27/28.06.1941 No 10 Squadron Whitley V N6561 ZA-J Sgt. Norman J. Gregory
Date: 27/28th June 1941 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No. 10 Squadron
Type: Whitley V
Base: RAF Leeming, Yorkshire
Location: Baltic Sea
Pilot: Sgt. Norman John Gregory 754667 RAFVR Age 20. PoW No: 39172 Camp: 357
Pilot 2: Sgt. Derick D.W. Nabarro RAFVR Initially Pow - evaded (1)
Obs: P/O. J.D. Margrie 68156 RAFVR PoW No: 1381 Camp: L3
W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. ‘Jock’ G.M. Frame 81398 RAFVR PoW No: 1380 Camp: L3
Air/Gnr: P/O. “Pop” Alexander Knox Watson 81421 RAFVR Age ? Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Taking off from RAF Leeming in Yorkshire at 22:32 hrs to bomb Bremen.
In December 2016 we were contacted by the brother of the pilot Mr. Terence Gregory who has researched this with details from various sources as indeed his brother. He takes up the story as written by the pilot:
“A big squadron reorganisation was taking place which resulted in my transfer from ‘B’ flight to ‘A’ flight. My first letter from home, after being shot down, told me that I had been promoted to Flight Sergeant coincidental with my transfer, presumably because I was one of the senior sergeant pilots in terms of squadron service - eight months! I was sad to lose my faithful old “O” Orange and my old crew, with exception of Jock Frame who transferred with me. My new aircraft was Z6561 “J” Johnnie.
My first - and last operation with “A” flight.
As crew I had as 2nd Pilot Sgt. Nabarro - on his first trip; P/O. Margrie - on his first trip; Jock Frame who had flown with me many times and P/O. Watson, rear gunner, a First World War pilot who was on his second trip. Apart from Jock the rest of the crew were very inexperienced. Take off was at 8 p.m. and on running up the engines to test them a strange thing happened. My previous trip was cut short by a faulty oil temperature gauge and the same thing happened, but this time before takeoff. I called up the Officer in charge of flying for his opinion and after some hesitation he advised me to carry on without the instrument. I often wonder what he thought when we didn’t return, although the engine never gave us the slightest problem. As it was a relatively short trip we carried no auxiliary petrol tanks but took the full bomb load of 4,000 lbs. including one 1,000 pounder, which was always awkward to handle in a Whitley, as the bomb doors couldn’t be properly closed.
Takeoff was without incident and we settled down to our four hour long first leg out over Flamborough Head towards our turning point, twenty five miles due north of the mouth of the River Weser. We climbed on steadily at 120 m.p.h. through ever thickening cloud, until we were flying completely blind. Then followed an impressive firework display, as we flew into an electrical storm, and the airscrew blade tips traced fiery blue circles and fat blue sparks started jumping from the front gun. Some crews found it so bad that they turned back, but we suffered no damage and kept going. After three hours we found ourselves above the cloud at 12,000 feet, and still with vestiges of midsummer twilight around us discovered, by waving searchlights probing the clouds beneath, that we had made landfall about one hour early.
We guessed that the wind had changed and blown us a good way south of our track, but it was impossible to check because of the thick cloud below. We estimated our position as near Den Helder on the Dutch coast. We continued eastwards hoping for breaks in the cloud. Some time later we found ourselves between two banks of clouds at about 10,000 and 20,000 feet respectively, and were picked up by a lively flak barrage and searchlights. The searchlights had the curious effect of projecting our aircraft’s shadow onto the cloud above giving 2nd Pilot, Sgt. Nabarro the impression that we were being tailed by large numbers of fighters.
We escaped this barrage, which I estimated was probably at Wilhelmshafen (it was almost certainly Bremen itself) and continued eastwards. By now the cloud had thinned somewhat, but only enough to allow the full moon to illuminate us for any watchful fighters but we were unmolested. About 11.30 p.m. the 2nd Pilot picked up a wide river below, which we assumed was the Weser, so we turned upstream to find our target. Sure enough he picked up the city ahead and guided us on to the dock area. On the run up another Whitley passed within fifty yards of us which comforted us somewhat. We dropped our bombs without being picked up by the searchlights and I immediately turned north for the coast. We found out later that we had actually attacked Hamburg, which accounts for the fact that instead of reaching the coast in ten minutes it took us an hour - and then it was the Baltic, not the North Sea!
After dropping our bombs things happened suddenly. Almost immediately we were coned by about twenty searchlights and we found ourselves in the middle of an extremely accurate heavy flak barrage. Seconds later there was a terrific thud, a blinding flash and “J” lurched heavily. We were hit, but still in one piece. I glanced first to port then to starboard just in time to see the starboard propeller falter and stop, while black smoke poured from the engine. I trimmed the aircraft to fly on one engine and put the nose down to keep flying speed at 140 m.p.h.. While doing this, an apparition appeared in the tunnel leading from the front turret. It was Sgt. Nabarro, his face a mask of blood where the perspex, blown in by the explosion, had cut his head badly. Of the next half hour only a confused impression remains. I remember that Jock and P/O. Margrie were trying unsuccessfully to find the first aid kit and as I held on grimly to keep “J” on course I heard our rear gunner muttering, “For God’s sake, why don’t you weave?” and me replying in unnaturally calm tones, that if he cared to look out at the starboard engine he would see the reason. I can still hear his muttered “Jesus Christ!” as he did so.
All the time we were steadily losing height and as we couldn’t take evasive action we were held in searchlights and plastered continuously, but miraculously no more direct hits were registered. At about 7,000 ft. I realised that the gyro was no longer functioning as it had been driven by the now useless starboard engine, and on checking with the compass found that we were 90 ̊ off course and heading east. As it happened, this probably saved our lives as the error ensured that we came out over the sea instead of crashing on land.
We lost height to 4,000 feet and despairing of ever hitting the coast and listening to an ominous uneven note in the port motor, I gave the order to bale out. P/O. Watson in the rear turret answered “O.K.”
Meanwhile the rest of the crew did not hear the order because their sets were unplugged during their efforts to find the first aid kit and by the time I had attracted their attention, I realised that we were not being shot at any more and guessed that we were over the sea at last. So I countermanded the order.
We were now at 3,000 ft. and I tried to hold her at that height so that we could attempt to limp home. But almost at once the port engine began to sputter and I saw that we would have to ditch, so I ordered the crew back to ditching stations. With a final splutter the overworked engine stopped and we began the glide down to the unfriendly sea. At this stage my brain was working with crystal clarity and I followed the drill to the letter. I loosened my harness and opened the top escape hatch for quick exit and even gave a running commentary to the crew, aft of the mid-section. This was wasted, as again no one was plugged in, because they were all struggling to open the fuselage door which was damaged and jammed tight.
At 500 ft. I switched on the landing light and saw the waves beneath. I let her down until we were about thirty feet up and gently eased back to lose flying speed and stall her. It was a peculiar sensation just before we hit, as if we were hovering with no forward speed at all, and then whack!
My head hit the instrument panel a hefty crack and at the same time a small waterfall soaked me. At first I thought we’d nosed under but when I realised that I was still breathing air, I shot up through the hatch - and stuck halfway through! It was some seconds before I saw that I was still attached to the aircraft by my oxygen tube, so off came my helmet and I climbed out onto the port wing to await the dinghy with the rest of the crew aboard. To my surprise there was no sign of them. Then to my relief, a bulky torso emerged from the rear fuselage escape hatch, so I gingerly scrambled down the fuselage to meet Jock together with the dinghy pack. He explained that the main fuselage door was jammed and the landing had taken them all by surprise and bowled them over like ninepins. However, we placed the pack on the tailplane and heaved a sigh of relief when it inflated and the four of us climbed in and floated off. We checked for P/O. Watson but he was not in the plane. I heard after the war, that he was buried in Kiel Military Cemetery. I do not know if his ‘chute’ failed to open or if he drowned.
“J” kept afloat for about fifteen minutes and the last we saw of her was the ghostly glow of the landing light as she sank. A swirl, a polite belch and a seat cushion came up to us as a souvenir. And so ended my last operational trip against Germany.”
JUNE 27th 1941 BREMEN. 73 Wellingtons, 35 Whitleys. They encountered storms, icing conditions and, reported for the first time in Bomber Command record, “intense night fighter attacks.” 11 Whitleys - 31% of Whitleys dispatched - and 3 Wellingtons were lost, the heaviest night loss of the war so far. No report is available from Bremen, but many of the bombers must have found their way by mistake to Hamburg, 50 miles away. This city reports 76 bombing incidents, 14 fires, 7 people killed, 39 injured and 55 bombed out and 5 bombers shot down by night fighters over the city. (Extract from ‘The Bomber Command War Diaries 1939-1945’ - Middlebrook and Everitt)
Excerpt from “Old Men Forget.”2004 The memoirs of Warrant Officer Norman John Gregory, RAFVR, written in 1986. Transcribed by Terence J Gregory.
My brother’s memoir records the hours the wet crew spent in the dinghy trying to attract attention of distant ships with a flashlight. They were picked up by a German trawler about 6 a.m. and taken to Kiel, where they were interrogated and sent on to Dulag Luft, Oberursel prison camp. Jack became separated from most of his crew.
He was liberated on 2nd May 1945 by the 6th Airborne Division, while on the Long March along with his fellow PoWs. He maintained a diary of his years spent in a variety of Stalag Luft camps within Nazi occupied territory.
10 Squadron lost 4 aircraft on this operation, the others:
Whitley V P5016 ZA-V Flown by Sgt. Alan Harwood Knape 918540 RAFVR of Marylebone, London - killed with 3 other crew, 1 taken PoW.
Whitley V P5055 ZA-G Flown by 19 year old, Sgt. Anthony George Rickcord 977274 RAFVR of Crowthorne, Berkshire - killed with all 4 other crew.
Whitley V T4179 ZA-VU Flown by Sgt. John Stanley Shaw 908401 RAFVR of Hornchurch, Essex - killed with all 4 other crew.
(1) Sgt. D.D.W. Nabarro is reported to have escaped from captivity in November 1941 and eventually returning to UK after a great many adventures on HMS Malaya to the Clyde in Scotland on the 26th September 1942. He wrote that if it wasn’t for the magnificent flying by the pilot they would have spun in and all would have been killed.
P/O. Alexander Knox Watson. Kiel War Cemetery. Grave 2.C.6. Husband of Elizabeth M. Watson, of Glasgow, Scotland. Grave inscription reads: “While He Who Ever Acts As Conscience Cries Shall Live Through Dead.”
With many thanks to Terence Gregory for submitting a great deal of information to Aircrew Remembered. For further details our thanks to the sources shown below. Also to Bobboston for grave photograph. Oliver Clutton Brook for evading details on Sgt, Nabarro.