Interview with Jim Penny. One


Interview with Jim Penny. One


Jim Penny joined the Air Force in July 1940 when he was eighteen. He recounts the training which he undertook before he became a Bomber Command Pathfinder pilot for 97 Squadron at RAF Bourn. He explains the crewing up process and details those who were in his crew. He gives accounts of his operations until his aircraft was shot down over Berlin 24 November 1943. His Lancaster was hit in the bomb bay by anti-aircraft fire which caused a green target indicator to explode. All his crew were killed but he became a prisoner of war. After the war he stayed in the RAF until he retired in 1971.




Temporal Coverage




00:43:13 audio recording

Conforms To


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APennyJ150816, PPennyJ1501


JP: Right, I’m James Alfred Penny. I’m ninety-three. I was born in Glasgow and during the war I ended up as a Bomber Commander Pathfinder Pilot with 97 Squadron at RAF Borne in Cambridgeshire, where we flew Lancasters. I was seventeen and a half when the war was declared. I still remember Neville Chamberlin broadcast. I thought then that he had done his best to prevent another war was almost in tears with those that were in war with Germany. I joined the RAF in July forty when I was eighteen. I’d wanted to be a pilot since I was about ten probably from reading all the exciting stories of the First World War pilots. There was a long waiting list before finally getting an aircrew medical. I finally became RAF VR at the voluntary reserve on 20th March 1941. I finally called for service on 4th July forty-one, sixteen days before my nineteenth birthday. On the train to London I met John Thomas and Alec McGarvey both policemen. Police had been reserved from East twenty-five and recently those between fifty-five and thirty were given permission to volunteer for aircrew. In my flight of sixty ITW, Initial Training Wing, forty were ex police. I remained convinced that every policeman in the United Kingdom between twenty-five and thirty promptly volunteered. Our flight was sent to America. General [unclear] Arnold commanded the South East Army Air Core. What became known as the Arnold Scheme trained RAF airman to be pilots. It began in June 1941 while America was still neutral and we entered the United States in civilian clothes. Our six hundred airmen became 42E, the fifth entry to be trained as pilots. When the Japs attacked Pearl Harbour on 7th December forty-one we went into RAF uniform. As the US declared war in Germany in Japan we were now allies. The Arnold Scheme ended in March 1943 presumably as the US required their training facilities and the build up of their own airforce. As well as the Arnold Scheme RAF were trained in Texas and produced navel airman by the US Navy. One hundred of us went to Souther Field, Americus, Georgia for primary training by the civilian, Graham Civilian Aviation Company on the PT17, the Stearman biplane. My civilian instructor, G M Marston was a quiet, patient man who inspired confidence. Being sent solo was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me. From basic training we went to the US AirCore Cochran Field, Macon in Georgia manned by AirCore ground crew and officer flying instructors. We flew the BT-13A, an all metal monoplane with fixed undercarriage and a standard instrument panel suitable for night flying. The propeller had a fine and coarse pitch. Compared to the Stearman it was very heavy on the controls. I was slowly adjusted to these heavy controls. My aircrew lieutenant with a none stop [unclear] style had no patience had put me up for check ride by a senior instructor. This went off well and I was given a new instructor a Lieutenant Stanell, another quiet patient man with whom I progressed well and passed onto advanced. Advanced training at Napier Field, Dothan, Alabama was an AT-6A named by a Harvard by the RAF. Light on the controls I was again slow to adjust. On approachment to landing I let the speed drop dangerously low, near to a stall, which from approach height would have been fatal. I had two check rides and was washed out and sent back to Canada. In Canada the personal dispatch centre at Trenton Ontario was unhappy place. Airman who had failed their courses were processed for some other form of service. Interviewed by a Flight Lieutenant he asked why I had been washed out. I said it was my own fault. I’d been too slow to adjust the voltage much heavier controls and the Harvard had the same trouble in reverse, for it was light on the controls and I was heavy handed now. I said I thought it would’ve been better if I had gone from the Stearmans straight to Harvards. The Lieutenant smiled and said we had been worried about the number of washouts at advanced and sent a team of experienced pilots to investigate. They’ve just come back and had