Monday, 10 November 2014

1. Introduction and recent developments

Sergeant Robert Jay, November 1944
As a child I never tired of asking my dad about his experiences as a flight engineer in a Lancaster. I wanted to know where he sat, what his job was, what flak was like and even how aircraft were able to fly. By the time I left primary school my interest had started to wane and when he died in 1974 at the age of 55 any chance of questioning him further about his experiences was lost. I was left with a handful of photographs, his flying log book and the name of his New Zealand pilot, Bill Mallon.

In the spring of 2012 I acquired his service record and decided to document as much as I could of his war-time experiences so that his grandchildren, who never met him and for whom the Second World War was ancient history, could learn about this momentous part of his life. This decision took me on an incredible voyage of discovery. What was intended to be a single entry blog for the benefit of close family is now a story that has been viewed over 10000 times, has 27 published chapters (and 14 appendices) and a total of more than 50,000 words.

No. 75 (NZ) Squadron, March 1945

No. 75 (NZ) Squadron flew more sorties than any other Allied heavy bomber squadron and suffered the second most casualties - one of its airmen was even awarded the Victoria Cross. But this story is not about the squadron, nor is it about individual heroism, it is about a small number of unremarkable men thrown together briefly during the last few months of the war and the amazing way in which their tales are unfolding seventy years later.

Six months of research and the generosity of fellow enthusiasts have enabled me to publish a detailed account of my dad’s attempts to enlist, his initial training, his specialist training to become a flight engineer, his ‘crewing up’ with four men from New Zealand and two young gunners from the UK and their posting to RAF Mepal in Cambridgeshire. I have discovered the names of all of the crew and have been able to publish details of each of the operations in which they participated, including their targets, the bombs they dropped, the squadron’s losses and a couple of near disasters of their own. But that was when the really interesting part started.

In the immediate post-war years everyone just wanted to get on with their lives and raise their families and a reluctance to dwell on the past and the limitations of travel and communication meant that any suggestion that my dad should reconnect with any of his crew was unrealistic. How things have changed! A couple of enquiries on a New Zealand aviation forum quickly led to e-mail exchanges with Bill’s son Barrie and he was able to tell me about  the tragedy that led to his dad’s premature separation from the crew in 1945.

I obtained a transcript of an interview Bill gave in 2004 for the New Zealand Defence Force’s ‘Military Oral History Project’ and discovered how the young brothers had developed their passion for flying, how difficult life was in New Zealand during the depression and the details of his epic journey from New Zealand to England via the USA and Canada. I also learnt of the life-long betrayal he felt, read letters he exchanged with the mayor of a small town near Calais and even discovered that the crew had made a trip to my home town in Lincolnshire to celebrate my dad’s first wedding anniversary.

In July 2013, just as I was coming to the end of Bill’s story, I received an e-mail from Ruth, the eldest daughter of Jim Haworth, the crew's navigator. Her dad had written to his wife throughout his long separation from his family and Ruth sent me some of those letters and allowed me to publish them.

Over the next few months I discovered the tragic fate of the pilot who had taken my dad up for his first few flights in December 1944 and the truly breath-taking story of a flight engineer who literally fell out of his Lancaster and was captured by the Germans. He went on to form a life-long friendship with a young German with whom he published a book in 2012.

I learnt more about the two near misses my dad experienced too and the tragedy of their replacement bomb aimer, Lancelot Waugh, whose wife died 11000 miles away in New Zealand in 1943 shortly after he had been shipped overseas. He was unable to return home again until the war was over, more than two years later.

The next breakthrough, in April 2014, was the unlikely result of an appeal I made in the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. The short e-mail read “Hello. I am the daughter of Frank. Can I help in any way?” Frank Symes was the wireless operator and with the help of his daughter and grandson I have been able to commence yet another piece of this amazing jigsaw. The next challenge was to trace the family of Denis Eynstone, the rear gunner.

All I had known about Denis was that he was originally from Oxford but I eventually discovered that his last address was in Devon and traced his daughter, Wendy, who told me that he had died in 2011. She provided me with photographs, drawings and his service record so that we could unravel the story of his postings after the end of the war.

That leaves just two crew members and, with the bit firmly between my teeth, I am determined that the story will be completed. So far I have been unable to contact any of the family of Ken Philp, the bomb aimer, who died in 1991 and is buried in Porirua, New Zealand. The final piece of this incredible puzzle is Don Cook, the mid-upper gunner, who was born in London and looks like being the most difficult to trace, although he could be the only one still alive, aged about 90. Sadly, the rest of my dad’s comrades have died but by putting together as much of their story as possible I hope to keep alive the small role that they played in this important part of our history.

The rest of Bob’s crew: L to R Jim, Don, Bill, Frank, Denis and Ken

Apart from the opportunity to ‘meet’ the families of my dad’s crew there have been two highlights of this project for me. The first was the opportunity I had in August 2014 to follow in my dad’s footsteps and fly in a Lancaster on a thirty minute tour of the airfields of Lincolnshire. The other was the discovery of a photograph, taken on the 24th April, 1945, of a Lancaster from No. 75 (NZ) Squadron on the squadron’s final war operation to Bad Oldesloe in northern Germany. For the significance of this picture see Chapter 21

The posts are now arranged in a format that is easier to navigate so their dates no longer indicate the actual dates on which they were published. To access each chapter just click on its title in the list of contents. With the exception of the chapters about Jack and Tom Mallon and Alban Chipling all the posts are about Bob, his family, his crew and other members of No. 75 (NZ) Squadron.

 Recent developments:
Denis Eynstone (rear gunner): Chapter 11 now complete (March 2015), with details of all his post-war service, and Chapter 11a has some of Denis's art work from earlier in the war.

Bill Mallon's dad Alexander (Alec) emigrated from Australia to New Zealand in about 1910, leaving behind family and friends. One of these was his sister, May Elizabeth Mallon, whose granddaughter Pat still lives in Australia. Pat lost contact with Alec's family many years ago and has only a sketchy recollection of Alec and some of his family visiting her grandmother in Sydney before the war. On the 28th January 2015 I received an e-mail from Pat's son-in-law Michael who had been researching his wife's family history and came across this blog. Pat had known Alec's sons were pilots but had no idea what had happened to them - Michael said she read their chapters with pride and they are planning a reunion with the Mallons when they travel to New Zealand later this year.

F/O Henry James Murray: I have written at length about the sacrifices made by the people of New Zealand and by the Mallon family in particular. The 75(NZ) Squadron blog recently told the story of another family that suffered the heartbreak of losing more than one son. On the 26th May 1941 David Magnus Murray (27) was killed serving with the New Zealand Infantry in Crete. Just over a year later, on the 22nd July 1942 David's brother Gavin Allan Murray (32), a New Zealand Engineer, was killed at El Alamein. The third of the four Murray brothers, Henry James ('Jim') (26), became a pilot and was posted to No 75(NZ) Squadron in February 1944. In the early hours of the 19th April 1944 Jim died along with three of his crew when their aircraft was brought down over Denmark on a mine-laying operation at Kiel Bay. Their surviving brother, the youngest, was not then permitted to serve overseas, although both he and their sister did serve with the N.Z. armed forces.

  1. Introduction and recent developments
  2. The crew.
  3. Bob Jay - flight engineer. 3a. Bob's operational sorties. 3b. The war is over.
  4. Bill Mallon - pilot
  5. Bill Mallon - early years and his epic journey.
  6. Jim Haworth - navigator.
  7. Jim Haworth - more letters home.
  8. Jim Haworth - his account of a 'Baedeker trip'.
  9. Jim Haworth - navigating at night.
  10. Frank Symes - wireless operator
  11. Denis Eynstone - rear gunner 11a. Denis Eynstones 'War Plane Atlas'
  12. Ken Philp - bomb aimer
  13. Don Cook - mid-upper gunner 
  14. Eric Butler - replacement pilot
  15. Lancelot Waugh (replacement bomb aimer), Randal Springer & the Milsom crew.
  16. Jack Mallon.
  17. Jack Mallon and 'The Other Few'.
  18. Tom Mallon.
  19. Tom Mallon - "Say not 'goodnight'".
  20. Les Hofert.
  21. RF127 (AA-W) & NX611.
  22. Squadron Leader Alban Chipling D.F.C. (RAFVR 108178)
  23. No.75(NZ) Squadron - operations from March - April 1945.
  24. No.75(NZ) Squadron - losses from March - April 1945.

    An appeal
    Originally planned as my dad's story this blog has now become the story of his crew - or at least his pilot, navigator, wireless operator and rear gunner. To complete the story I need to find out more about the other two crew members:
    • F/O Kenneth Philp (RNZAF NZ429093), bomb aimer, aged 31 or 32 (born 1913 or 1914 in NZ)
    • Sgt Don Cook (RAFVR), mid-upper gunner, aged 20 (born 1924 or 1925) from London (?)
    Can anyone help? (my contact details are in 'View my complete profile' below)

    A huge thank you to all of the following:
    I am particularly grateful to Pete and Simon for their help during the writing of this blog and to all the other people who have helped, but most of all I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the families of my dad's crew.

    Thursday, 22 May 2014

    2. The crew

    The final step in Bob's training, on the 25th November 1944, involved a posting to 1669 Heavy Conversion Unit (H.C.U.) at RAF Langar on the Notts/Leicestershire border. Shortly after arriving he was 'adopted' by an already established crew of four Kiwis and two RAFVR gunners in a process known as 'crewing up' and commenced training as part of a seven-man crew on a Lancaster bomber. His pilot was Flight Sergeant Bill Mallon of the R.N.Z.A.F. and most of the crew will have been together at an Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.) where they had learned to fly two-engined bombers.

    F/S Bill Mallon

    Here are the crew's details:
    • Pilot/Captain: Flight Sergeant (later Pilot Officer) William (Bill) Mallon (R.N.Z.A.F.) - age 24 (see chapter 4 and chapter 5)
    • Navigator: Flight Sergeant James (Jim) Randel Haworth (R.N.Z.A.F.) - age 34 (see chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9)
    • Air bomber (bomb aimer): Flying Officer Kenneth Ralph Philp (R.N.Z.A.F.) (the only one at this time with a commission) - age 31/32
    • Wireless operator: Flight Sergeant Frank Symes (R.N.Z.A.F.) - age 20 (21 on 3rd March 1945)
    • Rear gunner: Sergeant Denis William Eynstone (RAFVR) (from Oxford) - age 19
    • Flight engineer: Sergeant Robert Jay (RAFVR) - age 25
    • Mid-upper gunner: Sergeant Don Cook (RAFVR) (from London) - age 20

    The other six members of Bob's crew, probably taken in December, 1944
    I believe that a copy of this photograph was given to each member of the crew. My dad had a copy but it wasn't until Bill's son Barrie sent me his dad's copy that I was able to identify the men. Bob was the photographer. From left to right:
    • Jim Haworth
    • Don Cook
    • Bill Mallon
    • Frank Symes
    • Denis Eynstone
    • Ken Philp
    The back of Bill's photograph

    On the crew's first three operations they had an eighth crew member:
    • Mid-under gunner: Pilot Officer Charles Frederick Green (RAFVR)
    After Bob's last 'war op' on the 24th April the crew had a new pilot:
    • Flight Lieutenant Eric Frank Butler (NZ425558), who had completed his first tour with 75(NZ) Squadron in 1941
    and a new bomb aimer after the end of May
    • Flying Officer Lancelot Osgood Waugh (NZ429021)**
    • Flying Officer O. Willets (NZ425964) replaced Kenneth Ralph as Bomb Aimer on one operation (on 14th April 1945)

    On April 4th Bob flew as stand-in Flight Engineer with the following crew, made up of a mixture of RAF, Australian and Rhodesian airmen:
    • F/Lt. I. Taylor (RAFVR) - Captain/Pilot
    • P/O D. Hope (AUS401954) - Navigator
    • W/O J. Tarran (AUS419395) - Bomb Aimer
    • W/O M. King (AUS430036) - Wireless Operator
    • F/S W. Grout (R109214) - Mid-upper Gunner
    • Sgt. E. Franklin (R.A.F.) - Rear Gunner
    It is not known why their usual Flight Engineer, Sgt. L Deeprose (RAFVR), was unavailable for this operation having flown on all previous and subsequent operations.

    The first names of the two British (RAFVR) members of the crew were a mystery for a while but these have now been established - Don Cook and Denis Eynstone. Although referred to as John or Johnny Eynstone by both Bill and Jim, the crew's rear gunner, whose initial appears almost exclusively as 'D' in the squadron's O.R.B., was actually Denis William Eynstone. The O.R.B.s were frequently incorrect (see below**) but in November 2014 Denis's daughter confirmed her father's name.

    **Here is the entry for the Mallon crew for the Bad Oldesloe operation on the 24th April, 1945.
    Note the incorrect initials for Sgts. Jay, Cooke and Eynstone.

    Wednesday, 30 April 2014

    3. Bob Jay - flight engineer

    Robert Alfred Jay, the youngest of three children, was born on the 3rd April, 1919, 6 months before his dad was demobbed after 4 years in the army and just 2 months before Alcock and Brown's historic trans-Atlantic flight.

    Bob at the door of 35, Tyrolean Square, Cobholm, Gt Yarmouth, home of his grandparents

    Left to right: Bob, sister Phyllis and brother Fred. Their Aunt Mabel is looking out of the window of 35, Tyrolean Square.

    Bob is holding the slate at St John's Infant School, Grimsby in about 1924/5

    Bob (middle, front row again) at St. John's School, Grimsby, in about 1929

    Bob's mum, Sarah, dad, Fred, and sister, Phyllis

    Trying out his bike, about 1931
    A bit older, and a bigger bike
    A short boxing career! Bob is on the right in the middle row.
    Just before going to war
    He left school shortly after his 14th birthday and on the 23rd April 1933 he started a seven year apprenticeship with Grimsby Motors.
    Bob's apprenticeship indenture - signed 6 months after commencement
    He was released a year early, nine days after his 20th birthday, on the 12th April 1939 as a fully qualified motor mechanic and joined the local fire brigade.

    Early release, 12th April, 1939

    3rd June 1939
    Along with all young men of 20 and 21 Bob had to register at the local Ministry of Labour office under the terms of the Military Training Act (1939). This act, passed an the 26th May 1939 in the face of imminent conflict in Europe, required all men born between 4th June 1918 and 3rd June 1919 to register, after which they were to be called up for 6 month's full-time military training, and then transferred to the Reserve. It is not hard to imagine how his parents would have felt having lived through the horrors of the 'Great War'.

    To ensure that the call up did not take men away from vital industries and services the Government introduced a "Schedule of Reserved Occupations" - men meeting the age criteria laid out in the schedule were "reserved in their present occupation". As a full-time fireman Bob met the criteria in the schedule and remained in civil life.

    1936 Nuremberg Rally

    Being politically aware Bob had understood the threat posed by fascism since before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and had followed closely the rise of Hitler in Germany during the 1930s. It was inevitable that he would join the armed forces and play his part at some stage. By 1942 German troops had advanced as far as Stalingrad, the mass murder of Jews was well under way and the Japanese were overwhelming large areas in the Far East. There was wide-spread feeling in Britain that the fight should be taken to the enemy in Europe, rather than appearing to await the outcome of the struggle between Germany and the Soviet Union, and Bob probably saw joining Bomber Command as the way to do this - and maybe he found the prospect of flying quite appealing too.

    30th September 1942
    As the war progressed there was an increasing need for men and women to join the armed forces and Bob volunteered to join the RAFVR (Volunteer Reserve). He was instructed to attend RAF Padgate, near Warrington where he was assessed and interviewed by No. 10 A.C.S.B. (Aviation Candidate Selection Board). His service record shows that at the end of the process he was "Not recommended for aircrew duties", a decision generally made for 'aptitude, educational or medical' reasons. He therefore remained in civil life.

    The reason for this recommendation does not appear on his record of service but the family story is that it was because of an elevated temperature, something he had always had, but we will never know for sure. Bob did talk about his lack of mathematical skill preventing him from becoming a pilot, something he was keen to do, and this must have been part of the reason he was so desperate for his children to do well at school. Although the majority of pilots (and navigators and bomb aimers) were drawn from ex-grammar school and university volunteers, I recently met the son of a pilot whose father had a similar background to Bob, i.e., left school at 14 and completed a trade apprenticeship. 

    28th July 1943
    Having reapplied to join the RAF Bob was instructed to attend RAF Doncaster where he was assessed and interviewed again, this time by No. 1 A.C.S.B. He was successful and was "recommended for training as a Flight Engineer". He was instructed to continue in civil life until further notice.

    2nd/3rd September 1943
    Bob was instructed to return to RAF Doncaster for two day's assessment, which included a medical which he passed with 'medical category grade 1'. He was enlisted 'D.P.E.' (for the 'Duration of Present Emergency') and 'mustered' as ACH/F.Eng (Aircrafthand/Flight Engineer) with the rank of Aircraftsman Second Class (AC2) grade A (the lowest grade).
    Having sworn his allegiance to King and Country he was issued with service number 1596172, placed on reserve and once again instructed to return to civil life until further notice.

    With fellow members of the Grimsby Fire Brigade, some time before Jan 1944
    All work and no play .......

    A few weeks later he would have received a letter from the Air Ministry to welcome him into the R.A.F.

    An earlier 'welcome to the R.A.F.' letter from the Air Ministry

    17th January 1944
    The call-up came in the New Year and he reported for five weeks basic training at No.3 A.C.R.C. (Aircrew Receiving Centre) at RAF Regent's Park in London. In the first few days he would have:
    • had a regulation hair cut
    • had a thorough dental check, at which time he lost most of his top teeth
    • received inoculations against diphtheria and typhoid - for some reason it seems he may have missed out on the smallpox inoculation normally given at this stage
    • received basic RAF kit and 'Service Dress' uniform, commonly referred to as "Best Blues", including the white cap insert, clearly visible later on his wedding pictures, that identified him as trainee aircrew.
    He would have been instructed to mark every item of kit with his service number and be expected to keep every item spotlessly clean in readiness for regular inspection.

    'Air diagram 1385' with instructions for inspections and the wearing of equipment.
    Over the next few weeks he faced a rigorous daily routine of fatigues, inspections, training drills, lectures and assessments. I can't imagine Bob taking to this very well! As an AC2 (grade A), Trade Group V (Aircrafthand/Flight Engineer) his pay was 3 shillings per day plus sixpence per day war pay - considerably less than his pay as a fireman but he did not, of course, have to pay for his upkeep. He would collect his pay at the fortnightly pay parade.
    The piece of kit that would have been the starkest reminder of the perilous nature of the task ahead was the pair of identity discs. Manufactured from fire-resistant material and with the airman's religion clearly punched between his service number and name, none of the recruits could have been in any doubt why they had to wear these once they were flying.

    One of Bob's identity discs
    Id. card, discs and service & pay books (see Chs. 26, 27 & 28: Appendices VI, VII & VIII)

    26th February 1944
    Having completed the first stage of his training Bob was then posted to No. 7 I.T.W. (Initial Training Wing) at RAF Newquay, in Cornwall. The purpose of this training was to 'lay a foundation of discipline, physical fitness and mental alertness' and provide a 'sound basic knowledge of the RAF', all explained in the pamphlet "You are going to be a Flight Engineer".

    See Ch. 21: Appendix I

    The I.T.W. syllabus included such things as:
    • aircraft recognition
    • air reconnaissance
    • armaments
    • engines
    • instruments
    • meteorology
    • navigation
    • principles of flight
    • signals
    One of Bob's exercise book, dated Feb - March 1944
    This exercise book contained only 38 pages but on the cover Bob has written "Signals, Aircraft Rec, Armaments, Mathematics" - there was clearly no time for much depth, but there are 9 pages of closely written notes on the Browning .303 Machine Gun. The mathematics is quite basic, though probably not for someone who had left school 11 years earlier aged 14, but there has obviously been some effort to make the problem-solving 'relevant'. For example:
    • percentages - '.....add 1.75% to airspeed for every 1000 feet of added altitude......'
    • moments - problems related to bomb weights and movement of crew fore and aft (I'm not sure how many navigators weighed 120 lb though!)
    • distance travelled, bomb load, fuel consumption, time, etc 
    See Ch. 29: Appendix IX for some pages from this exercise book

    Along with other trainees Bob would have been issued with his 'War Service uniform' ("Battledress") and, later in the course, with flying clothing, which was needed for training purposes. This included:
    • helmet, with oxygen and communication mask
    • goggles
    • flying suit
    • Mae West (life jacket)
    • parachute harness

    With fellow trainees. Bob is 3rd from left, middle row.

    Trainees were assessed throughout the course and examinations had to be passed prior to further posting. Bob successfully completed the course and his next posting was an attachment  to RAF Wrexham (from the 8th to the 15th April 1944) but it is not clear why, especially as RAF Wrexham was used for night fighter training.

    Service record: note the entries dated 8th & 15th April
    Bob married Vera Stephenson in St James Church, now Grimsby Minster, on the 19th April 1944, about a year after it had been badly damaged by a German bomb and 4 days after returning to Newquay from Wrexham.

    Marriage notice in Grimsby Evening Telegraph, 1944

    Bob and Vera were married at St James Church, Grimsby on 19th April 1944 - note the white cap insert

    St James Church after an air raid, April 1943

    May 1944 (exact date not known)
    Having completed his I.T.W. training and attachment to RAF Wrexham Bob was posted to No. 5 S.o.T.T. (School of Technical Training) at RAF Locking near Weston-super-Mare where he carried out the first phase of his 'trade' training as a Flight Engineer. This phase consisted of ten weeks of 'preliminary' training on airframes, engines, carburettors, electrics, instruments, hydraulics and propellers. This was followed by one week's leave.

    12th July 1944
    He was posted to No. 4 S.of T.T. at RAF St Athan in Glamorgan, S. Wales to complete the second and third phases of his flight engineer training. Phase 2 consisted of 7 weeks of 'intermediate' training in engines, airframes, hydraulics, propellers, instruments and electrics, followed by one week's leave. Having completed this phase of the course Bob was reclassified on the 1st of September as Aircraftsman Second Class (AC2) grade B. His pay would have increased from 3 shillings a day to 5 shillings a day (from 15p to 25p).

    Actual notes and diagrams from a trainee Flight Engineer (not Bob)
    The final phase consisted of 7 weeks 'advanced' training on a specific service type aircraft and included a week at the factory of an aircraft manufacturer ('Makers Course') but there is no record of this in Bob's service record. This was followed by a week of written and oral exams.

    13th November 1944
    Having successfully completed the course and passed his exams Bob attended a 'passing out' parade where he was presented with his Flight Engineer's brevet and promoted to the rank of Sergeant, the minimum rank for aircrew. His pay was increased to 12 shillings (60p) a day. If Bob had achieved a mark of 70% or more in the exams then he would have been considered for a commission - his mark was 66.1%.

    Sergeant Robert Jay, November 1944. Note the new F/E brevet and Sergeant's stripes
    Confirmation stamp in Bob's Flying Log Book

    25th November 1944
    The final step in Bob's training involved a posting to 1669 Heavy Conversion Unit (H.C.U.) at RAF Langar on the Notts/Leicestershire border where he would be trained as part of a seven-man crew on a Lancaster bomber (see Ch. 2: 'The crew')

    Normally the flight engineer was posted to the H.C.U. a few weeks before the established crew so that he could get some flight training in. Bob finally 'crewed up' some time in December but his Log Book shows that he didn't fly with his pilot Bill Mallon, and presumably the rest of his crew, until the end of January.

    His first three flights as a trainee flight engineer in a Lancaster bomber on the 17th, 18th and 21st of December 1944 were with pilot S/L Alban Chipling. Among the exercises they carried out were 3-engine landings, training which would prove invaluable on the 27th March 1945 when my dad's aircraft lost an engine to flak on a daylight raid on Hamm in Germany (see chapter 3a)

    Shortly afterwards S/L Chipling was transferred to RAF Hullavington, near Chippenham, where, after a distinguished flying career and only a couple of weeks before the end of the war in Europe, he lost his life in what appears to have been a tragic accident (see chapter 19).

    Bob had a total of just 59 hours flying time, 36 hours daylight and 23 hours night flying, between mid-December and the end of February and only 35 hours of this were 'solo' flights with his crew. Pilots obviously had more flying hours in training, though nowhere near the number given in peacetime,and it is not surprising that losses were so high early in an operational tour

    The training schedule involved:
    • Familiarisation with the aircraft
    • Circuits and landings
    • Bombing practice
    • Fighter affiliation
    • Cross country flying
    all entered in the log book as a series of numbered exercises. These were often carried out with experienced instructors (normally crew who had completed an operational tour) and then repeated 'solo'.
    Bob's role as Flight Engineer is summarised here:

     Whenever Bob climbed into the aircraft he would have with him his parachute and his emergency repair tool bag and before, during and after every flight he would have to complete a four page Flight Engineer Log.

    Two of the four pages of the Flight Engineer's Log

    The Lancaster Mk VII cockpit

    Having successfully completed their H.C.U. training the crew were considered ready for operational duty. Bob was officially declared qualified as a Flight Engineer for the Lancaster Marks I and III with effect from 1st March 1945 and was immediately assigned to No. 72 Base which, as well as Langar, included the airfields RAF Bottesford and RAF Saltby.
    Confirmation of qualification in Log Book

    6th March 1945
    Four of the seven in Bob's crew were from New Zealand so it was no surprise a few days later when they were posted to RAF Mepal in Cambridgeshire, the home of No. 75(NZ) Squadron,  part of No. 3 Group, Bomber Command. This was an RAF squadron formed from the 'New Zealand Squadron' in 1940 when the N.Z. government made their airmen and aircraft available to the RAF to help with the war effort. It was one of the larger, 3-flight squadrons which, between 1943 and 1944 had about 35 crews. By 1945 it seems that the squadron was practically 'double-manned', with two crews per aircraft, which would explain why Bob and his crew, who were assigned to 'B' Flight, flew in several different aircraft during their tour.

    'B' Flight 75(NZ) Squadron, March 1945

    75(NZ) Squadron, March 1945

    R.A.F. Mepal, photographed by Dick Broadbent D.F.C. in 1943. Mepal is to the north and Sutton to the south.

    Pilot Bill Mallon flew a '2nd dickie' operation the following evening, the 7th March, on a bombing raid on the German town of Dessau that virtually destroyed the town, just six weeks before it was taken by American troops. All new pilots flew their first operation with an experienced pilot and his crew, generally referred to as flying '2nd dickie', so that when they took their own crew on their first operation the pilot at least would have some idea of what to expect. It was not unknown for pilots to be killed on this '2nd dickey' operation but Bill made it back safely with Flight Lieutenant Sid (Buzz) Spilman and his crew at 0210 hours, despite what the O.R.B. described as a "short inconclusive encounter" with a night fighter and the loss of 18 Lancasters from other squadrons from Nos. 1, 3, 6 and 8 Group. The following day he was to take Bob and the rest of the crew on their first operation, a daylight raid on Datteln in the heavily defended industrial Ruhr Valley.

      Tuesday, 29 April 2014

      3a. Bob's operational sorties

      In his log book Bob entered all his 'war ops' in red ink. I had assumed that this was the norm until I had the opportunity to view other log books - some used no red ink at all and some used red ink for night time ops and black ink for those carried out in daylight.

      Bob's Flying Log Book for March 1945
      Here are the details of Bob's operational sorties and the aircraft in which he flew:
      • Friday, March 9th, in AA-L (HK562) - daylight raid on the Emscher-Lippe benzol plant near Datteln, part of the 'Oil Campaign' to deprive the Germans of fuel. 159 Lancasters took part, 19 from 75 Squadron, and one was lost (not from 75 Sq). In the air 5 hours 26 minutes.
      • Saturday, March 10th, in AA-L (HK562) - daylight raid on the Scholven-Buer synthetic oil plant in Gelsenkirchen, also in the Ruhr Valley and part of the 'Oil Campaign'. 155 Lancasters took part, 21 from 75 Squadron, and none was lost. In the air 4 hours 57 minutes.
      10th March 1945
      Immediately after the Gelsenkirchen operation Bob and the rest of Bill Mallon's crew were posted to RAF Feltwell, 20 miles to the east in Norfolk. Here they undertook training in the use of GH (or Gee-H), a radio navigation system that had been developed in late 1943 and was used to direct aircraft to the target.  They returned to Mepal on the 17th March and carried out one more GH exercise before returning to operations.While they were away, on the 14th March, Flight Lieutenant Eric Parsons and his crew were lost when AA-E was shot down attacking the Heinrich Hutte oil plants in Hattingen.
      On the 21st March, three days before their next operation, 75 Squadron lost three more crews in a raid on the railway and viaduct at Munster when AA-T, AA-R and JN-P were brought down. The pilots were F/L Jack Plummer (NZ), P/O Alfred Brown (NZ) and F/O Derek Barr (RAFVR) respectively.
      • Tuesday, March 27th, in AA-L (HK562) - daylight raid on the Sachsen benzol plant near Hamm in the Ruhr Valley. 150 Lancasters took part, 21 from 75 Squadron. None was lost but Bob's was hit by flak and he had to feather the port inner engine and return on just three engines. In the air 5 hours 40 minutes.

      HK562, in which Bob flew his first 3 operations. AA was one identifier used by 75(NZ) Squadron, the other was JN.

      • Thursday, March 29th, in AA-X (RF157) - daylight raid on the Hermann Goering benzol plant at Hallendorf in Salzgitter, in central Germany. 130 Lancasters took part, 21 from 75 Squadron, and there were no losses. In the air 6 hours 46 minutes.
      • Wednesday, April 4th, in AA-M (ME751)  - the day after Bob's 26th birthday he took part in a night raid on the Leuna synthetic oil plant and chemical works near Merseburg in eastern Germany, known as the 'most heavily defended industrial target in Europe'. Bob was a 'stand-in' flight engineer with a crew captained by Flight Lieutenant I. Taylor whose crew included 3 Australians and a Rhodesian. 327 Lancasters took part, 21 from 75 Squadron, and two were lost (not from 75 Sq). The pilot and bomb aimer of JN-D were burned when their de-icing tank was hit by flak and the flight engineer, Sgt. Douglas Williamson, became disorientated and baled out through the mid-under turret believing the aircraft was going down. The fire was extinguished and the aircraft returned to base. The flight engineer also survived to tell the tale, having successfully deployed his parachute. Flying time was 8 hours 23 minutes.
      • Monday, April 9th - in AA-Y (HK561) - night raid on the naval port of Kiel. The heavy cruiser 'Admiral Scheer' was sunk/capsized and the 'Admiral Hipper' and 'Emden' damaged beyond repair. The Deutsche Werke U-boat yard was also badly damaged. 591 Lancasters took part, 19 from 75 Squadron, and three were lost (not from 75 Sq). Flying time was 5 hours 43 minutes. Bomb aimer Ken Philp twisted his ankle and had to spend a short time in the station hospital.
      The 'Admiral Scheer', capsized in Kiel harbour after the raid of April 9th, 1945

      • Saturday, April 14th, in AA-Y (HK561) - night raid on the marshalling yards and military barracks at Potsdam, 15 miles S.W. of Berlin. Because of the injury to Ken Philp there was a 'stand-in' bomb aimer on Bob's aircraft, F/S O. Willetts (NZ425964). He had been posted to Mepal from No. 291 Squadron a couple of weeks earlier on the 28th March. This was the first time since March 1944 that Bomber Command 4-engined aircraft had entered the Berlin 'defence zone' and was the last raid by a major Bomber Command force on a German city, just 3 weeks before V.E. Day. 500 Lancasters took part, 21 from 75 Squadron, and one was lost (not from 75 Sq). Flying time was 8 hours 29 minutes.
      The flight engineer on AA-T, Sgt Allan Sliman, was fatally wounded by a cannon shell when his aircraft was attacked by two JU88s at 15000 feet on the return flight. Allan Sliman was 39 and had been a professional footballer with Bristol City, Chesterfield and Chelmsford City before commencing training a few weeks after Bob in 1944. He arrived at Mepal on the 1st April 1945 and suffered his fatal injuries on his crew's first and only operational sortie.

      O.R.B. entry reporting the death of the flight engineer on AA-T (PB132)
      • Friday, April 20th, in NF981 (his log book has AA-D crossed out and replaced with JN-D)  - daylight raid on the oil storage depot and docks in Regensburg, in Bavaria, S.E. Germany. 100 Lancasters took part, 20 from 75 Squadron, and one was lost (not from 75 Sq). Flying time was 7 hours 21 minutes.
      The 20 aircraft of 75(NZ) Squadron en route for Regensburg, 20th April 1945 (© Mary Morris, daughter of F/O Maurice Thorogood, navigator with F/L Laurence McKenna's crew). Which is Bob's aircraft?
      On Sunday, April 22nd the squadron lost yet another Flight Engineer when AA-T (NF935), piloted by S/L J. Parker, was struck by flak at 17500 feet over Wilhemshaven returning from a daylight raid on Bremen. The aircraft returned safely but Sgt. Roy Clark of the RAFVR lost his life.
      • Tuesday, April 24th, in AA-W (RF127) - Bob's final 'war op', and 75 Squadron's final operational mission, was a daylight raid on the marshalling yards at Bad Oldesloe, between Hamburg and Kiel in northern Germany. 110 Lancasters took part, 21 from 75 Squadron, and none was lost. Flying time was 5 hours 34 minutes. Although Bob did not mention it this final 'op' nearly ended badly. In one of Jim's letters home he described the landing: "He left his last trip in a blaze of glory by nearly doing a ground hop on landing. A tyre burst just as we touched down & he could not correct it enough to keep it straight so it turned off the runway & finished up facing the way we had come. Quite exciting – the fire section jeep was there by the time we had stopped – or nearly so – followed by the fire wagon and two meat wagons. Horrible disappointment to all concerned there wasn’t even a bleeding nose."
      • Tuesday, May 1st, in AA-W (RF127) - a week before V. E. Day Bob's crew was one of 21 from 75 Squadron that dropped food supplies on Delft, near The Hague in the Netherlands - probably on Ypenburg airfield. 'Operation Manna' and the U.S. 'Operation Chowhound' were organised to relieve the famine (Hongerwinter) that had developed over the winter of 1944-45 in the German occupied areas of the Netherlands. A ceasefire had been arranged with the local German commander to facilitate this and more than 3000 Lancasters from Groups 1, 3 and 8 took part in late April and early May. Bob described grateful Dutch people waving below the aircraft as they made their low-level drops (120-150 metres), an experience recorded by several aircrews in 75 Squadron's Operation Record Book (O.R.B.). (see below)

        One page of 75 Squadron's O.R.B. for 1st May 1945
      The details of Bob's training and operations were gleaned from his Record of Service (see Appendix IV), his Flying Log Book (see Appendix V), the squadron's Operations Record Books (see Appendix II) and several websites containing a wealth of information (see Appendix IX)
      Bob's 'war ops' March & April 1945 and 'Operation Manna' May 1945

      Tuesday, 8th May 1945 - V.E. Day, the end of the war in Europe! It was to be almost a year before Bob would be able to return to his life in Grimsby. 
      25th April - 6th July 1945 - Bob continued with cross country and army co-operation exercises, circuits and landings, fighter affiliation and bombing and air-sea firing practice in and around Britain. He also took part in a 'Bullseye' exercise to southern France, an exercise designed to simulate a night time operation, and three so-called 'Baedeker' operations over the Ruhr Valley and northern Germany. These operations were simply to 'view the effects of the bombing offensive' and on at least one occasion a passenger was carried. He was involved in one 'Post-mortem' operation which involved a flight over Germany to test captured radar equipment. These peace-time flights over Germany were in AA-W (RF127), AA-P (NF935) and AA-L (HK576) and after his last flight on 6th July his flying days were over. He had completed approximately 175 hours of flying, 84 of them operational.

      75 Squadron Pilots and Flight Engineers, May 1945. Bob is 2nd from right, back row. This picture is on display at Witchford.

      Bob completed nine operational sorties and survived the war. There is no doubt the risks to aircrew at this late stage were much reduced, with the Luftwaffe starved of fuel and supplies severely disrupted. However, the dangers from flak (see Appendix III), fighters and accidents were ever-present and it has been estimated that the risk of being shot down during your first five operations was about ten times greater than in later operations. During the two months that Bob was operational 4 aircraft from 75(NZ) Squadron were shot down, 3 flight engineers were lost (2 killed and one captured) and a total of over 500 aircraft from Bomber Command as a whole were lost. Over the whole conflict 75(NZ) Squadron suffered amongst the highest losses with 193 aircraft and well over 1000 aircrew killed.

      A Lancaster crew returns from an operation over Germany

      Had Bob been successful in his attempts to enlist in September 1942 he would have started his operational duty around May 1944. The worst year for Bomber Command casualties was 1944 and, according to the Rob Davis website, the two months with the highest number of aircraft lost were June and July 1944. Bob would have been expected to complete a tour of 30 operational sorties yet the chance of surviving such a tour at this stage of the war has been estimated as worse than 1 in 3. We should be grateful to whoever decided not to recommend him for Air Crew duties first time round.
      Although Bob had been keen to take the fight to Nazi Germany he had serious reservations after the war about the 'Area Bombing' strategy introduced early in 1942. The purpose of Area Bombing had been laid out in a British Air Staff paper dated 23rd September 1941

      "The ultimate aim of an attack on a town area is to break the morale of the population which occupies it. To ensure this, we must achieve two things: first, we must make the town physically uninhabitable and, secondly, we must make the people conscious of constant personal danger. The immediate aim, is therefore, twofold, namely, to produce (i) destruction and (ii) fear of death."

      I suspect Bob would have taken some consolation from the fact that all of his operational sorties involved military targets, although he was well aware of the devastating effect of any bombing on the civilian population.