Interview with George Dunn

Title

Interview with George Dunn

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-04-05

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.

Format

00:25:12 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ADunnG150405

Transcription

AP: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre, the interviewer is Andrew Panton, the interviewee is George Dunn, Mr Dunn was a RAF Pilot who flew various types of aircraft during the Second World War, the interview is taking place at Princess Marina House in Rustington West Sussex, on the 5th April 2015.
GD: My name is George Dunn, I was seventeen years of age when the war broke out and I was born at Whitstable on the North Kent coast, so I saw quite a lot of the Battle of Britain and being facing the Thames Estuary all the hoards of German bombers that were coming in to bomb London, when the London Blitz started, at, I joined the local defence volunteers, and then that became the Home Guard, and when I reached the age of eighteen I volunteered for aircrew. I was interviewed up at Chatham and I originally registered for wireless operator/air gunner, but they said to me would I consider pilot training, which I agreed, and after a written exam and a selection board, I was advised that I could take up pilot training. First aircraft I flew was a Tiger Moth because I did all my training in Canada, the first place was at Saskatchewan, a little place called Caron west of Moose Jaw and from there I went on to A V Roe Anson’s at a place called Weyburn again in Saskatchewan. When I came back to the UK in September 1942 I was then posted to Chipping Norton which was a satellite of Little Risington on airspeed Oxford’s this was to acclimatise us to the flying conditions in this country, we had been used to flying with full town lights and city lights, but this was of course flying in blackout conditions. From there I was posted to Lossiemouth which was number 20 OTU, and formed my crew, and we did my OTU on Wellington’s.
AP: So can you say a little bit about the Wellington Bomber, how you found it to fly and what you did [inaudible word]
GD: Well the Wellington Bomber I found was a nice aircraft it wasn’t difficult to fly and we had quite an easy course on it.
AP: What about op’s with the Wellington? Can you remember any?
GD: No I didn’t do any operations on Wellington’s
AP: So from the Wellington, where did you go next?
GD: From Wellington’s I was sent to Heavy Conversion Unit which was at Rufforth just outside York, on Halifax aircraft.
AP: And was that your first op aircraft?
GD: No, surprisingly enough, normally if you went to a Heavy Conversion Unit, you had, you flew a certain number of hours and then you were seconded to a squadron where you had to do two operations with an experienced crew, but in my case I was sent to number 10 squadron at Melbourne to do my two second dickey trips as they were called and believe it or not I had not set foot in a Halifax aircraft until that first raid. First raid was Essen, which was rather a heavy place to go to, to start with but we got through that alright and the following night I did my second, second dickey trip to Kiel, so I got two fairly good targets under my belt to start with.
AP: And could you talk a bit about the experiences you had on those trips, I mean did you engage fighters, flak, ack ack search lights?
GD: What when I was on my own crew?
AP: yes.
GD: Yes, our first trip as a crew was to Dortmund, and right throughout our tour we were fairly lucky we were never attacked by a fighter but we were coned at one stage.
AP: So can you talk about what that means?
GD: Yes, coning is when you initially get trapped by a blue searchlight, a radar searchlight and once that’s on to you the white searchlights form a cone so you could be, you might call it sitting like a fairy on a Christmas Tree, and the only suitable manoeuvre to get out of a coning, is by a corkscrew method, if you can do that then you’re ok, but on this occasion we managed to get away from the cone.
AP: And
GD: Yes if you are coned the thing is, is to keep your eyes on your instruments, don’t look outside because you will get blinded by the light. On the 17th, 18th August 1943 I was based at Holme on Spalding Moor south east of York and on this particular afternoon the first thing we noticed when we got to the briefing room were there were extra service police on the door which we thought was rather unusual, and when we got into the briefing room and they drew the curtains across we saw this red ribbon going all the way up to Denmark up the North sea, across Denmark, missing the North German coast because of the heavy flak and then we saw this tiny little place on the Baltic coast, and we thought what, what’s going on there, what’s this all about, never heard of it. When we were briefed we were only told that it was a secret research station connected with radar, at no time were we given any indication of the real work that was going on there. The chilling remark that was made at the end of the briefing was that the target was so important that it should be destroyed that night, otherwise we were told quite firmly that we would go back the following night, the night after that until it was destroyed, and you can imagine the feeling we had knowing what reception we would get if we had to go back on the night after. After the briefing of course we went back to our usual pre-op dinner or meal, bacon and eggs usually, and eventually to the parachute room picked