Conversation with Hamish Mahaddie. Two


Conversation with Hamish Mahaddie. Two
Interview with Hamish Mahaddie. Two


Hamish Mahaddie was selected during a tour of operations to become the recruiter for the Pathfinders working closely with Don Bennett. He discusses the changing technology of aircraft during the war years. He personally flew the Whitleys, Stirlings, Wellingtons, Lancasters and Mosquitoes and other aircraft. He also charts the changing face of the Pathfinders Force.




02:01:29 audio recording


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MM: History of the Number 8 Group Pathfinder Force. I’d like to continue this afternoon. Mahaddie tell us about the Pathfinder Force training. You were, as we know the Group training inspector extraordinaire to Number 8 Group and navigation and target marking was the name of the game.
HM: What’s that —
MM: And your specialty. Why don’t you begin with how you were recruited from your number 7 Group off of Stirlings by this AOC Don Bennett into your role as a Group training inspector.
HM: Well, it was very simple. It was just a question of being thrown in to the job. As I told you having landed very early in the morning, three or four o’clock in the morning from the last sortie I did which I think was Hamburg and being told to report to Don Bennett at 10 o’clock. That was five or six hours later with whatever sleep I could have got in the meantime and then being confronted by this august and very very frightening character Don Bennett who we didn’t know very well and he was a very new figure to us all and being told that whatever my squadron might have thought of me I’m now or, you are now the Group training inspector responsible for the training of the entire Pathfinder Force as well as the selection, seeking and selecting them. And he more or less hinted that he hoped that I would be able to recruit better Pathfinders than I appeared to be. Which is his aggressive way of putting you on your mettle. At least they were. It might have been true but that was the way. That was the way it all came out to me and from that moment I was the 8 Group Pathfinder Force horse thief and I went out and about.
MM: So you were the new horse thief.
HM: Yes. Quite. That was the name given to me.
MM: You had to select a very unique calibre of airmen from the squadrons. Is that right? You had to choose the, as you say —
HM: I’m sorry. I didn’t get —
MM: You had to select a —
HM: Yes.
MM: A unique calibre of airmen from the squadrons across Britain at the time.
HM: Quite.
MM: What did you look for?
HM: Well, it’s [pause] it struck me right at the beginning that I had to make a fine trawl. Imagine that I had. I’m a trawler and I have to have to have a certain mesh, fine mesh that I could let the minnows get through and catch the big fish. And I told you, I think I hinted at one stage that Bomber Harris issued a target map every, after ever sortie where the aiming point pictures, those that got them were established on this foolscap sheet of paper and there was, there wasn’t everybody’s picture that they had taken, only the chaps that got within the target area. But mind our targets was never, seldom less than say Cologne twenty two miles one way and nineteen miles the other. That was the target although there was a pinpoint in the middle like the railway station, the Hauptbahnhof in Cologne or the Dom Cathedral with the two spires. Not that we were aiming for the Dom. We never hit it in any case. Even the biggest raids. And so that gave me a clue. Here's people that get to the target. They bring you back a proof. There between two sheets of glass a wet print. They didn’t even bother to process it and glaze it. A wet print came straight out of the tray, slapped between two sheets of glass and there the little WAAF interrogator could tell you exactly where you left your bombs. So I’m looking for fellas that did get to the aiming point and only a small percentage got to the aiming point and a larger percentage got on the perimeter and a much larger percent I believe sometimes as much as half the people on the raid weren’t on the target. Weren’t on the aiming point at all. That’s life. Whether you’re a banker or an accountant or you make fish and chips or ladies knickers there’s always those that get to the aiming point and those that get to the perimeter and those that are not on the, on the plot at all. Now, that was, that was my first trawl. There were other means. People would write to me from Canada. Commonwealth Air Training Corps. RAF people that I knew who had done a tour of duty and come out here to instruct and they would write to me and say, ‘Hamish, you’ve got to see old Charlie Farnes-Barnes. Absolutely first class character. He’s just finished and he’s got the distinguished pass at Number 1 Navigation School and he’s outstanding in every way. We’re trying to find a better award than a distinguished pass to give him because he is, he’s outstanding. Top of the class and I commend him to you and he’ll be on a boat and he’ll come into Liverpool next month on the 15th. Grab him.’ That’s another source and there are many other sources. But a lot of guys and I must return to guys like Ian Bazalgette who plagued me after his first tour to get into the Pathfinders because he had then been posted as a flight commander as you know to do a training job which I might say he was probably most unsuited for because he was a character and it wasn’t everybody that wanted to carry on and do it again and again.
MM: The press on types.
HM: That was my fine trawl.
MM: Did you, when you went to a squadron to give a lecture you spoke to the whole Group.
HM: Oh, sometimes on a squadron or sometimes on a station or a base there would be two squadrons. So I’d speak to anything up to four, three or four, five hundred people at one time.
MM: Were you looking more specifically to get some pilots first and hopefully good navigators?
HM: No.
MM: Or good navigators first and then the pilot.
HM: I was looking for a crew and I was going to that station in the pretext of giving a lecture about maybe one of our not so successful Pathfinder occasions of which there’s a couple of which are very famous. Of me making a balls up of it, you see. But that was a pretext. That was to get in and to see the guys who I had identified on Harris’ aiming point picture of the last raid on wherever it was. Mannheim or wherever it was. Or the Ruhr. Essen in the Ruhr. But generally I met, I met those people individually and privately in the pub that evening.
MM: You say the, that they volunteered and did you leave the option open at the end of your lecture hoping to glean some volunteers and if they were willing to volunteer did they have to talk to the CO to sign on or how did that work?
HM: The idea was to publicly, in full view of the CO or the squadron commander and the station commander who after all I was on his base. I wasn’t coming in there and doing a fire deal or doing a horse thief deal. I wasn’t raiding his cattle to tell them about Pathfinding. Explain the changing tactics. They were changing all the time. They weren’t always successful. We always find and again I must repeat nobody tells you how good the Deutsch were at protecting those Reichs.
MM: Yes.
HM: They were very good at it and on in total they knocked down seven thousand heavy bombers. They killed, as I told you again and again forty seven thousand aircrew in the course of Harris’ stewardship. They were good.
MM: Yes. I’d like to talk to you in a few minutes about the radar and the counter measures that both sides used. Tell me a little bit more about some of the types of people who did volunteer and if I was sitting out in the crowd and I wanted to volunteer what would I have had to do to get recruited in to the —
HM: Well, basically first of all you would have to put in a written application to your CO, the squadron commander and they’d probably do that that day. And the squadron commander would get the application and he would interview this guy. This was the official way to do it. Basically, what happened the squadron commander just looked at it and said, ‘No fear. He’s too good. Far too good to go to the Pathfinders.’ And he tore it up. Put it in the ash can you see. And then the guy, and it was and there were guys and Bazalgette and again I must return to Bazalgette because there were many of them. There were many many Bazalgettes. They all didn’t get VCs.
MM: No.
HM: Some of them didn’t even get DSOs or DFCs you see. It wasn’t everybody got a DFC and he would put in another one and the same thing would happen but the next time I was around that guy would make quite certain that he bought me a half pint of beer in the local boozer down the street that same day and say, ‘Look, what gives? I’ve put in two applications and the boss tears them up.’ And I just take his name of his crew, he or just his name and his crew would then be posted. Forty eight hours later he was down at Warboys and starting his training as a Pathfinder.
MM: Did you find that a number of the station commanders tried to do more to interfere?
HM: Oh yes.
MM: With your choosing of the best crews.
HM: Yes.
MM: No doubt they wanted good crews on their bases.
HM: Well, yes. The first thing —
MM: Squadrons.
HM: The squadron commander did he went straight to the station commander and said, ‘Look, Groupie,’ or whatever he called him, ‘Mahaddie’s been around here shooting his mouth off and, oh flight sergeant — ’ or pilot officer somebody wants to go to the Pathfinders.’ And the station commander would say, ‘I’ll sort him out the next time he comes.’ Or he would ring me up you see. You see I have this unique opportunity and there was nothing written down about it. But try and understand I am rather a unique. I’m not, I’m not perfect but I’m a unique, in a unique situation. I’ve survived two tours of operations. I’m very well known. I get four heavy decorations in one week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Each day I get a big decoration but they were, one was two years overdue. One was immediate and that caused a bit of a sensation.
MM: Right.
HM: You see.
MM: Sure.
HM: And it didn’t make me a very special character but it was special in the sense that here’s a guy, and everybody’s drinking on me. When you go they all buy a drink on you and sign your book. And on Friday there’s a guy signing up for another pint of beer and somebody said, ‘What has he got today?’ And the guy said, ‘I don’t know but he’s bound to get something.’ So you are a well-known character. So when the station commander rings me up and I said, ‘Look —’ And I don’t know him from a hole in the ground but he’s not an operator. He hasn’t done a tour of duty. He might have done one trip once and got away with it. Some of the station commanders that did an odd trip just to say I’ve been and get his name registered for the Aircrew Europe but he wasn’t an operator and he was very poorly placed to talk to me and I’m not setting myself up as —
MM: Just that —
HM: King. I’m setting myself up as a guy being told to get Pathfinders better than I was. Well, just say I was just a good run of the mill ordinary Pathfinder. Alright. I wanted to get better guys and they got better. And one of the things that is difficult to understand and repeatable my contemporaries and I tell them so but as the war went on our aircrew got better because they came from the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme and they came to me with jolly nearly or at least two hundred and fifty, two hundred and sixty hours and then they did another forty at Kinloss on Whitleys and probably another thirty forty on Stirlings or Halifaxes or Lancasters before they went on to the operations. So they nearly had three hundred hours flying. They were very mature aircrew. Nevertheless, some got the chop on their first. Some only did the average, I’ve told you nine sorties. But guys like Cranswick managed to get in a hundred and forty seven. I don’t know how many Bazalgette did but he must have done, he must have done well over the sixty and probably nearer ninety. Do you know how many?
MM: I don’t have an exact figure on it. It looks like it was around fifty six.
HM: [unclear]
MM: He did twenty six with 65.
HM: Yeah. Well —
MM: After his first two —
HM: Well, that’s something. You caught me out. I’ll find out on another occasion. But whatever he did he was well into a Pathfinder tour as indeed I was. I was pulled out by Bennett when I did fifty eight and I was very cross about that because I wanted to do the other two and with all the conceit which is very very strong in all pilots you know it won’t happen to me. I feel I could have, I might have saved my crew who were all killed.
MM: Ok. So let’s look at what would happen when you arrive at Warboys. You volunteered, you’d been accepted by yourself.
HM: I’d been accepted.
MM: A pilot and a crew’s been accepted and they arrive at Warboys.
HM: Yes.
MM: What, what would occur to them? What would happen next in their training plan at Warboys?
HM: Well, was decompartmentalised. The gunners had a specialised training. Flight engineers. The navigators were special because the navigator is essentially the Pathfinder.
MM: Right.
HM: Although we, we feel that each crew member is special in his own compartment and so the pilot, they would specialise. The navigator would be told all about our special techniques. We no longer flew with what Don Bennett called motor car miles. We were then instructed that all miles were nautical miles and the nautical miles were the figure of the unit on the charts. The Mercators charts for instance, you see. So all the airspeed indicators were changed to nautical miles because Bennett’s whole idea was to focal everyone’s attention and tunnel vision and blinkered vision on navigation and that was the name of the game. And so to that end each crew had to specialise.
[recording paused]
HM: We backtracked. So the gunners go off and each member goes off to his own —
MM: Yes.
HM: Compartment. You might think how does this figure out as far as flight engineers are concerned? Well, I can’t go into detail. It’s not the place or the time to do that but, but each, each aircrew category were instilled into, it was instilled into them that they were now a Pathfinder flight engineer. A Pathfinder gunner. A Pathfinder navigator and you’re different and you’ve got to just, you’ve got to upgrade your effort and match and feed in to the navigator everything that he needs and I told you something about the bomb aimer could go forward and take a sight —
MM: Yes.
HM: On his bombsight. And you could tell because you could pick up something on the ground. Even in the blackest of nights he could pick up a shadow on, on a river or something that showed up on the ground and he could take a sight and he could tell the navigator, ‘We’ve got twelve degrees drift to port.’ And the navigator would say, ‘Great.’ And he would record that and it went into the log. He would say, and he didn’t, he didn’t sort of say that the bomb aimer announced twelve degrees of port. He just put in twelve degrees of port and everything was, he then made adjustments and he probably, the set operators who was sat by his side [pause] You see we had eight members in a crew generally. The set operator probably switched on H2S because they didn’t leave it on. He only, because that was a guide. The JU88 would switch on the electronics and I’m leapfrogging here, the set operator, the radar man would then switch on for a moment H2S and he would say, ‘Yeah. That’s about right.’ He probably says twelve degrees or eleven degrees. Again, it’s a check.
MM: Yes.
HM: The rear gunner did the same thing but he would contest. The rear gunner would contest with the bomb aimer in a sense of, ‘Well, that’s nearly right.’ He would say, ‘I make that eleven and a half.’ Or, ‘Twelve and a half.’ He would always put in a little bit extra. Or a bit less saying, ‘My, my sight is better than yours.’ But the important thing is it was a check. It wasn’t the other way. It wasn’t twelve degrees drift of port but that was the important thing and that is grist to the mill. That is information coming into the computer and the computer is the navigator. He is computing and recording on his log.
MM: Now, there were a great number of advances in navigation techniques from the early years of the war to the end.
HM: Yeah.
MM: And the Pathfinders excelled in navigation and in the “Whirlwind,” film you mentioned they had extremely good navigators. Now, tell us a little bit about the picture of navigation as it changed in the Pathfinder Force and how, how things worked to your advantage.
HM: Yeah. Well, bearing in mind and keeping in mind the episode, “World at War. Whirlwind.” And I’m speaking there and I’m saying the whole, the whole aspect up to the beginning of the Pathfinders August ’42 and really almost forget the few months left in ’42 because you can’t come out of the main bombing force as a just ordinary run of the mill hack bomber pilot and by passing through the portals of Warboys, you know and get and you didn’t get a Pathfinder badge until you’d done many many Pathfinder sorties. That came and you saw the certificate and very few people got it under twelve or more sorties. Some people didn’t get it until they finished Pathfinding. And so, but there was a complete change in attitude and it was utterly psychological. I’m now a Pathfinder. I’m better. I’ve got to be better than I was when I was bumbling about in the main force not knowing where I was going. Not being able to find targets mainly because of the German reaction and the Germans making quite certain by flak and fighters that we weren’t getting to our targets. And I must say this. There were, there were and must have been a proportion and I can’t measure this. I could never find out. There were a proportion of fellas that might, who may, a crew may be run by a little Soviet in the crew that got somewhere near the target and didn’t press on as a Pathfinder. Please remember the Pathfinder war cry, ‘Press on Regardless.’
MM: Yes.
HM: Now, that in itself made things different because you were, you know it was the old school adage, you know. You didn’t and I’ll use a Scottish word, clype, at school on a chum that did something, you know.
MM: Right.
HM: You got, you got a caning rather than say, ‘He was the guy that broke the window.’ ‘He was the guy that spilled the ink all over the floor,’ or something. So, everybody had a psychological change of attitude when they walked through the guardroom at Warboys and that applied to everybody. Even the flight engineer had that astra compass on the side just where he sat looking at his dials. He had this astrocompass that he could screw up and take a sight on the Pole Star and he could get a reading of latitude and that went into the log. At 03:00 hours Pole Star reading ding ding and that was something else that was a check. You see there were occasions that you could have a complete reversal of the wind in direction and strength to what the Met forecast gave you back at base. So you at the briefing you had a complete Met briefing but you get as Harris said in “Whirlwind,” three or four hundred miles away at the other end of Europe the wind direction and speed could be quite different. And on one occasion it was. Instead of being forty knots from a certain direction it was sixty knots from quite a different direction and instead of coming back on the track that we should have been, this is pre-Pathfinding.
MM: Yes.
HM: You came back straight across the Ruhr and we got a terrible hammering by coming straight across the Ruhr which we avoided as a rule. So Warboys takes each crew member and wrings him out. You’re no longer a main force navigator, bomb aimer, set operator. Not set operator because they didn’t have H2S at that time.
MM: Wireless operator.
HM: You’re different.
MM: Yeah.
HM: And you’ve got to act differently and you’ve got to behave differently and anything you can do to aid like the wireless operator could stand up in the astrodome and take astro sights. The navigator can’t do it. He’s in that black tent like just imagine almost this size. Half the size of this room in a blacked out tent and he never looked out and if he looked out he frightened himself and went back again with all the flak and everything else. But he could hear the flak. You could always hear the flak on the side of the aircraft because it used to get very near even if you were doing a corkscrew or weaving. So that was the attitude. And then they all came together to do navigation and they did certain trips generally in a westerly direction. But real Pathfinder trips and doing infra-red bombing going off and bombing a target say away in the Western Highlands that had an infrared device on top, on the very top of an isolated lighthouse in the Upper Hebrides blacked out and you couldn’t see this but only the night infra-red camera could pick it up. And then you were supposed to fly right over this and it gave you a trace and that was a guide to your standard of navigation and also a source of checking how good crews were or how they had not reacted to the training they were getting. It was all grist to the mill.
MM: Tell us a little bit about the development of Gee and Oboe.
HM: Well, first of all I have to take it in its chronological order.
MM: Yes please.
HM: The first thing that came along and I’d never seen because we didn’t have Gee at Kinloss and we didn’t have it before I went to Kinloss. But to suddenly come back to a squadron I went through this same process that you had Douglas Cameron say that Bazalgette went through and I was put through the navigation or I witnessed what the navigation the navigator was taught. It was happening to him and I went straight through each department in just a casual sort of way to see what each crew member was going through and that was for my benefit. And in any event the, my [pause] the way I saw it was I didn’t need, I’d had a lot of experience in a tour and also in the eighteen months I was instructing. So I had a lot of experience but I was clueless about the finer points of navigation. Just about the finer points of everything that was happening to my crew and I was a better pilot because of that because I realised that I was in need of specialist training just as they were and then of course everything was analysed very carefully. When we went off on a trip each one of our performances were analysed because a very very tour expired experienced pilot came with us and so I was able to see what happened to Gee. We could use Gee on this training but please remember Gee was jammed halfway across the North Sea or certainly as soon as we touched the German coast or the enemy coast. Gee was no good but it could get a very good check on windage. Whether the forecast wind was correct because halfway across the North Sea you could be, you could get within a quarter of a mile, a quarter of a nautical mile of where you should have been by just turning on Gee and getting a fix then but again that was as good and getting home. It helped you getting home and that was a great great aid in bad weather.
MM: Because on the return trip it didn’t matter. The secret was over and you’d done your deed and you could leave you Gee set on.
HM: And then came Oboe. Now, Oboe is a radar scanning device that scans about thirty miles each side of your track and just a beam, a radar beam. Imagine. An invisible beam that goes out and if it strikes a built-up area it goes ding and comes straight back to the aircraft and it records. Just imagine it. It’s just like a station that records it coming back. Now, if it strikes a built-up area or a flat surface it goes ding and away into space and it doesn’t come back. So built up, very quickly built up a picture of what is down there at fifteen miles or twelve miles or even ten miles and that picture just evolves in front of your eyes and it builds up a picture. And it builds up a picture very similar to a transparency that you’ve placed over the scope and you can see through this transparent map. You can see gradually built up something beyond the outline in the transparency as each bit of the town is coming up from the response you’re getting from the ground. But again, very gently because you can’t keep that. You must, seconds to switch it off because the JU88 by this time and very early within, within a short period of the first H2S being shot down the Germans had a counter measure in the JU88 that could home on to the bomber if his H2S was firing.
MM: Yes. Yes, so that was they fixed up the 88s and the Heinkel 111s with I think it was called Lichtenstein radar and they could home in on the H2S transmitter.
HM: Yeah. Lichtstein did you say?
MM: Lichtenstein.
HM: Yeah. Lichten. Whatever you like.
MM: How do you say it?
HM: I think we said Liechtenstein.
MM: Liechtenstein.
HM: The Germans. My German is not very good.
MM: Mine [laughs] the Oboe was a unit.
HM: Yeah.
MM: Was an audio signal was it not?
HM: Yeah.
MM: And it was a tone.
HM: This was quite different. Now, I can’t explain why Oboe wasn’t and we never never had Oboe jammed or interfered with.
MM: That was a higher frequency.
HM: And there was every reason why it should have been. We, and I don’t know now and again that’s something else that I’ll pick up for another occasion that this happens because this happens all the time. You’re not the only one that spends a long time screwing all my secrets out of me. Now, Oboe was a device that was controlled entirely from two little wire. Imagine two little girls sitting maybe a hundred miles apart on the coast of Essex and Norfolk and following on a curve of pursuit a Mosquito on this curved pursuit and being able to follow it and being able to tell it at one stage, ‘Open your bomb doors.’ Giving a signal or the pilot flying on this beam with an oral device that sounded like the Oboe instrument you know. I’m sorry, I can’t imitate it but a very low sound and if he got out of that sound he got dit dit dit on one side and then he got dash dash dash on the other. So he had to keep in this zone of silence.
MM: Right.
HM: Or a zone of Oboe and they were very very and you can ask about the training of these people. That was another job of mine and he kept although he was flying on a curved pursuit he kept in this zone of silence and if he started orally getting into dit dit dit he would turn very very gently and get back into this zone of silence or zone of Oboe.
MM: So you didn’t have to vary much off of that beam.
HM: Oh, minute. And I only recruited Oboe pilots from BAT, blind flying instructors who had done a thousand hours instructing on Blind Approach Training. Very skilful fellas. And the CO whose name escapes me but I’ll think of it in a minute, the CO turned more Oboe pilots down than anybody else in any other aspect. He wanted absolute perfection and if he turned them down he probably put them on a repeat course but or rejected them completely and these are people I used in the Light Night Strike Force. But the Oboe from thirty thousand feet could drop a target marker on a football pitch. A hundred metres by fifty metres. From thirty thousand feet.
MM: That’s great.
HM: And the target marker would, and that was how we were able to find Krupps because we went within miles of Krupps but when we started putting Oboe markers down then we could bomb Krupps. And it was said that old man Krupps, the old grandfather when he went, and I can’t remember the raid now he went to see the Krupps factory. It was a vast area more like a small town you know with the smelting and and casting gun cases and all sorts of things it broke his heart and very soon after he died.
MM: Is that right?
HM: So, but that’s one. That’s one of the tap room, that’s tap room gossip. I don’t know but that was, that was the whisper that went around probably after the war. But we didn’t mind breaking his heart. We didn’t mind breaking his neck if we could have got a hold of him. That was our job.
MM: Krupps was a munitions factory, wasn’t it?
HM: Yes. Yes.
MM: How [pause] H2S came into the picture in late ’43 didn’t it?
HM: Late ’42.
MM: Late ’42 but —
HM: Please remember to operate it it wasn’t every navigator or set operator. Set operators were navigators that we felt were better at operating H2S than they were possibly as navigators per se. Navigators might question that but if a fella had a feeling for the operation and it meant a great deal.
MM: Yeah.
HM: How he operated. It wasn’t everybody that could get the best out of H2S. Some people could do it. Some people couldn’t. And bomb aimers as such were just guys that went up front and selected all the bombs that would have to be dropped and then guided the pilot on to the target and kept the pilot on the target and then dropped the bomb. But some of them were very good. They, they just acquired the know how for some reason.
MM: There was also a change in bombsight technology. You used those Mark 7 and Mark 9 sights.
HM: Mark 9 sight.
MM: And then the T1.
HM: Yes.
MM: Bombsight came along with its computer and it could factor in —
HM: Stabilised bomb sight.
MM: Yeah.
HM: You see which it was stabilised and if you were jinking about it it damped out that, that frequent change.
MM: And it must have been a more accurate sight as well.
HM: Oh yes. But it was all down to being able, the bomb aimer to get an early sighting of the target and run up and then keep the aircraft steady. No jinking. If he said left, left, steady or right. He used right, right, right and then left very quickly. Left left steady. So with all the other things going on and the thunder of four Merlins and the navigators or the bomb aimers that used to say, ‘Oh, back a bit.’ I felt I would go up there and cut their heads off. But that was the sort of thing. That was the sort of thing that happened in this intensity. I can’t describe you’re hanging on there and you know that whilst you’re doing this runup we’re talking of a half a minute —
MM: Thirty seconds is a long time.
HM: Second job of [unclear] A long long time. You know there’s a guy down there, you know eighteen, eighteen thousand feet away that’s adjusting the fusing on the shell. Actually adjusting it to your height exactly. Pushing it up the spout and it’s on its way and the next thing you hear is crump and splatter against the side of the fuselage. Or a bit of the shell coming straight through and killing the pilot or killing the navigator or killing somebody because that you know a bit of shrapnel because there’s his old jacket and red hot. You don’t, you don’t suddenly just flick it off. It’s right inside you and burning and as Bill Reid said there was his, there was his flight engineer dead by his side and you can’t do anything about that and your windscreen is shot away and a hundred and forty knots of bloody night freezing blast is coming through there. Mind you he can put his goggles on. They always wore goggles up here. But to put a, but that’s a hundred and forty knot bloody icy wind and even at the best of times, well in the heat of summer that would be minus ten, minus twelve, minus fifteen. I know it’s nothing to what you experience on the ground here. You can get minus forty on the ground here in the wintertime.
MM: But with the wind that is cold. Very cold.
HM: It helps. It helped Bill Reid because the cold wind froze the blood [sneezes] I’m sorry, [unclear] and can’t do anything about that.
MM: Right.
HM: So I’ve dealt with, I’ve dealt with these [sneeze] pardon me, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I believe is all that’s necessary.
MM: That’s fine. That’s fine. LORAN came, came along later on in ’45.
HM: Yes.
MM: How was LORAN better than H2S or Gee for instance? It was long range navigation was the -moniker.
HM: Yeah. Well, that was something that when you say it came on later on it was very late in the war and I don’t think, I can’t remember Bennett having anything to do with LORAN navigation. I can’t remember so I’ve got to skip that.
MM: Ok.
HM: But if you’re, LORAN in a sense we had [pause] we had a system called GH.
MM: Yes.
HM: Which was a form of LORAN and that was used by 3 Group. Only by 3 Group and they used to specialise on certain targets with LORAN and see don’t forget we’re getting to a stage at that stage each Group by this time was able to accept a target and lay on almost several hundred aircraft, not a thousand but several hundred aircraft from the Group to go and attack that one target. But that’s because we had by this time we were into Germany and the invasion had been successful and we were halfway to the target. We were over friendly territory.
MM: That’s right and they set up the base stations for the Oboe.
HM: Oboe.
MM: And the LORAN in France and that —
HM: And that was, that was an extension of Oboe which I don’t recall ever came into use because things developed and our advance developed so quickly.
MM: Right. I think they set up a few Gee stations in France and that helped —
HM: Yeah.
MM: Them to get all the way to Berlin with Gee.
HM: GH, GH was set up and 3 Group were, this is something that the Pathfinders took to the best of my knowledge if that, if this gets rid of your LORAN question that was only operated to the best of my knowledge by 3 Group who did special targets. By this time we were looking for oil.
MM: Right. Right.
HM: And by this time we know our agents on the ground were telling us that hillock, that hillock that looks about a hundred metres high with forestation on top is actually an oil refinery. That hillock has been scooped out and when you couldn’t understand why a railway line goes straight into this little forest that’s got a bit of a bump on it that is an oil refinery. And you can refine, refine oil in a very very very confined space and so that could have a reference point and if you put a Grand Slam or a Tallboy you know that could go straight into that and do an awful lot of damage. Only one was necessary.
MM: Yes. Tell me a little bit about some common systems used on an aircraft. A standard beam approach and distant ranging compass.
HM: That was another aid to the navigator you see because he could establish as he was going along his track, check on his progress, check on his ground speed you see. Don’t forget that that aeroplane is moving. It’s in a living environment. It’s not just going along a track with its wheels on the track. It’s in a moving environment. There is a windspeed and direction that’s moving it off course and the navigator’s job is to keep it on course and relate to the changing windspeed and direction and this course setting compass helps it. Helps him. It’s an aid to that end.
MM: That is how the distance ranging compass functioned more or less like this.
HM: Yes, and also in cases of bad weather coming home and he’s got he can tell rather like the conductor or the engine driver, driving a train from London to Edinburgh and he can tell. He just looks out and he’s passing a station and he can’t read what the station says but he knows he’s now eleven miles from base you see.
MM: Yeah.
HM: And he’s running up to it and the weather’s worse and he can come down and base tells him the cloud base is four hundred feet and he knows that he’s coming straight on to the edge of the runway but he’s got other devices to help him then. Beam approach. And he knows and these are checks.
MM: Yes.
HM: And aids. Aids to his, the perfection of where he ends up and the pilot’s flying blind and then when he looks up there’s the runway and he’s broken cloud or he’s on FIDO that’s burning the cloud and pushing the precipitation and the cloud up because it’s burning. There’s a great big primus stove pushing the cloud up.
MM: Yeah.
HM: A bloody great long line of petrol burning.
MM: Yeah. Yeah. That was Don Bennett’s idea was FIDO was it not?
HM: No. No. We used it but to the [pause] no, it would be wrong to [pause] He was the first one. He was the first one to go for it and say if this is, if this is what it will do. And what is more I was with him the very very first night he tried it and he was in a little aeroplane called a Messenger and it was so small it was just two of us in this tiny little aeroplane. But every time he flew he flew with all the gear that was in the most sophisticated Lanc or Halifax and he could do that sort of thing and we flew off. We took off and we were in cloud at about two hundred feet and we flew blind to Graveley where there was FIDO and very soon we saw this great glow and by this time Bennett is speaking to Gravely and we came down through the cloud. Broke cloud about three, two hundred and fifty, three hundred feet and he did a landing and just a touch down, he didn’t land properly, touched down, just kissed and took off and went around and did another landing. And I was staggered at how much all our other airfields that night all around us were all, our airfields are very near each other except Downham Market. That was the furthest away. All our airfields were giving a hundred and fifty to two hundred feet but Oboe would give us twice the height. Push it up to three, four hundred feet which is the point.
MM: That explains, which explains the —
HM: Which is a great blessing.
MM: [unclear] difference plus the airfields lit up and you can see the sides lit and —
HM: But after, I can’t remember the raid when everybody came back and a lot of fellas crashed, a lot of chaps were killed. It only takes one. You can only get one aircraft at a time and it’s not like landing at Heathrow. Barely every forty seconds is an aircraft crossing the threshold and if you’re lucky one minute. That’s a lot of and as one airliner with four hundred people is turning off another aircraft is landing and that’s the way it is today. Right. Press on.
MM: I’d like to talk a little bit about some more counter measures and then maybe a few unsuccessful and a few successful ops and why. Tinsel was an interesting one.
HM: I’m sorry?
MM: Tinsel.
HM: Yes.
MM: Was an interesting idea. Tell us about Tinsel.
HM: Well, as you heard Harris say on, “Whirlwind,” we’d had this in the, in the bag I think he said. We’d had this in the bag for some time but they honestly wouldn’t, the CAS wouldn’t let us use it because it felt that the Germans would use it. Well, the Germans had it in the bag and never used it for the same reason you see. And that was the reason that the Hamburg raid, the first Hamburg raid was such a success where Window, Window completely blanked out all the radar, gun laying and radar devices that the Germans had. They couldn’t understand it but very soon it didn’t take them long to realise. I can’t remember what the Germans called it but it wasn’t Window. They had a name.
MM: Yes. They would have picked up all, all the pieces of metal that had been sharded up off the ground very well.
HM: Very thin. It was almost paper thickness but it was metallic, metalized. But they had the same thing but you see they didn’t need to use it because they didn’t have a bomber force per se. They didn’t have the strategic and people must understand the vast difference between the strategic concept which is go and contracept as Harris said. Go and contracept submarines where they were being made in Mannheim and then a section probably as big as this room was put on an autobahn and sent up to Kiel and put together. All comes from all over Germany. Or get, get made in Denmark. Be getting people, skilled technicians in Denmark to make a particular piece.
MM: Did, did your boys use the trick of sticking a microphone in the engine compartment and the radio navigator switching it on? They called that the Tinsel.
HM: Oh yes. That was frequently used.
MM: Common.
HM: And whilst, I’m sorry I got a little confused there. Whilst in that was the wireless operator he only listened out on a certain period for Group or base.
MM: Right.
HM: And all the time he was fiddling with his, he was given a certain band on his set to look for voice. RT. And to look, it wasn’t, he didn’t need to be trained in German. He knew that he would, they were commentators and they were speaking to aircraft in the air because they could at least hear the aircraft reply. So he was on that wavelength. So he would finely tune his set and then press a tit and the klaxon would block out and each aircraft that was on this particular raid would have a band and it maybe overlapped slightly the other fellas and so they were able to go from one band to the other. And the Germans would change their frequency and they even put women on as commentators.
MM: To try and fool the —
HM: Yes.
MM: Yes.
HM: But we had a WAAF German speaking actress in the Fortresses. That’s 100 Group, counter measure people. Sitting there in two pairs of long johns and an electrically heated suit in the back of a fortress because that’s what the 100 Group used. Fortresses.
MM: Yeah. Yeah.
HM: That Group.
MM: How about the Monica set up? It was a rear mounted radar as I have, it was mounted near the rear turret and it was used to pick up night fighters coming in from the back. Did that system work fairly well?
HM: It didn’t work. It never worked for me for a period. No. I’ll give you an illustration. After, when I was nearly finished my tour my flight sergeant came to me and he said, ‘Oh, I’ve changed your Boozer.’ Now the device that I had and the device that the rear gunner had or the gunners had in, you know to view was called Boozer and this was just, this was just a lamp. A T lamp, a very shaded dark blue light and when that was flashing the JU88 or whatever was tracking you you knew that you were being tracked by radar. This was the counter of counter measures.
MM: Right.
HM: Which went on all the time.
MM: That was the Flensburg system used by the, by the Luftwaffe.
HM: Yes. Now, when my flight sergeant came up and said, ‘Why have you changed my Boozer?’ He said, ‘Oh, I thought this was the most wonderful device since sliced bread because it never worked and it meant that I was never being tracked. But the T lamp was unserviceable. It was no bloody good so the instrument was no bloody good and so he just put in a new T lamp. You know, the tiny little bulb and that lit up and I was very pleased thereafter. But it was, it was the lamp that was U/S not the set.
MM: They were, was Monica a fairly common system for a while.
HM: Yes. For a while and I believe it was superseded by something else and I can’t remember. It was after my time. These things were changing all the time. As the Germans produced something counter measures we countered the counter measure and so it went on. But the Germans to my mind and certainly in my period and I’m going as far as halfway through ’43 at my trough of —
MM: Despair.
HM: Despair. Yeah. That’s when the lowest and the highest rate of casualties. That’s when it was really tough. That’s when the Germans were at their very very best and that’s where we were at our lowest.
MM: The [pause] they could home in on H2S with a system called Naxos as your intelligence guys would have given it and you told us that they can only switch their sets on for a very short period of time lest they get coned by their radar. But giving false orders by the Germans was called Corona.
HM: Yes.
MM: Is that right? Right. The system that superseded Monica was called Piperack I believe. It was a rear facing radar system and it sent a cone up behind the bomber.
HM: Yes. Yeah.
MM: Which apparently would jam the other sets. Hopefully. You had to develop a new method for bombing Berlin because you were out of most of your navigation equipment’s ranges as far as the navigation aids.
HM: Yes. The stress was we could use H2S. You see, there was no limit. H2S was self-contained.
MM: Yes.
HM: Within the aircraft you see but Berlin was very very heavily defended.
MM: Yes.
HM: And so that limited the amount of H2S you could use.
MM: Right. You’re out of Oboe range there aren’t you?
HM: Oh, Oboe, two hundred and fifty. Went to the Ruhr. The first, the first, the fringe, the first fringe of the Ruhr. Essen. No further. For a long time.
MM: So how did you set up what was called the Berlin Method of target marking?
HM: Well, the Berlin Method was, was don’t forget Berlin was a vast area you see and we used certain probably the Brandenburg Gate would be a sort of central aiming point. But they, but the points we found out by photoreconnaissance whether we’d heavily defended an area. Shall we say the Whitehall area and then we would shift the aiming point the next time to another area. And a great deal of fire raising went on there but first of all it was putting down flares and the markers and this is very very well illustrated and I don’t mean graphically by Middlebrook’s bombing Berlin or whatever. It’s one of his very latest books. Have you read that?
MM: No. No.
HM: Middlebrook. Martin Middlebrook. He wrote that wonderful book about Nuremberg which is the best of anything that has been written about Nuremberg. Martin Middlebrook, the raids on Berlin. Now, there’s another good paperback you might want to find and that’s published here in Canada by an ex-squadron leader who’s a lawyer in Vancouver and I can’t remember his name but he’s written a book. He did a tour with the Pathfinders. He did forty five and he opted to, well the Canadians used to pull chaps out at forty five whether we wanted, whether they wanted to be kept or not and posted them home for a period at home and then brought them and some of them came back again. Get this. I’ll try and think of this fellow’s name but in any event when I get home I’ll write to you if I remember but again if you write to me and ask me a supplementary question.
MM: Yes.
HM: That means you’ll get replied to the same week and I will tell you squadron leader [pause] Pathfinder Berlin raid and that gives a very good insight. Paperback. Excellent. Get it. Read it. And then ask me a question.
MM: There were some very unsuccessful ops. You’ve told us briefly about. The tragedy of the Nuremberg raid. There were some great ops. The tremendous success of the Window raid on Hamburg. We can’t talk about all of them but what were some of the more important highlight ones?
HM: Well, let’s take the min and max.
MM: Ok.
HM: And we’ll deal with the Nuremberg raid. Ninety seven aircraft were accounted for. Not just the ones that were shot down with fighters or flak but the ones that were so badly damaged they ended up in the sea coming home or were so badly damaged that they were wheels up landings back at base and written off and crashed but there was ninety seven. Nearly seven hundred aircrew accounted for in one night and it was a mistake. It was a great mistake and I don’t think you’ll hear anything about it other than I am prepared to give an opinion.
MM: Yes. 1 Group, 3 Group, 5 Group, 6 Group were all interconnected and their doing a broadcast and the commander in chief is down at the petrified forest Bomber Command down, way down in his bunker and their talking a about it. Now —
HM: About this. But try and imagine when they’re setting up a raid like this the Group commanders, Bennett was the person that always set up the route. The commander in chief would accept it or say disagree. Very seldom did he ever disagree. Don’t forget Bennett is a first class navigator.
MM: Yes.
HM: And there’s no such thing in the whole of the Air Force and no such thing in your Air Force, and anybody’s Air Force, the Russian Air Force as a bone fide academic and he’s got a certificate. He could be the navigator on the Queen Mary because this is a navigational award.
MM: He wrote —
HM: First —
MM: He wrote a book on navigation too, did he?
HM: On his honeymoon if you believe it or not and his wife was taking star shots. And if you saw she was loveliest thing in the world. She could have been doing different things if it had been our honeymoon but there we are. That’s another matter. And so they’re having their their broadcast and Bennett said that he, we have a PAMPA. Now, the PAMPA is a Met flight. Mossies that go out in daylight flying thirty, thirty five thousand feet. Well, about the weather and seeing what the weather and reporting the weather. Not necessarily right back to base but it can. It could WT back if it wanted to but nevertheless it wasn’t necessary. And so we know that there’s not going to be cloud cover on a part of the target. We rely on that. If there is very low cloud at bases this means, this means that the fighters are a bit restricted, you know and if the, if the birds are walking you know you don’t get the fighters taking off. So the PAMPA, a fella called Titus Oates, I always threatened him that I would castrate him with my own teeth if he ever broke RT silence but he did break RT silence in a code that said and this is the middle of the afternoon that there was no low cloud and there was no, very little cloud coverage and that meant that the cloud that might be over the target was very doubtful if it would be there when we were attacking say twelve hours later. So when they were all debating this down at Bomber Command Bennett was the only one that said the cloud conditions tonight and there was moon. I can’t remember, a quarter, something between a quarter and a half moon. And we didn’t go in for that. That was bad as far as we were —
MM: [unclear]
HM: And Bennett said the conditions are not diverse and we shouldn’t go. And all the other Group commanders including Cochy Cochrane in 5 Group and everybody tended to side with Cochy and nobody other than 4 Group who’s always agreed with Bennett. So, it was you were in a two to three or maybe two to four including commander in chief because he had the casting vote as it were. And I think that Harris and I never, I was never able to draw him out on this and Harris oh he regretted that one raid more than anything else. Of being able to say, ‘Let’s go,’ and he lost ninety seven men. And I think there’s one more book to come out and I don’t know whether it will and I’m just trying to think of a name. I’ll think of it in a moment but remind me of this name that I can’t just place at the moment. I’ll have a look. I’ll have a look in that book later on and I’ll find the snip. He was the chap that was the great advocate and more or less did bring Bennett to the fore and able to become the Pathfinder chief though it was Harris —
MM: Yes.
HM: That was credited with saying, ‘I want Bennett.’ Because he knew Bennett years before in his Flying Boat squadron and Mountbatten in the early ’30s. And that’s when he said, ‘This is the most conscientious airmen I have ever met in all my life.’ But he added, ‘But he doesn’t take kindly to an intellect that is inferior to his own.’
MM: Hamish, we need to take a break soon.
HM: Yeah.
MM: But before, before we take a break it’s getting awful warm in here. A question that has been in my mind as a result of the reading and looking over all this that I’ve done concerns the change when the 8th Air Force, 100 Group decided after general Spaatz and Eger looked over the great map of Germany and decided let’s hit the refineries. Let’s hit the oil. And in four months they reduced the total number of oil tonnage reaching the bases and the tanks by eighty percent in ’44. Why, the question I’ve had is why did, why did it take the Americans to come in and see that was all that was necessary to do to quickly bring the mechanical operational ability of the fighters and tanks and armour so quickly to —
HM: Yes.
MM: Halt by just hitting the refineries.
HM: It takes a long, I’m way ahead of you there. First of all I question your premises about you’re telling me that in a very short time the Americans attacked and reduced oil production by eighty percent.
MM: I am just abbreviating the —
HM: Yes, where do you get this premise?
MM: I read in the book Bomber Command by [pause] do you know I’ve forgotten the author’s name, the story and that is perhaps a condensation of the authors view of things.
HM: Yes, and who is, who is writing this?
MM: I’d have to look. The book is called, “Bomber Command,” and it’s been in print for a fair while.
HM: Yes, but by whom?
MM: It’s a very thick [pause] gee [pause] these pages of mine.
HM: Anyway, the point is I question right at the very beginning of the war the Ministry of Economic Warfare said go for oil. If you can stop the production of oil you, you will stop the war. Now that was, that’s a basic something that we all understood but we couldn’t find oil.
MM: Ah. So that’s what it was.
HM: We couldn’t find oil up to, and then Pathfinders start. Now, there the Ministry of Economic Warfare did advise Harris and the chiefs of staff on a priority and the priorities leap frogged each other. Was it more important to contracept submarines? Was it more important to contracept the manufacture of Messerschmitts? It wasn’t very important to bother about Heinkels because the bomber offensive, the German bomber offensive in the UK fizzled out as we got a night fighter force until they got their V-1s and their flying bombs. So we knew this was the cost of oil. They manufactured oil because they couldn’t get a tanker and go to the Persian Gulf and come back again or go go somewhere and bring it in. They manufactured and they did it frightfully well and very successfully. Highly successfully. But I would question and I would want to know where the origin and here ideally by cross referring all the time yes the war came to a grinding halt and I can, I can’t tell you I was in Germany the day, forty eight hours after the end of the war.
MM: Right.
HM: And I could go to a German airfield if you’ll keep that page when you just to mark it with the outer.
MM: Ok.
HM: I can see what I want. I could go to a German airfield and there’s a great row of Messerschmitt 109s, 110s, and 262s jet fighters perfectly in every, great condition but no oil.
MM: Yes.
HM: Dry tanks. That was the thing you were looking for.
MM: Yes. That’s what I read in there.
HM: But that is no argument but we couldn’t find it when they could stuff a refinery in a little hillock and they did. It was very simple to put, to put they even to run a railway line inside and brought the, brought the oil out that way. And so I’ve no quarrel about that but I question. I question whether the Americans were able. I know they went. They went to Ploesti or how do you pronounce it? The oilfields in Hungary.
MM: I’m not sure there. I’m not sure.
HM: Yeah. Well, anyway —
MM: Yeah.
HM: They did go to the big oilfields there.
MM: Yeah.
HM: Yes, I can’t pronounce it. The Hungarian. You must, you must have two flaps on your bum there sitting like that contemplating.
MM: Let’s take a little break and come back. Is that ok?
HM: Yeah.
[recording paused]
MM: Hamish, lets wrap the issue up about the Casablanca Directive.
HM: Yeah.
MM: And I think they called it Operation Crossbow in there and Eger’s oil and Spaatz’s oil plant.
HM: Yes.
MM: Tell us what you did when we were on the break there. Briefly reiterate.
HM: But, you know I indicated to you, you know when we touched on this. I’ve no quarrel.
MM: Yes.
HM: In fact, I entirely accept the concept of the communique that came out after Casablanca. Oil. When we honestly believed sincerely and we attacked oil in the early days. The very early days, the first year of the war but I don’t suppose we ever, we ever destroyed a pint of oil in that time because that was basic to everything. Stop oil you stop the machine but we couldn’t do it. We were not able to do it until we got into the last year, eighteen months of the war. But I would have difficulty in debating the figures because the figures I’ve just seen have been taken from official German records after ’45. And that’s, that’s no doubt and I think that and Eger’s was complaining about the vast amount of bombing that had been done in Germany by the area attack method of Harris and he’s got to go for oil. But he was getting if those figures are correct he was getting a very worthwhile return from that. But he was terrified that Harris, and I’ve read the chapters concerned he was getting very bitter and he has to go complaining to Washington about look Harris is getting all the kudos. He’s getting all the acclaim and here am I just you know I’m not getting very much. That was a very typical human attitude at the time. And that must have been very strong at the time because he has to go to, there’s no good going to Eisenhower because Eisenhower is obeying the Casablanca Directive. So, he goes back to Washington and he complains to Spaatz, General Spaatz, who’s the boss of all the air. By this time we’ve got an Army, we haven’t got an Army Air Corps. We’ve got a US Air Force. So, I can’t go any further.
MM: That’s ok.
HM: Because I can’t. I can’t quote.
MM: Ok. Let’s, let’s switch tracks now and I’d like to talk a little bit about the aircraft themselves. The also vital pieces of machinery that everyone’s lives depended on. I know you’ve flown a great deal yourself and you’ve flown a lot of these aircraft. We don’t need to look at every single one but there are certain aircraft that played a key role in Bomber Command and the Whitley and the Blenheim were used early on so let’s have a little look at the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and tell us a little bit —
HM: Start with, let’s start with the Blenheim because —
MM: Ok.
HM: We start the war daylight on Blenheims.
MM: Ok.
HM: Entirely unsuited for going to the Reichs or going to Hitler’s Reichs at that time. The Blenheim took, we took a tremendous toll. Twenty four would go out. Two would come back because they were absolutely rats in a barrel to be shot at in daylight going to Kiel and Wilhelmshaven. Completely useless and, but it was all we had. And you see we didn’t pursue the daylight offensive very very far into the war. Only a few months when we said we can’t, we can’t sustain the losses and so Bomber Command, Peirse the commander in chief was instructed to do all his bombing at night. But we were lucky in 4 Group. We were the only night bombing Group so we never went and we went on maybe North Sea patrols in daylight but not where we didn’t lose many aircraft. We lost a few but we then went into the night sky and this was a great advantage. Probably the reason that so many 4 Group survived to become Pathfinders two years later like Willie Tait and myself and Jimmy Marks and we were all just ordinary. We weren’t even flight commanders. Well, I was a sergeant at the time and it was that period that we got experience without getting knocked down. Now, the Whitley was again not a very good aircraft for that period. Alright for carrying pamphlets at night. The Wimpy, the Wellington was slightly better. Slightly faster. But didn’t take any great weight of bombs. Four, six thousand pounds was the maximum I think that aircraft could take.
MM: It was a very ruggedly built aircraft, wasn’t it?
HM: Very rugged. Yeah.
MM: How did it? Geodetic design.
HM: Geodetic construction. Again, Barnes Wallis —
MM: Yeah.
HM: Design.
MM: Yes. How did the Wellington handle?
HM: Pardon?
MM: How did the Wellington handle?
HM: Much better than the Hampden or the Whitley and survived longer because of that reason. The Wimpy carried on until the four engine bomber. But please remember at this stage that the four engine bomber was a spec. A specification.
MM: Right.
HM: Laid down in 1935. There was a specification went out to the aircraft manufacturers give us a four engine heavy bomber that would carry ten and twelve thousand pounds a distance of five hundred miles radius. I just need the figures quoted out of my head and that was the reason for the Stirling which came along first which had a very limited range and a very limited operational use until Bennett got hold of it and turned it into nearly the same sort of vehicle as the Halifax and the Lanc. But we could get up. Its ceiling was twelve thousand five hundred feet when it came into operational use but Bennett pushed it up to eighteen thousand feet by taking a great deal of the ammunition out. By interrogating tail gunners or gunners and say, ‘How much ammunition did you use?’ The guys who came back. They couldn’t ask the guys that didn’t come back. So he said each gunner said two hundred and fifty, three hundred rounds. That’s all. So he said, ‘Well, why are you carrying thirty two thousand rounds and bringing thirty two thousand rounds laid out in long trays along the fuselage because I don’t know what a round weighs. We’ve had it now.
MM: Just a minute.
[recording paused]
HM: Off we go.
MM: Ok.
HM: We were talking about the Wimpy.
MM: And the Stirling.
HM: And then we, and then the four engine bomber comes in early, the end of ’42, the beginning ’43. Stirlings arrived and a few, a very few but don’t forget we had the same gestation period of an elephant. It takes seven years for an elephant to produce. It’s exactly seven years from the middle of ’30, the ’30s, ’35 to produce a four engine bomber.
MM: By ’42. Now, I’ve heard that the Stirling would have had a better ceiling had it had longer wings which I’m led to believe were kept short so that they could fit in the existing hangars. Is that the —
HM: Desperate.
MM: You flew a great deal on the Stirlings.
HM: I did. I did a tour.
MM: Did you find them quite a satisfactory aircraft to fly?
HM: I found it frightening that it only had an operational ceiling of twelve thousand five hundred feet. But you see this is the advantage of a professional airman. Bennett comes along and says here we’ve got in my Pathfinders my Halifaxes are up at eighteen thousand feet. I can, I can push Lancasters up to twenty thousand feet with a full load. But here is my Stirlings down at twelve and a half. And so he then finds the means of getting a Stirling up and he finds that he asks the gunners and so it takes an enormous amount of weight of ammunition out of the Stirling and except for me that roughly, roughly a pound in weight gives you nearly a foot in height. A pound in weight.
MM: Is that right?
HM: You might get say ten inches. Just accept ten inches so, so ten pounds you’ve got, in no time you’ve got a hundred feet. He asked the flight engineer how much reserve fuel and they said, ‘Oh, we bring back twenty seven percent. That’s laid down. Our reserve. We take off with that and we bring it back.’ And being a professional Bennett said you don’t need twenty seven percent reserve and he cut that down to half. Maybe twelve percent. Now, you know, and any little schoolboy will tell you that a gallon of fuel weighs about ten pounds. You see. And you’ve only got to take a hundred gallons out and there you and you measure that in terms of height and in no time at all —
MM: You’ve shot up a great deal.
HM: You’ve got the, you’ve got the Stirling up to nearly eighteen thousand feet. And then once crews realised that there was a weight height ratio they didn’t mind although, you know occasionally I was sorry I was running fuel so near and I ran out of fuel on one occasion on one side but then you could balance. You had a balance cock that could draw fuel from the port side and run your four engines on the fuel in one side. If you’d got the tanks whole on the starboard side or whichever.
MM: Right. How about the advent of the Halifax now?
HM: Halifax wasn’t as good an aeroplane as the Lancaster but there was a political issue here. Handley Page had been building aircraft for a long time since World War One for the British Government and he rather had the ear. And Bennett of course wanted to have his whole Pathfinder Force with one type of aircraft. Lancasters. Because it was the best. But we were still using Halifaxes. The Stirling was faded out oh, ’43 I think. I’m guessing. But the Halifaxes kept on until the end of the war.
MM: It changed design quite considerably over its operational use from Mark 1s to the very popular —
HM: Yes.
MM: Mark 3s.
HM: Yes. True.
MM: A number of pilots I’ve spoken with have stated that some thought that the Halifax 3 was every bit as good as a Lancaster and some thought they were a notch better but —
HM: That’s questionable but again you, you can’t equate in the hands of different pilots how an aircraft would behave but basically the workhorse, the Lancaster was the best of the bomber workhorses. After all, it took twenty two thousand pounds. The Grand Slam could go through feet of concrete. You know, armour piercing. Went through the concrete straight into the submarine pens and could do a lot of damage that way.
MM: How did you find the differences between flying Lancasters, Stirlings and Halifaxes yourself in your own experience.
HM: I can’t really. To be quite honest you see I only operated, I flew, I flew the Halifaxes as I told you for pleasure because I had them on my station. So, I can’t, I can’t really say but I know operationally the Lancaster was by far and away the better aircraft. But for certain jobs then I could be persuaded the Halifax might be the better in certain circumstances but I’m not prepared to say by and large one was. I’ll say the Lancaster was better all around than that. I couldn’t go any further.
MM: How about that wonderful Mosquito?
HM: Ah.
MM: Tell us about that.
HM: The Mosquito was a beautiful operational aircraft. It could be a fighter, day fighter, night fighter, tactical bomber and in support of the ground forces with rockets. Shipping. Anti-shipping. On the shipping that was bringing iron ore down from Norway to Germany. Took a great toll of these small sort of coastal type ships running several thousand tonnes of iron ore per se down to German, down to Essen.
MM: You in the Pathfinder Force used a lot of Mosquitoes.
HM: Yes.
MM: I think you had something like twelve squadrons near the end there.
HM: And we called, we had one was a PAMPA. A flight of PAMPAS. Now PAMPAS were Met flight. Went out in daylight or at night to check up on the weather. Both sides of the UK. It might go way out into the Atlantic because we didn’t have weather ships out there at that time although we were getting reports from our submarines you know that surfaced which they had to do fairly regularly. But, and the rest and Light Night Striking Force were aircraft that went to Berlin every night and I think it was thirty six consecutive nights to take Cookies, take four thousand pounders. Now, that was a free falling bomb. Imagine four dustbins welded together and just fitted nice and snuggly into the bomb bay although they could take seven other types of bombs. Thousand pounders, two thousand pounders and lesser bombs and target indicators. A four thousand pounder could go straight up there and they could drop that. And they had H2S. A hundred and twenty degrees scanning in the front of the Mossie and that scanned over a hundred and twenty degrees and they could home on to or under the Linden or the Brandenburg Gate or places in Central Germany where this bomb free falling, it had no fins and no nose cone and when it fell it was just a great tumble of four, three or four dustbins falling free fall but it wasn’t directed.
MM: [unclear] in his book, “The Pathfinders,” makes a reference to the tumbling effect of bombs and how that contributed to the sometimes the inaccuracy of the hits.
HM: Oh yes.
MM: And bombs, bomb design was modified somewhat. Were you able to notice any of the differences?
HM: No. When the tit was pressed and my bomb aimer said, ‘Bombs gone,’ you could feel the clonk. They might be going in various arrays because you could switch them. For instance we put down if we were carrying a Cookie that Cookie would go first and that would sort of spread destruction and open up houses and factories and then the incendiaries would come later and they would fall inside instead of falling on the roof and sliding down the roof of the house maybe the roof had been split by the explosion but the sheer blast by the Cookie didn’t penetrate.
MM: Right. It was, it was a blast bomb.
HM: It was a sheer blast and then fire started. So I wouldn’t know anything. I was just aware of this great relief. Clonk. And you felt up you went. Just a little push on your bum, on your seat and you were always very pleased but then you were hanging on until you, the photoflash went to get, to get your photo you see. That was the thing. You were biting buttons off your cushion seat by that time.
MM: How did the Mossie handle? You flew it a few times.
HM: I’m sorry?
MM: I said how did the Mossie handle. You flew it a few times.
HM: I’m sorry?
MM: How did, how did the Mosquito handle? You flew it a few times.
HM: Oh, I didn’t, I didn’t operate but I flew. It was beautiful. It was like, just like a fighter. Beautiful. A very very well behaved lady indeed.
MM: Hamish, do you feel up for telling us a little bit about some of the people that you worked with?
HM: Yes. Yes. Certainly.
MM: If we could start with a bit about Don Bennett I think that would be appropriate.
HM: Yeah.
MM: As he was such a —
HM: Let us deal with Don. Don Bennett was a one off. Try and think of the Royal Air Force in the years before the war as the most amateur set up. A Flying Club you might say and it was known as the best Flying Club in the world. As a sergeant I could take an aircraft away for the weekend. On a Friday I could leap into an aircraft and go to Edinburgh my home and leave it at Turnhouse and go off for a weekend. Come back on Monday morning. But I must be back and so that the aircraft could be refuelled and back in the hangar before 5 o’clock and the doors closed and they would be washed, the aircraft would be cleaned and refuelled, put in the hangar, the doors closed but it must be before 5 o’clock. But that could happen. We were an amateur force. There wasn’t a lot of flying by senior officers and bear in mind that all our senior officers were World War One people, and they weren’t all that fond of flying except to go off to attend somebody’s wedding somewhere or for some other purpose. But there wasn’t a great deal of flying. The sergeant pilot got a lot of flying. When I was in Iraq, in the two years in Iraq I came home with over two thousand hours. Now, this is a lot of flying. When I went to this new squadron, this Baldwin Squadron which was a paper squadron in the expansion of the Royal Air Force. When Baldwin got up in the house and said, ‘I have just made ten squadrons today for the Royal Air Force.’ But they were paper squadrons. We had no aircraft and I was the only, the CO had very little experience. He was a fighter person. I was a person with two thousand two hundred hours shall we say and ten, six rookie crews come in and I got more experience flying. And that’s the only way you could measure experience although it wasn’t good experience. Certainly not flying backwards and forwards over the Arabian Desert between Baghdad and Damascus. That wasn’t experience. You know, daylight flying. But my six rookie pilots that came I had more experience than all six. I had more experience than those six plus the CO who was a fighter pilot and did very little flying.
MM: Don Bennett started the war with an enormous amount of experience.
HM: Ten thousand hours.
MM: Ten thousand hours.
HM: There wasn’t anybody in the Air Force with that sort of life. So he was special. He was professional. First class navigator’s licence. The Post Office GPO WT licence. As I’ve said before he could have been the wireless, the chief wireless officer on the Queen Mary. He had every engineering licence. A B C certificates. No pilot, no engineer in the Air Force had civilian licenses that I ever heard off. And so there he was with this mass of experience as well as being an instructor and he’s abrupt with one man. And everybody hated the very sight or sound of him.
MM: How did, how did Bennett get into the Royal Air Force? He had been in for a while and he’d been out as a commercial pilot.
HM: He joined the Air Force as an officer cadet at Point Cook in Australia and he completed a course and he didn’t oddly enough get the Sword of Honour. He was first in, I think he was second in academic studies and first in flying studies and but he passed the course and he passed out with with high distinction but he didn’t get the Sword of Honour as the Cranwell Cadet got. They get it now but they didn’t in that period and so the Australian government didn’t want the thirty or whatever we were flying, flying officers or Air Force officers and they offered them to the Air Force and the Air Force snapped them up and gave them short service commissions. That’s five years. So Bennett went and became a fighter boy at North Weald and flew the fighters of the day. Gamecocks and Grebes and the aircraft of the early ’30s. and then but he then became a very enthusiastic chap for going on courses. He went on an instructor’s course and got qualified. He did everything that he wanted to do to help him became a civil pilot with Imperial Airways.
MM: Right.
HM: And that’s where he started his real professionalism and he was known in Imperial as the Boy Wonder.
MM: Yes, and he in ’39 set up a two-way Atlantic flight ferry system didn’t he?
HM: Across the Atlantic.
MM: Yes.
HM: With a Mayo Composite. That was the piggyback aircraft.
MM: Yes.
HM: There was a flying seaplane with floats on top of a Flying Boat and because the sea, the seaplane was overloaded it couldn’t have got off the water. So the flying, the Flying Boat was empty and it lifted the seaplane off at a certain stage. They disconnected and the seaplane flew all the way from Dundee to nearly Cape Town. Nearly six thousand miles which is still a record today.
MM: Mercury Maia flight. He also took the first lot of Hudsons over from Gander, wasn’t it?
HM: That’s when he was the, the flying director of the Atlantic Ferry. Of course, he persuaded the Air Ministry through Beaverbrook to fly aircraft over. Not to put them crates and bring them over by sea where they ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic.
MM: And Harris I believe wanted to do something with Bennett. Tell us how Bennett became the chief of the 8 Group.
HM: Well, here we go back to Bufton. Bufton was the deputy director of bomber operations in the Air Ministry and he and one or two others were beginning to feel very strongly that our bomber operations were a waste of time. And that’s where this Butt report comes in because Lord Cherwell or Professor Lindemann was the advisor to Churchill. Although the Air Force had their own advisor called Henry Tizard and these two advisors were locked like two antlers, deers locked in combat and disagreed with each other. And nevertheless it was both agreed and this fellow Butt did an analysis of nearly six hundred aiming point pictures taken by aircrew and Butt came to the conclusion that and I’ve told you it was either three or five percent got within three or five miles of the aiming point. And that, that report was leaked somehow or other to the Army, Navy and this was the conflict. The Army said look we can do better in the Western Desert with your bombers and the Navy said look we are desperate in the Western Approaches for to do something about the submarine menace because your bomber operations are a complete and utter waste of time. As indeed they were. When that red light goes out does that, is that when you [pause] Right.
[recording paused]
HM: So where were we?
MM: We were, you were going to tell us a little bit about Don Bennett.
HM: Yeah. I’m talking, so I’m telling you of his great array —
MM: Of experience.
HM: And superb pilotage you see. After all I claim that Don Bennett, now this is after the war but this is still the same man a few years before in the Berlin Airlift. He had two Tudor aircraft and he flew one and another guy flew another. Now, when he used to fly his wife Ly Bennett used to act as flight engineer and it took off from Celle in Germany because they used to go to Berlin. He decided that his Tudors and he was very crafty because he could get an extra flight a day by putting Lancaster fuel tanks upended in the Tudor and filling all these tanks way down the fuselage with oil you see. Or whatever. Anything fuel. Or oil for the, for the firehouse. Or some special oil. He fitted that in and so he took off from Celle with his, all his controls locked you see. With all the, with all the —
MM: Yes.
HM: Chocs, that’s the ailerons chopped, the rudder chopped and the elevators chopped. So being the sort of pilot he was he takes off from Celle because he used to drop the oil in Berlin and then they didn’t wait to refuel or do anything. They just did a [unclear] everything came out, he took off and he did all the refurbishing and servicing and filling up at Celle which is about a hundred miles away you see. And so that kept the thing going around and around and around. So he gets off the ground and he finds that everything is locked solid. You remind me to tell you something else about that later on. And there he is. He can’t move anything. And he looks out and he sees the chocs are chocking the elevators. Now, he’s never said a word to anybody that that’s the flight engineer’s job. That was his wife’s job.
MM: I see.
HM: But he was running these things on a shoestring. But getting one trip in you see and they were being paid by the hour in those days. And so he has to come around and make a circuit and land with everything locked. Now that, that is the spirit of the man and that is the degree of his capability as an airman and he does it all on engines. He just pushes the outer engines up and does a very gentle turn all the way around and then when he gets twelve or forty miles away then he comes heads up the runway and then he adjusts the engines all the time. He can put his flaps down. He can put the wheels down and put his flaps down but he can’t, he can’t do anything about any adjustment and he comes in and touches down and lands. Then he himself goes out but doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t go and beat his wife with a hammer or something else. But that’s the style of man. That is airmanship par excellence. Stop.


“Conversation with Hamish Mahaddie. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 16, 2024,

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