54 Base, Master Bombers, & John Simpson

JSimpson and Guy Gibson
L-R: Guy Gibson, John Simpson, unknown. Probably taken at Coningsby, and must be between mid-June and 19 September 1944 when Gibson was killed. Simpson and Gibson were with 54 Base, on the strength of 627 Squadron. With thanks to Nigel Taylor for the photograph.

54 Base was centred at Coningsby, and provided target-marking and illumination for 5 Group operations. It was ‘a place of tactical innovation’ (Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995, p.252), and the place for the cream of RAF pilots. John Simpson had moved there from 97 Squadron (by then, of course, in 5 Group), as had Charles Owen, another 97 Squadron superstar.

In September 2017, Nigel Taylor, who knew John Simpson in the 1970s, wrote:

John Simpson flew 25 missions between January and May 1944 while on 97 Squadron. By the notes in his logbook he was Bomber Master on the Nuremburg Raid on 30th March of that year. After completing what was his second tour on 97 Squadron (first tour on Wellingtons on 150 Squadron), he switched to the Mosquito.

He remained based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, but operated out of Woodhall Spa. This situation was known as 54 Base, with elite pilots on the strength, and flying aircraft of 627 Squadron for low level marking of targets.

John Simpson was my next door neighbour when I was growing up in Glasgow during the 1970s.

The details of the Nuremburg raid remain horrific even after all these years. Here is 97 Squadron’s ORB report:

  • Some training was carried out prior to briefing.  14 crews were detailed to attack Nuremburg.  Weather was 7 to 10/10ths cloud with tops varying from 10,000’ to 20,000’ with thick haze.  2 red TIs were seen to disappear under the cloud at 0103 hours.  A cluster of skymarkers were observed at 0110, in a concentration east of Nuremburg with two others south of the city.  The attack tended to become scattered towards the end, however, a large explosion was noted at 0113 hours.  The flak was moderate to heavy, no searchlights.  Fighters were up in great strength.  Command experienced their heaviest night’s loss in 96 aircraft.  F/Lt Rowlands and crew and F/Lt Hyde and crew failed to return.  P/O Edwards was badly shot up, returned safely.