The fourth flight to Berlin

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Title

The fourth flight to Berlin

Description

Records that Jack Meek a Canadian navigator was going back on operations after having been wounded on an operation to Berlin the previous January. Describes his crew and relates the story of the January operation where they were attacked by fighters and some crew were wounded and hydraulics damaged. Continues with description of return flight and Jack's actions resulting in the award of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.

Date

1944-05-06

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

Three page typewritten document

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

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

Contributor

Identifier

MBakerWB1392752-161128-20

Transcription

[underlined] EXTRACT FROM:-
THE STAR WEEKLY. TORONTO, MAY 6th, 1944. [/underlined]

[underlined] FOURTH FLIGHT TO BERLIN
by
Frederick Griffin
(Star Weekly Staff Reporter)
By Special Cable to the Star Weekly from London. [/underlined]

That day, having recovered from his wounds, Jack Meek of Vancouver was going back on operations. "How do you feel about it?" I asked him. The tall, ruddy, blond navigator with the unwavering blue eyes answered honestly, and when you wear the coveted C.G.M. ribbon you can afford to be honest. "They say you feel a bit shaky at first, but that once you get the feel of it again you'll be all right".

Jack Meek was rejoining the same R.A.F. crew with whom he had made that fearful trip back from Berlin in January. Not all the same crew. There would be a new wireless operator, for Sergt. Jimmy Hall had been killed that night. And the wounded leg of Sergt. Joe Schwartz of Windsor, Ont., rear gunner, wasn't healed enough yet to let him take his place. But the rest were all crewed up as before, all set for another prang at Berlin, Frankfurt or Nuremberg.

There were P.O. William Breckenridge of Glasgow, the pilot, who won the D.F.C. that night and was now flight lieutenant; W.O. Richard Jack Meek, the navigator, shortly to get his commission, who was given the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal; F.O. Val Poushinsky of Calgary, the bomb aimer; Sergt. Alex. Stephenson from Banffshire, the engineer, and P.O. William Baker, the mid-upper gunner from Surrey, who also got the D.F.C. for that night's work, when they brought their Lancaster Y for Yorker limping back 500 miles to a crash landing. Three Scots, three Canadians and an Englishman – such was the original crew. They had never met until August last, when they were teamed up by fate. And a great team they made.

"He's a rock". Thus Pilot Bill Breckenridge described big red Jack Meek with the sure voice and the steady intelligent eyes. At 35 he was the oldest of the crew, in most cases by a good many years. As a youngster in Vancouver he had been a newspaperman for three years with the Canadian Press. He left this to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and served in the Yukon. He was 12 years with the mounted and the B.C. provincial police. He was a Corporal in the provincials at Prince George when he joined the R.C.A.F. in November, 1941.

They were a well-welded crew when that January evening at dusk they took off for their fourth visit to Berlin. "It was a nice evening, not much cloud", said Meek, "a good night for navigating. I got several accurate winds with their direction and strength down to a T. That meant a lot to us. It came in very important later on. We had no trouble getting to out [sic] target. We saw several combats as we came in from the north but we swung in well on time. Remember I'm quoting from memory.

There was plenty of flak and the low clouds were lit up by searchlights. All of a sudden from the rear I saw tracers going past on each side. They seemed to converge as they whizzed past. The odd point I remember was that I could hear them so loudly with our engines going and all that racket. But when they hit the kite there were terrific bangs.

[page break]

- 2 -

Just then we were attacked again from the port rear, maybe by the same Jerry fighter, maybe by another one. That's when I was hit. The kite was pitching around all over the place as Bill tried to shake if [sic] off. I was crouched down behind him doubled up. I thought we had had it and instinctively reached for my parachute.

Things were happening so fast. We could'nt shake the searchlights and flak was coming up, too. It was kind of a madhouse, the terrific noise of cannon shots exploding against the kite. It's all a bit confused to me, and I guess I must have passed out for some minutes for I don't recall other attacks."

Jack Meek had two wounds. One was in his shoulder. The other was caused by shrapnel which went clean through his middle entering at the right side of his back and emerging at the left front just below his chest. It was with such wounds that he carried on and marvellously navigated back to England without instruments. There were four such attacks altogether in those hellish five minutes over Berlin.

The mid-upper gun turret was smashed and Bill Baker wounded on the side of his face by a shot which tore away his helmet and oxygen mask. The rear gun turret was also holed and Joe Schwartz severely wounded by a piece of exploding shrapnel in his foot. Inter-communication with the after end was broken and those forward did'nt know what was happening aft.

The hydraulic system had been shot up; the bomb doors would'nt close nor, as they found later, would the wheels lower. One gas tank was holed. Three rev. indicators and three boost gauges were useless. So were the direction finder and the gyro compass. The elevators and rudders were damaged. Such was the state of their Lancaster that night over Berlin with one of the crew dead and three of the crew wounded when they emerged from their fourth fighter attack and turned homeward through the blasting dark.

When Jack Meek began to remember again they were down to 15,000 feet and "streaking like hell out of Berlin". Bill Breckenridge, unflurried, was flying that damaged kite as on a cross-country hike. "We found Jimmy Hall the wireless operator slumped over his set. He was warm but unconscious, and we didn't know he was dead. We gave him first aid.

"We had scarcely left Berlin when we discovered smoke aft. So Alex. went back and fought that in the fuselage putting it out. Then later on there was another fire when the electrical circuit broke into a blaze. Everyone was suffering from lack of oxygen. As for the controls, some would work and some would'nt.

"There's one thing I am proud of. Everyone did as they had been trained to do. It showed where our discipline and our training came in. Even when we were being attacked and in that jam over Berlin with tracers screaming past and cannon shot hitting us with the crash and sound of sledgehammers and with Bill flinging us about all over the sky, no one panicked. An [sic] no man showed any fear when we saw the mess we were in. Everyone just carried on as he had been taught by the book."

And what did he, Jack Meek, do during all this long run home in such a state to win himself the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal? For the C.G.M. is not handed out lightly. It is a high award in the R.A.F. and only eight warrant officers and sergeants of the R.C.A.F. have won it so far, Jack Meek being the eighth. It was originally instituted by Queen Victoria in 1874 as an award for warrant officers and N.C.O.'s of the Royal Marines. A few years later it was extended to petty officers of the Royal Navy. It was'nt until 1943 that the R.A.F. adopted it as a special award to warrant officers and N.C.O.'s for outstanding operational service. It rates higher than the D.F.M.

[page break]

- 3 -

Yes, what did Jack Meek do to get it? Remember he had a wound in his shoulder and a hole right through his insides from back to front. I asked him to tell me his part. He told me as simply and unaffectedly as if he were giving evidence about someone else, in that same measured objective unaffected impersonal fashion he had told of the whole affair.

"I had very good winds on the way in", he said. "I mean data. I had to go entirely on these in reverse going back, for all our navigating gear was wrecked. Ant [sic] the trouble was I could'nt hold up the sextant, for my left arm would drop down on me and gradually it went helpless altogether. Fortunately this date must have been accurate, for it took us right back to our track. I also took observation of the landmarks I knew". When he saw searchlights or flak over German territory he would say to Bill Breckenridge, "That's Hanover – go so many minutes in such a direction, then bear so much west."

"When I gave him a bearing, he said, "I would try to give him the next one, too. I tried to figure it out quite a bit ahead for I felt I might pass out any minute – I felt a little light in the head – and I did'nt want to leave them in ignorance of our position".

"Could you manage to move?" I asked. "To some degree, he replied, "I could manage to stand up, look out, and tell the skipper what I saw. I bled quite a bit I know, and I guess that's why I was getting light in the head. But there was no time to be worrying about that. It was a case of trying to darn well get back.

"The open bomb doors were quite a drag and we could'nt get speed, but fortunately we were able to get altitude. About two hours after leaving Berlin, I was able to ascertain our exact position by getting a fix and found we were just three miles of [sic] track. That was all, and it gave me a feeling of relief. We were over the Zuider Zee then".

They lacked oxygen and were chilled through in a badly holed aircraft. They hit England right on the nose. "As we came close", Jack continued, "we sent out a distress signal and in less than a minute the searchlights had started to home us. But we could'nt get the wheels down; the air pressure was blown away and they were locked up in position. The pilot and engineer tried everything they knew to get them down, but they would'nt move. So Bill said to me "Tell the boys to prepare for a crash landing."

"Nevertheless, we made a very successful belly-landing. Bill brought her in like a baby. I could feel the plane land on her tail wheel and run forward on that, her nose still up. Then as she slowed, the open bomb doors hit the ground and snapped closed. We sure got out of her fast. We were afraid of fire, we still had a bay full of incendiaries, but none of them went off".

And so they came back home from their dreadful trip, to find themselves in the hands of R.A.F. medicals, and to learn for the first time that Jimmy Hall was dead. The R.A.F. doctor treated Joe Schwartz first as seemingly the worst wounded, and this calm Meek sat and read his medical books. "I became quite interested", he said. "The whole world seemed to have turned upside down and this weemed [sic] to keep me on an even keel".

Then the doctor stood Meek up, helped him strip and was astonished at his severe wounds. With a mirror he showed him where the shrapnel had entered; he could where it had come out. "So you still feel all right?"2 said the doctor. "Yes", said Jack Meek, and passed out.

He woke up in the hospital.

I asked him, "Tell me what were your thoughts when you found yourself in such a jam over Berlin"?. "Your're intent on your job, subconsciously anyway, said Jack Meek. "And you have the common sense to grap [sic] your parachute. You're all set for whatever may happen, but you carry on. What I mean is I have seen
P.T.O.

Citation

Frederick Griffin, “The fourth flight to Berlin,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 6, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/36031.

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