Bill’s memories 2
Our 6th OP was against the naval base at Kiel on the night of 15/16 September 1944. Although it was mid September it was bloody cold at 21000 feet. I had every item of flying clothing on that I had and I was still frozen. My windscreen was frozen over and as I couldn’t scrape it off I gave up and flew on instruments hoping and praying that nothing got in our way. The heating system at our end of the Halifax came from a duct on the starboard side and we couldn’t share it. Either I got it or the blokes down below got it. I let them have it as Doug couldn’t navigate with frozen hands. I should have thought looking back now that a better system could have been devised. Maybe they thought we would fall asleep if we were too comfortable. (fat chance)I remember I had a mars bar in my pocket and slipped my oxygen mask off to have a quick bite. It was as hard as a brick and I nearly broke my teeth. Pat had to scrape his panel to see out too during bombing and I think he must have had trouble with the bombsight as I seem to recall that our bombs were plotted about 4 to 5 miles from the target. All that effort, risk and discomfort to bomb a bloody field and to think that I held the aircraft steady so that the camera could take pictures to prove it.Why wasn’t the bloody camera frozen? Another reminds me that on this trip the mid upper gunner who was a replacement for Paddy and who shall be nameless suddenly started talking nonsense and firing his guns all over place. He says he went back to silence him with a hammer but I don’t believe this? Anyway he discovered that his oxygen supply had been disconnected and when he connected him in again he reverted to what passes as normal (among aircrew).Arthur admits he was annoyed as the bullets were whistling around the astrodome and he regarded this as his own personal vantage point. I never saw or heard of Doug taking a star shot anyway so that was fair enough.
N°7 on the 20th September was against German positions around Calais. It was a daylight raid and we bombed visually at 17.18 from 2500 feet. The aircraft was violently shaken by the bomb explosions and although I didn’t know it at the time DR compass was upset and giving false readings. I left the target in cloud on what I thought was the correct heading but discovered the problem when I broke cloud and found I was flying up the coast at low level towards a heavily depended area. Quickly switched to the magnetic compass. To add to the fun we had a 100 lb bomb hung up but eventually managed to get rid op it in the sea. This was the first time we flew in MZ393 S-SUGAR and although we flew mere times in MZ397 Y-YOKE I think S-SUGAR was the favourite. Although basically the same, each aircraft had a slightly different feel. Some certainly climbed more willingly than others. Sgt Hannah replaced Paddy on this one.Shortly afterwards the squadron was taken off bombing operations for a spell and was given the task of flying petrol in 4 gallon jerry cans, into Brussels Melsbroeck, Belgium, for the use of the British 2nd army’s transport and tanks. Seems they were on their way to try to relieve Arnhem and had run short.The orders were to fly at 2000 feet or below cloud in order to be identified (What a good idea!). Just to make sure we were seen we flew even lower when I think of it now it was a wee bit reckless as we were stuffed full with these cans. We made our first trip on the 25 th September and 6 did altogether finishing on the 1st October. On one occasion I let down gently until we were just above the sea then asked Pat to look out the nose for a pin point. I want repeat what he said! I enjoyed some of these trips because after I knew I wasn’t going to be a fighter pilot I asked for light bombers as I fancied low level ops. I wonder why they bothered to ask us? The airfield was a busy one as supplies of all kinds were being flow in. It was an emergency airfield and typhoons were taking off for attacks. They weren’t gone for long either. It had been bombed so much that only one runway was in use and we had to land on it regardless of wind direction. It wasn’t funny crabbing in with our load and having to kick straight at the last second before touch down. One day a B17 followed us in and didn’t straighten out. He wiped his undercarriage off and slid along on his belly. He was hurriedly bull dozed to one side to make way for the next aircraft. The Mosquitoes came in one wing low. Airfield control was carried out entirely by aldis lamps. One red the other green. R/T wasn’t used at all. As soon as we taxied off the runway and shut off our engines the army lorries backed up to our near exit door and we formed a chain to pass the cans out. No time was wasted in getting the petrol to where it was needed. While having our sandwiches after unloading on one occasion we were approached by some Belgians selling grapes. We got a large boxful for £1 and they kept us all going for a long time. Another time on starting up and testing the engines I found that I had a large mag drop on one engine so taxied round to find a mechanic to have a look at it. The C.O. came dancing out and ordered me to take off. Seems he thought we were trying to have a night out in Brussels. I hadn’t even considered it but apparently others had. We took off with the engine popping and banging and luckily it cleared but if it hadn’t we’d probably have been bulldozed aside. I would have haunted him though. These petrol ferrying trips did not count as ops. Two Belgian decorations were awarded to the squadron. The wing co got one and we drew a name out of the hat for the other one. I can’t remember who wen but I know it wasn’t me.
On the 6th of October we returned to the relative safety of bombing operations for our 8th and this time the target was a synthetic oil plant at Scholven in the Ruhr. It was a daylight raid and we were flying in S-Sugar. FLAK was fairly intense en route and over the target and 15 of our aircraft out of 21 were slightly damaged. This may have been the time when a piece of shrapnel hit the corner of my windscreen and splinters flew off and hit me in the neck. At the time I didn’t know where came from and had an idea it was underneath. After feeling for blood and not finding any (no I wasn’t disappointed) it occurred to me that Colin might have been hurt. It took some time to raise him as he was busy with his wireless but by then I had found the source. Come to think of it I didn’t have much communication with Colin as he always seemed to be “listening out” or whatever they did. He came up beside me on one occasion but when he looked out and saw all the FLAK busting he disappeared again and I don’t remember seeing him after that during working hours. Even Doug and Pat shut themselves off behind the black curtain but at least they spoke to me occasionally. I can’t think why I wasn’t tempted to peep behind that curtain. I’m sure “George” would have let me. We landed at 19.05 after 4 ½ hours flying having bombed from 18500 feet. Paddy was back with us again.
We carried out our 9th OP the following day and it was another daylight attack against troop concentration at Kleve. It was quite an experience flying in a bomber stream and as we flew in loose formation (a gaggle) I always had the feeling that any attacking fighters wouldn’t know where to start and it also seemed like a good idea to leave plenty of space for the FLAK to get through. Being a daylight raid we could see what was going on including aircraft going down. On one occasion two bombers ahead of us collided and blew up. We flew through the smoke immediately afterwards but there was nothing left. Another time I had great satisfaction in overtaking a Lancaster. I drew in close as we passed and waved to each crew member in turn. Come to think of it I only waved with two fingers! Seeing how close we were to each other in a bomber stream brought home the fact that it was the same at night although we could seldom see each other once the navigation lights were switched off. This emphasized the importance of keeping to height speed and timing. Turning points could be dangerous as some who were late might cut corners. Again we had a 1000 lb bomb hung up and it took some effort to get rid of it in the sea. Some of these bombs must have had a fear of heights the way they used to hang on. This was our last op with our original crew.
The 10th OP was a night raid on Bochum in the Ruhr with 16 aircraft from 77 squadron taking part. It wasn’t a successful attack and bombing was scattered over an area of about 5 or 6 miles from north to south. Most aircraft attached before the time as winds were different from the forecast. There was evidence of decoy markers. At the target opposition was slight although enemy fighters were seen (not by us I’m glad to say). The aircraft was damaged by FLAK. We flew R-Robert and F/Sgt Hanslip was rear gunner in place of Scottie who became unfit and was unable to fly with us again. He had gone sick with stomach pains and hoped to be OK again after treatment. I was discovered that he had ulcers and they were so bad that he was invalided out. He was horrified at this as he had hoped to make the RAF his cancer. Scottie liked flying and was in fact a qualified gliding instructor. When he came back to the squadron to tell us, we were on leave and we didn’t see him again. Hope it wasn’t my flying that brought on the ulcers. He never once complained to me and I didn’t know about his problem at the time. I wonder how many aircrew put up with discomforts of all kinds rather than say anything to anyone in case they got the wrong impression? On the other hand I’ve seen it recorded that some aircraft had returned early due to a crew member turning ill. I can recall one pilot who couldn’t take any more and he quietly disappeared from the squadron. At least he tried. Losing Scottie meant that we had to finish our tour with spare gunners and eventually I asked Paddy to take the rear turret as we knew and trusted him.
N° 11 op was to be a daylight raid on Duisberg and it was part of operation Hurricane; a maximum effort job with 1000 bombs involved as well as fighter escorts. The squadron scraped up 25 aircraft and we were given MZ743 Z-Zebra and Sgt Duig as replacement gunner. What an impressive sight it was being part of that lot and all went well until we started losing oil pressure on the starboard inner engine. We kept it going as long as was practical but eventually has to shut it down and feather the prop. We then found that we could not maintain height or speed on 3 engines and we began to drop below and behind the rest of the stream. As well as being against regulations it would have been foolish to have limped over the target after the rest had been there and it would have been wrong to risk a valuable aircraft and a fully trained crew, especially when it was us. We had a vote on it and the result being unanimous we turned back near Antwerp, jettisoned our bombs, safe, in the sea and landed at Manston emergency airfield. The aircraft must have been pretty well clapped out the way it flew on 3 and this is why I decided to make for the nearest landfall. So ne missed a historic event but at least we were alive to talk about it. Doug reminds me that when we were in the mess at Manston there were 2 German officers there being entertained in the old chivalrous style. I don’t remember that but I do remember seeing an aircraft come in shortly after us and I thought it had done a belly landing. I was amazed when started to move again, but found out later that it was a Meteor jet plane. First one I had seen. As our aircraft was U/S we were sent back by train. We spent the night in London at a centre for crashed aircrew near Kings Cross Station. What a fuss they made of us, hot baths, good food, etc… Even the S.P.S. were friendly. They arranged for Arthur to take a quick trip home although he was wearing flying boots and I don’t think he had a cap. I can’t remember how the rest of us spent the evening but no doubt it involved a few pints. Next morning while we were waiting for a train to York and standing with all our flying gear I remember a woman looking at Arthur and saying “what a shame, he’s only a boy”. He would be 19 but did look younger. (You should see him now!) He didn’t look at me as I was an old man of 21 She probably thought we had shanghaied Arthur. Again Doug reminds me that we saw the 2 German again at York station from where they would be on their way to a POW camp. Just as well as we wouldn’t have wanted to be in touch a 3rd time. Had a debriefing session when we got back to Full Sutton just to make sure that we hadn’t aborted due to “ cold feet”. (How could they have any doubts?) Anyway it was confirmed that the engine suffered a bearing failure.
No problems on N°12 which was a daylight raid on gun positions at Walcheren Isle. Sgt Duig was with us again. I wonder if he had a choice ? If he was looking for more adventures he would be disappointed as this one went according to plan. We bombed from 4000 feet and could see the general target area although the ground detail was obscured by smoke. We were only airborne for 3 hours 25 minutes. Landed at 13.25: early for a change.
I can’t remember feeling superstitious about N°13 although it was a night attack on Cologne. 905 aircraft took part together and although the sky must have been fairly crowded no aircraft were lost. 21 too off from Full Sutton and I notice that S-Sugar turned back with engine trouble near target area and jettisoned the bombs in the sea. It never gave us any trouble. I wonder who was flying it that night? We flew LL545 with Sgt Duig as mid upper gunner and in addition we had a mid under gunner F/Sgt Bernard. I don’t think the extra gunner had anything to do with it being our 13th . I’m sure their rinds didn’t work like that. The bonus probably went with the aircraft but anyway it was good to have him as many fighters attacks were made from underneath. This was an oboe marked raid and we bombed on sky markers from 19000 feet. There was slight heavy FLAK at the target and several of our aircraft reported seeing a jet propelled aircraft in this area. (Why didn’t we see things like that? Thank goodness!) When we got back, having landed at 23.50, I thought F/sgt Bernard’s accent was familiar. It turned out that we were both natives of Dunfermline and had natural friends there.
For our 14th we took part in another attack on Cologne the following night and again we bombed on sky markers as the target was obscured by tick cloud. Sgt Duig joined us once again in MZ397 Y-Yoke. I was amused some time later to hear the survival of Cologne Cathedral was tribute to the accuracy of RAF bombing! It’s interesting to note that St Pauls also survived amidst ruins so it’s much more likely that other “FORCES” were at work during these raids.
N° 15 was carried out on the night of 2nd November when 992 aircraft attacked Dusseldorf. 19 aircraft were lost including 11 Halifaxes and one of these was from 77 squadron. The pilot was F/O Pike. The heavy barrage FLAK was reported as moderate! We has Sgt Duig and Bill Bernard with us again on this occasion. Bill was in good position to observe results and reported many fires in the marshalling yards. The squadron sent 21 aircraft and 20 bombed the primary target. Got back at 22.00 after 5 hours 25 minutes.