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At First Sight

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At First Sight
Driving A Mosquito Doesn’t  Mean You Can Drive A Car - Jim Marshallsay DFC.

In my flying log book is a sheet of paper which I took from the notice board of the crew Room at Woodhall Spa, It is a duplicated sheet dated 2nd June 1944 and is a Crew State - a complete list of pilots and navigators of 627 and the number of operations each had completed up to the mentioned date [the actual document is reproduced in the AWARDS Chapter] The total number of ops for the squadron is 2,200 and the aircrew 40, which averages out at over 50 ops per man. From this you can see what an experienced lot they were. Also take into account that Bill Steere had been a Spitfire pilot throughout the Battle of Britain.

I was very lucky to he on such a squadron as 627, as I see from my log book that when I first squeezed through the tiny side door of a MkIII dual control Mossie I was a 20 year old Sergeant whose total flying hours were 329. Before that I had flown nothing but Tigers and Oxfords. My Navigator, Nigel (Nick) Ranshaw and I were trained as a low-level daylight crew to go onto 139 Squadron and when 139 and 105 moved from 2 Group to 8 (PFF) Group we went with them, probably one of the last inexperienced crews to start an operational tour on Pathfinder Force Mosquitoes.

My log book reads - Nov 24th 1943 - Mosquito IV “T” Pilot - Self. Nav - Sgt. Ranshaw. Duty - Air Test from Wyton to Oakington, the start of 627. By that time, Nick and I had done 14 LNSF trips with 139 Squadron, beginning with the big Hamburg raid of July 1943. At Oakington we continued with this work, sometimes just a handful of Mossies would set out for the big German cities, usually in the “moon period” when it was much too bright for the “heavies”. If, on these trips, the weather was cloudy, it was possible to take off, climb into cloud, travel to Germany, bomb the target on ETA and return to base, having seen nothing but the runway lights at Oakington on take-off and landing, If, however, the night was clear, moonlight and stars, then you could get a hot reception from predicted Flak and from the massive searchlight cones, especially at “Whitebait”, the code name for Berlin. If you saw one of the attacking Mossies coned over the target, you took your chance, slipped in, bombed and slipped out again while the poor unfortunate in the cone was dazzled and blasted.

When you got back for interrogation, if you had been the one in the cone, you got no sympathy from the other crews, just a lot of banter like “Brave lads. taking the flak from us.”

Working with the heavies was more interesting. We made “spoof raids, laid dummy fighter flare lanes and TIs with the idea of drawing off the night fighter force from the heavies. On the 28th January 1944 we had a very early evening take-off and in our faithful “AZ-A” DK313 we did a fast return trip to Berlin in 3hrs. 55mins. Later the same night 677 heavies also went to Berlin. Our early attack was intended to make the enemy think that if the LNSF had hit the “Big City”, then the Main Force would go elsewhere. As 49 heavies were shot down, I don’t think it worked.

After we had landed we met the 7 Squadron crews in the Mess doorway, just heading out to their Lancs for take-off. They asked “Are you going to-night Jim?”. I cannot repeat their language when I replied “No, I’ve just been”.

I have mentioned our favourite aircraft, DK3l3. It was a battered looking Mossie, still in its daylight colours. The saxophone exhausts had been removed and the stubs stuck out from the engine, giving extra speed. Despite its rough look, “AZ-A” flew like a witch. We were very fond of it, as were our trusty ground crew, Jim Wookey, Joe Kingsley and “Junior”. I cannot praise the ground crew enough, they were always at hand, cheerful and utterly loyal. Our lives were in their hands. Nick and I went on leave and while I was at home in Weymouth, a letter arrived from Navigator Dai Thomas at Oakington with the news that “AZ-A” had swung on take-off and lost its undercarriage. The Pilot shall be nameless!

March 30th 1944. My log book - Mosquito “N”. Pilot - Self. Navigator - F/Sgt Ranshaw. Duty - Operations - Window Opener for 780 heavies. 4 x 500lb bombs. Nuremberg. “Window Opening’, meant that we had to be over the target before the first of the Marker aircraft and scatter “Window” (Metallic strips) to confuse the Radar defences. This operation started quite normally - we were airborne at 23.00hrs - the Lancs of 7 Squadron had taken off from Oakington about half an hour before us. The track to the target was past Brussels, then almost East between Coblenz and Bonn, on the so called “Iong leg”. then south to Nuremberg.

As we turned onto this “long leg” we realized that something was going badly wrong. The moon was much too bright for the heavies. The expected cloud cover was not there. The main force was leaving persistent condensation trails, so there was a great white road in the air, leading into Germany. Combats soon broke out below us. As this was our 38th trip we knew what was happening to the heavies. First a long burst of tracer from the night fighter, then a ripple of flame from the wings of the Lanc or Halifax. A short interval - then a massive explosion and fire on the ground. Nick logged the first few crashes, but after we had seen 16 go down in 6 minutes, he stopped, preferring to use his time and eyes searching for fighters. We later learned that over 50 heavies had gone down on the “long leg”.

Nuremberg, when we reached it, was covered in cloud. We threw out our “Window“, dropped our bombs and circled to watch the attack develop, but little could be seen except for a few Wanganui flares. Nick said “we’re going straight home” and that is what we did. We turned the aircraft’s nose towards Oakington and left at a great pace, landing at base at 03.17hrs., a trip of 4hrs l7mins. After interrogation we had our “operational egg” and as we left the mess to go to our beds, the first of the 7 Squadron Lancs were circling to land. The cloud base had lowered and there were flurries of snow in the air.

Whereas we had taken the direct route to base from Nuremberg, the heavies were routed North of Paris, to Dieppe, Selsey Bill and home. The difference in flying times shows how fortunate it was to be operating in Mosquitos.

Shortly afterwards we went off on leave again, and on return Nick met me with the news that 627 was leaving for 5 Group accompanied by the Lancaster Squadrons 83 and 97.

By this time we had done 40 operations, so we did just 10 of the low level dive marking trips at Woodhall Spa. The best of these was when we were observing Leonard Cheshire and the 617 Mossies marking technique at Mailly le Camp, in “Q” DZ415 - we took 4 x 500lb bombs and from very low level, attacked the light flak guns which were firing tracers at the heavies.

A last quote from my log book - May 26th 1944. Pilot - Self. Nav. F/Sgt Ranshaw. Passenger - W/O Palmer. Duty - Dive bombing practice, then to Oakington and back to base. When a regular Warrant Officer Engineer with a “Long Distance” medal trusted himself flying with me I felt I had finally come of age as a pilot. Wlien I finished my tour I was still 21 years old.

To finish - a story not in my log book. At Oakington in the winter of 1943 my Navigator had a Morris 10.  I had never learned to drive a car, so Nick gave me lessons around the camp roads. One day I drove to “A” Flight dispersal where a kindly ground staff filled the Morris with 100 Octane.

As I drove away from dispersal a Hillman car drew up beside us. In it were W/Cdr Elliott and S/Ldr Rocky Nelles. The Wing Commander asked in a very suspicious voice “What are you doing in a car at dispersal Marshallsay?”. “Court Martial” flashed before me! I did not lie to the Squadron Commander - “I am learning to drive a car Sir”. Wing Commander and Squadron Leader collapsed with merriment at the idea of a Mosquito pilot who could not drive a car. Out of the comer of his mouth, Nick whispered - “If you can drive or not - go like hell for the mess” I can now drive a car - very badly.

Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited