Biography of Peter A. Weston (Continued)

26 OTU / Lancaster Radio Operator/Radar Navigator, Squadron 186, Stradishall / 16 OTU, RAF

The music is "White Cliffs of Dover", they would be the first thing to see on your way back home from a daylight raid on a northerly heading from France

No. 26. O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit) at R.A.F. Wing / Little Horwood (the satellite to Wing). Buckingham. U.K.

     I arrived at 26 O.T.U. Wing and after a couple of days settling in, all recently arrived aircrew for the new course were assembled in a large room to sort ourselves out into 6 member crews, Pilot, Navigator, Radio/Radar, Bomb Aimer, 2 Gunners, (Flight Engineer would be picked up later at H.C.U. (Heavy Conversion Unit)

     We were all milling around sizing each other up and enjoying the goodies ie. tea, coffee, sandwiches, cake's etc. I was approached by a Pilot and a Navigator asking me if I would join them to which I agreed and they said lets look for the others we need, eventually we found what we were looking for and we all appeared to be compatible which is a very important point. After registering as a crew we arranged to go to local pub for a beer or two and get better aquainted with each other, as it turned out we had a very good crew as it proved later.

     The aircraft were Vicker's Wellingtons, mostly Mk.10's, very well used and clapped out, to quote a RAF expression. The normal type training ensued after the Pilot had finished his conversion onto the Wimpy, ie. Circuits and bumps, day and night, and fighter affiliation day and night, for the gunners there was gunnery using cine camera, bombing practice (25lb bombs), combat manouvers, lots of cross country flights day and night. All this was terminated by doing a couple of Bullseye trips, ( I have mentioned them in my previous excerpts) That concludes the time spent at No26. OTU.

***

No. 1669. H.C.U. Langar. (Heavy Conversion Unit.) Aircraft = Halifax.

Lancasters Mk1 and 3.

   On leaving No.26. Avro Wellington OTU. (Operational Training Unit) we were posted to the final part of our training on the actual type of aircraft that we would be using for Operations over enemy territory. The unit, No.1669. HCU. (Heavy Conversion Unit) was located at Langar airfield just outside the City of Nottingham in Northern England. The two main heavy bombers in use were the Avro Lancaster and the Handley Page Halifax, both types were used at this unit, our crew were detailed to the Lancaster unit.

   After arrival and settling in, each of the crew would report to their respective trade office, ie, mine was to the Signals Leader. The Pilots, Bomb Aimers, Navigators and Gunners would first be given short ground instructional classes. It was at this time that we would collect our Flight Engineer to join the crew. As for myself during this time, I was a loose cannon as they say, and was grabbed by the leaders of both types to fly with the Halifax unit and also the Lancaster unit too.

   One night I was allocated to fly with a Warrant Officer Pilot in a Halifax on night circuits and landings, there were only 3 of us in the crew, the Pilot of course, a Flight Engineer and myself. We turned onto the threshold of the runway and after getting a green lamp from the flying control Caravan and running the engines prior to take off, the pilot pulled out a small pair of Spectacles, put them on and off we went with a few small swerves before becoming airborne. Now, at that time no aircrew could fly if Spectacles were required. The Flt Eng.and I exchanged glances but said nothing at that time. We positioned for landing and on the approach the Pilot was swishing around the rudders and going up and down and making abnormal moves to line up for landing. The first landing was a little dicy but we didn't say anything and returned for another take off. On the second landing attempt the Pilot was not lined up correctly and did an overshoot to go round again, I asked the Pilot if there was a strong side wind affecting us and he said "Yep, I guess so", we said nothing. On the next approach we were getting panicky, he was all over the place, undercarriage was down and suddenly he swerved to line up but was way out and he neatly decapitated the Wind sock that was fixed to the Caravan located by the side of the threshold, with the port wing!!! he overshot again. Flying control told him to land ASAP and report to the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor). The Pilot was grounded forever as it turned out, apparently he had been suspected for having sight problems. After he had been grounded for good he was transfered to HQ at another airfield in the Admin Dept. and was allowed to retain his wings. Apparently he was a Pre War pilot, flying the old fabric and wooden type aircraft and previously had a good record, I would guess his age was around 40 years.

   The two people in the Caravan had nervous breakdowns, we asked if we could join them, no luck for us though. After a few more flights, nothing compared to the one described, my crew were ready to be all together again.

   First though, in the conversion system, the crew would only consist of our pilot, myself and Flight eng.and the rear gunner acting as a lookout and a fully qualified flying instructor, usually he was having a rest? from operational flying. We would do lots of circuits and bumps in the first phase followed by flights away from the airfield where the staff pilot could have space to show off what the Lancaster could do, such as closing an engine and feathering the props, stalling, minor aerobatics etc etc. On one such flight the instructor said did you know we can keep going on one engine, no? well I'll show you. He cut 3 engines one after another leaving the port inner which supplied our power, during the demonstration I believe I actually bent a support pole that I had grabbed near my position!!!

  It was amazing to us, the pilot was a master at flying and carefully doing certain manouvers and losing height only slightly, but it was good to get all engines going again, Phew!!

   Soon after, our pilot would go solo, again with minimum crew. Later we would all be together and doing cross country flights, fighter affiliation for the gunners, bomb ranges for the the Bomb Aimer to practice his skill, navigation exercises for the Nav, and myself looking after communications and helping out with the Radar.

     Cross Country Exercises were in order to become more familiar with the aircraft and to gain experience with the crew all working together. Cross country flights were essential for all crew members to be able to check themselves out. The pilot would feel better without someone looking over his shoulder, indeed, we all felt the same too.

   We would have a short briefing on the route we had been given. After take off we would set course and stick to the route like glue! All turning points had to be spot on and the timing as near as perfect as possible. The Navigator would be on full alert, the Bomb aimer would be avaliable to help the Nav by taking drift sights etc, the Flight Engineer checking fuel consumption and engine instruments etc, and being a very valuable crew member. The Gunners could take it easy for a while, their turn would come during fighter affiliation exercises later on. My responsibility would be maintaining contact with base, sending back position reports, obtaining bearings from H/F D/F stations along the way, an added assist to help the Nav. Obtain bearings from various Radio beacons using the Direction Finding Loop. Last but not least, obtain the latest weather forecasts for our ETA in our base area. After landing we would be De-briefed, going over the flight in general.

   Bomb Aimers Training was another feature of this course. In order for the Bomb Aimer to polish up his skill, a few visits were made to a bombing range, one on land and one offshore over the sea. There would be timed runs to the Target, mostly at height and some at a lower level. On an actual Operation he would be responsible for setting the Bomb sights and manipulating the bomb switching and release order panel. The bombs could be set to drop in a stick pattern or altogether if required, depending on the type of target.

    Navigator Training has mainly been described above. On a Operational flight he would be kept fairly busy most of the time, radio silence would be in force and a absolute must.The same order applied to myself with the exception being when I was blocking out radio transmissions from enemy ground controllers to prevent the fighters from understanding the instructions being broadcast.

   Rear and Mid upper Gunners were trained in Fighter Affils. Apart from using a ground range for target training, the best way to gain experience was whilst flying. We would be detailed to carry out a Fighter Affiliation exercise. A fighter unit would be set up from an airfield , usually, in the middle of an area of several other airfields. An area would be set up in which the exercise would take place. After getting airborne and reaching the designated area, the gunners would keep their eyes peeled for a fighter. The pilots, usually flying Spitfires, were seasoned experienced men probably having a rest from operations. They were very crafty, quite often they would make the gunners jump! when suddenly, the nose popped up just a few feet from the rear turret. VHF contact would be made and off he went to carry out mock attacks one after another with the gunners being made giddy swivelling around in all directions. When finished, the attacker would show off by formatting on us, do barrel rolls around us, scaring the rear gunner by seeing if he could put the nose of the spitfire into the end of one of his guns! As we neared base he would waggle his wings, wish us luck and dive away.

     Radio and Communications training which was my job. My job I believe, has been has been mentioned many times in my Biography, also in the Nav department, so I will keep it short. On operational flights Radio silence was enforced to avoid detection by the enemy, but I had to keep listening out on the very powerful Bomber Command frequency for instructions sent in code, about every 30 minutes or so. It could be weather reports, a message to abort the raid (Not often) or to Jam a certain frequency other than the ones I had been given at briefing. I could help out on the Radar and GEE equipment as well.

   On returning to our airfield from our last cross country trip before being posted to our alloted Lancaster Squadron, we had encountered a few thunder storms in the vicinity of Langar. Whilst we were losing height to join the circuit through wispy clouds, I was looking out with my head in the Astrodome, I heard a terrific bang and saw a jagged lightning strike hit the port wing, everyone aboard almost jumped out of their seats, my eyes took a few seconds before I could see as normal again. That was the first and last time I had experienced a lightning strike during my career.

   The time came when we heard that we we would be going to No.186 Squadron on Lancasters, in 3 group of Bomber Command, located at RAF Station Stradishall in the County of Suffolk. As it turned out, someone had made a blunder and finally we ended up at RAF Station Tuddenham that was home to No. 90 Squadron flying Halifax's !! More about that later. We had to fit in, between leaving 1669 HCU and arriving at Tuddenham, the Aircrew Survival Course at RAF Gamston, not too far from Nottingham. The time spent there follows.

***

No. 3 Survival school R.A.F. Station Gamston. U.K. ( Survival, Escape and Evade)

     The Survival school was located at R.A.F. Gamston, Notts. It was a 3 weeks course with some school room lectures on the way that one would act under certain situations and how to create a diversion from being spotted by the Gestapo and police, and not to remove one's uniform if possible to avoid being captured as a spy! which could lead to treatment worse than death. We were given lessons on self defence, including how to cut an enemy's throat! by creeping up behind and using a knife, how to throttle someone by using a shoe lace, how to wait and see if you could contact a resistance group etc. Between the above we would be stripped of everything except our clothes and dropped off in an isolated area, either as a group or scattered around and left to fend for ourselves, usually we were able to find each other ok. While on this part of the course we had to stay out overnight and the R.A.F. Regiment people who hosted the course, would visit us in the forest with a sheep and show us how to slaughter it and cook it too! I was not impressed by that at all but it was essential that at least we should know about these things. Towards the end of the course we would be split up, one half acting as Germans and try to find us in a certain area and vice versa.

     On completion of the course they took 3 photographs of each crew member of our faces, front, side, and three quarters view, we each had to carry a set with us on operations to enable a resistance group to identify us in the event we contacted them, sets of them were sent to groups mainly in France, Holland and Belgium, don't ask me how they were delivered, I haven't a clue and we were never told.

***

     This lot took me to sometime in September 1944. Our crew was ready to take on anything and could not wait to get onto an operational Squadron but a delay was coming.

     We were posted to No. 90 Sqdn. based at R.A.F. Tuddenham.This was a Halifax Sqdn and we had been trained on Lancasters? it took a whole month before it was sorted out by Bomber Command. In the meantime the crew had nothing to do but hang around although I was grabbed 2 or 3 times to replace a sick or a missing crew member for local flying because they knew I had been press ganged on Halifax's at Langar to do the same thing. We were not allowed to do any Operational flying whilst at Tuddenham. The airfield was F.I.D.O. equipped. This a system that is used on the main runway as an aid to fog dispersal. Trough's were laid each side of the runway for the entire length and also across the ends, these were fed with petrol and ignited, causing huge flames anywhere from 50 to 80 feet high, this had the effect of burning off the droplets of moisture and gave one a clear area in which to see the runway and land. It used thousands of gallons a minute. It was not unusual to see a large fleet of petrol tankers constantly feeding the storage tanks in the area known as the tank farm. One of the drawbacks of the system apart from the cost, was that it could be seen from many miles away and acted like a magnet to German night fighter intruders, Ugh! One evening I had just landed from a local flying trip in a Halifax and we were having supper at the all night mess open 24 hours a day. The fog was getting fairly thick at that time but an hour and a half later it was very bad. Halifax's were due shortly from operations over Germany, so F.I.D.O. was put into action. We (the crew ) were still relaxing in the mess, shooting lines etc. when there was the unmistakable sound of cannon fire. What had happened was that a German intruder, later to be reported as being a Me.410, was in the circuit squirting at some aircraft and some stray shells hit the domestic area and one M.T. driver was killed and also a W.A.A.F. cook. That night all aircraft landed safely though.

