At First Sight
At Second Sight
BEF Al Faw Video '05
At First Sight
'Mayday Only 20 Minutes Fuel Left' - 'Fly West For 30
Minutes' - Frank W. Boyle DFC* RAAF
was lucky to navigate for two such good operational pilots as Johnny
Grey and Leo (Pop) Devigne on 627 Squadron; different personalities,
but both with the same dedication and coolness under fire; different
too in build -Johnny squarely built, Leo less so, but both physically
I teamed up with Johnny on 139 (Jamaica) Squadron before we continued
on 627 and we completed 31 trips (including the “pregnant Mossie
efforts with the 4,000lb “Cookies”) before 627 was detached from 8 PFF
Group to Woodhall Spa in 5 Group.
Johnny was laconic in speech - typified by his quiet query “Nice
sleep?” when I came to on the climb to 25,000 feet after he had
reconnected my oxygen supply which I had accidentally disconnected; and
by coolly remarking that the German anti-aircratt batteries were “Damn
good” when heavy flak hit us as I dropped our “Cookie” on a Berlin
Almost imperturbable, although he did look startled (so did I) at La
Roche alter marking on a rare daylight raid and then assessing the main
force bombing; we saw a very late bomb-load raining down on us and
really sweated as he avoided them: and after another night raid on
Berlin we were both speechless - we had broken cloud on the way home
and it was quite comforting to see another Mossie about a mile ahead,
until we saw the Me462 above us. The speed and efficiency with which it
closed on its unsuspecting quarry was chilling - and we could do
nothing about it.
He was disconcerted once in a pub at Homcastle: by the land-lady’s
quick response to his banter that “many a good tune is played on an old
fiddle” adding the necessity for a good supply of rosin. “Bill” Steere
and “Windy” Gale were with us - our usual foursome when on stand-down
and we saw Johnny blush for once - the retort and from whence it came
His sense of humour was a little wicked - like calling up base on
return as “M for Mother calling Birth Control” and telling Coltishall
(when diverted there through weather and getting a bit short of fuel)
that he had only two engines, after a Fortress tried to get landing
precedence because he was “flying on only three”.
We were not amused when, upon the occasion of the Squadron’s welcome to
5 Group, at the Kinema-in-the-Woods, a very senior officer informed us
we were joining very experienced aircrews, some having flown 35 sorties
(I had already done my first tour before the 31 with Johnny had started
my third. Johnny was just as experienced as I, with 65 sorties to his
credit at the time).
The necessary mutual confidence and trust between pilot and navigator
was typified on our last Berlin trip with 8 Group; the flight plan
route was over southem Scandinavia, then starboard on to a southerly
track to target. It went well to our last Gee fix but the next visual
pin-point showed we had been blown way south and tracking into Berlin;
a 95 knot jet Stream from the North, instead of the forecast 30knot
Westerly had been the cause. Johnny soon accepted that the change of
wind not only meant we could continue (without the planned
time-wasting) to Berlin on time, but that our return flight would be
quicker than planned. so we completed the operation. The other crews,
apart from one, had aborted it.
On 8 June 1944 Bill and Windy were shot down at Rennes and their deaths
were hard to accept - I was not surprised when Johnny finished
operating - we had completed 48 trips together and a lot of new faces
appeared. Also he had not been pleased when I had volunteered for the
new marking duties, which meant detachment from 8 Group and moving from
Oakington, (where he had good friends outside the services) to Woodhall
Spa. I have great respect for him and hope he was suitably decorated; I
heard no more from him after he left 627 and suppose he returned to New
Zealand - I wish him well.
I was a bit disillusioned by the changes to the Squadron; a new CO who
was so desperate to assure Air Commodore “Razor” Sharp that he had
marked first that he had called us out of our dive at Villeneuve St.
George after Johnny had given the “Tally Ho”. We waited over ten
minutes for the markers to go down and it was 14 minutes from our first
“Tally Ho” before we could back up. The main force must have been
cursing - I know I was!
I had done 78 operations and felt like packing it in but Norman Lewis
had finished operations with 100 trips, leaving Leo Devigne without a
navigator and I stayed on. I was glad I did because he was an
outstanding pilot and we got on fine together. Physically strong (like
Johnny} and cool under fire (like Johnny) but extrovert - e.g. his
Victory roll over base on return from a successful trip.
We were legitimately beaten to a target only once - by “Buzz” Browne’s
navigator, F/Lt R. H. Cowan, on 27 September 1944 at Kaiserslautem; our
target, the Railway Workshops, was on our port when “Buzz” called
“Tally Ho” and dived to mark. He was hit by the flak cross-fire and we
saw him crash - ploughing along the ground with an awesome display of
exploding coloured TIs; we followed him down and marked the target as
he exploded, I was a Squadron Leader by this time and I made it very
clear at de-briefing that if ”Buzz” had not been ahead of us we would
have been the target of that cross-fire.
Leo’s physical strength was needed a month later when one engine was
shot out of action by Walcheren gun positions we were dive bombing in
daylight; he had to fly the Mosquito back to Woodhall on the remaining
engine and land; the ground crew showed us how the pressure from one
finger easily broke off the wing from near the engine casing. That
cured him of his Victory rolls.
But that physical strength nearly caused serious trouble during a late
night “scrounge” in the mess kitchen. Dougie Peck made some wise-crack
which so annoyed Leo that a snatched up a large saucepan, flung it at
Dougie one-handed and nearly knocked his head off; I had to use both
hands to pick up the saucepan.
He was a born pilot - landing like a feather, but I still wonder that
we survived the five hour Munich trip on 17 December 1944; we had flown
from Manston, as advanced base, to ensure Munich was within our range
but on take-off our VHF: radio was only giving strength 3 and Gee soon
packed up. From then on I had to get Leo to descend quite a few times
to a safe height before my first pin-point - a crescent shaped lake;
then I calculated the wind and the course for the target, a football
field in Munich.
Leo dived to mark but the power supply was too weak to release our TIs
on “Salvo” so I suggested we try again on “Single” and one TI did mark
the target. I had only the one calculated wind to use for the return
flight to Manston. The weather was still foul and we finally saw
helpful searchlights (from Shoreham we discovered) as Leo called
“Mayday - I have only twenty minutes fuel” only to be told “Fly West
for 30 minutes”, Leo followed an illuminated ground arrow until we ran
out of fuel; in total darkness he “felt” his way down to land and we
sat there, wondering where we were.
Dawn showed us to be just on a runway - at RAF Ford; remarkable
piloting and miraculous luck; then a laugh when we had got clearance
later for take-off to Woodhall - a WAAF saw us and remarked “Cor! I
thought all navigators were sergeants” as she saw I was Squadron
Leo got a well deserved DSO after Munich; he pinned it to my jacket,
saying it should have been mine too - and I was informed that Norman
Lewis and I had been recommended for the DSO. However I had seen the
priority list for awards and navigators were at the bottom, which was
disappointing because pilots and navigators were mutually dependent
upon each other for the success of any operation.
Bad weather, especially low cloud could abort a raid - and such
conditions caused the initial flares to be dropped too far South of the
marking point on the Dortmund-Ems canal on the night of 1-11-44; but I
did manage to see our target and showed Leo. Leo confirmed that, as he
requested more flares to the North, but back-up flares were laid
further South and the raid became a fiasco.
That was infuriating because our target identification had been visual,
definite and accurate (as we iterated at the resultant post-mortem at
No. 54 Base, Coningsby); we had not just thought we had seen it, nor
were we psychic in requesting flares further North.
Twice within a fortnight we were met at de-briefing by “Cocky” - AVM
Cochrane - and a group of senior USAF officers; on each occasion he
asked if we had seen any fighters - when we replied “Yes” he asked “Did
you have a poop at them?” I first politely pointed out that we had no
guns, but on the second occasion my reply was not so polite and very
testy; at least Pathfinder Force had known what each squadron did.
I encountered Guy Gibson a few times at Woodhall, and he seemed a lost
soul. par- ticularly on the last occasion when he dropped in at the
Mess; he was upset by the award of Cheshire’s VC (and I could
understand that after his own VC for the Dambuster raid), but he
reckoned too forcibly and bluntly that, on the basis of Cheshire’s
citation, he would get a bar to his VC, To avoid a scene in front of a
junior officer. young P/O John Watts, I persuaded Gibson to leave.
The next I heard was that he was to control the marking of four targets
at Munchen Gladbach. Leo and I marked “Blue” target and we saw neither
flak nor fighters that night, and I still wonder what happened to Wing
Commander Guy Gibson. VC. (see elsewhere on this subject).
On January 1945 Leo and I completed my third tour at Royan and once
again gave the first “Tally Ho”, in fact we were only legitimately
beaten to it at Kaiserslautern. By “Legitimately” I mean not
deliberately ignoring the flight plan (which was devised to confuse
enemy defences as to the identity of our target) or to deliberately
mark too early (which could initiate the defences before our main force
were timed to bomb). To waste x minutes only needed an x minute port or
starboard tum of 60 degrees followed by an x minute starboard (or
port) turn of 120degrees - the equilateral triangle.
The CO asked if I would carry on and I agreed to if Leo was made Flight
Commander but I was told he was too junior so I packed in. Maybe the
Yanks did have something with their up-grading and downgrading air
crews according to their operational efficiency. I was sorry to leave
Leo needing a navigator but enough was enough with 90 trips.
Leo flew a Lancaster out to Brisbane (Archerfield Aerodrome) soon after
I had returned there with my wife and our very young son and daughter.
We kept in touch right up to his death from cancer on 12 August 1979
and his daughter and I exchange Christmas Cards - we both still hold
him in affection and respect.
Copyright © 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as