Interview with Peter Fitt


Interview with Peter Fitt







01:49:04 audio recording


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AS: So that is now recording –
PF: Right.
AS: Right as I’ve explained, this is an interview with Peter Fitt, Flight Lieutenant Signaller, from the Royal Air Force Bomber Command during the war. The interview’s carried out by Adam Sutch at Cromer, on the 19th of May 2015. The interview is also for the International Bomber Command Centre digital archive, and also present is Peter’s daughter, Jane.
PF: Yep, right.
AS: Peter, thanks ever so much for agreeing to be interviewed, I’d like to set the scene by asking you to describe your life before joining the Air Force. A little bit about your home, your parents, brothers and whatnot?
PF: Well, well that’s very quick. I was in horticulture, so, and my father was a head gardener, and he was keen – I wasn’t – he was keen on me going into horticulture. I wanted to go into the Air Force, ‘cause I was still at the grammar school and there was opportunities to, to join the Air Force. But I – it didn’t materialise, and I was a bit angry at the time, but it didn’t matter, when you’re children you get on with these sort of things, and the war came along [chuckles] course I went into the Air Force, and that was that, I’d, I became air crew and I flew on operations during the war, against Germany, and in Lancasters like the one up there [?], and that’s [laughing] about all I can say apart from describing every trip which is – I don’t want to do that.
AS: No, no of course. When you were growing up, whereabouts was this? Where did you grow up? In Norwich?
PF: Where did I grow up? Oh yeah well, I went to Thetford Grammar School, and I left –
Jane: Where were you born?
PF: Oh where was I born? Yes, well I was born at Earlham Hall here in, in Norwich where my father was head gardener, and erm, see the connection to horticulture [chuckles], and then I – where was I until you, I –
Jane: Then you went to Breccles Hall.
PF: Ah yes, then I –
Jane: But your father moved –
PF: My father, my father moved as head gardener at Breccles Hall and I was four I think when we moved, I went the local council school, and then I went to Thetford Grammar School when I was eleven, and that’s where I was until I, until I left. [Pause] got the usual thing one gets from grammar schools, a school certificate and things like that, and [pause] then it was – a war was declared and I always wanted to go into the Air Force, and my father wouldn’t let me go, and, ‘cause when I was at Thetford Grammar School, there was chances every year, the Air Ministry used to come send people round and, canvassing for chaps to go into the Air Force, but he wouldn’t let me, so when the time came along when he didn’t have anything to do with it, and of course I went into the Air Force [chuckles].
AS: What, what year would that be? What, what month and year?
PF: This would be at the outbreak of war, round about ’39 time.
AS: Okay, so what, what did you want to do in the Air Force? What was your plan when you joined?
PF: Well my plan was, when, when I joined was to be a pilot [emphasis] and [pause] let me think, I gotta get some things straight [pause] I was at Uxbridge, and oh, there wasn’t a vacancy at the next pilot school, he gave, they gave me an excuse anyhow, perhaps they didn’t want me or what, however I didn’t get, I didn’t get my course, and I carried on and I wanted to be aircrew, so I became a wireless operator [chuckles], a diddy dit dah dit man.
Jane: Was it Bicester [?]
PF: Pardon?
Jane: You went to Blackpool to learn Morse code.
PF: Yes that’s where I started – yes well – yes at Blackpool and Yatesbury for wireless operating.
AS: Could we go back a bit? What did you do, what, to join the Air Force? Did you –
PF: What was I before the war?
AS: Sorry?
PF: What was I before the war?
AS: No, what did you do to join the Air Force? Did you go to a recruiting office or, or, or what?
PF: Well I, I just went to the St Martineau Hall in Norwich here, and I joined the Air Force from there, ‘cause I was working at Crown Point [?], during [unclear] horticulture actually, and I was at Crown Point, I lived in the boffy [?] there, and, so I naturally went to the recruiting station in Norwich and joined the Air Force.
AS: And that was it, you just –
PF: That was it. And I was in, I think I was in the Air Force for a fortnight [AS murmur of agreement] and I was flying in a fortnight or so.
AS: Good lord. When, where, after the recruiting office, can you describe to me a little bit about the process of joining the Air Force? So what they did to you, where you went, how you were messed about, that sort of stuff?
PF: Well I was messed about quite a bit, by waiting to go – be – [pause] to, to sign on as it were, and I had to go to a place called St Martineau Hall, is that right?
Jane: No that’s County Hall. Martineau Lane is where the County Hall building is now.
PF: Where who is?
Lucy: Norfolk County Council building is actually on Martineau Lane.
PF: Oh are they? Oh yeah, oh of course –
Lucy: That’s where the archive centre is actually –
PF: Well that’s why I joined the Air Force there, and signed on, because I, I was determined to go into the Air Force, my father – I was at the grammar school, I had a chance to go in the Air Force when I was fifteen, course, they use to take boys from grammar schools, and [pause] I, he wouldn’t let me do it, so when the time came, when I was all on my own, so I did it, and I went into the Air Force and that was it. I was, I was a wireless operator – trained as a wireless operator, I did my first tour of ops as a sergeant and flight sergeant and then I was, I was commissioned, and then I got a permanent commission and I was a flight lieutenant , and so that was my life in the Air Force. I was a signals, I was a signals leader in the in, and so that was my lot – my life was spelt and spent in the signals actually.
AS: Great. Let’s just wind back – we’ll get onto operational flying for sure – let’s wind back to how they got you into the Air Force. So where did they, where did they send you for kitting out, and what was the process of actually becoming an airman?
PF: Oh, what was the process?
AS: Yeah.
PF: Well I, I of course volunteered here in Norwich, forgotten the name of the street now, and I just went and signed on there, and within a few days I’d been called up and I was at Uxbridge [chuckles] in a uniform, much to my parents’ horror. You can imagine my mother [chuckles].
AS: Absolutely. And this, this was as selected for aircrew already, or was this basic training to start with? Basic recruit training?
PF: Yes, that’s right yeah. It was recruit training and [pause] as I was going in for the signals, I was naturally pushed to places where you could – you got used to the life, and the Morse code and all that sort of thing. However, that’s roughly how it worked, is it – was that all you wanted to know? I can’t give you a lot of detail.
AS: No, no we’re fine –
PF: My logbook is up there somewhere –
AS: We’re doing well. Perhaps we could do it from your logbook to an extent. So when you’d done your recruit training, and you were selected for aircrew, what happened then, for your signals training? Were you selected for signals straight away, or given some sort of tests?
PF: Well, I wanted to be a pilot, and I tried to be a pilot – I went through numerous selection things, and every time they said ‘well Mr Fitt, we recommend you to go to Yatesbury’ I think it was to Number Two Radio School, and go in for, and go in for signals. Become a radio operator aircrew, which I did of course, and I was a signals leader and I went right up the ladder in the signals side, but – there we are. But I was a flight lieutenant, signals leader. What is it Jane?
[Jane mutters in background, but it is unclear what is said]
AS: Thank you. Yes, so Yatesbury was your initial contact with signal was it?
PF: Yes, well no it wasn’t really. Blackpool was, Blackpool not only was a recruiting centre where I had to go when I first joined in 1940, but it done by [?] One Radio School or something, so I had a little bit of wireless training there, but my main wireless training was done at, in Number Two Radio School in Yatesbury in Wiltshire. That’s where I started – I did all my training right the way through to OTU crewing up, and or not – I was on operations in early ’43, 1943, and I had a Norfolk pilot which was rather good [chuckles] from Ormesby [chuckles] –
AS: So can you tell us – the period – you joined up sort of ’39, ’40, and the period between then and going on operations, were you being trained all that time?
PF: All that time yes, on radio, yes. But that, not – to answer your question correctly – not all [emphasis] that time. There was three or four months where I found myself at Royal Air Force Watton, two miles from where my parents lived, so that was very, that was very handy, and I was there as a radio – as a wireless operator. Well it wasn’t bad because I was, I was in keeping with the Morse code and all that sort of thing, and then from there, that’s where the whole career started, and I was flying and I crewed up and I did my tour of ops in 1943, I made thirty trips and went back again in – oh God I can’t remember , 1945, in between time I was at, back to Yatesbury as, ‘cause I was commissioned so I went back as officer in charge of the wireless flights, so I [unclear, chuckles].
AS: When you went to Watton, early on –
PF: Ah yes, I was – that was before I was commissioned. I was there as a ground operator actually, as a wireless operator, and Watton near – my parents lived three miles down the road [chuckles].
AS: As a [pause, unclear comment from Jane] as a ground wireless operator, were you involved with DF-ing aircraft? What were your duties?
PF: No, I could have been, but it was purely SHQ, station headquarters, radio operating, which was station to station. It wasn’t for very long, and I was back in aircrew training again.
AS: Okay. Did you do very much flying whilst you were training?
PF: Yes, I did, I did a tour of ops in 1943, doing my thirty trips, and I went back again, on my second tour – I can’t remember the date – what was the – have you got my logbook there Jane?
Jane: Yep, yeah it was –
AS: When you were training as a wireless operator, did you do much training or was it mostly on the ground?
PF: Oh yes I did, we flew in Proctors and Dominis [?] at Yatesbury funnily enough –
AS: Really?
PF: And, yeah that’s all it amounted to and that wasn’t – these aeroplanes were fixed up with four-five sets [?] and you just went up there with an instructor and that was that.
AS: Mhm. And you learnt Morse code obviously, what –
PF: Yes, I had to do eighteen words a minute, for a start before you ever did anything, and then I became a signals leader, and I had to do twenty-one words a minute for that. But I never – you never use twenty-one words a minute. Twenty-one words a minute is very, is very fast Morse. It’s usually about eighteen is the comfortable Morse speed.
AS: Aside from the Morse, what else did your training consist of? Processes and procedures?
PF: Well, I [pause] fault detection, fault finding [emphasis], if anything went, if anything went wrong with the transmitter or receiver, you were taught to look for different things to, try and trace it through. Didn’t always work, however, but you had to do it. FF fault finding.
AS: Mhm. How about wireless bearings and things like that?
PF: Oh yes well that was all part and parcel of your work, and I had to take bearings knowing where and how to call up, using the, you know the Morse code getting a bearing, and that was your job really. That was – and getting, what was it [pause] oh God I’ve forgotten the name of them now, getting QDMs [chuckles] you’re nodding your head as if you know what I’m talking –
AS: I know some of them, I know the important ones. I know QDM and QFE and [PF laughing] one or two other things. Did you get involved with these flimsies at all? Little papers with secret information about station call signs and things like that. Was that part of the stuff you went flying with?
PF: Well we always had, we always had a, carried a – what did we call them – a flimsy, which was, could be eaten if you were [pause] caught by the enemy, that contained all the wireless information, station frequencies and call signs that you required, so that was what happened. And most of us you – you’re doing it yourself. [Pause] there was a picture somewhere – where is it? Oh there it is, of me sitting at my 11-54-55 there.
AS: That’s in a Lancaster isn’t it?
PF: Yeah it –
AS: Yeah.
PF: You know the sets [?] did you? The 54-55 –
AS: Not a lot no –
PF: No I didn’t know whether you were a wireless man. [?]
AS: I – my father was a wireless man [?] not me. [Pause] was it all work? Did you get quite a lot of leave when you were training?
PF: Well no – we got, at the end of each course we got leave, but there was no fixed leave like when, what we got on the squadron, and we were operating, you used to get seven days leave every six weeks, and that was, that was very useful, ‘cause I was married then, and yes and [pause] what else was there? Yes that was about all, we were just lucky, only because I was aircrew.
AS: Before you got to aircrew, still on the training, apart from Morse speed examinations, did you have to take any other sort of technical examinations? Written –
PF: We had, had examinations on fault finding and [pause] repair work and, you know – what’s the word for, you know, there is a word that one uses, not second-hand, [pause, fingers tapping] when you have a breakdown on a car you –
Jane: Maintenance journal?
AS: No, no it doesn’t matter, I know what he means –
PF: You know what I’m trying to say.
AS: Yeah. Repair’s a good, repair’s a good word, yeah, it is. Okay. The chaps you trained with, did you form close bonds with them during training, as a unit?
PF: When, what? I’m not with you –
AS: When you were training as a wireless operator –
PF: Yeah –
AS: Did you form close friendships with others on the course? Other trainees?
PF: Well no, we didn’t, well yeah, I think we got – one or two of us found ourselves on a squadron, but some weren’t fortunate, I think it just depends on your ability and how good you were at Morse and things like that. [Chuckles]
AS: Yeah. Again during training, did you ever fly out over the Irish Sea on training flights?
PF: No, honestly I never flew over the Irish Sea period [emphasis].
AS: Okay. Now I have a special interest in asking, because of an organisation called The Training Flying Control Centre, but if you didn’t fly over there we’ll pass that one.
PF: No, no I can’t get into that, because I wouldn’t know anything about it.
AS: When you’d finished your training, you’re entitled to your aircrew badge. Did you have a big parade with dignitaries, or did they send you to the stores to get it? What happened?
PF: No, no we had a – I was at Yatesbury and we had a proper passing out parade which was purposely laid on for the benefit of the, what’s the word, esprit de corps [?], and that was it. A parade and an inspection by the CO, who would pin your brevet on [chuckles].
AS: And at that point were you promoted?
PF: Well, immediately I became aircrew, I became a sergeant, then I was a flight sergeant, and then I applied for a commission and I was commissioned [pause] in the September I think it was, and I became a signals leader, and I became a flight lieutenant, and I became a signals leader on a squadron, and so that was my history in, where signals are concerned.
AS: When you passed out and got your flying brevet, did you choose to go to Bomber Command or were you just sent?
PF: I was posted to Bomber Command. I was quite happy about it, because I didn’t fancy going into Fighter Command or, or into these fighter bombers, like Blenheims and Bostons, that wasn’t my cup of tea. I imagined myself like that sitting in the cabin [chuckles] and with, a large, with seven other members of the crew, and I was quite happy about that. That’s how I continued, I became a signals leader and a, what else, all sorts of things, a leading, you know how it goes, and the pay was good, leave was good, I was at Mildenhall only about twenty minutes away from my home[chuckles].
AS: So did, once you’d passed out, did you go straight to a squadron or, what happened then?
PF: Oh, we’re back in training? Well I did operational training on a Wellington, Wimpies –
AS: Whereabouts?
PF: Finningley, and Doncaster. Then I went to the squadron, via a, oh God I can’t think of words [background speech from Jane is unclear] a conversion –
AS: Heavy conversion unit.
PF: Heavy conversion unit. At, can’t think, Winthorpe I think it was. Gosh this is going back a bit, but it’s in my logbook, doesn’t matter I don’t want to look it up, and that was the, my history in the Air Force. So I was connected with signals all the time, even when I’d finished operational flying I went as a signals leader somewhere. I was mainly at Mildenhall which was a bit of luck.
Jane: Can I just ask you, what about RAF Cranwell? When were you there then?
PF: Yeah I was, I went to a course at Cranwell while I was at Mildenhall Jane. Yes, Jane’s reminding me I had to go to Cranwell, mainly because I was commissioned, and they were feeding a, pilot officers into Cranwell to give you a taste of bullshit you know [chuckles] how it is. That’s how I got to Cranwell.
AS: Okay. What did you think of the Wellingtons that you were training on at the OTU?
PF: Well the Wellington was, it was a wonderful aeroplane, it was so reliable and erm – I did all my training on Wellingtons until we were told we were going onto Lancasters, and that we would be going onto Manchesters to convert, and that was my routine, and on Manchesters and on Lancs and that was that.
AS: And at the OTU – was it the OTU you met your crew?
PF: Yes I was crewed up at the OTU. We were still on Wellingtons then, and that was at Finningley.
AS: Can you tell me a little bit about the crewing up process? What you were looking for in a crew?
PF: Oh yes well, that, it was left to you, the courses [?] arrived at the OTU, the operational training unit, and we were all called to a meeting [pause], the whole caboodle [?], and then we were told by the CO that we were all going to be put in so and so and so and so some large room or dining room or something like that, and then we gotta leave it and you must crew up [emphasis]. So that’s the way we crewed up, we just, how did I crew up? Well Dennis was in – I recognised Dennis as a Norfolk accent, so that’s how I got my pilot, and the rest came from there, the others were just dillying around and that was that, we crewed up. We stayed together all those years, all those months rather, because we did a tour in about nine months. So that’s history.
AS: How long was the OTU process, and what time of year was it? Was it swift, or did you get weather problems or –
PF: Oh yes, we did have weather problems, particularly when we were having to do forced cross countries, and the weather was pretty lousy, and that was in sort of November, December time. And this was at, this was at Bircotes which was a satellite [?] at Finningley in Yorkshire, and that was that. I did my OTU, went to, we crewed up at OTU, crewed up with five and we all went on Wellingtons, and we were then posted to [pause] a HCU, a heavy conversion unit where we converted, and this was at Swinderby, and we converted onto Lancasters, and that’s the history of the thing. I never flew on anything else, only on Lancs with the same crew.
AS: Can you remember what sort of training exercises you would do at the OTU? Things like nav-exes [?] or bulls-eyes?
PF: Oh yes, going back to the OTU, that was before the conversion courses, well it was, mainly cross countries at night to get you used to the navigator and the navigator getting used to you and your wireless operating [pause] speciality, if that’s the right word, expertise is the word really, and that was that. That’s what I did, we crewed up and five of us were sent to – we crewed up in five in Wellingtons and then we were posted to RAF Swinderby where we converted onto Lancasters, with, had to have two more crew, that was an engineer and another gunner added to the five, so that made seven, and then we trained there and we went to the squadron and we were on operations, just like that.
AS: How did you interact with the navigator?
PF: At, at the what, process?
AS: When you were airborne, how did you interact with the navigator? Providing him information, or?
PF: Well, Bert and I, Bert Tischington [?] [surname unclear] was the navigator, we got on very well together. We trained on Wimpies as a crew of five, Wellingtons that is, and so we got to know each other very well and we, so we never looked back. We did a tour of ops, complete tour on Lancs [coughs] ‘scuse me [coughs] good God. And that was that [chuckles]. Oh dear excuse me.
AS: Yeah of course. [Pause while PF drinks.] Did you have to learn other things that you hadn’t learned in training when you were actually preparing for operations? Things like Z-procedure, using the wireless for landing? Did you get involved with that at all?
PF: I wasn’t involved with that at all. [Pause] my main job was with the navigator really, course we were training for long distance stuff with Lancs ‘cause that’s where we were destined to get onto Lancaster squadron where we, which we were, we went to I should say, so henceforth I was on Lancs until the end of the war I suppose. [Pause] but it was just like that up there [chuckles].
AS: Right, we’ll pause the tape for a little while if that’s okay –
PF: I’m sorry, you’ll what?
[Tape paused and restarted]
PF: [unclear murmuring] – with my logbook –
AS: Peter, I’d like to go back to the OTU a bit –
PF: Yeah that’s fine, I’m going back to [unclear] if I can find it, Bottesford, so back still further [long pause, chuckles]. Oh dear, there’s a note I’ve written here, the mess and the modern, and the modern obliterations in this logbook, are necessary because my son Tim, when he was a little boy, pretended he was like his father and started filling my, filling all the bits and pieces in the logbook [both PF and AS laugh] ‘cause there’s a mess. So I, I had to put a note in there about that. So, what are we, am I –
AS: We’re looking up OTU on the Wellingtons.
PF: Oh right, oh gosh –
AS: You alright?
PF: Yeah in a minute. I’ve just got, my back was killing me. Ah, oh. So OTU, that would be 1942, oh gosh this is going back a bit [turning pages] October ’42, yeah, I’m getting near [long pause whilst turning pages in logbook]. Here we are, twenty-five OTU Finningley, 16th of September 1942.
AS: That’s your first flight at the OTU is it?
PF: Yep –
AS: As a crew?
PF: As a crew, yeah.
AS: Yeah. And did your captain immediately take you off as a crew, or did he do some flying with somebody else first?
PF: Oh no, we all met as sprogs [?] nobody, no crews – we were assem – we were all, we were all assembling in a very big hall, and we got given four, five hours to crew up, and how did I crew up? Only because of being a Norfolk man, because Dennis Claxton was a baker at Ormesby came along in his old broad Norfolk accent and said [with accent] ‘hello Peter, will you fly with me?’ I thought oh my God, and I said yes of course I will, and as I said, course that’s how we crewed up, and I flew with him right through the war really. He was a good pilot. Claxton, his father was a baker at Ormesby.
AS: Were you all sergeants to start with?
PF: Yes. Then I became a flight sergeant, and among the very few members of aircrew as a wireless operator, I had to take examinations [emphasis] would you believe, to get any, any promotion, in the wireless world of course, and until I became a grade one, I couldn’t get any promotion, so I was, I was messed about a bit. However, I got, I did it and I got my promotions and I became a flight sergeant, and then I was commissioned, and so I, and a signals leader, so I never looked back really. I had a good life, I enjoyed, particularly while I was at Mildenhall, this is after the war, this was in between tours it wasn’t after the war, I finished my first tour and I was about to go back on my second tour at Mildenhall. I was near to home, I was near my wife, who lived just outside in a place called Ownedge [?] just outside Bedford, and so I was quite happy there really.
AS: You’ve still got your logbook open at the OTU, how much, how much flying did you do? Can you track that back?
PF: Yeah, well, I’ll tell you in a minute, I did [long pause] oh that’s the [unclear] synopsis, Finningley. Was that Jane?
AS: Yes.
Jane: Sorry –
PF: At twenty-five OTU Finningley, I did [pause, shuffling papers], there’s loads of it, oh dear, all at sea [?], yeah one hour and half hours [turning paper, long pause] I did twenty, in this instance, it was twenty-nine daylight and six at night. So this has, this has got to be more. [Pause] oh here we are Bircotes now, so that was the next station, still on OTU, so that puts me up to ninety-five, nearly one hundred hours at OTU.
AS: Wow.
PF: And so it goes on. Oh this was on the conversion, and then I went – a hundred and fifteen hours, including the OTU on Wellingtons and conversion on Manchesters to Lancasters, ‘cause it was only fourteen hours [chuckles] oh God.
AS: Were you a –
PF: What we, what we looking for do you know?
AS: Well, we’ve answered it actually, the hours, yeah –
PF: Oh have we? Oh fair enough. It was a bit complicated, looking up logbooks.
AS: Yeah. Were you straight wireless or did you do air gunner training as well?
PF: I did very little air – I didn’t want anything [emphasis] to do with air gunnering. I was quite happy with signals and I was, I was, would be a signals leader and things like that, so I, quite honestly I had nothing to do with gunnering. I perhaps should have been a gunnery leader but I didn’t want to know [chuckles].
AS: That’s fair. Did you do any bulls-eye exercises?
PF: Oh yes, lots of bulls-eyes.
AS: What did they involve?
PF: Pardon?
AS: What did they involve?
PF: Long night cross country runs, let’s just look back, OTU Finningley that would be [pause] just give you an idea how long they were [shuffling papers] ooh er [long pause] look I’ve got notes everywhere [long pause, continued shuffling]. Why are logbooks so complicated when you look back through? [Slight laugh from AS.]Bottesford, that’s all good, I want training. [Long pause, shuffling papers.]
AS: No, so the bulls-eyes were at Bottesford were they?
PF: What, just a minute, I’ll just try and get back to Bottesford, I should be there in a sec, because I remember writing – oh that’s 1660 Conversion Unit, that was after that, so it’s got to be here. Bulls-eye here we are. I did a bulls-eye [pause] with Warrant Officer Buzz [surname unclear, perhaps Meyers?] as pilot [pause] five and a half hours from RAF Bircotes which is a satellite at Finningley. Oh you know it don’t you?
AS: Yeah.
PF: Yeah so that’s it. Well that was when I was first flying with Dennis Claxton, who was my pilot during the, during the Lancs time, who lives out here at, he was a baker at Hemsby.
AS: Was, this was winter time wasn’t it? OTU and HCU?
PF: Yeah, it was 15th of November, yeah.
AS: Yeah. Did the weather cause many problems, many interruptions, or many losses? Did you lose many aircraft in training?
PF: We, yes we did, because of bad navigation. We didn’t have the things like Gee and that then, and navigation was pretty [pause] what’s the word –
AS: Haphazard?
PF: Basic, yeah. The, you hadn’t got the, what you had later, the radar bit, the Gee box, to get you fixers. No, I was there as a radio operator and I had to get my navigator fixers on numerous occasions, you know. Get a WT fix.
AS: And what speed did you get down to? How quickly could you do that?
PF: Well that took an age, it used to take them an age to wind my training aerial out for a start, and then there was the getting through, well it would take me about half an hour to get a fix I should think. Main time spent cranking the bloody lot of, the aerial in because it was airmen dear [?], and that means I had to have a training aerial. You’re nodding your head as if you understood [chuckles]. Oh dear, that’s history, that’s the first time anybody’s asked me that question, you know, but –
AS: It must have been hard work [emphasis] in flying kit and on your knees was it? Winding down?
PF: Yeah, that wasn’t, in the cockpit you had to – it was usually in the, the winding gear was in the panelling of the aeroplane, and that was pretty knuckling, what’s the word [pause] knocking the skin off your knuckles –
AS: Grazing your knuckles, yeah. Did you ever lose one? Forget to wind it up?
PF: No, I didn’t. I must admit, I never, I always – because we had to write it in on the log, and we got seriously chastised, if we hadn’t done it, so we were always very careful, ‘cause they said they were gonna start charging us for any aerials that we lose, and there were not a lot of chaps lost them. What’s that dear?
Jane: Actually that’s, I haven’t seen that before. I can’t remember the actual picture, I don’t know where the original is –
PF: Oh my God, this is ancient. That was one of the first pictures taken, when, oh God what was it? When we first joined the Old Ed fifty, 541, my wife’s name was Edna, she was called Ed, and of course up there, it was ED541, so that was Ed-541, that one [chuckles]. So, four-six-seven Wimpies away –
AS: So that on the wall, I understand now, that on the wall is a painting of your aircraft, A-Able isn’t it?
PF: That’s right, yeah.
AS: Now I understand.
PF: Yeah, that was my, that was my first aeroplane that we were allocated for, on operations, here we are, ED541 July 1943 [shuffling papers] now that’s, that must have been that picture then, yeah. ‘Cause I started operating in nine, nine, July, August, yeah that’s right, oh dear I get confused about these dates –
AS: We can go through your logbook later for the, for the operations if you like [murmured agreement from PF]. When you were training, perhaps moving from the OTU to the HCU, did you start meeting equipment in operational aeroplanes that you hadn’t seen before?
PF: Oh yes.
AS: Can you tell me about that?
PF: We had, well not so much from the HFDF from the normal 11-54-55 Marconi [?] stuff that I was using for Morse and communication generally, that was the same, that never altered, the things that were altering were the Gees and H2S and all the up to date radar equipment, that was always changing, but that had nothing to do with me, I was quite happy with my, my Morse code [chuckles].
AS: Did you have things like fishpond to look after?
PF: Yes we did, but I didn’t have to look after it. The navigator looked after that, it was, he, we didn’t have it at – we were training on, with it, we never used it on operations or anything like that, but we did, we did have it, that was H2S two-three-one, I can’t remember the damn things now. [Pause] I would have remembered had I had to operate it, but I didn’t have to operate it. I had enough work to do of my own.
AS: It’s quite busy was it? You didn’t just take off and fly round and come back again?
PF: Oh no, no, I mean, you had to take your broadcast every half hour, and that was numbered so you had to make sure you had that down in your logbook, erm, oh yes there was, there was never a dull moment, not where a wireless operator was concerned, because you were busy nearly all the time, from the time you took off to the time you landed.
AS: So what sort of things would you be, would be coming in and going out? Position reports or?
PF: For start, things coming in would be your half hourly broadcast, which you had to rec – you had to log, and that was usually [unclear] text [emphasis] it was numbered, and then after that it was mainly work, we were always given exercises to do and, with ground stations, with, in particular DF stations, getting QDFs, QDMs, all that sort of thing, and, so there was never a dull moment where I was concerned. As a matter of fact, I suppose I was pleased in a way because I had plenty to do, I didn’t have a chance to think about anything else. The navigator always kept me busy.
AS: When you knew you were posted to Bomber Command, how did you feel?
PF: Well, I was pleased in a way because we were told we were going onto Lancs, and the Lancaster had just been introduced, so everyone was keen to get onto a Lanc squadron, and as it happened, I was lucky and we got on one, and that was, that was quite good. So that was, that answers your question doesn’t it really?
AS: Yeah. When you were crewed up, formed as a crew, you were all sergeants, were you living together in a mess, or in huts or –
PF: Oh yes, we all lived in – there was, there was an aircrew sergeants mess, because all aircrew were sergeants then, not when I first joined up and flew, there was an LAC [?] erm, yes there was a special mess for the aircrew sergeants.
AS: And did you live as a crew?
PF: Pardon?
AS: Did you live all together as a crew, or –
PF: Oh yes. When we first crewed up, we were always messed together in the same, and always, always in the same hut, and that went on for, through the OTU, through the conversion units when we went from Wellingtons to Lancasters [pause] to when we arrived at the squadron and converted onto Lancasters.
AS: Did it get [pause] –
PF: Sorry?
AS: Did it get too much sometimes, being with the same people all the time, in the air and on the –
PF: No, we were very pleased in a way that we had our own crew, we were like a family really, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way really. Dennis, my pilot, was, lived at, he had a, he was a baker at Ormesby, Hemsby [emphasis] and his wife and my wife were very good friends, and we were all very close knit, we were close knit as a crew. Yes, that was all, that was all good fun really, if you could call it fun.
AS: What were the losses like during training? Were there many aircraft lost?
PF: Oh no, there wasn’t. We were, touching wood no, there were very few losses while we were training. There were losses when, for example, on OTU, on operational training units where crews got lost and went down in the mountains somewhere you know, if we, if we were doing foreign cross countries and things like that where we did for training. So yes, that used, that used to happen, but not, not very often fortunately.
AS: Mhm. Did you form close links with your ground crew as well as your aircrew mates?
PF: Oh yes, oh yes we did. We have a very – while we were on operations, I, we, we flew on ops from Bottesford near Nottingham, and we got very close to our ground crews, we used to entertain them a lot, and we used to go out, always meet in the pubs and things like that, and yes, that was, yes we were, answering your question, yes we were quite close.
AS: Whose aeroplane was it? Was it your aeroplane or their aeroplane?
PF: Well, that depends, it was theirs in their camp and then ours in our camp.
AS: How did they maintain it? Was it mostly working outside?
PF: Oh yes, it was all [emphasis] outside. They did the daily inspections, the special inspections, and that was all done on the, what do you call it, the dispersal [emphasis, murmured agreement from AS] on the airfield.
AS: So what, what was the daily routine before, before flight? What would you do before flight with your equipment?
PF: Well I had, I had to check the, all the radio equipment, intercom, anything which was radio or radar I had to check it worked alright. And the radio, the RT, the radio telephone part.
AS: So I think we’ve done quite a bit about OTU and HCU. Did you say your HCU, you were actually on Manchesters?
PF: Well, I flew on Manchesters – when I finished on, let me give you the story, when we finished operational training on Wellingtons, we knew we were going to be posted to a conversion unit because we were going to go onto heavy bombers, and we knew that before we got onto them we would have to fly Manchesters [emphasis] that was the Lanc with two engines if you can perhaps remember, and, so we went onto Lancs – onto Manchesters and then Lancs in that, in that order and that all went quite smoothly. I must say, it was, it was exciting going onto a Lancaster after a bloody old, twopy [?] old Wimpy. [Pause] it was like getting into a – well as Dennis our pilot said, it was like getting into a Spitfire, though he’d never flown a Spitfire [chuckles]. He guessed as much because the Lanc was so much faster than the Wimpy, and more manoeuvrable of course.
AS: When you were learning to fly the Lancaster, before you go to the squadron, was the, was the aeroplane to an operational standard, with all the equipment that was in it?
PF: Oh yes.
AS: Okay. Did you have to learn different operational techniques as well as this equipment when you were at the HCU or had your training taken care of the –
PF: Oh yes, yes it did –
AS: It did. So you were –
PF: Pretty well [unclear] up, yeah.
AS: Gemmed [?] up with the operational techniques –
PF: Yep, yeah indeed.
AS: Okay. So, did you pass out of the HCU? Was there a parade?
PF: Er, no, there wasn’t. We were – it was just very ordinary, we were only five or six weeks from OTU to HCU. I was at Swinderby – God we were there and we were gone and we were on the squadron. As a matter of fact we were nearly operating [emphasis], it was that quick. Much to our horror, but there –
AS: Shall we pause it there for a moment?
PF: Okay.
[Tape paused and restarted]
AS: This is a taped interview with Flight Lieutenant Peter Fitt, carried out by Adam Sutch, on the 19th of May 2015 for the International Bomber Command Centre. Peter Fitt was on 467 Squadron for his first tour of operations, and perhaps Peter I could, I could start by asking what happened when you came to the squadron before you went on ops, when you arrived as a crew?
PF: Right, well, first of all I want to go back a bit to OTU, operational training unit, where we crewed up. We all arrived there as individual pilots, navigators and wireless operators, air gunners, and – [interrupted by a knocking at the door] – is somebody coming?
Other: Sorry, would either of you like a hot drink?
[Tape paused and restarted]
AS: Right, let’s start again Peter shall we, now the tea lady’s gone –
PF: Yeah, yeah, you carry on –
AS: You were going back to the OTU when you crewed up just before you got on the squadron.
PF: Yeah, yeah, yes, and that was 1942 [takes a while to remember date, emphasises each individual number] I believe, would that be right?
AS: ’42, ’43, yeah I think, we did before [agreement from PF] so you left, left –
PF: Yes, yes it would be ’42 because I started off – I did my ops in ’43, and this is OTU we’re talking about, yes ’42, August ’42.
AS: Yeah, okay. And what can you remember about your OTU time?
PF: My OTU time was a bit strange, we all arrived at the sta – were posted to this RAF Finningley actually, in Yorkshire, and we all mingled in the, hmm, whatever it was, an old hangar or something, and one officer came along and he spoke to us and said ‘well I’ve got you all gathered here because we want you – this is the OTU and we want you to crew up, and that’s, it’s got to be up to you, you can mingle with each other and find a pilot and a pilot will find a wireless operator and the wireless operator will find an air gunner’ sort of thing, ‘you just sort it out yourselves,’ they don’t print one up to say you’ll fly with so and so, you just sort it all out, and you’re given two or three days to do that, which we did, and I, I crewed up quite easily because it was a Norfolk man, a Norfolk baker from Ormesby, he came over and said [with accent] ‘you’re Norfolk aren’t you?’ I said – he’s real, broad Norfolk – I said ‘yes’ and ‘I am’ and he – I can tell you because he had a real broad Norfolk accent, and he said ‘why, I’m a pilot,’ and he said ‘I was wondering whether you would, you would, as we’re Norfolkites, you can come be my wireless operator,’ yes I said ‘I’d love to’ and in the mean time he’d sorted out the rest of the crew, so there was five of us. We were crewing up for Wellingtons actually, at OTU, on which we – the aeroplane we did our OTUs on, and so that’s how I crewed up. And then we, we did three months there I suppose – this is RAF Finningley in Yorkshire, and then we were posted to – oh God I can’t remember the name of the bloody place now, not Finningley, Swinderby [emphasis] where we went, transferred to four engined aeroplanes, so that was the beginning on the, on the Lancaster episodes, the aeroplanes we flew in for the rest of the war. Now that was, that was, that was rather all good fun, well wasn’t good fun it was bloody dangerous but, but, erm, it was all part of the adventure wasn’t it?
AS: Exciting, exciting.
PF: So there, that was, so we crewed up and we, we stayed together all those years – we did a mini two [?] tours of ops – this is late ’42 I’m talking about – and we were still flying in ’44, ’45 together, and, and the war came to an end and we kept meeting [emphasis] you know, ‘cause of, Den was a, he was a baker from Ormesby actually, and we used to – we all got, you all get very very friendly, you know, and the whole families become friendly, and so that was, that was a nice episode in my life. It was a bit dangerous for me, during ops but I, Dennis was a good pilot and the rest of the crew were good, and we were, yeah, that was, that was quite an exciting time. I often think back on it, and we, we have our crew reunions still, and that’s jolly nice to get together again.
AS: What sort of skipper was Sergeant Claxton, Dennis Claxton?
PF: What sort –
AS: Yeah, was he a disciplinarian, or relaxed, or?
PF: No, no, he was a typical, what did we say, ordinary bloke who like driving, a chauffeur if you like, he was conscientious, he always knew what he wanted, he always knew what to ask the navigator, he always knew what to ask us all [emphasis] actually, if he wanted to know anything, and, and yeah, he was quite knowledgeable, and a good pilot [emphasis], that’s what we were after, we wanted someone who really knew the aeroplane and could throw out a boat [?]when, if we were attacked or anything like that, and he was that good, so we were happy. As a matter of fact I was a – no, poor [?] Dennis died five or six years ago, his wife is still alive, and she comes and sees me here sometimes which is, which is rather nice.
AS: Absolutely, continuity.
PF: And, and of course – my wife, well she’s dead now, but my wife used to like Iris, which was Dennis’, the pilot’s wife, and they became very friendly – well we all became friends actually.
AS: So you finished HCU on Manchesters and Lancasters, and –
PF: I, I finished what?
AS: HCU. Heavy conversion unit.
PF: Yeah.
AS: On Manchesters and Lancasters was it?
PF: Yeah, Manchesters and Lancs, yeah.
AS: Yeah. And then you were posted to F –
PF: This, this was at Swinderby where we, we, we er [pause] went onto four engines, in the Lanc, and from Swinderby. And from Swinderby we, we – now what, I’m just trying to think of what that was called, when you converted to four engines, not a confighter [?] it was, it had a, it had a special name –
AS: HCU was it? Heavy conversion unit?
PF: Heavy conversion [emphasis] well done, you, you’re a gen-king [?] you know.
AS: [Laughing] just, just lucky.
PF: Yeah, yeah on HCU –
AS: HCU, yeah.
PF: And, and Dennis converted to – and he took to the Lancs, he thought it was a great aeroplane, and he was a good pilot, and erm, so that, and we were together all that time. On two tours.
AS: On the aeroplane, did you feel a very great difference when it was loaded and not?
PF: No, no. It was a bit – Dennis used to say it’s a bit, you know, he had to be a bit more careful on takeoff because there was a lot more power and they used to have to – he said ‘I’m not supposed put, to go into S-gear [?]’ but he said [with accent] ‘I bloody will go into S-gear’ ‘cause he said ‘I wanna get off safely’ and so he did, that – that S-gear was, it’s called S-gear was a special gear that you, you put the throttles in and that connects to the engine [chuckles], and as the throttles are connected there it does something, it gives you that extra power –
AS: More power, yeah. So, you were posted to 467 Squadron I think?
PF: Yes. We went to – we were posted to – we finished Swinderby, that’s conversion unit, and we were posted to [slight pause] Bottesford [emphasis] and, near Nottingham, where we were – joined an Australian squadron, 467 Squadron. And I was with them for a complete – I did my first tour there with them.
AS: Did it feel like an Australian squadron? Were many of the aircrew Australian?
PF: They were nearly, they were nearly all Australian, yes it did feel like, you know – that’s a nice way of putting it, they were really Aussies and that was, that made it rather nice. And erm, so I was very pleased I served on an Aussie squadron and [pause] it was, it was nice, and – what is the word when you’re a mixture, I can’t think of a name but it was, it was very good. And I, I enjoyed myself there, as one can enjoy yourself while you’re risking your bloody neck at night, but, it was, that was – I had a very good crew, Dennis Claxton, my baker from Ormesby, he was good, he was a good pilot [pauses to drink] and I hoped I was an average radio operator for, get my navigator some good bearings.
AS: You brought them back.
PF: Brought them back? Oh yeah.
AS: So when you were on the squadron, did you do a lot of training flying still?
PF: Did I what?
AS: Do a lot of training flying still, while on the squadron?
PF: No, no, no. The only training you did on the squadron – well it was training I suppose ‘cause they were called training flights, and that was, you would do cross countries [emphasis, murmur of agreement from AS] mainly for navigation, for the navigator and the wireless operator and, for the pilot of course, so that was what we did, yes. Cross countries. We used to call them – they were called bulls-eyes and you used to do a lot of bulls-eyes. Well they were good really because they make you accurate at, and careful what you’re doing.
AS: Were the skies full of aeroplanes doing the same thing, over England?
PF: Over where, not –
AS: Over England, while you were training. Did you find it really crowded skies, or?
PF: No, no, ‘cause I was trained at night. I was, I was, we were trained for night flying, and we did our training at night, so we didn’t really see a lot of other aeroplanes anyhow [emphasis]. The only time you saw them was when you were taking off and when you joined the circuit to land, when you got back. But that was, that was good training, and well I, I mustn’t say I enjoyed it – that’s not quite the right word, but it was interesting, and I was quite happy [chuckles], I had a good crew, our Dennis was a good pilot, and [pause] we, we survived.
AS: Did you encounter night fighters at all?
PF: Yes, yes we were, we were attacked several times, mainly by Junkers 88s actually. I thought they [unclear] we thought they’d been Messerschmitt 109 Es and Fs but it wasn’t, it was, we were always attacked by Junkers 88s, which is quite a heavy aircraft is a – it’s nearly as a big as a Wellington, and we just couldn’t imagine them using them as night fighters but they were.
AS: But obviously not brought down, your pilot’s skills and your gunner’s skills –
PF: No, no we evaded all attacks, and the gunners and that, we didn’t – the gunners didn’t shoot any down, any attackers down but I think they were sufficiently awake enough and aware to let the German know that we were around, we knew he was there sort of thing.
AS: How about the – I know it wasn’t your trade, but how about the navigation equipment when you were doing your first tour? Did you have Gee and H2S by then?
PF: Ooh yes we had Gee, ooh yes I had – well I know I was a wireless op, but I had to know all, how to use the Gee and the H2S and all those sorts of things, which were very good, I mean we’d all, could literally be lost without, without them, and they were inc, incredibly [emphasis] good. H2S in particular.
AS: Mhm, did –
PF: Now don’t ask me what H2S stands for because I don’t know, I never knew, I never did ask [AS laughing] I bet you’ve got to tell me actually –
AS: Not at all [PF laughing] now I don’t, I don’t know, I don’t know. In your logbook here you’ve got a, an Astra recall, or Astro recall, as a, do you know what that’s all about?
PF: Ah yes, that was [interrupted by knocking at the door]. Is somebody [trails off, unclear].
Other: Hiya, [unclear] I’ve come to change your water jug.
PF: Okay, alright.
Other: Thank you.
PF: Thank you. Erm, what were we talking about, Astra recall? [Murmured agreement from AS]. The, they, they’re two separate words actually. Astra meaning we were doing navigation by stars, by, and what was the other word?
AS: Recall.
PF: Recall, recall was to do with diversions and things like that, but that, that’s what that was. Astra navigation, the navigator didn’t like it and I had to help him and I wasn’t keen on it either. The, the, when you’re in cramped [emphasis] conditions and, you’ve got to keep referring to tables and cross referencing all the time makes – it’s hard work .
AS: Hmm. From your station in the aeroplane, could you see very much? Could you see out? Did you want to see out?
PF: Well, well yes I did want to – I liked to see out, there’s something – it’s nice to know that the world is passing by and if you were being attacked you see it coming. Well you know, I sat just behind the [pause] wireless operator, well, well you can’t quite see, there was a, there was an astrodome just behind the main cockpit coppola, well that’s what, that’s where I sat under that. That’s why there’s – there was always good light there. That’s where the warmth [?] was, and it was, that was a good position, next to the navigator and course we used to work together.
AS: What were your fears on, on ops really at night?
PF: What was what?
AS: Your fears on ops?
PF: Well, well my fears were pretty [exhale of breath] awful really, I dreaded [emphasis] it. Well I think we all did, that was, it was alright, go to briefing and you, you were told the target and what to do and what not to do, and that’s frightening when you know the target, ‘cause it was usually a hotspot, and warned about night – it’s all very alarming, but once you get airborne, you’re, thing’s aren’t quite so bad until you get attacked [chuckles], but on the whole I, we were, we were very fortunate, we were, I mean we were only attacked once by night fighters. Used to get, we used to get anti-aircraft [unclear] of course, but the dread of course were night fighters ‘cause the Germans had a very good set-up.
AS: Could you sense or see other aeroplanes in the bomber stream around you?
PF: No but you knew they were there because of the, of the turbulence you know, and the, and the airmen being in, being in people’s prop turbulence that used to, used to shake you about a bit. That’s the only indication you, you, you had. We were attacked two or three times but we – the gunners were alert enough to shoot away as it were.
AS: I see your first operation was to the Gironde in France –
PF: That’s right, yeah.
AS: What were you doing there?
PF: Laying mines. That, that – all freshmen aircrew, their first, their first raid [emphasis] over enemy territory was a gardening trip, and gardening was laying mines [chuckles] and the Gironde was one that, that was my first, that was my first trip, and that was, that was laying mines in the Gironde River, just off Bordeaux actually.
AS: So these would be solo trips would they? Just send one aircraft to, to lay mines, or?
PF: Well, well no, there would be, there would be squadrons doing it, and, and, but it wasn’t mass [pause] wasn’t mass operations, but there were several aircraft doing it, to keep their, their [pause] fighters, things, alive.
AS: Hmm, yeah. Another thing you’ve got here is SBA, local flying, is that standard beam approach?
PF: Yeah, yeah.
AS: Did that involve you at all, or, as the wireless man, or?
PF: No it didn’t involve me in any shape or form, even though I was the wireless operator. It was, it was only the bomb aimer and the pilot’s concern because the bomb aimer was the first, virtually the second pilot because we didn’t carry a second pilot on Lancs, but we, but the bomb aimer took the part of the second pilot [chuckles].
AS: Okay. And did, he knew enough to fly the aeroplane?
PF: He knew enough to fly the aircraft. Whether he would have had enough – I don’t think Taffey would have been able to land, land it, but he would get you back, and you could do a ditch in the sea if you wanted – if you couldn’t land.
AS: Okay. Could I talk about some of the aids? Did you have any contact with Darky?
PF: Well, that, that rings a bell, Darky – now that was to do with RT wasn’t it?
AS: Yeah, yeah.
PF: Now, now what was Darky? Oh gosh that’s right, on the [pause] forefront of my mind [pause] –
AS: Darky was local transmitters at, at observical [?] posts and aerodromes, and if you were lost you could call up –
PF: Yes, yes oh God, yeah I remember. I remember yes, Darky very well.
AS: And did you use it?
PF: No, no, fortunately we never had to [pause to drink]. We had a good navigator and we had G which we used to use a lot, and we erm, we didn’t have to use anything else. And none, none of us did courses on that while we got through.
AS: What – sounds like a silly question really, but what was the tension like as you approached the target?
PF: What was the what?
AS: The tension like in the crew as you approached the target?
PF: Well, as a matter of fact – it’s funny you should ask that question because that does cross my mind many times ‘cause nearly everybody asks you that question. The funny part about it is that when you’re approaching the target, all fear seems to have gone and dissipated and you, you, everybody was looking out to find, to look at, to find the target and see what the defences were like and what attack we were going to do, and, and bearing in mind what you’d been told to do, so yes, yes, that was, that was – rephrase your question because I was getting a bit out of touch with it.
AS: No, no I just – I wondered whether the tension really grew as you were approaching the target, but you’ve told me that the fear left you.
PF: Oh, I see, you mean as you approached the target did the tension increase? [Murmured agreement from AS.] No it didn’t funnily enough, it rather dissipated [emphasis], mainly I suppose because you, you were there, you’d seen what you were going to do. The defences hadn’t erupted and all you got was a target which was coloured red which had obviously been bombed earlier, and that was, that was it, it never crossed our, never crossed our minds. Well, it never crossed my mind because I was a wireless operator and I was busy [emphasis] and I never, I never even looked out. I was, I had, I was busy on the – ‘cause we had all sorts of messages coming in and that, so I had to listen all the time.
AS: Yes, so you listened on the main sets. Did you also control the RT, or, the radio telephone? You were on the radio telephone as well.
PF: Yes, yes we were but the pilot used the RT, radio tele, used that for landing and takeoff purposes –
AS: Okay.
PF: But apart from that, there were, there were, the RT was never used.
AS: Hmm. How about the master bomber?
PF: Oh the master bomber? Yeah well we, that [pause] he was, it was all done by, by voice actually, and – to be quite honest we were never impressed [emphasis] with it. It was a bit of a, of guidance you know, but, sometimes he was a bit out and sometimes he couldn’t find the place, but, on the whole I suppose it worked because the, with their know-how and, and our own know-how.
AS: And you could hear it? You could hear what the master bomber was saying?
PF: Oh yes, it was very clear. Clear as crystal.
AS: Hm. So you were, you were on 467, that’s 5 Group isn’t it?
PF: That was in 5 Group, yeah.
AS: 5 Group were a bit special weren’t they?
PF: They were the [emphasis, pronounced thee] group, yeah [AS laughing]. If you hadn’t have said that I was going to say that.
AS: [Laughing] sorry [PF laughing too].
PF: But I’m glad you said it, so, you knew about it.
AS: Yeah.
PF: Yes, we used to get all the posh jobs as we’d call them, the posh and dangerous ones.
AS: And one of those that you got was Peenemunde.
PF: Peenemunde, yes, I was on that raid.
AS: Could, could you tell us a little bit about that?
PF: [Pause] yeah, yeah I’ll tell you [long pause] oh you’ve got my logbook there.
AS: Yeah, yeah, I got –
PF: I just gotta think of the date, what was it, was it August [emphasis] something, wasn’t it?
AS: I’m just looking actually –
PF: It’s forty, ’43 [pause, AS shuffling papers].
AS: Do you know I can’t find it. You’ll probably quicker than I would. Berlin, Berlin [continued shuffling, long pause]. There we go, August, spot on, 12th of August.
PF: Yeah, I remember that very well. That was the [emphasis, pronounced thee] tourisaw [very unsure about this word] that was the most effective raid of the war, you know, everybody was so accurate, and trained to be accurate, and it was a very efficient raid result.
AS: How much did they tell you at briefing about Peenemunde and why you were going there? What did they tell you?
PF: Well, I’m just trying to think [pause]. We were told of course that, that, that they were specialising in speciality model aircraft to bomb London, and well, we knew that and that did make us more attentive to detail and sorted out [?], which we did.
AS: Is it true that the, the aircrew were told that if they didn’t do it the first time, they’d have to go back the next night, or is that just a story?
PF: Oh yeah that happened to me several times. Air-chief marshal, our boss man in 5 Group was, erm, oh God why has his name escaped me –
AS: Ralph Cochrane?
PF: Pardon?
AS: Was it Cochrane?
PF: Was it who?
AS: Cochrane. Ralph Cochrane.
PF: Oh yeah Ralph Cochrane, that’s the chap, well done, you know more about what I did –
AS: I wouldn’t say that sir, I wouldn’t say that at all.
PF: I just forgot, I just forgot his name. And, and, he was, he wanted you to do everything right and he was like that and [with accent – posh, shouty voice] ‘if you don’t bloody well get it tonight you’ll go tomorrow night and you’ll go the next night’ and so on, he talked just like that, it was if he was talking to a class of kids, you know, and, yes he was a very efficient man, and we had – we didn’t applaud him, we appreciated him, his air [unclear] and things like that. Yeah I remember the briefing for the Peenemunde raid.
AS: And is it like we see on the films, where everyone sits down and the station commander comes in and they pull back the curtain – was it like that?
PF: It was like that, yeah. Yeah, but it wasn’t so, not quite so dramatic [emphasis] as that [laughs] you know.
AS: How many briefings were there?
PF: Well that was just – there was only one main briefing, but the navigators, the pilots and the navigators always had to go half an hour early to have their separate briefing which was – I don’t know why, and the rest of the crews went afterwards to the main briefing. But we all had – as I was signals and we all had our separate briefings by our own leaders.
AS: So what was the procedure then? The aeroplanes would be test flown, flying test –
PF: Would be –
AS: You’d have a flying test, a night flying test with the aeroplane –
PF: Oh yes, and then an active course [?], yes, yeah.
AS: Yeah, and then you’d have your briefing, and –
PF: Yes well, the, the, it wasn’t quite as close as we are saying it. For example if, if the operations were on the Friday night, or any particular night, you would do your flying – we had a special word for them and it escapes, it escapes me, not NFT, something like that – you’d go and do that in the morning somewhere and check everything was alright, and that would be your, your [unclear] practical briefing. And then we’d go to the main briefing and having done all that we, you knew exactly where you were.
AS: And then you’d have, have a meal, or?
PF: We’d have a meal, our eggs and bacon, twice. Eggs and bacon before and eggs and bacon afterwards [both laugh], and, yes so that was, that was a very exciting life but it was bloody dangerous and you got, you get a bit worried about it, particularly if you’re married and that, but there.
AS: How did you get out to the aeroplane?
PF: We were taken out by, by bus, ministry, you know, air force busses. They were specially, they were specially made for that purpose. They used to take the crews. They, you had enough space for all the parachutes and the stuff to go inside your – me and my pigeons, I had to, we had to carry pigeons, that sounds good doesn’t it [chuckles]. And, that, that was it. We would then be taken out to our aircraft, ground crew would be waiting for us, we would be ushered into our seats, and they would carry the stuff in for us, and that was that, and the pilot would get the engines started and run up and we’d all, we’d all do our bits and pieces. I’d do mine and –
AS: Tell me about the pigeons. I mean, they weren’t to eat were they?
PF: Pardon?
AS: They weren’t there to be eaten were they? Tell me about the pigeons.
PF: [Pause] it was quite a joke really. They, it used to be one to tell your children. We had to carry pigeons and they’d say [different voice, high pitched and squawky] ‘what, you had pigeons, did they tell you where to go Dad’ [chuckles]. I’d say ‘yeah we’d let them out and then we’d say Berlin [?] and we’ll follow you’ [laughs]. What was I saying? Yes, we had, we had pigeons.
AS: Whereabouts did you keep them?
PF: What, my – I was responsible for them as the wireless operator, and right behind me were the armour plated doors, which was ideal for me really [AS laughs] but behind the armour plated door was a rest couch – oh I thought I saw them earlier [?] – and erm, that’s where we used to place them on that, just right, they all fitted there nicely.
AS: So by the time you’d got to the aeroplane, was it all bombed up and fuelled up?
PF: Oh yes, it was, they were all done up in the morning, if you were taking off in the evening. All the bombing up – everything would have been ready in the morning. That was, that was very, very efficient, and then we would go to the briefing in the afternoon and then take off in the evening.
AS: Hm. Did you feel that you had enough fuel all the time, for the distances and trips that you –
PF: Oh yeah well, we had a, our engine – we all had, every crew had an engineer, and that was his responsibility to make sure that the bouncers [?] had put the right amount of petrol in, and they got the [pause] they got it all laid on so that if the, if the pilot wanted to change engines or something, they did sometimes, that could all be done by stopping an engine and starting another up sort of thing.
AS: Okay.
PF: That was all very complicated but all was very well organised. Everyone knew what they had to do.
AS: Yeah. So you, you’d done your Gironde mine laying trip, and then you went to Saint Nazaire. Was that the same sort of thing?
PF: Yes, same thing, yeah.
AS: Dropping –
PF: Yeah, well I’m just trying to – why was that? It was because that was the – of course Saint Nazaire is on the Gironde River. So that was, it was something to do with that trip.
AS: And then the big one, the Big B, operation to Berlin.
PF: Yeah. That was the Big B yeah, they were big trips. Dangerous ones, the losses were always heavy. Well they were mainly night fighters – Hitler made sure that his beloved Berlin and all that area round there was well guarded by night fighters, which were the Junkers 88, which was a very efficient aeroplane, and they caused us proper problem.
AS: Hm. Did you lose a lot on the squadron to –
PF: Pardon?
AS: Did you lose a lot on the squadron to night fighters?
PF: Well no we didn’t funnily enough. We used to have losses to ack-ack and the odd fighter, but that was, there was nothing catastrophic from fighters.
AS: But over the period you were on ops from March 1943, were the losses heavy? Severe?
PF: They were. I wouldn’t say they were severe, they were heavy [emphasis]. I didn’t know what the statistics are on this, I can’t remember them, but – oh you could, people used to hear it on the radio and they would say something about aircraft missing; that used to be an indication of what the night was like. Some nights were pretty awful, mainly due to night fighters.
AS: And could you get a sense of this at the squadron as well? People just disappearing?
PF: Yeah.
AS: Hm. And then, then two days later you went to Berlin again [emphasis], and it says ‘bombs dropped on Flensburg’ [?]. What was that all about?
PF: Oh yeah, that was a, that was a – that wasn’t a catastrophe [emphasis] but it was an embarrassment. Let me think now. Oh yes, we were set off and we were briefed to bomb Berlin, and crossing over, oh gosh what’s the name of, Jutland [emphasis] area, you know –
AS: Oh I – Denmark there.
PF: Denmark?
AS: Yeah.
PF: Yeah. The, there, to the right on Denmark is Flensburg, which is German obviously, and if you drifted off course, you got it in the neck from Flensburg. Well that was what was happening. And yeah, that was a dicey old area, and we never, I never liked the Berlin trips ‘cause that was, it was a long way there and you had to go through, like Flensburg and so many other hazards [emphasis], there was no sort of sitting back and relaxing and saying ‘oh well, let’s go’ [chuckles].
AS: Did you always find yourselves well informed about where the German hazards were? Where the flack was –
PF: Oh yes we were. The briefing was very accurate and – no we never had anything, any faults to find with that.
AS: And how about –
PF: And our intelligence was very good too.
AS: How about the debrief when you got back? Was that – what happened in the debrief? Was that a long time or just very cursory or?
PF: No, no that was, it was done quite quickly. We, we just, we landed dead on time as always, found your way back to the debriefing room and sat yourself down at a table, and the debriefing officer would come along and start asking us the routine questions, and that was that, you know. Nothing in particular about it, we just wanted to get back to the mess and have a meal.
AS: Can you remember what –
PF: Our eggs and bacon [chuckles].
AS: Okay. Can you remember what some of the questions were? I know it’s a long time ago, but what were they interested in?
PF: They were interested in the concentration of anti-aircraft from the guns and particularly the fighters. That’s what they were interested in because they were becoming a menace, and to trace what airfield they were coming from so they could take care of them with a separate force. But that was the, that was the main thing was night fighters, and he had a very good, he was, Hitler had a very good night fighter force, or Goering [emphasis] I should say.
AS: A moment ago you talked about getting back and landing dead on time. What was the procedure as you approached the English coast to return?
PF: What, what was the procedure? Well, well actually we were on tracks that the briefing officer had given you and, so they always knew exactly where you were going to do. If you were off track as it were, you, I, we would just let them know that we were off track.
AS: And then you’d spot, what, you’d spot the pundit light for –
PF: Yeah, yeah a pundit or a something, a light, strip of light and that would, you’d pick it up and that would give an indication. Everything was so well organised.
AS: You, when you got back to base, what happened then? When you were in the circuit, did they stack you up or, or?
PF: No, no they didn’t stack us up at all. They would get us down as soon as possible, which was right, and we would land and the transport would be there, the aircrew bus would be there to pick you up – we used to have a bus would you believe? And take us back to the debriefing. They’d sow us with coffee [unclear] and that was that. Everybody thankful to be back having looked round the room to see who was missing [chuckles]. I’m laughing about it, I shouldn’t –
AS: Yeah. But as you said before, you lived in your self contained crew world.
PF: Yeah.
AS: Yeah. This – you’ve got quite a lot of trips to, to Italy, and I noticed you –
PF: Yes, yeah I did eight Italian trips.
AS: You got the Italian Star for that.
PF: What’s that?
AS: Was that what you got the Italian Star for?
PF: Oh yes.
AS: So what were the Italian trips like? Did you go over the Alps?
PF: It was – mostly yes, mostly. Not all trips took us over the Alps but the majority did, and they were quite – we used to like the Italy trips ‘cause they were quite uneventful. You had all that track across France and there were very few night fighters which was, which were the problem, attacking Germany or France, and there were very little problems then. It wasn’t until we got nearer to the industrial areas that the night fighters, night fighter problem increased. [Knocking at door] come in.
Other: Peter, returning back with the water.
PF: Alright, yes, thank you.
Other: Here we are.
PF: Yes, thank you.
Other: You’re welcome.
AS: Yeah so Italy was a long time but a comparatively easy trip was it?
PF: Oh yes, the Italian trips, we [chuckles] used to like – when we’d arrive into the briefing room and you looked up on the wall and there’d be the big map up and you’d see the, that Italy was the target, were the targets and sigh of relief [emphasis] because the, you know, going all the way across France there were very few night fighters and, not until you got to the Italian area that they become concentrated. But Italy trips were always good. We always looked forward to those.
AS: Did you end up coming back in daylight from them, or was there enough time to –
PF: Mostly we got back in daylight, no in, at night time I should say, but we used to do – oh God what were they [pause], we used to do trips and there was a name for them and that, that’s slipped my mind [pause]. They were virtually daylight raids, but we were given courses across Germany and France which, which weren’t defended heavily, but, yes, we used to, but that, on the whole we used to like these light trips as we called them [chuckles].
AS: And there were some others, some really difficult trips, some really difficult trips like the Ruhr trips, like Essen and –
PF: Oh yeah, the Ruhr trips were, Happy Valley as we called them, were very severe and strong. We used to hate Happy Valley, because the, the ack-ack concentration – Hitler had done it to please his own people actually, that all, the whole Ruhr Valley was saturated [emphasis] with anti-aircraft guns. But we did most, that was most of the operation with the, on the Ruhr Valley you know, Happy Valley – you see that? Oh God, handkerchief, oh there it is. [Long pause in which PF blows his nose.]
AS: Are there any particular moments that really stick in your mind of, of carrying out this campaign? Airborne moments?
PF: Well, I, I’m just trying to think. I had an idea you were going to ask me a question like that [long pause.]
AS: Were any of you wounded at all?
PF: I was never, fortunately I was never wounded, I was never, we were never hit. We were knocked about a bit by German night fighters, but they weren’t very heavy attack, heavily, they weren’t heavy attacks because our gunners were good enough to keep them at bay. So no, to answer your question, no we, we, it wasn’t a problem. Thank God, because that could – he had an extremely good night fighter force.
AS: And you, you flew the same aircraft, A-Able [?].
PF: On A-Able [?] yeah. There’s a painting of her up there. Er yes, we, we were fortunate enough to have our own aeroplane right through the, my tour.
AS: And did she always start on four engines and come back on four engines?
PF: Yeah –
AS: Mechanically very reliable, yeah?
PF: Yeah, but sometimes the pilot had to give an engine a rest, and we’d come back, perhaps come back on three, but on the whole we managed. Well, it’s nice to know we had – the old Lanc would fly well on two engines.
AS: And on, on takeoff, was that a particularly worrying time with –
PF: Was what?
AS: On takeoff, with, full of full and bombs and –
PF: Well what, well yes it was, but it was a touch and go sort of thing. The, the tanks, the petrol tanks would be full up and the bomb racks would be full. So you had a, what did we used to call it, a maximum load, or it was called something else, a maximum effort I think it was called, and, and we managed to get through okay.
AS: Were you, had you got married by the time you were on operations?
PF: Pardon?
AS: Had you got married by the time you were on operations, on 467?
PF: I was, I was on operations in ’43, and no, I got married in ’44.
AS: Okay, so when you’d finished ops.
PF: No, and I – when I went back on my second [emphasis] tour, when the second, after the second front had started, that was in ’45, then, yeah I did my second tour, which was in ’45, yeah. I don’t know what when I was leading to [?] I’m sorry.
AS: No, no, we were talking about when you got married. Did you feel differently on your second tour, when you were married on ops?
PF: No, no I didn’t. We, you treated – it was a job, you know, and that’s how you looked at it, and kept your fingers crossed. I was very fortunate but I, when I, ‘cause I did, my first tour was pretty grim, but I wasn’t, but I wasn’t married then, but apart from that we had a reasonably efficient –



Adam Sutch, “Interview with Peter Fitt,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 5, 2023,

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