156 Squadron Sorties April 45 ~
The old WW1 Airfield site was selected to be reactivated and expanded. The new Station was designed to accommodate 2 Medium Bomber Squadrons with room for a 3rd. By 1936, construction had begun in earnest with 2 of 5 C-type Hangars started. On 27 February 1937, the 1st Flying Unit arrived at RAF Upwood in the form of No.52 Squadron RAF flying Hawker Hinds. This unit was joined on 1 March 1937 by No.63 Squadron and its Hawker Audaxes. During their time at Upwood, No.52 & 63 Squadrons became Training Units and took on both Fairey Battle & Avro Anson Aircraft. In August & September 1939, the 2 squadrons were reassigned opening the Field up to its new Tenant, No.90 Squadron flying Bristol Blenheims. 17 OTU Raf Upwood formed on the 4th April 1940, from the Resident 35 & 90 Squadrons, which were both equipped with Blenheims & Ansons. To allow for expansion, 17 OTU was divided into 4 Flights on 14 May 1940: ‘A‘ (Conversion) Flight; ‘B‘ (Anson) Flight; ‘C‘ (Armament) Flight & ‘D’ (Operational Training) Flight. 17 OTU left from Upwood on 24th April 1943 for RAF Silverstone.
On 5 March 1944 RAF Upwood became home to No.156 Squadron and its Avro Lancasters. They flew their 1st Mission from Upwood on 15 March 1944, attacking Stuttgart with 22 Aircraft.
Ops ~ No. 156 Sqdn April 1945 RAF Upwood & Wyton
There were 2 Squadrons on the Base, No.156 (We light the Way) flying Lancasters & No.139 Mosquitoes, both Pathfinders. Group Captain, later Air Vice Marshall, Don Bennett often visited the Airfield. He used a Percival Proctor light Aircraft as his Personal Transport. One of the other AFC’s being severely reprimanded by him for allowing him to Land when there were Operational Aircraft in the Circuit. Mindful of this, others would always give him a Red if there were any other Aircraft near. He always obeyed, though there was one occasion when he simply side slipped & landed on the grass at the side of the Runway. Maybe he was short of Fuel, or Time – who knows, after all, he was the Commanding Officer.
W/C A J L Craig – Commanding Officer RAF Upwood 10th April to 17th June 1945
PFF 156 Squadron Code GT-
Craig – RAF Wyton 17th June to 10th September 1945
PFF 156 Squadron Code GT-
RAF Wyton was situated in Huntingdonshire. The Site was used by the RFC during WW1. In 1936 the Base was rebuilt. During WW2 Wyton was used primarily as a Bomber Base, flying Bristol Blenheim, de Havilland Mosquito & Avro Lancaster Aircraft of No.3 Group Bomber Command. In 1942 it became the home of the Pathfinder Force under the Command of Group Captain Don Bennett. In the early 1950s, the main Runway was Lengthened & Strengthened, and Wyton became the home of the Strategic Reconnaissance Force. In the late 50’s and early 60’s Wyton was home to the Reconnaissance & Strategic Nuclear V bombers, which were kept at constant readiness. The old WW2 Weapons Store was modified for the Nuclear Weapons. Today Wyton is home to the Trainers of the Cambridge University Air Squadron and some Club Flying. The surviving Buildings are used by the RAF’s Logistic Supply Section and by The RAF Museum at Hendon who use Wyton for Storage
10th April 1945-10th September 1945
Commanding Officer A J L Craig 156 Squadron RAF
18th April 1945 Heligoland Lancaster GT-L (4.10) W/C Craig Pilot with F/L Harris’s Crew
969 Aircraft – 617 Lancasters, 332 Halifaxes, 20 Mosquitos – of all Groups Attacked the Naval Base at Heligoland, the Airfield and the Town on this small Island. The Bombing was accurate and the Target Areas were turned almost into crater-pitted moonscapes. 3 Halifaxes were lost.
22nd April 1945 Bremen Lancaster GT-L (4.30)
Crew: W/O Batt, F/S Wilks, W/O Thompson, W/O Greenacre, F/S Greenbank, W/O Overfield
767 Aircraft – 651 Lancasters, 100 Halifax’s, 16 Mosquitos – of Nos 1, 3, 6 & 8 Groups. 2 Lancasters lost. This Raid was part of the preparation for the Attack by the British XXX Corps on Bremen. The Bombing was on the South-Eastern suburbs of the City, where the Ground Troops would attack 2 days later. The Raid was hampered by cloud and by Smoke & Dust from Bombing as the Raid progressed. The Master Bomber ordered the Raid to stop after 195 Lancasters had Bombed. The whole of Nos 1 & 4 Groups returned home without Attacking.
30th April 1945 Operation Manna Lancaster GT-S
A large pocket in Western Holland was still under German Occupation and the Population was approaching starvation; many Old or Sick people had already died. A Truce was arranged with the local German Commander and Lancasters of Nos 1, 3 & 8 Groups started to drop food supplies for the Civilian Population.
In April 1945 the Mosquitos of 105 Squadron used their Oboe equipment to pinpoint precise locations in Western Holland to allow the main Bomber Force to drop food supplies to the starving Dutch people
2,835 Lancaster & 124 Mosquito Flights were made before the Germans surrendered at the end of the War and allowed Ships & Road Transport to enter the area. Bomber Command delivered 6,672 tons of food during Operation Manna –
Operation Manna, when, between 29th April – 8th May 1945, Lancaster Bombers & Flying Fortresses dropped over 11,000 tons of Food over Occupied Holland, saving a great number of the Population of the major Cities from Starvation – the Germans agreed not to Fire upon the Allied Bombers for the duration of this Mercy Mission. Now regarded as one of the major Food Distributors in modern times, it is difficult to imagine that 20,000 people in Holland died of Starvation during the German Occupation in WW2. Survivors reported that they queued for hours for less & less food, when eventually unusual items such as Sugar Beet kept many people alive, and fried Tulip Bulbs were the last resort. The Netherlands had been occupied by the Germans since 10th May 1940, and to their great relief, the Dutch 1st heard of ‘Operation Manna‘ on 24th April 1945 while secretly listening to banned BBC New 29th April 1945, wrote that there were no words to describe the emotions on that Sunday afternoon, when large numbers of food-bearing RAF Lancasters appeared to fill the sky.
29 April to 7 May 1945 – With the realisation that their Defeat was Imminent, the Germans showed their willingness towards the end of April to come to some agreement whereby food & other necessary supplies could be introduced into Holland under Flag of Truce. By the 1st May details of the scheme had been agreed with the Germans, & Allied Air Forces commenced dropping Emergency Food-stuffs to the Dutch Population in 10 selected areas. RAF & US Heavy Bombers continued to drop some 1,500 tons of Food a day until 8th May, when the 1st Allied Coasters arrived in Dutch Waters and were given Safe Conduct & Access to the Port of Rotterdam.
As a 15 yr old youth, a Dutchman remembers the Planes coming over very low to drop food over Schiphol Airport. He identified the dropping zone, described as a ‘Sports Area’ North of The Hague, as probably the Site of the present-day Horse Race Course called Duindigt. Men designated to collect the food were often violently sick after hastily eating food from burst Containers. Through lengthy starvation, their stomachs could not cope with the sudden influx of Solid Food. As a lad he himself had been reprimanded along with others who were sawing down trees in the Street or stealing wooden Logs between Tram Rail-tracks to put in Stoves, as it had been a very severe, cold winter. Bread allocation had been a half-loaf per week, with no Coal available. On the brighter side, children could be seen for many weeks later, on the Canals with Rafts made from large Biscuit Tins.
John (Jack) Stratton, – Bomb Aimer 35 Squadron remembers:-
35 Squadron Participation – Operation ‘Tulip’ ?
We ended up in this Flight Commander’s Crew, T S ‘Shorty’ Harris, Squadron Leader. So we were chosen to go and drop a bunch of flowers, of all things, to Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands. We had a couple of Trial Trips in the UK and drop a Basket of Flowers with a Parachute. Which went okay and the day arrived and we went off to Holland to drop these Flowers to the Queen that were in a Basket, with a Parachute attached. We got Airborne and we had to land in Amsterdam to pick up a couple of Dutch Reporters, they came on board and then we took off and went to Soestdijk Palace actually. It was an Airfield parallel to the Palace which we were going to drop the Flowers on. We arrived there and did a Run-up and where we were going to drop them. There were marks on the ground where we had to position it. So I went down in the Nose and prepared to drop this Bomb Basket and the ruddy thing wouldn’t go. So we had a Station Commander on board, he said, well what, what are you going to do with it, Jack, can’t you get rid of it? I said, well, I can Jettison it. Well, Jettison the Bloody thing he said; I said well, you’ll lose the Carrier. To Hell with the Carrier, he said that don’t mean anything, (the Bomb Carrier). So we went around again and jettisoned it. I said, now, the Parachute might not open, because the Static Cord will be tied to the Carrier. It didn’t open anyway, but the thing went underground. Then we had to do a Fly-past of the Palace, which we did, and all the Queen and her Minions were outside. Eventually, we got a nice photograph of that with a Lancaster in the Foreground. That was all right. They got the Flowers they said and they were beautiful.
They were Signed by Lord [Arthur] Tedder, who was Chief of the Air Staff at the time, Marshal of the Royal Air Force. Then we came back and landed in Amsterdam to drop off the 2 Reporters and we just got Airborne, took off, when they called us back in again, but on a different Runway. We landed and turning off down the Runway, to our horror, right across the runway was a big ditch. There’s no way you could stop; we went into it. The Aircraft was written off, nose down, none of us was hurt, except, the Group Captain broke his leg I think, or was badly injured anyway. It was okay after he had a Cast put on it. None of the actual Crew were hurt. But the Aircraft was a Write-off. We got out and – oh man – the Station Commander was disgusted. He said, “well, I’m going to the Embassy now, you fellows go to a Hotel, I’ll fix you all a Hotel and you might there for a week or 2 waiting to get an Aircraft from the UK, take us back“. So that’s the last we saw of him. So they put us up in a Hotel and that afternoon, my Mid-upper Gunner, Eddie Farmer, from Bristol, who was my real good mate, and his mother was just like my own mother to me, Eddie and I went down to The Hague we found a Café, went in there. Christ, wherever you looked, there was pictures of our King & Queen and the 2 Princesses. I swear to God, you were back in the UK. We got well in there and had a cup of coffee, couldn’t pay for a thing. The Owner had 2 daughters. So we went in and I hooked onto them and we were there over a week anyway, we were in a Hotel and we were staying at the Eastern. (Hotel des Indies?). Well, we had every Night with them, every day, all day long. We had a marvellous week there in Holland. Up until then, or not since either, I’ve never seen a bunch of people so hospitable as the Dutch. But the RAF was riding fairly high in their regard during the War because the RAF was the main instrument of Torture to the Germans. The Dutch were occupied by the Germans of course. So they had a lot of respect for the RAF. What I saw in Europe at the end of the War, and we visited Europe a week or so after the War finished, and to see the misery that had been caused there among one type of person, a Jew. There were over 6M Jews slaughtered [by the Germans] during that War and most of them just thrown into the ground & covered over. Really, you know, it didn’t turn me against the Church, no, it never did but it wasn’t what I was taught in Sunday School. Now, remember, I was only 20 years old then, or 22, when the War ended. But it wasn’t what we were taught in Sunday School, that God would not allow things like that to happen. It did happen. Really, it didn’t turn me against the Church but I decided that I’d be far better employed by staying in the RAF, which I did. That was the turning point in my life.
Wireless Operator R W Thompson Log Entries for May 1945 reflect possibly Jack Stratton’s Crew Collection at Schipol Airport on Lancaster TL-H and returned to Base on the 1stMay, Formation Practice on 2nd/3rd May, a Formation Fly-past in Holland 3rd May, Formation Practice 6th, 8th & 9th May, Formation Flypast 25th May in Aid of St Dunstan’s Church (Fleet Street?) and Formation Practice for the London Flypast in Lancaster TL-M on 28th May 1945
In April 35 Squadron was presented with a Delft Pottery Plaque (inset) in recognition of its involvement in Operation Manna during 1945
7th May 1945: 10 Lancasters ferried 240 ex-PoWs home to UK from Belgium.
8th May 1945 VE Day Declared – (The day before A J L Craig’s 22nd Birthday)
7th & 15th May 1945 Operation Exodus Lancasters GT-F & GT-K
When it had finished all Combat Operations against Germany, No.156 Squadron marked the Dropping Zone at Rotterdam and The Hague for the Bombers engaged in dropping Food Supplies to the starving Dutch People, also Repatriated British ex-P.O.W.’s to Great Britain and Transported British Troops from Italy to Great Britain, also dropped unwanted Incendiary Bombs into the Sea. The Squadron disbanded in September 1945
On the Rotterdam Trip on the load was flour, cheese, dried egg, peas, carrots & cigarettes. The drop area was 2½ miles North East of Rotterdam Centre, it was a well-concentrated drop, with no Congestion over the Drop Zone. Large numbers of women & children were in the Drop Zone despite the fact that the Germans had threatened to shoot those who had gathered to collect food. The Marker Flares had set fire to a house North of a Square of Water. The 2nd Trip to The Hague on 2nd May 1945 was a very good drop with no congestion of Aircraft. The load was the same as the previous Drop. The Drop Zone was a Sports Track 2 miles North of The Hague Centre. Load and conditions on the 3rd drop were similar to the earlier Trips. In the Rotterdam area, British & Dutch Flags were in greater evidence than the other Trips. Less number of Germans observed here than in other Sorties. We were never above 500ft and mostly at 50ft flying over Holland, so it was easy to observe all the activity on the Ground. The Dutch people gave us a tremendous reception as we flew Overhead, and we saw lots of Allied flags (banned until now) being waved along with the now famous ‘V’ sign. It was a great thrill to fly only 500ft all the way from England uninterrupted and only 50ft above Holland.
These Operations were completed before the Germans finally surrendered, and no Aircraft were fired at. What a wonderful way to end one’s Operational Flying – although we had to wait until August 1945 to see Peace at last.
We were told that we were to fly to Lubeck and Transport ex-PoWs back to the UK. Further, only 5 members of the normal 7 Crew would be required, leaving the Bomb-Aimer and the one Air Gunner behind. I was elected to go, my task was to make sure only 24 Passengers were to board and I was to allocate them sitting along the whole length of the Fuselage and to make sure they remained seated in these positions. It was at a later date that it became obvious why these Instructions were given. The reason being that 25 ex-PoWs were positioned in the rear of a Lancaster that Took-off from Juvin Court, Radioed back they had to make an Emergency Landing. The positioning of the Passengers upset the Flying Trim causing the Pilot to lose Control. The Plane crashed at Roye-Ami – all 25 Passengers and the 6 Crew perished. I would add that around 14,000 ex-PoWs were flown home without any further loss the last Flight being 28th May. Hence my Duties: no more than 24 ex-PoWs plus a Crew of 5, safely located. We were awakened at 4am on 9th May, Took off with no Parachutes. However, we had 24 Blankets and 29 Mae Wests (life jackets). On arrival at Lubeck, we were delayed quite a while.
Then all aboard, with me carrying out my orders, we landing at RAF Station Tibbenham that evening. I saw our Guests down the short Ladder at the rear of the Aircraft the look of joy on their faces, which more than compensated for our Celebrations being cut short. Approaching toward us were a number of Medics carrying what appeared to me, Flit guns. Each PoW was squirted down the front and the back of the shirt & trousers, then they beckoned to us. We said “no” we are Crew. They replied “Yes” you have been in their Company. So we got the same treatment. The PoWs were marshalled toward a Hangar – music played from the Tannoys, a long row of Tables full of food & beverages. Awakened at 4am, now late evening, we decided to partake of some of the Fayre only to be told no, ex-PoWs only. You will be looked after when you get back to your Home Base. So be it, it was a most gratifying day. We were tired & hungry but we felt good.
Operations Exodus & Dodge
At the end of the War, Bomber Command Lancasters started flying to Brussels and other Airfields to collect British Prisoners of War recently liberated from the Camps. 97 Squadron’s ORB contains several entries for Operation Exodus. One of the most dramatic is the following ORB for 10th May 1945
16 Aircraft carried out “Exodus” Operation. Aircraft OF-Z, piloted by F/Lt C Arnot, crashed on Take-off from Brussels Airfield and was totally destroyed by Fire. All occupants uninjured, except for 2 ex-PoW and one other Passenger – slightly injured.
The best times must have been when they could bring back one of their own. This happened when Bomb Aimer: F/S Jack Beesley came back in Lancaster PB422 – see photograph below, Beesley is 2nd from the right, shaking hands with the Pilot. This must have been one of the happiest moments of his life, and indeed of all his fellow Passengers.
Operation ‘Exodus’, from 3 April to 31 May 1945, was the Repatriation of ex-Prisoners of War from Camps in Europe. Bomber Command Lancasters now started flying to Brussels, and later to other Airfields, to collect British Prisoners of War recently Liberated from their Camps. 469 Flights were made by Aircraft of Nos 1, 5, 6 & 8 Groups before the War ended and approximately 75,000 men were brought back to England by the fastest possible means (24 PoW’s per Bomber Aircraft) There were no accidents during that part of Operation Exodus which was carried out before the War ended.
After the end of hostilities in Europe, orders were received on 2 May 1945 that 300 repatriated Prisoners of War were arriving by air at 11.00. All arrangements were made for their reception at RAF Oakley, Buckinghamshire, and the provision of refreshments laid on in the Social Club. The arrival was, in fact, postponed to later in the day. Seven landed with repatriated PoWs on the following day and more throughout the Month, until by the end of May, 72 Dakotas had brought 1,787 PoWs. Operation Exodus was in full swing and in May 1945 was even busier with 443 Avro Lancasters, 103 Dakotas, 51 Handley Page Halifax’s, 31 Consolidated Liberators, 3 Short Stirlings, 3 Lockheed Hudsons, and 2 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses bringing back 15,088 Personnel.
Operation ‘Dodge’, an Operation where the Lancaster fleet was used to Transport Soldiers of the so-called 51st Highland Division ‘D-Day Dodgers‘ of the 8th Army back home from holding units in Italy. The pick-up points in Italy were Bari on the South East Coast & Pomigliano, near Naples. Former PoW’s had also been flown in from the Far East by the Americans to Pomigliano. The Transit Camp at Bari was Rough & Inhospitable so we usually found a room in the Officer’s Club in the Town. Those trips were like having a free holiday with Swimming in the Adriatic Sea, lazing about and eating good food.
Operations mounted by the RAF at the end of WW2 to Repatriate the vast number of Prisoners of War. These Operations were known as ‘Dodge‘ (the Repatriation of POW’s from Italy and the Mediterranean – the name inspired by the cynical song written by an 8th Army Highland Division Piper– ‘We are the D-Day Dodgers‘). This was the means of using a huge Fleet of Lancaster Bombers and the attendant Aircrews who were now “out of a job” in order to Transport Soldiers of the 8th Army back home from Holding Units in Italy – especially those War-weary Soldiers who had been away from home for 4-5 years. The pick-up points in Italy were Bari on the Southeast Coast towards the bottom of the country and the 2nd one was Pomigliano, near Naples and close to Vesuvius. At that time clouds of smoke were still being given out after the major eruption in 1944. The day after the landing was considered a Rest Day and was spent visiting the Ruins of Pompeii, which at the time was considered a great experience and not to be missed. They also took back to Italy Italian POWs who were mostly walking wounded destined for Bari, going the long way round to avoid the Alps in view of the Oxygen supplies being restricted to the Aircrew only. The Outward journey flew South over France, reaching the Mediterranean at Marseilles (between the Alps and the Pyrenees) then East to Corsica and Elba before heading for Pomigliano – which lies North of Naples. Also ‘Exodus‘ (Repatriation of Allied PoW’s in Europe). Spread widely across Europe, PoWs made the long journey home in Aircraft of RAF Transport Command & RAF Bomber Command.
By April 1945 many PoW camps in occupied Europe had been Liberated. Though free, the ex-prisoners were 100’s of miles from home with many suffering from Illness, Fatigue & Starvation. As ex-POWs flooded into collection points throughout Europe, it was clear that a swift method of Repatriation was needed. Consequently, RAF Bombers were tasked to fly the PoWs home. At the height of the Operation, the Repatriation Aircraft were arriving in Europe at a rate of 16 per hour bringing more than 1,000 people a day into British receiving Camps. Many passed through RAF Cosford, now home to the RAF Museum’s West Midlands Branch. By the end of the Operation, Allied forces had brought over 354,000 ex-Prisoners home. Towards the end of the War, it was decided that repatriated RAF PoWs would be processed through RAF Cosford. Nos 106 & 108 Personnel Reception Centres were Established and over 13,000 ex-PoWs had passed through RAF Cosford by 23 August 1948 when the Units were eventually closed down. It seems that all of the 8th Army Troops had been returned to the UK by the end of September 1945
Brazil Major Diplomatic Operation – 23rd July to 21st August 1945 (Follow Link)
Special Secret Operation to Brazil (via Rabat (Sale) Morrocco & RAF Bathurst (in Gambia) and Homeward via the US & Canada between 23rd July & 21st August 1945 using 3 Lancasters NX687 GT-A, NX688 GT-B & NX689 GT-C (follow above link to detailed page)
Operation ‘Spasm’ – Berlin 27th September 1945
A J L Craig was taking part in Operation ‘Spasm’ to Berlin and return on 27th September 1945 in Lancaster GT-E with Crew & Party that included Air Cmdr N Bottomley, F/Lt Davidson, F/Lt Walton, F/O Barr, F/|O Carey, F/Lt Nevelle, S/L Burrell, F/o Casey, F/O Popham. F/O Delori, F/Lt Wilson, F/O Fry. (13 Total Compliment)
PoW Repatriation Flights:
Operation Dodge to Bari in Italy in September 1945. Both trips were completed with all non-essential equipment stripped from the Lancasters including all the Guns and all the Ammunition. If there were no Guns on board, why did they need Gunners? Well, someone had to look after the Repatriating PoWs, many of whom had never been in an Aeroplane before. “Believe it or not”, he said, we were just “Air Hostesses!”
Lancaster TW869 TL-G (35 Sqdn) 27th March 1946 Pomigliano & Return
Crew: F/Lt Barnes, F/O Smith, F/Lt Davidson, F/Lt Walton, F/lt Cooper, F/O Redmond, F/Lt Walne, S/L Jefson