VIP’s Operation ‘Lancaster’

VIP ~ Commander in Charge

Sir Norman Bottomley was also on the Goodwill Tour of the USA  trailing, coinciding and overlapping  with A and B Flights of  No.35 Squadron between 20th July 1946 to 8th August 1946.
OperationLancasterSummary.png

Alan1stLeft
3rd July 1946. OC -W/C AJL Craig, Air Marshall Sir N Bottomley, G/C RCM Collard DSO DFC, S/L Beetham, S/L (Shorty) Harris.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley

Air Chief Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley KCB, CB, CIE, DSO, AFC
AOC 5 Group, 1940-1

From Senior Air Staff Officer at Bomber Command headquarters between 1938 and 1940, Norman Bottomley was appointed AOC 5 Group in November 1940 and was later promoted to Deputy Chief of the Air Staff in 1943. At the war’s end he succeeded Bomber Harris as C-in-C Bomber Command.

Born in Yorkshire on 18 September 1891, Norman Bottomley was educated at Halifax School and the University of Rennes in Brittany before being commissioned into the Yorkshire Regiment with which he served until transferring to the RFC in 1915. Between the wars his appointments included service in the Middle East and the command of 4 (AC) Squadron and 1 (Indian) Group. Bottomley’s appointment as Senior Air Staff Officer at Bomber Command in 1938 marked the beginning of a rapid rise towards C-in-C by 1945. He became Inspector-General of the RAF in 1947 and retired the following year. Sir Norman Bottomley died on 13 August 1970, aged 78.

CharlesOwenOpLanc46.jpg
Pathfinder Charles B Owen has the DSO ribbon on his battle dress tunic, which he was awarded after completing his last Op (on 5th October 1944) and which was gazetted on 15th December 1944. Owen’s birthday had been on 5 January 1923, and so he is still only 21 years old in this picture having lived a ‘lifetime’ since his arrival in RAF Bourn in late 1943. (No.97 Squadron).  He was also a Pathfinder (Badge) and Master Bomber.

Charles Blundell Owen was born on 5 January 1923 in Barcelona. He was the 2nd of 5 children and his parents ran a hotel in Algeciras, just across the bay from Gibraltar. We know little of his childhood except that he was sent to boarding school in England aged 5 and only returned home to Spain for the summer holidays. He never spoke particularly fondly of his parents – he used to call his father ‘Sir’ – or the 2 aunts he stayed with in Dorset for the majority of the year.  He was sent to Malvern College in Worcestershire and then,  ‘after leaving public school, [he] was working at the Supermarine aircraft factory as a boy of 17 in 1940, when he was badly injured in an air raid. He spent the winter in hospital, and came out at last old enough for the RAF. An exceptional pilot trainee, he was posted as an Instructor, and served a year before transferring to Operations with 97 Squadron, where he proved an outstanding Operational Captain.

This is the diary of Pilot and Master Bomber  Charles Blundell Owen DSO who was Captain  of a specially modified Lancaster TW909 which ferried the AOC-in-C Bomber Command Air Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley (The Old Man) on the Goodwill Tour of the US.  It was fitted out with a fully sound proofed Cabin for the C in C.  He was to travel separately from the main body of No.35 Squadron for part of the Tour and he set out from RAF Marham, (Nr Kings Lynn) Norfolk .

RAF Marham 1945

Air Crew
Pilot F/L Charles Blundell Owen DSO
S/L R Richards DFC (Navigator)
F/L T Shepherd (Navigator)
F/L William Bolsover (Air Bomber and PA)
F/L C Dear DFC (Wireless Operator)
F/L W Robinson DFC DFM (Flight Engineer)
Lancaster TW909 specially modified with sound proofed accommodation.

20 July 1946Northolt to Lagens (Azores) 7 hours 40 mins
Took off in the dark in good weather, and went straight up to 10,000 ft. Cruised along in the moonlight above cloud, and once the Old Man (Sir Norman Bottomley) had gone to bed everything was very quiet and straight forward.  Weather was perfect all the way, and we landed at Lagens in time for breakfast. Tried to sleep all day but the temperature was up in the 90°F and so we weren’t very successful.

21 July 1946 (11 days after 35 Squadron had left)
Lagens – Gander (Newfoundland) 8 hours 15 mins Intended to take off after dark so as to reach Gander in daylight, but decided to take off in the late afternoon as there was a chance of fog over Gander at dawn.  Cruised all the way at 10,000 ft and, except for passing through a front about half-way, the weather was good.  Landing at Gander was a bit tricky as the VHF was more or less useless and all 3 runways were lit up simultaneously. However managed to pick the right one, and so off to an enormous breakfast at 3.30am. First un-rationed food since 1939, and we all made pigs of ourselves.  The Old Man seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.

22 July 1946
Gander – Harmon Field (Newfoundland) – 1 hour 5 mins
Gander looked a little bleak in the morning, so the Old Man decided to nip over to the Yank base at Harmon on the west coast of Newfoundland.  Trip over was very straight forward, but I was struck by the wildness of the country.  Precious few roads and very few houses. Saw a pranged Hudson in the woods and went beetling down in some rather split-arse turns to have a look, thus inviting, and getting, some rather pointed remarks from the VIP cabin. “C-in-C to Pilot. – Just what was the purpose of that manoeuvre?”  Landed at Harmon and saw our 1st American reception committee, 3 staff cars and a lorry.
HarmonFieldAFB.jpg
Previously referred to as the Stephenville Air Base, the site was officially named Harmon Field on June 23, 1941 in honour of Capt. Ernest Emery Harmon, a pioneer in United States military aviation history who had served with the U.S. Air Corps during WW1.  The following 2 years brought additional expansions to the base, which grew by 677 acres in 1942 and by 5,938 acres in 1943. The expansions brought much-needed employment to the area, but also meant that residents found themselves dislocated more than once. By 1945, the United States had paid out more than $800,000 to compensate the roughly 220 displaced property owners in Stephenville.  September 1943, Air Transport Command took over Harmon Field from Newfoundland Base Command and assigned it the mission of servicing all aircraft moving troops and equipment from North America to Europe. For the next 10 years, the base served as an important stopover point for transatlantic flights.

25 July 1946 (7 days after No.35 Squadron’s arrival)
Harmon – Mitchel Field (New York) – 5 hours
Very straightforward trip down the coast to New York, punctuated by frequent and unsuccessful attempts to contact Canadian and American radio stations and pass position reports.  Eventually contacted Westover Field and passed an ETA for Mitchel Field.  On arrival, I was instructed to let down on the Air Navigation Range, but as we had no radio capable of picking it up, and I wouldn’t have known what to do with it in any case, this was a bit tricky.  Compromised by letting down straight ahead and then circling the field looking hopeful, thereby getting immediate permission to land and cutting out 4 Yanks who were flying on the Air Navigation Range.  Hard luck!  Reception committee of 1 General, 1 W/C, 1 S/L, numerous Colonels, 4 staff cars and a bus. Also the gentlemen of the Press. Many photographs and the Old Man tickled pink.

26 July 1946 (5 days after No.35 Squadron left Mitchel Field)
Mitchel – Patterson Field
(Dayton, Ohio) 2 hours 50 mins
Very bumpy leaving New York, with low cloud and blistering heat, not helped by the fact that we all had shocking hangovers, including the Old Man, who was distinctly rude on the intercom about the conditions.  Circled over the City before leaving and admired the skyscrapers.  Cloud broke up about halfway, so climbed up to 10,000 ft and cooled down a bit.  Feeling better by the time we reached Dayton, and the Old Man a little more affable. Reception committee a good average with 2 Colonels and 4 cars.

Patterson Field consisted of the land known today as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Area A.  It included the Fairfield Air Depot and the Huffman Prairie Flying Field. Patterson Field soon became the Army’s centre for aviation logistics, maintenance, and supply.  Although Wright Field and Patterson Field were now 2 separate installations, their missions continued to be closely intertwined.  Both fields experienced dramatic expansion during WW2, in terms of real estate as well as structures. Employment at the fields jumped from approximately 3,700 in December 1939 to over 50,000 at the war’s peak. Wright Field grew from a modest installation with approximately 30 buildings to a 2,064-acre facility with some 300 buildings and the Air Corps’ 1st modern paved runways. The original part of the field became saturated with office and laboratory buildings and test facilities. The Hilltop area was acquired from private landowners in 1943-1944 to provide housing and services for the 1,000’s of troops assigned to Wright Field

27th July 1946 – A Southerly Route
Patterson – Randolph Field (San Antonio, Texas) – 5 hours 30 mins.  Airborne at 08.30 after a shocking thrash which lasted all night.  Temperature was terrific, and Dicky (2nd Pilot) passed out after 10 minutes, and was laid to rest in the nose, so thereafter I map read all the way.  Conversation brightened a lot by Bill (William Bolsover) remarking that Dayton was the only town where he had seen a girl’s arsehole on the stage.  Got to San Antonio at last and landed at Kelly Field, only to find that plans had been changed, so that we had to climb back in again and fly over to Randolph Field. Reception was terrific, including the cadets lined up along the runway to see us land.  Committee of 1 General, hosts of lesser fry and no less than 8 staff and 2 lorries, thus establishing a record for the trip.

TajMahalRandolphAFB.jpg

28 July 1946
Randolph – Long Beach Airport
(California) – 5 hours 50 mins.  (Arriving on the same day as No.35 Squadron)
Usual early take off, with hangovers even worse than usual after a cocktail party (6 – 9.30pm) and a Mess Dance (9.30 – 4.00? or maybe 5.00?).  Put up my 1st major black by over-sleeping and only waking up 30 mins before proposed Estimated Time of Departure. Very quiet trip at 10,000 ft all the way, but the temperature over the desert was very high, and I was thankful for a Texas Cowboy Hat which I had somehow acquired the night before (Owen kept this Stetson hat for the rest of his life).  Very pleasant flight rations consisting of chicken sandwiches, bananas, peaches and iced milk, which was quite a thing.  Long Beach was an amazing sight from the air, due to oil derricks clustered like trees among the houses.  Reception committee up to standard, including Group Captain Richard C M Collard of the Advance Squad from 35 Squadron in the Avro York C-1.

2 August 1946 (Northerly Return Route)
Long Beach – Scott Field
(St Louis) – 7 hours 25 mins

Very boring stooge across the States, not helped by the fact that the strain of 5 days jag in Hollywood and Long Beach was beginning to tell.  Landed at Scott AFB just as it was getting dark. Had intended to refuel and press on, but the rain started to come down in sheets and as I wasn’t keen on landing at Washington at night in bad weather, we decided to stay the night and press on in the morning.

3 August 1946
Scott Field – Bolling Field (Washington District of Columbia) – 3 hours 20 mins
(No.35 Squadron arrived Washington on 9th August)

Still pouring with rain the next morning, but Met was pretty hopeful so off we went. Found we had a dead cut on one magneto on the starboard outer just before take-off but decided to press on regardless as Scott Field was pretty dreary. This nearly caused mutiny down the back, but we ignored the frantic pleas of the Sergeant Fitter and took off without incident.  Weather at Washington was good, and we dropped the Old Man off at the National Airport, where Gen Carl Spaatz and his boys were there to greet him. As Commander of Strategic Air Forces, (Spaatz directed the United States portion of the strategic bombing campaign against Germany). We then nipped off smartly and went across the Potomac river to Bolling AFB.  Throughout WW2, the installation served as a training and organizational base for personnel and units going overseas. It also served as the aerial gateway to the nation’s capital.

BollingField.jpg

7 August 1946
Bolling – Harmon Field
(Newfoundland) 5 hours 40 mins
Night take-off from Washington in shocking weather. Cloud base at 300′ and pouring with rain.  Stooged along in cloud until somewhere near Westover MA when it started to clear up. The Met forecast for Harmon was good, but got there to find low cloud and fog with vis down to about 500 yards. Luckily they had GCA (Ground Controlled Approach) on the line so in we went. The Old Man was most impressed, as apparently he’d never seen GCA in action before.  A type of service provided by air-traffic controllers whereby they guide aircraft to a safe landing, including in adverse weather conditions, based on primary radar images.

Two tracks are displayed on the Precision Approach Radar (PAR) scope:

  • Azimuth, showing the aircraft’s position relative to the horizontal approach path.
  • Elevation, showing vertical position relative to the published glidepath.

By following controller commands to keep the landing aircraft on both glidepath and approach centreline, a pilot will arrive precisely over the runway’s touchdown zone.  In order to insure continuous radio communication integrity, controllers are required to make radio transmissions at certain minimum intervals depending on the type of approach flow and phase of the approach.  In order to land, pilots must have the runway or runway environment in sight prior to reaching the “decision height,” for PAR approaches (usually 100–400 ft above the runway touchdown zone) or prior to the “Missed Approach Point” for non-precision approaches. The published minimum visibility and decision height/minimum descent altitude vary depending upon the approach and runway lighting, obstacles in the approach corridor, type of aircraft, and other factors. Pilots of revenue flights periodically must demonstrate PAR approach proficiency, and GCA Controllers must conduct a minimum number of such approaches in a year to maintain competency.

8 August 1946
Harmon – Lagens  7 hours 45 mins
Weather at take-off time was distinctly duff. In fact it stank, but once the Old Man had seen some lunatic pilot take off in a civilian Dakota DC-4 he seemed to think the honour of the RAF was at stake, so off we had to go.  Weather was lousy for the 1st 2 hours, but after that it cleared up nicely and we had a quiet trip.  Dawn broke about an hour before we reached the Azores, and we could see the imposing Pico (Piku) Mountain sticking up through the clouds when we were 50 miles out.  Landed in time for breakfast.

9 August 1946
Lagens – Prestwick – 7 hours 40 mins
Took off about 22.00 intending to make RAF Bovingdon (Sth Hemel Hempstead, Herts) in the early dawn and so catch Customs with their pants down.  However as we approached Land’s End we were directed to RAF St Mawgan. We duly arrived there, and could see the aerodrome from 6,000 ft, but for some peculiar reason we were further diverted to Prestwick.   I got a bit annoyed about this, but when I tried to argue they got a little rude, so off to Prestwick we went to be greeted by Customs and they were right on top of their form.
RAFPrestwick46.jpg

9 August 1946
Prestwick
to Abingdon – 3 hours
The Old Man very keen to get home, so pressed on from Prestwick as soon as we had refuelled.  Weather was not so hot and Gee was useless, so decided to crawl down the Irish Sea and up the Bristol Channel and so in to RAF Abingdon. The crew by now were just about all in and by the time we reached the Bristol Channel everyone was asleep except for me and the Old Man, who appeared in the cockpit and gallantly map-read us into RAF Abingdon. Very tired when we got there and so proceeded to do a shocking landing, but the Old Man didn’t complain and told us to take 14 days leave, which we thought was a good show.

Acknowledgements to Charles Owen’s son Oliver, who has also written an article on his father for the ObserverRAF Hero – Charles B Owen –
At the end of 1977 we moved from Lewes to a small village in Wiltshire. The Red Lion became very much my father’s second home. He would be there at lunch time and on the dot of six in the evening. He had a stool in the corner of the lounge bar and a stare that could burn a hole through tungsten should anyone dare to sit on it.
My father had rarely entered my head because, I suppose, I never really knew what to think of him. He died in the summer of 1984, a few days after my 20th birthday. He was only 61, but looked very much older, due to a long battle with alcohol. In fact it was no battle at all, just one-way traffic with booze very much in the driving seat. The abiding memory I have is of him sitting on a sofa in our house in Wiltshire staring out over the Kennet valley, hoping to catch a glimpse of the American war-planes that used the area (RAF Welford or Greenham Common ?) for low-level training. We all knew he was dying, but no one talked about it. We just waited.

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