our parachutes up, and into the crew room, dispose of all our wallets and anything that might identify us, and took off, reached our climbing height, and proceeded through the Yorkshire coast up towards Denmark. Included in the main force was a low number of Mosquito’s which were used as a spoof raid on Berlin, this was to make sure that the German authorities were thinking that the main force was going to Berlin, and of course as we got nearer the main force veered off to Peenemunde, and the Mosquito’s carried on to Berlin. This caused quite a lot of consternation amongst the German aircrew controllers because they weren’t sure where the main force were, and when the German night fighters were alerted they had no idea what was going on, the German ground controllers were in a bit of a state and one German pilot realising what was going on proceeded to Peenemunde without being told, so of course by the time the German fighters had got there the raid was virtually half over. We were fortunate we did our run in from the Island of Roden which was about a five minute run in from the North, and we went in on the first wave, the target was well marked we went in at about seven thousand feet it was a brilliant moonlight night and my bomb aimer got quite excited because this was the first time that he had actually been able to identify the target because normally we were bombing from eighteen or nineteen thousand feet, so this was quite an occasion, and I can remember telling him don’t get too excited just concentrate on what you are doing. So we moved in no trouble at all the flak was very very light we were able to, despite the pathfinder markers we were able to identify our aiming point visually, dropped our bombs and came out without any problem. We were very lucky that we were in the first wave because we were able to bomb and get away from the target before the fighters arrived, in the original plan, four group which I was a member of, was scheduled to go in on the last wave, but because they were frightened of smoke from the ground generators obscuring our aiming point we were reverted to the first wave which was very fortunate but not so fortunate for those who were transferred back from the first wave to the last. There were three aiming points on Peenemunde itself and our aiming point was the living quarters of the scientists and the technicians, and one wag on our squadron said there would be a prize given to the first aircraft back with a scientists spectacles hanging from its undercarriage. Once you begin your final run in you are really under the control of the bomb aimer because he, he’s the one that can only see the actual line of path to the target so he will be giving you instructions, such as, right, left left, right right, steady, until you actually came to the point where he’d say bombs gone. We were only told that it was a, as I said before, a secret RADAR station, and it was some time afterwards before that it was revealed that it was for rocket research. So, of course the best thing was that the day after, it was only after a Spitfire reconnaissance which evaluated the amount of damage that we knew with some relief that we were not going to have to go back that night. The aftermath of course was what was the overall result and it was generally recognised that the rocket programme was put back by at least two months, and in his book Crusade to Europe, General Eisenhower said that the second front would have been seriously compromised had the Peenemunde raid not taken place when it did. It is possible that the raid on Peenemunde could have taken place a lot earlier, because in May 1940 a note was pushed through the door of the British Naval attaché in Oslo, from the writer claiming to have very important information connected with German activities, and if the intelligence people were interested would they put a coded letter or word in the broadcasts that were made usually to the resistance, this was done and another letter was pushed through the door and the sort of information the writer indicated that they had, was to the intelligence people so ludicrous that they thought it must be a hoax, and it was ignored, and it was many many, well this was 1940, it was some years later when snippets of information came through and two German Generals who were in a , they were prisoners of war, were in a bugged room and amongst the things that they discussed was that they couldn’t understand why Peenemunde had never been bombed, this of course brought it to the notice of the authorities and from then on every endeavour was made to secure other bits and pieces of information, to ascertain whether this was true. The final answer to the problem I think was when a WRAF intelligence officer very keenly spotted a launching ramp on one of the reconnaissance photographs, and this really was the, was the result of good reconnaissance, and it really gave the answer that there really was something going on at Peenemunde, and from then on of course a committee was formed Mr Churchill appointed Duncan Sands to chair this committee and eventually after a few meetings it was then that they decided that this would, Peenemunde would have to be bombed. Of course one of the things was how were they going to do it, Air Vice Marshal Cochrane of five group who’s group had been used to some time and distance bombing wanted to go in with about, I think about 150 Lancaster’s, it was also discussed that a small force of Mosquito’s would go in, but Sir Arthur Harris the chief of Bomber Command, he felt that if a raid was going to take place it would have to be successful one hundred percent at the first go, and he made the decision that it was going to be a maximum effort, so all groups of the Bomber Command were going to take part. Consequently almost six hundred aircraft were sent, probably the decision was right because the place was destroyed, virtually destroyed on the first raid. Four days after the raid on Peenemunde, the place was visited by Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, and Albert Speer the armaments manager and they, after a survey Hitler himself decided that the place would not continue to operate, at least on the scale that it had done, and it was then that the whole project was moved to various places particularly the Harz Mountains. Of course the success of the raid was not achieved without some loss and unfortunately the total aircraft loss was forty and two hundred and twenty aircrew were killed, mostly occurred in the last two waves of the, of the raid so as I said before we were very very lucky that we had been moved from the last wave to the first wave, because we were virtually in and out without any problem. Of course the success in some ways of flying on operations is the team work, the crew have got to work together and I was very fortunate I had a very good crew, we originally formed up at OTU at Lossiemouth, it was a question of one person getting to know another. I well remember my bomb aimer coming up to me and saying “have you crewed up yet?” and I said “no” “how about crewing up with me” “yeah sure do you know any navigators?” “Yes I know a navigator” and that’s how it went on, so we finished up with five, and later on we acquired a Mid-upper gunner and a Flight Engineer who was actually allocated to us. We were lucky in this respect because my Flight Engineer’s Wife and Mother ran a pub just outside Horsforth in Leeds so on our nights off all seven of us used to pile into a Morris Eight, and go off to a night out and as you can imagine the customers made a great fuss of us, and we were never short of free drinks. [laughter] I can well remember the only time when my navigator did suffer from, I don’t know what it was, but he suddenly came up on the intercom and said “ Skipper were about ten miles off course” and my reply was “well look we can’t be, I’ve been steering this course that you gave me without any deviation, so get your finger out and get us back on course, otherwise I’ll get the bomb aimer to take over the navigation” this really put the wind up him and he, he got us back on course, don’t ask me why but whether he’d made a mistake with his GEE box fixing it turned out ok at the end. Of course most of our navigation was dead reckoning but the saviour that we had, but it was only I think to about five degrees east that the GEE box from where we could get a fix on our position enabled us to keep to a reasonable course. Of course whilst the aircrew got most of the glory, it was the auxiliary staff that really supported us people like the parachute packers, the ground crew, as far as we were concerned we had an excellent ground crew on our aircraft, everything was tickety boo, the windscreen was all polished they went completely out of their way to make sure that the aircraft we were flying was in one hundred percent condition, and the only way we could reward them was taking them down to the pub on the occasional evening and buying them a few beers, it was our way of saying thank you to them. I well remember that on our last night our very last raid which was a castle, outside the control tower there was a whole host of personnel waving to us a lot of air cadets and when we got to the runway for our final take off the crowd round the caravan way, the crowd outside the caravan the controller which gave you a green light when it was ready for you to take off, and then finally opening the throttles for what you knew was going to be your final operation, and wondering how it was going to go, but of course at that time you were really concentrating on getting the aircraft safely off the ground. I well remember, I don’t know which raid it was but probably my fault we had not secured the front escape hatch properly, and on take off it blew open, my oxygen mask, tube rather was ripped off and I had to borrow the mid-upper gunners oxygen tube, he had rather an uncomfortable flight trying to breathe his oxygen having given up his tube to me, but we did get over it, and we did manage to close the escape hatch with some difficulty, I must take full responsibility for that error. Yes on that final flight when you got the green light knowing that this was going to be your final operation, you had that feeling of great support from those people that were standing there, they knew that it was your final op, and they were willing you to go on and come back safely and that was, that was really comforting, but of course you were more or less concentrating on the take off at that time because that was a very dangerous time for a fully laden, fully fuelled, fully bombed aircraft, until what you reach was known as safety speed, where it was, you were then able to climb to your normal altitude.

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Citation

Andrew Panton, “Interview with George Dunn,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 16, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8412.

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