At First Sight
At Second Sight
BEF Al Faw Video '05
At First Sight
We Nearly Gave The AOC Apoplexy - A. J. L. 'Bill' Hickox DFC*
November 24th 1943, while serving on No. 139 Squadron at Wyton, my
pilot Benny Goodman and I went down to the Flights after breakfast as
usual. We were called in by the Flight Commander and told to go back
and pack our bags, as we were to take an aircraft to Oakington where we
were posted to a new squadron being formed, No. 627.
We duly arrived at Oakington, where we were told that we would be
operating that same night. So, without having time to unpack our bags,
or go through the normal arrival procedures, we went to briefing, where
we learned that we would be operating to Berlin, along with two other
This was only my second trip to the Big City, but everything went well.
It was only on our return that we learned that the other two had
aborted, and that we had apparently been the only Allied aircraft to
fly over Germany that night!
What is it that gives a squadron its “Esprit de corps”? It seems to me
that 627 had it from the very start. Mind you, we had everything in our
favour. We were flying the finest aeroplane in the world (Ah, De
Havilland) and lived in comfort in the pre-war messes on a permanent
station near the beautiful city of Cambridge. Our CO, Roy Elliott, was
the finest squadron commander I ever knew in a long RAF career. His
Navigation Leader, Bill DeBoos, was a splendid Aussie character, and
even the Adjutant was a good type, as were all the other air and ground
Cambridge provided good entertainment for nights out, “The Bun Shop”,
“The Baron of Beef” and even “Dorothy’s Tea Rooms” being particularly
We were a small, close knit community, proud of being members of PFF
and of being part of the Light Night Striking Force operating
practically every night, even when the Main Force were stood down. We
didn’t even mind being known as the “Model Aeroplane Club”
On the rare occasions on which we were stood down, it was great to pile
into the Hillman flight vans and blunder through the blackout until we
came to the bank ofa river, where we could pull ourselves across on a
chain ferry to a delightful pub called the “Pike and Eel” How was it
that it was always the Aussies who Fell in on the return crossing?
Of all the operations we carried out from Oakington, only two really
stand out in my memory.
The main One was the night of. the “Jet Stream”. Navigators will
remember that our technique was to obtain a GEE fix every three minutes
while within range, and to calculate a wind over every six minutes, and
then use the winds so obtained to factor the forecast wind and use it
for “dead reckoning” for the remainder of the night.
On the night of February 4th we were briefed for Frankfurt. On the way
out I was amazed to find an average wind speed of 162 knots. However, I
had no reason to doubt it and fortunately Benny had sufficient
confidence in me to believe it too.
Unfortunately, before reaching the German border, we lost one engine.
It was apparent that if we continued to the target on one engine we
wouldn’t have a hope of getting back against that wind. We therefore
decided to carry on until we crossed the border, drop our bombs
somewhere suitable and then return to base. We found a light showing in
the vicinity of a village named KALL, and put it out for them.
At debriefing, on our return, it transpired that although all the
others had found similar winds, no one else had believed them,
consequently, they all wound up somewhere in the south of France! The
Met. man told us that the “Jet Stream” was a known meteorological
phenomenon, but until the advent of the jet aircraft, very few had
The other operation, I recall, turned out to be our last one from
Oakington, a trip to Osnabruck. The BBC had sent one of their top
broadcasters, the Canadian, Stuart Macpherson, to cover the flight. He
came to debriefing to meet the returning crews, and the broadcast went
something like this: “Here are the crews just back from “ARZNABRUCK”.
Here with me is the Squadron Commander, who wears the ribbons of the
DSO and DFC, and his Navigator, who - err - who is an Australian”.
Perhaps that is why soon afterwards several of us were awarded DFCs or
Sadly, all good things come to an end, and after that last flight our
complacency was rudely shattered when we were called to a meeting
addressed by a somewhat emotional Don Bennett, who informed us that we
were being taken from him, together with his two best Lancaster
squadrons, and sent up to 5 Group, where Leonard Cheshire had
demonstrated a new technique of dive-bombing marking. We were to go to
Woodhall Spa to do the marking for 5 Group, while the Lancs went to
Coningsby as backers-up.
Consequently, on April 14th we positioned our aircraft up to Woodhall
Spa, where it soon became apparent that we were very much the poor
relations of the famous “Dambusters”. While they lorded it in the
Petwood Hotel in Woodhall we were relegated to a batch of Nissen huts
on the far side of the airfield, where the only amenity, apart from our
own messes, was a tiny one-roomed ale house down the road, run by a
little old lady - the beloved “Bluebell Inn”. We even had to go to
Coningsby for briefing and debriefing.
We then started on a programme of practice dive bombing on Wainfleet
Sands. This was quite interesting, Benny being particularly chuffed, as
he now had control of the bomb release.
For our first trip from Woodhall Spa we were briefed to go to Brunswick
“Fire Watching’, that is, arriving over the target about half an hour
after the main force, and reporting back on the results. It should be
pointed out that, while at Oakington, our procedure had always been to
climb straight up to 25,000 feet and perform the whole flight at that
Naturally we did the same on this night and on arrival over the target,
which was burning nicely, we added our contribution to the flames, and
then returned to base.
We obviously got back before the main force, all the hierarchy were
waiting for us at debriefing, including the AOC, Cochrane, and the Base
Commander, Sharp, who asked how it had gone. “Excellent” we said.
“Massive fires everywhere”. “What height did you come down to?” he
asked. “25,000 feet” replied Benny.
I thought for a moment the poor man would have apoplexy. “You mean you
didn’t come down?” he roared. “Tomorrow night you’ll do the same thing
again, and you won’t go above l,000 feet all the way there and back.”
So it came to pass. The following night the target was Munich, and for
some reason we operated out of Wyton. Anyway off we went, but of course
being so low we rapidly ran out of GEE cover, and so I was unable to
gift a very accurate wind.
We could hardly miss the target, however, and dropped our bombs and got
away again without too much trouble, so that on out way out we thought
that maybe this low-level operation wasn’t so bad after all.
Not being too certain of- our position, I was vainly trying to detect a
blip on the GEE screen through all the jamming, when suddenly all hell
We had obviously blundered into the Pas de Calais light flak belt.
Benny promptly shoved the stick forward and took us right down onto the
deck. We were surrounded by multi-coloured tracers, and searchlights
were shining on us through the trees. At least it meant Benny could see
any obstacles in the way! After what seemed an age, we finally managed
to escape from this trap, apparently unscathed. However, some minutes
later we hit the coast, slap over a port.
My first thought was that it must be Dieppe, in which case we’d have no
chance of getting through there alive? In the event we flashed through
the harbour entrance without another shot being ftired. It was several
minutes later that I managed, at last, to obtain a GEE fix, which
showed that the port must, in fact, have been Le Treport!
On our return we were once again met by the Base Commander, who greeted
us with “Well, Goodman, what do you think of this low-level stuff
then?’ “Not much, Sir” was Benny’s heartfelt reply. Nevertheless, from
then on all our operational flying was at low level.
A day or two later we were actually invited to visit the Petwood Hotel
to hear a lecture by Cheshire, on “Low Level Navigation at Night”.
“It’s simple” he said “You fly along, cross a river and get a pinpoint,
later on you cross another river, get another pinpoint, find the wind
between the two and you’ve got it made” I couldn’t help thinking it was
not quite as simple as all that.
The following month we received the shattering news that our beloved
leader, Roy Elliott, was being replaced - not by one of our own Flight
Commanders, but by a stranger from 5 Group - Wing Commander Curry. My
loyalty was still with Don Bennett and 8 Group, so I was unhappy with
this final take-over by 5 Group. Consequently, I took the opportunity
of completing my second tour with a grand total of 81 operations, and
returned to 8 Group with a posting to the Mosquito Training Unit at
Our final trip with 627 was on June lst. when we marked the Marshalling
Yards at Saumur, in France. This trip is brilliantly portrayed in the
painting which Benny commissioned from a local artist many years later.
He sent me a smaller photographic print of this to remind me of those
days. We weren’t aware then that D-Day was less than a week away!
Copyright © 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as