WILLIAM JOHN OLLEY, DFC (423177)
460 SQUADRON RAAF
The following is a reproduction of a typed transcript of William John Olley's recollections of how he got his "Green Endorsement".
A Green Endorsement for the avoidance of damage or loss of aircraft and crew by exceptional flying skill is rarely given.
18th November 1944 dawned cold and grey. Visibility was down to 1,000 yards.
A misty haze hung low over Binbrook, the base from which 460 RAAF Lancaster Squadron was operating nightly against targets deep in the industrial heartland of Hitler's Third Reich. From his office in 'A' Flight Hanger, Clarie Gardner, 'A' Flight Commander announced the names of pilots and aircraft for that night's operation - in all twenty crews and aircraft.
Spare aircraft was H for Harry. Our crew aircraft, J Jig was fully repaired after sustaining 'flak' damage over Dortmund on 11th November. We would not know the target until briefing at 2 pm, Double Summer Time, however 1,800 gallons of fuel and 22,000 lbs of bombs was the load and that usually meant the Ruhr Valley or near there. At 2 pm pilots and crew members gathered in the briefing room for details of target, route, weather, enemy defences, diversions and other protective measures. The target, Wanne Eikel, weather poor for take off, clear over target but expected to improve for the landing on return. We were supremely confident but occasionally at night I would wake up with a start - but when morning dawned the dream was forgotten.
After briefing, it was back to the mess for bacon and eggs, tidy up personal possessions and check that final letter - for delivery if one did not return. Then to 'A' Flight hanger to join the crew and await transport to J Jig - Myself, F/O Bill Olley, the Pilot; F/Lt Fred Maynard, the Navigator; F/Sgt Allan Hogan, the Wireless Operator; F/Sgt Frank Gubbins, the Bomb Aimer; F/Sgt Vic Porrill, Rear Gunner; F/Sgt Mac Mckane, Mid-Upper Gunner (all RAAF); and the only 'foreigner' F/Sgt Ronnie Sharpe, the Flight Engineer from Swallow, Herts. We each had complete confidence in the ability of the others.
At 3 pm we were at Jig's dispersal area, the gunners setting up the Browning guns and belts of ammunition, Fred, Allan, Gubby and Ronnie checking their respective equipment. I carried out the standard checks outside and inside the aircraft. Still time for a chat with the ground crew. Our time for take off was 3.45 pm. Visibility was getting worse, we could just make out the outline of the Control Tower. Engines were beginning to roar all around the airfield, warming up, testing magnetos, controls, instruments, hydraulics.
About 3.35 pm, I waved "Chocks Away" and began to taxi out. Careful with those Merlin engines! They can overheat quickly when taxiing. Watch the temperature gauges, left to right, - Port Outer, Port Inner, Starboard Inner, Starboard Outer. Several aircraft were already airborne. Four aircraft were lined up on the perimeter track in front of me, each like a huge bird, black and threatening, each with it's cargo of destruction and each with it's human cargo of seven fit and carefully trained young men. As one aircraft rolled down the runway, another took it's place on the threshold to await the green Aldis Lamp signal from the Control Tower. Now we were on the threshold. The green Aldis winked. With 15 degrees of flap, I opened up all four throttles and held the Lanc on the brakes until I felt the tail bounce. Then brakes off and we surged down the runway, gaining speed rapidly, 80, 90, 110 knots, lift off, wheels coming up, a quick check along the instruments, port outer engine revolutions were over the danger mark and still going up. Too late to throttle back. Could we make 140 knots, the critical flying speed for a Lancaster flying on three engines? Must get that flap up. I tried lifting a degree of flap, we lost a fraction of height. Must get 140 knots, the rev counter was still going up and the aircraft was handling badly on less than maximum power, 130 knots, 135 knots
------ and then it happened, the port outer engine went dead. "Feather port outer", Ronnie Sharpe hit the button feathering the propeller. Airspeed nearly 140 knots and still with nearly 15 degrees of flap creating more drag than the remaining three engines could possibly carry including 22,000lbs of explosives and 1,800 gallons of aviation fuel.
Binbrook aerodrome is high in the Lincolnshire Wolds. The longest runway which we were using was 2,200 yards. At the end of the runway the ground falls away into a valley and rises again on the far side in typically beautiful, undulating Wold countryside. A road runs along the crest of the far hill and trees interrupt the hedgerows bordering the field. That flap had to come off. We were losing height. As I inched the flap off the Lancaster dipped lower into the valley. Bit by bit, degree by degree, the flap was raised and three remaining engines were drumming fiercely, throttles pushed through the gate. Could we clear the high ground on the far side? the whole crew willed Jig up. We were gaining height and could but sit and watch the ground rise before us. A tree appeared in our path, it was impossible to change direction even a fraction of a degree, I eased back on the control column and saw the speed fall back dangerously. The tree slid away beneath the aircraft. Now we were gaining speed on the far side.
"Course for base, Fred". We were now at 200 feet and turning for base, I called up "Jig on three engines, permission to land". " One moment Jig", a calm WAAF voice. Then a short pause. "Jig, have you tried restarting the engine?", "No luck. Permission to land please". Again "One moment, Jig."
then another short pause, "You have permission to land, Jig" Light was failing and it was impossible to see the aerodrome except when directly over it. Fred Maynard's course was bang on. We were downwind at 500 ft and now turning cross wind. Crew in crash positions, wheels down, 15 degrees of flap. There was nothing in the rule book about landing a Lancaster with a dead engine and a full load of bombs - 10 knots for the dead engine and the bombs, I thought and an extra 10 knots for good measure. I misjudged the final left hand turn in. The two good engines on the starboard side unexpectedly pulled the aircraft off-line to the right of the runway.
Overshoot was impossible. It had to be now and it had to be on the runway, I dropped the nose to keep the airspeed up, almost pointing it at the ground.
I thanked God for those extra 20 knots and did a quick steep turn left and right. Over the boundary at 110 knots, dead on line, back on the control column, gently, gently, wheels touch, keep her steady, plenty of weight behind, the slightest swing to left or right would make it impossible to keep her straight. Use brakes gently. "Are we down yet?" It was Fred from his crash position. "You can say that again", I said. The Control Tower came in, "Jig to dispersal. Harry is being warmed up. Nearest runway is cleared for take off. You have 10 minutes."
We were airborne with 3 minutes to spare. As we wooshed down the runway the calm WAAF voice cut in, just once, softly, "Good luck".
By 10pm we were back in the mess enjoying bacon and eggs - a special treat only for operational aircrews. The Wing Commander came in and sat down beside Fred and I. "Good show, Olley" he said, "By the way, what speed did you come in at?". "Twenty knots over the recommended for normal approach and landings" I replied. "Ten would have been sufficient", he said, "that should take care of a dead engine and a bomb load." I knew he was right but a Lancaster bomber had never before been landed successfully with a full bomb load. I couldn't disagree but I still believe those extra ten knots saved our lives.
Green endorsements are not given lightly by the Royal Air Force, but in my Flying Log Book, written in green ink is something I prize:-
"Instance of avoidance by exceptional flying skill and judgement of loss of, or damage to, aircraft and personnel.
Flying Officer Olley, Captain of Lancaster "J" of No 460 Squadron displayed exceptional flying skill and judgement during operations on 18th of November
1944 when he successfully landed his aircraft on three engines and with a full bomb load"
William John Olley, born 21 Dec 1919, enlisted in the Australian Army on 11 Jul 1941at Quirindi, NSW. Private Olley was discharged from the Army on 26 May 1942. His posting at the time of his discharge was 33 BTN N C F.
William John Olley enlisted in the RAAF in Sydney on 20 Jun 1942. He completed 31 Operations during the war. His posting at the time of his discharge on 22 February 1946 was 1667 HCU.
He later went on to serve as a colonial policeman fighting the communist insurgents in Malaysia before returning and settling in the UK. Peter Theobold told me that he was privileged to meet Mr Olley a year or so before he died and he said he was an extremely interesting and lively character. He played down the dangers of flying for 460 Squadron, although the Roll of Honour tells another story.
I'd like to thank Peter Theobold for his assistance with this home page. Peter's friend Alex Hennell is the grandson of Flying Officer Olley.
Can anyone help with more information?
"Australia @ War" Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 6 October 2006
This page last updated 01 September 2018