Posts will be light …

… and probably non-existent over the next few days. The most seasonal interwebnet link I can find is this one, which shows figures who may well be officers from a Bomber Command squadron playing in the snow outside the Petwood Hotel, sometime during the war. No guarantee that anyone from 617 Squadron was involved!

Back in the New Year. Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year to all friends of this blog — Charles Foster.

RAF Coningsby briefing room, wartime view

Jennie Gray’s set of web pages about 97 Squadron’s role as a Pathfinder squadron date cover a period starting in late 1943, just after David Maltby and his crew were killed on the aborted Dortmund Ems raid. However, there are a number of connections between 97 and 617 Squadrons. David Maltby had done a full tour in 97 Squadron between June 1941 and June 1942. Most of the rest of his crew had been allocated to 97 Squadron at RAF Coningsby in March 1943 when they qualified as aircrew, but none of them ever flew an operation in their short time there. A bunch of ‘sprogs’, crewed up with an experienced pilot, they were all posted to Scampton as part of the new squadron for the Dams Raid. Another two crews came with them, mostly survivors of an almost complete tour, in the form of Joe McCarthy, Les Munro and their crews. 

By the end of August 1943, 97 Squadron had moved from Coningsby to RAF Bourn, and were replaced in their old home by 617 Squadron. Scampton was to be given new concrete runways. 

It was therefore presumably in this briefing room in Coningsby that David and his crew got their instructions for Operation Garlic on the night they died.

Question time

For some time Ron Lapp from Winnipeg has been trying to find out the answer to a question of detail about the Dams Raid:

 When the Lancaster nose turret guns were fired, as they certainly were on the Dams raid, were the empty cases and links collected somehow, or did they just fall to the floor of the nose and get collected later?  I have seen a picture showing the expended cases and links on the bottom of the nose, but I am not sure if this was common practice.  I have also read that canvas bags or a flexible sleeve may have been used, but have not seen pictures of either of these possible collection methods.  In the case of the Dams raid, with a gunner in the nose turret and the bomb aimer at his position, I would not think that the bomb aimer would want to be distracted by having spent cases and links falling over him during the bomb run.

Fortunately, I knew someone who would have the answer: Fred Sutherland, the front gunner in Les Knight’s aircraft, AJ-N – the aircraft which dropped the mine which broke the Eder Dam. Fred obliged with an almost immediate definitive response: 

There were bags under each gun to catch the spent cases. There were several reasons for this. First, each gun fired 20 rounds a second and even with a short burst the empty cases soon built up a great pile.
Then there was at times, the violent evasive action where the empties could get air borne and foul up the works.
In the front turret which was designed for one person they would have showered down on the B/A. After a long burst [of fire] the cases became very hot.

So, there we have it. Another small mystery resolved!

John Wilkinson

John Wilkinson
John Wilkinson

John Wilkinson was the wireless operator in Vernon Byers’s aircraft, AJ-K, on the Dams Raid. This was the third aircraft to take off on the night of 16 May, and the first to be lost. Off course, it crossed the Dutch coast at Texel Island, a well known flak position, and was shot down.
This photograph was sent to me by John Cotterill, whose father was a good friend of John Wilkinson’s. It was given to him in 1993 by John Wilkinson’s brother, Tom, when the two met up for the first time in 43 years. I have also posted details on a new page on the Breaking the Dams website, which you can find here.