Wednesday, 3 March 2010

153 Sqn. 3rd March 1945 - Gardening

Night fighter damage

These posts follow 153 Sqn operations from Jan '45 to the end of hostilities in real time. My Father served as rear gunner.

Four of the five crews that set off on the Gardening trip of 3rd March had flown in the raid on Cologne, including that of F/O Gregoire who, flying in LM 750(P4-R) failed to return. Yet another case of 'nothing heard since take off' which was often posted as the only known information on a missing aircraft.

These 'gardening' operations, {so called after the code name for dropping points, which were often vegetables} had from the outset galled the squadron with the perceived increased exposure to risk. The low chance of survival if baling out or ditching due to operations being conducted over water where life expectancy in the cold of northern seas was no more than 2 minutes continued to take its toll of experienced crews such as Gregoires, and exert its negative influence over squadron morale. It was one of the most heartily disliked operations as, with only 5 aircraft on each mission and the requirement for each bombing run to be done individually, German night-fighters and naval gunships were able to concentrate their attentions on a small and therefore more vulnerable number of aircraft. The bomb run for mine laying required each lancaster to fly straight and level for a significant period making it an easier target for predicted {radar controlled} flak as well as the shipping lanes being patrolled by fighter aircraft from several northerly air bases. As mines had to be laid in the few suitable shipping lanes, flak gunships knew where the hot spots would be for enemy activity and could plan accordingly.

Anti shipping mine used on gardening ops.

The route to the drop point in the Baltic sea - this one between Denmark and Sweden - involved a long flight over the North Sea, often skirting the German coastline and then across the top of Jutland and on along the Baltic coast to the dropping zone, returning along a similar route. This meant the small number of crews involved were flying through areas patrolled by night fighters for several hours at a time. There was a night-fighter training airfield in the north of Denmark, close to the route taken by crews on these 'gardening' missions. Night fighters, controlled and directed by ground radar could be vectored very effectively onto individual bombers and, as mentioned in previous posts, were fitted with the upward firing 'Shrager musik' system of machine guns. Directed into position below and behind the bombers, the fighters would approach 'blind side' and use the upward firing guns to attack from below. A highly effective tactic, it was very difficult for bomber crews to spot this attack before a devastating and frequently final blow was struck upon the aircraft.

JU88 Nightfighter fitted with 'Shrage Musik' guns

LM750 was delivered new to No.166 Sqdn 18th Sep 1944, transferring with crews from 166 Sqdn to form No.153 Sqdn 7 Oct44. LM750 took part in the following key Operations: With No.166 Sqdn; Neuss 23/24Sep44; with No.153 Sqdn as P4-R, Duisburg 22/23 Jan 45; Gardening 3/4 Ma r45-Lost. No record of total hours. Airborne 1645 3 Mar 45 from Scampton for mine-laying duties in the Baltic in the area coded Silverthorne (Kattegat Areas). Lost without trace. All are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial. W/O McGregor had flown with 61 Sqdn, his DFM being Gazetted 26th May1942. WO2 McCoy had been the sole survivor from a 626 Sqdn Lancaster lost during a raid on Duisburg 21/22nd May '44 (ND964). After making a successful evasion, he had resumed operational flying only to die with victory in sight.

                                                               Low level at sea

F/O L.J.R.Gregoire DFC RCAF KIA Sgt W.L.James KIA WO2 M.M.Sandomirsky RCAF KIA WO2 K.L.D.McCoy RCAF KIA W/O D.S.McGregor DFM KIA F/S J.E.Sabine RCAF KIA F/S W.W.Webber KIA "

                                                         A letter from The King.

As the month progressed 'gardening' ops would continue. Ultimately they would exact a very heavy price on the squadron. As described in Dads fear of deep water, they would also, for some, exact a toll over many years to come.

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