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At First Sight

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At First Sight
Gestapo Headquarters - Oslo - Bob Boyden. DFC*. RCAF

I have chosen to tell this story as a tribute to the Mosquito. I do not support war of any kind, or fighting in any degree. Remembering the skill and demands made of the pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, air gunners and not forgetting the ground crews that worked with integrity and skill to keep us flying, still moves me with great emotion.

I have read about what others have guessed at or documented concerning the raid on Oslo, 31 December 1944. Forty five years is a long time ago and like cream coming to the top in a container of milk, only the highlights are crystal clear. The everyday routine of life in the RAF is almost lost.

I was a Canadian bomber pilot attached to the RAF’s 627 Squadron which was stationed at Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire. We were flying the fabulous Mosquito bomber and after nearly a year of constant practice, I was a confident pilot. The Mosquito had become a part of me. Our unique dive-bombing technique had been developed by W/C Cheshire, and we had done quite a number of dive marking trips for the heavy bombers - Lancasters, Halifaxes and Stirlings. We used visual means of marking, instead of the technical equipment used by 8 Group. This took a great deal of practice and our accuracy had become so dependable that we grew from a “toy airplane” to a lethal weapon. A quick, accurate placing of our target indicators and bombs would keep the damage centred on the main target and that is why we were chosen for the Oslo raid.

We followed the same routine procedure, getting ready for the big one. Our target practices over the Wash increased a little and the aircraft we were slated to fly were checked out. My aircraft was DZ611 and I had flown her on a number of previous trips. We didn’t get all excited about this target beforehand, as the crews knew nothing of what the upper ranks were planning.

Our first information about the trip to Oslo was that we were to fly to Peterhead in the Northem part of Scotland which would be our advance base. Peterhead was an American base for B-17s and would cut off at least two hours flight time and give us a good start. The trip would be a long one - four to four and a half hours - and that can be very tiring if weather conditions require continuous instrument flying or if there are a few unfriendly happenings along the way.

Briefing told us that Oslo was the target - not target for tonight - as this would be a daylight raid, which we did not do very often. In fact, I believe I flew only three trips in daylight. It’s quite different, as you feel you stand out like a sore thumb.

At this time of our action against the enemy we flew to our destination at 28,000ft and around the target would descend to 3,000ft to look over the area for a pre-determined aiming point. We would then dive to 1,000ft or 500ft levels. After we had done our marking, we would climb back to 28,000ft and return to base. This time the target had flak positions and the German Navy was in the Oslo Fiord.

W/C Curry was our new CO and would lead the group which was made up of two flights of six Mosquitoes each. F/L Mallender would lead the second wave.

F/O Willis was my new replacement navigator and we hadn’t done very many trips together. He had been S/L Churcher’s navigator and needed some more trips to wind up his tour of operations. W/O Fenwick had retired after another 30 flights in his second tour of operations and had left the Squadron.

I left Woodhall Spa with a full load of gasoline and two 1000lb bombs. The two hour flight to Peterhead was uneventful but the air was rough along the coastline as we came in to land and to my embarrassment I came in pretty heavily. Why is it that it seems everyone is watching at a time like that and no one ever seems to notice when you “grease it in”? The Mosquito wasn’t a nose wheel job so it had to be landed in a three point position.

We were up bright and early the following morning as our target arrival time was 1100 hrs. Much to my surprise W/C Curry wanted us to take off in a V formation, three at a time. I was No. 3 on his starboard side, behind and to the right of his wingtip. I can only guess that he wanted to do this because the Americans were masters of formation flying and our Wing Commander had embellished our skills over a glass of black and tan the previous evening. I had flown formation in our early training days but hadn’t done any for a long time. During the night two to three inches of snow had fallen leaving a nice light cover on the ground. When our leader opened up his throttles for take-off the resulting blizzard astonished even a good Canadian prairie boy like me. It was complete black-out and strictly instrument flying and as soon as we were airborne I pulled sharply to starboard. We waited for the other nine to take off - at least we had cleared the runway for them - and form up into the echelon position. I have yet to hear or read any commerits about this spectacular take-off. We climbed 12,000ft on a heading of 045 NE and started our trip to Oslo.

The North Sea is a long trip and we had been told that the water was so cold we would last only two minutes in it. I don’t remember worrying too much about it - it was such a beautiful day. We relaxed and enjoyed the scene just below us - snow covered mountains and bright sunshine. F/O Willis and I did not talk much, if at all. Each of us absorbed in our own thoughts, thinking of what could happen and Willis no doubt wondering what this bastard was going to do next.

We cleared the Norwegian coast, with the Oslo Fiord to our right. The target was ahead of us but not in sight, lost in the haze. Suddenly bursts of flak came up. seemingly one for each aircraft and right on altitude. This was the first time that I had seen, heard and smelled flak all at the same time and we flew through the cloud.

W/C Curry called out for us to descend on target, probably with his usual “Tally Ho”. He started to dive with us following his movements. No. 2 disappeared from my view and left a gap between the leader and myself. He told No. 2 to close in and after a couple of instructions like that I realised I was the one he called No. 2. I had already pushed up my throttles at the start of the dive to close the gap. I broke radio silence to tell him I was No. 3 and closing fast.

Everything happened so quickly: we had, of course, fooled the flak defences by our diving attack and at last - the target. Bomb doors open, wait for right moment, push the button, hold at 1,000ft. I felt two concussions that closely followed one another. There was no smoke, no dust. I then pushed lower over the city and I remember seeing an open-air skating rink with people skating around, unaware of the chaos and explosions behind them.

Suddenly No. 4 was descending down on top of us. Once again I had to break silence and suddenly what seemed to be a mountain loomed up right in front of us and as we changed out straight and level to a steep climb, flak came off the mountain, then we were up and over. Curry ordered us to break up, every man for himself.

I was doing a left-hand tum to head back when I saw a valley to our right. I slid down into the valley and kept at a low level. We passed over the coast and I began the climb back to our operational altitude of 28,000ft. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and no enemy aircraft were in the vicinity.

I didn’t know until years later that the second wave did not drop their bombs. All they saw was smoke and dust at the target site and would not risk killing Norwegians. The trip back to Peterhead was uneventful. Those Mosquitoes were really smooth and reliable and much credit must go to the manufacturers and, of course, our aircraft mechanics who worked hard to keep them flying.

All aircraft returned to Peterhead and all had some flak damage. Mine also had a cracked landing light cover. which they said had been caused by the concussion of the bombs. Only one crew member was injured by a light flak shell and you can read his story later in this book.

The next morning we did a fly-past in front of the control tower as we headed back to base. A few officers of high rank met us and shook hands and said a few words. I received the DFC for this trip and years later, when I read the citations, I felt proud to have taken part in this once in a lifetime adventure. I have often wondered if someone. somewhere has recorded what German ships were in the Oslo Fiord that day. Our diving technique certainly fooled their gunners as the next time they would have been right on target.

                                                            Click on images for actual size

Gestapo H.Q. Oslo -31-12-44

Form 540: Two waves, np difficulty indentifying target, H.Hour 11.30, six aircraftcarried out dive attackes, north east corner hit Heavy flak from ships and shore defences, all aircraft hit, No fighters. Advance Base Peterhead 30-12-44.

Battle order

First Wave:

P - KB416

W/C Curry
F/Lt Tice

No low cloud, visibility poor, smoke haze covering town. Dive bombed 1300ft on 030 Hit north east corner of the buildings.

U – DZ461

F/Lt Yeadell
Sgt West

1700ft dive bombed on 045 2 x 1000 MC bombs, entered smoke.

G – DZ611

F/O Boyden
F/O Willis

1000ft dive on 040 2 x 1000 MC bombs

N – DZ530

F/O Fletcher
F/O Daly

1000ft dive on 030 4 x 500 no results observed due to smoke.

H – DZ606

F/Lt Armstrong
P/O Patterson

1700ft on 010 2 x 1000 saw one building completely wrecked.

J – KB345

F/O Wimsett
Sgt Murphy

1300ft on 025 4 x 500, bombs fell on southern building

Second Wave:

D – DZ633

F/Lt Mallender
F/L Gaunt

Too much smoke – second wave ordered not to bomb unless they could see target – jettisoned bombs. Observer wounded by flak.

O – DZ643

F/O Bridges
Sgt Doyle

Returned with bombs

C - DZ641

F/L Baker
Sgt Betts

Bombed N building – completely wrecked Middle building damaged.

X – DZ637

F/O Pate
F/L Jackson

Bombs back

T – KB122

W/O Herriman
Sgt Arthur

Bombs back

K – KB362

F/O Buckley
P/O Heath

1300ft NW building already damaged so undershot on target.

Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited