SCAMPTON OCTOBER 1944
Less than three days after the move, the Squadron was required to 'stand up' 15 aircraft (ie ready for operations) but they were not used until the following day when they flew in two waves against Stuttgart. The first wave of five aircraft each carried a "cookie" and 1,800 incendiaries. The second wave of ten aircraft took nine 1,000lb and four 500lb bombs. The weather conditions were not helpful, with clouded skies over most of the route including the target area, necessitating the bombing by sky markers.
Skymarkers were used when it was impossible to see the glow of target indicators because of density and/or depth of the cloud. They comprised of parachute flares, of various colours, which would mark a spot in the cloud for a limited period of usually three to five minutes. Unfortunately they drifted with the wind as they burned away, so the skill lay in dropping them in such a manner that when the flare was half consumed it was positioned at the required aiming point. Provided that the main bomber force was approaching the target on the correct heading, with bomb sights set to the normal height, each bomb aimer could direct his pilot through the line-of-sight of his aircraft on to the aiming point. This whole technique relied upon precise mathematical calculations, based however on imprecise factors, so even given very accurate flying, could only be claimed to be an improvement on the slap-dash methods previously employed. One drawback was that the bombers were silhouetted against the 'sky glow' for overflying enemy fighters.
Stuttgart did however, provide the Squadron with a memorable and honourable milestone. Just as he commenced his bombing run in, PB 636(P4-D) F/O Don Freeborn received a shrapnel hit in his left thigh. The impact caused him to jerk violently to such an extent that he disconnected his intercom cord. For a brief period he was disoriented, but re-engaging contact he did not hear any comments from his crew that could lead him to believe that they were aware that both he and the aircraft had been hit. He quietly carried on with the bomb run, dropped the load, and only announced his injury some time after leaving the target area. Because the wound was on his left-hand side and could not be reached by another member of the crew, he applied a shell dressing and tourniquet himself (it was during this activity that he found his seat-type parachute, which he had acquired only that same day, was shredded, having clearly absorbed much of the explosion). The aircraft handled reasonably well, so they set course for the emergency landing airfield at Manston in Kent, which was just as well as F/O Freeborn passed out completely after a successful landing, and awoke in a hospital bed. For this exploit, F/O Freeborn was awarded an "immediate" DFC. This was the only occasion that such an honour was bestowed on the Squadron.
The hazards of operational flying were always present as evidenced by these two examples:
- On take-off for Essen on 23 October piloting NG 184(P4-U), S/Ldr Gee found that his airspeed indicator was seriously mall-functioning, but as he was too far committed to abort take-off, he decided to fly using his navigator's instruments, their readings being duly relayed to him by a crew member. With generous use of "George" (the automatic pilot) he was able to reach and bomb the target. The problem would be to make a night-time landing without an airspeed indicator. His first attempt was almost catastrophic, but his second was notably successful. Subsequent examination showed a pipe leading from the pitot head to the pilot's instrument panel had been bent, causing a restricted airflow, which in turn distorted the readings given. The fault became apparent only once the aircraft gained flying speed-which allowed no leeway at all!
- On 31 October, whilst taxiing out of its dispersal, one (unidentified) aircraft bogged down, In doing so, it blocked another. To add further mishaps, two aircraft aborted the mission due to oxygen failure. The day was rounded off by a remarkable incident, recorded by the navigator of "A" F/Sgt Freddy Fish. F/O Wheeler, DFC (flying Lancaster NG 185(P4-A) was approaching Cologne when the aircraft suddenly heeled right over to starboard. It was assumed that this was the result of a flak burst under the port wing but Whizz Wheeler regained control and the bombs were dropped on time. It was shortly after leaving the target that the Flight Engineer noticed a large hole in the starboard wing! After a brief exchange of four letter words, the W/Op (who usually, when over the target stood in the astrodome, looking upwards, to act as look out against over-flying aircraft) was asked why the **** he had not shouted a warning? His reply was memorable and accurate "I was too paralysed to speak". Clearly the sight of a stick of bombs hurtling toward one would be enough to petrify anyone. He went on to say that he had hoped the bombs would miss them - but one did not. Although the starboard aileron was ineffective, and other problems had to be mastered, Whizz nursed the crippled aircraft back to make a good landing at Scampton. Later examination revealed a jagged hole, about three feet square, virtually through the roundel. About two inches away was the pink outline of the outboard petrol tank and the main spar. Fortunately the bomb had not reached its 'explode on impact' point, so that damage was limited to that caused by a solid, inert, 1,000lb mass weight going through the one part of the wing it could do, without fatal consequences. A close shave indeed. 18 days later, 'A' was back on operations.