Interview with Benny Goodman. One


Interview with Benny Goodman. One


Benny Goodman discusses some of his operations as a pilot with 617 Squadron. He discusses attacking the Tirpitz and the use of Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs which required the Lancaster plane to be modified. On a flight against the U-boat pens in Bergen the fighter escort left the squadron to attack the gun emplacements on the ground leaving them exposed to the German fighters which appeared suddenly and attacked them. His last operational flight with the squadron was an operation to Berchtesgaden.




Temporal Coverage




00:18:03 audio recording

Conforms To


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AP: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Andrew Panton. The interviewee is Laurence Benny Goodman. The interview is taking place at Mr Goodman’s home in Bracknell on the 8th of August 2015. This particular interview focusses on Mr Goodman’s time as a pilot in 617 squadron during the latter stages of World War 2.
LBSG: The Grand Slam bomb was designed by Sir Barnes Wallis and was twenty one feet long and weighed twenty two thousand pounds. It was the largest bomb ever produced in the war. We were the only squadron to carry it. On the Arnsberg Viaduct raid which was a daylight raid I had a twenty two thousand pound bomb on board and we made our usual bombing run but once the bomb was released I felt the aircraft lift perceptibly. I imagine a hundred, a hundred or two hundred feet and certainly the flight engineer heard the, heard the clinking of the release chains. The bomb was so heavy that it required those chains. To carry the twenty two thousand pound bomb of course the Lancaster had to be modified. We had to have a strengthened undercarriage. The bomb doors were certainly taken away and we had a different attachment for the bomb. The twenty two thousand pound bomb. It was, on take-off it was a little longer run but once we did take off the climb was quite steady and once to height we cruised the normal way. The importance of the target fitted in with the general strategy of the time to cut all German lines of communication we could so they couldn’t bring up troops, ammunition, food and so on and certainly the Arnsberg Viaduct was one of the important viaducts that had to be destroyed. On this occasion when we released the bomb we certainly didn’t have to say, ‘bomb gone,’ because as it fell off the aircraft we went up quite, well a hundred to two hundred feet and it was extraordinary. I never expected quite that reaction. Only two twenty thousand pound bombs were dropped on that occasion and it was quite obvious after the explosion that the viaduct was either totally destroyed or very badly damaged and in any case would take some work to repair. In January 1945 we were briefed to attack the U-boat pens at Bergen in Norway. We made the attack but there were, and we had a fighter escort as well but unfortunately the fighter escort went down to silence the gun emplacements, the German gun emplacements. Just after they did this a number of Focke Wulf 190s and ME109s appeared and started to cause havoc amongst our aeroplanes. Johnny, Johnny Pryor was shot down and I believe somebody else and I remember that Tony Iveson was attacked by a fighter and badly damaged but he got his aeroplane back safely to the UK and got a DFC for his efforts. December 1944 we attacked the U-boat pens on the Dutch islands just off the Dutch coast. They had been attacked a number of times before but the pen, the roof of the pens had not been penetrated and therefore most of the damage was done just outside. However, one or two of our Tallboy bombs did penetrate the roof and caused havoc within the pen area itself and did quite a lot of damage generally. The last operational trip the squadron did during the war was on April the 25th 1945 against the Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden which was very close to the Austrian border. I remember that we hit the Waffen SS barracks, the special troops guarding Hitler and the Gestapo headquarters so the raid was probably worthwhile even though it was right at the end of the war. There had been some attempts to sink the Tirpitz by both the Royal Navy and the US navy but the bombs they were carrying did not have very much effect as they were too small. After that it was decided that 617 squadron would be used to actually get rid of the Tirpitz which was a great menace to shipping in the Atlantic. There were three attempts made to sink the Tirpitz. The first one was made from the UK was a one way trip to Yagodnik and from there from Yagodnik the aircraft then took off to attack the Tirpitz. This trip unfortunately had no success so different methods were thought of to approach the vexed question of getting rid of the Tirpitz. The second and third raids were both carried out from advanced base in Lossiemouth Scotland and for this on occasion, on this occasion we had enough fuel, we had extra tanks to get us there and back without refuelling. A lot of equipment was taken out of the aircraft to make way for the tanks and to ensure that the load wasn’t too heavy once we got out bomb on board. A plan was devised in which there would be two large extra tanks inside the fuselage and to do this a number of things had to be stripped from the aircraft. The armour plating behind the pilot’s back, I regret to say, was removed and everything else we didn’t appear to need was taken out. We had a rear gun, a rear gunner and a turret but we didn’t have a mid-upper gunner. And the tanks when we, I beg your pardon, when we got in the aircraft to start the operation there was an awful smell of petrol throughout and it was clearly dangerous if even a spark was to, would have blown up each aircraft. Our take off was at midnight from Lossiemouth and if a film writer had written the script it couldn’t have been better. There was low cloud and a lot of rain and there we were, our aircraft lined up around the perimeter track waiting for take-off and we could hardly see each other really for the bad weather. However, all went well. We all went off and set course for landfall on the Norwegian coast. We flew over the sea for some hours and our only navigation was an attempt to produce winds on our own. No. Our only navigation aid was finding winds ourselves and any that might be broadcast by Bomber Command. However, at daybreak we all, however at daybreak we all coasted in at the agreed rendezvous and formed up in a gaggle to make the rest of the trip through Norway and on to the Tromso fjord. As we, as we went up the spine between Norway and Sweden we were we made our way towards the turning point for the actual bombing run. All this went very satisfactorily and we turned for the run in and as we neared the Tirpitz we could see the battleship but there was also cloud coming in and to add to our grief they’d put up a large smokescreen all around the, all around it. It was almost impossible to bomb accurately so the trip was aborted and we returned to base.
AP: Yeah.
LBSG: The whole trip took thirteen and a quarter hours and we heard, sorry, the whole trip took thirteen and a quarter hours and on the way back my wireless operator tuned into the news from the BBC and we heard that the Tirpitz had been bombed. We had a very, we had a bit of chuckle about that as we knew. The third trip was a repeat of the second trip but on this occasion the Tirpitz could be seen quite clearly and the ship was, the battleship was sunk. I’d like to say a little bit about the SABS. The bomb site that only 617 Squadron used. It was a very accurate bomb site but needed not only very accurate, accurate settings like the wind velocity at the height we were bombing from, the temperature and other, and other details. It also demanded a completely straight and level flight from the pilot otherwise the bomb aimer could not release the bomb with any confidence. The Lancaster, despite its size was a dream to fly and whatever the air ministry chose to hang on it afterwards it seemed to react very little. It was the most reliable aircraft. Many people said because it had inline engines we were more prone to engine loss because of the cooler that we carried and the inline engines of the Merlin, of the Merlin but that never seemed to affect anybody. The aircraft itself took a lot of punishment and we always had the utmost confidence in it. There is no sound in this world like Merlin engines after they’d been throttled back to reduce power whether it’s on the approach to land or at any other time and that applied to Merlin engines on whatever aircraft they were fitted be it the Lancaster or the Spitfire on which I did quite a, two hundred hours. Clearly like every other crew on operations we were damaged on occasion. We were damaged and one or two incidents I can remember. One was the bomb aimer was lying prone in the bomb aimers position and flak came through the aircraft and filled his flying, the heel of his flying boots, both of them, and part of his, and damaged, damaged part of his flying boots but never hit him, which was extraordinary. And the other great escape I can think of is the wireless operator. He happened to lean forward towards his radio as wireless operators did with his hand on one ear to hear a station he was trying to tune in better when a shell came through one side of the fuselage and exited out of the other. When we landed we sat the wireless operator in his normal position, that is not leaning forward, and measured, took various measurements and realised that if he hadn’t leant forward at that moment the shell would have gone straight through his head. Looking back it seems to me that the worst moments, well they weren’t bad moments but perhaps the most edgy moments were when we waiting on wet grass perhaps at midnight for a very pistol to go off. If it was a green one it meant we were going on ops. If it was a red one it meant ops were cancelled and we sat there chatting away as normally as we could but as soon as we got the green very and got in to the cockpit everything settled down as normal. It was much too much to think about once I got strapped in to think about anything else but the operation. One thing I would like to emphasise very strongly. Without the ground crew there would be no air crew and we always maintained a very friendly relationship. They were there day and night whenever we took off and whenever we came back. Come winter, summer. They were there in the pouring rain and in the snow waiting for us and to service the aircraft as soon as possible once we’d done what we had to do. I have nothing but the highest and fullest praise for the ground crew and I’ve never understood why they never to have been acknowledged in any way and I still think about them as unsung heroes. I’m often asked what it was like flying on operations during the war and I can truly say that even though there might have been very slight tension before we actually knew we were going to get in to the aircraft and go off once we did that once I was strapped in to the cockpit all my tension went and I was concentrating on the job and I feel sure my crew felt the same way.
AP: And -
LBSG: And as we were flying we had to focus on what we were doing and although on occasions we were attacked and there was anti-aircraft fire it was absolutely imperative that we tried to dismiss that and not lose control of what we were supposed to be doing. It was important that our crew worked as a crew and not individually and it was, as far as I know, the rule of Bomber Command that once you got a crew you stayed with it because you got to know each other. You got to trust each other and everybody knew what to do. Everybody knew their job. There was the rear gunner, the mid upper gunner, the navigator, the wireless operator, the bomb aimer and me the pilot and we all had our own work to do even if, even though we had to cooperate with all of them or some of them depending on the circumstances. Attention on the bombing run that team work was foremost. The bomb aimer had to set the correct height, wind speed and airspeed on his bomb sight which he got from the navigator and I would set a course given to me by the, by the navigator in the first place and corrected by the bomb aimer on the run in. Now the corrections in the Lancaster of 617 squadron were made with a little dial on the combing of the instrument panel and it made a one degree alteration look rather large so it is no exaggeration to say that the bomb aimer could also on his bomb sight of one degree correction and it would show up quite large on the indicator that I had which meant a touch on the pedal and the aileron or both as the case may be. This proved a very satisfactory method of correcting very small amounts.
AP: That’s good. So there’s some really good teamwork there between -
LBSG: I was going to say, the, I think a word, can I say, I think, a word about the bomb sight itself may be appropriate. I believe it was the only type of its use in the air force and the bomb aimer and the navigator and the pilot had to work closely together. We relied on the navigator to give the correct height in barometric pressure. The correct wind speed and the correct temperature and one or two other things which the bomb aimer then fed into his bomb sight and when I was given a course to fly it had to be absolutely accurate and the height had to be absolutely accurate. I think we were allowed plus or minus fifty feet and a few knots in airspeed if that but it had to be very accurate. Now, the corrections on the run in were made by the bomb aimer on a dial which showed with a little arrow which went left or right and had degrees marked off on it and the bomb aimer would alter his run in with his bomb site itself and that would show on my dial and one degree ever, I beg your pardon, a one degree error showed up quite largely on my dial so I made the correction in the way that was indicated. The Tallboy and the Grand Slam bombs were a huge asset because it enabled us to hit more accurately the targets and to destroy ones we probably could never have destroyed before.



Andrew Panton, “Interview with Benny Goodman. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 15, 2024,

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