Biography of Reg Miles
Ex Apprentice No 1 S.of T.T., R.A.F., Halton 39th Entry 34 - 67 M.U.s - 27 A/S Bloemspruit South Africa - Lympe Kent, Flight Engineer 432 - 420 Squadrons RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire / 242- 246 - 511 Squadrons Transport Command Lyneham, RAF
Lympe, Kent, Flight Engineer 432 - 420 Squadrons RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire
Unescorted fast ship Mauritania II brought us home in just two weeks. This was more like a holiday cruise, she was a large new fast ship, not over crowded, weather sunny, no real worries about the enemy, just too ignorant to have a care. And good food, all very pleasant !!
We came into port during the night, I suggest for security reasons. We would be confined below decks after dark so that no lights would be shone and any portholes on our decks would be welded shut. As we had no idea where we were it was only at dawn that we found ourselves suddenly in harbour.
We returned to a cold and rationed England, which was a bit of a shock after the land of plenty that was South Africa. I got to spend some time at home. Home was River outside Dover where Dad was responsible for building work for all the various Navy, Army and Airforce units stationed in and around the port of Dover.
After a couple of weeks I was posted to Lympne RAF Base near Folkstone in Kent, not too far away from home. I could cycle home on the odd day off. I was at a servicing echelon on Typhoons there from August 1943, making myself useful until the Flight Engineer course came through.
I arrived at this very basic airfield, grass runway, no hangar that I can recall, road to the village went through the place and we were living in requisioned houses on the floor, the Guardhouse miles away so we never booked out or in, just went! There I was fit, brown, and fairly knowledgable, and there they were the service crews, lilly white, half starved, most hadn't a clue about the RAF. The CO wanted me to stay, rather than take the flight engineer course. He did everything to make me, even tried to bribe me with promotion and an instructors course, turned him down flat, not the best way to make friends!!
A few days later I watched as the flight sergeant in charge of the service crew was trying to unlock a propellor, up on the steps with a very, very large lead hammer and a long spanner thumping away to release the lock, told him it was the wrong rotation, what would I know ?, the engine shaft sheered off and prop and F/S landed on the ground, another job now to remove the whole Napier Sabre and fit a new one, suppose the F/S got promoted and probably blamed me!!
The Typhoons were very heavy fast fighters. They were fitted with Napier Sabre H section sleeve valved 24 cylinder engines, had 20m/m cannon and rocket rails, and were hell to fly and worse to service. The engines were proto-types and only could do 20 hours or so between engine changes, never saw even one do that much while I was there, the single prop was the biggest in service and only cleared the ground when in flying position by 4 inches, many were bent on take off, and many came back from ops with bullet holes in as the plane went faster than the bullets and in a dive and caught up with its own fire!!
When I was working on Typhoons heard many yarns, but all "driversairframe" are a bit like fisher men I think. While the story teller was giving the the usual flyers tale, with lots of arm waving indicating who did what, even the other pilots had a "I don't believe him" smile on their faces.
The Typhs were used as tank and train busters and also for downing V-1 Bombs and did a mighty job. Despite their success, some of the Typhoon pilots were very keen to improve the speed of the Typhoon so they could catch the enemy, be it pilotless V-1 Bombs, or piloted fighters. They were always wanting a few more miles an hour out of them and "if only the bloody thing went faster I would have shot down " probably the whole German Airforce!! Adjustments to the engines were very difficult because they were so complicated and really just prototypes still. So they spent many hours with car polish rubbing and polishing every bit to reduce drag. They got us to help also, big things Typh's and we got very tired of it. Guess they were like me, young and keen and a bit stupid as well, you'd have to be to risk life and limb for peanuts!!
Of course battle was not the only thing the pilots were keen on. The Typhoons were flown from a small grass runway. A sergeants mess party was being held one evening when I was on duty crew, we had to see the "dusk" patrol in and prepare them for the "dawn" patrol, check everything and rearm and refuel and make sure every thing was as it should be. The small drome was crowded with visitors planes from surrounding units and many were parked at the ends of the runway, fog was closing in and the last few of the dusk patrol had been told to divert to Manston, which was a very large aerodrome fitted with FIDO, by air it was seconds away by road it was too far to get a lift and still get to the party. All their mates would be there plus many of the local girls and if you didnt turn up some one else would try their luck with your girl!! All managed to get back in, just one left to land, and here he comes hes too low cant see the row of planes at the end of the runway.
Yes he has but too late the massive undergear crashes through about six aircraft of all types and sizes and comes to earth with one wing low, the prop touches, that one wont be on dawn patrol, as it taxis to our flight position where we are standing with torches to direct the pilot and hook the plane to our tractor and tow it into position for the morning, the pilot climbs out, says "shit" and heads off for a shower and no doubt a bullet from the CO and even grounding if senior officers have had their plane destroyed. We check the undergear to make sure it wont collapse as we tow it and generally check the damage, this takes a while and as we are doing this we hear the bell of the "blood wagon" in the distance, bit too late for any injuries we say so I lay on the ground with one leg in the air and groan as the medical orderly rushes over, but its not the usual medical orderly its the senior medical officer, who wants to make a name for himself as all the top brass are on the base for the party. Well we didnt part as friends I must say, but he really enjoyed chewing me out so perhaps that made his day!!
Arriving back at camp after a day with my parents, we slept in empty houses really outside the camp boundaries so no booking in or out, supposed to but why go a long way to the guard room if nobody cared, any how it was early in the morning, near midnight, not late at night as it should have been as I cycled to my billet, as I got off my bike the sergeant of my ground crew called for me to get moving and handed me a bucket of white paint. Our flight line was very close to our billet, and I was told to start painting wide white stripes under the wings of the Typhoons, other bods had black paint. So I crawled under them with buckets of white paint late at night in my best uniform. No idea where the Typhoons were off to, but we were told it was for indentification purposes for an operation, but which one? It might have been coastal or near to it, and in support of either Commando's or Navy, both tended to fire at all aircraft without any idea who flew what!! But why do it in the middle of the night with far from clever painters with large distemper brushes and I'm sure it was water based paint? On 15 November 1943, 2nd Tactical Air Force is formed, perhaps the Squadron I was on was made part of this force and some "stay in bed get the boys out" prat thought it would be nice if the new force were correctly dressed for Dawn Patrol. Whatever the reason for the early morning paint job, my best uniform was never quite the same, every one else had on their overalls!
As it turns out this was the first time that this type of identification was used on allied aircraft, and I Did It!!! These black and white stripes were called invasion stripes by others much later. They were widely in use for the Normandy invasion. They were painted to clearly show our ground forces that they were friendly aircraft so we would not lose aircraft to our own flak. Only the Tactiful Air Force had the invasion stripes. Well before the invasion some aircraft were painted with the stripes to be used as Targets for spotters and Anti aircraft units and also for ground troops to get familiar with our own planes, as marked. Apparently this Typhoon squadron was one of those painted early to get our troops used to the stripes.
I was stationed at Lympne until the end of 1943 when my posting came through to report at St Athan in South Wales to start my Flight Engineers training. Because of my training at Halton and my service work on aircraft, my training would be specific to the type of bomber I would be doing my operations on, that was the plan anyhow.
It might be best to spend a moment reviewing the various RAF bombers. First there were the Medium Bombers. The Hampden, outdated before the war started so not used much - bit of a death trap so not to be included.
Bristol Blenheim private design as all decent ones are, Beaufort a torpedo version did lots of damage and raids on shipping in French ports, made the Germans angry. Beaufighter very fast version called "Whispering Death" also used as a night fighter with radar,all types with twin radial aircooled engines also by Bristol.
De Haviland Mosquito, best all round fighter, bomber etc of the war, just look up it's stats and learn ! 4000lb bomb load, faster than any thing until the jets arrived, 42600 ft ceiling, used by the Master Bombers, fitted with 4 cannon and even with a single 57m/m cannon. Don't know what a Master bomber is ? They first used Lancasters, would circle the target at a low height during all of the raid, and direct the "Pathfinders" where to drop more target markers, all this done at night of course and we would be called up as "main force" and directed which colour markers to use as an aiming point, and woe betide you if you came in from the wrong direction or dropped anywhere but the correct place. we were usually at 18000 to 20000 ft and could see the Master Bomber back lit by the bursting bombs almost at ground level, a number of back ups would be at our height and when, not if, the master bomber was either hit by flak, or by a fighter or as was most likely had a load of bombs dropped on him, saw a Lancaster one time when we had to land away from base that had had a load of incendiaries land on it, not a pretty sight!! Master bomber two would have his own call sign and often with an accent to prevent the Germans from giving us the wrong information, cunning devils!!
Heavy bomber Wellington made by Vickers designed by Barnes Wallis ( swing wing F1111, Dam busters bomb, and even the Avro York made from parts of the Lancaster) Twin engine geodetical construction,( all little bits joined together to make a net like effect, very strong) covered with fabric, front and rear turrets, two.303 Brownings in each 4,500 lb bomb load 300mph main stay of bombing until the large 4 engined bombers came along, still going strong at the end of the war, called The Wimpey by every one. very many versions from sea search with a lifeboat slung under, to mobile radar and radio station and I remember seeing one flying very low along the coast line with a large ring the size of it's wing span detecting and blowing up magnetic sea mines.
Short Stirling the first 4 engine one slow. low and designed by the Air Ministry with short wings so that it would go into the standard hanger, typical stupid desk riders. My log book contains some hours spent as F/E on one, a pretty useless bomber and not to be in the same class as the Halifax and Lancaster.
The Manchester was first operational about the same time as the Halifax but as we all know was plagued by engine problems and was a "dead duck" until fitted with four Merlins, the Halifax was also supposed to get RR Vultures but because a shortage was expected was designed for four RR.
Handley Page Halifax 4 engined similar to the Lancaster never gets a mention much like the Hurricane is over shadowed by the Spitfire, but many thousands of them were flying and bombing Germany, while the Manchester was falling out of the sky with failing engines. Rolls Royce produced a 24 cylinder engine really based on two Merlins joined at the sump one upside down, it was only when the Manchester was modified to take four standard Merlins that it became the great aircraft it eventually did become. Both The Halifax and Lancaster had versions with Merlins and Hercules engines, the Halifax with Hercules was much better than the version with Merlins and the Lancaster was the reverse better with Merlins, More versions of the Lancaster were developed during the war and it's construction was easier than the Halifax, but the Halifax was much tougher and took more punishment before crashing, I trained on and flew them all as an F/E, just wanted to get down in one piece so all were good for me!! 6,176 Halifax were built, their first operational flight took place March 1941.
Both Lancasters and Halifax had 4.303 Brownings in the rear power turret, mid upper had 2 but had a full 360 rotation and up and down. Some later versions of the Lancaster had twin.5 Brownings in the rear turret, both Halifax and Lancaster had versions with mid under turrets with twin Brownings.
The Lancaster did eventually drop 22,000 lb grand Slam bombs, called by some earthquake bombs as they were made of high quality steel typical bomb shape and were used to bomb things like bridges which are very hard to destroy, need a direct hit, these bombs penetrated deep into the earth and shattered the foundations so that the bridge or viaduct collapsed. 7,377 Lancasters were built, their first operational flight took place on 3/4 March 1942.
