Bill’s memories 4

Bill’s memories 4

Number 26 on the 22nd January was to Gelsenkirchen we flew Y-Yorke again with W/O Davis GM and P/O Watt as “ 2nd dickie” b152 aircraft took part and none were lost. Opposition at the target was very moderate and searchlights were not active. We bombed on the glow of TIR (red target indicators) from 18500 feet at 22.30. The ground markers  were obscured by cloud. Sky markers were not seen until after we had bombed. A fire glow was reflected on the clouds. Landed at 00.45 after 5 hours 55 minutes. Once again my “second dickie” was broken in gently. Hope he didn’t get a false impression.

F/Sgt Davies joined us in y-York for our 27th which was a raid on Stuttgart on the 28th January. It was a night op. when we arrived over the target the only flare there was went out and no more flares were seen so we had nothing to aim at. We had been instructed not to bomb on navigational aids as there was a POW camp in the area so we left target area with our bombs still on board. On the way back we were “coned” by searchlights and the guns started firing up the beams. Not very friendly so rather than waste our bombs we decided to let them have them, live. The lights went out and the guns stopped firing. What a shock they must have got as they probably thought they were safe when we were on our way back. It appears we were near Baden-Baden. On return after 6 hours 50 minutes we landed at Hampstead Norris due to fuel shortage. We flew back to base on the 1st February but I can’t recall the reason for the delay. Once again we must have managed to survive without any money. Probably the delay was due to bad weather as we certainly flew in some terrible conditions. It was so bad around this period they hadn’t been able to finish training our replacements so we had our tours extended by an extra 6 ops. On one occasion we came back in a heavy rainstorm and as the area around my windscreen wasn’t watertight I got pretty wet. As the water ran off my legs onto Colin underneath he called me a dirty something or other and accused me of wetting on him. I’m fairness he didn’t know it was raining but if I had been prone to wetting he might have got it a few times.

On 7th February MZ689 Z-Zebra “failed to return” from an attack on Goch. The pilot was F/Sgt Muggeridge. We must have been on leave then.

  • Halifax III  MZ689 KN-Z
  • 7-8 February 1945
  • Mission : Goch: Bomb enemy troop
  • Collided with a 158 squadron Halifax
  • Crash: 5 Km SE of Winnekendonk
  • F/S DW Muggeridge  KIA Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
  • Sgt WB Keal  KIA Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
  • Sgt AH Croll  KIA Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
  • P/O H Wright  KIA Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
  • Sgt W Forbes  KIA Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
  • W/O CE Foster  KIA Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
  • W/O J Stewart   KIA Reichswald Forest War Cemetery
  • Sgt ME Taylor   KIA Reichswald Forest War Cemetery

N° 28 op took place on the 13th February and it was a night raid on Böhlen (near Leipzig) the aiming point being the Braunkohle Benzin  synthetic oil plant. The weather was bad with 10/10 cloud to 15000 feet with icing conditions. The ice used to fly off the props and hit the  fuselage. (Not good for the nerves) The marking and bombing was scattered. 21 aircraft took off from Full Sutton and MZ803 “G”-George failed to return. The pilot was F/Sgt Simmons slight flak was reported at the target and one enemy fighter was seen but there were no  combat reports. We flew Y-Yoke with F/sgt Davies as M.U. and we bombed at 21.55 from 18000 feet on H2S. Landed at 02.45 after  being airborne for 8 hours 35 minutes, our longest equal trip.

  • Halifax III MZ803 KN-G
  • 13-14 February 1945 Take off: Full Sutton
  • Mission: Bohlen: Bomb the Braunkohle-Benzin plant.
  • F/S AG Simmons  KIA  Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery
  • Sgt B Robinson  KIA  Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery
  • F/S JCR Bignell   KIA  Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery
  • F/S  RE Nicholas   KIA  Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery
  • Sgt J Swain   KIA  Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery
  • Sgt GA Hubbard   KIA  Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery
  • Sgt HJ Vidamour   KIA  Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery

14th February saw us on another minelaying trip for our 29th op and this time it was to the Baltic with F/Sgt Davies again and flying  PN175 “R”-Roger. 30 Lancasters and 24 Halifaxes took part and 5 Halifaxes and 1 Lancaster were lost. Unfortunately one of them was  our MZ924 “D”-Dog and it was piloted by F/Lt J.T. Braund the twin   brother of the Braund who went missing on a minelaying trip in the  same area on the 12th January. What a sad blow for their parents and one wonders if they should have been serving on the same  squadron. The report says that flak along the route was negligible and although there was some fighter action no combats were reported. Well let’s face it you don’t report if you are shot down! Doug tells (now) an interesting story about one of our mining trips and it might  have been this one. Apparently we went out at low level across the North Sea and when we climbed to where the GEE was supposed to  be operational the Germans were jamming it. He switched on the H2S to try to get a fix on the coast of Denmark but the screen was  blank Pat, who was sitting beside him, looked at him and said “What are you going to do now?” Doug replied that he was going to have  some chocolate (but of course, what else?). While eating it he ran through the training drills on servicing the equipment and managed to  get the H2S working (great stuff chocolate!). He goes on to say that when he got a picture. Denmark was pointing south instead of north!  After a closer look he realized it was Sweden. We had been flying for 2 hours on DR navigation and it turned out that the wind was  blowing from the west instead of the east as forecast so we were away further east than we should have been  (I’ll say!). He quickly gave  me a new course. I don’t remember any of this and wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t mentioned as they wouldn’t be want to worry me.  Doug always spoke with a calm voice (he must have practiced it). He goes on to add that he seems to remember hearing that the crews  who followed the flight plan (the good guys) and turned south when they were supposed to flew over a German troopship convoy which  was transporting troops from Norway to help slow the allied advance, and got themselves shot at. He thinks our route might have saved  our lives. Well could be but we’ll never know. The anti-climax came when we had to abandon our mission in the dropping zone as by this  time the H2S was U/S again. I guess he had run out of chocolate! The armorers  must have hated us.

  • Halifax III MZ924 KN-D
  • 14-15 February 1945 T/O Full Sutton
  • Mission: Gardening
  • F/L  JP Braund   KIA
  • Sgt  RL Leforte   KIA
  • F/O  J Ritchie  KIA
  • F/O  A Wood  KIA
  • F/S  MC Eddleston  KIA
  • Sgt  DS Watson KIA
  • Sgt  RE Russel   KIA

The 30th op was to Reicholtz (Dusseldorf) in the Ruhr and it was a night  attack on the 20th February. We had Y-Yoke again and F/Sgt  Davies was MU air gunner. This was another oil refinery target and this time bombing was accurate enough to halt oil production. PFF  marking was late. We bombed on the centre of a TIR glow from 16000 feet. A large red flash explosion was seen. There was some FLAK  at the target. We had to land at Carnaby on return due to fuel shortage after 7 hours 35 minutes flying time. One of the times we landed  there we did so in a hurry as Arthur calculated that on our way in we had 10 minutes flying time left. We went straight in without  ceremony or ashing permission. That was cutting things too fine!

On the 21st February NP967 KN”-Nan failed to return from a raid on Worms. The pilot was F/O WT Brennan.

  • Halifax III NP967 KN-Z
  • 21-22 February 1945
  • T/O: Full Sutton
  • Mission: Worms
  • Crash: At Horchheim
  • F/O WT Brennan RCAF   POW
  • Sgt  JW Talbot   POW
  • F/O  MN Firth  RCAF   KIA  Reinberg War Cemetery
  • F/O KW Joy  RCAF   POW
  • Sgt  W Haile  POW
  • F/S  KC McKeown  RCAF  Runnymede Memorial
  • Sgt  A Robinson  POW

The 23rd February saw us an our 31st op with F/Sgt Davis as MU in NR210 “Z”-Zebra. This was a daylight raid on Essen with 342  aircraft taking part. 1 Halifax crashed in Holland. The target was cloud covered and most of the bombs were dropped on sky markers. We bombed on GEE as no indicators were seen at our time over the target. The attack was described as extremely accurate. A German  report states that 300 HE and 11000 incendiaries fell on the Krupps Works. ( I wonder who counted them?) There was slight heavy FLAK  and our flying time as 5.45.

We were out on the 24th again and our 32nd op took us to Kamen near Dortmund the target being a synthetic oil plant. F/Sgt Davies flew with us in Y-Yoke. 340 aircrafts took part altogether and 1 Halifax was lost. A low casualty rate but tough if you happen to be in the one.  We bombed on H2S as the target was covered by cloud. There was slight FLAK but no fighters. Landed at 19.15 after 6 hours 10  minutes.

N° 33 op was to Mainz near Frankfurt and took place on the 27th February. F/Sgt Davies and Y-Yoke again. We took off in daylight but  bombed at 16.40 on the centre of 6 green smoke puffs from 17200 feet. The target was covered by cloud and sky markers were dropped on OBOE. Severe destruction was caused. The master bomber was clearly heard but no bombing results were seen at the time. S-Sugar  was damaged by FLAK. 6.35 flying time.  I see that on the 1st March we went practice bombing and air firing. I can understand the air firing as our gunners hadn’t had to do much  firing but why practice bombing after 33 ops? Our photographs showed good bombing results on most occasions. I wish now that I had  asked for some of these photographs.

Our 34th OP was a daylight attack on Cologne on the 2nd March in Y-Yoke  with W/O Hendry as MU. 858 aircraft took part altogether and 9 were lost. 77  squadron sent 18 and 3 of these were damaged by FLAK. This was le last  RAF raid on the city and it was captured by American troops 4 days later. We  bombed according to the Master Bomber’s instructions on red TIS from  20000 feet. The target area was covered in smoke.

N°35 took place on the 3rd March and the target was the oil refinery at Bergkamen. Again we flew Y-Yoke with W/O Hendry as MU. 234  aircraft took part and none were lost over Germany as the FLAK was slight and low and no fighters were seen. The refinery was severely  damaged in this accurate raid and n further production of oil took place. 17 aircraft were detailed from 77 squadron and 15 took off. I  wonder what was wrong  with the other two and what the crews reactions were? It never happened to us but I know if it had I would have  been disappointed, having got ready and all geared up to go. Maybe some were relieved. When we returned to base we saw what we  thought were flares dropping but they turned out to be burning aircraft. Intruders had flown back with us and were catching some of the  planes as they were landing. All airfield and navigation lights were switched off and we had to circle around the area until the fighters left.  Some aircraft were diverted to other airfields. I don’t think the figures were revealed but I’m sure a lot of aircraft were lost. One of our  aircraft piloted by F/O Geddes was attacked and badly damaged but landed safely. One of the crew was wounded. The airfield at Full  Sutton was attacked by one intruder but no damage was caused. One could do without such excitement after flying for 7 hours 25  minutes.

  • Halifax III  NR210 KN-Z
  • 3-4 March 1945
  • T/O: Full Sutton
  • Mission: Kamen
  • Attacked by a Ju88
  • Crash: crash-landed at Full Sutton
  • F/O J McL Gaddes  RNZAF   safe
  • Sgt  KW Thompson  Safe
  • P/O  JT Hobbs  Safe
  • P/O  PG Bullen  safe
  • W/O  FN Chapman  RAAF  Safe
  • W/O  VC Protheroe  Safe
  • F/S  H Mustoe  injured

Imagine our reaction when we learned that the target for our 36th op was to be Chennitz. Who said crews were given easy ones near the  end of their tour? To make matters worse it was a terrible night for flying. 9 aircraft of 6 Group crashed near their bases soon after taking off in icing conditions. 426 squadron at Linton-on-ouse lost 3 aout of 14 Halifaxes in this way and one of them crashed in York. We took  off in Y-Yoke with W/O Carr as MU at 17.00 and all 15 of 77 squadron aircraft got away safely. 22 additional aircraft were lost in the main  operation out of 760 total. FLAK was reported to be negligible but on the return journey enemy fighters were very active. There were  several combats but no 77 squadron aircraft were damaged and no claims were made against enemy aircraft. We carried out the Master  Bomber’s instructions and bombed on the sky markers at 21.46 from 16000 feet. Arthur recalls that it became obvious just after leaving  the target that we would be lucky if we had enough fuel to get home. As it happens we were diverted to Holmsley South with Arthur  squeezing every last drop of petrol out of tanks on the way there. In fact over the Isle of Wight the engines cut momentarily until he  switched tanks. I remember that! All good stuff for the nerves. He also reminds me that when we joined the circuit to land the  undercarriage wouldn’t go down and indicate locking so I ordered the crew to crash positions as we didn’t have enough fuel left for  stooging around. Arthur undid the locking were with bare hands and operated the emergency pump so we landed on our wheels after all.  Arthur was the only casualty as the wire had cut his hands. We had been airborne for 8 hours 35 minutes and I’m sure I must have sat  quietly for a spell after shutting off the engines! On the way back to Full Sutton next day we had to fly slowly with our undercarriage  down, having used the emergency system, and we weren’t amused when one of our aircraft came alongside and the crew waved to us  with two fingers before opening up and disappearing in the distance. I should have identified them!

For our 37th and last op we took off Y-Yoke on the night of 7th March with 5 other aircraft from 77 squadron and 15 total for a minelaying trip somewhere around Flensburg. 2 Halifaxes were lost out of the 15. Apparently there was no FLAK in the mining area but the known  FLAK areas were active. (Who said minelaying was easy?). W/O  Hendry was with us again on this one. Arthur has some memories  of this trip. Apparently when we were flying low to the Danish  coast the rear gunner asked for some wakey wakey tablets  (reassuring!) and on his way back with them he nearly fell  through an open hatch. I believe him when he says he didn’t  fancy a swim. He goes on to say that when we climbed up and  switched on H2S we got an indication of something underneath  us. We lost it when we changed course but it then returned to  more or less the same position. Nobody including the gunners  could see anything but it stayed with us for the entire trip and  kept us on edge. When we returned to base we found a coin in  the blister. (Surely no one would have done it for a joke?) I’m glad to say that on this occasion we dropped our mines as planned  from 10700 feet. The squadron report says “satisfactory results”.  (Amen). This was our last op, our last flight at 77 squadron and  the last time we flew together as a crew. I can’t remember exactly  how we felt at completing our tour and surviving without injury but   we must have been relieved. There would also be some feelings  of regret at having to leave the close comradeship of an  operational squadron. We couldn’t celebrate immediately as we  landed at 00.40 and by the time we got through debriefing and up to the mess I can’t imagine the bar being open. No doubt we  slept soundly knowing that we were finished and wouldn’t be  wakened up for another briefing. I can’t remember what  happened afterwards apart from collecting our kit and getting  cleared but we must have had some sort of a farewell. I remember W/CDR Forbes telling me that I was being posted to an OUT as a  flying instructor. We left the squadron on the 10th March 1945 and went our separate ways. We had been with the squadron since the  16th August 1944 and had been briefed for a lot more ops than we actually flew on. Sometimes we got as far as the aircraft before they  were cancelled. Sometimes they were cancelled during briefing and on the odd occasion we cheered because it was a nasty target  anyway and/or the weather was bad. We usually ended up having wild parties when this happened. (The best way to release tension.)  We flew with a lot of spare gunners after we lost Scottie and they all fitted in and did their jobs well. It couldn’t have been much fun for  them flying with a strange crew. (I mean with bods they didn’t know!) I got a bit annoyed with one of them though and fortunately I can’t  remember who it was. He was an experienced type and it showed in his manner. We were just leaving the target on a night op when he  casually asked me if I would mind doing a corkscrew. When I asked him why he said he thought there might be a fighter on our tail! Well!  I corkscrewed viciously until he was satisfied that there was nothing there but the crew were a bit upset because I didn’t react  immediately. When we got back I reminded the gunner that the drill was corkscrew go! And that it was an immediate instruction in an  emergency situation and not an exercise for his amusement and I reminded the rest that we were in more danger of corkscrewing into  one of our own aircraft than we were of being shot down at that stage of the war. In any case there was enough light in the target area to  be able to see what was behind us and Paddy didn’t report anything. I was upset when Bill Bernard went missing because if I had managed to get him into our crew he would have survived with us. Maybe it  wasn’t meant to be.  Another 2 aircraft were lost from the squadron shortly after we left. F/Lt TS Kilpatrick and his crew in RG507 “J”-Jig failed to return from  an attack on Mathias Stinnes on the 15th March . The entire crew of a Halifax was seen to bale out. Was it them? (Have since learned  that one of them lost his life (Frost) and the rest were POWS) On the 18th March Halifax VI RG529 “C”-Charlie failed to return from an  attack on Witten. The pilot was F/Lt ted ward and the crew was the last one tobe lost. I was friendly with ted having known him during  training before we joined the squadron and had often wondered what happened to him. I was upset to find during my recent researches  that he had gone missing and even more so   when I learned that they did not survive. Altogether 13 aircraft were lost during or just after  our tour but I’m glad to say that some of their crew members survived.  One or two other incidents come to mind but I can’t associate them with any particular op. On one daylight raid 4 of us were detailed to  fly in a box formation towing small drogues behind our tails so that the rest of the squadron could formate on us. I was in the box position  and had to go forward and take over if anything happened to the leader. We formed up and flew over base in perfect formation (I hope  those watching were impressed) and held it all the way to the target area. On the run up the leader opened his bomb doors early, the  drag caused him to slow up suddenly and I found myself directly underneath him looking up at his bombs. I couldn’t lose enough speed  to fall back in time and I couldn’t turn away because of the aircraft around me so I opened up full throttle and went forward hoping the  bomb aimer would see us in time. We overshot the target and had to bomb on the way back after all the rest had gone (amazing how  quickly they disappeared). There we were on our own and I’m sure the Germans were shooting at our drogue for practice and we  couldn’t get red of the bloody thing. I wonder who dreamt that one up? It was the one and only time that we flew in tight formation. There  was no point in it anyway as we all navigated and bombed individually. If the idea was an experiment in mutual defence it would probably  have been counterproductive as I’m pretty sure that if we had been attached we would have shot each other up. Open formation is much  better as it leaves room to take evasive action and leaves more space for the shells to go through. Also if an aircraft is hit it is less likely  to affect any of the others. American bombers suffered a lot of battle damage and I’m sure their close formation flying was a contributory  factor. On another occasion when we returned from a daylight raid the cloud base was very low especially over the approach to our runway.  After some exiting low flying around the area waiting for our turn to land we made our approach through the cloud aided only by some  yellow very lights that were being fired to indicate the approximate position of the runway . When I broke cloud at very low level I was off  to one side but as I had no intention of going through that again I banked sharply and lined up just I touched down well along. Fortunately we managed to stop before the end. During the split seconds of my turn I clearly saw the look on the faces of the W/CDR and our S/LDR  as they ran like hell. I think I managed to convince them that they had been standing in a dangerous place. Two landings stick in my mind. For one of them I had the daft notion that I would like to do a glide approach. As the Halifax is not really  meant for gliding and I knew the angle would have to be steep I came over the end of the runway with a good bit of height on, throttled  right back and stuck the nose down and made a good landing. However I think Pat was alarmed and my audience in the control tower  were not impressed. I got a rocket and no one would believe that I had done it deliberately. I think the crash crew came to life for a short  spell. I made up for it on another occasion though when after a copy book approach I made such a gentle 3 point landing that we didn’t know  we had touched down. The tyres didn’t even squeal. Pat looked at me and we laughed about it. I think the rest of the crew were still  bracing themselves when we turned off the runway. At debriefing the Base Commander came across with the Group Captain and  congratulated me on my landing. I said “ Well Sir”, I’m glad that’s the one you saw!”. We had a good laugh about it. Just goes to show  you never know who is watching you. I suppose it was a matter of some pride to make as good a landing as possible but the main thing  was to get down without breaking anything and we sometimes had to land in difficult conditions.  We had some good times on the squadron and there was a bond between us that was to some extent the result of sharing a common  danger. We didn’t seem to form close relationships outside our own evens though, probably because we didn’t want to be too deeply  affected by losses. All the time we were on ops we were members of a close knit team but as soon as we finished our tour all that  changed and we were no longer members of the “club”. It was almost as though they couldn’t get us away quickly enough. I don’t mean  they became unfriendly but we had served our purpose and no longer had a part to play there. I can well understand why most aircrew  kept trying to get back to an operational squadron because there is nothing quite like it. It’s pretty exclusive and having once served one