Saturday, 13 March 2010

153 Sqn. 13th March 1945 - Gelsenkirchen

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

By the evening of 13th March, the Squadron could muster only 12 aircraft, one of which ME 424(P4-2ndN) was undergoing a quick overhaul. The remainder took off around dusk, to attack the Benzoil plant at Gelsenkirchen, which lies about 5 miles north of Essen. Conditions favoured the bombers - clear skies and a slight ground haze, through which the marking flares were easily identified. An accurate and concentrated attack ensued, enlivened by a massive explosion around 2045hrs reported by many crews. Once again, the enemy sought to divert the attack by setting off decoy fires accompanied by false markers. For some reason, the Germans were unable to successfully copy the RAF flares, so their decoys were usually identified and ignored. In fact, more crews tended to be misled by the 'creep-back' factor, occasioned by earlier arrivals dropping their bombs too soon.

F/O Martin had to abort the mission. He was piloting LM 754(P4-E) which, true to form, had engine trouble; this time the P/I caught fire. In accordance with squadron practice, he was allowed to jettison his 'cookie' (4,000lb bomb) in The Wash before attempting a 3-engine landing with his remaining load.(In 153 Squadron, a blind eye was closed if "new" crews i.e those with 10 ops or fewer, disposed of the cookie in this way; 'experienced' crews were expected to bring the whole load back.)

Either way, it entailed landing at a higher speed than normal. On reaching dispersal, it was part of the standard 'shut down' procedure to open the bomb bay doors, to facilitate inspection by ground crew - and to verify that all bombs had gone. However, there was always the chance that when a load had been brought back one bomb would drop off; a heart stopping moment!

(Some 50 years after the event, it was alleged that a member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) flew on this particular raid, as a passenger in NG 500(P4-2ndV), piloted by F/O Bob Purves, RCAF. If true, this would constitute a unique incident. The allegation, interesting as it is, has never been proven.)

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