RAF 100 (BOMBER SUPPORT) GROUP
No. 23 Squadron, RAF Little Snoring, Norfolk, UK
Little Snoring Control Tower
Left to right: F/Sgt Ikin, F/Sgt Hammond, F/L B Hastings, Mary: ‘Ops’ clerk
23 Squadron returned to England from operations abroad in June 1944 to serve in the newly formed RAF No.100 Group, Bomber Command. Based at Little Snoring, Norfolk, UK, it was an Intruder Squadron, targeting German Night Fighters over Western Europe.
The Station had a new Commander, Wing Commander B.R.O.B. Hoare DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar. As with all Fighter Stations there were a permanent ‘skeleton’ staff which administered the site, manned the Control Tower and performed functions that Squadrons did not provide, with personnel to augment these operations for them.
Aircrew grew accustomed to hearing last words spoken from the Control Tower on returning unscathed - ‘Good night old boy’ signalling they were ‘Home’. It brought a feeling of safety treasured by all Intruder crews after yet another operation … and yet it was a team effort always.
Canadian Pilot F/O George Stewart is today a firm and valued friend and gifted writer. Keen that readers understand what it was like as a young man, leaving his home in Canada the first time just 19 years old, arriving in a strange land with eyes wide open, soaking up each new experience, he offers this unique insight into what life was like here in wartime:
Canadian Pilot F/O George Stewart
23 Squadron: Saturday 4 November 1944
Courtesy: George Stewart
Welcome to RAF Station Little Snoring!
This is home for two 100 Group (BS) Squadrons (No! It means ‘Bomber Support’). 23 Squadron is led by W/C A.M. (Sticky) Murphy, DSO and Bar DFC and Bar, Croix de Guerre and Palm, and Chech Medal. 515 Squadron is headed up by W/C Freddy Lambert DSO, DFC, (Canadian). Our Station Commander is G/C Samuel (Sammy) Hoare, DSO and Bar, DFC and BAR, (nephew of Sir Samuel Hoare (of The Home Office).
W/C Murphy was famous for dropping off and picking up, agents (spies) from occupied Europe in Lysanders, landing at night in the dark with only three flashlights held by people on the ground, forming an L, indicating where the landing strip was located. I picked him up one day from his Lysander base and he showed me around. I was impressed! There was nobody lower in rank than Flt/Sgt, a very special organisation.
G/C Hoare is recognised as one of the original ‘Night Intruders’ in WWII, and written up in the Rolls Royce Annals for his remarkable return one night from an Intruder operation over Germany. His Mosquito was hit by ground fire, damaging his oil lines; however, he kept flying, alternating from one engine to the other. Just as one would overheat from lack of oil, he would feather its prop, switch to the other, then back again, a truly remarkable feat of airmanship! I knew him when I was at High Ercall, the Night Intruder Mosquito Operational Training Unit. He was the Commanding Officer.
I am the only Canadian pilot here and acting as your host today. This is our Briefing Room, located behind Station Headquarters - the ‘nerve-centre’ of our base. The Intelligence Section and its Library are next door. Crews flying ops tonight are waiting there to be called in for Briefing, which will start shortly.
As you see, this is laid out like a classroom with long tables and chairs. Behind me, on the back wall is a large map of Europe with ribbons taped to it. It’s made with identical maps Navigators use when flying ‘ops’, so we plot our trips on the same scale. The ribbons show tracks the Main Force will follow to their ‘Target For Tonight’, and back home after dropping their bombs.
W/C Murphy our CO, and S/L Charlie Price, our SIO (Senior Intelligent Officer) are going over details of tonight’s operation before Briefing begins. I’m told Charlie went on many heavy bomber raids as Observer to get the ‘feel’ of operations, making him a more informed Intelligence Officer. That took courage. We hold him in high regard! 515 Squadron, our ‘Sister’ Squadron has the night off. (‘Stood Down’).
The covered easel over to my right, holds our Crew-Allocation Board, where individual patrol areas are listed. We are extremely anxious to know where the heck they’re sending us tonight! It won’t be uncovered until after Charlie shares the overall operational picture, involving the Main Force, and supporting roles we provide.
You’ve been given top security clearance, to be a ‘fly on the wall’ during our Briefing. This is new to us! Please don’t talk about it beyond this room. We don’t want the enemy knowing any surprises we have in store. Briefing begins at 1400 hours; but first, I’ll freeze time, and explain about Little Snoring, our Squadron, our aircraft, and our role.
I’m sure during your drive around the airfield this morning, the Orderly Officer pointed out things of interest.
On arrival, you must have been surprised how suddenly you were at our main gate, turning a corner in the middle of our tiny village. Little Snoring is about three miles from Fakenham. Don’t you just love those English place names? Was it a ‘bedroom’ community for Fakenham years ago? Like many wartime aerodromes, we snuggle up against the north edge of town, our main runways stretching a mile over adjacent farmland. Two longer ones are angled to bracket prevailing westerly winds. A short one is only used for taxiing or emergency purposes.
When I first came, it was strange to see aircraft widely scattered around the outside edge of the airfield, unlike our neat arrangement back home, trainers neatly lined up in a row along the tarmac in front of the row of hangars, a more efficient layout, and ‘user friendly’ I’m sure you’ll agree. This ‘dispersing’, as it’s called, is well planned, our aircraft present poorer targets when under attack from the air.
Station buildings too, are located just outside the north part of town, positioned a short walking distance of one another (Station Headquarters, Intelligence section, various Messes, Sick Bay, Motor Pool, etc). The COs and Flight offices are at the nearby edge of the airfield, as are our personal flying lockers. The few hangars either side of the airfield are also dispersed. You may wonder why we have so few hangars. Our aircraft stay in the open, except when brought inside for inspections, or maintenance, (that can’t be done at dispersal positions).
Runways must seem messy with wooden chips strewn over their thresholds; but they ease the shock to tyres as we touch down about 120mph. In wartime we must save rubber. Tyres are also covered with tarps when aircraft are parked in their dispersals, protecting their natural rubber from harmful effects of engine and hydraulic fluids dripping on them from above.
That funny little van (with the turret on the back of it), sitting by the runway-in-use, houses the ACP (Aerodrome Control Pilot), a very important job in our line of work. He signals aircraft departing on operations - flashing a green light for permission to take off, or red to hold, because we maintain radio silence day and night. All other flying is controlled by radio contact with the Control Tower.
Each Mosquito crew has an assigned parking spot for their aircraft, out at the dispersals, and the aircraft sit on hard standings.
Little Snoring: red dot marks George Stewart’s parking spot
Our Crew Chief has a small office and servicing hut nearby where we sign our aircraft’s L14 before and after we fly, noting anything needing attention before the next flight. An Air Raid shelter trench near his hut is home to a stray rooster and our pet pig which somebody won in a bond rally. I certainly wouldn’t want to jump in there, even under attack!
We’re billeted in half-round corrugated steel Nissen huts, grouped together in rows (we call this area our ‘Site’) a mile down the road. Each houses ten people (five crews), sharing a washroom hut with one next door. We have a ‘Batman’, Charlie, who brings tea in the morning, tends our two tiny stoves, and keeps things neat. He has a small ‘Scottie’ dog called ‘Angus’, who has adopted us all.
Standard hut on the site
Courtesy: Tom Cushing
‘Charlie’, Batman for George Stewart’s hut
You can imagine transportation problems this kind of base layout presents, everything so widely scattered. Well, a bicycle is the answer. Each of us is issued one (and you thought we fought the war in aeroplanes!) Remember bicycle clips? Our COs and Flight Commanders get an automobile! But bikes are great, except when it’s pouring rain, or on a day like this in a cold, strong wind. (It makes you want to be a Flight Commander!)
Courtesy: George Stewart
Paul Beaudet, George Whiteman, Bill Austin cycling towards the site
Squadron life is quite civilised. It hardly seems there’s a war on as we go about daily life. We get four meals a day - breakfast 7:00-9:00am, lunch 11:30-1:00, (not forgetting Tea Time) 4:00-5:00, and dinner 7:00-8:00pm. All appears so peaceful. We fly happily around during the morning, doing our NFTs, then relax in the Officers’ Lounge, reading newspapers, ‘Flight’, ‘The Aeroplane’, or ‘Tee Em’, visit Squadron mates, open mail, play billiards, until lunch is served (very gentile!). However, all is not as it seems, as you will find shortly.
Speaking of lunch, did you enjoy that lovely RAF ‘Cuisine’? Those steam tables! It’s nothing like Mother’s cooking, but they do their best during wartime, with many shortages. HOWEVER, I swear; if I survive the war, I WILL NEVER, EVER, EAT ANOTHER BRUSSELS SPROUT!
It’s spooky at night in the ‘blackout’, like a setting for Sherlock Holmes. They even drive on the wrong side of the road. Thank goodness runways don’t have two lanes! How about those English expressions? They call flashlights ‘torches’, gas ‘petrol’, tires are ‘tyres’, batteries ‘accumulators’, crashes ‘prangs’, ‘Wizard’, (Wizard Prang), pounds are ‘Quids’, halfpenny, a ‘Haypenny bit’, a quarter penny, a Farthing, the three-penny coin ‘Threppence’, the two-penny coin ‘Tuppence’, ‘Upon my Word’, ‘Jolly good Show’, ‘dear- dear-dear’, ‘my-my-my’,’ ‘Bad Form’, ‘What’s the Form’? , ‘Not Arf’, ‘ Popsie’, ‘Bird’, ‘Goodness Me’ ‘goody- goody’, ‘I say old chap’, ‘knock her up’, ‘I’ll knock you up at seven’, ‘everything’s in a flap’, ‘Cheerio old boy’, ‘Chiddleeoo’, a ‘Cuppa’, ’Struth’ ‘Spirits’, a ‘Pint’’ a ‘Brew’, ‘Gin and It’, ‘Pim’s Tin Cup’ (with cucumber), “Time Gentlemen Please”, ‘Scrubbed’, ‘Went for the Chop’,‘Bought It’,’Bought the Farm’ ‘Batting on a Sticky Wicket’, ‘Dicing’(Dicing with Death) ‘Cream Teas’, ‘Lorry’, ‘Tram’, Trailer (Caravan), ‘what a clot’, ‘Ta Ta for now’, radio is ‘Wireless’, the flying radio is the ‘R/T’, ‘BBC English’, ‘King’s English’, ‘Colonials’, ‘UK’, ‘Tea dances’, the ‘Hun’, ‘Boche’,‘that’s a bit Dod-gee’, ‘dim view of that’, ‘poor show’, ‘Guvner’, ‘Stand-up Fight’, ‘Wot Cheer Cock’, (Wot Cheer me old ‘Cock-Sparra’), the Cockney stairs are ‘Apples and Pears’ etc..
We have a bar with a fine selection of drinks, but they don’t have the soft drinks we do back home. Did you see the little scrub brush hanging down above the bar, a single dice on the other end of the string? When the scrub brush is lowered, it means flying is cancelled and the bar open. If the dice is pulled down, the bar is closed, indicating operations are being flown tonight, so nobody drinks. (We are Dicing!)
23 Squadron dates back to World War I. Many famous pilots (such as Raymond Collishaw), served with it. Over the years, 23 has been equipped with various new types of aircraft as technology and tactics developed. We’re now operating the renowned de Havilland Mosquito MKVI Fighter Bomber, a truly remarkable aircraft. It’s one of the best designs of WWII adapting to a multitude of roles, from high and low level, unarmed Photo Reconnaissance and bombing activities, to rocket-firing anti-shipping strikes, torpedo attacks, and in our case, a fighter bomber, carrying guns and bombs.
How do you like our beautiful little aircraft? Aren’t they awesome? Hard to believe they’re made of wood, and the fastest aircraft in the world. Not only that, they weigh over eleven tons. Not even a strong wind like today can force them to remain on the ground. Mind you, we have to lock our controls so they won’t keep banging against their stops and cause damage.
Our Mosquito has a deadly sting - four 20mm cannons, four .303 machine-guns, and two 500lb bombs, a formidable fighting machine, feared by the enemy! The machine guns are visible. You can see them sticking out of the nose; however cannons underneath are hidden by fabric. This material covers the troughs in which their barrels are located, and replaced each time the cannons are fired. Besides keeping foreign objects out of cannon barrels, the fabric improves the streamlining of the fuselage, and contributes to our speed.
Our two 500lb bombs are carried in the bomb bay under our cockpit behind the cannons, with specially designed short fins to accommodate the cramped space available in its slender fuselage. The bomber version of the Mosquito is modified with a swollen belly, making room for the 4000lb bomb (‘Cookie’) it carries. Our exhaust stacks are shrouded to make us less visible at night.
This aircraft I flew on two operations:-
Courtesy: Tom Cushing
23 Squadron Mosquito: YPE PZ187
(Thursford in background behind tail)
RAF Little Snoring Autumn 1944
Our major role is Night-Intruding. We operate alone deep inside enemy territory, patrolling German Night-Fighter bases, (for a period of one hour), making our presence known; making things difficult for them. We’ve been told if one of them manages to shoot us down, it counts double. This is flattering, but it has its downside, because they would just love to ‘get’ us! Arriving home from harassing our bombers, low in fuel, out of ammunition, on finding us waiting for them, they divert to another airfield, even at the risk of running out of fuel. So we also inflict psychological damage.
Group finds other tasks for us as well as Night-Intruding, under the general heading ‘Bomber-Support’. We can operate as a Spoof Force, drawing German Night-Fighters away from our bombers, or provide daylight escort, or Ranger patrols, (day or night), to find targets of opportunity, (usually trains and planes). Our role is flexible! One particular example was when our two Squadrons flew a ‘ground-strafing’ ‘Dawn-attack’, on Leeuwarden aerodrome, an important German Night-Fighter base. We were briefed to do this, but at the last moment the operation was cancelled, considered too dangerous! We all agreed on this point. We could have had many losses.
I was particularly relieved, because I was selected to be last aircraft to attack!
We Canadian Airmen have a two-tour commitment; the first, (in night intruding) is 35 sorties, after which we be ‘tour-expired’ (screened), and have a rest tour for 6 months, instructing at an ‘OTU’, (Operational Training Unit), followed by a second tour of 25 trips; before being sent home to instruct or assigned other duties.
Our British counterparts have no such luck. They keep on going, operating then instructing, operating then instructing, until war ends or they are lost. We lost S/L Raybone on his 6th tour. He was noticeably tired from so many operations, (he had a nervous facial twitch). He should have been taken off operations a long time before that fateful trip. We all felt bad when he didn’t get back. He was a great guy!
But let’s get back to today, Saturday, November 4, 1944, from start to finish.
Charlie woke us this morning at 7:00: ‘Good morning gentlemen, it’s a cold windy day. You’ll need this hot cup of tea, believe me!’ We jumped out of bed, and put on underwear and socks we’ve had in bed all night with us, to keep them warm and dry. After a quick wash and shave, we put on ‘Battle-Dress’ and cycled to the Officers’ Mess. (I’d already hurried out on hearing my Flight Commander’s car start up, asking to put us on the ‘Roster’ for tonight’s ops.) We fly operations two nights ‘on’, one night ‘off’, changing with weather and operational requirements which interrupt the cycle. We are also granted a week’s leave every six weeks, during operational service.
On the Bulletin Board, Briefing has been called for 1400hrs. Glancing briefly at ‘DROs’, (daily routine orders), we go in for breakfast. It is 0800hrs. There is a general hubbub of conversation, with usual questions about last night’s operations. Anybody missing? Who? How? Where? Enemy aircraft shot down? Any other action? In a small group like ours, it’s more personal. We know one another, and some are close friends.
Our regular fare is on display on the steam table, as we go along the cafeteria line, reconstituted scrambled eggs, fried ‘spam’ (really delicious) sausages, toast, jam, tea and coffee. It’s not the ‘Ritz’, but it’s here, with choices, so we dive in!
0830. The CO and Flight-Commanders stand up and leave for the Flight Offices. It’s a signal to follow, to find out if we’re operating tonight. Off we go to cycle there. Sure enough, on the Status Board, seven crews are required for tonight. F/O Stewart and F/O Beaudet are assigned Mosquito YP-J (PZ448) our current aircraft. Mom’s nickname ‘Toots’ is painted on the nose. The flight sheet is on the desk. I sign out for our ‘NFT’, (Night-Flying Test). Then we walk to our lockers, pick up parachutes and helmets, standing by for a ride across the airfield to our dispersal point, where our aircraft is parked.
‘Pip’, our WAAF driver arrives with her 1500wt truck. We hop in, and make around the airfield. Golly! What a strong wind!! And cold! Once there, I put my stuff on the ground, and walk over to Chiefy’s office to sign the L14, making sure our aircraft is serviceable; then back to our aircraft, do a quick walk-around, including unscrewing U/C locks, wrapping them to stow in leather pouches inside the wheel wells, climbing onto the horizontal stabilizer, reaching to remove the Pitot-Head Cover from the top of the vertical fin. (Usually ground crew does this, especially at night). Paul settles on board. I climb up the tiny folding ladder, pushing my heavy parachute ahead, and strap in ready to start up.
After a short pre-start check. Gas On, Brakes On, Throttles Set, while George our ground crew, plugs in the battery cart, he primes the starboard engine, and stands by, waiting to give it more prime if needed. I flip on the mag switches, calling out: ‘Contact Starboard’. George, replies: ‘Contact Starboard’. I press the starter button and booster coil together. The Merlin roars to life! The noise is deafening; after I catch the engine with throttle and settle it to idle smoothly at 1200rpm, I’m ready to start the port engine. I wait for George to screw in and lock the primer pump, close and lock its little flap. He goes under the fuselage to prime the port engine. He has to let me know he is ready for start. Because of the noise of the starboard engine, voice doesn’t work. He raps on my side of the fuselage, signalling me to start the other engine. I start up the port. Again George secures the primer. He unplugs the battery cart, and comes around to the front left of the aircraft where I can see him, waiting for my signal to pull the chocks. Both engines are running smooth. I turn on the generator switch and radio, and open my radiator flaps. I do my post-start check, and call the Tower: ‘Hello Exking, this is Cricket 34, Radio check and taxi clearance for an NFT, please. Over’. He replies: ‘Roger 34 you are loud and clear, and clear to taxi to runway 24. Call us when you are ready for take-off. Over’. ‘34 Wilco. Out’.
I signal George to remove the chocks. He waves us out onto the perimeter track. I move slowly forward and stop to check the brakes; then carry on around the perimeter track to runway 24, ‘holding-short’, to do our Pre Take-Off (‘Vital Actions’) check, and Run Up.
I run up each Engine to zero boost, and check the Magnetos. We’re set to go. I look around, and on the approach to see all is clear, then call the Tower.
‘Hello Exking Cricket 34 is ready for take-off. Over.’
‘Roger 34, you are clear for take-off. Out.’
I taxi onto the runway, roll forward a few feet to straighten the tail-wheel, and gently squeeze the brakes until we stop. After re-setting the directional gyro to 240, and un-caging it, I move the throttles forward to zero boost; (balancing my power on both engines). In one smooth motion, releasing the brakes, I advance the throttles quickly to the ‘gate’, at the same time pushing the stick fully forward. Automatically, I apply the anticipated right rudder to counteract torque and any cross wind. Our Mosquito moves quickly forward, rapidly gaining speed. The tail comes up at 70mph, (very soon in this wind), now with full rudder control we keep accelerating down the centre-line of the runway. At about 120-125mph, the aircraft feels lighter and I lift it gently a few feet into the air.
I keep it down to about 50ft; give a short squeeze of brakes to stop the wheels turning, and select ‘Undercarriage-Up’. Meanwhile, the airspeed keeps building as we near the end of the runway. At 180mph, I gently ease into a climb and throttle back to climb-power (+6lb boost & 2650rpm). Then, I do my post take-off check, Temps and Pressures, U/C –Up, turn off fuel ‘Booster-Pumps’, and we climb away to about 1000 feet, close my rad flaps and turn away from the aerodrome. Now the thrill of flying begins, the Mosquito being the ultimate recreational vehicle!
The purpose of the ‘NFT’, is to ensure our aircraft is serviceable for our operation tonight. This we do; but that doesn’t stop us having fun. I often have mock dog-fights with other aircraft; or do low flying; perform extreme ‘wingovers’, attack aircraft we might find, as well as creeping into formation with other aircraft (like a Fortress). One time, after taking a pass at a Lancaster and rushing past, I saw the pilot had long red hair. It was a lady ATA pilot delivering it somewhere. Incidentally, that’s how 23 Squadron received its first Mosquito, delivered by a lady ATA pilot. ‘Good for you, Girls!’
Rejuvenated and happy, we return to Little Snoring, land, taxi back to our dispersal and shut down. When George signals the chocks are in place, and I feel the elevator and rudder external locks going in place, I release the parking brakes, and put on the internal control locks to keep the ailerons still.
We know next time we climb in it will be dark, so I leave parachute and Sutton harness straps ‘just-so’ ready to find by ‘feel’. I drape my helmet over the control column, and leaving it plugged in, set the trims for ‘take-off’, making sure all switches are where they should be. The rudder pedals were adjusted when I got in the aircraft to do my NFT. I climb out and walk over to Chiefy’s Office to sign the L14, and report any ‘snags’. I see the NAAFI van coming around the perimeter track to stop by ‘Chiefy’s’ hut. Time for a welcome mug of hot tea and see our pig and rooster have come for a treat! What ‘Moochers’!
Later, we hitch a ride back to Flight Office to sign in on the flight sheet, and cycle back to the Mess. Meanwhile our aircraft will be refuelled and armed for us tonight.
Lunch is being served. We relax in the billiard room, read, visit or open mail, then head on in to the dining room. We have plenty of time for a leisurely meal. With Briefing called for 1400hrs, we know we’ll have to leave about 1330hrs; ride over to the Intelligence Section, and wait in the Library until we’re called in.
1330hrs. ‘Okay Paul, let’s go.’ We cycle over and assemble with other crews wondering what tonight will bring. We would choose some targets, over others!
I will now unfreeze time. S/L Price is about to speak. A hush settles over the room.
“Orderly Officer, will you please ask the aircrews to join us”.
“Yes Sir” He opens the door, and motions us enter, closing the door after.
We file in and sit down.
“I will call the roll”
He does this: “The roll call is complete. Briefing will now begin. Orderly Officer, please lock the door”.
The Briefing takes place. S/L Price gives a general overview and our role; then uncovers the ‘Target Allocation Board’, reading each crew’s target and patrol times which they acknowledge in turn. The Met Officer has his say, followed by Flying Control, CO, Padre. Finally we synchronise watches. It takes about an hour. When finished, each crew pairs off to sit and plan their trip.
My Navigator, Paul Beaudet, spreads his maps across the table. We look at possible routes to Ardorf and return. That agreed, he lays in the tracks and continues calculations. I walk over to the Intelligence Section and draw out ‘Escape Kits’ - enemy aircraft cockpit checks (fat chance!), maps, European Currency, concentrated food rations, first-aid supplies, Benzadrine tablets, water purifying tablets, our phony passport photos, small compasses, etc. I draw out enemy ‘Colours of the Period’ (ESNs), which we call ‘Sisters’. (This information comes to us from the Underground by radio, amazing!). We don’t know how they get it. All this stuff goes into Paul’s Nav bag. I wander over to the Intelligence Library where I pull files on Ardorf, Marx and Varel. I want to know about aerodrome heights, obstructions, types of aircraft, any significant factors like runway configuration, defences, station buildings, ammo dumps etc. which might affect our visit tonight.
Paul has plotted his tracks to Ardorf, marked them and distances in his Log, and, using the winds provided at Briefing, worked out courses and ground speeds so he knows how long it will take to get there. By subtracting the total time to get to Ardorf from our time on target (2115hrs) as briefed, he knows we take off at 1900hrs, leaving us a few minutes to spare. He also checks out Marx and Varel in relation to Ardorf. Now we examine it from start to finish, noting ‘check points’, and ‘turning points’. At night, the only visible features we can rely on are waterways, lakes, rivers, canals, etc. They are always visible no matter how dark it is, especially tonight with no moon and the sky overcast.
Paul may have to make minor changes when he gets a wind update just before we leave; but it won’t make much difference to his initial calculations, judging by the Met Briefing, and we are flying fairly early. Everything goes into his ‘Nav’ bag, by now quite heavy. He places it on a shelf in the Intelligence Section. That done, we go back to relax in the Mess. ‘Tea’ is about to be served, for me the best meal of the day.
We will miss dinner because of our early take-off, so we’ll fill up at ‘tea-time’, and won’t eat again until after we return from our trip. (That is, we hope we return!) It’s almost 1600hrs. We have time to think about the night ahead.
With mixed emotions we contemplate the night before us. ‘Death’ is top of the list, followed by ‘Joy’, ‘Crashing’, or ‘Parachuting’ into the black windy night and evading capture; (it’s so cold out there!), ‘POW’, or, even worse, just ‘disappearing’, our families never finding where or how we died, never having ‘closure’. Our ‘job’ is a pretty lonely one!
When you see us calmly sitting around, and later, with red goggles on to protect our night vision, you wouldn’t imagine these thoughts going through our minds. They are just fleeting shivers we don’t share with anyone. So much worse on a Bomber Base with their high losses! I mentally tuck my heart and soul into my bunk for the night, and send my body off to do the trip, then join them back up when we return. It works for me.
1700hrs. Full from ‘tea’, we put on our red goggles; leaning back to relax.
1745hrs. Paul and I ride over to the Intelligence Section; put personal valuables in a bag, (sent home if we don’t return). He gets the latest winds, retrieves his ‘Nav Bag’, and we make our way to our lockers. He always complains how heavy his load is. I joke about it before stopping at the Flight Office to sign out for our trip, re-joining him to put on our Escape Boots, and ‘Mae-Wests’. I loosen my tie, wrapping my silken scarf around my neck to protect it rubbing against my ‘battle dress’ tunic (which is rough, as I constantly look around outside while we fly an ‘Op’). Paul is lax about this. It’s always a ‘Bone of Contention’.
We are then driven around the airfield to our aircraft in the 1500wt. I walk over to sign the L14, then back to our aircraft where Paul stands shivering in the cold. We have only a few minutes until 1845 to climb aboard. It’s not unusual to be cranky and short with one another. He’s always reluctant to loosen his tie and this is my moment to remind him about the danger of strangulation if we end up in the drink. Our last ritual is christening the tail-wheel, before climbing in, making certain we’re upwind on a night like this. Our Mosquito has no bathroom facilities. (PRT)
1845. I climb aboard and do up my straps in the dark, pulling on my helmet as Paul follows and receives the folding ladder from our ground crew. He stows it in its rack on the door (after George closes and locks it). The pre-start ritual is complete, the battery cart plugged in, and George has primed the starboard engine and awaiting my call to start.
1852. Eight minutes before take-off. I call out: “Contact Starboard”. Our ‘Op’ begins. I follow the same starting routine as we did this morning, except for turning on our U/V instrument lights and our ‘Downward Recce Light’. With both engines warming up and radio coming to life (I can hear Paul breathing, and tell him to turn off his mike), things immediately start feeling better. George waves us out to the perimeter track where I taxi to runway 240 following the dim blue taxi lights that guide us. After my checks and run-up are complete, I flash my downward light, (leaving it off), to get an immediate Green from the ACP, for take-off.
1900hrs, I taxi to position on the runway, roll forward to straighten my tail-wheel, and line up for take-off, rolling forward to begin our 38th operation. The aircraft seems heavy with full fuel and two 500lb bombs. Night seems even blacker as we thunder down the runway ahead.
At last we lift off, climbing into the dark to 1000ft, making a wide left climbing turn to set course over Base at about 5000ft. Overhead, I signal ‘V’, with my navigation lights, leaving them on until we reach the coast. I am indicating 240mph, (260mph ‘true airspeed’ at 5000ft). With this strong tail wind, Paul tells me our groundspeed is 310mph. We are going like a ‘Ding-Bat’. Our ETA at the coast is 1906. We steer 102o Magnetic.
1906. At the Haighsboro Light on the coast, Paul gives me a heading of 103oM, for N. Egmond, and ETA 1937. I switch off my ‘Nav Lights’, and dive to 500ft over the water. At 500ft, we are under the German radar.
“Wow Paul; look at that phosphorescence it’s so bright!” We race on to Nord Egmond on the Dutch coast.
1933hrs. I open up to Climb-Power, and pull up sharply to 6000ft. Then at 1935hrs we dive and weave, crossing the coast to enter enemy territory to the tune of their scanning - an insect-like whine in our ear-pieces. Soon it stops, and we continue on inland.
“Steer 085o George, and we’ll be there in 26 minutes” (the turning point on the Leda River).
We see a rotating beacon in the distance, as well as the odd searchlight, and over the Zuider Zee below we see the riding lights of small boats.
“LOOK BACK PAUL!” I say every few minutes as I pull up sharply.
He looks back for enemy aircraft (we did see one once, right beside us ready to move behind and shoot us down).
At the east coast of the Zuider Zee, a slight course correction to the Leda River, we fly on.
“LOOK BACK PAUL!”
“There’s Zuidlarder, George, we’re right on track! Let me know when you see the Dortmund-Ems Canal”
I spot it and we arrive at our turning point on the Leda River.
2010hrs. “OK George, turn left to 005, the Jade Canal is coming up in 5 minutes, then, Ardorf is 4 minutes at 299. You can drop down to 500ft. now”.
2015hrs. Arriving at Ardorf we find their VL (Visual Lorenz) is lit. There is activity.
After a few minutes into our patrol: “THERE’S ONE PAUL!” I see an aircraft challenged by a searchlight, an answering flare in return. Quickly, I turn my gun switches to ‘Fire’, and race around the circuit, catching up with him on final approach. I attack. He is silhouetted in his own landing lights. It’s a JU88. I fire about a four-second burst, seeing strikes all over his nose, and cockpit area.
Immediately, the aerodrome is plunged into darkness as I pass over him and race across at low level, turning sharp left, climbing to avoid possible return fire.
Pulling up into the darkness, I see a Heinkle III flying in the opposite direction down-wind, and, amazed at a second sighting so soon, I zoom up behind his tail. In a sharp wingover to the left, I turn back towards him. (My NFT hi-jinks are now paying off!) As I curve in to attack, and come into range, I open fire, seeing strikes on the fuselage, bits falling off. Huge sparks trail behind him. All goes black. He is gone from view.
We fly away a few miles to make them think we are departing. Returning 10 minutes later, we catch a glimpse of a 111, but lose him in the dark. The VL is lit. We are challenged. We fire off a ‘Sister’. Searchlights go out. We continue to circle, just out of earshot. There is a howling gale about 60mph going on down there, in our favour. We continue our patrol, check out Marx and Varel then return to Ardorf. Our hour is almost up. Having quietly climbed away a few miles we return just as quietly, to dive in and drop bombs on their nice runway at 2115hrs.
Turning sharply away after releasing our bombs, we see an extra row of lights laid out beside the runway in use suggesting the main runway is obstructed. There is also a confusion of lights and activity by the threshold where the JU88 must have crashed.
“OK George, steer 293 for our spot over the North Sea. We’ll be there in 22 minutes, at 2137.”
I set course.
2135. At our invisible turning point, I alter course to 293 towards home. With this strong headwind, it will take 61 minutes to get there, our ground speed being only 200mph.
“I’m tired Paul. Hold on to this while I rest my eyes?”
It is tiring, staring into the dark like we do, over enemy territory. HHe reaches with his left hand on the control column. I put my head back to relax for five minutes. (There were times when I wondered how I’d be alert enough to land after getting home!) I take over again and get ready to call Largetype.
40 miles from the British coast, it’s time to check in.
“Hello Largetype, this is Cricket 34 identifying, and my Cockrell is crowing,” (turned on). This is our IFF, (Identification Friend or Foe, A small transmitter which makes a distinctive blip show up on their radar screen) “Over.”
“Hello Cricket 34, we have you, please call as you pass overhead. Over”.
“Cricket 34, Wilco. Out”.
2245hrs. “Hello Largetype, Cricket 34, I’m drying my feet, and switching to Exking, Over”
“Roger 34 Good night.” At this point I change frequencies to Exking.
2250hrs. “Hello Exking. This is Cricket 34 overhead, please turn on the flarepath. Over.” (They go on instantly).
“Roger 34, you are clear to land on runway 240, and the wind is from 270. Over.”
“Thank you Exking, 34 Out.”
I enter the circuit and land, aware of the crosswind from my right. As I turn off at the end of the runway to taxi back to our dispersal, I say:
“Cricket 34 is down and Turning Off, Good night ‘Cobby’”
“Roger 34, Good night ‘old man’.”
Arriving back at our dispersal, we are guided to our parking spot by George. I shut down, and after he puts the chocks in place and the external control locks on the elevators and rudder, I put on the internals, and release the brakes. He opens our door, reaching up for the ladder from Paul. As we climb out he asks: “Any luck?” I tease him: “A bit”, then tell him about our trip. It’s tail-wheel time again, (after four hours in the air, we need to). I walk over to sign the L14, sharing words with Chiefy about what we did with ‘their’ aircraft, (they’re just as pleased as us when we’ve had ‘Joy’) and walk back to re-join Paul waiting for the 1500wt to come and pick us up. It sure is cold and blowing a gale (almost 60mph.)
Our faithful WAAF, ‘Pip’, arrives to drive us back to our lockers. Now safely home, we’re in a lovely state of euphoria, laughing at anything and everything on the way around the airfield. There is another crew riding back with us. We are totally relaxed, but tired.
We put our Parachutes, ‘Mae-Wests’, ‘Escape’ Boots, and Helmets in our lockers, I sign in on the flight sheet, and we cycle back for de-briefing. Over a welcome cup of hot tea, the Duty Intelligence Officer takes down our report, we hand back our Escape Kits, retrieve our personal valuables, and ride over to the Sergeant’s Mess for our post-op meal of eggs and chips. Nothing ever tasted so good - one of the greatest rewards we look forward to after flying an operation.
Other crews are there. We swap stories about our trips, then fatigue kicks in and we ride down to our ‘site’ and crash into bed, exhausted but content. The time is now 0010hrs. It feels so good! More of the same tomorrow! We have just completed our 38th ‘Op’. We requested and were granted an extension of 15 trips over the 35 trips Tour requirement. Only 12 more to go, to become ‘Tour Expired’, (Screened). What then?? Who knows?? We’ll see!
Courtesy: George Stewart, sits astride nose!
