Market Harboro’ 43-44

No 14 OTU, RAF Market Harborough 1943-44

Craig returned from 111 OTU, Nassau in the Bahamas on the converted Passenger Liner USAT Aquitania during the 21st to 30th October 1943 now a Wartime Troopship sailing between NYC and Gourock, on the River Clyde.
SS Aquitania.jpg
RMS AquitaniaWartime Troop Transport Ship NYC to Greenock
Aquitania, with a normal Troop capacity of 7,400 was among the select group of large, fast former Passenger Ships capable of sailing independently without Escort transporting large numbers of Troops that were assigned Worldwide as needed.

USA Embarcation Trip to UK – Contemporary Account
We left New York on the 5th August 1943 aboard the RMS Aquitania. The accommodation was below Decks in Cabins with forced air ventilation. We were in 6 Berth Cabins converted to sleep 12. The Ship was very crowded with 1,000’s of Troops, mostly American, but our section was Aircrew of different Nationalities. This was to be the set up for our way of life for the next 2 years.  There were other Aussies who had been flying Anti-Submarine Patrols in RAF squadrons in the West Indies, Catalina Aircraft I think.  Many were UK RAF Crews, Pilots, & Navigators who had just completed their Training to Wings Standard in Canada. There were also Kiwis & Aussies who had trained in Canada.  The Empire Training Scheme was in full swing.  Men were Trained in their 1,000’s and were steadily moving from all around the world to the UK.  This was a highly organised scheme and it always amazed me that men from various Countries and Training Schools could meet for further Training in the UK and all had been trained to the same standard and could fit easily into future Courses & Roles.  We had to spend most of our time in our Cabins and were only allowed on the Open Decks for 2 one hour periods a day with life jackets to be worn or carried at all times. We were given 3 meals a day and these were OK.  The War against the U Boats was about at its peak and Shipping was either in Convoys with Naval & Air Force Escorts or the fast ex-Passenger Liners that travelled unescorted at high speed on a zigzag course, and were relatively safe.  As Sergeants, we had limited use of the Ship’s Lounge & Concert Hall, and there was also a Canteen on board for chocolates, cigarettes, coke, etc (my first introduction to Coca-Cola), but no alcoholic drinks.  Even though it was midsummer the Atlantic was grey & wet, and I did not fancy spending my Air Force Career patrolling the grey water as a member of Coastal Command.  We did not have any Submarine alerts and the trip was relatively comfortable and free of any major incidents. After 6 days at Sea, we entered the Clyde, anchored off the Coast at Greenock, and disembarked in lighters (small boats) late in the afternoon of August 11th.

Finally, as they drew near to their destination, arrangements had to be made for the men to Disembark. One of the 1st tasks was to issue around, 30,000 Ration Packs for their onward journeys. Then the men would parade on Deck for an Official Welcome to Great Britain, after which there commenced an orderly disembarkation into the Tenders that would Ferry the Troops across the Clyde to the Trains waiting to carry the Troops on to their designated Base Camps.

USA Return Trip Contemporary Account
Despatched to Greenock and then transported by Ferry to the RMS Aquitania (built in 1913), lying at Anchor at the tail of the Bank painted Battleship Grey.  Close to her sides, they looked surprisingly crude with thick overlapping plates and large rivet heads for a Ship of her era. They sailed down the Clyde reaching the end of the Mull of Kintyre as it began to get dusk.  They were normally escorted by a Spitfire for the last part and as the Ship opened up to Full Speed he did a low-level roll across the Bows and flew off.  The voyage took about a week.  The food was excellent as she was provisioned in the USA and it was a treat to see pure white bread again, to say nothing of Fruit & Steaks!  The Cabin was quite stuffy, as the Portholes had to be kept closed after dark and after one night I transferred to an Open-air Bunk on an outer deck and was fine from then on.  We had one Stormy day and quite a proportion of the Passengers were ill so I did very well for extra Rations!  We zig-zagged at intervals as we had no Escort and relied on the changes of Course and the Speed, approaching 30 knots, to avoid U boats. We reached New York on the afternoon of the 24th August and were docked by Tugs.  As we drew into the Berth, the surface of the water was thick with Condoms, which caused a lot of favourable comment from the lads lining the rails, especially when they became a very solid looking mass as the Ship squeezed close to the Pier.