So I started my training on four engined Lancaster 2 bombers which were in every respect the same as all Lancasters except for the engines which were Bristol Hercules 14 cylinder air cooled radial, all other Lancasters had four Rolls Royce 12 cylinder water cooled twin 6 cyl. vee Merlin engines. Lancasters were the outcome of a design called the Manchester which originally had twin Rolls Royce X engines 24 cylinder X, really two Merlins coupled at the sumps making a cross of four banks of six, these engines were a complete failure and before I went to South Africa in 1941 had worked on one of the Manchesters that had crash landed in a field due to engine failure. A.V Roe (Avro) knew they had a good aircraft and as The Royal Airforce refused to allow them any engines, so scrounged 4 Merlins from Rolls Royce on the "old pals network" and re worked the plane from two engines to four and demonstrated to the top brass what a good all round bomber they had, and so it proved to be in service, carrying heavier bombs farther and higher than any other plane at that time.
I studied the Lancaster and its systems including the Hercules engines until I knew every part, hydraulic, air, auto pilot, bomb release gear, undercarriage, you name it I knew it and passed with ease my examinations, so much of what I had been studying was what I had been working on for a couple of years, different planes but basically the same in principle. St Athan is a very old and well known R.A.F. Station the R 101 and R100 airships were built there and a "ring " of one of them is fitted to the wall of the huge hanger they were built in which still stood when I was there, anyone interested in these airships should get "Slide Rule" written by Neville Shute and learn some very interesting facts about these two airships, Neville Shute was an aircraft engineer and any of his fiction books are a good read, perhaps his most well known book was the basis for the film "A Town Like Alice".
After passing out from the F/E course I was given a short leave and in March 1944 told to report to 1664 Heavy Conversion Unit at Dishforth in Yorkshire and it was there that I joined up with the rest of the crew who had until that time been flying twin engined aircraft. What aircraft did I see on the runway when I got there? Halifax Mark 2s and 5s different planes and different engines so I had to start all over again on systems and bits!!!
11.3.44, I had to do some initial training to see if I could handle things actually in the air, so it was circuits and landings with a senior Flight Engineer to see how I went. Well we took off OK and did a circuit and came straight into land again, with me operating the various undercarriage and flaps etc as the pilot asked and all was going well round and round until the bumpy air and round and round got to me and I felt as sick as a dog after about an hour and asked the F/E if we could pack it up. He looked at me and said if you give in now you are off the course and can go back to your unit, well funny thing I suddenly felt better and got on with the rest of the job for another hour, after that I was always too busy to feel sick.
I have a log book of my time flying, and I include here the information in it from the flights I made as a crew member, rather than as a passenger. This began here, with the 1664 HCU, 1664 Heavy Conversion Unit, which means it was a heavy conversion unit from 2 to 4 engine aircraft.
Some of the terms on the Log Book shall require explaining. The Lat and Long at the top I have added recently when I bought MS World Atlas and was able to pin point the airfield locations. You will note the first column is the date to help you follow the sequence. This log book records all my flying both training, operational and at Transport Command. C&Ls circuits and landings very boring and mainly for the pilot and engineer to frighten them as much as possible, D.C.O. duty carried out D.N.C.O Duty Not carried out. P.O Lauzon was my first operational pilot, others mentioned on this first page and perhaps elsewhere were senior pilots who had done at least one tour of operations and were being rested before doing another tour of at least 30, all were very much more frightened of the 'sprog' pilot than of anything the Boche could throw at them!! PO is Pilot Officer and is really a rank to ensure that the person will not put up any "blacks' and behave like an officer and a gentleman, probationary period usually 6months. FO is not Flight Officer which is a female rank in the WAAF but Flying Officer. 25th Feb 1:32 E Easy was the aircraft that we normally flew when I was with 420 Sqdn, V Victor was our designated 'plane when with 432 sqdn later, but as we were very new got what was available due to sevicability problems. Will get to each one as I go through my log book, which here will be about 30 pages. Flight Log 1664 HCU page one, page two
Pilot Officer Lauzon asked if I would like to join his crew. The rest were already joined as a crew, I was the last one to join being an RAF Flight Engineer, they needed me to shovel in the coal and to keep the boiler steaming!! As I knew nobody on the course happily agreed, soon realised that all crews belonged to The Royal Canadian Airforce so I had joined a bunch of people who I had no idea of their country or life style, some thing else to study, I was going to be a busy boy! The rest had trained on twin engine aircraft of some sort in Canada and were now ready for the big time.
We were all very young with different back grounds and likes and dislikes, remember I was with the Canadians who were used to a much higher living standard, more independent than us down trodden POMS ( from the Australian prisoners of His Majesty, convicts) So where they had quite a lot of money we did not, all the same Yanky pay, and the food parcels poured in from their families in Canada, when we had leave they went to certain places arranged for them or hit the "big smoke" and found some one to enjoy their pay with, I went home to a shell and bombed Dover, first thing Mum wanted was my ration book so she could feed me, one of my father's sub contractors always called at our house soon after I got home and from the inside of his very dirty overalls gave me a Black Market parcel of butter, cheese and bacon. My crew always made sure I had some of their surplus food to take home, sugar and jam etc. I could not invite them to stay at my house, one reason was there was no room and another was that I had to have a special pass to even leave the railway station near home even though the local cop on duty knew me. The whole south coast was a restricted area all roads in were manned and high fences were all around so no trying the fields, took one of my girl friends once, was only allowed to stay 12 hours and had to either send her back to London or both go somewhere else, went somewhere else!! My parents not too pleased but I was on a promise and determined to find out if it was as good as everyone was telling me, yes it was !
After being introduced to the rest of the gang, I got down to serious study learning about fuel systems, tank positions and the fuel transfer arrangements that allowed one tank to supply all engines and many compilations of this, very necessary if flack makes a hole in a fuel tank, need to use that one up first and tanks have to be balanced for the same reason during operations, loose a full tank and you wont have enough fuel to get back home again!! Engine controls are important too, boost and rpm govern the fuel consumption, and which supercharger gear ratio being used is also very critical.
A very brief explanation of boost, revs and supercharger gearing. Boost is the measure of pressure, plus or minus of the air in the induction system of an engine. When a piston sucks in air it increase it's speed and there fore lowers it's pressure below atmospheric pressure at ground level ( 14lbs per square inch roughly) The more weight of air that can be crammed into a cylinder before it is fired the more power is produced. Hence turbo chargers and super chargers, turbo's are driven by the exhaust gases, superchargers by gearing direct from the engine, as the aircraft flies higher the air gets less dense, and the power from the engine becomes less, turbo's and supers pump more air in so that power is maintained, use at ground level increases the power from a given capacity of engine cylinders, an engine without a charger would always show a minus reading on the boost pressure guage. The setting of the throttle ( accelerator) governs the boost pressure coupled with the turbo or super charger speed setting, the two work together and the setting is done by the pilot or engineer for the conditions at the time( climbing, cruising, etc) components that are a part of the system automatically retain this boost pressure until either a height is reached where the air is so thin that it cannot do so, or changes are made to flight conditions. Revs are the speed at which the propellors go round and relate somewhat to the gearbox of a car, selection of speed is made and automatically kept at that speed by a unit on the engine and one in the propellor itself, bit like an automatic gear box on a car, changing conditions of flight such as taking off and landing require different propellor speeds and reacation to the flight conditions, feathering which rotates the blades so that they do not "windmill" in the event of an engine failure are also incorporated. Guess it's not so simple after all and I used to teach this but had the advantage of being able to flap my arms about!!!
My first flight with P/O Lauzon was on March 16, 1944 and was Exercise 7&8 in my log book. Exercise 7&8 I have no idea but only took about 1 and a half hours so not very important I should say.
Our next exercise was the next day, the 17th, and was Local Bombing. This was a training exercise for the crew but mainly for the bomb aimer and pilot to get their co-ordination working together so that the target is hit. Small practice bombs used but sometimes larger ones full of concrete may be dropped.
The next night I was up with another pilot, Fry, for Circuits and Landing exercises again. More night training.
The next morning I was called to fly with yet another pilot, Vinish, for a Sea Search. VINISH is correct, think I wrote "finish" and got a sharp reminder! Sea Search was a very serious matter that was to spend all those hours searching a particular part of the ocean with other crews looking for a downed 'plane, a hell of a strain on the eyes, the sun shining on the moving waves makes it very hard to see anything properly so things are reported that are not there and other things missed, and no we did not see anything.
You will note that I took off at 10:15 am flew for nearly six hours and then took off again the same day with a different pilot at 20:20 being tested on night C&Ls for about 4.30 hrs and that is only the time in the air, lots goes on before and after!!
Then it was back to P/O Lauzon for two flights in one day, the 20th. Two and a half hours of Local Bombing in the morning then a six and a half hour Night Cross Country exercise.
Apart from actually flying and being checked by a senior Flight Engineer to find out if I could do my job properly, our navigator had to give me instruction on star charts, which star was where and how to use the sextant to take star shots while flying to help in navigation, the F/E position was beneath the astro-dome and it was another of his jobs to do star shots if and when the navigator needed them, the correct star had to be found and a timed shot taken to give an average reading, the wrong star could make life difficult and I can tell you with the plane bumping about, nasty people trying to shoot you down didnt make finding the right star in amongst the millions out there easy.
During this course we also had to take instruction in escape technics both from the aircraft and the enemy, we went to a swimming pool and in full flying gear jumped in the water and tried to turn over an up turned dingy we managed, but could not see it being possible at night in a rough cold North Sea, we all treated it as a bit of a laugh, young and foolish in hind sight.
Our next flight, on the 24th March 1944 at 18:45, our crew did its first night operation over France as a diversionary raid to fool the Germans into sending fighters up to intercept what appeared a bomber force approaching targets in their country. This Bullseye Mission was a number of training aircraft were sent in a direction different than the proper bombers this would direct enemy fighters away from the real bombers. This diversionary raid turned back before any target was reached and hopefully before any of the inexperiensed crews were shot down!! The 1/3 shown on the log was a third of a point awarded towards the total of thirty points needed for a complete tour of operations. "Bullseyes" only counted as one third of an operation. The mission was six long hours wandering about over enemy territory before landing back at base with eyes very sore with looking for enemy fighters that never appeared.
Another course we had to attend was escape after being shot down, this was carried out by senior NCOs of the Army at a special camp on the Yorkshire Moors, a cold and bleak place, with our instructors determined to show those "Brylcreem boys" what tough meant, we were marched and run about all day, all ranks, some quite senior officers going back on operations for their third tour, were made to wear overalls at all times with no badges of rank and shouted at as if we were new recruits in the Army. Escape training was carried out at night without any warning, doors were slammed no lights put on and we had to get into our overalls and get outside, loaded into trucks half asleep, and driven out on to the moors, dropped off in twos with a map, not told where we were and left to find our own way back to camp, the local police, army and the courses just finishing came out looking for us and if found we were arrested and held in jail until sent back to camp. The Canadians were very much anti authority, (much like the Australians I now live with) so nothing was sacred, buses were found in back yards and driven near to camp with lots of aircrew hidden under seats, some stayed out for days being fed and "watered" by lonely wives whose husbands were in the Forces, and said they had got lost and were tired and hungry, some did look as if they had been working very hard and needed a rest. This was our last flight in the Heavy Conversion Course.
The fact that this was our last flight was a coincidence. Bulls Eye was not a graduation ceremony. If one was wanted by the higher ups and you had reached a level of training able to do it you went, the needs of the service were what governed what and where you went.
I had completed training and was graded on my performance in the course. Exam result is 73.5% That was based on my flying with instructors and theory of the aircraft systems at HCU 1664, not wonderful but remember I did do a theory and practicle course just prior to arriving at HCU on the Lancaster Mark ll, different 'plane with entirely different engines, so apart from crewing up with a bunch of wild Canadians, I had less than two weeks to learn all about a new 'plane and it's engines, not bad for yours truly. The results of my examination were signed officially by the Flight Engineer Flight Leader, a flight of men can be any number that can be controlled or over seen, a flight of aircraft also can be any number that is suitable for the type, 3 bombers being usual, more for fighters, a number of flights make a squadron, a number of squadrons make a wing, a number of wings make a Group and a number of groups make a command as in Bomber Command. Got all that ? So the Flight Leader responsible for a number of Flight Engineers under training, signed to say that I had reached a standard whereby I could be expected to do do my job properly. All trades of air crew had Flight Leaders, Navigator, Gunners, Wireless operator, Bombaimer, and lets not forget the driver Leader for the Drivers airplane!!
This all ended in due course and our crew were given a posting to 432 Sqdn RCAF at Eastmoor who were equipped with Halifax Mark 3, same engines as Lancaster 2s and a much better version of the Halifaxs at Dishforth, so all that study had paid off in the end!! My flying time with Squadron 432 are covered in these pages of my Log, 432 Squadron page 1, 2, 3, 4
The RCAF was called 6 Group part of Bomber Command, most airfields had two Squadrons based on it, each was controlled by it's own staff and did not always fly to the same targets nor even on the same days or nights as it was most times!! Usually the same nation were located at each base, so you had two Canadian Squadrons where I was, 420 and 425 at Tholthorpe as an example with my next unit. I just can't remember which squadron was at Eastmoor with 432, the Lancaster book I mentioned before gives all the squadrons and I will just look to see which Squadron was at Eastmoor with 432 when they were with Lancasters. Doesn't help, my book shows a HCU at the same base but that was to convert 432 from Wellingtons I think on to Lancaster ll, they then changed to Halifax lll just before I joined, need the same sort of book for the Halifax which I don't have and maybe no one has! To continue both these squadrons, and 432 as well, were part of 6 Group. Each squadron was divided into flights the number I cannot remember nor can I recall how many 'planes in each flight. I would recommend to you that you beg borrow, steal or even in extreme curcumstances purchase a book called The Lancaster Story by Peter Jacobs it is distributed in the USA by Sterling Publishing CO Inc 387 Park Avenue South, New York it's ISBN is 1 85409 288 8 it is a very fine book and gives much detail of the history and operational types of Lancasters I was given the book by one of Phyllis's brothers and treasure it greatly.
We flew out of Eastmoor airfield. The airfields were just that, fields, hangars and other buildings had been erected, but I visited some many many years later and just the concrete runway was still there most had been removed for scrap and given back to the farmers, local drag car clubs still use some of them and guess those farmer with 'planes of their own could land and take off on them. Although I do not recall the details of Eastmoor, I have read that the Standard Airfield design for heavy bombers was to have a main runway 2000yds, and two secondary runways at about 60 degrees to one another of 1400 yds.
A fence had been errected around the perimeter and RAF Police patrolled this to keep strangers out, but guess if you really wanted in it would have been easy, gun positions were manned by RAF Regiment people with mainly light guns and fixed posts with bofors. The local towns were in the main villages, been there for centuries still using the roads that the Romans built, a village hall, for all the functions so a trip to one on a dance night would see all the lonely ladies out in force and us being the local best thing since sliced bread were over whelmed with attention, take your pick and hope her husband is not near!!!
Two crews slept in each nissen hut so no need to shout for quiet more like a moan about someones socks which were "humming", don't ever remember noise being a problem, none of us played craps or other gambling games like the Americans, guess compared to them our lives were a bit like "The vicar's tea party"! There were no other 'normal working hours' type people in our huts so no problem.
Life on the Bases 432 and 420 was the usual things. We played horse shoes, pool. I even had to have lessons from the wireless operator on the morse code and key. Buses were laid on to the local villages for the dances which were not all that popular, not too many lovely ladies there!! The odd trip into York but much the same old thing into the pub a few beers and away before the usual fights started between the armies of the Allies. Only those that had not fought anywhere had to prove how wonderful they were, just idiots, bit like the rubbish on earth today. nuf said!!
We didn't have any "hours " as such when bomber crews, we were expected to be available 24 hours a day , but if "stood down" officially for a number of hours usually until next morning could go out of camp and be back in by 23.59, the usual time for late return from a night on the town.
Station Orders were posted on the various notice boards which would give times of lectures , and other places we had to be , one such was the visit to our camp by the Prime Minister of Canada , we had to line up to be inspected , not a bull parade more like a casual couple of lines of airmen of all ranks chatting away until he got near and spoke to some one , unfortunately the first three or four he spoke to and asked "Where are you from in Canada" were all RAF and not RCAF so when he got London , Yorkshire etc was a bit puzzled, one of the officers took him by the elbow and steered him in the right direction. We all wore RCAF brevets for our aircrew trade so not easy for him to know who was who, on my squadron only the Flight Engineers were RAF the rest all Canadians. The Canadians had a saying that I have just remembered, "Joe for King, home by Christmas" Joe was Stalin and King was the name of the Canadian Prime Minister.
So to recap, we were pretty free to do as we wished most of the time, and I like most others only read any notice board if we thought we were getting promoted, and left all that stuff to our pilot, who knew before we did when and where we were flying etc. That is why I got in such a muddle over my Officer's interview, mentioned elswhere I think you will find, just never bothered to read the notice boards!!!
Our missions were at first all night operations. As such I shall have to educate you about night and day in England , Winter starts about October / November and goes on until February/ March, some visitors swear it never stops and is winter all year, but the important thing is that in these northern climes daylight ends very early and starts late so a man working a normal day starting at 8am and finishing 4-5 pm will always travel in pitch darkness to and from work . Taking off in darkness at 18.00 hours is no different from taking off even later. Darkness from say 7pm to 7am is 12 hours and we did not have bombers that could last that long and where would they have bombed anyhow? Hope that helps Just to take random look in the log book 6-10-44 15.45 take off to Dortmund all listed as night flying. Remember England is not too far from the Arctic Circle where 6 months of days and the 6 months of nights happens all the time!! At times we would land fairly early in the evening, but for another random look 15.9.44 22.00 to Keil 5.35 meant we got back to base about 3.30 am debriefing meal etc bed by about 5am, no early night that one.
If there had been a large night force out on a target say a 1000 bomber raid not every plane was at the target at the same time, enough problems spread out, guess it would have been chaos otherwise so a raid would start soon after dark and continue until close on dawn when the day bombers took over.
April fools day found me acting as F/E to our Flight leader, Flight Lt. Cooper, doing circuits and landings at night for more than two hours to again check my skills, followed a few days later on the 4th with the whole crew doing the same thing. We passed this ok so now had to do a daylight cross-country to make sure we could go and come back!! The next day, the 8th, we did another "Bullseye", this one 3 hours 35 minutes long, but were told they didnt count towards points for a tour!
On the squadron you only got points for what you did operationally. While I am talking about a TOUR, it was not a walk in the sun eyeing up the Canadian WAAFs, all who were very pretty and carried about a ton of makeup on their faces, my Canadian crew thought it wonderful, I thought they looked like a bunch of clowns Heh Ho. ATOUR was acertain number of operations 30 being the average but based on targets and what the service wanted so some did more and some did less I did 36, wanted to do more so that my crew could finish with the same F/E, as I had done some ops before joining them, I didn't say anything to my Flight Engineer Leader but when he found out I had done more than I should he stopped me and sent me to get my new uniform as an officer!!! But that was yet to come of course.
On April 10th we flew our first operation, to Ghent, Belgium. The ops to Ghent was in all probability a German amunition dump, a guess.
The raid is on so after a quick trip to the mess hall for a preflight meal it's back to the barracks to put on my flight gear which is really only to dispense with the collar and tie, pull on the very large white woollen rollneck sweater under my normal working uniform top, pull on my flying boots and zip them up ( keep hoping that the latest ones will be issued to us, these are impossible to walk in, made of foam and suede with long uppers lined inside with sheep skin, they certainly keep the feet and legs warn but after a few uses tend to lose their shape and " become down at heel" the latest ones are made from black leather as proper shoes and the leg portion can be removed by cutting the top off with the small knife hidden inside, more suitable for aircrew to walk away from the enemy after bailing out. you might like to cut this about too).
Down to the parachute section with the rest of the crew and draw my chest type chute and harness. On one operation we were told that ALL squadron parachutes had been repacked, a rumour had been circulating that a chute had had it's rip cord pulled by mistake and all that fell out was an old blanket !! Parachute silk was much sought after during the war to make the "gift wrapping" that men looked for when their girls took their outer clothes off. We always poked a finger into the corner of the case to feel if there was silk (nylon?) inside, ( you see I just can't get to the heroic airman bit!!)
Time to board the truck to take us out to the aircraft, as we called at each dispersal point calls of "race you back" and some not quite so pleasant were made to those climbing out, at last we were at our 'plane, tumble out and grab our bits and bobs, I had in addition to my chute and harness a tool bag with a few spanners, pliers, bits of useful wire, string etc, others had large bags with the navigation and wireless bumf, and the tail gunner probably had a brick or lump of old iron.
We all climbed aboard to put our things in a position we could grab them if needed, my chute went on the floor in my position, as did my tool box, then I fitted my chute harness on making sure it was tight and properly fastened. down to the tail to remove the elevator lock and start doing my normal checks before we started the four engines, I had a aircraft log sheet to fill in, with what fuel was in which tank, and as soon as we started engines, all their details must be entered., by this time we had all settled in and a quick call was made to check that all intercom positions answered.
Halifax crew positions were spread throughout the aircraft. The bomb aimer's position was in the nose where he map read if possible our mark of Halifax had no nose gun, it was found that fighters did not attack head on at night, various design changes took place during the war as needed so some had nose guns and some not. Then there was a blackout curtain, behind which was the navigator, then the wireless operator, all these at a lower level than the pilot, wop more or less under the pilot's feet, Pilot and behind him the Flight Engineer, who darted about as required. Then there was the mid upper turret and then tail turret. The Halifax had bomb bays in the fuselage behind the f/e position but beneath the floor but could be got at through panels if needed in the case of a hang up, also bomb bays were situated in the wings between the inboard engines and fuselage.
In the cockpit where the pilot was were all the throttles, under carriage and flap controls, and the usual flying instruments. My position was also in the cockpit, where I would access the various contrls and dials needed to keep the plane flying properly. Only on very rare occasions did I have to help my pilots and that was if we had lost an engine and then only on landing. Once when a tyre burst as we touched down did he want a bit of muscle to keep it straight other than that managed without what seemed any effort.The Halifax position for the flight engineer was right behind the pilot, with my instruments, fuel, oil, water pressures and temps etc on a rear partition, levers etc to change fuel tanks was either side just behind the main wing spar. I had no resting place, no chair, so what I was only the engineer!! If a crash landing was going to be done all the crew except the pilot could make themselves a safe spot by clinging together behind the main wing spar, so that was no worry chair or not in a crash I would be as well off as the rest.
I was able to stand upright at my F/E position, and also when I assisted the pilot, think I could stand upright at the mid upper gunner's position but needed to bend my back as I got near the tail, The inside was not painted as such, but from memory was a dark green in colour, probably the anti corrosion coating applied to Duralumin, Alclad, and Aluminium sheets used to fabricate the 'planes. The step up to my F/E position was about 9 inches, underneath was stored the oxygen supply for the whole aircraft, but I could still stand erect with my whole 68 and bit inches of height ( the bit is much more important than the preceding 68 for those of us who are in a neat and compact package) I was able to turn round with relative ease, the space being sufficient for my needs, no windows of any kind apart from the roof astro-dome, the cockpit did have sliding windows both sides as well as a windscreen which was a great help to us, to see our way!!!, Both wireless operator and navigator had windows ( non opening) complete with blinds for night work, there was also a large curtain between these positions and the bomb aimers nose, which was completely made of perspex in the Mark lll version I flew in on operations, as far as I can remember we could all stand upright in the nose section where the nav and wop had seats with tables for their equipment. far from being cramped we all had as much room as we would require, not enough to hold a dance or even a large party but we could all move about with relative ease and reach anything needed to do our job. The fuselage looking back from my position which was just forward of the main spar,was really empty except for the mid upper gunner's position, his lower body and feet only projected down about half way, with room to pass either side of him, we didn't have the open side gun positions used in the Forts.
During this time we had gradually crept up to the runway threshold and were now awaiting the green from the Aldis lamp, I had left my position to stand next to my pilot at the top of the steps leading down to the wop, nav,and bomb positions, ready to hold the throttles open as we charged down the runway and to assist in any way wanted, I had already told the skipper that all engines were running Ok and so we set forth to battle.
The tail came up and we reached our "unstick speed" ( whatever that was !!) the whole aircraft was shuddering with the effort of leaving the ground, a few skips off the concrete and we were airborne, time to take a breath,it had stopped completely as the trees bordering the 'drome had got closer and closer, we once arrived back with bits of branches still caught in the undergear, and a failure of only one engine at that time with a full bomb and fuel load meant the end. Up with the undercarriage reduce the flap angle and set the throttles for climbing, synchronise the propellers, fill in the log book, reduce again the flap angle, check engine temps and pressures, change gills to get the temps right, stepping in and out and up to the pilot to do as he wanted, breathing heavily into the oxygen mask, which always smelt of rubber and rust and wet with condensation. I had to keep mine on to receive instructions from the skipper but most of the other crew could leave theirs unfastened until we climbed higher and went on to oxygen.
Back into my cubby hole, standing looking up out of the astro dome to see if we were in danger of climbing into some one else, all clear, down to the top of the steps to pile up the window and pamphlets that I would start to put down the chute later on, check all the engine details again, at every change of engine revs and at a regular period ( think it was 15 minutes but not sure ) the log had to be filled in, a cardboard rotary calculator was used to work out what fuel had been used at certain revs and boost to check what fuel was left in each tank, the gauges were only a very rough guide!!
Not exactly a "Jack in the box" but I always took my job seriously and did all I could to ensure my side of things ran like clockwork, no guesses keep checking and worrying until home again safe and sound.
We had arrived at the altitude we were to fly at and engine revs and boost were reset, oxygen had been switched on at about the same time high speed had been selected on the supercharger for each engine, about 11,000 to 12,000 ft
The navigator would tell the skipper at what time and which compass bearing he should be on to set course not for the target but the first of the course changes, and so with the constant roar of four engines, our little world of icy cold draughts, a lethal cargo, shuddering rocking in the streams of air from those in front, with many staring eyes looking for any others who might be near us in the black sky, seven young men went about their duty as they saw it.
It was cold, it was apparently dangerous, if you worried about not getting back you probably wouldn't, those that were frightened all the time were the real heroes, most of us just did it and were glad to be doing something to save our civilisation, not that we ever knew just how bad things were or what a terrible bunch the leaders of the enemy were.
Yes I was a bit frightened on our first operation, but the ones that I always felt sorry for were the gunners. The pilot and engineer could see what was happening but were also very busy not only with flying the plane, but I had to record all the engine and fuel tank details plus other odds and sods. The navigator and wireless operator were shut up in their places with little to see from a small window and were themselves busy with their bits and bobs. The bomb aimer was in all probability stretched out full length looking at the sights below waiting to do his bit and telling us what he could see to help us avoid others and ensure we got where we were supposed to go. But the gunners isolated in their turrets had only themselves to talk to and fear can become a self promoting thing. Being busy kept me from being too frightened to do my job properly, and I can honestly say that I never really felt fear just abit of apprehension on some operations, but more of that later.
There was no way to tell if we hit the target, not unless we were told so later. Most times, as here, we were not the first on target, it was all organised on "waves" so the thing was usually well alight or just a ploughed field by the time we got there. What we added to this was difficult to say or see from our altitude. The bomb aimer would see all the ground targets and perhaps what happened when the bombs landed. I was busy with my jobs and searching the sky above to help the gunners, didn't really see a great deal. Sorry I am not able to give you a graffic picture of bombs falling and targets blowing up Hollywood might but they live in a dream world anyhow!!
When we returned from our first operation, we were told the mission was only worth one third of a point!
We did not fly again for a week and then only flew a cross country exercise. On the 18th we flew an op to Paris. Ah Paris !!! Do you really think it was lit up???? All we saw were the flashes of bombs going off and the crash and flash of anti aircraft shells trying to get us. Every target we went to sent up flak, the Germans seemed to really hate us I wonder why? Until we started daylight operations we only saw what was lit up by our bombs and must say we didn't hang about looking at the sights.
A five hour mission. How can it take five hours to fly to Paris you ask? The time taken to get to a target does not indicate how far it was, to confuse the enemy bomber tracks were deliberately set out as if a certain target were that night's one when in actual fact we went elsewhere so the navigator did not have a period of nothing to do but was always calculating when and where to turn onto the next part of the course, gaining or losing time if necessary to arrive on target at the correct time, and checking on drift from winds not as per listed, and adding anything in his log that was of use to others, such as new flak sites. We never flew directly to any target nor flew home the same way, always many twists and turns to fool the enemy, those that chose the easy way home often didn't get there, we followed the plan as set out by our squadron commanders, in our case it worked !!
Again, only one third of a point for some reason. Two nights later, on the 20th, we went to Lens, Belgium on an operation for which we were given one third of a point again!! I can't seem to remember any reaction to this grudging point system, good boys did as we were told!! Funny thing is that most of us never really worried about reaching the end of a tour, the mateship of the crew was much more important ie just look at my and others search for old mates we flew with, can't afford in most cases to get really together but nice to hold hands at a distance!!
On 22 April 1944 we went to the Ruhr Valley, known by all bomber crews as Happy Valley, solid flack from end to end.
Flak was present not just over the target of course. There were flak sites all about, and even flak ships. flak ships were in fact ships moored off the Enemy coast and were very bad medicine for anyone foolish enough to fly over them, guess being cooped up in a ship and sea sick some of the time made the crew mad as they were very accurate and fast with reloading. Flak ships were well documented and only the crews with poor navigators or 'planes in trouble ever went near then, we saw but kept well away!!
A slight shuffle off course, there were many flak towers of our own situated in the Thames estuary which were just as lethal as the ships, some years after the war and many years from now took one of my boys out to one in the first runabout I built, pretty massive things and I took a couple of photos to prove we had been there, our boating friends all turned back halfway and chickened out!! Click here to see images of the Flak tower, From a Distance, With Guns visible, and in Color up close.
Back to Happy Valley, the flak was heavy. Dusseldorf was a very serious affair, bits of red hot flak flew about inside the 'plane as the shells burst, our navigator got hit but fortunately right on the torch in his May West (flotation vest), made him grunt a bit but he was Ok to get us home again. I had to check all manner of bits that got damaged, seem to remember the fuel control levers, about ten of them got damaged and it was a nightmare of a lottery which bit of frayed wire controlled which tank, but guess I must have done the right thing because we got home!! Just remember all this is being done in more or less pitch black darkness with the "driver " dodging flak bursts and weaving about for the gunners, none of it calculated to appeal to the faint hearted!! But I wanted to get home as well and could have been on a promise from my latest girl friend, what more incentive could a guy have? Over Dusseldorf we were hit by flack. We returned safely. This was a full point towards our 30 needed.
On the 24th Karlsruhe was the target, and Essen on the 26th, back to France on the 27th to Montzen one whole point for this one, but on the 30th again over France to Somain and back to 1/3 point no idea why.
My log book for April lists 40.15 hrs operational, total 56.05. It is signed by Squadron Leader ( rank above Flight Lieutenant shown as F/L and S/L) Officer Commanding (OC) "B" Flight This Officer was in overall control of all LEADERS for that flight of a number of aircraft and men to fly them, The ranks when I was in the RAF were Pilot officer, Flying Officer, Flight Lieutenant, Squadron Leader, Wing Commander, Group Captain, won't bother with the rest, but the rank did not signal the position held visa vi aircraft operations as these ranks applied also to medical, religious, cook house and all other branches concerned with the RAF so a clerk could be a Squadron Leader if an officer, got it? BUT no non- flying type ever got to be incharge of operational people, want a riot do you? Unless you had pilot's wings, very few other crew members ever made it to high rank, had to be a "driver" to get to the top. and so it should be I say!! Driver a term used by non drivers to put them in their place at times of getting above themselves, like chatting up your girl or not standing their round at the bar!!
F/E Reg Miles
May started with an air to air fighter affil. A Fighter Affil was us in a Halifax or Lancaster bombers in daylight practicing avoiding a fighter and a fighter doing the same to us, or should I say trying to shoot us down ( in theory we hope ) camera guns used, good fun if you like sick making dives and climbs, as Flight Engineer the only one of the crew in constant free fall, all others belted in and the pilot having a real fun time as he tries to make the slow bomber do things never designed for it!! Hope that tells you what fighter affil was, never tried it at night guess not too many would land again in one piece, with 19-20 year old boys doing wheeelies in the sky with permission of the 24-25 year old bosses!! But this one we didn't finish due to the weather. Heavy cloud moved in and the exercise was D.N.C.O duty not carried out! My Log book will show by each notation D.C.O. or D.N.C.O. DCO is Duty Carried Out, DNCO has a not in it!!!
In fact May was a bad month only two ops. The first was to France at Le Clipon. I note that on the night of the 19.5.44 ops Le Clipon that there is a small red note 15x500 could be what bombs we took!! The second mission in May was to France as well, to Mont Couple for a grand total for the month of 2/3 of a point. Most of the time was spent night flying about England doing more training.
A recent TV show about drugs, reminds me of something during my service, which many people may not know happened. On at least two occasions we were drugged!! Not too sure which ones it was but, you see we weren't ever told what was being planned or cancelled, just called up to do a raid. Once we were pulled out of bed to do a raid and given pills to keep us awake, the raid was then cancelled after we had climbed aboard our 'planes, we were then given more pills to make us sleep. No idea what the pills were or even if they worked !!!
The second of June started much as May with an op to Neufchatel in France for another one third point, and on the 8th two days after D Day Les Lauzon and I were marshalling V victor from our dispersal to the main runway, as I unlocked the elevators by pulling out the large pin something slipped and my hand was trapped and very badly cut, I had to be taken to the hospital, sewn up, bandaged and my arm put in a sling. No possibility of my going on the op so a spare F/E was called up in my place.
Later that night after some pain killers and a rest I heard the 432 planes returning and went down to the Ops room where all returning crews had to call in and give our statement of events, what we saw, if we could give any details of aircraft shot down, and all the details that would help to decide if the target had been hit. When the Station Adjutant saw me he had a fit, my mother had just been sent a telegram to say I was missing on operations, my crew had been shot down and would not be returning.
This was a great shock to me. It would also be a shock to my parents. and as it was now just after 8 o/clock in the morning knew that my Dad would be at work in his office on the docks at Dover, gave the Adjutant the number and was put through in record time, told Dad I was ok and would explain the details when I saw him.
Each crew shared a nissen hut with another crew, not a happy situation when the other crew went missing, but the padre or one of his staff quickly gathered all the stuff up and it was sorted out by one of the squadron officers to send to the parents, anything not nice was removed. I was lucky my stuff was not sent before I managed to let them know I was still on camp!!
