Sunday, 9 May 2010

153 Squadron 8th May 1945 - VE day to the end of 153 Squadron.

Lancasters over London. VE day Celebrations.

On 8th May, the day that marked the end of war in Europe, the squadron left Scampton once again to make the final food drops marking its involvement in 'Operation Manna'

Although the end of hostilities was marked by  festivities both in camp and outside and intense national celebrations took place with street parties and dances, war was not yet over, with Japan still holding out.  At base the celebrations, while enthusiastically embraced by some, were in contrast felt somehow inappropriate by others who had experienced family bereavement and those who found it hard to celebrate when so many squadron losses had been made in recent weeks. Although I can't find absolute evidence I think its likely that at Scampton as in other places guards were placed  on aircraft to ensure that any over euphoric and inebriated crews did not decide to go on a victory 'spin'. Some bases quietly ensured that aircraft had their magnetos removed thus rendering such unofficial flying impossible.

 Celebrations quickly over, the squadron were instructed to maintain high levels of operational readiness which led to rumours of them being part of the proposed 'Tiger Force' to move to the far East to support the effort being made against Japan. This involved intensive flying practice throughout June and July over extended periods and distances, day and night. Ultimately the squadron was not involved in Tiger Force and indeed the concept was shelved when the USA indicated its intention to pursue the war with Japan alone. In any effect the supposed duration of conflict was terminated with the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August.

Before that, the squadron took part in 'Operation Post-Mortem' which involved dummy raids on German cities to help evaluate captured German technology. In addition, one of the most urgent and overwhelming needs was to repatriate the many thousands of British and Commonwealth POW's scattered across continental Europe back to freedom as quickly as possible. To this end it was agreed that this should be done by airlift and 'Operation Exodus' was born and quickly put into full swing across May.

The Dakotas of Transport Command, which were ferrying supplies to the forward units, were used to bring POW`s back to Brussels. Lancasters of Bomber Command were then employed to bring the men back to British airfields. In all, 74,000 men returned this way.

Operation Exodus - 153 Sqdn

Many of the passengers had been taken POW before the advent of four-engined bombers, and they were suitably impressed with what they saw - and if the rudimentary conditions they had to endure, sitting bunched together on the bare metal floor of the aeroplane, fell short of that in any airliner, they generally rated it as the best flight they would ever make!

Welcome home - 'Operation Exodus'

153 Squadron flew on two of these missions - on 11th May (12 aircraft) which returned via Ford; and on the 26th May (15 aircraft) coming back via Dunsfold. Each aircraft carried 24 passengers plus a reduced crew of 6.

Amongst those partaking on 26th May was Bill Langford in LM550 (P4-C), which, prior to its transfer from No.166 Squadron, was known as "B-Beer" with a beer-barrel decorating its nose! Following its 100th operation, Bill arranged for a 100 small foaming tankards to be added alongside the barrel.

153 Sqdn - Lets Have Another {B for Beer}

Coincidentally, and unaware of each other`s presence, one of the waiting POW`s was his elder brother, Richard, who ,like his fellow "Pongoes", was walking around inspecting those enormous flying machines with four engines and two tails, when he chanced upon one with a beer barrel and pots of beer decorating its nose. He said to a companion "I wonder if that has anything to do with my kid brother?", not realising that it was so. At he same time Bill was wondering around the airfield, wondering if his POW big brother could possibly be there. Unfortunately there was no story-book ending. They didn't meet. On arrival back with the first 'loads' of POW's an unexpected surprise awaited the crews on depositing the grateful men.

"I saw our guests down the short ladder at the rear of the aircraft the look of joy on their faces, which more than compensated for our VE day celebrations being cut short. Approaching toward us were a number of medics carrying what appeared to me, flit guns. Each POW was squirted down the front and the back of the shirt and trousers, then they beckoned to us. We said "no" we are crew. They replied "Yes" you have been in their company. So we got the same treatment."

A 153 Sqdn Crew
F/O W. Clark (Pilot) , Sgt V.G. Francomb, F/O N. Sears, Sgt J. Kirkpatrick
Ft Sgt A. Bell, F/O C.C. Dorrity and Sgt T.S Ings  {Photo courtesy of Douglas Bell}


With the ending of the war in Europe, both the Australian and Canadian Government's ordered the repatriation of their aircrews, thereby severing abruptly the tremendous comradeship that had been mutually shared, both in dire moments of action and in many happy hours of relaxation on the ground. Given the mixed composition of many crews, this resulted in a major reshuffle, because many of the remaining RAF and RNZAF personnel had to be re-crewed to fill the vacancies. However, not all could be absorbed, because, to add further disruption, the Squadron`s effective strength was simultaneously reduced to 32 crews.

During 'A Cook's Tour'

Some or the June/July training flights were officially designated as 'Ruhr cross-country' flights, but were quickly dubbed 'Cook`s Tours' by aircrew as they presented an opportunity to fly reasonably low over the devastated areas of Germany to witness the damage caused by bombing. Up to four passengers were permitted; these often included ground crew personnel, both airmen and WAAF, as a means of expressing thanks for their contribution to the efficient daily running of the squadron. It also gave them an insight into flying over distance and the chance to see the effects of their war efforts. I have no information that is particularly Scampton based but there is ample evidence that many people were deeply affected by sight of the devastation wreaked upon Germany on these flights.

Disposal of unwanted 30lb incendiary bombs was carried out in late July, August and early September, by dropping them into the North Sea and Cardigan Bay. In all, 45 sorties were required to clear the stockpile.


To ensure an equitable method of demobilising 'hostilities only' servicemen, the Government introduced a system featuring a points scheme, based on age and length of active service, which was applied to all men, irrespective of rank, trade, or the uniform worn. However, in practice, each trade received individual treatment, so arranged that in general, aircrew were released much sooner than any other group (although allowance was made for skilled men to be claimed by their previous employers under special Class 'B' arrangements). The actual release documents, designed to facilitate a speedy passage through the demobilisation centre, comprised a multi-page booklet of considerable detail, together with a companion set required for local retention.

Each unit was required to nominate its own Release Officer, responsible for every aspect of the oppressive documentation involved. W/Co Rodney selected F/O Johns (mainly because of his Civil Service administrative background) and thereafter used him as an unofficial, hard-worked, assistant adjutant.
The first persons to be released were F/O J.M.Sharpe - Pilot (Class 'A') and F/Lt C.G.Alexander - Navigator (Class 'B'); both on 8th August.


British Service men trying to return from the Mediterranean found that damaged roads and railways created enormous bottlenecks, causing lengthy delays on any cross-continental journey. Shipping was mostly committed to supplying the Far East campaign. Many of the Servicemen had been abroad for years without home leave; an increasing number were due for demobilisation. Thus was born "Operation Dodge" (a sly and cruel reference to the unjustified label of "D-Day Dodgers" coined by those involved in the Normandy D-Day landings and one which should never have been allowed to pervade the upper echelons of the Air Ministry to the extent of naming the operation like this)

Three Italian airfields were deemed suitable for use (Pomigliano/Naples and Bari. 153 Squadron was allotted to the former. A pattern of operation was quickly established. The outward journey flew south over France, reaching the Mediterranean at Marseilles (between the Alps and the Pyrenees) then east to Corsica and Elba before heading for Pomigliano - which lies north of Naples. The following day was a rest day, which allowed for sight-seeing around Naples (including Pompeii) and souvenir hunting.

The third day required an early call (03.30am) and a hazardous ride in the back of a 3-ton lorry, narrowly avoiding horse-drawn, un-lit, market-bound, farm wagons, traversing very bad roads, all in pitch darkness. On reaching the airfield, and re-united with their aircraft, crews met their 'payload' of twenty soldiers (plus their kitbags, which were stowed in the bomb bay). To avoid the searing heat of Italy in August, an early take-off was essential. The return journey re-traced the outward path as far as Lyons, wen course was set for Dunkerque, Colchester and finally Glatton, where passengers were disembarked and , after undergoing Customs clearance, crews returned to their home stations.
Conditions for the 20 passengers, seated only on blankets on the floor of the Lancaster aft of the main spar, were pretty grim. Throughout a journey of six-and-a-half hours they were huddled together, with no view of the world outside their metalled surroundings, subjected to the unremitting noise of four Merlin engines. Some marginal relief was afforded by visits to the cockpit area during the flight, but not all chose to do so.
Over the period 2nd August to 14th September, 153 Squadron dispatched 43 'Dodge' flights, bringing back 860 passengers. With the exception of one aircraft (L) which was forced to stop-over a few days at Marseilles with engine trouble, all flights were uneventful. Crews soon became adept at changing from battle dress blues to tropical khaki outfits over the Med!



In the inscrutable way of all Headquarters, 'someone' decreed that of all the 79 Bomber squadrons existing on V/E Day, 153 Squadron was to be tasked to conduct service user trials of a brand-new, secret radar device known simply as "H2S Mark IV". This equipment was installed in five of 'B' flight`s aircraft. On 10th August, ten crews  were nominated to carry out the work (their initiation had actually begun on 1st August). Their selection was guided by their low release numbers rather than any other factor. 

Japan surrendered on the 14th August. Within three months of V/J Day, Bomber Command had disbanded ten of the fourteen squadrons in No.1 Group.

The first to go was No.153 Squadron.

On Friday, 21st September, all personnel stationed at Scampton took part in a 'Disbandment of Squadron' parade. Members of 153 Squadron were inspected by the Air Officer Commanding, No.1 Group, following which a precise record of the Squadron history was read out. The Squadron badge, (having been retrieved from the Wing Commander`s safe) was carried on parade by the Assistant Adjutant, prior to him formally handing it over to the custody of a Group Staff Officer for onward transmission to the Air Ministry. The parade included three 'Founder Members' - W/O W.C Harrison (W/Op - just one short of his second tour), F/Lt P.O. Baxter (Engr Leader) and F/Lt R.W.Stewart (Signals Leader).

During its 201 days existence it had dispatched 1,057 sorties (and prepared for many more), dropped 4,654 tons of bombs and sown 204 sea-mines. Sadly it had lost 147 young men; only 6 aircraft of those originally acquired survived. Two had flown more than 100 operational missions.

The Squadron was declared 'stood down' pending its official date of disbandment from R.A.F. Scampton.


The need to continue user trails on the H2S Mark IV was met by simply transferring all 10 crews involved- together with their 5 modified aircraft - to No.12 Squadron, stationed at RAF Binbrook. That this was only a temporary arrangement was conveyed in their revised title of  ''Y''Flight. Although the aircraft were re-lettered from P4 to PH - No 12 Sqdns code letters,  the Flight acted as a separate, independent unit, concentrating only on pressing ahead with the trial programme, much of which necessarily took place when the rest of the Squadron was stood down. The feeling of being independent, but united in effort, generated a real esprit de corps among the 70 men of 'Y' Flight - who were all from 153 Squadron.

On conclusion of the trials, 'Y' Flight was disbanded and any crew not absorbed into 12 Squadron proper was posted out. The five aircraft were all scrapped.

The last traces of No. 153 (Bomber) Squadron had quietly disappeared.


Anonymous said...

Hi I'm the grandson of Dennis Bolton who served as a rear gunner of 153 squadron during the war. A very interesting read thank you.

can be contacted at

Alistair said...

Hi Dennis, Thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed this,Hope you tried some of the others too.

The Sunday Posts 2017/Mince and Tatties.

Mince and Tatties I dinna like hail tatties Pit on my plate o mince For when I tak my denner I eat them baith at yince. Sae mash ...