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New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force (Vol. I)

CHAPTER 8 — Early Bomber Offensive

page 161

Early Bomber Offensive

DURING the first year of war the pressure of events had kept the British bomber squadrons employed mainly in a defensive role. The campaigns in Norway and France, followed by the German air attacks on Great Britain and the threat of invasion, had diverted the bomber force from its intended task of attacking German productive capacity. But with the defeat of the daylight raids on the British Isles during the summer of 1940, and the consequent decline of the risk of seaborne attack, attention had turned to the possibilities of reprisals and of eventually bringing about the enemy’s collapse by bombing. Royal Air Force Bomber Command, however, was still in the early stages of expansion, and casualties in the early campaigns had been heavy. Consequently during the months following the Battle of Britain many of the men arriving in England under the Empire Training Scheme found themselves posted to the operational training units and then to the squadrons of Bomber Command. Of the New Zealanders who reached Britain during the second year of war over half eventually went to bomber squadrons. Most of them were pilots, and it was partly because of this that New Zealand airmen became so scattered among the squadrons of Bomber Command. In fact, by June 1941, although there was some concentration in No. 3 Wellington Group, there were very few units in which the Dominion was not represented. Among the new arrivals there was also a proportion of navigators, wireless operators and air gunners, together with a few men trained in the Dominion for various ground duties.

They found several of their fellow countrymen in positions of leadership in Bomber Command during 1941. Air Vice-Marshal Coningham continued in command of No. 4 Group until July, when he went to the Middle East to take charge of the Tactical Air Force in the Western Desert. He was succeeded by Air Vice-Marshal Carr, who was to remain as Air Officer Commanding No. 4 Group for the greater part of the war. Group Captain McKee, who had led a Wellington Squadron during the previous year was, after a period in charge of operational training in No. 3 Group, to command the bomber station at Marham, in Norfolk. In March 1941 Group Captain Buckley, ‘the father of No. 75 Squadron’, became station commander at Feltwell, from which base the squadron continued to page 162 operate under Wing Commander Kay. Kay had been with the unit from its formation in 1939 and had been responsible for the early navigational training. He had led No. 75’s first mission over Germany, and subsequently won commendation for his part in a difficult bombing raid during the Battle of France.

Four other squadrons in Bomber Command were led by New Zealanders during 1941. Wing Commander G. T. Jarman, who commanded first a Whitley and then a Halifax squadron in Coningham’s group, had joined the Royal Air Force in 1930 and flown on operations during the early months of the war as a flight commander in No. 77 Squadron. In June 1940 he was appointed to command this squadron and, during the following months, ‘by his steadying example and fine leadership built up a very good unit from a squadron that had suffered severe casualties.’ In 1941 he took command of one of the first squadrons to be equipped with the new four-engined Halifax aircraft and was to lead this unit in one of the most successful daylight attacks of the year against the German battle-cruiser Scharnhorst, just when this ship was about to break out into the Atlantic. In No. 2 Group, Wing Commander Elworthy was to lead a Blenheim squadron on daylight attacks against ports and shipping along the enemy-occupied coast. Elworthy had been appointed to a permanent commission in the Royal Air Force in 1936, and at the outbreak of war was flying with a Blenheim squadron. In April 1940 he was sent to instruct pilots at a bomber operational unit, where he did most valuable work at a time when trained pilots were urgently needed. He returned to an operational squadron as flight commander in August 1940, taking over the unit three months later. Later in 1941 he was appointed to the operational staff of No. 2 Group, Bomber Command.

Wing Commander Kippenberger,1 brother of Major-General Sir Howard Kippenberger, the distinguished New Zealand soldier, was to command No. 142 Wellington Squadron during 1941. He had done valuable work as a flying instructor in the pre-war years, and then served with the air contingent in France and later on the operations staff at No. 1 Bomber Group Headquarters. Wing Commander Freeman, who was to win distinction in operations with Wellingtons of No. 3 Group in 1941, had made his way to England in 1933 at the age of 17 and had entered the Royal Air Force. He later qualified as a pilot and served with a fighter squadron

1 Group Captain R. L. Kippenberger, CBE; born Prebbleton, Canterbury, 3 Dec 1907; joined RAF1930; permanent commission 1936; commanded No. 142 Sqdn, 1941; RAF Station, Feltwell, 1942–43; RAF Station, Swanton Morley, 1943; Group Captain, Operations, HQ No. 2 Bomber Group, 1944; commanded No. 137 Wing, No. 2 Bomber Group, 1944–45.

page 163 before joining the New Zealand Wellington Flight in July 1939. He flew with No. 75 Squadron until the end of 1940, winning distinction for outstanding efficiency as a captain of bomber aircraft ‘who was also a highly skilled and determined navigator, with an almost uncanny ability to find his target under the most difficult conditions. On one occasion he had made a special photographic reconnaissance of Stettin, using only astro-navigation, and had achieved complete success’. Freeman had made a special study of navigation and was one of the few service pilots to obtain the No. 1 Civil Navigator’s Licence at this time. After organising navigational training at No. 3 Group Headquarters, during which time he flew on many operations with young crews, he went to a Wellington squadron as a flight commander early in 1941. Later he was appointed to command another Wellington squadron, which he subsequently led in a successful attack on Turin as well as on many raids against targets in Germany.

During this period New Zealanders also served as flight commanders with the bomber squadrons and as instructors in the operational training units, while a small but significant number did valuable work in maintenance and administrative duties and in operational control. By September 1941, 220, nearly one quarter of the men from the Dominion who had served with Bomber Command since the outbreak of war, had lost their lives, while a further fifty had been made prisoners of war. Casualties in Bomber Command during the same period included 7180 aircrew killed or prisoners of war, and the loss of so many highly trained men, many of them with considerable experience in operations, was to have serious effects on the efficiency of the command at this stage of its expansion.

Throughout this second year of war the bomber organisation continued to develop on a basis of five operational groups, each controlling a cluster of stations and squadrons in eastern England. But the size and composition of the force as a whole changed only very slowly. Although the first few really ‘heavy’ bombers, the Manchester, the four-engined Stirlings, Halifaxes and the American Fortresses, were introduced at the end of 1940, technical difficulties repeatedly caused their withdrawal from operations. There were also serious delays in the production of sufficient numbers of these new types.1 The result was that the great majority of the sorties

1 In particular, the failure of the Manchester added to the delay in expansion of the bomber force. Four whole squadrons had to re-equip when this aircraft was taken off operations. In itself, the Manchester was a fine aeroplane, but the twin engines with which it was fitted failed to produce the necessary lifting power. However, this fault proved a blessing in disguise. The aircraft was rapidly redesigned, as an emergency measure, to take four engines. It was then renamed the Lancaster and turned out to be the finest and most efficient bomber of the war.

page 164 during 1941 were made by crews flying Wellingtons and obsolescent Whitleys, Hampdens and Blenheims. The Wellington, reliable but slow and ill-armed, was to be the mainstay of the British bomber force until well into the following year. Such were the difficulties and delays with the new types that, during the latter half of 1941, all that was actually available for operations was, on an average, a force of 380 medium bombers consisting of some 200 Wellingtons, 120 Hampdens and 60 Whitleys, together with about 40 of the new ‘heavies’. Furthermore, problems of maintenance on the airfields meant that it was rarely possible to despatch more than 150 aircraft on any one night. It was often considerably less. Another limiting factor was the shortage of trained crews, and in an effort to overcome this the experiment was tried of cutting down the time allotted to operational training. But squadrons only became diluted with men less fully trained and casualties increased, aggravating the wastage in front-line strength. Towards the end of the year losses became so serious that Bomber Command was forced to reduce the scale of its operations over Germany.

The general policy for the bomber offensive was formulated by the Chiefs of Staff on the basis of the reports and recommendations submitted to them. It was then approved by the War Cabinet, and their decisions were communicated through Air Ministry in directives to the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber Command, whose duty it was to implement them and, in consultation with his operational staff, to plan the actual bombing operations. At this stage of the war the chief difficulties involved in this planning were the wide variety of objectives the command was called upon to attack, the limited force available, and the scanty information regarding weather conditions over the Continent. Soon the increasing enemy defences had also to be taken into consideration.

Once the decision to attack a particular target had been made, orders were passed through the groups to the stations, where a pattern of events followed that was soon to become a well-established routine at bomber bases throughout eastern England. Aircraft were detailed and arrangements made for refuelling and ‘bombing up’. Crews were warned and the operations staff began to work out details of the raid, preparing the maps and other material needed by the crews and the information required for briefing. An atmosphere of greater urgency and expectancy enveloped the base as news of an impending operation inevitably spread. Then, a few hours before the aircraft were due to take off, crews would be assembled in the briefing room and given information regarding the target, the enemy defences, and the weather likely to be encountered during their flight. Details of page 165 bombing and signals procedure would follow. The degree of formality at these gatherings varied, but as alert minds worked in quiet concentration on the tasks to be carried out, there was ever present an undercurrent of grim purpose, of uncertainty and adventure, which produced that peculiar and highly sensitive atmosphere known only to those who have experienced it. But the tension usually relaxed as questions were asked and the captains and navigators began to work out the details of their mission. Meanwhile, the ground crews had been working hard to achieve maximum serviceability of the aircraft allotted for the operation. Last-minute snags were rectified and finally their work was done. Bombs had been hoisted, guns loaded and equipment tested. But particularly in these early days, things did not always run smoothly. The target would sometimes be changed, a different bomb load ordered, the whole operation postponed or even cancelled. How- ever, if all went well the aircrews, after a meal and perhaps a short rest, would take over their machines, and the moment towards which all energies had been directed arrived. One by one the engines burst into life; the aircraft, picked out by their navigation lights, began to move in procession to the take-off point. The first one would turn slowly on to the runway, pause to clear its engines, and then, with a roar of propellers in fine pitch, move steadily down the line of lights. She gathered speed; suddenly her lights rose above the ground and she was airborne. The next one started to move and soon all were gone. They climbed towards the east and out over the North Sea.

Night attacks had now become the rule in the assault on Germany. Bitter experience during the early months of the war had taught the necessity of relying on night bombing if losses were to be kept within reasonable bounds. Unescorted bombers had proved no match for the German day fighters and, as yet, the Royal Air Force had not machines suitable for escort duties over Germany since the British aircraft industry had, of necessity, concentrated on the production of fast short-range fighters for home defence. But this resort to night operations had brought problems of navigation and identification, and soon recognition of the virtual hopelessness of precision bombing at night led to the introduction of ‘area bombing’, in which the force available on any one night was given as its objective an industrial town or district rather than a number of widely scattered targets of one or two special types. In October 1940 it was still believed that the destruction of Ger- many’s synthetic oil plants and storage depots would have an immediate effect on her war potential; consequently, during the closing months of that year, New Zealanders flying with the page 166 Wellingtons, Hampdens, and Whitleys found the objectives detailed for attack mainly of this type. But they proved much more difficult targets to locate and identify by night, particularly in the weather prevailing over Germany at this season of the year, and while some of the more highly trained and skilled crews achieved individual successes in low-level attacks, the cumulative effect was negligible. In any case Germany had obtained large stocks of oil from her conquests in Europe and she also had access to Roumanian oil. At the same time the scale of the offensive against oil was limited by the fact that the bomber force was frequently diverted to attack naval and political targets—the German ports, Berlin and Munich. Some of these diversions, however, were productive of unusual results. One raid on Berlin appears to have interrupted a conference between the Russian and German foreign ministers which had to be continued in an air-raid shelter, while on 8 November 1940 fifty bombers reached Munich and upset a Nazi rally in the famous beer cellar where the party had its birth in 1923.

Apart from the raids on Germany, small forces were despatched to attack industries in Milan and Turin on six occasions during November and December. These were difficult targets since they involved a round flight of 1350 miles and a double crossing of the Alps. Many of the Whitleys despatched in the first attacks failed to surmount this formidable barrier, most of them being unable to gain sufficient height because of the weight of ice which formed on wings and fuselage. On the night of 5 November conditions were particularly severe, and of the 19 Whitleys which set out from England only one, that captained by Pilot Officer Miller,1 succeeded in reaching Italy. He and his crew were fortunate to survive their hazardous flight. On the outward journey electrical storms put the wireless out of action. Then, over the Alps, thick clouds with snow and ice were met and the machine was buffeted by strong winds. Despite this the Whitley flew on and completed its mission alone. On the return journey fuel ran out while crossing the Channel, but Miller managed to bring his aircraft down on the sea near a small ship and all the crew were rescued. A similar experience befell Pilot Officer Bagnall,2 who captained another Whitley in a raid against Italy on the night of 23 November. On the return journey, owing to lack of fuel, the

1 Wing Commander H. H. J. Miller, OBE, DFC, AFC; Morrinsville; born Eureka, Auckland, 31 Mar 1914; school teacher; joined RAF Sep 1939; transferred RNZAF Sep 1943; served with Bomber Command, 1940–42; No. 91 Group, 1943–44; CFI No. 24 OTU, 1944–45.

2 Flight Lieutenant D. R. Bagnall, DFC; Wellington; born Palmerston North, 27 Oct 1910; joined RAF Sep 1939; transferred RNZAF Jan 1944.

page 167 machine was forced down in a rough sea off Dungeness. Bagnall was the only survivor.1

In such cases, where crews had shown dogged determination in reaching their targets, it was often the last lap which proved the most dangerous part of the mission. Crews would be tired, the aircraft possibly damaged, fuel running low and the weather at the home airfield uncertain. One night early in February 1941, 17 of almost a hundred bombers despatched crashed on return to England when fog developed over airfields earlier than had been expected. There were to be other nights during the year when more aircraft and crews were lost through crashing on their return than during the flight over Germany. Narrow escapes from disaster were also frequent. ‘Returning from Bremen,’ reads one pilot’s report, ‘we found visibility less than 500 yards and cloud down to 200 feet. Running out of petrol so force-landed in a rather small field.’ On 20 December 1940 one of a small force of Whitleys detailed to attack Berlin was hit by anti-aircraft fire during its return flight. One engine failed and all movable gear was jettisoned as the captain, Pilot Officer Bridson,2 struggled to maintain height. But just after crossing the English coast the other engine, which had become very overheated, faltered and the Whitley began to lose height rapidly. Bridson promptly ordered his crew to bale out and, when all were clear, followed himself. The aircraft crashed shortly afterwards but all the crew landed safely. Bridson lost his life three months later when his machine crashed into the sea during a training exercise, but a member of his crew who survived the war writes: ‘Bridson did a splendid job in piloting the aircraft several hundred miles on one engine, and only ordered us to bale out when he could no longer control it.’

During these winter months the men with the Blenheim squadrons of both Bomber and Coastal Commands flew a variety of missions against fringe targets on the Continent, as most of the industrial areas in Germany were beyond the effective range of the Blenheim. By day as well as by night, small formations raided the ‘invasion ports’, oil storage depots, and railway marshalling yards on the edge of enemy territory, the daylight attacks usually being made in cloudy weather which afforded some protection against the German defences. At night harassing attacks were also made on the airfields in Holland, Belgium, and France from which the

1 Some idea of the difficulties which crews experienced in these missions over the Alps during the severe winter of 1940 may be gleaned from the detailed account of Miller’s flight given in Appendix II.

2 Pilot Officer A. Bridson, DFC; born Silverdale, Auckland, 19 Oct 1918; motor engineer; joined RAF Apr 1940; killed in flying accident, 14 Mar 1941.

page 168 German bombers were flying against Britain. The Blenheim, which did valiant service during this period, was stoutly built and often survived after hitting the sea or ships’ masts, and even, in one case, after grazing the top of a hill. Most pilots regarded it as a pleasant aircraft to fly—buoyant, aerobatic, and sensitive to the controls.

Early in March 1941 the emphasis in daylight operations shifted to attacks on shipping in the North Sea and English Channel, which have already been described in the last chapter. At the same time, raids on the ports used by these vessels and other targets on the fringe of enemy territory were continued by the Blenheims. Small formations flew just above the sea and went in low over the coast in order to surprise the enemy gunners. Then, having located the target and unloaded their bombs, they turned sharply and ‘beat it for home’. One of the more spectacular of these raids was that made by twelve Blenheims from No. 105 Squadron against the dock area at Bremen on 4 July. Pilot Officer Buckley1 was captain of one and Sergeant Williams2 navigator in another aircraft of the formation led by their squadron commander, Wing Commander Edwards,3 of Fremantle, Western Australia. There was bright sunshine and little cloud as the Blenheims approached the port. They flew in low through the balloon barrage and under high-tension cables to attack from chimney-top level—one machine actually brought back telephone wires trailing from its tail wheel. Bombs were seen to fall near the docks and on the railway station, and German records state that considerable damage was caused in a factory making parts for aircraft, while a minesweeper under construction in the shipyards received a direct hit. Ships off the coast had reported the approach of the bombers and they were greeted by a hail of anti-aircraft fire. Four were shot down and most of the others seriously damaged. Williams’ machine was hit by three shells and both he and his rear gunner badly wounded. But despite his injuries, he successfully navigated his aircraft back to base where it crash-landed. Edwards won the Victoria Cross for his leadership in this raid.

Another raid, in which both Buckley and Williams took part, was made against the docks at Le Havre by nine Blenheims. By approaching out of the sun the British aircraft took the enemy defences more by surprise; no enemy fighters were encountered and there

1 Flight Lieutenant J. Buckley, DFC; Auckland; born Wanganui, 29 Nov 1915; joined RAF Mar 1940; transferred RNZAF Jan 1944.

2 Flying Officer W. N. Williams, DFC, DFM; Christchurch; born Dunedin, 23 Nov 1913; hairdresser; joined RNZAF Apr 1940.

3 Group Captain H. I. Edwards, VC, DSO, OBE, DFC; RAF; born Fremantle, Western Australia, 1 Aug 1914; joined RAF 1936; commanded No. 105 Sqdn, 1941; CFI, No. 22 OTU, 1941–42; commanded No. 105 Sqdn, 1942–43; RAF Station, Binbrook, 1943–44; RAF Station, Chittagong, ACSEA, 1944–45.

page 169 was only slight anti-aircraft fire. The Blenheims escaped without loss, leaving a large pall of smoke over the dock area as they turned for home. But like the daylight attacks on shipping, these low-level raids on land targets were usually more costly. In a daring attack on the power stations at Cologne early in August, twelve of the 50 Blenheims taking part were lost. One was seen to have its tail cut off by a high-tension cable; the others were either shot down by anti-aircraft fire over the target or fell victim to enemy fighter attack. As far as possible British fighters escorted the Blenheims on these daylight raids, but this protection was, of necessity, limited by the short range and endurance of the contemporary fighter aircraft. On this occasion the Blenheims could only be escorted as far as Antwerp, and consequently they were exposed to fighter attacks over enemy territory. One of the aircraft lost in such encounters was captained by Flight Lieutenant Herbert,1 who only a few weeks previously had fought a gallant engagement with a Messerschmitt over the Channel. During that combat his machine was so badly damaged that he had to crash-land on the beach as soon as he reached the Sussex coast. About the same time Sergeant Simpson,2 after a successful career in daylight attacks on ports and shipping, lost his life in a more typical small-scale raid on an aerodrome in Holland. Messerschmitts intercepted the four Blenheims and two were shot down. A third was badly damaged and crash-landed on return, seriously injuring two of its crew. Altogether, between 12 March and 14 July 1941, 68 Blenheims were lost in daylight operations. The Blenheim was an easy prey for the German fighters and, in the low-level attacks, a good target for the anti-aircraft gunners. But as Sir Arthur Harris3 writes in Bomber Offensive: ‘The gallantry of the crews was beyond praise. Their determination never wavered though I know many of the men felt that they were being sent to almost certain death.’
However, these daylight attacks, inspiring though they were at this grim period of the war, were subsidiary to the main bomber offensive, and throughout 1941 the majority of the New Zealanders with Bomber Command continued to fly on night operations against

1 Flight Lieutenant A. G. Herbert; born Frankton Junction, 4 Jun 1918; baker; joined RNZAF Jul 1940; killed on air operations, 12 Aug 1941.

2 Sergeant A. W. Simpson; born Southbridge, Canterbury, 18 Nov 1908; accountant; joined RNZAF Apr 1940; killed on air operations, 4 Jun 1941.

3 Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris, Bt., GCB, OBE, AFC, Order of Suvorov (USSR), Legion of Merit (US), Order of Polonia Restituta (Pol), National Order of the Southern Cross (Bra), Distinguished Service Medal (US); Capetown, South Africa; born Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, 13 Apr 1892; served 1 Rhodesian Regiment, 1914–15; RFC 1915; transferred RAF 1918; permanent commission 1919; AOC Palestine and Transjordan, 1938–39; AOC No. 5 Bomber Group, 1939–40; DCAS, Royal Air Force, 1940–41; Head of British Air Staff, Washington, 1941–42; AOC-in-C, Bomber Command, 1942–45.

page 170 objectives in Germany. During the early months of that year the targets detailed for attack were within such towns as Hamburg, Bremen, Cologne, Hanover and Berlin, although, owing to the distance to be covered across enemy territory, the scale of the attack on the German capital was light. These places had been selected because they contained important industrial objectives and, at Hamburg and Bremen, port facilities, ships and shipyards that had a direct connection with the Battle of the Atlantic. The policy of concentrating the bomber force against one or two main areas on any given night had now been adopted, and gradually the choice of specific targets within these areas gave way to a central aiming point. Yet, although a list of priority targets was laid down at the beginning of the year, the restricting influence of the weather ruled out bombing to any set programme. ‘I have the greatest difficulty,’ wrote Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse,1 Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief at this time, ‘not only in forecasting the weather in the target area—or rather in trying to find a suitable target in the only area offered by the weather—but also in being assured of reasonable conditions at base airfields in England for homing purposes.’

Altogether, during the first five months of 1941, the largest total effort directed against any individual area in Germany—900 sorties against Hamburg—was less than that of a single night in 1944. Furthermore, rarely was any degree of concentration achieved in this early area bombing. On many nights, owing to cloud and haze, the towns themselves proved very difficult to locate. At other times crews genuinely believed they had found their target when, in fact, they had bombed miles from it. An examination of night photographs2 taken during June and July revealed that, of those aircraft which reported attacking their objectives in Germany, only one in four got within five miles of it, and when the target was in the smoke-laden Ruhr, only one in ten. There was, unfortunately, a remarkable contrast between the enthusiastic reports received from many crews and the ‘travellers’ tales’ from Germany via Sweden or Switzerland, and, on the other hand, the night photographs of open country or the bleak pictures of lightly damaged towns brought back by the Spitfires on daylight reconnaissance.

1 Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse, KCB, DSO, AFC, Croix de Guerre (It), Order of Polonia Restituta (Pol), Order of Orange Nassau (Hol), Legion of Merit (US); RAF (retd); England; born Croydon, London, 30 Sep 1892; joined RNR 1913; seconded RFC 1913; RNAS 1914; RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; AOC-in-C, Bomber Command, 1940–42; AOC-in-C, India, 1942–43; Air C-in-C, SEAC, 1943–44.

2 Night cameras were just being introduced. The photographs were taken automatically by a camera fitted in the belly of the aircraft. A flash bomb was released at the same time as the bombs; it exploded at about 3000 feet and lit up the ground, while at the same time the camera shutter opened long enough to get a good photograph. Ultimately, the night photographs were accepted as the only evidence of where the bombs fell.

page 171

Yet it was not the fault of the bomber crews that they failed to achieve the impossible. Equipment and training for night bombing were still in the experimental stage, while the many difficulties which faced the airmen flying over Germany were not yet fully realised. The only aids available to the navigator at this time were his compass, map, sextant and direction-finder loop, together with what he could see of the ground by starlight, moonlight, or the glow of an occasional flare. It was hard enough to get to the target area, but if and when the aircraft got there, the navigator still had the more difficult task of getting a visual fix of the aiming point or of some landmark which he could positively identify and from which he could make a run of a few miles to the target. Already the enemy’s balloon and anti-aircraft defences were forcing the bombers to fly at heights which made identification much harder. Often after contending with unpredicted changes in wind strength and direction, or flying through storms with no possibility of pinpointing their position, a crew would eventually reach the vicinity of the target only to find the whole area covered by thick cloud or haze. It was impossible to check whether their navigation was accurate or not and all that remained was to bomb on estimated time of arrival or to wait hopefully, as many did, for a break in the murk through which it might be possible to catch a glimpse of the ground. Most crews were reluctant to admit failure and bomb the ‘alternative’ target given them at briefing. A further difficulty was the fact that the enemy had already begun to employ various devices to mislead the British crews into wasting their bomb load. The decoys took the form of fires, flares and explosions, together with dummy airfields complete with buildings and flare paths. Later this deception became more elaborate, particularly in the vicinity of Hamburg and Berlin where lakes were covered over and false landmarks built in the surrounding countryside.

Lingering in the vicinity of a well-defended area in order to identify a target with some certainty meant that the aircraft, even if it was not hit, was blown about in the air by bursting shells. ‘One large piece of shrapnel went clean through the table at which the navigator was working. Altogether we were hit thirteen times as we flew round trying to locate our objective,’ declared the captain of one Hampden after an attack on Hamburg. Just before dawn on 11 May 1941 a lone Stirling, somewhat battered and scarred, limped in to land at its base in East Anglia. It was one of five bombers that had set out the previous evening to make an harassing attack on Berlin. When the German capital was reached the whole area was found to be obscured by cloud, but the captain, Flight Lieutenant Raymond,1 decided that there was some chance of making an attack

1 Squadron Leader C. Raymond, DFC; born Waipawa, 18 Oct 1916; farmer; joined RNZAF Sep 1939; transferred RAF Jun 1940; killed on air operations 23 Sep 1942.

page 172 through a gap in the clouds. He cruised around until a temporary clearance giving a reasonable chance for sighting did, in fact, occur. But by this time anti-aircraft fire was getting uncomfortably close, and just as the Stirling completed its bombing run the inner port engine was hit. A few moments later the propeller flew off, striking the one alongside it. The damaged engine then caught fire and the aircraft began to lose height. The fire persisted and gave the ground defences a clear indication of the bomber’s position. Searchlights held it continuously and then, before the crew could extinguish the flames, a Messerschmitt came in and made a series of determined attacks. One gun received a direct hit, the tail turret was blown out, and the hydraulic controls severed. Eventually, by dropping a flare which momentarily distracted the searchlights and then diving away, Raymond was able to get his badly damaged machine clear and, displaying fine airmanship, fly it back to England. He lost his life sixteen months later during a raid on Bremen, but a member of his crew who survived the war writes of the long return flight from Berlin:

We crossed the Dutch coast at about 5000 feet and as the aircraft was gradually losing height, we were prepared for a landing in the sea. However, through the skill of our pilot, we reached the English coast near Yarmouth flying at less than 1000 feet and Raymond then managed to keep our machine airborne for the few minutes needed to reach our base where he made an excellent landing. The following day, representatives of Short Bros. came to inspect the Stirling and on seeing its condition were extremely surprised that the pilot had been able to get it back to England.

Even at this period, when the enemy defences were still in a rudimentary stage, such experiences were not infrequent. Apart from this, flying over Germany by night was in itself an exacting and arduous task. It brought that mixture of boredom and anxiety which is among the most wearing of human emotions. This was particularly true in the case of the rear gunner—known colloquially in the service as ‘tail-end Charlie’. His was probably the most unenviable post in a bomber crew. Huddled in his turret and isolated from the other members of the crew, he had to remain constantly on the alert to warn his captain of impending attack from the rear. Yet when such an attack came he had only a matter of seconds in which to bring fire to bear on the enemy; nor is it surprising that he was sometimes caught unawares by the sudden swoop of a dark shape from out of the night. Often, too, the German night fighters attacked when the British bomber, held in the glare of searchlights, was a sitting target. But sometimes keen eyesight and good shooting turned the tables on the enemy. An example of this occurred on the night of 12 March, when Flying Officer Lewis1

1 Squadron Leader R. E. Lewis, DFC; England; born Wellington, 3 Dec 1917; joined RAF Jan 1939.

page 173 was in the rear turret of a Wellington flying home from a raid on the Focke-Wulf aircraft factory at Bremen. Near the Dutch coast a Messerschmitt passed by flying in almost the opposite direction. It immediately turned to attack, but before it had got round on the Wellington’s tail Lewis picked it up in his gun sights and fired two bursts. The Messerschmitt fell away and the crew saw ‘a dull red glow fall seawards through the mist.’ ‘On the night of 2nd July,’ reads another report, ‘a Stirling aircraft was on its way to Bremen when it was attacked by a night fighter. The rear gunner, Sergeant P. C. Whitwell,1 withheld his fire until the enemy machine had closed in, whereupon he shot it down in flames.’ Some time after this incident, Whitwell again distinguished himself while flying in one of two Stirlings making a daylight attack on ships off the Dutch coast. Over the convoy the two aircraft were intercepted by eight Messerschmitts and a running fight ensued, during which Whitwell drove off repeated attacks, ‘showing conspicuous coolness and ability when the odds were seriously against him.’ His crew saw two of the enemy fighters turn over and dive away after encountering fire from his turret. Although badly shot up, both the British machines managed to reach their base safely.
From July 1941 there was a distinct change in the target ‘areas’ which the night bomber crews were detailed to attack. The need to aid Russia was urgent,2 and it was decided that this could best be done by bombing important links in the German transport system. At the same time it was felt that such attacks would have a direct effect on the morale of the German population, as the railway yards and inland docks were usually adjacent to congested areas where the effect of heavy air bombardment would be most marked. The best rail targets, within effective range of the Wellingtons, Whitleys and Hampdens throughout the year, lay in western Germany. Unfortunately, the first heavy attacks attempted against the marshalling yards north-east of the Ruhr, at Hamm, Osnabruck, Soest and Schwerte, were without appreciable result as, on almost every occasion, the targets lay under such thick haze that neither they nor the towns themselves were seriously damaged. Raids on such communication centres as Munster, Cologne, Hanover, Mannheim, Aachen, Kassel and Duisberg followed, the most successful being that on Munster which was attacked on four successive nights during the July moon in excellent visibility. Some twenty acres of the inland port were burnt out and damage inflicted on the railway station and yards. By the end of October considerable fire damage

1 Flying Officer P. C. Whitwell, DFM; born Hartlepool, Durham, 16 Aug 1920; soldier; joined RNZAF Feb 1940; killed on air operations, 7 Nov 1942.

2 The German invasion of Russia had begun on 22 June 1941.

page 174 had also been caused in Aachen and Kassel, but in the other towns attacked the destruction was much less extensive and more scattered. Many of the raids had, in fact, proved abortive and served only to demonstrate the virtual impossibility at this time of hitting targets shrouded in haze and industrial smoke. On the other hand, the raids on the German ports of Hamburg, Bremen and Kiel, which were somewhat easier to locate, appear to have produced a moderate degree of damage and delay in the docks and shipbuilding yards. Altogether, the harassing attacks of these months had just sufficient effectiveness, under the best conditions, to impress upon the Germans that night bombing would have to be strenuously opposed. Ironic- ally, therefore, the most important result of the bombing offensive at this time was to draw the enemy’s attention to the urgent necessity of combating it before the weight and accuracy of the attacks increased.

In the early months of the war the Germans had relied entirely upon guns and searchlights for defence against night bombing attacks. The night fighter organisation did not come into being until June 1940, when searchlight interception and predicted anti-aircraft fire began to prove less effective than had been anticipated. At first progress was slow, but once the Germans realised the danger, they applied themselves to the task with characteristic energy and thoroughness. Eventually they were to assemble a night fighter force with a widespread and efficient ground organisation that was to present a real threat to the continuance of operations by Royal Air Force Bomber Command. Then the Battle of Germany, as it might well be called, became an ever-recurring cycle of measure and counter measure, of development and counter development in radio and radar instruments and in tactics. One incidental but important result of this battle was the diversion of large numbers of men and aircraft to the night defence of the Reich, thus depriving the German Air Force of its striking power and keeping many potential soldiers on anti-aircraft sites.1

During the second half of 1941 the growing strength of the German defence organisation was reflected in a sharp rise in the British casualty figures. Two hundred and forty-six aircraft, representing nearly 8 per cent of the forces despatched, were lost or seriously damaged on night operations during August and Sep- tember. Not all of these were lost over Germany, but more crews

1 In the summer of 1941, when the German Army invaded Russia, it had the support of 2800 aircraft, or nearly 60 per cent of the whole German Air Force. But two years later this had been reduced to less than 20 per cent. Production had been switched to fighter aircraft to defend the Reich against Bomber Command’s attacks, and during 1943 the front-line strength in Germany for this purpose increased by nearly 1000 aircraft; yet at the end of the same year, the German Army in Russia had only 350 fighters along a front of 2000 miles. A similar decline occurred in the Mediterranean theatre.

page 175 now reported being attacked by night fighters over enemy territory. The Germans were employing larger numbers of the twin-engined Messerschmitt 110 for night interception. These aircraft, each patrolling in a limited zone, were controlled from the ground by radio-telephony and operated in close co-operation with searchlights and anti-aircraft guns. Airborne radar was still in the experimental stage in Germany, but ground radar was in use both as an aid to the searchlights and guns as well as to the night fighters. Early warning stations were also being installed along the North Sea coast and, behind them, ground interceptor stations and searchlights which, by the end of 1941, extended in a belt from Denmark through Holland and down the western frontier of Germany—an area which had to be crossed by the British bombers before they could reach their targets in Germany and again during the return flight. In addition to establishing this outer defensive line, the Germans were also increasing the searchlight and gun defences of their principal cities and industrial areas.
At this time the searchlights were regarded by many of the bomber crews as their greatest enemy. ‘We always felt completely naked when caught by them,’ writes one bomber pilot. ‘Only by diving steeply and taking violent evasive action could we hope to escape their blinding glare.’ But sometimes before this happened the bomber was struck by fire from the ground or from a patrolling night fighter. ‘A Wellington near us was heavily hit and blew up in mid-air….’ ‘We saw one of our formation go down like a blazing torch.’ Behind such brief reports lay stories of grim encounters with the enemy defences and of courage in the face of disaster that can never be told. However, the reports of those who survived the hazards of searchlight, anti-aircraft gun, and night fighter give some idea of what the bomber crews faced on their missions over Germany as the enemy defences steadily increased. One such account concerns the crew of a Wellington bomber which attacked Cologne on the night of 16 August. Shortly after taking off the inter-communication system failed and then engine trouble caused difficulty in maintaining height, but the Wellington flew on and bombed its target, the crew reporting fires started near the aiming point. Flak and searchlights were encountered both over the target and during the return journey. Then, near the Dutch border, a Messerschmitt suddenly attacked, killing the rear gunner and setting the Wellington on fire. The pilot, Sergeant Sutherland,1 put the machine into a dive and escaped before the German fighter could attack again. The fire, fed by oil escaping from the damaged rear turret, was eventually extinguished, but while still flying over

1 Flight Lieutenant V. E. Sutherland; born Wellington, 11 Nov 1912; law clerk; joined RNZAF Jul 1940; killed in flying accident, 31 Dec 1942.

page 176 enemy territory the Wellington was again hit by flak. Yet despite extensive damage, Sutherland managed to get his aircraft back to England and land safely. Sergeant Newenham1 flew as navigator to Sutherland at this time, together with Sergeant Warnock,2 second pilot. But, as so often happened, this New Zealand partnership did not long survive. A few months later Warnock lost his life when the engines of his machine failed during a training flight, and Sutherland was killed in similar circumstances some months later. Only Newenham survived the war.
Early in November 1941 Flight Sergeant Hamilton3 shared with the British crew of his Wellington bomber one of the most amazing experiences of the year. Their aircraft was one of a force of 140 bombers despatched to attack Berlin on the night of 7 November.4 Over the North Sea they ran into cloud which thickened as the Wellington flew on into Germany. Then, as they approached Berlin, anti-aircraft batteries began firing through the cloud with predicted fire. Their machine was thrown about in the air and eventually hit several times by shrapnel, but they flew on and dropped their bombs on the German capital. Shortly after turning for home the Wellington received a direct hit from anti-aircraft fire, and some incendiary bombs, which had been kept for a secondary target, were set alight. Soon the inside of the aircraft was filled with choking fumes, then smoke and flames began to come up through the floor. Within a few minutes the bomber was ablaze along the whole length of its bomb racks and an easy target for every gun within range. Shells began to burst all round and again the Wellington was thrown about and peppered with shrapnel. The extinguisher ran out before the fire could be completely subdued, and for the next three hours the crew had to beat at the flames each time they flared up again. Eventually, with much of the fabric on one wing and on both sides of the fuselage burnt away, the Wellington, which had been steadily losing height, came down on the sea some twenty miles off the mouth of the Thames. It broke up quickly and sank within a minute, but during that time all six of the crew managed to get clear and scramble into the rubber dinghy. But their ordeal was not yet over. In spite of frantic

1 Squadron Leader W. A. Newenham, DFC; RAF; born Nelson, 23 Jun 1914; salesman; joined RNZAF Oct 1939; transferred RAF Jun 1947.

2 Pilot Officer J. M. Warnock; born Richmond, Nelson, 13 Apr 1915; interior decorator; joined RNZAF Jul 1940; killed in flying accident, 8 Apr 1942.

3 Flight Sergeant D. A. S. Hamilton; born Hamilton, 19 Jan 1920; carpenter; joined RNZAF Sep 1940; killed on air operations, 1 Apr 1942.

4 This was the heaviest attack so far delivered against the German capital. Very severe icing was encountered en route and only 73 aircraft claimed to have reached Berlin, which they found covered with thick cloud—21 aircraft failed to return. Thereafter, with one exception, heavy attacks on the city were abandoned until 1943.

page 177 efforts with the paddles the tide swept them into the Channel, where they drifted unseen for two and a half days before being washed up, numbed and frostbitten, on the Isle of Wight.

‘We paddled all the first day and most of the night but the tide was too strong for us,’ wrote Hamilton. ‘The second day was cold with heavy seas running. We saw some Hurricanes in the distance but they missed us. We rationed our few biscuits, some chocolate and water. The third day the wind and seas grew worse. But suddenly we saw land and were afraid we were going to be swept past so we paddled as best we could and were at last washed in to the rescuers who waded out to us.’

Hamilton returned to operations only to be reported missing over Germany four months later.

Some of the crews who failed to return survived harrowing experiences to become prisoners of war.

‘We were about thirty miles inland from the enemy coast,’ writes the New Zealand navigator of a Stirling bomber which was detailed to attack Hamburg one night in July. ‘Suddenly, without warning we were in a cone of searchlights. Then the guns opened up and caught us with a direct hit, blowing a large hole in the floor and almost cutting the plane in half. One of our engines was on fire and part of the starboard wing had dis- appeared. We flew on towards Hamburg in an attempt to deliver our load, but as we approached the city a night fighter attacked, killing the rear gunner, smashing the wireless set and killing the operator. My navigation table was blown through the side of the machine. We dropped our bombs and prepared to bale out as our Stirling was losing height rapidly…. The plane just missed me as it went spinning down to explode on the ground….

Another New Zealand navigator in a Wellington bomber was rescued from the sea by the Germans, along with two other members of his crew who survived when their damaged aircraft crashed into the sea near Heligoland on the return flight. A westerly wind carried the dinghy with the three chilled and exhausted men back towards Germany. Late the next afternoon they drifted into Sylt harbour, where they were sighted at dusk by a German pilot just finishing a practice flight. They were picked up by an enemy naval launch an hour later.

During September 1941, with the approach of longer hours of darkness, several raids were attempted against targets in northern Italy but the only attack which achieved any degree of success was the first, on the night of 10 September, against Turin. On this occasion 23 of the new four-engined Stirlings and Halifaxes supplemented the effort of 50 Wellingtons. The weather was clear and, although most men suffered from the intense cold of the Alpine crossings, good results were observed. A considerable number of fires were left burning in the target area, one of which was reported to be still visible after some fifteen minutes of the homeward flight.

page 178

A fortnight later the force despatched to Genoa had to be recalled owing to deteriorating weather at home bases, and a second attempt against the same target two nights later was attended with little better luck. As the bombers neared the Alps they met thick cloud and electrical storms; several were forced to turn back, but the majority completed the crossing only to find layers of cloud over Genoa itself. There was also considerable ground haze, with the result that many crews were unable to identify the aiming point and had to bomb its estimated position. Attacks on Italy were thereupon suspended as the bomber force now became preoccupied with increasingly heavy losses over Germany and the demand for heavier attacks on the enemy warships at Brest.

The German Navy had begun to use the French Atlantic ports at the end of 1940. The cruiser Hipper arrived in Brest on 28 December and, apart from a brief excursion into the Atlantic at the beginning of February 1941, remained there until the middle of March, when she returned to Kiel. The battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau reached Brest towards the end of March, where they were joined by the cruiser Prinz Eugen at the beginning of June. Throughout the year New Zealand airmen had flown on many of the smaller scale raids directed against the enemy-occupied ports from Rotterdam to Bordeaux, and more especially against the German warships in Brest, the docks in which they were repaired and the submarine base. These were short-range targets and there was no stretch of enemy territory to cross before reaching them. But because of this vulnerability the Germans had increased the anti-aircraft and searchlight defences, particularly in Brest, which was also the first town on the Continent to be effectively defended by a quickly laid smoke screen. In addition, the Germans had based day and night fighter squadrons in close proximity to the ports and had built radar stations on the coast to give early warning of impending attacks. The warships, heavily protected in dock at Brest, were difficult to damage decisively; opportunities for underwater damage were absent and full facilities for repair were readily available. On the few occasions when they were moored to a jetty, the ships were almost completely sheltered from torpedo attack by booms and nets.1 Apart from this, heavy armour plating on the decks gave considerable protection against bombing. Nevertheless, the attacks made during 1941 did cause repeated damage, sufficient to prevent the enemy warships from putting to sea to prey on Atlantic shipping, and eventually the Germans decided to abandon the port

1 There was, however, one successful torpedo attack. At dawn on 6 April 1941, a single Coastal Command Beaufort piloted by Flying Officer K. Campbell, of Ayrshire, Scotland, ran the gauntlet of the enemy defences and hit the Gneisenau. The Beaufort was shot down but the German warship was forced to return to the dock she had just left. Campbell was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.

page 179 as a base for such operations. Vice-Admiral Ciliax, at that time Commander-in-Chief at Brest, writes: ‘The tenacity with which the Royal Air Force attacked the ships from the day of their arrival was remarkable. The aircraft succeeded in causing damage continuously …. and the relinquishing of what was, after all, the first German naval station on the open Atlantic for larger units, was felt severely.’

The raids on Brest were made mainly, although not entirely, by night. During the early months of the year gallant attempts to surprise the enemy defences were made in daylight by small formations of Beauforts and Blenheims of Coastal and Bomber Commands. They faced withering fire from anti-aircraft ships moored in the outer harbour and from batteries clustered round the port. Losses were heavy. On one occasion four out of six Blenheims failed to return. In another attack all three Beauforts despatched were shot down. One of the latter, piloted by Flying Officer Gair,1 crashed near a small village in Brittany. He and his crew were buried by the French in the place d’honneur by the memorial to the First World War, after a special service attended by nearly all the village folk, despite German orders to the contrary.

The heaviest daylight attacks of the year were made towards the end of July, when it appeared that at least one of the German warships was about to put to sea. In fact, the Scharnhorst left Brest on the 22nd and was discovered by reconnaissance the following day in harbour at La Pallice, 250 miles south of Brest. Six Stirlings attacked the same afternoon. Only three returned. Early the next afternoon 15 Halifaxes of Air Vice-Marshal Carr’s group flew to La Pallice and made a determined attack on the battle- cruiser, inflicting such damage that her sortie into the Atlantic was cancelled and she returned to Brest. A German record of this attack states: ‘Five bomb hits were scored. Three of the bombs failed to explode and penetrated right through the ship.’ But in addition to the anti-aircraft defences, the Germans had sent fighters south to protect the Scharnhorst and five of the Halifaxes were shot down. No. 76 Squadron, led by Wing Commander G. T. Jarman, was heavily engaged by Messerschmitts in the vicinity of the target and three of the formation were lost. Jarman’s aircraft itself was badly shot up and limped back with one engine out of action. However, he was able to report the destruction of two enemy fighters by his squadron.

On the same day, a simultaneous attack was launched against the Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen at Brest by a force of just over a

1 Flying Officer R. W. Gair; born Wellington, 12 Mar 1919; joined RAF Mar 1939; killed on air operations, 15 Feb 1941.

page 180 hundred Wellingtons and Hampdens. The first two Wellington squadrons over the port, led by Wing Commander T. O. Freeman, succeeded in maintaining tight formation in spite of anti-aircraft fire, and were thus able to drive off subsequent attacks by enemy fighters. One captain from Freeman’s squadron afterwards reported that ‘the Messerschmitts gave up their attacks and flew round waiting for stragglers.’ But other sections of aircraft were less fortunate; they met determined attacks and were only able to beat them off after a series of sharp engagements in which most of the bombers were badly shot up. Clear weather enabled the anti-aircraft defences to break up many of the later formations, and as the bombers dispersed the Messerschmitts dived upon them. Combats quickly developed over a wide area and 13 British aircraft were shot down.

Harassing attacks, mainly by night, were continued against Brest throughout the second half of 1941 but, apart from two heavy raids in September, the average effort was only 15 aircraft in the night attacks and considerably fewer by day. The effectiveness of these attacks was much reduced by the enemy’s use of smoke screens and skilful camouflage of the ships themselves, and at the beginning of December reconnaissance revealed that heavier attacks would be necessary to confine the vessels to port. The need to neutralise these powerful warships became more urgent following the destructive Japanese attack on the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour on 7 December and the sinking of HM ships Prince of Wales and Repulse off the Malayan Peninsula three days later.

The scale of the night attacks was therefore increased, but the chief hope of success at this critical time lay in another daylight raid in strength. Such an operation was executed just after midday on 18 December by a force of 47 heavy bombers, Halifaxes, Stirlings and Manchesters, following upon a heavy raid the previous night. The crews had trained for several days in formation flying so that they could attack in sections, and in a further effort to reduce losses the approach was made from the landward side of Brest which was less heavily defended. It was an afternoon of clear skies and bright sunshine, rare in this first month of the northern winter, and both the escort of Spitfires and Hurricanes and the bombers had many encounters with the enemy fighters that came up to intercept the British force. One Hurricane and five bombers, including a Stirling piloted by Sergeant Taylor,1 were lost. Three Messerschmitts were claimed destroyed. One of these fell to

1 Sergeant K. R. Taylor; born Christchurch, 16 Dec 1915; clerk; joined RNZAF Nov 1940; killed on air operations, 18 Dec 1941.

page 181 the guns of the leading aircraft of the bomber force, in which Flight Sergeant Runciman1 was flying as second pilot.

Although we were the first aircraft over Brest, the anti-aircraft guns seemed to concentrate on the machines behind us. We ‘collected’ the odd piece of shrapnel but the nearest thing was one shell which went straight through our starboard aileron and burst above us. We had just dropped our bombs and were turning for home when three Messerschmitts attacked us. However our rear gunner immediately sent one down and the others broke away. We got clear and reached base before the ‘lame ducks’ started arriving.

Only two of the nine aircraft sent by Runciman’s squadron escaped major damage. One bomber which had been badly shot up came in to land with an engine on fire. The pilot made a normal landing, but as his machine touched down the burning engine fell off, bounced in the air and took off a piece of the tail. The port wing, weakened by fire, then broke off and the undercarriage collapsed.

Two New Zealand gunners who had successful engagements were Flight Sergeant Smith2 and Sergeant De Joux.3 Smith’s machine was attacked by several Messerschmitts in turn as it approached the target. He scored hits on one of them as it came in and the pilot was seen to bale out. De Joux’s Stirling was attacked twice while over the target. In the first encounter the automatic mechanism of his guns was put out of action, but by the skilful use of his turret hand-rotation gear and also by operating the releases of his guns by hand, he managed to bring fire to bear on the enemy machine during the second attack and set it or fire. A number of the bombers were damaged by anti-aircraft fire and the fighter attacks, the Stirling in which Flight Sergeant Lewis4 was flying as second pilot being hit several times by anti-aircraft fire, which tore holes in the fuselage and mainplane and put the rear turret out of action. One Halifax was so damaged that it was forced to land in the sea on the way home. A shell had knocked out an engine, causing it to lose speed and drop out of formation. Fighters then destroyed two more of its engines and it could not remain airborne.

The following morning Sergeant Mooney5 flew a Beaufighter of Coastal Command in a low-level reconnaissance of Brest—it was the second occasion during the month on which he had undertaken such a mission. Flying within a few feet of the balloon barrage he obtained photographs which revealed the results of the attack. The

1 Squadron Leader W. J. Runciman, AFC, DFM; RAF; born Auckland, 22 Oct 1920; draughtsman; joined RNZAF Oct 1940; transferred RAF Jul 1947.

2 Flight Lieutenant J. M. Smith, DFM; born Dargaville, Auckland, 16 Mar 1917; shop assistant; joined RNZAF Sep 1940; killed on air operations, 7 Sep 1942.

3 Flying Officer E. E. De Joux, CGM, DFM; Victoria, Australia; born Edinburgh, Scotland, 27 Jan 1921; joined RAF May 1940; transferred RNZAF Jun 1944.

4 Flight Sergeant J. Lewis; born Richmond, 28 Jul 1920; draughting cadet; joined RNZAF Nov 1940; killed on air operations, 6 May 1942.

5 Flight Lieutenant B. F. Mooney, DFM; born Dunedin, 12 Sep 1916; joined RAF Jan 1940; p.w. 11 Mar 1942.

page 182 Gneisenau had received a direct hit on the stern, while other bombs had fallen between the ships and the docks in which they were lying. But as subsequent events were to prove, neither vessel was crippled by this heavy daylight attack. In the night raids which followed, although the weather and the enemy defences made accurate bombing wellnigh impossible, the weight of attack was sufficient to cause the German High Command to consider the advisability of abandoning Brest as a base for the three larger naval vessels there and moving them to a home port.

For the men of Bomber Command the year 1941 closed on a note of disappointment and frustration. Daylight operations, in spite of the gallantry and fine spirit of the crews concerned, were now virtually abandoned, while heavy losses during the autumn had compelled a reduction in the modest scale of the night offensive against Germany. Both the number of nights on which bombers went out and the size of the force employed were considerably less. On the fifteen nights in November and eleven in December when operations took place, the usual effort was smaller than one hundred aircraft. But even when in full operation, this offensive had lacked the concentration in space and time necessary to cause appreciable disruption of the German transport system, dislocation of industry or softening of morale. Earlier conceptions of what a limited and ill-equipped bomber force could achieve had been tried under the hardest conditions of war and found to be over-optimistic. Only now were the difficulties under which the crews laboured being fully realised. Night after night targets had been obscured by cloud or haze, since meteorological information from the Continent was not yet as highly developed as it later became with the advent of the Mosquito. On the other hand, operations from fog-bound bases in eastern England had often to be cancelled or aircraft recalled; or, as happened on several occasions, missions had been carried through at the cost of heavy casualties, the aircraft returning in such conditions that the difficulties of landing were too great for the pilots to overcome.

At the same time the demand for expansion of the force and the heavy casualties suffered during the year had denuded the operational squadrons of many of the more experienced men needed to train their successors. Finally, the introduction of night photography had shown the urgent need for better navigational aids to assist crews in locating their targets. This was the vital problem on which the scientists were already hard at work, and with the realisation of the various other shortcomings, greater efforts were now made to secure and equip a force of sufficient strength to do what many believed was already being done.