Nothing for me to do on the base so home I went on the next train from York to Dover. Trains, now that is something that you should all enjoy, no wardens, they guard just turned off all lights when an air raid warning was sounded, if a tunnel was near the train would go in there, but we are only talking about trains near the coastal regions, hit and run raids were the ones that tried to get trains, trucks etc but that soon stopped when the RAF squadrons became equipped with plenty of fighters to scare the low fliers away, happened to me a couple of times on my way to Dover on leave but really not a worry, worse things happen at sea we always said. Train travel was dirty, uncomfortable, long delays, overcrowded with troops and all there gear going about the country, only very rarely would a seat be available and soon given up to the lass with ababy on board or in arms, the corridors solid from end to end, tired people going back from leave and even more tired people going home for a spell away from war, but in some cases going into more war if their home was in the south, not that the north escaped bombing raids but it continued for longer in the south in fact almost to the day war ended, V1s and V2s almost to the end. After I was made an officer I travelled first class, now that was good if I had a travel warrant, not so hot if I had to pay for it, lot of rubbish I thought but must do as I am told like a good boy.
I arrived just after eight the next morning and phoned Dad from the Railway Station, he picked me up and took me home, Mum was at the local corner shop and post office, all the staff knew me and also knew about the telegram.
I did notice a great deal about the Normandy build up, the landing happening on the 6th. We flew over the south of England on our night operations and sometimes were on our way home at dawn we would see the build up. As I usually spent time with my father in the Dover docks while on leave would have seen what was going on. But remember Dover was always very busy and some parts were off limits to every one, any double decker buses used on that part of the coast had all the top windows locked and painted on the outside black so no view of what was happening about the place.
D Day itself, however, must have gone and went without me noticing it. A bit like VDay and J Day. I was in all probability flying somewhere, or coming from somewhere by car, train, boat, or foot, just never registered, but see years later the crowds in London celebrating, guess they were lucky to be there at that time.
Being home with a wound, I thought I would have some luck with the local girls if I spun the yarn that I had swum the English Channel with one hand, didnt work out that way because a couple of days later I had a big lump behind my ear and a raging headache, high temperature and not a well boy at all. Dad took me to the closest Military Hospital which was in fact at Dover Castle ( built by William the Conquer 1066), beneath which miles of tunnels had been cut and a large and modern hospital installed, I was told that I had an infected scalp, the poison was draining into a gland behind my ear and would take a while to heal, perhaps brought on by a combination of shock from my injured hand and the loss of my crew, a close bond exists when people depend on each other for their survival and air crew had a very close bond. I was taken by ambulance to an old country mansion up the valley a few miles inland from Dover, this was on or about the 10-12 June 1944, no medicine was available to treat my condition, just aspirin for the pain and high temperature, I lay in bed staring through the large windows hoping for sleep and return to health and wondering what had happened to my crew, night time was the worst, nursing staff all asleep upstairs and every one else snoring their heads off.
Then to make matters worse the Germans started sending over Flying Bombs on the night of the 13-14 June and every night and day after that, these pilot-less aircraft had a rocket type motor which had a pulse mechanism that gave them a strange but most recognisable noise, when the noise stopped they just fell out of the sky and the one ton of explosives made a nasty mess of anything underneath. They were programmed to fly up the valley where I was laying sick in bed and on the opposite hills from my bed were 20 and 40m/m quick firing guns, which of course fired at each and every one they saw or thought they did. I swear they were firing straight at me and thought it very unfair that after putting up with Jerry firing his guns at me now my own side were doing the same!
After the war there was a newspaper article showing the location of all Doodle Bug strikes in Kent. I still have a copy. Click here to see an image of that map or Here for a much Larger Image.
I was in that hospital for more than a week until one afternoon the doctor seemed to think I was ripe and cut into this lump behind my ear and out popped a golf ball sized ball that looked like wound up white wool, all pain went and the wound soon healed up,.
A few days at home to get my strength up and I was told to report to 420 Sqdn RCAF at Tholthorpe in Yorkshire, where I was crewed up with Jim Tease as pilot and the usual other members of E easy, they had lost their F/E somehow cant remember now why, but they were a nice bunch and as I had done about eight trips to their none was an old hand!!
One such trip they made without me Jim has only recently told me of. On the 25th of July 44, Jim relates, we started for Stuttgard with over-load petrol tanks in the wing bomb bays , and the fuel lines were plugged so we could not get the fuel from them into the main tanks, so we had an early return. He then says " think you were the F/E but book says Naish". His Book is correct.
The new crew to which I was assigned was as follows. Jim Tease Pilot, Bridgeman Bombardier, Nicklen Navigator and best man at my wedding!, Baker Wireless operator RCAF, Vaughan Gunner, and Yack Gunner. Our ground crew were Jones, Smith, Milne, Parker and Berry. All were RCAF.
My flight time with 420 Squadron is in these pages of my Log, 420 Squadron page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
When I was stationed with 420 Snowy Owl RCAF Squadron our motto was 'pugnamus finitum' which translated means ( so I'm told) 'We fight to the finish', now my long time RAF mate, (Halton, South Africa etc) arrived on the companion Squadron at Tholthorpe, good looking always got the pretty girl,425 Alouette RCAF Squadron motto 'Je te Plumerai' "I shall pluck you" how appropriate for a French Canadian outfit, the re-write by all and sundry is painfully obvious, even more so for my mate Dacre, got through the war Ok but lost touch in 1947 and just hope he is still doing what he always did best!!
Our first op together was on the night of 28th July to Hamburg in Germany, the port inner lost all of its oil over the target, flack put a hole in a pipe so we returned on three engines and for some reason it wouldnt feather so that was added drag but we made it back in one piece, and all felt good that one was over.
On the night of the 31st we were over Deuf-en-Ternois and had a slight argument with an ME109 we both tried to get into firing position and the Jerry pilot realised that he might come off worse if he didnt go away which he suddenly did, we were happy to see him go!! We again had problems which meant we couldnt return to base but had to land at Skipton an emergency aerodrome equipped with FIDO.
Landing away from home usually would be on a FIDO drome. Once landed, our 'plane would be towed clear of the runway and dumped for us to sort out in daylight, we would get our heads down wherever we could and as it was often nearly dawn by the time we had sorted out our problems we would get some more fuel get the fans fixed and fly back to base, where we would then be de-briefed have a meal and either get some kip or get ready for the next one.
August 3rd daylight to Foret-de- Nieppe in France target an ammunition dump. Flying at night we all went our own way and took no notice of friend or foe unless forced to, by daylight the powers that be decided we should fly in, and practice formation, all very good for them that always get lost or need to hold hands, not us we know where to go and what time we should be there so get out of the way and follow us if you like!!!
Perhaps I should try to relive the first daylight raid I went on, that would have been 3:8:44 Foret-de-Nieppe. I mentioned before that as far as flak we never had a free ride, well the flak this first daylight one is well remembered.
It seemed all very strange at first to be able to see what we were doing, not having to squint with hardly any illumination to read gauges and find things by touch alone, so a bit like a holiday as we set "sail" to our target. All our friends around us, not I hasten to add in formation, but at time close enough to be able to recognise some and even give them a wave as we passed close. We of course were heading in the correct direction for the target, where some of the others were off to we did not know, kites flying off all over the place, and yet at night we all arrived where we should be, but how we missed one another in the dark is a mystery. Thinking about it, all the navigators were in their little cubicles without reference to what was happening outside and were working out their own headings taking into account the wind directions and the aircraft speed, so were doing their own plans to get to the target on time, bit like modern motorists taking different roads to get to their work places on time. Any how the skipper and I looked at the mess of planes going every which way and remarked that some of them must be mad, not us we knew where we we going. Gradually things sorted themselves out and a few of us were going in roughly the same direction, not all at the same height I might add but you can't have everything can you? As the holiday spirit continued we saw some of our 'planes cross our path and joined us, where they had been no one knew, but we had a gaggle of bombers heading towards the target. Crossed the coast of England and could see the French coast coming up, no need for the bomb aimer to tell the skipper and I but the navigator would welcome the information and the fact that we were not alone anymore!!
"Ten minutes to target" came through the inter com from the navigator and as was usual a heading for the skipper to take as soon as we had dropped our bombs, often a lot of noise over the target so best to get our escape route sorted before going in.
And there was the target the first wave had been in and were on their way home again, but it was impossible to get to the target, one solid mass of bursting flak, not enough room between the bursts for even a small 'plane let alone a bomber. The skipper and I stared through the windscreen, we did not say anything but guess he felt as I did that this was going to be one hell of a trip, the holiday was over that was for sure.!! The bomb aimer was crouched over the bomb sight giving directions, only the skipper and I could see what was in front of us but in we went and all was suddenly revealed to us what we could see were the shells that had burst, the ones to worry about were the ones that were on their way up, not quite back to the holiday spirit, but survival was now possible, the great puffs of stinking smoke were swept aside as we juddered from near misses and kept on course to our dropping point, a quick look around the sky showed our friends doing what we were doing and guess we weren't the only ones to have had a bit of a fright at our first daylight op.
Daylight operations were less stressful then night missions I would say over all, though we didn't know about stress then. We could see what we were doing as we took off and every one in the crew could do their job without trying to see with a very dim light, the wop and nav could even see outside through their windows, not having previosly seen the bursting flak, and burning 'planes, the first time in daylight may have been rather a shock for them !!! For our pilot I'm sure it made life just a little easier, taking off in the dark with a full load, not able to see where you were on the runway or how close to the end and it's obstructions you were, for me it was a strain but for him trying to physically lift the beast into the air must have been a constant worry, and landing back in the light at base where he could see all the other circling 'planes, the runway not a shadow but there in all it's concrete glory was much easier than trying to figure out where everything on the ground was and where he was in relation to other unseen aircraft. I suppose both kinds of operations had their good and bad points, at night you crept into the target like a black cat in a black room, unseen you hoped but concerned with contact with both fighters and your own friends, navigation difficult because of lack of ground sightings, landing and taking off harder, even taxing to a dispersal difficult at times. In daylight everything could be seen even you over the target so no hiding in clouds, just fly in and drop the bombs and get out again, not sure which I preferred, if you survived all were good!!
We had fighters flying with us to keep the enemy ones away, so just a little of the holiday spirit came back, but on future ones we had the sight of bombers falling to the flak, my most vivid one was seeing a Flying Fortress some miles away have a wing shot off and counting the parachutes that came out as the 'plane tumbled over and over and eventually dissapear through the clouds. But for this trip there was none of that, and later it was very nice to see all the other squadrons from the many 'dromes in our part of the world circling their airfields to go into land, some had a few bits hanging off them, and I suppose some had injured aboard, but home was near at hand a mug of coffee well laced with rum and one more to enter in the log book as DCO.
August 4th daylight again to France a pilot less plane storage dump at Boiss -de- Cassair. These were the V-1 Rockets, or Doodle Bugs as they were called. All we could see of the target was really only a gap in the forest with the ramp for the doodle bug to be fired up for launching, and the rest of the site was hidden in the trees,. I guess the local French Resistance would have sent the information by wireless of the location. Afterwards, not much to see when a number of bombers have dropped a few tons of bombs on a target. We used 500lb and 1000lb bombs on these sort of targets. Not too sure what our maximum bomb load for the Halibag would be but must have been at least 6 ton, but please don't quote me! The area looked like a very poorly ploughed field after we had gone.
Regarding Bomb Loads this is what Jim Tease, our pilot, has in his log book and I feel he is correct in what states. "We made many trips with 16x 500lb bombs, others were 9x 1000lb + 4x500lb. only one trip with a 2000lb + incendiaries, no record of taking a 4000lb believe the bomb doors would not fully close on a Halifax if one was loaded, bombs and petrol load would depend on the target and it's distance from base".
