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At First Sight
A Special Affection For The Mosquito - J. R. “Benny” Goodman DFC* AFC AE

The following is based on an article by Group Captain Goodman which appeared in Fly Past in 1984.

I completed a total of 37 sorties on Wellingtons with Nos 37 and 99 Squadrons in No. 3 Group. I then spent two years at 15 OTU, on so called “rest” before being posted to No. 1655 Mosquito Training Unit at Marham, Norfolk, part of No. 8 (PFF) Group. After completing the prescribed dual flying time I joined No 15 Course and paired up with a Navigator, F/O A.J.L. “Bill” Hickox, so nicknamed after Wild Bill Hickok of American West fame. He had already been shot down in a “Wimpy” and had walked hack through the desert. We decided there and then that we would endeavour not to repeat this escapade, shoolt hands and became a Mosquito crew.

On completion of the course we joined No. 139 Squadron which was the expansion unit for the Mosquito force of Pathfinder Group, later to be knovn as Light Night Striking Force with eleven squadrons. Whilst with this unit we flew 5 sorties.

During the third week of November 1943 it was suddenly announced in the Crew Room that a new Mosquito squadron - 627 - was to be formed at Oakington, near Cambridge, and that “C” Flight 139 Squadron would become the nucleus of the new squadron. As Bill Hickox and I were members of”C” Flight we prepared to move to our new station and on November 24 we climbed aboard DZ 615 and flew het to Oakirtgton. lt was a rule in Bomber Command that every new squadron became operational as soon as possible after it was formed, and when we arrived Bill and I found that we were on the Battle Order for that night.

The resident squadron at Oaltington was No 7, a Lancaster squadron of the Pathfinder Force, and on the day of 627’s arrival the station was a hive of industry. A Bomber Command maximum effort was in preparation and Lancasters were being made ready for ops that night. To the Oaltington effort would now he added six Mosquitos of 627 Squadron. As the day wore on it became apparent iiom reports from the Station Met. Othce that operations that night had become questionable; a warm front was spreading in from the south-west more quickly than had been expected. At tea time the Lancasters were stood down, hut 627 remained on standby and after tea we were briefed for an all-Mosquito attack on Berlin in company with 139 Squadron.

Early that evening Bill and I boarded DZ615 and set off for the Big City, a trip which turned out to be completely uneventful except that on rctiiriuug to the airfield we were fly- ing in thick cloud at 500ft, still in heavy rain, and approached and landed very carefully-

On reporting to the Operations Room for de-briefing we were astounded to be told that DZ615 had heen the only RAF aircraft out over Germany that night. Ops had been cancelled by Bomber Command at a very late stage but two of us were already airborne and were left to get on with the job. The other pilot had trouble with his aircraft and turned back, which left us on our own.

Before I go any further with my story I think I should make it clear that Mosquito bombers of the Pathfinder Group had only one navigational aid - GEE. This employed three widely-spaced ground radar transmitters which acted in unison and transmitted pulses in a set order. A receiver in the aircraft enabled the navigator to measure the difference in time between the reception of the various pulses and by referring these to a special GEE map of Europe, covered with lattice lines, the position of the aircraft could be determined with considerable accuracy. Unfortunately, GEE could easily be jammed and the Germans did this with great gusto. This reduced the effective range of the aid to an arc running along the Dutch coast, which meant that Mosquito navigators had to work very quickly to calculate an accurate wind speed and direction before heading into Germany. On long trips, for example to Berlin and Munich, we sometimes had the bonus of a route marker put down for us at a point midway to the target and possibly another closer to the target. Such markers were laid either by Pathfinder Lancasters or 139 Squadron Mosquitos equipped with the air-ground radar aid H2S.

The only other aid in a bomber Mosquito at that time was a VHF radio set, a superb piece of equipment. Many were the occasions on which I thanked the Lord for the sound of the quiet, efficient voice of the WAAF radio operator giving me a course to steer to reach home. I think I should add that Bomber Command Mosquitos had no defensive armament - they relied entirely on speed to get them out of trouble.

The winter of 1943-44 was famous - or infamous, depending on your point of view - because it saw the Bomber Command offensive against Berlin. Our C-in-C said that if we could lay waste the Big City the Germans would be brought to their knees. Sixteen major attacks were mounted but Berlin was not destroyed. The truth is that the target was too vast and the weather, which could often be worse than enemy action, was appalling. Bill Hickox and I took part in seven of these attacks against the German capital and also busied ourselves with spoof raids against other targets, for example Kiel and Leipzig.

When spoof-raiding, the Mosquitos flew with the main bomber stream until perhaps 100 miles or so from the main target and then turned away and dropped thousands of metallic strips called “Window” which gave false echoes on the German warning radars and often caused the enemy controller to deduce that the bombers were to attack a target other than that to which the main force was actually flying. This resulted in fighters being scrambled to the spoof target, which was then clumped by the Mosquitos led by H2S markers of 139 Squadron. Such attacks could help the main force considerably by drawing off large numbers of enemy fighters.

However, it is true to say that once German fighters had found the bomber stream they did not let go. Thus, on occasions, Bill and I would have a grandstand view from 25,000ft of flares being dropped by Ju-88s over the main force and then of lines of tracer bullets followed by fires and explosions in the sky as Lancasters and Halifaxes went down. We knew only too well that we were engaged in a battle of attrition, as was the United States Eighth Air Force with its Flying Fortresses, and the outcome could be defeat for the bombers.

 
'A' Flight Oakington, March 1944. In centre 'B' DZ353 - The rather over exposed Mosquito appearing in  a series of photographs while serving with 105 Squadron as 'GB E' DZ353 was lost on a visual marking operation on Rennes on 8th June 1944.

Photgrah: Brian Harris Collection



During the Battle of Berlin we lost our Flight Commander - Squadron Leader ‘Dinger’ Bell. However, he and his navigator managed to bale out and became prisoners of war at Stalag Luft 3. At this time Bill and I began to wonder if the sands were also running out for us when, on the way home from the Big City, the oil pressure on the starboard engine suddenly began to drop and the oil and coolant temperatures increased. Eventually the readings reached their permitted limits and I throttled back the engine and feathered the propeller.

Now we were in the cart, with a vengeance, for we had to lose height and were eventually flying along at a height and speed comparable to that of our heavy brothers, but with no means of defending ourselves if attacked. Moreover, since the only generator on the Mosquito was fitted on the starboard engine we had to turn off our internal lights, the GEE box and our VHF set. So we drove on through the darkness with our fingers and toes tightly crossed and feeling very tense.

Eventually our ETA at the Dutch Coast came and Bill switched on the GEE. We were in luck; it worked and Bill quickly plotted a fix. So far, so good. Next we turned the GEE box off and I called up the VHF guardian angels on ‘Channel Cl - the distress frequency. At once there came that voice of reassurance, asking me to transmit for a little longer. She then gave us a course to steer, and shortly afterwards said “Friends are with you”. Bill and I took a good look round and spied a Beaufighter, which stayed with us until we reached the English Coast. We motored on and eventually got down fairly expertly which drew from the imperturbable Mr Hickox the comment “Good show”. Praise indeed.

Shortly after this effort came another indication that Lady Luck was on our side. We were briefed for yet another trip to Berlin, but during the afternoon the raid was cancelled and a short-range attack on a Ruhr target was substituted. This was to be an all-Mosquito affair, led by 105 and 109 Squadrons. Our CO, Wing Commander Roy Elliott, decided that this was an opportunity for new crews to have a go and Bill Hickox and I were stood down in favour of two ‘makey-learns’.

We had air-tested the aircraft that morning and were satisfied that it was in all respects serviceable, yet as the Mosquito lifted off at night and entered the area of blackness just beyond the upwind end of the flare path both engines failed and there came the dreadful sound of a crash as the aircraft hit the ground. Both crew members were killed. Would this have happened if liill and I had been on board? We shall never know.

After this tragedy I was allocated a Mosquito which I flew most of the time until my tour ended in June 1944. This was DZ484 “G” George. When I was eventually posted back to 1655 MTU as a flying instructor “G” George came too, and joined the Bomber Flight. Eventually “G” was honourably retired to a Maintenance Unit and after the war was broken up and struck off charge, as RAF terminology will have it.

However, from time to time I flew other Mossies - one of which was the famous DZ353, photographs of which must have adorned every book written about Mosquitos. DZ353 began operational service as a low-level daylight bomber with 1U5 Squadron as GB-E, taking part in eleven sorties, then moved briefly to 139 Squadron and finally transferred to Oakington with 627 Squadron. I flew DZ353 twice, each time to Berlin, on my 50th and 59th sorties as an operational pilot. This aircraft was eventually lost at Rennes Marshalling Yards on June 8th 1944, our Deputy Flight Commander and his Navigator being killed.

It must not be assumed that Bomber Command crews sat around waiting to get the chop. Nothing could be further from the truth. When stood down we contrived to have an uproarious time. For example, the Station Commander at Oaltington, a fierce Group Captain, lived in a suite of rooms at one end of the Officers’ Mess. He used to retire to his suite at night and took no notice of the high jinks that took place in the bar.

One night a group of inebriated 7 Squadron ‘toughies’ decided to make the Station Commander a present of an ancient Austin 7 which stood outside the Mess. They picked it up and carried it carefully along the long corridor (with two sharp turns i.n it) and deposited the old vehicle outside the CO’s door. It almost blocked the corridor. Next day all hell was let loose and a small army of airmen took along time to remove the offending car. Nos 7 and 627 Squadron crews were paraded by their respective COs and the 'riot act' was read, but no real attempt was made to track down the culprits. This was a good thing and raised the Station Commander in our estimation.

Early in the spring of 1944 a Mosquito unlike any we had seen before flew in to Oakington. It was a standard MkIV modified to carry a 4000lb bomb, the famous cookie’. To accommodate this large piece of ordnance the bomb bay had been strengthened and the bomb doors redesigned. The aircraft looked like a pregnant lady, because its belly was markedly rotund. Our CO announced that we were to fly the cookie-carrier as much as possible and the most experienced crews were detailed to take her on normal operations.

 The night arrived when Bill Hickox and I were ordered to try our hand with this new machine on a target in the Ruhr. Take off was not difficult, but quite definitely she was not a scalded cat. As soon as her tail came up I pushed the throttles quickly forward to the gate (plus nine pounds boost. 3,000rpm) and then clenched my left hand over the gate catch releases and eased the throttles to the fully open position (plus twelve pounds boost, 3,000rpm).

ln “G” George this would have resulted in a glorious acceleration and a hop, skip and a jump into the air. Not so with our pregnant lady; she waddled along and took most of the runway before she deigned to unstick. Moreover, the climb was a sedate affair and we took much longer to reach 25,000ft than with our usual steed; and when we arrived there she took a long time to settle to a steady cruise. However, we eventually sorted ourselves out and headed resolutely for the Ruhr.

In the target area I felt distinctly nervous - there we were, with the bomb doors open and Bill droning away with his “Left, left -- right – steady”, and I just knew that every gunner in the Ruhr could sec the enormous bomb we were carrying and was determined to explode it and blow us to smithereens. I looked at the bomb jettison handle in front of me - no delicate lever this; it was a solid bar of metal which, if moved, would manually release the massive catch holding the ‘cookie’ and down the bomb would go. If the bomb doors had not been opened, that was hard luck - the cookie would still drop away and take the bomb doors with it!

However, no such inglorious thing happened. Bill suddenly announced “Bomb gone”. and as he did so the Mossie shot up like a lift. There was no delicate porpoising, as with four 500 pounders; the altimeter moved instantly through 500 feet of altitude. I had never seen anything like this before, More importantly, as soon as I closed the bomb doors our fat lady became almost a normal Mosquito and accelerated to a fast cruising speed.

