Saturday, 31 August 2013

13. Don Cook - mid-upper gunner

Don in 1945
So far the only progress I have made in trying to locate the family of Don Cook is in the London birth records for 1924 and 1925, the most likely place and time of Don's birth if he was, as Jim Haworth suggested, a Londoner and aged about 20 at the beginning of 1945. These are the possibilities:
  • Donald Cook, born in Bethnal Green, January to March 1924 - he would have had his 21st birthday during his time with the Mallon crew
  • Donald J. Cook, also born in Bethnal Green, April to June 1924 - ditto above
  • Donald W. Cook, born in Kensington, January to March 1925 - he would have turned 20 whilst with the crew
  • Donald S. Cook, born in Hackney, October to December 1925 - he would have been 19 throughout his time with the crew

Don was still flying with the crew at the end of June and probably left the squadron when Bob did, in July 1945

One mid-upper gunner's story can be found here:

      Friday, 30 August 2013

      14. Eric Butler - replacement pilot

      When Bill Mallon was granted compassionate leave immediately after the squadron's last war operation on the 24th April Bob and the rest of the crew had to adjust to a new pilot. Fortunately for them their new pilot was very experienced, having completed a tour with 75 (NZ) Squadron earlier in the war (1941?), so their remaining 40 hours of flying, from the 25th April until the 6th of July, were fairly uneventful. F/O (later F/L) Eric Butler (NZ 425558), who was from Wellington, had completed his first tour when the Squadron was based at Feltwell and had been posted to Mepal for his second tour on the 6th October, 1944

      Eric Butler is third from the left

      Eric's crew at Mepal was:
      • F/S Herbert Ronald (Ron) Holliday (RAAF 434602) - Navigator, from Australia
      • F/S Hilray (Ray) Hubert Stratford (NZ 4213296) - Bomb Aimer
      • Sgt (later F/S) Daniel (Dan) Brazier (RAFVR) - Wireless Operator, from Bromley, Kent
      • Sgt Charlie Payne (RAFVR) - Flight Engineer
      • Sgt (later F/S -and P/O?) Jack Heaton (RAFVR) - Mid-upper Gunner, from Liverpool
      • Sgt (later F/S) Jack Messer (RAFVR) - Rear Gunner
      Eric and his crew then participated in nine operations from the 19th October to the 11th November, including raids on Stuttgart, Flushing, Essen (twice), Leverkusen, Cologne (3 times) and Castrop-Rauxel - quite a baptism of fire for Eric's new crew.

      According to Jim Haworth's letters home Eric then had to stop flying and spend some time in hospital, but he gave no indication why. His crew was left without a pilot for the remainder of 1944 but they were flown by W/C Jack Leslie, the Squadron Commander, on the Neuss operation on the 28th/29th November and Jack Messer, the rear gunner, flew with F/O J. McDonald's crew on a raid on Cologne on the 27th November.

      It was January 1945 before they resumed normal operations with a new skipper, F/L D. Thomson (NZ 41613), with whom they completed another 17 operations before the approaching end to hostilities brought their tour to a close on the 23rd April with a raid on Wesel.

      Eric saw no more action until he piloted F/O Ernest Amohanga's crew, who had arrived on the 10th March, on the Bremen operation on the 22nd April 1945. Three days later he joined Bob, Jim and the rest of the Mallon crew and he remained with the squadron until the 28th September 1945.

      Eric was born on the 31st December 1917 and was living in Levin in the Wellington region of the North Island when he died on the 26th of July 1994 at the age of 76. His ashes are buried in the Avenue Cemetery in Levin.

      Thursday, 29 August 2013

      15. Lancelot Waugh (replacement bomb aimer), Randal Springer and the Milsom crew

      As I noted earlier, Bob Jay and the rest of the crew were posted to 75 (NZ) Squadron at Mepal on the 6th March 1945. As this extract from the March summary in the squadron's O.R.B. shows, there was one other crew posted from RAF Langar on the same day, that of F/O Bob Milsom (NZ429356).

      Part of the monthly summary of 75 (NZ) Squadron's ORB for March 1945
      The bomb aimer in this crew was F/O Lance Waugh (NZ429021)**, who transferred to my dad's crew around the end of May 1945 when the rest of his crew volunteered for Tiger Force, and the wireless operator was F/S Randal Springer (NZ4213129).
      On the 29th August 2013 I received an e-mail from Keith Springer, Randal's son, who had found my blog and been struck by the similarities between the experiences of his dad and my dad. Both became operational late in the war, both were posted to Mepal on the same day and took part in several operational sorties together and both thankfully survived the war. Randal was also at the I.T.W. in Rotorua at the same time as Bill Mallon and travelled to Canada at the same time as Bill (May 1943). Thanks to Simon Sommerville there is more on the Milsom crew at

      The Milsom crew:
      • F/O Robert Milsom (NZ429356) - Pilot
      • F/S Rex Baxter (NZ432738) - Navigator
      • F/O Lancelot Waugh (NZ429021) - Bomb aimer
      • F/S Gilbert Randal Springer (NZ4213129) - Wireless operator
      • Sgt William (Bill) Smith - (RAFVR) - Flight engineer
      • F/O John Alexander Williamson (NZ4210049) - Mid-upper gunner
      • F/O John (Ted) Smith (NZ428291) - Rear gunner
      In one of Jim Haworth's letters he refers to F/S Rex 'Shorty' Baxter's move to another squadron at the end of May 1945. 'Shorty' was the navigator with the Milsom crew and their transfer led to Lancelot Waugh joining Bob's crew as Bomb Aimer and replacing F/O Ken Philp.
      More details of Shorty's transfer emerged when I received another e-mail from Keith on the 2nd of December 2013. He had found reference to the transfer in his dad's notes, written about twenty years ago:

      "While serving in No 75(NZ) Sqn we were in No 3 Group which was what they called the main stream of the bomber force. Having completed some successful operations over Germany our crew was considered sufficiently experienced to become part of a specialist squadron in the offensive against Japan and we were posted to No 9 Squadron RAF at Bardney, Lincolnshire, which was a few miles east of the city of Lincoln. We were now in No 5 Group and part of what became known as ‘Tiger Force’. We had a new bomb-aimer, Ian Rowe from Wellington, and a new flight engineer, Bill Anderson, a Scot, so we were still an almost all NZ crew. We continued our training doing mostly High Level Bombing (H L B in my log book) and cross country navigation (including H2S) flights. Our first flight on 9 Sqn was on 17 June when we went on a ‘Baedeker’ operation over Germany to observe the results of the bombing offensive. On 6 July we flew to our new base at Waddington, the Dam Buster base a few miles south of Lincoln.  We shared the base with 617 Sqn so there were two very well known RAF squadrons together." 
      No. 617 Squadron hadn't taken up residence at Waddington until 17th June 1945, about three weeks before No. 9 Squadron. Previously, from March '43 until January '44, it had been based at RAF Scampton, from where it took part in the 'Dambuster' raids, and then at RAF Woodhall Spa until June 1945.

      The Milsom crew that was transferred to No. 9 Squadron, probably in early June, 1945:
      Sgt. Bill Smith (left) and F/O Ted Smith from the original Milsom crew

      • F/O Robert Milsom (NZ429356) - Pilot
      • F/S Rex 'Shorty' Baxter (NZ432738) - Navigator
      • F/S Ian Rowe (NZ410043) who had been F/O L.Sinclair's (NZ428917) Bomb Aimer. He replaced F/O Lancelot Waugh (NZ429021), who in turn joined Bob Jay's crew
      • F/S Gilbert Randal Springer (NZ4213129) - Wireless operator
      • F/S Bill Anderson (RAFVR) who had been F/O F.Bader's (NZ416076) Flight engineer. He replaced Sgt William (Bill) Smith (RAFVR) in a straight swap. By this stage all six of F/O Bader's crew were RAFVR
      • F/O John Alexander Williamson (NZ4210049) - Mid-upper gunner
      • F/O John (Ted) Smith (NZ428291) - Rear gunner

      ** Bill Mallon wasn't the only crew member to suffer bereavement whilst posted thousands of miles from home. Barrie Mallon recently came across the following notice from 'The Bay of Plenty Beacon' of 16th March, 1943:

      Lance left the squadron on the 15th July 1945. In 1954 he published 'The Historical Development of Kowhai Intermediate School' for his thesis at the University of Auckland where he completed his M.A. in 1955. He was born on the 27th June, 1914, and died in 1994 at the age of 80.

        Wednesday, 28 August 2013

        16. Charles Green - mid-under gunner

          F/O Charles Frederick  Green D.F.C.
          When Flying Officer Charles Frederick Green (R.A.F.V.R. 178730) was posted to Mepal on the 16th January, 1945 he had already completed one tour of thirty four operations. He had come, along with another gunner, P/O Gwyn Duglan (R.A.F.V.R 179240), from RAF Feltwell, the home of No. 3 Lancaster Finishing School, where they had been trained in the use of the larger 0.50 calibre machine guns and the mid-under gun. He went on to complete a total of fifty operations and on the 25th September 1945 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

          Charles was born in Peckham, south east London, on the 28th October 1921 but the family moved out to what was then the rural haven of Dagenham in Essex in 1930 and Charles eventually attended the newly opened Eastbrook Senior Boys' School. After leaving school in 1935 he worked for a commercial printer in London and has vivid memories of the delays he and his father experienced travelling to work during the Blitz.

          He volunteered to join the Air Force in January 1941 while he was still only 19 and while waiting for his call-up he attended the local Technical College to further his education. He was accepted by the R.A.F. but had to wait a full twelve months before being sent for on 26th January 1942. There followed more than eighteen months of training, including a spell at the Air Gunnery School at R.A.F. Dalcross in Inverness where, a year later, Denis Eynstone would spend three months.

          His posting then was to No. 429 Squadron at R.A.F. Leeming in North Yorkshire, coincidentally the same squadron where S/L Alban Chipling had been awarded the D.F.C. in 1943. Charles was a
          Charles with his crew at No. 429 Squadron
          Halifax mid-upper gunner with the squadron from September 1943 until July 1944. His first operation was on Christmas Eve, 1943 and he went on to complete thirty four operations before becoming 'tour expired' in July 1944. He then had a fairly easy time of it, taking long leaves and carrying out routine jobs on the base, until he was recalled to R.A.F. Feltwell in December and then posted to Mepal in January 1945.

          Whilst at R.A.F. Mepal Charles completed sixteen more operations, bringing his total to fifty, flying with any crew that happened to be assigned to one of the Lancasters fitted with a mid-under turret. Charles is under the impression that there were only two of these but the O.R.B. suggests there were about ten or twelve, although all of his operations were in the same aircraft, AA-L (HK562). His sixteen operations were with at least nine different crews, including three with the Mallon crew and one with the Zinzan crew, whose bomb aimer was Bob Sommerville, so it is not surprising that he doesn't remember anyone from that period - apart from Marjorie.

          Officers' Mess staff, 1945 Marjorie is 2nd from the right.
          Picture from "Dying for democracy" by Grant Alan Russell D.F.C.
          Charles had met Marjorie, a W.A.A.F. working in the Officers' Mess, shortly after arriving at Mepal and they continued seeing each other after the war. In July 1945 Charles was sent on an 'admin course' and there followed a series of administrative jobs at R.A.F. Coningsby and R.A.F. Padgate, including interviewing personnel prior to 'demob' and later taking charge of his own 'Flight' of new recruits undergoing basic training.

          Marjorie and Charles, 1945

          Marjorie lived with her parents in the village of Dore, near Sheffield, and when Charles was demobbed he found work as a printer with the Sheffield Star. They married in 1949 and the four of them continued to live in the old cottage in Dore, which was gradually becoming more and more dilapidated. In 1960, after a holiday in Blackpool, they decided that a move to a newer house by the seaside would benefit them all. Charles applied successfully for a job at the Blackpool Evening Gazette and they all moved to Poulton-le-Fylde, to a house where Charles still lives.

          Charles insists that he is not a 'hero' and that he doesn't want to be embarrassed by anything I write about him. He "was only doing what everyone else was doing. We all did our bit" he said. I respect his wishes, of course, so I will do no more than repeat the words of his D.F.C. citation. "This air gunner has completed numerous operations against the enemy, in the course of which he has invariably displayed the utmost fortitude, courage and devotion to duty."

            Tuesday, 27 August 2013

            17. Owen Willetts

            F/O Owen Charles Willetts (NZ425964) replaced Kenneth Ralph as bomb aimer on the 14th April operation because of Ken's ankle injury. Owen had completed 21 operations with F/S Murray Smith's (RNZAF NZ425948) crew between July and October 1944 (see link) but was re-posted to the squadron from No. 291 Squadron on the 28th March.
              Owen Willetts in 1944.**

              **Note that in this photograph F/S Willetts had not yet been awarded a commission and is still wearing the obsolete 'O' brevet, awarded before mid 1943 when 'Air Observers' were trained in both navigation and bombing. Owen did become a specialist bomb aimer but in this article from The Timaru Herald he is referred to as a navigator.

              Owen was born on the 27th February, 1922, and was living in Burke's Pass in South Canterbury when he died in 1994 at the age of 71. As the above article shows, he made a valuable contribution after his death to the The South Canterbury Aviation Heritage Centre where the new section features paraphernalia donated by Owen's family. These include photographs, maps and notes relating to operations over Europe and his original flying suit, complete with boots and jacket, is also included in the exhibition.

              Monday, 26 August 2013

              18. Les Hofert

              In October 2012 Simon Sommerville posted information about Sgt Les Hofert who was with the squadron from January to June 1945 ( He had been contacted by Paul Reay, Les's grandson, and was struck by the coincidence that both his father and Paul's grandfather had flown in RF127 AA-W on numerous occasions. This was the aircraft in which my dad and his crew had been photographed on the Bad Oldesloe operation of the 24th April, 1945 (see post AA-W 'Willie' RF127)  but the coincidences don't end there. Simon also published a zoom picture of Les taken from the March 1945 squadron photograph that my dad somehow missed, probably because it was taken in the week when the crew were at RAF Feltwell.

              Les Hofert is 3rd from the right
              In June 2012 I visited the museum on the Lancaster Business Park at Witchford to see the collection of memorabilia from the RAF stations at Mepal and Witchford and there was a picture on display that answered a question that had been troubling me since I started this blog. It was a picture that we had at home and Bob was there on the back row, but no-one I had spoken to had been able to work out why the picture had been taken - there were 37 airmen in the picture and Bob was the only one from his crew. The caption alongside the picture in the museum solved the riddle - it said "Pilots and Flight Engineers, May 1945". Bill Mallon wasn't on the picture because he had left the squadron by this time.

              The picture displayed in the museum at Witchford. Bob is on the back row, 2nd from the right

              There is a better copy in my very first post "The War Years" and when I took another look at it I saw someone I recognised, apart from my dad - take a closer look at the two characters on the right of the back row.
              Bob Jay and Les Hofert
              I realise that Paul spotted this coincidence way back in 2012 but it has taken me this long to get round to pulling together the pieces.

              Sunday, 25 August 2013

              19. Doug Williamson

              Doug in 2012
              Doug Williamson was born in August 1925 in Roslin, near Edinburgh. After kindergarten he attended the boys' school Craigend Park in Edinburgh and then became a boarder at Clayesmore School in Dorset, an eight hour train and bus journey away. Such is the state of public transport in Britain today that it would take longer than that now, 80 years later! A contemporary of Doug's at Clayesmore was Tony Hart, the artist and television presenter who died in 2009.

              Clayesmore School today
              Doug was 14 when war was declared by which time he was attending Melville College back in Edinburgh. He was evacuated to his Aunty Maggie's in Elgin where he attended Elgin High school, his first experience of coeducational and large classes. Unfortunately, his Aunt was too old to cope with Doug and his two sisters so he returned to Melville college for another term before being evacuated again, this time to Argyllshire, where he attended Lochgilphead High School. Whilst there he joined the Home Guard, even though he was just 16 (the official minimum age was 17).

              He left school shortly after that in 1941 and continued his education with 3 months at Basil Paterson College. The following year, at the age of 17, he applied successfully to join the RAF. He was placed on reserve and spent two months at the Scottish Motor Transport plant before being called up for training, first of all at the ACRC at St. John's Wood and then at No. 20 ITW at RAF Bridlington.

              Like Bob, he completed his flight engineer training at St Athan in Wales but was then posted to No. 1657 HCU at RAF Stradishall in Suffolk where he was to meet his future crew. They were

              • Pilot - F/S John Wood ('Timber') (NZ426235)
              • Navigator - John (Jack) Pauling (NZ422976)                                                         
                Doug in March 1945
              • Wireless operator - Gerald (Gerry) Newey (NZ425285)
              • Bomb aimer - Noel Hooper (RAFVR)
              • Mid-upper gunner - Sgt. Albert Cash (R147847) (RCAF)
              • Rear gunner - Sgt. Ralph Sparrow ('Tweet') (R263518) (RCAF)

              The crew was posted to No. 75(NZ) Squadron, arriving at RAF Mepal on the 2nd. December 1944, where they were allocated to 'C' flight. Despite a number of 'incidents' Doug was convinced that he had a 'charmed life' and says that at no time was he frightened as the crew completed 31 operations. On the contrary, he found flying a Lancaster exhilarating and as they approached the end of their tour he was feeling "somewhat depressed that the crew would be split up and all the excitement would soon be over."

              It was in this frame of mind that, on the 4 April 1945, he embarked on his 32nd operation, a raid on Merseburg, not far from Leipzig in eastern Germany. Bob was also taking part in this operation, though not with his regular crew. According to the squadron's O.R.B. Doug's aircraft, JN-D, "was hit by flak before reaching the target, the bomb aimer (F/S Hooper) was burnt about the face and the pilot's hands was (sic) slightly burnt, the flight engineer (Sgt Williamson) apparently fell through the M.U.G. turret" (the mid-under gun turret in the floor of the fuselage). The flak "pierced the de-icing tank causing fire which destroyed several leads including heating to A.S.I." (air speed indicator).

              Doug's fate was not known for some time but he eventually recounted it in fascinating detail. He had only just removed his oxygen mask to eat some chocolate when the flak struck and, believing he was covered in blood and disorientated as a result of a lack of oxygen, had baled out through the mid-under turret convinced the aircraft was going to explode. It was actually warm de-icing fluid that he had felt on his face and not blood and the fire had been extinguished quite quickly - but it was too late for Doug. He successfully deployed his parachute and described his alarm when he saw his aircraft heading for home without him. "There was no aircraft plunging to earth in flames. I felt as a sailor must feel, having fallen overboard and seeing his ship sailing off without him. I was hanging in the air and all I could see was a great white canopy above me."

              In keeping with the customary economy of words used in flying log books wireless operator Gerry Newey later recorded the incident thus:

              What happened next is recounted in "The Nazi and the Luftgangster" written jointly by Doug and his friend Lutz Dille and published by Elgin Press, New Zealand (ISBN 978-0-473-22086-0).

              Doug describes his ordeal
              He goes on to describe how he spent several days in the German countryside trying to evade capture before he was eventually apprehended by a couple of farmers armed with hoes. He was handed over to the authorities in Eisleben, about 40 km from their intended target, and kept in the local jail. A few days later, amidst the chaos of war, he was handed over to the U.S. army who had arrived from the west at pretty much the same time as the Russians did from the east. Within a couple of days he had been flown home to England where he learnt to his relief that the rest of his crew had returned safely.

              Doug had a short spell overseas with the RAF before being demobbed and eventually moving to London to take up employment with Williams Dye Manufacturers in Hounslow - and continue playing rugby.

              Williams of Hounslow in 1951

              In 1951 he accepted a 3 year contract managing a tea estate in India and shortly afterwards he emigrated to Canada, arriving in Toronto in January 1955. It was here that he met his future wife Janet, also a Scottish immigrant, and they were married on the 31st May, 1959.

              It was in Toronto that he also met and became good friends with Lutz Dille, the co-author of "The Nazi and the Luftgangster", who had been a member of the German armed forces during the war and was born in Leipzig, close to Doug's target when he baled out. Lutz had been visiting his father in Leipzig just 3 days before Doug's final operation and was captured by the Americans round about the time that Doug was being handed over.

              Doug and Janet had two sons, Angus and Ian, and in 1968 Doug qualified as a member of The Professional Engineers of Ontario. He also tried his hand at teaching, not too successfully, and in 1972 the family decided to emigrate to New Zealand. On October 3rd they set sail from Southampton for Wellington on the 'Northern Star'.

              The 'Northern Star'
              It was here that Doug finally found a job that gave him the satisfaction he had been seeking for so long - he became a tutor in the engineering department of The Technical Correspondence Institute, later to be re-named The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. Doug described it as "the last and the best job I ever had". He retired at the age of 65 in 1990.

