Friday, 30 April 2010

Wee Worries .......

When I'm falling asleep..........

Hullo ma wee blog,

Thoughts in the night.......

If a dog broke a mirror, would it get 49 years bad luck?


Jings!

see you later....

Through These Portals Go The Bravest Of Men.....


Plaque to 153 Sqdn. Scampton Church.

Hullo ma wee blog,

I'm not sure where this is going to go so you'll have to bear with me on this one. It may be a bit of a ramble. The title will have to come later.

When I started blogging about 153 Squadron I did so, not quite on the spur of the moment, but also not in a properly planned and organised way either. As I said in the first of those posts - and I can't believe there have been forty three since January - I was inspired by the way a fellow blogger, in the run up to remembrance day, had followed a relative across months of WWI experience using family letters. It was personal, but it also drew you into the timeline. I felt I too was almost waiting for the next letter, and found myself worrying, as if personally connected, looking forward to a bit of good news which tragically didn't come. I thought that if I could find enough information that perhaps something similar might evolve here. I didn't know much of Dad's RAF history so I knew it wouldn't be quite so immediate.

Now, as I sit in the bolt hole of my 'library', I can reflect that for 153 Squadron at least, the story is nearly complete. With 'Operation Manna' underway there were 10 days to the end of war in Europe. Unlike some other squadrons, 153 sqn didn't undertake any more offensive bombing raids. They had given their last and there would be no more losses although they didn't know that. Their final missions would be the safest - and happiest - of their war.  So, the Berchtesgarden op was the squadron's final bombing raid.

Probably there is one more post to do to tie up some loose ends and carry the story forward to a proper end, but no more.

I can look around the room at the photo of Dad and his crew posed under their Lancaster and feel a deeper appreciation of what aircrew went through. I understand much better now some of the stresses;  The fear of ops, suffering from extreme cold for hour after hour, flying in close proximity in the dark, bombing in a congested night-time sky, corkscrew maneuvers to escape night fighters or flying into flak and searchlights and flying over ice cold seas are all things I have come to consider from a new perspective. So too on what drove one man to hang out of a burning aircraft in a desperate attempt to reach and put out an engine on fire while being held by the legs by fellow crewmen, or others to evade capture when lost in enemy territory. Men from every background and all walks of life, who faced terrors and watched friends die in front of them in terrible ways yet continued on, day after day. Ordinary men - Extraordinary circumstances.

Dad 3rd row back 5th from right


I can - and have - spent time looking at the formal photo of the Squadron aircrew taken in June 1945 and although I can't put names to faces, names echo familiarly back at me from the information I have found. Powley, Gee, Tobin and Freeborn, Freddie Fish, 'Perspex' Purvis and Whizz Wheeler among others. Some will be there, I know others are not. I can see Dad though, young, slim {or is it gaunt ?} standing near the propeller of the port outer engine of the machine they're all posed under. I remember an early post describing a photo of Dad's crew as 'under the protective arms of the Lancaster' and here again, the feeling is the same.  153 squadron was never huge. There are 148 men in the photo. In one of those odd coincidences that sometimes happen,  this is almost exactly the same number as of those who were killed in just 7 short months of 153 Squadron's existence. The photo therefore, puts that number into a physical and tragic perspective.

Even more so as my own father looks out at me from the ranks.

 In those few months of the squadron's existence, from a total of  82 crews ( 574 men ) comprising 408 RAF, 125 Canadian Air Force, 26 Australian Air Force, and 15 New Zealand Air Force, who flew operationally, 147 were killed. This was just over 25% of those who served.  Many more, possibly the same again, were injured on top of that.  Had the squadron been formed earlier and fought without benefit of the technological advances that war inevitably brings, that figure would undoubtedly have been much higher. It was a time and place of extraordinary courage, extraordinary resilience. One of my posts remarked on the harsh treatment meted out to those poor souls who's courage broke, marking them in the eyes of the RAF and wartime public as LMF {lacking moral fibre}. One of the comments I received back replied that those who remained showed 'OMF' {outstanding moral fibre}. I think perhaps that's as good a description as I will find.

Scampton Church Yard - some of  153 Sqn's 'Lost Boys' who made it home.

The loss of 147 men during the final seven months of the war in Europe, underlines the perils they all faced when flying on bomber operations, even at that late stage of the war.  Most were very young - the average age of aircrew was 22 years old -  Dad wasn't yet 21.  Lets not forget too that there was an even greater number of ground-based Sqdn personnel behind them who also worked phenomenally hard to ensure the aircrew had the very best chance of safe return; Armourers, Mechanics, Fitters, Bomb-Handlers, WAAFs, admin and medical staff, ambulance drivers; the list goes on. These were people that went through agonies of their own , anxiously waiting on 'their' crews returning from missions. They grieved for the lost boys, and many were deeply affected by the sights and the reality of war writ large on damaged man and returned machine.

By wars end the publics' awareness of the reality of  'area bombing' caused opinion to pull back in horror at the casualties among Germany's civilian population, especially after the Dresden raid had been reported in detail. While the technology of the day never allowed pinpoint accuracy in bombing and despite the Luftwaffe having unwaveringly used exactly those tactics on numerous equally unfortunate European cities including London, Sheffield and Coventry in the previous years, criticism was levelled at 'Bomber' Harris and his steadfast belief in delivering total war by levelling German cities as the quickest way to end it. This tactic forced more than 1 million men of fighting age to be diverted away from the frontline and our troops,  to national defence, fire-fighting, reparation of transport and maintainance of political and social infrastructure. Few aircrew would criticise him for it.

 After Dresden, Churchill carefully withheld his support - previously freely given - perhaps with a politicians canny eye, ever mindful of public and international opinion. In his comprehensive end of war address, along with the rest of the Armed Forces, every part of the RAF was singled out and praised with the exception of Bomber Command. It was never even mentioned.

Despite the huge losses of man and machine, and both Winston Churchill's involvement in setting the bombing policy - his order to Harris had been to take the war to Germany "without restraint" - and his earlier completely public endorsement for the bomber boys which said,

"after the Battle Of Britain had been won and Britain stood isolated, only Bomber Command could carry war to the enemy."

at wars end he would not give public acknowledgement, nor approve a medal in recognition of their contribution. Operational aircrew would instead qualify for the 'Defence Medal'. The men saw it as a callous betrayal. Harris raged against the decision.

"The only task we have not been asked to perform, other than negatively, has been that of defence."

 He went on to warn that if Bomber Command were not offered its own medal,

"then I too will accept only the defence medal and no other - nothing else whatever,  neither decoration, award, rank, preferment or appointment, if any such is contemplated. I will be proud indeed to wear the defence medal and that alone - and as bitter as the rest of my personnel. I will not stand by and see my people let down in so grossly an unjust manner without resorting to any and every necessary and justifiable protest which is open to me."

No medal has ever been awarded. It is an argument which painfully rankles to this day. Remaining aircrew still campaign to have the decision reversed.

The bomber boys suffered a huge change in wartime public opinion. They never had the kudos of the fighter pilots, those chivalrous 'knights of the air', who fought single and heroic combats. They were the heavy hammer of resistance against Germany's war machine and when things were at their darkest and the country truly did stand alone against the Nazis, then they really were the blue eyed boys of the country. Vast tracts of the nation stood witness every day to the bomber boys setting off in their aircraft  Ears reverberated to the sound of engines straining under heavy weights of bombs. They read newspaper accounts every day too, of how Hitler and the Nazis weren't getting it all their own way as a result. And yet, by the end of the war, they had become almost a pariah, killers of innocent men women and children. It's a predjudice that many people carry even today, with our modern concept of technological warfare, pinpoint accuracy and thankfully low acceptability of casualty rates of civilians and our forces. While we can each have an opinion on the need and acceptability of night-time area bombing rather than daylight raids attacking specific military targets - and those arguments raged in Churchills Air Ministry too despite the move to night attacks due to huge losses of man and machine - you cannot deny the courage nor the losses sustained by the relatively small part of our armed forces that was Bomber Command.

