Sunday, 4 April 2010

153 Sqn. 4th April 1945 - Gardening/Lutzkendorf.


Wing Commander Frank Powley {centre} S/Leader John Gee {2nd right}
        photo courtesy of Frank Powley {W/C Powley's nephew}

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

On 4th April, 153 squadron were ordered to supply 5 aircraft for 'Gardening', as minelaying operations were known, and every other available machine for a 'maximum effort' night attack on the oil refinery at Leutzkendorf. Take-off by the 12 crews was timed to allow this long flight to be made in complete darkness. Cloud over the target was slight, allowing accurate marking and bombing although results were later assessed as only moderate. The attack was delivered from 12,500 feet; above the light flak barrage, and below the heavy flak busting at 15,000 feet! On all aircraft on the Lutzkendorf raid safely returning to Scampton, crews encountered a low cloud base with limited visibility hampering safe landing, but murky as it was, nothing could match the gloom pervading their debriefings, when told of the losses on the gardening ops

In the Kattegat there are very few deep-water channels suited to larger vessels, and these were well known to both contestants. Knowing just where the mines had to be dropped, enabled the Germans to vector their night-fighters to best effect. The islands of Laesó and Anholt housed air defence controllers and radar stations. Neutral Sweden, with no need to operate a black-out, lay to the east of the bomber's route; German fighters came up, hidden by the darkened background of occupied Denmark, to seek out the bombers which were silhouetted against the lights of Swedish towns. Clearly, the advantages lay with the defenders.

Gardening drops were conducted by individual attacks -albeit conforming to an overall design - without the cover that a bomber stream of many aircraft would provide, so  crews felt themselves cruelly exposed to any enemy action. The German defences were often augmented by the addition of naval and other gunships, which, with ability to fire predicted flak at these individual targets, proved to be very accurate. Given their mobility they could be encountered almost anywhere along the bomber's route.

3rd April - Samsó Belt, Southern Kattegat


Aware of the growing disquiet among the crews ordered to fly Gardening Operations, which he judged was having an insidious effect on Squadron morale, W/Co Powley put himself on the Battle Order for this attack, by captaining S/Ldr Gee's crew. In showing that he was prepared to share the dangers, he not only sought to inspire confidence but also demonstrated true leadership qualities. Arthur Allan recalls that at an earlier briefing, Francis Powley had said that "153 Squadron was going through a rough spell, but things would improve".  He was however apprehensive.  In his book "Wingspan", John Gee quotes W/Co Powley as saying "I have been worried about this operation for the past few days and I have a premonition about it.  If I had the guts I would take myself off the Order of Battle, but if I did I would never again be able to look the squadron in the face". These were fateful words.


Major Werner Husemann, 2nd left.

Patrolling the Samsó Belt that night in JU88 - Code Letter D5+AL - was Major Werner Husemann, the commander of I/NJG 3 (First Squadron, Night Fighter Unit #3), and a skilled night fighter with 30 plus kills to his credit. Over the designated drop area, although very dark, the sky was clear and visibility moderate. Flak was non-existent, leaving the path clear for the night-fighters. Major Husemann proceeded to destroy Lancasters RA 544 (P4-2ndU) flown by Wing Commander Powley and also NX 563 (P4-2ndR) flown by F/Lt Arthur Winder. (2ndU was on its first operational mission; 2ndR was on its fourth). Both aircraft are known to have crashed into the Kattegat. There were no survivors.

Airborne 1907 4th Apr '45 from Scampton for a mining operation in the Kattegat (Silverthorne Area). Lost without trace. All are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

 F/L A.J.Winder KIA , Sgt G.E.Thomas KIA,  F/O L.C.Turner KIA , F/O E.O.Griffith KIA,  F/S J.B.Coffey KIA,  F/O A.S.Blake KIA,  Sgt I.A.Birrell KIA

 W/C F.S.Powley,  DFC, AFC, KIA,  Sgt C.F.Sadler KIA,  F/S L.G.Sims KIA,  F/S W.Higgins KIA,  W/O A.s.Dickson RAAF KIA,  F/S C.Madden KIA,  F/S R.Neal KIA.

 W/C Powley had been No.153 Sqdn Commander since taking up the appointment 7Oct44 when the Squadron was first formed. W/C Powley was a Canadian from Kelowna in British Colombia. He had joined the pre-war RAF on a Short Service Commission circa 1936. His Service number shows he was a contemporary of the legendary W/C Guy Gibson VC.


In his book 'Wingspan', S/Ldr John Gee relates how this particular operation repeatedly fluctuated between ON and OFF thereby underlining the precarious balance inherent in operational flying - had the operation not twice been 'scrubbed' W/Co Powley would not have been involved in it. Fate determined otherwise. { He initially put himself down for the op but had to remove himself when it was rescheduled he was on duty as deputy station commander, but then put himself back ON when this 2nd date was again cancelled}   Strangely enough, the crew of F/Lt Winder (also lost that night) were in an identical position. F/Lt Tobin recalled that he was originally selected to fly this operation, but when it was first ordered his navigator was suffering from ear trouble and was refused medical clearance to fly. Consequently, F/O Winder and crew were put ON instead, and remained there even after the ear trouble had cleared up.

Wing Commander Powley flew with S/L Gee's crew on several occasions - as a 'relief' for  S/L Gee, who having already completed one tour of 30 ops would have been on a 'reduced' second tour. This helped built up the crews ops totals but allowed Gee to remain with the crew across all of their first tour of ops. On this fateful night S/L Gee remained behind acting as Officer In Charge Of Flying. He remembered later.

"The five Lancasters took off and set out on their journey to the Kattegat. I was so worried {due to W/C Powleys premonition} I did not know where to put myself. The night seemed endless. As the time drew near for their return I went to Flying Control to hear them call up as they entered the circuit. Three of the lancaster turned up and landed but there was no sign of the other two. Wing Commander Powley and my crew in U for Uncle and F/Lt Arthur winder and his crew of R for Roger were missing. In one night I had lost my crew, my Squadron Commander and one of my Flight Lieutenants. I was absolutely distraught. I could not bear to speak to anyone. I went to bed but could not sleep. Bob Purves, who had flown on the op came into my room and tried to console me.

The next day I had the terrible task of having to write to the homes of all my crew and trying to console their parents. I was unable to say much about the operation but I knew they would all be wondering why their sons were missing when I was still at Scampton. I was so terribly sad to have lost my crew and my friend and station commander. The Squadron had been badly mauled"

It can be seen that Gardening operations were not welcomed by aircrew, who tried to stoically accept that they were more hazardous than other operations.  Many however dreaded the fact that flights were made almost entirely over water, and invariably in total darkness. Should the aircraft be shot down or seriously crippled, the chances of survival were so negligible as to be non-existent. To carry out a successful 'ditching' at night would require phenomenal luck for even the most highly-skilled pilot, and the prospect of a subsequent launching of the dinghy in total darkness into a hostile sea, heavily encumbered by full flying kit, did not bear thinking about. Over land, crews could take their chances with a parachute jump, over water, even if successful, this would result in certain death from exposure. As with sailors on Russian convoy duties, the survival time in northern waters during the winter months was unlikely to exceed two minutes. { My father, a keen fisherman, was in absolute dread of deep water for the rest of his life and confined himself to mainly river fishing. Even a loch could cause him deep anxiety and a choice of fishing solely from the bank rather than join us grey faced to fish from a boat.}

Given the shattering outcome of the night's activities, it was perhaps just as well for Squadron morale that there were no more Gardening Operations. The Squadron had mounted 34 effective sorties in sowing just 203 mines, but had suffered a beating in losing 27 of its most experienced aircrew including its well respected and popular Commanding Officer, together with 4 aircraft  (plus two more requiring extensive repairs).  No longer leading a crew, S/Ldr Gee was also posted out, creating further disruption in the Squadron's leadership structure and impact onto squadron morale at losing yet another respected officer.

Lacking any means to assess the effectiveness of their sea-mining operations and therefore to come to terms with their losses, it was undoubtedly a heavy price that the Squadron had paid.

The crews mourned their losses not knowing that the Squadrons final offensive mission was now less than four short weeks away.

23 comments:

Scottish Nature Boy said...

Al - a fascinating insight into the sheer dread that this kind of job must have induced in the crews. So many factors opposing them, and the dreadful loss of aircraft shows they were right to be worried. Very interesting post...

Kat_RN said...

A very somber post. I have to agree with the Wing Commander, Once his name was on the list, he had to go. Good work.
Kat

Anonymous said...

Hallo, ich habe diese Seite hier im Internet gefunden. Nun, dass es solche Sites. Eigentlich habe ich mich für mehr Informationen von der Bombardierung der Brennstoff-Werk in Lützkendorf in der Nacht vom 4. / 5. April 1945. Dieser Angriff suchte 2x 6 t Tallboy Bomben abgeworfen. 1 x Tallboy Bombe nicht explodiert und ist heute ein Denkmal in unserer Stadt. Darüber hinaus wurde in dieser Nacht in der Nähe Flak - zerstört über groß und es wurden 26 Flaksoldaten getötet. Jemand kann ich nicht geben weitere Informationen zu dieser Attacke? Vielen Dank! Bluepathfinder@t-online.de

Alistair said...

try here

http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/apr45.html

As far as I know only 617 and 9 Sqdn used tallboy bombs. You could try contacting their associations for info on the dates you are interested in.

try here

No. IX Squadron Association
J.S.E. Brookbank
14 Huntingbrooke
Great Holm, Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
MK8 9DE
England

and

No. 617 Squadron, Official Historian
Wg. Cdr. F M A Hines RAF (Ret'd)
The Stone House
63 Eastfield Lane
Welton
Lincoln
LN2 3ND
England


Good luck in your hunt........Al.

John Dighton said...

An interesting and informative site. My father T A Dighton flew with 153 squadron from Oct 1944 to Jan 1945, transferring to Pathfinder 582 sqadron. It is hard to internalise just what these chaps went through and thus the more we read, the better we understand just how fortunate we are today.

John Dighton

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your father's story...
i have information for mr. john dighton about his father. i was his father's bomb aimer at both 153 and 582 squadrons. if he would like to get in contact please email me at Rowpa1@aol.com.

Alistair said...

Thank for your comment and message for John. I have passed it on to him to contact you.

kind regards......Alistair.

Anonymous said...

Hi
Found this Blog most interesting, as my Father(who is still around) was a navigator with 153 squadron, and his log book mentions most of the places and events described.I believe that he is in the squadron picture right at the back on the right under the wingtip. I have one or two pictures which may be of interest

regards

Bob Smith

Anonymous said...

Hi

Thanks for the wonderful blogsite. My Grandfather, Flight Lieutenant Leonard Lowry, joined 153 Squadron in early April 1945. Unfortunately he passed away when I was very young and after the war he didn't speak much to the family of his operational time. We only had his flight logs to go by but not much of the history until now.

He joined the RNZAF in 1943 and trained as a pilot in New Zealand until later that year before making his way to the UK in 1944 for more training on Oxfords, Wellingtons and then Lancasters. His first operation after joining 153 squadron was on the 4th April. He flew as a passenger with Flt/Lt Lennox on aircraft DA264 attacking Lutzkendorf. I can only imagine his shock and probably fear coming back from his first bombing mission only to hear his inspirational Wing Commander had been lost.

He went on to fly four more bombing missions against Kiel, Plauen, Heligoland (all in aircraft NG500) and Berchtesgaden (in aircraft PA313) before taking part in the supply drops in The Hague and Rotterdam.

Regards
Michael

Alistair said...

Michael,

Thanks for the great comment you left today. It's nice to hear that what's been posted about 153Sqdn has made an impression {and to hear from a relative of aircrew}. These posts get lots of hits but almost no comment these days as it's been more than a year since they were originally posted. If you've read much you'll know my father served in the Squadron, like your Grandfather. Lots of the histories focus on the bleak times of '43 and '44 and it was interesting to find out about what was going on in the later part of the war, although that wasn't the reason for getting the information together. Even in just the last seven months of war which covered all of 153 Sqdns existance 147 men from this small squadron made the ultimate sacrifice. Surviving such times left it's mark on those who lived to tell - or not as in your Grandfather and my fathers case - the tale.

Thanks again for your comment.

Kind regards,
Alistair.

Anonymous said...

As a relative of one of the crew from W/C Powley's crew the night he was killed, I found it very intresting. My late grandmothers cousin was f/sgt Higgins

Alistair Robertson said...

Thanks for dropping in - and leaving a comment. Did this differ from what you understood?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your story, my uncle was Andrew Stanly Dickson, and I am trying to research his history, I have found your story very interesting.

Alistair Robertson said...

Thanks. Hope this helped,

Steve Larkins said...

Great story. A friend of mine is FLT 'Tiny' Tom Tobin's (Australian) daughter Jane who has all of his log books photos maps etc and a beautiful cast bronze Lancaster on a stand, the base of which has the names of the targets of the 30 missions he skippered. I guess the crew was grateful to him for getting them home. Putting together a web profile of him and the squadron. See

Alistair Robertson said...

Thanks for the comment Steve. I can put you in touch with the squadron association if you would like. They would be grateful for any info and copies of any crew photos etc as well as perhaps being able to help with your project. If any of the photos her would be useful please use them. Many are public domain and specific crew photos have been given permission for use.

Regards,
Al.

Keith From Chute said...

Al - Thank you so much for the information. I have just obtained my father's log book; Alf Charles Hardiman was the flight engineer with F/O Purves on that mining raid.
The blog mentions a Sqn photograph. I have one photo of Lanc Vicious Virgin with 18 people (I guess from 153 sqn). Does anyone have any other photos that might contain my father?
Regards,
Keith

Alistair said...

Hi Keith,
Glad you found these entries interesting and helpful. Much of the info is based on squadron campaign diaries.
I have a copy of the official squadron aircrew personnel photo taken at Scampton in June 1945. I found this while visiting East Kirkby air museum a few years ago. They were very helpful in providing a high quality copy. There are also a number of 153 Squadron crew photos spread across the entries and you are welcome to copy any of them for private use. If you have any photos of your Dad and crew and you would like them added to the blog {even on a particular entry} I would be happy to do so as a mark of remembrance and respect.
Thanks again for your visit and comment. Please contact me by email or comment if I can be of any further help. Contact details at side of blog.

Arik Cohen said...

Hello,

I wanted to reach out and find out if I could use some of the pictures here for a talk I am doing about my grandparents in WWII. My grandfather was a Hungarian Jew that was slave labor in the synthetic oil factory at Lutzkendorf and he told stories about the dangers of Allied bombing runs.

Alistair said...

Arik,

Feel free to use anything my friend. Good luck with the talk.

Al.

Adriano Baumgartner said...

Alistair,
Firstly congratulations for the excelente thread and Fórum.
Would it be possible to contact the son of W/C Powley, DFC, AFC? I writing about the Brazilians in RAF Service and, one of them flew as Bomb Aimer to this great Canadian Hero...this is why I would like to contact his son...
Adriano Baumgartner
baumgartner_asv@yahoo.com.br

Alistair said...

Adriano,

Thank you for comment and compliment. I've passed your details to Frank Powley, who is the WC Powleys nephew, not his son. I hope he will contact you direct in due course.

Regards,
Al.

Jill Saunders said...

Wonderfully informative blog. If there are any relatives of crews that flew in 153 Squadron out there who would like to join our small 153 Squadron Association and attend our Annual Reunions, they are perfectly entitled to do so. Just contact me via our Website "153 Squadron Association" or Facebook Page or even email me directly (jillsaunders@yahoo.com) and I will get back to them with relevant details and information.

Jill Saunders
Hon Sec
153 Squadron Association.

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