WW2 – Bomber Command 1943/44

The Battle of Berlin was fought during the period 23rd August 1943 and 24th March 1944. It was in this period that 100 Squadron earned its second Battle Honour from the Bomber Offensive in Europe. During this Battle, 100 Squadron despatched 308 sorties taking part in 19 major raids on the German capital city. Twenty Lancasters were destroyed, with 115 aircrew losing their lives. But there were also those who survived this campaign, with 19 becoming prisoners of war, and one who managed to evade capture. Indeed some had already carried out several attacks on Berlin prior to the ‘Battle of Berlin‘ officially starting, and one such person was ‘Johnny’ Stow.

Sgt Johnny Stow joined 100 in April 1943 and completed a full tour as a pilot. Many of his ops were flown in HW-K KING, and he bombed Berlin some 13 times. He ended his tour on the night of 16th December as a Pilot Officer and was awarded the DFC. On 18th November 1943, 100 Squadron took part in a raid by 400 Lancs. This attack was carried out with 10/10ths cloud, nine aircraft were lost including 1 from 100. A larger force attacked on 22nd November, and a third attack took place on 23rd with crews reporting fires still burning from the previous nights. 100 Squadron lost four aircraft during three separate raids on Berlin carried out between 27th November and 3rd December.

The greatest tragedy that 100 Squadron encountered during the Battle of Berlin occurred on the night of 16th December. Poor visibility on return to Waltham resulted in the loss of four aircraft with 22 aircrew losing their lives, including the new CO – Wg Cdr Holford. This night became known as ‘Black Thursday’ in Bomber Command folklore, the only time that the British weather claimed more aircraft than the German defences. Despite the sad loss of life, it is also worth pausing again, to reflect that in less than one year of service with Bomber Command, 100 Squadron held second place in 1 Group for the number of successful missions completed, and first place for the lowest number of losses. Such attainments, including a spell of 700 sorties without loss during 1944, gave 100 Squadron the reputation of being a ‘lucky squadron’.

Clearly, it was more than just luck! Good leadership, from the Station Commander downward, and teamwork within crews were also major contributors. The ground crews also played a major part, with the ‘erks’ working in the open, often in bad weather. But these men treated the Lancs as their personal property. The aircrews all developed special bonds with their ground crews as the recollections of several aircrew can testify. Of course, there was always the good-natured ribaldry, and this is epitomised by the poem ‘Three Cheers for the Man on the Ground.’ In reality, when an aircrew failed to return, the ground crews keenly felt the loss.

Other contributions to the effectiveness of 100 Squadron included continuation training throughout the tour of a crew on cross-country flights and bombing practice. Inspiration came from the Station Commander, Group Captain Ian Newbiggin, and his exhortation before every operation ‘Good luck! Good bombing! No early returns!’.

1944 started off with another attack on Berlin, with 100 Squadron losing Flt Sgt Chinnery and all of his crew in HW-R ROGER, JB740. The following night, HW-C CHARLIE, JB549 piloted by Plt Off Henderson failed to return possibly shot down by German night fighters over Berlin. During the night of 30th January 1944, the three crews led by WO Crabtree, Fg Off Parker and WO Ives were lost, with 21 men killed. This was another disastrous night for 100 Squadron.

On 19th February, 100 Squadron lost another Lanc during a raid on Leipzig with Flt Lt George Sidebotham being shot down. But all of the crew survived to become POW’s in Stalag Luft 3. The final operation of the Battle of Berlin took place during the night of 24th March 1944, which became known as ‘the night of the strong winds’ as aircraft were blown off course. 100 Squadron lost HW-H HOW ND642 over Berlin and the crew (Fg Off Jenkins, Sgt Moore, Flt Sgt Saunders, Sgt Pearson, Sgt Ross, Sgt Harris and Sgt Farr) are all buried in Berlin. There are several memorials to 100 Squadron, and we shall talk more about them later in our journey.

Of course, 100 Squadron’s operations during this period were not confined to Berlin. Other targets included Brunswick, Magdeburg, Leipzig and Stuttgart.
Flt Sgt Wadge, when returning from a raid on Stuttgart during the night of 21st February 1944, provides us with a further example of the bravery and airmanship displayed by 100 Squadron aircrew. After completing his bombing run in HW-J JIG, ED749, Wadge collided with a German twin-engined night fighter losing a major part of the Lanc’s port wing. With the fuselage also badly holed, he managed to bring the aircraft back to Ford. An inspection after landing revealed six feet of the port wing torn off, the mid-upper turret stove-in, the top eighteen inches of the starboard fin and rudder bent outwards at right angles, twelve inches of one tip of the port outer propeller missing, all other prop blades damaged, navigator’s window smashed, all aerials torn off, rear gunner’s oxygen pipes severed, rear turret door jammed, numerous holes in the fuselage and the fuel jettison trunk released on the port side. For this Flt Sgt Wadge was awarded an immediate DFM. On 25th February 1944, Flt Sgt Wadge on a sortie to Schweinfurt became ill. He abandoned the sortie, and on returning to base, he was ordered back out to sea to jettison bombs and fuel. Neither he, nor his crew were ever seen again.

The tale of Flt Lt ‘Bish’ Crowley-Smith is worthy of note. On 26th February, Bish was hit by flak during a raid on Augsberg causing severe damage to the aircraft. Bish ordered the crew to bail out, and then did so himself just before the aircraft blew up. Bish woke up, sitting on his parachute, trying to light a cigarette and minus his flying boots. He heard voices, and in the dark, recognised that the men were in military uniform and were wearing ‘coal scuttle’ helmets. ‘Oh Gawd thought Bish, Stalag Luft for me’, but he’d landed in Switzerland, and these were Swiss troops. He was taken to a house where he was fed ham and eggs and given hot rum and water to wash it down!

And so the Battle of Berlin drew to a close. 100 Squadron had made another significant contribution to the Bomber War in terms of its participation in the Battle of Berlin. 100 Squadron aircrews and ground crews had performed heroic deeds in carrying the war to Germany in the only way possible in Europe at that point in World War II. Yet, more sacrifice would be needed, the war was far from won.