     At last, we were on the move to our new home, No.186 Lancaster Sqdn. based at Stradishall, with Chedburgh and Wratting Common as our satelite stations. After we had arrived, we did a couple of flights to become familiar with the local local area. Soon we were on the Battle list. One of our operations was to the oil fields at Gelsenkirchen, Germany.

***

     Preparations for an operation over enemy territory consisted of getting our flying clothing in order, we would have to put on our pure silk vests and long johns, our normal shirt but no tie, and perhaps a wool sweater, all under our normal battle dress, silk undergloves and then leather gauntlets. There were 2 types of flying boots, one was of brown suede lined with sheepskin with a wide floppy top, these were withdrawn because in the event of a quick bail out they were inclined to fall off plus they were not meant to do much walking in, they offered very little in the way of ankle support and certainly no good for a cross country jaunt which may have been necessary so they were replaced with what was commonly referred to as "Escape Boots. "

     The escape boots started with a normal looking black leather stout shoe lined with sheepskin but from the ankle up to mid calf was a close fitting top part, again fully lined, and attached at the top was a small belt and buckle, this ensured that it would not fall off, the whole thing was zipped from the ankle to the top. In the event of finding ones self in enemy territory and trying to evade capture, the boots were made so that you could remove the tops completely and end up with a normal looking pair of shoes more suitable for walking and less noticeable than flying boots.

     Still on the subject of evading, before leaving for our aircraft we were issued with and had to sign for an escape package contained in a clear plastic container that looked like a slightly curved modern day video storage case and about the same size. The contents consisted of many useful items, such as, compass, thread and hooks for a fishing line! Safety matches, knife, first aid kit, cigarettes, shaving kit, horlick tablets and many more odds and ends, finally ending up with maps printed on silk of the main countries that you would be flying over, plus bank notes in the currency of those countries, no wonder we had to sign for them going out and on return. The packages were made up each time to suit the different routes taken.

     On our battle dress we also had a couple of odd items, one of the metal buttons could be taken off and eased apart to provide 2 pieces that would fit together, the top part would swivel around on the lower and a small white dot would point to the north, in addition to the button we were each issued with a normal type hair comb (a very seldom used item for me at the present time) made of plastic with an unseen hollow in the back of it and this contained a elongated diamond shaped piece of black metal, again with a white dot at one end indicating north, along with a short piece of thread to suspend it from a hole in the middle, of couse one to break the comb to get at it.

***

     Operating on Lancasters from R. A. F. Stradishall in East Anglia, we were surrounded by many American Eighth Air Force airfields in the vicinity, mainly equipped with B17 Fortress units along with a few Fighter units. On some days whilst on local flying or returning from a daylight operation, one or two mustangs would make a pass or two at us and formate alongside and rude hand signs would be made to each other and if we had V. H. F. contact we would tell them to find their own way home and not to follow us hoping to find to find their base because we knew they didn't know where they were, after a bit more joking around we wished each other a good day and see ya later.

     Regarding the B17 airfields, after our Squadron take off for a daylight raid we would go into loose formation and fly at about 200 feet (sometimes much less!) crossing over many of their airfields during which some of the rear gunners with a finger each side of a toilet roll would let it unroll out the back that would festoon buildings and aircraft, this had to stop because we were running out of toilet paper and this was serious! Another more dangerous prank was the throwing out of empty (of course) beer bottles from the rear turrets whilst over their runways, apparently on their way down they made the same whistling sound of a bomb descending! Which caused some on the ground to nearly have a heart stoppage, this had to stop because a message was sent to all nearby stations, from H. Q. , that the Eighth Air Force were running out of tyres for the B17's, and stop it did, no one wanted to cause accidents, but we still went low level until nearing our assembly point which was normally Cromer on the Suffolk coast, and then join the main bomber stream at our briefed height.

***

     When large formations of Lancs or whatever, were to bomb a target we had to use the "Clock" system, imagine a segment from 20mins past to 20mins to the hour, it looks like a piece of pie, each Squadron is given a different height and heading to use when approaching the target, usually seperated by about 500 feet between each layer, so you could have many planes at the same time dropping bombs and avoid colliding, but it did happen often.

***

   Regarding the field of fire from the Lancasters Gun turrets. Normally the typical Lancaster had the nose turret with two point .303 guns and the same for the mid-upper turret. The rear turret had the same type but with 4 .303 guns. There were variants of the turrets later on. The rear turret later was equiped with four point .05 guns. On some aircraft they had installed 2 - 20mm. cannons in the mid upper, I never spotted many of those.

   The field of fire was considered to be the best that could be done. The front turret could fire up and down and side to side and the same for the rear turret, The mid upper guns could be fitted with two point .05 too.

   Of course, there were blind spots, the underneath especially, which had no protection at all. I did see a type of belly gun on one Lancaster fitted with two point .303 guns, I'm certain it must have been an attempt to try it out only, I never saw any others like it.

   To sum up, the underneath of the Lancaster was definitely the weakest part to protect. The enemy night fighters would sight a Lancaster and stealthly position itself to be underneath and then put the nose up and give a burst of shells raking underneath from back to the front. It usually provided a Kill for the Hunter. A Radar set was designed specifically to overcome the problem. The code name was "Fishpond" and it was situated on the left of my radio table and had a circular screen that gave a saucer shaped view of below the aircraft. You would pick up other Lancasters in the Bomber stream, identified by the size of the blip and keeping the same speed as ourselves. If you should notice a smaller and faster blip weaving and approaching, you would then alert the gunners of its position.

***

     Our bomb aimer developed his own method of informing Adolf Hitler of what he thought of him, he would scrounge from the parachute section remnants of silk from damaged chutes to make small parachutes to which he would fix a piece of thick cardboard bearing a message to Hitler in German claiming that he was the biggest ever born out of wedlock and using words I had never heard before, mostly obscene, plus a few choice words in Welsh,  (He was from Wales) I couldn't read it let alone pronounce them; a half brick was used to weight it. After all was ready it was given to the rear gunner to throw it out about a couple of miles or so from our target on the signal from the Navigator, our bomb aimer did not want it to be destroyed in the bombing, he was convinced that someone would find it, I wonder?

***

     One very amusing incident occured while I was at No. 9 (Observer) Advanced Flying Unit stationed in Wales at R. A. F. Llandurwrogg (try and pronounce that one) equiped with very old Avro Ansons with " Wind up " undercarriage and " Wind up engine starters ", it is located about 4 miles south from Caernarvon and is right on the coast just seperated from the sea by a narrow road with no close built up areas in the vicinity. Using the main runway, aircraft would cross the road at about 50 to 100 feet. The incident occured on a nice sunny day in June or July 1944 as far as I remember, the poor old Anson took off and just after becoming airborne engine problems developed causing the aircraft to sink and it flopped down into the water about 50 to 70 yards from the shore, I did not see the actual prang but I did see the aircraft still there later in the afternoon. During the evening in the mess it was being discussed by one and all, the Anson had been just floating with no sign of sinking and the crew waiting for the dinghy to fully inflate to get back to the shore, they had hardly got their feet wet and later on all 5 of the crew were told they had been put forward to receive the coveted "Goldfish Badge" given to Aircrew who had ditched at sea using a Dinghy. All 5 of them had to endure constant heckling for days on end, but it was all just good fun.

***

     Towards the end of our time at Wing and Little Horwood at No. 26. Operational Training Unit all crews were to do what were code named a "Bullseye " operation, this was to get the crews familiar with a real live part in a particular operation. We took part in two of these; the last one was a little scary. We had an early evening briefing, 4 crews from our unit was involved and from other O. T. U. 's made a total of about 20 aircraft, all Vickers Wellingtons, ours were Mk. 1C and Mk. 10. The plan was this, we were to rendezvous at a point on the east coast of England and set off across the North Sea in a planned formation which looked like a long narrow oblong, dropping Window, (bundles of small metalic strips containing 1000 's of pieces each) this affected the enemy radar by them thinking that a huge force of aircraft were approaching their territory, at the same time we would change our positions to complete the ruse further and get closer to their coast, a great idea but we were getting nearer to being dangerously close to the German fighter base's stationed at Texel Island and Borkum. The purpose of this operation was to mask the main bomber force heading into Germany and to confuse the fighters into thinking we were the main force, what a delightful way to spend a night, I dont think, I had serious thoughts of becoming an orthodox coward (well almost!) and we didn't stop looking out for fighters during a very dark night but all was well and we all returned safely.

***

     There was another interesting? operation and it was to the oil fields at Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Our bomb load consisted of 15 x 500 Ibs-1 X 4000 Ibs, Total effort- 155 Lancasters, flight time 5 Hrs 30 Mins. Half way to the target the port inner engine suffered from a runaway propellor caused by some malfunction in the hub and gears, so it had to be shut down. This affected both our speed and our height. I have a dim recollection that the force was briefed to go in at 17,000 ft, and by the time we were nearing the target we were about 3 or 4000ft below them, and those above were going faster. We were not too pleased because, although we released our load on the target we still had the tail end of the higher aircraft dropping their bombs all round us. It was not a good place to be,  as most people would agree, we all did!, the intercomm became rather noisy!.

     About halfway back we were alone and feeling it. We arrived back to base about an hour late and on the ground they feared the worst had happened but we did turn up and everyone was pleased, no more than we were.

     As far as I remember we did hear the Master bomber giving instructions but there was no doubt where the target was at all, by the way we heard later that the oil fields were up and running again a few weeks later! I do know that it was hit again later on though.  

     The first 1000 plus aircraft Op for us was to Dortmund, again it was a day flight, bomb load 14 x 500Lbs and 1 cookie of 4000Lbs, cloud cover was light for a short time but complete over the target so the Master bomber came into his own, he gave instructions to bomb on the flares he had released above the clouds as markers, I remember quite well, we dropped ours on the purple flares, other aircraft were to drop on the red and green, later we heard that it had been a success.

     Total effort was 1083 Lancasters & Halifaxe's. Flight time 6 hrs.

     The next 1000 plus aircraft operation was to Heligoland, a small island that was  offering resistance to occupation. The weather was cloudless blue skies The load was 8 X 500Ib - 8 X 1000Ib, the force was comprised of 987 Lancasters, and 20 Mosquitoes, flight time was 4 Hrs 55 Mins. A rather novel way was used to mark the turning points over the sea. The Mosquitoes were the types that could carry the 4000 Ib " cookie " bomb. There were 4 or 5 turning points, the Mosquitoes were at a much lower level than the bomber stream and would drop their bomb into the sea causing a huge white circle in the water that could be seen for miles. Now and again another Mosquito would drop another one to keep the pot stirred. On return to base, in the briefing room was a large blackboard, and on it in large letters were the words,

" HELIGOLAND ---- SUNK!"

     I will continue on with info about a couple or so of other ops that may be interesting.

     A night raid to Kiel, bomb load, 14x 500Lbs plus 1 4000Lb. Total effort 410 Lancasters. The object of this raid was to render the port useless and to sink the German battleship "Admiral Hipper" both objects were achieved. This op was a little dicey, first, we had to be routed around some very heavy flak sites on the way, especially Wilelmshaven, also many fighter warnings were given during the trip which worked hard on the nervous system. We used H. 2s. to easily pick out the harbour system, it was ideal for coastal area's and rivers, the raid was a success, the Hipper was sunk, P. R. photo's showed it had rolled over on its side next to the dockside. More fighter warnings given on the way back and during crossing the North Sea homeward bound I was in the Astradome keeping watch for fighters, it was moonlight, then I spotted a He. 111k. zoom past us,in the opposite direction, slightly above and to our starboard, seperation could not have been more than about 150ft or so, no else had seen it!

     Another nerve trembler was to Potsdam / Berlin. Bomb load 7x 500Lbs plus 1 4000Lb. Total effort 483 Lancasters & Halifaxe's. Main target was to Bomb the Central Submarine school located on the lake at Potsdam, through the resistance they had heard that there was to be a big passing out of a large course of Sub crews, they passed out alright, the place was plastered and destroyed, the reports filtered back that most of the people were sozzeled out of their minds and never knew what hit them! We did have many attempted attacks by fighters on most of us though,  having to do many Corkscrews to avoid them,( Corkscrew was a dive followed by a  very sharp pull up,lots of negative "G" and climb out full throttle! ) also the searchlights were very active and along with the very heavy Flak also, it made for a scary trip. It was on this flight that many of the crews identified (including us) for the first time the Me. 163's, they shot past at super high speed with flames shooting out the rear end, we did not hear if any aircraft were shot down by them. The Radar directed Flak and searchlights were more worrisome at the time, Berlin was sure well defended.

***

     On the way in to a target in German territory one of the seldom known jobs I had to do was to jam the night fighter radio frequencies, the german system was to get the fighters airborne and despatch them to circle a Radio beacon and await directions from the ground control center until they were despatched to a bomber formation (there were several beacons of course scattered across the country). During our preflight briefing we would be given the different frequencies of the ground stations. I would search around and find one, now in the port inner Merlin engine there was a microphone, I would tune into the station and switch would all be connected on the intercom and start singing popular english songs, certain members of the crew would give their solo rendition of very obscene songs, most of the german controllers spoke some english and in return would cuss us to hell. One song that I remember was titled "Who Dat Down there saying Who Dat up here," it was having fun in a dangerous position.

***

     Most missions followed a similar pattern or routine. Although the targets would be different and what would happen to any given crew might vary greatly, the daily schedule of operations was generally the same. One such typical mission was one of the last I flew. It was a daylight raid to Bad Oldesloe, in North West Germany, on April 24, 1945. Our Bomb load was 6 One thousand pound bombs and 10 five hundred pound bombs. The Total effort for the mission, meaning number of aircraft from all units with Bad Oldesloe as the target that night, was 425 Lancasters. The Total flight time for the mission, from takeoff to landing was six hours. But of course this is getting ahead of things.

     A typical Operation would more or less follow along these lines. First, a target would be selected by H.Q. Bomber Command who would set the number of aircraft taking part and the Group (s) and Squadrons involved, also full instructions of types of bombs to be used and prepared. This would be received by the individual stations who would then detail the crews on the Battle list, also including reserve crews to stand by if required. At this stage no one except the operations department would know of the target and they would be planning fuel loads, preparing the bomb requirements, organising meals to suit the crews etc, and arranging the briefing room for that particular target, ie Map boards and plotting out the routes in and out.

     A time would then be set for the air tests which consisted of just checking out all systems in a quick short flight of about 15 mins in case of last minute adjustments. These were usually fitted in before leaving for the briefing.

     Later, the crews selected would assemble in the briefing room and sit down facing the covered up boards, everyone would be waiting to see what the target will be, tough ones usually caused a short burst of ooh's or ahh's, Berlin especially because of the vast amount of protection they had there.

     The Chief briefing officer, after removing the covered up boards, would then commence to go over the details. First the details and routes in and out, then the area's of danger to avoid. Routes were usually routed around heavily defended spots. Finally we would be given any additional information needed, such as if pathfinders were involved and other bits and pieces. The Navigation Chief would go over the routes etc, the Signals officer gave the information on freqency's to be used as well as call signs (Code names) etc. The Met Chief would go over the weather predictions, the Intelligence Officer would discuss the latest information about the area's we would be passing ie, the position of certain fighter airfields, and movements noticed in the air activity recently. It would all finish up by a pep talk from our Group captain station commander ending with good luck chaps, go to it!

     After all that, the individual crew members would begin to prepare. The navs would get down to putting in the routes on their own maps et cetera. Pilots would discuss fuel and engine requirements with the flight engineer. The gunners would begin going over points with the gunnery leader. The Bomb aimers would begin going over the details of the target with the Bomb leader. Finally the radio ops people, such as myself, would be checking the latest info on enemy fighter freqencies that were to be jammed as well as noting the ever changing call signs and the settings for the I.F.F. code (Identity Friend or Foe) equipment.

     After everyone had completed their tasks in the briefing room we would all depart and go about gathering our flying clothing chutes and generally get things organised. If it was near a mealtime we would fit that in too. Finally when all was ready (every thing was done to a precise time) we would clamber into the transport that would take us to our aircraft dispersal where our ground crew would greet us and have a good old chat, and then we would do our own visual external inspection.

     I should mention that at no time was the target mentioned outside of the briefing room, not to "Anyone," except between the crews involved, for obvious reasons, also all phones linked to outside of the airfield ( with the exception of the operations site) would be cut off and this included civilian phones and pay phones for about 3 miles or so around our perimeter, again for obvious reasons.

     We would all climb aboard and check our own bits and pieces and then at the start up time all planes started engines and start moving out to the runway in use, it would be quite a sight to see the Lancasters trumbling along behind each other on the taxiway to the take off point. At that point, there would be a large number of the ground staff people alongside the runway to wave and see us off including other aircrew and cooks, MT. drivers, Barber, and too many to mention. It was always good to see this, in rain or shine, even at night, they were always there and gave us a good feeling, a truly great bunch of people.

     Our turn to go and we would get airborne and turn out to our first course and catch up with the others and join up in loose formation, we would continue on towards our assembly point on the north east coast of Norfolk at Cromer. Other aircraft from other groups and Squadrons meet there and finally we set off climbing to our briefed height, still in loose formation in a stream that stretched for miles. We crossed the Dutch coast and by this time somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000ft. we knew we were being plotted by the defence system from then on in. Also note that we never went anywhere in a straight direct line, we had to avoid large cities and airfields, plus one had to fool the enemy by changing our direction now and again to keep them guessing as to where we were heading. This caused them to alert the fighters to cover a much larger area.

     Our target on this particular mission was to be Bad Oldesloe in the state of Schleswig Holstein in Northern Germany, about 70 miles from the border of Denmark, and just halfway on the main road between Hamburg and Lubeck which is close to the Baltic Sea. Bad Oldesloe was a large railway marshalling area tucked away from our ground forces fighting in the South. We were briefed that Bad Oldesloe was crowded with german troops, tanks, fuel and munitions urgently required for the front and many trainloads would be involved, it had to be destroyed in order to protect our armies. On one of the legs heading north and east of Hamburg I was scared out of my wits after seeing my first encounter with a nasty ruse that the Germans used to put crews off with, it was code named "Scarecrow".

     One of the strangest countermeasures encountered over Germany was the "Scarecrow".  It created the appearance of a terribly catastrophic hit on an aircraft, black smoke and all, and was extremely unerving. It was later discovered that the "Scarecrow" was a large sized projectile fired from a large gun or morter. The charge was composed of cables, wire, bits of material, oil and gas, etc., that was shot into the midst of a bomber formation to frighten the crews. That, it certainly did succeed in doing so! It was used frequently such that crews would be uncertain whether one of there number had been hit or whether it was just a distracting tatic.

     I remember it vivedly, it was a daylight, bright and sunny and hardly any cloud, it went off on the starboard side between us and 3 other lancs who were some distance away, I was keeping a lookout for fighters from the astrodome when this huge explosion occured with flames and bits and pieces flying all over the place and there was certainly no aircraft that had been there at all, I reported it over the intercom but no one seemed too concerned, because we had been flying through some flak beforehand. On landing and during our debriefing I described it to the intelligence officer who appeared to have knowledge of them. Later on he sought me out to tell me that no aircraft had been lost in the area and it was in fact a "Scarecrow".

     Finally we turned to go straight at the Railway yards on which the first of the aircraft had already got rid of their loads and we could see much damage even then (it was perfect visibility in full sun) and there was not much Flak to be seen either, we dropped our load and turned on to our return route and could still see the smoke from the target about 80 / 100 miles from it! On the way back home a few single fighters were sighted in the distance but they veered away from the Bomber stream. The trip back was uneventful and all aircraft returned safely, because of course, the end of the war was only about 2 weeks away and the German forces had their hands full elsewhere.

     The return journey to our home would still be in loose formation, slowly descending until we crossed the Dutch coast when we would all head for our own base's and at the same time fly back just above the waves at zero feet! It was quite a sight to see 20 or so Lancs skimming the waves, so low that the windshield would be splattered with spray. We crossed the English coast normally about 1500 / 2000ft and then prepare for landing, first come first served. If weather was very bad we would be told to go to the selected diversion airfield. After landing and reporting any technical problems to our groundcrew we would be picked up and taken to de briefing. This was an important part of the plan, each crew would describe what they saw, and, if all went as planned, the inteligence officer would want to know even the smallest details of the flight, during this time we would be drinking tea and eating cookies and smoking like chimneys. When all was over we would make our way back to the mess for a clean up and a meal and then into the bar for a few beers and a laugh or two.

***

     The last operation I flew during the war was the last of a series of 3, and some explanation may be required . The people of Holland were almost starving because of the shortage of food due to the Battles being fought around them, the occupying German Army was also in the same situation. In a plan worked out between the British and German commands,a truce was to be declared during certain time slots for food to be dropped by air in a designated area, one in Rotterdam and one in the Hague. Other conditions were that the routes in and out must be submitted beforehand and approved, also all ammunition must be removed from the aircraft. Meanwhile our hard working ground crews were working day and night to fit 5 slings in each plane and these would hold quite a lot of sacks of food, chocolate, cigarettes and even toys for the children. The sacks were released by the normal bomb release. The first 2 drops we did were both to Rotterdam onto a Football field, very close to a hospital marked with a large red cross on the roof, the people must have known we were coming. The field was surrounded by large crowds, we were only about 100 feet or so and we could see the sacks falling from the planes ahead of us and people running in to get them while others were still falling, it looked absolutely crazy from the air, but I guess we would all do the same if we were in the same state as they were. As we zoomed over the hospital, nurses were on the roof waving towels, sheets or anything they could lay their hands on. We felt very gratified afterwards, it was a change from dropping bombs. These 2 drops were done on 29 th and 30th of April, 1945. Flight time for each was 2hrs 40mins.  

     The very last operation that I took part in was to Rotterdam, on the 30 th. April 1945. It was a food drop just like the others, but two things happened to make it different. The first was,we were approaching the dropping zone when we had to avoid a Lancaster that swerved in front of us from the starboard, it appears that he was trying to avoid a shower of sacks being dropped from another Lancaster slightly above and in front, this caused us to overshoot and try to have another go at it. It may seem that it would be a simple thing to do, but to try and get into position amongst a constant stream of aircraft, all at low level,is not easy. We eventualy found a gap and got rid of our load,or so we thought, one sling had not released,we had no alternative but to turn on our exit course towards home. We were engaged in very low level flying over villages and dykes, in fact we were so low that we had to pull up to go over the Dyke walls. In one village we were whizzing by, nearly everyone in the place were waving to us, so between the crew we decided narrow straight road leading to the coast and home. We were still at low level, I to try and give them a present. We came back over and tried twice to dislodge the hung up sling by a slight dive and then a sharp pull up, on the third try it worked and the sacks went hurtling down, right through the roofs of houses located on the only road between the Dykes, it was a very narrow zone with nothing but water around it. We came round again to give them a wing waggle and we laughed so much, the sacks had made large holes and people were in the roofs waving like mad, they were not bothered, food had dropped from the heavens. Finally we set off, following a small road to the coast, about halfway, I was standing on the step, a boxed in metal affair, with my head in the astrodome, looking ahead there was a girder type bridge and just beyond that was a group of German soldiers marching in line along the side of the road, they began to scatter (and who wouldn't. ) but one went to the middle of the road and put his rifle to his shoulder. At that point he was out of my sight and I felt a tremendous whack on the sole of my left foot, at the same time the rear gunner yelled out "did you see those soldiers run, we must have scared the (obscene) out of them". After landing we went round to the front of the Lanc, and sure enough, underneath between the nose and the bomb doors was a large dent with a hole in the middle. A bullet had come through and hit the underneath of the step I was on, causing a bump of about three quarters of an inch on top. My crew and the ground staff started to make remarks, such as "My gosh! I wonder what would have happened (to certain parts of my anatomy) if the angle had been slightly different". So that was the end of our last operation for us, at least it ended happily.

     V. E. day came and it was the start of a new game. When the festivities were all over it was back to work. Bomber Command decided to give some of the ground staff, ie. mechanics, drivers cooks, admin staff, etc. etc. a tour of the bomb damage to germany. Each Lancaster would take them, 12 at a time, on the tour. A typical tour that we took them, was on the 25th. May 1945.  We departed Stradishall at 0955hrs following this route, Courtrai-Brussels-Aachen-Cologne-Duren- Frankfurt-Coblenz- Kassel-Mohne Dam-Wiesel-Essen-Dortmund-Gelsenkirchen-Rotterdam. During the flight we would let them sit in the turrets and in the other crew positions, answer their many questions and generally look after them. They deserved it all, without them we could not have achieved victory. We landed back at base at 1530hrs. Total flight time 5hrs 30mins.

***

Miscellaneous

Weather problems.

    With respect to the Weather etc, it is always a problem especially in those days when we didn't have all the aids that we have now and the predictions given by the Met. people more often than not, turned out to be quite the opposite to what we expected, we would curse about it but what could one do? We just pressed on regardless and did our best to get back safely.

     Luftwaffe. Did I meet anyone from the Luftwaffe? only one, our Mosquito unit moved from Upper Heyford to Cottesmore and across from the main entrance and guard room was a compound surrounded by high fences and it housed German POW's. myself and three or four other shared one of the prisoners who was allocated to us as a Batman, he would do the usual stuff, clean our rooms, tidy up, press uniforms etc etc, in return we gave him cigarettes and little odds and ends. He was from the Luftwaffe and had been an Air gunner on Me.110's.We had few conversations but did talk about the air war, he had never shot anyone down but had on many occaisions tried to do so, he was mainly on the strategic side, not on the fighter versions, he was convinced at one time that they would win the war until he saw the might that was going to be thrown against them after being taken prisoner in France after 'D' Day. He spoke excellent english.

     100 Group. R.A.F. They were the specialists in jamming Radar, blocking the fighter frequencies and generally causing chaos, the code name was Airborne Cigar and they carried German speaking operators, other than that not much was said about them, they were very secret operations.

     Navigation. We had the equipment mentioned before, also we had the A.P.I. (Air Position Indicator) in the Navs office, it was set whilst on the ground and gave a reasonably but only fair idea of lat and long. In my department I used the D.F. Loop for bearings and when nearing home and cleared from radio silence I would obtain M/F D/F fixes from ground Stations located on the East Coast mainly, 3 stations would monitor my transmission and pass them to the main station whom would then place them on a large map and where all the lines crossed we would be given our Latitude and Longitude. Sometimes they were good and sometimes not so good. I have been asked what was it like in the Lancaster on Operations, was it comfortable, what kind of seating did I have and what other duties did I carry out.

       On a night operation one had to dress to combat the colder weather at heights and to be able to be reasonably comfortable. Oxygen was connected and used from take off to landing. Nothing much could be done to help keep down the engine noise, our helmets helped slightly. Atfer landing back home, one would still hear the engine noise in the background during the de - briefing. None of the seats could be called comfortable, mine was a flat seat and flat back, the Navigator had a bench seat, no back! The bomb aimer had no seat at all but he did have a long cushion to lay on in the nose so that he could look through the clear glass panel and operate the Bomb Sight. The Mid Upper and the Rear gunner had the most uncomfortable positions, brave guy's .Were there any particular smells inside the aircraft? The smell's we most dreaded were that of Petrol,smoke from an electrical short, flying through the smoke of a nearby flak explosion and the cordite smoke from the firing of the turret guns, the smoke always swirled its way to the front. I assisted the Nav.when need be, using the Gee equipment for fixes, also using the H2S system. Some of my time was spent watching closely the Fishpond radar, it would show me a saucer shaped area below our plane that picked up blips of aircraft beneath us, a fast moving one would no doubt be an enemy fighter lurking around. I would alert everyone and pass along its movements to the gunners.

       How did I feel about the Air War? I felt that it had to be done in order to protect our way of life and families, seeing what was happening in the occupied countries, who would want that. Was it a good time in spite of all the dangers? One had to do the best that they could during good and bad times, it was really a mix of both, sharing danger with a grand bunch of fellows helped a lot and strong bonds were formed, we faced danger knowing that could it end up being fatal to one or all of us. There were good times too, lots of humour and fun with plenty of partying such as challenging the Officers mess to "Mess Rugby," mess dances, trips to local villages and towns when we could get a standown. Sight, sounds and smell of a City under attack? I can recount this from two angles, first, my home town of Southampton suffered many heavy raids made upon it, large area's were completely demolished and many killed, not a very nice experience at all so I could understand what it would be like when we were on the other end delivering the same. Secondly, over a target in German territory, one was on full alert doing the various things such as, keeping a constant lookout for fighters, handling certain pieces of equipment, and being prepared to brace oneself in the event of a corkscrew happening in an instant, if you were not strapped in you could very well suffer a nasty injury. At times you could get a smell of smoke from down below and also cordite from the exploding Flak, and when nearby, you could hear the thumps from them quite distinctly. Looking down on the target you would see a mass of light from fires and bombs exploding, in amongst all this there would be flares dropping and camera flashes from the aircrafts camera set up.

     Area Bombing. This had to be used sometimes because of the nature of the target which could be well spread over a large area, but as for deliberately bombing residential area's I have no knowledge of that at all, our targets were specific. Night Bombing instead of daylight raids? It really depended on strategic requirements, for instance, imagine large numbers of troops and equipment moving to outflank an army that was moving along quickly, this movement of troops were vital to the defence of the third Reich and it was far better to move at night than in broad daylight and so this was done often. Another reason was for the effect on the civil population too, they would be in bomb shelters devoid of many things and sleeping may have been impossible and thus affecting their ability to do their work.This obviously had an affect on productivity and that was part of the plan, you get two for the price of one!

     All aircrew had a whistle attached to the lapel of their battle dress tunic, this was mainly for use in the event of having to ditch the Aircraft in the sea, it would enable crew members to give a direction to others of the crew their whereabouts if seperated from each other, also was used to attract the attention of rescue boats seeking survivors at night or in poor visibility.

***

     After WW2 I was transfered to No. 16. OTU (operational training unit) about September 1945. It was located at R. A. F. Station Upper Heyford, near to Oxford (University Town).

     The reason for the re-activation of 16 O. T. U. was because the British Government had offered the French Government a large number of surplus Mosquito's to help in their ongoing war in French Indo China and Cambodia. I cant remember the exact number but I believe it was around the 200 mark, and crews had to be converted onto them, mainly pilots, from the" Free French Air Force", who had been flying Martin Marauder's in the desert area of North Africa. The pilots were used to Tricycle undercarriage on the Marauders as compared to the Mosquito'sTwo plus tailwheel undercarriage. This proved to be a problem, as we will see later. I really did not know what role I had to play in this, and as far as I know, neither did anyone else.

     We were expecting the first course to arrive any day, when I had a call from the flight operations room, would I get course to prepared to be flown to Croydon via Mosquito to meet the first course arriving in an ex German Air Force Junkers Ju. 52, now owned by the French Air Force, and kindly assist them in finding their way to Upper Heyford and also to use the V. H. F. R/T in case there may be a language problem, I replied, "What me? I cant speak french!" and laughingly came back"Hard luck, try using sign's".

     Off I went and was dropped off at Croydon; I reported to the customs office at the base of the tower block and waited with the custom officers. The Ju. 52 landed and taxied to the apron, as we approached we all noticed that it looked in fairly poor shape, the customs people were saying that they would'nt fly in it for anything. I must say it did nothing to instill confidence to me. The entrance door was open and steps were put down, as we got closer we heard strange noises coming from the interior, stepping inside we were met with an awful stench, the customs soon found the source. Inside, the cabin was bare, with a battered metal floor with hatches that opened up to give acess to cargo holds under the floor, (Forgive the pun) we were floored, in one hold there were 2 large Pigs! And 6 or 8 piglets sqealing away, in another hold there were about 20 chickens with their feet tied together, some were trying to fly out the open door, panic was all around. In addition to this, at the rear of the cabin there was a pile of bicycles with hefty round rope, spliced together instead of normal rubber tyres, if I would do all the R/T, I figured he would. I got clearance from the tower in the normal manner, at the end of his instructions he quickly said, " Oh-- er --aahhh--Good Luck", the news must have got around pretty quick. I had my chute, harness, down by the back door and I had thought of putting it on, but I did'nt want to look like a coward, even though I was one at that time. My intercom jack would not fit their fittings so they had loaned me someones sweaty helmet and microphone and we set off. I need not have worried, we did fine and we landed at Upper Heyford safe and sound, including the livestock, who were not quite sure where they were headed for.

     One night I lost a good friend of mine, he was a Warrant Officer Pilot, we and a couple of others had had our evening meal together, and  Iater that night, he was due to check out one of the pilots from the course, on a night cross-country flight. They took off, and were supposedly climbing, but for some unknown reason the aircraft had been kept at a low level. A few minutes later the tower received a report of an aircraft crashing about three or four miles away from the airfield. What happened was that they had struck some power lines at the same level of the windshield. As far as I know, no reason was given as to why they were so low. Lots of theories but nothing decisive. We all had to accept losses like this and just keep going.

     I was caught for another Ju. 52 trip, but it was not at all like the first one, it was the same as the first, to meet them and assist in any way I could. The aircraft was clean; it had seats, no livestock on board and a full load of  pilots.

Peter Weston, Germany, 1946

    Before I close this episode I must tell you about a flying incident I had in a Mosquito. I was still enjoying my work with flying control and flying now and again acting as safety pilot during Air Tests, ferrying Mosquito's to Tempsford and returning by our Oxford "Taxi", formation practice for a couple of forthcoming Air Shows. On one air test of a Mosquito with Flt. Lt. Slater, a staff pilot, we had just become airborne and about 150 feet, the port engine failed, the pilot very quickly feathered the prop, cut off the fuel to it and made a quick circuit back to the runway to make an emergency landing. The ground staff checked all over the engine and found that the engine had cut due to fuel starvation and it was put in the hangar to be worked upon. The next day doing further inspection of the fuel lines and tanks they discovered an empty tin of condensed milk in the port tank (?) that had been the cause of the fuel problem. They never found the person or persons responsible for putting it in there despite a very comprehensive investigation. For a short time after, we would ask the ground crew" are you sure there are no cans in the tanks".

***

Peter Weston's Biography Continues Here (Click Here).....

----- Peter A. Weston

       paweston@trytel. com

Directory to Biography of Peter Weston

     Pre-War, Supermarine Apprentice

     Squadron 186, WWII & Post War

     Squadron 45, Malayan Emergency

     Squadron 209, Korean War

     Cold War

LINKS

AVRO Lancaster, Photo

AVRO Lancaster KM-B, Photo of Existing Battle of Britain Flight Aircraft

Bristol Beaufighter Collection, By Peter A. Weston, 45 Squadron, Tengah Malaya, RAF

Bristol Brigand Collection,  by Peter A. Weston, No. 45 Sqdn, RAF, Malaya Campaign, 1949

DeHavilland Mosquito Collection, By Peter A. Weston, RAF

Formation of Short Sunderland Mk. 5s, By Peter A. Weston, No. 209 Sqdn, FEAF, RAF, Korean War

Handley Page Halifax, Photo

Handley Page Hermes, Skyways, Photo

Lockheed Hudson, 48 Squadron, Photo

Malayan Emergency  A Collection of resources regarding the Conflict between England, Malaya and Communist Malayan Rebels from 1948 through 1960 and beyond.

Supermarine Scapa, Photo

Supermarine Sea Otter, Photo

Sunderland Flying Boat at RAF Museum, Photo

Sunderland Flying Boat,  by Peter A. Weston, No. 209 Sqdn, FEAF, RAF, Korean War

Supermarine Spitfire, Photo

Supermarine Spitfires, Photo

Supermarine Stranraer, Photo

Supermarine Walrus, Photo

UN Liaison Group, Photo

Vickers Wellington, Photo

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