Thursday, 28 January 2010

153 Sqn. 28th January 1945 - zuffenhausen

These posts follow 153 Sqn operations from Jan '45 to the end of hostilities in real time.

On the 28th, following strenuous efforts by all station and squadron personnel to clear the runways of snow, the squadron sent 17 aircraft to attack the Hirth aero-engine factory at Zuffenhausen (Stuttgart). Leaving Scampton at 1925, flying conditions were poor, solid clouds shrouded the target and bombs had to be aimed at aerial sky-markers. Flak was light to moderate, but enemy fighters were active. PB 638(P4-O), flown by an all-RAF (VR) crew, piloted by F/O Owen Jones DFC, assisted by F/Sgt Peter Jenkinson DFM (the Squadron's only Flight Engineer to be awarded this honour) was shot down and crashed at Michelbach, a small village about 12 miles south-east of Heidelberg.

All are buried in Durnbach War Cemetery. Sgt Jenkinson's DFM was Gazetted 11Dec45. His skipper was an Oxford University graduate. P/O O.M.C.Jones DFC KIA Sgt P.R.Jenkinson DFM KIA F/S J.F.Dormer KIA F/S E.W Fletcher KIA F/S J.W.Milburn KIA F/S J.Coles KIA F/S H.Ferguson KIA

Especially among their fellow pilots, the loss of both the 'Jones boys' was particularly felt. Individually they had each carried more 'second dickies' than anyone else; this introduction to operational flying is never forgotten by any pilot - neither is the crew that provides the outing. Although a vital part of the newly joined pilot's training, this was a chore for the host crew, as it created a hindrance to normal crew working. The Flight Engineer suffered the most, as the 'second dickey' occupied his usual station, blocked access to the engine instrument panel and even occupied his seat. But this was never allowed to show, and the 'new boy' was always made to feel welcome.

The hazardous nature of operational flying was recorded by 'Big Tom' Tobin who flew on every one of the seven January raids. Extracts from his recollections include:

7 Jan Munich Over dense cloud. Met with accurate flak and fighter activity. Near miss with another Lanc. Is my luck running out?

14 Jan Leuna Accurate searchlights and flak. Mid-upper turret lines severed. Also, hit in port outer engine, so feathered. 3-engined landing. Engine had to be replaced due to severe damage.

16 Jan Zeitz Rear turret became unserviceable from hydraulic failure. Flak intense, suffered flak hole damage, but aircraft flyable.

22 Jan Duisburg starboard outer engine failed 5 mins from target. Bombed anyway.

28 Jan Zuffenhausen Heavy fighter activity. Another near miss with another Lanc.

Co-operation between Pilots and their Navigators did not prohibit friendly insults being exchanged between 'Drivers' and 'Naviguessers'! The problems they had to face were however not funny, as the following further report by one navigator reveals:

"Nuremburg. 2 Jan. Shortly after take-off the GEE {navigation system} set caught fire. I changed the fuse, but no good. Fire put out by extinguisher, which meant GEE completely u/s. Given this situation, had perforce to follow the {bomber} stream and turn with it at turning points. Could pick up no pinpoints due to 10/10 cloud, {cloud cover was described in 10ths with 10/10 being complete cloud cover} but on the assumption that the stream was on correct course, was able to calculate estimated winds. As darkness fell we could no longer see the stream, so I went over to dead reckoning (DR) using estimated winds. At approx. 7.30 degrees East obtained two fixes on H2S {radar system} which showed us about 5 miles off track. After 30 minutes, the H2S packed up. Then the Wireless Operator's W/T set went u/s and soon after, the Mid-upper gunner's helmet also failed. Navigating solely on DR, saw Target Indicators ahead. Bombed at 19.36hrs (four minutes ahead of our allotted time), but thus obtained an accurate fix over a known position! Going home entirely on DR I tried changing leads on GEE (or H2S) set but it again caught fire and had to be extinguished. Reaching 7 degrees East had to fly a very long leg of 253 miles to French coast (DR time 83 mins). After 78 minutes purely on DR without any confirmatory fixes we hit the slipstream of another aircraft and were relieved to find ourselves back with the main stream. Thus, we were able to cross the coast on track and avoid the flak from Dunkirk, reaching England via Orfordness. After identifying the Woodbridge pundit to the left, we were able to navigate by the crew looking out for pundits and occults from which I took an approximate visual bearing to determine our estimated position and thus Scampton would appear about 4 miles ahead on the port quarter. All eyes strained looking for it, and thankfully it appeared just ahead to port flashing the welcome letters 'SA'."

At debriefing he was asked, "When was the first time you knew exactly where you were?". He truthfully replied "Not until we were over Nuremberg and being shot at".
The stress of incidents like this on a crew in combat conditions must have been incredible. {It also shows that little has changed with the reports of inadequate equipment currently being made from forces in Afghanistan and Iraq today.}

On 31st January the Air Ministry advised the decision that in view of a prospective shortage of crews in heavy bomber squadrons, the much shorter penetrations usually made into enemy territory and the 'much lesser risks involved' compared with those of 1942 and 1943, that the length of a first tour in Main Force groups would be increased from 30 to 36 sorties, whilst a second tour would remain at 20 sorties. AOC's of Groups 'would continue to assess sorties involving short penetration or little enemy opposition at less than the value of the full sortie'.

Although crews became aware that tours were being extended to 36 sorties none appeared to have heard of the depreciated value being accorded to some of them - which perhaps is just as well considering the losses the squadron had sustained over the last 4 weeks.

The number of crews on squadron strength fell to just 30 - the lowest total in its existence. This was partly caused by inclement weather in December, which restricted the number of replacement crews passing out of OTU's and Heavy Conversion Units.

On 29th January, while awaiting replacements for 6 operational losses (plus return of LM 754(P4-E), undergoing lengthy repair of combat damage) the Squadron could muster only 16 serviceable aircraft.

Taken together, these figures illustrate why January ushered in an unhappy period for the squadron. In the preceding three months, it had launched a total of 448 sorties for a loss of 5 crews. During January, another 5 crews were lost in flying a further 121 sorties. This equated to 15% of flight crews lost from what was a small and close knit group in just 4 weeks. It would be fair to assume {I can't confirm} that a similar number of aircrew would return injured to some extent based on injured/KIA statistics at wars end.

No obvious reason emerged to explain this steep upsurge in the rate of casualties.

While the squadron licked its wounds and tended its injured crews and damaged machines February ushered in the nine most momentous weeks in the Squadron's history. Losses would continue to mount with increased frequency of ops over the period leading up to the end of hostilities.

See you later.......


OldTrumptonian said...

Drivers and Naviguessers, I like it.
Your comments on Gee match what my Grandad has written in some of his Navigation Logs, "Gee packed up", "Gee U/S" and "Last of life out of Gee"
Can't have been much fun for them!

Alistair said...

Hullo again Old T,

Hope you've been enjoying the posts so far.


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