Posting to 97 Squadron, RAF Woodhall Spa (26th March 1943)
An introduction to the Avro Lancaster used by 97 Squadron in 1943.
General characteristics of the Avro Lancaster. Crew: 7: pilot, flight engineer, navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator, mid-upper and rear gunners Length: 69 ft. 5 in (21.18 m) Wingspan: 102 ft (31.09 m) Height: 19 ft 7 in (5.97 m) Wing area: 1,300 ft² (120 m²) Empty Weight: 36,828 lb (16,705 kg) Loaded weight: 63,000 lb (29,000 kg) Power plant: 4× Rolls Royce Merlin XX V12 engines1,280 hp (954 kW) each Performance Maximum Speed: 240 km (280 mph, 450 km/h) at 15,000 ft (5,600 m) Range: 2,700 nmi (3,000 mi .4,600 km) with minimal bomb load Service Ceiling: 23,500 ft (8,160 m) Wing Loading: 48 lb/ft² (240 kg/m²) Power/mass: 0.082 hp/lb (130 W/kg) Armament Guns: 8× 0.303 in. (7.7 mm) Browning Machine Guns in three turrets, with variations. Bombs: Maximum normal bomb load of 14,000 lb (6,300kg) or 22,000 lb Grand Slam with modifications to bomb bay.
In the Lancaster bomber the crew are listed in the following order, pilot, flight engineer, navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator, mid-upper and rear gunners
Operational Flights (April 1943)
37. 2nd April 1943 ST. NAZAIRE (FRANCE)
Take off time from Woodhall Spa 2010. Lancaster R5896 Y. Crew: P/O/ Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Robertson, P/O Davidson, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, F/Sgt Bale.
This aircraft was detailed for operations against the heavily defended U-Boat pens at St. Nazaire carrying a bomb load of 11 x 1,000 lb. bombs. The night was clear with good visibility and the primary target St. Nazaire was attacked from 15,000 feet. A smoke screen was observed at the target and the bombs were dropped on red T.I.’s (Target Indicators.) There was a great deal of light flak over the target, as the crew left the target area two large fires were seen. Return to the base was made with a flight time of 5.20 hours. This was Layne’s first operation with 97 Squadron and his aircraft was the only 97 Squadron aircraft on operations that night. A total of 55 aircraft attacked St. Nazaire on this the last raid on the French ports, Bomber Command having been being released from that obligation.
38. 4th April 1943 KIEL (GERMANY)
Take off time from Woodhall Spa 2110. Lancaster W 4355 T. Crew: P/O/ Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Robertson, P/O Davidson, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, F/Sgt Bale.
Carrying 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb and 12 x S.B.C.’s (Small Bomb Containers, 30 lb. bombs, or multiple 4 lbs. incendiaries) the crew attacked Kiel from 18,000 feet through the 10/10th cloud. They bombed the estimated position of the T.I. markers that were seen through the cloud. Opposition was heavy but not troublesome over the target area, and a large glow could be seen below the clouds. They returned to base with 5.20 hours of flying time. With 577 aircraft taking part this was at the time Bomber Commands largest non 1,000 bomber raid. Many decoy fires were successful and strong winds made the marking of the target difficult. Only a few bomb loads landed in the target area.
A wireless operator at his duty station.
Prior to the Duisburg raid, the Fletcher crew conducted a 1.5 hour Night Flying Test on Lancaster R 5609
Lancaster R 5609
39. 8th April 1943 DUISBURG (GERMANY)
Take off time from Woodhall Spa 2056. Lancaster W 4355T. Crew: P/O/ Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Robertson, P/O Davidson, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, F/Sgt Bale.
Lancasters, Wellingtons, Halifaxes, Stirlings and Mosquitoes constituted the 392 aircraft attacking force on this raid. This aircraft was tasked with bombing Duisburg with 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb and 12 x S.B.C.’s. Duisburg was believed bombed by the crew from 20,000 feet through the 10/10th cloud. They bombed on E.T.A. and the concentration of flak fire. A red flare was seen astern after the bombing but no results of the bombing were seen. They returned to base with 5.40 hours of flight time. This was another disappointing raid against Germany’s largest inland port, the thick cloud spoilt the Pathfinders efforts and the resultant bombing was scattered.
40. 10th April 1943 FRANKFURT (GERMANY)
Take off time from Woodhall Spa 0010. Lancaster W 4249 L. Crew: P/O/ Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Robertson, P/O Davidson, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, F/Sgt Bale.
522 aircraft left England for Frankfurt. This crew was one of nine 97 Squadron Lancasters detailed to attack Frankfurt, all completed their task with the exception of one early returnee with an inoperative port inner engine. The crew carried a load of 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb and 12 x S.B.C.’s. Frankfurt was attacked from 16,500 feet through a 10/10th cloud layer. The crew’s bombs were dropped on the glow of the release point flares which were seen in the bombs sights. No results were observed due to the solid overcast of clouds. They arrived back at base with a flight time of 6.05 hours. This raid too was considered a failure, cloud cover rendering the Pathfinders efforts useless.
419 Squadron Lancasters waiting for the order to depart on operations.
41. 14th April 1943 LA SPEZIA (ITALY)
Take off time from Woodhall Spa 2039. Lancaster ED 425 E. Crew: F/O Fletcher. Sgt. Mason (2nd Pilot), F/Sgt. Robertson, S/Lt. Lett (Fleet Air Arm,) F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, P/O Bale.
97 Squadron supplied 11 Lancasters who’s primary objective was to bomb battleships in the Naval facility at La Spezia with 1 x 1,000 lb. bomb and 6 x S.B.C.’s. This target was considered to be at maximum range for a Lancaster bomber so a reduced bomb load to that normally carried was loaded onto the aircraft along with extra fuel for the long trip to Italy.
On this operation, the crew took with them Sgt. Mason as a second pilot (Second Dickie in R.A.F. slang.) Mason was a new pilot who was being shown the ropes on this his first operational flight. Also on this trip was Sub Lieutenant Lett of the Royal Navy, presumably to report his findings of an attack against an Italian Naval base to the Admiralty.
The crew believed that they attacked the primary target of the docks at La Spezia. The weather was clear but the ground was obscured by smoke and haze. The crew made a timed run from Palmaira Island but even the eastern shore line was obscured by smoke. The bombs were dropped on fires and E.T.A. from Palmaira with bursts seen through the smoke. Returning to base after 10.15 hours of flight time. Bomber Command sent 208 Lancasters and 3 Halifaxes over the Alps to attack the Italian port of La Spezia, operating against the docks at La Spezia heavy damage was reported and the raid was deemed a success.
In his book “Achieve Your Aim” Kevin Bending writes the following about the crew on this raid. “ For Flying Office Fletcher and his crew, there was some concern whether or not there would be sufficient fuel to get home. On the outward trip, the flight engineer, Sergeant Nelson, mistakenly pumped fuel from the outer tanks into the already full inner tanks. The error came to light when Sergeant White in the mid upper turret, noticed a stream of fuel from the overflow in the wings, but by this time, about two hundred gallons of fuel had been lost. Some banter began amongst the crew, drawing up the roster for paddling the dingy when they ditched in the Bay of Biscay or the Channel but, fortunately it did not come to that owing to Sergeant Nelson redeeming himself with some skillful management of the fuel consumption. When the weary crew landed back at Woodhall Spa, after debriefing and a breakfast of bacon and eggs, they were each given a railway warrant and told to take some leave before reporting back to R.A.F. Bourne: this was straight after a 10 1/4 hour trip.”
La Spezia docks.
A sketch made to commemorate the long trip over the Alps to La Spezia.
The Fletcher crew then departed for 10 days leave. During this time on 17th and 18th of April 1943, 97 Squadron was transferred from 5 Group at Woodhall Spa to 8 Group at Bourn to become part of the Pathfinder Force. The Squadron stood down while it was introduced to the Pathfinder Force techniques. On their return to the Squadron the Fletcher crew were allocated their own aircraft ED 862P and flew a total of thirteen training flights before their next operation as part of the Pathfinder Force.
Flying Log Book (April 1943)
Wally’s Flying Log Book for April 1943 reads as follows:
Operational Flights (May 1943)
42. May 12th 1943 DUISBURG (GERMANY)
Take off time from Bourn 2330. Lancaster ED 862 P. Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Robertson, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.
At this time the “Battle of the Ruhr” was in full swing. On this night Bomber Command sent 572 aircraft of mixed types on this the 4th raid against Duisburg, Germany’s largest inland port. Unlike the previous three raids against this city the Pathfinder marking was excellent resulting in the Main Force doing considerable damage to the center of the city and to the port area of this the largest inland port in Germany. Thirty four heavy bombers were lost on this raid which was highly successful, with 1600 buildings destroyed, and over 60,000 tons of shipping destroyed or damaged in the port.
97 Squadron sent 12 aircraft detailed to attack Duisburg, 2 of these acting as Pathfinders. This crew must have been pleased as they were assigned their “own” aircraft delivered a few days earlier from the factory, this night she was carrying a load of 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 3 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 8 x 500 lb. bombs. The crew attacked the city from 19,000 feet with no cloud, a half moon and good visibility, red T.I markers were bombed and two large explosions were observed. Judging from the flak and searchlights, defenses seemed to break down during the attack, many night fighters were seen by the Bomber Command crews On the return journey the fires could be seen from a distance of 50 miles away. The aircraft returned to base with a total of 4.30 hours flight time.
Prior to their next operation to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia the crew took the opportunity for a photo shoot.
From left to right, White, Nelson, Beesley, Fletcher, Layne and Page. In the rear is an unknown ground crew member
From left to right, Fletcher, White, Page, Layne, Beesley and Nelson
From left to right, Page, Beesley, Layne, Fletcher, Nelson and White
From left to right, James White, Harry Page and Wally Layne. This photograph would have been taken at Woodhall Spa as they do not have Pathfinder Wings on their uniforms.
43. 13th May 1943 PILSEN (CZECHOSLOVAKIA)
Take off time 2140 from Bourn. Lancaster ED 862 P. Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Robertson, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.
A total of 168 aircraft left England on this operation. This aircraft was one of 9 from 97 Squadron detailed to bomb the Skoda Armaments Factory at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. Two aircraft failed to depart, one with engine troubles and one getting bogged down. On the outward journey in flight repairs were made to ED 862 P rear gunner’s oxygen supply. This crew carrying 4 x 250 lb. red T.I. markers, 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb and 4 x 500 lb. bombs attacked the target Pilsen from 13,000 feet with a half moon and excellent visibility. The target was identified visually and red T.I markers were in the bomb sight when the bombs were released. A large explosion was seen close to the markers. Returned to base after 7.35 hours of flight time. The majority of Bomber Command found the target difficult to locate and much of their ordnance fell in the countryside north of the Skoda Armaments Factory.
A 4,000 lb. “cookie” is delivered to a waiting Lancaster
Loading a 4000 lb. “Cookie” into a Lancaster’s bomb bay
44. 23rd May 1943 DORTMUND (GERMANY)
Take off time 2314 from Bourn. Lancaster ED 862 P. Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Robertson, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.
After a nine day break Bomber Command sent a mixed force of 826 aircraft against this target, the largest non 1,000 bomber raid of the war to date and the largest raid of the Battle of the Ruhr.
The Pathfinder Force accurately marked the target in clear weather conditions and consequently considerable damage was done to Dortmund. The attack went as planned, many industrial premises were hit, particularly the large Hoesch steelworks, which ceased production. The raid was judged to have been a great success.
Of the attacking aircraft 38 were lost, 4.6% of the force. This crew were one of 12 Lancasters from 97 Squadron tasked with bombing Dortmund, 3 of these aircraft were acting as Pathfinders. Their bomb loads consisted of, 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb (with a 12 hour delay fuse fitted,) 4 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 7 x 500 lb. The crew’s bombs were dropped on Dortmund from 20,000 feet. It was very dark, the moon was rising but the target was obscured by smoke. Red and Green T.I.’s were in the sights when the bombs were dropped and a big red explosion was seen on the west side of the target. There was a tremendous amount of smoke up to 10,000 feet and on the return the glow of the fires could be seen at the Zuider Zee, (Holland). The crew returned to base with a flight time of 4.05 hours.
An “erk” (R.A.F. slang for aircraft mechanic) waits for the return of “his” aircraft from operations.
45. 25th May 1943 DUSSELDORF (GERMANY)
Take off time from Bourn 2315. Lancaster ED 862 P. Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Robertson, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.
Bomber Command sent 759 aircraft to Dusseldorf. Over the target there was a thick layer of cloud which made marking by the Pathfinders difficult consequently the bombing was scattered resulting in a disappointing failure. Sixteen aircraft from 97 Squadron, 3 acting as Pathfinders were detailed to bomb Dusseldorf carrying a bomb load of 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb (with a 12 hour delay fuse fitted,) 6 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 4 x 250 lb. T.I. markers. This crew found 10/10th cloud over the target with very bad visibility, they made a run from the yellow T.I.’s. Nothing was seen by the crew other than a faint glow.
46. 29th May 1943 WUPPERTAL (GERMANY)
Take off time 2305 from Bourn. Lancaster ED 862 P. Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Robertson, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.
From 97 Squadron 19 Lancasters were tasked with attacking Wuppertal of which 7 acted as Pathfinders. The crew of ED 862 P carried 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 6 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 4 x 250 lb. T.I.’s. The raid was highly successful with good weather and little defense. The target was attacked from 19,500 feet through thick smoke and haze. Green T.I. markers were in the bomb sight at the time of the bombs being released. One big red explosion was seen at 0116 hours and another on leaving the target area where many big fires seen to be raging. The crew returned to base on 3 engines after a flight time of 4.30 hours. A force of 719 R.A.F. aircraft took part in this operation. This raid demonstrated the awesome power of Bomber Command. Wuppertal town was devastated losing 80% of its buildings. Most of its industrial capabilities were destroyed and deaths numbered in excess of 3,000. From the attacking force 33 bombers were lost; none of these were from 97 Squadron.
Bomber Command’s unsung hero’s, the ground crew work on a Lancaster engine.
Titled “We Guide to Strike” (motto of No: 8 Pathfinder Force Group) this painting by Gil Cohen well illustrates the crew at work as they bear down on their target.
Flying Log Book (May 1943)
Wally’s Flying Log Book for May 1943 reads as follows:
A period of leave for the Fletcher crew followed the Wuppertal raid. Returning to the squadron they made several short test flights and underwent further training before returning to operations. Wally’s Log Book records a June 19th 1943 flight to Scampton in ED862 with F/Lt Covington as pilot. Wally has the flight logged as “Base to Scampton” and “Scampton to Base,” both flights of .35 hours duration. The Flight Engineer Joe Nelson has recorded the same brief details in his log book with the interesting addition in capital letters of “THE DAM BUSTERS BASE TWO WEEKS AFTER THE HISTORIC ATTACK. ATMOSPHERE IN MESS EUPHORIC. MET W/C GIBSON V.C.”
Wallace Ian Covington was shot down on the night of August 10/11th 1943 on operations to Nuremberg. He managed to evade capture and return to England via the Comet Line. See http://www.cometeline.org/fiche258.html
Operational Flights (June 1943)
47. 28th June 1943 COLOGNE (GERMANY)
Take off time from Bourn 2250. Lancaster EE 172 O. Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, S/L Foster, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.
On this raid S/L Foster the Station Navigational Officer joined the crew for an attack on Cologne. Carrying 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb and 15 x S.B.C.’s the crew arrived at the target early. The target was covered in 10/10th cloud and although there was a ¼ moon there was no ground visibility. With nothing in the bomb site the bombs were released on sky markers. The aircraft was captured by a cone of searchlights and violent evasive action was taken down to 6,000 feet. The crew returned to base after 5.10 hours of flight time. A force of 608 bombers set out to attack Cologne, 515 of these aircraft were reported to have bombed the city. Cologne experienced its worst attack of the war to date, surpassing the 1,000 bomber raid of May 1942. Over 6,000 buildings were destroyed and in excess of 4,000 people were killed. The cost to the R.A.F. was 25 aircraft. 97 Squadron lost the crew of F/L Seward who were shot down over Belgium by a fighter piloted by German night fighter ace Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer. There were no survivors.
Flying Log Book (June 1943)
Wally’s Flying Log Book for June 1943 reads as follows: