F/O R.C.A.F. J25870
Attached to R.A.F. Squadron's 626 & 300 (Polish)
After getting my wings at Regina, I headed for overseas, via Halifax. It seemed like a long wait until we were notified about our sailing. Of course, all of the civilians knew, not only when we would be going, but also by which ship. A week before we were to sail, we were quarantined no mail, no telephone calls, no telegrams then 10 and behold if they didn't march us to the boat with a brass band. On top of all that, we still j had to wait another 48 hours until another group arrived. So much for security!
On board, there were about 50 hammocks for over 100 of us. It became a case of who stole a hammock from whom. Otherwise one slept on a hard table. On board we met a group of Poles who had escaped from Russia. They still had manacle marks on their wrists, and told of being shipped in open cattle cars in the middle of winter in just their summer clothing.
After several weeks in Bournemouth, England, (we arrived the week after Jerry had dropped a bomb on the mess hall at noon hour), we were shipped to Dumfries, Scotland to review our navigational skills. We got there after 13 Turks (who were neutral) had been training on Spitfires, whereas another 13 Turks were in Germany learning to fly ME's. They arrived with 13 Spits and left in 2. They felt that no matter what shape the aircraft was in upon landing, if they could walk away from it, it was a good landing. They also had to fumigate the barracks when they left.
Our billets were cold and damp. We did have a pot-bellied stove, but no coal. The only warm place was to be nose deep in a hot tub of water, but that meant a very fast dash through the snow with only a towel, then get into bed with damp sheets.
We found that navigating in Europe was far different from the prairies, where all the roads run true N-S and E- W and were exactly 1 mile apart. In Europe we found that no roads, railroad lines or rivers run in a straight line, and the towns are only a few miles apart. Our briefing was by a Scotsman with a real burr to his voice, using R.A.F. terminology of which we knew nothing and the names of the turning points we couldn't find, as they pronounced the names of the cities differently then we had expected ego we couldn't find Kurkubree or Llanduroch, which turned out to be Kirkybright and Llandwog.
The worst part was that when we had a 48 hour pass, they would fly us from 4a.m. to 8a.m., so without any sleep one started his pass. I headed for Glasgow, where not only was it pouring with rain, but all the pubs were dry as they were rationed. I was so fed up, that I slept the clock around, getting back to base 2 days late (hence AWOL). Lucky me!! Instead of going out to the RCAF stations, I was shipped out to the RAF route. The Brits were all spit and polish with their own beds, but left us Canucks to ourselves.
Leaving Dumfries, we moved an OTU unit, where we crewed up (quite haphazardly) i.e. You're a Navigator? Are you taken yet? Hence, one became a part of a crew. We did more advanced flying for all crew members. Some of our trips were to positions out in the North Sea. Some trips were a short distance into France to drop "nickles" (leaflets). Later when we were on Ops we learned that many of these trips were diversions, so that German radar would pick up a large group of aircraft and vector their night fighters away from the main stream. Another form of "decoy" used was to have Jewish speaking crews flying across the main route. Being able to speak German, they would identify the codes being sent to the night fighter planes. They would pretend that they were the ground station, and would vector the fighters away from the main force. Quite a battle of words would ensue with each group claiming to be the real one. Zig-Zag routes were often used to make Jerry radar think the target was somewhere else.
Finally, we were sent to RAP Squadron 626, where we shared the field with the #12 Sqn. Hence, on each op we would put 30-35 aircraft in the air, and if we had a bad night, 4-5 would fail to return. We were in the same Wing as #300 Sqn.(Polish) which would put 8-10 in the air, and if 4-5 returned, that was a good night.
Our first target was Stuttgart, which was an 8 hour trip with a straight course all the way from our turning point at Orleans. It being our first op, we were all keyed up and triple checked each detail to ensure a successful flight. However, the target was "scrubbed" three nights in a row, and we went on other targets. After 7 ops with the 626, we then were given a choice of going to Burma and flying the "humps"( all jungle).
The Poles were being trained on all types of aircraft, so that after the war they would be able to set up the Polish Air Force along RAP lines. The squadron was being brought up to strength so RAP crews arrived and each squadron in wing was to donate one Lancaster. Naturally they were sent the older kites, which were stripped of any good equipment and substituted any equipment the squadron wanted "written off". Now we knew why their losses had been so high - they had none of the navigational equipment that others had, had to keep very long air-plots, and had to rely primarily on visual "fixes". We were very fortunate in that the Squadron Leader had a brand new Lancaster, which we shared with him.
What we did have was:
NAVIGATIONAL AID (developed in 1942) which could provide the navigator with a fix from pulses sent out by 3 radio stations in Southern England. Its range was about 300 miles and accurate to I mile at 20,000 feet.
AIR POSITION INDICATOR " This equipment will take into account where your aircraft would have been by the course we had taken as well as the height and temperature. To determine the wind speed and direction. I would press knobs on each machine (to lock the results) and note the time. By joining the API to the Gee fix. I would know the direction and measuring the distance between the two, could calculate the speed. Now I would be able to prepare to navigate to the next turning point.
WINDOW: The bombaimer would slip bundles of tin foil down a chute, which would cause "snow" on Jerry's radar. Of course one aircraft wouldn't make much of an impact, but 200 aircraft would.
SEXTANT: For astral navigation, "if all else failed". In Regina we spent hours at night shooting the stars with an old sextant which only averaged 6 shots per minute. On ops we had a new type of sextant which averaged 60 shots per minute. But there was no place to hang the sextant!
PARACHUTE: Worn on the chest when in use, but we kept mine and the pilot's behind his seat. There was a guarantee that if it did not open, you could get a replacement.
ESCAPE KIT: Which contained silken maps of the areas covered by our flight, plus scrip money (printed in England) for the countries over which we flew, plus a revolver, (which I never took with me as an armed person behind the lines could be taken as a spy and shot, unarmed the chances were much better to be taken prisoner). We also had a First Aid kit, "wakey wakey" pills, a pill for purifying dirty water for drinking, and a pencil which when broken at a particular spot revealed a tiny compass. Also the top button of my fly, when held by a thread would point north and the top brass button on our jackets which when I unscrewed (a left hand screw) revealed a compass. Our flying boots, when the top portion was cut off, left a regular shoe.
Other equipment that other squadrons had, but which we missed out on, as the Lancs donated by other squadrons in wing had to be reserviced... hence we never did get.
BOOZER: Which was radar that alerted us if anyone was on our tail.
CQ2: As the fuel in our wings was being used up, the space would be refilled with Carbon Dioxide, to prevent fires.
RADAR (H2S): Radar beams would bounce off any raised object and project that shape on a screen (particularly cities). We could take bearings off that image, as our plotting map profiles of many of the cities over which we might be flying. Only a certain number of aircraft had this radar, and someone had the bright I idea of sending so many radar equipped planes along with a major strike. They would be very accurate wind speeds and direction. Each would radio back these "broadcast winds" to London at 25 after each hour and 5 minutes before each hour. The winds would be averaged and sent out to the main force which had to navigate accordingly. However, they ran into thermal wind of about 150 mph. but they only had a code for up to 99 mph. The radar kites on a raid to Berlin navigated on the true wind of 150 mph. whereas the main group navigated on the broadcast wind of 99 mph. The main force never did see Berlin and most of the radar equipped were shot down. Naturally they had to work out a better code system.
EMERGENCY LANDING FIELDS: In southern England, they had extra large landing fields. Extra long and extra wide, so that a badly damaged plane could land on its first approach, rather than flying back to base and trying to land on a smaller field involving several "overshoots".
The commonwealth squadrons flew mostly at night. It was very tricky climbing for height until departure time was reached along with 30 or more aircraft, especially through cloud. We had 3 minutes leeway at each turning point and over the target. Each plane dropped its load when the bomb aimer figured it was time. Naturally we did a lot of pastural bombing. On some targets Pathfinders would drop flares and identify the target, then others would drop colored flares on each side and we would fly between the flares. Sometimes a" master of ceremonies" at 1,000 feet, would correct the target as he saw fit. The Americans flew during the daylight in formation. The lead plane held the lead pilot, lead navigator and lead bomb. When the lead plane dropped its load, they all dropped theirs too. This was fine if the drop was accurate.
We did fly some daylight the biggest was a 2,000 plane raid on Caen, which was the hub of the German army forces.
Crossing into France at night, the Germans had searchlights all the way from Belgium to the Pyrenees. At intervals there was a blue radar controlled searchlight and when it locked on a plane, all the nearby manually controlled lights would "cone" you. If the cone got too large it was very difficult to take evasive action and get out of it.
On the day of an OP, we would cycle out to D.I (daily inspection) our aircraft, then return to our meals. After supper we would have our briefing (Poles separate from non-Poles). We would learn the target, turning points and times for points, as well as any warning (e.g. night fighter base) and also the Met information. Then the navigator would draw all the maps required and plot his routes and distances. In the air the main job was to determine the wind and what direction to steer the aircraft to stay on track.
Bill Robinson Pilot
Ted Morter Flight Engineer
Jo Forman Navigator
Les Page Wireless Op
Jim Rheubottom Mid-Upper Gunner
Sam Dunseath Rear Gunner
Jim Duguid Bomb Aimer (our regular bomb aimer, Farrel Gallagher, was in hospital and Jim Duguid took his place)
Our last op with 300 sqn. was for Stuttgart, which was a very long trip (8 hours), with no opportunity of zig-zag courses or use of decoys. It was an unusual trip, in that since my API position was so close to my Gee fix, that it was impossible to calculate a wind. In fact, we had our flaps down to reduce our speed so that we would hit our turning points on time. At 20,000 feet, my course was only about 1/8" off track, and my ETA turning point was 12.01, which was exactly what mine was. It was probably my best navigational trip. We knew there was a night fighter base at Orleans. We were merrily throwing out our bundles, but one aircraft wouldn't have much effect on Jerry's radar. We presumed the rest of the main force must have been well ahead of us. My first indication of an attack was when I heard a series of bangs ~ like thunder claps, and Robbie told our rear gunner to keep firing. Then when he gave the order to "bale out", I turned off my lamp and pulled back the curtain (used to prevent my lamp interfering with the pilot's night vision). The starboard wing was on fire and it was as bright as daylight. My job under those circumstances was to get the pilot's chute from behind his seat, and fortunately I had my hand on the ring, for I had heard tales of being unable to find the ring when you tumbled into space and the chute was somewhere above your head. I was also very fortunate that the cannon fire went up the port side. It jammed the tail gunner's turret, killing the mid-upper and also the wireless op, as well as creasing the pilot's head, but my desk was on the starboard side.
Suddenly the plane went into a spin, and when I was conscious again, I was in my chute which was open but had 3 panels on fire. Fortunately, I had been standing beside the skipper, preparing to exit by the front hatch. After several words to "Le Bon Dieu", the panels went out, although I did land a little fast. I landed about 200 feet from the plane, which had beaten me down. Of course, my imagination made me think that I had landed in bullrushes near a canal. It turned out to
be a wheat field. Then I heard a movement, so I ducked down. When I heard a "ssshhh" noise, I popped up but saw nobody. Then I went "ssshhh" and ducked down again. This went on by both parties until I realized that my rear gunner and I were playing peek-a-boo. We finally met and high-tailed away, for we were sure the Germans were nearby, as we could hear their tracking dogs. Later we learned that every farmhouse in the area had yapping dog.
During the night, we hid in some woods, but by morning, Sam our rear gunner's face was so badly burned that he said he just had to have medical attention, even from the Jerries. The only thing I had in my escape kit for burns was butter. I escorted Sam up to a farm house knocked on the door, then went and rehid in the woods. Fortunately, the old farm lady (Mme. Francine Leserre), did not turn him over to the Germans, but hid him out, then put him in touch with the MaqW (Resistance Fighters).
As for myself, I wandered the country-side by day, explaining who I was and in addition to fed, tried to contact "'la Sousterre" (my version of the "underground"). Most families were leery to keep us around, as often men, dressed in battle dress would show up and would take names, and then the line would be wiped out. Since many Germans had been born or raised in Canada or the U.S.A. and knew all the trick questions regarding the sports or politics. etc. of the country they were supposed to represent. As one family said, if you are captured at his farm I would be a prisoner, but his entire family, including babies, would be killed on the spot.
At one place I was being fed an omelet made with 12 eggs, in a dirt floor kitchen, when the table started to lift up, as a goat decided to stand up. Finally, luck was with me, as Marie and Lawrence Sollier took a chance with me and had me taken by one of their hired hands, Maurice Quenioux, to the home of Roger and Simone Pean. When my wife and I visited them in 1971. we learned that adjoining Pean' s house, had been German headquarters and across a narrow street, when I looked out the window I saw Mme. Pean' s mother's house, where a German soldier was being hidden.
After several weeks with the Peans', Roger took me in his charcoal burning car to a meeting place where I was picked up and taken to Freteval Forest, to a camp filled with R.A.F. evaders. After a week, I was transferred to another camp filled with American and Common-wealth aircrews plus several British 8th Army evaders. Apparently, after the "'D" day invasion, it was no longer possible to smuggle evaders out by rail, then into Spain, then Gibraltar, then to England.
The "holding" camps were designed until they were freed by the American army. I wanted to get to England as quickly as possible so that I could wire the family that I was safe. Some of the Americans left for Paris so they could enjoy the festivities.
Our camps were supplied with necessities by air, such as stove, radio, cookware etc. Our signal via the BBC was "the Eiffel leans to the west", which meant that the next message would be for us. Then some were sent out to being in the parachute drop. The leader of our camp was a Belgian Air Captain (Baron Jean de Blommaert). The Yanks in our camp certainly made the most of life. They used the metal cannisters from the airdrop to dam up a stream to make a bath, with wooden golf clubs and wooden balls. We had international golf tournaments, as well as bridge games. The prize was often a chocolate bar from an escape kit. We slept on grass bedding ticks. Often Jean would take some of us out to French farms to buy eggs etc., the French thinking we were Maquis. A blond American air force captain was with him once, and being blond didn't look very "French, so he felt he should say something, which was "bon night Senor". So much for bilingualism!! We posted guards around the camp, which was not far from a German ammo dump.
I was very fortunate in that the American army overran our camp after about 5-6 weeks. As we were being prepared to return to England, a truck drew up and there was Sam Dunseath (our rear gunner). His burns had been reasonably healed by wrapping them in dirty rags and letting the maggots eat the dead flesh. When we got to England, we learned that Robbie had been held by the Germans in a French hospital in Paris, and was now in London. We also learned that our mid-upper, our wireless op and flight engineer, as well as the bomb aimer, had gone down with the plane. We also learned that the trip to Stuttgart had lost around 70 aircraft on 3 successive nights. So we never did get there!
In 1971, we visited the French families who hid us out (the Peans, Solliers, and Quenioux). They are mostly deceased now. We were also taken to the cemetery in Orleans where we located the graves of our crew, as well as other allied crew members and German soldiers killed in that region. Each is a well kept cemetery and nice with headstone.