153 Sqn. 1st/2nd Feb 1945 - Ludwigshaven



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


Key targets on the Western Front continued to receive attention - particularly those, which would isolate the Ruhr from the rest of Germany. The intention of the 'Ruhr Denial Plan' was to knock out railways, canals, viaducts, bridges and 25 marshalling yards, stretching from Bremen to Coblenz and down to the Swiss border.

Thus, on 1st February, 15 aircraft were sent to join a raid on Ludwigshaven to attack the rail yards. Despite having to aim on sky-markers, serious damage was caused, including a Rhine road bridge.



Two squadron aircraft were heavily engaged by fighters - NG 201 (P4-T) and NE 113 (P4-H) flown respectively by F/O Bolton and F/O Freeborn. While both aircraft and crews survived to return from the nights operation my research shows 11 other aircraft and 10 crews lost on this raid - 4 aircraft from mid air collisions with other Lancaster's - an ever present hazard when flying in formation at night in blackout conditions.

Lacking a satisfactory degree of heating - particularly to the aircraft's gun turrets - a substantial amount of clothing was normally donned before undertaking operational and/or high-level flying. Suspended from a thong round the neck were hung identity discs or "dog-tags", giving name, service number and religious persuasion. The basic garment was a full-length pair of combinations (or "Long Johns") - although some men chose to wear pyjamas instead, thereby making provision for a little comfort if they should be shot down and become prisoners - of - war. Over this went the uniform Battle Dress - however many preferred to replace shirt, collar and tie by a heavyweight roll-neck white sweater, as favoured by Submariners. The Battle Dress was completed by a whistle attached to the collar, useful to summon attention should the need arise. Then followed a thick, fleecy, warm "coverall" of ankle to shoulder length (often dubbed "the Teddy - Bear suit") which zipped up from crotch to neck; in turn, this was enclosed in a Sidcot flying suit, made from a strong gabardine type of twill, provided with a generous supply of zipped - up pockets on chest, sleeves, legs and waist. Feet were kept warm by a topmost pair of thick, knee-long woollen socks, encased in knee - length and fur-lined boots, which contained a small knife with which to cut off the top portion of the boot, leaving the wearer with sturdy pair of fur-lined shoes. Many aircrews then donned the regulation - issue silk gloves, woollen mittens and leather gloves - often accompanied by silk scarves. Heads were enclosed in leather helmets, complete with built - in oxygen mask {to help ensure a proper seal for this critical piece of kit aircrew would be careful to be clean shaven at all times} and its connection tube; intercommunication microphone/receiver earphones and plug - in line; also goggles with which to protect eyes should the windscreen be shattered {many rear gunners deliberately removed the panel of perspex directly in front of them to aid vision which could be affected by icing during ops}. Over all went an inflatable life - jacket (always called "Mae West" after the voluptuous Hollywood actress), and finally, the webbing of the parachute harness.

The sheer bulk and weight of this equipment and clothing hampered normal movement and was cumbersome in the extreme in any emergency. Due to the lack of space in the rear gun turret in particular, many gunners, Dad included, had to leave off his parachute and hang it up inside the aircraft behind the steel doors which closed him off from the rest of the cabin. In the event of an instruction to bale out the gunner would open the door, unhook the parachute and clip it on before exiting through either the escape hatch at the side of the aircraft or by means of rotating the turret to its most extreme and tumbling backwards out of the now exposed emergency turret hatch.

Obviously too, once it was immersed in salt water, the many layers of kit became even more weighty and cumbersome. Although aircrew training covered evacuation into water and recovery, it was understood that over northern waters baling out was the equivalent to a death sentence with life expectancy in the extreme cold of winter seas being 2 to 4 minutes. This had a very clear effect on aircrew who often did not see any point in learning to swim. Dad lived with an absolute dread of deep water the rest of his life and I remember him being grey with anxiety on childhood fishing boat trips, so deeply ingrained was his phobia

{Not until writing this line did I realise that despite this he never allowed his fear to stop him from doing this with us. I helped him learn to swim {in a heated pool} in his mid 50's without understanding the background to his difficulty in being immersed in water and was quietly frustrated by his panic driven inability to accept he was safe to leave the side or get into water where he couldn't stand up instantly when he had developed enough coordination and skill to be safe if always lacking elegance.}

For the men of 153Sqn February had begun in dangerous form. It would continue in the same vein.

Comments

jono said…
A truly fascinating post.

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