Aircrew – Accounts and Experiences
A First Operational Flight
On the 13th, our names appeared on the Battle Order for operations that night to fly Lancaster Mark III No. ED 620. The decisive moment had come for us, the apprehension before each bombing operation was to start. These feelings were relieved to some extent by doing all the preparations necessary before us take off. The 1st thing to do was to fly the Aircraft on a Night Flying Test (an NFT). This was to ensure that everything was working satisfactorily before the bombs and the correct fuel load for the flight were loaded on the Aircraft. Afterwards the time was with things personal, this included having a meal, and resting. Later we would dress in the clothes suitable to withstand the cold of the particular aircrew position in the Aircraft. Air from the 2 inboard engines warmed the main cockpit.
The next thing was to go to the Locker Room to collected flying kit, helmet, parachute and flying boots. I also carried a toolkit. During the flight, I completed a log of engine conditions every 20 minutes. The other crew members would also collect their flying kit together with those things necessary to their particular duty; maps and charts, target details, radio frequencies, a sextant for the Navigator a carrier pigeon for the Wireless Operator. Each crew member would also have received in flight rations of sandwiches, a tin of orange juice and a bar of chocolate. Now came the worst part of the preparations, waiting outside the locker room for the buses to take each crew to their Aircraft. It was at these times that the stomach would churn needed a call to the latrines as one thought of what lay ahead. This could be a nuisance when all dressed up and ready to go. There would be banter for some, quietness for others at this time and during the drive out to the Aircraft dispersed around the airfield. At the Aircraft, the Pilot and Engineer reported to the dispersal Flight Office to check the Aircraft loading and talk to the ground staff and the Pilot would sign the Aircraft logbook. Before flight, as the Engineer I would check that a battery trolley was plugged in for starting the engine and there was ground crew standing by to prime the engines with fuel.
With the crew aboard I would secure the entrance door and stow the ladder. Moving forward up the fuselage I would see that the oxygen supply under the rest bed was turned on and the electrics were connected to the external battery trolley; I would then take my place on the RH hand side of the cockpit beside the pilot. Here we would start the engines and do the pre-flight checks. On seeing a green Verey light from the control tower, it was time to taxiing to the runway for take-off. I was checking engine temperatures and oil pressure, as it was easy for engines to overheat at this stage. The Pilot called up each member at his crew position to see if all was ready for take-off.
One by one, the 4 engines were started up and Cecil monitored the instrument readings on the flight engineer panel. When all 4 were warmed up, the pilot checked with the crew to ensure they were all happy with their equipment and that their oxygen and intercom systems were working. He then taxied onto the perimeter track (“peritrack”) and awaited the signal for take off. The Flight Engineer would be either sitting or standing beside the pilot, ready to assist him with the throttles, undercarriage and flaps; between them they ensured that the fully laden heavy bomber got off the ground and climbed to its allotted cruising height. Having reached cruising height, he ensured that the aircraft maintained its optimum cruising speed, utilising the minimum amount of fuel (“flying for economy”). He also synchronised the propellers to minimise engine vibration and noise. Throughout the flight, he monitored the fuel consumption, engine revs, oil pressures, coolant temperatures etc and logged them “at every change of flight or engine conditions and at 30 minute intervals”. He monitored the amount of fuel in each of the wing tanks and used the fuel cocks to ensure that it was evenly distributed across the tanks; this ensured that if 1 leaked, or was hit by enemy flak, there was sufficient fuel in the other tanks to keep the aircraft in flight. The perspex astrodome above his head enabled him to ensure that they were clear of other aircraft (and to monitor for enemy aircraft during operational sorties). Having completed their assigned exercise or sortie, the Engineer assisted the pilot with the landing, shutdown and post-flight checks. Any issues were reported to the ground crew using the Form 700 and the 4 page flight engineer log was handed in for review and signature.
‘He opened them up almost to full power, and the Engineer’s hand would be behind him, and then he would let go, and then the engineer pushed it up the rest of the way, so that he had both hands to haul the thing off. This was because a Lancaster had no power-assisted operation whatsoever – it was all brute force and hard work.
At the threshold of the runway, we would do our last minute take off checks before the Pilot turned ED620 onto the runway to await the green light to go. . Each Aircraft took off at 30-second intervals after a signal from the Control Tower. Our take off time was 20.50hrs. On seeing the green light from the runway controller, the Pilot eased the throttles forward leading with the port outer and when the Aircraft was running straight, he called for full power and I pushed the throttle levers fully forward. The Aircraft gathered speed down the runway and this was one of the most anxious times as the loss of an engine when fully loaded with fuel and bombs would be disastrous. It took the entire 6000ft runway to gain flying speed. When safely clear of the runway, the Pilot said undercarriage and I lifted the undercarriage lever, secured it into position, checked to see that the undercarriage was fully up and locked. When safely airborne I reduced the engine power to complete the initial climb to a safe altitude and closed the flaps in 5 degree stages from their 1/3rd take-off position. The Aircraft then flew over the airfield for the Navigator to set the correct time of departure and to set the 1st course. I reduced engine speed to the climbing power. At this time, it was still daylight. The rendezvous point was on the South Coast of England and we could see the other aircraft around us. We settled down to our individual routines for the long flight with me monitoring and recorded at 20-minute intervals the engine speeds, their temperatures and pressures of the oil and coolant, whilst keeping a check on fuel flow and other things and keeping a look out for other Aircraft. I was fortunate to have a view from the cockpit of the full 360 degrees around the Aircraft. Darkness closed in as the coast of France was crossed. All went well as the flight progressed. Occasionally we would get a glimpse of a silhouetted aircraft below. Eventually the Navigator gave an estimated time of arrival (ETA) at the Target at Spezia. The ETA time came and passed and so did the H-Hour time of attack but there was no sign of a raid anywhere. Raids could normally be seen from many miles away especially from altitude. The Aircraft was over the sea and it was soon realised that it was off course and the correct position not known. With the bombs still on and over half of the petrol gone I said to the Pilot “If we don’t get rid of these bombs we shall not get back to base”. We released the bombs into the sea.
We turned for home and as we did so I distinctively saw high ground which I later thought would have been Corsica or Sardinia. The intended landfall was on the South Coast of France at Montpellier but it was not until 30 minutes after that time that the Bomb Aimer saw the coast. After a series of course changes we eventually crossed the French coast at Boulogne at 4000ft. Some light opposition anti-Aircraft fire came up from the sand dunes but fortunately no damage occurred to the Aircraft. It is a long story of flying alone across hostile France. Over the channel, there was very little fuel left in the No.1 tanks, Tanks No.2 & 3 were empty. It was necessary to find an airfield soon for landing. Throughout this time there were anxious moments watching for any engine to cut out for want of fuel. After getting no reply to emergency calls for identification and landing, the misty coast was crossed and by chance, we saw an airfield. Without contact with the control tower, we landed the aircraft. The airfield was Dunsfold, Surrey. The time was 07.40hrs and the flying time had been 10.50hrs. The aircraft had flown alone across the hostile territory of France expecting opposition at any time. Inspection of the No.1 tanks with the aircrafts tail down showed only the bottom of the tanks. After a meal, we flew back to Fiskerton, Lincs, who had posted the Aircraft and crew as missing.
An examination of the navigation chart, and a check of the 2 compasses, revealed that the main one was under reading by 30⁰ and that the courses flown had always taken the Aircraft to the right of the required track. This meant that on the outward flight the true track had been down into the Mediterranean whereas the return brought the Aircraft back on track to the south coast of France. Afterwards the track had been northwards around Paris before the turn westwards. This very long 1st operational bombing flight at maximum range had been quite a lesson.
Battle of the Ruhr
This started in March 1943. The aircrew, because of the intensity of the defence’s searchlights, fighters and anti-Aircraft fire, knew the Ruhr area as Happy Valley. On the 26th April, we attacked Duisberg with 560 other aircraft. The Ruhr area was visible for miles away, a solid ring of searchlights surrounded it. Inside the ring, it was a fireworks display of rising shells, shell bursts, tracer gunfire and marker flares. Seeing the Ruhr it for the 1st time made me gasp and I said, “How do we get through there” no one answered, each had his own thoughts, the Navigator in his blacked out compartment declined to look. Soon we passed through the searchlight belt and were amongst the anti-aircraft bursts and tracer fire, the Pilot, the 2 Gunners and me, keeping a sharp lookout for other Aircraft to avoid collision and for enemy fighters. We saw Aircraft exploding, some catching fire and going down, others in searchlights. I was standing up at this time being required to move about to operate controls and to be able to read and to make a record of the instruments. The run up to the Target flying straight and level seemed to take a very long time although in reality it was only minutes. When the bombs left the aircraft, I would feel the movement of the cockpit floor. This was a relief. The Aircraft would rise up from the sudden loss of weight and the aircraft remained on course until the photo-flash had gone off and the camera had recorded the bomb strike. Only then was the Aircraft turned and dived away to get out of the target area. To look down from 20,000 ft and see the great area of fire and the bombs bursting was a sight I would never forget. The explosions of the heavy 4000lb bombs affected the Aircraft. This flight took 5 hours and was without mishap but 17 other Aircraft were lost that night. On the 28th April, we tried to drop magnetic mines off the coast of Juist in the Fresian Islands together with 206 other aircraft. The weather was bad in the area, dark, rain and low cloud. At 500ft in cloud and bad visibility, the target area could not be located. Because the position of mines in the sea had to be known, they were returned to base – 167 of the Aircraft laid 593 mines in the area of the islands that night and 22 Aircraft failed to return. This was the greatest loss on any mining during the war. It was the only mining sortie undertaken by us. The bombing operations continued. What was I doing in these frequent infernos? What had made me volunteer for aircrew duties in the year before not expecting this? It was not my knowledge of the German tyranny; so much of that had been, and still was, unknown or knowing that Germany had unlawfully invaded and conquered the countries of Europe, had bombed England and would have subjugated the British Isle as well if they had not been stopped in 1940. Fate had decreed I would be here because of my love for aeroplanes, and, if I was destined to be a combatant, what better way was there than to do this. The results of bombs dropped on German military Targets gave me no qualms of conscience, even if they fell on houses and killed civilians. All Germans had participated in the Nazi fanaticism of world domination and their excesses, these and the Italians had to be stopped. It is not practicable to describe each raid as some were much the same as another but some are worthy of note especially the 1st 2 raids on Hamburg that started those great firestorms. This was the night when we 1st used Window.
13th May Aircraft Lancaster ED 452 Target Pilsen in Czechoslovakia. There was the instance where the target was the Skoda factory at Pilsen a place deep in the east of Europe. Out over the North Sea, the starboard inner engine shed its exhaust flame cover and some of the cylinder exhausts. In the dark a long sheet of flame curled back over the leading edge of the wing, this would have been a fire risk and a beacon to enemy night fighters. The engine was shut down and the airscrew feathered. The Aircraft now lost air speed and was no longer able to keep up with the rest of the force; it would become a sitting duck to the opposing fighters. It was time to return to base to live to fight another day. It was dangerous to land with a 4000lb bomb on the Aircraft so it was dropped into the North Sea. Arriving back at base still heavily laden with 6 x 500lb bombs and a large quantity of fuel on board the Flying Control gave instructions to land on the short South West/North East runway. This was to avoid any obstruction on the main East/West runway in case of mishap and with the subsequent need to divert the other returning squadron Aircraft to another airfield. The approach to the runway was faster than normal because of the high landing weight and with a gusty side wind blowing the aircraft floated before touchdown. With the heavy load and poor braking the pilot realised he could not stop before the end of the runway and shouted a warning to his crew to brace. ED452 plunged off the end of the runway into a field and the undercarriage collapsed. With fear of immediate fire and explosion, I quickly had the escape hatch in the roof of the cockpit off and dived straight out ignoring the drop from the top of the fuselage to the ground. The rest of the crew quickly followed and all ran as fast as possible across the field to get away. Fortunately, neither fire nor explosion occurred and the crash crews were soon on the scene. Taffy the Rear Gunner suffered a severe shake-up in the crash and was not able to fly again. We went to the sick quarters for a medical check. At one time, we flew a total of 22.15hrs on 4 nights in 7 days in stressful conditions and were very tired. In May, the darkness of night was quite short. Take offs were always late in the evenings. By the time, aircraft had landed and crews had been collected from dispersal, removed their flying clothing at the locker room and then been de-briefed at the Intelligence Section it would be daylight. Sleep was difficult before returning to the airfield by 11.00hrs to carry out a Night Flying Test (NFT) in readiness for the next flight.
On the 12th July, we flew to Turin in Italy – 295 Lancaster’s took part on this raid in clear weather conditions. The view of the snow-covered Alps was fantastic. To see the twinkling lights of neutral Switzerland and Sweden was quite something. Once again, it had been a long flight at maximum range. LM 306 was short of fuel when nearing the South Coast of England and the aircraft landed at Exeter. We returned to base later in the day. On the 12th August, we flew to Italy again to attack Milan. This was another long flight. Over the Alps, there were storms and flying in cloud, St.Elmos Fire danced across the windscreen and ice formed on the airframe resulting in a lower bombing height of 17,700ft because of the extra weight. It was a successful raid with only 3 Aircraft lost. The Alfa Romeo motor works, the railway station and the La Scala opera house suffered substantial damage. LM 306 had now completed 3 operations in 4 days with a total of 22.30hrs flying. It is not surprising that we had little sleep over those 4 days. It was a great relief to have leave. After debriefing, a meal and a change of uniform we travelled into Lincoln on the bus to catch a train to our respective homes. Two of us were travelling to London on the 1st part of our journey and after changing to a very full train at Grantham we both fell asleep exhausted in the corridor all the way to London and other passengers just walked over us.
Return to Base
There was relief, as always, as the enemy coast was crossed but no one could relax because of possible dangers ahead. The North Sea was very wide, wet and cold. Mechanical failures could occur from various causes not least from unnoticed enemy damage. The chances of survival if forced down into the North Sea were minimal. There was always the chance of bad weather over the base and collisions with other circling aircraft waiting to land. The circuits of other adjacent airfields were very close. It was easy to approach the wrong runway. There was also the possibility of enemy intruder aircraft in the airfield circuit. One night we were returning below cloud at 3,000ft just off Cromer with other aircraft. Navigation lights were on. Suddenly cannon fire hit the aircraft. It was from the British Navy. Also attacked was Aircraft JB235 of the squadron. The noise was uncanny as red-hot shrapnel passed through the fuselage close beside us. We waited to see if any faults developed but things, so far, appeared normal. The Pilot called for reports and the Navigator said “Ralph’s been hit.” Ralph was the Wireless Operator and sat in the centre of the aircraft with his back against the hefty main spar; this no doubt had shielded him from injury that is more serious. Squeezing past the Navigator I went to Ralph’s aid to see that he had received wounds in his legs and shoulder area but the most serious at the time was a hole through one of his hands. Getting the 1st aid, I applied bandages and put a tourniquet on the wrist before going back to my duties in the front cockpit leaving the Navigator to watch Ralph later returning at intervals to release the tourniquet to prevent gangrene setting in. At Dunholme Lodge, the weather was foul with low cloud and driving rain. The aircraft was required to circle for some time before getting position 6 for landing. Air Traffic Control had been informed that on board was a wounded aircrew member. Eventually the turn came to land but on the downwind leg of the landing circuit it was found that the undercarriage would not come down; it was obvious that the hydraulic fluid from the system had been lost. There was damage in the bomb bay area where the pipes were located. Fortunately, the emergency air system was working and I was able to lower the undercarriage and flaps. The landing was very heavy. At dispersal, when the engines were shut down, the levers that operated the fuel cocks failed to work and hung loosely down. The control cables in the bomb bay had been severed. Fortunately, no petrol lines to the engines had been damaged. There were shattered bomb doors, broken pipes and cables, holes in the tail plane and flying control rods shot through, luckily they held to keep control of the rudders and elevator. This new aircraft was taken out of service after 1 bombing trip. The original crew was now down to 5 having lost Ralph and Taffy and spare aircrew were to fill the rear gun turret and the wireless position on subsequent operations. Jock, the Pilot, had been a Warrant Officer since the 6th of June and was now commissioned to the rank of Pilot Officer. Jimmy the Navigator, Hugh the Bomb Aimer and I were Flight Sergeants.
2nd October. Lancaster ED426. Take off 18.36. Target Munich. 03.15 – 293 Lancasters had attacked the target – 8 were lost. ED426 bombed at 22.41 from 19,000ft. On the 20th October after a raid on Leipzig Jock, the Pilot completed his tour of 30 operations and afterwards we sadly broke up leaving the others to complete their tours flying as spares with different crews. I still had 4 more to do. No longer would we men experience the close friendship and respect that had built up over the last 10 months flying, living and working together and going out on the town. The memory of the bond that bound us, especially in periods of great danger, would never fade. Such a depth of comradeship would not be experienced again. Jock left the service in 1948 Hugh the Bomb Aimer became a Flying Officer. On No. 97 Squadron, he was killed on 11 November 1944 whilst on a 2nd tour. His name is on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede Ralph the Wireless Operator settled in Bournemouth and suffered in his later years from the wounds received. A commission was granted to Jimmy the Navigator. He left the Service in 1946. Sergeant G Green was demobilised in 1945.
Since those days, there has been no contact with them but I was proud to have served with them. I stayed on the Squadron as the Flight Engineer Leader as I had 4 more ops to do. These were; With Plt Off Roantree in JB466 on the 27th January 1944 to Berlin. With Plt Off Dickinson in JB399 to Leipzig on the 19th February 1944 With Wg. Cdr, Adams the CO in JB 466 to Stuttgart on the 1st March 1944 On the 15th March, I flew my last operation to Stuttgart with Pilot Officer Lett whose Engineer had suffered injury to his hands on their previous flight. The Engineer Alan Morgan had gone back down the fuselage to assist the Wireless Operator who had passed out through lack of oxygen from a faulty portable oxygen bottle. Alan himself also passed out for the same reason. Whilst removing his gloves to assist the Wireless Operator his hands touched the severely cold metal of the fuselage and they became frostbitten. Meeting Alan 49 years later he showed me his damaged hands.
‘Tour of Ops’ and Beyond
I flew 211.50hrs by night on 30 sorties over enemy territory plus 2 almost to the enemy coast – 17 of the sorties had been in 1 Lancaster Aircraft No. LM306 with the Squadron letters EA-F (F for Freddie). The Targets were The Ruhr = 11, Berlin = 4, Italy = 3, Hamburg = 2, there were 11 other German Targets and 1 Mining operation. I remember the stress, the tiredness, fear, and the pride in belonging to Bomber Command. My next posting was in April 1944 to RAF Winthorpe near Newark where I had done my flying training, there to be a Staff Flight Engineer Flying Instructor. This was not much fun, as we had to fly old Stirling aircraft to teach new crews. This was to save new Lancaster’s for the operational squadrons. Soon after my arrival there, I saw a Stirling approaching the airfield at about 1500 feet. The port outer engine caught fire and within minutes, it dived into the airfield and exploded. The new crew of 7, a Staff Pilot and a Staff Engineer died. On 1 flight, I had an engine doing 3800 revolutions when the maximum was 2800. There was every risk of the airscrew shearing off and hitting the cockpit. Fortunately, we got it under control. After a few weeks and 32 hours of flying, 13 of them at night, I was sent out to all the Stations in No.5 Group Bomber Command to lecture on the new Airborne Lifeboat that was being introduced to the Air Sea Rescue Squadrons. When this was finished, I returned to my base at RAF Scampton and on the 19th July 1944 I was commissioned as a Pilot Officer Shortly afterwards I was posted to RAF St. Athan in South Wales to train Flight Engineers. The introduction to the Officers Mess and its customs was a great experience; other Officers were most charming and helpful. It was an agreeable task teaching new aircrew the duties of a Flight Engineer. Occasionally the Maintenance Unit on the other side of the airfield called for a Flight Engineer to assist the Test Pilots to fly Lancaster’s to and from the factory at Baginton. This became a pleasant task. Just the two of us, the pilot and engineer, flew the Lancaster’s on these flights. I can well remember these flights flying low over the Malvern Hills. During my posting at St Athan, I did the Flight Engineer Leaders Course from 20th June to 25th July 1945 despite the fact that I had been a Flight Engineer Leader on an Operation Bomber Squadron in 1943. I spent happy years at St. Athan.
Battle Stations: Lancaster Bomber – Target Germany (War History Documentary) Colour archive film reveals the role of the Lancaster bomber in World War Two. Designed by Roy Chadwick, the plane was the most successful Heavy Bomber
Pat Dwyer was a RAAF crewman in WW11 on Lancaster bombers in England. Here are his remarkable stories of guts, luck and survival during a terrible time.
I volunteered for Air Crew. The big demand then was for Air Gunners rather than anything else, so I re-registered as an Air Gunner, and ended up in Scotland for my training. I was then a Leading Aircraftsman, and I was awarded the Sergeant’s stripes. I was posted to 78 Squadron, Lynton-in-the-Ouse, it wasn’t long till I was made a Flight Sergeant and there I did about 27 or 28 operations. I wasn’t very happy with the crew I was flying with, eventually, and I had a moan at the C.O about it. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘ we’ve got a crew going to Pathfinders, and they’re short of a rear gunner, would you be interested?’ He said, ’It would mean you’d have to do another 30 or so operations.’ ‘Fine, suits me.’ So I went to Pathfinders, to 35 Squadron, Graveley. Instead of doing another 30 operations, I was enjoying myself and I ended up doing 102 altogether.
Pathfinders were select crews that found the target and marked it for the main forces to bomb. On certain occasions your crews were selected as Master Bomber. Then you stayed on the target, circled it and broadcast to the main force, telling them when they were bombing short or over or whatever the case would be. Otherwise you marked the target, dropped your bombs and got off. We went over Italy, anywhere in Germany, and France.
We did our normal training stuff, you didn’t actually bale out but you went through all the operations, you knew how to do it: reach behind you, slide the doors open, unplug your intercom, tuck your knees under and roll out. Also what to do if you had to ditch in the sea but we never took it too seriously. I never actually ditched – we came pretty near to it sometimes but we managed to get away with it. Spending a night in the North Sea in a dinghy, was not funny.
The first aircraft that I flew in when I‘d done my training as an air gunner, was a Bolton Paul Defiant. They were used as a night fighter in the early days of the war. Then I did my first ops in a Whitley. The first op was a 1000 bomber raid to Cologne. I think it took us about 10 hours and we got ourselves lost and came back and landed with a strand of barbed wire round our tail where we’d got a bit too low. We were then on to Halifax’s. Then we went on to Lancasters. They can carry a 4.000 pounder, one 4,000 pounder right at the very front and all the rest could be anything, they could be fire bombs or 1,000 pounder, what have you, sat round them. We carried a horrific load of bombs. One Lancaster carried as many bombs as 3 or 4 Flying Fortresses because Flying Fortress had more of a crew of gunners and whatsoever, whereas our crew was 7. You had the pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, engineer, mid upper gunner, rear gunner, radar operator. And that was all they ever carried. We may have taken somebody with us occasionally as an extra but not very often. Not that they were ever very keen.
In the rear gun turret you had your controls, which you could just reach, and you had no more space. You were cramped in there, you couldn’t stand up very well, otherwise your head was coming up through the roof. In my case what I did, which is probably one reason why I’m still here, is that I cut all the Perspex out at the front so that I could see better. To see was to live. It was a bit draughty, but nevertheless – the little bit up the top was all right, but all panels in the front got misted up at night. When I cut the whole section out, then the back was 2sliding doors, you had to reach round behind you and slide them to get out. If the doors jammed, well, bad luck but there was no room to spare, I can assure you. It’s just like sitting in a chair with the sides all round you and you could go forward, you could just about stand up with your head and shoulders up against the top and if you got cramp in your leg it was a bit painful.
We had electrically heated suits, of course, at the last but nevertheless if you’re flying 18, 20, 25, 30,000 feet it was still cold and if the electrical wiring failed it was very cold. When we flew to Turin or Milan, you had to get pretty high to clear the Alps. I’ve seen an icicle hanging from my oxygen mask 9 or 10 inches long because the oxygen mask is tight round and it gummed up with moisture from my breath and then it dripped from the bottom and formed the icicle. The rear turret wasn’t a very comfortable place to be, in fact it was the loneliest place in the world, because everybody else was up at the front and you were away on your own, nice and quiet and peaceful. You had communication with the people around you through your intercom but they couldn’t see you and you couldn’t see them. It was a lonely spot – I was one of the few idiots that enjoyed it.
Hamburg was an interesting raid. On 24th July 1943 the Flight Log reads ‘Hamburg aircraft damaged by flack, we got a few splinters and a few shell holes in us but we got back. We went back again, on 27th – Hamburg was well alight, still burning and then on 29th we went back again, Hamburg was still burning.’ Other raids were Stuttgart, Calais, Zeebrugen, Frankfurt, and Berlin.
I did 44 ops with Pilot Officer Davidson and then I went on to Squadron Leader Cresswell, until his number was up. That means his number of operations was up, you did so many and then they were screened, taken off, rested maybe for a few months and then could be recalled again if necessary. Of course I should have been screened, taken off but, being a bit stupid I volunteered for another crew and so. I carried on flying.
The last one I flew with Cresswell was TL-B for Beer, on the 20th of July 1944 and then I went on to fly with Squadron Leader Bromley – he was made a Wing Commander eventually, and I flew with him until 27th November 1944 and then he was screened, taken off and I flew a couple with Flight Lieutenant Osmond to Bonn marshalling yard, Gelsenkirchen, and then I flew with Group Captain Dixie Dean and then Wing Commander Lee Good. We were Master Bomber at Potsdam and also bombing an oil refinery at Leiuner(?) oil refinery. At Essen we were long stop, in other words we were there till the very last of the raid. The length of a raid depends on how far away it was and normally it could be anything from 5 to 20 minutes.
When you came back from an operation you had to give the whole details to whoever interviewed you:, like this (9th March 1944) Lancaster …the German fighter squadron was just about to turn off the bombing run… at 18.000 feet mid upper gunner saw a Focke Wulf 190 some 300 yards ahead on stern, closing in rapidly in a steep dive. The mid upper gave a call through go and as the Lancaster commenced a corkscrew through to port the aircraft opened fire at 100 yards with cannon and machine gun. Using a red and green tracer and hitting the starboard tail end of the bomber before breaking away port quarter up. As the fighter broke away, both gunners opened fire and claimed hits to the underside, the Lancaster was now losing height rapidly and Focke-Wolf 190 appeared to decline before rolling over and diving away to port.’
Another combat report for the target Nuremburg, 30/31st March 1944. reads ‘The rear gunner saw a single engine fighter later identified as a 19o Focke-Wulf approximately 700 yards on the 5 port quarter up, he ordered pilot to corkscrew port and immediately lost fighter.‘ I could scream up to the pilot ’Corkscrew, port, go!’ – it means instead of flying he goes port, turns over and dives to port, gets in to the bottom, turns, comes back up again like a corkscrew. Then that gets the old fighter a devil of a job trying to get us. And finally, if you’re lucky, you lose him or you shoot him down before he shoots you down. But the combat report goes on: ‘30th of March 1944 Nuremburg, damaged by a fighter.’ We got shot up pretty badly with a fighter but I think between the mid upper gunner and me, we finished him off. But he made a bit of a mess of us and we crash- landed at RAF Station Ford. |The aircraft was still serviceable and we flew back from Ford to base again the next day. That was so close, one of those shells, that it nicked me, cut the ear piece right out of my helmet, damn near strangled me and then went right up the aircraft and exploded half way up the aircraft. My rear turret had many holes made by cannon shells from that fighter.
Army support was D-Day stuff, bombing marshalling yards at Gelsenkirchen, Nr Bonn in February 1945.
My 102nd operation was on 24th April 1945, to Neubrandenburg, dropping medical supplies and my last trip was on the 10th May 1945. We landed at Laubach and filled the aircraft with prisoners of war and brought them home.
Mind you, the death rate was pretty grim but you never worried about it too much, ‘Oh it can’t happen to me.’ Maybe you started out with seven aircraft. maybe lost four in the one night. Well there’s 28 men all gone. But I didn’t worry too much about it. It didn’t pay to worry too much. The average life of aircrew was 15 ops. And after that you were on borrowed time. So I suppose I was very lucky. The Devil looks after his own. They called me Happy Harry. (Jim Simpson DFM DFC)
After the War
At the end of the War the whole Squadron flew to America on a goodwill tour and they had painted the planes all white, in anticipation of the Tiger Force destined for Japan. But I missed out on that jolly. After the War we started up the Pathfinder Club but then that finally washed out through lack of interest – all those people are gone. Only fools like me still alive. Then we used to have the Reunion of 35 Squadron but that folded up last year.
I was one of the lucky few, I wasn’t easily frightened. I enjoyed the life, it was good fun. Well I look at it this way, it would cost you an awful lot of money today for the thrills and excitement you got in those days for nothing. And you got paid for it