August the 5th daylight yet again to France this time ammunition stored in caves at St- DEsserent. As usual there was no way for us to know if our bombs hit the target, whether we exploded the ammo dumps inside their caves or not. The explosions caused by our bombs 500, 1000, 2000, 4000, bombs going off do tend to make a lot of smoke and fireworks so unless we were on the ground hard to tell our bombs exploding from the enemy ammo or target going up, we did sometimes get a report days later from our briefing officer to say "well done target gone".
It is a bit hard for me to explain about what we saw on the ground both in England and over the enemy, you see when I was flying passengers in Avro Yorks, from UK to other parts of the world, one of the first things passengers used to say as we climbed up to 8000 ft our cruising height was " Oh look the sun is shining" they didn't seem to understand that it always is!! The highest we ever bombed at was 24,500ft all crew members with paddles going like crazy!! But that is still well over the cloud layer. Because that part of the world is more often than not shrouded in cloud people forget that above the clouds there is always sunshine. So you see most times we were over cloud so we saw nothing on the ground, and even on a sunny day it is still patchy cloud, never saw a completely cloud free sky.
August 7th night operation to bomb Tanks and artillery in the German lines at La- Hougue. You will note that August was a very busy month, nearly every day we were out either day or night, can be a bit confusing to remember what and where we went, guess one target is much like another, lots of flak, bits of hot stuff flying about just ajumble in the memory, one thing that does stay vivid and I really can't be sure just when it happened or which target it was, only know it was at night and could have been in August. I think it was this mission to La-Hougue.
We took off on a very dark and rainy night and were told that the cloud and rain would clear just as we got to the target, we seem to have started our night flights very late at that time. Well we climbed to our cruising height and were in thick storm clouds, lightening hitting us and rain very heavy, the whole aircraft glowed with static electricity and large rain drops slid along the radio wires like illuminated ping pong balls, to burst as they hit the fins and rudders, the ride was very bumpy and the skipper and I tried going up or down to get clear of all this storm without any luck, just before the target was reached we flew into bright moonlight, bombed and returned within minutes into what looked like a solid black wall from ground to the sky and flew in this muck all the way home, I see we landed at Tilstock on Fido one night so perhaps that was the night, have a vague feeling that we were one of the very few who made it to the target that night.
August 8th Daylight to France to bomb oil storage dump at Foret-de-Chantilly. On the way home from this mission, or perhaps one of the other daylight missions, an enemy fighter came toward us. The Germans, however, seemed as cautious as my crew was. There were plenty of targets in the sky for the fighters so why risk getting shot at if you could creep up on a crew too lazy to do their job properly. So when this fighter approached us in daylight our gunners gave him a warning burst at a distance and he just turned away. However we watched as he dived straight on another 'plane about a couple of miles away and shot it down. That crew had not been alert and did not see him coming. We were all on our way home, but the time to relax was on the ground not in the sky.
August 9th night operation to Foret-de-Nieppe to bomb ammunition dumps. What does this mean, you might ask? Was it like they show in films? Like most people I often view WW2 films on the box and have always wondered which war the makers were intending to show, certainly not the one I played a little part in. You see when a bomber is shown being attacked by fighters or anti aircraft fire there always seems a lot of shouting and the intercom is full of talk, not on any bomber I flew in, or passenger one either.
So let me go through what I and the crew did. On the ground we were the usual young, bugger about, chase the girls, have a drink etc boys, but once in the 'plane that all changed and the pilot, skipper or skip as he was known was boss, not in any heavy handed way but no task was started without his ok and all functions were reported to him.
So he and I marshalled the aircraft in a position allocated to us for that night's raid on the perimeter track leading to the runway in use, there we left it while a last meal was had, briefing concluded, and we as a complete crew were then taken by truck to our 'plane. The Canadian Salvation Army called at each 'plane as we waited to board, handing out cigarettes and chocolate, and a last fumble in the layers of clothes was made to get rid of any urine likely to cause pain, no toilets on our "kites".
A green light was shone from the small caravan parked at the end of the runway to tell us it was time to climb aboard, this caravan was painted in large black and white squares, a perspex roof blister was used to signal to the crews and need less to say it was towed away before we started to land back after our raid, with the way some of us landed it would not have lasted very long in one piece likewise the occupants!!
Each one of the crew settled into their place and checked that all was ok with their bits and bobs, the pilot would then call each position in turn ( not by the persons name but what position they occupied, ie rear gunner, navigator,etc) and each crew member would reply along the lines of "OK SKIPPER" I was often left to last and was given the order to start engines when my turn came, after all were running satisfactory, I would log the start time and all pressures and temperatures etc, the navigator would no doubt make a note in his log of this time also, when our aircraft letter was flashed from the control caravan we would taxi onto the runway, I would select what angle of flaps the skipper wanted, set take off boost and hold the throttles behind his hand to ensure we stayed straight along the runway. As we climbed up I would only raise the undercarriage and flaps as he ordered, setting climbing revs and boost as he wanted, and would without any order synchronise the engine revs on each side so that the propeller blades did not rotate in respect to one another. If we were one of the first in our squadron to take off we would gradually climb to the operation height and circle the 'drome until all our aircraft were present, not that we could see much on a dark night but we had a set time to "set course for the target".
During the climb and setting course for the target one very important job was the charging and locking of the Hydraulic accumulator, this was an emergency charge of hydraulic fluid which would be enough to lower the undergear and even the flaps if we were lucky should damage to the engine which drove the pump or the system itself be damaged. Was just a large cylinder connected to the hydraulic system filled with air (what this was pressured to I have forgotten only 56 or so years ago so sue me for having a bad memory) fluid was let into this cylinder and charged to a certain pressure (sue me) and the cock turned off so the fluid was held under pressure by the air also in the cylinder, in an emergency the undercarriage would be set to 'lower' and this cock turned on and hopefully this stored fluid would lower the gear, Got all that? Phyll just read the first part I sent and was rather surprised that I could still know what to do but not sure if the RAF would still require my services!! Back to the plot!!
As we reached about 12000ft I would change the supercharger speed to high, make sure all the crew were on oxygen, and fill in all the details in my log these included petrol consumption and which tanks I was using, I always tried to have an equal amount of fuel in each tank by the time we reached our target so that should a tank be punctured we only lost a small amount of petrol, but each time I changed tanks permission was asked from the skipper and he was informed when I had done it.
There we are drifting along trying to make sure we didn't bump into any of our own 'planes in the dark sky, all lights were at dim, mine to fill in my log was at a glimmer when wanted, all the pilot's instruments lights very low and the blackout curtain between the bomb aimer's position and the navigator and WOP very tightly fastened, both working with minimum lights. And it got cold, the gunners and bomb aimer had heated suits but even they felt it, as for the navigator his hands were too cold at times to hold a pencil and asked the Skip if I could direct hot air down to his position, The skip and I already partly frozen but to get there and back we needed to know which way so hot air it was and some of our bits that might be wanted in more pleasant times went into cold storage.
There was no chatter between crew members, and if someone left their mic on by mistake he was soon reminded of the fact, young as we all were I am reminded of how very professional we were, perhaps that is why we survived to tell our tales!
This professionalism was needed. One night we had a Halifax with a mid under turret, not a standard feature in earlier models, and a gunner was added to our crew to man it. The gunner we were landed with saw more enemy fighters in the 6 or so hours we were airborne than I think were available to the Germans at any time during the war. This excitability was not helpful. We got rid of the mid under and that gunner.
Why we survived and others didn't was because we took notice of the experts ( those pilots and crews who had done it lots of times) you don't fly straight and level thinking of nothing much, but weave and bank slightly so that the gunners get an all round view of things, there is no blind spot under the tail if you stay awake. No need for a lower turret to fill that blind spot then.
I can only speak for myself but guess all the crew were feeling as I was, and that was that our navigator would take us there and back, our gunners would spot the attacking aircraft in time and either shoot it down or scare it off, our pilot was second to none and would steer us through whatever came our way, our radio operator would get a fix, receive a message, and let us know what was happening, our bomb aimer would always hit the target, and I would keep the old girl in the air until we got home safely again. So there was no need for lots of chatter we all did our jobs and depended on the others to do theirs.
The navigator would sometimes ask the skipper if I could do a star shot for him, over my position I had an astro dome, would unload the sextant from it's case hang it from the hook, wind up the clockwork 2minute timer and after I had found whichever star was wanted tell the skipper and of course the navigator I was ready when they were, the navigator would tell me when to start and I would press the trigger and try to keep the star in the mirror., at the end of the two minutes a reading of the average of all my shots would come up on a panel which I would give to the navigator, on the ground I had been averaging 2 to 3 miles, not as good in flight but handy if other navigating items were not up to scratch.
The bomb aimer was in the nose during the flight and gave what information he could to the skipper but the navigator also heard it and it would be something like this "Coast coming up skip" "crossing the coast now". Now we were over enemy territory.
Details of flack ships and sites seen in action would be reported much the same, no panic just facts. The gunners would report fighters positions and would not fire unless ordered to. We were told that on some nights our fighters would be in the "stream" so gunners watch out for them, and they would circle the German dromes to shoot down any fighters taking off or landing, the Germans did that to our bombers early in the war but as we got air superiority it was our turn to be the nasty ones. Still, Fighters of any type all were enemy until they proved otherwise. Very few of either nation came near us. In most cases the fighters saw we were a threat to them and went elsewhere.
Although there was sufficient ammunition for whatever may occur, our own use was very minimal and mainly used to test fire the guns soon after airborne, our job was to deliver bombs and drop them hopefully at the right place, which we seem to do most of the time.
One night standing in the astro dome doing my bit of searching the sky I looked up and saw a FW 190 almost within touching reach just above me, would not have been 10 feet away. I told the skipper and of course the gunners wanted to have a go, but as the skipper said we are supposed to be bombing and will just slide away but if we see one on the way back shoot the bastard down. The FW covered the sky, was flying quite close and not much faster than we were, no doubt we could have given it a very sore bum. But the skipper rightly said no, could have all gone wrong anyway, maybe his mate was close at hand and while we blazed away at one, another could have had us who knows?
Remember that this is flying in darkness. We had radar, but not for seeing other planes. We used radar in a thing called H2S, shows as a small bulge under the fuselage of bombers, used to show a map of the ground and useful for bombing on nights with full cloud cover. Radar, good if you are a fighter but what good would it do us, never switch any radar on even H2S unless needed, gives out a signal for the enemy to follow and get you, switch it off and use the mark l eye balls.
There were very many different anti fightersystems used, these names are all either tail warning devices ( which caused more trouble than they were worth) special aircraft with German speaking radio operators who would tune into the German fighter directors and give conflicting directions, The Germans would do as we did and use people with distinct dialects to stop this, microphones were installed in the engine bays and this sound would be sent out on the fighter wave lengths to stop the information from being received. Gee was a navigation aid using three or more radio beacons and a special receiver, window you know about but many different versions were used to block fighters,G-H, Oboe, Serrate, Monica, ABC, Corona, and many names I either never knew or have forgotten were all warning devices fitted near the tail to warn rear gunners of the approach of night fighters, I suppose some lives were saved until the Germans had a crashed 'plane to work on and then it was just the reverse, switch it on and get caught! All of this electronics, if on board this mission, would be in use or ready for use while we moved towards our target through the night sky.
The navigator would also tell the pilot that it was time to start "window" and at what rate, another of my jobs, as was the dispatch of leaflets to inform the enemy that it was time to give in, why didn't I ever keep some??? So you have a very noisy 'plane with not much chatter going on all the crew going about their jobs quietly, checking with the skipper if required and all hearing what was being done to keep us safe.
The view from the cockpit at night was minimal, the occasional flare of a bursting shell which changed to continuos bursts as we got near the target or passed near flak sites, the halfseen shapes of other bombers or fighters with muffled flames from their exhausts, from the astro-dome on a clear night, the dark blue inverted bowl of the sky pierced with a multitude of twinkling lights, but these often shaded by the dark shadows of friend and foe as they passed by.
Dark nights and heavy clouds were the norm, rain and lightening greeted us most times, eyes strained to see what was not there, but ready to give a warning of any contacts either friend or foe.
A master radar controlled searchlight may catch us and very soon we were "coned" no panic, every one closed one eye to retain night vision, and either the bomb aimer or the rear gunner would give the pilot instructions about the best way to get out of it, usually to dive down the master one and do very sudden sharp turns to one side, always got out before any real damage was done, and never ever thought we wouldn't!!
Now we were nearing the target and the 'plane jumped about as we flew through the wake of our bombers ahead of us, on a thousand bomber raid at night over the one target things get abit hairy. Some of the sudden jumps are not 'plane wakes but the burst of anti aircraft shells trying to send us down, but at night you see the flash, hear the rattle of splinters, check that all is well with the crew and our 'plane and just carry on. The navigator would tell the skipper that it was say 5minutes to target, the bomb aimer would have set his bomb sight to drop the bombs in a certain pattern, we had wing and fuselage bomb bays, and with the right pattern the pilot had an easier task to control the 'plane as it lost it's load, a 4000lb 'cookie' really gave us a quick lift when let go, I can imagine that some of the Lancasters that carried and dropped 12000lb and larger "earthquake bombs" really hit the heights when relieved of their parcels!
Now all eyes were searching the sky even harder than they had been, searchlights were weaving their way across the sky, catching a plane which was lit up and looked just like a moth around a lamp, sometime they slid out of the light, some times they suddenly flashed into extinction, and some times the flashing of guns was seen as a fighter chanced his luck amongst the bursting anti aircraft and was answered by the bomber gunners.
The flashing of bursting bombs, rattle and crash of anti aircraft shells bursting, searchlights sweeping the sky and settling on some lone 'plane to be followed by the stream of incendiary bullets, all make the hearts of the night bomber crews halt for just a fraction as they go about the job of beating the foe into submission. Hearts once young and tender soon become hardened to this show of defiance, but not to the sudden eruption of flames at their height as one of their own is hit and spirals to destruction, "bastards" comes through the intercom from all quarters and the empty bottles, bricks and old iron brought for this occasion are pushed out of gun turrets and down flare and 'window' chutes, the rage is personal you can't do this to ours is the feeling.
All in all over the target it was quite a busy place to be and we still had to reach the aiming point drop our bombs and beat a hasty retreat. Each plane that was hit was reported and logged by the navigator, new anti aircraft gun sites logged, 'window' and leaflets pouring out the chute, bomb doors opened and from the bomb aimer 'steady, left steady left steady hold it hold it and the magic BOMBS GONE, bomb doors closed, new course from the navigator and turn for home, but still aware that this was perhaps the most dangerous time, many crews relaxed and never got home. So search the sky dodge the ack ack and searchlights, perhaps put on a bit of speed by dropping a few thousand feet, and again that most welcome call from the bomb aimer still in the nose ' coast coming up, crossing the coast' and now I could eat my bit of chocolate, and just ease a little.
The wireless operator would be giving weather and other information to both the skipper and the navigator, as the navigator and wop sat next to one another many messages were passed by notes to and fro, but one that sent shivers through us was
"Intruders reported over the 'drome skip" not often but meant we could not relax even when we arrived back at base, never got caught, guess our night fighters got up and sorted things for us. So on a normal return to base we were greeted by the interlocking rings of lights from all the multitude of bomber bases in Yorkshire, and each one flashed it's own recognition red light to welcome it's pigeons home, no radio silence now as there was prior to take off, call in make our letter E EASY and given a height and position in the queue, and as we were called down and moved up in the queue sometimes had to loose our turn to one of ours with dead and wounded on board, or no fuel left or any one of the things that happen to planes that will go out searching for trouble, down we go and I stand by the pilot and do all the actions in reverse, undercarriage, flaps and so on, all the others are strapped in but not me I just stand next to our pilot and help him as and when wanted, down we go another perfect landing and taxi to our dispersal, the crew climb out to wet the grass again while the skipper and I switch off everything, lock the brakes and controls, and make our own way to a quick piss, climb in the waiting truck and head for debriefing.
Now we would give our version of events while we are handed a large mug of coffee liberally laced with rum. He we report the sighting of the sudden eruption of flames at our height, which we knew to be one of our own being hit and destroyed - the sighting that sent us to throwing junk down at the enemy. But at de-briefing, we are told it was only a "Scarecrow" shot up by the enemy to make us afraid. But it didn't, it made us mad and nothing the briefing officer could say convinced us that it wasn't one of ours falling to their death. So was the whole thing counter-productive by both sides, we just got mad not scared, so the enemy lost that one and we never really knew if there were such things as "Scarecrows" just kept heaving out the junk.!!
After debriefing, we hand in our parachutes, and head for a meal and bed. Our ground crew would be busy checking E Easy for faults, some I will have reported on landing to them, the camera film will be taken from the bomb sight and on it's way to processing, and a hush will settle on this and many airfields while the weary rest for the next effort, but usually woken up by the roar of engines being tested for the next one.
The next one was August 12th, a daylight run again to France. The target this time was Foret-de- Mont Richard, more ammunition dumps.
August 18th Night to France to bomb the Railway Marshalling Yards at Connatre. must again had a problem because we landed at Skellingthorpe, returning to base the next day.
August 27th daylight to France to bomb a construction site at Marquise -Minoyecques being built to launch flying bombs on London.
I must add details of my selection interview by a senior RAF officer for a commission, My Flight commander had asked me to put in for a commission and when I failed to do so, gave me a direct order, sat me down and made me fill in all the forms, I just forgot all about it and rather than play the usual games that Canadian Air Crew used to while away the hours between operations of horse shoes, billiards and pool, I managed to convince the Station Engineering Officer to supply me with a hut, tools, bench, and a worn out Hercules engine. This I proceeded to take to pieces and section so that every one who was interested could see the inside of a very complicated sleeve valve engine, and perhaps treat them with just a little more respect! I would check with my pilot each day if we were flying and if not cycle out to my hut which was away from the main area and certainly not in range of the public address speakers. So I happily worked on my own getting my clothes well covered in oil and the aluminium dust from the sawing and filing which clung to everything this meant that I had to wear really old uniforms when working and must say that after a few hours in my hut did not look too special! A breathless Flight Sergeant burst in through the door and shouted with the little breath he had left" Your name Miles?" When I replied yes it was, told me that the public address (Tannoy) had been calling for me for some hours to report to Head Quarters for my interview with an Air Commodore. Said I would go back to my barrack room to change " No you wont, Ive been looking for you all morning and you go there now" Didnt want to be an officer anyhow so who cares, arrived at Head Quarters on my cycle to be met by yet another Flight Sergeant, if anything more angry than the first, " Dont you read Daily orders Miles" I walked into the waiting room to find all other applicants polished and shining in their best uniforms, sat in rows like birds on a fence, my own mate said "Hard luck Reg" Before I could answer yet another Flight Sergeant with great glee said "Miles youre in next" So In I went to stand in front of the table behind which sat My Squadron Wing Commander, The Base Group Captain, My Flight Leader and the imposing figure of the Air Commodore. Their eyes were all focused on the notes they were making about the previous applicant as I saluted and stated my name rank and service number. Eyes were raised and a look of horror passed over the faces of each one as they looked at this dirty silver speckled scruffy airman. The Air Commodore asked why I had not appeared when called before and how had I got into this condition. It seemed to me that only the truth would do and so I related my story of the engine I was working on and said how sorry I was that I had caused so much trouble. The Air Commodore asked each of the other officers if they were aware of my efforts and no one did, "ring the Engineering Officer and check while we question Miles" he confirmed my story and said I was doing a good job and hoped it would be finished before I left the Squadron. While this was going on The Air Commodore and I were chatting away about my service history and how far I had got with the engine, finally he said "I shall be pleased to welcome you into the Officers Mess in a few weeks time, we need more people like you who just get on and do things" So I walked out head high through the waiting room and said to all and sundry "Ive got mine good luck to you"
Quite a busy month trying to help our ground troops push their way through France. I have not mentioned the training flights also carried out between operations, so that apart from the odd break we were flying most days and nights. My crew and I must have had some leave during the first week of September because my first record for that month is a training flight on the 9th and a note that I had had some more practise at flying a Halifax, we only had one pilot on board and that was Jim Tease so if he got injured or killed who would fly us home? That left only me who did at least know how things worked but as I had no flying training on small aircraft it was very difficult to manage something so big and slow to react to the controls, alter the angle of the control column and it seemed ages before anything happened so learners always over correct and you end up with a ride like a fair ground switch back, I practised whenever I was able always in daylight and most times on the return flight from an operation, tried a few times landing on clouds, more forgiving than the ground, think I could have got back to England ok but landing without a crash Im not so sure!!
Back to France in daylight to bomb a German strong point at Le Havre on September 10th. I seem to remember that we were one of the last on target and all that could be seen were bomb holes on top of bomb holes, The RAF and American Air Force had complete air superiority so we had only flack to contend with and that could be very accurate because the Germans use Radar tracking.
September 11th daylight to Germany, to the dreaded Ruhr Valley, to bomb a synthetic oil plant at Castro-Rauxel. Our height for this drop, based on the aiming point photo, was 16,500', and our bomb load was 16 500lb bombs. We hit it smack on and our photo showed that, still have my copy given to us, and we were given a guided tour of 6 Group Bomber Command in recognition of our skill.
The tour we had of 6 Group Bomber command was more for the Canadian guys, so they could oggle the Canadian girls, told you before I was not impressed so just saw lots of lush offices and big boards with meaning less maps and figures on them. Waste of time I thought but the rest of the crew liked it so that was OK.
September 13th again to Germany in daylight to bomb the railway marshalling yards at Osnabruck, I have a note that it went well so presume the target was destroyed, daylight targets were a bit scary after night ones but soon got used to it and at least we could see what we were aiming at and whether we had been right on target.
September 15th A night raid on the shipping port of Keil in Germany, this was a 500 bomber operation, we were coned by about six radar controlled searchlights on the approach to Keil, with German night fighters hanging about out of the cones, all had to keep at least one eye closed as the light was very bright and if we managed to get out of them the fighters would pounce as we would all be blind, Jimmy Tease handled the bomber like a fighter diving and side slipping all over the place even at one time diving down one of the lights, and got us out, we were however hit by flack over the target and the perspex nose fell right off, Red Bridgeman the bomb aimer had to hold the black out curtains between his position and Nick Nicklen our navigator while I wired them together, Red had to stand with his feet over nothing all the way home to hold the curtains against the howling gale that came in, Nicks charts had all ended up down the fuselage mixed up with the bundles of window that I was pushing down the window chute.
These were sorted out and Nick went on with his job of guiding us home, from my notes looks as though we or some of our Squadron hit the target so a good prang was noted.
I do remember this next mission, a daylight raid on one of those massive guns built into the ground with a barrel hundreds of feet long pointed at London. This was September 17th. The target was in France at Boulogne, our height in my log is noted as 2000ft. 2000ft is very low for bombing could get damaged by the bombs in front of you going off especially in slow old things like Halis - Lancs. This was the only low level bombing I ever went on!!! Although we would bomb from 2,000 feet, we flew down from base in Yorkshire at about 8,000 feet. This was a good cruising height for our aircraft, as we passed over many cities, towns, airfields, hills, barrage balloons, tall chimneys, and other obstructions for low level craft.
When we got to the English coast lowered our undercarriage and flaps pulled back the throttles and dived down to 2,000 ft over the channel. The lowering of flaps, undergear and reducing engine revs helped us to quickly reduce our height, the channel is only a bit over 20 miles wide not a lot of distance to get a great old lumbering kite down low and level out and on course to give the bomb aimer a chance to find the target.
The dive over the channel was to get us down to 2,000ft quickly, at the low height we were certain to hit the rather small target and not the surrounding empty fields or buildings. We also had to have time to make the approach without crowding other aircraft. We had to watch out for 'planes all round us because, at this altitude, if we were too close to one in front we could get our 'plane damaged by a bursting bomb from the plane in front. So not quite the "milk run" it would appear to be.
The flight down to the target on this trip must have been a change, able to see some of the country side. Although the whole operation only lasted 4 hours, and so not a lot of time for sight seeing, no doubt the gunners and bomb aimer had a nice view. The only time I had to look was when I took a moment as we flew over the village where my parents were living, but I did not see any street or bit that I could say, "that's where I live". It is surprising how difficult it is to recognise things from the air that you haven't seen a few times from the air. But the skipper and I as usual were busy making sure we got there OK. Sounds as if he and I were always busy doesn't it? Well we were, bomber pilots had it tough, long hours at the "office" in all weather conditions, responsible for a number of other people's lives, not forgetting their own. My job was to help him, so I did, as best as I was able. I also wanted to get home again!!!
Once we were down to 2,000 feet, we pulled all our hanging bits back on board opened the taps, then bombed this target with all we had, again being very careful not to get too close to the bomber in front. All I saw was a few acres of mud which kept leaping into the air and rearranging itself, guess another case of over kill!! After the target, we climbed again after bombing to 8,000ft for the return run over the afore mentioned obstructions to our flight path.
This target was noted in the log book as a "strong point" which we were told it was at the time, no one knew what it was so it was decided to destroy it. A ground investigation later on found the gun, much to every one's surprise at it's size and pointing straight at London, various TV programmes over the years have shown it and it's concrete barrel rising from deep underground. Checking distances with my M.S World Atlas I found much to my surprise that Boulogne is the closest point in France to London, closer than Calais by about 10KM, so an obvious place to put a gun of this range and size.
September 19th we took our old plane to the HCU at Dishforth she had done 56 trips and had been hard used many patches and repairs had been done so with all her proud bombing trips still painted on her nose she went to train more aircrew for the struggle still to come.
September 25th off again to France in daylight to bomb a German strong point at Calais another target gone, our new E easy going good!!
September 26th to France in daylight again to Calais bombed Gun positions and the docks in the harbour, noted as another good hit.
September 27th daylight to Germany Bottrop in the Ruhr, have note that we bombed a factory on visual which means some thing had gone u/s. My pilot, Jim Tease recently gave me some more information on this mission. "I had a friend now deceased who was a navigator on 428 Ghost Squadron. He wrote a book about Ghost Squadron & I compared his report of trips we were both on, and found we had different visions of what happened. On our 31 trip to Bottrop on Sept 27 I indicate there was 10/10 cloud for the whole trip, the Master of Ceremonies ( Master Bomber) of the Path Finders lost his way and we bombed where Don ( our navigator) said the target area was located. Ron's book indicates the refinery was hit & smoke rose to 17000ft. So much for records!!"
My Log Book for that raid states "10/10 cloud Bombed Factory Visual M/C U/S" guess that all means we found a gap in the clouds and bombed the target but had solid cloud both there and back M/C U/S Master of Ceremonies out of order, unservicable.
On one of these daylight raids we saw a V2 launched on one raid, didn't know what it was just a streak in the sky. Looking out of the windscreen I saw a streak of smoke come through a layer of cloud and shoot up into the sky and disappear into the next lot of cloud, I know the skipper also saw it but who else I am not sure, lasted milli seconds. It was logged by the navigator and an estimation of where it had come from made by us. When and where seen etc was important, once a site was located it could be knocked out by bombing.
September 30th daylight again to Germany Sterkrade in the Ruhr saw one of our Sqdn go down and three of the seven get out on chutes, we landed at a FIDO drome at Carnesby, no brake pressure went off the end of a very long runway into a field of potatoes that had just been ridged up and we went across the ridges, a bit like roller skating on corrugated iron.
On the 4th of October we went to Bergen in Norway flying across the North Sea in daylight to bomb U/Boat pens and a large ammunition ship in the harbour. We flew across the sea both ways at 1000ft to be under German Radar, and climbed rapidly near the target to 12000ft, Mosquitos and Mustangs gave us fighter cover.
I still have an image in my mind of a semi-circular bay with a large ship moored more or less in the middle. As I remember it the country around Bergen is low lying, nothing at our height to give us cause for panic, but if the ship had blown up and we were down low could have caused major damage to one or more of our Halifaxs.
The large ammunition ship blew up. The ship was still all in one piece when I last saw it and if our bombs had done the damage guess we would have been told. I think it was our rear gunner who told us via the intercom that it had blown up, and that is why we were there.
Our attack made the Bergen people even more anti British than they already were, Gillian visited there some years ago as the intended bride to the son of one of Bergen's top families, the mother was a local member of parliament, they treated her most awfully which did not help when she casually mentioned that her Dad had bombed the place during the war, needless to say that romance soon died!!! The Norwegians still didnt like us Brits, near enough to Germans and lots supported Hitler during the war, bit like the Swiss only interested in making money, the shits.
Of course, most ordinary Norwegian people really hadn't any view pro or anti regarding Germany and Britain, just wanted to get on with their lives as best they could. Those that were anti us had lots riding on our defeat, and were involved in either working for the Germans or making lots of money out of them by trading with them, those that helped us risked torture and death, and were really in more peril than we were, they were the real heroes. After the war and for many years, I never met anyone who speaking with what sounded like a German accent, was other than Swiss, even if they said their home town was in Germany!!!. I still find the Swiss attitude to money and it's retention disgusting , particularly in the light of revelations of their trading with the Nazis in Gold and goods taken from innocent people. Guess ordinary people all over this world just want to eat and enjoy what little life they have, but greed gets in the way and those few who can claw their way up the 'food' chain and get much more than their fair share are the ones who I have no time for , being poor perhaps colours my out look!!!
So we come to the 6th of October and a night operation over Germany to Dortmund in the Ruhr Valley, this was a 500 bomber raid to the centre of the city, we again were hit by flack bits flying about all over the place and very red hot some hit the bomb door hydraulics which fell open and stay open and Im sure that it was on this operation that a lump hit Nick Nicklen on his side making a very nasty bruise, fortunately it also hit the torch on his MAYWEST life jacket so didnt kill him, he was in much pain but got us back to England ok, Nick was awarded the D.F.C. later and I am sure it was for this brave effort. Because of our damage we again had to land apart from our base and this time landed at Woodbridge and after some quick repairs we flew back to base the next day, where I was told that I had finished my tour of operations, had been granted a commission, given dockets and a leave pass to get my officers uniform and told to report back in seven days. A friend and I travelled to just about every city and large town in Yorkshire before we managed to get kitted up in Harrogate.
Before departing on leave and to await our next posting we had to hand in certain flying and escape items. These were mainly items of some value French and German money hidden in our clothes together with fine silk maps of France and Germany. Our flying boots which had a hidden knife in the sheep skin lining so that the long leg warmers could be cut off leaving what looked like ordinary shoes also were handed in, other items like compasses hidden under badges or in pencils, hacksaw blades concealed in the linings of clothes, a bag of oiled silk that could be used to hold water and a few other odds and ends we kept, these like so many things at that time had no value to us and no doubt went into the bin without much thought! Jim Tease and the rest of the crew still had about 8 operations to go but I was not allowed to finish with them told not to be so greedy, others wanted a go and as far as I was concerned they were welcome. So home on leave to await what the RAF had in store for me again.Cycling along the main road in Cliftonville what should I see but a bunch of very good looking WAAFs (Womans Auxiliary Air Force, who did every job except fighting ( which they sometimes had to do for their honour)from clerks to Radar operators, cooks to delivering aircraft from the factories, and with them a girl friend if but briefly from my school days, Phyllis Dike!! I made contact and started to see her and eventually proposed marriage to her, she wasnt very keen but agreed in the end.
I was recalled to service and was posted to Heavy Conversion Unit 1332, Nutts Corner in Northern Ireland where I crewed up with F/lt Poore,a navigator and a wireless operator all of us being officers and had completed at least one tour on bombers, we were being trained to fly Avro Yorks on the main trunk routes from U.K to India and Ceylon now India, Pakistan and Shri Lanka.We started the flying part of the course on the 8th April 1945 and completed it on 17th of the same month. My flight log of my time in 1332 H.C.U. is presented here 1332 H.C.U. Page 1.
The Avro York interior lay out was much as the Lancaster. The pilot, F/E, Nav, Wop were together in a small group, the F/E acting as second pilot even if untrained. When spare pilots became available they took over the task of second pilot the f/e found himself a place amongst the mail bags to sleep and do his job as he could.
When a number of crews joined Transport Command after our course at Nutts Corner,we arrived at 242 Squadron in Stoney Cross. My log book details my flights with 242 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, Page 3. Also here are the Certificates of Competency I obtained to fly a York.
Within a day or so we were all loaded onto an Avro York, flown I know not where and without any "by your leave" injected with multiple injections in both arms and I seem to remember elsewhere, we were told this was for protection against all the terrible deceases we would encounter in foreign lands, yellow fever was mentioned as one but there was a whole list of them. I know most of us were a bit underthe weather for a few days, some even very sick. What sticks in the memory was that we weren't asked or consulted just injected !!
I had already obtain permission to get married and given leave for that period, but the Wedding was on the 28th and I had to get home and do some organising, so used the "old boys" network and thumbed lifts to England and managed to get a train to get me home in time. Nick Nicklen my navigator from 420 sqdn came down from Yorkshire to be my best man, and I cant say I saw much of him before it was away on a short honeymoon, and then back to camp for both of us!!
Click Here to go to Chapter 5, 242- 246 - 511 Squadrons Transport Command Lyneham, RAF
----- Reg Miles
regphyllmiles AT bigpond DOT com
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Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6
Biography of Phyllis Miles (formerly Phyllis Dike), LACW, WAAF
Miss Phyllis Miles nee Dike, Photo, LACW, WAAF
Group Photo, 432 Squadron RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Yorkshire
420 Squadron Badge, Photo, 6 Group Bomber Command, Tholthorpe Yorkshire, RCAF
Barrington-Kennett Trophy Winners, 1939/40, Photo, Reg Miles, RAF Halton, RAF
FIDO, Anecdote, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, RAF
Flight Log 1664 HCU page one, page two, 432 Squadron page 1, 2, 3, 4, 420 Squadron page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1332 H.C.U. Page 1, Certificates of Competency, 242 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, 246 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, 511 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6, Page 7, Page 8, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, No1SoTT Halton/ MUs/ Snowy Owls, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire / 511 Transport Command, RAF
Flight Engineer Reg Miles, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, 432 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, RAF
Halifax, E Easy and Crew, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, RAF
PLUTO, Anecdote, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, RAF
Queen Mary, Photo, Reg Miles, 67 M.U.s, RAF
Salvaging a Bristol Beaufort, Photo, Reg Miles, 67 M.U.s, RAF
Tholthorpe Control Tower, from Jim Tease, Pilot, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, RAF
Wedding Photo, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, No1SoTT Halton/ MUs/ Bomber Command/ 511 Transport Command, RAF
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