Library Reference Number: 020
Memories of No 102 and No 171 Squadrons
As an RAF Bomb Aimer, I flew on Halifaxes with No.102 Squadron, 4 Group, based at Pocklington between September 1943 and April 1944. During this period I flew 34 operations in a 7-man crew, three of whom were Australian, including the crewcaptain F/Sgt (later F/Lt) Noel McPhail, DFC.,DFM. Losses at this time were extremely heavy and I remember one particular night when almost half the squadron failed to return.
On 3rd October, 1943, returning from a raid on Kassel in the Rhur, we had experienced heavy flak over the target. While crossing the coast with the airfield in sight, the pilot altered the pitch on the port-inner engine propeller, when one blade became detached leaving two blades intact. The resulting vibration was so great that within a few seconds the port-inner engine left the airframe, damaging the port-outer propeller as it fell away. As Bomb Aimer, I sat up beside the skipper acting as 'general dogs-body' locking controls etc on take-off and in the landing phase cutting the power on the skipper's orders. On this occasion, the pilot was busy straining to keep the aircraft on an even keel and we seemed to scream over the fence at the end of the runway - and came to a halt in deathly silence! For demonstrating flying skill under duress and saving an aircrew to fly another day, skipper Noel was awarded a DFM, and visited Buckingham Palace to meet King George V1 and to receive his award.
Like all 'ops' during 1943/44, most were eventful in some way, and one perhaps worthy of note occurred on 23rd April '44 when we were on a 'gardening' operation. After laying mines in Kiel Bay, we were on our way home when we encountered several FW190s and became involved in combat. We were hit by cannon shell just aft of the door. Meanwhile the two RAAF Air Gunners had gone into action. They shot down one FW just as another swept in to give us another burst of fire. Luckily this final attack on our Halifax failed, and the FW190 that carried it out was last seen trailing smoke. The aftermath of this particular combat left us without gyro compass and intercom. To counteract this, I took star shots from the Engineer's dome and the Navigator plotted them. As a result, we hit our landfall (Flamborough Head) only eight miles south - a great chance for a 'line-shoot' but absolutely true. All three Australian crew members (Pilot and two AGs) were later awarded the D.F.C.
Shortly after this we were screened, and after leave, I was posted to Lossiemouth to train Free-French aircrew in bombing and gunnery, flying Wellingtons. I decided this was rather dangerous so I volunteered for a 2nd ops tour with 100 Group S.D. Special Duties, I discovered, employed a more subtle approach. Still flying Halifaxes, but this time loaded with special wireless equipment in collaboration with specialist boffins, we set out armed with accurate, current daily German call signs (supplied from an unknown source?), our mission being to harass, torment and confuse the enemy. Carrying boffins and German speaking aircrew, contact having been established with appropriate call signs and procedures, German aircraft were sent out, taking off in all directions by following our misinformation. This, along with dropping 'windows' (some by 'chute) gave many a headache to invasion-spotting Germans. We shared our Norfolk base with Lysanders and other aircraft used in the landing and picking up of Allied agents in Europe. After several operations where we circled around enemy-occupied areas at high altitude (nick-named 'flying around the race-course') confusing the Luftwaffe, some of us felt that our Norfolk base, North Creek, ought to be renamed 'Up the Creek', for this is where we appeared to be leading the Germans.
After completing 18 S.D. operational missions, I was declared 'unfit for further flying', and remustered as a P.F.O.. and after 12 weeks 'torture' at RAF School of P.T. Cosford, and subsequent postings to Upper Heyford and Isle of Man, I finally landed in M.E. Command, Aden, to finish my R.A.F.service in August 1946.