RAF PRC West Kirby, Wirral Peninsula – 31st October to 1st November 1943  Basic Training Camp
RAF West Kirby
was divided into 4 Squadrons, Roosevelt, Churchill, Smuts, and Trenchard, each having it’s own Administration, Cookhouse & NAAFI.
Personnel Reception Centre and School of Training

No.14 OTU (RAF Market Harborough)
A J L Craig’s Posting 16th November to 14th January 1944
RAF Market Harborough (Nr Foxton) was mainly used as an Operational Training Unit throughout its active days with No. 14 OTU Flying Vickers Wellingtons, Airspeed AS10, Oxfords as well as Hurricanes and some Curtiss P40 Tomahawks from No.1683 Bomber Defence Training Flight.
No.14 OTU was 1st formed in April 1940 as part of No. 6 Group RAF Bomber Command at RAF Cottesmore, Rutland to Train Night Bomber Crews. It was disbanded on 24 June 1945

With the introduction of new Heavy Bombers, the 4-engined Short Stirling, Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax, the RAF introduced Heavy Conversion Units (HCU). The Heavy Conversion Units began forming in late 1941, to qualify Crews Trained on Medium Bombers to Operate the Heavy Bombers prior to an assignment to an Operational Training Unit (OTU) to gain experience before final Posting to the Operational SquadronsCraig already had experience in flying 4-engined B-25 Consolidated Liberators in Nassau BWI, so that may be why he avoided the HCU‘s

Units Stationed at RAF Market Harborough:
No.1683 (Bomber) Defence Training Flt (3 Feb – 1 Aug 1944)
No.92 Group (1944)
No.26 Air Crew Holding Unit (21 Aug 1945 – 18 Sep 1946)
No.113 Storage Sub-site,
No 273 Maintenance Unit (Feb 1946 – 5 Oct 1949)

Our WWII Bombing Range History‘Armourgeddon’ – The Area was under the direct control of RAF Market Harborough & RAF Husbands Bosworth to the West. These Training Bases flew Wellington Bombers. Both No.14 Operation Training Unit & No.85 Operation Training Unit would certainly have used the Bombing Range for Practice & Testing.  There was a Bombing Range between Mowsley & Theddingworth.  The likelihood is that other RAF Bases would have used the Range for Training, too.  The Range was originally laid out as a 60ft equilateral concrete triangle. However, during November 1944 this original site was encompassed inside a 100ft triangle, incorporating a North-facing arrow and pyramid to accommodate bombing from greater altitudes.  This was in line with Bomber Command who had begun to adopt Altitude Missions in its Offensive Strategy.  A chain of generator-powered electric lights was installed to facilitate Night Bombing Exercises and 29 warning signs were erected around the Perimeter of the Site.  Included in the Intensive Training Programme were Navigation & Fighter Affiliation Exercises, Air Firing (usually over the Wash or open Sea), and Practice Bombing.  Frequently this latter exercise was carried out on a Range situated in open Country near Mowsley to the North of the [Husbands Bosworth] Airfield and, unfortunately, occasional Bombs missed their intended Target, falling outside the designated danger area. These incidents brought forth loud protests from the local Inhabitants who accepted that they may be Bombed by the Luftwaffe but certainly not by the RAF.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/RAF_Husbands_Bosworth_aerial_photograph_1943_IWM_C_5408.jpg

RAF Husbands Bosworth
One account of the time tells of a Disposal Site for unstable Armament on the Range. This again was under the control of the RAF Husbands Bosworth’s Armoury Unit and it would be logical to assume that this would have been located within the Bombing Range Complex. This may explain the small-uncultivated corner of land near the boundary of the Site.  Today very little of the Main Airfield survives as a lot of the Site has now been demolished to make way for a Business Park. The Control Tower and all of the Technical Site was demolished to make way for HM Prison Gartree which opened in 1965.

An Airfield was 1st built on the site during 1942-43 by J R Mowlem & Co with the 1st RAF Personnel Detachment arriving on June 1, 1943.  Sometimes referred to locally as Lubenham during it’s Polish Camp era of displaced Families c.1948-58 was home to a Squadron of 61 Vickers Wellington Bombers, which flew on Day & Night Missions.  At the end of WW2 in 1945, No.14 OTU (Operational Training Unit) as it was officially known, was one of the 1st Bomber Training Units to be disbanded.  Market Harborough was closed as an active Airfield on 18th August 1945 and from that date was reduced to a Care & Maintenance basis.

Advanced Flying Training School
By honing the skills they had learned in their Initial Training Wings the Airmen were taught how to work together as a Crew and familiarise themselves with the Type of Aircraft they would be flying Operationally as compared with the Aircraft they had flown previously, they were large & complicated.  There were Instructional Sections on the Station for each Crew Member: Navigation, Bombing, Signals & Gunnery.  The Students were in Ground School one half of the day and the other half they flew.  The Instructors at an OTU were mainly Officers & Airmen who had previously completed a Tour of Wartime Flying.
Flying in Anson’s or Hampden’s a W/Op and a Navigator did 3-hour cross countries, the W/Op supplying the Navigator with loop bearings and then the odd WT fix to help him in his Navigation.  Then they gravitated to Night Cross-Countries and practised Formation Flying, Cross-Country, & High-level Bombing
.
A J L Craig – Above Average – Flying Wellington 1c.

WellingtonBomber2

Wellington 1c 11/12/43

Famously designed by Barnes Wallis the Vickers Wellington featured a geodetic construction and was almost entirely fabric covered unlike its Bomber Command contemporaries the Lancaster, Halifax, & Stirling. The 1st Prototype flew from Vickers Brooklands Aerodrome on June the 15th 1936 Piloted by Mutt Summers (Test Pilot of the Spitfire) who was accompanied by Barnes Wallis.  On October the 10th 1938 Wellingtons entered Squadron Service

On the night of the 7th / 8th of July 1941 Wellington L7818 of No 75 (NZ) Squadron took part in a Raid on the town of Münster. While returning from the raid the Aircraft was attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 over the Zuider Zee, the Rear-gunner was wounded, the Aircraft suffered heavy damage, and the Starboard Wing set ablaze. The Crew were preparing to abandon the Aircraft but Sergeant James ‘Jimmy’ Ward who was a 2nd Pilot in the Wellington volunteered to go out on the Wing and try to smother the flames with a Cockpit Cover which had served in the Plane as a Cushion. Attached to a rope and with the help of the Navigator, he climbed through the narrow Astro-hatch – far from easy in Flying Gear, even on the Ground – put on his parachute, kicked holes in the Wellington’s covering of fabric to get foot & hand-holds on the geodetic lattices, and descended 3ft to the Wing with the Aircraft flying at several 1000 ft, and at over 100 mph. He then worked his way along to behind the Engine, and, despite the fierce slipstream from the Propeller, managed while lying down to smother the fire.  Isolated from the leaking Petrol Pipe, this later burnt itself out.  Ward was exhausted and suffering from extreme cold returned to the Astro-hatch with great difficulty: “the hardest of the lot,” he wrote, “was getting my right leg in.  In the end, the Navigator reached out and pulled it in.” Despite all the damage, the Aircraft got home to a make an Emergency Landing at Newmarket.   This deed performed by Ward, a young schoolmaster before the War, earned him the Victoria Cross, sadly, Sergeant Ward was killed on a Hamburg Raid only 10 weeks later – before he received his Victoria Cross.

Contemporary Account of 14 OTU
On March 20th 1944, I was posted to the next Stage of my Training. It was Bomber Command for me and an OTU at Market Harborough on Wellington Bombers. The Wellington had been the main Plane of Bomber Command from the beginning of the War until October 1943 (they continued to fly on Operations in the Mediterranean Theatre till the end of the War). They were equipped for full Crew Training, having Front, Mid-upper, & Rear Gun Turrets, Bomb Sights & Navigational Equipment, etc.  The Wellington Crew consisted of 6 men, Pilot, Navigator, Bomb Aimer/Front Gunner, Wireless Operator, Mid-Upper Gunner & Rear Gunner. Of the 6 crew, all the Gunners had been trained in the UK and had only a few hours actual Flying experience.  The other categories were generally Overseas Trained and Market Harboro’ was a Mixed Crew Training Station with men from all over the world. Most of the Gunners were British and most of the Wireless Operators were Australian on this course.  The 1st 2 weeks were Ground Instruction, and during the 1st week, Crews were formed.  Once the Crew was made up they generally stayed together through the remainder of their Training and for the 1st Operational Tour, unless sickness, wounding, ‘LMF’ or the Pilot getting rid of a Crew member for a specific reason. It was generally the Pilot, who, regardless of Rank, was to be the Crew Captain, and he approached the various members in the 1st instance to form a Crew. It was quite a responsibility as we were to live, eat & fly together for the next 12 months at least. It was a bit of a combination of a marriage, a sporting team, a drinking group, or maybe a Family of Brothers.  My 1st choice was a lively young, fairly short Cockney Gunner, as, after a few preliminary conversations we seemed to hit it off. He suggested that his Course Mate should join us, so that is how I got Sgt Cluett & Sgt Bass, who were both English and 19 yrs of age.  I let them decide who was to be the Rear and who was to be the Mid-upper.  The Rear Turret with its 4 Browning Machine Guns was considered to be the more dangerous of the 2, but in the Lancaster the rear Gunner’s bailing out time was very quick compared to the Mid-upper’s and for that matter to most other Crew members positions.  I next picked an Australian F/Sgt WAG, Dave Blomfield, as Wireless Operator. Mostly because he was a little older and appeared to be a solid reliable type, who proved to have a steadying influence on the Crew in subsequent dangerous situations, and he was also Trained as an Air Gunner. There were not many Bomb Aimers left still to be crewed and I picked Peter Smith. He was an Englishman from Cambridge, son of a Senior Policeman. He had been trained as a Pilot in Canada and was scrubbed part way through his Course. This was a considerable advantage as the Crew had at least a partly trained 2nd Pilot in an Emergency.  Pete was commissioned as a Pilot Officer.  At the time he outranked me, but I as the Flt Sgt, was still the Skipper in the Air. I expected to be Commissioned shortly as all Bomber Command Pilots at that time were Officers.  This left a Navigator to be found, but as the Navigators had not yet arrived, the Chief Instructor allocated us one from a Group yet to arrive.  This Group did not eventuate and I was allocated Sgt Cooper from a later Group.  He was a London boy about my age and had trained in South Africa. He proved to be an accurate and dedicated Navigator. The Crew was not complete until we got a Flight Engineer who we would get at the next Training Station. The Wellington being Twin-Engined and with all the Flying Controls convenient to the Pilot, could be flown without assistance except for lookouts. My Familiarisation & Initial Flying Instruction was carried out with all the Crew in their positions, and I have often wondered what went through their minds when I made a mess of a landing or any other flying procedure, as the Instructor could be very sarcastic at mistakes.  My Logbook showed that I (we) Soloed in 4 hours which was probably about Average. Our Flying Training was actually conducted from a sister Aerodrome at Husbands Bosworth and we were transferred back and forth to there.

It was now springtime (April) and the weather had improved and we flew most days and later at night.  High-level bombing from 20,000ft seemed to be the main exercise, firstly daytime and then at night.  The Logbook shows an accuracy of between 80 yards & 220 yards and one trip when we bombed the wrong Target. The Bombs used were small practice ones that exploded in a puff of smoke but had the same characteristics when falling, as genuine Bombs.  As well as this Flying Training in Bombers, we ate together, slept in the same Hut, and went out most evenings to drink in the local Pubs.  We all had bikes and toured the countryside in the lengthening evenings. We had a couple of days leave and went to Nuneaton, the Mid-upper Gunner’s hometown, and spent a night in Rugby.  We settled down as a Crew quite well and the Wellington (Wimpy), though heavy to fly after the nippy Oxfords, was no real problem. Some of the other Crews had maintenance problems which caused Forced Landings and the like but we somehow managed to avoid these problems.  We had a week’s leave mid-course and I went to Pete Smith’s home in Cambridge where I had a good look round the Town and a few beers most nights. By this time I had visited 3 of the Crew’s homes and it gave me a better chance to think about their attitudes and reactions after meeting their families.  I did, at this stage, develop a dread that was to remain with me until we had finished the Tour of Operations. If one of the crew was to become a fatal casualty either through Enemy Action or in a Crash possibly due to Pilot Error, it would be my responsibility to visit the Family and answer questions and make explanations.  Thankfully this did not happen.

The 2nd month (May) of the OTU was concentrated mostly on Navigation Exercises. The Navigators were all Overseas Trained and had a lot to learn about European flying conditions and weather, and the use of the Gee Box Navigation Equipment. The W/Op was busy during all the Training as he had to listen to Base at fixed times and Pass & Receive various messages, and also had to use Radio Beacon homing equipment.  It was very boring for the Gunners, for apart from practising the planned search procedure, and to keep a constant lookout, there was little for them to do.  The Bomb Aimer did a lot of Map Reading to help the Navigator and the Rear Gunner, because of his excellent view helped and acquired a knowledge of Map Reading.  Day & Night Cross-country Exercises were carried out and my Log book shows trips of 5-5½ hours.  I kept what I thought was reasonable discipline in the air, i.e. no smoking and all conversations over the Intercom should use the member’s classification and not Christian or Surnames. On the ground, I exercised little control apart from keeping a friendly attitude and setting a reasonable standard of behaviour both on and off the Aerodrome.  As well as Flying Training, we had Ground Training in bailing out and ditching in old mockup Fuselages, and some trips to an indoor Swimming Pool to have the experience of swimming in full Flying Gear.  I found out, at this time, that Den Cluett, the Rear Gunner, was unable to swim and was terrified of the water.  We actually had to throw him in the pool to get him wet.  All Bomber Aircraft carried an inflatable dinghy in the wing between the inboard engine and the fuselage.  It was flat when stowed and after ditching (landing in the sea), a lever was pulled, it inflated, pushed off the cover and floated away attached to the Aircraft. As most bombers take a few minutes to sink if landed skilfully and the Sea was not too rough, there was a fair chance of the Crew managing to board the Dinghy.  There were some equipment and rations on board and some further items had to be carried from the Plane to the dinghy.  A full Crew survival after ditching at night into the North Sea during the winter was very rare.  We, of course, always wore a Life Jacket known as a Mae West.  This had a padded float on the front and a small gas cylinder to inflate the collar etc, and a battery light to show your position.  We also had a whistle permanently attached to the collar of our battle dress tunic that was supposed to enable us to signal after ditching on a dark night.  The next major event in my Career in the RAAF was in early June when I was commissioned as a Pilot Officer.  This meant many changes including Officer’s Mess, Accommodation and a different Uniform, to name some of the so-called privileges of Rank.  At the end of the Course, I was classified as an Average Pilot.

We were now close to being a fully Trained Crew and if Bomber Command in the UK had been still flying Wellingtons on Operations we could have been posted to a Wimpy Squadron.  As Wellingtons were still being flown on Operations in the Middle East, I guess we could possibly have been posted there.  It was near enough to 2 years since I had joined the Air Force!  What an enormous amount of training and expense to the Country.  We were posted to another Holding Station, ACS Scampton, just North of Lincoln, after a week’s leave which commenced on June 6th (D Day).  It was on this leave that Laurie Cooper, our Navigator asked me to go home to London with him. By this time Laurie and I were becoming good mates and his family made me very welcome, and I was to spend most of my remaining leaves in the UK with his people. I met his aunts, uncles & cousins, and also his young sister, Kathleen, who was aged 17 at the time. Mr Cooper was a local Air Raid Warden and Laurie and I met several of his associates in the local pub ‘the Commercial Tavern’ – Shoreditch.  I eventually became very friendly with Kathleen and we became engaged soon after I returned to Western Australia and were later married in January 1948.  So the Air Force Administration allocation of Sgt Cooper to my crew was one of those relatively small things that were to have a major influence on my future life. – Frank Mouritz

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