren’t close to me, you know.
AP: Uhm, so, Nhill, oh my God, was talking about before Nhill also went through Nhill, and I actually went through there just about a year ago, we were coming back from Kangaroo Island and we stopped at Nhill on the way back, and turns out that the airfield, they’re opening up this Nhill aviation heritage centre, and they’ve got an Ansett there restoring very very slowly, which is really good to see. Uhm, can you remember much about Nhill in particular and what you were doing there, I know it was, I believe it was astronavigation at Nhill, uhm, what did that actually involve?
HWT: Oh well, we, we did the theory of it you know and then we did star identification, we just stand out and pointed out [unclear] to learn where they were and then you had to learn the theory side of using them, using sights to develop a fixed position and then of course sometimes that was over your head, you see, because flying over Europe was all dead black, not a speck of light anywhere and until you’ve done that, you don’t know how black the night is, you know. Uhm, and occasionally you’d have some, uhm, some guidance with, you know with the water get the reflection of the river, or a lake, whether you like it or not, although I didn’t experience this with the Gee, five lights around Berlin and they were a wonderful sort of fix for the aircraft, so the Germans were a very cunning enemy, they actually boarded out [unclear] a couple of them so there were only three lights, then they altered the shape of the other lights by boarding round it [?] you know, so none of the people would be certain [unclear] Berlin. Very cunning. But, what was I saying?
AP: We were talking about Nhill.
HWT: Ah, Nhill, yeah, uhm, now what I remember then it was very hot and the meals were good, we had no trouble flying out of there, at night we were flying in Ansons and, uhm, we were only a month there, four weeks, so I haven’t got much of a memory, I know, I’d been married by then and I know I missed my wife because she’d come up to Cootamundra, but Nhill was such a short stay. No, she didn’t come up to Cootamundra, she came up to Sale, where I did two months for bombing and gunnery. But, uhm, I know I got, you know, quite positive memories of Nhill, as a matter of fact I called in there once when I was driving, no, I flew in there once, that’s right, [unclear] to analyse, yeah, I landed there, just [unclear], was the last experience I had.
AP: [laughs] So, yeah, it is really nice to see what they are doing there actually at the moment, but anyway. Alright, so, moving on a little bit, we go up to Ascot Vale and then you embarked and you went to the UK. How did you get there?
HWT: I embarked, we went by a ship called the New Amsterdam, which went via New Zealand, cause it was taking, uhm, some of the New Zealand members of [unclear] back from Africa and were called from Wellington and then from there we went on to San Francisco. And from San Francisco we went by [unclear] car across to Boston. [unclear] car, they are still in pretty [unclear] condition and we had a black porter, made up our beds for the night, put a [unclear] chocolate on our pillow every five nights and anyway then we got to Boston, and we were waiting embarkation for England and we were embarked on a French liner, [unclear] something, wasn’t [unclear] to France but they had, they had several of these [unclear] and they flew, normally in peace time fly between Marseille, France, yeah, to Rio de Janeiro and that was a regular [unclear], you know. Anyway, we went to from Halifax in Canada to Liverpool unescorted so, they took us way up into the Arctic Circle to avoid the subs, which was interesting, and cold, and, anyway, [unclear] arrived at Liverpool and then we went by train to [unclear] out of Bournemouth.
AP: What did you think of wartime England when you first got there, particularly an Australian?
HWT: I liked England, I’ve been there since, I liked it better since but then during wartime it was, everything was severely rationed, there were no lights anywhere, blackout was very, very strict, uhm, and, I went to, I went to several stations, Bournemouth and from there we went to a place called Desford and then to, went to Lichfield and to Marston Moor for conversion and then to Snaith for, uhm, for 51 squadron. [unclear] We were actually posted to an Australian squadron but the day before we left, Bomber Command had raided Nuremberg and they had the heaviest losses of war, they’ve had 96 lost on the one trip and I think another twenty flying into high wind [?] when they got back. Uhm, so they were very short of aircrew so we were, uhm, then diverted to reinforcements to various squadrons and our diversion was to 51 Squadron.
AP: So, what did you have getting to that point where, ok, we’re going to a squadron now and you hear about Nuremberg, what did you think of when you heard about that?
HWT: Oh, well, you really got pretty philosophical about it, you know. As a matter of fact, you didn’t expect to live, you know, that’s probably more [unclear] a bit more than I should. And whatever, but we didn’t think about after the war, really, we just did what we were doing and, and uhm, did as best we could, I guess.
AP: Alright, We’ll back up a bit. Lichfield. I was talking just on Saturday to a WAAF, who served at Lichfield.
HWT: Oh yeah?
AP: Amazing lady, I interviewed this, [unclear] Mary Mccray, we had a wonderful chat. Uhm, the important thing that happened at Lichfield I presume is where you met your crew.
HWT: Yes, uhm, we met part crew,
AP: [unclear] of course, except for your flight engineer.
HWT: Pardon?
AP: Except for the flight engineer, of course.
HWT: We didn’t pick up our gunners, we, it was the, we didn’t pick up an engineer either. It was just the navigator, bomb aimer, pilot and wireless op. And we did our, well, we converted from, what the pilot did, we did to a point [unclear] from the Tiger Moths [unclear] previously flying in Ansett [unclear], no, we hadn’t, no, we hadn’t, we, uhm, [pauses] we must have flown, no, [unclear] I do recall flying in Anson but I don’t think that was in training, anyway we went to Wellingtons and we did the, the, what do we call it? [pauses] The, there was a pre airview I think they call it, anyway we flew the Wellingtons and actually I liked [unclear], I had no complain about any of the stations except, no, none of them, at Lichfield we had [unclear] they sent me to cross countries day and night, [unclear] a bit of a, a bit of a [unclear] there, see where we were, here you go, I went to 27 OTU which was at Church Broughton.
AP: Ah, that was a satellite of Lichfield, I think.
HWT: I think you’re right.
AP: Yeah.
HWT: We were flying Wellingtons there and I was West Freugh in Scotland and that’s where we were flying Ansons. I got it a bit wrong then before.
AP: That’s alright.
HWT: Pre airview at West Freugh
AP: A bit cold up there I imagine?
HWT: It was a bit.
AP: [unclear] at what time of year?
HWT: [unclear] was a bit [unclear], Stranraer was 7 Squadron you know. Yeah.
AP: Very nice. Uhm, when you were in England, what did you do when you weren’t on duty? What did you to relax?
HWT: On the station?
AP: Yeah, any of the stations that you were there.
AP: Anything.
HWT: I played a fair bit of squash, most of the men, I know the, stations [unclear], we did a bit, we started [unclear] when we got leave, you know we went and quite often we stayed with people you were good enough to, you know, to sort of entertain, [unclear] your troops and I saw a bit of England that way, quite a bit really, underground and by you know they just we were on leave, we went some place which [unclear] short leave like overnight or a couple of days, you know, you didn’t go far but life on the squadron wasn’t bad, it was, but I initially went as a flight sergeant and there we lived in Quonset huts and that’s a thing I remember about it, the Quonset huts, oh, I suppose it might have been twenty or so, slept in them, and down the set of the bedroom on the side [unclear] down the centre and there were two or three potbellied cast iron heating stoves [unclear] and anyway it was cold alright because we stacked these things up and when we went to bed, the [unclear] of the [unclear] was cast on was red hot and was beautiful, you see, but then by morning there were icicles off the roof, from our hot breath, you know, the heating had gone out and other things, and it was cold, very cold, I remember that, but then I got a commission and we moved into a two bedroom unit in a big, where I was, in a big building at [unclear] which was much better than, I got no sort of unpleasant thought really of any of the stations I was on [unclear] I know the time has [unclear], but.
AP: [laughs]
HWT: But I think I remember something.
AP: Very nice. Alright so, when you are on squadron and you’re not on duty, I presume that you spend a fair bit of time in the mess, at the sergeant’s mess or the officer’s mess.
HWT: Play snooker, billiards, squash, sometimes I put on a cross country run and if you [unclear] you might decide to do it. And I had picture shows, pretty regularly at night and of course there was always drinking, always high drinks [unclear] appreciate. Some of the men [unclear] there and they used to get into the, particularly into the police time quarters where there were long corridors with, they’d get in there, ride round their motorcycle up and down along the corridor, you know, which in confined space was pretty deafening and then another friend I used to get up to was, and I only saw this once though, was they, they’d been drinking, and they got this fellow and they walked him over some soot and then they uphended him and hurled him against ceiling, across the ceiling, made him walk across the ceiling, you see, which looked pretty funny, you see, these black footprints across the ceiling [laughs], I remember that, [unclear] prank I remember, but no there was not, no boredom really, you know, you had, and we had [unclear] and all that sort of stuff, you know, and that was quite good. I’ll tell you a funny thing though, when I, during ops I was doing mechanical engineering and I liked engineering and I still like it and I intended to finish up as, with a diploma and working in like a designer that, you know, but during the war for some reason I changed my mind quite unconsciously and became interested in building, so when I was demobbed, I did a rehab course in building and construction and spent my working days in building administration and some on a building design on a side but yes, so I don’t know whether, whether unconsciously knocking building down through the war, unconsciously directed me towards, rebuilding, [laughs] interesting question.
AP: [unclear] more questions, isn’t it? yeah. Pretty good. Uhm, that sort of leads into the next thing, presumably an operational tour was not the most relaxing thing that you would have ever experienced, how did you cope with the stress of the operations, the stress of flying and [unclear] what you were doing. How did you cope with that on a daily basis?
HWT: Oh I think we had probably a bit more drinks than we should have drunk you know we had regular, you know, organised parties in the mess and they were fairly cunning you know, not that you weren’t aware of it, but, you know, you might go out on a ride one night and you come back and go through debriefing and you go off, have breakfast and go to bed. And when you were up in the morning, you know, you might have lost one aircraft say, [unclear] and you come out and you want to go out and do a, you know [unclear], usually only if you are doing ops really you had to do an air test and any way could be sitting there but you knew it was missing and what they did overnight went to remind you night, they flew an aircraft in from a, you knew, factory area, [unclear] the number, it was on dispersal and the only thing that was missing was the crew, and they sort of tried to make losses less obvious then they really were but I know some people had a lot of trouble, I, I don’t know why but I wasn’t, you know, I was concerned but I didn’t have any sort of shakes or anything like that, the only thing I got really was at the end of the tour I developed an eye tick, you know, you’d feel your eyebrow move but you weren’t sort of, you weren’t doing it, yeah, so yeah, they called it a nervous tic.
AP: And how long did that hang around for?
HWT: I don’t know, a few months.
AP: Alright, we were talking about drinking before. The local pub at Snaith, what was it called? What did it look like?
HWT: The local pub at Snaith was George and the dragon. And we drank, and it was a typical English pub you know, a nice atmosphere and all the rest of it. And of course we had our mess which we patronized, you know, fairly well because they had, you know you had your billiards or your snooker, your darts and the bar, card tables you know to play cards and that, so you had enough to do around the place.
AP: Were there any [unclear]?
HWT: There were concert parties and there were film [unclear] all that sort of stuff you know and they looked after us pretty well.
AP: Were there any, [clears throat] excuse me, superstitions or hoodoos, things like that, within your crew?
HWT: Very much, very much. And I remember some of the crew’s superstition, they are not my words, we always had to sit at the same seat in the way of going out to dispersal [unclear] aircraft. I think that was my only one. Yeah, I had to have that seat [unclear] but I know some that got some, well, the other thing too I suppose was, my wife, when I went [unclear] she gave me a white silk scarf and she’d sown a little, a little, uhm, what do you call, dice, a little dice in one corner of it, see, and I wouldn’t fly without that, I still got it, it’s no longer white, it’s now yellow.
AP: [laughs] it’s done you well then, it’s done you well. I guess we’re getting to the nitty gritty now. Do any of your operations stand out for any particular reason?
HWT: I remember D-Day, it just, you know, just for the amount of traffic on the Channel and we had, you know, on D-Day they locked all the [unclear] down, you know, so nobody went anywhere and there were armed guards with instructions to shoot to kill if anyone wanted to get out. And then when we went into briefing, I noticed, they told us, this was D-Day and our target was on the coast, [unclear], not [unclear], [unclear], something like that and that’s the first we heard of it, oh, no, we knew it was pending because the place was crawling with troops and [unclear] whatever but we didn’t know when and so we, so off we went and I just remember the level of activity and there was no fighter activity on that D-Day target, not where I was, there was quite a bit of flak and that was it but the, there is, thing I remember mainly is a mid-air collision of three pre airview, that’s opened your eyes pretty quick and we got shot up a few times, you know, may have taken out a bit of flak damage one night, we had one fighter attack [unclear] air gunner, I remember that, [unclear], you know, normally they were looking for someone who was asleep, you know, and because they were easy in sight but by the way [unclear] was in the time when they developed a thing they called Music, Schrage Music I think they called it and they equipped the Me101os with an upward firing cannon and they’d come in underneath [unclear] you see and stand in blind spot and [mimics the sound of rapid gun fire] and it’s gone, they aimed for the wing tanks and that was very successful and they did in the end on some of the aircraft, on the Halis or the Lancasters, they did put up a turret, or not a turret, but a gun in the, no, I’m sorry, they didn’t, no, they never did that, the Yanks did that, the Yanks did that with their [unclear], they put a belly gun in and the poor gunner had to sort of crawl in and, you know, he’s in a very uncomfortable position and but that was the Yanks, not us. No, we were, we did, part day and part night trips and by the time we were doing them, they were, by the time D-Day arrived, the Yanks had cut into the [unclear] pretty heavily with attacking their aerodromes and in air fighting, you know, by then they had the Thunderbolts and the Mustangs. And they got [unclear] in the bomber stream a fair way the Yanks [unclear] not us and of course they got into the German fighters a bit. Which is very good.
AP: [laughs] yeah. Cool.
HWT: But, oh, now we had, a couple of times we lost motors [?] and you get one time bomb hanger, but now we, when you’re, [laughs] when you’re being, when there’s a lot of flak, when you’re hit by the flak, it’s, you don’t have to [unclear] quick you’re in it, you know, but the no reason that the shrapnel, sometimes the noise that’s close to you when you caught a bit of shrapnel, it sort of puts you on edge but the thing that I know was my job, I was busy all the time, see, cause the safest way to get over a, uhm, an operation was to stay in the stream, you see, the head streams had five, six, seven hundred aircraft, you know, in a short space of time and if this stayed within the stream band was about ten hundred miles, you mind an individual on the German radar, you’re part of the mess which they couldn’t distinguish you from, but if you were outside that, you appeared on their screens as a [unclear] and they could [unclear] a fighter onto you, you see. So, the thing to do was, stay behind and you had to stay in that channel, then be one of the pack, so you were supposed to take a fix every six minutes, but of course you couldn’t do that with, you know, where the, your radar range weren’t, what do you call it? Interfered with, you know, which I have forgotten the word.
AP: Jamming.
HWT: And [unclear] otherwise you took them as you could [unclear] something on the ground or, a river or something or [unclear] started with the star sight, but they, the best took you about fifteen minutes to work out, [unclear] to work out.
AP: And you, you
HWT: And so you had to stay on it, you know, and if you concentrated on that but you’re not thinking about the threat, instead I was fortunate in that position.
AP: What was the navigator’s compartment like in the Halifax?
HWT: Good,
AP: If you’re sitting at your desk, what are you looking at?
HWT: It was, I haven’t got a photo of it, but it was quite generous, it was, uhm, the pilot was up on a slightly raised area and there was a lower deck but not at full height, you know, and then I was [unclear] accommodate the navigator and the bomb aimer and when the bomb aimer wasn’t up acting as a second pilot, he would be down in his prone position, you know, and when he was there, I had to let him in because I had a collapsible seat that folded back [unclear] and but I had a pretty generous desk probably about that wide I suppose and it was, we had, you know, the usual red light or amber light to light, which wasn’t all that good. But then you had an API in front of you, which was a box about so big on the wall and, you had the, forgotten the name of the thing now. You had this device over the table which carried star maps and that projected star positions down onto this chart, you see. And, in fact, I’ve collected navigation instruments since the war, you see, and might even down in the workshop.
AP: Yeah.
HWT: And not since the war, only since I’ve retired yes and anyway I got an API, I got a GPI and I’ve never been able to get one of these, whatever they were, because I don’t think they were common out here, I think they were common to Bomber Command in England [unclear]. Anyway, this is one thing I forgot but I’ve known now, I’ll look it up.
AP: [laughs] Pretty good.
HWT: But now, my space was pretty generous and the only, I had a fold down seat [unclear] and that’s about it, and we had to wear silk gloves under our gauntlets to give us feel [?], that’s one of the computers we used to use, that was, that’s just, you know, one I bought since you know, but they were between that and doing your chart work and then doing your sextant work, quite busy.
AP: Where in a Halifax, I know in a Lancaster you got that astroline [?] thing behind the cockpit, where in a Halifax did you take star shots from?
HWT: Same thing.
AP: Same spot the Halifax.
HWT: [unclear] position to it.
AP: Oh yeah.
HWT: To [unclear] I’ll show you.
AP: Oh yeah, we have a model here so I prepared earlier.
HWT: It was just alongside, just behind the pilot and I’m beside [?] the radio operator.
AP: Ok. Pretty good. Uhm, you were talking about being attacked by a fighter once or twice, or being chased by a fighter once or twice. Did you encounter the corkscrew or did you have to use the corkscrew at some point?
HWT: Yeah.
AP: And how did that effect your navigation?
HWT: Badly [laughs] it, everything I had on my desk flew up the roof, you know, scattered all over the [unclear], then I had to recover them when I got out of it and but it didn’t affect, like, navigation as far as [unclear] is concerned, they usually corkscrewed around the [unclear] they’re on, it only pictured as a one off anyway, you didn’t [unclear] you know it was [unclear] corkscrew and so it didn’t affect my navigation to any extent because whatever in the [unclear] you were picking up with the continued fixes you were trying to get, you know, so it didn’t grow and I’m frustrated you know, I kept a log and part of the chart of the trip I did to Stuttgart, which I was going to show you but I can’t find the damn thing!
AP: Oh damn!
HWT: I looked everywhere and it gives you a fair idea then of how the, you know, why you kept the record the fixes [unclear] you know.
AP: You have to let me know if you do find it. I’d like to see that. Anyway.
HWT: I’ve gotta find it.
AP: Yeah.
HWT: I don’t know whether it’s down in my workshop, I got stuff down there but I wouldn’t have taken it down, there is no reason for me to take it down there. However.
AP: That’s alright, no worries. Uhm,
HWT: And I’ve got, this is a map, a map case this,
AP: Ah, cool!
HWT: Which I made, when I was collecting maps, well, I still have and I’ve got, you know what a [unclear] is?
AP: What?
HWT: [unclear]?
AP: No.
HWT: [unclear] you hang the file.
AP: Oh, ok, yeah.
HWT: And that’s how I got the maps in here.
AP: Oh, fantastic! Uhm, alright, so, how many trips did you do?
HWT: I did forty.
AP: That’s alright.
HWT: I started off on forty two, but two of them we were recalled on. Went through all the briefing took off, were on our way when we were recalled. Because they got [unclear] information that the targets were, you know, clouded out [or up?] and even then the decisions varied you know because we were recalled on those two occasions but on other occasions, you’d, not very often though, you’d bomb out of a cloud [unclear] and now I bombed once on my H2S,
AP: Ah!
HWT: And the bomb aimer couldn’t see the target and when we were committed to it, so handed over to me and I took it over on H2S which where they landed but [unclear] aircrew there’s a bomb site.
AP: So, Ok, tell me something about H2S. Presumably that’s in your navigator’s compartment as well, it’s around your desk somewhere. What were you looking at and how did it work?
HWT: Well, you had curtains along the side of your compartment. You could find the light [unclear], so most of your time that’s where you were, except when you want to take, you know, star shots and then you turn your light out and go for [unclear] you come back and if you got [unclear] on the chart, that’s why I’m frustrated I couldn’t show to you, you know, you had to get a fix straight at target shot if you could on three stars and that gave you, you reduced your position to a small triangle, and you just took the centre of that then you had to, had a symbol for that which was a circle with a dot in the middle on the chart and then your air position which made you maintain a, what do you call it? An air position chart all the time so because your air position was always the thing you had to apply the wind to, which gives you a [unclear] position and the air position was always the triangle with the dot in the middle, so by the time you’re keeping your chart up to date and you’re writing up your log and you’re having taken the fixes, you’ve taken the shots to make the fix and then on some occasions you’re bitterly cold, you know, your hands are cold, so you don’t work as flexibly as you would normally, I remember one time before we got the Mark III [unclear] my oxygen mask was dripping onto my chart and make a little ice cream, you know, but you had to navigate through but [unclear] you know, so, you couldn’t, you wouldn’t work as quickly as you would if you’re sitting down here [unclear], you know, you had certain discomforts here so you are
AP: Pretty good.
HWT: That’s how anyway, but the navigator was pretty busy all the time and he looked like [unclear] interesting, I was [unclear] target when we went up to it and if there was, if there was a ten [unclear] black in the sky, if it was a day like one, I just keep the curtain pulled [laughs] not that you use your curtain as you could but that’s what you felt like
AP: Yeah.
HWT: But now, I was, particularly on the night targets as always busy, day targets were better because you had, you could take visual fixes, [unclear] you could have a radar range, you know.
AP: You used Gee a fair bit?
HWT: Pardon?
AP: You would have used Gee a fair bit?
HWT: Yeah, Gee.
AP: How did that work?
HWT: [unclear] I think I got a, no, [unclear] but the [unclear] chart was an [unclear] chart with a number of lines drawn on it, you see, and these lines, they weren’t straight, they were sort of, you know, what they call it, I forget now, anyway they were lines demarking the radiations from three different radar stations and each station had a different colour on the chart and say you’d, when you took your readings of the, of the Gee, you could prop them on against in relation to the station you were working, you know, and that was very good and very simple and then you got the H2S which and of course the [unclear] was able to, oh God there is a word for I can’t think of it, a [unclear] scrambled anyway the Gee transmission over the [unclear] so the H2S then gave you a radar unit that you carry in the aircraft and the Germans couldn’t, uhm, scramble it, ain’t that terrible? Anyway but you had the danger the Gee transmitting and the Germans took out [unclear] they could pick up your transmission and home on you, you see, so you didn’t want to, until that happened, it was great, you know, you could, all the cities had distinctive shapes on H2S screens which were the same on your chart, so it was easy and to maintain where you were but when the Germans tend to home on your transmission, you didn’t transmit all the time, you see, so then it was much harder because you hadn’t been on the thing all the time yet, you had to be, identify where you were, you know, or guess where you were in relation to what you station you were working. Bu they all had their, you know, plus and minuses.
AP: It’s one of the fascinating things I think, if you follow through the whole bomber war, the measures and the countermeasures and then the counter countermeasures and then the way that, you had this brilliant new technology that gave you the advantage for about two weeks and then the other side came up with a counter tour and you had to put the counter to counter and it just kept swinging [unclear]
HWT: [unclear] scientific war
AP: That’s unbelievable, yeah, I [unclear] read a couple of books about that. Uhm, alright, so forty two trips happen, uhm, how did your tour end?
HWT: Oh, it just ended.
AP: Just ended? [laughs]
HWT: It was forty, I did forty two, was the number I was set out on but how did it end? [unclear]there was another operation on Essen, two days before I’d had a day operation on Essen and the one before that which was two days before that again we were recalled by radio. Oh, it ended quite officially peacefully, [unclear] five hour trip, five hours, five minutes.
AP: Were there any, any particular celebrations when you got back or?
HWT: Oh yeah, we [unclear] on celebration, yeah, course, of course it has but in [unclear] long, you see, we were posted [unclear] pretty straight away but [unclear] was our pilot, he went to [unclear], no to [unclear] to conversion, I was, stayed on the squadron, they made me the radar officer which, you know, I had to assess all the bombing performance of the aircraft, you know, as recorded by H2S and I did that some months and then I was posted to a transport squadron 96, which was just forming and I did three cross countries to them [unclear] we were preparing to go on a route I’d established by then was down to Middle East, Cairo across to Bombay, then across to Chongqing I think, some Chinese place to take [unclear] squadron to them. And we were just doing our run up to that, I didn’t know which [unclear] I was gonna be on because, you know, you do the England-Cairo, we did the Cairo-Bombay, Bombay-Chongqing, a trip, be stationed on those but I can get to that, they posted me back here and I went back here and then I had my normal leave and I was posted, I was going to be posted to a squadron in New Guinea when the war was over, so that was it.
AP: That was the end of it. So, how did you find then are you in the Air Force for about five years or something now?
HWT: Yeah.
AP: How did you find readjusting to civilian life?
HWT: No problem.
AP: No problem at all?
HWT: No. I went back to Newport for six or eight months and then my course started at Swinburne and I did that. I did that for three years and then, then I got a job at the council as a building inspector and I was that for a couple of years, then I got, caught as a building [unclear], so I got the building [unclear] job and then that gradually grew to encompass the town planning and won a council work so started as the city architect [unclear] town planner [unclear] regional department for about fifteen [unclear] and couple of secretaries, you know. So it developed and so I had no problem, I got back into a quiet work and then I wanted to fly but my wife didn’t want me to fly until the kids had grown up a bit so I didn’t care for my license until 1968, then I got that and then, well, I still got it but and then during those years I did a lot of flying around Australia. I belonged to a group called the [unclear] aviation group [unclear] and I was the secretary, director for secretary for quite a while and so we had three aircraft and we had a Cessna 182, a Cherokee Piper 180 and a Victor and before we got the 182 we had a Piper Comanche, beautiful aircraft, I was standing in front of the aircraft but one of the [unclear] aviation group crashed the [unclear] and killed the four of them and [unclear] for me, I had to go up there and dispose of the airframe, and [unclear] took the engine and the retractable undercarriage and I had to very carefully dispose of the [unclear] which was the airframe and [unclear] back and forth which, you know, [unclear] terrible end of a lovely aircraft. Anyway and then the last trip I did, I flew clockwise right round Australia, coastal, right round Australia,
AP: Beautiful.
HWT: You know, took us three weeks, a good trip.
AP: Oh boy! [unclear] A country that lends itself to things like that. Very much the easiest way to cover the distance I think. Very nice, so, oh, I guess we’ll come to what is my last question, I ask everyone this. Uhm, what do you think is the legacy of Bomber Command and how to you want to see it remembered?
HWT: Well, I was annoyed and hurt so that affected [unclear] job didn’t but the way that the Command was treated after the war upset me, [unclear] a good two years the Command has carried the war and at the time we started was the time Bomber Harris really started his campaign we didn’t have any [unclear] gear, you know, we had normal just recorded all this stuff but and sextants but then, as a Command I’m talking about and then we got Gee, which helped us through a while and then we got H2S which helped us and then in between the, [unclear] this, they developed pathfinders to find the target and illuminate it, which made the job more accurate so and it was the Bomber Command and the government’s, the English government’s decision that we use carpet bombing because at the time we started, we had no better means to getting to and so, but they always picked an appropriate target which was bombed too but then there was always, you know, the weering skilled and the bomb aimer, all that sort of stuff come to it, so you had a spring but, but anyway Bomber Command was much blamed and the politicians particularly didn’t want to know [unclear] because you see in the bombing civilians were killed but civilians were [unclear] during the war because most people were working in something to do with the war, ammunitions, looking out, people in leave, all this sort of stuff, you see, so there was no real completely neutral person but that’s perhaps a modest justification but the, but anyway the thing I heard most was the fact that the politicians would give Harris a list of targets, see, the scientists worked them out, you know, factories [unclear] whatever, so they had collected the intelligence, then they gave the list of appropriate targets to the Parliament and the politicians nominated [unclear] you see, they normally give him [unclear], you know, the five was his choice, which one of the five his choice, depending on [unclear] and so it was [unclear] because the politicians didn’t want to know it, didn’t want to know about it, you see, because thinking that it was not very good because of people had, you know, the [unclear] of civilians being killed they didn’t know [unclear] and I think members of Bomber Command as a whole felt that way. There is one little last thought, but I don’t know whether you know about it but it was something like so long after the war I [unclear] have forgotten about it, but last year the French government decided to give the survivors of D-Day and Battle of Normandy a Legion of Honour and they presented them to them and which I got one was a nice medal but I think there were twenty five from Victoria and I think six from South Australia and I think there about twenty five from [unclear] I’m not sure but they [unclear] until the numbers were way down, you know, and I just mentioned it because it’s a very frugal [unclear] to
AP: What are your thoughts on the clasp? I see there’s not one hanging on your medal up there. There’s a little Bomber Command clasp.
HWT: OH yeah, good idea, I’ll show you.
AP: One of those as well [laughs].
HWT: [unclear]
AP: Yep.
HWT: This.
AP: A DFC as well I see.
HWT: Yeah, and that’s the
AP: Yeah, lovely.
HWT: [unclear] a nice medal, isn’t it?
AP: That’s a very nice medal, yeah.
HWT: And when you look at it, it’s clipped by the sides.
AP: Ah, wow!
HWT: [unclear] any good one side.
AP: [laughs] Lovely, yeah, there’s the clasp there. Very good.
HWT: That’s our crew, that’s me, that’s the rear gunner, that’s the wireless op, that’s the bomb aimer, that’s the mid upper gunner and that’s our pilot.
AP: [unclear] ground crew and a couple of WAAFs as well.
HWT: And, yeah, that’s the ground crew, that the ones who drive [unclear]
AP: Yeah. Fantastic, fantastic.
HWT: And that’s, that’s the rear gunner [unclear], the pilot and the mid upper gunner [unclear], he was killed on his fifteenth trip.
AP: Wow [unclear] that’s brilliant. Brilliant [laughs]
HWT: [unclear]
AP: Ah, very nice! Well, that’s the interview thing, so I’m gonna turn that off in a minute. So, thank you very much.
HWT: That’s alright.



Adam Purcell, “Interview with Herbert Tinning,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 6, 2023,

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