Interview with Ken Johnson. Two


Interview with Ken Johnson. Two


Ken Johnson was born in Doncaster. At the start of the war the family was living in Sheffield but his father decided they should move back to Doncaster to avoid bombing. Ken started work as a joiner and later made cables for barrage balloons. Despite being in a reserved occupation, he volunteered to join the RAF and trained in Scotland as an air gunner. He describes gunnery practice against towed targets and corkscrewing the aircraft. He formed a crew in the Operational Training Unit at RAF Bruntingthorpe. He talks about his pilot, Flight Sergeant Harold “Harry” Watkins, who fought in the Finnish Army against the Russians at the start of the war. Ken joined 61 Squadron at RAF Skellingthorpe flying Lancasters. His first operation was just after D-Day to bomb German armour but as they were too close to allied troops, it was aborted. Ken’s most traumatic experience was during an operation in July 1944, when an aircraft above his dropped its bombs and three bombs hit the aircraft including the rear turret, carrying it away with the rear gunner. On another occasion, anti-aircraft shrapnel missed Ken’s head by two inches. After completing a tour of thirty operations, most of Ken’s crew volunteered for a second tour. Transferred to 9 Squadron, many of his fifteen operations involved dropping the 12,000 lb Tallboy bomb. Ken describes the differences between the rear and mid-upper turrets including their armament. After the war, he served as an RAF driver in Egypt before being demobilised and returning to civilian life. He volunteered with the Royal Observer Corps for a couple of years.







01:39:45 audio recording


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CB: We are now moving to another interview. My name is Chris Brockbank, and today is the 3rd of April 2017, and I’m in Doncaster with Ken Johnson who did two tours, and we’re going to talk about his life and times in the RAF. So, what’s your earliest recollection Ken? Of life.
KJ: In the RAF?
CB: No, in your family.
KJ: Oh, my family. Well, my father was a ironmonger, not an ironmonger, an iron moulder rather, by trade. So there was very little for that in Doncaster so he used to have to travel to Sheffield to work and he used to cycle there, do nine hours in the foundry and cycle home.
CB: Where were you living? In Doncaster?
KJ: Yeah. We lived, oh in that many parts of Doncaster it’s unbelievable. Hexthorpe, Doncaster, Balby, everywhere in Doncaster we’ve lived. I think he’d got a bit of gypsy in him, we never settled too far.
CB: Trying to be a moving target, was he?
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Was he in the First World War?
KJ: No, no, he weren’t old enough.
CB: Right. And how many brothers and sisters did you have?
KJ: I had two brothers, no sisters. Both younger than myself and both have passed on.
CB: Right. Two brothers and two sisters.
KJ: No sisters.
CB: No sisters.
KJ: No.
CB: Just two brothers, yeah. And where did you go to school?
KJ: I started at Balby Infant’s School, I went to Hexthorpe, I went to Intake. I don’t think there’s many schools in Doncaster I haven’t been to.
CB: Why was that?
KJ: My dad, he’d got itchy feet. He could never settle at one place so we were always changing homes.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: Aye. He’d brought a, he had it built, a bungalow at Finningley, a beautiful bungalow but my mother wouldn’t go to live there. She were a townie, she didn’t like countryside. Well we went, we lived there three days to be quite honest and that were it. She’d had enough.
CB: And what did you and your brothers think?
KJ: Pardon?
CB: What did you and your brothers think?
KJ: Well they were much younger than I. I was the eldest. There was one five years younger, and one ten years younger, so none of us really had any say in the matter. It was a bit unfortunate, keep having to change schools because you never got in to the ways of the school you were joining, but there you are. We had to knuckle under and put up with it.
CB: What did you do at school?
KJ: Just the ordinary schooling. No, er, I didn’t go to anything special you know, it was just the ordinary school.
CB: Yeah. And what did you do when you left school?
KJ: When I first left school we were living at Sheffield, which was just before the war, and I was a joiner’s apprentice, but when the war was, when the war started my dad said, ‘We’re going back to Doncaster. Sheffield will get bombed’, and he never said a truer word. It did. It got terribly bombed so we were back in Doncaster, and I was still in wood but it wasn’t a joiner’s apprentice, it were just a mundane. We were making clothes horses for people, for ladies to put their clothes to dry on. Clothes drier. And I stuck that for so long and then I went to work at British Ropes, down Carr Hill, in a reserved job which was making cables for barrage balloons. It was, it was a job that there were no joinings in the way. It had got to be a single wire and so it was classed as a reserved occupation. I only got in the RAF because I kept pestering them. I wanted to go and eventually they let me go. I always wanted to fly and I did plenty of that.
CB: What type of flying did you want to do?
KJ: Anything. I were, I was prepared to do anything, and the quickest way — I mean a pilot and navigator and those sort of jobs, they were two or three years training and they had to go out to Canada and all like that. Well to be a gunner, it were only a matter of about eighteen months, so I chose the, oh at first it was like you said, wireless operator air gunner but that drove me mad that dit dit da dit dit da business, so I volunteered for a straight gunner and got away from it.
CB: And what made you attracted to being a gunner particularly?
KJ: It was the easiest way of getting into aircrew. They needed two gunners to any other trade and I wouldn’t say my education were all that good anyway, so I chose the easy way, volunteered for a gunner.
CB: And when you started gunnery training, how did that go?
KJ: It went very well. I did that up at Dalcross in Scotland, so, yeah it went well. The flying part of it was exceptional ‘cause of the scenery, it was absolutely fantastic, the scenery we were flying over up in the north of Scotland. Aye. I never had any problems in that respect.
CB: What aircraft were you flying as training for that?
KJ: Originally Ansons, then we went on to Wellingtons and then finally Stirlings, and then finally Lancs, but I did all my operational flying on Lancs.
CB: So how did the gunnery course start? What did they do with you to begin with?
KJ: Well we used to go up in the aircraft. I think there were three, there might have been five, either three or five and your, your bullets that you would be firing had a different coloured paint on so they knew which, who had hit how many, and we flew up and then [pause], now I can’t remember the name of the aircraft. It was, it was originally supposed to be a fighter but it can’t have been fast enough so they used —
CB: And that was the Defiant.
KJ: Pardon?
CB: Defiant. With a turret on it.
KJ: No, these were the aircraft that towed the target.
CB: Oh right.
KJ: And I remember they were always Polish pilots, always Polish, which was a bit hectic at times.
CB: Did the tug ever get hit?
KJ: Oh yeah. It wasn’t as easy as you thought, but it, yeah, we, as I say these bullets had a different colour on so they could tell when the drogue came back who’d hit, how many times and so on.
CB: How well did you score?
KJ: Well I didn’t think it were very well. I usually averaged about .5, but there were some worse than me and some a heck of a lot better, so [pause], I mean when you got in a Lancaster and you were, you went into a corkscrew, it’s a wonder you hit anything because one minute you were upside down, the next minute you were stood on your toes. All over the place and you were supposed to — you’d sight. Gun sight was a coloured lit up small thing, and at certain points you were supposed to put the target, say a quarter of the way down or the other side of it, wherever you moved you were supposed to — well trying to remember that lot were impossible. All you could do were aim ahead of the enemy aircraft and just blaze away and let him come through your hail of bullets.
CB: But you had a means of targeting according to the type of aircraft. How did that work?
KJ: No, not really. No. You just had this —
CB: Based on wing span wasn’t it?
KJ: Pardon?
CB: Based on wing span.
KJ: Yeah, and as I say you just had this image, lit up image, and you were supposed, at any point where, same as if you saw the fighter coming from starboard, you’d, say, ‘Fighter starboard. Corkscrew starboard. Go’, and at that, he’d dive in toward the enemy fighter. Well you can imagine, the pilots used to really thrash the aircraft around to avoid being hit themselves and so it were very very difficult to go to the procedure that —
[banging noises]
Other: Sorry. I did that.
KJ: To go to the procedure that you were supposed to go through, but you just had to make, make the best of it as you went along.
CB: Yeah. So as you mentioned corkscrew.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: This was the way of evading an attacking fighter.
KJ: It’s what?
CB: So just talk us through. Who made the call for the corkscrew?
KJ: The gunner.
CB: Which one?
KJ: Which one? The one that saw the fighter coming first.
CB: Right.
KJ: He’d shout out, ‘Fighter starboard’, or port or upper or down, and you were supposed to wait ‘til they were two hundred yards away because if you did it too soon, they could follow you.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: So you were, you judged when it were the right distance, and the, ‘Corkscrew starboard. Go’, and then the pilot would go towards the fighter that was after you.
CB: So that he would overshoot. Right.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: So in the corkscrew, what exactly was the manoeuvre? He was pulling it round hard. Then what?
KJ: Well he dived.
CB: Right.
KJ: Then climbed.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: Then climbed again, then down again, that’s where you got your corkscrew.
CB: Right.
KJ: It looked like a corkscrew going through the sky.
CB: Getting you back on track.
KJ: Yeah, and as soon as they broke away you stopped it and waited for them coming again and then started it all over again.
CB: How many times did you get attacked?
KJ: Oh quite a few times but we never, we got hit with bullets but we never got them in any vital places.
CB: Right. We’re ahead of ourselves in a way, but going back to training.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: In the first part of the training, you’re on the ground.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: So how did they carry out that training? With what sort of weapon?
KJ: Well you had, you had the usual 303 Brownings that you’d be using in the aircraft, but there was a turret mounted on a railway track and you just went round this circuit, and the aircraft had come over with a drogue and you’d try to get as many shots in as you could. But they frowned on, there was some got, tried to be a bit crafty and waited till it was a dead shot and then you couldn’t miss, but they frowned on that. They wanted you to do it the hard way like.
CB: So what sort of height are these target tugs coming in at?
KJ: They’d be at same height as yourself but coming in from all different directions.
CB: I meant when you were on ground. You were on the railway tracks.
KJ: Oh.
CB: So, what height are they coming in?
KJ: Well the drogue was on the same track but ahead of you, and that’s where they didn’t like you waiting till they come to a corner, because then you could just bang away and ever hit, everyone had hit.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: So they frowned on that, but it was tried to make it as realistic as possible, and then, on top of that, you’d got cameras in the ones that you were flying and you did the same thing with a camera.
CB: So how did they deal with deflection shooting training?
KJ: Well you were always in the, each position the plane was in, on your gun sight, there was a place you were supposed to put your, put your sight on this and then fire away there, but as you could imagine, when you were doing corkscrewing, you were up and down and one minute you was, your head was banging on the top of the turret. The next minute, you felt as though they’d put a tonne weight on your shoulders. It was very difficult to, to aim.
CB: Ok. Back at the training so after a certain amount of ground training, did you use shotguns for deflection training?
KJ: Yeah, yeah, did all that. Yeah.
CB: Right, and did you alternate between using the Browning 303?
KJ: Oh I did. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And the shotgun.
KJ: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So it was a clay pigeon.
KJ: Clay pigeon, yeah.
CB: Shot. Right. So then you come to the flying, so three of you in an Anson. Or five.
KJ: Aye. Yeah.
CB: How did that work?
KJ: And you took turns to climb in to the turret and do your, do your thing.
CB: Because it’s a mid-upper turret on the Anson.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Right.
KJ: Yeah, yeah, it was a twin engine. There were two very similar aircraft, Anson and Oxford, but I only ever heard of the Anson having the turret. Might have been Oxfords used for the same reason. There were no reason why not. They were almost alike aircraft [coughs] excuse me.
CB: So in that aircraft, let’s say the Anson, you’ve got three or five students.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Who’s there guiding you?
KJ: Just the pilot.
CB: Was there another, an experienced air gunner?
KJ: Oh yeah, yeah, there would be, and he’d tell you when it was your turn to go in and come out.
CB: What sort of guidance did he give you?
KJ: Well he couldn’t do much at all except keep your eye on the target, and such tips as waiting while they were flying across you and getting ahead of them, and then really putting the bursts in. You were sure to hit something, but the thing that amused me — I thought these, when we got to that stage, I thought the people that were teaching us would have done operations but they hadn’t. They’d just, they’d been good in their training so they’d been held back as instructors.
CB: Was it actually a mix? Were there some people who were experienced?
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Air gunners. Were there?
KJ: Well as I say there were, they’d done well in their training and they were held back.
CB: But there were people who’d been on operations there.
KJ: No. I thought there would be.
CB: But not at that time.
KJ: No.
CB: Ok. Right. And when you went up, how long was your go?
KJ: No more than half an hour. Yeah. From climbing in to climbing out of the turret. Yeah.
CB: Ok. And after Dalcross, then what happened?
KJ: After Dalcross, we were then went to OTU, our Operational Training Unit, and that was where you crewed up, but the normal thing was you’d get the same number of pilots, navigators etcetera, and they palled-up amongst themselves for a day or two, and then the pilot would say to one, navigators probably, ‘I want you as my navigator’. And that’s how it were crewed up, but I didn’t get that choice because when I went to OUT, there was so many crews ahead of us that hadn’t got gunners or they’d only got one gunner and needed another one, so we would, what would, what would you say, we were told which crew —
CB: Yeah.
KJ: We were going to be with.
CB: You didn’t get a choice.
KJ: I didn’t get a choice. I couldn’t have done better so. I remember we, we were, there’s Bruntinghorpe and Bitteswell. One was used for flying and the other was where you did your learning your other parts of the job, stripping guns down and all that sort of thing, and I remember I was told to go to the gatehouse where there was this navigator. He was going to be my navigator so he’d, I’d got to go see him and he would introduce me to the rest of the crew like. So we went, we went to the billets first the whole crew shared, well two crews shared a billet. There were fourteen beds in and he said, the navigator said, ‘Oh they’ll be going for lunch now to the sergeant’s mess so we’ll go meet the rest of the crew’. So we trooped off to the sergeant’s mess and there was a bit of a [pause] well I don’t know how to describe it, a bit of a hullaballoo going on. This pilot had gone in to the sergeant’s mess and he’d just picked out a gunner, a navigator and a wireless operator, ‘Come with me’, and he took them to a Wellington. They went off. He wanted to land at this aerodrome to meet a friend, but when they got there, they wouldn’t allow him, so he came back but he were in such a temper he tried to land without putting his wheels down. Made a mess of the undercarriage. Luckily, they all got away with it but he got put down in rank but lost about three ranks. And then we, we went into the mess and the navigator says, ‘Oh there’s the pilot’, and he were in a big armchair like this, with a sheet of newspaper over his face, away to the world, and this sheet of paper kept going up and down [laughs].
CB: As he puffed away.
KJ: As he were breathing. And he says, ‘There’s Harry’. His name was Harold really but he preferred being called Harry so, ‘There’s Harry there’, and I said, ‘Well don’t disturb him. He’s having a nice little nap there’. ‘Oh he’ll have to wake up for his lunch’, so he woke him up and introduced me. Shook hands with me, settled back down in his chair, pulled his paper down and went back to sleep [laughs], so that was my introduction to Harry Watkins.
CB: A flight sergeant.
KJ: Yeah. He’d, he was an amazing man he was. He was no bigger than me, no taller than me, maybe an inch but no more than that, but he’d got a chest on him like a barrel and he was strong as a bull. I’m sure he could have looped a Lancaster if he’d have wanted to, or if he’d been allowed to I should say, and he was a lot older than me. He’d gone to Finland to fight for the Fins against the Russians, and he were a fighter pilot and then when they signed a treaty, they sealed off the land borders so the only way they could get out, there was him and his friend, the only way they could get out was by sea, so they, they hired a trawler and they hit some very bad weather and almost drowned. A Russian gun boat picked them up, took them back to Russia and put them in a concentration camp. So he was ten, ten or eleven months in this concentration camp living on cabbage water. So by the time he got released, and the reason he’d got released was when the second front came, some of our soldiers that couldn’t get back to the beaches went to the Russians and they put them in this concentration camp, but the thing was, the British Consul had got a check on them. So they, as they were, they got them out, and these two other Britishers said, ‘When you get out, tell them there’s two more Englishmen in here wanting releasing’, and that’s how they got out. But he’d lost an amazing amount of weight, he’d, he had to go to Rhodesia to be built up before they’d let him sign up for the RAF. Aye. But he was an amazing man.
CB: But how did he come to go to Finland in the first place?
KJ: Well, you know, during the Spanish war.
CB: Ahh. The Spanish Civil War, yeah.
KJ: Some British were, well various —
CB: Yeah. The International Brigade.
KJ: That’s right.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: Well, that’s how they did for Finland.
CB: Oh, did they?
KJ: Aye.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: So, aye, anyway they got out and built him up and then let him join up.
CB: So how did the crew get together after they were, get on when they got together?
KJ: Well, at first you, all the different navigator, pilots etcetera, etcetera, they were all went in this big room and allowed to mingle and talk among themselves, and they palled up. That’s what it amounted to but as I say, I never had that choice.
CB: No.
KJ: Because I, they’d got, they were crewed up except for another gunner and they just said right, oh they gave us a test on aircraft recognition and the first ten I think it was, were allotted to crews that hadn’t got a gunner.
CB: Ok.
KJ: And I stayed with him. We did a tour. Well a lot just did the tour and then took a rest and probably they never got called on again, but we all volunteered to keep going.
CB: Oh. You all did? You all volunteered to keep going as a crew, did you?
KJ: All but two. One was the navigator and he’d got a wife and two kiddies and he didn’t think it were fair on them to just volunteer to keep going, and the other one was the wireless operator. He had a sick mother and there again, he thought it weren’t fair to her to, so, and as far as I know, they never did call them up again.
KJ: I don’t know where any of the crew are. I know the pilot died ‘cause I got — it’s in the Midlands, his grave, but as far as I know, he just died of, well it wouldn’t be old age because he wouldn’t be all that old, but perhaps had some sort of illness.
CB: So we talked about the OTU and you’re getting together there.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: How long were you at the OTU and what were you doing?
KJ: We used to go on flights, cross country’s they called them, and you had, you were given a course that you had to take, and on the way, there’d be some bomb practice places and you’d call there and drop, drop a bomb. A four pound practice bomb on it and you got marks for that and you got marks for being at certain points at certain times. So we did very well at that because we’d got an excellent navigator and an excellent bomb aimer and an excellent skipper. And that, we went on these cross country’s, which could take ten or even twelve hours, and as I say, you’d had to call at it’d perhaps be a power station or something. It were a great big power station that became common afterwards, but it was the only one at the time in the Midlands somewhere and that was a favourite place for you to. Of course, you didn’t actually drop a bomb on there, it were just a case of photographing it as though you had bombed.
CB: So the OTU lasted?
KJ: Three months.
CB: Three months.
KJ: Yeah, perhaps more.
CB: And then you went to the HCU. So your OTU was at Bruntingthorpe.
KJ: Operationally, yeah.
CB: Then the Heavy Conversion Unit. The HCU.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Where was that?
KJ: That was at either Bruntingthorpe or Bitteswell, I can’t remember. The two B’s so I can’t remember which was which.
CB: But they were the OTUs weren’t they?
KJ: Yeah. Oh well we did us [pause], I can’t remember.
CB: Ok, but you said you moved to Stirling.
KJ: Yeah, we went on Stirlings. I hated them.
CB: Why didn’t you like that?
KJ: They weren’t very easy to fly in. They were, if you, if you had to, with a Lancaster, you drove towards the landing strip and then eased up so as you’d got a three point landing, but if you did that with a Stirling, it’d break it’s back and you’d be —
CB: Oh.
KJ: Yeah, and there was always plenty to let you know about it. Wreckage on the, on the airfield.
CB: Oh really. Right.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: So how many, how long were you flying that before you changed to Lancaster?
KJ: Luckily it wasn’t too long. About six weeks that.
CB: And doing the same exercises or different?
KJ: Doing mostly the same things. Yeah.
CB: To what extent were you doing fighter affiliation?
KJ: Oh we were doing that. Every time we went up we’d have a bit of that in.
CB: Right.
KJ: You’d got to keep your eyes open in the gun turrets because they could come up on you anywhere, and you’d perhaps be like them cross country’s ten hours. Twelve hours in some cases.
CB: So that’s your HCU.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Then your first squadron you joined was?
KJ: 61.
CB: Where was that?
KJ: Skellingthorpe.
CB: Right.
KJ: Just outside Lincoln, and there were two squadrons shared the same airfield.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: So when there was a bombing raid on, you’d get them coming from both sides but you used to take it in turns, 50, 61s and so on, until you’d got the two squadrons airborne. Yeah.
CB: And how many bombers in a squadron?
KJ: Eighteen. They’d usually aimed to have eighteen in the air.
CB: Oh in the air. Right. So not all of them flew, so how many aircraft were there?
KJ: Well no I mean, if there was anything serious like an engine change or anything like that, then one squadron or the other would be one down, but usually they aim for getting eighteen from each squadron on a raid.
CB: Ok. So when you got to the squadron then, when you got to the HCU, then the flight engineer and the rear gunner joined.
KJ: Yeah. Well only the flight engineer.
CB: Or the upper gunner which was you.
KJ: It was the upper gunner was the one that joined so far through.
CB: So you didn’t go to the OTU, or you did?
KJ: Yeah. Yeah. I joined them at —
CB: At the OTU.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: And then —
CB: And at the HCU, then the flight engineer joined.
KJ: Joined us, yeah.
CB: Right.
KJ: And again, we didn’t have any choice, they just marched us on parade.
CB: Who was that?
KJ: They called him Fred Jowett.
CB: How did he gel? Bearing in mind you’d been together already?
KJ: It were, well he took up with the rear gunner, him and Fred were big friends, they used to go out.
CB: Carson Foy.
KJ: Yeah, used to go out drinking at night and all that sort of business, but he was married and I didn’t like the way he treated his wife, so I hadn’t got a lot of time for him.
CB: Oh.
KJ: He were good at this job but [pause] I always remember the parade when he was put in our crew, and he’d got a pair of trousers that he’d had widened like sailor’s trousers [laughs]. He got reprimanded for that and made to pay for them being put back to what they should be. And his, his cap, I think he must have cleaned engines with his cap, it were just one block of grease. He and his wife, whenever he got forty eight hour leave or anything like that, used to come home with me because his wife were in Army.
CB: Oh.
KJ: And she was stationed in Doncaster, she was a sergeant. And my mum and dad used to let them use their bedroom and I were kicked down to the sofa.
[long pause]
CB: So when you got to the squadron, what happened then?
KJ: Well not a lot of fuss made. All you, all you got at first, you did so many cross country’s to, with the aircraft affiliation also and bits thrown in to get used to what operational flying would be like. And then of course came the big day for the first op, and our first op was just after D-day and it was helping the Army. But they were so, the front lines were so close, we were given a signal to stop bombing, and I always remember it was “Billy Bunter” and we hadn’t bombed. We got to the target just ready to bomb, and this signal came. “Billy Bunter. Billy Bunter”, so we closed our bomb doors and changed back to go back home, but a lot of them kept bombing and the, the master bomber got fed up with them and he was really giving them a ticking off.
CB: For staying on.
KJ: For keep bombing.
CB: What was the target there?
KJ: Well, it were the enemy armoury. Tanks.
CB: Hitting Canadian troops were they?
KJ: Oh ours, yeah, a lot of ours were Canadian. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: No, I meant when the targets – they had, they had a friendly fire problem.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Was that why they stopped the bombing?
KJ: That’s right, yeah.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: Yeah, ‘cause when the two lines got too close, you couldn’t decide one from the other so. Aye.
CB: What other, so in your first tour what other, what significant things happened there?
KJ: Well first tour, we were with the crowd, you know, with the main force, but our second tour, we carried the twelve thousand pound Tallboy bomb and it was chosen targets. The last one being Hitler’s guest house at Berchtesgaden.
CB: Right.
KJ: But he wasn’t there anyway so.
CB: Why were they bombing it then?
KJ: Well they didn’t know he weren’t. They thought he was there but apparently, he wasn’t when it —
CB: Still in Berlin.
KJ: Aye. In a bunker, underground bunker where he died anyway.
CB: So what significant events happened to you during the bombing raids? During the ops.
KJ: In what way do you mean?
CB: Well did you have any excitements or dangers? You got shot at a few times.
KJ: Oh we had some. I mean we got that time when aircraft above dropped his bombs on us.
CB: What happened there?
KJ: Three bombs hit us. One chopped off the starboard fin and rudder, one chopped off about five foot off the starboard wing, up to the starboard outer motor, and the third one hit the rear turret and took the rear turret away.
CB: And that’s why you needed a new rear gunner.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Did he get out?
KJ: Oh no. No. I’ve, I’ve been to his grave in Normandy.
CB: So this was a daylight operation was it?
KJ: Yeah. Yeah. I warned him about this, but the pilot says, ‘They’ll see us and they won’t drop them’, but almost as he said it, they were coming down on us.
CB: He couldn’t accelerate away.
KJ: No. He said, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it. We’re hemmed in’, so he just had to sit tight.
CB: So at night raids, you were in a stream. When you were bombing in daylight, how did you do that? Was it formation or still a stream?
KJ: Still a stream.
CB: Right.
KJ: You might get in a formation going backwards and forwards, but once you got near the target, you’re independent. You did as you want then.
CB: So without its turret, how did the plane behave? Rear turret.
KJ: Well we didn’t find any difference. In fact, he made a perfect landing when we got back, but it must have been, must have made a difference but he were a fantastic pilot so he dealt with it. When he got, when he got out the plane, his shirt was absolutely wet through. He must have fought it every inch of the way back.
CB: Because it had damaged the fin.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: One of them.
KJ: Well he’d only have part, part of his controls.
CB: And the wing. Which fin was hit?
KJ: Starboard fin.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: And starboard wing.
CB: Oh it was, yeah.
KJ: So we were top heavy sort of thing.
CB: So you’re in the mid-upper turret.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: You’ve already warned the pilot about the plane above.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: What, what did you see when the bomb was coming down and the affect? How did this happen?
KJ: We’ll all I could see were these.
CB: A stick.
KJ: A full bomb bay full of bombs.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: Coming down towards us and most of them slipping past on my left side.
CB: Right. You’re facing which way? Backwards?
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: Yeah. And I couldn’t help but see them because they were on top of me. It wasn’t a nice moment.
CB: So did some of them, they must have done, in a stick, some of them missed.
KJ: Yeah, quite a few of them went between the starboard wing.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: And the starboard fin and rudder.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: More or less alongside me. Too close for comfort.
CB: So how much higher was this other plane?
KJ: It wasn’t too far above us because we were all supposed to be at the same height, but some used to go higher to avoid that happening to them, but the trouble is they did it to somebody else.
CB: So you saw the bombs coming down.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: What, what was it like? Some were missing then. How many hit the turret?
KJ: There were three hit the aircraft.
CB: Right. Oh, three hit the aircraft. Right.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: So one on the wing, one on the rudder.
KJ: And one on the rear turret.
CB: Yeah. So how did that come? That came straight down. Then how did you see it?
KJ: Well we got the, I’m getting mixed up with my starboard and, on the left hand side.
CB: On your left because you’re looking backwards.
KJ: They were all coming that side.
CB: Yes, the starboard side.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: And were you able to call out?
KJ: Well I did do, I warned him but he said, ‘Nothing I can do. We’re hemmed in’.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: So we just had to sit there and hope for the best.
CB: So where did the bomb, where did it hit the turret? The one that hit the turret, where?
KJ: Straight on top.
CB: Straight in the middle.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: And the effect of that?
KJ: Tore it away from –.
CB: The whole of the turret.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Right.
KJ: There was just a gaping hole where the rear turret should have been.
CB: So what chances of survival were there for the rear gunner?
KJ: Zero.
CB: Right.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: And they didn’t explode because the primer.
KJ: No you wouldn’t.
CB: Hadn’t gone into action then.
KJ: You’d got that little.
CB: The delay.
KJ: Propeller that unscrewed as it dropped down.
CB: Right.
KJ: But it wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t be live until it was, say, a thousand feet.
CB: Right.
KJ: Above the ground and then it would slowly become alive.
CB: Right. So how many other members of the crew saw that?
KJ: Nobody apart from me.
CB: What effect did that have on you afterwards?
KJ: Well I were very, very upset because he were a friend of mine, the rear gunner.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: But I didn’t realise ‘till it were very late on in the war. We were coming back from a raid and it were a daylight, and as we crossed the Rhine, I saw these Typhoons going up and down and releasing rockets, and I’d never seen anything like that. At the gun emplacements along the Rhine. And I suddenly realised I was sweating and it were cold. There were no reason to be sweating, but that must have been nerves I should imagine.
CB: Yeah.
CB: So after the raid did you, that particular one, where you lost your friend, did you fly the next day? Or was there –
KJ: Yeah. We were on ops the very next night, yeah.
CB: So was that better than having a rest or worse?
KJ: Well they told you it was for your own benefit if you —
CB: Yeah. Get up again.
KJ: So yeah, we were on another raid the following night.
CB: And how did that work for you?
KJ: It went pretty well really. A bit strange with getting a new voice from the rear turret but — [pause]. He were a farmer, he’d no need to be in the forces at all but he’d got two brothers that had adjoining farms, and they were looking after it for him.
CB: Which part of the country was that?
KJ: It was in the Midlands somewhere that they came from.
CB: Ok [pause], so apart from that one on the Rhine crossing, did you have any reaction on any other sorties?
KJ: Well er the Rhine, I didn’t know just how close it had come to that, but we got hit by shrapnel and one piece had gone through about two inches above my head, the top of my head and buried in the fuselage at the other side. The, one of the ground crew dug it out but he wouldn’t, I wanted him to give it to me but he wouldn’t. He hung on to it so —
CB: He wanted it did he?
KJ: Aye.
CB: Was it a bullet or shrapnel from flak?
KJ: Shrapnel from flak.
CB: Right.
KJ: A jagged piece about that.
CB: Yeah. About two inches, three inches.
KJ: It would have done enough damage anyway.
CB: Yeah. So when it hit your canopy, did it go through or did it shatter it?
KJ: It went through and then through the other side. The hole was pretty neat but there was a few cracks from it, you know.
CB: That was after the turret experience was it?
KJ: Yeah. We did, we did a tour and then instead of having a rest, we carried on with another tour.
CB: So those were both in the first tour.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Right. What caused you to do another go?
KJ: The pilot. He were a keen type and I wouldn’t have flown with anybody else if I could avoid it.
CB: That was 9 Squadron.
KJ: Yeah. He used to have his own way of taking off ‘til they stopped him doing it. They said, ‘We know you’re capable but somebody might try it and not be as successful as you’. You’re still, as we took off, he’d only just got airborne and he’d tilt over. It looked very spectacular from the ground but, well it looked spectacular from the gunner’s point of view as well, but he was warned off not to do it again.
CB: What did he do then? Bring the undercarriage up quickly or what?
KJ: Yeah. Quickly undercarriage up and he was already tilting his, er tilting the wing until it was, well it must have been pretty near the ground.
CB: He was turning his wing.
KJ: Anyway, he was ordered not to do it again.
CB: How did he feel about that?
KJ: Oh he took it all in good part. He were, he were a nice man was Harry Watkins.
CB: When you got your second rear gunner, because of the first one being lost, how did he get in with the crew or not?
KJ: Well he palled up straight. The engineer was a big drinker and so was this new gunner, so them two got on well together. I once counted that they had twenty two pints of beer.
CB: Each.
KJ: Each. They must have floated [laughs].
CB: Amazing. So how often did the crew go out together? These two clearly wanted to get ahead of the game.
KJ: When we were, if we were landing back at base very rare. If I wanted a drink, I’d have it in the sergeant’s mess but if you landed away from base, the officers could sub money from the officer’s funds so they’d sub so much money and treat us out for the night.
CB: How often did you find the pubs short of beer?
KJ: Did we find?
CB: The pubs short of beer. How often?
KJ: Oh, not very often, not very often [paused], but I used to like to stick to the sergeant’s mess.
CB: So how did you manage to keep in touch with Joan? Your future wife.
KJ: By mail, that were all, and get home as soon as soon, as often as possible. I used to, I were stationed quite close to Lincoln in both —
CB: In Bardney.
KJ: Both Bardney and Skellinghorpe.
CB: Skellingtorpe, yeah.
KJ: So it was an easy matter to get a train to Doncaster from them places. So if I’d got, if we weren’t flying that night, I’d take a chance on it and go home for the night. Only once did we nearly come adrift and that was, that was at Skellingthorpe, and from the bus stop to the camp was about a mile walk and all the way along, we could hear this tannoy saying myself and the engineer to report to the flights immediately. They’d come on an early morning raid they were going to do. Well they’d got reserves to go in our places, but the lad that were going to be the rear gunner, he said, ‘No. I’m not bothered. You go on’, so I got my raid in. But the engineer, this young man that were standing in for him had only got that one raid to finish his tour, so he said, ‘Oh no. I’m going on it’, so, but we both got the same punishment. Grounded for so many days and, not much like. A good telling off. It were a funny thing that, because the skipper always knew where we were, my home address, and he swore he’d sent a telegram but we never got it. So —
CB: That’s why you were late.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: So what did they do to you?
KJ: We got a reprimand and confined to barracks for so long.
CB: How did the leave system work? How often did you get leave?
KJ: Oh with aircrew we were very lucky. We got a week’s leave every six weeks and you got a week’s pay from —
CB: Nuffield Fund.
KJ: Nuffield, aye. He also, when we went on leave, he gave us a week’s pay as well so a very popular man.
CB: So you finished with 50 Squadron and went to 9.
KJ: Finished with 61.
CB: Finished with 61 Squadron and went to 9.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: How was the process and operation different from your previous experience?
KJ: Not a lot different really but we’d done more ops than others. We were senior crew like, ‘cause we’d done more than all the others, but it didn’t take long for somebody to overtake us, so —
CB: So here, you’re doing precision bombing.
KJ: Oh yeah.
CB: Tallboy, twelve thousand pounder.
KJ: Yeah
CB: So how did you do your training for that?
KJ: Well they did, I know the bomb aimers did have, we used to take up the bomb aimers to do this practice bombing and there were certain regulations laid down how they should treat this Tallboy bomb. ‘Course the Tallboy, you had to have special bomb doors. Normal bomb doors wouldn’t close over a Tallboy.
CB: How were the, what were these like?
KJ: They’d, they were shaped. Instead of just going around, they come down so far and then bellied out a bit and then came back in, so you could tell there was something different about them, and then, when them that carried the twenty two thousand pounder, they didn’t have any bomb doors on at all.
CB: The Grand Slam.
KJ: The Grand Slam. They just had a chain holding it up but I never carried that. We were, we stuck to Tallboys.
CB: How often did you have to, how often did you fail to drop the Tallboys or did you always drop them?
KJ: Well if we couldn’t be sure of the target, we’d orders to bring it back. Sometimes they changed their mind if conditions weren’t good and that, but as a rule, we brought them back because they cost so much to produce.
CB: And how did you feel about landing with such a heavy load on?
KJ: Well at first very tedious, very timid, but you got used to it like everything else.
CB: Your pilot was a good one so —
KJ: Oh a fantastic man, yeah.
CB: What sort of targets were you going for then?
KJ: With the Tallboy, they were chosen targets like dams or them viaducts.
CB: The U-Boat. Oh right.
KJ: And that type of thing. Things that you could knock down.
CB: So the Bielefeld Viaduct was brought down by a Grand Slam. Did you drop that?
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Did that, was 9 Squadron involved in that?
KJ: Yeah. Always two squadrons. At first 617, like on the dam raid, there were only them.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: But subsequent raids they were losing more and more men, so they decided to lighten the load by putting two squadrons on these special targets rather than one, and the other squadron was Number 9, so it meant that 617 didn’t have to take it all.
CB: And how many ops did you do on your second tour?
KJ: Fifteen.
CB: And what, why did those stop?
KJ: Well, the war ended.
CB: It was the end of the war.
KJ: Yeah, thirty was a tour.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: Well we did a tour but then we carried, agreed to carry straight on and we just carried on till the end of the war then, and the very last raid was Hitler’s guest house at Berchtesgaden.
CB: So the war is over, now what did you do?
KJ: Well, they, they were getting ready to go to the Far East to carry the war to Japan, so I thought, well, I’ve done forty five ops, I’ve done my share. It wouldn’t be fair to the wife to carry on so I dropped out the race. But they never got there anyway, the war ended before they, they got to that point, so that was it.
CB: So the end of the war in Europe was the 8th of May, August was VJ day, so you were still in the RAF after that.
KJ: Oh yeah.
CB: What was going on? What were you doing then?
KJ: Well we were doing more or less the same things for so long, for about a year, and then we were put on ground staff jobs, and I got put on, well it were my choice, on driving. They were cook or drivers and I didn’t fancy cooking. I might have poisoned them all.
CB: Very likely. No, no, no. And what was, what determined the date of your demob?
KJ: It went on how old you were mainly ‘cause, and there was, the RAF for some reason was being held back ‘til last. So the Army and the Navy were getting demobbed, demobbed ahead of us but eventually the day came. But in that time, I’d been sent to Egypt and I was in charge of a lorry place which had forty five lorries, and I had to find loads for them going backwards and forwards. So, but eventually the day came when we came home [pause], and it was just a case of landing in Liverpool, going into this big hangar, big hangar and throwing my RAF kit into that, and walking out in a new suit. We got rigged out with civilian clothes.
CB: Right. What did they give you in civilian clothes?
KJ: Yeah.
CB: What did they give you?
KJ: A suit, shirt, tie, hat - which I never wore. I never wore a hat. The only time I wore a hat were in the RAF. And socks and shoes, the whole bag of tricks.
CB: So you came out of the RAF. Then what did you do?
KJ: Well my father had a little foundry and I went to work for him, but I did join the Observer Corps and I did another couple of years, part time of course, in the Observer Corps. We used to have exercises, mostly at weekends and we had a place out at Brampton.
CB: At Brampton.
KJ: Aye.
CB: Near Huntingdon.
KJ: Pardon?
CB: Brampton near Huntingdon [pause]. Where?
KJ: I thought it were Brampton. It was near Finningley.
CB: Ah.
KJ: Back side of Finningley. Actually we were in some gardens.
CB: Right.
KJ: There were like a hut there with a all glass top.
CB: Right.
KJ: So as you could see aircraft, and for a while it were interesting, ‘cause we did, we’d go on a weekend and we’d have to spot and record every aircraft we saw flying over. But then it got to nuclear business and the idea was you’d go out if there were a nuclear warning. We’d have to go out to the shelter and stay there till you got the all clear, but you were leaving your family behind. I said, ‘No. No. That’s not for me. If I go, we all go’, so I packed it in.
CB: In the Observer Corps, you were being paid as an employee were you?
KJ: In the Observer Corps? No. No, it were voluntary.
CB: So what was your job at the time?
KJ: I was working at er mining.
CB: In your father’s foundry.
KJ: Mining supplies. Engineering.
CB: Right. So you joined father’s foundry company.
KJ: Aye but –
CB: Then you changed from that.
KJ: I went to work for International Harvesters.
CB: Right. Oh right.
KJ: And learned more about machines, so I stayed at the Harvesters some years then. Twelve years I think.
CB: Did you? Right.
KJ: Aye, ‘cause my dad’s place – my mother was taken seriously ill. She died of cancer and my dad’s place had really gone to ruins. There was nobody knew how to run it like he did and he was at home all the time nursing mum, so I worked for Harvesters then for twelve year.
CB: And then what did you do? Did you do something after that?
KJ: I finished up at mining supplies.
CB: Right.
[phone ringing]
CB: We’ll stop it a mo.
[Recording paused]
CB: Where were the mining supplies? That was in Doncaster?
KJ: Carr Hill, yeah.
CB: In Carr Hill, yeah. And what were you doing there?
KJ: Engineering, running the machine.
CB: Oh right.
KJ: It was the, oh what did they call them?
CB: Milling.
KJ: Yeah. They were [pause]. Oh what did they call them? The machines that you put a programme in, and they —
CB: Yeah. CCN. Yeah
KJ: Yeah. So —
KJ: A lot of the young ones that were working there didn’t want to know, so I said I’d have a go at it, so I was taught how to run this machine and it fell in just natural, and that’s how I finished up working.
CB: How long were you with that one?
KJ: Oh a good, good, right to, after the war. I should say twelve, twelve years again.
CB: Right, and that brought you to retirement did it?
KJ: Yeah. Well I worked a long time after my retirement but eventually I had.
CB: Had to retire.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Right. I’m just going to pause.
[Recording paused]
CB: Right. So what would you say was the most memorable event in your time in the RAF?
KJ: I think obviously it would be I mean we’ve had some shaky dos as we used to call them, when we were being hit by flak and all that sort of thing, chased by fighters, but the worst experience was when we had the bombs dropped on us.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: And we lost our rear gunner.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: That was the most memorable thing.
CB: Traumatic.
KJ: Traumatic, that’s a better word yeah. Yeah.
CB: Out of interest, what did the Air Force do about a memorial service after that? Did they do anything?
KJ: No.
CB: No, because it was just run of the mill.
KJ: That’s it, yeah, it was a risk you took.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: That were their thinking, yeah. I’ve been to, you know, the Spire in Lincoln.
CB: Yes.
KJ: Well I’ve been to that, and all the names of those that got killed are all on brass plaques around the Memorial, and where we used to call him Jack Foy, ‘cause his name was Carson Jack Foy, and if I stand up again at this particular plaque, his name just appears above my head.
CB: Does it really.
KJ: Aye.
CB: ‘Cause he’s one of the ones of the twenty six thousand two hundred in the rolls of honour. The three.
KJ: That’s right. Yeah.
CB: The three volumes.
KJ: His mother lost two sons within [pause] within a month anyway.
CB: Really.
KJ: We lost Jack and then a few days after it was D-day and his brother was in the Canadian Army and he was killed on D-day.
CB: Right.
KJ: So she lost two sons.
CB: Heartbreaking.
KJ: I used to write to his sister but I know, but, one time I weren’t well and I left it, and I thought oh it’s, I’ll leave it now so I didn’t bother after that.
CB: We didn’t really talk about the number of times you were actually attacked by fighters and your response to that in defence of the aircraft.
KJ: I should say at least a half a dozen times, and it depended which gunner spotted them first, because he would take over as the [pause], tell the skipper to go into a corkscrew, so you’d shout, ‘Corkscrew left. Corkscrew left. Go’, and off you would go.
CB: And everybody then held on.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: How many did you shoot down between you?
KJ: We only, we only claimed one but —
CB: Was that yours?
KJ: We, there were a few we discouraged shall we say.
CB: Yes. Did the, did the one you shot down, was that yours or was it Carson’s?
KJ: Well I said it was the rear gunner’s because he got better shots at it. I were only getting it as it whizzed by. Just get in front and blaze away and hope for the best, but the rear gunner was watching it from the time it started to come at us.
CB: What was it?
KJ: An ME109.
CB: Right. In the dark?
KJ: Yeah, it was dark. Yeah. We got chased with a ME101.
CB: 110.
KJ: 110. 110. But it were cloudy that day and we kept dodging into the clouds and losing him.
CB: Right.
KJ: But he persevered for a hell of a time. Every time we come out of the cloud, he were there.
CB: Yeah, because he’d got radar hadn’t he?
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: Yeah. Course we didn’t know that at that time.
CB: Was it possible for the mid-upper and the rear gunner to engage the target at the same time?
KJ: Oh yeah, yeah, no problem there. The rear turret as you were, you went on a duckboard from the, well it was the toilet there.
CB: At the back.
KJ: At the back, and from there to the turret, you’d got like a runway, thick plywood, and you walked along that to get into the rear turret. Well from there, right up to under my turret, the rear gunners had got four, well two each side, four rows of cartridges going on a conveyer belt.
CB: Twenty seven feet of them.
KJ: Pardon?
CB: Nine yards. Twenty seven feet.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: Yeah, and mine were just in canisters either side of the guns.
CB: Right.
CB: So —
KJ: On the wall or on the floor?
CB: On the [pause] up, up same height as myself.
KJ: Right.
CB: So how many? You had obviously many less rounds. How many rounds did you have?
KJ: There were just a minute’s firing. One thousand something on each gun.
CB: Oh right.
KJ: So, but I mean the rear turret could go on for ages.
CB: How many rounds did the, that’s a lot of rounds on there stretched on the floor.
KJ: Oh yeah.
CB: For the rear gunner.
KJ: Yeah, yeah, coming right back from the rear turret to my turret and back again. Yeah, it was [pause] well it was about half way up the aircraft from the rear turret. Yeah. He’d a hell of a lot of cartridges, and you had incendiary bullets so you could see where you were, where your bullets were going.
CB: Tracer.
KJ: Tracer bullets.
CB: They were, they weren’t all tracer.
KJ: No.
CB: So it was, was one in how many?
KJ: One in every five, I think.
CB: Right.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: You needed that in the dark.
KJ: Yeah. Yeah. Then later on some of the rear turrets got .5s.
CB: Right at the end.
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Just 2.5s. Yeah.
KJ: Two instead of four 303s, yeah.
CB: So how did you feel about your reduced fire power of only two guns in the mid-upper?
KJ: Well you’d have been happier with more, but you just had to make do. I mean the rear, rear gunner had got a lot more fire power than you.
CB: When you were zeroing in on the attacking fighter, which part of the fighter would you actually be aiming to hit?
KJ: Well the easiest way was get in front of him and fire and let him come through your hail of bullets.
CB: Right.
KJ: But they had a laid down plan. You’d got the gun sight which was about that big. A circle.
CB: Right.
KJ: With a dot in the middle.
CB: Three inches.
KJ: And you were supposed, at different points, when you were in the corkscrew, trying to escape, different points where you were supposed to put your gun, aim you gun, but it was impossible.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: I mean, one minute you were head were in the top.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: The next minute it felt as though somebody had put a tonne weight on your shoulders. So a lot of it was using your own judgement.
CB: The final question on this is, you and the rear gunner are in a section that is completely unheated.
KJ: Oh yeah. Yeah.
CB: So how did you feel during the flight?
KJ: Well we were issued with heated suits but the trouble was, nine times out of every ten, they weren’t tended for and one minute they were too hot and the next, when you turned them off they were too cold. So they weren’t a lot of good to be quite honest, but you had an electrically heated suit and then an overall suit over the top of that.
CB: There were two circuits were there in the heated suit? One each side.
KJ: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So did they always both work?
KJ: Oh some of them failed. Some of them had got, they were, they got that hot, within minutes you had to take them off. You couldn’t stand that. It were better to not get used to it.
CB: So what sort of lengths were the flights? They varied but, to the target but what length in hours was a typical flight.
KJ: I should say on an average about six, seven hours but I’ve done some up to twelve hours.
CB: What that would be? The longest ones.
KJ: Stettin.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: Would be one of the longest ones. Right up in, well it were Russia at that time.
CB: Right out on the Baltic coast.
KJ: Yeah, that’s right.
CB: Did you, because you were getting to the end of the war, but you didn’t have, the Tallboy wasn’t used so you weren’t on the, some of the later raids to the cities.
KJ: No. Although I did Tallboy raids.
CB: Yes.
KJ: Some, some of my raids we carried the Tallboy.
CB: Yeah.
KJ: But a lot of it was, at the beginning in particular, you were going for German cities and you’d drop incendiaries and then the bangers after that, if you call them that. But you lit the target up with incendiaries first.
CB: But the four thousand pounder.
KJ: Yeah. Strangely enough, a lot of aircrew didn’t trust them. They were, they were very touchy if they got disturbed. They were likely to go off.
CB: Really.
KJ: After say, an hour, because they got an hour’s timing on them and probably when they’d been put up under, in to the bomb bays, somebody might catch them and that started the timing off.
CB: Oh.
KJ: But you didn’t know but you’d, after an hour, as you were crossing the channel, you’d see suddenly one in front of you blow up.
CB: And that was why was it?
KJ: That were why. Yeah. Yes very —
CB: What did they have in them then, that made them so sensitive?
KJ: Well it was the timer.
CB: I meant the explosives. It was a combination was it? Explosives and incendiary?
KJ: Yeah.
CB: Was it?
KJ: No. High explosive bombs. No, I don’t think the incendiaries were as much to worry about.
CB: So you’re dropping Tallboys, and how accurate would you say you were doing that?
KJ: Well you’d got to be accurate because anybody that got outside the aiming point would get a real telling off. The bomb aimer would get, and of course the pilot wouldn’t be very pleased, so he’d put his two penneth in as well.
CB: And how well could you see the effect of those?
KJ: Oh on some raids you could see every bomb that dropped. See it hit the ground and see the explosion and everything, but, ‘cause the, with the Tallboy, when it hit the ground you’d get like throwing a pebble in water. You’d get them rings come up but they were pressure rings instead of —
CB: Yeah.
KJ: And if you got, if you were below eight thousand feet, they’d throw you all over the place if you got in that.
CB: Oh really.
CB: Oh yeah.
KJ: Yeah. Aye, ‘cause if we were dropping them, the rest of the force were told not to drop less than, not to go below eight thousand feet.
CB: But they didn’t explode on impact because they were designed for penetration weren’t they?
KJ: That’s right.
CB: So there was a delay?
KJ: Yeah. They’d an armour plating nose which buried in to the ground and then depending on the delay fuse, would depend on that when they went off.
CB: Now one of the targets for some time was U-boat pens. How well did they work on those?
KJ: With, I know we did U-boat, U-boat pens at Bergen in Norway and we’d got one hour timers on and they went through the top of the pen and they were half in the pen and the Germans thought they were duds but —
CB: Right.
KJ: On the hour they found out they weren’t.
CB: Right, but the hour delay was designed to get maximum effect of casualty.
KJ: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Like I say, they thought they were duds and by the time they found out they weren’t, it were too late.
CB: Viaducts. So you talked about those.
KJ: Pardon?
CB: With viaducts, were they effective on those?
KJ: Yeah. Oh yeah, because they used to bury under the, underneath and that caused them to crumble over.
CB: So how did you feel about it after you’d been on a raid?
KJ: [Laughs] Thankful that we’d come back. Yeah.
CB: I was thinking about your reaction to the result of your bombing.
KJ: Oh well, we were always pleased to see we, we’d made a mess of where we were bombing.
CB: Because unlike a normal raid, there wouldn’t be lots of smoke.
KJ: No. No. No.
CB: It would be clear cut, wouldn’t it? What you’d done.
KJ: Yeah. Yeah. As soon as a Tallboy hit the ground, you got those —
CB: Yeah.
KJ: Rings coming up.
CB: Shockwaves, yeah. And what about Grand Slams? Did you drop those as well?
KJ: We didn’t, no, there were only six. I think only three aircraft on 617 that were altered to carry them.
CB: Right.
KJ: Because they had no bomb doors on them.
CB: No.
KJ: Just they just went up, ‘cause the first time I saw them, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This damned great thing slung under an aircraft and no bomb doors. Aye.
CB: Did you do joint raids with 617, or were they all done separately?
KJ: No, the second tour, we were always with them, but the first tour was with general.
CB: Yeah, general bombing.
KJ: Bombing, yeah.
CB: Right. Thank you very much.
KJ: It’s a pleasure.
[Recording paused]
CB: Just one other thing, on the Tirpitz raids then, what happened there?
KJ: Well, they took the mid-upper turrets out altogether to lighten the load they were carrying, and they had a, they had a bigger bomb on, the twelve thousand pound bomb. But they were, they were special made bomb doors, they weren’t completely round, they’d got a dimple in them to go around the shape of the bomb.
CB: Right.
KJ: And every one of them bombs was turned in either Sheffield or Scotland, there were only two lathes big enough to do them. That’s why if we weren’t certain of the target, we had to bring them back.
CB: Expensive and scarce.
KJ: Oh yeah. Yeah.
CB: Right.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Ken Johnson. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 14, 2024,

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