More men were lost in just one raid  in 1943 than fighter pilots killed in the whole of the Battle of Britain.

In total, 55,000 members of Bomber Command lost their lives. 20,000 of them have no known grave. These were the highest percentage losses of any branch of the forces. Today they are remembered at the memorial at Runnymede and by the statue of Bomber Harris outside the RAF church of St Clement Dane’s in the Strand, London, a statue so controversial that it needed 24 hour police protection for several months after installation to prevent it from being attacked. It took until 2006 before a memorial window was installed in Lincoln Cathedral, that ancient landmark so well known from the sky which gave powerful emotional support to the men of 153 Sqdn, and others, as a visible sign of home and safety. It now provides a focal point for commemoration. There is no national memorial to the men of bomber command even yet, exactly 65 years later, although one is now planned - to be paid for by public fundraising, not by Her Majesties Government.


A Lanc Over Lincoln Cathedral


The international flavour of the squadron's manpower arose from the fact that aircrew were provided by the British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Royal Air Forces. Moreover, even more nationalities were represented; among the RCAF were men from the USA: the RNZAF included Maoris: the RAF had South Africans, Dutch, West Indians, and Southern Irishmen, in addition to men from every part of the four home countries. Some of the international personnel mistakenly believed that because of conscription (officially the " Direction of Labour"), British fliers had no choice in the matter. This wasn't so. Every aircrew member volunteered to undertake flying duties - in fact, many had first to relinquish the shelter afforded by a ' Reserved Occupation ' status, in order to do so.  Even given the international flavour, the Squadron was basically RAF by a ratio of 3:1.  I remember asking my father how his Dad, left disabled after WWI had reacted when he had asked him about volunteering for the RAF. He said simply, " I didn't ask. It wasn't his decision to make."  With hindsight of those days it wasn't perhaps the unusual answer I originally thought it was.

 Aircraft losses had been significant too. Over the seven months the Squadron flew 54 different machines, initially starting with 15. When hostilities ceased, only 6 original machines remained.  'A' Flight contained two "Centurions"- aircraft which had completed a hundred or more missions over enemy territory.   At the end of the war only 35 of these auspicious 'centurions' existed across Bomber Commands 79 Squadrons out of 7377 Lancasters built.  Chadwick's inspired design delivered incredible performance in bomb load, in flying endurance, in ability to withstand enormous damage yet stay airborne and in its ability to withstand stress far beyond planned capabilities as desperate men threw it around the sky to escape enemy fighters or searchlights. It inspired confidence and admiration in the men who flew in it. For all its qualities of strength and agility more than 4,100 were lost in action.

After the end of war in Europe the Lancaster would never again be used as an offensive weapon by the RAF. The Last true RAF Lancaster flew its final mission in 1955 before being sent to the scrapyard. The last official flight of a Lancaster by the RCAF was flown by F/L Lynn Garrison in KB-976, on 4 July 1964 at the Calgary International Air Show. It had already long since become an international icon.




After the war ended Dad never set foot in another aircraft ever again.


His rear Gun postion

I feel I've done what I set out to do and I've had some fun at the same time.  It  has been emotional at times too of course, but I've thoroughly enjoyed my wee project.  Chunks of  information have been simply quoted from sources with a minimum interference from me, some has been my interpretation and imperfect understanding of information read or heard. Through it I've come to a much better understanding of the men and machines of 153 Sqdn and the part they played in the bigger picture, present as they were at some key moments in our history. I'm glad too that I managed to stick to the original timescales in the main. As I hoped it has helped me in some small way to come further to terms with the loss of my father and what went to make him special.

As for Dad and 153 Sqdn in 1945?

They still had work to do.

But that's for another day and another post.............

see you later.

Listening to Supertramp 'Even in the Quietest moments'

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

On this day in history..........

Inchcolm Abbey.

 
What an interesting day in history today was:

1124 - David I becomes King of Scotland - Alexander I, king of Scotland (1107-24), dies

1296 - Battle of Dunbar: The Scots are defeated by Edward I of England.

1646 - King Charles I flees Oxford

1650 - The Battle of Carbisdale: A Royalist army under Montrose invades mainland Scotland from Orkney Island but is defeated by a Covenanter army.

1749 - First performance of Handel's Fireworks Music in Green Park, London.

1773 - British Parliament passes Tea Act - ultimately leading to 'The Boston Tea Party'

1940 - Himmler orders establishment of Auschwitz Concentration Camp

1945 - World War II: The Völkischer Beobachter, the newspaper of the Nazi Party, ceases publication.

1950 - South Africa passes Group Areas Act segregating races {Apartheid}

1989 - Beijing students take over Tiananmen Square in China

1992 - Betty Boothroyd becomes the first woman to be elected Speaker of the British House of Commons in its 700-year history.

2006 - Construction begins on the Freedom Tower for the new World Trade Center in New York City


Oh, and in 1991 I married the lovely G in Inchcolm Abbey in the Firth Of Forth.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. Thanks for a great day today.........

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

153 squadron 25th April 1945 - This Time It's Personal

Berghof Under attack

Continuing the story of my late Dad's Lancaster Squadron from Jan 1945 to the end of hostilities in May


On the 25th April (the day that the Russian and American armies met on the River Elbe) at the distinctly unsociable hour of 2.30 am, 153 Sqn crews were briefed to attack  Hitler's personal Alpine hideout, 'The Berghof ' including the nearby "Eagles Nest" -  both  houses located in a mountain complex at Berchtesgarden in southern Germany. The object was two-fold; to serve notice to the so-called 'Werewolf' movement that they would be ill-advised to try and create a southern stronghold dedicated to further resistance; and hopefully to catch the elusive Fuhrer at home. The news that the target had potential to be Hitler and some of his key party henchmen raised much determination and excitement. Finally the crews had a target with a face.

 This time, it was personal.

Berchtesgaden is located in the German Bavarian Alps, in the south district of Berchtesgadener Land in Bavaria, near the border with Austria, some 30 km south of Salzburg and 180 km southeast of Munich. The area of Obersalzberg had been purchased by the Nazis in the 1920s for their senior leaders to enjoy. Hitler's mountain residence complex, known as the 'Berghof', included a small mountain top retreat called the 'Eagles Nest'  and was located near the picturesque and remote town of Berchtesgaden. The town and its environs (Stanggass) were fitted with the required facilities to serve as an outpost of the German Reichskanzlei office (Imperial Chancellery). It was this and the presence in the area of significant numbers of SS troops usually involved in protecting the Fuhrer which sealed the towns fate as a strategic objective.

The 153 squadron  contribution to the attack was led by W/Co Rodney (who had to abort the mission, due to S/I engine failure on LM 550(P4-C) - but unknown to him (and most others) he was well represented by his Squadron Gunnery, Navigation and Bombing Leaders, who quite unofficially, smuggled themselves aboard ME 485(P4-3rdD), piloted by F/O Don Freeborn, before take-off.

 In the event, apart from its propaganda value, the attack was inconclusive. Poor weather conditions over the Alps, {allied to recent snowfalls which distorted identification of landmarks},inoperative ground fix radar - due to the mountainous terrain, and confusion caused when the gaggle leader failed to turn at the correct point, all resulted in aircraft bombing on diverse headings. Some of the nearby SS barracks were levelled, but the primary target, although hit, was not fully destroyed. Unknown to those flying overhead that day, the Fuhrer was not at home when the boys of 153 and other squadrons called. Isolated in his command bunker in Berlin, he would commit suicide on 1st May


Berghof Attack Continues

At least two bombs struck the Berghof villa itself. On 4 May, four days after Hitler's suicide in Berlin, departing SS troops set fire to the rest of the house. Only hours later, the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division arrived at Berchtesgaden along with the French 2nd Armoured Division. The Americans reportedly muddled Berchtesgaden with the Berghof and a French Army captain along with his driver were the first Allied personnel to reach the still-smoldering chalet. A French tank crew soon joined them. Over the next few days the house was comprehensively looted and stripped, apparently by Allied soldiers, although it would appear inconceivable that the retreating SS did not take advantage of the opportunity. The American 1st Battalion of the 506th A regiment (led by Company C) arrived four days later, on 8 May. The 3rd battalion of the 506th came into Berchtesgaden by a different route and sustained casualties in a skirmish with the crews of two German 88 mm guns still in place protecting the area.

One of the most notable artifacts taken by American soldiers was Hitler's Globe.

The main  shell of Hitler's Berghof residence survived until 1952 when the Bavarian government blew it up, fearing the ruin was becoming a neo-Nazi shrine and sight-seeing attraction. The Fuhrer's garage remained until 1995. The ruins were further obliterated by official action during the 1990s and early 2000s. By 2007 trees had overgrown the site and only scattered rubble and the top of a retaining wall were visible.

One of Hitlers favourite haunts, the Berghof  'teahouse' on nearby Mooslahnerkopf hill was unscathed in the April 1945 bombing raid and remained completely untouched.  By 1951 the house-sized building had been knocked down by the Bavarian government because of its close link with Hitler. For 55 years the more or less recognizable tea-house ruins (along with mostly intact basement rooms below) lay in the woods by the 13th hole of the post war Gutshof (Manor Farm) golf course. These were taken away altogether during the late summer of 2006.

Although the 'Eagles Nest' site is on the same mountain as the Berghof, Hitler rarely visited the property. It has been suggested he only visited the Kehlsteinhaus {Eagles Nest} around 10 times, and most times for no more than 30 minutes. However he did receive the departing French ambassador to Germany André François-Poncet there on October 18, 1938. Perhaps because of the lack of close association with Hitler, the property was saved from demolition at the end of the war, although it has been reported to be a haunt of visiting sympathisers to the Nazi regime over the years.
'Eagles Nest' is currently used as a tea-house and restaurant. Hitler's small private study is now a store room.

Aftermath of the raid - an American soldier looks at the damaged Berghof

Although not appreciated at the time by the tired but elated crews who all returned safely to Scampton, Berchtesgarden would be the squadron's final offensive action of the war.  It had been in existence for only 7 months, during which 153 Squadron had despatched 1,057 sorties (and prepared for many more), dropped 4,654 tons of bombs and sown 204 sea-mines.

A total of 82 crews ( 574 men ) comprising 408 RAF, 125 RCAF, 26 RAAF, and 15 RNZAF, including 1 Maori, flew operationally in 153 Squadron.

In the 201 days of 153 Squadron's existence, 147 men died on operations.

Friday, 23 April 2010

I hate the flu..........


Hullo ma wee blog,

My razor-shredded throat wrenches yet another lung-destroying cough from a windpipe made of sandpaper raw flesh. My nostrils, stuffed full of tightly packed mucous laced with shards of glass, force pressure jets of pain back along my sinus to ears blocked with clay,  reverberating with every agonising whisper yet resistant to any attempt by external sounds to enter. My head is being beaten mercilessly by a Brazilian samba ensemble on speed and the drummer from Spear Of Destiny's nastier, but more rythmic, big brother. They seem to have been locked in competition inside my head for days. I force open eyelashes stuck with tapioca and let in blinding light to eviscerate my retinas with lightning bolts.

 Still alive then.

 I groan, in manly, near silent agony, shielding the worries from my nearest and dearest, who gather round in a candle-lit vigil, singing hymns, praying for the soul not yet departed. I heroically leave my deathbed propped on legs of straw and head barefoot to the bathroom over cold concrete floors strewn with glass, nails and edge on razor blades, joints aching and now retching phlegm like some neglected Victorian victim in the final throes of a gruesome terminal disease, as my loved ones reel back in fear and dread. Ice cold, shaking and with cold-sweat dripping from my suddenly emaciated body, I endure the vicious onslaught of nostril-evacuation while I perform the necessary last rites of ablution.

I return to my hard, unyielding bed, pull the thin, meagre sack-cloth covering over me and surrender myself to the unalterable course of this brutal viral infection rampaging through my weakened being, calling for my darling wife to contact the medical profession and advise my cold cadaver will be with them shortly. I give permission for my corpse to be used for study, for the benefit of humanity. Several medical conundrums will surely finally be resolved. I lie comforted by the sure and certain knowledge that my life insurance will see my lovely G rest in luxury for the foreseeable future. I close my eyes and try to fade away quietly - for her sake.

I hear a bell softly ring and a distant sing-song voice calls mournfully,

"Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead."

I bloody hate the flu.......

I take a last look at the lovely G.

"Your looking better. How about making me a nice cup of tea?"


see you later.........

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

153 Sqn. 22nd April 1945 - Bremen

20,000ft.

Continuing the story of my late Dad's Lancaster Squadron From Jan 45 to the end of hostilities in May.

By now allied forces were sweeping through Germany and it was clear that at last the end of the Nazi regime was in sight. There were still large numbers of German forces engaged in fighting a desperate defense of an ever decreasing homeland, as well as  the remains of the German army occupying a large part of north Holland,  including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and other major cities, isolated as British and American forces outflanked them to strike into Germany itself. Years of Bomber Command and USAAF attacks had laid waste to rail and road infrastructures hindering movement of defending troops and preventing, where possible, consolidation of opposing forces in any coherent way. In the east, large numbers of civilians were evacuating themselves westward, alongside retreating forces, in an attempt to avoid the feared Russian Army,  to stay within German protection, or to reach Allied forces in the West. The Luftwaffe were to all intents and purposes overcome, defeated by overwhelming allied air superiority and from lack of fuel, as German production now finally and utterly collapsed. The only benefit for the defending forces was that supply lines for men and available resources were shortening, making replenishment of man and machine simpler. The German forces now had their backs firmly to the wall and were grimly and solidly fighting on.

The whereabouts of Adolf Hitler and the inner circle of the Nazi party were unknown and there was a very real fear that forces were being gathered for a final, desperate last stand somewhere in the German homeland.

On Sunday the 22nd, 153 Squadron were briefed to attack the city of Bremen. The squadron were able to supply 15 aircraft and crews in support of the operation.  At briefing, crews were told that British forces surrounded the city, and that particular care must be taken to observe the instructions of the Master Bomber (who would be in close touch with the Army Commander, XXX Corps) to avoid the risk of bombing our own troops. By now daylight raids were again the norm as risks from the Luftwaffe and ground based anti aircraft forces were deemed to be much reduced. This also much reduced risks of air collision with other friendly aircraft as the bomber stream came together and moved off in formation towards target. Collision had always been a very real hazard and many bomber crews had been lost in this way as hundreds of aircraft collected together in such close proximity in the dark. After the high losses of previous weeks, the reduced risk and the clear effect of  air superiority of the recent attack on Heligoland had given a much needed boost to the spirits of 153 Squadron crews.

The squadron flew in a loose 'gaggle', which was RAF speak for a number of aircraft flying at roughly the same height and in roughly the same direction, but shouldn't be confused in any way with formation flying,  to the concentration point before forming up and heading to Bremen.

A near miss.



On the outward journey, Sgt Jack Western, sitting in the rear turret of RA 582(P4-2ndL) was exchanging hand signals with his opposite number (and room mate) F/Sgt Cameron Booty (RCAF), flying in ME 424(P4-2ndN) when a solitary anti-aircraft gun put up five shells. The first two closely rattled, but did not hit, 'L'. The third burst between the two aircraft, and one of the other two hit 'N' squarely in the H2S bulge on the underside of the aircraft. The aeroplane came apart,  the mid-upper gunner free-falling alone; he clearly had no time to grab his parachute. The severed rear end of the plane fell, turning over and over, the hapless rear gunner trapped by centrifugal force had no chance of getting out. Other Squadron members watched horrified as the front portion fell in a flat spin, until it crashed into the waters of the Jadebussen (Jade Bay).

F/O Arthur (Cocky) Cockroft and his crew, who had gained a reputation for repeatedly being the first to reach base after an operation, died instantly.
 
Airborne 1536 from scampton. Crashed near Jade where in the local Friedhof graves for some of the crew were later discovered. Four are now buried in Becklingen War Cemetery, while three have been taken to Sage War Cemetery. Both Air Gunners were aged nineteen.  F/O A.C.Cockcroft KIA, Sgt D.J.Philpot KIA, F/S D.F.Poore KIA, F/S K.L.Dutton KIA, F/S F.Wood KIA, F/S K.F.Chapman RCAF KIA, F/S C.H.Booty RCAF KIA.
 
It was a harsh reminder that the dangers of offensive action had not gone completely, and that the reality of day time operations removed the anonymity of night time tragedy.  The remaining crews reached Bremen at 1800 hours, to find the target area obscured by low cloud, mixing with smoke and dust caused by the preceding first wave of 195 Lancasters of No.3 Group. Together with the rest of Nos 1 and 4 Groups, the Squadron was ordered to circle, only to be instructed at 1812 hours to abandon the operation and return to base with their bombs.
 
 
Lincoln Cathedral - 18 miles to Scampton
 
Raid abandoned, crews turned homeward to Lincoln and safety. Ahead, a final few anxious hours and the risk of landing with several tons of high explosive strapped to the aircraft.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Bye Bye Betty.............




Hullo ma wee blog,

Do you know how, as a child,  sometimes you meet an adult someone in your life, a family friend, Mum or Dad of a pal, could be almost anyone really, but that someone, in some infinitely indescribable way makes a connection with you that up until then no other adult has. It's not a connection like you have with parents or aunts and uncles, it's not a connection like you make with teachers. It's not a physical attraction of male to female or anything like that.  It's a connection that makes you realise that for the first time someone is seeing you as you - as a person in your own right.

{sorry I don't think I'm describing this very well}

It's someone that doesn't relate to you by the connections you have to them but relates to the inner you and at the same time makes you realise that for the first time you are doing that too. Later in life of course it just happens, becomes the norm and isn't seen for the incredible thing it is, but that very first time it happened to me I was struck by how incredibly fantastic it made me feel.

The person who did this for me was Betty. A stunningly ordinary working housewife and Mum of a pal, she wasn't an incredible intellect, not a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist, but a stunningly simple and wise lady and a keen observer of people. Not a curtain twitcher or busybody, she accepted me as a rather awkward teenage mate of her son and took me into her family on any odd occasion I showed up without question, seamlessly fitting me into a niche within her world in such a way that I almost believe  there was a place laid for me at dinner or a spare bed ready just in case I ever made an appearance. I was, she related within about 10 minutes of arriving in her house to, 'call me Mum when your here'. What her husband thought I never found out. The rest of her children acted like it was the norm.

One day while there we started talking and she quietly, simply and completely stripped me to the core and laid my being out in front of us, rearranged a bit here and there and put me back together in a better way. All done in 10 minutes with a cup of tea in one hand and a home made scone in the other. Done completely without ego and with the utmost care and consideration. Gobsmackingly simple, stunningly accurate and blindingly correct in every aspect.

Last week I went to her funeral. I hadn't seen her for several years, not since her husbands funeral in fact. I'm really sad about that. I've been trying to think why that was the case but all I come up with are excuses, not explanations. I feel a bit ashamed if truth be told, especially after the way I was treated by her family for attending the funeral

Bye Betty. I'll never forget you.

Thank you.

See you later.

listening to Albinoni 'Adageo in E'

Sunday, 18 April 2010

153 Sqn. 18th April 1945 - Heligoland

Low level At Sea

Continuing the story of my late Dad's Lancaster Squadron From Jan 45 to the end of hostilities in May.


For the crews of 153 Squadron, targets were now proving elusive as the allied armies pushed ever onwards into German territory. On many days the squadron was stood down, occupying the time by continuing with low level flying practice and map reading, honing the various skills and reflexes needed to perform this safely for long periods at a time. So it was a relief of sorts to be returned to 'normality' when ordered to attack the island of Heligoland on 18th April.


A Near Miss

By 'borrowing' an aircraft from 625 Squadron, 153 Squadron was able to dispatch 19 crews to join almost 1000 aircraft attacking the naval base, airfield and town. This included 5 crews undertaking their first operation, 2 (F/Os Sinnema and Tobin) completing their tours, and W/Co Reddick (from HQ 1 Group) making a 'guest' appearance with the crew of F/O Red Penman. The 'payload' for each aircraft was an unprecedented 14,000lbs weight of high explosive bombs.  The operation itself proved to be little more than a training exercise. Perfect weather meant clear skies all the way and the target was visible from 30 miles out. The attack was intense, accurate and lethal. Slight defensive flak soon stopped as the targets were overcome.  The bomber stream was supported by Spitfires and Mustangs which were superfluous in the event.

It would probably have been some comfort to the men of 153 Squadron to be striking back at an airfield and naval base which was heavily involved in the defense of the Kattegat area and therefore potentially responsible for some of the difficult times and heavy losses the crews had experienced over the previous weeks on gardening missions

0
Rear Gunner Position



S/Ldr J C Day and his crew joined the squadron on 18th April to replace S/Ldr John Gee as Commander, 'B' flight when he was posted out of the squadron on the loss of his crew.

 For the story behind this click here

Friday, 16 April 2010

Sorry - it's political debate?

Hullo ma wee blog,

I haven't watched all of last nights 'world premier' party leader televised exchange of tormenting remarks - sorry -  debate  which I recorded last night. What little I did see struck me as too stage managed, too restrictive on an audience unable to clap, comment or respond in any way except to behave like weans and 'speak when spoken to'

How frightfully British and well behaved.

Sound editing too managed no doubt to silence the wailing of souls, gnashing of teeth and the torment of tongues firmly stapled to the roof of the mouth as we endured this national phenomenon.

Except of course, it wasn't. A national phenomena, that is.

What none of the three leading parties saw fit to remind us up here north of the border was that much of what was discussed in this debate about domestic affairs is that much of the content related only to England and Wales as we have devolved powers protected by The Scotland Act which leaves us firmly in control of most of these matters.

So Mr Cameron, my copy of the Scotland Act says you don't speak for Britain!  Clegg's comments are irrelevant,  Brown has it wrong when he talks about "our country" within the discussion held last night.

Once again I found myself in agreement with oor ain Wee Eck.

And anyway - we had the leaders of all parties do this TV debate stuff in Scotland about 3 years ago.

see you later

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Lothians Volcanic Sunset


Hullo ma wee blog,

With all airports in the UK closed today due to a cloud of ash from the Icelandic volcano with an unpronounceable name, weather punters were telling us all to look to the sky tonight for a potentially dramatic sunset. So camera in hand I set of to document this predicted masterpiece and took the following photo's.












I hope you like them......

Listening to Pink Floyd  'A Great Day for Freedom'

153 Sqn. 14th April 1945 - Berlin.

A Tail End Charlie Gets into Position



Continuing the story of my late Dad's Lancaster Squadron From Jan 45 to the end of hostilities in May.

