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At First Sight

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At First Sight
The Toulouse Raid - Blagnac Airfield - 1st May 1944 - Aircraft DZ547 “E”
Load: 4 Red Spot Fire Markers. - Norman MacKenzie DFC. and Andy Denholm 

As stated previously by other contributors, we moved from Oakington to Woodhall in April 1944 to carry out precision dive marking for 5 Group, a system devised by Gp. Capt. Leonard Cheshire. We knew that to get the accuracy required it was necessary to release our markers at around 500 feet. Up to now we had been accustomed to flying at operational heights of 28,000 to 30,000 feet and the thought of having to come down to 500 raised more than a few eyebrows.

The residents of Tattershall Thorpe, the village adjacent to the airfield, must have spent a day in wonderment as we carried out our first efforts in diving from 12,000 feet to 500 feet using the airfield as our target! After consultation on the speeds achieved in the dives it wasn’t long before we were practising at the range at Wainfleet starting our dive at 3,000 feet. Regular practice improved accuracy and generated a competitive spirit amongst the crews. My recollection is that Bob Bartley had one of the best averages at one time. Five and a half yards from the aiming point is the figure still in my mind. No bombsight was used, just a chinagraph cross on the windscreen was all that was necessary. Such was the accuracy required for us to give the main force a good point to start from.

At Toulouse, the Germans were using four large buildings (two pairs at right angles to each other) for the repair and overhaul of tank and aircraft engines, with much of the airfield having storage dumps dispersed around it. The aiming point for this raid was at the apex of lines drawn from the sides of the main buildings as they met at right angles.

Intelligence briefing was one “Light flak in the area”. That must have been the understatement of the month! Or maybe they hadn’t realised that German forces pulling out of Italy had to go somewhere. Certainly someone had decided that Toulouse was a good place to be at, particularly if you were a Flak Unit.

Arriving over the target, flares from the heavy pathfinders burst over us, as arranged, illuminating the area in almost daylight conditions, to enable us to identify and mark the aiming point, but also making it very easy for the defences to pick out our squadron aircraft going round in circles just above them.

I had gone into the nose of the aircraft to help identify the marking point, and, as was our normal practice, the first member of our team to spot the aiming point would call out “Tally Ho” on VHF to indicate that he was going in to mark - on this occasion it was ourselves.

Immediately after locating the target I pulled myself back into my seat, having fused the markers, then to called out the heights to Norman as we went down our dive. I had never experienced so much hostility before! The flak was coming at us from all directions. spiralling around us, when suddenly there was a great crash within the cockpit, and within a second I could not see Norman for smoke. We were near the bottom of our dive by this time and before I could ask him if he was OK I could feel that we were pulling out. As we climbed and turned to go round I put my head into the “blister” to see where the marker was for accuracy but it was nowhere to be found. “Norman, I can’t see the marker” “We’ve still got it, I couldn’t see for smoke to drop it, we’ll have to go round again” came the reply! One hammering had been sufficient but we had to he gluttons for punishment, or so it seemed.

This time we didn’t have to look for the aiming point, we knew where it was. Down we went, for a second time - 3,000 feet, 2,500, 2,000, 1,500, 1,000, 900, 800, 700, 600, 500, marker gone! The treatment was as before, they obviously didn’t like us one bit and were throwing everything up to prove it. This time the marker went down and was assessed for accuracy by another of our aircraft and reported to the controller, a pathfinder in the heavy force sitting above us.

The next stage in the procedure was for our squadron aircraft, probably four on this occasion, to circle the target during the bombing period in case the markers became covered up or extinguished, or in the event of the Germans lighting a spoof marker some way off. In either of these events, the target would have to be re-marked, or backed up. My recollection is that the bombing took some considerable time on this target, but eventually we were able to head for home.

When we tried to set course on the repeater compass we discovered that it was totally u/s and we had to revert to the magnetic compass. Smoke was issuing from the rear of the fuselage with a strong electrical insulation odour about it, and we were to find out later that the master compass had received a direct hit, hence no joy from the repeater. Our intercom had also been put out of action. A shell had gone through the port wing between the inner and outer tanks, damaging a rib. Further damage had been done to the fin and various other parts of the aircraft, then when we got back to base we found that whatever had come in through the cockpit had struck the hydraulic control mounting block, severely bending it, and preventing us from lowering the flaps. Since this was a die cast aluminium block we decided that a little encouragement might persuade the control to operate. The axe was the nearest tool to a hammer on board and after a number of well placed strokes the lever started to go down, firstly giving us 15 degrees, then full flap on the final approach.

Touching down at Woodhall at 0435 our flying time from the advance base at Tangmere had been 5 hours and 10 minutes, one of our longest trips.

DZ547 does not appear on my log for over a month, but during the latter part of May I was out of action, having been struck by an aircrew coach door sent into orbit by an army lorry, on the road outside the mess! I can tell you, it wasn’t only the enemy who wanted us out of the way!

Toulouse - Aircraft Assembly Plant
'E' DZ547
S/L McKenzie
P/O Denholm
Toulouse aircraft assembly plant.
3,500/1,000ft - 3 holes by M/gun & Flak B/L 4 red spot fires
'O' DZ516
F/O Saint Smith
F/O Heath
Ditto 4,000/200ft - hole in nose by Flak B/L  4 red spot fires
'Q' DZ415
F/Lt Rutherford
W/O Stanbury
Ditto 10,000/4000ft - B/L 2 x 500GP 6 hr del.
2 red spot fires not needed
'S' DZ525
F/Lt Hanlon
F/Sgt Upton
Ditto 2,000ft - B/L 2 red spot fires.
2 x 500GP 6hr del.

Aircraft Assembly Plant - Toulouse.
Taken after attack 1-5-44.

"This assembly plant consists of three main buildings (assembly plant, testing shop and components store) and a boiler plant.  The entire factory, excepting the boiler plant is severely damaged, the three main buildings being gutted or completely destroyed".

Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited