Thursday, 11 March 2010

153 Sqn. 11th -12th March 1945 - Essen/Gardening



My father served in this squadron. These posts follow 153 Sqn operations from Jan '45 to the end of hostilities in real time.


The daylight raid on Essen on March 11th was distinguished by three items of interest; it was the last Bomber Command attack on this heavily bombed city which shortly after was occupied by American ground troops. The total force dispatched was 1079 bombers (750 Lancasters 293 Halifax's, 36 Mosquitoes) which briefly became the largest number of aircraft ever concentrated against one target in one attack. The target was completely obscured by 10/10 cloud necessitating bombing on sky markers. As F/O Noel Crane dryly noted - "The only result observed was cloud disturbance" but although conditions effectively grounded the Luftwaffe, it did not deter the German flak batteries, which initially put up a formidable box barrage.

By dint of considerable effort, 153 Squadron had contributed all 15 of its remaining aircraft to this 'milestone' 1,000 plus raid, from which only three failed to return. Unfortunately, this loss included NG 201(P4-2ndT) being flown by F/O Eric Gibbins and his young all-RAFVR crew; it would appear probable that the aircraft was stricken by a 'cookie' dropped from a higher-flying bomber.



Airborne 1125 from Scampton. Crashed in the target area and all were buried soon afterwards in the S-West Friedhof. Five are now buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, while F/S Craddock and Sgt Mitchell are commemorated on Panels 270 and 276 respectively of the Runnymede Memorial F/O E.W.Gibbins KIA. Sgt E.T.West KIA. F/S C.Cole KIA. F/S W.L.Shield KIA. F/S S.Craddock KIA. Sgt B.T.Gough KIA. Sgt J.Mitchell KIA."

MARCH 12th.

March 12th saw a new record of aircraft despatched to a single target - one that has never been bettered! The total force of 1,108 bombers (748 Lancasters, 292 Halifax's and 68 Mosquitoes) delivered a record 4,851 tons of bombs through cloud on hapless Dortmund, causing intense devastation to the centre and southern areas. 153(B) Squadron contributed 9 of its remaining 14 aircraft - the other 5 were required for the evening's Gardening operation. The force was escorted by USAAF long-range Thunderbolts, who flew too close for Tom Tobin's comfort - he much preferred to have Spitfire or Mustang escorts flying high above him. A nice touch was added to the day - LM 550(P4-C), in the capable hands of F/Lt Bill Langford, recorded its 100th operation and became one of those rare beasts in operational squadrons - a centurion.

GARDENING

That same evening, 5 aircraft set off mine laying, but only 3 made it back to Scampton.  RA 526(P4-2ndJ) was shot down, while PB 788(P4-2ndQ) was badly damaged and had to be classified 'DBR' {damaged beyond repair} after a belly landing at Carnaby.

As F/Sgt Freddie Fish navigated NG 488 (P4-2nd A) on the long leg to the tip of Jutland, he was acutely conscious that they were being plotted on enemy radar and, on reaching the coast, the crew were tensed up all the way to the drop zone, which lay some 10 miles south of Anholt. Any sense of relief following the drop was instantly dispelled when a fighter appeared astern bearing a searchlight on its nose (subsequently they learned that this was a BENITO fighter which illuminated a target to enable another, lurking on the opposite side, to have a silhouette to aim at). With both gunners blazing away, Whiz Wheeler took violent evasive action, eventually gaining cloud cover.



On the homeward journey, the crew recorded 3 Lancasters coming under concentrated, accurate, flak attack. Possibly, one of those could have belonged to 153 Squadron. Certainly, PB 786(P4-2ndQ) took a direct hit in the S/I engine, which also set the wing on fire. In an incredible attempt to tackle the blaze, F/Eng Reggy Morris hung out of his window with navigator Ian McGregor hanging grimly onto his legs, but to no avail. Skipper Noel Crane then gave an order to bale out, but Ian (not fancying the outcome), suggested that first they try to reach a small island showing up on his H2S screen. Noel's agreement was timely, for the rear gunner, already half way out of his turret, had fortuitously forgotten to disconnect his intercom, so returned to his usual station. For some reason, when F/O Crane lowered what was left of the under-carriage, the sudden rush of air extinguished the flames! It was now a toss-up whether to aim for the inviting lights of Sweden, or try to get home. Home won. With a badly damaged, unbalanced aircraft and dubious fuel readings they made pitifully slow progress, unable to maintain height, eventually issuing a 'Mayday' call; meanwhile Ian and W/Op, Johnny Peel, took a series of 'G' fixes, plotted them, and then notified them to the RAF Air/Sea Rescue Launch service. (The 'Boat Boys' subsequently advised that thanks to the information provided they had PB 786(P4-2ndQ) on their plotting table from halfway across the North Sea, and could have effected a rapid pick-up if needed. The meticulous efforts of the W/Op and navigator were featured in a later edition of 'Tee Em' {RAF aircrew wartime training magazine} as an example of correct Air/Sea Rescue co-operation. Undaunted, Noel nursed his stricken aircraft at just about zero feet, back to Carnaby where he pulled off a landing on only one leg - everyone walked away without a scratch. Quite a way to finish your operational tour!

Sadly at debriefing it was learned that RA 526(P4-2ndJ) piloted by F/O Ken Ayres and all his RAFVR crew, had been posted missing. At a much later date it transpired that they crashed near the island of Samsó - in fact, five of the crew now lies buried on the island. The navigator F/Sgt Reg McMinn was never found. The B/A, P/O Bob Maine, parachuted to safety - beating the odds against survival when bailing out during gardening ops - was made POW by the Germans, and eventually released by the Americans.

Airborne 1735 from Scampton for mine-laying operations in the Silverthorne Region (Kattegat Areas). Cause of loss not established. Crashed into the sea off the Danish Island of Samso. Five of the six men killed are buried in Trandbjaerg Churchyard. F/S McMinn has no known grave and is commemorated on Panel 272 on the Runnymede Memorial. P/O K.A.Ayres DFC KIA. Sgt W.C.Taylor KIA. F/S R.J.McMinn KIA. F/O R.Mains PoW F/S D.Head KIA. Sgt R.Wilson KIA. Sgt D.Cox KIA. F/O R.Mains was confined in Hospital due injuries until Liberation. No PoW No. Returned UK 18Apr45. "



Mention must be made of a lighter incident on this operation, which entered Squadron lore. S/Ldr Rippingale invariably chose to fly in Lancaster LM 754(P4-E) despite the fact that its S/I engine regularly gave trouble, so that he often had to radio the Control Tower to announce "E - Easy - three engines". On his return from Gardening, he was surprised to find 'Smoky Joe' was still functioning properly, so mischievously Tom called up to announce "E - Easy - four engines". On reaching his dispersal, he found the station fire tender and the "blood wagon" (ambulance) waiting his arrival. It transpired that Control, never having been advised of anyone landing on four engines, had decided that Ripp had stated "four injured" and had taken all necessary precautionary measures!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello
my dad was the Reggie Morris F/Eng in Noel Crane's crew mentioned in the item about the gardening trip on 12 March 1945. Unfortunately he died age 50 in 1975 so I cant give you any more information. He never mentioned this incident although he did say that they had been badly shot up twice - once by flak and the other by night fighter. And he used to talk about "brown trouser" missions. He also hated the sea and the wind - which may well have been a result of this incident! He must have known your father.
Phil Morris

Alistair said...

Hello Phil,

welcome to the blog. It's great to hear from you.

It must be bizarre to see someone write about a situation your Dad was involved in. I hope you approve. The extraordinary bravery of your Dad in this incident is recorded on the 153 Squadron site where I have gleaned much of the detailed information about incidents like this, supplemented by stories told by my Dad etc. What he attempted to do was an incredible feat and one that he should have been cited for in my opinion. The stories of 153 on the blog were aimed at helping me come to terms with Dad's death last year and to find out nmore about stuff he never really spoke of.

Its fascinating to think that they may have known each other.

Thanks for your comment and I hope you enjoy the rest too....

kind regards......Al.

Anonymous said...

Hi....My uncle, Johnny Peel, is the W/Op mentioned in the 12th March entry. Noel Crane must have been an incredible pilot.Sadly John Peel disappeared in Africa in the early 1960's. My mother remembers her brother bringing his crew to the family home one Christmas during the war. Adrian adrianscb@hotmail.co.uk

Alistair said...

Hi Adrian, Nice to hear from you. I hope you find the information contained in these posts useful, interesting and sympathetic to the memory of those who served.

If you have a photo of your relative or any of his crewmates I'd be happy to put it into the post as a mark of respect and remembrance. Any photo's received are also passed on {with permission} to 153 Squadron association to maintain an archive for posterity.

Thanks again,

Alistair

Anonymous said...

Hi, have been reviewing my grandfather's log books, and he and his squadron (91, Nigeria, RAF), were escorts on both the 11th and 12th March, do they had Spitfire cover somewhere
Rgds
Tim

Alistair said...

Hi Tim,

Cheers for that. It's not mentioned in any of the info I have but interesting extra detail so thanks again.

Al.

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