Interview with John Langston

Title

Interview with John Langston
1041-Langston, John

Description

John Langston flew operations as a navigator with 630, 189 and 617 Squadrons.

Date

2011-11-12

Coverage

Language

Type

Format

00:17:37 audio recording

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

SHarriganD[Ser#-DoB]v340002

Transcription

Interviewer: This is an interview with Mr John Langston at Thorpe Camp on the 12th of November 2011 discussing his wartime experiences from February ’44 to the end of the war and the three squadrons 630, 189 and 617 Squadrons that he toured in at that time. Mr Langston.
JL: Ah. Well, I joined the Air Force direct from school and I got a university short course at Oxford and did my initial training in the Air Squadron at Oxford and I was finally in the service at the end of 1942. And from there I went across to Canada for training as a navigator and, in Winnipeg and I’d been in Winnipeg in the school at Winnipeg, 5 Air Observer School for about a couple of months and this was in [pause] maybe four or five months. This was in 1943 and we were, this was a Canadian Observer’s School. We were called out of our classrooms one day and asked to form three sides of a hollow square and we waited there and up taxied a little twin engine aeroplane and out of it got Guy Gibson and he proceeded to talk to us and he was doing a, he’d been brought over to the states to see Mr Roosevelt by Churchill and then sent on this pep talk tour of the Canadian training stations.
Interviewer: Just after the dam raid obviously.
JL: Yeah. Immediately afterwards.
Interviewer: Yes.
JL: And he’d been presented to Congress and every, everybody was very pleased with him. So anyway, he got up and he told us all about the dams. Well, talked to us briefly about the dams raid and then he gave us a pep talk saying obviously we were all going to Bomber Command and weren’t we lucky [laughs] And I remember the fellow that was stood beside me said, ‘I don’t like the sound of that at all.’ However, I got back to the UK in October and had a couple of weeks at home and I was then sent off to Scotland for a familiarisation course because then you had to learn to fly again in the blackout and with wartime codes and things in a war zone. And I’d been in West Freugh in Scotland for about I don’t know maybe three or four weeks and I was called into the office to see the chief instructor and I’d wondered what I’d done. And I hadn’t done anything. He said, ‘Langston,’ he said, ‘There’s a new scheme that 5 Group in Bomber Command are instituting and they need some spare navigators on tap and they’ve asked us to pick out a few and send them down to them and they’ll train you themselves. And so we’ve decided to send you.’ And all I’d done was these few trips around the islands. Anyway, so two months later I found myself on a Stirling Heavy Conversion Unit at Swinderby and then at Winthorpe where I was trained by the station navigation officer on a one to one basis and at the end of three or four months I was deemed to be ready for combat and so then I had to wait around for three or four weeks whilst I got a crew and in due course a crew that had lost a navigator got me. And so we did a, we did a couple of trips together and they liked me and I liked them and we were posted to 630 Squadron at East Kirkby where we arrived just after D-Day and we immediately went to war then. So that’s how I got into Bomber Command and we were immediately doing back up raids so that either in support of ground force troops landing on the beaches in Normandy or else at that time the buzz bomb targets had opened up in the Pas de Calais and we were diverted there. So we were our first seven or eight or nine trips were daylight raids in main force just bombing either the buzz bomb sites or alternatively troop emplacements behind the invasion forces.
Interviewer: Were you involved with the transport plane?
JL: What?
Interviewer: The transport.
JL: Well, no. We were bombing German troops in the front line.
Interviewer: Right.
JL: Tanks and wherever the targets appeared.
Interviewer: Right.
JL: And we were bombing on marked targets which had been marked with pyrotechnics by, by, well the various agencies for doing that as some by marker shells laid down by the ground forces themselves and others by the Pathfinders going in and singling out the targets. Anyway, that went by and after we’d done eight or nine trips like that, ten trips maybe we were then, being in 5 Group diverted back on to the main, main force targets in Germany itself and from there on it was almost exclusively night raids into Germany. We went to Nuremberg twice, we went to Munich twice, we went to Stuttgart twice. We went to Darmstadt two or three times. We went, we were doing back up raids in the far end of the Baltic, Koenigsberg in support of the Russian ground forces. It was all very busy.
Interviewer: Yes.
JL: And, and my pilot, I’m a navigator and my pilot was a flying officer. He was a very keen young man. We were a good crew and, and all of a sudden after we’d done twenty odd trips he was told that from a flying officer he was going to be made an acting squadron leader and we went off and joined 189 Squadron in Fulbeck. And because of the loss rates of that time we were, we were rationed to one trip every three weeks and, but I used to fly with the squadron commander too so that gave me a bit more to do. And so we finished our tour just about the end of the year and we were doing long distance trips all the way. I mean our last trip was a place called Politz which was an oil refinery up on the Baltic. And so we finished our tour and the following morning my pilot who was really keen to keep his acting rank, I think he liked the pay [laughs] came out and found, found me and my bomb aimer. I was on the bomb aimer pillion of his, on my bomb aimer’s motorbike and he said, ‘Come here you two.’ And so we taxied over and he said, ‘Guess what?’ And my bomb aimer said, ‘What?’ And he said, he said, ‘I’ve just had a phone call from, from Wing Commander Willie Tait on 617 Squadron and he’d like us to come and join him.’ And my bomb aimer looked at him and he said, ‘F off.’ [laughs] So anyway, we got the crew together and we packed our bags and the next day having been in the squalor of Nissen huts at Fulbeck we found ourselves in the luxury of the Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa. And that’s how I got on 617.
Interviewer: Right.
JL: So then then 617 of course made its name, its reputation on its training so we immediately had to learn how to use this new automatic bomb site that 617 used and we were on the training bombing ranges in the Wash and up at Theddlethorpe and places up on the coast. After oh maybe a couple of weeks we were qualified combat ready on 617. And there we went off and we, in those days Barnes Wallis’ Tallboy bomb, the smaller streamlined bomb, the deep penetration weapon the Tallboy which was a twelve thousand pounder. We did several raids dropping those. Then all of a sudden to our surprise as the Grand Slam arrived, the twenty two thousand pounder and we dropped several of those.
Interviewer: It must have been —
JL: So that was my war.
Interviewer: The difference in the, the twenty two thousand, the Grand Slam and the Tallboy I believe when the, the Grand Slam was released the aircraft obviously used to shoot up.
JL: Well, the thing was that the bomb was very heavy and, and the wings actually used to actually bend up like a seagull’s wings you know as you flew. And the aeroplane itself wasn’t all that much heavier because they, to start with they, they strengthened, they had to take the bomb doors off because the bomb was wider than the fuselage. So the bomb was slung on a, in a cradle outside the aeroplane. Outside the fuselage. When the, as the plane lifted off, well I should explain that they took all the ammunition out of the aeroplane. We flew with a fighter escort. We, they took out the mid-upper turret. They took out the nose turret, they took out all the radar equipment and we had a very basic navigation fit inside and the rear turret had a man in it to have someone looking out the back really and I think his, they took out two of the guns and so there wasn’t much weight in the back either.
Interviewer: Didn’t they take the wireless operator out as well on some of them?
JL: No. We didn’t have a wireless operator.
Interviewer: No.
JL: Not in the, in the Grand Slam aeroplanes.
Interviewer: No.
JL: Because that was, that was all weight.
Interviewer: All that extra weight.
JL: What we did have was three little VHS sets. One for the bomber frequency, one for the fighter frequency which was our escort from on top and and a spare set I suppose for air traffic control, you see. And so we were very, we were pretty light and we only flew with two thirds full tanks and we, and our, all that weight on take-off was the Grand Slam bomb. It was only a five or six thousand pounds greater than the all out weight of a fully armed normal Lancaster on Main Force.
Interviewer: I see.
JL: So, but anyway, the extra weight was sufficient to—
Interviewer: Right.
JL: Lift up the tips of the wings by eight or ten inches and we could see the curve. Once the bomb had gone the wings went back into the normal position and the whole of the aeroplane did a little leap. But anyway, there was a new bombsight. The great thing about the Grand Slam was it was a development of the Tallboy. It developed, it penetrated deep into the ground on your targets. You didn’t really have to be precisely on the target but we had to have a bombing accuracy on the ranges of eighty yards from the, eighteen to twenty thousand feet which was quite achievable with this bombsight we had. And really it’s only, you only took one or two bombs on the target. It used to penetrate sixty to a hundred feet into the ground where it left a cavity and the target collapsed into the hole. That was Barnes Wallis’ great big secret. And so —
Interviewer: Where were the places that you were bombing?
JL: Well, by this time the war was developing and there was a front line that had gone up through Holland and very close to Germany but the Germans were desperate for fuel and so we were interdicting all the railway bridges that were bringing fuel up to the front line. And with the Grand Slam one bomb took out a bridge by and large and so we these were all on the Weser from leading up to the Brunswick. There were a whole series of —
Interviewer: Right.
JL: Not Brunswick. I can’t —
Interviewer: Bielefeld.
JL: No.
Interviewer: Viaduct.
JL: No. Well, Bielefeld viaduct.
Interviewer: Yes.
JL: Was one of the series of targets.
Interviewer: Yes.
JL: But there were five bridges over the river there and we, we had attacked them all in time. One or two bombs at a time and and they were all dropped down and it was a major contribution to winning the final stages of the war.
Interviewer: Absolutely. Yes.
JL: The bombs were in very difficult to make and they were in very short supply and after the third bridge had been sunk we and another crew put on our best uniforms, got into a bus at Woodhall Spa and were driven over to Sheffield to the English Steel Corporation where they made these bombs and it was very illuminating. We, we were met by the board of directors and taken into the casting room and this was a huge room perhaps about thirty or forty feet high. It was dome shaped and the bomb was the cast of the sand mould for the bomb was on the end and the crucible full of molten steel was being poured in. So we watched this for a while and we were duly impressed but what was more impressive was that all around this casting room about, oh I don’t know twenty feet off the ground there was a whole series of Russian flags. Huge flags as big as double bed sheets with the red hammer and sickle and in the centre was a plain white sheet the same size with a great big sign saying, “God Bless Uncle Joe.” And this was my first introduction to the politics of South Yorkshire [laughs] And so anyway, so we were quite impressed and we went into the next room where there was one bomb had cooled and it was on its side and there were two little men there. Little men. I mean smaller than jockeys and they’d got a pneumatic hammer and a flashlight, a torch and they were fed into the back end of the cold bomb casing and they had to, with the torch hand it around to see if there were any imperfections in the cast and hammer it smooth so there was an even explosion. And so this first chap was inside hammering away and they could take it for about thirty seconds, no more and they’d pull them out by their heels from the back end of the bomb and this chap came out. He stood in front of me shaking and so I took out a pack of cigarettes and gave him a fag and lit it and he looked at me and he said, ‘What do you do?’ And I said, ‘I drop them.’ And he thought for a second, had another drag and he said, ‘What do they pay you?’ I said, ‘Fourteen shillings and six pence a day.’ He said, ‘You’re a fool.’ He said, ‘I get ten quid a week for this.’ Anyway, very good. Lots of people heard this and the squadron lived on that story for a, ever since really. So anyway, we then did a few other long range trips. We sank the Lützow. Not the Tirpitz but the Tirpitz had already been sunk. We sank the Lützow up in the Baltic. We took out a whole lot of U-boat pens and things and finally we took out the guns on Heligoland and opened up the whole of the Channel into the Hamburg and the, and the Elbe. There were a whole crowd of ships waiting to go in. And then came the end of the war so that was the end of my story.
Interviewer: Well, it’s been absolutely fascinating. Thank you very much Mr Langston.
JL: Ok.

Citation

Claire Bennett and This Interview was recorded by Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire., “Interview with John Langston,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 28, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/46468.

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