Tuesday, 29 April 2014

3a. Bob's operational sorties

Pilot Bill Mallon flew a '2nd dickie'** operation the day after the crew arrived at Mepal, with F/L Sid (Buzz) Spilman and his crew. This was 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.

**Bill made it back safely 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.

Here are the details of Bob's operational sorties, all bar one with the Mallon crew, 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 F/L I. Taylor (RAFVR) whose crew included 3 Australians, a Canadian and a gunner from the RAFVR. 327 Lancasters took part, 21 from 75 Squadron, and two were lost, none from 75 Squadron, although JN-D were extremely lucky to make it after being hit by flak and losing their flight engineer, Sgt. Doug Williamson (see chapter 19). 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 bomber crew after an operation over Germany. The experience is etched on the men's faces.

    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.

    Log book entries:
    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

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