              In September 2012, thanks to an enormous act of generosity, Doug and four other RAFVR veterans were able to fly business class to London to see the RAF Bomber Command Memorial statue in Green Park, London, unveiled by the Queen three months earlier (see Link). The trip, including a two week stay in the nearby RAF Club, was funded by Ian Kuperus, founding director of TMNZ, as a token of thanks for saving his father's life. Ian's father was one of thousands of Dutch civilians saved from starvation by 'Operation Manna' in which No. 75(NZ) Squadron played a large part.
              The Bomber Command Memorial statue, London.

              It was my privilege in 2013 to receive a copy of Doug and Lutz's book, signed by Doug in appreciation of my treatment of his story in this 'blog.

              Saturday, 24 August 2013

              20. S/L Alban Chipling D.F.C. (RAFVR 108178)

              S/L Chipling DFC (© S. Stutely)
              There is a tragic postscript to Bob's first few flying hours at R.A.F. Langar. According to his log book he flew as flight engineer with S/L Chipling D.F.C. before he crewed up with Bill and the rest of the crew, flying his first nine hours with him between the 17th and 21st of December, 1944.

              S/L Chipling had a distinguished war record and by this time was playing an important role in the training of future aircrews. He was transferred to the Empire Central Flying School (E.C.F.S.) at RAF Hullavington, near Chippenham, Wiltshire in early 1945. On the morning of the 23rd of April North American Harvard IIb FT232 took off from RAF Hullavington with S/L Chipling flying second pilot to S/L James Johnson A.F.C.

              Harvard IIb
              At approximately 12.00 the aircraft failed to recover from a spin and, possibly as a result of the pilot over-correcting, it crashed into the ground at Southrop, Gloucestershire. The probable cause of the accident was attributed to ballast weights carried during solo flights not having been removed from the aircraft prior to the flight. He died just two weeks before V.E. Day.
              Squadron Leaders Chipling and Johnson were laid to rest in the London Road cemetery in Chippenham on the 25th April 1945 with full military honours (Photographs © Sandra Stutely via

              Alban Philip Sidney Chipling was born in December 1913 in Grindleford, Derbyshire, near to Bakewell. He had three older sisters, Grace, Sybil and Elfrida and was educated at Bracondale School in Norwich. He joined the R.A.F.V.R. in 1938, eventually serving with No. 429 Squadron R.C.A.F.

              In the spring of 1939, as war loomed in Europe, he married Kathleen Marie Fitzgerald in her home town of Cambridge.

              He received his commission to the rank of P/O on 30th September 1941 and was promoted to F/O on 30th September 1942. He had a near miss on an operation to bomb Essen on the night of 12th/13th March 1943 when his aircraft was slightly damaged by flak. He and his crew brought the aircraft safely back to the UK and landed back at RAF East Moor, near York,at 00.20hrs. 
              He was promoted to the rank of F/Lt on 17th July 1943 and awarded the DFC on the 7th December 1943, his citation stating that he had "completed many successful operations against the enemy in which he ... displayed high skill, fortitude and devotion to duty".

              By the end of 1944 he was instructing at 1669 HCU, where Bob met him, but within four months he would be dead. His widow, Kathleen, died in Cambridge in 1996 at the age of 85 - she never re-married.

              Friday, 23 August 2013

              21. RF127 (AA-W) & NX611

              RF127 (AA-W 'Willie')
              Towards the end of the war, when Bob and the crew were at Mepal, the squadron was so over-manned that it was unlikely that any crew could legitimately claim 'ownership' of a particular aircraft. Bob's nine operations were completed in five different aircraft and during his four months of flying with the squadron he flew in nine altogether.

              Despite this, being able to claim one particular aircraft as your own must have provided a degree of comfort and in a letter to his wife on the 25th April 1945 Jim Haworth, navigator, writes " Did I mention we have a new kite W for ‘Willie ? Quite a newish job with all the latest bits and pieces in it….." And after a tricky landing after the Bad Oldesloe raid the day before he adds "Bill’s namesake ‘Willie’ has to have a new undercart now." The following O.R.B. entry for the 24th April 1945 shows, despite several typographical errors, that this was the aircraft used by the crew on that operation.

              Despite several errors this O.R.B. entry for 24th April 1945 shows the Mallon crew aboard AA-W (RF127, not 137)
              It has been great over the last few months to find pictures of some of the aircraft in which my dad had flown but imagine the thrill when I discovered this picture, apparently taken on the 24th April 1945 during that daylight operation to Bad Oldesloe - this is AA-W (RF127), the aircraft in which Bob, Bill, Jim and the rest of the crew were flying as they set off on their final war operation.

              AA-W (RF127) on its way to the squadron's final operation - Bad Oldesloe on the 24th April 1945 (picture - E Ware , NZBCA Archives) Note the H2S radome under the fuselage.
              If the picture was indeed taken on this date then the heads visible in the cockpit are those of Bob and Bill and Don Cook, the 20 year old mid-upper gunner, can be seen even more clearly in his turret. The picture of my dad may not be the clearest I have seen but it beats all those formal pictures in his 'Best Blues'!

              L to R: Don Cook, Bill Mallon and Bob Jay!
              The picture is not clear enough to make out Denis Eynstone (19) in the rear gun turret but he would have been there, as would Jim, Ken and Frank in their positions.

              Denis in the rear gun turret

              NX611- nearly 70 years later

              'Just Jane' (NX611) in better weather.
              As a child I was very proud of my dad and his service in the RAF and fascinated by the Avro Lancaster, bombarding him constantly with questions about the aircraft. He never tired of answering and went on to explain basic aerodynamics, maintaining an interest in what he had learnt during his training. He subsequently developed an interest in space travel and followed the 'Space Race' avidly. He always underplayed the heroism and excitement of war, explaining that all he had done was what he felt he had to do to help defeat fascism.

              As I reached my teens and memories of the war faded we no longer talked about flying. My dad died when I was 27 so when my interest in Bomber Command and the Lancaster was re-ignited a few years ago there was no-one there to answer my questions.   
              Then, on the 4th April 2012, almost 67 years after the end of the war, I was able to fulfil a childhood dream and stand by the Flight Engineer's seat in a Mark VII Avro Lancaster as its Four Merlin engines roared into life. It was raining so heavily that water ran down the perspex, dripped onto my shoulders and trickled over the Flight Engineer's panel, but compared to the conditions endured by crews on 'war ops' at 20,000 feet this was comfort - and I was only going to taxi a couple of hundred yards, not fly 1200 miles for 8 hours over enemy territory.

              The Lancaster was, of course, NX611, built at the Austin factory in Longbridge in April 1945 to be part of the RAF's 'Tiger Force' and now giving displays and taxi runs at East Kirkby in Lincolnshire (See ). It is difficult to describe the emotions I felt as this impressive aircraft slowly rolled across what is left of the airfield but I couldn't help but think not just of my dad but also the 55,000 Allied airmen for whom this would be the last few minutes of contact with their home soil - and Bob would have been the first to remind me to spare a thought too for the half million or so German civilians killed by the Allied bombing campaign, not to mention the 60 million victims of the war across the rest of the world. For those few minutes I felt closer to my dad than I had for nearly forty years.

              NX611 on its return from Australia to the U.K. (Biggin Hill, May 1965)

              At the gates of RAF Scampton in the early '80s

              More pictures from NX611 on 4th April, 2012

              In my dad's seat


              Looking over the pilot's shoulder


              Starboard engines from the Flight Engineer's position

              Thursday, 22 August 2013

              22. No. 75 (NZ) Squadron - operations from March - April 1945

              When Bob and the rest of the crew joined 75(NZ) Squadron at Mepal on the 6th March 1945 the end of the war in Europe was just nine weeks away.
              • On the Eastern Front the German army was launching its last major offensive, Operation
                German forces prepare for Operation 'Spring Awakening'
                ("Spring Awakening"), in the Lake Balaton area of Hungary as it desperately attempted to hold on to some of its last oil reserves. It lasted just 10 days.
                 In Poland the Germans in the fortress town of Grudiaz surrendered after a lengthy siege.
              • On the Western Front American and Canadian troops had reached the Rhine and the U.S. 1st Army was fighting in Cologne
              • The U.S. 5th Army was approaching Bologna in northern Italy
                Although the end of the war was in sight this was to be no easy run-in for Bob and the rest of the crew. Bomber Command pursued its campaign relentlessly until the very end, supporting the Allied advance and hitting fuel and transport targets until the 2nd of May. 75 (NZ) Squadron continued to play its part and during March and April was involved in more than 30 operations over enemy territory. This is the story of the Squadron's last two months of the war. The descriptions (in yellow text) of the opposition encountered come from the squadron's Operations Record Book (O.R.B.) and the dates of Bob's operations are in blue text (there are more details of these operations in Chapter 3a).
                •  6th March - the squadron provided 16 Lancasters out of a force of 119 from No. 3 Group Bomber Command that bombed the Wintershall oil refinery in Salzbergen, the oldest oil refinery in the world. "Slight H/F (i.e. heavy flak - from large caliber guns) was the only opposition" but one aircraft was lost.
                • 6th/7th March - between the 16th and 19th February, 1945 the German town of Wesel was almost entirely destroyed by the use of impact and air-burst weapons dropped mainly by aircraft from No. 3 Group. On the 6th/7th March 8 (5+3) aircraft of 75 (NZ) Squadron in a force of 87 Lancasters (3 Group) and 51 Mosquitoes (8 Group) attacked Wesel again in two waves, one in the early hours and the other during daylight. "Flak opposition was slight. No fighters
                  Wesel, March 1945
                  were seen" and there were no losses. Three days later the Germans destroyed the 1,950m long railway bridge, the last Rhine bridge remaining in German hands. The Allies took the town 2 weeks later but an estimated 97% of its structures had been destroyed by bombing and shelling.
                • 7th/8th March - a single Lancaster took part in mine laying ('Gardening') in Kiel Bay. 
                • 7th/8th March -13 aircraft were part of a force of 526 Lancasters and 5 Mosquitoes (from 1, 3, 6 and 8 Groups) that bombed targets in Dessau in eastern Germany. Dessau was home of the Junkers Aircraft and Engine Works (Junkers Flugzeug- und Motorenwerke AG (JFM) and the first two Ju88-G7 high performance night fighters, the so-called 'Mosquito destroyers', were themselves destroyed before becoming operational. The city was virtually destroyed and over 1000 civilians lost their lives. This was Bill Mallon's first operation, flying '2nd dickey' with F/L Sid 'Buzz' Spilman's crew.  "Flak practically nil in target area. Some fighters were seen" and "F/L Spilman had a short, inconclusive encounter". They were extremely lucky - 18 Lancasters were lost. Bill's thoughts on this, his first taste of action, appeared in an earlier post.
                • 9th March - Bob's first operation. 21 aircraft from 75 (NZ) Squadron took part alongside 138 other Lancasters from No. 3 Group in a raid on the Emscher Lippe benzol plant near Datteln. The O.R.B. states that "no opposition was encountered" yet one aircraft was lost.
                • 10th March - Bob's second operation, in which 155 Lancasters (21 from 75 (NZ) Sq) attacked Gelsenkirchen, about 20 km south west of Datteln. The target was the oil refinery at Scholven-Buer. "There was slight H/F" and there were no losses.
                • 11th March -75 Squadron took part in a raid
                  A Lancaster blows up over Essen, 11th March, 1945
                  on Essen involving the largest number of aircraft so far to a single target - 750 Lancasters (21 from 75 (NZ) Squadron), 293 Halifaxes and 36 Mosquitoes. "Very slight H/F was the only opposition" and 3 Lancasters were lost. The terrible picture on the right, from the Australian War Memorial website, shows a Lancaster blowing up with all its bombs on board over Essen on the 11th March, 1945.
                • 12th March -another record was set in the number of aircraft on a single raid, this time on Dortmund - this record would not be broken. 1,108 aircraft in total (748 Lancasters (21 from 75 (NZ) Sq), 292 Halifaxes and 68 Mosquitoes) dropped a record 4,851 tons of bombs, mainly on the centre and south of the city. "Flak was slight to moderate" and 3 Lancasters were lost.
                • 14th March - 169 Lancasters from No. 3 Group bombed oil plants in Hattingen and Datteln. The 20 from 75 (NZ) Squadron were among those that targeted the Heinrich Hutte plants in Hattingen. "Very accurate moderate H/F was met in the run-in and over the target" and AA-E (PB471), piloted by F/L Eric Parsons, "was seen to be hit causing it to spiral into cloud".
                • 17th March -167 Lancasters from No. 3 Group (19 from 75 (NZ) Sq) carried out a raid on the benzol plants at both Dortmund and Hüls. 75 Squadron's target was the Auguste Viktoria benzol plant at Marl-Hüls and there was "slight H/F" and no losses.

                • 18th March -100 Lancasters from No. 3 Group carried out attacks on Hattingen and Bochum in the Ruhr. The 17 aircraft from 75 (NZ) Squadron targeted the coking and benzol plants at Bruchstrasse in Langendreer, the most populous district of Bochum. Again, "slight H/F was encountered" and no aircraft were lost.
                • 20th March -99 Lancasters from No. 3 Group (21 from 75 (NZ) Sq) bombed the railway yards at Hamm. "Some H/F was encountered" but no aircraft were lost.
                • 21st March -the raid on the railway yards and nearby viaduct at Münster was chaotic and tragic. There was "considerable flak" and 3 of 75 (NZ) Squadron's aircraft were shot down whilst trying to avoid bombs from other No. 3 Group aircraft above. The aircraft lost were JN-P (RA564) piloted by F/O Derek Barr (RAF), AA-R (LM733) piloted by F/O Alf Brown (RNZAF) and AA-T piloted by F/L Jack Plummer D.F.C. (RNZAF). Further details will appear in a later post.

                • 23rd March - Wesel was once again the target,
                  Soldiers of 89th Infantry Division crossing the Rhine
                  this time of 80 Lancasters (8 from 75 (NZ) Sq) and 3,000 Allied guns in preparation for 'Operation Plunder', the crossing of the Rhine by the British 2nd Army and the U.S. Ninth Army between the 24th and 27th March.       
                  British Commandos in the outskirts of Wesel

                  "Very slight H/F was experienced" and there were no losses.
                • 25th/26th March -One solitary Lancaster carried out a "Nickel raid" on Scheneningen in The Hague in which thousands of propaganda leaflets were dropped. The operation was "uneventful".

                • 27th March - Bob's third operation nearly ended in disaster when, on the run into the target, the port inner engine was hit by flak and they had to complete the operation with three engines. The targets were two benzol plants at Hamm in the north eastern Ruhr and 150 Lancasters took part, 21 from 75 (NZ) Squadron. "Very slight H/F was the only opposition encountered" and there were no losses.
                • 29th March - Bob's next operation, involving 130 Lancasters, 21 again from 75 (NZ) Squadron, was on the Hermann Goering benzol plant at Salzgitter in Lower Saxony. "Flak was moderate" but there were no losses.
                • 4th/5th April - the Leuna synthetic oil plant in Merseburg, about 20 km west of Leipzig, was the target of 327 Lancasters and 14 Mosquitoes of Nos. 3, 6 and 8 Groups. Flak was "moderate to light" and 2 Lancasters were lost. One of the 21 aircraft from 75 (NZ) Squadron lost its Flight Engineer Sgt. Doug Williamson but, as described earlier, that story had a happy ending (see chapter 19).
                • 9th/10th April - another huge operation, this time involving 591 Lancaster from Nos. 1, 3 and 8 Groups (19 from 75 (NZ) Sq) and hitting targets in Kiel Harbour. (Further details in 'The War Years') "Flak was moderate" , "there was no fighter opposition" and 3 aircraft were lost.

                Bomb Leader F/O Jack Wall's photograph of Kiel from 19,000 ft.
                • On the same night another 7 Lancasters from 75 (NZ) Squadron were sent on a mine laying operation to Kiel. F/O E. Ohlson and his crew in AA-U (PB427) returned early after developing a fuel leak.

                • 13th/14th April - another mine laying operation to Kiel, this time involving just 5 75 (NZ) Sq aircraft. "An uneventful trip". On On the same night 377 Lancasters (21 from 75 (NZ) Sq) and 105 Halifaxes from Nos.3, 6 and 8 Groups attacked Kiel again. "Flak was slight" but 2 Lancasters were lost.

                • 14th/15th April - Nos. 1, 3 and 8 Groups attacked Potsdam,
                  The Ju88
                  just outside Berlin, with 500 Lancasters (25 from 75 (NZ) Sq) and 12 Mosquitoes. "Flak was slight and bursting well below the stream".
                  One Lancaster was lost, shot down by a night fighter, and "AA-T (F/L Baynes) was attacked by two enemy aircraft, believed JU88s, 20 miles S.W. of Potsdam on the homeward journey. The Flight Engineer (Sgt. A. Sliman) was killed by canon shell".
                • 18th April - 969 aircraft of all Groups (617 Lancasters (25 from 75 (NZ) Sq), 332 Halifaxes and 20 Mosquitoes) carried out a devastating attack on the tiny island of Heligoland. Several theories have been put forward to explain why such a massive blow was needed against such a small and relatively unimportant target, though there were submarine pens, anti-aircraft batteries and a small airstrip on the island. Three Halifaxes were lost. The following day another 36 aircraft from 9 and 617 Squadrons attacked coastal batteries on the island with 12,000 lb 'Tallboy' bombs.
                Heligoland, before and after the 18th April 1945 attack

                • 20th April - Bob's penultimate operation involved 100 Lancasters from No. 3 Group, including 20 from 75 (NZ) Squadron, bombing the fuel storage depot at Regensburg and also causing considerable damage to the docks and railway system. AA-U (PB427) had problems again, this time with both port outer and starboard inner engines and had to return early - F/O Ohlson must have started to think his aircraft was jinxed.**  Flak was "slight but accurate" and 1 aircraft was lost.
                **more about the Ohlson crew at
                  • 22nd April - the squadron's penultimate operation was as part of another huge attack by Nos. 1, 3, 6 and 8 groups on the south eastern suburbs of the city of Bremen in north west Germany in preparation for the advance of the British XXX Corps. 652 Lancasters (21 from 75 (NZ) Sq), 100 Halifaxes and 16 Mosquitoes took part but the raid was hampered by cloud and by smoke and dust from bombing and the Master Bomber called off the raid before Nos. 1 and 4 Group could attack. The city was taken just 4 days later on the 26th April. "Flak from Wilhelmshaven and Bremen was at intervals moderate and very accurate" but no fighters were seen. 2 Lancasters were lost and S/L J. Parker's aircraft, AA-P (NF935), was hit by flak and his Flight Engineer Sgt. R. Clarke was killed.

                  • 24th April - Bob's and the Squadron's final operation saw 21 Lancasters from 75 (NZ) Squadron detailed to attack railway targets at Bad Oldesloe in northern Germany. Two aircraft failed to complete the operation, JN-N (pilot F/L Peryer) failed to take off owing to engine trouble and AA-Y (HK561)  (pilot F/S Reay) had to return early after a fire in the starboard outer engine. "No opposition was encountered but slight flak was seen over the Dutch coast".

                    • 29th April to 8th May - the Squadron was involved in "Operation Manna", i.e., dropping supplies on The Netherlands in the areas around Delft, Rotterdam and The Hague. Bob completed one such operation with the crew's new pilot, F/L Eric Butler (RNZAF) on the 1st May. 

                    A message of thanks from the people of The Netherlands, May 1945

                      • 9th to 23rd May - the Squadron was involved in repatriating approximately 2,000 prisoners of war. Aircraft would fly to Juvincourt in north eastern France and each one would carry 24 released prisoners, many of them Australians and New Zealanders. Bob was not involved in any of these flights.

                      • May - June - a number of Belgian refugees were repatriated during May, including a 2 months old baby, and several so-called "postmortem" operations were carried out to "check German radar equipment".

                      • 23rd May to 19th July - crews were tasked with taking official photographers, ground crew and 'top brass' to "view the effects of the bombing offensive". These trips were widely known as "Baedeker" operations, named in memory of the 1942 German bombing raids on British tourist destinations featured in the Baedeker Travel Guides, and that is how Bob referred to them in his log book.

                        Two aerial photographs showing the devastation wreaked (or "the effects of the bombing offensive") on Cologne 1945
                        • 21st July - the Squadron moved to Spilsby.
                      The fact that 75 (NZ) was a three-flight squadron and was practically double-crewed during the later months of the war meant that Bob completed just 9 operational sorties during his two months war-time service. However, despite the enemy's dwindling resources, danger remained constant. During March and April 1945 40 aircraft were lost just on the raids in which 75 (NZ) Squadron was involved and the Squadron itself lost 4 aircraft and 3 Flight Engineers (2 killed and 1 captured). During March 1945 Bomber Command's losses were the 4th highest of all the months of the war.