Continuing the story of my late Dad's Lancaster Squadron From Jan 45 to the end of hostilities in May.
By now allied forces were sweeping through Germany and it was clear that at last the end of the Nazi regime was in sight. There were still large numbers of German forces engaged in fighting a desperate defense of an ever decreasing homeland, as well as the remains of the German army occupying a large part of north Holland, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and other major cities, isolated as British and American forces outflanked them to strike into Germany itself. Years of Bomber Command and USAAF attacks had laid waste to rail and road infrastructures hindering movement of defending troops and preventing, where possible, consolidation of opposing forces in any coherent way. In the east, large numbers of civilians were evacuating themselves westward, alongside retreating forces, in an attempt to avoid the feared Russian Army, to stay within German protection, or to reach Allied forces in the West. The Luftwaffe were to all intents and purposes overcome, defeated by overwhelming allied air superiority and from lack of fuel, as German production now finally and utterly collapsed. The only benefit for the defending forces was that supply lines for men and available resources were shortening, making replenishment of man and machine simpler. The German forces now had their backs firmly to the wall and were grimly and solidly fighting on.
The whereabouts of Adolf Hitler and the inner circle of the Nazi party were unknown and there was a very real fear that forces were being gathered for a final, desperate last stand somewhere in the German homeland.
On Sunday the 22nd, 153 Squadron were briefed to attack the city of Bremen. The squadron were able to supply 15 aircraft and crews in support of the operation. At briefing, crews were told that British forces surrounded the city, and that particular care must be taken to observe the instructions of the Master Bomber (who would be in close touch with the Army Commander, XXX Corps) to avoid the risk of bombing our own troops. By now daylight raids were again the norm as risks from the Luftwaffe and ground based anti aircraft forces were deemed to be much reduced. This also much reduced risks of air collision with other friendly aircraft as the bomber stream came together and moved off in formation towards target. Collision had always been a very real hazard and many bomber crews had been lost in this way as hundreds of aircraft collected together in such close proximity in the dark. After the high losses of previous weeks, the reduced risk and the clear effect of air superiority of the recent attack on Heligoland had given a much needed boost to the spirits of 153 Squadron crews.
The squadron flew in a loose 'gaggle', which was RAF speak for a number of aircraft flying at roughly the same height and in roughly the same direction, but shouldn't be confused in any way with formation flying, to the concentration point before forming up and heading to Bremen.
A near miss.
On the outward journey, Sgt Jack Western, sitting in the rear turret of RA 582(P4-2ndL) was exchanging hand signals with his opposite number (and room mate) F/Sgt Cameron Booty (RCAF), flying in ME 424(P4-2ndN) when a solitary anti-aircraft gun put up five shells. The first two closely rattled, but did not hit, 'L'. The third burst between the two aircraft, and one of the other two hit 'N' squarely in the H2S bulge on the underside of the aircraft. The aeroplane came apart, the mid-upper gunner free-falling alone; he clearly had no time to grab his parachute. The severed rear end of the plane fell, turning over and over, the hapless rear gunner trapped by centrifugal force had no chance of getting out. Other Squadron members watched horrified as the front portion fell in a flat spin, until it crashed into the waters of the Jadebussen (Jade Bay).
F/O Arthur (Cocky) Cockroft and his crew, who had gained a reputation for repeatedly being the first to reach base after an operation, died instantly.
Airborne 1536 from scampton. Crashed near Jade where in the local Friedhof graves for some of the crew were later discovered. Four are now buried in Becklingen War Cemetery, while three have been taken to Sage War Cemetery. Both Air Gunners were aged nineteen. F/O A.C.Cockcroft KIA, Sgt D.J.Philpot KIA, F/S D.F.Poore KIA, F/S K.L.Dutton KIA, F/S F.Wood KIA, F/S K.F.Chapman RCAF KIA, F/S C.H.Booty RCAF KIA.
It was a harsh reminder that the dangers of offensive action had not gone completely, and that the reality of day time operations removed the anonymity of night time tragedy. The remaining crews reached Bremen at 1800 hours, to find the target area obscured by low cloud, mixing with smoke and dust caused by the preceding first wave of 195 Lancasters of No.3 Group. Together with the rest of Nos 1 and 4 Groups, the Squadron was ordered to circle, only to be instructed at 1812 hours to abandon the operation and return to base with their bombs.
Lincoln Cathedral - 18 miles to Scampton
Raid abandoned, crews turned homeward to Lincoln and safety. Ahead, a final few anxious hours and the risk of landing with several tons of high explosive strapped to the aircraft.