Saturday, 3 April 2010

153 Sqn. 3rd April 1945 - Nordhausen.

Continuing the story of my late Dad's Lancaster Squadron to the end of hostilities in 1945.

Bombing up crew on the job

For 153 Squadron, the first week of April was also the last of the Squadron's nine most critical weeks during which operation frequency increased and resulting losses of men and machine took a heavy toll on morale within this relatively small squadron.  Also "turnover" of crews continued unabated as experienced crews completed their tours of the increased 36 op figure and were posted out accordingly.

On the ground, with the allied armies advancing swiftly eastwards, and the Russian army matching progress on the Eastern Front,  operational targets became fewer.  All the signs indicated the prospect of an early end to the war in Europe , but  German forces were making final and furious resistance, pushed back as they were, onto German soil.  There was still work for the RAF to be done to bring about a swift and satisfactory conclusion.

In the intervening weeks since the colossal attack on Dresden, due in part to the effectiveness of Josef Goebbels as minister of propaganda, and in part to some incredibly naive decisions by British censors on allowing his words to be printed in British newspapers, the public support for the area bombing campaign had tumbled away as the reported enormous civilian casualty figures sunk in.  Politicians  {even sir Winston Churchill, who had fully agreed with the campaign and had been involved in the decision to bomb Dresden} began to distance themselves from the potential stigma and for the first time the men themselves felt their role was being publicly questioned and privately undermined. The political arguments aside, the crews continued to press home the required operations to the best of their ability, although questions of morality would weigh heavily on some, tired as they were of the pressure they were under. Both 'A' and 'B' flights were affected by the arrival of a further 13 new crews and the departure of 11.  This meant that over the space of under 7 weeks, whilst losing 24 mainly very experienced crews, no fewer than 27 new crews had to be absorbed.

 By the end of April, the squadron was able to muster 40 crews - but only 5 of these had flown over 15 operations! The majority (24 crews) could claim less than 5. The dearth of experienced crews was matched by a lack of officers of Flight Lieutenant rank needed to provide suitable support as deputies for their Flight Commanders.The supply of replacement aircraft showed an improvement over previous months but the maximum available strength levelled off at 18.

On Sunday, 1st April 1945 there was a switch across the RAF from the use of MPH to knots. This offered few problems to the Navigators and Bob Aimers union, but needed re-thinking by pilots, who all had to put in a few practice take-offs and landings to accustom themselves to the use of lower IAS (Indicated Air Speed) instrument readings. Many faster than needed landings were noted in the early part of the month - old habits die hard!  The potential danger from even this relatively simple change was significant, if you take a moment to consider landing with a full bomb load at the incorrect higher speed, for instance due to an aborted raid or engine trouble etc.

Groundcrew - known as 'Erks'

 Somewhat less popular was the arrival of 625 Squadron from Kelstern to share in the use of RAF Scampton. For almost six months, 153 Squadron had enjoyed monopoly status at Scampton and the necessary preparations for this move resulted in many changes to their well - ordered routine. Several NCO's had to vacate their accommodation (often a misappropriated officers married quarter, cosily housing a whole crew) and move back to occupy shared barrack dormitories. In order to make room for any more senior members of the incoming squadron, some of the junior 153 Squadron officers were similarly required to move out of centrally heated mess rooms into rather less comfortable Officer's Mess facilities. Hangar and office space too had to be surrendered to house 625 Squadron personnel. The airfield facilities were parcelled out to allow dispersal plans to be used intelligently. There was no open hostility but few crew members were happy at the resultant feeling of overcrowding, be it in the mess halls, the bars, the ante-rooms, the cinema, the link trainer, the bus queues for Lincoln, and many other places (including the increased competition at Station dances!).


Immediately after lunch on 3rd April, ten aircraft set off to attack Nordhausen - a town in the Hartz mountain region, which was home to the scientists and workers engaged on production of secret weapons in the nearby underground tunnels; work previously carried out at Peenemunde. Over the Continent, including the target area, there was 10/10-cloud cover up to 10,000 feet. The Master bomber initially ordered crews to attack from 8,000 feet but soon realised this was useless and directed the force to drop from above the clouds, using all available navigational aids. No results could be observed. Despite a total absence of fighters or flak, it was generally held to be a wasted effort. (Post-war research found that the attack successfully destroyed the main target - understood to be a military barracks - but at the time it was, unfortunately, occupied by concentration camp prisoners and forced workers of all nationalities.)

   Note the potential proximity of aircraft during bombing

This attack was witnessed by the Station Commander, G/Capt. Lloyd flying as a passenger in NX 556(P4-3rdJ), piloted by F/O Les Taylor. He instructed the crew (who were on their 29th op) to ignore him and behave as they normally would. F/Sgt Arthur Allan recalled that the Groupie was quite polite and friendly, but much to the crew's relief did not ask to fly it and they were able to continue without any abnormality - an indication perhaps of how ingrained it became to have every aspect of an op replicate as exactly as possible all previous successful trips.

There were no Squadron losses on this sortie.


coastkid said...

your postings of the sqaudron brings home just how amazing it is any aircrews made it through the war Al...we dont get the relisation of that watching an hour tv programme but your posts over a similar period to the dates they flew brings it home..alot of brave young men...
you should get all this into a book...
i wonder if there is a german writing something similar of his dads experiances in the luftwaffe?...

Tony Morley said...

Just found your blog, Alistair - great stuff! My late father served as a F/Eng with 550 Squadron in 1945, and flew on the same ops to Dortmund, Misburg, Hildesheim, Harpenerweg and Paderborn as your Dad. He then went to Hamburg on 31/03/45, and set off to Nordhausen on 02/04/45, but they ended up aborting and returned on three engines - this proved to be his final op, as he then moved on to other things. He would never talk about his time on ops, so it's interesting to read about the various missions he was on - thanks for sharing. Tony Morley

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