At First Sight
At Second Sight
BEF Al Faw Video '05
At First Sight
U Boat Pens - Brest - Norman MacKenzie DFC. and
is, strictly speaking, an account of a 617 Squadron operation using
12,000lb “Tallboys”, but 617 were on the same station as 627, and we
had acquired a propensity for taking pretty pictures of our own
operations from a low altitude, for Bomber Command, and were therefore
on the spot, so to speak for recording this effort, on film.
As the war against the U-Boats increased steadily at sea, one “Thorn in
the Flesh” was the U Boat pens at Brest. They had been attacked on many
occasions using different types of bombs, but with minimal success.
Specially designed bombs were manufactured to give the necessary
penetration through the reinforced concrete roof of the pens before
detonating. These bombs were highly streamlined with extremely robust
casings, and if my memory is correct, were designed by the great Bames
Wallis. Having confidence that the design of the bomb was right, the
next important factor was to ensure that they could be placed
accurately on the target!
I am sure that there must have been many squadrons capable of carrying
out that duty, but the one chosen was 617, of Dam Buster fame, The raid
was planned for 12th August 1944, and on the morning of that day I
remember seeing the trolleys being rolled out with covers over the
bombs. One, however, was uncovered and it appeared to be very sleek, no
doubt to give a very high velocity.
Woodhall Spa was the base for 617 Squadron of Lancasters, and also 627
Squadron of Mosquitoes, the low level night marking specialists, of
which I was one of the navigators. My pilot was Norman MacKenzie, “B”
Flight Commander, and we were put on the battle order to accompany 617
Squadron for the purpose of shooting some 16 mm film of the delivery of
Take off time was 0755 and we flew in one of the Canadian built Mossies
with Packard engines, a MkXX, “H” KB215. We preferred the MkIV aircraft
with Rolls Royce engines - they had a smoother purr than the Packards
and didn’t cut out as the Packards did when going into a dive, due, I
believe, to the design of the Stromberg carburettor. Apart from this
they were very good aircraft.
Taking off about 45 minutes after the 617 boys we climbed to our normal
cruising height of 28,000ft and set course for Brest. During the last
fifteen minutes run into the target we reduced height to 16,000ft to
come in just under the 617 Lancs to enable us to see the bombs being
released. An accurate calculation of the time of impact enabled me to
start filming a few seconds before the first bomb exploded. This gave a
clear picture of the target showing the results of previous attempts to
gain entry. The nets and ships in front of the pen entrances are so
located as to discourage a low level attack, probably with torpedoes.
The film, and video with stills of the film, show the accuracy with
which these special bombs were dropped, although the clouds of debris
prevent the sighting of the striking point of the later bombs. It is
interesting to note that the pictures indicate a beam of light
projecting from one of the pen entrances. It is possible that this has
been created by the flash from a bomb being detonated inside the pens,
or a high intensity fire following such an explosion.
The day of the raid was one of brilliant sunshine and I can remember
the “greenhouse” effect inside the Mossie cockpit. Over the target
there was high level flak, the accuracy of which can be judged by the
puffs of smoke shown on the film, and through which we passed. It was
one of those occasions when the smell of cordite was quite strong
inside the cockpit!
The return flight was uneventful, touching down at 1110hrs.
No. 627 Squadron Battle
MacKenzie. N. W.
P/O Denholm. A.
11.01hrs Photo Recce. Target U-Boat Pens Brest. Visibility very good.
On target from 09.45 to 09.49hrs. About three bomb bursts seen on N.W.
corner of aiming point, which was then obscured by smoke
Three stills from the cine film taken by:
Denholm in Mosquito H – KB215, of bombing of Brest U-Boat pens by No. 617
Squadron, using 12,500lbs ‘Tallboy’ bombs. In the first photograph can be
seen the ‘Tallboy entering the concrete pens, in the second the bomb
exploding and in the third can be seen the flash and debris coming from the
mouth of the pen over the waters of the harbour, conclusive proof of
Copyright © 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as