|In the jumper.|
At last it was time to take the short mini-bus journey to VR-A (Vera) waiting on the tarmac. We boarded and buckled up in the seats bolted in place just behind the main spar. The first time I had been in a Lancaster, heard the roar of the engines and felt it start to move, at East Kirkby two years earlier, it had been an emotional experience, but this was much more than that. As we taxied towards the runway my nervous excitement could not hide an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Why? Because I would be unable to share this experience with my dad, because he had missed so much since he died almost exactly forty years earlier, and also because of the thousands of young men who had lost their lives after boarding an aircraft just like this.
We taxied to the end of the runway and turned.
Compared to taking off in a modern passenger jet this was as sedate as a drive in an old and very noisy bus, a feeling that added to the disbelief that we were really airborne. Shortly after take off we banked to the right and we were able to unfasten our seat belts. We soon reached our cruising speed of about 150 knots (172 mph) and continued at an altitude of between 500 and 1000 feet. The views were stunning, something I doubt Bob would have had much time to appreciate over the fields of Cambridgeshire as he filled in the Flight Engineer's log, but as I didn't have a job to do and had lived most of my life in this part of Lincolnshire I was able to identify most of the landmarks and a couple of the Bomber Command bases the pilot included in his thirty minute flight. Interestingly, our Flight Engineer Craig Brookhouse also spent a lot of time monitoring gauges and filling in a log.
- RAF Kirmington, home to No.150 Squadron from October to December 1942, No. 166 Squadron from January 1943 and No. 153 Squadron from October 1944. In total 178 bombers never returned, 51 Wellingtons and 127 Lancasters
- RAF North Killingholme, home from January 1944 to No. 550 Squadron which lost 62 of its Lancasters.
|Ulceby in the foreground, the River Humber beyond and the remains of RAF North Killingholme coming up|
- RAF Grimsby (formerly Waltham aerodrome), home to No. 142 and then No. 100 Squadron which lost 48 Wellingtons and 116 Lancasters respectively.
|Flying directly over what is left of RAF Grimsby. The 'Jug and Bottle' pub in Holton-le-Clay, visible at the bottom of the picture, was built on the site of one of the airfield's dispersal points|
At 6.45 p.m on Saturday, the 14th of April 1945 Bob and the rest of the Mallon crew took off from Mepal on their longest operation, a routine operation to bomb targets at Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin - they didn't touch down until 3.14 a.m., eight and a half hours later. Memorable as my flight was the thought of an eight and a half hour round trip to Berlin, not knowing if you would return, was almost impossible to comprehend. My dad always denied that what he did was courageous and he was not a big fan of westerns but I'm sure he would have appreciated John Wayne's description of courage - "Courage is being scared to death ...... and saddling up anyway."
|With pilot Dave Rohrer (left) and co-pilot Leon Evans after the flight|
Other airfields close to our flight path were:
- Kelstern - No. 625 Squadron, lost 70 Lancasters
- Strubby - No. 619 Squadron, lost 65 Lancasters
- Spilsby - Nos. 207 and 44 Squadrons, total losses - 85 Lancasters. Bob's squadron (No. 75(NZ) Squadron) transferred there in July 1945, with 44 Squadron moving to Mepal
- East Kirkby - Nos. 57 and 630 Squadrons, total losses - 121 Lancasters in operations and another 29 in crashes and accidents. It is now home to Lancaster NX611 (see Chapter 18)
- Coningsby - Nos. 106, 97, 619, 61 and 83 Squadrons and, for 6 months from August 1943, No. 617 Squadron, the 'Dambusters'. (Also VeRA's home during August/September 2014). Total losses - 101 Lancasters, 57 Hampdens and 17 Manchesters
- Woodhall Spa - Nos. 106, 97 and 619 Squadrons. No. 617 Squadron (the 'Dambusters') carried out its famous 'Tirpitz' raid after being transferred to Woodhall Spa in January 1945, and Guy Gibson, its former leader, was killed flying a Mosquito on an operation with No. 627 Squadron, based here from April 1944 to September 1945. Total losses - 74 Lancasters and 17 Mosquitoes.
- Bardney - No. 9 Squadron, lost 85 Lancasters
- Fiskerton - Nos. 49, 576 and 550 Squadrons, total losses - 117 Lancasters
- Dunholme Lodge - Nos. 44 and 619 Squadrons, total losses - 120 Lancasters
- Wickenby - Nos. 12 and 626 Squadrons, total losses - 190 Lancasters and 6 Wellingtons
- Faldingworth - No. 300 Squadron (mainly Poles), lost 37 Lancasters
- Hemswell - Nos. 61 and 144 Squadrons and later Nos. 150 and 170 Lancaster Squadrons - total losses - 83 Hampdens, 62 Wellingtons, 1 Manchester and 22 Lancasters
- Blyton - No. 199 Squadron, lost 1 Wellington and 50 Lancasters
- Bottesford - Nos. 207 and 467 (mainly Australian-manned) Squadrons and in 1944 for the D-Day landings the USAAF. Total RAF losses - 3 Manchesters and 55 Lancasters
- Elsham Wolds -Nos. 103, 576 and 100 Squadrons, total losses 208 Lancasters, 28 Wellingtons and 12 Halifaxes. Elsham is the setting for much of Don Charlwood's excellent book 'No Moon Tonight'.