Thursday, 22 August 2013

22. No. 75 (NZ) Squadron - operations from March - April 1945

When Bob and the rest of the crew joined 75(NZ) Squadron at Mepal on the 6th March 1945 the end of the war in Europe was just nine weeks away.
  • On the Eastern Front the German army was launching its last major offensive, Operation
    German forces prepare for Operation 'Spring Awakening'
    Frühlingserwachen
    ("Spring Awakening"), in the Lake Balaton area of Hungary as it desperately attempted to hold on to some of its last oil reserves. It lasted just 10 days.
     In Poland the Germans in the fortress town of Grudiaz surrendered after a lengthy siege.
  • On the Western Front American and Canadian troops had reached the Rhine and the U.S. 1st Army was fighting in Cologne
  • The U.S. 5th Army was approaching Bologna in northern Italy
    Although the end of the war was in sight this was to be no easy run-in for Bob and the rest of the crew. Bomber Command pursued its campaign relentlessly until the very end, supporting the Allied advance and hitting fuel and transport targets until the 2nd of May. 75 (NZ) Squadron continued to play its part and during March and April was involved in more than 30 operations over enemy territory. This is the story of the Squadron's last two months of the war. The descriptions (in yellow text) of the opposition encountered come from the squadron's Operations Record Book (O.R.B.) and the dates of Bob's operations are in blue text (there are more details of these operations in Chapter 3a).
    •  6th March - the squadron provided 16 Lancasters out of a force of 119 from No. 3 Group Bomber Command that bombed the Wintershall oil refinery in Salzbergen, the oldest oil refinery in the world. "Slight H/F (i.e. heavy flak - from large caliber guns) was the only opposition" but one aircraft was lost.
    • 6th/7th March - between the 16th and 19th February, 1945 the German town of Wesel was almost entirely destroyed by the use of impact and air-burst weapons dropped mainly by aircraft from No. 3 Group. On the 6th/7th March 8 (5+3) aircraft of 75 (NZ) Squadron in a force of 87 Lancasters (3 Group) and 51 Mosquitoes (8 Group) attacked Wesel again in two waves, one in the early hours and the other during daylight. "Flak opposition was slight. No fighters
      Wesel, March 1945
      were seen" and there were no losses. Three days later the Germans destroyed the 1,950m long railway bridge, the last Rhine bridge remaining in German hands. The Allies took the town 2 weeks later but an estimated 97% of its structures had been destroyed by bombing and shelling.
    • 7th/8th March - a single Lancaster took part in mine laying ('Gardening') in Kiel Bay. 
    • 7th/8th March -13 aircraft were part of a force of 526 Lancasters and 5 Mosquitoes (from 1, 3, 6 and 8 Groups) that bombed targets in Dessau in eastern Germany. Dessau was home of the Junkers Aircraft and Engine Works (Junkers Flugzeug- und Motorenwerke AG (JFM) and the first two Ju88-G7 high performance night fighters, the so-called 'Mosquito destroyers', were themselves destroyed before becoming operational. The city was virtually destroyed and over 1000 civilians lost their lives. This was Bill Mallon's first operation, flying '2nd dickey' with F/L Sid 'Buzz' Spilman's crew.  "Flak practically nil in target area. Some fighters were seen" and "F/L Spilman had a short, inconclusive encounter". They were extremely lucky - 18 Lancasters were lost. Bill's thoughts on this, his first taste of action, appeared in an earlier post.
    • 9th March - Bob's first operation. 21 aircraft from 75 (NZ) Squadron took part alongside 138 other Lancasters from No. 3 Group in a raid on the Emscher Lippe benzol plant near Datteln. The O.R.B. states that "no opposition was encountered" yet one aircraft was lost.
    • 10th March - Bob's second operation, in which 155 Lancasters (21 from 75 (NZ) Sq) attacked Gelsenkirchen, about 20 km south west of Datteln. The target was the oil refinery at Scholven-Buer. "There was slight H/F" and there were no losses.
    • 11th March -75 Squadron took part in a raid
      A Lancaster blows up over Essen, 11th March, 1945
      on Essen involving the largest number of aircraft so far to a single target - 750 Lancasters (21 from 75 (NZ) Squadron), 293 Halifaxes and 36 Mosquitoes. "Very slight H/F was the only opposition" and 3 Lancasters were lost. The terrible picture on the right, from the Australian War Memorial website, shows a Lancaster blowing up with all its bombs on board over Essen on the 11th March, 1945.
    • 12th March -another record was set in the number of aircraft on a single raid, this time on Dortmund - this record would not be broken. 1,108 aircraft in total (748 Lancasters (21 from 75 (NZ) Sq), 292 Halifaxes and 68 Mosquitoes) dropped a record 4,851 tons of bombs, mainly on the centre and south of the city. "Flak was slight to moderate" and 3 Lancasters were lost.
    • 14th March - 169 Lancasters from No. 3 Group bombed oil plants in Hattingen and Datteln. The 20 from 75 (NZ) Squadron were among those that targeted the Heinrich Hutte plants in Hattingen. "Very accurate moderate H/F was met in the run-in and over the target" and AA-E (PB471), piloted by F/L Eric Parsons, "was seen to be hit causing it to spiral into cloud".
    • 17th March -167 Lancasters from No. 3 Group (19 from 75 (NZ) Sq) carried out a raid on the benzol plants at both Dortmund and Hüls. 75 Squadron's target was the Auguste Viktoria benzol plant at Marl-Hüls and there was "slight H/F" and no losses.

    • 18th March -100 Lancasters from No. 3 Group carried out attacks on Hattingen and Bochum in the Ruhr. The 17 aircraft from 75 (NZ) Squadron targeted the coking and benzol plants at Bruchstrasse in Langendreer, the most populous district of Bochum. Again, "slight H/F was encountered" and no aircraft were lost.
    • 20th March -99 Lancasters from No. 3 Group (21 from 75 (NZ) Sq) bombed the railway yards at Hamm. "Some H/F was encountered" but no aircraft were lost.
    • 21st March -the raid on the railway yards and nearby viaduct at Münster was chaotic and tragic. There was "considerable flak" and 3 of 75 (NZ) Squadron's aircraft were shot down whilst trying to avoid bombs from other No. 3 Group aircraft above. The aircraft lost were JN-P (RA564) piloted by F/O Derek Barr (RAF), AA-R (LM733) piloted by F/O Alf Brown (RNZAF) and AA-T piloted by F/L Jack Plummer D.F.C. (RNZAF). Further details will appear in a later post.

    • 23rd March - Wesel was once again the target,
      Soldiers of 89th Infantry Division crossing the Rhine
      this time of 80 Lancasters (8 from 75 (NZ) Sq) and 3,000 Allied guns in preparation for 'Operation Plunder', the crossing of the Rhine by the British 2nd Army and the U.S. Ninth Army between the 24th and 27th March.       
      British Commandos in the outskirts of Wesel






      "Very slight H/F was experienced" and there were no losses.
    • 25th/26th March -One solitary Lancaster carried out a "Nickel raid" on Scheneningen in The Hague in which thousands of propaganda leaflets were dropped. The operation was "uneventful".

    • 27th March - Bob's third operation nearly ended in disaster when, on the run into the target, the port inner engine was hit by flak and they had to complete the operation with three engines. The targets were two benzol plants at Hamm in the north eastern Ruhr and 150 Lancasters took part, 21 from 75 (NZ) Squadron. "Very slight H/F was the only opposition encountered" and there were no losses.
    • 29th March - Bob's next operation, involving 130 Lancasters, 21 again from 75 (NZ) Squadron, was on the Hermann Goering benzol plant at Salzgitter in Lower Saxony. "Flak was moderate" but there were no losses.
    • 4th/5th April - the Leuna synthetic oil plant in Merseburg, about 20 km west of Leipzig, was the target of 327 Lancasters and 14 Mosquitoes of Nos. 3, 6 and 8 Groups. Flak was "moderate to light" and 2 Lancasters were lost. One of the 21 aircraft from 75 (NZ) Squadron lost its Flight Engineer Sgt. Doug Williamson but, as described earlier, that story had a happy ending (see chapter 19).
    • 9th/10th April - another huge operation, this time involving 591 Lancaster from Nos. 1, 3 and 8 Groups (19 from 75 (NZ) Sq) and hitting targets in Kiel Harbour. (Further details in 'The War Years') "Flak was moderate" , "there was no fighter opposition" and 3 aircraft were lost.

    Bomb Leader F/O Jack Wall's photograph of Kiel from 19,000 ft.
    • On the same night another 7 Lancasters from 75 (NZ) Squadron were sent on a mine laying operation to Kiel. F/O E. Ohlson and his crew in AA-U (PB427) returned early after developing a fuel leak.

    • 13th/14th April - another mine laying operation to Kiel, this time involving just 5 75 (NZ) Sq aircraft. "An uneventful trip". On On the same night 377 Lancasters (21 from 75 (NZ) Sq) and 105 Halifaxes from Nos.3, 6 and 8 Groups attacked Kiel again. "Flak was slight" but 2 Lancasters were lost.

    • 14th/15th April - Nos. 1, 3 and 8 Groups attacked Potsdam,
      The Ju88
      just outside Berlin, with 500 Lancasters (25 from 75 (NZ) Sq) and 12 Mosquitoes. "Flak was slight and bursting well below the stream".
      One Lancaster was lost, shot down by a night fighter, and "AA-T (F/L Baynes) was attacked by two enemy aircraft, believed JU88s, 20 miles S.W. of Potsdam on the homeward journey. The Flight Engineer (Sgt. A. Sliman) was killed by canon shell".
    • 18th April - 969 aircraft of all Groups (617 Lancasters (25 from 75 (NZ) Sq), 332 Halifaxes and 20 Mosquitoes) carried out a devastating attack on the tiny island of Heligoland. Several theories have been put forward to explain why such a massive blow was needed against such a small and relatively unimportant target, though there were submarine pens, anti-aircraft batteries and a small airstrip on the island. Three Halifaxes were lost. The following day another 36 aircraft from 9 and 617 Squadrons attacked coastal batteries on the island with 12,000 lb 'Tallboy' bombs.
    Heligoland, before and after the 18th April 1945 attack

    • 20th April - Bob's penultimate operation involved 100 Lancasters from No. 3 Group, including 20 from 75 (NZ) Squadron, bombing the fuel storage depot at Regensburg and also causing considerable damage to the docks and railway system. AA-U (PB427) had problems again, this time with both port outer and starboard inner engines and had to return early - F/O Ohlson must have started to think his aircraft was jinxed.**  Flak was "slight but accurate" and 1 aircraft was lost.
    **more about the Ohlson crew at http://75nzsquadron.wordpress.com/2013/07/
      • 22nd April - the squadron's penultimate operation was as part of another huge attack by Nos. 1, 3, 6 and 8 groups on the south eastern suburbs of the city of Bremen in north west Germany in preparation for the advance of the British XXX Corps. 652 Lancasters (21 from 75 (NZ) Sq), 100 Halifaxes and 16 Mosquitoes took part but the raid was hampered by cloud and by smoke and dust from bombing and the Master Bomber called off the raid before Nos. 1 and 4 Group could attack. The city was taken just 4 days later on the 26th April. "Flak from Wilhelmshaven and Bremen was at intervals moderate and very accurate" but no fighters were seen. 2 Lancasters were lost and S/L J. Parker's aircraft, AA-P (NF935), was hit by flak and his Flight Engineer Sgt. R. Clarke was killed.

      • 24th April - Bob's and the Squadron's final operation saw 21 Lancasters from 75 (NZ) Squadron detailed to attack railway targets at Bad Oldesloe in northern Germany. Two aircraft failed to complete the operation, JN-N (pilot F/L Peryer) failed to take off owing to engine trouble and AA-Y (HK561)  (pilot F/S Reay) had to return early after a fire in the starboard outer engine. "No opposition was encountered but slight flak was seen over the Dutch coast".

        • 29th April to 8th May - the Squadron was involved in "Operation Manna", i.e., dropping supplies on The Netherlands in the areas around Delft, Rotterdam and The Hague. Bob completed one such operation with the crew's new pilot, F/L Eric Butler (RNZAF) on the 1st May. 

        A message of thanks from the people of The Netherlands, May 1945

          • 9th to 23rd May - the Squadron was involved in repatriating approximately 2,000 prisoners of war. Aircraft would fly to Juvincourt in north eastern France and each one would carry 24 released prisoners, many of them Australians and New Zealanders. Bob was not involved in any of these flights.

          • May - June - a number of Belgian refugees were repatriated during May, including a 2 months old baby, and several so-called "postmortem" operations were carried out to "check German radar equipment".

          • 23rd May to 19th July - crews were tasked with taking official photographers, ground crew and 'top brass' to "view the effects of the bombing offensive". These trips were widely known as "Baedeker" operations, named in memory of the 1942 German bombing raids on British tourist destinations featured in the Baedeker Travel Guides, and that is how Bob referred to them in his log book.
           

            Two aerial photographs showing the devastation wreaked (or "the effects of the bombing offensive") on Cologne 1945
            .
            • 21st July - the Squadron moved to Spilsby.
          The fact that 75 (NZ) was a three-flight squadron and was practically double-crewed during the later months of the war meant that Bob completed just 9 operational sorties during his two months war-time service. However, despite the enemy's dwindling resources, danger remained constant. During March and April 1945 40 aircraft were lost just on the raids in which 75 (NZ) Squadron was involved and the Squadron itself lost 4 aircraft and 3 Flight Engineers (2 killed and 1 captured). During March 1945 Bomber Command's losses were the 4th highest of all the months of the war.

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