WW2 – Bomber Command 1945

1945 opened very badly for 100 Squadron. HW-L LOVE, more affectionately known as ‘ell for leather’, crashed in the Wash during a practice bombing sortie. A New Zealander – Flt Lt Weatherley and his entire crew were killed. Weatherley had only flown 6 operations, yet had 1480 hours in his log book, indicating that he may have been an instructor before joining 100 Squadron. Just three days later, during the night of 5th January, Fg Off Barker and his crew were lost on a raid to Hannover flying JB603 HW-E EASY. ‘Take it Easy’ was on her 111th trip, and one of the Squadron’s centurions.

Arctic weather curtailed operations during January. That the squadron managed to keep flying under such difficult conditions is a great tribute to the ground crews who were often working outside in sub-zero temperatures. It is worth emphasising again, the rapport and good relationships that existed between the air and ground crews.

On 7th January, the Squadron’s target was Munich which involved one of the longest operational sorties of WWII. Arthur White recalls this particular mission as one during which he had to cope with 100 knot winds that veered by up to ninety degrees. This resulted in aircraft getting very close to the Swiss border. One tail gunner reported seeing Swiss searchlights pointing vertically upwards, and then as his Lanc edged closer to the border, the lights pointing like fingers of light north towards Germany! The message seeming to be, please bomb over there and not here!

There was a resumption of the attacks against oil refineries on 14th January when the Squadron joined a raid on Meresburg. Albert Speer described this raid as one of the most damaging ever carried out by Bomber Command against the synthetic oil refineries. The raid on Meresburg was followed on 16th with a raid against the oil refineries at Zeitz where the attack was pressed home despite heavy flak over the target. 100 Squadron lost one aircraft, and this loss brings home to us the feelings of gloom amongst the survivors when such a loss was experienced. Arthur White recalls this particular loss with some poignancy. It was just shortly before the raid on Zeitz that Flt Lt Quigley came into the hut occupied by Arthur and other members of his crew, asking could he and his crew ‘bunk down’ with them. Of course there was ample room, and so Quigley and his crew moved in. On the 16th, it was Quigley’s crew that failed to return from the raid on Zeitz. During the morning of the 17th a very grim faced officer and two very quiet clerks from the Squadron Orderly Room came in and quietly removed all of the personal possession of the young Canadians. Other Lanc veterans also recall the feelings when mates failed to return.

January 1945 ended with a raid against the Bosch works at Stuttgart. February opened with 100 Squadron suffering its third loss of 1945, when Flt Lt Conn, flying PB572 HW-F FOX, failed to return from a raid against Ludwigshafen. Clearly, 100 were still paying dearly night after night.

On 3rd February 1945, the Squadron Boss, Wg Cdr Ian Hamilton led the Squadron on a raid against the oil refineries at Bottrop. Flt Lt Ordell of the RAAF and his crew, comprising 5 Australians and 2 Brits, were lost. There were, as we know, a significant number of crews from the Commonwealth flying with Bomber Command. The IWM film ‘Maximum Effort’ follows a New Zealand crew during their ops in Bomber Command, and a copy of this film is available on DVD in the Squadron archive.

Bomber Command initiated ‘Operation Thunderclap’ on 13th/14th February. This operation was to be a series of attacks against targets in eastern Germany. Thunderclap opened with the raid on Dresden. 805 aircraft attacked Dresden in two waves, and 100 Squadron supplied eighteen aircraft in the second wave. The 100 Squadron crews arrived over Dresden to find fires still burning from the first wave made by 5 Group. The crews bombed on clear instructions, and photographs of the action showed intense fires all over the city. Dresden had been developed as an evacuation centre for German government departments, and as a vital point for transport of troops and supplies for the Eastern Front. The logbook of bomb aimer Alan Smith notes that the fires of Dresden were visible from over 200 miles away on the return trip.

On 14th/15th February, Flt Lt Jack Playford, and his crew took his regular aircraft ND458 HW-A ABLE, named ‘Able Mabel’ to Chemnitz on her 100th operation. Jack has fond memories of ‘Able Mabel’, and tells us that she was a lucky aircraft.

During the spring of 1945, 100 Squadron flew numerous daylight sorties in support of British, Canadian and American ground forces on various fronts in the advance through Germany. Such supporting missions called for frequent changes to bomb loads, giving rise to the formation of the ‘Yo-Yo Club’! This derived from the need to rapidly winch down one bomb load configuration, and then winching up a replacement load.

March 1945 opened with an operation on Mannheim followed on 2nd March with an attack on Cologne. For some time there had been rumours about ‘scarecrows’; black oily explosions amongst the flak which were supposed to simulate aircraft exploding, and thus deter aircrews from bombing their aiming points. Official film of the time did show thick smoke, and the IWM actually described this as ‘scarecrows’. Some years later Flt Sgt Arthur ‘Poker’ Gamble saw this film and put the ‘rumour’ to rest by describing the reality of the action. He made it very clear that it was a Lanc that he had been watching it like a hawk until it disintegrated in front of his eyes. The Lanc took a direct hit – whether from flak or another aircraft he didn’t know, but it wasn’t a scarecrow. Half of the undercarriage fell away just in front of them, and he said that it was a miracle that they were not hit by the debris.

‘Operation Thunderclap’ continued with a raid on Chemnitz, and raids were also undertaken against Kassel, Essen and Dortmund. For all of these operations 100 Squadron put up aircraft, and completed the missions without loss. On 16th March 1945, the Squadron suffered its last combat losses of World War II during a raid on Nuremburg. During this raid, Plt Off Cooper flying HW-D DOG PB117, and Flt Lt Dauphinee flying HW-N NAN ND644, which was flying her 116th mission, were both posted as ‘Missing‘. On 31st March 1945, 100 Squadron completed its last operation from Waltham, which had been its home for more than two years. This mission was against Hamburg, and it was completed without loss. The 2nd April saw the Squadron move to its new home at Elsham Wolds, and as the aircraft took off from Waltham, each Lanc roared in at low level to beat up the control tower as a parting salute. The first operation for 100 Squadron from Elsham Wolds took place against Lutzkendorf on 4th April, and this was followed, on 9th April by an attack on the German naval base at Kiel. Some crews were detailed to mine the harbour, or ‘gardening’ as it was called, and others bombed the harbour inflicting severe damage on the ‘Admiral Scheer’, the ‘Admiral Hipper’ and the’ Emden’.

After raids on Plauen and Potsdam, the Squadron took part in a devastating daylight raid on the naval base at Heligoland on 18th April 1945. The target area was left with the appearance of a crater-pitted moonscape. Flt Sgt Arthur Gamble who was the Flight Engineer in Sqn Ldr Robb’s crew, recalled that the approaching bomber fleet must have been seen and heard from miles away, and that hundreds of ships of all shapes and sizes left rapidly as the bombers began their bombing runs. Arthur says that the wakes from the exploding bombs radiated out like the spokes of a wheel, and that there was every colour of smoke and flames from the explosions.

True to its tradition, 100 Squadron ‘kept it going’ right up to the end. On 25th April 1945, 16 100 Squadron Lancasters took part in the operation on Berchtesgaden. 343 other Lancasters and 16 Pathfinder Mosquitoes made this attack on Hitler’s ‘Eagle’s Nest and the nearby SS Barracks. This was the final combat mission of World War II for 100 Squadron.

However, the work was not yet over. On 27th April, the Squadron took part in ‘Operation Exodus’ to bring home a number of British POW’s from Belgium. 100 Squadron then became involved in ‘Operation Manna’, an operation designed to bring some relief to the people of western Holland who were quite literally starving to death. The winter of 1944-45 had been severe, and the Dutch population were down to eating crocus bulbs cooked in engine oil! The Dutch Government in exile had been able to arrange a truce to allow Bomber Command and the USAAF to drop food supplies to the population. The Germans made it a condition that the bombers crossed the coast at 50 feet, climbing to 500 feet for the drop. Many of our Lancaster veterans were involved in Operation Manna, and their recollections of the operation are still vivid. The crews were not at all happy with the low level flying conditions, and it was with some misgivings that the mission was undertaken. In the event, the Germans did not break the truce, and Operation Manna caught the imagination of all the crews who took part. Packages of flour, dried egg, good old spam, tins of stew, coffee and many other basic foodstuffs were dropped from the bomb bays of the Lancs. The crews also threw out their own rations of sweets, chocolate and cigarettes.

And so on 8th May 1945, VE day arrived, and World War II came to an end in Europe. During May and June 1945, Bomber Command took many of the ground crews on a ‘Cooks Tour’ of the Ruhr to see some of the devastation that had been inflicted on Germany. When the euphoria had subsided, it was time to take stock of the war, and its effects on 100 Squadron in particular, and Bomber Command in general. The contribution of Bomber Command to the victory in Europe had been immense, but the cost was truly enormous. Bomber Command Lancasters flew more than 130,000 sorties, and dropped almost a million tons of bombs. More than 55,000 airmen lost their lives.

Given that 100 Squadron didn’t join Bomber Command until early 1943, it emerged as one of the great Squadrons of the Bomber Offensive in World War II. 100 Squadron operated for 25 months, and during those months:
• Almost 4,000 operational sorties were flown on 280 raids;
• Just over 18,000 tons of bombs were dropped;
• 92 aircraft were lost on operations, and 21 more had crashed;
• 594 young men had given their lives.

Also during those 25 months, 100 Squadron personnel had been awarded:
• 2 DSO’s;
• 1 CGM; (The Conspicuous Gallantry Medal)
• 94 DFC’s;
• 85 DFM’s;
• 1 Polish equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

100 Squadron had acquitted itself with courage, honour and gallantry during the Bomber Offensive in Europe. The crews had lived up to the traditions of ‘The Boneyard’ and had ‘kept it going’ right up to the very end.

More than 7,000 Lancs were built, and of these only 34 survived to complete more than 100 operations. 100 Squadron was distinguished by having four of these great and veteran aircraft, and it is worth remembering these four wonderful ladies, which have been so movingly remembered in the poem ‘Ode to a Dark Lady’.

We remember our ‘Famous Four’ with justifiable pride:
• EE139, HW-R ‘Phantom of the Ruhr which completed a total of 121 operations on 100 and 550 Squadrons’
• ND644, HW-N ‘Nan’ which was lost during the raid to Nuremburg on 16th March 1945 after completing 115 operations;
• JB603, HW-E ‘Take it Easy’ which was lost on her 111th mission;
• ND458, HW-A ‘Able Mabel which took Jack Littlewood and his crew through his complete tour, and then cherished by Flt Lt Jack Playford RCAF and his crew who flew her on her 100th mission to Chemnitz. Able Mable went on to complete 132 missions (125 bombing, 1 ‘Exodus’ and 6 ‘Manna’) ending her days at the Bomber Command Instructor’s School.

100 Squadron has several memorials, and these we shall visit again in our journey. The memorial at Holton le Clay is a tribute to all of those airmen who flew from, and in particular, the 594 who did not return to RAF Grimsby between 1943 and 1945.