Colin Drew and Sugarpuss

It’s always good when one answers one’s own questions about ten seconds after posing them in a mystified manner.

This appears to be the right Colin Drew in the Supplement to The London Gazette, dated 7 December 1943. And it is undoubtedly the same man who is flying with Flight Lieutenant Chick in September 1943 (see ORB below). He is a gunner not a navigator, but clearly has been at the game a long time as he is a decorated Flying Officer.

Lancaster Art: Sugarpuss, 83 Squadron

This rather fabulous photograph (it’s a great pity about the poor condition) shows what is thought to possibly be the 83 Squadron crew of Colin Drew (third from right, and possibly a navigator) standing next to their gloriously decorated Lancaster Sugarpuss. This is a fine example of Lancaster art. If anyone can supply any further information on this crew, please let us know.

Photograph courtesy of Bruce Reeves

The PFF & H2S, continued

Earlier this week we posted a page on H2S, a radar aid used extensively by the Pathfinders. Two connected pages concern the wartime death, in a Halifax crash, of Alan Blumlein, the inventor of H2S, and what was done after this tragic accident to keep the project going. The two pages are:

H2S and the Blumlein Crash

Bennett & the Development of H2S

There has been a very committed campaign to create a memorial to Blumlein in the last few months, led by the Hereford Times, which wrote in January 2019:

We plan a permanent memorial to Blumlein and his colleagues in the form of a metal plaque mounted on a plinth near a riverside path overlooking the site of the tragedy. Our appeal has the support of the Blumlein family and Jerome Vaughan, on whose land the memorial will be placed. It is being spearheaded by Garth Lawson, the Hereford Times walks writer, who has long believed a tribute to Blumlein was overdue.

It is believed that the money for this memorial has now been raised, partly by a generous donation from EMI with whom Blumlein was working when he was killed.

A Lancaster is Going to Germany

The last post on carrier pigeons and Bomber Command has proved highly popular. That gives the perfect excuse to share a favourite magazine cover from November 1942, entitled ‘A Lancaster is Going to Germany’.

The text in the centre of the magazine has a paragraph which covers the use of carrier pigeons in Bomber Command. It reads: ‘These little winged friends are carried “in case anything happens”. They bring back the news. And they also call up rescue if the disabled bomber comes down in the sea.’ For more on this subject, see our new page: A Lancaster is Going to Germany

Cook’s Tours

When the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945, the aircrew had far too much spare time on their hands. As Joan Beech writes in ONE WAAF’S WAR:

After the cessation of hostilities, there were hundreds of aircrew cooling their heels in airfields up and down the country with nothing much to do. […] Something had to be found for the men to with their time, so someone had the bright idea of introducing ‘Cook’s Tours’ – trips over France and Germany in a Lancaster for any of the non-flying staff who cared to take advantage of it.

She then gives an account of her own Cook’s Tour which she found deeply uncomfortable and terrifying. The crew of the Lancaster who had done the trip many times at night were very blase until they came to Cologne (see the featured photograph).

At Cologne we turned for home, circling the great cathedral at what felt like an angle of forty five degrees. The massive stone structure stood out bravely amidst the miles of destruction, and the crew became interested as they hadn’t seen it in daylight before.

Joan began to feel that her troubles were over, but then they met up with another Lancaster returning from a Cook’s Tour, and ‘to my horror the two aircraft then flew wing-tip to wing-tip all the way home’. She eventually got back safely, vowing never to get in an aircraft again.

An excellent book. See pp.124-128 for the above account.

A page from 635 Squadron’s ORB, giving details of the squadron flying Cook’s Tours from Downham Market. 

RAF Accident Report, Parlato and Orchard

This report is not only of great interest because of the men involved in this particular accident, but also because it shows us the type of report which was compiled on flying accidents by the RAF. Unfortunately, due to the post-war ‘slash and burn’ attitude of the British towards their RAF records, this type of information is extraordinarily hard to obtain on RAF aircrew and it is usually only by going to the Dominion records (if a Dominion airman was on that crew) that one can get information on what happened.

See our new page: RAF Accident Reports: Parlato and Orchard

Superstitions and Lucky Mascots

From ‘Beating the Odds: Superstition and Human Agency in RAF Bomber Command, 1942-1945 by S P MacKenzie, WAR IN HISTORY, 2015. Mackenzie makes the case that Bomber Command superstitions and mascots kept crews flying when the odds were stacked against them, and that this is why the authorities made no attempt to ‘curtail’ them (although frankly it is somewhat hard to see exactly how the authorities could have stopped crews believing in rituals and magic objects).

There was […] sound logic behind the widespread fear of flying with different crews and with strange aircraft. Ever since being brought together late in their training, the five or seven members of the bomber crew had been operating as a unit both in the air and on the ground. They had grown to recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses, quirks and habits, and thereby had developed a significant degree of mutual trust.

Flying in so-called scratch crews, made up of comparative strangers, or even going out as a last-minute substitute with an established crew, was rightly considered risky. The scratch crew necessarily would lack the level of coordination and personal understanding present in most established crews. Hence [one navigator’s] desperate desire to avoid being left behind by his crew despite a foot injury because of his fear that as a result “I would end up as a spare and that was a sure way of getting the chop.” […]

Even charms, talismans and mascots were not entirely a matter of superstition. In a great number of cases they had been given to the individual concerned by a loved one, and thereby provided a link with the world beyond the war and thus a degree of emotional sustenance.

Illustrations, 97 Squadron lucky mascots, living at RAF Station Bourn at around the same time in 1943. Above, the bomb aimer Billy Colson’s good luck pig, ‘Giness Gutz’ (Guinness Guts), complete with tiny bomb symbols, now on display at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton. And below, the Jones’ crew mascot ‘Ken’, in private hands. Ken lived in the toolbox of the flight engineer, Maurice Hemming. With thanks to David Layne for the copy of the article. 

dougJonescrewmascot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bennett and the Tirpitz

Leadership was a key quality in sustaining aircrew morale, and the commander of the Pathfinders, Don Bennett, was above all things an inspirational leader. He had immense courage and steadfastness of nerve. In his book Pathfinder, he tells the story of  being shot down whilst attacking the Tirpitz, giving the details very plainly without any hint of ‘line-shooting’  (‘line-shooting’ was the RAF wartime term for bragging, any suggestion of which was deeply detested by aircrew).

At that time, Bennett was the commander of 10 Squadron stationed at Leeming. The attack on the Tirpitz took place on 27/28 April 1942. The crew of Bennett’s Halifax were:

W/C D C T Bennett, Sgt H Walmsley (2nd Pilot), F/Sgt J Colgan (F/E), Sgt T H A Eyles (Nav), Sgt C R S Forbes (W/op), Sgt J D Murray RCAF and F/Lt H G How (gunners)

As Bennett’s aircraft approached the ship, it was hit many times and the tail gunner wounded. In a masterpiece of understatement, Bennett summed this up as ‘things were far from peaceful’.

The Tirpitz was hidden by a defensive smoke screen, and was almost impossible to locate exactly. Bennett’s calibre is shown by the fact that even though his aircraft was on fire and badly damaged, he still went round to try a second run. He released the mines as best as possible, then turned east towards neutral Sweden. Things were so bad that he then gave the order ‘Prepare to abandon aircraft’.

I regret to say that one member of the crew became a little melodramatic. He said, ‘Cheerio, chaps; this is it, we’ve had it.’ I told him very peremptorily to shut up and not to be a fool, that we were perfectly all right but that we would have to parachute.

Because the tail gunner, Flight Lieutenant How, was badly wounded, Bennett kept the aircraft in the air as long as possible so that How could escape with the aid of the flight engineer, Flight Sergeant Colgan. Bennett finally jumped just as the aircraft began to break up.

After baling out, he chanced across his w/op Sergeant Forbes in the darkness. At first both of them thought that the other was a German.

Suddenly I realised that he was one of my own crew, and I said, ‘It’s all right. It’s your Wing-co, it’s your Wing-co.’

The story of the two men’s trek through deep snow  is deeply engrossing. After many hardships, and the assistance of the Norwegian people, they made it through to neutral Sweden.

All the crew of seven survived. Four, including Bennett, made it back to England, the rest were captured. Bennett arrived back in England exactly one month after he had been shot down. He immediately hitched a ride in an Anson down to Leeming where his wife and children lived.

The Intelligence boys were furious that I had not reported immediately to London to be interrogated. I could not have cared less.

Only two months later, he was given command of the Pathfinders.

Pathfinder Pets & Tich Palmer

Further to our posts way back in March about Pathfinder pets, we have been given permission to use a much better image of Clayton’s crew with Clayton’s spaniel.

clayton crew with Titch Palmer

The man holding the dog is Tich Palmer, who later went on to fly with the Mansbridge crew on 635 Squadron and sadly was lost with the entire crew on 20 April 1944.

clayton crew, Tich with spaniel

By kind permission of Medals of England, which sold the Titch Palmer collection a while ago: Titch Palmer Medals and Logbooks