RON FRIEND, DFC
460 SQUADRON RAAF
I was teaching at the Newtown Central Technical School in 1939 40 when I enlisted in the RAAF. Children from the very depressed areas of Erskineville, Newtown and surrounding areas attended this school. It was during the depression and there were two and three families living in the same house, as most men were unemployed. In fact one of the kids was Finney the gunman's son. Another kid said he always looked forward to Friday night as that was the night his old man came home drunk and threw about "bobs" (ten cents). These were great kids and I loved them. Maybe I subconsciously enlisted to fight for a better future for these kids.
During this period when I was teaching by day I was also attending the Sydney University at night doing an Arts course, hoping to major in Mathematics. I just loved this subject and hoped that one day I would have the joy of teaching it in a State High School.
In mid 1940 I had a medical examination at the RAAF Enrolment Centre, Woolloomooloo, and from that time was placed on the RAAF Reserve. This enabled me to complete my second year at the University and, in the two years, to pass in five subjects.
I never ever kept a diary so what I am about to relate is gleaned from my flying log book and from what I can remember.
On the day following my 27th. birthday I married Joan Pedder on the 31st. August, 1940. She has been the most loving, caring, understanding, loyal, faithful, practical and supportive wife anyone could wish for. It was because of this, her typing of my essays and her constant encouragement that I was able to pass my Second Year university exams.
In Autumn 1941 the RAAF enlisted me as a Leading Aircraftman (LAC), and posted me to the Embarkation Centre at Bradfield Park, Lindfield. We were a rather select lot consisting of school teachers, accountants, solicitors and two actuaries one of whom was Les Oxby, twenty one and the youngest actuary in Australia. He was posted to an Australian Air Training School before being posted on operations in Australia's north. Thank goodness he survived the war and subsequently became manager of the AMP. Here we were trained and examined in the ramifications of Air Navigation and Physical Education. We were dressed in goon suits, a type of navy blue overall, and under the control of foulmouthed illeducated army sergeants, were bullied and treated like school children as we sloped arms, drilled and routemarched for mile after mile.
Besides all this we were given many antivirus injections by the Station's medical officer. It was during one of these injections on 6th. June that I was informed my wife Joan had given birth to our lovely daughter Elizabeth Anne. When I sailed for Canada on 8th August she was just eight weeks old. She was almost three years of age when I returned in May 1944. What an awful period for poor Joan.
Some of the navigators were posted to Australian Empire Air Training Schools and thirty of us were posted to Canada for training. Only four of us returned.
We left Sydney in the modern ship Awatea, after much tearful parting with our dear relatives, and encountered the most violent Tasman gale on our way to Auckland New Zealand. Most of us were violently ill but the Awatea, which regularly made this crossing, berthed unscathed in Auckland Harbour in much better condition than its passengers. Here the locals couldn't have been nicer, treating us to a bus trip to the hot springs of Rotorua being the highlight of their hospitality.
New Zealand airmen, who introduced us to the Maori's Farewell, joined us as we sailed for Fiji from whence we zigzagged across the Pacific accompanied by a destroyer which had been with us from the time we left Sydney. The Awatea was later sunk in the Mediterranean by German Stuka divebombers.
We finally berthed at Vancouver. Crossing the Rockies, beholding the might of the snowcapped Mt. Robson, the beauty of Jasper with its totem pole, then crossing the prairies of Alberta to the capital city of Edmonton, where we were to train, was indeed a very rewarding experience. We felt as though we were on a Cooks Tour with these experiences we never even dreamed of. You see, unlike the adults, young people and even children of today who have travelled extensively around the World, most of us had never been outside our own State.
The people of Edmonton treated us all like Royalty. They just couldn't do enough for us; inviting us to their homes, putting on sumptuous dinners, taking us on car rides and making and bringing to the camp an abundant supply of the most luscious pies (pumpkin, blueberry, etc.) that only the American housewives could have equalled.
At Edmonton Air Training School we were instructed and examined in navigation, compass swinging, signals, photography, maps & charts and meteorology. We applied this knowledge in the air in Avro Ansons working in pairs. My constant partner was my very dear friend Roy Canvin. Our pilots were American civilians who wanted to be in the war but couldn't as the U.S.A had not declared war at this time. They were very highspirited and bored and gave the raw navigators, who had never flown, a rare experience on their first flight. Our pilot took us to 10,000 feet and then suddenly put the aircraft in a nosedive. We were lifted from our seats, floating in midair. He then suddenly pulled the aircraft out of the dive so that the gravitational force was so great we felt that we must be forced through the aircraft floor. He then descended to treetop level flying over forest and hot prairie where the thermals change rapidly causing us to bounce up and down. That was the only time I was ever sick in an aircraft. Roy apparently had a stronger constitution. He didn't succumb .
From Edmonton we were posted to the Bombing and Gunnery School at Dafoe in Saskatchewan, a veritable snow desert, flying in clappedout Fairy Battles that stank of glycol and nearly suffocated us as we dropped our practice bombs from the belly of the aircraft. We practised gunnery from an open cockpit firing at a drogue being towed by another aircraft. Because of the intense cold at that altitude our fingers suffered from severe chilblains. These civilian pilots were, like the Edmonton pilots, quite mad and bored, flying between closely positioned wheat elevators (silos) so that they had to bank the aircraft to get through, then flying back to base so low that they had to raise the aircraft to clear boundary fences and then descend again so that the belly of the aircraft again almost scraped the ground.
Our first Christmas away was at Dafoe where my other very dear friend Harry Taubman led us all in singing the carols. Later we were transferred to the Astro Navigational School at Rivers about 40 miles west of Winnipeg in Manitoba. It was here that we experienced the extreme temperatures of 40 below!! With our gloves on we would race outside, take a two minute shot of the sun on our bubble sextants, race back to the hut, take our gloves off and thaw our fingers on the air conditioner. We again had civilian pilots to fly the Avro Ansons by day and night when we took astro shots of the sun, moon and stars. At night all our navigation was done by astro so you can imagine the pilots' apprehensions flying with sprog navigators. The Canadian navigators were known not to be as good as ours so you can imagine why one of the pilots refused a Canadian's course back to base, saying he would fly back "on the beam", as this was the way all navigation was done in the U.S.A. The beam operates between two cities emitting a morse code signal A(dit dah) on one side and an N(dah dit) on the other. Between these two, on the exact track, the signals merge giving a constant signal. The pilot misread these signals and flew a reciprocal course, running out of petrol and forcelanding in North Dakota in the U. S. A. Poor fellow.
This was the completion of our navigational courses. We all passed and besides receiving our wings we were elevated from the lowly rank of LAC to that of Flight Sergeant Observer Navigators. A few of us, including myself received the commission rank of Pilot Officer. Our insignia was an "O" with a single wing on one side; hence the nickname "Flying Arsole". Later we were issued with an insignia with an "N" and a single wing.
Whilst at Rivers one of our more astute members contacted the Australian Government's representative in New York with the result that we were officially invited to spend our 8 days leave there after our graduation. We were well and truly feted during those days being given tickets to shows, including a recital by the great band leader Glen Miller, invitations to luxurious homes for dinner, to see the great Rockettes at the Rockfeller Centre and much more. It was also organised for each of us to vocally broadcast messages to our loved ones in Australia. What an experience to be walking up the great Broadway with its bright lights flashing as we had so often seen on the movies.
One night several of us were drinking at the bar of the Waldorf Astoria when one of us, Harry Taubman, arrived and asked if we would like to go to a party. He had gone from floor to floor listening for activity inside. He told them he had been invited to a party but couldn't remember the name. So, they invited us all to come in. It was a party of newspaper men and women. On arrival we had thrust into our hands very large glasses of scotch on the rocks. I don't remember much of that night but I do remember seeing our host with a leg of meat in his hands and attacking it vigorously.
After our 8 days in New York and a train journey we arrived at our embarkation depot in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. One of us had contracted the mumps so we were all promptly transported to Defoe in Nova Scotia where we were isolated in deserted army huts having no duties to perform. We were all itching to get to England to have our bash at Hitler and his gang but we spent our days for a month trecking knee deep in snow, cloaked in our wool and silk longjohns, uniforms and great coats.
We embarked from Halifax in the ship Llanstephan Castle resurrected from the scrap heap in South Africa when war broke out. She was very smelly, dirty and ill equipped. The convoy was a huge one and as it had to be protected by LendLease destroyers from America it had to remain compact, travelling at the speed of the slowest vessel. The destroyers continually encircled the convoy to intercept German Uboats but an explosion would tell us that another one of our convoy had been sunk. It was indeed a relief when we sailed up the Clyde and berthed at Glasgow.
We were entrained to the south of England to Bournemouth, a peace time popular holiday resort but now converted to an army and airforce depot. We were there for some time, occasionally being straffed by German fighters operating from Normandy, France. From there we entrained to Lichfield, near Birmingham, an OTU (Operational Training Unit). There we flew in the geodetically constructed and fabriccovered aircraft the Wellingtons, or "Wimpies" as we called them. These aircraft, with two Bristol radial engines, were still operating over Germany from bomber squadrons. Ours were those that had seen better days on these squadrons. After much training we were allowed to form crews for operational flights. I teamed up with a super pilot, Ted Parsons, a Pilot Officer in rank. My very dear friend from our navigation course, Harry Taubman, who now had transferred from navigator to bomb aimer, (a new category) also joined this crew.
Bomber Command had just sent 1,000 bombers to bomb Cologne, hoping that these tactics would swamp the German defences and serve as a morale booster for the workers of Britain. This was an unprecedented number, unable to be repeated, and the raid wasn't a great success. However, Command persisted and sent, on 28th. July 1942, 600 aircraft drafted from every station including training units like ours. The target was Hamburg, but because of weather conditions we were all recalled before reaching the target. On 31st. July, these 600 aircraft were again sent out but this time to bomb Dusseldorf. Whilst some of the elite squadrons, just converted to Lancaster bombers, were flying at 21,000 feet, we in our clapped out old Wimpies with full bomb load couldn't reach more than 8,000 feet and were at the mercy of the accurate light flak which could reach to 10,000 feet. Because of fog over our drome, we were diverted to the Oakington air field. This was when we learnt from Lancaster crews that they flew, and bombed at, 21,000 feet. What an introduction to our operational duties!
We were next posted to 460 Squadron, the first RAAF Squadron to be established in Bomber Command. This was a satellite station to the parent peacetime station HolmeOnSpaldingMoor about 8 miles away and about 20 miles south of York in Yorkshire. W/C Hubbard, DFC was the CO (Commanding Officer). He was rather an aloof and uncharismatic type. The Squadron had 2 Flights, A and B under the command of 2 Squadron Leaders and it operated by using Wellington Bomber aircraft.
Losses on the Squadron had been great so you can imagine our relief when, on the same raid, P/O Bill Brill and P/O Arthur Doubleday completed their first tour of operations (30 Ops). They were the very first to do so and were awarded the DFC. These two terrific blokes were posted as instructors at an OTU station. They later came back for their second tours as Wing Commanders to two RAAF Squadrons that had been formed after 460 Squadron. Subsequently they were commissioned as Group Captains, were highly decorated, and safely returned to Australia, Arthur Doubleday later being appointed as Director of Civil Aviation.
Just after our arrival our pilot Ted Parsons requested to fly, as second dickie (i.e pilot), with a crew that had completed some Ops., hoping to get further experience. All aircraft carried only one pilot so I was disappointed that he was doing this. That aircraft never returned, Ted being killed. We were now a crew without a pilot. Our bomb aimer, my close friend Harry Taubman flew two operations, as a spare bomb aimer, with Peter Isaacson who later was posted to PFF (Path Finding Force) with his complete crew and subsequently flew the first Lancaster Bomber, Q Queenie, to Australia.
Pilot Officer Peter Jackson needed a complete crew, except for a navigator, and the rest of my crew flew with him. On that night they were attacked by night fighters. They got back but Peter had to crash land in the south of England. All the crew were shot up and never flew again. Harry Taubman had his foot shot away and spent his time as a "guinea pig" for the great plastic surgeon MacIndoe's team which had established a great reputation for their skill in skin grafts.
As a spare navigator I felt like a shag on a rock. Would I ever operate again? My fellow navigators were failing to return and my very close friend Roy Canvin was building up his quota of Operations with his pilot Alex Wales who postwar flew as a Captain with the newly formed Cathay Pacific Airline flying between Sydney and Hong Kong, Sydney and Vancouver.
A new Commanding Officer W/C Keith Kaufman DFC replaced W/C Hubbard in September 1942 and the Squadron commenced a conversion to the 4engined Halifax Bomber. As the A Flight was doing the conversion at the parent station, B Flight continued operating with Wimpies from 460.
This was a sad time for the Squadron and morale couldn't have been lower. The Halifax crews were being killed during the conversion because the aircraft developed a rudder stall. On the 460 Squadron, one night, 8 aircraft bombed enemy territory and only 4 returned. You can imagine how we all felt when Keith Kaufman summoned us to the briefing room and told us he had bad news to relate ( his little bit of fun). As from now we were to convert all crews to Lancaster Bombers! The roof must have been lifted with our deafening reception of this great news.
The very first raid the Lancasters made from 460 our A Flight Squadron Leader S/L Dickie Osborn, who made less frequent Ops, selected me as his navigator. It was on the night of 22/11/42 and was a low level moonlight attack on Stuttgart, Germany. We all returned except the Lanc flown by Dave Gault. Dave arrived back at the station a fortnight later. Flying low level in moonlight he unfortunately had flown over an antiaircraft emplacement and was a sitting duck. Flying lowlevel with a full bomb load he was forced to make a belly landing in an open field after they shot an engine out. He was picked up by the French underground, smuggled over the Pyrenees into Spain and somehow flown back to England via Gibraltar. Dave didn't fly with us again, being transferred to the Australian 10 Squadron, Coastal Command, operating from the south of England. Dickie Osborn was very young, an Australian in RAF uniform having been seconded to the RAF at the outbreak of war. His father was a professor at Oxford university so you can deduce that Dickie was pretty clued up. Dickie was a superb pilot but still was later killed operating over Germany.
The scientific boffins had invented a device called Gee and we were now using it in our Lancasters. In the aircraft we had a receiving set to receive electronic signals and a cathode ray screen to display these signals. Our Mercator plotting charts had imprinted on them hyperbolic curves each one of them giving us a position line determined by the signals the set received. There were two landbased transmitting stations. The main transmitter would send out a signal that we and the satellite transmitter received. The satellite would then transmit this signal microseconds later depending on the distance between the two stations. That gave a "Time Base", the basis of its functioning, and when we manipulated the signals so that one signal coincided with the other we noted the time and read off the 2 coordinates from the screen. Around England, because the two sets of lines cut almost at right angles our fixes were almost perfect. However the further from the two stations one got, the lines cut more acutely, leading to less accurate fixes. Before Gee, aircraft returning from Ops often were lost looking for their aerodromes in blackedout and often fogbound England. With Gee we could preset the coordinates of any part of the 'drome and in any weather could "homein" to that exact spot by altering course until the two signals fell one upon the other. I am sure this saved the loss of hundreds of aircraft over England.
Although aircraft returning from ops could, now, with the aid of Gee, always locate their 'dromes, it didn't mean they could make a landing there. Often, on their return, they had to be diverted to some distant 'drome because heavy fog or foul weather had developed on their homeward run and now cloaked their home 'drome. I shall never forget one night when I was not operating. Aircraft were circling above the dense cloud, trying to find a break, and we were trying to pierce the clouds with searchlights. They couldn't be diverted because all Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and most of England was so enclosed. Most of them crashed in open fields. 90 aircraft were lost over England that night but this was never reported in the papers.
In the old Wimpies, wireless bearings were out because of radio silence and we mainly navigated using the wind directions and velocities provided by the meteorological forecasts. These so frequently were way out, because of the lack of weather reports from Europe. Our one salvation was our practice of dropping Flame Float bombs when over the North Sea. These bombs floated and emitted a flame enabling the rear gunner to rotate his calibrated turret until he had the flame in his sights. A drift of the aircraft was thus established and the navigator could alter course to maintain his true track although he would not know his exact position. However, when we got Lancs and Gee we knew exactly where we were when over the North Sea and for a considerable distance into Germany. With aircraft being shot down the Germans soon broke down Gee's secrets. We could use it over the North Sea but on crossing the Dutch coast there was so much interference on the cathode ray screen that the apparatus became unusable. Before the Jerries cracked the code, Bomber Command used Gee on their first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne to navigate (only a few of the leading Lancaster aircraft had it at this time) and to bomb on it. As the Gee position lines crossed so acutely at this distance from the transmitting stations you can guess that this was not a great success.
1941 and early 1942 were disaster periods for Bomber Command as targets weren't always reached and when they were it was difficult to find the aiming point at night. Essen and other cities in Germany's mighty industrial centre in the Ruhr area were the main targets and these were always cloaked in fog or thick industrial haze. More aircraft and crews were lost than damage done.
We the airmen were mere pawns. The ones who really made the bombing of Germany the success it was were the brilliant scientists who supplied us with such superb equipment. They developed the superb woodconstructed Mosquito fighterbomber fitted with two mighty Rolls Royce Merlin engines as fitted to the Lancasters. To complement this they developed a most sophisticated navigational and bombing aid, Oboe, that had precise accuracy while an aircraft was up to 400 miles from England. The Mosquitoes could now reach the Ruhr flying about 400 knots at 40,000 feet and, without using visual aids, drop their bombs within 100 to 400 yards of the aiming point! Instead of carrying high explosive bombs they dropped red TI's (Target Indicator markers) which were fused to explode 4,000 feet above the aiming point and gradually float to the ground. On these the rest of Bomber Command dropped their bombs and the results were startling. Although the Mosquitoes came in waves there were times when the red TI's weren't visible. To overcome this Bomber Command created new squadrons of PFF (Path Finding Force) under the command of the very talented Australian aviator and navigator D.C.T. Bennett who was promoted to the rank of Air Commodore. He was completely versatile in all aspects of aviation having written text books on astronavigation prewar. He regularly checked pilots on engine details, wireless operators on their morse code (he could transmit and receive 25 words/minute), gunners on all aspects of their Browning guns and of course the navigators. These backup aircraft that PFF flew were Lancasters and Halifaxes.
These crews were recruited from all the squadrons and carried normal bomb loads and green TI's which they dropped on the red TI's. All bomber crews were instructed to bomb the red TI's and lastly the green ones if the reds had faded. At this stage all PFF crews other than those on Mosquitoes were, except for the fact that they carried green TI's, doing the same as the rest of bomber command. Also, squadrons did not always send their best crews to PFF, wanting to retain them. This was a great pity as they were needed for what was to come when they were to use the accurate H2S new radar navigational and blindbombing equipment enabling them to take the place of the Mosquitoes on targets beyond the Ruhr.
The scientific boffins again came to our rescue when they developed this H2S giving us unlimited range because the aircraft were both transmitting and receiving the same signal. This was the beginning of radar as we know it today. Its implementation was possible because they developed a magnetron small and light enough to fit in the aircraft and still enable us to carry big bomb loads. With the parabolic scanner rotating in a plastic black cupola beneath the aircraft its total weight was only 800 pounds enabling us to still carry a bomb load of 12,000 pounds consisting of a 4,000 pound "COOKIE" (an oversized 44 gallon drum filled with High Explosive) and 8,000 pounds of incendiaries, which were hexagonal in cross section to fit as many as possible in their multiple canisters. It may be of interest to note that the American Flying Fortresses, with much larger crews, carried a bomb load of 4,000 pounds; but they were flying by day and needed more fire power to counteract fighters. Also, we carried a fully trained navigator whereas they carried one leading navigator and a few backups for their multiple aircraft on the raid.
As a point of interest H2S sent out signals and received their echo on a cathode ray screen which retained the image until the scanner completed its 360 degrees rotation. As a result a complete picture of the terrain, for many miles below, was obtained. Large objects like towns and cities returned bigger echoes so that when the "gain" (volume on your TV) was reduced, small echoes from flat land and water disappeared and the high terrain, the towns and cities stood out as though looking at a map. If, on crossing the coast line, the "gain" was increased all echoes received were intensified, except from the flat water, giving a complete detailed picture of the coastline, inlets and rivers. It was just like looking at a map in front of you. The centre of the circular cathode ray screen represented the aircraft. A line stretching from the centre to the circumference was the direction line and could be rotated manually through 360 degrees so that, when rotated to pass through an echo, its exact bearing "relative to the aircraft" could be found. There was a blip (pinsized) which could be moved manually from the centre to the circumference. When not being manipulated it formed a perfect circle due to the rotation of the scanner. When this was moved, until the circle passed through the echo, the exact distance from that object to the aircraft could be determined. Hence accurate navigation!
Blind bombing became relatively easy. By using the laws of physics we could easily work out the time a bomb took to reach the ground from any height, and, knowing the speed of the aircraft, could work out how far from the aiming point the bombs should be released. We fixed the direction line to zero to represent the axis of the aircraft, set the distancefromtarget circle to intersect it, and if necessary altered course, and "homedin" on the target.
The effectiveness of the German UBoats in the Atlantic and around England was greatly reduced when the Coastal Command Sunderlands commenced using H2S. They could "homein" on them whilst they were recharging their batteries at night and, even in overcast conditions, accurately drop their depth charges. On a clear night they could flood them with their searchlights and also straff them with their guns. They would never have found them at night without H2S.
I heap praise on the brilliant scientists; but what about the production people, the factory managers and the hardworking people who worked in these factories ? Most of these were women because the men were mainly scattered all over the globe, on the sea, in the deserts of North Africa, attacking the under belly of Europe, prisoners of war in Germany and Singapore's Changi jail (like my brother Reg) and building up huge forces and equipment to land on the French Normandy beaches in their first land attack against Germany since the great Dunkirk disaster. Besides, they had to provide food and clothing for the entire population, not to mention the vast amounts of beer to keep up the morale of its people and particularly that of the thousands of aircrew enlisted from all parts of the Empire. When you consider the thousands of aircraft being lost and having to be replaced immediately, being fitted out with the very advanced equipment they carried, it is so difficult to comprehend how it was ever achieved. This kind of superb coordination is beyond me.
My third Op was to Essen, 9/1/ 1943, in the very heavily defended heart of the Ruhr. It was with P/O Shorty Grenfell, whose navigator was indisposed. He had just married a nurse and this was his first operation. At 21,000 feet, just before we could drop our bombload, we were coned by a battery of so many searchlights that we could have been in the brightest sunlight. Heavy flak was bursting around us. Shorty had been told that, in this predicament, weaving was futile; that he should take a gradually changing course, put the nose down and "go like hell". Although a very small person he did just that! He was magnificent; and as I stood beside him watching the speedo climbing so rapidly and the wings flapping so much I was sure that the plane would disintegrate. We levelled off at 4,000 feet and on the way down our inexperienced bomb aimer in the nose of the aircraft reported that we weren't the only ones in trouble as some one below was letting off red and green verey pistols (this was a signalling device). In reality it was light flak being sprayed at us. We finished up east of the Ruhr and to get to England had to set course, still at 4,000 feet and fly through the target area. Miraculously we got back but being interrogated, on our return, were asked if we had seen balloon barrages protecting the target. Their steel cables reach a height of 10,000 feet and their presence had not even crossed our minds. As Shorty and his crew went missing a few nights later, on this same target, I began to feel that I was somehow meant to survive this war.
My next two Ops were with W/C Johnnie Dilworth who had now taken over the command of the Squadron from Keith Kaufman. He selected me as his navigator to do the next two attacks on Berlin, on 16th. and 17th. January 1943. Our tactics here were to fly north of Europe over the North Sea, cross Denmark into the Baltic then fly south to attack Berlin. After bombing we would set a westerly course which took us just south of Hamburg, cross the Dutch coast and then relax on the way to base.
From now on I was to crewup with Flt/Sgt Paddy Boyle who had made up a crew from the odd aircrew on the Squadron. He was indeed a wild Irishman from the Newcastle mining district and made no bones about the fact that he intended to survive. From the time we crossed the Dutch coast and returned to it Paddy would throw the 4engined Lanc all over the sky, hour after hour averaging out my courses reasonably well (many pilots flew straight and level and only commenced weaving when the gunners sighted a night fighter). As you can imagine, this made navigating rather difficult. To this day I still marvel at Paddy's great physical strength and endurance.
I did my next 17 Ops, in quick succession, with Paddy when he was a Flight Sergeant and the next four with him when he was made a Warrant Officer (W/O). He had now completed his tour of 30 operations and was transferred to an OTU as an instructor whilst I still had 5 Ops left to complete mine. Paddy couldn't land an aircraft; he used to drop it in from a great height, bounding down the runway like a kangaroo. When he made his last landing with us it was, for the first time, as smooth as silk. One of the wags on board jokingly said "Have we landed yet, Paddy?" to which Paddy replied "I don't know. I'll call up the Control Tower and find out!".
About the same time Paddy was made a Warrant Officer I was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer. With Paddy's record any other pilot would been elevated to the rank of Pilot Officer but he was a rough diamond and didn't impress the hierarchy. I was VERY fond of Paddy. But what an imbiber of the amber fluid. He would ring up from some pub at some distant village to see if Ops were on. He would then turn up to the briefing room in a semiinebriated state. This never worried me because I knew that when we reached 10,000 feet and turned on the oxygen Paddy would be rearing to go and throw that Lanc all over the sky. He returned for a second tour, completed it and later, when the war ended, remained in the RAAF, was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander and commanded a squadron in Perth where he continued to live. He really must have mellowed. At the recent 460 Squadron reunion 23/4/1993 I learnt that Paddy died a couple of years ago.
With Paddy we attacked Hamburg (3 times), Cologne, the submarines pens and environs of Lorient, France (3 times), Willemshaven, Milan (Italy), Nurnberg, the submarine pens and environs of St. Nazaire (twice), Berlin (twice), Essen (twice), Munich, Stuttgart and Duisberg (twice).
A few episodes come to mind when writing about dear old Paddy. On a couple of occasions, because of some explicable reason (engine failure etc.), we had to drop out of the attack, drop our "cookie" in the North Sea and return to base early. A new Flight Commander, an Australian I am sad to report, and a proper shit, didn't take kindly to this and had Paddy in his bad books. On a number of successive nights, Bomber Command routed us over London to our targets so as, they said, to raise the morale of the the populace. As if the Jerries wouldn't wake up to this and have their night fighters waiting for us! We were climbing from our base on one of these nights when Paddy said the aircraft was getting out of control and was becoming unflyable. I gave him a course to the North Sea where we dropped our "cookie" and then returned to base. The next morning the Flight Commander had him on the mat, told him there was nothing wrong with the aircraft, and accused him of LMF (Lack Of Moral Fibre); a most serious charge. The ground crew loved Paddy and the next day on his request gave the aircraft a thorough check. They found that one of the trims on the the tail plane had been installed upside down! That Flight Commander was soon transferred from the Squadron I am happy to report. How could anyone accuse our dear brave Paddy of such a thing!
On one of our raids on St. Nazaire, at 1500 feet and on our runin to drop our bombs, the inside of the aircraft burst into flame. An aircraft above us and on the wrong approach, at right angles to us, had straddled his incendiaries across our path. One of the incendiaries, about two and a half feet long, had hit a vertical brace and broken in two, each half penetrating the aluminium skin and bursting into flame as they landed on the floor aft of my navigation section. The very prompt and superb action of our WOp, Wireless Operator John Austin, with the extinguisher, soon had it under control. One in 12 of all incendiaries contained an explosion so that the enemy wouldn't approach to extinguish them. This could have been one of them, so we were very lucky. As we discovered on landing that one of the engine nacelles had also been hit I was again feeling that I was indeed meant to survive this war.
Another incident occurred when we attacked Hamburg. We approached it over the North Sea out of range of their Geejamming. I knew exactly where I was, so that when Gee became ineffective I was able to get an exact pinpoint when we reached the Danish coastline and then set a course southward to the target. On this course Paddy told me he was altering course about 3040 degrees to starboard to drop our bombs on the red TI's that PFF were dropping. I told him that could not be the target and to ignore them. Some time later red TI's were dropped on our port side. I told him to alter course and bomb them. He swore like the trouper he was, saying those bastards would get us if we were to circle the target area. But I knew that, unlike some pilots who would have ignored me and gone on to bomb the first TI's, Paddy would do the right thing and accept my judgment. At great risk to himself and his crew he did just that. I really loved Paddy after that. Each aircraft dropped a flash bomb with their bomb loads, it being fused to light up, at 4,000 feet, the area where their bombs landed and to take a photo accordingly. Each squadron had an insignia (a triangle, a square, a diamond etc.) to distinguish them on the plot that Group Headquarters made showing where every bomb was dropped and sent the results to the squadrons. Most of the bombs were dropped on the bend of the Elbe River, on the first lot of TI's, many miles to the west of Hamburg. These crews of PFF carrying H2S, the accurate navigation and blind bombing equipment had failed dismally. At least those PFF boys who dropped the second lot of red TI's were using the H2S equipment effectively and were worth their salt.\
Another Op still fresh in my mind was when we bombed Hamburg again. This time our track was to be over Holland and just south of Bremen. Paddy evidently was not averaging my course as well as on other occasions and we passed right over the centre of Bremen; the only aircraft! As the heavy flak burst all around us, Paddy threw our Lanc around more violently than ever and got us safely to our target. We had a spare bombaimer with us that night, Stan Ricketts, who had trained with me as a navigator. Being the wag he was he recorded in his log book "Hamburg via Bremen". Stan was killed whilst on the Squadron and on our return to Australia Roy Canvin and I went to Rockdale to express our condolences to his parents. Stan was the son of the high class furniture manufacturer Ricketts of Ricketts & Thorpe. They were making the wood frames for the Mosquitoes aircraft when we arrived and it was here I first came to learn about the newly created super glues used to assemble them.
When Paddy finished his tour our Flight Commander, S/L Frank Campling DFC, asked me if I would navigate for him in an attack on Frankfurt on 10/4/1943. It was a moonlight night with 10/10 altostratus cloud over the target and over the land both there and back to base. Frank flew straight and level just above the clouds at 15,000 feet and doing 140 knots indicated, a sitting duck for night fighters who could be vectored onto us by radar and silhouette us against the moonflooded cloud tops. The cloud was so dense we were unable to see any TI's that PFF might have dropped, only search lights fighting their way through the clouds. So, on our ETA, we dropped our bombs on them and turned for home still doing 140 knots. Most pilots always returned home at well over 200 knots knowing that the shortest time over enemy territory was desirable so I suggested to Frank that he clap on the speed. He said that he would do that when I got a fix so, although Gee was jammed, I got one almost immediately, or so I told him. He then said he'd maintain speed and increase power when we crossed the French coast! When that occurred he actually increased speed to 200 knots! But on crossing the English coast reduced it to 140 knots again until we reached base. When we reached the interrogation room only our most lovable padre, who always stayed up and greeted us with hot cocoa, and the intelligence officers were visible, the rest of the squadron had been interrogated, had their egg breakfasts (one of the reasons for doing Ops), and were in bed. What a wasted operation! There was no way I would ever fly with Frank again. I did want to complete my tour of Ops. When I did my next Op, with Eddie Hudson to bomb La Spezia on the Italian coast (one of our longest trips) we, because of a fog all over Yorkshire and Linconshire, were diverted to the research station, Harwell in the south of England. Only one aircraft didn't arrive; it was Frank's and we had written him off. But no. Half an hour after the last of our aircraft had landed Frank put his aircraft down. At least his new inexperienced navigator had lost him; but Frank would have been late anyhow.
Frank was a young Englishman, 24 years of age, and indeed a proper case. When the Officers' Mess closed down its bar for the night Frank got the bar steward to leave out a case of beer and a book for him to sign for each bottle he consumed. I know you will find it difficult to believe this, but someone, and it could only have been Frank, introduced a competition to see which Lanc got the best petrol consumption whilst on operations!! I seem to remember that the average was around 1.1 mpg and that Frank was always the winner! Frank was later awarded the DSO, promoted to the rank of Wing Commander, and made Commanding Officer of an OTU. I learnt later that Frank in this capacity had, contrary to Air Force regulations, taken 12 WAAFs for a joy ride and, no doubt showing off in front of the girls, crashed the aircraft killing all on board including his crew.
My final four Operations were completed with P/O Eddie Hudson DFC on his second tour of Ops. The first of these was, as mentioned earlier, to La Spezia on the night of 13/4/43. I think that was Eddie's first operation with 460 Squadron and his first over Europe. It so happened that Eddie had a full crew except for a navigator. He was a very fine young man. I say young because at that time I was 29+ years of age and he seemed so young being not yet 21 years old. It was a great privilege to navigate for him for my final 4 Ops.
Eddie was magnificent as a pilot and a navigator's dream. My second operation with Eddie was to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia in moonlight on the night of 16/4/43 with Bomber Command's instructions to bomb ONLY the SKODA Works VISUALLY or, failing that, to drop our bombs on the red TI's (Target Indicator markers) dropped by PFF.
400 aircraft attacked Pilsen that night with another 200 leaving earlier to attack Mannheim serving as a decoy to keep the enemy fighters away from the Main Force. Eddie's straight and level flying and holding a consistent course made it possible for me to get precise pinpoints as, in the moonlight, we crossed rivers. On our track PFF were supposed to drop green TI's on a turning point to give an accurate point for the rest of Bomber Command to make a final runin on the target. I was surprised then, when on my ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) at this point not a single green TI was visible. I presumed then that my navigation was at fault and so told Eddie to hold the course I had given him. About 5 minutes later our rear gunner reported Green TI's being dropped to our rear. I was now sure my navigation was correct so I ignored these markers, had to DR (Dead Reckon) to a point ahead and from there give a course to Eddie to reach the target. This entailed the dangerous procedure of flying against the main bomber stream but, due to Eddie's superb piloting, we were able, without even having to alter the course I had given him, drop our bombs on the buildings the bomb aimer could see beneath us, on my exact ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival).
Following the raid, Bomber Command, as usual, released a plot of the target
area showing where each aircraft dropped its bombs. PFF had failed dismally and
this raid proved to be one of the greatest failures in the history of Bomber
Command. On that night only one aircraft dropped its bombs on the aiming point,
the rest being scattered all over the countryside. That aircraft was the one so
skilfully piloted by Eddy Hudson. My final two Operations with Eddy were to La
Spezia, for the second time, on 18/4/43 and to Stettin (adjoining W. Poland) in
north east Germany on 20/4/43.
Later when Roy Canvin and I were seconded to Bomber Command Group Headquarters I was able to get the two actual photos our aircraft had taken. One was taken by the flash bomb and the other by the flash created by the explosion of our "cookie". The latter was only possible because we were flying at such a low altitude (5,000 feet if I recall correctly). Those photos are now in the possession of my daughter Elizabeth Anne Klinger, in Melbourne.
W/C Johnnie Dilworth didn't remain long as our Commanding Officer and was replaced by W/C Chad Martin DFC who was very soon to be decorated with the DSO award. He remained as our CO at Breighton and when 460 was transferred to the more modern peacetime station, Binbrook in Linconshire, he moved with it. I am mentioning this for what is to follow.
Recently, research people in Canberra wanted information from me about Eddie Hudson who flew the second Lancaster, G George, from England to Australia and informing me that Eddie died of cancer in 1980. G George now resides in the War Memorial, Canberra.
About a fortnight ago, at the beginning of May, 1993, I wrote a letter to Chad (who runs a pastoral property, "Sherwood", Coolah, NSW) in which I asked about Eddie, and got the following reply which refers to the Binbrook period. "Eddie Hudson of course I remember well. A terrific pilot. He had his 21st. birthday on the day the King & Queen visited us enroute to award Gibson the V.C. As I presented the crews to the Queen I whispered to her that it was Eddie's 21st. birthday, so of course she wished him Many Happy Returns. He was tickled pink. He flew G. George to Australia soon after Dr. Evatt's visit to us, when I flew him up from Hendon and he asked me to recommend a pilot."
When we converted to Lancasters an Englishman, F/L Hugh Thompson, was transferred to 460 as our Navigation Officer and to do occasional Ops. He had been Bill Brill's navigator when he did his first tour of Ops. Hugh was a very shy and charming fellow, a scientist before enlisting, and he became a very close friend of mine. When the average aircrew went on leave for 6 days every 6 weeks they usually played up and got drunk in London but Hugh went down to fraternise with fellow scientists like Professor Blackett and to find out about the latest developments. Being his close friend and confidant, I learnt prematurely about such things as Oboe, H2S and other developments that didn't reach the ears of squadron personnel until much later.
I also became a close friend and confidant of the Officer in Charge of the Intelligence Section, S/L "Leather" Leatherdale. He was a very fine Englishman and wore the wings that he had won in World War 1. I spent many hours with him studying reports from Bomber Command and studying stereoscopic photos taken, during daylight, by high flying reconnaissance Mosquitoes, of cities devastated by our bombers. It was a revelation to see, sterescopically, vast areas razed to the ground and gaunt bare walls reaching skyward. How could the people in places like Hamburg continue to exist in such a place ? They did and we continued this devastation.
A piece of information which never ever reached the newspapers reached our Intelligence section. 100 American Flying Fortresses left by day to bomb a target in the south of Europe. They were setting courses on the winds supplied by the meteorological section. On take off, 10/10 strato cumulus cloud had built up all over Europe and England and remained there for both the outward and return flight. They could not get pinpoints so relied on the Met. winds. The leading aircraft developed engine trouble and returned to base, its lead navigator saying he passed his DR (Dead Reckon) position to the no.2 navigator. It so happened that the southerly winds Met. provided should have been strong winds from the north. By applying the wrong drifts and no doubt doing the same thing on their return flight their errors would have been doubly compounded putting them far south of where they thought they were. None of the 99 aircraft returned. One can only presume that they flew over Spain into the Atlantic and ran out of petrol. What a pity they didn't have H2S.
Just after Chad Martin arrived on the Squadron as our new Commanding Officer, Roy Canvin's pilot Alex Wales was transferred, I think, to PFF to fly Mosquitoes so Roy became Chad's navigator. Roy had completed many more Ops than I had but because Chad as Squadron Commander flew less frequently, I was rapidly catching up on him so that we both completed our tour of Ops about the same time. I was overjoyed when Roy, earlier, was justly promoted to the rank of Pilot Officer and joined me in the Officers' Mess. We had so many very happy times together.
During this period I was writing letters regularly to my wife Joan. She was writing more frequently and not once did she complain about her situation. She sent photos of our dear little Elizabeth Anne as she grew up and sent movies of her taken on her aunt's 16 mm movie camera. She had recordings (made on pressed waxed cardboard discs) of Elizabeth Anne talking and singing songs for me when she was even less than 2 years old. I can still hear her saying "I wish on a star my daddy come home soon". Besides, I regularly received food parcels and hand knitted sox from her.
As I had to have my films projected on the Station's projector and my records played on the Station's gramophone, Elizabeth Anne became quite a celebrity with the aircrew and other personnel; and they had to see and hear her with great frequency. Our dear padre was a constant listener and observer. From his attitude I think he adopted me as a son. On the night I set off on my last Op he came out to the Aircraft dispersal point to see me off, looked at me with the greatest warm affection in his eyes and shaking my hand very firmly said "GOOD LUCK RON".
At Breighton, 460 Squadron was regularly visited by the Australian Fleet Street pressmen who interrogated us after a raid. With this information and that gained from official reports, the Sydney press reported every raid that the Squadron made. One of these reporters, Hank Bateson, became a very dear friend of Roy Canvin and myself. We never went on leave together unless we contacted Hank and had drinks at the Cogers pub in Fleet Street, the watering hole of all our bods from the Squadron, or the quaint little ancient pub on the Roman cobbled Watling Street in central London.
These war periods must have been very harrowing times for the wives we left behind. We could be on our six days leave every 6 weeks, or not even be flying for days. Most of us, I think, had conditioned ourselves to what we were doing and were too preoccupied with our responsibilities in getting to the target to worry about anything else. Anyhow, if we were killed, which seemed inevitable, we would have nothing more to worry about. But not our poor wives like my Joan and Roy's wife Pattie, who shared these times together. When I returned, Joan disposed of all the paper clippings except the ones referring to the raids I was on. She told me that if my name, or Roy's, appeared in the article she would, with relief, know that we had returned safely. If it did not, she could only presume that we were not on that raid or else had gone missing. As the next of kin were notified about 3 days after an airman went missing, she would worry over that period or until our names again appeared in one of the articles. What a very very harrowing time they went through.
At the Breighton Station two photos were taken of a Lancaster with the aircrew standing and sitting in front of it and the ground crew standing on its wings. Our well respected Commanding Officer W/C Chad Martin DSO, DFC is sitting in the middle of the front seat and I am seated close to him. I sent these photos to my wife Joan and she had them published in one of the Sydney magazines during the War. After the war I presented them to the 460 Squadron Association as memorabilia and they in turn presented them to the War Memorial, Canberra where they remain mounted in front of Eddie Hudson's old Lancaster G George.
One of the great characters on the squadron was P/O Cliff O'Riordan, an Upper Gunner and peacetime barrister. Cliff was an institution with his compact grey wavy hair, big build and ruddy complexion. He was so regal in his appearance that even our Group Captain Station Commander G/C Crummy once confided to me that he always felt like bowing in Cliff's presence. Cliff only flew with CO's or Flight Commanders as midupper gunner with the result that he never seemed to be building up his Ops tally. I think this was fostered by the Flight Commanders to keep him on the Squadron. As you can imagine many of the aircrew were pretty wild, getting excessively drunk, getting into fights and damaging property when off the Squadron in local pubs and villages. They would be arrested by the local police and put on a civil charge. Yes, you've guessed it. Cliff always represented them as their lawyer and never failed to get them off the charge.
His speech was so slow and precise and this didn't differ when in the air. On my Ops to Berlin with W/C Johnnie Dilworth, Cliff was our midupper gunner. I can still to this very day hear him saying "Fighter pause to starboard -pause skipper pause get ready pause to weave pause skipper pausepause WEAVE SKIPPER!". This was the only time on Ops when I actually burst into laughter.
On his way through the States, Cliff had acquired a lady's Ronson cigarette lighter and he used this to great effect. All air personnel, aircrew and our great support the ground staff, usually did our offStation drinking at the Bubwith pub or else at the "Fourteen Tits" (in reality The Seven Sisters). How often have I heard Cliff say "Flick you for a bob!". The one who had the greatest number of uninterrupted flicks collected the bob. As the rest of us had lighters constructed out ot aircraft parts by the armoury ground staff you can imagine that Cliff did very well out of it after the boys had imbibed rather freely.
What about Station life other than Operations? A lot of the World War 1 pilots were called up when war was declared and often highly commissioned to take up positions like Station Commanders, positions where they didn't have to fly. Our first Station Commander G/C Dickson, with Group Captain rank( four rings), was an inept supercilious obnoxious snob who treated us as being far beneath him. Was I elated when he was transferred and replaced by dear old Crummy, otherwise G/C Crummy. In reality Crummy was a bully. Englishmen, even my dear Intelligence friend S/L "Leather" Leatherdale and the Flight Control officer F/O Beckett stood in awe before him as he castigated them and swore at them. His big redeeming feature was that he just loved Australians. In his eyes they could no wrong. Never did I ever hear him reprimand a single Australian, even the lowest ranked ground staff. They didn't even salute him when passing him on the Station; merely nodded at him.
Over the Christmas period there was little flying activity because of foul weather conditions or fog. As a result we had many wild parties in the Officers Mess sending buses to York to bring back Nurses from York Hospital. Les Tate the Bombing Leader would mix the the highest octane cocktails one could imagine such his Lancaster Special, Beam Approach and numerous others. Crummy just couldn't get enough of these and always got hopelessly drunk as he joined in the revelry. Our Gunnery Officer F/Lt "Mockety" MacLaghlan was a mad Scotsman. I can still see him, in the early hours of the morning, appear at the entrance end of the mess mounted on the station Harley Davidson bike, let in the clutch and race to the end of the mess just avoiding hitting the bar, temporarily set up there, by slamming on the brake. He swung the bike around to repeat this in the opposite direction when about four bods jumped on top of him. He let in the cluch and bodies went flying everywhere.
At about 3 O'clock one morning when everyone was well and truly drunk, and the party was still in progress, two of our Flight Sergeant aircrew mates Norm Rattan and Jimmy Crabb arrived at the door of the mess to tell us that the Sergeants' mess had run out of grog. We invited them in where they saw a high pile of bods stacked on top of each other engaged in "Cocky Lorum". Norm asked who the bod was at the bottom wearing four rings. We told him it was Crummy, to which he replied "well I've never kicked a Group Captain in the arse before, so here goes!".
When not operating, the station buses took all aircrew, who wanted, to York.
There we drank during the day at Betty's bar and then gravitated to the DeGreys
Rooms to spend the night dancing.
I need to point out that the only ones in the RAF and RAAF who wore decorations were the commissioned officers who had won the DSO or DFC, and the noncommissioned aircrew who had won the DFM. These were as rare as hens' teeth. Besides, they could wear only the ribbons, not the medals.
We were drinking one day in the company of a couple of girls at Betty's bar when about half a dozen American enlisted men arrived. They had just arrived from the States, not having seen a single shot fired in anger, and were wearing rows of medals and many bars to support them.
Did those girls goad the Americans! When one girl, pointing to a medal, asked one if it was the Iron Cross, he took the bait and replied in all earnestness "No, m'am, I won that for hitting a target at 400 yards and I got three bars for repeating the performance".
It was at York where I first experienced a true bombing raid by the Jerries. I had just deposited a couple of nurses at the York hospital, after a dancing session, when the sky was brilliantly illuminated by parachute flares, and bombs came raining down. As the bombs were dropped stick fashion I would hear a blast, a pause, a blast, another pause and so on until the final bomb in the stick exploded. They hit and set fire to the hospital and showered incendiary bombs on the tree under which I was now crouching. Fire wardens were running to the Hospital blowing their whistles, so I joined them. We raced to the hoses which we extracted after breaking their glass case. A warden gave me the end of the hose to attach it to the fire hydrant in the middle of the grounds. Yes, he gave me the wrong end. But we did get the fire out.
Roy Canvin, who left Australia with me, and I became inseparable. The ties were so great we could have been brothers. We completed our tour of operations about the same time, were both elevated to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, both awarded the DFC and were posted to the peacetime RAF Station Feltwell, in SE England, to do a conversion course onto the extremely accurate H2S navigating and blindbombing equipment used only by PFF at this stage. Roy and I became pretty clued up on this equipment and completed our course in quick time. Not so two American Flying Fortress navigators. They had arrived long before us but because they were still on Operations and periodically returned to their Squadron to do an occasional Op. they were only half way through the course when we completed ours.
These were two of the most delightful Americans we ever encountered. They were commissioned officers, Cap'n Paul G. Moore Jnr. and Cap'n Tex. Morton. They both wore their tour ribbons with a cluster indicating each 5 Ops and, besides, Tex wore the Purple Heart ribbon. I asked Tex why he didn't wear his medals like the new arrivals we encountered in York. He replied "What? In front of you Aussies and RAF bods who have done many more Operations than we have and don't wear a single medal? But when I return to the States, THEN I will put them up!".
They arrived back at our Station one day after an Op. and Paul told us something unusual and frightening had happened to one of their aircraft. It had disintegrated in mid air. The German fighters had always used 10 mm cannons to damage and shoot down our aircraft. Now, Intelligence learnt, the enemy fighters had commenced using rocket airtoair missiles.
Also at this Feltwell station New Zealanders were operating a Squadron of Ventura Bombers. These were a jumped up version of the old and inadequate Hudson Bombers possessing poor speed and fire power. In the middle of 2 inch armourplate glass in the rear belly of the aircraft they carried, mounted on a ball socket to allow free movement, a Browning .303 machine gun.
One day, before we arrived at the Station, 12 Venturas left in daylight to bomb the Philips factories in Holland. They were attacked by fighters before they reached the Dutch coast. Only one returned and it was so riddled with bullets that it looked like a colander. The rear armorplate glass was pock marked . To this day I can't understand how that aircraft ever kept flying. Making anyone fly these aircraft against the enemy and in daylight was a disgrace. In my mind this was yet another blot on the escutcheon of the RAF Bomber Command. And the New Zealanders ? Poor bastards.
Roy and I were summoned to Buckingham Palace to have our DFC decorations conferred on us by the King. I always felt that King George VI was about my size, but he was much smaller. I was such an admirer of this meek little man that when he presented me with the medal I very FIRMLY shook his hand. I later castigated myself for doing this because he had to endure this procedure before so many service personnel. It must have been a great ordeal for him.
The Prince of Wales, had been crowned King Edward VIII. When his country needed him at the outbreak of war, having carefully nurtured him for Kingship, he deserted a sinking ship to marry an American Divorcee. His brother the Duke of York was a stutterer and not nurtured for kingship and, I'm sure, didn't wish to be crowned. He accepted this onerous responsibility and was crowned King George VI. No one could have performed the task that lay ahead as well as this King and Queen did. He and his loyal wife, previously Duchess of York, refused to leave London during the Blitz when London buildings and homes were being burnt and razed to the ground. Instead, they walked among the people and their house rubble comforting them and lifting their morale. The people loved them and I'm sure the workers were able to maintain their mighty armament and aircraft production right throughout the war because of the King and Queen's inspiration and encouragement.
By merely reading about the failures that occurred during the war our Prime Minister Paul Keating now claims to be an authority on the subject, attacking England for what happened to our troops in Singapore. Is he man enough to consider the positive side of England's contribution ? England was sending more troops to Singapore than was Australia, was dispatching large forces to North Africa whilst performing a Herculean task defending itself and still attacking Germany with the might of the RAF. Without England, Hitler's Nazi's would have conquered the World, Keating would never have been born and maybe that wouldn't have been a bad thing.
Of COURSE England made many blunders during the war! But it was under great pressure. Show me businesses and entrepreneureal investors who didn't make blunders, and big ones at that, when there was NO stress and money was flowing like water during the 1980's when our great Prime Minister was at the helm supposedly guiding the country.
Roy Canvin and I were next posted to the PFF Squadron at Warboys, Cambridgeshire to instruct their navigators in the use of H2S. It was here that we met Air Commodore D.C.T. Bennett.
Bomber command was now ready to make H2S available to all bomber command so Roy and I were among the few that first helped to implement this move. Roy was posted to his old 460 Squadron which, after we completed our tour of Ops., was transferred to the plush peacetime station Binbrook, in Lincolnshire, and he was now with his old pilot and CO, W/C Chad Martin.
I was posted to 103 Squadron, Elsham Wolds, north of Yorkshire. It was while here that a Lancaster blew up making a crater as large as a house. Prior to take off in the aircraft, at their dispersal areas, the pilots tested whether their bomb doors and other parts were functioning. Someone must have inadvertently flicked the bomb release button so that when the pilot opened the bomb doors the "Cookie" and all the incendiaries cascaded to the ground. The ground crew together tugged at the tail area trying to pull the aircraft away before the heat of the incendiaries detonated the "Cookie". They were unsuccessful and just departed the area when the explosion occurred. The only one killed was a wireless operator, killed by shrapnel piercing his scull. His 'plane was at a dispersal point on the opposite side of the aerodrome. He obviously wasn't meant to survive.
On another occasion there was a mighty explosion and we observed a mighty fire in the direction of an adjoining aerodrome. We jumped into our utility type vans and raced over to help if possible. There remained a few fragments of the burnt out aircraft and the charred bodies of the crew. A horrible sight. The pilot had overshot the runway and had mowed down a forest of small saplings as if using a lawn mower on a field overgrown with tall weeds. The extraordinary thing about the crash was that an airman was later found roaming around suffering severe concussion. He was the Flight Engineer who, standing next to the pilot, had been thrown through the front heavily braced perspex.
The Prime Minister, I think it was Curtin at that stage, was pestering Churchill to send our aircrew back to Australia. They must have selected those who had been there for the longest period and were married. Roy Canvin and I fitted this category and, without consulting us, promptly posted us to Australia, the Hierarchy at Australia House telling us that we were to wear on our uniforms the three blue chevrons that they handed us. They were to represent 3 years of overseas service.
We crossed the Atlantic in the old but mighty ship Aquatania, crossed from New York to San Francisco by train and crossed the Pacific in a Liberty Ship doing about 6 knots. A full month passed on the Pacific before we sailed up the Brisbane River and berthed at Brisbane. I will never forget the elation I experienced when on reaching Sydney and reaching my wife's parent's home I was confronted by my dear Joan and the most beautiful little girl I had ever seen, almost three years old. We experienced the greatest joy together as a family over the next six weeks, whilst Roy and I were on leave, Roy and his devoted wife Pat and daughter Pattie living just around the corner from us in Mosman. It was over this period that our wonderful son to come, Tony, was conceived.
Roy and I had left Australia together, trained together, had the same Squadron experience, were both elevated to the rank of Flight Lieutenant and decorated with the DFC and had returned together, unscathed. What a bond between two people. I loved Roy.
On our return to Australia those in authority did their utmost to take the micky out of us. We were ordered to remove our chevrons and were posted to Bairnsdale, Victoria where we were made to do a conversion course, on Avro Ansons, repeating the initial training navigation course we had done in Canada! Besides, when we arrived we were given two blankets, a chaff bag which we filled with straw for a mattress, and shown our sleeping quarters. The southerly gales blowing from the Antarctic have to be experienced to be believed. With inadequate covering I just froze the first night, not ever having experienced such cold anywhere. In snowcovered Canada we had airconditioning and in snowcovered England the Officers slept between sheets having WAAFs to light our fires and attend to our every need. Still, I guess those Australians, not on active service, felt they were the only ones involved in a war and had to act accordingly.
On completion of this socalled course, Roy and I were posted to the Tocumwal Station (on the NSWVic. border) to instruct the navigators on the American aircraft the Liberator. When these crews finished their training they were posted to Finchhaven, in New Guinea I think, to support the Yanks on their northward thrust. I don't think the Yanks wanted their socalled "AUSSIES" to share their victories because when these crews completed their training they were posted to the Bradfield embarkation centre at Lindfield, Sydney, there to just sit on their bums and twiddle their thumbs. What was I doing wasting my time on these futile undertakings ?
The RAAF took upon itself the task of training navigators in Astro Navigation so that they could be seconded to QANTAS to navigate across the Indian Ocean. I was posted to Sale, Victoria to organise and run this course. Having become close friends with the QANTAS Manager, Orm Denning, who was also on the station I was able to get him to put pressure on the RAAF to have me also seconded. I told him I could do the job much better than the ones I was training but he didn't think the RAAF would come to the party. They did; and wasn't I relieved to escape the muddling of the RAAF and know that I would now be doing something satisfying and of value.
The aircraft of QANTAS carried two pilots, a Captain (4 rings) and a First Officer, a Navigator, a Wireless Operator and a Flight Steward. Most of the First Officers were exairforce, one being Dave Shannon, DFC and Bar who was a pilot with Gibson,V.C, on the much reported dam raids, Mohne and Eder. Most of the Captains were exSunderland flying boat pilots flying between Sydney and New Guinea and navigating by using radio bearings, having no knowledge of Astro Navigation.
When flying on the American twoengined Catalina seaplane at about 2,000 feet and doing about 115 knots we left Fremantle at sunrise, and covered the 3,000 nautical miles to Galle in south west Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) arriving after sunrise and taking 25 to 27 hours for the journey. The navigators used only astronavigation and drifts taken on the sea horses whipped up on the ocean beneath us. You can imagine the state of exhaustion of the Navigator at the end of this time.
The other aircraft operating from Perth were 4engined American Liberators. On these we set course from Perth, flew to an aerodrome at Learmonth, N.W Cape on the N.W. tip of Western Australia, refuelled and set course for Colombo. We set course around sunset, so that we would have the stars to guide us, and arrived at Colombo some time after sunrise. One or two of the Captains who knew nothing about navigating except homing on a radio transmission, I despised, particularly the snobbish ones who never spoke to us and treated us as far beneath their standing. When you have been working your guts out and established an exact position by having all three astro position lines passing through a single point, and the captain tells you he is altering course to home on the transmissions from the Keeling Islands (Cocos), 150 miles to the west in order to get an exact starting point, what would you do ? As soon as he commenced homing he left the cockpit, he passed me without speaking, and proceeded aft to chat with the passengers. The First Officer was Dave Shannon so I promptly told Dave that the bastard captain could do his own Navigating as from now and that I was going to put my feet up. Dave calmed me down by telling me he would keep a check of the time and reading of each course change he made. And so I rested until we reached Cocos and gave a new course for Colombo. Maybe I did have a short fuse but this wasn't the only time one of these supercilious snobs had so acted. On reaching Colombo the Captain stayed at a luxury hotel in the centre of Colombo, The Galface if I remember correctly, and the rest of the crew stayed at the holiday resort hotel, Mt. Lavinia, in a horrible state of disrepair. We stayed and swam here for a couple of days until the next flight arrived and then we took that aircraft to Karachi in Pakistan. From there the BOAC English crews took the passengers and mail to London. We stayed in Karachi for a couple of days until we could relieve the incoming crew. I have never in my life experienced such poverty and squalor with ragged beggars defecating in the streets and sleeping on the footpaths whilst little girls of no more that 14 years with a baby straddling their left hips approached us with their right hand extended and begging with the plaintive appeal "Buck shee sahib ?"
Qantas now acquired Lancaster aircraft and, converting them to passenger planes, now called Lancastrians, they operated them from Sydney. The Lanc was so narrow that the 12 passengers had to sit in a single row facing the port side. On one occasion when Dr. Evatt was flying with us he was sitting so that he was constantly overlooking the port wing. When Dave Shannon passed him on one occasion, he told him that the wing was slightly flapping. Dave had to reveal to him that if he saw the wing stop flapping he should commence praying.
My son Anthony Ronald (Tony) had, in the meantime been born. Again poor Joan didn't have me by her side on this important occasion. I felt I had been separated from my family long enough so I put the pressure on Orm Denning for a transfer to Sydney. From now on I would be able to spend every second fortnight with them, living like a family for the first time.
The Lancs took off from Sydney, refuelled at Gawler near Adelaide and proceeded across Australia to Learmonth where they refuelled, picked up a waiting crew and proceeded to Colombo, just as the Liberators from Perth were doing. We stayed for 2 days at Learmonth swimming and being devoured by the swarming flies and taking the next flight to Colombo.
On one occasion when about 500 miles from Learmonth one of our engines failed. Our mighty ex flyingboat Captain just panicked and rushing past me, as if I were of no help, attacked the wireless operator on my side ( and within my hearing) telling him to "Contact Colombo and tell them we have lost an engine. Tell them another one is faltering (liar). Get bearings from as many stations as you can!". I don't think this pilot who was new to this area was aware that Cocos existed for he didn't make a reference to it on one occasion although this was the closest landing place. I was enjoying myself because the Lanc could fly on 3, even 2 engines without any trouble, that there were no transmitting stations other than Cocos for the wireless operator to make himself effective, that we had two pilots and an automatic pilot "George" which did most of the flying anyhow, but we only had one navigator who was the only one able to get them out of this predicament. As he, still ignoring me, rushed back to the cockpit, I shouted with a smirk on my face, "Captain, if you feel that we can't make Colombo, would you like me to give you a course to Cocos so that we can put down there ?". The expression on his face was that of a perplexed little boy. He must have felt that no one could find such a minute island at night and in the middle of the Indian Ocean so he said we would continue on to Colombo. Of course we got there without any trouble. In these circumstances the Captain always took over and landed the aircraft, but not this one. Our First Officer, who flew on Ops with Lancs made, on 3 engines, a perfect landing. When we put down we found that air sea rescue water and air craft had been standing by all night waiting to go out and rescue us. This inept Captain had failed to notify them that we were perfectly safe.
Don't get the impression that I felt this way about all the Qantas Captains. Most of them were, like the Qantas Manager Captain Orm Denning, superb pilots and fine understanding approachable gentlemen, particularly my favorite pilot Captain Bert Richie who subsequently succeeded Orm as Manager of Qantas.
The Air Force, after our full training, presented us, the navigators, with our 2nd. Class Air Navigation Certificates. When, with Qantas in Perth, and not flying, I decided to to read and study in detail, from books that I acquired, every subject in the curriculum for the Civil Aviation 1st. Class Air Navigation Certificate. Although not a compulsory requisite, quite a number of us sat for the Exam. Only a couple of us passed and were awarded the certificate. It wasn't of much use to me, because I decided to forego flying and return to teaching.
For every second fortnight Joan, who had shouldered all the responsibility of bringing up Elizabeth Anne and had sacrificed so much during the war, now had to manage both our children without my help. There was only one thing I could do. Leave Qantas and return to teaching. It meant giving up a Salary of 750 pounds ($1,500) a year for one of 500 pounds. But was it worth it!
Of the aircrew who served on 460 Squadron, at Breighton and Binbrook, over 1,000 failed to return.
It would need a fair sized book to recount all the very pleasant happenings I experienced during this period - the wonderful English families with whom we spent our leave - and so on. But the bare essentials are surely enough.
I apologise for any mistakes or misplaced letters as, whilst trying to compose my thoughts I am typing this, laboriously looking for each letter, and using one finger to do so. The fact that I will be 80 years of age this coming August would also contribute to any mental aberration on my part.
Published with permission
Photo of 460 Squadron
Can anyone help me with more information?
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 26 May 2007
This page last updated 30 January 2016