recommended exactly what you have suggested. I’m going to recommend you go back and fly. In 1950 training by a flying instructor at central, RAF Central Flying School I was trained to rest my hand lightly on the Harvards trim to ensure it was not used incorrectly whilst you’re a pilot. I recall the Vultee VT-13 required the elevated trim to be wound fully back on the approach to landing. Wind the trim fully back on the Harvard resulted in a near up attitude and dangerous loss of speed on the approach. Now that my instructor and two check ride pilots had recognised what I was doing with the trim which was creating the danger, and recently reading about the Arnold Scheme on the internet I learnt that some fifty percent failed and were sent back to Canada. I wonder now how many of the large number of washouts from advanced that Trent Flight Lieutenant had mentioned had been caught out by the same simple trap. In a flight interview the Flight Lieutenant apologised for me going back to flying on the twin engine Lockwood for he rightly assumed, like most, I wanted to be a pilot, fighter pilot. We went to 35 SFTS North Battleford, Saskatchewan. After the war when I visited Canada I realised that someone in the Canadian Government had been very far seeing. These airfields built all over Canada became civil airfields serving the far flung areas of Canada which might otherwise might not have afforded this vital facility in such remote areas. The Airspeed Oxford was a low wing twin engine aircraft with a single fin and rudder pared with the Armstrong Siddeley 350 horsepower Cheetah radial engine. A sturdy plane, for me it had no vices. My instructor Pilot Officer, Flight Officer Henry Shackleton was another quiet patient man whose pleasant friendly manner put one at ease. On the 12th of September 1942 we were awarded our coveted wings and promoted to Sergeant. I had flown a total of two hundred and eighty-one hours by then and as was usual only six on our course were commissioned. We came home on the Queen Elizabeth. More than ten thousand of all three services were aboard. She sailed unescorted because she was too fast for any sub to catch her. The Queen and Queens must have carried nearly two million men to and fro across the Atlantic. [pause] RAF Shawbury in Shropshire was the first airfield I flew from in England on 15th January 1943 and was to be the last stationed I served at on retirement on 19th of July 1971. It was a special place in my memories, all happy for it was a happy station and always blessed by good station commanders. In January forty-three number 11 Advanced Flying Unit was equipped for the Airspeed Oxford. They checked our competency as pilots, accustomed us to night flying over the blacked out, over the blacked out UK. There was a bat fight a team approach training flight which trained pilots on the system where on approach to landing the pilot had a constant hum in his earphones if he was correctly in line with the runway. If he strayed off course the hum became a Morse Code dot dash or dash dot depending on whether he was port or starboard of the correct line of approach. There was an outer beacon, sorry an outer and an inner beacon which gave a cone of silence as the plane passed overhead. I think one had — stop this is then —I think one had to be four hundred feet at the outer beacon and two hundred feet at the inner. On my last bat fight, under the hood flying solely only on instruments, I was guided by the beacon approach. After the near marker I expected the instructed to take over but he told me to keep going and finally said “round out”. This I did and instantly with touchdown on the runway. I had a shock when I lifted the hood off. We were in thick fog. The instructor, also on the beam, had absolute faith in it keeping me on the controls lets him concentrate on seeing the runway at the last minute. Thick fog had arrived suddenly and with insufficient flow to divert to another airfield clear of fog. The experience only gave me even more confidence in the BE system. I left Shawbury with a total of three hundred and seventy hours and much more confident of my abilities as a pilot. [pause] Can we start again? For operation training we went to RAF Tilstock Heath in Shropshire where we crewed up. This is a strange RAF custom. Pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators and rear gunners were assembled in a large hanger. We were told to sort ourselves out into crews and left to get on with it. With no warning of this affair most looked at stunned as I felt. How did one start? I thought I might as well get a Scottish crew and went over to a work of bomb aimers and asked if any of them were Scots. Sergeant Ali Campbell, a bomb aimer, said “I'm from Glasgow will I do”? I liked the look of them man. “Certainly” “I know a navigator from Glasgow shall I get him?” “Yes please.” He fetched a dark [unclear] individual older man and introduced him as Jimmy Graham also from Glasgow. With Jimmy was a red headed, freckled fresh face gunner and Jimmy said “Red here is an American. He'd like to be in the same crew as me.” Red was Sergeant P D Rise from New York. I liked, I liked the look of the man. I was delighted. All I needed now as a wireless op. A little chap asked if I could take somebody from Grimsby. I liked the look of him too. Sergeant J R Cowan made my crew complete. Seems strange I never knew their ages until I started to write my memoirs in the year 2000 and I learnt them from a kind and most competent lady from the Air Historical Branch. Jimmy Graham was the oldest man in the crew at twenty-eight. Bob Campbell was twenty-two. Bob Cowan twenty-three. Red was Royal Canadian Air Force and I only learnt he was twenty-nine when my book was published and I was contacted by his relatives. It seems now a strange way to select a crew to put us all together and let us sort ourselves out. Somehow it worked and the crew thus formed seem to be successful. RAF Sleap was a nearby satellite airfield for Tilstock Heath. C flight from err, C flight was detached to operate from there. We flew the Whitley Mark 4, powered by two Rolls Royce Merlins. When we practiced single engine landing I thought the Whitley was difficult in holding height on one engine. In fact, one night heading back to Sleap from a cross-country exercise, we lost power in the starboard engine and started to lose height. We approached the Pennines with only high ground to come, a black night and a possibility of air, air, alternator error I told the crew to put on their parachutes and standby to bail out if we got below three thousand feet. Fortunately our old Whitley held height above three thousand feet and we made it safely back to base. That was when I found out that Bob Cowan was petrified of having to bail out but it didn't stop him flying, that is courage. I liked the aircraft. It handled well and seemed sturdy. We practiced bombing at both high and low level, air to sea gunnery and many cross-country flights. We flew slightly more night than day hours. By the end of the course I had four hundred and thirty hours in my log and for the first and only time passed out with an above average assessment in my logbook. As a crew we were above average and we had major successes in navigation and bombing exercises. We were pleased to be one of the two crews on the course to be chosen to fly on an operational leaflet dropping over France and even more pleased when the operation was cancelled. For we were only too well aware that the Whitley was no longer a suitable operational aircraft. I was asked if we would volunteer for Pathfinder Force, warning that this would mean a tour of forty ops instead of thirty which was the main post tour. I consulted with the crew and they all agreed they wanted to accept the offer for the Pathfinders were considered an elite force. We went to a heavy conversion unit at RAF Blyton in June and we were there until July and we first flew the Halifax Mark 2 and 4, 2 and 5, sorry. For the Halifax was reckoned to have a sturdier undercarriage, better able to stand a heavy landing pilots new to the type might make and often did. After about fifteen hours in a Halifax we flew forty-eight hours in the Lancaster's Mark 1 and 3. I loved the Lancaster from the first flight. It was a pilot’s aeroplane. It was very responsive. Sergeant Father's, aged 21, who came from London, became our flight engineer. On the 26th of July I was promoted to acting up flight sergeant and we left Blyton for RAF Upwood which housed a Pathfinder Navigation Training Unit. For the staff instructor observing how we performed we flew one bombing and six country flight exercises. The last was the north, up the Irish Sea between the western isle, round the top of Scotland down over central Scotland and the Pennines. At ten thousand feet on a clear summer day it was the most pleasant flight I have ever made. The weather was glorious and the Highlands and Islands were beautiful. [pause] Next we joined 97 Pathfinders Squadron at RAF Bourn in Cambridgeshire. Bourn was [unclear] airfield with dispersed accommodation. We were allocated a mid upper gunner, pilot officer G T, G J Bates. He had already completed one tour and we were delighted to have a man of his experience join the crew. He was relaxed and at ease with us and we all liked him. I remember the casualties and how they affected our attitude and emotions at the time, especially squadron casualties. We were aware that regularly [unclear] strike at the heart of Nazi Germany. We were proud to be part of the Armada, I still am. [pause] Alright. Over the years I’ve often been asked if I was ashamed of bombing Germany. Those that asked that question are the ones who should be ashamed. More than fifty-five young men in Bomber Command who died were exactly the same type of men as the fighter pilots from the Battle of Britain and like them were fighting for their country. Err, and Hitler — don't, don’t, yeah, right. The bombing campaign was indeed terrible but in the context of the time it was essential. The moment war ended political experience combined with moral cordis made those who had approved the campaign back off because of primarily Hamburg and Dresden. Both had military targets and ethers of time I deeply regret the necessity but not the actions. For the first I was not yet an operational squadron. For the second I was a POW. Had I been on a squadron at those times I would have taken part. This part of my story is primarily to the memory of five brave young men who died to keep the country free from an evil tyranny and a brave young American who came to help. Right. At Bourn we were allocated a mid — new pilots went as a second pilot for an experienced crew in their first two operations. I was crewed with Pilot Officer Ken Farely, an Australian. Operation pilots in Lancaster were not fitted with dual control. Second pilots stood behind the engineers position keeping out of the way. Milan was a seven hour forty-five minutes round trip of about twelve thousand miles, twelve hundred miles sorry. A long time to be standing. All I did look out and listen to the crew on the intercom. They were very professional. There was no chatter and it was all related to the task. There was cloud cover all the way over France but over the Alps the sky cleared and in the bright moonlight the Alps were awesome. Brilliant white snow on the mountains did not hide the bleakness and the threat of the black rock. I remember thinking this was no place to have an engine failure. A forced landing was out of the question, even parachuting would have been fraught with danger. The sky cleared over Italy and the target was visible from the fires already started. The searchlights and the flying to my inexperienced eye seemed to waiver about rather aimlessly in the fact of the light below us even though we were only about fifteen thousand feet. We were carrying target indicator bombs, the usual cookie, the four thousand pound blast bomb and three five hundred pound high explosive bombs. Looking at the bomb dispersal I thought how impressive that bomb load looked. It was particularly interesting listening to the bombers controls as he lined up to drop are green TI’s on the [unclear]. The Pathfinders task, the most experienced crews identified the aiming point and dropped red TI markers and follow-up Pathfinders dropped backup greens on the reds. Target indicators drifted, usually backwards. Instructed by the master bomber, Pathfinders would re-centre. Main force aircraft bombed on these markers. One hundred and forty Lancasters went to Milan and one failed to return. The flight home was anticlimax. The Alps were awesome but the flight over France was dull, even boring. Later on of course I realised that was just what was most wanted. A nice safe, incident free, boring journey home. On the 16th it was a relief to be at the controls again with my own crew and we made a short daylight flight. On the 17th I was flown — no hang on, cut that. On the 23rd of August to Leverkusen. Again I was crewed as a second pilot to Pilot Officer Farely. Four hundred and seventy Lancs and Halifax’s went to Leverkusen and five failed to return. Flight time was four hours forty-five for a five hundred mile round trip. With a lighter fuel load we carried a heavier bomb load. TI’s, the cookie and six thousand pound high explosives. This time the targets seemed to be heavily defended by flak. There was virtually complete cloud cover lit up by the searchlights, good for the night fighters to see the bombers against the relatively bright cloud. Although our gunners didn't see, other reports said there was a lot of fighter activity. We bombed the red glows. I thought a bit dodgy though I had just enough sense to make no comment. Leverkusen is not far from Cologne and I heard later the Germans had reported that Cologne had been attacked. We bombed from thirty thousand feet which I thought a bit dodgy in heavy flak. Sergeant Farely was making sure his bomb aimers had the best possible view. There was a lot of flak on the way to and from the target. We were in a major industrial area and the flak was from other towns. I was dying to ask questions but knew that would not be welcomed. The shorter flight time with so much going, on despite tiring, this trip was not too tiring. [pause] Was on the 23rd and 24th of August to Berlin. It was decided it would not be fair to send me to Berlin on my first operation with my crew. Ok. We had been reminded at briefing to be alert for intruders on return and this lesson was rubbed in when we learnt that a crew had been shot down over England when nearly home. Our first operation as a crew was on 27th, 28th of August to Nuremberg my flight engineer was Sergeant Richard Fathers, twenty-one. I was twenty-one at that time. My navigator Sergeant James Graham was twenty-eight. My bomb aimer was Sergeant Campbell, twenty-two. My wireless operator Sergeant Cowan was twenty-three. My mid upper gunner, I never did find out his name, his age and my rear gunner Sergeant Rees eventually I found out was ninety-seven, no twenty-seven. On the ground it was Christian names except that I was always Skipper and there I used the crew positions eg bomb aimer. On that first flight with a task as main force for the bomb force, loaded with the cookie a blast bomb and high explosives Jimmy’s navigation was spot on and we reached the target on time. The Nuremberg, the Nuremberg target was clear. Bob bombed the TIs which were clearly seen. I was impressed with his calm control on the bombing run and his rising crescendo tone as he gave steady, steady, steady just before he reached our bombs which emphasised the need for just that. Although the flight was heavy and there was many searchlights we saw no night fighters but learnt there weren't many at the target on the route home. Of six hundred and seventy-four aircraft thirty-three were lost two night fighters. Two were 97 Squadron crews which put a damper on our euphoria at completing a successful mission. Right. Stop. On the 31st of August we went to Mönchengladbach. Fifteen of the squadron took off after midnight, a round trip of six hundred and sixty miles took three and a half hours. Jimmy’s navigation was spot on and we arrived at the target on ETA. We carried a cookie again and high explosives even with that load we had notably reached ninety thousand feet. Despite the cloud cover Bob could see the glow of the red and green concentration markers and bombed in the centre of these.
Again I found it easy to follow his clear guiding voice as he kept us on line for his target. With his bombs gone the light seemed to leap up, if it could have sighed with relief I’m sure it would have. I did. We still had a further thirty seconds of straight and level waiting for the flash to go off on our camera. I hated that extra wave and ones instinct was to turn away with the flak bursting near us. No fighters but twenty-five aircraft were lost to [unclear] many over the target area. Right. The 30th August to the 1st September 1943 we went to Berlin. The flight time was six hundred and fifty hours over a thousand miles. Our bomb load was a cookie plus eight five hundred pound heavy explosives. We reached Berlin on estimated time of arrival. At eighteen thousand feet Bob bombed on a red marker despite the cloud. The flight seemed more concentrated to me. The searchlights lit up the cloud. We saw no fighters but many of our own aircraft was seen over the target. Forty-seven were missing mostly to fighters and mainly in the Berlin target area. Wing Commander Burns, A Flight Commander was reported missing which was a shock for he was a legendary character on the squadron. It was also disconcerting that someone so experienced could fail to return. We were gaining in confidence. The crew had performed so well and Berlin was considered one of the dodgiest targets. Overall losses proved that. We flew three more successful missions [pause] each time arriving on our ETA and err, our ETA — alright. Start that again. 3rd of September 1943 was Berlin again and the 5th and 6th of September we went to Mannheim which was the boomerang. The Boomerang is failing to complete a mission [pause] oh dear. It’s incomplete a mission. Returning airway a very opposite name for such events. A boomerang does not count as an operation. Less than an hour out the starboard outer engine caught fire. We ejected our bombs in the sea. On our way back the station engineering officer told me the oil pipe, the propeller control had sheared and the loss of oil would have been so rapid, too much to allow for the feathering. He congratulated me on getting back and landing safely with a wind milling prop. I was pleased for I was a bit miffed that not one of the pilots, not even my flight commander, made any well done comment. When I thought about it, it was small beer compared to having been to Mahnomen and back. On the 15th of September we went to Montlucon in France again, no not again, take that out, rubber factory some four hundred and thirty miles from base. [pause] It took five hundred and twenty hours, five hundred and twenty hours. Three hundred and seventy-four Halifax and Stirling bombers were assigned. Of the forty Lancaster twenty-eight were Pathfinders. I suspect the others were new crews like us from Pathfinder squadrons with main force bomb loads of cookies and heavy explosives. We went in at four thousand six hundred feet. On the approach Sam Ogleby, our new gunner called out from mid upper turret “Christ skipper look up”. I saw what seemed to be hundreds of bombs falling just a few feet in front of us. Most seem to be coming from heavy bombing directly over head. At briefing we had been told of the aircraft brief to bomb from six thousand, eight thousand and ten thousand feet. On return it was surprising to hear that incendiary bombs had hit only five aircraft. What had been looked on as a relatively safe operation had turned out to be quite hairy. Three aircraft were lost, one to flak near the coast and two to fighters. The raid was completely successful in destroying the entire Dunlop works. On the 16th and 17th of September we went to Modane Tower in France. Again our mid upper gunner was again Sam Ogleby. The target was the entrance to the Modane Tunnel. Three hundred identical loads. Unlike my feelings on my last return from Milan, this time I welcomed an uneventful return home. I was not tired by flight time of seven hours ten minutes but piloting kept me busy and strangely happy. Also I was not standing all the way. Two aircraft had lost to flak over the French coast one going and one on the way home. A third fell to a fighter somewhere on the route back. We then had a new mid upper gunner Flight Sergeant R S Mortham, aged 23, who had completed a tour in the Middle East. [pause] [sigh] In September we flew three more successful missions each time arriving on our ETA. We also flew one boomerang. The 3rd of September 1943 we went to Berlin. On the 5th, 6th of September we went to Mannheim, that was the boomerang. The boomerang is failing to complete a mission returning early. A boomerang does not count as an operation. Less than an hour out the Starboard outer caught fire, we ejected our bombs in the sea our way back to the base. On our way back the station engineering officer told me the oil pipe, the propeller control had sheared and the loss of oil would have been so rapid, too much to allow for the feathering. He congratulated me on getting back and landing safely with a wind milling prop. I was pleased for I was a bit miffed that not one of the pilots, not even my flight commander, made any well done comment. When I thought about it, it was small beer compared to having been to Mahnomen and back. 15th of September was Montlucon in France. The target was the Dunlop rubber factory four hundred and thirty miles from base. The round trip took five hours. Three hundred and seventy-four Halifax and Stirling bombers were assigned. Of the forty Lancs twenty-eight were Pathfinders. I suspect the others were new crews like us. Squadrons with main force bomb loads of cookies and HE. We went in at four thousand six hundred feet. On the approach Sam Ogleby, our new gunner called out from the mid upper turret “Christ skipper look up”. I saw what seemed to be hundreds of bombs falling just a few feet in front of us. Most seem to be coming from a heavy bomber directly over head. At briefing we’d been told there would be aircraft brief to bomb from six thousand, eight thousand and ten thousand feet. On return it was surprising to hear that incendiary bombs had only hit five aircraft. What had been looked on as a relatively safe operation had turned out to be quite hairy. Three aircraft were lost. The raid was completely successful in destroying the entire Dunlop works. September 16th, 17th we went to Modane in France and again our mid upper gunner was again Sam Ogleby. The target was the entrance to the Modane Tunnel. Unlike my feelings on my last return from Milan, this time I welcomed an uneventful return home. Two aircraft were lost to flak over the French coast one going one on the way home, a third fell to a fighter somewhere on the route back. We then had a new mid upper gunner, Flight Sergeant R S Mortham aged 23, who had completed a tour in the Middle East. In October we made five successful operations. On the 2nd and 3rd of October, 3rd of October to Munich. On 4th and 5th to Frankfurt. At Frankfurt ten aircraft were missing and one was from 97 Squadron. Strange that even heavy losses overall seem to have little effect yet the loss of one squadron crew cast a gloom. Not that we knew the lost crew, we were all friendly enough but did not mix with other crews. It was as if each crew was sufficient unto itself. It was certainly not a conscious decision but as if we were aware at all time that someone might be the next to go. With indestructibility of youth it was never going to be you, always some other chaps. 7th, 8th of October Stuttgart. 8th and 9th Hammerberg. That was another boomerang. 18th and 19th Hanover. 22nd, Frankfurt, Kassel. Three hundred and forty three Lancs went to Kassel, the main target, only four were lost. This time there were two important [unclear] raids. Lancs to [unclear] and Mosquitoes to Munich. These spoof [unclear] particularly Mosi’s in Munich drew off the German fighters. For us there was various flak to fly through, much as usual. Of the eighteen aircraft of 97 Squadron which went to Hanover one was — a number of experience crews went missing. 18th, 19th of October was Hannover. Three hundred and sixty Lancs went out. Seventeen were lost. Another experienced crew from 97 Squadron again put a dampener on satisfactorily completing another op. 22nd of October Kassel and Frankfurt. Sixteen crews attacked Kassel and two were part of the spoof raid on Frankfurt to draw the German Fighters from the main force. We were one of those crews though the other boomerang. Frankfurt, eight mosquitoes and twenty-eight Lancs set off for Frankfurt and thirty-one of us got there. A bomb load with cookies and one hundred and fifty-six incendiaries. The only time we carried incendiaries for we were a spoof simulating the beginning of a full raid. On the crew buster aircraft I remember Red “Hey skip were to draw off the fighters we’ll be drawing off the buggers onto us”. Kassel, Frankfurt was 90 mile to the south and slightly west to Kassel. The route had made it appear that Frankfurt was the main target but as we opened attack there the main force turned north east to Kassel. We headed there to after dropping our bombs and the raid was fully developed as we approached. The sky was clear and visibility good. We could see Kassel was a solid [unclear] of fire. I thought it must be completely destroyed. All my commander reports confirmed that. My thoughts had been accurate to all intents and purposes it was. There were many fighters at Kassel and of the four hundred and forty-four Lancasters and Halifax which attacked Kassel, forty-two were lost. A heavy price to pay even for an incredibly successful operation. I was sad that our spoof had not been very successful. Kassel was a horror on the scale of Hamburg and Dresden and the efficiency of the operation. It was a smaller place. I have no idea of the casualties or reports concerned to the Germans. War did not comment on German casualties. For once I felt sorry for the folk in that city. Would I do it again? Yes. We were at war, all war is evil but more evil is to submit to evil. For me it's a simple as that. Bomber Command in forty and forty-one to forty-three was the only force with air striking directly at Germany. Part of the direct damage done to the German war. If all those German fighter planes, guns, searchlights and the men who manned them had been available for the Russian front, it could reasonably be argued that Russia might have been defeated before the aid of the west reached it. November forty-three [pause] 3rd and 4th November 43 we went to Dusseldorf. This was our first operation as back up markers. I have since discovered that crews from main force Squadron with a good record would be asked to volunteer for Pathfinder Force after fifteen main force operations. We’d been picked up early and done [unclear] trips for the Pathfinder Squadron. It gave us a boost to think we had proved ourselves. We were now considered competent to be a back up marker crew. This was due to Jimmy’s consistently accurate navigation and Bob's excellent bomb aiming. Bob certainly is part too passing information obtained on his steady radio watch. Although we had not been attacked by night fighters we had great confident in our gunners ability which was comforting. We now carried four TIs, that’s target indicator bombs, as well as the cookie and high explosives. Dusseldorf was a round trip taking four hours thirty minutes. Bob's report as recorded in Jimmy's log stated green TI markers and bomb sites at time of release of bombs. Markers later were concentrated. A typical clear report from Bob. He always had a relevant aiming point in his bomb sight. Cut. 7th and 8th of November we went to Mannheim which had twin towers separated by the Rhine. Then on the 18th and 19th of November we were back to Berlin. Stop there. 18th and 19th of November was Berlin again. Again we got there on ETA and Bob released our HE on a concentration of various backed up by greens. We saw flak all around us, Berlin was getting quite dodgy. Nine of the four hundred and forty Lancaster's failed to return. 22nd and 23rd of November Berlin, six hundred and fifty heavies plus eleven mosquitoes attacked Berlin. Wait a minute. The, the — what's that? The Bomber Command report stated that German Fighters were grounded by bad weather and only twenty-five aircraft were lost. It only shows clearly that although every airport was made to keep losses down these raids were made before learners and acceptance of the best of all those young men. It was appropriate to record the great regard bomber crews had for Butch Harris.

Back within the ethers of time with us and we were proud to be one of the Butch’s men. Butch was a term of affection. I recorded it but I don't expect those not there to understand it. Cut. 24th November 1943, Berlin. We were again carrying TIs. We arrived on ETA to find about eight tenths cloud. The searchlights again lit up the sky and the cloud. The flak seemed heavier than ever as we arrived up to our aiming point. At the end of our terminal run and just as his voice had risen to the central tone of steady, steady, steady he quietly said “we’ve re-centred, carry on straight and level Skipper it's going to be about two more minutes”. So we did a further two minutes straight and level. This time just as Bob's tone had [coughs] again risen to the steady, steady, steady indicating imminent bomb release we were hit by flak in the bomb bay. [pauses]The BST report of that night's raid seems to fully support my belief, as it was predictive flak, given that extra time to latch on to us one of our green TIs exploded in the bomb bay and we were surrounded by green fire. All the electrics fused so there was no intercom. I distinctively released my catch to my harness which strapped me in my seat and I broke open the harness to lean forward and wave to Dicky who was in the nose by Bob throwing out window. Window is metallic strips for deceiving radar. I pointed to behind my seat where his parachute was. As he came back I started counting one and two, two and three until I reached eighteen seconds. I knew my crew could be allowed thirty to sixty seconds for we practiced often enough. Now I had no intercom to give them the order I still believe that, that when I lent, lent forward I saw Bob with his hand on the bomb release panel trying to eject our bombs. I know the forward escape hatch was not open. I also knew it would all be a matter of seconds before the burning TI set off the four thousand pound blast bomb from the cookie, and hoped it would be long enough to get some of them out. I still had full control and all I had to do was keep my plane straight and level to give my crew the best aid to bailing out. I knew I was going to die but my responsibility for my crew, was my crew. I did throw up two thoughts my first was Mum’s not going to like this and very strangely for I had never considered this before nor even as the polite saying is knowing a woman the second was I wish I’d left a son behind. There was now flames between me and my instrument panel and Dicky was just bending down for a parachute when the cookie blew up. I found myself still in the sitting position in cold air with a flashing thought “where's my bloody plane gone”. The mind works incredibly fast in such situations and I recall waving the choices between doing a delayed drop to avoid the flak or opening my chute at once to drift clear of the bombing. As we were exactly over the aiming point when we blew up and at the midpoint of the raid I knew what was to come. I pulled my rip cord. When my chute opened I saw what could only be a piece of fuselage falling past me like a falling leaf. Then I remembered that the Home Guard had been told if a shell exploded within fifty feet of a parachute it would cause it to candle, which means to fold up. With that in mind, hanging there in the middle of the Berlin flak where it seemed to be every gun was pointed at me, I have never been so frightened in all my life. Courage is a strange thing, in the plane I had the responsibility of my crew I knew I was done but I was scared. Hanging from a parachute I had nothing to think about but myself, I was petrified. The German gunners missed me and I did land safely but that begins a different part of my story. [pause]. It's completely irrational for I could have done no more than I did but I still carry a deep sense, not of guilt but of something closely approximating to it, in that I lived and my crew died. I wrote to all the kin on my liberation with varying responses. I’d known my crew for such a short, time indeed knew little about them except professionally they were so very good at their respective jobs yet we became a close knit crew and formed an inexplicable bond, dependant on each other skills and loyalty. Red could have joined his countrymen, he would certainly have had better pay probably better promotion, yet he chose to stay with his skipper and his crew. Like the rest of us he knew the risks. Few crews from Pathfinder completed the forty-five operations. Now after over seventy years it’s absurd but I can still see them as they were and I miss them still. Their loss has conditioned my response in life to include indeed I am lucky Jim because I have a life that they were all denied. That's it. I landed in a back garden, a suburban back garden in Berlin and was very rapidly picked up. I was a prisoner of war from the 24th of November 1943 to the 4th of May 1945. After the war I stayed in the air force and was commissioned and retired in 1971.

MJ: On behalf of the International Bomber Command I'd like to thank Jim Penny for his recording on the 23rd of August 2015 at his home in Shrewsbury. Thank you very much.



Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Jim Penny. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 18, 2024,

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