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At First Sight

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At First Sight
The Squadron That Left It’s Mark - Ron Pate.


On the 14 APRIL 1944 627 Squadron was detached from 8 Group to the Lincolnshire based 5 Group, for the express purpose of building on and developing the experiments carried out by W/C Cheshire, in accurate, low level marking at night, when he commanded the famous 617 “Dam Buster” Squadron.

Following this move 5 Group comprised three Path Finder Squadrons, Nos 83 and 97 Lancasters based at Coningsby, and 627 Mosquito Squadron based at Woodhall Spa - also the home of 617 Squadron - plus 200 Lancaster heavy bombers dispersed at various airfields throughout Lincolnshire.

5 Group was, in effect, a fully integrated and self-contained bomber force in its own right and operated as such, specialising in small but highly strategic targets which could only be cost effectively destroyed by bombing of pin point accuracy. There were occasions, of course, when Bomber Command HQ called for a ‘maximum effort’ operation, in which case 5 Group Lancasters were required to supplement that effort, but for the most part, during the period 1944/45, 5 Group, in the modem parlance, ‘did its own thing’, albeit under the overall direction of Bomber Command itself and the requirements of the High Command, responsible for Operation Overlord and the liberation of Continental Europe from the German occupation.

There can be no doubt that W/C Cheshire’s (later to be promoted to Group Captain) original concept was quite brilliant, for in proving that it was possible to carry out low level marking at night - albeit, in the event, it being found to be impracticable to use Lancasters for this purpose because of the high losses that would inevitably occur - he opened the door to an accuracy of marking, and subsequent bombing that, up until that time, was considered impossible. Hitherto the Path Finders of 8 Group, dropping Target Indicators (TIs) from 25,000ft using ‘Oboe’ - a marking system which relied on the Mosquito crews receiving radio signals from England and then dropping their markers ‘blind’ - counted themselves fortunate if they achieved an accuracy of within 400yds. Although this was a big step forward in terms of the overall bombing offensive and allowed Main Force to guarantee that an operation against a large conurbation would be successful, it was of little use against a small but highly strategic target, unless one was prepared to use a ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut, and then run the risk of high losses simply because of the priority that that particular target warranted.

Cheshire’s success proved, almost at a stroke, that planners no longer had to think in terms of an accuracy of marking of 400yds, but one of under 50yds; in other words, we could now put a marker into, say, a football stadium and, for the first time, had the means of isolating a vitally important marshalling yard or viaduct or an individual power station or even, though it might be difficult to believe, breaching the banks of a canal system - the Dortmund-Ems - that was the enemy’s main artery for transporting vast quantities of desperately needed war materials to their beleaguered front lines.

Now anything was possible; and so it was that 627 Squadron, in conjunction with 83 and 97 Lancasters Squadrons, developed and, by constant practice, refined a marking system that became so accurate that it brought a new dimension to the effectiveness of the bombing of enemy targets, regardless of their size. Small wonder that Cheshire was recognised, by all participants, to be, probably, the finest bomber pilot to come out of World War II.

A Typical Day in the Life of the Squadron.

The Squadron comprised a Wing Commander CO, an Adjutant, two Squadron Leader Flight Commanders and approximately twenty other Mosquito crews, split evenly between the two flights - “A” and “B”. Bearing in mind that a Mosquito crew consisted of a Pilot and Navigator only, it can be seen that a Mosquito squadron aircrew complement was under fifty personnel - all exceptionally well trained and highly motivated. This, in tum, produced a fellowship and camaraderie that would be hard to match and it was this spirit that stood us in such good stead when the inevitable losses occurred. Sadly, over the short period that 627 operated 42 good men and true failed to return, but despite these unhappy occasions, Squadron morale never suffered, a drink in the Mess to “Good old Harry & Bill” was the only outward sign - they would not have wanted it any other way. On the contrary, it was inactivity that was the biggest enemy.

Life on the Squadron was very routine. By 0900hrs all crews who had not been on operations the previous night would have reported to their respective flight offices The Squadron Office was contained in a wooden framed, single story building on the edge of the airfield, within short walking distance of the Control Tower complex which also housed the Operations Room and Intelligence Section, The Squadron building consisted of four, separate and strictly functional offices for the four senior officers - the Flight Commanders’ offices doubling as crew rooms for their respective aircrews - plus a larger room where meetings of the whole Squadron were held when required.

The next hour was one of waiting for the telephone to ring in the Wing Commander’s office which indicated one of two possibilities: either the Squadron was ‘stood down’ for that night or there was an Operation planned. The latter would be confirmed if we saw him leave his office and walk to the Operations Room for a meeting with the Group Captain Station Commander, during which he would be told the Target for that night and then decide the time of the First Briefing. If on the other hand, we were ‘stood down’ the Flight Commanders, having been so advised, would initiate a training programme for that day for their crews which, almost always, involved practice bombing with smoke bombs on our own range set up on Wainfleet Sands in the Wash, just off Skegness. For all crews, on non-operation days, it was simply a question of practice, practice and yet more practice. That rigid discipline brought with it two immensely valuable benefits; one the constant maintenance of an excellence in accurate bombing, and two the prevention of boredom, as essential pre-requisite in the maintenance of high morale.

The first briefing. In the event that an Operation had been scheduled the Wing Commander, having returned from his initial meeting with the Station CO, called in one of his Flight Commanders (usually A & B Flights operated altemately) and shortly afterwards the names of the crews chosen for the Operation would be written on the blackboard in that flight’s office. Normally a Marking Team comprised the Marker Leader (usually the Flight Commander, but sometimes the Wing Commander chose to lead) a deputy,just in case, and four or five other crews; alongside each name would be the identifying number of the aircraft each would fly.

Those crews who were not on the Operation were responsible for air testing the aircraft scheduled and once that had been accomplished, they were ‘stood down’ for the rest of that day. No other flying took place, for the ground crews would be at full stretch preparing the aircraft for that night.

At about 1100hrs the crews detailed for the Operation gathered in the sound-proofed Operations Room where the first briefing took place. This usually included a ‘scrambled link-up’ with all the Group Stations, including Bomber Command and the Master Bomber or Controller, who would be in charge of the raid once the Target had been marked. The purpose of the ‘link-up’ was to ensure that everyone involved in the Operation was fully aware of every detail and could interject should there be any point that required further clarification.

The main information given at this briefing included details of the Target, the objectives to be achieved, the number of aircraft that would be taking part and the routes to be flown by both the heavy bombers and the Mosquitoes - they were never the same and were depicted on a huge map of Northem Europe (hung along one wall in the ‘Ops’ Room), by lengths of red ribbon starting from a point on the East Coast of Lincolnshire. Two other important details were released at this briefing, firstly the location of the Marking Point chosen and secondly the ‘H’ Hour - this was the time at which the first high explosive bombs would be dropped and, moreover, the precise time from which all other calculations were made; from the take-off time of the Lancaster Path Finder Squadrons, 83 and 97, to that of the Main Force and finally, but much later due to their vastly superior speed, the Mosquitoes of 627 Squadron.

The main priorities of the initial briefing having been established the crews were ‘stood down’ until the main briefing which would be scheduled for approximately 2 1/2 hours before the first aircraft was due off. Needless to say, in the interim period, absolute secrecy was the order of the day; no discussion was allowed outside the ‘Ops’ Room, not even with one’s own crew member, let alone with anyone else - other air crew colleagues not-withstanding - and neither was it expected.

The navigators would have a separate briefing with the Chief Navigation Officer, about 45 minutes before the main briefing was due, in order to prepare their flight plans for both the outward and return joumeys based on the meteorological winds forecast. It is perhaps timely, at thisjuncture, to record the exceptionally high skills of our navigators on 627 Squadron. Like the pilots they were all very experienced, having either completed one or two tours ofoperations, or spent an equivalent period of time instructing. All the Pilots on the Squadron, without exception, would gladly acknowledge the great debt they owe to ‘their other half’ for they not only had to get their aircraft to the Target within less than sixty seconds of the scheduled time of arrival, and that could be after a 600 mile flight, but also navigate back to base over hostile territory with an aircraft that may have been damaged by enemy action. Their achievements were even more remarkable when one realises how limited were their navigational aids. For example, whilst every aircraft was fitted with ‘Gee’ radar device based on signals beamed from the UK which could pin-point an aircraft’s position within 400yds - the enemy had cracked the signal code and as a result could effectively jam it soon after we had left the English coast. This meant that for the greater part of the trip our navigators had to navigate by dead reckoning; that is, by using forecast winds that had been issued by the ‘Met’ Office and any visual fx that could be observed en-route, such as crossing the enemy coast or inland waterway system at a recognisable landmark (it was quite possible on a clear night, in spite of severe black-out conditions, to obtain a good pin-point crossing a coast line, for instance, if you had a good idea where you should be in the first place) .

A good pin-point of this kind enabled an experienced navigator to check his course and timing from his flight-plan, calculate any change in the wind speed and direction and amend his projections accordingly. The pilot, for his part, had to translate the information given by his navigator into a standard of flying of the highest order by keeping a very accurate course, a constant airspeed and an invariable height. All this required considerable concentration over a number of hours and without the luxury of an ‘automatic pilot’ to take any of the strain.

The Main Briefing

This took place in the Station Briefing Room which was situated just inside the main gate on the perimeter road and alongside the Crew Locker Room and the Parachute Section. Assembled in the Briefing Room, at the scheduled time, were the Squadron Commander, the heads of Navigation, Signals, Armaments, Intelligence, and Meteorology plus, of course, the crews taking part in the Operation.

The Squadron Commander explained the details of the Target and the reasons for the Operation and then handed over to the heads of the various specialities to discuss such matters as the route, the timing, the fuel loads, the defended areas we had to skirt, the weather we could expect on take-off, en-route, over the Target, including the barometric pressure at that point in order that we could reset our altimeter to give a zero reading at ground level - the low levels at which we would be flying during the actual marking operation made this essential - and what conditions we could look forward to on our return to base, plus of course, the enemy defences deployed in and around the Target area. The latter would include the numbers of heavy and light anti-aircraft guns, the searchlights and the likelihood of enemy night fighters, although it must he said that the only real problem we faced was from the light ack-ack. Operating at low level over the Target, often as low as 200-300ft and in the light of hundreds of flares, virtual daylight conditions prevailed and we were then at our most vulnerable. On the other hand, although we were completely unarmed, we did have speed on our side and were not, as a consequence, at risk from enemy night fighters; they saved their energies for the slower and less manoeuvrable Lancasters from whom, unhappily, and on far too many occasions, they took their heavy revenge.

The briefing would not have been complete without the Chief Armaments Officer announcing details of the type and weights of bombs th at were to be carried by the various aircraft. In our case it would be 1000Ib Target Indicators (Tls). Of the six Mosquitoes in a Marking Team, five would carry red and one would have yellow Tls. The purpose of the yellow Tls was purely precautionary, just in case the first red markers to fall were deemed not to be within the margin of error that we found acceptable, i.e. 50yds. If they were not, the aircraft carrying the yellow markers would be called in by the Marker Leader to drop his Tls alongside the inaccurate reds and then the Target had to be re-marked by the other members of the team. The bomber crews knew that if they saw a red and yellow together they had to ignore them and concentrate on the red ones burning alone. It says a lot for the skill and professionalism of the Mosquito crews that on no Operations carried out by the Squadron, as far as I was aware, did the Target ever have to be re-marked. It should here be pointed out that the Target Iindicators weight and the method of using separate aircraft to carry Yellows for cancelling only applied in the latter part of 1944 and in 1945, previously, 250 and 500lb Spot Fires or TIs were in common use and some aircraft carried both reds and yellows, the latter for cancellation as above described. (Comp.)

Next the Signals Officer outlined the procedures for that night; the various radio channels to be activated at set times and the identification colours and passwords to be used if challenged on returning to our own base (this was necessary as enemy night fighter intruders would sometimes try and infiltrate the home-coming aircraft and shoot them down just as they were going in to land, silhouetted as they would be, against the illuminated flare path of their airfield). Strict radio silence was imposed on everyone right up to the moment the actual raid commenced; then we had to be able to communicate with each other to ensure its successful completion.

Having been fully briefed and in some considerable detail, the Squadron Commander signalled the synchronisation of watches, a vitally important pre-requisite for an operation that depended so much on immaculate timing, said a few words of encouragement and then dismissed everyone to their various duties. The aircrews, for their part, repaired to their respective Messes for their operational meal of eggs and bacon and a ration of chocolate and boiled sweets for comfort on the flight - a luxury indeed when one considered the very severe rationing that was imposed upon the civilian population in those hard times.

The Operation Begins

The crew bus arrived at the Mess at the pre-arranged time to take the crews to the aircraft dispersals where the ground crews had been working hard all day preparing the aircraft with great dedication; making any adjustments and repairs that were found necessary as a result of the air tests that had taken place earlier that day and then finally ‘bombing up’ with the appropriate Target Indicators required for that night's Operation (we aircrew owe a lot to those fellows, working as they did under extremely difficult conditions at all times and in all weathers, to ensure that ‘their’ particular aircraft went to war in the very best of good order).

 Each pilot then made a pre-flight, outside check of his aircraft, had a last quick pee against the tail wheel for luck, signed the aircraft’s log book offered to him by ‘Chiefy’ - the Flight Sergeant in charge - and then he and his navigator clambered up the short metal ladder into the cramped cockpit before being locked in by one of the ground crew.

Taking the signal to start engines from the action of the Marker Leader, and after a run-up of the engines and one last check of the instruments, each pilot in turn began to taxi slowly from the dispersal, in-line behind the Marker Leader, to the take-off point of the runway in use. Parked there was a mobile caravan from whence was flashed a green Aldis light giving permission for the first and then subsequent aircraft to take-off. Climbing above base we set course at the exact time programmed for the starting point on the East Coast. Crossing it gave the navigator his first visual check and using ‘Gee’ as far as possible over the North Sea quickly established the accuracy of the Met. wind forecast on which his flight plan had been based. Any adjustments of course, airspeed and ETA - the height to fly had previously been established at the main briefing - was passed to the pilot for implementation. At this juncture there would be no sign of the Main Force Lancasters for they had taken-off much earlier from the various airfields in the County before converging on the assembly point. With all setting course from there at the same time, albeit at slightly differing height bands, it ensured that the bombing of the Target was concentrated over as short a time scale as possible.

The flight to the Target was usually uneventful, at least for the Mosquitoes. We, of course, had to make sure that we did not stray over any defended areas and at the same time keep a weather eye open for signs of enemy night fighters.

On approaching the Target Area the first thing to happen was at ‘H-13’ (thirteen minutes before H hour) when two Lancasters from either 83 or 97 Squadron passed over the Target Area and dropped half-a-dozen or so Green Target Indicators from a height of, say, 25,000ft; the reason for this was that the Lancaster had one very big advantage over our much smaller Mosquito when it came to navigational aids, for the extremely cramped conditions in the Mossie only allowed the fitting of ‘Gee’ and that, as we know, was jammed shortly after leaving the English coast. The Lancaster, on the other hand, had the space to fit an additional radar system, code named H2S which, for the non-technical types like the writer, transposed an outline image of the terrain over which the aircraft was flying, onto a radar screen in the aircraft, thereby providing the crew with a series of checks on their position whatever the cloud conditions. H2S had another tremendous advantage in that it could not be jammed. The Lancaster crews therefore were able to keep track of any change in the wind by reference to their actual position over the ground at certain points. (Note: Towards the end of December 1944 when the Allied Ground Troops were advancing across Europe it made possible the siting of radio transmitters which enabled navigators to secure even more accurate checks on their position; this system was code-named ‘Loran’). Thus, at ‘H-13’ they would be certain of being over the Target Area, whereas we in the Mosquitoes, flying virtually by dead reckoning, could possibly find ourselves a few miles either side of it. With a few Lancasters dropping green Tls ‘blind’ using H2S at the exact time of ‘H-13’ therefore we would make any alteration of course and airspeed necessary to ensure that we were in the vicinity of the green TIs by the time they reached the ground. As part of this manoeuvre we also began to lose height from our cruising altitude of probably 20-23,000ft to enable us to arrive in the target area at about 5-6,000ft.

This was vitally important, for two minutes later at ‘H-11’ another flight of Path Finder Lancasters passing over the target area and also using H2S dropped a wave of flares - these were small ‘illuminated candle-like’ pyrotechnics each attached to a very small parachute which floated slowly to the ground, lighting up the whole area. Two minutes later at ‘H-9’ a second flare wave was dropped by a third flight of Lancasters, thus creating an environment that literally turned the night into day.

From ‘H-13’ radio silence could be broken by the Master Bomber, if he felt the weather conditions warranted it, calling the Marker Leader in normal plain language to enquire if he could see the green TIs going down, but in practice this did not usually happen much before ‘H-9’ for between the two flare waves we were fully engaged in trying to identify the Marking Point by recalling the topographical details of the area we had committed to memory earlier that day at the briefing sessions.

Inevitably the deployment of the green TIs was the signal for the enemy defences to open up by attacking the Lancasters with heavy ack-ack and illuminating searchlights although, once the flares had been dropped, the searchlights were, in effect. neutralised and posed no further threat. On the other hand the Mosquitoes. flying by this time at no more than 4,000ft became the targets of the light ack-ack batteries, of which there were copious quantities and which, to say the least, were a bit of a nuisance. To see hundreds of fiery-red tracer shells ‘hose-piping’ around your aircraft was a salutary experience for even the most sanguine amongst us.

From ‘H-9’ the pressure was really on the Marking Team, for all we had was just nine minutes in which to find and identify the Marking Point, mark it, assess the accuracy, get another four aircraft to drop their TIs to back it up and then get away out of the Target Area before the bombs began to drop. We had to be out by then for two very good reasons; firstly because with the Main Force flying into the target area on a pre-determined course and at a pre-determined time and under fierce attack from anti-aircraft defences, they were at least entitled to assume that the Path Finder crews had completed their part of the Operation successfully. The alternatives of either delaying their approach or even worse, having to ‘go round again’ would have been too suicidal even to contemplate; and secondly it was simply a question of self preservation by the Marking Team for flying around the target at a few hundred feet in ‘daylight’ and being shot at continually by an unsympathetic foe was one thing, but being in that situation and also having hundreds of high explosive bombs dropping and exploding with great gusto all around you, was an experience we felt would not add very much to our already varied and rather specialised form of higher education.

The first Mosquito crew to identify the Marking Point was usually the first to break radio silence by shouting the time honoured British hunting call ‘Tally Ho’. This was the signal for the rest of the team to hold back for within a second or two other crews would be in the same position and chaos could have ensued unless alerted. In the conditions now applying we were able to see each other circling the Marking Point and witness the first aircraft begin its marking run in a shallow and ever steepening dive. He aimed to drop his TIs at about 600ft to give time for the barometric fuse to operate and allow the red pyrotechnic to drift slowly to the ground. The nearest aircraft in the chain immediately followed his colleague down to assess the accuracy of the first drop and reported to the Marker Leader accordingly, thus the second aircraft was in a perfect position to add his TIs to those already dropped. This was where the constant practising when not on ‘Ops’ paid off The first pilot claiming the honour of the initial marking was always on target, thus rendering unnecessary the need to remark. Thereafter, and one by one, the rest of the marking team added to the growing mass of red ‘candles’ burning merrily away for all to see, especially the Main Force Lancasters who were now well within sight of the illuminations. By this time it really had all the hallmarks of being quite a party!

With our task now accomplished the Marker Leader reported that fact to the Master Bomber and requested permission for the marker team to leave the area. From that moment the Master Bomber took over and as ‘H’ hour arrived and the Lancasters began dropping their deadly loads, it became his responsibility to guide and encourage the bomber crews and generally co-ordinate the way in which the raid progressed, until the last aircraft had dropped its bombs and set course for home.

Honeing the system: Over the period that 627 Squadron was based at Woodhall Spa all crews spent a considerable part of their training programme developing and refining their marking techniques to make them even more effective. For example, the Red Spot Fire Markers originally used by Cheshire were soon discarded in favour of the Target Indicator proper, because they burned for very much longer and covered a wider area and were, therefore, more easily seen by the Main Force aircraft. A further advance was that in the earlier stages of the evolution of the system we marked the actual target to be bombed but it was soon discovered that the intensive bombing by the first aircraft tended to obliterate the markers, thus giving the on-coming crews nothing to aim at. It was in consequence of this experience that the Vector system of bombing was developed. Thereafter we began to select a Marking Point that was a mile or two away from the target to be destroyed, rather than the target itself so that as the heavy bombers flew towards the target on their pre-arranged heading the Bomb Aimers adjusted their bomb release mechanisms to operate a second or two after their aircraft had passed over the Tls with the result that they continued to be visible for the whole period of the raid rather than just a part of it. Such was the concentration of resources, coupled with the impeccable timing by all involved, that a stage was reached wherein we could guarantee to get 200 Main Force Lancasters over a target having-bombed within twenty minutes of ‘H’ hour. All this had the added benefits of not only swamping the enemy ground defences but also reducing the time scale the night fighters had for attacking the heavy bombers over the target area. The effectiveness of the operation was, thereby increased immeasurably.

Towards the end and in order to secure an even greater accuracy of bombing by the Main Force we devised an even more sophisticated technique. Probably the element that most affected the trajectory of a falling bomb, all other things being equal, was the wind speed and direction at the time of and immediately following its release. Although the Lancaster navigators would have obtained a more up to date wind measurement on the outward flight than was given by Met. Officers at the final briefing, the probability was that the last check was made some distance from the target area, still leaving plenty of time for a change to have taken place before ‘H’ hour.

It was situations such as these, the variable ones for which no amount of planning could legislate, that spawned the concept of the Master Bomber for he was able, as previously revealed, to monitor and adjust as necessary in response to changing circumstances. By eliminating one of these variables, therefore, his task would be made that much easier and the end result much more effective.

As a consequence of this 627 Squadron added yet another dimension to its versatility, that of finding the actual wind speed and direction in the near vicinity of the target area itself. To this end the number of aircraft in the Marking Team was increased to eight, or sometimes nine, dependent upon the target and the flying time involved, three of which could carry a new and specially designed pyrotechnic device which, on impact with the ground, would display a white flashing beacon. With an operating life of approximately 15 minutes it could be easily seen from heights in excess of 20,000ft even through light cloud conditions. At ‘H-30’ the three ‘Windfinders’ as they became known, one designated the leader, would drop their flashing markers in open countryside a few miles from the target and from the height at which the heavy bombers would be releasing their bombs. Each pilot then passed over his own beacon flying on three widely differing and pre-determined courses while his navigator, using a wind drift instrument in the nose of the aircraft in conjunction with his watch, obtained three readings, from which he was was able to calculate the wind speed and direction at that point.

At ‘H-20’ two of the Windfinders reported to their leader the result of their own calculations and from these the senior navigator computed the mean of the three sets of figures to provide an extremely accurate forecast of the wind conditions over the target. At ‘H-15’ the Windfinder Leader made radio contact with the Master Bomber to relay this information and as the Main Force crews would be listening out each Bomb Aimer was able to reset his bomb sight accordingly.

Home Sweet Home!

Even though the Operation had been completed and we had set course for home, all crews had to be constantly vigilant in order to guard against complacency for there were still hazards that could and sometimes did prove fatal.

Landing back at one’s own base was always a wonderful experience and of course the ground crews at the dispersals were always the first to ask how it all went and did ‘their aircraft’ do well and was there any damage? They all fussed around like so many mother hens, so keen were they to be part of it. While this was going on the crew bus arrived to take us to de-briefing and it was during this drive, after my first operation, that I was persuaded, by none other than Bill Topper, to smoke my first cigarette; it tasted bloody awful as I recall. Funny how such a small thing sticks in one’s memory.

De-briefing for all crews followed immediately on reaching the crew room where the Intelligence Officers required every possible piece of information that we had gained during the operation so that it could all be carefully logged for future use. During these proceedings. however important they were, we could not help but let our eyes wander over the other crews to see if any were missing. There was always a price to pay we knew; if not one of us on that occasion then it would be someone else. For sure we would all be switching on the wireless the next morning to heat: “This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the news and this is Alvar Liddell reading it. Last night 200 aircraft of Bomber Command attacked the Marshalling Yards in Hanover, completely destroying the enemy’s vital installations there. Six of our aircraft failed to return”. No mention, naturally, of the four other aircraft that were so badly damaged that they crashed on landing or that eight crew members had been wounded or severely burned; after all, they had not failed to return. lt was all part of life’s rich pattern of those days.

De-briefing over, it was then a question of bundling into the crew bus once again to be taken back to the Mess for another meal and then retirement to bed, ready for the next time the telephone rang in the Wing Commanders Office at 1000hrs and we see him walk, once again, to the Operations Room in the Control Tower.

It all seems rather simple, doesn’t it - at first sight?

Post Script

This narrative has been written in an attempt to place on record the highly specialised role played by 627 Path Finder Squadron in the bombing offensive over Europe during the period 1944-45 for, strange to relate, it would appear that no previous record of its achievements exists. This particular chapter has, of necessity, concentrated on the pure mechanics of that role but hopefully in terms that the average reader, some 45 years on, will understand; in any event we were good at our job and proud of our record. It is also a belated tribute to those of our friends and colleagues who did not, in the words of our time, ‘make it’.

However, lest anyone reading this should obtain the impression that life on the Squadron was all so very serious, all the time, let me hastily put his or her mind at rest. Certainly there were instances when life was very tense and there were periods of great stress, but these were concentrated into relatively few hours a week. Don’t forget there were occasions when the weather intervened, sometimes over here and sometimes over there and frequently operations that had been planned had to be cancelled at the last minute for a variety of reasons. On the contrary, squadron life was, for the most part, one long laugh. Someone’s leg was always being pulled and jokes of all kinds abounded. No one took themselves seriously, well, perhaps 1% did, but the rest of us revelled in our native sense of humour - and thank God for that.

Some of the tricks we got up to I shudder to think about now; some were dangerous, others, on reflection, downright irresponsible, but always good clean fun. It was fortunate indeed that our loved-ones were blissfully unaware ofwhat went on, otherwise they would have had a fit. They were the kind of pranks that, carried out in today’s climate of excess media coverage, would have triggered off some old fogey like me to write to the Times under the pseudonym, “Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells”. Ah! well, I suppose it was ever thus!

So, dear reader, shed no tears for us, unless they be tears of laughter. We certainly shed enough on that score I can assure you, but then Laughter was OUR ‘Secret Weapon’.

Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited