Interview with Benny Goodman. Two


Interview with Benny Goodman. Two


Benny Goodman grew up in London and hoped to become a pilot. He volunteered for the Air Force and was originally posted to RAF Abingdon as a ground gunner before beginning his flying training. After qualifying as a pilot in Canada, he became an instructor to Navy pilots. He survived his ship being torpedoed before he finally joined the Queen Mary in New York and returned to England. He flew operations with 617 Squadron and discusses a fire in the cockpit of his Lancaster, narrowly missing and mid-air collision and flying alongside a Me 262.




Temporal Coverage

Spatial Coverage




01:31:12 audio recording

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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today we’re in Bracknell talking to Benny Goodman about his experiences in the RAF and today is the 7th of April 2016 and Benny is going to start off with his earliest recollections going through to what he did after the war. So what do you remember first Benny?
LBSG: When the war broke out you mean?
CB: No. When you, your earliest recollections of life.
CB: In the family.
LBSG: We lived, we’re Londoners from a long way back and I remember I was born in Maida Vale and lived there for the first five or six years of my life and then we moved to Hampstead and we lived there and we were still there when the war broke out.
CB: Keep going.
LBSG: Yes. I was -
CB: So you went to school locally.
CB: Right.
LBSG: I was a boarder. I was away at school.
CB: Where were you at school?
LBSG: In Herne Bay.
CB: In Herne Bay.
LBSG: Herne Bay College. Yes.
CB: Right. And if you just keep going on what you -
LBSG: Well, I left, yes, because my father -
CB: So -
LBSG: Had, I’ll keep going, an interest in an electrical engineering factory in Birmingham. It was considered that I should go up there and study at night and work during the day in the factory. I did this and found it fairly hard going doing, doing both things because there was no, very little free time. However, in September 1939 we all listened to a broadcast by the prime minister who told us that we were at war with Germany and so that of course made quite a difference to me. I decided to contact my parents. I was about a hundred miles from London at the time and discuss with my father what I wanted to do. I was only eight/nineteen, eighteen or nineteen at the time. It was agreed that I would go home and I decided I wanted to join the RAF. My father backed me up. My mother was horrified but in the end I went to a recruiting office at, in Brent, North London. It was the nearest RAF one and did all the necessary things to make sure that I would get in, get in to the RAF. Of course I said I wanted to be a pilot. And the officer, it was a flying officer who interviewed me raised his eyebrows. I didn’t really realise what that meant and I noticed he’d put down on the form that he was filling in for me ACH ACH/GD and I thought that meant that I was definitely going to start training as a pilot immediately. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. In due course I went for a general medical and when I passed that I was sent across to the RAF section to have an air crew medical which I passed and then we were, we had to be attested as we were volunteers and so we all had a little ceremony within the medical centre. About twenty of us took the oath of allegiance to the king and the crown and all the rest of it. I was then sent on leave for a little while, a few weeks, and got my call up papers and I thought this is it. I’m going to be a pilot in two weeks. Didn’t quite turn out like that. I went to Cardington, kitted out and we did a bit of marching which wasn’t really on the agenda. We didn’t realise we were there until we were posted and eventually, after about ten days we packed our kit bags and were marched off to a railway station and of course nobody had any idea where we were going but we ended up in Bridgenorth and we, and it was snowy, it was snowing, I beg your pardon and the roads were quite icy but we had to march up the hill from the station at Bridgnorth to Bridgenorth RAF camp and it was quite slippery but we all got to the top and we were all very wet behind the ears there’s no doubt about it. We had a flight sergeant barking at us and we ended up in a hut, about twenty of us, well maybe fifteen in a hut and there we went through six weeks of square bashing of every sort, type and description you could imagine. There was a corporal to every hut and he had a bunk to himself in the hut which was, part of our duty was to sweep his bunk out every day and make the bed and we did that of course. We had to. And we had various other delightful jobs as you can imagine. I can remember spending I think a week in the cookhouse peeling potatoes which didn’t impress me very much with, as you can imagine. However, we eventually got a posting, I and another chap and we were told we would be going to RAF Abingdon and we knew that was a straight through course on Whitleys. By straight through I mean you did ground school, you flew a Tiger Moth, and then an Anson and then a Whitley. So we had every hope that we were going to be on that course. There was no reason to suppose that we wouldn’t be. Things turned out rather differently. Instead of that we were sent to a dugout on the airfield and there was a nissen hut there with six beds in it. No, no sheets, no pillow cases, of course. Just blankets that didn’t smell very good and the latrine, latrines had to be dug out and there we lived for about six months and all thoughts of being pilots, we had become ground gunners. We didn’t know it until, until we had to learn all about ground gunning and how to take to pieces a cow gun, that’s a Coventry ordinance work gun, a Lewis watercool gun and so on and we did that pretty well because we were, we had to do it day and night we would, and the only part I remember, of course we had to name every part we, we’d handled but the only part name I can remember was the rear sear retainer keeper and I cannot tell you why I remember it nor do I really remember where it fitted. However, we were there for about six months and we were both quite fed up with it because it was four hours on and two hours off during the day and at night we had to patrol around the airfield every night and challenge anybody who was walking there. Well, we had to challenge, ask for the password and if we didn’t get the right answer we were supposed to arrest them. However, there was no option, we did have to challenge them because the station duty officer and the warrant officer and the orderly officer all at various times would come around with a couple of NCOs and if we didn’t challenge them we were in trouble and we challenged many more airmen and it was winter and they were trying to find their way in the blackout to a Whitley they were working on with their tool bag in one hand and to have some idiot airman like me challenge them saying, ‘Stop. Who goes there,’ And believe me we used to get some fruity juicy answers. We never got a password from them [laughs]. It would be more, would have been more than our life was worth if we’d really tried to try to stop them. I mean it would have been ridiculous. We could, we could see that. And the fear at the time when I was a ground gunner was that the Germans would invade by air at dawn. So at dawn we had to march around the perimeter track with, we always had, by the way one bullet up the spout. That’s one loaded in the, ready for firing but the safety catch was on and we marched around the perimeter track and for some reason we had to wear oxygen, I beg your pardon, gas masks. I don’t know why because if the Germans were dropping paratroops I can’t believe they were going to drop with gasmasks on. However, that was the order so that was it. Our food was brought out in hay boxes. Breakfast, lunch and a sort of tea, dinner and of course as warm as the hay boxes, hay boxes may have been by the time they got around to us on the other side of the airfield in a dugout it wasn’t very warm. But it is extraordinary, you get used to everything and after about three or four months this other chap and I had given up all hopes of becoming pilots or training and in our off duty by the way, we had a off duty half day and if we were lucky occasionally we’d get a pass in to the, go and walk into the local town, in Abingdon but if you could get past the SPs because you went to go, if you went to go out they had to inspect every inch of you and if they didn’t quite like the way your tie was tied or one button didn’t look properly shined then you were sent back and told to come back again so sometimes you never really got your half day off. I don’t know, we got used to it, it’s extraordinary and because we were very young I don’t think we took, I don’t think we got too, took too much umbridge about it and as, I think I’ve just said this other chap and I had given up any idea of being trained as pilots. We thought here we are and here we are going to stay but one day we were sent for and we wondered what we’d done but we were told we were going on a pilot’s course and we couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t at RAF Abingdon because the Whitley course that we saw was the last one that they, the straight through course was the last one and so we never had any hope of getting on that and we, I was sent to, this chap and I separated unfortunately. We’d become good friends by that time but we were separated and I went to a reception centre at Stratford on Avon. Now remember I’d been a ground gunner for six months and my uniform, to say the least, was tatty because we spent day and night in the, well, at night, walking around but days in the gun pit and sometimes we had, when we were off we, it wasn’t, we couldn’t get undressed, we slept in it. I mean everybody did and of course I looked really tatty and crumpled. There was no doubt about that. I walked in to the orderly room in the reception area at Stratford on Avon and somebody barked, ‘Airman you’re on a charge.’ And I looked around. I want to interrupt.
CB: Right.
LBSG: I want to interrupt.
CB: Oh you do. Right.
[machine pause]
LBSG: Am I? Are you ready? ‘Airman. You’re on a charge,’ and I looked around and there was nobody else, well there were people sitting there and working but and I thought, I think he means me. [laughs] So I got up to the desk and said, ‘Yes sergeant, reporting in.’ He said, ‘You’re on a charge airman’. And I said, well I thought it was me so I, ‘You are a disgrace to the service. Look at you.’ And I probably was because my uniform had been slept in and it was probably a bit muddy. I cleaned it as much as I could but you only had one uniform, two shirts, two pairs of socks and I think two pairs of underpants and that’s all we owned in life and no, certainly no other battle dress or cap and I tried to explain to him what I’d been and why I looked that way and he wasn’t in the least interested. He said, ‘You’re a disgrace to the service. You should have kept yourself in better condition.’ Something like that. In better condition. So I was, the next morning, I was, my feet hadn’t touched the ground there really. The next morning I was marched into the OCs office, he was a flying officer and he read the charge, he said, ‘What about this, Goodman?’ And I said, ‘Well sir what I’ve said is true. I’ve slept in the uniform in gun pits and all the rest of it and we don’t have another uniform to wear and that’s why it looks this way.’ He said, Well I do appreciate it but I’m afraid,’ he had to, obviously had to say this, ‘My sergeant is correct and you look very scruffy,’ and so on and so. I got seven days jankers but I wasn’t offered another uniform or another cap or anything so I still walked about. Anyhow, I was there for not very long fortunately. A week or ten days I think and I was posted to, to ITW at Cambridge. And this was really the beginning of the training for, to be a pilot and we had six weeks of intensive ground school and most of us passed out. One or two chaps failed and I felt jolly sorry for them because they had tried hard but I got through and by this time my friend, I think I’ve said this already, had separated. He’d gone somewhere else. I got through and really I’m afraid that’s what interested me most and I was sent to number 17 AFTS at Peterborough and did about forty eight or fifty hours flying on a Tiger Moth and when it was over I was sent for. I’m afraid I’ve always thought, the first thing that comes into my head, what have I done wrong because as an airmen there’s never any good news. If you are sent for there’s usually something wrong. And the flight commander who was a flight lieutenant said to me, ‘You’ve been posted to RAF Woodley,’ which was the Miles factory, the Miles, where they made the Magister, and all, the Martinet and all the rest of them and, ‘You’re going to be an instructor.’ And I thought I don’t want to be an instructor. I’ve only just learned to fly the Tiger Moth. So I went there and we flew Magisters and they of course had brakes and flaps which I’d never seen before in my life and I was supposed to be training as an instructor. Anyhow, I did my, I really didn’t want to be one but I was there and then when I finished there I was posted to, I was going sorry, I was going to Clyffe Pypard, I think it was, as a holding unit. Ok.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: I went to Clyffe Pypard as a holding unit and from there we were posted to Canada and I was told I was going to, I think it was 33 SFTS at Carberry and I thought I was going to be instructor but I wasn’t. I was going to learn to fly twin engine aircraft. Ansons. And that for me, I’d only flown these very light aircraft and for me that was a real, absolutely really big step up and so I did the Anson course and night flying was included. The first time I’d ever done that and I must say I take my hat off to the instructor who was with me for the first night circuit because I was all over the sky. We weren’t taught instrument flying by the way, before, they, so I was looking at the instruments at night for the first time, the artificial horizon and all the rest of it never having really relied on them in my day training so for the first circuit I was all over the place, I really was, up and down and the chap just sat there. The instructor. He didn’t say a word and I thought this can’t be right but I managed a circuit of some sort and we came in on the approach and he gave me a couple of hints on the approach. Of course although I’d done quite a bit of flying on the Anson by this time in the day to do it first time at night first time you’d ever flown at night was quite different. Anyhow, I made some sort of a landing and he said, ‘Well yes, ok you’ll be on the, you’ll be flying tomorrow. Night. And if you improve a bit you can go solo,’ and the thought of that terrified me [laughs] I thought I’ve hardly had real control of the aircraft all the time and if the chap hadn’t, the instructor hadn’t been sitting next to me I think I might have given up but I knew he was there if I made any mistakes. Anyhow, we did a few circuits and bumps and he said, ‘You can go solo,’ and again the thought terrified me but he, he sent me solo and I think we did, I did one circuit and bump and came in and he said, ‘Ok Goodman. That’s fine. And you’ll be on the roster tomorrow night, on the duty, you’ll be flying tomorrow night,’ and you’ll do whatever else it was and that’s, ‘You’re well forward now on your completed training.’ And we had to do three cross countries as navigator because in those days when Hampdens were still flying and Wellingtons, I think Whitleys had stopped by then but Hampdens certainly were flying and Wellingtons were. The first fifteen trips when you were on an operational squadron was usually, not always, flown as a navigator, by the chap who was a pilot. I suppose they didn’t, in those days, have enough. I don’t know why but anyhow I think that was part of the pre-war influence. I don’t know. There were observers but I’m not sure in those days how fully trained as navigators they were. Please forgive me all you people who wear O’s because they were highly distinguished and my own bomb aimer was an observer and he used to put me in my place [laughs] that is when I got on the squadron, in 617, yeah. So I passed there and then I thought well I am on my way back now surely. Not a bit of it. I was sent to RAF Kingston, Ontario as an instructor but horrifyingly I was going to instruct acting leading naval airmen. Now, I didn’t have a clue about landing on, or jinking after take-off or dive bombing or any of the things they were being trained for so the flight commander was, they were all experienced chaps except me. I’d never been on ops and during the war that was really a black mark whether you could help it or not. If you hadn’t done an operational tour not even the students looked up to you really. However, there it was and we, one of the, we had a fleet air arm chap and one or two other seasoned pilots in the flight and of course the flight commander and he took me up and it was a Harvard by the way. An important point. It was Harvards. Now, I’d never flown an aircraft with a VP prop and a retractable undercarriage. The Anson was the nearest I ever got and we had to wind the undercarriage up so you didn’t wind it up unless you were doing a cross country so it was a whole new world to me and he took me up and he said, ‘Well you’re an instructor and that’s the end of it but you’re going to learn to fly this,’ and after about an hour and a half again he shook me to the core, he said, ‘Ok you can go solo.’ Do this, that and the other and, ‘I’ll be watching you.’ ‘Yes you will.’ And come in and we’ll have a talk. So I took this mighty beast off, this Harvard, which was a mighty beast to me. It was a beautiful aeroplane actually. I loved flying it when I got used to it. It was fully aerobatic which was wonderful and for me it had lots of ergs. Bags of power. And so I went solo and then he took me up a couple of times and said, ‘Right. You don’t know anything about naval training but you know about, you’re an instructor so I will show you you’re, the first lesson you’ll do and then you’ll go up and do it and then the second lesson, and so on.’ And so I progressed through the syllabus and by the time I left there I was teaching them about dive bombing and jinking after take-off. Everything you would get court martialled for in the RAF but of course it was the royal, it was the Fleet Air Arm and this is what they were being taught to do. And I had a thoroughly good time. I was a pilot officer. There was no room for me in the mess so I lived in digs and I bought a car. It was a, with a dickie seat. That is, it was a two seater but it had a flap you could open at the back and two people could sit inside, outside as it were but it was wonderful. I had a car of my own. I was only twenty one. I was living in digs. And I was a flying instructor in the air force. I thought I was dreaming actually. I did. Well I had a thoroughly good time of course there’s no doubt about that when I was doing it and we were then, myself and another few chaps who’d got no operational experience were posted back to the UK to go on ops. So we went back and we went to a holding unit in Bournemouth. Oh by the way on the way back, on my first trip back, twenty four hours out we were torpedoed. Fortunately, an American destroyer took most of the torpedo, it blew up with a lot of lives lost but we got damaged. We were going around in circ, the rudder was done. We had no rudder at all and other damage was done but when they had got it all fixed up we were going around in the Atlantic at that night in circles because there was no steering gear and we all thought he’s going to come back and finish us off, that U-boat but he must have run out of torpedoes. I can think of no other reason for him not sinking us. I really can’t. So we went back to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then we were put on a train which we stayed on for five days. Our food was supplied and it was just the ordinary compartment. When we all wanted to clean our teeth just the ordinary passenger way, we would go and have a pee or whatever, we would go to the lavatory or there was a wash basin so we took it in turns to clean our teeth and wash ourselves but nothing like a shower or anything like that and food was given to us and we went all the way from Halifax, Nova Scotia by train to New York. I think it took five days and there we embarked, [paused] I’ve left something out, did I say we were torpedoed?
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: And there we embarked on the Queen Mary and we were the only, there weren’t many of us, about a dozen I think, there was a, the OC troops was an American officer, a colonel and all the troops apart from us were Americans and so we were very much in the minority on a British ship and I can remember before we sailed the OC troops called us all together in one of the big halls that the Queen Mary had obviously and there were seats there and all of us, all the officers together and he said, ‘I want you to remember this. You’re officers and if anything happens, if we’re torpedoed you will be the last to leave.’ And the other few RAF chaps and myself looked at each other because we’d just been torpedoed [laughs] and we didn’t think much of that statement frankly but we got back safely and of course we had good food, being American and we were put through quite a rigorous, I remember when we arrived on board, a rigorous American medical. The fact that we’d got our RAF medicals didn’t mean a thing to them. We had a thorough, I don’t know whether it was army, yes American army medical I suppose and they passed us fit. I often wonder what they would have done if they hadn’t passed us fit. We were, by that time we were sailing, I mean, but anyhow they passed us fit and we got back safely to the UK. I hadn’t got, I omitted to say this before, but I hadn’t got any luggage of any sort. I just had my shaving kit and I hadn’t even got my logbooks or anything. They were all in my trunk which presumed were ruined and nobody knows what happened. They didn’t know whether they’d floated out or anything and so when I got there they asked me how many flying hours I’d got. I said well you’ll have to take my word for it but I can remember them roughly and I wrote them down in my new logbook and I went to, when we got back I went to Spitalgate, Grantham for what was called a UK, sorry -
CB: It’s ok.
LBSG: Can you switch off?
CB: Yeah.
[machine paused]
LBSG: Yes.
CB: Ok. So start again.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: Or continue. Yeah. So you got back yeah. When you got back.
LBSG: When I got back we were sent eventually to RAF Spitalgate which was Grantham for an acclimatisation course which meant we had to learn to fly without any lights and without any help from anywhere. You couldn’t call up, apart from at night you had a system called darkie and if you really got lost at night then you called up darkie. Switch off.
[machine paused]
LBSG: And -
CB: No. No. No. No. So when you were lost you had to do a call sign and that said?
LBSG: Did I mention night flying or what?
CB: This is night flying isn’t it? Yes.
LBSG: Yes. Could I -
CB: So say it. Go on.
LBSG: Night flying of course was rather different in the UK because there were no lights, no aids. Scattered around the country there were, not very many, a few master beacons. They flashed red symbols, I beg your pardon, Morse code characters and if you were lucky, if you were lost at night, you might see one of these but there weren’t many in the whole country but you had to do this cross country at night in Oxfords with just a ground wireless op in the back in case you got lost. He would try to get a QDM to somewhere. And I always felt very sorry for these wireless men because they weren’t aircrew. They were ground crew and they must have hated it. Anyhow, most of us managed to do, get through this without any trouble and I was sent to, to Market, Market Harborough I think it was, Market Harborough to do a Wellington, Wellington OCU and across to and began my flying on Wellington 1Cs at Saltby which was the, which was the -
CB: The OTU.
LBSG: N. It was part of the [pause] satellite.
CB: Oh yes.
LBSG: Satellite for Market Harborough. Unfortunately I fell ill and I was sent to a hospital, RAF Wroughton, and didn’t get my full flying category back for some time. I lost my crew of course. They went on flying with somebody else and then when I did get a flying category I had to, I couldn’t go straight for training. The powers that be insisted I got some flying in so I was sent to an OTU to fly the Martinet which did dummy air attacks on, rather which did air, dummy air attacks on Wellingtons for the training, to train air gunners, would-be air gunners. I made a mess of that.
CB: That’s ok. That’s fine.
LBSG: To train would-be air gunners.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: In addition to that I did the drogue towing when they had live air to air firing which never made me very comfortable because they were all UT, Under Training that is and not qualified. Whilst there I met an observer who’d also been grounded and we struck up a great friendship and when the time came for us both to get our A1G1, that is the full flying category back we got it together fortunately and we asked if we could be posted together and for some, and it was granted which was quite unusual and then we were sent to, we were sent to an RAF station and pitched in amongst a lot of other air crew and there you walked around and spoke to people and believe it or not that’s how you chose your crew. True. From there we went to -
CB: So this was at the OTU.
LBSG: OTU yes. Did I say I’d been in hospital? I did, I think.
CB: You did.
LBSG: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And your OTU was Silverstone.
LBSG: Yes. That’s right. From there we went to OTU at Silverstone and thence to the Lanc Finishing School at Syerston. Syerston or Syston?
CB: Syerston.
LBSG: Syerston yeah. At the end of the course I was sent for by the flight commander and the whole crew said to me, ‘What the hell have you done now, Benny?’ And I said, ‘Well I can think of nothing,’ and they all laughed and said, ‘Oh yeah.’ Of course, they didn’t believe me, of course. Anyhow, I went in and I was horrified when I went in. There was the flight commander, wing commander flying and two or three other officers, squadron leaders and a wing, I think a wing commander and I thought I really am in trouble this time and I couldn’t think of anything I’d done, for a change, that merited this show of high, high class brass as it were. Anyhow, they asked me a few questions and I realised that this had, it couldn’t be to do with something I’d done wrong and then suddenly one said to me, ‘You’ve done pretty well here Goodman and your bombing results are good and your flying’s good.’ I said, ‘Thank you sir.’ He said, ‘How would you like to join 617 squadron?’ And I said, ‘What was that sir?’ [laughs] He said, ‘How would you like to join 617 squadron?’ I said, ‘I would be delighted and I know my crew would be.’ And that’s how we got posted to 617. Shall I go on?
CB: Ahum.
LBSG: When we arrived there of course we, we felt like mice there. All the famous names that had been on the squadron. One or two were still on it and I crept around really like a little mouse. I was frightened to show my face half the time because I thought I’m a sprog crew. I’ve never been on ops. What on earth are they going to think of me? And believe it or not, well not believe it or not I think you will believe it I was made so welcome by everybody that I felt pretty good in the end. Of course we had to do the squadron training. They had the SABS bomb sight which was the only, we were and still are I believe the only squadron that has ever had that sight but if you flew properly and that’s what 617 squadron was all about then you could guarantee if not a direct hit a pretty damn close one. Damn. Is that alright. I said damn. Yeah. Have to be so careful these days.
CB: Don’t worry about it.
LBSG: Yeah. We, we got through the training successfully and I did my first trip as a second dickie or co-pilot with flying officer Bob Knights and I couldn’t have been given a better chap if I’d chosen out of a hundred. To give you the feel of his value Bob was the flight lieutenant but had a DSO awarded and all those who understand that will know the real value of the man.
CB: Absolutely.
LBSG: The flight was to La Pallice. It was a French, a French port and we bombed successfully and came back and then I went to see the wing commander, Wing Commander Tait and he said ok. He’d spoken to Bob Knights obviously and Bob said ok or, ‘ was good enough’ I suppose, I don’t know and he said, ‘Ok. You and your crew will be on the next trip.’ I went back and told and everybody jumped for joy and our next trip in fact was to Brest. The U-boat pens at Brest. And of course being a sprog crew something was bound to happen wasn’t it? And halfway across the sea, on our way the wireless op said, no, I beg your pardon the flight deck filled with smoke and I said to the wireless op, ‘What’s going on at the back?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry. Don’t worry skip. The navigator and I are trying to put out the fire.’ [laughs] ‘The radios have caught fire.’ I said, ‘Oh great.’ Remember this was our first trip. I said, ‘Well the one thing we’re not going to do is turn back. This is 617 and there’s no way we’re going to turn back so you’d better get the bloody fire out.’ And I opened my DV panel. That’s the direct vision panel and tried to get the smoke out. Of course fortunately it was daytime but it was all over the, all over the flight deck. I mean, I could just about, I couldn’t see the instruments very well and but I could see out of the side panel, of course it was open and the DV was open so we managed to fly more or less on course until they put the fire out and then we continued on the op. And if anything was going to happen I suppose it would be on a first trip. After that we, apart from enemy action everything went very well, very well on the squadron. We had some, obviously brushes one way and another with the Luftwaffe and certainly with ackack and I always remember we had a wonderful bunch of ground crew and by the way I take my hat off to them. Nobody ever thinks about the ground crew but they were there day and night, winter, summer, pouring with rain, ice, snow or very hot they were always there when we came, before we left and when we came back. Always there to usher, to wave us into our dispersal and to look after us and to find out if there were any, if there were any snags and woe betide us if we’d been damaged by flak because they said, ‘What have you done to our aeroplane? Look at the holes in it.’ or whatever it was and all very good heartedly of course and they were the cream of the, they really were the cream, as far as far as I was concerned. They were the cream. Unsung heroes all of them. I don’t know anybody who got an award and they deserve some mention but as far as I know there’s never been a mention of them and it’s so unjust. Am I taking too -
CB: That’s alright. Just stop there a mo.
LBSG: Am I taking too -
[machine pause] 4019
CB: So with the ground crew you were getting on really well with them.
LBSG: Yeah. Yeah
CB: And they were another part of the family really.
LBSG: Yes. Yes. The ground crew really were another part of our family and I can never understand why there was no tribute paid to them or no mention of them at any time in the huge part they played. Without them we wouldn’t be flying. And that still applies today. We did have one or two hairy trips I suppose on, on the squadron. I can remember so vividly still we deployed after the first abortive trip to sink the Tirpitz from a Russian forward base. We did one from Lossiemouth. We did two from Lossiemouth in fact but on the first one take-off was midnight from Lossiemouth and we were all lined up around the peri track, and people were, the perimeter track and people were taking off in turn and it was nearly our turn and suddenly my, I was looking around the cockpit just finally, everything had been done but you do, probably nervousness I don’t know, will keep you thinking about something. Not nervousness I don’t mean but just to keep you thinking about something and my flight engineer he used to sit by you in the dickie seat for all ops and he’d adjust the throttles or the props or anything you wanted. Synchronise them and of course he followed up on take-off and on landing. He used to, you’d call out the settings and he’d set, just minus four, minus two whatever it was and that’s how you’d come in but he suddenly nudged me, and he was a Scotsman who never used one word if half a word would do so I thought what does he want? He suddenly nudged me and he went like this and I looked up and there was the huge undercarriage of a Lancaster heading straight for us. Straight for us. It wasn’t maybe ten or twenty feet off the ground. Fortunately they cleared us and when we got back of course we found out what had happened and it was Tony Iveson who was taking off before us and he had an engine surge on take-off and so the aircraft swung off the runway and straight towards the parked aircraft which happened to be me facing him and but for the good background training and the alertness and the crew cooperation of his, he and his flight engineer there would have been a disaster but they straightened the aircraft by levelling the propellers above the throttles and then putting them up again and Tony Iveson just cleared the top of our cockpit. Just cleared it. That’s a very good start to a long trip. It was from Lossiemouth, it was pitch dark, it was midnight I think, pouring with rain and we were going low level over the North Sea all the way to the coasting-in point at Norway. What a good start. However, apart from that we all rendezvoused over the rendezvous point over the coast, Norway at daylight just as we were told to and Wing Commander Tait was leading of course and we formed up in to the gaggle and made our way to the Tirpitz and bombed it, or tried to. Unfortunately there was a lot of cloud. They’d put up a smokescreen anyhow but in addition to that there was a lot of cloud so it was an aborted trip. Thirteen and a quarter hours in total and we brought the bombs back. The Tallboys back. So the whole trip was thirteen and a quarter hours and that was the second Tirpitz effort. The third one was a repeat of the second one but the weather was clear and we bombed and I understand that Wing Commander Tait bombed first. His bomb made a direct hit on the Tirpitz.
CB: What could you see from that height?
LBSG: I didn’t see very much because we were following a Target Direction Indicator on the [combing of the] cockpit. It was the bomb aimer who was directing. He didn’t say left or right. He was adjusting his bomb sight and as he did so the target direction indicator came up and one degree looked about that big so he could, he could really show a one degree turn and you’d try it looked so big you would try to do it but you did do it, you’d try and that’s how we we kept within five nautical miles, five miles of our airspeed fifty feet in height and of course with the TDI we had to keep absolutely directly on track and that really I was only part of the team, the pilot. There was the navigator who had to make sure that the bomb aimer had the correct winds and the right temperature and that everything was set and he had the job of making sure when the bomb was to go. The navigator was very important with all the information he had and I was just sitting there like an auto pilot following this TD, Target Direction Indicator. TDI. So really I was the least important of them all. As long as I flew the right course at the right height and the right speed the others were doing the job and there it was, that’s how it was with all 617 squadron ops. With the SABS we did practice for a low level trip but that was a very, we practiced low level at night, five hundred or a thousand feet, on resin lights. They were the very very dim lights on the rear of the, on the, how do we describe it?
[machine pause]
CB: Right we’re just talking about lights.
LBSG: Yes. We did. Can I repeat?
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: We practised a gaggle at night and had to, it was called a formation at night but it was very difficult to fly. We did it on the resin lights which were on the wing root of the aircraft you were trying to formate on. It was very difficult at night with a lot of aeroplanes but we managed to do it. It was all over Lincolnshire and everybody got back safely but it was deemed too dangerous to do again.
CB: In the night.
LBSG: Yes at night. Or operationally at all. I think, I think the feeling was we might have gone at night. The whole thing at night.
CB: I see. Right.
LBSG: But there you are. We never did it and I think everybody was thankful including, I believe, the squadron commander. Of course, it was really dicey. They’re a big aeroplane to throw around at night. A Lancaster. We just tried to formate but not too closely on the resin lights which shone so dimly. But there it is.
CB: You didn’t collide. Nobody had a collision.
LBSG: No. No sir.
CB: No. Ok. So in essence the Tirpitz raids were daylight because it wasn’t practical to do it at night.
LBSG: Well night day. We took off at night.
CB: Yes. But you arrived in daylight.
LBSG: Pardon me. We coasted in about daylight. Yeah. Excuse me.
CB: Ok. So coasting in means crossing the coast.
LBSG: Crossing the coast. Yes. And that was our rendezvous point. I think I said that.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: I hope. If I made any mistakes please tell me.
CB: That’s alright. Yeah.
LBSG: I don’t know, where were we? Do I need to go -
CB: So this was on the second raid.
LBSG: I finished with that.
CB: Yes.
LBSG: And the third raid sank it.
CB: Yes the third raid sank it.
LBSG: Yeah. It was a repeat of the second. There’s no point going through it all again.
CB: No. Ok.
LBSG: Right. Now, what else?
CB: So after that what did you do?
LBSG: I’ll have to get my logbook out to find out.
CB: Ok. But in principal after you’d done the Tirpitz there was nothing else to do there.
CB: But you were a precision bombing squadron so -
LBSG: Yes. Yes.
CB: What were you focusing on mainly then?
LBSG: Well we always had a particular target rather than area bombing but there weren’t many terribly specialised targets like the dams or the Tirpitz but we did what we were told to do and, I hope, successfully. We did have a shot at the Mohne, and Eder or Sorpe.
CB: Sorpe.
LBSG: Sorpe dams but with no result. We had Tallboys and they were absolutely not fit for the job. It was just a shot in the dark I think but we never did any damage. Or very appreciable damage.
CB: It was too soft.
LBSG: Yes, I imagine. Yes.
CB: Because it was an earth dam.
LBSG: It wasn’t the right bomb and it was built, I think the dam, the Mohne and the Sorpe were built in different ways, I think. I don’t know.
CB: Well the Sorpe’s an earthwork dam.
LBSG: Yes. Yeah. That’s right. Yes.
CB: So it absorbs -
LBSG: Yeah.
CB: The impact.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: Explosion.
LBSG: I don’t know. I can tell you about -
CB: So did you go on to U-boat target pens?
LBSG: Oh yes. Yes.
CB: So was that immediately after that?
LBSG: I’d better get my –
CB: Well we’ll stop for a mo anyway shall we?
LBSG: Yes. Yes.
[machine pause]
LBSG: I think October the 29th
CB: So we’re talking about the Tirpitz now.
LBSG: Yeah.
CB: And the date of your, the third attempt to get it.
LBSG: Second. Second attempt.
CB: Second attempt.
LBSG: I was in hospital for the third one.
CB: Ok. So that was what date?
LBSG: 29th of October 1944.
CB: Right. Ok.
LBSG: 29th. 30th because -
CB: Yeah. Overnight. Yeah.
LBSG: We weren’t we were talking about something else weren’t we?
CB: No. No but it’s just to put that into context.
CB: Because it can go back.
LBSG: What do you want me to say?
CB: Yes. And so on the first raid you did what was the date of that? On the Tirpitz sortie.
LBSG: Yes. The first raid that I carried out -
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: Was, on the Tirpitz was on October the 29th
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: 1944.
CB: Right. And then the next one. The second one you did.
LBSG: I was in hospital so I didn’t go.
CB: You didn’t do the next one.
LBSG: I didn’t do the next one.
CB: No.
LBSG: Unfortunately.
CB: Right ok. So after the Tirpitz.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: Then what did you do?
LBSG: Well it’s what -
CB: What sorties did you, were they, because you were precision bombing all the time -
LBSG: Yes. Well we went, after the Tirpitz we went after various dams. The earth dam.
CB: Oh yeah.
LBSG: At Heimbach.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: And then the E&R boat pens at Ijmuiden in Holland and then -
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: It was quite a long night trip in December 1944 to Perlitz which is Stettin.
CB: Ok.
LBSG: To destroy the synthetic oil plant there.
CB: Right.
LBSG: To deny the Germans fuel for their aircraft and tanks and anything else.
CB: Yes.
LBSG: And that was a long trip. It was, it took twelve hours and fifty and thirty five minutes.
CB: There and back.
LBSG: There and back.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: Yes. Sorry. Erase that.
CB: Ok.
LBSG: That was, it took nine hours and twenty five minutes at night.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: It was a night trip.
CB: Ok. And on the long night trips what did you do when you got hungry? Did you take food with you?
LBSG: Well we were supplied with food and coffee but -
CB: What would that be?
LBSG: But I can never remember eating anything.
CB: Oh really.
LBSG: I may have drunk some coffee. I think on the way back from the Tirpitz I did but I don’t think I ate anything at the time because we had, we had something to eat obviously before we left but there was nobody to fly the aircraft if I was going to sit there drinking coffee and having a sandwich. Of course there was one pilot and of course no autopilot.
CB: No.
LBSG: So if I decided to let go of the controls it wouldn’t be a very good idea. There was nobody else to fly it.
CB: And so after -
LBSG: People did of course. They could, you could sup coffee and you could eat a sandwich but I never really, I had coffee I think but never, never took, never had a sandwich I don’t think.
CB: And what height were you normally flying?
LBSG: I can tell, it varied. Up to eighteen thousand feet. We flew anything between twelve or fourteen and eighteen thousand feet.
CB: Are we talking about a mixture of free flowing bombs or only Tallboys?
LBSG: I’m talking about only Tallboys.
CB: Right. Ok. So in that case you needed to be a certain height for them -
LBSG: Yes. That’s right. We did. Yes.
CB: To reach the speed that was needed didn’t you?
LBSG: And we needed to be, have I mentioned it, needed the correct air speed to be flown.
CB: No. So what, so tell us the envelope you were operating.
LBSG: Well I -
CB: So the airspeed -
LBSG: I’m fairly sure, without knowing, because we were just given the bombing heights.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: That we never, we certainly never bombed less than sixteen to eighteen thousand feet.
CB: Right. And -
LBSG: Are we being recorded?
CB: Yeah.
CB: And what airspeed would you be going, roughly?
LBSG: A hundred and twenty five I suppose. I don’t –
CB: A bit more than that.
LBSG: What with the bomb doors open?
CB: Right. That’s what I’m asking. Yeah. So you approach, what sort of speed would you cruise first of all? On the way out say. Would you -
LBSG: I don’t know.
CB: Set it at a hundred and eighty or -
LBSG: No. Pardon me. A hundred and eighty miles an hour.
CB: Yeah. Or not?
LBSG: I just cannot remember. I’m sorry.
CB: It doesn’t matter. The reason I’m asking the question -
LBSG: That’s rather fast by the sound of it but it wasn’t –
CB: I’m just getting a feel for -
LBSG: Yeah.
CB: What happens in terms of going out there?
LBSG: Yeah.
CB: And then do you change speed when you’re, because you’re doing such precision bombing.
LBSG: Yes, you, well -
CB: Do you have a different speed that is lower, faster or what?
LBSG: Well when the bomb doors are open of course it slows the aircraft.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: But you do have to settle down on a speed and I can’t remember it.
CB: Ok.
LBSG: And we were supposed to be within fifty feet of height and five miles an hour airspeed.
CB: Right.
LBSG: And we all kept to that.
CB: Right.
LBSG: Without no doubt.
CB: So we’re talking about there’s a very -
LBSG: Precision bomb. Precision.
CB: Yes precision is very specific -
LBSG: Absolutely.
CB: On all these things.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: That are worked out in advance are they?
LBSG: Yes. [pause] No. Sorry they’re not worked out in advance. You have to fly within five miles an hour and of course it wasn’t nautical miles then it was miles per hour.
CB: Ok.
LBSG: Of airspeed and within fifty feet of height and the bomb aimer would be given a set of settings by the navigator so that he corrected for temperature and height and wind and so on as much as the navigator could do it all. Obviously -
CB: Right. Yeah.
VT: So you were just told what to -
LBSG: Yes I -
VT: The bomb aimer was telling you wasn’t he?
LBSG: I could have been an auto pilot really.
VT: Yeah. Yeah.
LBSG: And the important people were the bomb aimer and the navigator really.
CB: Yeah but you were actually translating those instructions into a very -
LBSG: Yes I was but yeah.
CB: Specific held, tightly held speed and height.
LBSG: Oh you had to yes.
CB: So there was a skill in that that was greater than normal bombing.
LBSG: Yes but that’s why you were on 617 squadron.
CB: Exactly.
LBSG: Are we being recorded?
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: Oh. Ok.
CB: That’s fine.
LBSG: Yeah. That’s why we were on 617 squadron. All of us.
CB: Yeah. Yeah
LBSG: Once we passed the test if you like.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: And of course if you weren’t up to scratch although I didn’t meet anybody who wasn’t but, but you could get kicked off and that would have been terrible for anybody.
CB: Yes.
LBSG: I mean you worked hard to stay, to stay on the squadron.
CB: Yes.
LBSG: There’s no doubt. Nobody wanted to leave it.
CB: No.
LBSG: Nobody.
CB: So how much by this time how much is daylight and how much is at night?
LBSG: At this time a lot more was in daylight although we trained for night bombing and we did, as I say, quite long trips. Nine hours and twenty five minutes to Stettin, Berlitz or, as an example. That’s quite a long trip of mine.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
LBSG: Yes. I don’t know the long –
CB: So what else have you got on your logbook there?
LBSG: Well, of interest on January the 12th 1945. Are we recording?
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
LBSG: We were briefed for a daylight on Bergen. The port.
CB: In Norway.
LBSG: Bergen in Norway yes. The port. And we had an escort of fighters but they had gone down, we were quite high on this occasion, we were, well we were always high, but, and they’d gone down to try and silence the ackack guns. There were an awful lot of them around the port and as they did so a m I think they were outside of a squadron of Focke Wulf 190s which was the latest or a mixture of that and the Messerschmitt but certainly there were a lot of fighters over the target and that was when Tony Iveson got shot up badly and he got a DFC for getting everything home. Although three of his crew baled out they weren’t, there was no communication, they thought, they’d been told to stand by and when they heard nothing else they thought that the thing had been shot up so badly so three of them baled out but you couldn’t blame them but two or three of them remained with Tony and they got the aircraft back. They used ropes to tie things up and it was an extraordinary feat and Tony Iveson put it down, I think it was certainly it was in the Shetlands or around there, one of the islands and he got an immediate DFC and certainly earned it. Certainly earned it. It’s a pity that his flight engineer who did so much towards helping Tony fly it because he couldn’t move the rudders by himself for example, he had to have an oppy sitting down there moving the rudders. The flight engineer. But anyhow there it was. I’m not criticising anybody I mean -
CB: No.
LBSG: It’s as they saw it. Not the crew. That’s how the command saw it.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
LBSG: And all the rest of it. But that was a dicey trip, Bergen. We were lucky to get away. I think we had three shot down altogether.
CB: Did you?
LBSG: Two or three yeah. Yes. Of course our fighters, they must have been Mustangs because Spitfires could never have made it to Bergen in Norway. They must have been Mustangs. And they went away and shot, went down and shot away the ackack and lo and behold these fighters came and really tried to make mincemeat of us. They did. Well obviously they did. We were lucky.
CB: It didn’t sound a very good tactic did it? You should have, they should have left some fighters up top.
LBSG: Well yeah.
CB: Anyway -
LBSG: Yes. I mean we weren’t told, we weren’t told about the fighter -
CB: No.
LBSG: What the fighter tactics were.
CB: After Bergen where did you go?
LBSG: Oh all over the place. Went to [?]
CB: Is that a port?
LBSG: That was the Midget U-boat pens.
CB: Oh yes.
LBSG: They were a great menace. And we did the Bielefeld Viaduct.
CB: Oh yes.
VT: Oh right.
LBSG: And it was the Beilefeld, yes it was the Bielefeld.
CB: We talked about Tallboys but did you also do Grand Slam?
LBSG: Yes, I, yes.
CB: Because that was Bielefield wasn’t it?
LBSG: I did. I dropped a Grand Slam. I was on, I think the second or third on the squadron. Not many were dropped altogether. Only forty one were made and certainly not that amount were dropped I don’t think.
CB: No.
LBSG: But anyhow I dropped a Grand Slam on the Arnsberg Viaduct in March 1945. Now, it was important for the winning of the war that all lines of communication were severed so our targets were viaducts, railway bridges which they are, ordinary bridges, railway lines and so on because that stopped them bringing up troops.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: And food and ammunition and all the rest of it. So lines of communication were certainly the target.
CB: So how did that do on that viaduct?
LBSG: Well yes. It -
CB: Brought it down.
LBSG: Yes it brought, but then look what they did with the dams. They had that up and working again in two or three weeks. They were masters at repairing things quickly.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: And then we went back and bombed it again but nevertheless they -
CB: It was disruptive.
LBSG: They were a pretty tough adversary. They were. And -
CB: Sure.
LBSG: Able to, they weren’t, they were not stolid. They were versatile in their thinking. If they needed something then that would be done in the order it was needed.
CB: So just for the background of people listening to this -
LBSG: Yeah.
CB: The Grand Slam is a twenty two thousand pound bomb.
LBSG: That’s right.
CB: What modification was there made to the aircraft and did the crew amount change when you did that?
LBSG: Yes. It did. Well it changed when we went to the Tirpitz. We only had five people I think. If you could pass me what I’ve written I could tell you.
CB: Ok.
LBSG: I know it but it would be much easier.
CB: Yeah. But just quickly on the, you had to take, did you lose -
LBSG: Be careful with that.
CB: The mid upper gunner when you were doing -
LBSG: No. No. I’ll have that back. Doing what?
CB: When you took a Grand Slam which member of the crew -
LBSG: Yes.
CB: Did you not take?
LBSG: The Grand Slam. One, two, three. No, we took, we took the, we took the gunners. We didn’t take the wireless op.
CB: Right.
LBSG: For some reason. We took the gunners and we, yes because they’re necessary in daylight but we did anyhow but sometimes we took even fewer. On the Tirpitz we took [pause] sorry about this.
CB: It’s ok. We’re just looking in the -
LBSG: Yeah.
CB: Logbook.
LBSG: Yeah. The Tirpitz. It was a full crew. No. I’m talking nonsense sorry. On the Tirpitz. Where am I? [pause]. Nothing. The Tirpitz. One, two, three there were five crew and not seven.
CB: Right.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: So you would have, we’re talking about Tallboys.
LBSG: Five not including me sorry.
CB: Yes.
LBSG: We left-
CB: So six. Yeah.
LBSG: We left behind the rear gunner. Yeah. Unless, we took one gunner. He may have filled the rear gunner’s position but I can tell you.
CB: Well the wireless operators were often -
LBSG: Hmmn?
CB: The wireless operators were often -
LBSG: Oh we took him.
CB: Wireless and gunner weren’t they?
LBSG: Yeah.
CB: Originally.
LBSG: We took the wireless op because he was, not that it helped much but he was getting winds which weren’t as good as we were getting. I relied, I had a wonderful navigator and I took his word on anything rather than having command winds sent to us by -
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
LBSG: Some Mosquito somewhere.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
LBSG: I was looking for something here. You asked me to check.
CB: Ok. We’re just going to -
LBSG: And I can’t remember it.
CB: Well, we’ll come back to that.
LBSG: Yeah.
VT: Is your logbook as alive today as it was when you wrote it?
LBSG: What?
VT: Your logbook.
LBSG: Yes.
VT: Is it as alive to you today?
LBSG: Yes as I wrote it and when we came back from a trip.
VT: Yeah.
LBSG: Yeah. It’s a bit fragile but you can have a look at it if you want to.
VT: Yeah.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: The interesting thing I think about the later times is what sort of targets you were talking about and what was the, the Grand Slam was used for a particular reason for a particular target.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: So what was that?
LBSG: Well I dropped mine on the viaduct.
CB: Yes.
LBSG: And that was a particular target but I suppose one Grand Slam certainly did make a mess. There’s no doubt about the targets but I can’t tell you the thinking behind it I’m afraid. I was a squadron pilot.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: I had no, I obeyed orders and took what I was told to take. Nobody discussed the theory of it with me or -
CB: Right. No. Quite.
LBSG: The tactics.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: Or anything else.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: The squadron commander knew but I didn’t.
CB: But the Tallboy was a big bomb in itself of twelve thousand pounds.
LBSG: That was a twelve thousand pound bomb. Yes.
CB: And had huge penetration as well.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: And so was and of course the twenty two thousand pound was a huge one. There were only, I think, forty one made and I believe I was certainly the third or fourth on the squadron to drop one.
CB: Right. Well they worked.
LBSG: We dropped them. Hmmn?
CB: Yeah. They worked.
LBSG: Yeah. But a massive thing. And we did have an undercarriage, different undercarriage. I think we had -
CB: To get a greater height.
LBSG: We had, I think it was a Lincoln. I just, that’s what I wanted this for. Have a look.
CB: You were –
LBSG: Oh the Grand Slam. Yes. Just a sec. Yes, if you, are you interested?
CB: Yes.
LBSG: Well for the Grand Slam the Lincoln undercarriage was fitted rather than our own. They’d allowed for the increased weight.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: The mid upper and front turret were removed.
CB: Yes.
LBSG: That’s the gunners or one gunner at least and the wireless operator’s equipment and the wireless operator himself so we had a pretty skeleton crew when we -
CB: Simply because the bomb was so heavy.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: They needed to save -
LBSG: Well -
CB: Weight.
LBSG: Yes. The other thing that came out was the armour plating -
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: And that -
CB: Behind you -
LBSG: And the pilot’s union didn’t like that because we had armour plating behind us. However, it was all taken out and the ammunition load was reduced so we couldn’t, yeah, there we are and it was all to save weight. The bomb doors were removed and they were replaced with fairings and a chain link strop with an electromechanical mechanism release was fitted to hold the Grand Slam in place.
CB: Right.
LBSG: And the electric, electromechanical release worked very well. You could hear it. I know it sounds strange but you actually heard it go, in the air, eighteen thousand feet.
CB: Right. So you are at eighteen thousand and you lose that, you drop it.
LBSG: Oh well –
CB: What happens to the aeroplane at that time?
LBSG: I’ll tell you what happened to the aeroplane. Although I was prepared for something the aeroplane just lifted up. That’s right. It lifted up.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: Like a lift. And my flight engineer who was sitting next to me said he heard a loud bang but I didn’t hear that. I think I was occupied wondering what was going to happen to the aeroplane. There was no -
CB: When you -
LBSG: The great thing about the war was these days you’d be on a course for everything but they just did all these modifications and put all these things on and nobody said even about the take-off run because nobody knew so it was all down to us but then we were on 617 squadron and supposed, we were all there because we would be, we had to be able to cope with these things.
CB: So you were stationed where?
LBSG: At Woodhall Spa.
CB: And when you flew with the Grand Slam -
LBSG: Yes.
CB: Did you use the standard runway?
LBSG: Oh yes. Yes.
CB: So what was the difference in the run needed for Grand Slam compared with using a Tallboy?
LBSG: There wasn’t too much difference. It was a longer run, take off run and it was a bit slower on the climb and I think the flight engineer said he saw the wings bend a bit more than they usually do but I don’t know but it was certainly a longer take off run obviously and it was much slower on, well much, it was slower on the climb but once you got going it was, the Lancaster was an absolutely superb aircraft. You could do anything with it. Is this being recorded?
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Yes. So what other, so how many, how many raids are we, so operations so far?
LBSG: Oh well. Tirpitz was, I mentioned, I mentioned Bergen haven’t I? That was –
CB: Yes. Then the viaduct.
LBSG: And the viaduct. Yes and the synthetic oil plant I mentioned.
CB: Yes.
LBSG: But I ought to mention -
CB: Did you do -
LBSG: If I can find it in the right place where we were escorted by an ME262 fighter.
CB: Oh were you?
LBSG: Which really put a bit of a jerk into us as you can imagine. I’m just trying to -
CB: Was he being aggressive or just curious?
LBSG: Well I’ll tell you about it. I’ll just find out when it was.
CB: Ok.
LBSG: And I will tell you. [pause] Oh dear. Sorry. Do you mind the pause?
CB: No. I’ll pause it.
[machine pause]
CB: So we’re talking about the 262.
LBSG: Yes. We were briefed for a daylight raid on the docks and installations at Hamburg. The port of Hamburg and we carried out the bombing run and, [pause] let me find the right one.
CB: This is on Hamburg.
LBSG: Yeah.
CB: Yes
LBSG: I’m looking for the one with the 262.
CB: Ah. Well we’ll just pause it again.
LBSG: Yeah.
[machine pause]
CB: Right we’re restarting now.
LBSG: Yes. I hope this is the one. On the 9th of April we were briefed for a daylight on the docks and installations at Hamburg and we did drop our Tallboy. There was a hang up and unfortunately it didn’t hit the target but went into the port area and I think probably some of the housing which we could do nothing about and on that occasion there were jet aircraft sent up to intercept us and we were fortunate we didn’t get intercepted. However, on the way back I was horrified when my, when my flight engineer who was always sitting next to me in the dickie seat nudged me in the ribs and went like this and I looked out and it all looked normal so I shrugged my shoulders and he nudged me harder and went like that to indicate look outside and I looked outside and I was absolutely horrified to see a Messerschmitt 262 in formation with us if you please. Which, to say the least, is a bit unusual. Now, he had cannon that could open fire three or four hundred yards before our tiny 303s even hit the synchronisation point and so we were, I mean we were helpless and he, he was there. He didn’t, there was no friendly wave and we stared at each other and my flight engineer looked at him as well and suddenly he disappeared as quickly as he’d come.
CB: So he was out of ammo.
LBSG: Well hang on.
CB: Ah.
LBSG: When we got back we mentioned it and Tony Langston who was a navigator in the aircraft behind us, he said, ‘Oh it was you was it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah. What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Well, we’d been attacked by the 262 and he opened fire on us and he got nowhere near us and he left us,’ and he said, ‘So it must have been you he formated on to have a look.’ Of course I was all ready to do the 5 group corkscrew and I don’t know what to get away from him but he just sat there and he wasn't, he couldn’t possibly fire at me while he was in good formation with me and it wasn’t much chance of a mid-upper shooting him down. I mean, I don’t think we had a mid-upper then. Just a sec, I think we only had the rear gunner. Can you -
CB: Ok.
LBSG: Wait?
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: Sorry.
[machine pause]
LBSG: We shoot at him.
CB: Right so -
LBSG: Sorry.
CB: Just repeat that. So you didn’t, on this particular time when the 262 came along beside you there was no mid upper turret operating.
LBSG: No. We had, there was no way we could shoot at him. We had one gunner and we’d have shot at ourselves I think if we’d tried. He probably could see that. Well he just sat there and then disappeared.
CB: How long was that for?
LBSG: To me it was about five hours but I think it was about thirty, about a minute, yes. Well I was just waiting for him to start an attack and I was getting all ready to do a 5 group corkscrew and all the other things but I don’t think we’d have stood much chance against him frankly. Anyhow, when we landed you were debriefed by the intelligence officer and I told him this and Tony Langston happened to hear me talking about it. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘He went to you did he?’ I said, ‘Well yes.’ Apparently, he’d attacked Tony Langston’s aircraft. I think it was flown by Flying Officer Joplin, Arthur Joplin and although he’d shot at them he didn’t shoot the aeroplane down which was extraordinary and I only, can only assume he must have been a very young -
VT: Rookie.
LBSG: New pilot who’d gone through a crash course towards the end of the war and really were just firing the guns and of course he didn’t do any damage.
VT: This was quite late on then was it?
LBSG: Yes. I’ve just given you the date.
VT: Yeah.
CB: 9th of April.
LBSG: Yeah. Yeah. And well thank goodness he didn’t do it.
VT: Yeah.
LBSG: I mean, he could have shot us both out of the sky without any trouble.
CB: Thirty millimetre cannon. Yeah.
VT: I suppose given the situation and what was the potential in the situation that you didn’t really have any thoughts about the 262 at that moment.
LBSG: Well -
VT: About its –
LBSG: What I was thinking of, ‘What shall I do?’ Because he was there and while he was on the starboard wing he couldn’t do any damage.
VT: Yeah.
LBSG: But if he peeled off and we could see he was going to attack I would have to try and do a 5 group corkscrew -
VT: Yeah.
LBSG: Which we were told to do. I don’t know what the success rate is.
CB: Ok. Just on that topic.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: Could you just describe what was the 5 group corkscrew?
LBSG: Yes. Certainly.
CB: How it worked. So –
LBSG: Well -
CB: You instigate it.
LBSG: The 5 group corkscrew was -
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: If you were attacked by an enemy aircraft you did something called a 5 group corkscrew. And that was from where you were you’d dive, rolling to the right and then after a few hundred feet you’d dive, continue to dive but roll to the left and then you would climb rolling to the right and you continue climbing and roll to the left. Now that’s a 5 group corkscrew and as you did, from the time you commenced the corkscrew you told the rear gunner what you were doing and you knew what deflection, this is theory, he knew what deflection he should be allowing for on his machine guns. So that was our defence and I don’t, I don’t know, fortunately I don’t know if it would ever work. Other people would have found out but they’d probably been shot down. You’ve got an agile twin jet fighter after you and you’ve got a big four engine.
VT: Yeah.
LBSG: Petrol, I mean fuel, you know.
VT: Yeah.
LBSG: We weren’t jet we were the old fashioned engine.
CB: Piston. Yeah.
LBSG: Hmmn?
CB: Piston.
LBSG: Piston engine. Yeah. Wonderful aeroplane. Wonderful engines. I’ve no criticism there but they were a step, a hundred steps ahead of us with jet engines but we got away with it.
VT: What did you know at that time about the 262?
LBSG: Very little.
VT: Very little. Had you seen them before?
LBSG: Very little. Hmmn?
VT: Had you seen them before?
LBSG: Not in -
VT: No.
LBSG: Not in anger. No.
VT: No.
LBSG: We were attacked by jets over Hamburg and I suppose there must have been 262s amongst them but we were on the bombing run and you –
VT: Yeah.
LBSG: You just, you just had to stay on the bombing. There was no, excuse at all. You wouldn’t last five minutes on the squadron if you didn’t.
CB: We’ve covered a lot of stuff you’ve done.
LBSG: Yeah.
CB: So when did you finish the tour?
LBSG: I can tell you that. Well I waited until the end of the war. I’d already finished the tour. Thirty operations.
CB: When did that happen?
LBSG: Well it was right at the end of the war I think and I opted to stay, to stay on the squadron. Hang on a second please.
[machine pause]
LBSG: I did my last operation on the 25th of April 1945 and that was against Berchtesgaden. The Eagle’s Nest.
CB: Ok.
LBSG: And that was my, but by that time I’d done thirty trips. That was a tour of, tour of ops.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: But I was staying on. I didn’t want to leave the squadron.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: I didn’t know the war was going to end.
CB: Ok.
LBSG: So I‘d opted to stay on the squadron.
CB: Oh right. Which would have been another thirty if the war had continued.
LBSG: Oh no I mean, the war had, the next month, in May the war stopped.
CB: No. No. If the war had continued you would have done -
LBSG: Well -
CB: Thirty. Would you? By signing on for that?
LBSG: Well yes. Yes but on 617 squadron you weren’t time expired after thirty ops.
CB: Ah.
LBSG: On main force you were automatically but you went on on thirty, squadron, to any number of ops. There was no limit on thirty. No limit to thirty. I mean -
CB: No.
VT: So you -
LBSG: On the squadron. We could go on as long as the CO would put up with us and -
VT: So you would have gone on for leave.
LBSG: I would –
VT: And then -
LBSG: Well no I would have gone on if the war hadn’t finished. I would have gone on.
VT: Yes. Yes. So you would have had leave after that thirty.
LBSG: No. I wouldn’t because it was 617. Normally -
VT: You would have just continued on ops.
LBSG: Yes.
VT: Yeah.
LBSG: Normally, on main force, after thirty ops you had, you were rested. You automatically, you were -
CB: Yes.
LBSG: Posted and you became an instructor on something or other.
CB: Right. Ok so how much longer did you continue with 617?
LBSG: Good question that. I will tell you. I should have said. May the 10th ’45.
CB: Right. Two days after the end of the war.
LBSG: Yeah because they posted and I went, well yes I went into what would have, was going to be Transport Command. It wasn’t then of course and I think with another chap we flew the first two sorties that Transport Command ever did I think. What was the beginning. Hang on a sec. I’ll -
CB: So you were posted somewhere quite different then?
LBSG: Oh yeah. Well I was posted to Leconfield.
CB: Right.
LBSG: And then, I mean, oh at Leconfield it was awfully, we had nothing to do at all and so I went to the, there was a Halifax squadron there and I went to the CO of the squadron and asked him if I could be checked out on a Halifax because we were doing nothing all day and my crew, well one or two of the members of the crew I had left came with me and he said yeah and he, you know checked me out on a Halifax and I said, ‘Can I go on flying?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, if you want to,’ and before I knew it I was flying bigwigs around Germany showing them all the -
CB: Cooks tours.
LBSG: Yeah the Cooks tour of Germany. And it suited me, I was doing some flying. So that’s how I came to fly Halifaxes. And of course I’d flown Stirlings at OT, heavy conversion bombing unit and then when the war ended, I’ll see here flew, yes I did a bit of Fairey flying. Where was this? Stirling. Here we are I think. Stirling flying. Yes. I was posted to, oh dear, another I was posted to, what was I doing?
CB: After Leconfield.
LBSG: Oh 31. 51 squadron I think. Yeah. 51 squadron.
CB: Oh right. At Skellingthorpe.
LBSG: Hmmn?
CB: They were at Waddington by then.
LBSG: I’m not sure. I don’t know if they were.
CB: They were Skelly oh.
LBSG: This is what I was talking about. September ‘45.
CB: Ok.
LBSG: And August.
CB: Otherwise Skellingthorpe.
LBSG: August ’45.
CB: Yeah.
LBSG: And I did the, what did we do? We did some, yes another chap and myself, called Saunders I think, we were the first to, what was the beginning of Transport Command. We, we could fly Stirlings so we went, we did a sort of proving flight out to Castel Benito if I remember correctly. Yes. And then did some, I don’t know, must have taken freight or something I don’t know. Anyhow, we went, I did quite a bit of flying on the way out to [Shima?] Maripur in Stirlings.
CB: So 51 squadron was on Stirlings was it?
LBSG: Well it must have been.
CB: Was this 51?
LBSG: Yeah. 51, it must have been. Yeah. And we did all sorts of things on Stirlings. Yes, we, I did quite a few hours afterwards on Stirlings. I’ve just realised that and we carried, believe it or not, twenty four passengers. That was all in the Stirling. Of course there was nowhere to put them except in the middle we were all, have you seen the inside of a Stirling? It’s like a submarine. You’ve got these big wheels. If the engineer wanted to change the fuel tanks he had to go halfway down the fuselage with these massive wheels and well it was just like a submarine really. They built them as submarines. And when you, when you took off, as part of the engineer’s duty as soon as you retracted the undercarriage which was like a bailey bridge, they were really, he had to go and check, there was a meter which showed you the amount of revs and each undercarriage and the twin tail wheel, twin tail wheel they had to be within five revolutions of the set figure given when they were retracted [coughs], excuse me, and if they weren’t then you were supposed to go back and land. What you did was you put it down and brought it up again in the hope, because the last thing you wanted to do you’d gone through all the trouble of getting airborne in a Stirling and then to find the undercarriage rev counter had stopped working so we never never had a boomerang for that. Never. But the tail wheel also had a, but it was extraordinary you had to go and check the rev counters to make sure. It was like a bailey bridge going up and down really. Extraordinary. The Stirling was a nice aeroplane to fly.
CB: Was it?
LBSG: It was and I did quite a bit of flying on it out to India and back with passengers. Shaibah. Lida. Cairo.
CB: This was –
LBSG: Went to Cairo.
VT: when you mention the Cooks tour. I’m just thinking for the tape should you not explain something about that? And also -
CB: Ok so -
VT: Who were the bigwigs.
CB: So what people were these bigwigs that you took on the Cooks tours?
LBSG: Well I think they were generals and admirals and air marshals and other probably highly placed civil servants and of course to see anything they had to stand behind you or look out of what windows there were. After all it was a Halifax. It was a bomber not a sightseeing aeroplane [laughs].
CB: No.
LBSG: But they didn’t mind. They stood there and of course there were all these devastated cities.
CB: So what height were you?
LBSG: It was a horror to see.
CB: Yes. What height were you flying?
LBSG: Oh pretty low for them to see. Well high enough for them to have an overall view but not up, not very high.
CB: No. What sort of height are we talking about?
LBSG: Oh a few thousand feet I think.
CB: Ok.
LBSG: Yeah. We might come down lower to show them a specific thing but it was really, when I think about it horrifying. These huge cities. But it was great going to Cologne because everything was ruined except the cathedral and that was, and I am sure that was by sheer luck. I am sure. Because we were never briefed don’t hit the cathedral and at night I mean [ ?] I think it was sheer luck but anyhow it reflected greatly on the RAFs reputation and we’ve kept it that way. I’m sure you can’t blame, oh.
CB: Yes. That’s right.
LBSG: Oh no. Please.
CB: That’s fine.
LBSG: Oh no.
CB: We can wipe it.
LBSG: Oh yeah that little bit please.
CB: Right, so -
LBSG: Just -
CB: So -
LBSG: Just -
CB: So we were talking about Cooks tours.
LBSG: Yeah.
CB: It’s about people who were -
LBSG: Bigwigs.
CB: Being shown -
LBSG: Yes.
CB: The effect of -
LBSG: Yes. Of the bombing.
CB: Of the bombing.
LBSG: On Germany.
CB: Strategy yeah. So what do you want me to say then?
LBSG: Yeah that’s just to explain. You’ve just said it yeah.
CB: The Cooks tour in the Halifax was for bigwigs and top ranking officers to show them how accurate the bombing had been and how right the RAF strategy was.
CB: Ok. That’s fine. Good.
VT: Wonderful.
CB: So just tell us about the crew then. So you had the same crew all the time did you?
LBSG: Yes. I had the same crew throughout -
CB: On the 617.
LBSG: My operational flying. I think I explained that we picked each other at random but it always seemed to work out. Very rarely did it, did it not work out and I had a splendid crew and they supported me all the way through.
CB: What mixture of nationalities were they?
LBSG: Well at that time they were all British but one was a Welshman. I suppose he didn’t, wouldn’t like me to call him, he’d like me to call him Welsh now but he was he was a rear gunner. The rest, yes, were all British. Were all English. But in those days they were all British.
CB: And the crew themselves at work, rest and play was it?
LBSG: Yes.
CB: So you did everything together.
LBSG: Not everything but we were pretty well bonded together.
CB: So what was the rank range? So you were by then -
LBSG: Flight lieutenant.
CB: What rank? Right.
LBSG: And -
CB: Any other officers -
LBSG: I had -
CB: In the crew?
LBSG: I think I had a flight, I think Tony Hayward, the bomb aimer, I’m not sure if he’d been promoted to flight lieutenant by then. The navigator was a flying officer. Tony Hayward was either a flying officer or flight lieutenant and the rest of the crew were sergeants or flight sergeants and became warrant officers as well.
CB: Yeah. Ok. Thank you. We’re going to stop there and -
LBSG: I’m glad to hear that.
CB: Pick up things later. Isn’t that amazing?
VT: Oh yeah. Terrific. Terrific.
LBSG: What?
CB: So that was really good Benny.
LBSG: Hmmn?
CB: That’s really good.
LBSG: You’re being nice to me there.
VT: No. No. No. No. No.
CB: I’m trying to be because I want to be able to come back. [laughs]
LBSG: Yeah. Certainly. Well I mean -
CB: Oh no. This is really good. I’m serious. Now the point here really is that we are going to read that. We’re rushing off because we’ve laboured you a lot but also -
LBSG: Oh that’s alright.
CB: We need to get back.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: And I’m coming down here again shortly ‘cause I want to go to Crowthorne and a ninety six year old lady whose husband is suffering from dementia -
LBSG: Oh dear.
CB: The last eight years and is now in a home but she was on intelligence at -
LBSG: Was she at -
CB: At Driffield.
LBSG: Oh Driffield, not on, was it -
CB: And, and later, later at Linton on Ouse.
LBSG: Yes.
CB: And she spent three and a half years at Linton on Ouse.
LBSG: But she wasn’t at the, where am I?
VT: Bletchley?
LBSG: Hmmn?
VT: Bletchley.
LBSG: Bletchley Park.
CB: No. No. No. No. She was a WAAF in the -
LBSG: Well there were lots of WAAFs there.
CB: Administration and cook.
LBSG: Yeah. She was a WAAF intelligence officer.
CB: Yeah. Not officer. Just -
LBSG: No WAAF on, yeah.
CB: She was asked -
LBSG: Well she’d have something to say. Things to tell you.
CB: They wanted to commission her twice but she refused because she wanted to be where the -
LBSG: Her mates.
CB: Where the action was. Yes. So thank you very much indeed.
LBSG: Well I’ll probably be -
CB: And –
LBSG: Talking, bored you to death.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Benny Goodman. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 12, 2024,

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