At First Sight
At Second Sight
BEF Al Faw Video '05
At First Sight
Transition – Skylarks To Quail - William M. De Boos DFC. RAAF.
job of Navigation Officer at the small satellite station of an
Operational Training Unit in Derbyshire in 1943, which involved night
cross-country flights with trainee crews, lost its attractiveness after
a few months, so in August I applied for posting to a Mosquito
Squadron. When the acceptance came through, I wrote to my mother in
Australia saying that I was envied very much by everyone at the OTU;
because flying “Mossies” was considered to be one of the sweetest jobs
in the Air Force. As they could operate at 30,000ft and fly as fast as
a German fighter aircraft, this belief was not difficult to understand.
In due course, after saying farewell to Church Broughton and Lichfield,
I arrived at Marham for navigation training under S/L Bill Anderson, an
old friend from Canada days. After some weeks of training with F/O
Denis Tayler, lots of cross-country flights, and the usual
decompression chamber test of 1.5hrs at 37,000ft., Denis and I landed
up at 139 Mosquito Squadron at Wyton. Here we really felt on top of the
air force world, usually operating above 25,000ft on nuisance raids or
“spoof” raids (to mislead German defences, and divert attention from
the heavy bombers) on German targets, with comparatively small losses.
Even after I was posted in November to 627 Squadron, at
Oakington, Station and Squadron Navigation Officer, the same
feeling persisted. With a comfortable station, very experienced pilots
such as W/Cmdr Roy Elliott, S/ Ls Guy Lockhart and Norman MacKenzie and
F/Lt Douglas Peck and minimal losses, I wasn’t disheartened even when
they enlarged the bomb bay of the Mosquito, making it look like a
pregnant seagull, and loaded it with a 4,000lb “cookie”, so that the
poor old kite could barely get off the runway.
As we were now part of 8 (PPE) Group, we were under the watchful eye of
Air Vice Marshal Donald Bennett, who made a point of attending
briefings and interrogations. Being no mean air navigator himself, he
could be relied upon to see that navigation standards were right up to
scratch. AVM Bennett was proud of his “Light Night Striking Force' of
Mosquitoes, which kept the German defences and civil defence units
constantly in action on nights when the heavy bombers couldn’t operate.
The losses even against heavily defended and distant targets such as
Berlin, were only about 1%.
One morning in the middle of April 1944 all this changed. AVM Bennett,
obviously very upset, stood before the Squadron crews in the briefing
room and informed us that we were to be transferred to 5 Group, Bomber
Command, in Lincolnshire, to do some new, unspecified, task. It was
obvious then, and is a matter of history now, that the detachment,
which took place concurrently with the detachment of two Lancaster
Squadrons, was very much contrary to the Group Commander’s wishes. He
later described it, in his book “Pathfinder”, as a “slap in the face”.
Hints were given that the new task would be dangerous and, possibly,
not altogether effective, We all listened in silence, and a feeling of
grim foreboding settled on the Squadron like a patch of low stratus.
Next day W/Cdr Elliott and I and an advance party flew to Woodhall Spa,
a satellite station of Coningsby, to survey our new home. What a
change! Sleeping accommodation in Nissen huts one mile from the
airfield, no established mess, and a small army of catering staff under
the command of Section Officer Sheila Adamson (my future and present
wife - still after 40 years) desperately trying to get things in order
for this sudden invasion from a rival bomber group. The Officers’ Mess
was actually at a spot on the map called Tattershall Thorpe, but until
it was ready we ate at the “Petwood” Hotel, which had been taken over
by the RAF for 617 Squadron, and which was at Woodhall Spa village, 3-4
miles away. This was a brief taste of comparative luxury before we
settled into our war-time mess at Tattershall Thorpe.
We returned to Oakington, and a day later flew north once again with
the remainder of the Squadron aircraft. Next morning we were assembled
in the briefing room at Coningsby and told what the new job was to be.
Horror of horrors - no more cruising at 30,000ft, but a system of
visual target marking from a height of 500-100ft, underneath the flares
dropped by the heavies, amid all that nasty light flak, and among the
barrage balloons and German fighters. We were fairly well accustomed to
dodging heavy flak at cruising height; but this new system sounded like
“dicing with death”. Not one of us wanted to he a posthumous hero, and
we returned to our messes in a mood of deep gloom. The fact that this
method of marking had been initiated and used by Gp/Cpt Leonard
Cheshire, Squadron Commander of 6l7 Squadron (the Dambusters), who was
already a legend for his determination and achievements, did nothing to
soothe our anxiety.
It was decided that we should drown our sorrows. That evening we all
fled to a little pub at neighbouring Horncastle, where after a pint of
watery beer, things seemed marginally better. The silence was
oppressive, so someone switched on the pub radio. It was the BBC, of
course. In Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit”, the dear departed first wife
is supposed to have expired in a fit of laughter while listening to a
BBC musical programme; but this was definitely not such a programme. It
sounded like the middle of a very serious Brahms symphony. “Dread
Music! Switch it off” said Benny Goodman, and it was duly switched off.
In an attempt to dispel the gloom, I went to the piano keyboard, and
began to pound away - possibly “Roll out the barrel”, or something
similar. This lasted for about two minutes. The pub proprietor came
out, closed the piano lid. and said that piano music particularly of
that class, was not permitted on the Sabbath.
This was absolutely the low point of Squadron morale.
Within a couple of days we were settled into our sleeping quarters, had
our own officers’ and sergeants’ messes, and had begun training for the
new type of operations. Marking was to be carried out in a steep glide,
and pilots had to learn to use a bomb release on the control column at
what they judged to be the appropriate instant. Therefore, practice
bombing at Wainfleet bombing range, more practice bombing, and still
more practice bombing. Generally 4 to 6 aircraft were to act as
markers, with one experienced pilot acting as “Marker Leader” and
directing the others over the target area.
About a week later, on 26th April we made our first attempt at visual
night marking over Schweinfurt, site of an industrial area including an
important ball-bearing factory. This had been the subject of attacks by
the US Air Force, resulting in heavy losses. The German defences used
smoke generators to put a smoke screen over most of the industrial
area, so it was difficult to locate any particular part of it. It was a
strange sensation, very different from what we had become accustomed
to, to be cruising around above the cloud of smoke, in the light of the
flares, and to see the top of the church steeple poking through the
smoke, apparently just below the wing-tip. The attack appeared to be
successful, In this attack, and a previous attack two days earlier,
Bomber Command claimed to have destroyed 43% of the target area.
The next operation, to the Kjeller Aircraft works at Oslo,
operating from an advance base at Lossiemouth, offered some variety.
After a comparatively long flight over sea, mountains and fjords, we
dropped our red and green spot fires on the roof of the factory
building, and through the side windows the markers could be clearly
seen blazing inside the building.
Shortly after this attack W/Cdr Roy Elliott, having completed his third
tour, and a total of 8l operations, handed over command to the late
W/Cdr George Curry who met his death during a Battle of Britain display
some time after the war.
Eventually the Squadron settled into a series of attacks, mainly
against French targets, in preparation for “D Day”, on 6th June 1944.
German coastal batteries were successfully targeted on the night prior
to “D Day” and important rail junctions were attacked very accurately
in the weeks immediately following. Attacks were later mounted against
heavily defended German targets.
In his biography of Gp/Cpt Leonard Cheshire. VC. DSO. DFC., Andrew
Boyle, refer- ring to the Munich attack marked by Cheshire, says
“Later, other Squadrons, notably 627, achieved far more striking
successes with the same method”. The most spectacular success was the
breaching of the Dortmund-Ems Canal aqueduct, which carried S/Ldr
Rupert Oakley an immediate DSO. I remember well an attack on the port
of Bremerhaven, when our markers were very accurate, and the subsequent
fire-bombing appeared to follow closely the outline of the built-up
In other words, the high-flying skylarks had become earth-skimming
Copyright © 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as