Interview with a navigator from 101 Squadron


Interview with a navigator from 101 Squadron


He was born in London and worked for some time as a clerk until joined up the Royal Air Force. He did not like the idea of serving in the Army or in the Navy but - as a Londoner - he was keen to take part in the war having experienced the Blitz. He trained in America as pilot, but failed and re-mustered as a navigator at Portage la Prairie, west of Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) where he learned astro navigation. Back in England, he crewed up RAF Wymeswold, then trained on Lancasters at RAF Blyton before being posted to 101 Squadron. They were joined by an additional crew member who spoke German and could disrupt night fighters radio communication. During his first operation he saw the target with all bomb flashes and exclaimed: 'bloody hell' - he never left his post to see the effects of a bombing until his last trip. One of his tasks was to note every aircraft shot down, as communicated by the pilot: these pieces of intelligence were then combined as to ascertain where the aircraft were lost. He remembered how they survived a mid-air collision, but the other crew did not; and another incident in which they lost an engine and his pilot, had to decide whether or not they should go on. Retells how the Germans salvaged Gee equipment from crashed aircraft and were able to jam it; the last reliable Gee signal was picked up near the French coast. He recollects that a flight engineer couldn’t cope with pressure when they lost the engine: he panicked and laid on the floor for the whole time. They had to replace him with another one. He ascribed survival to both camaraderie and sheer luck, which includes mascots. He had a little doll inside his battledress, and their Canadian rear gunner used to bring two beer bottles so that he could ‘bomb’ the target himself. One time, since he did not have the beer bottles, the station commander himself went back to the mess so that he could have his beer bottles with him, and he was happy that he could bomb Germany. He said that some reacted in different ways to operations: even if the opertions took a heavy toll on them, this did not automatically equate to lack of moral fibre. Their flight engineer wasn’t a case of that, if he was, he would have had his stripes torn off his uniform while being marched away. He himself, the German speaker special operator, and the wireless operator felt less stressed, being busy all the time inside the aircraft. On the contrary, the rest of the crew could see the operation unfold in front of their eyes. He mentioned an operation to Nuremberg in which they lost a quarter of the squadron. They lost the most experienced crews, who were at their twenty-ninth or thirtieth trip, because of friendly fire. He recollects a corporal serving as ground crew: he was very close to him and to the rest of the crew. He never wanted to be promoted as this would have meant being separated from ‘his’ aircraft. Losses were so high that he could not afford the luxury of befriending other crews. He stressed that he was ‘an individual only when he was attending briefings’, then he became part of his crew. While not on operational flights he took part in fighter affiliation exercises in which they simulate combat situations. He points out the sense of belonging despite individual differences: the pilot a ‘Geordie’, the engineer from Lancashire, the bomb aimer from Birmingham, he himself from London, the wireless operator from Wales, the mid upper gunner from Lancashire, the special operator from Norfolk and the rear gunner from Canada. He did not consider himself a hero, but merely did his job in an impersonal way - bombing Germany was bombing the enemy. Despite having lost relatives during the Blitz, he did not have hatred: that was war. In a total war, the distinction between civilians and combatants fades. After the war, he realised how many people achieved nothing and wasted their lives.




Temporal Coverage




01:00:24 audio recording


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CB: So it’s rolling now and my name is Chris Brockbank and I’m conducting an interview with [name redacted] and he wishes to remain anonymous when the recording is lodged, and we are at his home which is near Scunthorpe and we’re going to talk about his career in general but specifically the wartime activities and today is the 7th of September 2015. [redacted] could you start by saying where you come from and what your early life was and how you came to join the RAF, and then your history from there please?
AN: I was born in London and after education I spent a time in the city of London as a clerk cum secretary initially to a Lloyds underwriter, and after that to a shipping company and from there I volunteered for the RAF. Didn’t like the idea of the army or the navy but as a Londoner I wanted to get into the war having experienced the Blitz. I was taken on, on the PNB scheme and went first of all to America for pilot training with the United States Air Force, which I failed as many people did, and I was given the option to re-muster to navigator. I went to Portage La Prairie west of Winnipeg and when we started there we were told the important thing for a navigator was to remain on track and we were also told that one important aim, rather one important aid, was astro-navigation using a sextant. I did the course at Portage La Prairie which I passed, came back to England having done a little astro-navigation in the air but on the ground we were required to take hundreds of shots and plot them out for the instructors to check to make sure we hadn’t cooked them and then after that I came back to England, went to RAF Melham? where I did more flying once again no astro-navigation because as newcomers to this aid we had to be precise and this took time, and if you’re flying around the UK it’s short legs, it’s short legs and you haven’t got time to do astro-navigation and so I had my course at Melham? and then with a lot of other newly qualified aircrew I went to Wymeswold where one important thing we were told was that a good aircrew was a good team and we then went into a big room where we were told ‘crew up’ and so we stood around whilst the pilots picked us out and Rusty picked me and then together we picked our bomb aimer, our wireless operator and a gunner. We did our flying from Wymeswold and Castle Donington and then after that we [loud crackling noise].
CB: Just dropped it, we’re okay.
AN: After this we proceeded to Blyton where we converted from the Wellington which we’d trained on at Wymeswold to the Lancaster, at the same time we also picked up an engineer and a second gunner so we were now a crew of seven. Having done our course, once again including night flying but very little navigation we were then posted to 101 Squadron. We knew nothing about the squadron and we arrived to find that instead of getting H2S, a map reading radar to help with the navigation, instead we’d picked up an eighth crew member who spoke German and so was able to jam the German instructions to their night fighters. Also, once again it was stressed to us about staying on track, there being safety in numbers, also the question of timing. Bomber Harris didn’t want aids to be, the bombing to be in bits he wanted a complete termination of the target if you like and so we had to keep to timing that we were given and at the same time this meant that we had, we were spaced throughout the attack and this gave coverage to every, the whole Bomber Force against the night fighters or so it was thought. The other thing we found was that while we were at Wymeswold and Blyton we were introduced to a lovely aid called Gee, where you counted blips on a screen and converted this on special charts to latitude and longitude, but when we got to 101 Squadron we found the Germans had found Gee equipment on crashed aircraft and they were jamming the signals so our last Gee signal, our last reliable fix, was going to be round about the French coast, so we needed to get to height as soon as possible so we got a chance of getting a reliable wind because when we went to briefing, the navigation briefing for an operation we were given the forecast weather, the forecast winds, but bear in mind the forecast winds were based on what the meteorologists knew about the weather in the UK plus information sent back by Coastal Command from the North Atlantic patrols which [laughs] didn’t give you much. So it meant that once we got flying and got past the Gee stage where we had long legs we had time to practise, to use astro- navigation. If there was cloud cover and we couldn’t use astro then the next fix we were going to get would be when the bomb aimer said ‘Bombs gone’ so we needed if possible to get a fix in between to get some idea most importantly of whether we were on track and secondly that things were, we were also on time. So it meant that when we got into the bombing area and the bomb aimer said ‘Bombs gone’ I had to work quick to reset my equipment to get an accurate wind to use on the way back. Now there is a funny story goes with this. As I say I was kept busy but on our first trip the skipper asked me to come up front to have a look at the target to see, and so I saw all these bomb flashes and the flak and everything and my comment was ‘Bloody hell’ and I went back into my office and I never came out to look at a bombing, as a target, until my last trip. The other job I also had to do was that the captain would report to me when he saw an aircraft being shot down which I recorded, and I think that all these reports were combined after the war to ascertain as far as possible where aircraft were lost. I’ll have to stop and think for a minute, yes, I’ve already said to you I don’t look upon myself as a hero, I was doing a job. These are my thoughts, also why did we survive a tour when other crews didn’t? Well I like to think my navigation helped but in all honesty we got through because of luck. We had an in-flight collision, we survived the other crew didn’t. Also we lost an engine on one occasion and Rusty had to decide whether or not we should go on. This is where we had a bit of a hiccup, at Blyton we picked up an engineer. When we flew round the UK he seemed okay, but he couldn’t cope with operational flying and on the occasion when we lost an engine instead of being able to give Rusty advice on whether we could carry on to the target or not he was lying on the floor and it was a case we had to get rid of him, and in his place we got a very good engineer which also helped. In the same way we survived fighter attacks, we had good gunners, the thing is we were a crew but we were a team. We relied on each other and we trusted each other. In the year that I flew with Rusty never once did he ever query a heading I gave him or a change of speed I gave him, he trusted me implicitly and this is how our crew operated, we relied on each other and this plus luck is why we were able to finish a tour. Right, after I finished my tour I went instructing back at Wymeswold and whilst I was there Wymeswold was taken over by Transport Command and I spent a lot of my years until I retired in Transport Command. I became an A category navigator which meant that I was qualified for up to royalty. I carried, in my capacity as a navigator, various persons like Field Marshal Montgomery, I was part of a back-up crew when the Duke of Edinburgh visited Borneo, this was it, I enjoyed Transport Command, it was hard work you did a lot of flying but you saw a lot of the world in bits. I say in bits because if you went somewhere you were allowed twelve hours on the ground which included sleeping, eating, briefing. Didn’t have time to see anywhere but when on Britannias we slipped crews so therefore you had about a twenty-four hour gap between legs so then if you wanted to you could go into the local area. Apart from my transport work I obviously had ground appointments like adjutants and things like that and also I finished up at Scampton where I was involved in the training of radar navigators for the Vulcan and also for, oh dear, the coastal fighter. Anyway can’t think what it was but we were training radar navigators and that’s where I finished my RAF career.
CB: Did you fly in the Nimrod?
AN: No, no, no it was the Buccaneer.
CB: The Buccaneer yes right, okay, we’ll pause for a moment.
AN: After the air force I spent six months playing golf then I got bored then I became a civil servant for ten years.
CB: Doing what?
AN: Clerical work and then I retired again. I think I’ve covered everything in a nutshell.
CB: You’ve covered it really well thank you. So shall we cover one or two other bits?
AN: Yes certainly.
CB: This business of LMF.
AN: Um hum.
CB: And the navigator, what happened to people, well first of all in the case of the navigator, what happened to him? I didn’t mean the navigator, I meant the flight engineer, your flight engineer what happened to him as a result of that?
AN: We never saw him again. He was off the station very quickly. I mean we don’t think he was LMF we think it was medical.
CB: Right.
AN: Now because if he’d been LMF, now I was, it was after I left the squadron, my wife told me about it the LMF parade where the person concerned is, marches on and his stripes are torn off his uniform and then he’s off the station. LMF, were they LMF? Who can tell? I mean that in all honesty I don’t think I ever worried about what would happen to us until I started going out with my wife. Then I had a reason for wanting to survive but until then, I can’t, I can’t speak for other crew members because that’s something you keep to yourself. We all, well I say all, we had little mascots, I had a little doll I had in my inside pocket of my battledress, you got, you got very, very, very how can I explain it, you, you, you things had to happen, people might fly in a silk scarf, these things went on. Now our Canadian rear gunner he always took two beer bottles with him so he could bomb the target himself. Now one night, the station commander used to come round and wish us all luck and the Canadian rear gunner told him he hadn’t got his beer bottles so the station commander went back to the mess and brought him two beer bottles so he went on the raid happy that he could bomb Germany.
CB: These little snippets are classic aren’t they but people were handling stress in different ways?
AN: Um.
CB: I think that the LMF bit one doesn’t want to overstate at the same time it is important to understand it and some people as you say perhaps had, weren’t feeling very well, and would react in a particular way and it wasn’t actually lacking moral fibre.
AN: Yes. You see, I mean in my case as a navigator, I was busy, I was busy all the time. I mean if I was in the middle of taking, I mean it was three astro sights to a fix. If I was in the middle of that and we hit bumpy weather or we were attacked by a fighter that was wasted time, had to start all over again so I was kept pretty busy, then had, I mean I hoped that when I took my three shots it would meet exactly in the middle, never happened you got a cocked hat. Provided this cocked hat wasn’t too large you could say ‘Right I’ll go for the middle of that cocked hat and I can trust that’ but I mean you had to take each case on its merits.
CB: But occasionally there would be a very high cloud top cover so what did you do then?
AN: Oh yes true, then all you could do was just hope.
CB: Um.
AN: You couldn’t do anything, and because I had no aids.
CB: But you were clearly skilled at using the equipment.
AN: Dead reckoning.
CB: Yes.
AN: But that was based on the winds the met office, the met can’t forecast weather now so. And of course one other thing when we talk about luck we were on the Nuremberg raid, the ninety-three aircraft.
CB: Yes.
AN: Well we lost a quarter of the squadron on that and amongst us the quarter of the squadron we lost was our most senior crew on their twenty-ninth or thirtieth trip. And how were they lost? They were shot down by a gunner in a Halifax aircraft who mistook the Lancaster for a night fighter.
CB: Crikey.
AN: Now the thing is.
CB: Savage irony.
AN: We were taught, right from the word go, that if the night fighter, if you saw a night fighter, if he wasn’t attacking you, ignore him, because if you fire on him you’re giving away your position.
CB: Yes.
AN: This is another bit of luck.
CB: Um, um. What happened to the crew in that case?
AN: They were all, one escaped, one evaded but the rest were killed.
CB: Um. Okay, now as I understand it from Rusty you had a curious experience of an explosion beneath the aircraft?
AN: Oh this was at Mailly-le-Camp.
CB: Yes. So that put you inverted?
AN: Well, I think Rusty is a little bit incorrect there.
CB: Right.
AN: Because if we had been upside down, or doing a slow roll I think he terms it, he tells everybody this, and I keep quiet. If we had inverted my sextant in its box would have been at the side of me. If he’d inverted the box would have gone up in the air and come down and clobbered me. I don’t recall a sextant clobbering me.
CB: Okay.
AN: That’s all I can say.
CB: Yes, okay. Now fighters chase you and the rear gunner says ‘Corkscrew’.
AN: Yes.
CB: How did you manage that situation as a navigator?
AN: Well as navigator I mean i just sat there and waited for all clear. I mean the thing is we had a, we had a number of attacks but only one where it persisted and we felt that the normal night fighter pilot he could have been new and if we took the correct action he’d go and find somebody else who was asleep. This particular one continued the attack and our gunner shot him down. [Chuckling] luck.
CB: Um. So you’re a special ops squadron, what was going on with your German speaker crew member?
AN: In what way?
CB: Well he sitting in the back?
AN: Yes.
CB: What was he actually doing and did you link in with it?
AN: Well the, as I say, our operators, who were ABC operators were spaced throughout the attack and I think they were given certain frequencies each to monitor. We didn’t know much about this because we only saw our special at briefing, he didn’t live with the rest of us, they were kept away from us in case they said if they talked in their sleep.
CB: Yes.
AN: And gave away secrets.
CB: Yes.
AN: So we knew nothing really of what he did, but he like me was lucky when we talk about being afraid. He, like me, was kept busy. The wireless operator was kept busy but all the rest were spending all their time looking out for fighters and seeing people shot down. I didn’t experience that, our special didn’t, the wireless operator didn’t ‘cause we were all kept busy doing our jobs and we were fortunate in that respect.
CB: And what was the wireless operator doing linking in with you?
AN: Well that he couldn’t help me as such but he was, he was listening out for, there were broadcasts at certain times, we had a classic case where it was, well Rusty was in London getting his uniform and we went to Berlin with the squadron commander, and this particular one we were going, we were coming in to Berlin from the north, from Denmark. The forecast wind was something like sixty-five miles an hour. They’d started then, certain aircraft were given the job of giving broadcast winds, which they were giving to us and so we were given something like eighty-five when I got a pinpoint on the Danish coast I reckoned it was a hundred and thirty, and we were coming into Berlin with the wind right behind us, and I had to say to the wing commander, ‘Do an orbit’, he did an orbit, I said ‘Flaps down, undercarriage down’, now normally speaking we had a system, when the bomber aimer said ‘Bombs gone’ the bomb doors were closed, Rusty put the nose down and we got the hell out of there. I had planned, I planned that, I loved that because it was a short run out of the target before you turned west. Too far, too short and you’re off track. In this instance the wing commander he was sitting down in his cockpit on instruments and we’re going through with nothing on the clock and I said to people afterwards, ‘How do I say to a wing commander for Pete’s sake let’s get the hell out of here?’ A bit of, looking back on it funny.
CB: Yes.
AN: But not at the time.
CB: No quite, because there’s a strict hierarchy?
AN: Um.
CB: So bombs have gone, then there’s the delay while you wait for the picture to be taken?
AN: For the picture to be taken yes.
CB: What was that like?
AN: It seemed a lot longer than it was but the thing is we had this short distance to run which took that into account, as I say and then we turned and by then hopefully I would have worked out a wind and the first thing I do, no sooner turned on a course, I’d give Rusty a new one to allow for where we were and what the wind was, or what I thought it was.
CB: So you’re over the target, you’ve dropped the bombs, the flash has gone and you’ve taken the picture. There are lots of planes around you so how do you take a new heading when there are so many, so close, how long before you change heading?
AN: Well, we wouldn’t change, we’d change heading when we got to the end of that particular leg out of the target.
CB: Right.
AN: It was a case in the same way we had our collision, it happened. Who’s to say how many aircraft collided with each other, and why did they? I mean the thing is this, that at night you can’t see much, this is what we relied on for our safety, the fact we were in the dark.
CB: Sure. Now you went on ops to do your thirty?
AN: Um.
CB: But you didn’t fly every night, so what did you do on the nights when you weren’t on operations?
AN: Well.
CB: And in the days?
AN: Well, the thing is first of all I mean we’d flown by night and we’ve come back at dawn, we’re ready for sleeping. It would all depend, I mean it might well be we were down for fighter affiliation or an air test or something, it could vary in the same way we might get back and they’d say ‘You’re on ops again tonight’ because being the special squadron we sometimes flew not with, we were 1 Group, but we might be flying with 5 Group, covering 5 Group from the fighters.
CB: So the attrition rate on your squadron was higher than the average of others?
AN: Yes, because I mean the thing is that we did our first op in November and finished our last op 4th June and in that we did thirty trips.
CB: Um. So in then extending, so when you were flying with the others then you’re doing a higher rate of ops?
AN: Yes.
CB: How did that go down with the aircrew?
AN: I don’t think we ever, we ever talked about it really. I mean we had a spell where the Bomber Command in its wisdom said ‘Oh, getting ready for the invasion we’re doing the French targets’ and because they’re French targets they’ll be a third of an op which would have taken us longer, but after Mailly-le-Camp where we lost a lot of aircraft they changed their minds. So all of a sudden we suddenly found we’d done more ops than we thought.
CB: [Laughter] Right.
AN: But once again my attitude changed when I started going out with my wife. Before then, before then it was the case that if there were no ops then right it was down to the village pub with our ground crew. We were very fortunate with our ground crew, we had a corporal in charge of our aircraft, he’s dead now unfortunately, but he lived in Scotland just near Perth, and if any of us were up in Perth area we’d always pop and see him and his wife, and he was a corporal he stayed a corporal he wouldn’t take promotion ‘cause he would be going away from his aircraft. He had a radio at dispersal and he heard us coming back, he was ready for us, and if we were going on an op I’d get in the aircraft and I’d unpack my stuff ready, my chart, and if one of the ground crew was coming up front he’d say ‘I’m coming up front cover your chart up’. Never asked us until we got back then they’d ask us where we’d been. In the same way that after we’d had our collision and the aircraft was a write off we came in the next day, not only did we have a new aircraft we had a new insignia, the insignia that’s on that picture there, ‘Our Willy’.
CB: So there was, in your case there was a very close liaison with the ground crew, what about other aircrew when their?
AN: Well this is the thing that the loss rate was so high you didn’t get to know people. I mean you knew the odd people for different reasons, I mean I didn’t even know all the navigators because I mean you go into briefing, you see we had a nav briefing then there was the crew briefing when we could see peoples’ faces when they saw what the target was, we’d already had that shock we’d got over it but it was the briefing and then after I’d finished, I’d finished doing my calculations I’m back as a crew member again, I’ve ceased to be an individual.
CB: Yeah.
AN: And so you did, I mean I’ve had people say to me ‘Did you remember so-and-so?’ I’d say ‘No, never heard of him’ whereas on the other, yesterday I was able to say to Rusty ‘Yes the aircraft next to us was x squared and the captain was McKenna’ why I don’t know I remember that but it’s, people change so much.
CB: When you took off you had to form up?
AN: Well.
CB: How place?
AN: Well not, no not necessarily, what we had, we had a beam and we would fly up and down the beam climbing and then once we reached a certain height we would then set off bearing in mind I wanted us to get to operating height so I had time to calculate a wind.
CB: Was the beam radio or was it a searchlight?
AN: No it was a radio.
CB: Right, and anyway you were interspersed in the stream?
AN: Oh yes, yes.
CB: So actually you didn’t go as a squadron?
AN: The ones going, the ones in our area would be from Knutford?
CB: Yeah.
AN: Wickenby would have their own system I assume.
CB: Right, okay. Now in the day time and you’re not sleeping after an op what are you doing?
AN: Well, it might be fighter affiliation.
CB: Could you just describe what fighter affiliation involved?
AN: Well fighter affiliation.
CB: How it works?
AN: It would be arranged that we would go to a certain point somewhere and a fighter would suddenly arrive and our job was to take evasive action the way we would have done if it were a German night fighter. It was just to make sure that the two gunners were on the ball and the reaction by the pilot was okay.
CB: Okay. Going back to crew and operations, the air bomber is up front doing in the run-in, how did you link with him?
AN: Well, the link with him is as we were getting near the coast I’d say to him ‘Can you give me a pin point?’ and I got the same answer every time, ‘I can’t give you a pin point but we’re dead on track.’ That was my link with him. His job before we got to the target was throwing out Window strips but you see the thing is that, as I said to you, we were told ‘A crew is a team.’ Now think of the composition of our crew. Pilot a Geordie, engineer Lancashire, bomb aimer Birmingham, I’m from London, wireless operator from Wales, mid upper gunner from Lancashire, special operator from Norfolk, rear gunner from Canada, there’s a mixture for you, but we clicked as a team in the same way that if we go back that when the squadron association was formed in 1977 for about two or three years we were unique we had eight crew members at the reunion, as time went on some of them didn’t make it but at the moment we still have five out of eight.
CB: Um. Your special ops man was Ted Manners?
AN: Ted Manners yes.
CB: After the war he could meet with you could he and tell you what he was doing? Or did you not get into that conversation?
AN: I met Ted in northern Italy when he was an intelligence officer.
CB: Still in the RAF, he was?
AN: Still in the RAF, yes.
CB: Right.
AN: I met Rusty at Cranwell in 1951 when he had taken some Canadian cadets to the graduation at Cranwell when Princess Elizabeth was the, the⸻
CB: Reviewing?
AN: Reviewing officer.
CB: Yes.
AN: Talking of that incidentally who is coming on the 2nd of October to bless the?
CB: Can I come back to that in a mo?
AN: Yeah.
CB: Yes, thank you, thank you. Now on the, there are some things that are less palatable to discuss but they were, they were the reality of life and it still is today in a different way but with aircrew there was a contentious different approach perhaps and that’s the sexually transmitted diseases challenge, how did you see that?
AN: I, I would say it would depend on the individual. I mean on the book about our crew they talk about Norman Westby, our bomb aimer, being taken to Grimsby by some of our crew where he met Luscious Lil [chuckling]. But, but, but we, apart from the nights when we went drinking to a degree we went our own ways. I mean if you weren’t going to the pub it was the case you got the bus into Louth you could go to the pictures, come out of the pictures, get your fish ‘n’ chips and get the bus back.
CB: Um. I was thinking of other crews and just in the RAF in general because you, it’s the sort of thing that isn’t a secret so.
AN: Well see once again we didn’t mix with other crews.
CB: No?
AN: We were our own little environment.
CB: Right, and I think that’s the point, yeah.
AN: But you see I mean the thing is that, that we have got this, I have got this connection with the rest of the crew. I, after the war I flew with many crews.
CB: Yeah.
AN: With many units but I never went to the associations, to other squadron’s associations meetings, it’s only 101. I spent the least time on 101 but it was the time when we were fighting for our lives.
CB: Um.
AN: And I think it’s a different attitude in the same way as I say that Rusty never once queried a heading. Now I had a case where I was flying with a flight sergeant and I was what’s known as the wing navigator, I was an examiner, and I was flying in the Middle East and I gave him an alteration of heading and he queried it. When eventually the beacon came up and we were dead ahead. Did he apologise? Not bloody likely, and that’s the difference. I mean I don’t know what was going through Rusty’s mind, he may have told you when I gave him an alteration, we had the joke in that I would tell him off for being one degree off, because if you’re going at sixty miles an hour every sixty miles you’re one mile off for a degree, but I mean this was it, it was a joke. Certain things we treated as a joke.
CB: Just going to pause there for a moment.
AN: Yes sure.
CB: Thank you.
AN: Now can I offer you⸻
CB: We’re on again now and just going to recap on one point which was the raid in France on the tank training school so what was the background to that then Jumbo?
AN: Well, the school was in two parts, the accommodation and the technical side. I can’t remember which was which but 5 Group went in first and we were told to orbit until we got permission to bomb and while this was going on aircraft were being shot down while they were orbiting, and Rusty said ‘Oh we’re not having any more of this’ and he moved away from the orbiting until we got permission to bomb, then we went in. But we had this flash and the tail went up in the air, the nose went down, what it was I don’t know but it put us into a steep dive and as far as I recall it was Rusty and the engineer were pulling at the control column to get the aircraft back on an even keel.
CB: Um.
AN: As far as I can recall.
CB: Um.
AN: Because the thing is things were going on but you see the great thing with our crew, Rusty maintained that only people who needed to talk on the intercom talked, and if for example we were being attacked then anybody else talking shuts up. On the bombing run Norman’s in charge.
CB: Um.
AN: And this seemed to work very well, I mean most of the time our intercom was quiet, now compare that with the intercom on the American aircraft.
CB: Um, V17?
AN: Yeah, on the film.
CB: Memphis Belle?
AN: Memphis Belle. The noise on that intercom, the yakking going on.
CB: Um.
AN: I mean you can only listen to one person and that didn’t happen in the Memphis Belle at all.
CB: Um. Now part of the challenge with the raid you’ve just talked about was interference, radio interference so what was that?
AN: Well it was an American forces network, dance music, which seemed to be on the same frequency. I don’t know the technicalities of it at all, how it happened, why it happened, but this was the case that er, and it’s responsible. I mean we lost four or five crews on that which is a lot.
CB: Um.
AN: Not as bad as Nuremberg but still enough.
CB: Um. Was the high attrition rate due to the fact that the Germans were able to lock onto your special ops operator?
AN: Well, well, all I know is what I’ve read is the fact that the Germans developed a new system in that they had pockets where the fighters would patrol and they covered certain areas and that way they cut down the amount of fuel that was being used and so I think to a large degree the ABC became superfluous.
CB: Okay.
AN: Only an opinion.
CB: Yeah. Now what about Scarecrow?
AN: Scarecrow, well you see once again, Scarecrow was a form of flak. I mean in fact on the Mailly one I put in my logbook ‘a scarecrow up the flare shoot.’ I don’t know.
CB: Because the notion is, or was, that Scarecrow was actually a spoof to overcome the fact that the RAF could do nothing about the upward firing guns in the night fighters.
AN: Well do you know?
CB: Causing blow-up.
AN: We never knew about the upward firing guns.
CB: Oh really.
AN: And I mean I read about it somewhere and I said to Rusty ‘Did you know about it?’ and he said ‘No’. So we were flying in blissful ignorance.
CB: Um, ‘cause the notion was that the explosion wasn’t a special type of shell called Scarecrow but was the explosion as a result of the Schrage Musik.
AN: You wouldn’t be able to tell unless you were close to the explosion.
CB: Quite.
AN: Because I mean, the thing is that it was, the flak was going on all around you.
CB: Yeah.
AN: I mean, the thing is that, I remember on one trip we did we went to Aachen two nights running. The first night we did at normal altitude, the second night we descended and dropped the bombs in the descent as I recall and our special said afterwards that he heard the Germans giving our height just as we passed it, so the stuff was going off above us not below us. But that’s only what I was told at the time.
CB: Yeah sure. Now after the war, the war comes, you finish your tour, you then go to instruction. What were you instructing on then?
AN: Well it was navigating, either self-navigation equipment or DR, dead reckoning navigation or flying as a screen with them.
CB: In what type of aeroplane?
AN: Well it was a Wellington.
CB: So this is OTU?
AN: At the OTU at Wymeswold. I went back to Wymeswold.
CB: Um.
AN: And as I say Wymeswold was taken over by Transport Command and I suddenly found myself navigating Dakotas.
CB: Oh right. So when did that start?
AN: Well that would be have been at the end of, at the end of, probably about the end of ’44.
CB: Right.
AN: Then at the end of the war I went overseas on ground appointments and then I came back and eventually I came back onto Transport Command again.
CB: What did you do overseas?
AN: I was a briefing officer or an adjutant. I was an adjutant at Treviso, unit adjutant Treviso, station adjutant at Udine and a wing adjutant at [indistinct]. Then I came home and did the staff navigation course.
CB: Right. What was the OTU number that you were at when you were training at Wymeswold?
AN: I think it was either 93 or 108.
CB: And then when you went back again same people were there were they?
AN: It had a different number then I think. That may be why I’m thinking of two numbers. Well I mean actually what happened was I was there at Wymeswold some people were posted out, new people posted in and I had to do the course that a trainee would do, because it was my first time I learnt about trigonometry.
CB: Which was important for Dakotas?
AN: [Laughter] Well it’s like the same thing that people say you’ve got to be a mathematician to be a navigator, that’s a load of rubbish. As long as you can get two and two makes four.
CB: What was the ACU number at Blyton?
AN: Dear me, now you’re asking something.
CB: Doesn’t matter. Okay so then after the war and you’ve finished your adjt job, what happened then as a sequence until when you gave up flying?
AN: Oh no, I didn’t give up. No, I came back from Austria and then I then went onto a reserve centre, teaching reservists’ navigation and then I went onto Hastings and did a few years at Hastings, then I spent a spell as an examiner of navigators, and then, that included tour in Singapore, then I came home from Singapore, um let me think, oh I did more examining and then after that I went to training command for a spell and then I went out to Borneo with the army, I was at the brigade headquarters. And I came home from that and I was on Britannia’s. After Britannia’s I was station navigation officer at Manby and then I went onto training radar navigators at Lindholme and then at Scampton.
CB: And those two were Vulcans or did you do Victors as well?
AN: No, no I did Vulcans because we were at a Vulcan station. But before then I did the navy, the navy, the Buccaneers.
CB: And why nav radar rather than the navigator?
AN: Well because the, the navigators used nav radar and it was a case that, it’s difficult to explain, if you can imagine that you’re flying along and you’ve got a hill coming towards you, you can get the, you can see that as a hill, but as you get closer to it the picture changes, and I don’t know what instruction they had because what happened was that we would take off in the Hastings with the radar navigator at the back with an instructor and they, the trainee, he would do the navigating but we were the safety crew, and I mean it was very interesting flying at five hundred feet.
CB: In a Hastings?
AN: In a Hastings. [Laughs]. And of course while we were doing that we also had a spell where we used to go round the, fly round the, oil-rigs to make sure they were okay. We then relieved the Nimrods periodically to do the Cold War patrols, so it was very interesting one way and another.
CB: Yeah. In the V Bombers there are three people at the back, so one’s the navigator, the other’s the nav radar and the third one’s the AEO?
AN: Yes.
CB: So how was the division of labour organised?
AN: I don’t know because I never flew in, I never flew in the Vulcan. The Vulcan chap flew with us because we had the equipment.
CB: So it’s purely dealing with the radar aspects of navigation?
AN: Yes, yes.
CB: Because he was also the air bomber?
AN: Yes.
CB: So then you give up doing that, then what?
AN: Well that was when I retired from the RAF in 1977.
CB: Aged 55? Close? Then what did you do? You did your time off?
AN: I played golf for six months.
CB: And how did you then get into a new career?
AN: Well I saw, well when before I retired from the RAF I went on a course and became associate member of the Institute of Administrative Management. I also took the Civil Service entrance exam and after six months of playing golf and getting bored I saw an advertisement in the paper that they were looking for people, civil servants. So I applied and I spent ten years, most of it at Kirton Lindsay.
CB: Oh right. On things we can’t talk about?
AN: Oh no, no. This was the Environment Ministry but we looked after military and public buildings and married quarters. And then after that when that, they then moved me from Kirton Lindsay to Scampton back where I used to be.
CB: And then you retired?
AN: I retired yes completely.
CB: Okay good, thank you very much. [Pause]. So how did, you were shut away in your office as you said how did you feel about the effect of what you were doing with your bombing, the effect on the ground?
AN: Well I mean we were told, no we were given bits of information about trips we’d done, about whether it was a success or not, um but to me bombing in Germany we were bombing the enemy. I was a Londoner, I lost relatives, not close relatives but I lost relatives. As far as I was concerned I, I had no feelings really about the poor Germans, to me at that time the Germans were our enemy. Now as far as I’m concerned that I could meet someone today and he’s a German, so what the war’s over. I mean the price has been paid and this is the way I think it should be but I mean I didn’t have any feelings about poor Germans at all because it’s no different, we were doing the same as two armies fighting each other. This was, we were one army and the civilians were the other army. Unfortunately reading books since the war a lot of the people who got lost achieved nothing, their lives were wasted.
CB: Um, um.
AN: In case of, as in the Nuremberg raid, I mean as Rusty would say ‘On the Nuremberg raid, we lost more people than the whole of the Battle of Britain’.
CB: We did, yeah.
AN: And I’m afraid I for one, I mean they did a wonderful job in the Battle of Britain, but I for one feel it’s about time we had our turn. I mean every time an aircraft was lost it was seven or eight people.
CB: Yeah, absolutely.
AN: But then that’s life.
CB: You’d given up operations by the, towards the end of the war so did the Dresden raid, were you aware of that?
AN: Well as far as I’m concerned the result of the Dresden raid made me have second thoughts about Winston Churchill because I feel that he did the dirty on us, that on what I’ve read about the Dresden raid it was asked for by the Russians because the troops were passing through Dresden. That is what I have read other people say it’s a lie but to me it was spite in particular that Bomber Harris didn’t get the decoration that the other service chiefs got, and that was small minded I feel.
CB: Um.
AN: But once again Dresden was in the war area. It was unfortunate.
CB: As was Chemnitz down the road? Okay thank you very much.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with a navigator from 101 Squadron,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 16, 2024,

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