23/24.2.45 No. 625 Squadron Lancaster I PB815 CF-O F/O Paige and Crew
Date: February 23/24, 1945
Unit: No. 625 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Location: Abandoned over France, crashed at Littenheim
Pilot: F/O Darrell Rollin ‘Basha’ Paige J91102 RCAF Age 21 Survived
Fl/Eng: Sgt Robert Benjamin Bennett 3050216 RAFVR Age 20 Survived
Nav: W/O II J.P. Sullivan R169159 RCAF Age ? Survived, Injured
Air/Bmr: F/Sgt J.A. Puttick 1625311 RAFVR Age ? Survived
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/Sgt John ‘Jack’ Bettany 1147696 RAFVR Age ? Survived
Air/Gnr: F/Sgt K.E. Campbell R261992 RCAF Age ? Survived
Air/Gnr: F/Sgt J.K. McRorie R265605 RCAF Age ? Survived
Sgt D.R. Paige and his freshly minted crew arrived at RAF Kelstern on September 28, 1944, to start their roller coaster operational tour with 625 Squadron. They included: Flight Engineer, Sgt R.B. Bennett; Air Bomber, Sgt L.D. Bennett; Navigator, Sgt J.P. Sullivan; Wireless Operator, Sgt J. Bilan; Mid-upper Gunner, Sgt K.E. Campbell and Rear Gunner, Sgt J.K. McRorie. It would not be long before they would be introduced to the grim realities of operational flying.
By October 14, Sgt Paige and his crew had acclimatized to squadron life and completed their prerequisite cross country and bombing training flights, deeming them fit for their customary, ‘second dickey’ trip. They were fortunate to be delegated to the watchful eye of seasoned, Canuck Skipper, F/O Lloyd Hannah, backed up by his trusted Nav, F/Sgt K.R. Strachan and Rear Gunner, F/Sgt J.H. Loughran.
Operation Hurricane was a maximum effort by Bomber Command and the VIII th United States Bomber Command to demonstrate their overwhelming superiority to the enemy in Germany, with three raids in twenty-four hours over October 14/15, 1944, two to Duisburg and one to Cologne—a total of 3269 heavy bombers, including 20 Mossies! 625 Squadron would detail a total of sixty aircraft to attack Duisburg, thirty-one to the day and twenty-nine to the night raids.
Tragically only one of the Lancs would fail to return to Base and there was no mystery of her fate. F/O Hannah and his ‘second dickey’ crew of Sgt Paige aboard Lanc LL956, were already in serious trouble during the takeoff roll of a flight that would last a mere six minutes, culminating in a fiery explosion, witnessed by many of their squadron mates waiting to depart or orbiting for altitude. F/O Hannah would perish at the controls and F/Sgt L.D. Bennett would lose his life when he baled out, too low for his chute to fully deploy. The remaining six crew members managed to parachute to safety. For further details see: http://www.aircrewremembered.com/hannah-lloyd-albert.html .
Log Book: #1 Duisburg Raid, Loss of LL956
List of Crew: ‘GEN BOYS’ (Amended postwar to include
F/Sgt L.D. Bennett) Missing: W/O II J.P. Sullivan
It would be nine days before F/Sgt. Paige and his crew would have a second kick at the cat to fulfill their ‘second dickey’ trip. The Battle Order for October 23 had them under the mentorship of F/L J.M. Wilson and his seasoned Nav, F/O G.D. Cozens-Hardy and Sgt J.A.D. Ross operating the rear turret. Sgt J.A. Puttick had assumed the bomb aimer role in the rookie crew, following Sgt L.D. Bennet’s death.
It is impossible to imagine the mixed emotions of intense anxiety and apprehension of F/O Hannah’s and Sgt Paige’s crews as they anticipated the remainder of their operational tours. It would have been a fine line between summoning up the courage to carry on, or go LMF (Lack of Moral Fibre), with the images of their last flight etched vividly in their memory banks.
As it turned out they returned intact after this uneventful raid on Essen.
On October 25th F/Sgt Paige and his crew returned to Essen in PB154, for a quiet trip, F/Sgt Bilan operating the radios.
The Battle Order for Halloween’s eve had them detailed for a bombing attack on Cologne. Aussie, F/Sgt J. Brown served as their wireless operator for a trouble free op.
November 2nd saw F/Sgt Paige and crew, with Sgt J. Bilan in the WOP seat, pay an uneventful visit to Düsseldorf.
For their third consecutive mission in Lanc NF993, on November 11th, F/Sgt Paige and the same crew targeted Bochum, returning to Base unscathed. For reasons unknown, this would be F/Sgt Bilan’s last op with the crew.
On November 6th, F/Sgt Paige’s crew with Sgt J. Bettany as WOP, participated in an uneventful daylight raid on Gelsenkirchen. The ORB has their aircraft as Lanc III NE996 which must be typo for NF996 as there was no NE series assigned to this type after NE181. NF996: http://www.aircrewremembered.com/cunliffe-robert.h...
The Battle Order for November 16th, had them detailed for a second consecutive daylight raid to Düren with F/Sgt J.E. Casey as the ‘spare bod’ wireless operator.
On occasion unexpected weather conditions could raise havoc on returning from an exhausting flight over Occupied Europe. This proved to be the case for the November 18th raid on Wanne Eickel. F/Sgt Paige, with Sgt Bettany returning to become their regular WOP, had an uneventful trip until on return were diverted to land at STRUBBY, 20 km SE of Kelstern.
Of the twenty-five Lancs detailed for this attack, only two landed back at Base, another at Grimsby 20 km to the north, with the remainder descending on Knettishall 150 km SE of Kelstern! One can only imagine the stress and strain on a fatigued Skipper burdened with the responsibility of landing his ‘kite’ at an unfamiliar aerodrome, at night! The risk of disorientation and mid-air collisions would be substantially increased under these circumstances. The Squadron ORB Summary for this op provides the following comment: …All our aircraft returned, but owing to very bad weather conditions, had to be diverted to various Aerodromes, as landing conditions at Base were impossible.
Such disruptions as this were inevitable, to be dealt with in stride. Of greatest importance was to get all crews back on terra firma, safe and sound, then have them return to Base once the weather system had passed over. As a result these aircraft would not be available for the Battle Order for a day or more, but that was reality. This was an enemy that could be circumvented—not night fighters or flak.
After a three day recharge, on November 21st, F/Sgt Paige and his crew, except for Canuck F/Sgt E. Wayg* (R217218 RCAF) manning the mid-upper turret, had a smooth trip to Aschaffenburg. *This appears to be a typo for Sgt G.E. Way posted to the Squadron on 13.8.44 from 11 Base. Courtesy of co-author, Maureen Hicks.
F/Sgt Paige and his now intact crew would finish a busy November with their seventh and eighth ops of the month, on the 27th and 29th to Freiburg and Dortmund respectively, the latter a day trip—both without glitches.
Newly commissioned P/O Paige and his crew would have a relatively slack op schedule in December with three respective trips to Karlsruhe, Merseberg Leuna and Ulm, smooth sailing on the 4th, 6th and 17th of the month. The first would put the dreaded 13th op in the rear view mirror. The last trip for the month was carried out in Lanc PB815, their regular mount for five of their six next missions. By now they were becoming a combat seasoned team and had time off the Battle Order to celebrate Christmas 1944 and New Year’s Eve 1945. The end was in sight.
January 1945 would challenge the integrity and mettle of P/O Paige’s crews. Their first trip of new year would be an uneventful one to Hanover on the 5th, with the distracting challenge of two ‘spare bods’, seasoned F/L R.C. Gordon DFM as bomb aimer and F/Sgt D.G. Hardy as WOP.
On January 7th, P/O Paige and his intact crew would take PB815 to Munich, without problems.
PB815 Crew in the snow: l. to r. F/Sgt J,K. McRorie, ? F/Sgt. J. Bettany,
F/O D.R. Paige, W/O2 J.P. Sullivan, F/Sgt R.B. Bennett.
The last two ops of the month on the 14th and 16th, to Merseberg Leuna and Zeitz respectively, would see the wireless operator position filled by Sgt A.T. Kaye and Sgt J. Wallace. It is noteworthy that ‘Basha’ Paige skippered the trip to Zeitz with promotion to rank of Flying Officer.
With the war’s end in sight, the month of February 1945 would prove to be most significant and challenging for this young, Canuck, battle hardened crew, and their trusty mount PB815, would not disappoint.
They started off the month with an uneventful raid on the 8th to Politz, with Sgt A. Jamieson replacing Sgt Bettany for the last time. Fortuitously, he would return for their next three sorties.
On February 14th F/Sgt J.K. McRorie was confronted with the situation that all airmen dreaded, being ‘volunteered’ as a ‘spare bod’ gunner in the crew of F/L C.R. Parker for a bombing attack on Chemnitz. Superstition dictated that this weakened the seven link gold chain protective talisman of the Squadron’s crest. Fortunately for F/L Parker and his crew this op was uneventful and they returned to Base unscathed. F/Sgt McRorie had survived to fight another day with his own crew. Sadly, the Squadron would lose Lanc NF996, CF-J2, with the entire crew of F/L Robert Cunliffe during this raid—falling to flak or a bomb from above. See link above.
F/O Paige and crew would be confronted with three missions in four days. The first two, to Dortmund and Duisburg respectively on February 20th and 22nd would be uneventful. However, the third one on February 23/24, 1945, would test their mettle and combat cohesiveness to the core. PB815 would be their trusty steed for all three.
PB815 Crew Photo: Front row- l. to r. W/O2 J.P. Sullivan, F/O ‘Basha’ Paige, F/Sgt K.E. Campbell. Backrow- l. to r. F/Sgt J.K. McRorie, F/Sgt R.B. Bennett, ? F/Sgt J. Bettany, F/Sgt J.A. Puttick.
23.2.4 Lanc I PB815 F/O D.R. Paige and Crew Up 16.29 Down -
PFORZHEIM. Aircraft missing. All crew baled out safely and returned to this country except Navigator who was taken to hospital in France with sprained ankle.
Target Bombed at 20.02 hours from height of 7,400 feet.
ORB 23.2.45 Bombing attack on PFORZHEIM, 22 aircraft were detailed for operations, the target being PFORZHEIM. Weather on route was rather cloudy, but became clear over target, except for a very slight haze. Bombing was well concentrated round mixed red and green T.I. which were accurately placed on centre of built area, leaving the target well alight. Target was visible from 150 miles on return journey. Defences were negligible and no fighter activity encountered. One of our aircraft failed to return from this operation, but all the crew baled out safely in France, and returned to this country 2 days later except the Navigator who was taken to hospital in France with a sprained ankle.
DETAILED 22 aircraft. PRIMARY 22 aircraft (lost 1 aircraft but crew safe). ABORTIVE nil.
ORB Summary of Events KELSTERN 23.2.45 OPERATIONS. 22 aircraft were detailed to attack PFORZHEIM. The weather was poor on take off and aircraft flew below cloud until well into France and then climbed to bomb from 8,000 feet. The Master Bomber was punctual and the T.I. went down in good concentration. Defences were negligible and fighter activity was very light. Flying Officer PAIGE in “O” failed to return from this operation but we have later learned that the crew baled out and have now returned to this country except the Navigator W/O2 Sullivan who was in hospital in France with a sprained ankle. This aircraft had been hit with incendiaries falling from an aircraft in the Bomber Stream after F/O Paige had dropped his bombs. The Pilot headed his aircraft back over the front lines and the crew baled out over France.
Log Book: #2, Pforzheim Raid, Loss of PB815, “O” for Oboe.
The report by the Station Intelligence Officer provides a vivid description of the events that occurred aboard PB815 during the final, frantic moments of this operation:
625 SQUADRON INTELLIGENCE REPORT NO. 1G/13SECRET
Type Lancaster I
Date 23/24th February 1945
A/C No. PB815
Route:-Base (Kelstern), Reading, 50.00N 00.20W, 48.15N 02.10E, 48.52N 06.00E, Target, 48.54N 08.48E, 48.40N 08.55E, 48.15N 08.00E, 48.20N 05.00E, 50.00N 02.00E, Reading, Base.
Briefed time over target, 1st wave 20.00-20.03hrs.
Bomb Load: 1 x 4000 HC T (USA) 10 x 150 x 4 lb incendiaries includes 162 x 4lb 2 x 60 x 4 lb incendiaries X type incendiaries.
Special Equipment: H2S MkII, Fishpond, M.F. D., N/T Filled, P.B.
Position Name Rank Experience Fate
Pilot D. Paige J91102 F/O 22 Trips Unhurt.
Navigator J.P. Sullivan R169159 W/O 20 Trips Safe, injured ankle, in medical care in France.
W/op J. Bettany 1147696 F/S 18 Trips Safe, Unhurt
F/E R.B. Bennett 3050216 Sgt 22 Trips “ “
A/B J.A. Puttick 1625311 F/S 21 Trips “ “
M/U/G K.E. Campbell R261992 F/S 21 Trips “ “
R/G J.K. McRorie R265605 F/S 24 Trips Left forearm bruised by incendiary in the A/C.
625 “O” took off from RAF Kelstern at 16.29hrs for a raid on PFORZHEIM on the night of 23/24th February 1945. They reached the target without incident on the ordered route and found clear weather conditions. They bombed the Primary on mixed salvoes of Red and Green T.I’s on the Master Bomber’s instructions at 20.02hrs, 7,400ft heading 084degrees (T), IAS 170 kts. All the bombs went. The A/B reported a big oil plant going up in flames at 20.01hrs, and as they left, the target was burning well. No flak or searchlights were experienced and no fighters were seen over the target. Approximately 1/2 minute after bombing the pilot saw a shower of incendiaries coming down immediately ahead. He could not see the aircraft from where they came and was unable to avoid flying straight into them as he was still holding a heading of 084degrees (T) to complete his photographic run.
The damage to the aircraft which followed was caused entirely by these falling incendiaries. Neither Flak or enemy fighters contributed anything at all to the loss of the aircraft. 15-20 4 lb incendiaries entered the fuselage, from above, just to the rear of the main spar—3 incendiaries which were burning fell directly behind the wireless operator and which he immediately threw out through a hole in the fuselage made by other incendiaries. One incendiary came in in front of the wireless operator on the starboard side of the fuselage and this he stamped out with his foot. One incendiary struck the rear turret coming down behind the Rear Gunner. It hit the starboard side of the turret and exploded inside before going trough the bottom of the turret. The turret jammed and one door would not open but it left no fire. Some incendiaries destroyed the intercom to the Gunners. Much damage was caused near the rest bed, all the wiring was ripped from the main spar astern. There was an incendiary in each wing in the proximity of each No. 3 tank almost behind the outer engines. There was another incendiary in the wing inboard of the starboard inner which probably did some damage to the coolant system causing the starboard inner to vibrate. The starboard inner then caught fire about 1 minute after the aircraft was hit, the oil temperature rising to 105 degrees. The engine was feathered and the fire went out—the Gravener was not used.
The pilot altered course South onto the next leg then almost immediately steered West in order to get back to our own lines. They flew for five minutes on a Westerly heading when the incendiary by No.3 starboard tank blew up and the starboard outer caught fire at approximately 48.45N 08.30E at 20.08hrs. The starboard outer was feathered and the F/E manage to put the fire out with Gravener.
Two minutes later (20.10hrs approx.) the pilot asked the Navigator to give him a Southerly course to steer in order to regain the Bomber Stream. They then flew on a course of 240degrees (M) until they crossed the Rhine at the bend East of Bischweiler (Grid ref 2018) at 4,000ft having lost height from the target gradually. As soon as they crossed the Rhine the Navigator gave a course of 300degrees (M) for JUVENCOURT where they intended to make an emergency landing.
About two minutes after crossing the Rhine (20.22hrs approx) the incendiary by the port outer engine blazed up furiously and the pilot immediately gave the order for the crew to bale out. The wireless operator relayed the order verbally to the Gunners. Both the Gunners and the wireless operator went out at the rear door in the order—R/G, M/U/G, W/op. The W/op used the spare ‘chute’ as his own had caught up on the broken wiring while he was throwing the incendiaries out and was partially open. The remainder of the crew went out by the front escape hatch in the order—A/B, F/E, Navigator, Pilot. The port wing was now well ablaze but up to the time of baling out the pilot was able to control the aircraft and hold it steady while the others baled out, then after finally steadying the aircraft he made a dash for it. “George” was unserviceable. The baling out took place at approximately 4,000ft, the aircraft was then seen to turn to starboard and dive steeply, the port wing exploding in the air before the aircraft hit the ground. It crashed on the outskirts of LUTTENHEIM (Grid ref. Q8214) where it continued to burn, scattering wreckage all over the field. The radio was unserviceable after the incendiaries hit the aircraft so no message was transmitted. The weather was clear all the time, with a 3/4 moon and visibility was good apart from some ground haze.
All the crew baled out successfully from 4,000ft. The R/G and Navigator were forced to pull the cover from their parachutes after the rip-cord had failed to open them. The Navigator made a heavy landing and sprained his ankle. No helmets were worn during the descent. The Navigator and pilot each lost a flying boot and the R/G lost both. The pilot landed just outside LUTTENHEIM about 1/2 a mile from where the aircraft crashed at approximately 20.30hrs and was taken by the Americans to DETWEILER and then to WULTENHEIM (Grid ref. Q9316) where he met the F/E, Navigator and A/B. The next morning they were taken to SAVERNE, except the Navigator who remained in medical hands with a sprained ankle at WULTENHEIM. The A/B landed in a field 1 mile east of
WULTENHEIM where he was found by an American soldier and conducted to WULTENHEIM. The F/E landed in a ploughed field 1 mile west of WULTENHEIM and was picked up by an American soldier and taken to town. The W/op landed in a ploughed field and saw the aircraft burning to the west. Not being certain of his locality he buried his ‘Chute’ and harness in the mud. He saw some lights and skirted around them when two Americans pounced on him and marched him back to their unit (locality Unknown) where he was interrogated by an American Officer and taken to SAVERNE the next morning where he met the rest of the crew.
The R/G and M/U/G landed in a ploughed field about 1/4 mile apart and 6 miles east of the aircraft. Not having been on Intercom they did not know their whereabouts so they hid their parachutes under a tree and got a map and compass from their “escape kit” in order to travel west. There was some gunfire to the west which led them to believe that it was the frontline but this turned out to be the Americans firing at an enemy fighter which they claimed to have destroyed as a jet propelled aircraft circling over the crashed Lancaster. They walked in a south westerly direction toward a road and hid in a ditch for half an hour watching the traffic. They saw three jeeps go by and two large transports definitely identified as American. They stopped the next jeep that came along and the two American occupants took them back to their Base at HAGENAU. There they had a short interrogation to establish their identity. Having searched over a wide area for the rest of the crew without success they eventually found out from an American Officer at DETWEILER that the rest of the crew were safe and they returned to HAGENAU for some rest. The next day they were taken to SAVERNE.
From SAVERNE the crew were taken next morning to LUNEVILLE by jeep, thence to PARIS by train. They were then handed over to Air Transport and flown to Croydon in a Dakota the next day—February 26th 1945.
Station Intelligence, R.A.F. Station Kelstern 28.2.45.
A review of the Squadron’s ORB indicates that F/O ‘Basha’ Paige and his crew did not return to operational flying before war’s end and did not participate in Operations Manna or Exodus.
It is not surprising that the actions of PB815’s crew during the February 23/24 1945 raid on Pforzheim, resulted in the awarding of the Squadron’s second Conspicuous Gallantry Medal to Sgt John Bettany:
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HONOURS AND AWARDS
Christian Names: JohnSurname: Bettany.
Rank: Flight SergeantOfficial Number: 1147696
Command or Group: No. 1 GroupUnit: 625 Squadron, RAF
Total hours flown on Operations……… 89
Number of Sorties………………………. 16
Recognition for which is recommended.. C.G.M.
Appointment held…………………………… Wop/Air
Particulars of meritorious service for which recommendation is made:-
Flight Sergeant BETTANY is the Wireless Operator of a Lancaster aircraft which was detailed to attack PFORZHEIM on the night of 23/24 February 1945.
Immediately after the release of their bombs on the target another aircraft above released its load of incendiaries many of which hit the Lancaster in which Flight Sergeant BETTANY was flying. Incendiaries fell on either wing setting fire to the Starboard Inner motor which had to be feathered. In addition 15-20 incendiaries fell into the fuselage of this aircraft putting the intercommunication out of commission and jamming one of the doors in the rear turret. Flight Sergeant BETTANY immediately started to throw out the incendiaries with his bare hands through the holes in the fuselage. He was then ordered to contact the gunners and verify their safety, disposing of incendiaries as he went. All together he threw out 15 incendiary bombs during this time.
Five minutes later an incendiary which had lodged in No.3 tank on the Starboard (sic) side blew up and set fire to the Starboard (sic) outer engine.
The Pilot gave the order to bale out and instructed Flight Sergeant BETTANY to pass this message to the Mid-Upper and Rear Gunners. He went back down the fuselage and on the way, inadvertently his parachute was pulled by some wreckage. Nevertheless, disregarding his own danger he saw the Mid-Upper and Rear Gunner safely jump before going back to collect the spare parachute and bale out himself.
Flight Sergeant BETTANY’s prompt action in dealing with the incendiaries was undoubtedly a great contributing factor to saving the lives of the crew.
His coolness, complete disregard of personal danger and devotion to duty deserve the highest praise and I strongly recommend him for an immediate award of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.
Wing Commander, Commanding
No. 625 Squadron, R.A.F.
NOTE: should read Port side engine.
REMARKS BY STATION COMMANDER. The action of this N.C.O., as described above, when faced with a most perilous situation, reveals the highest qualities of self-less courage. By forming the connecting link between the Captain and two gunners and by his prompt action in throwing the burning incendiaries out of the aircraft. Flight Sergeant BETTANY was primarily responsible for saving the lives of the entire crew. His conduct showed a complete disregard for his own safety and devotion to duty of a very high order. He is strongly recommended for an immediate award of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal.
Station Commander, R.A.F Kelstern
It is noteworthy that the events of this operation also resulted in the awarding of the Distinguished Flying Cross to recently commissioned, Pilot Officer Robert Benjamin Bennett. It is most likely that his commission was also in recognition of his participation in the same op:
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HONOURS AND AWARDS
Christian Names : Robert Benjamin.Surname : Bennett.
Rank: Pilot Officer.Official Number: 191690
Command or Group : No. 1 Group.Unit : 625 Squadron. R.A.F.
Total hours flown on Operations……………………. 146
Number of Sorties……………………………………… 24
Recognition for which is recommended………….. D.F.C.
Appointment held……………………………………… Flight Engineer.
Particulars of meritorious service for which recommendation is made:-
Pilot Officer BENNETT is the Flight Engineer in a very gallant Lancaster aircrew.
He has completed 24 sorties comprising 146 hours operational flying and has attacked many of the most heavily defended areas in Germany such as Dusseldorf, Bochum, Gelsenkirchen, Freiburg and Dortmund.
Pilot Officer BENNETT invariably shows a fine disregard for enemy opposition and is a very skilful aircrew member. He has been largely responsible for the outstanding success of his crew and the successful completion of their missions.
He is extremely keen to participate in operational flights at all times and is a valuable asset to the Squadron in which he serves.
Twice this officer has baled out and on the second occasion his promptness in feathering two engines prevented fire from spreading to the main fuel tanks and so enabling the Pilot to allow the whole crew to bale out.
By this, and other actions in the past Pilot Officer BENNETT has shown his mettle and displayed determination and fearlessness.
He commands the confidence of all who know him and fully deserves the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Wing Commander, Commanding,
No. 625 Squadron, R.A.F.
REMARKS BY STATION COMMANDER. This officer has shown himself to be a particularly resourceful and skilful Flight Engineer whose coolness and presence of mind in the face of danger has been an inspiration to the rest of the crew.
Throughout he has shown outstanding ability and a strong sense of duty which I recommend should be recognized by the award of the D.F.C.
Date:- 15th April, 1945C.R. ?
Group Captain, Commanding
R.A.F. Station, SCAMPTON.
REMARKS BY BASE COMMANDER. This Flight Engineer has shown outstanding skill and a calm courage in the face of danger, which have marked him out as an outstanding member of his crew, and which have been an inspiration to other Flight Engineers in his Squadron.
I concur in recommending that he fully deserves the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Air Commodore, Commanding
No. 15 Base, R.A.F.
NACHTJAGD WAR DIARIES, VOLUME TWO
By this stage of the war the Nachtjagd controllers were severely hampered by the escalated jamming of their radar warning system, resulting in a shrinking window for their Tame Boar experten to intercept and infiltrate the bomber stream. This proved to be the case with the February 23/24 1945 attack on Pforzheim. Allied tactics included a smaller raid of 83 Lancs and 10 Mossies on the U-Boat Base at Horten, Oslo Fiord, Norway, with a feint attack on Neuss, a small force of Mossies bombing towns in central Germany, coupled with Mandrel jamming west of the Ruhr.
The result was that the Nachtjagd controllers were caught with their pants down. The main bomber stream, by 17.28, at 5,000 feet crossed the French coast just north of Le Havre. For once, the Bomber Command tactics appear to have caught the German defences completely by surprise, and there was no known early detection of the main bomber stream. At 19.50 hrs, the firsts report were broadcast by the German controllers that bombing had started at Pforzheim, by a force of ‘500 aircraft’.
Under clear and moonlit skies, approximately half way through the 22-minute raid, the ace crews of NJG6 caught up with the bomber stream, both over the target and along the homeward route. An intense half-hour of combat ensued.
The designated Master Bomber for this raid was Capt. Edwin Swales DFC SAAF and his crew in 582 Squadron Lanc, PB538. They approached the target from the SW, bombed and marked at 19.58 from 8,000 feet, then orbited, issuing bombing instructions to the main force. At 20.06 they were intercepted north of Pforzheim by a night fighter, probably Ofw. Bahr in a Bf110, which initiated an attack from the starboard quarter. Instructions from the rear gunner for evasive action fell on deaf ears as Capt. Swales was occupied giving instructions to the main force. The initial burst from Bahr’s Bf110 struck the tail-plane and port inner engine, setting it on fire. A second, at close range burst, hit the tail-plane and starboard outer engine. Both gunners retaliated causing the night fighter to break off its attack, not to be seen again.
The damage was done! However, in spite of a gravely damaged, burning ‘kite’, Capt. Swales continued to orbit Pforfzheim, turning for home only when his task as Master Bomber was fulfilled. Miraculously, he managed to maintain control of a battle damaged PB538 during a 400 km roller-coaster ride west to Occupied Territory, to ensure his crew would not become POWs. At Chappelle-aux-Bois, PB538 became uncontrollable and Capt. Swales ordered his faithful crew to bale out. They all survived uninjured, free airmen. He perished in the ensuing crash of his uncontrollable steed, too low to save his own life. For his actions he was awarded a most deserved, posthumous Victoria Cross. His valour mirrors that of Canuck, S/L ‘Baz’ Bazalgette and the loss of Lanc ND811 during the August 4, 1944 day raid on Trossy St. Maximin. See: http://www.aircrewremembered.com/bazalgette-ian-willoughby.html
In perfect conditions of a three-quarter moon, between 20.05 and 20.30, six German night fighters shot down 14 enemy aircraft in the Pforzheim area. Four Nachtjagd experten accounted for 12 (85%) with three of four claims each! It is mind numbing that they contributed to a 3% loss of the main force in matter of twenty-five minutes. This exemplifies the Bomber Command airman’s credo: Death by Moonlight. See ME789: THE MOON: FRIEND OR FOE?— http://www.aircrewremembered.com/mather-gordon-s.h...
However, the price extracted by Bomber Command was the destruction of 83% of the old city. The ensuing firestorm resulted in the deaths of an estimated 17,600 people. Fortunately, the end was in sight. Capt. Erwin Swales had fulfilled his role as the Master Bomber of this attack and made the ultimate sacrifice as a result. His crew would live to fight another day, and live their lives to the fullest, thanks to their valorous Skipper.
BOMBER COMMAND WAR DIARIES
23/24 February 1945
367 Lancasters and 13 Mosquitoes of 1, 6, and 8 Groups and a Film Unit Lancaster carries out the first, and only, area-bombing attack of the war on this target. 10 Lancasters were lost and 2 more crashed in France.
The marking and bombing from only 8,000 ft, were particularly accurate and damage of the most severe nature was inflicted on Pforzheim. 1,825 tons of bombs were dropped in 22 minutes. Local records show that an area measuring 3 km by 1 1/2 km was completely engulfed by fire and that ‘more than 17,000 people met their death in a hurricane of fire and explosions’.* Fire Officer Brunswig from Hamburg, usually reliable, says that 17,600 people died. This was probably the third heaviest air-raid death toll in Germany during the war, following Hamburg and Dresden. The post-war British Bombing Survey Unit estimated that 83% of the town’s built-up area was destroyed, probably the greatest proportion in one raid during the war.
Bomber Command’s last Victorian Cross of the war was won on this night.** The Master Bomber was Captain Edwin Swales, D.F.C., a South African serving with 582 Squadron. His Lancaster was twice attacked over the target by a German night fighter.
Captain Swales could not hear the evasion directions given by his gunners because he was broadcasting his own instructions to the Main Force. 2 engines and the rear turret were put out of action. Captain Swales continued to control the bombing until the end of the raid and must take some credit for the accuracy of the attack. He set out on the return flight but encountered turbulent cloud and ordered his crew to bale out. This they did successfully but Captain Swales had no opportunity to leave the aircraft and was killed when it crashed. He is buried at the Leopold War Cemetery at Limburg in Belgium.
*Quoted from page 9 of a diary provided by the Pforzheim Stadarchiv.
** W/O2 Andrew Charles Mynarski was awarded the last Victoria Cross of the war
on Friday 11 October, 1946 (London Gazette), for his valorous actions
during the June 12/13, 1944 Cambrai, France raid.
73 Lancasters and 10 Mosquitoes carried out an accurate attack on a possible U-boat base on the Oslo Fjord. 1 Lancaster was lost…
Total effort for the night: 666 sorties, 17 aircraft (2.6 per cent) lost.
PB815: Nil. All of the crew survived.
1. Major Edwin Swales VC DFC 6101V SAAF Age 29, Died on February 23, 1945.
Buried in the Leopoldsburg War Cemetery, VIII, C.5. Belgium Son of the late Harry E. and Olive M. Swales, of Durban Natal, South Africa.
His epitaph reads:
In proud memory
Of the Natal Mounted Rifles
And the S.A. Air Force
Additional Citation note:
The citation in the London Gazette of 20th April, 1945, gives the following detail: Captain Swales was the `master bomber' of a force of aircraft which attacked Pforzheim on the night of 23rd February, 1945. Over the target the aircraft was repeatedly attacked by an enemy fighter and severely damaged, two engines being put out of action. Captain Swales remained to issue aiming instructions until he was satisfied that the attack had achieved its purpose. By skilful flying he was able to bring the aircraft back to friendly territory, where he ordered the crew to bale out. The aircraft became gradually more difficult to control and, as the last of the crew jumped, it plunged to earth; Captain Swales was found dead at the controls. Intrepid in attack, courageous in the face of danger, he did his duty to the last, giving his life that his comrades might live.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
1. F/O Darrell Rollin Paige:
Born 15 January 1923 in Lennoxville, Quebec; home there (farmer); enlisted in Montreal, 29 June 1942 and posted to No.5 Manning Depot. To No.4 Manning Depot, 14 August 1942. To No.5 ITS, 24 October 1942; graduated and promoted LAC, 23 January 1943 but not posted to No.13 EFTS until 6 February 1943; graduated 30 April 1943 and posted next day to No.6 SFTS; graduated and promoted Sergeant, 17 September 1943. To “Y” Depot, 1 October 1943. Taken on strength of No.3 PRC, 8 October 1943. Commissioned 3 September 1944. Promoted Flying Officer, 3 March 1944. Repatriated 5 August 1945. Retired 13 September 1945. Living in Brooks, Alberta in 1947. Died at Ascot, Quebec, 1999.
Award effective 5 July 1945 as per London Gazette dated 20 July 1945 and AFRO 1619/45 dated 19 October 1945.
Flying Officer Paige has attacked many strongly defended targets in enemy territory and has always displayed outstanding skill and courage. On one sortie to Pforzheim his aircraft was set on fire immediately after bombing. His conduct throughout the incident was worthy of the highest praise. Flying Officer Paige has faced many hazards in the course of his operational career and has always exhibited the utmost coolness and determination.
Medal sent by registered mail 28 May 1948.
Accident of 14 October 1944: Lancaster LL956, No.625 Squadron, crash at Bradley's Farm, Little Grimsby, 0634 hours, taking off for raid in Duisburg. Crew were J87007 P/O L.A. Hannah (pilot, killed), R174406 Sergeant D.R. Paige (second pilot), 3050216 Sergeant R.B. Bennett (flight engineer), R172682 FS J. Bilan (WOP), R160305 FS K.R. Strachan (navigator, seriously injured), R188356 FS L.D. Bennett (bomb aimer, killed, apparently because he had delayed pulling rip cord and parachute failed to open), R265605 Sergeant J.K. McRorie (mid-upper gunner), and R217337 FS J. Loughran (rear gunner).
Paige reported as follows: As second pilot I helped the captain with the run up which was satisfactory. There was no trouble when taxying or until we were three quarters of the way down the runway with full power on when there were two loud reports from the Starboard Inner engine. This engine was throttled back slightly and the detonations stopped. Just as we left the ground the Flight Engineer who was behind me reported a fire in the S.I. engine. The engine was feathered at this point and as the fire was still going, extinguisher was used. It put out all the flames except in the air intake which continued to smoulder. After about two minutes the engine burst into flames again and the captain gave the order to bale out. All of the other engines operated O.K.
A further report stated: As the Starboard Inner engine, which failed, has not yet been found it is impossible to give a report on the failure, which appeared to originate as a fire in the air intake, which started during the take off run, and which spread to the whole engine and eventually the mainplane, presumably causing the petrol tanks to explode, blowing the mainplane to pieces.
Under "Remarks of Unit Commander" the following appears: Aircraft LL956 took off at dawn on 14.10.44 with H.E. bomb load at an all up weight of 65,000 lbs; when half way down the runway intermittent whitish flames were observed on the starboard inner exhausts. The aircraft appeared to take off and climb normally and shortly after it left the ground the exhaust flashes seemed to disappear. The aircraft made a right hand circuit, but when down wind of the airfield and at approximately 2,000 feet dived steeply and exploded on impact with the ground.
The accident must be attributed entirely to a technical failure of the starboard inner engine. The Captain and crew appear to have taken correct action to deal with the emergency.
Second Bale out: The second bale out mentioned in the photo caption (below) was 23/24 February 1945 during a raid on Pforzheim. His aircraft was struck by incendiaries from above. Crew were as follows: F/O D.R. Paige (RCAF), Sergeant R.B. Bennett, WO2 J.P. Sullivan (RCAF, injured), Flight Sergeant J.A. Puttick, FS J. Bettany (flight engineer, awarded CGM [Flying] for gallantry), FS K.E. Campbell (RCAF), and FS J.K. McRorie (RCAF).
2. Sgt Robert B. Bennett:
Robert was a man who always adored engineering, born in Kingstanding, he joined the Air Training Corps as soon as he was able and in turn the RAF where he flew in a variety of bombing aircraft.
He was a member of the Caterpillar club and met with old friends from the war and always spoke fondly of his time in the Air Force.
As a father of 2 daughters and Grandfather of 6 children he would often bring models, go carts and build kits for our birthdays which we would sometimes build with him, he would always encourage mechanical engineering skills.
He and I much enjoyed visiting museums dedicated to the machines of war, like The Royal Tank Museum, RAF Duxford and the Imperial War Museum. Robert cherished his time in the RAF and the years spent as a F/Engineer in Lancasters were some of the most inspiring and exciting of his life.
Addendum- March 13, 2021:
Great to speak to you today, following our conversation, see attached the picture I spoke of with the details provided below with the account of Roberts last day.
When I was a young boy, I'd stay with my Grandparents Robert & Doreen in Solihull, West Midlands. In the room where I would sleep with my brothers was this picture 'Lancaster Bale Out' published for the Caterpillar Club (of which Robert was a member) and the Bomber Command Museum.
It shows aircrew bailing out of a stricken Lancaster. As I lay there with the lamp on, as often was the case, I'd look up at this picture in the half light, imagining what must it have been like. My Grandfather was always very matter of fact when it came to recounting his bale outs and indeed most of his encounters of the war.
When I think of my Grandfather it often comes to memory along with his framed medals on the dining room wall.
Decades later, the day Robert died, He and I had agreed to meet and film him in interview recounting his time in the RAF. We'd also arranged for him to taxi in Just Jane NX611, one of the surviving Lancasters restored by the Lincolnshire Heritage Centre, East Kirkby. He'd sent me a hand written note the week before, planning the day. At the time he was the only living member of his crew and he'd labeled the top of the letter 'The Survivor' - I'd already decided that this would be the title of the film that was sadly never to be. Robert had a heart attack and died, when taking a break on the drive over.
His time in the Lancaster and the RAF were the most exciting of his 80 years, it seemed fitting that the memory of such were so treasured, right until the end.
Robert Benjamin Bennett was born on July 22, 1924. Robert and Doreen were blessed with two daughters, Josephine and Rowena, six grandchildren, Luke, Ian and Joseph from Jo and Jayne, Karen and Rebecca from Ro, and remarkably eleven great grandchildren; of which Harry and Annie from Luke and his wife, Hannah; Robert, Peter, Jacob and Leah from Ian; Archie from Joseph; Thomas and Emma from Jayne and Benjamin and Samuel from Rebecca and her husband, Halisi.
Postwar Robert was employed as an engineer for Serck Heat Transfer.
As noted above he died suddenly from a cardiac event on October 13, 2004—The ‘Last Survivor’ of a life well lived.
Sgt Robert B. Bennett ACR Form.
Sgt Robert B. Bennett ATC.
Sgt Robert B. Bennett: Documents after MIA.
P/O Robert B. Bennett DFC.
Sgt Robert B.Bennett in the ‘Office’ of PB815
Little Grimsby: 50th Commemoration of the Loss of LL956, May1995.
(L to R:) Wilf Brader (farmer), Robert B. Bennett, The Vicar, John Loughran (rear gunner of LL956).
Little Grimsby Memorial Plaque Commemorating the Loss of LL956 and the
tragic loss of F/O Lloyd Hannah and F/Sgt Lloyd Bennett.
LL956 Crashsite, Debris ‘reminder’- 2021. (left)
P/O R.B. Bennett’s Great Grandchildren, Annie and Harry Dennis paying their respect:
impact crater pond in background. (right)
Painting: ‘Lancaster Bale Out’, published for the Caterpillar Club by Irvine Parachute Co.
3. F/Sgt J.A. Puttick: If you can help, please contact us at the Helpdesk.
4. Sgt J.P. Sullivan: If you can help, please contact us at the Helpdesk.
5. F/Sgt J. Bettany:
Warrant Officer John Bettany C.G.M. (1920-2005), enlisted R.A.F.V.R. 16.3.1941; promoted Warrant Officer 1.10.1945; discharged 15.8.1846; returned to the Royal Air Force as a Recruiting Officer, in Manchester, 27.11.1950 - 26.5.1955; Air Traffic Controller at Warton and Squires Gate Airfield, Blackpool before moving on to the aerodrome at Salmesbury, where he worked until he retired in 1979.
F/Sgt. J. Bettany Medals
6. Sgt. K.E. Campbell: If you can help, please contact us at the Helpdesk.
7. Sgt: K.J. McRorie: If you can help, please contact us at the Helpdesk.
- Capt. Edwin ‘Ted’ Essery Swales:
Ted Swales was one of four children, born on 3 July, 1915 in Inanda, Natal, South Africa. His father, a farmer, succumbed to the Influenza Epidemic of 1918-19. His mother moved the family to Durban where he attended the Durban Preparatory High School (DHS) and was a Boy Scout.
Pre-war he worked for Barclays Bank in Durban and joined the Natal Mounted Rifles (NMR), with promotion to rank of Sergeant Major (W/O2). With the NMR he saw action in Kenya, Abyssinia and North Africa. On 17 January, 1942, he transferred to the South African Air Force.
He was a keen athlete, excelling in rugby, playing for civilian and military teams, including DHS 2nd XV, South African and Dominion teams. In the UK he played for Griquas while posted to Kimberly. By reputation he was also a reserve for the Natal rugby team—without ever having played for the province!
He earned his wings on 26 June 1943 and on 22 August 1943 was seconded to the RAF—retaining his SAAF uniform and rank.
Remarkably, his potential was recognized and after heavy bombing training was posted in June 1944 to an elite RAF Pathfinder Force Squadron, No. 582. This was most unusual as it was customary that Pathfinders would only accept seasoned, select pilots who had completed at least one tour on bombers. This was unheard of for a rookie, combat virginal bomber pilot. He would not disappoint!
Recently promoted to rank of Captain, he was the number two Pathfinder for the December 1944 daylight raid on the Cologne, Gremberg railway yards. During this operation he witnessed the demise of his close friend, S/L Robert Palmer DFC, at the hands of a German fighter. As a result of his actions S/L Palmer was awarded a posthumous VC. Also during this raid, Captain Swales was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation provides insight of this pilot’s strength of character and meteoric ascent.
This Officer was pilot and Captain of an aircraft detailed to attack Cologne in December, 1944. When approaching the target, intense anti-aircraft fire was encountered. Despite this, a good bombing attack was executed. Soon afterwards the aircraft was attacked by five enemy aircraft. In the ensuing fights, Capt. Swales manoeuvred with great skill. As a result his gunners were able to bring effective fire to bear upon the attackers, one of which is believed to have been shot down. Throughout this spirited action Captain Swales displayed exceptional coolness and captaincy, setting a very fine example. This Officer has completed very many sorties during which he has attacked a variety of enemy targets
Captain Swales was 'Master Bomber' of a force of aircraft which attacked Pforzheim on the night of February 23, 1945. As Master Bomber he had the task of locating the target area with precision and of giving aiming instructions to the main force of bombers in his wake.
Soon after he reached the target area he was engaged by an enemy aircraft and one of his engines was put out of action. His rear guns failed. His crippled aircraft was an easy prey for further attacks. Unperturbed, he carried on with his allotted task; clearly and precisely he issued aiming instructions to the main force. Meanwhile the enemy fighter closed the range and fired again. A second engine of Captain Swales’ aircraft was put out of action. Almost defenceless, he stayed over the target area issuing his aiming instructions until he was satisfied that the attack had achieved its purpose.
It is now known that the attack was one of the most concentrated and successful of the war. Captain Swales did not, however, regard his mission as completed. His aircraft was damaged. Its speed had been so much reduced that it could only with difficulty be kept in the air. The blind-flying instruments were no longer working. Determined at all costs to prevent his aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands, he set course for home. After an hour he flew into thin-layered cloud. He kept his course by skilful flying between the layers, but later heavy cloud and turbulent air conditions were met. The aircraft, by now over friendly territory, became more and more difficult to control; it was losing height steadily. Realising that the situation was desperate Captain Swales ordered his crew to bail out. Time was very short and it required all his exertions to keep the aircraft steady while each of his crew moved in turn to the escape hatch and parachuted to safety. Hardly had the last crew-member jumped when the aircraft plunged to earth. Captain Swales was found dead at the controls.
Intrepid in the attack, courageous in the face of danger, he did his duty to the last, giving his life that his comrades might live.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, KCB, OBE, AFC of RAF Bomber Command wrote a letter to Swales’ mother:
….On every occasion your son proved himself to be a determined fighter and resolute captain of his crew. His devotion to duty and complete disregard for his own safety will remain an example and inspiration to us all….
The surviving members of PB538’s crew included:
F/Sgt G.W. Bennington DFM, RAFVR
P/O N. Bourne RCAF
F/L C. Dobson DSO DFC, RAFVR
P/O A.B. Goodacre RAAF
F/Sgt B. Leach RAFVR
S/L D.P.D. Srcher DSO DFC, RAFVR
In sacrificing his life, Capt. Ted Swales permitted these young men to live theirs to the fullest.
Captain Edwin ‘Ted’ Swales VC DFC
Leopoldsburg War Cemetery, Belgium
Captain Edwin Swales VC DFC Medals.
PHOTO ANALYSIS OF PB815 CREW: PREFLIGHT by John Naylor.
These photos are particularly difficult to judge, mainly because the ones in the aircraft are very faint! However, process of elimination and facts that we do have, are what I have had to deal with. Firstly though, we know that PB815 (CF-O) replaced LM691 that was lost in October 44. Therefore she was probably delivered about that time.
Secondly, the aircraft exterior photos were, I think, taken as they were preparing for an air test, possibly on the day of the Pforzheim raid? There is clearly snow on the ground, and the cockpit cover has only just been removed, probably by whoever took the pictures. They must have used the field gantry used by the ground crew to have been at that angle! The Mid Upper cover is still in place however. There are also ice particles on the cockpit frame and the reflection of either an arc light or possibly an early morning winter sun. Photo 2 is Johnnie Puttick, as shown on the front of his helmet, looking through his B/A position. Note that there are no guns in the turrets yet, as they would not be required for an air test. Photo 3 from Luke Dennis shows his Grandfather, Sgt Bennett clearly on intercom, and I suspect that is 'Basha' Paige in the pilots' seat. I also think, because the F/E is on intercom, that there is at least one engine running, so he can talk to, and hear the Pilot. It would be beneficial to get warmth into the cockpit as soon as possible to de-ice the glass. Photo 4 is not Paige in the cockpit but Johnnie Puttick again. I suspect this picture was taken before Paige boarded and before Puttick went into the Bomb Bay. It could well be that Paige took this picture? The first of the photos from Luke Dennis is obviously 'Basha' Paige with a Pilot Officer who may or may not be a member of the crew, after commissioning? What is evident is that Paige is showing a brand new F/O Braid around his right sleeve that may be some clue as to the date. It is clearly taken in a Hangar, and again, no guns in the rear turret. They appear to have just come back from, or going to somewhere important, as they are both in No.1 Uniform and carrying raincoats. I feel this photo was taken at a later date from the other photos, maybe even at Scampton! JN.
F/O ‘Basha’ Paige and P/O J.K. McRorie
RCAF photo PL-43361 ex UK-20598 dated 15 April 1945) is captioned as follows: “Twice they have baled out of doomed Lancasters without getting a scratch, both times landing in a ploughed field. These Canadian members of the Caterpillar Club are, left, Flying Officer D.R. Paige, Lancaster pilot from Lennoxville, Quebec, who was ‘captured’ this side of the Rhine by a U.S. soldier who formerly lived in Montreal and was able to vouch that the Canadian wasn’t a Nazi paratrooper. Right is Pilot Officer K.J. McRorie, rear gunner, Melfort, Saskatchewan, who shared both jumps with Paige.”
F/Sgt. J.A. Puttick Bomb Aimer, Preflight.
F/Sgt. R.B. Bennett, Flight Engineer, Preflight.
F/Sgt. J.A. Puttick, Bomb Aimer in the ‘Office’, Preflight.
BALE OUT! BALE OUT!
The command that any Skipper dreaded giving, and crewmen hearing. It usually followed a devastating night fighter attack or flak strike.
It is impossible to imagine the chaotic scenario as individual crew members hastened to the nearest exit, in the dark, the taste of raw adrenalin and struggling to recollect the correct procedure sequence to follow to ensure a safe descent—disconnect intercom and oxygen supply, clip on chute securely, deploy it when safe and if uncertain, inflate Mae West for a water landing.
And there was always the uncertainty of one’s future once safely on terra firma/water: POW, evader or ditching survival. During the later stages of the war, murder at the hands of German citizens, became a grim possibility. Under these circumstances many airmen were saved by the police or military personal to the ‘sanctity’ of POWs, to see war’s end.
On occasion, a badly damaged bomber would be nursed back to English soil by an exhausted Skipper and crew, some possibly wounded or deceased. After discussion with senior control staff, it could be decided unsafe to land. In this situation the pilot could hold the aircraft steady for the crew to bale out, activate ‘George’ to maintain a steady easterly heading over the North Sea and follow suit. Fuel starvation would sentence the doomed aircraft to a watery grave, its purpose served.
We are most fortunate to have Reg Price DFC, a 625 Squadron tour expired vet, as an honorary co-author of our ‘crew’. He has agreed to share his recollection of training and experience given to pilots regarding the considerations and actions to be taken by a pilot in giving this dreaded order: “Bale out!”
Four main reasons for the order to abandon an aircraft:
1. Mid air collision - often in cloud, no lights, at turning points on the route to the target.
2. Damage from bombs from another aircraft flying at a higher altitude.
3. Damage from anti aircraft fire.
4. Damage from night fighter aircraft.
If the aircraft was controllable the normal sequence would be: front exit-bomb aimer, flight engineer, then either the nav. or the radio operator whoever got there first.
The rear gunner would rotate his turret, if possible and fall out. If this was not possible his alternative was to use the rear entrance door along with the mid upper gunner.
Other factors to consider - how badly damaged was the aircraft, where was the damage, was any crew member injured, if so how seriously - and did they require assistance in baling out.
If the pilot was badly injured or killed then the rest of the crew would be left to escape whichever way they could.
Reg Price DFC.
It is noteworthy that Reg does not mention it was understood the pilot would not abandon the aircraft until all of his crew had safely exited. This would often mean that by the time it was his turn, there was insufficient altitude for chute deployment. The only option was a forced landing, in the dark, on fire, with engines feathered, onto unknown terrain—if the aircraft was controllable. The chance of surviving was extremely remote. With wounded crew members, unable to bale out, it was understood that the Skipper would not abandon them, and attempt a forced landing. All too often this would result in the loss of all on board—the loss of ND811 is a case in point.
1. F/O D.R. Paige: DFC (Awarded)
2. Sgt R.B. Bennett: DFM ( Commissioned, DFC Awarded)
3. F/Sgt J.A. Puttick: DFM, eyewitness accounts
4. W/O2 J.P. Sullivan: DFM, eyewitness accounts
5. F/Sgt J. Bettany: CGM (Awarded)
6. F/Sgt K.E. Campbell: DFM, eyewitness accounts
7. F/Sgt J.K. McRorie: DFM, eyewitness accounts.
After submitting the final draft of the Aircrew Remembered archive report for 625 Squadron Loss #52- LL956, F/O Lloyd Hannah and Crew for final editing, we were provided with the perfect segue for Loss #66- F/O D.R. Paige and Crew. However, we were confronted with the dilemma of a plethora of data and a total void of photographic support. Three years later, a tincture of serendipitous propinquity, and we have resolution!
A relayed request from Aircrew Remembered webmaster, Roy Wilcock, to establish contact between Luke Dennis and Dave Langner, Lloyd Hannah’s nephew, set the wheels in motion. Luke, the grandson of PB518’s Flight Engineer, Sgt R.B. Bennett, has provided a goldmine of photos and documents, and is a co-submitter of this archive report. Most significantly he visited the crash site of LL956 to introduce his children to the spirit of the courageous, young Flying Officer who sacrificed his life to allow his crew to carry on. Without his actions that early morning on October 14, 1944, Luke and his children would not have existed to pay their respects. It is most fitting that the archive report on PB815 includes a similar tribute to another Canuck Lanc ‘driver’, as well as a South African Pathfinder who answered the call.
Of the seventy-four Lancs and crews of 625 Squadron that “failed to return” over its eighteen months of operational history, the loss of PB815 was unique in a number of ways. The majority fell to Nachtjagd experten or flak. Two were possibly lost to ‘friendly fire’. It is possible that the loss of NF996 and crew during the 14/15 February 1945 Chemnitz raid may have been due a hit from a bomb dropped by an overlying crew. There can be no doubt that PB815 came to grief after colliding with a multitude of incendiaries dropped by another bomber from above. The graphic photo taken by the 463 Lanc of the Film Unit, indicates just how easy it was for this to occur in the tight squeeze of the Bomber Stream over the target! It is remarkable that it was not a more frequent occurrence. It is also noteworthy that F/O Paige was committed to flying the one minute, bombing run heading in order to obtain the mandatory photoflash evidence, proving that they had in fact bombed the detailed objective. It is ironic that in the case of PB815 that the film did not make it back to Kelstern to be developed! With this in mind, one has to consider how many bomber crews fell victims to fighters or flak during that extremely vulnerable, straight and level, one minute, in order to return with the ‘proof in the pudding’ target photo. It is most sobering that to survive the mandatory thirty ops to complete the first tour that each crew would be forced to run this gauntlet through this crucible of war, witnessing their colleagues going down in flames, for a cumulative half an hour. What is truly amazing is that the majority did just that without going LMF! Sadly, only a third would live to tell the tale!
Photo by the 463 Lanc of the Film Unit
F/O Paige and his tight-knit crew have the rare distinction of being the only 625 Squadron crew of being listed on the Battle Order for two second ‘dickey’ trips. It is impossible to imagine the extreme anxiety and mental anguish that this crew would experience prior to the second, after the close call on the first. This may be a factor contributing to Sgt Bilan being unable to carry on with this crew. However, it is fortuitous that he was replaced by Sgt Bettany, taking into account the events of their last op.
It is incredible that F/O Paige’s crew’s operational tour was for the most part uneventful, exceeded by the fact that it was bookended by two bale outs! A most remarkable feat, unique for the Squadron, and possibly the entirety of Bomber Command. A common occurrence in Fighter Command but bomber crews were lucky if they had just one opportunity to hit the silk.
To top it off F/O Paige and his well honed crew managed to pull off their ‘adventure’ with the awarding of a CGM and two DFCs, and with the exception of their Nav, W/O II J.P. Sullivan, were sleeping in their own beds within two days!—A fairy tale ending to their operational tour. There can be no doubt that Senior Staff were not prepared to expose this crew to additional risk with the war’s end in sight. They had done their duty for King and Country. For them the war was most deservedly over!
The IO’s report that graphically details the final moments of PB815 and her crew brings into vivid focus the raw adrenalin events of baling out of an ablaze bomber on the verge of a fuel tank explosion. The comment in the ORB summary: No helmets were worn during the descent., is thought provoking. Did this mean that they had all followed protocol and remembered to disconnect from intercom and oxygen connections before baling out? What is most disturbing is that two of the crew, the Nav and rear gunner suffered ripcord failures and had to resort to manually activating their chutes. The Nav suffered a sprained ankle from a heavy landing in moonlight conditions. Taking into account his age and lack of athletic physique, is this an indication of him almost running out of altitude to sufficiently deploy his chute? Food for thought. One cannot help but ponder the thought processes of individual airmen on the verge of taking that final plunge through the nose escape hatch or rear door: being run over by a passing aircraft—friend or foe, landing in the North Sea or other body of water, friendly territory, evader or POW. Akin to falling down a rabbit hole! It is no wonder that many an airmen, contemplating these variables, had to be ‘ejected’ by a the toe of a crew mate’s softly padded flying boot—to ensure that the remainder of the crew would have the same opportunity. During my research on the loss of 625 Squadron’s JB122, I did encounter a possible example of this delay resulting in the remainder of the crew perishing when their Halifax snapped into a spin due to severe icing— leaving a sole survivor. See JB122/ADDENDUM SEVERE ICING: LOSS OF HALIFAX NA190: http://www.aircrewremembered.com/gallop-roy.html
As noted in the Bomber Command War Diaries, two aircraft crashed in France: PB815, most likely followed by PB538 with Captain Ted Swales and crew. Sadly, Captain Swales’ meteoric operational career would end with him sacrificing his life to save those of his crew. Under the circumstances, it was most appropriate that he was awarded the posthumous VC.
On close scrutiny it is impossible to comprehend just how F/O Paige and his crew were able to pull the rabbit out of the proverbial hat—under the circumstances of the incredible physical and mental duress they were exposed to. Their situation was dangerous to the extreme, rapidly deteriorating with many critical decisions to be made in short order. In particular, the weight of the moment fell on the shoulders of their unflappable Skipper, F/O ‘Basha’ Paige. While still over enemy territory he was confronted with the reality of his ‘kite’ ablaze, the two starboard engines feathered, fighting to correct the resulting asymmetric thrust, a fire in the port wing adjacent to fuel tanks, and intercom and autopilot u/s. He had a tiger by the tail! To bale out prematurely over the target would expose his crew to every bomber airman’s nightmare: capture and execution by bomb crazed civilians, a not unusual occurrence at this stage of the war. Timing was critical! The die was cast with incendiary fire flaring up in the port wing. The order to immediately abandon their trusted PB815 was the only option. Floating down safely under their chute canopies, they witnessed the alternate scenario as the port wing fire exploded, sending PB815 to an unescapable fiery demise. It was that close! This crew’s leadership and teamwork, coupled with Captain Edwin Swales’ grit and bulldog determination, epitomize the tenacity, endurance and determination of Bomber Command aircrews to carry on the Second Front— for four years of the war. As Noel Coward pointed out in his famous poem, Lie in the Dark and Listen— Theirs is a world you'll never know.
On a lighter note this anonymous poem, BASHER BOYS, provides remarkable character portraits of six of F/O ‘Basha’ Paige’s crew. One can deduce that the poet is none other than F/Sgt Puttick, by the fact that he is not included and his impish expression in the crew’s photo. It is a reflection of his poetic prowess! Also apparent is that two of the crew resorted to alcohol, to numb the realities of combat flying, and their Skipper had a predilection for wheels-up landings and ditching. In addition, it suggests that their original wireless operator had psychological indicators that might possibly lead to decompensation with successive ops.
Now Basher is our Captain and a pranging man is he,
He sets them down without the wheels and lands them in the sea,
And when it comes to flying he’ll be buried there by me,
As we go crashing on.
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah ……
Bennett is the engineer, of England he is proud,
He’s nervous as a kitten and his heart beats long and loud,
And when it comes to Engineering he is in a cloud,
As we go crashing on.
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah ……
The navigator is a loss he never knows the score,
He’s sloppy and he’s lazy and he won’t learn any more.
Sullivan is what he’s called, he’s apples to the core.
As we go crashing on.
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah ……
The mid-upper is a tramp from Oakanogon Hill,
To see the motors all ablaze is Campbell’s greatest thrill.
But then one day he’ll boob some more and send us in a spill,
As we go crashing on.
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah ……
And far behind and all alone the Drunkard lives alone,
When not asleep he’s half awake, of butterflies he’ll moan.
McRories money’s never there, he always wants a loan.
As we go crashing on.
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah ……
Bilan is the static brain, his nerves are cold as steel,
He jumps and grabs a parachute at every bump we feel.
When in a pub’ and with two pints then over he does keel.
And we go crashing on.
Glory, Glory, Hallelujah ……
At this stage of the war it was uplifting and morale boosting for the Squadron to witness the miraculous return of this crew, in the process demonstrating the importance of teamwork and training in their survival, exemplifying the security of the seven link gold chain incorporated in the Squadron crest and the motto: WE AVENGE.
This report would not be complete without tribute to the aircraft that was on one occasion referred to by Sir Arthur Harris as his Golden Sword—The Avro Lancaster. As noted in this report both PB815 and PB538 did not fall from the sky lightly. On many occasions battle damaged Lancs were nursed back to English soil, never to fly again, leaving airmen and aeronautical engineers shaking their heads incredulously. The return of ED377, SR-X, from the February 14, 1943 Milano raid, that resulted in the awarding of five CGMs and a DSO to the crew was a prime example. It is noteworthy that F/O Lloyd Hannah’s brother, Harold, also Flying Officer Lanc ‘driver’ would lose his life as the result of an incapacitating flak injury on the bomb run. Their steed, Lancaster PB413, in the hands of their wireless operator cum rookie pilot, would return the crew to England and essentially crash land itself, crew intact without additional injuries! (http://www.aircrewremembered.com/hannah-harold-allan.html) This tribute to the mighty Lanc would not be complete without reference to my all time 625 Squadron hero, American 1st Lt. Max Dowden, his crew and above all their trusty mount, LM513. (http://www.aircrewremembered.com/dowden-max-eugene-1.html) This archive report includes an addendum dedicated to the Avro Lancaster. The aircrews of 625 Squadron over its eighteen month operational history would have the privilege of going to war in this aircraft and no other. Almost without exception they worshipped her!
Fortunately, this area bombing raid on Pforzheim would be the last of the war that would escalate to the absolute devastation of a firestorm that overwhelmed the fire fighting resources. Previous raids on Hamburg, Freiburg and Dresden brought into vivid focus Sir Winston Churchill’s edict after visiting a bombed out Coventry in November 1940: They have sown the wind, they shall reap the whirlwind. (Hosea 8.7) The comment in the ORB by returning gunners, provides an indication that this raid had left behind a grim ‘calling card’: Target was visible from 150 miles on return journey.
During this raid the vagaries of war were exemplified in the luck of the draw, taking into account a 3/4 moon, timing, place and Nachtjagd encounters. It is noteworthy that the 22 aircraft of 625 Squadron bombed between 19.58 and 20.06 hrs and the Nachtjagd claims over the target and on the return leg were between 20.05 and 20.30 hrs. It is not surprising that the 625 crews escaped almost scot-free. Luckily they had managed to “thread the needle”.
Before war’s end another eight 625 Squadron Lancs and their crews would “fail to return”. From six crews, thirty-one keen, young airmen would never return. However, two of these crews would have fairy tale final ops with terminal events: NG240, F/O Jim Alexander and crew and PD204, F/O Joe Mooney and crew—two resourceful Skippers with uncanny leadership and survival skills!
We are eternally grateful to Luke Dennis and the Bennett family for this veritable time machine that takes us back to the Squadron’s final chapter of the war. THANK YOU LUKE! JEA.
Map for PB815 and PB538, Final Ops.
Basher Boys Poem- Original Format.
Luke Dennis/Bennett Family Collection
625 Squadron ORB
Bomber Command War Diaries
Nachtjagd War Diaries Volume Two- February 23/24 1944
RCAF Association Website
PB815 Crew, Log Book Entries, Poem, Painting: Luke Dennis and the Bennett Family Collection
Captain Swales VC DFC: Wikipedia and Squadron website
F/Sgt Bettany Medals: John Naylor
Target Photo: Rod McKenzie, Author- Nachtjagd War Diaries, Volume Two
Reg Price DFC: http://www.aircrewremembered.com/price-reginald-df...
Submission by Luke Dennis, Grandson of P/O R.B. Bennett, Dave Langner, Nephew of F/Os Lloyd and Harold Hannah
and Jack Albrecht.
Additional Archive Reports 625 Squadron
Allied Losses & Incidents Database PB815
Paradie Canadian Archive