Though Bill and I did not know it, this was to be our only cookie-carrying trip; a high level decision at Bomber Command Headquarters was about to result in 627 Squadron moving to Lincolnshire, to join the famous Dam Busters at Wtitidhall Spa in specialised marking operations for 5 Group.

Since the beginning of 1944 the Dam Busters (617 Squadron), led by Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire, had been successful in marking and destroying small industrial targets, at night. To do this, Cheshire had dropped flares over the target and by the light of these had marked the target with red spot fires dropped visually from his Lancasters in a shallow dive at low level, This technique was to achieve far-reaching results later in the year and heralded an improvement in hitting power in Bomber Command.

The brilliant AOC of-5 Group, Air Vice-Marshal the Hon. Ralph Cochrane, was quick to appreciate that if a single aircraft could mark a target accurately for a squadron then it should be possible for a squadron of properly trained crews to mark targets with similar accuracy for the whole Group. The Lancaster was a splendid aircraft but was vulnerable to light flak at low level; a more manoeuvrable aircraft was required for the operations Cochrane had in mind.

Leonard Cheshire was well aware of the limitations of the Lancaster and had already decided that the best aircraft for low level marking was the Mosquito, He briefed the AOC on his ideas and this led to the meeting at Bomber Command Headquarters which resulted in the redeployment of 627 Squadron from Oakington to Woodhall Spa and 83 and 97 Lancaster Squadrons from their respective Pathfinder bases to Coningsby. 5 Group was about to receive its own Pathfinder Force and 8 Group was no longer to enjoy oy its hitherto unchallenged monopoly over Pathfinder tactics.

 No hint of these momentous events reached the crews of 627 Squadron in the ‘trenches’ at Oakington. We had, of course, heard of Leonard Cheshire, but he belonged to 5 Group - the Independent Air Force as it was known in Bomber Command. We were too busy attending to our daily grind in 8 Group to concern ourselves unduly with what the glamour boys of a rival Group were doing.

My Flying Log Book reveals in its cold, unremarkable way that in early April Bill Hickox and I went to Cologne, Essen, Hanover and Osnabruck, the last of these taking place on the 12th. The Osnabruck trip was interesting because it coincided with the arrival at Oakington of the radio celebrity Stewart McPherson and an Outside Broadcasting team. They had come to record a typical operation by a Mosquito squadron and the results were to be broadcast next day on Radio Newsreel at 4pm.

McPherson and his merry men installed themselves at the upwind end of the runway in use and recorded some very good noises of Mosquitos taking off. Then, while we were engaged over the “Third and Last Reich” they Hlled in what the trip was about; and finally they set up their gear in the Control Tower to record the landing of the squadron. So, in due course, I announced over the VHF radio “Pen-nib Three Seven downwind” and was told “Three seven, clear to Final” Shortly afterwards I said “I’en-nib Three Seven, Final” 21  to which came the time-honoured instruction “Three Seven, clear to land”

Early next morning l rushed to the GPO telephone in the Officers’ Mess and called my wife in Sutton, Surrey, urging her to listen to Radio Newsreel that afternoon. She did so, as did all the neighbours. and heard my one and only broadcast on the BBC Home Service. They were all thrilled to bits. How strange that such a little thing somehow means so much, especially in times of trouble.

That day coincided with the announcement that 627 Squadron was to re-deploy to Wtwodlmll Spa, and two days later Bill Hickox and l insinuated ourselves into DZ484 “G” George and flew to Lincolnshire with the rest of the Squadron. After landing, we were formed into a single line and the Station Commander arrived with what I can best describe as a bevy of brass. It was the AOC with his principal staff officers. He moved along the line with Wing Commander Elliott, our CO, who introduced us individually to the great man.

Within a few minutes I found myself looking into the cold eyes of a tall, rather ascetic man, who abruptly welcomed me to 5 Group and moved on along the line. Why had he taken the trouble to meet us? Such a thing was unheard of in bomber circles- We all felt somewhat uneasy. Obviously something was ‘up’ and it promised to be bloody dangerous.

Next day the whole squadron journeyed by bus to Coningsby and were directed to the Station Cinema. Here were assembled all crew members of 83 and 97 Lancaster Pathfinder Squadrons, our own Squadron, the AOC and his entourage, and Leonard Cheshire. The AOC opened the meeting by saying that a number of successful attacks had been made by 617 Squadron on important pinpoint targets and it was now intended to repeat these on a wider scale. The Lancaster Pathfinder Squadrons were to identify the target area on H2S and were to lay a carpet of flares, under which 627 Squadron would locate and mark the precise aiming point. The target would then be destroyed by 5 Group Lancaster bombers. So that was it - we were to become low-level visual markers, and it did sound dangerous.

Cheshire now took the stand and explained carefully how the low-level marking business was done. What the Lancasters had to do was lay a concentrated carpet of hooded flares, the light from which would be directed downwards onto the target, making it as bright as day. A small number of Mosquitos - font or possibly six - would orbit, find the aiming point, and then mark it in a shallow dive with S(lUlb spot-fires. Marker Leader would assess the position of the spot-fires in relation to the aiming point and would pass this information to a Master of Ceremonies in one of the Pathfinder Lancasters, The MC would then take over and direct the main force Lancasters in their attack on the target.

On returning to Woodhall, the CO called the Flight Commanders to his office and an intensive programme of dive bombing at Wainfleet Bombing Range was worked out. Although Leonard Cheshire had said we must fly low for the best results it was decided to try dropping smoke bombs from various levels. Attempts were made to dive bomb from 15,000ft and, when this faid, from progressively lower heights. In the end we found it was as Cheshire had said - to get a smoke marker close to the target in the Wash we had to fly at around 2,000ft and then dive directly at the blob in the sea; down, down, until it was 22  held in the middle of the windscreen, then ‘Bomb away,.

This time, however, it was not Master Hickox who did the releasing of the bomb. I had a button on the control column and merely had to press it with my right thumb when I judged that the correct moment had arrived. It was entirely a matter of practice, and within a very short time the crews of 627 Squadron could plop their markers right alongside the Wainfleet target. The question now was - could we do this under battle conditions?

We did not know that plans for the invasion of France - Operation Overlord - required destruction of the French railway system leading to the landing areas. The best way of doing this was by employing heavy bombers, but grave doubts existed at the highest level as to the accuracy with which this could be done. Winston Churchill was adamant that French lives must not be lost needlessly and eventually it was agreed that 5 Group should under- take a mass attack on a marshalling yard in the Paris area to prove the case one way or the other. juvisy was selected as the target and on April 18 the marshalling yard was attacked by 200 Lancasters led by Leonard Cheshire and a small force of Mosquitos - 627 Squadron participating as ‘makey-learns,. One of our pilots, Jim Marshallsay, was not detailed for the trip but thumbed a ride in a 617 Squadron Lancaster.

The attack on juvisy was a bombing classic; the railway yards were marked at each end with red spot fires and the heavy bombers laid their cargoes between the target indicators. The bombing was concentrated, the yards were put out of action, few French lives were lost and all participating aircraft returned safely to base. The railway yards were so badly damaged that they were not brought back into service until 1947. The real test of the new tactics had still to be made - against targets in Germany. 5 Group were therefore unleashed against three of these targets in quick succession - Brunswick on April 22, Munich two nights later, and Schweinfurt on April 26. After these attacks the Group turned exclusively to support of the bombing campaign against interdiction targets for Operation Overlord.

Much has been written about the all-5 Group blows on the German targets mentioned. So far as Brunswick and Munich were concerned, considerable damage was done; and in the case of Munich 90% of the bombs fell in the right place, doing more damage in one night than had been achieved by Bomber Command and the United States Eighth Air Force in the preceding four years.

The flexibility and superiority of the new system was clearly revealed and, speaking for myself, I found the business of marking a German target no worse than marking anywhere else. The point was that enemy AA defences in Germany were almost exclusively of the heavy variety. for use against relatively high flying aircraft. There was not much light flak; this was concentrated in France and the Low Countries. Consequently, when the Mosquitos of 627 Squadron circled Brunswick on April 22, there was not much opposition from the ground. The aiming point was a large park and we plonked our four spot-fires into it with the greatest of ease. Only three of the 265 Lancasters raking part in this attack were lost.

During the week in which these early low-level marking efforts against German targets were taking place, Bill Hickox and I were suddenly called to the CO’s office. We were 25  trying desperately to fathom what we could have done wrong when we were ushered in to Roy Elliott’s presence. He got up from his chair, grinned broadly, and announced that we had each been awarded the DFC. This was a proud moment for us, particularly since these were the first DFCs awarded to members of 627 Squadron.

May 1 was another ‘first’ for Bill and me. The target was an engineering works outside Tours - the Usine Lictard works. We air-tested our faithful Wooden Worider in the morn- ing and then settled down to study maps of the Tours area and photographs of the target itself. The factory had been bombed a few days earlier by 8th Air Force B-l7s, but the photographs showed that nearly all the bombs had fallen in the surrounding fields. To drop bombs a few hundred yards from the aiming point might be good enough on a large area, but on a pin-point target like a factory the bombs had to be on the ‘button’.

We took off-in the late evening and headed for France, climbing rapidly to 25,000ft. The Pathfinder Lancasters of 83 and 97 Squadrons had taken off about an hour before us and were to drop a yellow target indicator ten miles from Tours, from which the four low-level marker aircraft would set course accurately for the target area. Having dropped the yellow indicator for us, the Lancasters would head directly to the target, identify it on H2S and discharge hundreds of hooded illuminating flares above it.

As Bill and I approached the final turning point, losing height steadily, the yellow TI suddenly cascaded down ahead of us. So far, so good. We flew over the TI and headed for the target. As we approached Tours a great carpet of light suddenly spread out in front of us; we lost more height and soon we were under the carpet at 1500ft and it was as bright as day. If a fighter appeared now, we would be dead ducks, and if there was light flak in the area we would certainly have a rough time.

Nothing happened. We circled around, and suddenly I saw the factory close by. I immediately pressed the transmit button on my VHF and called “Pen-nib Three Seven, Tally Ho”. This was the laid down method of informing the other marker pilots that the target had been found; they now withdrew from the illuminated area to give me room to manoeuvre and make my dive onto the factory.

I circled around the works, losing speed and positioning the Mosquito for the dive, then opened bomb doors and pressed the control column gently forward. Our speed increased and the target leapt up towards tls, filling the windscreen. At about 500ft I pressed the bomb release button and there was a slight jerk as the four spot-fires left their slips. l continued in the dive for a couple of seconds, selected bomb doors closed and turned sharply to the left in order to check our results

There was a red glow among the factory buildings and in fact the spots had fallen through the glass roof of a machine shop. This was splendid from my point of view - I had marked the target accurately - but as the spot-fires were inside the machine shop they could not be seen clearly by the main force crews, now trundling towards Tours- Marker Leader flew over the works and called in the next marker pilot to lay his red indicators in the yard alongside the maehing shop. This was done. Marker Leader then called the Controller and told him that the target had been marked successfully; the Controller broadcast to the main force on WT and VHF to bomb the clump of red spots, and this was done.

The marking had taken less than five minutes, from my “Tally Ho” to confirmation to the Controller that the target was ready for main force action. The low-level marking technique had been vindicated once more, and the target was flattened.

Two nights later I made a grave tactical miscalculation which might easily have killed us - or alternatively might have set Bill Hickox on another long hike home from an enemy target, with me in tow, The target was Mailly-le-Camp, a German tank depot near Epernay. Leonard Cheshire was to lead the low-level marker aircraft and eight Mosquitos of 627 Squadron were to be at a slightly higher level and were to dive-bomb the light flak positions which were known to be around the depot.

The raid was timed to begin at 00.01 hours, when all good troops should be in bed, and the Mosquito force arrived over Mailly five minutes before zero hour as briefed. Although the target was marked accurately and Cheshire passed the order to bomb, confusion occurred. The first wave did not receive instructions and began to orbit the target. This was fatal and the German night fighters moved in and began to shoot down the Lancasters. Eventually the situation was sorted out and bombs began to crash down onto the depot; but the cost was high - 46 of the 362 attackers were lost.

From our worm’s eye view, Bill and I could see bomber after bomber coming down in flames towards us; and we had a scary time as we dived on the light flak batteries, dropped our bombs singly on them, avoided light flak and burning Lancasters and contrived to keep ourselves out of harm’s way

When our fourth bomb had gone I called Marker Leader and was told to go home. Bill gave me a course to steer for the French coast and I should have climbed to 25,000ft, but because of the mayhem in the target area I stayed at low level. All went well for a few minutes and then a searchlight shone directly on us, followed immediately by two or three more. Light flak batteries opened up and the pretty blue, red, green and white tracery associated with light AA fire came shooting up the beams and exploded all around us.

We were at 500ft above the ground and I did not dare to lose height, nor could I climb because this would have been a ‘gift’ to the German gunners. With Bill’s exhortation “Watch your instruments” ringing in my ears I turned steeply to port through 30 degrees, levelled out for a few seconds, then rolled into a steep turn to starboard and repeated the performance. Although we were in searchlights and flak for quite a long time, we were not being held by any one light or being shot at by any one gun for very long; and we zig-zagged our way steadily towards the coast.

It was a tense time for us and we did not speak; we could hear the explosions around us from light AA shells, but incredibly, were not hit.

Deliverance came eventually as we breasted a low hill and ahead of us lay the sea. Now we were treated to a rare sight. The final group of searchlights were shining through the trees on top of the hill we had just passed, and the beams were actually above us and light- ing us on our way. We roared along a river estuary, below the level of the lighthouse at Le Treport and then were away over the ‘drink’ and climbing to safety, home and bed.

More trips to railway yards followed the Mailly effort and then, on May 28, we were briefed for something entirely different. We were to attack a heavy German gun on the coast of the Cherbourg Peninsula, at a place called St. Martin de Varreville. On June 6, the 25  American troops landing on Utah Beach would find this spot - the gun covered the approach to this beach. My Flying Log Book shows that this sortie took just under three hours - it would have been shorter still, but we had great difficulty in finding the gun which was well camouflaged. However, it was found, marked and bombed, and a captured German report said that after several direct hits (by arm our-piercing bombs) the casemate burst open and collapsed. This particular gun certainly did not impede the Americans on ‘D’ Day; the area was a heap of rubble.

June l, 1944 was the same as any other day at Woodhall Spa. Bill and I walked to the Flights after breakfast, found that we were on the Battle Order and went to the dispersal and air-tested G-George. We then strolled to the Operations Room and were told that the target was to be the Marshalling yard at Saumur. The day proceeded normally, with detailed briefing about the target and a close examination of maps and photographs. At the end of the afternoon we attended the AOC’s broadcast link-up with the COs of all squadrons participating, then made ready to go.

 The operation was a copy-book 5 Group attack, with no alarms and excursions. After landing, we switched off everything and climbed out as we had done so often before. G-George stood black and silent; the ground crew moved forward to ask if all was well; it was a lovely summer night. After debriefing we ate the usual bacon and eggs and went to bed. Maybe tomorrow there would be a stand-down for us.

We did not know it, but in fact our tour was over. We had flown together against Fortress Europe 38 times; soon we would be instructors again; and soon our work in 5 Group would be recognised by the award of a Bar to the DFC to each of us. Paradoxicaasly, however, Bill and I were never to fly together again.


Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited