Monday, 1 March 2010

153 Sqn. 1st March 1945 - Mannheim


SCAMPTON - MARCH 1945

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

For Dads squadron the whole of March would develop as a period of intense, concentrated, operational activity, coinciding with a degree of disruption caused by the arrival of 14 new crews, and the departure of 13. From the beginning to around the middle of March, the Squadron could normally muster around 31 crews, but this figure rose eventually to 37. Initially the month started with a significant number of inexperienced crews.

The situation on aircraft was markedly different. Starting with 18, no fewer than 12 were lost -7 on operations. 2 badly damaged in February - NE 113(P4-H) and PB 472(P4-K) - were never replaced and 3 were declared 'DBR' (Damaged Beyond Repair). Only 9 new aircraft were received.



So, on any given day the actual strength of the Squadron was limited to a maximum 17 aircraft and frequently fewer.

THE GROUND CAMPAIGN

American forces crossed the Rhine at Remagan (using the Railway Bridge) early in March, and during the rest of the month allied ground forces moved across in strength, en route bypassing enemy strongholds, such as Holland. Dubbed the "Miracle of Remagen," the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge opened the way for Allied troops to drive into the heart of Germany. Over 8,000 men crossed the bridge in the first twenty-four hours after its capture as engineers frantically worked to repair the span. Infuriated by its capture, Hitler swiftly ordered the trial and execution of the five officers assigned to its defense and destruction. Desperate to destroy the bridge, the Germans conducted air raids, V-2 rocket attacks, and frogman assaults against it.



In addition, German forces launched a massive counterattack against the bridgehead with no success. As the Germans were attempting to strike the bridge, the 51st and 291st Engineer Battalions built pontoon and treadway bridges adjacent to the span. On March 17th, the bridge suddenly collapsed killing 28 and wounding 93 American engineers. Though it was lost, a substantial bridgehead had been built up which was supported by the pontoon bridges. The capture of the Ludendorff Bridge, along with Operation Varsity later that month, removed the Rhine as an obstacle to the Allied advance.

IN THE AIR.

Contrary to any false impression that they were finished as an offensive force, the Luftwaffe mounted "Operation Gisella" on the night of 3rd/4th March, when over 200 intruder raids were mounted against UK airfields, causing many casualties to operational and advanced training bases of bomber aircraft.

Scampton and 153 Squadron escaped untouched.

Targets allotted to the Squadron during the month fell into three broad categories - oil installations and transport centres in East Germany, sea-mining and continued isolation/neutralisation of the Ruhr valley industrial complexes. More than half the raids were made in daylight, frequently with strong fighter escorts. This was a marked change from the night time operations that the squadron had been predominantly involved in and reflected growing allied air supremacy over the European theatre.

On the afternoon of 1st March, 16 aircraft joined the last large Bomber Command attack on Mannheim. Conditions over the target necessitated bombing on skymarkers, and results were inconclusive. However, subsequent reconnaissance revealed that many bombs hit the nearby town of Ludwigshafen - just across the Rhine. Whilst crossing over The Wash on its homeward flight, NG 184(P4-U) inexplicably exploded, killing F/O Jack Rhodes and all his crew, including the rear-gunner, F/Sgt Hugh Cuthbertson, RCAF, who was one of only three to survive the crash at Laon on December 17th.

Airborne 1150 from Scampton. Last heard on W/T at 1635 advising that the English coast was being crossed. Five are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, and two, F/O Rhodes and F/S Livick, are buried in cemeteries at Great Bircham and Cambridge respectively. F/O J.Rhodes KIA Sgt M.F.Kingdom KIA F/O P.C.H.Clark KIA F/O D.G.Webb KIA F/S J.E.Livick KIA F/S T.J.Bicknell KIA F/S H.Cuthbertson RCAF KIA "

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