The 13 crews attending briefing on 14th April could be excused their excitement on realising their target was to be Berlin. It mattered not that they would actually attack Potsdam - a pleasant suburb of the German capital - Berlin would appear in their logbooks. In fact, this was the first time since March 1944 that 4-engined Bomber Command aircraft would enter the Berlin defence zone. It was also the last - Russian troops would be fighting in the city's eastern approaches on 18th April and would completely encircle it by the 25th.

Clear skies east of the Rhine ensured ready identification of the target - nominally barracks and railway yards - and aided by accurate Pathfinder marking, combined with the absence of night-fighters or serious flak, bombing proved devastating. However, some crews could not resist the understandable temptation to deposit their bombs on Berlin city itself.


Berlin Damage

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

153 Squadron 13th April 1945 - Low Level Flying


The whole squadron was intrigued by being ordered up on 13th April to practice low level flying and map-reading skills.

 No crew needed second bidding to comply, and great fun ensued belting around  - sometimes at the official height of 400 feet - but frequently very much lower. Some crews reportedly even flying under power lines.

 Dad recalled being terrified flying over lakes at full pelt having become more and more anxious as the Lanc got ever lower and lower, seeing the world streaming past his eyes at breakneck speed from the rear turret until his nerves made him snap at the pilot over the intercom that,

"if  you go any bloody lower I'll  have my bloody feet in the bloody water!"

He had of course already survived one crash landing and endured a painful spell in hospital recovering from injuries. { and when he told the story he didn't use the word bloody!}

Despite some speculation over the purpose of this practice, no official announcement or explanation was forthcoming. The impact on those living and working in the countryside in those areas must have been tremendous however. They wouldn't have experienced such levels of zero feet flying before and must have thought the RAF had gone mad!

The reason for the very low level flying would become apparent very shortly.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

153 Sqn. 9th/ 10th April 1945 - Keil/Plauen


Continuing the story of my late Dad's Lancaster Squadron From Jan 45 to the end of hostilities in May. For info, the story starts here


For 153 Sqn at Scampton, April 9th saw the arrival of Wing Commander Guy F Rodney, DFC, AFC to take over command of the squadron as replacement after the tragic loss of Wing-Co Powley. He had already completed two operational tours on bombers. Like his predecessor, he was a Canadian holding a regular commission in the RAF. One of his first tasks was to conduct a briefing of 17 crews (8 flying on their first operation) for an attack on Kiel that same night.

Kiel naval base faced the Baltic Sea. It housed three major shipyards as well as the Deutsche-Werk U- boat construction complex. With deep-water channels and easy access to the North Sea via the Kiel canal, it represented the last bastion of German naval power. Conditions favoured the attackers - clear visibility enabled positive identification of both the primary and secondary target areas, enabling crews to carry out the Master Bomber's orders efficiently and accurately. The major targets were extensively damaged, as were the battle cruisers 'Emden' and 'Admiral Hipper' - their sister ship 'Admiral Scheer' was hit and capsized. The Luftwaffe created a celestial 'flarepath' (a system of marking with aerial flares, either side of the approaching bomber stream, to enable fighters lurking in the darkness outside the flarepath to swoop in to mount beam attacks against any bomber silhouetted by the opposite line of flares - and to be gone again before the Air Gunners could pick them up). Fortunately, no back-up fighters appeared.


Emden damaged in Keil harbour 1946


 On April 10th, the target selected was the town of Plauen, which lay to the southwest of Zwickau, about 20 miles from the Czechoslovakian border. Although not code-named as such, it could well have formed part of the "Operation Thunderclap" Russian offensive support programme, since the primary target was the rail marshalling yard. With the advancing Russians still 100 miles away, the squadron contributed 15 aircraft,who despite some haze blurring the T/Is over the target, were able to make a concentrated and accurate attack-aptly described by bomb aimer F/Sgt Norman Fenerty, flying in RA 582 (P4-2ndL) piloted by fellow Canadian F/O Vernon Martin, as a "good prang" - Yes, they really did use language like that!

Plauen is home to two unique architectural features; the 2nd largest brick built bridge in the world and the Friedensbrücke - largest stone arch bridge in the world. As far as I can find, neither of these structure were significantly damaged in the raid.

Friedensbrücke, Plauen

Photo of W/C Rodney courtesy of Frank Powley {W/C Powleys nephew}

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Icons of the Air............

The Avro Lancaster

The Lancaster is one of the icons of British aviation. Along with the Spitfire and possibly the Hurricane, it's known to every boy of my generation and the one before at the very least. It's burned into the consciousness of the nation as one of the key aircraft of the second world war.  Like the Spitfire, with whom it shares it's power supply, just the sound of it's Rolls-Royce Merlin engines even now, sixty five years after the end of the war, can bring tears of nostalgia and evoke sentimental lumps in the throats of grown men.

Don't believe me?

Then go to any airshow where the Battle Of Britain Memorial flight makes an appearance and take a look at the reaction of the crowds. Their status is burned in the national psyche and the history of WWII, their names synonymous with courage and fighting spirit in the air.

And it's not just old airmen who react that way.  It's a  {certainly now declining}  number of people who remember those times when dozens, hundreds even of those aircraft laden with brave men and terrible cargo lumbered into the air, engines straining, to carry the war to Hitler and Nazi Germany night after night, day after day, week after week and month after month. Perhaps they were too young to fight, but  looked up at the sound from school desk, farm yard or city street. Perhaps they heard the sound as they fell asleep at night or as they woke in the morning to start their daily routine. Some perhaps remember  childhood stories told by older relatives, tales of wartime Britain in those dark old days of long ago.

If the sound of one old aeroplane can make people feel like that all these years later, how must have swarms of hundreds of them sounded?  For those on the flight paths across the country as these flying beasts gathered, did ears pound, chests vibrate?  Did walls shake and windows rattle as they heaved themselves higher in the skies and faded in the distance.  Reassurance to country folk?  Comfort to Londoners in return for what was done to them?  Relief to soldiers and those living in occupied countries, to those in POW  and concentration camps perhaps?  A very real sign that the fight was definitely not over?

It's amazing with the wisdom of hindsight to think that for all it's iconic status now, the Avro Lancaster  was very nearly  consigned to the bin of aviation history as an unworkable design, an impractical solution and an irredeemable project. That it survived and prospered was down to one man; its designer Roy Chadwick. That it's potential was recognised and devastatingly fulfilled was down to another; air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur {Bomber} Harris. Neither are well known to the general public these days, although one is much more likely to be reviled, if recognised at all, as the architect of the bombing of German towns and cities and the destroyer of Hamburg, Cologne and Dresden, among many more, along with large parts of their civilian populations. Both shared singular vision and dogged self belief which allowed them to overcome or ignore any criticisms. 
Roy Chadwick.

Roy Chadwick was chief designer for A.V. Roe, one of the best known aircraft manufacturers of the time. The company was responsible for the design and production of aircraft such as the Avro Anson which was widely used by RAf - 26 sqns at start of WWII - and especially for training bomber crews on two engine machines before moving on to 4 engines. Ultimately what he created in the Lancaster was the perfect design for the technology of the day. For all its size, the Lancaster was surprisingly maneuverable, and was even compared to the Spitfire by those who flew it.

Michael Maltin, pilot with 550 Sqn said,

"You used to treat that aircraft like a Spitfire. You couldn't break that aircraft. The more you threw it about and made the crew sick, the more they liked it. The Lancaster was magnificent."

Pilots likened the feel and handling to a nimble fighter plane and the crews responded by their feelings of confidence in the Lancaster's ability to withstand combat damage and to be pushed beyond recognised limits with impunity when the situation demanded it. It was an incredibly sturdy aircraft, able to withstand enormous stresses when put into evasive maneuvers and yet was powerful enough and responsive enough to be flown in a victory roll as proven by the chief test pilot for Avro who would do this as his party trick. It must have been quite something to see.

Another similarity with the Spitfire is that it developed from something less than perfect; the first  design of Reginald J. Mitchells world beating fighter was described as 'a dogs breakfast',  but like the lancaster, from something less than mediocre came something incredible. In the case of the Lancaster, even more so as it would not have been built at all if not for Chadwick. Unusual even for those days, the design for the Lancaster was Chadwicks alone, it's first incarnation, known as the 'Avro Manchester' with it's two unreliable and poorly performing engines was seen by the air ministry as a disaster. They were keen to have Avro switch production to the established Handley Page Halifax, and yet Chadwick was able to convince the managing director of Avro so completely that the same design with bigger wings, carrying 4 better engines would be something incredible, that Avro resisted that pressure and began production of the Lancaster without a contract and without the support of the Air Ministry who gave them no instruction to develop the ill fated Manchester further. It was to all intents and purposes a private venture, putting the future of the company at risk. And yet, Chadwick and Dobson, the company MD, were not only able to continue in the face of lack of support, if not open hostility from the Air Ministry, but to overcome their resistance with the sheer brilliance of his design and to quickly win the support of those who flew it and saw it in demonstrations and trials. Changing the opinion of an entrenched Government view was no easier then than today, and to do so in a wartime situation must have taken energy and self belief of incredible proportions.

Chadwick, who also designed one of the post war icons of British aviation, the 'Vulcan' bomber, was tragically killed in 1947,  on take off on a test flight for another of his designs. Thrown from the aircraft 60 yards through the air he hit a tree and sustained fatal  injuries, ironically the same fate of many wartime aircrew who flew in Lancasters. He was just 54.

Who knows what other incredible aviation designs might have come from his pen.

One other man who saw the potential of the Lancaster design very quickly and who's support was instrumental in the future development of the aircraft was Arthur {bomber} Harris, who identified and shared Chadwick's conviction of the potential of this new and improved 'Manchester', ensuring that effectively, all other bombers would become obsolete and production of the Lancaster would become the most important activity in British aircraft manufacture once the battle of Britain had been won.

Harris was named the commander-in-chief of Bomber Command in February 1942. In this role, he executed Prime Minister Winston Churchill's directives to bomb German cities unrestrained. Developing new tactics, Harris' Bomber Command launched massive raids which, without the kind of technology that prevents such things in modern warfare, destroyed large portions of German urban areas and killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians as well as damaged the Nazi war machine. A controversial figure after the war due to the severity of Bomber Command's final raids and his absolute belief that it was right and necessary to destroy civilian as well as military targets, Harris was beloved by his men - even though they called him 'Butch' in recognition of his stubborn determination, self belief, and in recognition of his preparedness to sustain horrific casualty rates within his men to achieve his aims.

Harris, given the instruction to carry the war to Germany 'without restriction' by Winston Churchill, resisted any and all attempts to move away from 'area bombing' - the complete destruction of wide sections of towns and cities. In any event, in  the early part of the war, the ability to attack with pinpoint accuracy did not exist, even in daylight, and the vulnerability of the bombers to attack had forced the RAF to move to mainly night time attacks, making accuracy even more difficult. Although implacable in pushing the attacks he also was acutely aware of the losses and vulnerability of his crews and, for example, frustrated by the Air Ministries lack of understanding and willingness to improve the rear gun turret to make it a better defensive weapon, personally instructed, and partially designed, an improved two gun turret variant which gave the rear gunners much more fire power and a better field of vision, even providing the manufacturer with funds to complete the task. All because he believed he was right. He was seen by many in RAF high Command as a law unto himself.

At the end of the war he was devastated when in his victory speech, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, carefully praised every section of the armed forces and RAF except Bomber command, who were never once mentioned. This was political maneuvering by Churchill to distance himself from the furore about the mass destruction of Dresden in particular where public sentiment had been whipped up by the reporting of statistics provided by Goebbles which later proved to be fantastically exaggerated. The destruction of Dresden, horrific though it was, was felt by Harris as simply part of the pursuing of 'total war' on an enemy who had shown little mercy in bombing cities across Europe in several years of aggression. He had, in any case, been instructed by Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff to have the city placed on the list of approved targets after the Yalta conference when Stalin had requested this in support of the Red Army offensive from the East.

When it became clear that, in a further snub, Bomber Command were not going to have a specific campaign medal struck to honour the extremely high losses and the critical part played in speeding the wars end, Harris wrote an extremely angry letter to Portal - chief of the Airforce - in which he stated that if his men's service and honourable sacrifice were not good enough to be recognised it would be his intention to refuse any offer of a  peerage as it would be unseemly for him to be honoured when aircrews were not. He said " it was an insult never to be forgotten,even if it is forgiven"

Promoted to Marshal of the Royal Air Force in 1946, he retired that September to write his memoirs. For the remainder of his life he defended Bomber Command's actions during the war stating that they were in line with the "total war" initiated by the Germans.

Despite protests from Germany as well as some in Britain,  the Bomber Harris Trust   (an RAF veterans' organisation formed to defend the good name of their commander)   erected a statue of him outside the RAF Church of St. Clement Danes, London in 1992.  It was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who looked surprised when she was jeered by protesters. The line on the statue reads "The Nation owes them all an immense debt." The statue had to be kept under 24 hour guard for a period of months as it was often vandalised by protesters angry at a statue commemorating someone they believed was a war criminal.


During WWII 7,377 Lancasters were produced. After the end of WWII it would never be used offensively by the RAF again. The last true lancaster flew its final mission in 1955.

Post war, the Lancaster was modified and used as a highly effective coastal command aircraft in the guise of the 'Shackleton' and as such its iconic profile would continue to be seen for many years around the coasts of Great Britain and became familiar to me as a child. After 39 years service, the noisy but impressive Shackleton held the distinction of being the aircraft with the longest period of active RAF service, until overtaken by the English Electric Canberra in 1998..........

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Tag my Tenth Photo theme.......

Hullo ma wee blog,

Kat, who writes a blog I follow, tagged me with one of these odd challenges that seem to reverberate around the bloggosphere.  It was to go into my photo folders open up the first folder,  publish the tenth photo from the folder regardless of what it is and give a wee explanation of what the photo is all about,  and then nominate 5 more folk to do the same.  In effect, a chain letter/email. I can't stand those 'if you don't do this something really bad will happen to a loved one' kind of nonsense so they all go into the bin - even if this isn't that kind of  rubbish, being simply the sharing of random potentially entertaining, or interesting, information.

Not sure if I want to get into lots of these -  though I did post one of my own about favourite films a while back in a moment of weakness  - I was none the less intrigued to go and see what the photo would be. It turned out that it was of my Lovely G, who has asked me to make sure that there aren't any photos of her posted on the blog, so that ended the search and I just put it out of my mind.

Now, I don't know if,  like me,  things sometimes tick over in the back of your brain in an unwanted kind of way, but this stuck with me and, as I sometimes find variations on a theme {old musician, see} interesting,  I found myself idly checking out what the first photo of my tenth folder would be and lo and behold this wee thingy popped up.  It's appeared on the blog before in a post that was just photos a while back as it's one of those photo's which are in some ways important to you.


Taken while on holiday in The Langued'oc, France, summer 2007 in a lovely wee village called Minerve - think minervois wine and you'll be spot on even though it was originally named for the Roman god Minerve.  It's of the Cathar memorial, commemorating the execution of 140 men and women here in 1210 during the Albigensian Crusade, the only crusade to take place against fellow Christians. The Cathars had a simple if unorthodox view of Christ but most importantly denied the supremacy of the Pope and the need for Bishops and priests to intercede between man and God. They also held women as equals in the church. For these beliefs they were suppressed in the cruelest ways and much blood was spilt. The Cathars thrived in an enlightened environment prevailing in the Languedoc of the time, when poetry and the arts, education and scientific enquiry, along with protected freedom and tolerance for other religions was coming to the fore, and of course much of this was lost as a direct result of the crusade. It's an area of France, a story and a time in history that's fascinated me for many years.

In 1982 the massacre of the Cathars here was commemorated by the sculptor Jean-Luc Severac, who created this stone pierced through with the shape of a dove, symbol of peace, because ' the Cathars raised themselves above the material world.....so I made the dove, not out of stone, but out of light - the absence of matter is the only way to represent the Cathars.'

The memorial is simply inscribed 'Als Catars 1210' - 'To the Cathars, 1210' in Occitan, the language of the languedoc {which itself means "the language of yes" in Occitan} and is very moving in it's simplicity and it's message.

Rather than single out just five fellow bloggers to ask to develop the theme, if anyone would like to take up the theme of tag my tenth photo please do and let me know. Five blogs I know who often include interesting photos are below and I'd love to see what dropped out for the theme, but please feel free to ignore if this isn't your thing { and sorry to ask too, if this doesn't fit with your blog}.

CoastKid71  http://www.blogger.com/profile/06722983165386248189
Mornings Minion http://www.blogger.com/profile/01912356455981434029
Eclecticism http://www.blogger.com/profile/15085052794021881781
Elizabeth Rhiannon is http://www.blogger.com/profile/07910474336835656519
Codlins and Cream2 http://www.blogger.com/profile/13117332471600275100

see you later.

Listening to Talking Heads 'Wild, Wild Life'

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

IT and Management.....



Hullo ma wee blog,

A man in a hot air balloon, realizing he was lost, reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended further and shouted to the lady "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am!"

The woman below replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You're between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude."

"You must be in IT," said the balloonist.

"Actually I am," replied the woman, "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you have told me is technically correct but I've no idea what to make of your information and the fact is I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help at all. If anything, you've delayed my trip."


"You must be in Management!" replied the woman.

"I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know?"

"Well," said the woman, "you don't know where you are or where you're going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise, which you've no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my blooming fault..."

That sounds familiar somehow, doesn't it?

see you later.

Listening to Snow Patrol 'It's Beginning to Get to Me'

Sunday, 4 April 2010

153 Sqn. 4th April 1945 - Gardening/Lutzkendorf.


Wing Commander Frank Powley {centre} S/Leader John Gee {2nd right}
        photo courtesy of Frank Powley {W/C Powley's nephew}

Continuing the story of my late Dad's Lancaster Squadron to the end of hostilities in 1945.

On 4th April, 153 squadron were ordered to supply 5 aircraft for 'Gardening', as minelaying operations were known, and every other available machine for a 'maximum effort' night attack on the oil refinery at Leutzkendorf. Take-off by the 12 crews was timed to allow this long flight to be made in complete darkness. Cloud over the target was slight, allowing accurate marking and bombing although results were later assessed as only moderate. The attack was delivered from 12,500 feet; above the light flak barrage, and below the heavy flak busting at 15,000 feet! On all aircraft on the Lutzkendorf raid safely returning to Scampton, crews encountered a low cloud base with limited visibility hampering safe landing, but murky as it was, nothing could match the gloom pervading their debriefings, when told of the losses on the gardening ops

In the Kattegat there are very few deep-water channels suited to larger vessels, and these were well known to both contestants. Knowing just where the mines had to be dropped, enabled the Germans to vector their night-fighters to best effect. The islands of Laesó and Anholt housed air defence controllers and radar stations. Neutral Sweden, with no need to operate a black-out, lay to the east of the bomber's route; German fighters came up, hidden by the darkened background of occupied Denmark, to seek out the bombers which were silhouetted against the lights of Swedish towns. Clearly, the advantages lay with the defenders.

Gardening drops were conducted by individual attacks -albeit conforming to an overall design - without the cover that a bomber stream of many aircraft would provide, so  crews felt themselves cruelly exposed to any enemy action. The German defences were often augmented by the addition of naval and other gunships, which, with ability to fire predicted flak at these individual targets, proved to be very accurate. Given their mobility they could be encountered almost anywhere along the bomber's route.

3rd April - Samsó Belt, Southern Kattegat


Aware of the growing disquiet among the crews ordered to fly Gardening Operations, which he judged was having an insidious effect on Squadron morale, W/Co Powley put himself on the Battle Order for this attack, by captaining S/Ldr Gee's crew. In showing that he was prepared to share the dangers, he not only sought to inspire confidence but also demonstrated true leadership qualities. Arthur Allan recalls that at an earlier briefing, Francis Powley had said that "153 Squadron was going through a rough spell, but things would improve".  He was however apprehensive.  In his book "Wingspan", John Gee quotes W/Co Powley as saying "I have been worried about this operation for the past few days and I have a premonition about it.  If I had the guts I would take myself off the Order of Battle, but if I did I would never again be able to look the squadron in the face". These were fateful words.


Major Werner Husemann, 2nd left.

Patrolling the Samsó Belt that night in JU88 - Code Letter D5+AL - was Major Werner Husemann, the commander of I/NJG 3 (First Squadron, Night Fighter Unit #3), and a skilled night fighter with 30 plus kills to his credit. Over the designated drop area, although very dark, the sky was clear and visibility moderate. Flak was non-existent, leaving the path clear for the night-fighters. Major Husemann proceeded to destroy Lancasters RA 544 (P4-2ndU) flown by Wing Commander Powley and also NX 563 (P4-2ndR) flown by F/Lt Arthur Winder. (2ndU was on its first operational mission; 2ndR was on its fourth). Both aircraft are known to have crashed into the Kattegat. There were no survivors.

Airborne 1907 4th Apr '45 from Scampton for a mining operation in the Kattegat (Silverthorne Area). Lost without trace. All are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

 F/L A.J.Winder KIA , Sgt G.E.Thomas KIA,  F/O L.C.Turner KIA , F/O E.O.Griffith KIA,  F/S J.B.Coffey KIA,  F/O A.S.Blake KIA,  Sgt I.A.Birrell KIA

 W/C F.S.Powley,  DFC, AFC, KIA,  Sgt C.F.Sadler KIA,  F/S L.G.Sims KIA,  F/S W.Higgins KIA,  W/O A.s.Dickson RAAF KIA,  F/S C.Madden KIA,  F/S R.Neal KIA.

 W/C Powley had been No.153 Sqdn Commander since taking up the appointment 7Oct44 when the Squadron was first formed. W/C Powley was a Canadian from Kelowna in British Colombia. He had joined the pre-war RAF on a Short Service Commission circa 1936. His Service number shows he was a contemporary of the legendary W/C Guy Gibson VC.


In his book 'Wingspan', S/Ldr John Gee relates how this particular operation repeatedly fluctuated between ON and OFF thereby underlining the precarious balance inherent in operational flying - had the operation not twice been 'scrubbed' W/Co Powley would not have been involved in it. Fate determined otherwise. { He initially put himself down for the op but had to remove himself when it was rescheduled he was on duty as deputy station commander, but then put himself back ON when this 2nd date was again cancelled}   Strangely enough, the crew of F/Lt Winder (also lost that night) were in an identical position. F/Lt Tobin recalled that he was originally selected to fly this operation, but when it was first ordered his navigator was suffering from ear trouble and was refused medical clearance to fly. Consequently, F/O Winder and crew were put ON instead, and remained there even after the ear trouble had cleared up.

Wing Commander Powley flew with S/L Gee's crew on several occasions - as a 'relief' for  S/L Gee, who having already completed one tour of 30 ops would have been on a 'reduced' second tour. This helped built up the crews ops totals but allowed Gee to remain with the crew across all of their first tour of ops. On this fateful night S/L Gee remained behind acting as Officer In Charge Of Flying. He remembered later.

"The five Lancasters took off and set out on their journey to the Kattegat. I was so worried {due to W/C Powleys premonition} I did not know where to put myself. The night seemed endless. As the time drew near for their return I went to Flying Control to hear them call up as they entered the circuit. Three of the lancaster turned up and landed but there was no sign of the other two. Wing Commander Powley and my crew in U for Uncle and F/Lt Arthur winder and his crew of R for Roger were missing. In one night I had lost my crew, my Squadron Commander and one of my Flight Lieutenants. I was absolutely distraught. I could not bear to speak to anyone. I went to bed but could not sleep. Bob Purves, who had flown on the op came into my room and tried to console me.

The next day I had the terrible task of having to write to the homes of all my crew and trying to console their parents. I was unable to say much about the operation but I knew they would all be wondering why their sons were missing when I was still at Scampton. I was so terribly sad to have lost my crew and my friend and station commander. The Squadron had been badly mauled"

It can be seen that Gardening operations were not welcomed by aircrew, who tried to stoically accept that they were more hazardous than other operations.  Many however dreaded the fact that flights were made almost entirely over water, and invariably in total darkness. Should the aircraft be shot down or seriously crippled, the chances of survival were so negligible as to be non-existent. To carry out a successful 'ditching' at night would require phenomenal luck for even the most highly-skilled pilot, and the prospect of a subsequent launching of the dinghy in total darkness into a hostile sea, heavily encumbered by full flying kit, did not bear thinking about. Over land, crews could take their chances with a parachute jump, over water, even if successful, this would result in certain death from exposure. As with sailors on Russian convoy duties, the survival time in northern waters during the winter months was unlikely to exceed two minutes. { My father, a keen fisherman, was in absolute dread of deep water for the rest of his life and confined himself to mainly river fishing. Even a loch could cause him deep anxiety and a choice of fishing solely from the bank rather than join us grey faced to fish from a boat.}

Given the shattering outcome of the night's activities, it was perhaps just as well for Squadron morale that there were no more Gardening Operations. The Squadron had mounted 34 effective sorties in sowing just 203 mines, but had suffered a beating in losing 27 of its most experienced aircrew including its well respected and popular Commanding Officer, together with 4 aircraft  (plus two more requiring extensive repairs).  No longer leading a crew, S/Ldr Gee was also posted out, creating further disruption in the Squadron's leadership structure and impact onto squadron morale at losing yet another respected officer.

Lacking any means to assess the effectiveness of their sea-mining operations and therefore to come to terms with their losses, it was undoubtedly a heavy price that the Squadron had paid.

The crews mourned their losses not knowing that the Squadrons final offensive mission was now less than four short weeks away.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

153 Sqn. 3rd April 1945 - Nordhausen.

Continuing the story of my late Dad's Lancaster Squadron to the end of hostilities in 1945.

Bombing up crew on the job

For 153 Squadron, the first week of April was also the last of the Squadron's nine most critical weeks during which operation frequency increased and resulting losses of men and machine took a heavy toll on morale within this relatively small squadron.  Also "turnover" of crews continued unabated as experienced crews completed their tours of the increased 36 op figure and were posted out accordingly.

On the ground, with the allied armies advancing swiftly eastwards, and the Russian army matching progress on the Eastern Front,  operational targets became fewer.  All the signs indicated the prospect of an early end to the war in Europe , but  German forces were making final and furious resistance, pushed back as they were, onto German soil.  There was still work for the RAF to be done to bring about a swift and satisfactory conclusion.

In the intervening weeks since the colossal attack on Dresden, due in part to the effectiveness of Josef Goebbels as minister of propaganda, and in part to some incredibly naive decisions by British censors on allowing his words to be printed in British newspapers, the public support for the area bombing campaign had tumbled away as the reported enormous civilian casualty figures sunk in.  Politicians  {even sir Winston Churchill, who had fully agreed with the campaign and had been involved in the decision to bomb Dresden} began to distance themselves from the potential stigma and for the first time the men themselves felt their role was being publicly questioned and privately undermined. The political arguments aside, the crews continued to press home the required operations to the best of their ability, although questions of morality would weigh heavily on some, tired as they were of the pressure they were under. Both 'A' and 'B' flights were affected by the arrival of a further 13 new crews and the departure of 11.  This meant that over the space of under 7 weeks, whilst losing 24 mainly very experienced crews, no fewer than 27 new crews had to be absorbed.

 By the end of April, the squadron was able to muster 40 crews - but only 5 of these had flown over 15 operations! The majority (24 crews) could claim less than 5. The dearth of experienced crews was matched by a lack of officers of Flight Lieutenant rank needed to provide suitable support as deputies for their Flight Commanders.The supply of replacement aircraft showed an improvement over previous months but the maximum available strength levelled off at 18.

On Sunday, 1st April 1945 there was a switch across the RAF from the use of MPH to knots. This offered few problems to the Navigators and Bob Aimers union, but needed re-thinking by pilots, who all had to put in a few practice take-offs and landings to accustom themselves to the use of lower IAS (Indicated Air Speed) instrument readings. Many faster than needed landings were noted in the early part of the month - old habits die hard!  The potential danger from even this relatively simple change was significant, if you take a moment to consider landing with a full bomb load at the incorrect higher speed, for instance due to an aborted raid or engine trouble etc.


Groundcrew - known as 'Erks'

 Somewhat less popular was the arrival of 625 Squadron from Kelstern to share in the use of RAF Scampton. For almost six months, 153 Squadron had enjoyed monopoly status at Scampton and the necessary preparations for this move resulted in many changes to their well - ordered routine. Several NCO's had to vacate their accommodation (often a misappropriated officers married quarter, cosily housing a whole crew) and move back to occupy shared barrack dormitories. In order to make room for any more senior members of the incoming squadron, some of the junior 153 Squadron officers were similarly required to move out of centrally heated mess rooms into rather less comfortable Officer's Mess facilities. Hangar and office space too had to be surrendered to house 625 Squadron personnel. The airfield facilities were parcelled out to allow dispersal plans to be used intelligently. There was no open hostility but few crew members were happy at the resultant feeling of overcrowding, be it in the mess halls, the bars, the ante-rooms, the cinema, the link trainer, the bus queues for Lincoln, and many other places (including the increased competition at Station dances!).

NORDHAUSEN

Immediately after lunch on 3rd April, ten aircraft set off to attack Nordhausen - a town in the Hartz mountain region, which was home to the scientists and workers engaged on production of secret weapons in the nearby underground tunnels; work previously carried out at Peenemunde. Over the Continent, including the target area, there was 10/10-cloud cover up to 10,000 feet. The Master bomber initially ordered crews to attack from 8,000 feet but soon realised this was useless and directed the force to drop from above the clouds, using all available navigational aids. No results could be observed. Despite a total absence of fighters or flak, it was generally held to be a wasted effort. (Post-war research found that the attack successfully destroyed the main target - understood to be a military barracks - but at the time it was, unfortunately, occupied by concentration camp prisoners and forced workers of all nationalities.)


   Note the potential proximity of aircraft during bombing

This attack was witnessed by the Station Commander, G/Capt. Lloyd flying as a passenger in NX 556(P4-3rdJ), piloted by F/O Les Taylor. He instructed the crew (who were on their 29th op) to ignore him and behave as they normally would. F/Sgt Arthur Allan recalled that the Groupie was quite polite and friendly, but much to the crew's relief did not ask to fly it and they were able to continue without any abnormality - an indication perhaps of how ingrained it became to have every aspect of an op replicate as exactly as possible all previous successful trips.


There were no Squadron losses on this sortie.

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