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At First Sight
Mosquitos Can Swim! - R. W. Griffiths. RCAF. 

My first operational tour began in August 1942 with 76 Squadron at Middleton St. George, and we later moved to Linton-on-Ouse. This squadron flew Halifaxes under its then Commanding Officer, W/Cdr Leonard Cheshire. We did the usual round of the German targets, plus some in Northem Italy and one trip “Gardening” - laying naval mines - in the Kattegatt.

After I had completed only 17 operations my pilot, who was an experienced second tour type, and I were posted to training jobs which came as quite a surprise. I first went to Central Navigation School, Cranage, for instructor training and then to 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit at Riccall, Yorkshire. Not being an enthusiastic instructor my stay at this unit was not enjoyable and when the opportunity came, in October 1943, to return to operations, and on Mosquitoes at that, I jumped at the chance. Also posted from Riccall to Mosquitoes was Mike Gribbin and we teamed up as a crew.

We arrived at 627 Squadron, Oakington, in December 1943 and did our first operation on the 20th - to Frankfurt, which was, strangely, my first destination on Halifaxes. Mike and I flew a total of 44 operations together in the following seven months from Oakington and Woodhall Spa.

From the Battle Order for Givors - 26 July 1944 you will see that on that operation we all experienced strange happenings due to the severe weather conditions of thick cloud, rain, hail, electric storm and heavy icing, which froze the air speed indicator pitot heads and affected generators, GEE, flying controls and worst of all, compasses which swung at intervals and generally settled on incorrect bearings.

I don’t think any of us actually found the target that night and “N” DZ636 faired far worse than Mike Gribbin and I.

Just as we crossed the south coast of England on the way out the bad weather closed in and as we crossed France at maximum altitude, in an endeavour to get above cloud, we were still in extremely turbulent conditions with frequent lightning. We circled what we thought was the target area awaiting a signal from the ground but this never came. If our instruments were out of order, as was later proved, we probably never actually arrived over the target area at all.

When setting course for base we were under thick cloud and it was some considerable time before we gained clear skies where we noticed that the North Star “was in the wrong place”. We were flying a completely incorrect course due to faulty compass bearing. Heading north using the North Star as a guide we saw flashes of light ahead, which turned out to be the Normandy fighting, this, of course, being shortly after D. Day.

The next part of the story is adequately set out in the Battle Order Debriefing and needs no further comment from me. Frankly I do not recall much about the actual ditching as on impact with the water I was thrown forward hitting my head on thc instrument panel which knocked me senseless. The next thing I remember was Mike, my pilot, shaking me and say ing “hurry up and get out onto the wing”. The dinghy had already inflated and we climbed into it. In fact there was no real urgency as the Mosquito floated for a considerable time. We had, I was told later, been the first crew to survive a night ditching by a bomber Mosquito.

Having been in the dinghy only a short time we saw a small boat approaching from the German occupied coast and almost immediately a larger ship came up from the opposite direction. We visualised ourselves being in the middle of a battle over our rescue, but both boats were American, the U.S. Destroyer won hands down and landed us at Cherbourg, where we spent two or three days in a Field Hospital while they patched up my nose, which had been nicely split right down the middle on the instrument panel. I have been bothered with allergies to this day.

We hitch-hiked back to the UK in an Anson which had delivered drinks to the troops and we landed at Colerne. One of our Mossies came down and delivered us back to Woodhall where a much delayed debriefing recreated the saga you see against:

'H' DZ534 F/O Gribbin &
F/O Griffiths
Target Marshalling Yards and Junction - Givors

I wonder if Givors ever did get its marshalling yard and junction destroyed?

There is a sequel to my commentary on this ditching. On arrival back at Woodhall I advised other crews that I did not want my wife to find out that we had ditched in the Channel as it might worry her. I had seen a press photographer on board the U.S. Destroyer, taking shots of us being hoisted onto the deck, but assumed he was from a British newspaper. He turned out to be from a U.S.Agency and establishing my identity had forwarded a picture to a Toronto newspaper.

While my wife was at work several days later someone in her office produced a newspaper and said “Isn’t that your husband there in the water?” - So much for secrecy!

Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited