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At First Sight

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At First Sight
Pipped At The Post - Ken R. Oatley.

Jock 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 recent addition.

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 to fall.

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 credited