Interview with Rusty Waughman. One


Interview with Rusty Waughman. One


He discusses a mid-air collision during an operation with 101 Squadron. to Hasselt. He describes what it was like prior to a operation and the feelings experienced by the crew, from seeing the battle orders on the notice board, the pre-flight meal, the briefing and the tension and atmosphere on the crew bus out to the aircraft as well as the rituals that some of the crew undertook.







00:21:05 audio recording

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AP: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Andrew Panton. The interviewee is Rusty Waughman. The interview is taking place at Mr Waughman’s home in Kenilworth on the 1st of April 2015. Mr Waughman was a Lancaster pilot in 101 Squadron.
RW: The old Lanc was a remarkable aircraft to fly. On one occasion I was going on a transport plan target. We were going to Hasselt in Belgium, Northern Belgium, German borders and we were about ten minutes from the target when another aircraft crashed side wards into us and the, the engineer, Curly was looking out of his window. Of course, it was dark and night time, cloud was about and all he saw was this aircraft just closing in and approaching and clout, clouted straight into the side of us. His engines cut through our bomb, bombing position when he was just six inches behind his feet. It cut off our starboard wheel. The mid upper turret which sticks up on top of the other [unclear]. It was Another Lancaster, a mid upper turret carved just behind our bomb bays, cut right through the fuselage, cut a big hole in the fuselage. Most of our tail was damaged. All our electrics went. And there we were, we were sitting on top each other all very closely linked and my controls was just like sitting on the ground, like driving on ice. I had no control of the aircraft whatsoever. The controls just went limp in my hand. I just couldn’t, couldn’t respond at all. It seemed like for, long time but it was only for seconds, only for seconds really and then the other aircraft fell away in pieces. I didn’t see it but the bomb, the navigator and the wireless op said they saw that his top canopy is all gone and he was just falling to pieces. We didn’t see any parachutes opening. So he crashed on the ground. We found we could still — didn’t affect our engines, we found we could still fly. So we got Norman, the bomb aimer, to check the bomb bays and the bomb doors. He’d lost control of the bombs but, er, all the bombs were still there and we could open the bomb doors and seeing as we were only ten minutes from the target so he said we’d press on and we’ll bomb the target. Not realising that having lost our electrics the master bombers had said don’t go in and bomb so we, we [laughs] roamed off on our own. We did hit the bomb, hit the target all be it, it was 4 ½ miles north of where we should of gone. But anyway we hit it, we hit a railway line and of course we had to come back and we were in such a hurry we realised that the major damage had happened at the back end of the aircraft. We realised later that two of the main [unclear] were damaged and had we had to take evasive action we could well of broken up. So I said to Harry, the rear gunner, come up front Harry, bring your parachute just in case but he said ‘no I’ll stop here and keep a lookout.’ These are the sort of lads they are. Anyway we had to do a crash landing when we got back and there was a casualty sadly that night. It was skidding towards the control tower in the dark and all the people in the control tower came out on the balcony to watch this idiot land his aeroplane and one of the little girls jumped back and sprained her ankle and that was our casualty for the night. But the reaction of the crews, I gave the crews the chance to bail out but they said no they wouldn’t do it and they all stuck with me and you realise as a pilot, and a very young pilot for having that reaction from the crew, you know, they were wonderful. And I was so lucky with the crew, all from various parts of life. School boys, council workers, a gunner, myself as I was a little, I was student.
AP: And the age group, average age?
RW: Yeah.
AP: Your age?
RW: Yeah. Well many, many years later for our eightieth birthday we had a reunion in Lincoln. They were sitting in the pub and about four or five of us were sitting round and he said we’ve all had our eightieth birthday. When’s your eightieth birthday Alec and he said it’s not for another two years yet. So he actually joined us when he was seventeen and he was operating with us when he was eighteen. Mind you I was getting on a bit, I was twenty, the bomb aimer was nineteen he had his twentieth birthday, the engineer had just had his twentieth birthday. The navigator was eighteen, Taffy was nineteen, twenty. My mid upper gunner, he was the old man of the crew, he was twenty-six and Harry the rear gunner he was twenty and but you know, it’s, it’s as though we all gelled and we all got on so well together. So much so that we still meet even now. There’s five of us left, our two gunners and the special duty operator had died but there’s five of us left and we still meet every year. And we’ve kept this going all these years and it’s been a wonderful experience. And like most of the crews you end up like a band of brothers. Yes, when you, when you got up in the morning and had your breakfast which was fairly relaxed because most of our, well all of our operations were at night so we were either sleeping late or having a normal day but when you went up to the crew room and looked at the notice board, there on the notice board was pinned the battle order and that, you looked to see if your name was on the battle order. If you saw your name on the battle order you went and changed your underwear. It was a very, tense, tense little situation and just seeing your name there was quite something. But then of course you had to go and, the battle order told you that you were flying, what aircraft you’re flying, the crew you — the crews name and the time of the briefing and the time of the meal, the flying meal. So after you — going off late in the evening you had a flying meal late afternoon which was bacon and eggs, you know, and really had bacon and eggs and sometimes we had beans and they were not the best of things for when you’re flying at altitude when you’re not having any compression in the aircraft. So you, you had your flying meal and then of course you had to go and have a special time to go for briefing. So all the crew assembled, except the navigator went off on his own little special briefing drawing up his chart and then he joined us at the main briefing. And you all sat in a big room, it was smoky, you smoked like a chimney, it was just like, almost like a church with all the benches round about and a big high table at the front, where all the section leaders came and gave the information about the raid. The intelligence officer, the met officer the arms officer, all gave their instructions for what you’re going to do on the raid itself. So, and then on this particular raid the, the uncertainty of the whole thing left a little bit of a, a nervous tension. There was always a bit of tension anyway, so, but this was even more so and having just had to go out to the aircraft, not expecting to go at all you were a little bit tense. And of course you went outside and had the crew bus which drove you out to the aircraft and it was quite a contrast. in the crew room, sitting in the crew room waiting for the — to get onto the crew bus people were sometimes were just silent, just couldn’t talk, didn’t talk at all and others were just the opposite or a little bit hilarious and out of character completely. My little wireless operator said he was always going to come on operations drunk ‘cause he couldn’t stand the atmosphere in the crew room and this particular, a particular night we were waiting to go off and it was — we were all a bit on, on edge and he came up behind me pretending to be drunk he said [imitates someone slurring words] and I turn round and said a very rude word to him but he disappeared and left two little WAFs standing behind me. So this is the sort of thing that the atmosphere that it created. And that was quite a tense little period waiting, so some over expressing themselves and some absolute silence and going out on the crew bus you tend to be a little bit over excited and some over talked and when you got out the aircraft it was the usual system of some chaps had little ideas of getting over the stress and getting through the raid, whereby they’d have a little wee by the tail wheel and some used to sit, kneel down and have a séance, kneel down and have say a pray beside the aircraft. And the — all very, very tense. on this occasion we weren’t expecting to go so we weren’t really expecting to have to get onto the aircraft until the green [unclear] light went up and we had to get going and that was, that was a little bit stressful but you had a job to do and you went and had to go off to do it. The age of my crew we were all very young except one, my mid upper gunner, Tommy he was twenty-six and he was the old man of the crew and all the rest of the crew were nineteen, twenty. I was twenty years old. My navigator lied about his age to join up and he joined us when he was seventeen. He was operating when he was eighteen. But the tension didn’t relax everybody. Norman my bomb aimer, a very dapper little man, he used to come on operations with a crease in his trousers and he, he, he, he liked the sight of the aircraft and the dogs going off and the searchlights. He thought that was great, isn’t that lovely isn’t that nice, isn’t that nice and the crew used to go for Christ sake Norman shut up and this was on — the same effect on the Nuremberg raid where we saw him, mayhem and chaos going on all round about, and he, he wouldn’t say he thought it was nice but he, he thought it was quite spectacular and it was very spectacular and in reflection it was frightening. When you think of our ages, at that age for I was twenty, having been a very naive and sheltered youth, a sickly youth at that, how on earth I got in the air force I don’t know but we were very naive, most of us at that age were very naive. We didn’t have the background or experience of life so we were just doing a job. And it did become frightening. How, how I felt — my first recollection of this being so when you went to learn to fly in Canada it was a big gun hall and you came back and you went onto an Operational Training Unit and picked up a crew and then you went onto the squadron and we went to a Heavy Conversion Unit first and there, er, I was not getting on terribly well because I’ve got little short legs and I had a little bit of a problem keeping these black monsters straight down the runway. My friend who I’d trained with had been parallel for a long, long time he was posted to 101 Squadron and when my turn came a couple of days later when I’d mastered these beasts, er, I said can I go and join the squadron with Paul and the flight commander said well it’s a Special Duty Squadron we only send the best ones there. I said oh thank you very much and that was a bit of a come down but a couple of days later he said right Waughman off to 101 Squadron. So off I went to 101 Squadron. I said have you had a change of heart he said no, he said it’s a squadron with the highest attrition rate in the service and you’ve got the first call on the availability of aircrew. The day I arrived on the squadron my friend Paul had been killed the night before. Then it started to sink in, it really was quite an alarming experience. And, er, the first five raids, first five operations on raids that’s when I had the most casualties, causality rates for new crews, could be anything up to forty percent particularly on our squadron with the special duty operating. But it was, er, quite [unclear] you certainly realised this stuff was serious and of course when you went on operations people used to shoot at you, you know, and you used to think well this is, this is really, this is really something and most raids you nearly always had searchlight activity and on one occasion we were flying over, towards Hanover and we had, we were picked up by the searchlight, the cant really [unclear] control [unclear] searchlight and we were in the searchlight for something like twenty, twenty-five minutes trying to get out of it. With fighters flying all round the place and with the gunners we managed to get out but that was, that was quite alarming and the German night activities were brilliant they really were very, very good and particularly round the Ruhr area where the concentration of industry was and they had their Vicksburg radar which could, could get fighters into the bomber stream and we were attacking the Ruhr this particular night and as we approached the flak was so thick it looked as if you could get out and walk on it. This was one of the old expressions they used. And for the first time, you were always a bit apprehensive and frightened at times, but at this time I, I experienced terror and I’d never experienced terror before and I was, my knees were shaking, I was shaking, I think I was sweating with all that gear, which you did anyway but I really was terrorised. So I dropped my seat so I couldn’t look out and funnily enough, I don’t know why, but I said a little prayer that my mum and dad used to say when I was about six years old by the side of the bed, but I’d never ever said it before and I’ve never said it again until then. it was a little prayer that went ‘now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul will keep’ and the important bit is ‘if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul will take’ and I said this little prayer. I don’t know why, it just came to me and you know the terror disappeared. I was still apprehensive and frightened but the terror went. And I raised my seat and we carried on. And we had experiences like this later on the operations on the tours but I was never terrorised again so power of prayer, makes you wonder, but I’m sure this affected no end of aircrew like that and sadly some of the aircrew getting into these situations just couldn’t cope and the, one navigator just walked down to the back of the aircraft, he wanted to jump out and the crew had to strap him. He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t speak and when he got back he never spoke and he went to a psychiatric hospital at Matlock and eventually one of the nurses clattered a trio of instruments and he woke up and he said ‘oh Christ they’re shooting us, they’re firing at us, we’re on fire’ and they sorted him out. And that’s the sort of thing that used to affect some of the lads. Sadly the little engineer that I had first of all, he was like that and on our first raid he, he just couldn’t do a thing. He just sat on the floor and shook and sweat, sweated, and on our second raid we had our problems and he just couldn’t do a thing. On the third raid we had engines on fire, particularly the starboard outer, and he just couldn’t do a thing, he couldn’t do anything to help at all so I had to get out, half out of my seat because the [unclear] buttons were down on the left hand side, right hand side and operate them myself. He just couldn’t do a thing. So when I got back I reported it to the wing commander and he said you know he’s got to go and he left that day. we never saw him again. Whether he was made LMF, lacking moral fibre, we don’t know but he should never of been — and people who suffered like this but carried on operating, they were really the heroes of the aircrew ‘cause they knew they were frightened and they were frightened but they carried on. And it says a great deal of credit for them and there was no end like that as well. You see the experience of arriving at a target, you usually saw the target ahead because it had been marked by the Pathfinders and this was where about a couple of them before you actually dropped your bombs, the bomb aimer would take over control, not the actual physical control of the aircraft but you were still flying it but he told you what to do and where to do, and what to do and for that while you were flying pretty well straight and level , it was left, left, right, right, and then as you got up the target you had something like two minutes or a minute and a half dead straight flying with the bomb aimer controlling you and that was quite an alarming time because you are over the target with searchlights, fighters round about, bombs dropping round about you. You’d occasionally see the odd bomb drop past your aircraft with [unclear] and you couldn’t do a thing about it. Or you shouldn’t do a thing about it and you didn’t until the bomb aimer said ‘bombs gone’ but that wasn’t the end of it. To get a photograph of where your bombs burst you carried a photoflood, a multimillion [unclear] little explosive which dropped out of the flesh out of the back of the aircraft which exploded in the air when your bombs burst, so you had a picture where your bombs burst. And at one time they said well unless you got a photograph of where your bomb burst the raid won’t count, but that didn’t always apply. But you had that couple of minutes in the last bit of flying, straight and narrow [coughs] and you couldn’t, you shouldn’t take any evasive action at all and you were just sitting waiting and all round about you’d see all this activity going round about you because on the ground the ground was lit up and [coughs] the ground, ground was bright, quite bright and that’s one of the things the fighters liked because the fighters would get up above you and see your silhouette on the ground.



Andrew Panton, “Interview with Rusty Waughman. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024,

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