After returning from Predannack, Bud and I did three more low level intruder operations. They were not a success as on two occasions we found ourselves in conditions of nil visibility over the target area so perforce returned home. The third intruder was also abortive.
The squadron was provided with six Mosquito VI machines, the best fighter/bomber the RAF possessed and ideal for carrying out intruder operations. Intruder attacks were aimed specifically at enemy airfields and aircraft, whereas on Rangers crews were free-lancing for targets of opportunity. For this particular operation we flew one of these new machines but unfortunately it had not been given an NFT. It came as a nasty surprise when far out over the North Sea we became aware that it had a faulty fuel system. We lost petrol and the fumes in the cockpit caused Bud and I to feel sick and faint.
The flight was in support of the attack on Peenemunde but, because of worries about the amount of petrol we were losing and the over-powering fumes, we had to turn back from a position to the north of Heligoland.
We settled back into the normal one night on, one night off routine of a nightfighter squadron. Throughout the summer and autumn of 1943 we flew standing patrols or else waited, wearing full flying gear, for an order to scramble.
Occasional engine failures were to be expected but only once did we have to come back any distance with a propeller feathered. One night the ASI became unserviceable, the hand having jammed, leaving us with no idea of our speed. With another Mosquito alongside to help us we came back to Coleby Grange and Bud made a normal landing.
One evening, when we were not on duty, an urgent order was given over the Tannoy for all air and ground crews to report immediately to their flights. We were in our aircraft within ten minutes of leaving the mess. Bud ran up the engines then instead of taxying round to the runway he took off directly from dispersal, with no lights to guide him and I am sure with not the faintest idea if there was anything in the way. A real Fighter Command scramble! A large number of bandits (the term for enemy aircraft) were supposed to be about but after a few chases and one contact, which was a friendly (that is, one of ours), we were recalled. It was a mistake on somebody's part as the bandits turned out to be American bombers.
It was whilst everyone had been rushing to the flights that the local policeman started trying to stop cyclists without lights. He was finally pushed over to shouts of, "Don't you know there's a war on?" Of course with batteries hard to get few people bothered with lights. It was amazing the effort the Lincolnshire police put into stopping offenders riding on deserted country roads. Several times I dodged a policeman stepping out from the darkness. And once I was chased for at least a mile, not that a village bobby on a heavy bicycle had much chance of making a catch!
This was the highlight of my time with 410 Squadron We had been sent to West Malling because the Germans were making a series of hit-and-run attacks on London. We were to supplement the efforts of 85 Squadron but it was obvious that we were not welcome on what the squadron regarded as its own preserve. 410 Squadron was given the job of patrolling near the French coast, whilst 85 Squadron, with a far better type of AI than the Mark IV we had, operated further back where there was a greater chance of making a successful interception.
Having carried out a practice interception we were given a vector by the GCI station for what, at that time, was not for certain an enemy aircraft. However, as we were directed towards it we were told that it definitely was a bandit. I could not take my eyes from the AI set, but after we had closed in Bud told me to have a look. I took a fleeting glance and must admit that I was very uncertain about the identification, although I knew it was a German aircraft, not a British one. The attack was easy and the aircraft went down, exploded and hit the sea.
I saw on the AI set that there was another aircraft very near us and closing in. As our IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) had ceased to work when the guns were fired Bud decided to take no chances. He put the aircraft into a steep diving turn; when we levelled out the other aircraft was no longer with us. We returned, elated, to West Malling. As we were sitting in the mess having supper the pilot of an 85 Squadron aircraft said that he had been about to open fire on a German aircraft when suddenly it turned and dived, at which point he realised that he had been following a Mosquito!
To mark the success I presented the radar mechanics with a carton of cigarettes and the squadron's Intelligence Officer gave me a German wireless operator/air gunner flying brevet. This metal badge is now mounted on a silver tankard I had made for it in Bangkok.
Although at the time we thought it was an Me 410 that had gone down, I believe that Fighter Command, knowing that no Me 410s were about that night, decided it must have been a Ju 188. However, in their book "Mosquito", Sharp and Bowyer say that no Ju 188 loss is recorded in German records and that the aircraft we destroyed was possibly a Ju 88.
What is not in doubt was that we hit the first aircraft of the attacking force and as this was more than likely the pathfinder the rest of the aircraft perhaps did not bomb London as successfully as they might have done. As the incident happened on 5 November I have ever since had occasion to think of Guy Fawke's day in a rather special Way.
The squadron moved to Hunsdon in Hertfordshire on 9 November. A few days later I was sent to a convalescent home for Canadian officers at 'Garnons', a country house near Hereford, as I was stuttering badly, my hands were shaking and my face had a twitch. I recovered, and when I returned to Hunsdon it was to find that the squadron was about to convert to the Mosquito XIII with AI Mark VIII. The conversion unit used a Beaufighter so I had my first experience of the aircraft, which seemed to me to be a massive brute compared with the Mosquito.
The squadron was preparing to join the Tactical Air Force and so far as l could tell would pass a miserable winter wearing khaki battledress, living under canvas and fuelling aircraft from 4 gallon drums whilst training to take part in the invasion of Europe. I was glad to be leaving to go on rest, my last flight with the squadron being on Christmas Day 1943.