23 Squadron, Little Snoring, 28 October 1944
Left to Right: Wg Cdr A M ‘Sticky’ Murphy, Flt Lt J Curd, Fg Off J L Joynson, Flt Lt D J Griffiths, Sqn Ldr Phil Russell, Fg Off A C Cockayne, Flt Lt T A ‘Tommy’ Smith, Fg Off E L Heath, WO K V ‘Scarper’ Rann, Flt Lt R J Reid, Flt Lt W ‘Bill’ Gregory, Lt J H Christie NAF, Plt Off G S ‘George’ Sutcliffe, Fg Off D J Atherton, Flt Sgt F D ‘Freddie’ Howes, Fg Off J R ‘Paul’ Beaudet RCAF, Plt Off R Neil RNZAF, Flt Sgt J H Chessel, Fg Off A L Berry RNZAF, Flt Sgt Alex Wilson, Flt Sgt Don Francis, Flt Lt ‘Buddy’ Badley, Flt Sgt T ‘Tommy’ Barr, Fg Off K M ‘Kit’ Cotter RNZAF, Flt Sgt J W Thompson, Flt Sgt P H ‘Jock’ Devlin, Flt Sgt J ‘Jimmy’ Weston, Fg Off J E Spetch, Flt Lt T A ‘Tommy’ Ramsay RNZAF, Flt Sgt E C ‘Benny’ Goodman, Flt Sgt J ‘Jimmy’ Gawthorne, Flt Sgt S F ‘Sid’ Smith.
On nose of aircraft: Flight Officer G E ‘George’ Stewart RCAF
At the time of this photograph: Flight Officer A R de C Smith, Flight Sergeant C Lewis on night vision course at RAF Great Massingham.
This is our Squadron photograph. The aircraft is PZ-448, YP-J, named ‘Toots’ after my mother. Photo is taken after our 36th trip, starting an extension of 15 trips to the Paderborn area, strafing two trains and severely damaging one locomotive when three of my cannons jammed; then I bombed the railway. Sadly, Johnny Joynson, pictured third left, and his Navigator went missing that night. They towed this aircraft out of the maintenance hangar, following a regular inspection. I said: ‘That’s my aircraft! I’m climbing up on the nose …’ Some guy closed the door. Sticky Murphy, standing off to the left, said: ‘Just shoot the damned thing!’ We lost Sticky a few weeks later, 2 December 1944, on a trip to Guttersloh (where Ken Eastwood was lost 18 September when, as ‘spare crew’, he took my trip. I’d crashed my Mosquito on landing with a blown tyre doing my Night Flying Test). I was sent to Guttersloh on my 49th trip, to see if I could find what caused those two losses, but there was no activity other than the usual scanning we heard on our headsets.
IN HONOUR OF A VALUED FRIEND
‘An Experience is never finished until it is written’
(Quote accredited to: Anne Morrow Lindbergh)
Flying Officer Paul Beaudet and Flying Officer George Stewart, Hamilton 1945
Paul was a ‘straight-shooter’. A devout Roman Catholic, he was strong in faith and true to his beloved. He married just before going overseas and was surplus from the previous course of Pilots and Navigators graduating at 60 Operational Training Unit, RAF Station High Ercall, Shropshire, England. This imbalance between Pilots and Navigators wasn’t unusual. On completion of each training course, depending how well particularly Pilots coped during conversion to the Mosquito; a Pilot could be re-assigned to a different type of aircraft and job if the Mosquito proved too much. Some candidates didn’t make the grade and were washed out.
The Mosquito is a handful, with its high wing loading, stalling speed, power, and approach speed. It has nasty tricks displayed during landing and take-off, particularly in a cross-wind. We trained on light, slower aircraft, and this was a huge jump. Navigators don’t have problems converting, except occupying small space, sitting on the main spar slightly behind the Pilot, with no plotting table to spread maps and Logs. They make do with the dim light of a small hand-held flashlight making entries on small ‘Pilot-type’ Log sheets, so as not to degrade their Pilot’s night-vision. Along with the Pilot, over hostile countryside, time is spent looking for enemy aircraft, as well as land or water features in the black European night flying over enemy territory.
On 16 September we were still at 60 Operational Training Unit, training on de Havilland Mosquito Night Fighter Bombers. Paul came to the flight-line to ask for a ride in a Mossie, hoping to team up with a Pilot and become a ‘crew’. I had a total of 10 hours on type and recently gone solo. I told him, but said he was welcome to come along. He said: ‘No problem!’
At 19 years old, I was five years younger than Paul, but like a naïve 14 year old. I didn’t drink or smoke, inexperienced about dating. Paul smoked, but didn’t drink much. We spent time playing English billiards instead of going in the Bar. I envied buddies boasting of conquests, wondering how they go about it, too shy to ask. They seemed so sophisticated, so worldly. I was terrified of getting involved. If the young lady became pregnant, what would happen to her and our baby if I was shot down and killed? More frightening, should I survive, how could we exist in civilian life on my meagre earnings? My attention was taken up flying the Mosquito. I didn’t want distractions complicating my life.
Learning to fly the Mosquito was a daunting task for an impulsive 19-year-old, low time (249 hours) Pilot like me. Those early hours in that eleven ton, high performance beauty, terrifying! It was the fastest aircraft in the world at that time, still on the ‘Secret List’. I adored it!!
We flew, and that was our beginning. We became ‘Crew’ flying together from then on. The Pilot traditionally was Captain of the aircraft, but as a two-man ‘Intruder Crew’, we shared equal status. Crewing wasn’t a casual choice. It was an important relationship. Each relied totally on the other. It could mean the difference between life and death! We needed confidence in one another’s skills, agree equally, share difficult decisions, react instantly to threats over enemy territory, be highly vigilant of potential danger - enemy Night Fighters could at any time be after us. We were a perfect fit!
Paul loved flying. We worshipped the Mossie, taking advantage of every opportunity to fly one, to the point of volunteering to go to the Middle East because we’d likely get more ‘Mosquito Time’. Did we ever!! The Mossie was a real handful. One little move beyond its limit, and it’ll bite you!
I flew the aeroplane, fired the guns, dropped bombs trying to avoid any visible threats. I was responsible for managing fuel to have enough to get home after our patrol, or if in trouble, deep inside Germany. Paul told me what pinpoints to look for as we flew each leg of our Op. He even anticipated my tendency to be to the left of our track, prepared to correct headings starboard as I wandered gently and moved up and down to present a difficult target for fighters to follow, staring out into the night sky. I operated the VHF radio.
Paul guided us along his planned tracks and others as needed. He operated the Gee Box (over the UK) keeping a sharp look-out with me en-route for ‘hostiles’. He calculated new headings, telling me when to turn onto them. He always had an approximate heading home if suddenly it was needed! Paul monitored fuel supply, changing tanks for me as I directed. We had to use it in sequence to have mains available if we lost an engine. We used the outboard and drop tanks first, leaving main tanks available to cross-feed to either engine. The outers could only feed the nearest engine. This was important!
Over the English Channel, on our way home, I would ask Paul to reach over and fly the aircraft with his left hand so I could lean back and rest my eyes for moments. It felt SO GOOD! This was an enormous help.
His energies, like mine, were sharply focused on our job. We enjoyed every minute! Yes, there were nervous moments. Meanwhile, at O.T.U he learned special intruder navigating and crewing techniques. We flew as a crew during this training, including day and night cross-countries, practice intruder trips to Limavady and Long Kesh in Ireland, using the Irish Sea as the English Channel. We took a gunnery course at Chedworth in Wales and did lots of low flying. Yet, with all that, he still had to keep up with navigation and make course adjustments on the go. He was great! In our operating period, we had no radar, relying on night vision to spot the unlit enemy in the black sky around us. The last ‘Cat’s Eye’ Intruders! And wouldn’t you know, they started fitting 23 with ASH after Paul and I became Tour-Ex! I flew some Navigators around in Ansons to practice ASH awaiting our posting home.
To prepare our night vision for an Op, we wore red goggles for an hour in the Mess before going to fly our trip. Once outside, we avoided having it spoiled by white light. I told ground crew to turn off their ‘torches’ until we were in the aircraft! Then, just before climbing on board at fifteen minutes to take-off, we’d have a quick ‘christening’ of the tail-wheel (downwind). Climbing into our Mossie in the dark, we’d strap in, put on our helmets, etc. As our instrument needs were lit, in a pale ‘beige’ shade by ultra violet light, my ring sight was projected onto the windscreen in red to protect my night vision.
We kept ourselves fresh with our conservative lifestyle. It may have been a factor in our favour … who knows? We survived! ‘Hail Caesar! We who are about to die, salute you!’ shouted Gladiators in ancient Rome. No thanks! We had no death wish. We had everything to live for. Paul and I would discuss our role at length, agreeing that ‘Surprise’ would be a big factor in our favour in attacking planes or trains. We decided together that, when attacking a target, I would make one really good firing pass and not go back for a second run, thereby achieving total surprise! Hit and run! Gone!!
Bombing, however, was no surprise, as it happened at the end of our patrol. Sneaking away and climbing to about 7000ft, then returning, and diving in quietly, worked for us. Tommy Smith with Navigator ‘Cocky’ Cockayne, were shot down on their second pass on 15 January 1945. Tommy Smith survived but horribly burned. Cockayne died having jumped too low for his parachute to open. They only had two more Ops to go. God only knows how many others were lost like that … so sad!
Paul and I tried to evaluate operational risks with their importance, and acted accordingly. Pressing on regardless to Guttersloh with a blown gasket on our 49th trip was one for us. Luckily we got away with it. Ken Eastwood and our C.O Sticky Murphy, with their Navigators didn’t return. We were sent to see if we could find out why. In our 50th Op Tour we never had one aborted trip … they called us ‘Regardless’!
The Amiens Prison attack and the Dam Busting were such cases where a ‘Do or Die’ Op was considered worth the risk!
23 and 515 Squadrons were briefed one afternoon to undertake a Dawn Attack and strafe Leeuwarden airfield in Northern Holland, an important German Night Fighter Base (Lord knows who dreamed that one up!). Up to 30 Mosquitoes were to be sent there. Paul and I were chosen to fly the last aircraft in to attack! Imagine how we felt knowing that enemy gunners would have the most time to be ready for us, last one in! It was terrifying to contemplate. Saner minds prevailed as the whole insane operation was called off, considered too dangerous. We slept soundly that night.
Crewing could have been a casual partnership based on the wrong parameters. In the case of Paul and I, we used wisdom beyond our years in deciding to fly together. For that fortunate choice, I am thankful and proud to have shared those incredible times with him. He was outstanding!
‘Who is this man I’ll never forget?
He is my Navigator – Paul Beaudet!
May he rest in peace!’
Sometimes I call to GOD above.
“Why’d you do this to one we love;
Who tried so hard here, to provide
A lifetime dream, you’ve now denied?”
GOD said: “My son, let me explain;
Perhaps I can stop, or ease your pain.
What you know as ‘Life’, is short;
Up here in Heaven is the ‘Soul’s’ Resort.
I know it’s sad to lose your friend,
He’s up ahead, around the bend.
Life on Earth is just a whim,
Where he is now you’d envy him.
Do you think I waste my time on you?
I’ve got better things up here to do.
A Genius here, a Poet fair, they
Live forever, not just down there!
I have your friend safe in my care.
He’s loved up here as he was down there.
Bless you for caring, and never fear
My line is open; I’m always here!
Go on with life; be what you can,
‘FOREVER,’ is my ‘PROMISED LAND’!!
Thanks for your call.”
George E. Stewart
This is just one voice, one story of so many, which illustrates why it is vital we remember all those who didn't return home after the war, and presents the strongest reason why those who served in RAF 100 Group should not remain forgotten heroes, which is how they see themselves today.
I remain passionate about preserving both their history and their wartime experiences, and further stories can be found in my book, with George Stewart sitting astride his aircraft on the front cover. He went on to write the Foreword for the book which follows this one, published by Fonthill Media, in which many of his operations during 1944 are shared:
RAF 100 Group – Kindred Spirits
Voices of RAF & USAAF on secret Norfolk airfields during World War Two
by Janine Harrington
Published by Austin Macauley
RAF 100 Group - The Birth of Electronic Warfare
by Janine Harrington
Published by Fonthill Media
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM!