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At First Sight
Cavehill P Peter to Marker Leader - R. W. Olsen. DFC. 

Before getting to 627 Squadron, I, like everybody else had to be trained to fly Mosquito aircraft. My training started at 1655 MTU Warboys in November 1944 and I immediately found that the amount of room in a Mosquito cockpit was very little, the pilot and navigator sitting almost side by side and the navigator had to get used to doing his work in these cramped positions. To simulate this, practice was carried out in Oxford aircraft and on one of these exercises, following the navigator’s instructions, I innocently flew over a practice high level bombing range. A moment or two later, looking out to port, I saw a lot of smoke coming from what I thought was the port engine and following standard practice I throttled back the engine and after a while the smoke stopped.

All engine indications then being normal I tried the engine again and found it worked perfectly, so set course for base and landed safely. On the way into dispersal I noticed that everyone came out to look at us passing by - this was very strange! On climbing out of the aircraft and looking at the port wing, unseen from the cockpit and just outboard of the port engine nacelle was a whacking great hole made by a smoke bomb, it had not touched the engine at all. On reporting to the Flight Office I was told that a very agitated aircrew had been in touch with them to see if the Oxford they had seen hit by their smoke bomb was O.K. I had assumed it was an engine fire - how easily one can be deceived.

My Mosquito conversion was completed at Wyton and the most memorable incident there for me was when taking off on my first solo on type, everything seemed to happen so fast that by the time I had settled down in the cockpit the speed of the aircraft had taken me out over the Wash and it was a long way back to the circuit for landing. My Instructor wanted to know why I had been on a cross country flight.

After a short leave my posting notice to Woodhall Spa to join 627 Squadron was dated to arrive on 9 January and on reporting for duty I found that 617 Squadron were already in occupation of the Airfield, Officers Mess and Quarters, they were then famous for the Dams Raids and 627 appeared to have been pushed into one corner of the airfield, billeted in Nissen huts for all purposes. A tour at Woodhall Spa was a repeat performance for me as, having been here on my first tour with 619 Squadron on Lancasters, I knew how spread out everything was.

The two squadrons were kept well apart, the only common denominator being the use of the runways. Our Nissen hut Mess was , at that time, a bit primitive and, if we wanted to improve it, it was a case of “do it yourself” . The CO encouraged this attitude and a bar was built, most of the wood and materials being scrounged from the bomb dump where there was plenty of timber from packing cases in which 617 Squadron’s “Tallboys” (12,000lb bombs) had been delivered. From demolished buildings came bricks which were used to build a fireplace near the bar, and many of the mess members used the skills and talents they had acquired pre-war to improve creature comforts for all concemed, especially as it was January and a pretty cold one at that, fuel for fires being almost non-existent.

Settling in on the Squadron took some time, my billet or sleeping quarters was a small room in a Nissen hut, which I shared with my Navigator “Chipps” Chipperfield. Chipps and I had been together during our first tour of operations on Lancasters, but we were both new boys on 627 Squadron. He was about ten years older than I and at the time it seemed to me that he was very old. I was twenty four at the time and he seemed to be far more experienced in the ways of the world and taught me many things. Chipps was very musical and he often played the grand piano in the Mess, but only when few members were about, in case he got himself recruited for ENSA.

In due course Chipps went off to find the navigation section and get to know the Navigation Leader, while I had been allocated to “B” Flight under the Flight Commander at that time, S/Ldr Rupert Oakley. Having been introduced alround and having found out the local procedures, my first flight with the Squadron on 21 January was with F/Lt Bill Topper who took me over the Wainfleet range and there demonstrated the target marking technique used on this squadron. He also explained the differences between an operational squadron Mosquito and the training aircraft I had been used to.

This technique was something quite new to me, there was no bomb sight - what was I aiming to do? The objective was apparently to perform a low level dive to ground mark a target with target indicators, thus providing an accurate aiming point for the main force of bomber aircraft. How should we achieve this? - Bill showed me the method and how it was done. Start, he explained, by approaching the target on the appropriate heading, fly straight and level at about 4000feet and then go into a steep dive, aiming at or slightly beyond the target, noting from the pilot’s eye level where the target appeared in the windscreen, mark the windscreen with a chinagraph pencil, release your practice bomb and start pulling out of the dive not below 1000 feet and climb away. Having assessed the accuracy or otherwise of your practice bomb, you repeat the procedure, amending the windscreen mark accordingly, rather like playing aerial darts. Bullseye or Outer only, no use getting a “double” or a “treble”.

The bombing range attendants would pass the results of your exercise to the Flight Office on your return to base (that’s how I remember it after 45 years) This procedure needed much practice to attain the necessary accuracy, as the success or otherwise of a bombing operation depended upon it. From now on it was practice by day and night to reach the necessary standard and to keep it. Fortunately the bombing range at Wainfleet was only a few minutes flying time from Woodhall Spa. The practice seemed to go on and on until it appeared that the aircraft were able to find their own way to the range and back to the airfield.

My accuracy must have improved a little for on the night of 7/8 February I was detailed to attend briefing for my first operation. The target was Ladbergen on the Dortmund Ems Canal. This canal was used by Germany as a transport highway for ships and barges with bulk cargoes. If the banks could be breached and the water released into the low lying countryside, the canal traffic would be left high and dry. The canal had been visited previously, and was visited later with great success, but on this particular night the results were not good.

My second operation will never be forgotten as it is the subject of many historical books, and the word Dresden has come to mean more than just the name of a town. On the night of 13/14 February 1945 we were briefed to mark for 5 Group Lancasters as the opening salvo in the attack, other Groups in Bomber Command following in later waves. I was Marker 8, flying Mosquito MkXXV KB409 “Y” Yankee with Chipps as my Navigator. At the time there was nothing special about the raid except that it was a long way to go and the navigation needed to be spot on so as to arrive in the target area at the right time, neither late nor early. Dresden, we were told, had not been bombed before and the aiming point was the corner of a sports stadium. There were six such stadiums in the area so particular care had to be exercised.

I was last to mark, being in my bombing dive when the Master Bomber called “Markers to clear the target area”, followed by “Main Force come in and bomb”. Having released my markers and pulling out of my dive, two things caused consternation - first there, right in front of me were the spires and turrets of Dresden Cathedral, secondly, some of the Lancasters were a bit quick to drop their Cookies, much to my discomfort. The aircraft was rocked and buffeted just like a row boat in a heavy sea. It was on this occasion that I learned why the safety height to fly when 4000lb bombs were exploding was a minimum of 4000 feet. This was the only occasion when I pushed the throttles through the gate to get extra power from the engines to get out of the area as quickly as possible.

The return joumey was uneventful after we had been given “Markers go home” by the Marker Leader. On landing Chipps and I were tired. De-briefing, followed by a meal and back to the billet to get some much needed sleep. Later we realised that this operation was the longest time we had been airborne in a Mosquito - five hours forty minutes, close to the maximum fuel endurance.

A further week passed before we were required to operate again. 20 February saw us once again sent to the Mitteland Canal to mark for 5 Group, the purpose being to breach the canal banks. On this occasion cloud obscured the target area and the raid was aborted, The following night was a repeat performance, this time successful, but on this occasion Chipps and I had an engine failure after fifteen minutes and had to return to base. Landing a Mosquito on one engine was a difficult business by day, let alone at night, an overshoot attempt below a certain height could be fatal. Let me state here that engine failure was a rare happening, we aircrew had complete confidence in the work done by the ground staff who worked all hours of the day and night, often in rain, snow and freezing temperatures, to give us serviceable aircraft to fly. A word of praise, a smile, or other sign of recognition was generally their only reward. The next day the engine had been repaired and when I took the aircraft up for a test flight all was well, the ground crew had once again done a good job and I very much appreciated their efforts.

On 23 February we were briefed for an attack on Horten in Norway, on the left bank of the Oslo Fjord, my log-book shows we were airborne for four hours twenty minutes, so it was a fairly long trip. The port area was the main objective, U-Boat base, oil installations and port shipping, fire was the great destroyer. The following day was my 25th birthday, and I was very conscious of being a very lucky fellow to have reached this ripe old age. Having been on operations the previous night gave me an easy time with only one practice bombing trip to Wainfleet. As no navigator was required for this short flight I was able to take Corporal Dix, one of our ground crew, along for the ride, he had worked hard getting the aircraft “W” DZ631 ready for the flight and it was some small reward for his labours. His obvious enjoyment of this half-hour flight made my day. My previous birthday had been spent in a Lancaster of 619 Squadron taking off from Coningsby for eight hours flying to Schweinfurt and back, alongside hundreds of other Bomber Command aircraft.

The Squadron daily routine was quite repetitive, up in the morning in time to get to the Mess before the breakfast session ended, if you were late you got none. Next, report to the flight offices to get the order for the day. “Are operations on?” was the main question. Whether or not, there was generally a Night Flying Test to be carried out. This entailed getting the aircraft into the air and testing the various systems for serviceability, and in addition possibly going over to Wainfleet for a practice dive bombing exercise. After lunch if ”Ops On” we would rest up until tea. Briefing time which was pretty comprehensive, followed when Chipps and I studied the route maps and instructions for the particular operation, sometimes we had models which had been made of the target aiming point to memorise. Then possibly an hour before take-off it would be down to dispersals to check the aircraft once more, a lounge on the grass, a chat with the ground crew until it was time to start engines and taxi out for take-off.

If there were no ops. then in the aftemoons there would possibly be more training of one form or another. In the evenings we looked forward to a drink in the bar followed by dinner in the mess. Entertainment was limited, a visit to the camp cinema perhaps or catching up with letter writing or reading, sometimes just lounging around in the mess reading the daily papers or magazines. Very occasionally an early night allowed me to catch up on missed sleep and also to keep warm as the billets were cold places, remembering that it was winter and the Lincolnshire climate can be very cold and damp. As to the surrounding countryside the nearest towns were Boston and Lincoln. The local bus services were sparse to non-existent, so, occasionally an aircrew bus was laid on to take us out for entertainment and a change of scenery. We rarely ventured off the airfield, as for transport, it was either bicycle or the aircrew bus, but mostly on foot. There was no fuel for private cars and very little for official transport and what there was had to be used with care. Woodhall Spa village, as I remember it at the time, consisted of little more than a hotel, a few shops and houses. To get there was a long walk along a very straight road for two or three miles and you had to be very thirsty to try it there and back. There was, of course, no TV in those days, so listening to the radio for news and entertainment occupied much of our spare time. We were certainly an isolated community.

In March we were given a different kind of operational job to do as we soon discovered when attending briefing. Six Mosquitoes were to lay mines in the Kiel Canal. How was this to be done? What method should be used? Because of the strong coastal and river bank defences, daylight operations were out. The raid had to be done at low level and at night. The moon being used as a means of illumination. it would have to be a full or almost full moon and the mine dropping run would be towards the moon as that gave best visibility and the best time would be before the moon had risen too high above the horizon, giving a better reflection from the water. The use of surprise was necessary so that the defences would not be alerted until the last possible moment.

The mines themselves had to be dropped from a very low altitude as their individual arming systems, fusing and detonators would be damaged by too great an impact with the water. The placing of the mines to create the greatest amount of destruction to shipping required accuracy of timing and positioning. These were some of the factors considered in the planning of the operation.

The Kiel Canal and Elbe River were both suitable targets for this method of laying naval mines and the Mosquito was well suited for this type of attack. The trips necessitated flying low over the North Sea to cross the enemy coast and find the appropriate river mouth, still at low level to keep up the element of surprise, flying through the defences along the route, picking out the identifying landmarks along the way to lead into the dropping point. It was very necessary to find the leading marks so that the mines could be dropped on the first run in, it being very hazardous missing the aiming point and having to line up and run into the dropping zone a second time.

After dropping, care had to be exercised as you climbed away for home as the Flak ships at the entrance to the rivers and elsewhere were very active. Once over the sea and clear of the Islands it was possible to head for home without much worry as our speed would keep us clear of most troubles. On one occasion I asked, seeing the bomb doors closed before getting into my aircraft, what the cargo of mines looked like and was told ‘You don’t need to know”. These mines were brought in by naval personnel. The end result being that the load I was carrying and subsequently dropped, I never saw.

We deviated from our usual task of target marking to perform, on one occasion the finding of a high level wind vector. The bombing accuracy of the main bomber force was often affected adversely by lack of accurate wind direction and speed to set on bomb sights. Many other factors affected this accuracy, but lack of a target area wind made all the difference. We, that is Chipps and I, were given the task of finding such a wind vector so we flew to a predetermined place adjacent to the target area for that night and at the appropriate altitude dropped a flare on which to take a three drift wind. This was communicated to the bomber force en route and we hoped it improved the overall end result. My job was to fly the aircraft there and back safely while Chipps did the navigation and found the wind. Not very exciting, just a routine flight, but we were unarmed, our Mosquitoes not being equipped for air fighting. The only weapon we had aboard the aircraft was the Very Pistol which was used to fire off the colours of the day as a means of identification. Speed and manoeuvrability were our means of survival.

On 5 March we operated to a target at Bohlen, a synthetic oil target. Although I remember little of this operation, I found tucked away in the hack of my log-book a small six inch square target enroute and aid-memoire. On one side was a map of Europe and on the reverse side a list of information that I needed for the operation on Bohlen. I was in “P” Peter and target marking was to be in the top comer of a quarry, backed up with green TIs. This was another long trip, we were airborne for five hours twenty minutes, landing back at Woodhall about twenty minutes past midnight.

The information on the aid-memoire was:

1.    Aircraft callsign Cavehill “P” Peter
2.    Take-off time 18.59hrs to Bohlen
3.    Set course time 19.06hrs
4.    Time over target 21.40hrs
5.    Target indicators 2 Reds 2 Yellows
6.    Zero hour 21.50hrs
7.    Altimeter Settings
       Sea Level. Target Area QFF 1020mbs
       Airfield Level QFE 1029mbs
       Basic Forecast QFE 1027mbs (for Landing)
8.    Identification IFF to be switched on 100 miles from coast.
9.    R/T Channels B2 Bl Al
       Operation Callsign Pinkeye
       Abandon Raid Callsign Punchdrunk
       Stop bombing or marking Golfgreen
10.   Diversion Airfield High Ercall Callsign Mosstich
11.   At Longitude 0456E Mirical

For communication we had two VHF sets each having four buttons or channels. ABCD Set 1 and ABCD Set 2. This allowed us to listen out for directions and information and only if necessary to transmit. For instance, communication could be with Airfield Control, the Master Bomber, Marker Leader, Darkie (known today as Mayday for emergency only) Link 1 and 2 and Diversion Airfield frequency etc. There were generally two Link aircraft in the main force equipped with R/T and W/T by which they were able to communicate with both the Master Bomber and the main force.

During the month of March the Squadron continued with various operations bearing in mind that the Allies were pressing forward across France and the Low Countries, needing aerial support, and the Russian offensive was pushing westward bringing targets which would help them within our flying range. Strategic targets such as Oil Refineries at Harburg, the town of Wesel which had become packed with troops behind the German lines, were bombed on several occasions. The laying of mines in the Elbe and Canals continued.

In April we went to the Oil Refinery at Lutzendorf and to Pilzen and Komotau railway yards to assist the Russians in their advance. If the railway system could be obliterated the added transport requirements of the German armies in retreat would cause chaos. The marking for the raid on Komotau was my last operational flight of the war in Europe, although I did not realise this at the time. The German surrender on 5 May caused the war in Europe to end and l heard the news whilst on leave in Barrow-in-Furness. The celebrations which took place were the outward sign of our great relief and it took some time to really sink in.

On returning from leave there was a sense of unreality on the Squadron, our purpose for being there no longer existed. Some more practice bombing flights were undertaken but it did not seein to matter any more. However, they continued on the basis that they could be used as part of “Tiger Force” against Japan.

On 15 May Chipps and I went on a sight seeing trip from the air in daylight to various targets we had visited at night. The route was: 

Woodhall-Terschelling-Heligoland-Bremerhaven-Hainburg-Brunswick-Hanover-Dortmund-Ems-Mitteland-Cologne-Rhur Valley-Arnhem-Amsterdam-Woodhall.

The destruction we saw was appalling, at low altitude in daylight Chipps and I saw what we had never seen before, gutted buildings, ruins and more ruins, how anyone survived this I do not know. It was a shattering experience. We had won, but at what cost to us all.

The remainder of our time on the Squadron was very much an anti-climax, it seemed incredible there were no more operations. I left on 22 June 1945.





Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited