Bomber Command’s Greatest Enemy – the Weather

The Weather – A Greater Enemy than the Germans

We will gradually be adding a number of pages relating to weather conditions which affected operations and training sessions in Bomber Command.

We will also be giving information on the way in which Bomber Command tried to minimise losses by its use of meteorological experts to forecast what the weather would be. On the Pathfinder Force, 1409 Met Flight was the most invaluable of aids in forecasting weather over the routes to the target.

On Black Thursday, 16/17 December 1943, a huge number of casualties were caused by fog, which produced the worst bad-weather losses in Bomber Command for the entire war.

However, casualties were often caused by other meteorological conditions such as icing, and so seriously was that particular danger taken that Air Ministry orders dictated that any pilot who experienced icing must report it on his return to land.

The Dangers of the Weather – Icing

Bad weather killed many experienced crews, including those who were only carrying out training duties. Icing could be particularly lethal.

Recently Joanne Grant wrote asking whether we had any information on her grandfather, Clifford John Evans, who was thought to have been a Pathfinder. In fact, it soon emerged that Clifford had actually been flying with 630 Squadron (Main Force) when he was killed, along with all of his crew, on 17/18 October 1944, whilst on a training exercise.

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Clifford John Evans. Courtesy of Joanne Grant.

The pilot was Flying Officer D A Branmer, and Clifford was his rear gunner.  Chorley’s Bomber Command Losses says that the aircraft crashed at 0235 in the morning, possibly due to icing, on Harfa Bank about 3 miles NE of Osmotherley on the western side of the Cleveland Hills. Four of the crew are buried at Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery, which appears to have been the main RAF burial site for aircrew lost in the north of England.

Another crew (from 408 Squadron) also crashed during training on 17 October due to heavy snow showers and icing up. This crew abandoned the aircraft and all survived except one,  J E Freeman, RCAF, who died from his injuries in hospital. He too is buried at Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery.

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Dailey crew. Courtesy of Mick Walker

Icing was one of the many dangers for crews operating over Europe. When researching the Dailey crew of 405 Squadron, PFF, we happened to notice that on their very first operation with the Pathfinders they encountered severe icing difficulties. This operation was flown against Duisburg. The crew’s report on return to base was:

Icing from French coast at 17,000 feet and increased until target. Perspex covered with ice at target.

Another 405 Squadron crew, that of Flying Officer Laing, flying on the same operation, commented:

Grim weather conditions from French coast inwards and chiefly near target, icing severe, air frames and prop static electricity

It is impossible to tell now how many crews were lost over Europe because of icing, which could either have caused the aircraft to crash or made them more vulnerable to flak or fighters.

From their earliest training, aircrew were taught how ice formed and what could be done to combat its negative effects. The sheets below were issued by the Directorate of Flying Training, the Air Ministry, in September 1942, the month after the Path Finder Force was formed. These were notes for new cadets, not the seasoned crews who were flying on operations. Images courtesy of David Nevans.

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How to get clear of the ice-forming regions …

ice formation 4

ice formation 5

It is interesting to note that under Air Ministry orders a pilot who had encountered ice formation was duty-bound to report this when he returned to base, hence the very specific descriptions given by the Pathfinder crews of Dailey and Laing.