At First Sight
At Second Sight
BEF Al Faw Video '05
At First Sight
Pipped At The Post - Ken R. Oatley.
Walker was my pilot, his contemporaries remember him as Mad Jock
Walker, although at the time I was unaware of this. He was a fine pilot
and I would venture to say a better than average marker. He was also a
very hard taskmaster, setting himself high standards and expecting the
same of me. |
It was on the Dresden raid, 13 February 1945 that I was to be tested to
the full on what appeared to be a straight forward trip. The trolley
accumulator started us up first time, which, as I remember, was not
always the case, for some reason they always apparently lacked enough
petrol to keep them full charged, on one night operation we used three
before we started. Ground crews would not go along with this
explanation - I am not suggesting that it applied in this instance but
there were pilots known as “old two trolley accs”, being rather inept
at starting Merlins. (Comp.)
We moved off and were quickly airborne, everything as it should be, my
navigation table was a picture of efficiency, adequately stocked with
sharp pencils, charts etc., all set for a nice smooth run.
Climbing away towards Holland and half way across the North Sea my Gee
box started to play up and in no time at all it gave up altogether. The
winds I had worked out on the way up to height were going to be of some
use, but only to interpolate a wind for the rest of the flight, and
using an inaccurate calculation I could be forty miles off target after
one and a half hours flying, working purely of dead reckoning
navigation. This I thought would be a bit too dodgy and not a bit to
Jock's liking ..... so I didn’t tell him.
The decision was mine, should I press on with dead reckoning and
possibly end up miles away, making it impossible to reach the target in
the ten minutes available after the main flares had gone down, or
should I have a go at using the Loran set mounted behind me - a very
As far as I was aware none of the navigators had used or trusted it to
any extent, so it was a gamble, but I really didn’t have a choice, at
any rate here was a chance to prove its worth once and for all. As it
happened, more by good luck than judgement, the graticules on the Loran
chart ran almost parallel to our track, so I thought that it might be
reasonable to home along this line as we very often did on our return
to base of Gee.
I switched on, and got the usual beautiful picture of an uncut lawn,
the trick was to pick out the longest piece of ‘grass’; to get the
wrong one would have been a minor disaster .... goodness knows where we
would have ended up. I made my choice and applied the reading to the
chart, it appeared reasonably OK so when we arrived at the chosen
graticule, turned onto it, and following the strobes, I gave as limited
changes of direction as possible, two or three degrees port or
starboard as the case may be, and doing a rough air plot at the same
time so as not to alert jock.
Working out what time we should be at the “stand off” position I
started to switch over to the intersecting graticule, eventually it
came up on the screen and the fix was made - we should be there.
“Right” I said, with fingers crossed, do your rate one tum now, and we
should see the flares at any moment. We had just about completed our
tum when to my relief the illuminating flares started to fall about 5
miles away. Down we went like the clappers to 2000ft and under the
flares into the target area in no time at all.
Jock immediately picked up the aiming point in the sports drome and,
with great excitement at the thought of being lirst man in for a
change, he was just turning into his dive and about to press his RT
button for a “Number Two Tally Ho” when up came Bill Topper, I might
say as usual, and stole his thunder for the umpteenth time.
However, we held off and followed him in, marked and as we pulled away,
went between the spires of the cathedral. Levelling out we then
proceeded to do a low level run around the city. It was quite eerie,
the streets were deserted, it was like daylight down there, you could
see quite clearly the beautiful old buildings, there was not a sign of
life anywhere, nor was there any gunfire, but now the bombs had begun
Jock asked me for a course for home which I gave him from my pre-flight
plan and, being true to his name and much to my horror, he flew
straight over the target area with 4000 pounders crumpiug undemeath and
goodness knows what else coming down around us, he set course as if we
were on a cross-country.
We flew home on dead reckoning navigation using my predetermined winds,
fortunately we picked up a very poor Gee signal near the English coast,
sufficient at least to get us home safely .... I never did tell Jock
how we got to Dresden.
Little did we realise at the time the furor that this raid was going to
cause in the future, to us it was really nothing more than another test
of our particular expertise.
Yes, jock was probably a little bit mad, but I am grateful that we had
many more good men like him, I am proud to have flown with him and feel
honoured and privileged to have been a member of 627 Squadron.
Copyright © 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as