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141 Squadron

This photograph was taken in Edinburgh in October 1946, a few months before I was demobilised. My daughter was not yet a year old, I was twenty three and my grandfather seventy six.
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141 Squadron was at West Raynham, a pre-war airfield in north Norfolk. I joined it with over 800 flying hours to my credit, probably an above average figure for a fighter navigator.

The day after my arrival, having seen Wing Commander Winn, I made a short flight with Tony, followed by another three in the subsequent week. He already had a navigator (a man who could do the Times crossword puzzle in a few minutes) so I was crewed with a pilot who had got out from France after being shot down.

We were sent to 1692 Flight (Bomber Support Development Unit) at nearby Great Massingham to do some flying together. He found every possible excuse to avoid flying but the days were passing and eventually it was arranged that we should make a flight at 9 o'clock one morning. I turned up about 8 o'clock to be told that he had taken off an hour before, alone. Feeling upset, believing that either he did not like me personally or did not think I would prove a good navigator, I went over to West Raynham to report what had happened. It was explained to me that the fault was not mine. The pilot had a problem which it was thought being crewed with me would solve: he blamed himself for the death of his previous navigator and because of this had found it difficult to fly with one. He was sent away from the squadron.

The whole of November had been lost and for the first two weeks of December all I did was to help out pilots who needed a navigator to make a local fight or to test an aircraft. Then l was asked, with considerable hesitancy, if l would be prepared to crew with F/L Gallacher (Jock). His navigator had left the squadron, whether tour expired or because of illness I cannot remember.

The hesitancy in the approach was understandable for amongst the navigators he had the reputation of being a reckless and dangerous pilot. Certainly his landings would scare most of them: he was reputed to do such a steep turn around the circuit when coming into land that he kept the aircraft inside the perimeter track! However, I had flown with him for an hour and had no complaints about his driving. My view was that he must be a good pilot to have survived as long as he had and I reckoned that my chances would be better if I had a pilot like him who could and would throw an aircraft about rather than a so called "safe'' one. I said I would be his navigator, a decision I never regretted for he was a fine pilot and "press on'' type.

Some weeks after arrival Tony failed to return from Germany. His loss upset me greatly. Later I heard he had survived, having been made a prisoner of war, but that his navigator, P/O B.J. Wallnut had been killed.

For a long time the night bombing offensive had been carried out with no fighter support other than that given by the relatively few Intruder sorties made by Fighter Command against German airfields. In mid-1943, 141 Squadron was given equipment for homing onto German AI. Success was limited as the squadron's Beaufighters were not ideal for the job and their Mark IV AI quite inadequate. 100 Group was formed at the end of the year to bring under one command all the radio counter measures and nightfighters being used to support the bombers. It grew rapidly and when I joined the squadron the Group had several Mosquito fighter squadrons as well as heavy bombers carrying equipment to jam German radar and radio stations.

We were using the Mosquito VI carrying ASH (AI Mark XV), various other radars and GEE, a position finding device in general use but because of jamming not much good for navigating over Germany. ASH was not limited in range by a ground return and its picture was so detailed that in suitable conditions it could be used for map reading. However, it did have the drawback of rather narrow scans which could make it difficult to follow a target taking evasive action.

My first Bomber Command operation was on 28 December 1944 when we patrolled between Bonn and Frankfurt. The targets were Bonn and Munchen-Gladbach. I had to spend my time over Germany looking at the AI screen, with only brief respites to do some rudimentary navigation. We stayed for quite a long time over one of the targets. Jock told me to have a look. I had never before seen a city burning (from the air that is) and I was fascinated by the scene: bombs exploding, flares everywhere, a pall of smoke and bursts of heavy flak. I have forgotten what I said but it led to Jock realising, with some surprise, that this was my first Bomber Command operation

There was an operation on 30 December and another on New Year's Day 1945 which was a fiasco for us, just possibly because Jock was a Scot and had enjoyed New Year's Eve. We did an NFT, lasting 10 minutes, then took off as darkness fell. We had to fly at a low level over the sea and the area of Europe already in Allied hands, only starting the climb to our normal operational height of 20,000 feet as we crossed into Germany. It was then that Jock found he had not brought the tube with which to connect himself to the oxygen supply (shades of Tony's contretemps!). We decided to go to Juvincourt, an airfield near Rheims, to borrow a tube. By the time we arrived and had explained our requirement it was too late to continue with the operation.

The Americans around Rheims had been the object of German air activity for some nights and this was used as an excuse to enjoy themselves putting up a lot of barrage fire. Someone had the bright idea of getting us to do a patrol in the neighbourhood to catch the beastly hun. This seemed pointless to me but we agreed to fly around to keep our allies happy, hoping they could restrain their trigger happy AA gunners. We taxied out, punctured a tyre and damaged the wheel so finding ourselves stuck in France until repairs could be carried out. The story of our three days in Rheims can be told another time. Suffice it to say we got back to West Raynham and Jock was forgiven. although he did not tell me what the CO said to him!

On 7 January we never reached the target: Munich. We were tagged by two contacts but could not get behind them as our 100 gallon drop tanks made it impossible for us to make a tight enough turn. We were certain that we were being chased by German nightfighters. After careful thought we decided to fly straight and level, let the fighters close in, drop the tanks and then go round in the steepest possible turn to get into an attacking position. Without the drop tanks we could not reach the target and get home again so it was an enormous disappointment when the two pursuers dived steeply away as we turned and our AI contact was lost.

It was Jock's custom when approaching the enemy coast to use the Mosquito's loo, a metal funnel attached to a rubber tube. He had to undo his parachute harness and his Mae West and afterwards do everything up again. Whilst all this was going on I flew the aircraft straight and level, on instruments, reaching across from my seat to hold the control column. One night the timing went wrong. In the middle of the performance we were suddenly coned by searchlights. Jock dropped the funnel, with disastrous results, grabbed the control column and put the aircraft into a steep diving turn. When we had got away Jock calmly went on with the performance at the point where he had been interrupted.

There were three uneventful trips early in February, then came three very long ones.

  • 8.2.45 1845 Mosquito VI RS578
  • F/L Gallacher DFC High Level Patrol 7.05
  • DCO - BASE-5250N 0930E-POLITZ. Return by same route. During first attack fighters were up over target. Only visuals on bombers. Patrolled RECHLIN A/F. Contact on Mk IV not converted to 'ASH' . Saw second attack. No 'G' beyond 0730E TARGET:-POLITZ

This was the longest flight I ever made. We hung about over the target as long as we could: when starting our return crossing of the North Sea we were so worried about our fuel supply that we made a "Mayday"' call to give warning about our plight. We were out of R/T range and got no answer. We carried on hoping that we could make the English coast. In the event we did, albeit with not much petrol left.

  • 13.2.45 2000 Mosquito VI RS578
  • F/L Gallacher DFC High Level Patrol 6.20
  • DCO - BASE-EGMOND-DUMMERSEE-DRESDEN Return by same route. Lost two contacts over target. One was a Mosquito that peeled off, 9000ft range. Many visuals on bombers over target. TARGETS:- DRESDEN, BOHLEN.

We went in at the beginning of the initial attack on Dresden and stayed over the target until the bombers had finished and gone. Although the fires seemed to be bigger than when most cities burnt it did not strike me at the time as being other than an ordinary attack.

  • 14.2.45 1840 Mosquito VI RS578
  • F/L Gallacher DFC High Level Escort 6.55
  • DCO - BASE-MUNSTER-COBURG-CHEMNITZ-KITINGEN A/F-FRANKFURT-CHARLEROI - BASE Followed stream to target, Interception on Lancaster over target. Patrolled KITINGEN A/F. Intercepted three balloons at 8000ft. Visual on Liberator over France. TARGETS:- CHEMNITZ, ROSITZ

After debriefing and supper in the early hours I had a short sleep, did an NFT and then was off to Chemnitz. The barrage balloons were a nasty surprise. We suddenly found ourselves flying underneath them! Presumably the Germans had hurriedly put them up when we started to show an interest in Kitingen airfield.

  • 3.3.45 2045 Mosquito VI RS578
  • F/L Gallacher DFC High Level Patrol 5.55
  • DCO-BASE-EGMOND-KAMEN. Return by same route. Lost a contact as it went through window. Orbitted TWENTE A/F. Investigated flares that were emitting orbiting rockets (apparently homing on us) posn.5210N 0612E. Hit in tailplane by a heavily wired parachute, which we brought back. On returning to BASE found intruders about so chased all over the Group area in pursuit - but no contacts obtained. TARGET:- KAMENLADBERGEN

En route to the target we were on the edge of the bomber stream. On the AI, I saw a German nightfighter, three miles ahead, coming in after a bomber, almost certainly a Lancaster. We started in pursuit, closing in rapidly, but the fighter was drawing very close to the bomber, following its turns as it weaved from side to side. I was telling Jock where to look as we were hoping to get a visual at any moment. Then my AI picture was obliterated by Window (foil strips that helped to protect bombers by confusing enemy radars) dropped by the bomber. I had no idea where the fighter was. We were both peering into the darkness when there was an enormous explosion ahead of us. The bomber had been shot down. If it had not dropped the Window perhaps we would have got the fighter before it attacked.

We knew we had been hit over Twente but as the aircraft was apparently not harmed we happily joined in going after German intruders when we got back. We had a few hectic chases, sometimes very low down, but with no success. This was the last major German attack of the war and the intruder force sent against the returning bombers did a lot of damage. I never heard what the experts thought about the parachute.

I went on one more trip with Jock (our fourteenth together) before his tour ended and he was posted. I then crewed up with F/L Broughton with whom I did four operations on Mosquito XXXs, carrying AI Mark 10 which was, by the standards of the time, the perfect AI. W/C Winn was a very experienced nightfighter pilot and a superb commander who led from the front. He always involved himself in any tasks that were more than usually difficult or dangerous. He looked after his crews (witness how he was the first one to get to the wreck when Tony and I crashed at Hibaldstow) and ensured that we got as much training and practice as possible. He was always keen to get the best and latest equipment for his squadron. Just as the war was about to end he managed to pull off a scoop. The story goes that on a train he had met an American who told him about "Napalmgel'', a concoction that produced liquid fire when detonated. The outcome was that he managed to get hold of a supply, put it and some detonators in 100 gallon drop tanks and coming in low across the airfield demonstrated his new weapon. It certainly impressed us to see flames and smoke engulfing ' hundreds of yards of grass.

  • 18.4.45 0140 Mosquito XXX NT 507
  • F/L Broughton Bombing attack 4.00
  • DCO - JUVINCOURT A/F-AMERSEE-NEUBIBERG A/F-AMERSEE - BRUSSELS/MELSBROEK A/F. Dropped 2 x 100 gals. tanks of "Napalmgel" splashing a hanger. Fifteen A/C took part. W/O Dawson shot down over target.

We refuelled at Juvincourt from one of the Group's Halifaxes. I discovered that I had forgotten to bring an extra box for the GEE that would enable me to get fixes over much of the route to the airfield, outside Munich, that we were to attack. We had to fly as low as possible and the target was not likely to prove easy to find. I came up with the solution: a straight line from Juvincourt to a large lake not far from the target went over two small flak areas which, if we were shot at, would fix our position. I explained to my pilot what I intended to do, warning him that being shot at was an essential part of my navigation!

It was the pilot's job to prime the two phosphorus detonators in each tank. The armament officer when instructing crews about this warned there was a slight risk of everything going off bang when the priming wires were pulled. What was I to do? I could hardly retreat to a safe distance and watch. I compromised by standing with my pilot but turning my back on him, the wires and the Napalmgel.

The flak came up when I expected it to, we reached the lake, and arrived at the target just as everybody who had come the proper way turned up. The Master Bomber put down flares and when our turn came we dived on the target, dropped the tanks and climbed away. W/O Dawson and his navigator F/O Childs followed us. On their run in they were hit by flak and the aircraft exploded. They were 141 Squadron's last casualties of the war. When the bombing was completed the Master Bomber enquired if anybody wanted to strafe the target. Answer came there none and we set off to refuel at Brussels.

This was my last operational flight. On 7 May 1945. the final day of the war against Germany, I went on a "Ruhr tour'', a daytime flight to look at the ruined cities of the Ruhr. I wrote in my logbook, "Everyone is destroyed, making the most terrible sight I have ever seen." The next week I did a similar trip to NW Germany. Tony came back and I went to Liverpool for a party given by his parents. He died on 30 July 2002 just after his eightieth birthday. He was a fine pilot and a brave, good man.

Training went on as the squadron was part of the force being prepared for operations from bases in the Pacific against Japan. We moved to Little Snoring and soon afterwards, on 17 July, I was promoted to be a Flight Lieutenant. The first atomic bomb was dropped and there was no more talk about going to the Pacific. My last flight in the RAF was on 14 August 1945 and the squadron disbanded in the September.

So ended my war. I had survived weather, accidents and the enemy for 1029 hours!

After courses lasting three months I went to a GCA (Ground Controlled Approach) unit at Bassingbourn near Royston, a Transport Command airfield. I had signed on for an extra year which I spent "talking down"' aircraft, many bringing back troops from the Far East others being the VIP carrying Dakotas of 24 Squadron.

I was demobilised on 17 January 1947.

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