635 Squadron & C Flight, 97 Squadron

 

97 Squadron’s C Flight, both aircrew and ground crew at the time of moving to 635 Squadron at Downham Market.

The following details appear in 97 Squadron’s ORB, 19-21 March 1944.

  • Movement Order is attached for the move of “C” Flight to form one flight in No 635 Squadron at Downham Market. This move reduces 97 Squadron to a two flight Squadron with aircraft on basis of 16.1.E and 41.R in accordance with Estab. LVE/BC/3364.  The Advance Party moved off on the 18th March and the Main Party moved off with equipment by road on 20th
  • 9 aircraft and crews also took off by air. The rear party consisting of 2 crews leave on the 21st.  14 aircraft were detailed for operations today but were cancelled soon after briefing.
  • The move of “C” Flight to No 635 Squadron has been completed today. 14 Lancasters have been detailed for operations for tonight and crews briefed.  The operation was cancelled in late afternoon.

Many of the names which are so familiar from their operations with 97 Squadron went to Downham Market with C Flight. Amongst these were the Riches and Mansbridge crews, who had survived Black Thursday but would lose their lives flying with 635 Squadron.

Other Black Thursday crews transferring to 635 Squadron were:

Billing crew

Henson crew (Henson was the only crew member who flew on Black Thursday – as second pilot)

Nicholls crew

Smith crew

Snell crew

Though one or two crew members might be lost flying with other crews, the bulk of all the above crews survived the war. The following crews also transferred:

Coutenay crew

Farrant crew       

Leader crew (killed in April 1944)

Lyon crew

Voyce crew


Wheble crew

635 Squadron – Tubby Baker

The above photograph was sent by Adam Morris, the nephew of  Flt/Lt HG Bennett DFC, DFM, known as Benny, who is pictured to the left of Tubby Baker (centre), the CO of 635 Squadron from September 1944. The three men are enjoying a glass of beer together.

Wing Commander Baker was one of Bomber Command’s most experienced Pathfinder master bombers and amongst the RAF’s most highly decorated pilots.

Note, 19 September 2017 – We have been contacted by Tony Berbridge, another nephew of Horace Bennett, who writes that he was “my mother’s younger brother and one of my favourite uncles. The note on the back of the photograph says, in my mother’s hand, that they were celebrating Tubby’s 100th mission, and I still have in my study my uncle’s navigation parallels.” We are now trying to find out who the third man in the photograph is.

 

Tubby Baker’s obituary in The Telegraph on 23 August 2007 contains the following resume of his PFF career:

After his first tour Baker was an instructor at a bomber training unit before returning in May 1944 to No 7, which had been re-equipped with the Lancaster and was then part of the Pathfinder Force.

Bomber Command had begun concentrated operations in support of the D-Day landings, and Baker attacked many targets in northern France, including the V-1 launching sites in the Pas de Calais.

He was appointed a master bomber in July, a role given to only the best bomber captains.

Arriving over the target first, the master bomber had to circle overhead for 30 or 40 minutes to direct the Pathfinder crews dropping flares and markers; at the same time he was controlling the main bomber force by giving instructions on the precise aiming points and any necessary corrections as the raid developed. Many master bombers were lost in the process.

In September 1944 Baker was promoted to wing commander and took command of another Pathfinder Lancaster squadron, No 635.

During the German offensive in the Ardennes in December some bomber airfields were covered in fog on Boxing Day, but it became imperative to attack a large build-up of enemy armour at St Vith.

Baker was appointed as master bomber, and, with the aid of FIDO (a fog dispersing aid), a force of 294 aircraft took off for a daylight raid. The bombing was described as “accurate”, but Baker and his crews had to return to land at the fog-bound airfields. He was awarded a Bar to his DFC.

On March 13 1945 Baker attacked Wuppertal in daylight, and on landing was informed that he had been grounded, having completed his 100th operation at a time when the average life expectancy of a bomber pilot was some 10 sorties.

Baker’s achievement was particularly impressive since he completed all his bombing operations during the height of the strategic bombing war when enemy defences were at their most effective.

He was awarded a Bar to his DSO for “pressing home his attacks despite any opposition … when his cool courage [and] unfailing devotion to duty inspired the utmost confidence “.