[Picture from The Dam Busters by Paul Brickhill, Evans Brothers, 1951 edition]
Anyone who has read the later chapters of Paul Brickhill’s book The Dam Busters may recall the chapter devoted to a gadget called the Stabilising Automatic Bomb Sight (SABS). This had been invented in 1941 to enable aircrew drop big bombs more accurately, but for it to work an aircraft had to run straight and level for ten miles in the period immediately before the bomb was dropped. It was claimed that if the sight was used properly a bomb could be dropped from 20,000 feet with an accuracy of under a hundred yards.
617 Squadron’s “Bombing Leader” was Flt Lt Bob Hay, bomb aimer in Mick Martin’s crew. Each squadron had a “Leader” for each of the specialist jobs in an aircrew – Bombing, Signals, Navigation, Engineering and Gunnery. Their job was to co-ordinate specialist training and other matters across the squadron, sorting out problems and schedules, liaising with the Flight Commanders and so on.
Hay therefore had to deal with the man Brickhill calls “Talking Bomb”, a Sqn Ldr Richardson who arrived at Coningsby to train the crews in the use of the SABS. It was hard work and required intense practise, but eventually the crews got quite good at its use, with Hay himself setting the standard with an average deviation of just 64 yards.
Hay was therefore called upon to write an article for the 5 Group’s internal newsletter, 5 Group News, in order to spread the word amongst other squadrons in the group. This article has recently come to light, and the text has been reproduced on the Stirling Aircraft Forum website. You can read the full article there, but here is a short extract:
The Secret of 617 Squadron’s High Standard of Practise Bombing – the S.A.B.S. Pilot/Navigator/Air Bomber Team (By Flt Lt Hay)
The excellent results gained by crews of 617 Squadron using the S.A.B.S. have only been achieved by the fullest, most practical use of the ‘bombing team’. Before any bombs are dropped, some 4 hours training on the specially adapted A.M.B.T. are carried out by the pilot and air bomber to give manipulation practise to the latter and to familiarise the pilot with the B.D.I. (Bombing Direction Indicator).
The SABS was used successfully on a number of raids but sadly Bob Hay was not around long enough to share in any glory. He was killed in February 1944, when Martin’s aircraft was badly damaged by anti-aircraft guns on an attack on the Antheor viaduct in
Italy France [Thanks Tim, see comment below], and is buried in Sardinia. He was the only member of Martin’s Dams Raid crew who did not survive the war.
[Hat tip: PAFG, SAS Forum]