OPS – Peenemunde, Le Creusot, Milan

Debriefing after the Peenemünde Raid, 17/18 August 1943

This famous raid is extremely well-documented, being an attack on the research station and factory on the Baltic coast where the V2 rocket was being developed. It is so well-known that we decided to look at it from a slightly different angle, that of what happened after a crew had been to the target. The following exerts are from An Interesting War by Arthur Spencer, 97 Squadron, Munro crew.  They begin as the crew approached the target and saw the defensive smokescreen.

As we got nearer and nearer and were looking down through the smoke-screen more vertically, it became obvious that cover was by no means complete, and that one could see quite a lot through the lines of smoke. Defences were very meagre; a few searchlights straggled round the sky; we had no problems dropping our bombs and TIs on time. The attack seemed to have started well. We watched for a few moments and then turned away from the target just south of the inward route of those still approaching. There was someone in trouble over Flensburg, serious trouble. He was coned and blew up as we watched horrified, the only aircraft we saw shot down that night, most unusual.

The crew returned to Bourn safely after a flight lasting 6 hours and 50 minutes.

We had a quick word with the ground crew, then transport arrived to take us back to the flight offices. First we went to the parachute store, then to the crew room to deposit our harnesses and other flying kit, and so to the ops room for debriefing. As usual there was a senior officer waiting to have a word with us as we went in and took a mug of coffee from a WAAF (with rum in it for those who wanted it, which always included the half-frozen gunners, of course), then on to an intelligence officer waiting to debrief us. We sat around at a table with him, and told him about the raid, the defences, any aircraft we had seen shot down, the weather; it didn’t take long before we were on our way back to our messes for the traditional post-operational meal of eggs and bacon and trimmings. And so to bed.

The entry in the ORB for this crew reads:

ED938J  P/O J.F.Munro, P/O R.C.Swetman, P/O A.H.G.Spencer, P/O E.J.Suswain, Sgts Campbell (A/B 2), Underwood, K.S.Bennett, F/Sgt W.Hill.  7 x TI, 1 x 4000lb, 5 x 500lb.  Up 2048  Down 0337.  Peenemunde attacked.  13,000’.  Moon obscured by thin cloud.  Smoke haze or screen.  Target identified by coast line.  Bombed on yellow and green TIs.  No results seen owing to smoke.

All the 97 Squadron crew reports would eventually be condensed into a very short summary in the ORB as given below:

17.8.43          Cross countries, air firing and bombing.  20 aircraft detailed for ops and 2 aircraft reserve.  Three aircraft did not take off.  One returned early from the operation due to instrument failures.  The remaining 16 aircraft attacked the target at Peenumunde in the Baltic.  Weather was fine with small patches of cloud over the target area.  Numerous bomb bursts were seen and buildings burning.  Fires were seen in the distance on return.  Many enemy fighters seen.  All our aircraft returned safely to base.

The picture at the head of the page is not of a 97 Squadron, or Pathfinder, crew being debriefed after Peeenemunde but of a crew from 460 Squadron RAAF at Binbrook, the closest we could find to illustrate Arthur Spencer’s words. Australian War Memorial, UK0401.

Deverill and Le Creusot Op, 17 October 1942

Ernest Deverill flew some of the most dangerous raids of the war, amongst them being the Le Creusot op of 17 October 1942. The entry for the operation in his logbook (below) notes with supreme understatement:

Power station 500 feet damaged by own bomb

Deverill logbook le creusot 2

The Le Creusot raid, like the Augsburg raid of 17 April 1942 six months earlier, was flown in daylight. On a Saturday afternoon, 94 Lancasters flew across France to wreck the Schneider arms plant 170 miles south-east of Paris. Incredibly, only one aircraft was lost.

For further details of the PR and morale aspects of this operation see: PER ARDUA – Le Creusot Raid

97 Squadron’S ORB notes:

 9 aircraft of this Squadron took off for op, 6 of these were to attack the Schneider Works and 3 the transformer and switching station.  2 aircraft had to abandon mission owing to technical failures.  7 remaining aircraft all reached their targets and successfully bombed them.  Weather was good with slight haze.  All crews spoke highly of the attack which was “wizard”.

Shortly after this, and the attacks on Genoa and Milan in the Logbook above, Deverill received his third gallantry award:

London Gazette 20 November 1942

Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross this officer has taken part it in many sorties, including many attacks on targets in the Ruhr area. In the daylight attack on the transformer station near Le Creusot, Flight Lieutenant Deverill bombed his objective from the height of only 500 feet. He also participated in recent raids on Milan and Genoa. This officer has invariably endeavoured to press home his attacks with great vigour.

Ernest Deverill’s gallantry awards and Flying Logbook can be seen on display at the Pathfinder Collection at RAF Wyton, where we have placed them on long-term loan.