97 Sqn. (07/43)

Operational Flights (July 1943)

On 1st July 1943 G/C (Press On) Fresson replaced W/C Jones as Station Commander.

48.        8th July 1943     COLOGNE (GERMANY)

Take off time from Bourn 2250.  Lancaster ED 862 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

The primary objective of this operation was to attack Cologne, the R.A.F. dispatching 282 Lancasters to do so.   On arrival at the target the Pathfinders found that the area was covered in 10/10th cloud, consequently, the “sky-marking” technique was used to mark the target.

The Fletcher crew’s bomb load consisted 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 5 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 4 x 250 lb. green markers and 1 x 250 lb. yellow marker.  The crew bombed between two red /green sky markers, the target not being in the bomb site.  Two big flashes were observed giving out a yellow light probably from high explosive bursts at 0125 hours.  The aircraft returned to base after 4.40 hours of flight time.   This raid was the final one in a series that lasted a month against Cologne.

A flight of Lancasters taxiing around the perimeter track on the way to an operation.

49.      12th July 1943     TURIN (ITALY)

Take off time from Bourn 2216.   Lancaster ED 862 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

A force of 295 aircraft was dispatched to fly over the Alps to bomb Turin, 18 of these being 97 Squadron’s.  Of this force, 264 aircraft attacked the city.   This raid was in support of the Allied offensive then taking part in Italy.  The “sky-marking” technique was used to great success by the Pathfinder Force which resulted in an excellent concentration of bombs around the target area.

This aircraft carried 2 green flares, 3 green T.I.’s, 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb and 4 x 500 lb. G.P. bombs.   Ground details and other landmarks were very clear as they bombed Turin visually by red and yellow T.I. ground markers as the ground details were illuminated by flares.   A/A defenses were feeble and the bombs were dropped while flying on Auto Pilot (George.)  Several bomb bursts were seen, probably from their own aircraft.  On leaving the target area large fires were seen to be starting in the target area.  A circuitous route had to be followed and the aircraft left and returned to base in daylight after 9.45 hours of flight time.

50.     24th July 1943     HAMBURG (GERMANY)

Take off time from Bourn 2200.     Lancaster ED 862 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

The R.A.F. dispatched a mixed force of 791 aircraft, of which 728 attacked Hamburg which was the largest port in Europe and Germany’s “second” city.  This operation was the first operation in the “Battle of Hamburg” and the first in which “windows” a metallic scrambler was used to confuse the enemy’s radar.  The introduction of the windows was highly effective in this operation with the R.A.F. reporting just 12 aircraft lost.  Using the “Newhaven”  ground marking technique the Pathfinders marked the target with great accuracy.

Carrying a load of 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 3 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 5 x 250 lb. T.I. markers, 4 of which were bought back to base.  Hamburg was attacked from 14,000 feet in a ¼ moon.  Despite haze, the built up area and the River Elbe was identified visually.  No T.I. markers were seen and the bombs were released across the aiming point.  A very large explosion was seen at 0107 hours followed by black smoke.  The aircraft returned to base with 5.40 hours of flight time.

More details of this series of raids against Hamburg can be obtained by researching “Operation Gomorrah.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Hamburg_in_World_War_II

A Lancaster silhouetted against a burning Hamburg

51.      25th July 1943      ESSEN (GERMANY)

Take off time from Bourn 2200.    Lancaster ED 862 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

From 97 Squadron 20 aircraft were sent to attack Essen, 4 of these were late take offs, 9 were designated as markers and 4 as part of the main force. ED 862 P was bombed up with 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 3 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 5 x 250 lb. T.I.’s the crew attacked Essen from 18,000 feet through 2/10th cloud.  Smoke and haze obscured observation of the ground details from the crew.  On the release of the bombs red T.I. markers were in the bomb sights and the crew observed a big explosion at the time of the bombing.  The weather over the route was clear with smoke clouds to 20,000 feet over Essen.  Heavy flak was intense during the early stages of the attack, barrage form, but decreased towards the end of the attack.  There were many enemy fighters about despite the use of Windows and several aircraft were reported to be seen falling.  The crew returned to base after a flight time of 4.20 hours. This operation was considered a great success with 3,000 homes destroyed and the greatest damage rendered to the Krupp’s work to date with a loss of 26 aircraft from the 705 dispatched.  Brigadier General Fred Anderson, the commander of U.S.A.A.F. VIII Bomber Command observed the raid as a passenger in a Lancaster from 83 Squadron.

At the conclusion of the Essen raid, the Fletcher crew went on two weeks leave.  On July 30th, 1943 Lancaster ED 862P in which the Fletcher crew had flown 10 of their last 11 operations was lost with F/S Marks and crew during Operation Gomorrah.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Hamburg_in_World_War_II


Flying Log Book

Wally’s Flying Log Book for July 1943 reads as follows:

After the Essen raid, the crew had another two week period without flying, presumably enjoying a well-earned leave.

Operational Flight (August 1943)

52.      10th August 1943      NUREMBERG (GERMANY)

Take off time from Bourn 2145.  Lancaster ED 866 P   Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Coates.

A total of 653 heavy bombers were dispatched with 596 of them reporting that they had bombed the target.  The Pathfinder Force planned to mark the target with ground markers but the heavy cloud cover obscured the markers from much of the attacking force.  Despite the cloud cover extensive damage was experienced by the inhabitants of Nuremberg to both industrial and housing complexes.  R.A.F. losses were reported as 16 aircraft, 2 of these being from 97 Squadron.

Wally and his crew mates were detailed to bomb Nuremberg with 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 5 x 500 lb. bombs, and 4 x 250 lb. markers.   The route out was from Beachy Head to Le Treport and from there to the target.  On arrival at Nuremberg, the bomber crews found that the target was largely obscured by clouds.  However, the Fletcher crew attacked from 18,000 feet with 8/10th cloud being noted.  The visibility above the clouds was good with a ½ moon.  The crew bombed a T.I. marker that was in the bomb sights but was disappearing into the clouds as they were on their bombing run.   A red explosion was seen at 0122 hours and nothing else was observed.

The German searchlights were unable to penetrate through the clouds which covered the target area,  the crew reported that the moderate flak which they encountered over the target was largely ineffective.   The return to base was made with a total flight time of 6.50 hours.

53.         12th August 1943      MILAN (ITALY)

Take off time from Bourn 2124.  Lancaster ED 866 P   Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White,  F/O Mussi.

From 97 Squadron 18 aircraft and 2 reserves were detailed for operations against Milan.  One aircraft was detailed as a blind marker 12 aircraft were backers up and 3 were non-markers. This crew was tasked with dropping 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 2 x 250 lb. bombs and 5 x 250 lb. markers on Milan.  Opposition was poor with no cloud over the target and good visibility. Their primary objective was attacked from 10,500 feet in bright moonlight.  The autopilot was found to be inoperative on this trip.  There were smoke and haze over the target and the bombs were released by Bomb Aimer Beesley on yellow T.I. markers.  Fires were seen to be well concentrated, particularly in the northern part of the town.  On the return journey, the returning crews reported that the fires were visible from the Alps.  The crew reached their base after 7.50 hours of flying time.

A total of 504 aircraft were sent against Milan this night of which 477 reached and reported bombing the target. The city was ground marked and illuminated by H2S equipped aircraft.  The raid itself was controlled by a Master Bomber who orbited over the target and broadcast a commentary on the raids progress and relayed relevant information to the incoming bomber stream.  The raid was considered a success with four major factories, to include the Alfa Romeo works hit.  Extensive damage was done to the city’s main railway station as well as to the La Scala opera house.

54.    17th August 1943     PEENEMUNDE (GERMANY)

Take off time from Bourn 2110.  Lancaster ED 869 S   Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt.Laing, Sgt. Page.

A mixed force of 597 heavy bombers, consisting of Lancasters, Halifaxes and Stirlings departed for this raid on Peenemunde, located on the Baltic coast.   531 aircraft of the attacking force reported at debriefing  that they had attacked the target which was the German Army Research Center which at that time was developing the German long range V1 and V2 weapons.  Consequently, Peenemunde was deemed by Bomber Command as a target of the highest priority.

Although used earlier, this was the first operation the R.A.F. used the Master Bomber (or Master of Ceremonies) technique to control a full-scale attack which came in 3 waves targeting the rocket factory, the scientist’s and worker’s living accommodations and the experimental station.

97 Squadron was to provide 20 Lancasters for this operation however 3 aircraft were unable to take off, and 1 returned early with an inaccurate compass and faulty navigational aids. The Fletcher crew was detailed to attack the scientist quarters.  They carried 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 5 x 500 lb. bombs, and 4 x 250 lb. markers. They set up on their bombing run at 14,000 feet in bright moonlight with no clouds and good visibility.    Beesley released the bomb load on a cluster of red T.I. markers, and the crew were able to observe their bombs fall on a series of railway lines before a smoke screen prevented them from making a further observation of ground results.

On the return journey, the glow of the fires was seen from a distance of 100 miles away.  A flight time of 6.50 hours was recorded on reaching base.

A more detailed account of this important raid against the German Rocket experimental establishment can be found by researching “Operation Hydra.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Peenem%C3%BCnde_in_World_War_II

55.     22nd August 1943       LEVERKUSEN (GERMANY)

Take off time from Bourn 2130.  Lancaster ED 869 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, F/O Stevens (2nd Pilot) Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

The R.A.F. dispatched 462 aircraft on this raid 417 of which reported bombing the target, the I. G. Farben industrial complex situated in Leverkusen.   Bomber Command had planned a ground marking attack but on arrival at the target, the Pathfinders found the target covered in three layers of 10/10th clouds.  This raid was not a success with the bombing reported to be widespread and scattered.

Carrying a bomb load of 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 6 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 4 x 250 lb. markers the Fletcher crew were detailed to attack Leverkusen.   Arriving over the target Leverkusen they found it covered by a 10/10th cloud which obscured the aiming point of the I. G. Farben factory.  They bombed from 18,500 feet on E.T.A. onto a red glow which might have been a fire, or a T.I. marker. Only the glows of scattered fires were seen.   A total of 4.45 hours of operational flight were logged on this trip.

Prior to the operations of 23rd August 1943  of the three flights of 97 Squadron “B” Flight departed to Gravely while the runways at Bourn were repaired and lengthened.

The bomb load for 20 Lancasters comprising of 20 4,000lb bombs and incendiaries.

56.      23rd August 1943       BERLIN (GERMANY)

Take off time from Graveley 2030.   Lancaster ED 869 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, F/O Stevens (2nd Pilot) Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

Bomber Command dispatched 727 aircraft this night against the German capital, known as the “Big City” to the crews of Bomber Command.  This was the first of three strikes against Berlin. Wing Commander Burns of 97 Squadron acted as the Master of Ceremonies, circling the target and directing the progression of the raid.   The raid was a partial success with the Pathfinders having difficulty in locating the center of Berlin with their H2S.  The largest amount of aircraft lost to date in the war occurred this night with the loss of 56 aircraft,  (2 of these being from 97 Squadron) a loss rate of 7.9% of the attacking force.  97 Squadron was tasked with bombing Berlin and this crew was one of 19 that successfully did so.  Their bomb load consisted of 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 3 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 5 x 250 lb. markers.  Arriving over the city with no cloud, good visibility and ¼ moon they dropped their bombs from 19,000 feet into the center of a cluster of green T.I.’s surrounded by red.  None were actually in the bomb site when released.  One large explosion was observed at 2152 hours.  A huge smoke pall was seen by the crew as the aircraft departed for base  The crew landed back at base after  6.50 hours of flight time. Two 97 Squadron aircraft failed to return from this mission, P/O Fairlie and crew were lost without trace and Sgt. Chatten and crew were shot down by an intruder fighter over Norfolk.

  A Lancaster does a one engine buzz job

57.      27th August 1943    NUREMBERG (GERMANY)

Take off time from Graveley 2114.  Lancaster ED 869 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, Pilot) Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

This aircraft was directed to bomb Nuremberg with 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 3 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 5 x 250 lb. markers.   The target had some haze and smoke covering the area.  Bombs were dropped from 15,500 feet on instructions of the Master of Ceremonies, W/C Burns from 97 Squadron.  Red and green T.I. markers were bombed but were not in the sights.  Several fires were seen, one being particularly large in the center of red T.I.’s.  On the return, the glow of the fires could be seen for 100 miles.  Returned to base with 6.20 hours of flight time. A force of 674  heavy bombers departed for this raid.  The raid turned out to be a disappointment for Bomber Command, problems with the H2s contributed to inaccurate bombing as Bomber Command tried to correct the development of “creep back” in their bombing.  A large amount of aircraft (33) were lost, two of these being from 97 Squadron.

              This picture of a Lancaster bombing up was on the cover of “Life” magazine

58.    31st August 1943     MUNCHEN-GLADBACH (GERMANY)

Take off time from Graveley 0014.  Lancaster ED 869 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher Pilot, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

This aircraft was directed to carry a bomb load of 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 6 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 4 x 250 lb. markers to Munchen-Gladbach.  On arrival at the target, they found no moon and no cloud and bombed from 17,500 feet the center of red T.I. markers.  Several fires seen taking hold and a 4,000 pounder was seen to burst. Flight time back to base was 3.35 hours. This was the first heavy raid against the twin towns of Munchen-Gladbach and Rheydt.  The raid was highly successful despite the loss of 25 aircraft from the 660 dispatched.

59.      31st August 1943     BERLIN (GERMANY)

Take off time from Graveley 2020.  Lancaster ED 869 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

On their second operation of the day Berlin was attacked by this crew carrying 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 6 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 4 x 250 lb. markers.  Berlin was bombed from 18,000 feet. through a 9/10th cloud.  The crew’s bombs were dropped into the center of a cluster of red T.I. markers that overlapped the bomb sight.  They were too early over the target to observe any results and returned to base with 6.50 hours of flight time. W/C Burns from 97 Squadron was shot down on this operation, his aircraft exploding he passed out and came to on the ground, the force of the explosion had fortunately deployed his parachute but severed his right arm below the elbow.  He was made prisoner and eventually repatriated. This raid was a complete failure with bombs dropped as much as 30 miles from the target area.  A total of 47 aircraft were lost from a force of 622.  A high percentage of the aircraft were downed by fighters operating along the routes to and from Berlin.  For the first time, Bomber Command records report that German fighters dropped flares to identify the routes taken by the bombers to and from Berlin.


Flying Log Book (August 1943)

Wally’s Flying Log Book for August 1943 reads as follows:

Personnel required to keep a Lancaster operational

 Top left, petrol bowser, and crew.  Top right, mobile workshop, and crew.

Second row down, Corporal mechanic, four aircraftsmen (mechanics), engineer officer, fitter (armourer), three armourers, radio mechanic, two instrument repairers, three bomb handlers, fitter.

Third row from bottom: Bomb train with W.A.A.F. driver and bombing-up crew

Second row from bottom: Flight maintenance crew, from left as follows: N.C.O. fitter, mechanic, N.C.O. fitter, five mechanics, electrical mechanic, instrument repairer, two radio mechanics

Bottom row, from left: Flying control officer, W.A.A.F. parachute packer, meteorological officer aircrew: pilot, navigator, air bomber, flight engineer, wireless operator/air gunner, two air gunners


Operational Flights (September 1943)

60.      3rd September 1943    BERLIN (GERMANY)

On the morning of this raid 97 Squadron’s units, all returned to Bourn from Gravely.

Take off time from Bourn 2020.  Lancaster ED 869 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

97 Squadron sent 20 Lancasters that were detailed to attack Berlin.  One of these crew were captained by Second Lieutenant Russell who along with his navigator Second Lieutenant Wright were members of the U.S.A.A.F. seconded to 97 Squadron. Fletcher’s crew’s bomb load consisted of  1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 5 x 500 lb. bombs and 4 x 250 lb. markers. The weather was cloudy en route and fortunately for the crew, the target area was the only clear gap.  Defenses were moderate eventually dying away; many searchlights seemed to be working in conjunction with fighters.  At the time of the attack from 19,000 feet, there was no moon, no cloud, and a slight haze.  Bombs were released when red T.I. markers were in the bomb sight over a built up area.  On the return journey, the fire glow could be seen when approaching Sweden some 200 miles distant.  A safe landing was made at the base after a flight time of 7.25 hours. This too was a relatively unsuccessful raid where much of the bombing fell short.  The R.A.F. reported 22 aircraft lost from the 316 dispatched, none from 97 Squadron.  This heavy force consisted of only Lancasters due to the high attrition rate among the Halifaxes and Stirlings on previous Berlin raids.

61.     5th September 1943     MANNHEIM. (GERMANY)

Take off time from Bourn 2000. Lancaster ED 869 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

This crew was one of a force of 605 aircraft that set out to bomb Mannheim.  They carried 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 6 x 500 lb. bombs and 6 x 250 lb. markers.   On route, the port outer engine failed,  as this engine powered the Gee and rear turret they too were inoperative.  A return to base was made and the bomb load was jettisoned over the North Sea.   From 97 Squadron 19 aircraft were dispatched on this operation and ED 862P was one of 4 that returned due to various technical failures.  A flight time of 2.25 hours was logged, the return being recorded in the log book as a “Boomerang.”

  The ground crew prepare a Lancaster for operations

62.        6th September 1943     MUNICH (GERMANY)

Take off time from Bourn 2015. Lancaster ED 869 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

97 Squadron had 14 aircraft attack Munich, but due to a 9/10th cloud with the tops to 14,000 feet and moderate visibility, the results of the bombing were generally unobserved.  This crew carrying a bomb load of 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 2 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 4 x 250 lb. bombed through the cloud from 18,000 feet.  They released their bombs on the reflection of the red and green markers seen through the clouds which obscured all details.  Reflections of H. E. bursts and scattered fires could be seen on the base of the clouds. Moderate flak was encountered with searchlights illuminating the clouds.  Enemy fighters were very active and enemy aircraft made paths of three lines of seven flares each at a regular spacing which showed the route being taken by the bombers.  A return to base was made with a flight time of 7.20 hours. A total of 404 aircraft (Lancasters and Halifaxes) departed for Munich.  On arrival over the target, the Pathfinders found the area covered in clouds and neither their ground markers nor sky markers were effective.  Most of the crews bombed on a timed run from the Ammersee Lake 21 miles southwest of the target.

63.      22nd September 1943     HANOVER (GERMANY)

Take off time from Bourn 1915. Lancaster JA 708 P.  Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, F/Sgt. Dunn, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, Sgt. White, Sgt. Page.

The R.A.F. sent 711 aircraft to bomb Hanover on this night, 97 Squadron providing 20.  In addition, the U.S.A.A.F. sent 5  B17’s for the Americans first-night raid against Germany. This aircraft was bombed up with 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 6 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 4 x 250 lb. markers, and attacked Hanover from 19,500 feet.  At the time of the attack, there was no moon and no cloud and good visibility.  The crew was more than surprised to see another Lancaster over the target area with its navigational lights on.  The green target indicators were not seen to cascade due to the crew being blinded by searchlights and the taking of evasive action.   An uneventful trip home ended after 4.55 hours of operational flying. This was the first of 4 operations against Hanover that would be spread over the following month.  It was not a success, due mainly to higher winds than had been forecast that caused the bombing to be concentrated away from the target area.

64. 23rd September 1943 MANNHEIM (GERMANY)

Take off time from Bourn, 1913. Lancaster JA 708 P. Crew: F/O Fletcher, Sgt. Nelson, S/L Foster, Sgt. Beesley, F/Sgt. Layne, S/L McKinna, Sgt. Page.

In accordance with orders contained in Form B.357,  628 aircraft departed England for this raid on Mannheim; 32 aircraft were lost to include Lancaster JA 708 P.  At the time of its loss the aircraft had a total of 103 hours of flying time.  Also lost from 97 Squadron were the crew of W/O Stevenson. This crew was briefed to be one of 97 Squadron’s 16 aircraft detailed to attack Mannheim. The crew’s bomb load consisted of 1 x 4,000 lb. bomb, 5 x 1,000 lb. bombs and 4 x 250 lb. markers.

97 Squadron’s Gunnery Officer S/L McKinna and the squadron’s Navigational Officer S/L Foster joined the crew for this operation. McKinna and Foster replaced Dunn and White who were tour expired as would the whole crew have been at the conclusion of this operation. On arrival at the target, the crew found clear skies and good visibility.

The crew had settled down on their bombing run when they were picked up by a blue-tinged, radar controlled,  master searchlight and were immediately coned by an estimated 10 other searchlights.  The airmen were committed to their run in with Bomb Aimer Beesley releasing the markers and bombs at 2145 hours.  Pilot Fletcher then immediately put the aircraft through the most violent corkscrew descent the crew had ever experienced.  Despite his efforts, Fletcher could not lose the searchlights, but suddenly all of the searchlights were switched off simultaneously.

Fletcher then proceeded to climb the aircraft in order to regain the altitude lost during the evasive maneuvers.  Two minutes after releasing their bombs they were attacked by a Messerschmitt  BF110 night fighter piloted by Unteroffizie Josef Brunner operating out of Venlo in Holland.   Brunner who was working in coordination with the searchlight crews had followed the aircraft down in its attempts to evade the searchlights.

With the aircraft on fire Fletcher gave the order to bail out, however, this command was not heard by Layne due to the intercom system having been put out of action. One of the bomb aimers duties was to remove the square emergency hatch in the nose section that enabled the crew to leave the aircraft in the case of an in-flight emergency.  Removing the hatch Sgt. Beesley exited the aircraft followed immediately by Nelson and Fletcher.

Wireless Operator Layne recalled later “ I took off my earphones and went to see if I could help but the back of the aircraft was an inferno.”  Layne could see the mid-upper gunners slumped body silhouetted against the searchlights in his shattered turret and the same fate had befallen the rear gunner.

Retrieving his parachute from its place of stowage Wally Layne scrambled to the front of the aircraft and found the cockpit empty, he was the only man alive in an aircraft that was in a long dive trailing flames behind it.   As he scrambled, in total darkness, to the front of the aircraft Wally Layne managed to secure one clip of his parachute to the D-ring on his harness.  However, the second clip was proving difficult.  With his feet dangling in space from the bomb aimers emergency hatch Wally frantically fiddled with the second clip until it suddenly clipped into place.

Throwing himself from the doomed Lancaster Layne exited by the bomb aimers hatch and immediately deployed his parachute.  At almost the same moment his parachute opened and deposited him in a  small clearing in the forest not far from away from the burning remains of his aircraft.   Having sustained no physical damages beyond a jarring of his heels, Wally left his parachute hanging in a tree and prepared for life as an evader.

Titled “A Pathfinder’s Demise” Piotr Forkasiewicz made this computer generated  artwork of the shoot down of Lancaster JA 708. Lancaster-JA708-OF-P-shot-down-Gary-Eason-SMGary Eason’s depiction of the loss of JA 708.   The Bomb Aimer John Beesley was first to exit, followed by Nelson and Fletcher.  The rear door from which Foster left the doomed aircraft can be seen open.  At this time Walter Layne was still in the aircraft.  The Rhine River that separates Mannheim and    Ludwigshafen can be seen as can the blue-tinged searchlight and Joseph Brunner’s Messerschmitt  BF110

After two days on the run, Fletcher, Nelson and Beesley were captured.  Wally Layne managed to evade capture for ten days.

Below is an account of the shoot down of JA 708 sent to me by the Ministry of Defence.

In January 1947 No 2 Missing Research Enquiry Service (in the post-war year’s extensive efforts to trace missing aircrew were made.  The RAF formed the Missing Research Section to investigator these cases but, despite their hard work, at the end of the War, some 42,000 aircrews were missing without any evidence of their fate.  The fate of others had only been provisionally established from the information provided by the Germans to the IRCC.  Therefore post-D-Day the RAF Missing Research Enquiry Section (MRES) took over and continued to search for the casualties’ burial places and establish the fate of the missing as the Allies moved through Europe and other areas of operations.  Their quest started with a list of all the missing RAF/WAAF personnel and MRES Search Teams scoured vast areas in all theatres of the war in their efforts to establish the fate of individuals) established that your father’s aircraft, had crashed at approximately 22.50 hours on 23 September 1943 at Ramberg in the forest of Katzenfesen and Eusserthal.  The aircraft had been on fire and was seen coming from the direction of Mannheim.  Two bodies, one being identified as Sqn. Ldr. McKinna had been found in the wreckage and had been buried by the local population at Eusserthal.  Further investigations by the MREU also established that the second body was Flt. Sgt. Page.  The MREU also established that Sqd. Ldr. Foster had bailed out of the aircraft prior to it’s crashing, but his parachute had been caught in a tree and he was killed when he released his parachute harness and had fallen to the ground striking his head.  He had been buried in the cemetery at Maikammer.
 
In 1948 Sqd. Ldr McKinna, Sqd. Ldr. Foster and Flt. Sgt. Page was re-interred in the British Military Cemetery at Rheineberg in Plot 18, Row 2, Graves 22, 23 and 24.

Flying Log Book (September 1943)

Wally’s Flying Log Book for September 1943 reads as follows:

To read more about 97 Squadron go to Jennie Gray’s site “The Pathfinders, 97 Squadron, & Black Thursday” at        http://www.97squadron.co.uk/index.html


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