Operational Training Unit (OTU) - Upper Heyford
Continuing OTU - Barford St. John
OVERSEAS PART 7
OVERSEAS PART 6
OPERATIONAL TRAINING UNIT
In Upper Heyford, the beginning of my operations training, a number of us lived in a big house three miles from the aerodrome. A transport at regular times took us to our flight rooms and back again. Our stay was for only I? days from first flight Jan 17 to February 4 last flight. We flew Oxfords for getting back to flying again and most importantly to learn procedures for bombing exercise. Most of us knew beforehand that our training would be as bomber pilots and the exercises confirmed this. I enjoyed the bombing practice but it was not long before we were on to the next phase of the training.
Leaving Kath was mixed with sadness and excitement as one would expect. Later Kath told me she felt much worse seeing me off to operations with all its ramifications. The letter of January 15 includes some interesting thoughts:
"What a great feeling it is to put your love and faith in a girl and to know that she is thinking about you always."
And referring to my mother:
"Let's hope I'll be able to see the look on your face when I arrive home. In no time at all, Kath and I will be settled. We'll then have some good old family dinners together. You know how much I dream about this always."
Then mention is made about our marrying on my next leave and this would take place in a couple of months, March or April or May.
Later in the letter:
"If plans go right, I'll be home September at the latest. So you see the home stretch is here. Somehow 1 feel and know I'll make it. To ease your mind. I shall be on the safest job for operations." I felt this but was to find that not only skill was involved but plenty of luck.
My promotion to Flight Lieutenant was made official in January and that pleased me. The extra ring on each sleeve was sewn on quite inexpertly on the battle dress by yours truly. "I'll make someone a good wife" I wrote. Also, a letter from Doctor Shaver underlined strongly that I should plan to go T.O university." And that's what. I arn going to do!" I stated in a letter to my mother and no doubt conveyed this to Kath.
About stripes briefly, on the sleeve, a thin one stripe was a Pilot Officer, a thicker one a Flying Officer, two stripes, Flight Lieutenant, three a Squadron Leader and Four a Group Captain. Next in rank wide stripe for Air Commodore I believe. At the lower ranks, a propeller on both upper arms near shoulders was LAC with white wedge in cap and earlier an AC2. All on the upper arms were two stripes for corporal, three for Sergeant, and three with a crown was Flight Sergeant. I think the next was Warrant officer with crowns on the lower sleeves and there were classifications within this. These need a check since memory reliance is suspect.
The letter written just prior to moving to the next phase of training mentions that "we are making our final preparations now for getting married. I bought a wedding ring finally, a 22 caret one."
BARFORD ST. JOHN
What a thrill! Posted to a Mosquito training RAF Station not too far from the famous university city of Oxford; The "wooden wonder" aircraft is described aptly for Indeed much of it was made from wood and its performance was indeed a wonder. In the Appendix more information may be found and the videotape I have titled Mosquitos Airborne is excellent. I remember on occasion walking in the evening and going on the tarmac where the Mosquitos are parked. Standing beside this beautifully designed machine made me remark "You are indeed a lady!".
First flight was on February 20 which seems unusual because I had not flown for six days; perhaps some ground school. I did my solo the next day and it is impossible to describe how I felt. Glorious is perhaps the word. Two powerful Rolls Royce engines and exceptional speed and i alone piloting this magnificent aircraft; Though a "lady" in design, as with all speed, one has to be careful. This was especially true in landing at 135 miles per hour because as the Mossie, its nickname, slowed, it tended to turn pretty sharply to the right. A touch of the throttle on that side as well as left rudder straightened it out nicely. Also, instead of a wheel in this training Mosquito, we had a stick or better named a joystick which pleased me. Indeed the Tiger Moth had a stick also but on AFU and later on operations it was back to the half wheel again. My pleasure came from being able to manage three point landings better as compared to the wheels landing described previously.
Reliance on memory now is in place since for some reason or other, after the February 13th letter, there are only three In my possession. February 28th is written to Andy and I do explain that I am not as yet on a squadron when flights over Germany would take place. Next is the April 11th one about our wedding and finally one written just after our honeymoon April 22nd. Unusual but there it is.
My flying hours were getting close to 1200 so handling the Mossie was not a problem and obviously a special treat. However, number of hours was no guarantee for safe flying. In fact the type of flying In those hours is often a key to adjustment to another aircraft especially one like the Mossie. At Barford we had on the training course amongst us quite a few pilots who had completed two tours on four engine Lancaster or Halifax aircraft. For whatever reason, probably not wanting some kind of desk job, love of flying, they chose to go for another tour with the Mossie. During almost three weeks prior to being posted to a squadron, far more than the average, or so it was told, deaths/injuries due to accidents occurred.
Most of these were those pilots who were used to the heavy cumbersome four engine aircraft and the throttle movement forward did not generate movement of the aircraft too quickly. The Mossie on the other hand, so light with two powerful engines, was extremely sensitive to throttle movement. My view was that the adjustment was too difficult for some to make.
For example, on landing, the Mosquito tended to turn sharply to the right and a light sensitive forward movement of the right throttle plus rudder corrects this. My view, and this is but a guess, is that these third tour pilots did not have this sensitivity. Correction of a swerve with throttle, if done heavy-handedly, would mean the Mossie would swerve sharp-ly In the other direction, groundloop or worse, topple over and over. Additionally, the joystick may have also been a problem. At any rate It was so sad to be a part of these happenings.
One of my last letters provides a statement that I had an eye out for a particular Canadian navigator. This is far more important than most persons realize although admittedly, at the time, I did not realize how important the choice was. His name as I found out, was Mel Boulton from Winnipeg. Was It the residence that attracted me for I was from Winnipeg also? Perhaps but then I was Impressed with his quiet manner and did ask him to be my partner for indeed partnership between the pilot and navigator is all-important. To be remembered is that there only two since the navigator is also the bomb aimer and trained accordingly. Indeed, the training for these double duty responsibilities must have been more in-depth than for a pilot.
Mel agreed and becoming fast friends, a team in the air, and later roommates at the squadron. Mel attended our wedding and he along with his wife Jean, came to our 50th anniversary held in August, 1995. Writing this, it is realized now after all this time that he Is the only one who attended both. We have communicated with each other for most of the years between and continue at the present time.
Our first flight was March 4th, the day before my 23rd birthday, a bomber familiarization flight. Nine days later, March 13, after a number of cross country night flights which stretched from one side of England and Wales to other sides, we were posted to RAF Station Wyton near Huntingdon which Is about 40 miles north of London. Three days after that, March 16, we were on our first operations flight on the "Milk Run" as it read in the flight room. This was the basic target of that time, namely Berlin. The logbook on that particular flight has the words written in red, "panic galore". More on this later in RAF Wyton, Part VII.
Singing on the way to the dispersal hut was common. It is true, however, that singing around a piano in the Air Force took place at parties and often quite spontaneously. I remember clearly riding at the back of the truck on the way to fly and the gang would start singing the "North Atlantic Squadron" song which had some rude lyrics forgotten by this time. Many more songs were sung a few popularized by Vera Lynn such as the "White Cliffs of Dover," "Lili Marlene," "Anniversary Waltz," and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square." There were others the words forgotten but remembered are the first lines to the tune of the "Quarter Master's Store": "There was flak, flak, bags of bloody flak. In the Ruhr, In the Ruhr" (Germany's Ruhr valley) followed by the chorus of" My eyes are dim I cannot see, The searchlights they have blinded me", and a repeat of the last line stretching out the last two words in the loudest voices. Well, it was fun, a comradeship, never to be forgotten.
Two Incidents are worth writing about. One is about the American aerodrome not far from our dispersal flying the single engine Thunderbolts. We visited there one day and viewed this excellent stubby monoplane; very impressive it was with an oversize engine or so it seemed to us. Naturally conversation with some of their pilots:, turned to comparison with our Mossie. One day, while on solo, I spotted a Thunderbolt ahead of me and decided to play a trick on the pilot flying It. Having gained some height, I then pushed both throttles full and when almost alongside the Thunderbolt, I feathered (stopped) the engine on his side. With the one engine I sped past him and waved as I passed him by. I wondered what he may have said back at his officers mess!
The other incident was the first night cross country flight, still at OTU, altitude around 25000 feet. We started from base to Land's End, the west point of the southern coast of England and then east to the other point along the White Cliffs of Dover, north to Scotland, and then completed our trip back at base, Barford. this was quite a d. distance just over three hours of flying but accomplished easily by the speedy Mosquito. The highlight for me were the stars for it was a clear night. At our height the curvature of the earth, horizon, came into play and for a moment I felt disorientated. Looking down and slightly ahead , I saw the bright stars twinkling away. How could it be? The stars should be up not slightly down. I double checked the instruments to see if I was climbing and losing speed but there was no change there, level flight. My training had been very strenuous with regard to trusting one's flying instruments. Mel and I no doubt chatted about this and we realized we were so high off the ground that we were sort of looking over the horizon. The wonder of it all remains with me; this seeing so much of the sky and stars and indeed peering farther into the universe. In many ways this was a spiritual experience and is to this day.
I wrote Kath nearly every day and she replied. Once in a while a day off was possible and I would go for a quick visit and then hustle back. Remembered though is Kath's visiting me when I was at Barford St.John and we did have a lovely time. A picture or two may be found taken when she came. No leave was in sight so our wedding date could not be set and I kept wondering how to make this happen since the training and posting to a Squadron was happening so quickly. The three letters for this time period did not provide too much information on this. No doubt I discussed this with Mel with the result that It seemed best to get settled in the Squadron at Wyton and play it by ear.
The Station itself was an eye-opener and I wish I had taken pictures of the buildings and inside as well but no doubt that was against the rules. I had been censured once before for this in Canada at SFTS. I rely on memory so errors are inevitable. Even so some scenes are recalled providing some basis for my writing. Wyton was quite a prestigious Royal Air Force Station. Living there was Air Vice-Marshall Bennett who was I believe a key person in the development of the Pathfinder Squadrons; those Mosquitos and earlier Lancasters, which flew ahead of the large numbers of bomber pilots to drop the flares, to mark the area upon which our bombs would fall.
The dining room was spacious and tables set so beautifully. I tell my friends on occasion that for dinner, the evening meal (around 7 pm for a sumptuous "high tea" took place about 4 pm - an occurrence in all RAF Stations), there was a menu to provide choice. Waitresses? Of course; The room Met and I had was quite comfortable naturally. All in all the whole place must have been one of finest peace time Station with officers provided many privileges. There were not too many non-English airmen on this station and I do believe Mel and I were the only all Canadian crew. In fact, we planned to request our very own Mosquito one we would use on operation nearly every trip. Even a name was picked out, Canuck. This did happen actually towards the end of the war.
Certainly for me anyway, the atmosphere at Wyton was so different to what I had experienced the last few years. The flying and excitement of operations, kept us busy and above all, we who were Canadians, Australians or New Zealanders, did have a great spirit of comradeship. There were not too many of us, perhaps a dozen or so, but we made our presence felt in many ways. Then there was the whole question of my leave, the wedding date and all those essential details being awaited by Kath and her Mom and Dad. However, except for the last week of the honeymoon when Kath was with me in Huntingdon during which time Mel and I flew three flights over Germany, the details of our plans, the wedding, the honeymoon west Devonshire (Woolacombe) on the coast of the Atlantic for four days, I leave to the written story, "Long Ago and Far Away".
Worth mentioning though ( perhaps better to forget), is that there was probably a tree with some withered leaves in front of Kath's home some time after the wedding when we were on our way to Devon. My friends, the boys, including best man Bernie, Mel, and others, took me on a stag pub crawl. My capacity for liquid of that variety was quite limited but there was no way I could refuse their so-called kind hospitality. Upon arriving back to Kath's home, outside, the result was being very sick indeed and that tree caught the brunt of the contents of my tummy.
The last letter to home, April 22, was written the day after I went with Kath to London from Huntingdon to see her off at the train back to Nantwich Looking back and reflecting on her visit, the last week of our honeymoon, the decision to have her so close by when I was flying over Germany on three nights of that week was rather immature to say the least. Worrying for her was a natural result. Youth will be youth however especially on a honeymoon! Noted is informing mother that she would now be getting $115 a month while Kath would be receiving $112.1 think there was some dependent's allowance included for mother. This information was in the last letter of some 130 precious letters I wrote to my family and I thank my mother with much love for saving these for me.
FIRST TRIP PANIC GALORE!
The speech titled "Suddenly It's Autumn" shall be paraphrased about this first trip and then later trips as well. Autumn refers to my age when the talk was given to the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum Annual meeting, November 22, 1995. One can imagine how excited this 23 year old pilot and a little older navigator were as we found out, scheduled for our first trip March 16. The Mossie was a later version, XXV as compared to the XX in training and this one used a half wheel to which I was accustomed. The afternoon test was made for flying and navigation equipment including the all important "GEE" with which Mel was familiar for about half of the distance to our target, Berlin, the milk run. He could locate us on the map in no time at all while in "Gee" Allied occupied territory. We were on our own although we took off into the sunset with other aircraft from Wyton and we had our specific "H" hour meaning time over target which was the flares dropped earlier by Pathfinder aircraft usually Mosquitos. I'm ahead of myself for much of this is in what follows:
A speech, somewhat paraphrased, given by yours truly at the Annual meeting of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum of Brandon on November 22, 1985:
SUDDENLY IT'S AUTUMN
You have honored me by this invitation, and I deem it a privilege now more than ever, to share experiences and thoughts with you about war experiences with some emphasis on the Mosquito aircraft. This provided me with motivation to look back many years at some happy and yes some sad events. Information from Ottawa arrived in the form of an excellent history written by Dr. F.J. Hatch titled AERODROME AND THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH AIR TRAINING PLAN 1939-1945 (not now in my possession having given it to the Museum but the one I have, Wings for Victory by Spencer Dunmore, is absolutely excellent).
The title points to the autumn of one's life coming upon so many of us seemingly so quickly; expected of course and even prepared for in many ways. Also is the advantage in this exercise of leaving some recorded writing behind for our children and their children - an ethical will as some cultures call this.
HISTORY OF FLIGHT
What a far cry it was when comparing World War II to the early days of flying as is the difference between World War II to the present day. Some information was gleaned from an article titled AND SIXTY YEARS FLEW BY written by Pat Sullivan.
The Royal Canadian Air Force was founded in 1924 and the fledgling outfit had only 324 officers and airmen, rickety relics to fly and duties that were a far cry from the military such as putting out fires to delivering treaty money to the Indians, 61 years ago. Actually the first military flight took place some 15 years before this when John McCurdy tried to convince the Army brass at Pettawawa, Ontario, that planes could be useful instruments of war. He is the one who made the first powered flight in Canada when his Silver Dart rose from the ice of Nova Scotia's Baddeck Bay. The Army showed no interest but five years later World War 1 began and the Canadian Aviation Corps was formed - three persons and one $5000 plane.
However it ceased to exist a year later so Canadians rushed to join Britain's Royal Flying Corps which became the Royal Air Force in 1918. Also, the British had opened up their own training facilities in Canada and by war's end had produced 3135 pilots in Canada. Interesting also was that at the end of the war, a study showed that more than 13000 Canadians were then serving in the RAF so the Federal Government decided to have its own organization.
In England, the Canadian Air Force was born with Billy Bishop as the first Commander but it disbanded a year later to begin again as the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1924. Development took place slowly but surely.
In the later thirties, the RCAF started to gear up after the depression and the budget soared. Indeed by the end of World War II, almost 250 000 had enlisted and 93000 had served overseas. The RCAF was easily the most dangerous of the three services. Though RCAF accounted for only 23% of enlistments, 41% of the country's war dead were airmen and airwomen. Most of the 17000 and some say 18000 who died were killed on bombing raids over Germany but there were many who died as a result of training accidents.
The RCAF after the war emerged as the fourth largest Air Force with 48 Squadrons flying in Europe and the Far East and 37 at home. It had also provided overseeing the development of the British Air Commonwealth Training Plan which produced 131 000 pilots and aircrew in five years and 73 000 were Canadian - a very impressive record of which we should be proud.
Today the RCAF Is called Air Command and it is the time of unbelievable airplane speeds reaching 2178 miles per hours registered in machs (Mosquito load-free could reach around 425, the fasted piston-driven aircraft). The jet engine, advanced research with new designs and new materials, computerization, meant more and more speed and greater heights with the record now, I believe, at 126 000 feet - some 25 miles up. What a way to get to heaven!
And what a difference to the Tiger Moth of Elementary Flying Training School! Remembered was my first flight on the Moth travelling at about 65 miles per hour and the instructor asking me to put out my arm into the slipstream. I slid the canopy open a bit but hesitated thinking my arm might be ripped off, at least strained. Finally out my arm went and I experienced the sensation of feeling the air just as one would grab hold of softened butter and the aircraft did turn. This proved that the propeller literally chewed into the air which resulted in the forward movement of the aircraft - a lesson in Theory of Flight. Not that theory is always correct as indicated by someone who felt that the bumble bee with its tiny wings and huge bulbous body, in theory, should not be able to fly. But fly it does!
BRITISH COMMONWEALTH AIR TRAINING PLAN
Time does not permit to include too many of the pertinent and quite interesting historical facts about the BCVATP. Dr. Fred Hatch, the author of Aerodrome of Democracy, devoted many years to the study of the air training plan which had its official start at midnight on the 16th of December, 1939, when a small group of men representing many governments, gathered in the office of Prime Minister of Canada, MacKenzie King, for the signing of the "Agreement Relating to the Training of Pilots and Aircrew Crews in Canada and their Subsequent Service." Fascinating reading is his book with a picture or two of local aerodromes such as those in Brandon, Virden, and Carberry.
History behind us, I turn now to the "I remember" part of this talk which for this Appendix I will exclude detailed accounts which have been covered. This takes us then to my posting to 163 Squadron, RAF Station Wyton, located near Huntingdon, Huntingdonshire, England, some 40 Or 50 miles north of London inland from the North Sea.
FIRST "OP" AND GENERAL INFORMATION
Perhaps for most, that first venture into "unknown territory", in this case the first flight over Germany, first "operation", will be remembered vividly time and time again. After getting out of the truck ( a song or two on the way), and into the briefing room, the "gen" was provided namely the briefing as to which target, the weather and a short "pep" talk. There it was in capital letters in chalk on the blackboard, MILK RUN or at times the BERLIN EXPRESS. Indeed the light night striking force, of which we were a part, bombed Berlin on 26 consecutive nights and Mel, my navigator, and I were on the last five. It did not dawn on me immediately, Milk Run, meant Berlin which had been taking the brunt of the bomber attacks for some time. Routine continued and we became familiar with the details in the 14 trips Mel and I took, almost half a-tour. We were told our our height, speed, "H" hour which was time of arrival to the second over the target (flares) and " bombs way" as close to H hour as possible. Our Mossie carried two 500 Ib. bombs one under each wing tip although some dropped a "cookie" which was a 4000 pounder.
Since we were night bombers ( American Fortresses flew in the day time), we took off in the sunset. The weather was quite clear and the sunset was perhaps a fine omen for us. Prior to taking off, it was a beautiful sight to see the Mossies lined up to take off with that lovely sunset in the background. (Later, a London Express newspaper took pictures of the line up and take offs and I copied one of these in my brief experience as an oil painter; not much talent, but it is something I did and I enjoy seeing it up on my wall. The actual picture may be seen elsewhere In this album). Before takeoff, Mel and I made our checks twice over if not three times being rookies.
FLYING ON THE BEAM NOW CRUCIAL
Berlin was a long way, time wise, some two hours and forty minutes one way. There was no "George" on the Mosquito, a switch for no hands required automatic pilot, so It was trim the aircraft as well as possible and then only minor changes by the pilot are required unless of course the weather and wind are abnormal which meant constant attention by the pilot. Night fell on us quickly so we were on instrument flying and one wondered how often collisions took place what with so many aircraft converging but at different heights and some different "H" hours. Instructing in the standard beam approach certainly gave one a great deal of confidence and then of course our "GEE" usable up to the boundaries of occupied areas by the Allies gave us our position easily. Then beam approach took over.
Pin-point bombing was the standard now in March, 1945, even bombing from great heights such as our height on the first operation of 25000 feet. The claim, documented often, is that from 30000 feet utilizing " OBOE", a radar device especially important to the Pathfinders, the average hit area distance from target is around 150 feet. The exact function of OBOE and how it was used for pin point bombing needs to be checked. Certainly it was one of the best kept secrets in the war and essential for the Pathfinder Squadrons. The pathfinder aircraft would fly ahead of the bomber force and mark the target with long-burning flares which meant "H" hours could be spread out nicely.
Mass bombing was the order of the day as devised I believe by the Group Commander "Bomber" Harris (now a controversial item since there are those who feel that It was unethical to resort to mass bombing where many citizens were killed as compared to strategic bombing where specific targets such as factories, ammunition areas , and the like, would be sought out. The Americans chose strategic bombing made possible because they bombed during daylight with minimum risk to citizens. Consider though the earlier bombings of London citizens as well as the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasacki in August 1945 when some 150 000 residents (or more in the two cities combined) were killed and many dying or suffering later from burns).
MEL AND I - WE'RE ON THE WAY!
Off to Berlin and hopefully back but returning was not on my mind nor Mel's probably since there was much to do and excitement was the order of the day or I should say night in this case. In addition to GEE, Mel had H2S which was relatively knew and highlighted by radar the landscape below. We used it seldom but no doubt in coast and river areas, this highlighting would be quite benefical. Once we passed the boundaries of GEE, Mel and I would team together with his navigational aids and I with the beam flying. Perhaps this was the time OBOE came into play for it could lay a beam in a particular direction leading to the flared target. Once the flares came into view then it was visual all the way. More information is required as to non-visual over clouds and the bombing procedure.
The long hours of instructing on standard beam approach provided the essential experience to hone in on Berlin. The Morse code di-da (letter A) and da-dit (letter N) decided which side of the beam one was on and the volume increasing would mean we are heading nearer to the target. A steady signal meant we were on the beam but that would not come until we were nearer the target area. As I understand it now, it was the Pathfinder aircraft that had the more difficult task in getting on the steady signal near the target and then remaining there until a signal from London resulted in the dropping of the flares. This having to remain on the beam even if coned by searchlights could result In attack by enemy fighters. Many Pathfinder Mossies were shot down as a result.
NO PROBLEM FIRST TWO THIRDS OF THE FIRST TRIP
The excitement eased off once on the way over the English Channel but not so the sense of anticipation. Friends had passed on some information earlier but we knew the actual experience is what it's all about. Would we be coned for instance when three searchlights might focus on us? Yes was the answer even if we were at 25000 feet! Exercises on getting out of the cones as quickly as possible were practised in training, the corkscrew. This was sharp turn to the right and down and up and left and repeat until out of the cone - an easy manoeveur in practice. Then back on the beam and proper height again and hopefully one has not strayed too far away. Apparently these searchlights were operated, at ground level of course, by field glasses and were quite effective in zooming in on a plane. Enemy aircraft may then have a fine visual target.
It was a clear night March 16, 1945, and finally the flares came into view seemingly not too far away but as it turned out it only seemed that way. At 25000 feet during the day the terrain below moves ever so slowly and the same at night of course. Visibility stretches for a long distance and in fact it seemed a long time in getting over target. There was also "H" hour for Mel to consider.
Then the first of our "mishaps" occurred. One engine began to falter and my heart skipped a beat or two. Mel and I looked at each other but then finally one of us must have turned off the panic button and said," The auxiliary petrol control". I reached down and turned the suitable cog and thank goodness the engine came to life. This was a check point I had forgotten about completely.
We were still about 30 minutes from "H" hour and we continued on. Bits of flak were noted ahead of us looking like small pin points of light. I didn't know Mel's thoughts but my excitement was mounting to be sure. Suddenly I saw Mel reach for his mouthpiece, the "Mike", to say something:" I am having difficulty in breathing Mikei" A little more panic. It had to be oxygen for at our height around 25000 feet we were connected to the oxygen tank. Down below between us were the connections hard to find in the dark and the old target was getting closer which meant the flak was also. My right hand scrambled below trying to find the loose connection and it seemed that many minutes had slipped by before it was found. Mel gave a "thumbs up!" so another incident passed by leaving us both on the edge wondering what next could take place.
By now the target seemed almost upon us and to this day I can visualize that scene. Bursts were seen on or near the target since many Mossies had already dropped their load of bombs. The flak was quite near us but just below. Then all at once we were enclosed first in one light and quickly others so that we felt blinded. What a contrast from the darkness to that white light. Coned! Immediate action was taken so down and right we went and left and up and kept doing this. It may have been on this flight or another but I spotted a plane, as mentioned previously, that just missed us flying over the top of our plane from the other direction. The enemy? Quite likely and it happened so quickly. Finally, with a great sigh of relief by both us to be sure, we escaped the coning.
It is a wonder that these rookies kept on but on we went now fairly close to "H" hour so Mel, bomb aimer as well as navigator, unbuckled and edged slowly to bombsite area below at the nose of the plane, partially windowed, to bomb visually giving directions for me to turn left or right or steady. He checked the camera readying it for the picture taken automatically and timed to snap at the moment our two 500 pound bombs would hit the ground, a building, or whatever. The flak seemed much closer now and I was waiting anxiously for Mel's voice to say, "Bomb Away!" Finally it came and I stayed on course until we knew the camera had taken a picture. It was back to the right hand seat for Mel, buckle up and we were on the way home. What a great feeling that was not realizing that there was still time for a coning and being shot down. A half-tour completed just over two and a half hours of flying and headed west we were for the other half.
Fortunately we came to the coast under Mel's expert guidance and soon we were in touch with control at Wyton to land. This was a five hour ten minute trip so in no way would I attempt at night a three point landing. Two front wheels to hit the runway first and ease the throttles slowing down to taxi speed. When the taxi back to the hangar was completed, I often wonder what Mel and I did. Did we shake hands. Or thumbs up? Or just peer at each other with stunned looks on our faces. Relieved naturally as we went into the hangar for our post op briefing, a regular routine or did we have our breakfast of eggs and bacon or whatever first? Intelligence officers did the briefing and later it turned out that our picture did not materialize for some reason or other. This was important since it was proof of having dropped the bombs. A picture may be seen in one of the following pages.
So ended the first operation, a truly memorable one! I should have and may soon ask Mel to provide his version of this in writing or by phone. A lengthy description this is including much of what transpired in future trips except for one or two other adventures. Much paraphrasing has gone into this version of my speech but only a few more items were added. One was about the Mosquito which will be written up in the Appendices. Another is titled Peace which I shall include in the story. As a gift, I gave the Museum my large picture of the Tiger Moth and it hangs there for viewing. It is an honor also to become a lifetime member and I am proud of all those veterans who work so diligently year after year in making improvements to our Museum. A trip there is a fine experience especially for the newcomer. I enjoyed the preparation for this talk and possibly this led me to further writing, an ethical will which our children and grandchildren will have as a record of their parents and grandparents.
The general understanding , it seems to me at this point in time, is that a tour was comprised of 30 trips or some say missions or raids for the aircrew of the light night strike force bombers. For other units such as heavy bombers or fighter aircraft for instance, the tour total may be different. Noted in the following logbook pages is the frequency of trips in a relatively short period of time. A listing is interesting:March 16 - BerlinFourteen trips in 31 days - almost half a tour! Following pages include copies of logbook entries of these trips into Germany beginning with one page showing the solo certificate received in Regina. Then came the Cook's tour into Europe on May 31 which was quite a sight to see yet, in a way, a sad flight. Mel and I along with many other Mossies but flying independently, took a ground crew member lying in the bomb site area with us to view the bombing damage in Germany. I remember crossing the English Channel at low level, now no worry about enemy aircraft or flak or searchlights. Mel and I decided that we would take a circuitous route and fly over Paris since the speedy Mosquito could cover the distance in a hurry. Mind you, at around 1500 feet in altitude we did not see too much but still we could all say we saw Paris at least once in our lives.
March 18 - Kassel
March 21 - Berlin
March 22 - Berlin
March 24 - Berlin
March 26 - Berlin
April 3 - Berlin
Leave and wedding
April 16 - Berlin
April 19 - Schleiszneim
April 20 - Schleiszneim
April 23 - Travemunde (aerodrome)
April 25 - Munich
April 26 - Grossonbrode
May 2 - Kiel ( our own Mossie finally named the Canuck)
Then back to the regular route and we flew at a lower level but high enough so viewing was improved. The first town or small city was Wesel and what an eye-opener that was. The buildings were just shells and one can imagine that thousands of people were killed and injured. So it was with other towns and cities. We did not go as far as Berlin which would have been a highlight but remembered vividly are the bridges on the River Rhine, each one of possibly seven or eight broken in the middle with centre hanging into the water. This was I think in the Dusseldorf area. The countryside was beautiful for it was spring at this time crowding early summer.
Another remembrance are the forests large and small and in so many of them were what looked like abandoned aircraft. We had known that strategic bombing, special raids on factories, had caused severe shortage of petrol for Germany. Meanwhile many aircraft had been built to counter the mass bombing. With insufficient petrol these planes now inoperable were stored in the many forests. A wonderful trip of four hours and ten minutes, and someone's idea of taking ground crew, too often the forgotten persons in the war, was brilliant. There was a feeling of sadness in lives lost on both sides but happiness reigned supreme for soon we would be going back home to Canada and for Kath and me it would be a new life with hopefully a bright future.
There were a few other adventurous happenings during this time from arrival at Wyton March 15 to a few normal flights in June the last on June 16. One was the storm Mel and I flew into while returning from a raid. Indeed it was frightening since lightning flashed so often and thunder was heard repeatedly so much so the Mossie was shaken, the instruments seemed wobbly, and keeping on course was very difficult. Mel and I discussed our course of action quickly for this happened so suddenly. We decided that our best escape would be gain more height and turn to a more northerly direction over the North Sea.
We knew that in the high reaching thunderclouds, cumulonimbus .. type, the up and down drafts inside the thundercloud could reach speeds of 100 miles per hour and a most dangerous place in which to be located. Reporting to base I believe was possible and no doubt air control was informed. So up we went until we finally came to a more acceptable environment. Visual was impossible since this was at night so we proceeded north until we felt that losing altitude would find us out of the storm. Luckily that was the case and good old Mel then efficiently worked out the new headings for our return to base. We kept in mind also during this time that we had used up quite a bit of a petrol and more scurrying about to avoid the storm would have meant finding and landing at another aerodrome.
Another small but amusing experience was once in landing after a heavy rain, the air pressure and/or hydraulics for the brakes fizzled out and in the heavy wind. Indeed upon landing I heard the hissing and wondered what it.was. I could not keep it on the runway. It had been raining heavily in the past few days so off the runway and into the mud we went at a standstill pretty quickly. It was slightly embarrassing but the crew that picked us up in the truck made quite a joke about it so we too laughed along with them.
So ended the operations, never-to-be-forgotten experiences for really a still immature young adult now more serious than when he began his air force career. One date stands out naturally and this is Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) and Prime Minister Winston Churchill's arm stretched out above his head with two fingers stretched to form a "V" symbolizing the greatness of the victory. Much credit, and very deserved, has been paid to this man who inspired the Allies and especially England during the early German bombing raids over cities there the main target being London.
A picture may be seen taken outside of the RAF Station Wyton building of a group celebrating on May 8. You will see also a few Russian officers as well as the mock hanging of the three Axis leaders, Hitler who committed suicide in his underground "bunker" in Berlin and "Mussolini, who was executed by hanging in Italy as well as the Japanese leader to Kiel, May 2,1 planned to head for Nantwich. As luck would have it, an English friend offered me a ride to start early in the morning on May 8 cross country to the west of England. my story of this ride has been written for one of the Vignettes and it follows.
A CAR RIDE REMEMBERED ALWAYS!
The people were out in mass it seemed in the many villages and towns we passed through by car on the Al highway in England. Happiness was reflected everywhere ...the fingers V for Victory sign, ribbons strung across the roads, colorful posters and signs visible everywhere, and particularly joyful were the cries and shouts of women , men, and children who had awaited this day for almost six years since World War 11 had begun in the fall of 1939. It was May 8, 1945, Victory In Europe Day, Ve-Day, and for once the skies were blue with a sprinkle of lumpy white clouds with no sign of rain.
We had left our base, 163 Mosquito Squadron at RAF Station Wyton, Huntingdon in Huntingdonshire, around 8 in the morning to head northwest to join our families to celebrate this wonderful occasion. It was most fortunate that I was able to hitch this ride with an English airman who like me was a pilot. RAF Wyton was about 40 miles north of London and my destination was Nantwich, Cheshire (not too far from Manchester) with the driver proceeding on beyond that lovely town. Kathy and I had been married recently, April 10, 1945 to be exact, so wanting to be with her and her Mom and Dad was uppermost in my mind.
Rumours were stronger than usual in later April 1945 that the war in Europe would end in the near future. Even so my navigator Met Boulton and I, Winnipeggers from Manitoba, were still flying on operations with other flyers in routine bombing flights over Germany such as Berlin on April 16, Schleiszheim on the 19th and 20th, Travemunde aerodrome 23rd, Munich on the 25th, Grossonbrode on the 26 with the last "op" at Keil May 2. This short, sweet, and last operation was the first in our own aircraft which Mel and I had named "Canuck". We had hoped to complete a tour but that became unimportant in the face of the wondrous news of May 8th.
Remembered mostly as we wheeled on our way across country, to some extent, were the feelings that permeated from the people to us in an indescribable way. Indeed one could feel the pent-up emotions coming out in joyous expression. This complemented our own thoughts especially in my case with visions of finally, after a long absence, going home to Canada to see my own family and with me or soon after me as the case might be, to introduce my wife Kathy to them. This special day! A forever-to-be-remembered car ride to join my new family, my second home, to enjoy the long-awaited celebration!
Fifty years after VE Day, May 8, 1945, celebrations took place in all those countries who fought against the Germans and Italians. Naturally many writings were made available in many publications. I have included some of these in one of the Appendices. Celebrations for Victory over Japan, VE "J" Day on August 15, 1945 were quite minimal for some reason. Back to 1945 after May 8th, repatriation, the process of getting back home to Canada, was our key thought and it certainly took quite a long time before we stepped on our ship to cross the Atlantic.
Finally, I move now to a few notes made concerning war and also to Suddenly It's Autumn which previously I had transcribed. Left out were the comments under the titles of Sadness and Peace. The notes mention that all the bombs dropped in World War 11 are only one-eighth the power of a Trident nuclear explosion so killing is not only physical but biological also since many die after the explosion. Peace then is so essential and yet little wars have taken place in country after country. Remembrance Day, November 11, shouts loudly in celebration that we must move from military celebration to peace celebration. Peoples everywhere must care, really really care, and be prepared to be active if circumstances point to this.
I recalled with sadness in my speech at the Annual meeting my picturing some of the very close friends who lost their lives. Many of those in attendance would have had this same sadness. There was my friend from England, Woody, the nine or so who died training on the Mosquito, a number killed during my long stint as an instructor one of whom was roommate Reg Bray from Alexander and of whom I wrote in one of my stories, the three Vancouver lads I trained with in Canada, and the list goes on.
Is it not sad, I continued, that there is not some other way to strive for peace? Another kind of flight is recalled namely the drama of the Canadian geese as they fly in formation. It is indeed a beautiful sight and especially on a clear night when the moon may be shining on them as they pass overhead with their usual honking. Apparently there is no one lead goose. Specialists in aerodynamics say that geese can fly so far and so long because each one helps the flock by taking turns as a leader. Each goose in formation, in flapping its own wings, creates and upward lift for the following goose. This gives the whole flock a much greater flying range than if the bird flew alone. Leadership is rotated because no one goose can lead for very long.
If only the nations of the world would flock together and use this principle of helping each other with the common goal of peace; The alternative is frightening; Nuclear war; Perhaps as well as Remembrance Day, we ought to have declared a Peace Day with cultural, professional, and other exchanges amongst countries for better understanding one with the other. So Indeed each of us must care, really really care about wanting peace.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that during my visits to Nantwich after leaving RAF Station Wyton up to the time I left by boat from Liverpool, I visited Reg Bray's grave in Chester (Blacon Cemetery all-Canadian and so well-kept). After paying my respects, Kath and I headed for the exit but noticed a new headstone being placed in the last row. Curiosity prevailed and we waited until the workmen left. Reading the name and number, I rioted the name William Campbell, the same as my friend in Bournemouth and later at AFU at Church Lawford. However I knew Bill's officer number for the reason his was two less than mine which was J21452. He and his crew were on a cross country flight, not on operations, on April 30th, 1945, Ghost Squadron, and for whatever reason the aircraft crashed killing all. How sad especially when operations were no doubt over. Many years later I met Bill's parents and brother in Brandon and paid my respects to them.
100 pages of text
Recruitment and Training in Canada
Overseas Parts 1-3
Overseas Parts 4-5
Overseas Parts 6-7
Overseas 8 and Post War
Spack Family History
Looking Back At The Spacks
Contact Daughter Cathy at:
As You Were . . .
Hillman WWII Tributes
RCN HMCS PRINCE ROBERT
Ex-Air Gunners Association
Webmaster: William G. Hillman
BILL & SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
Editor and Webmaster Bill Hillman ~ Copyright 1996-2021
Bill and Sue-On Hillman Eclectic Studio