10/xii/43 – Scramble with tragic outcome

10th December 14:50
DH Mosquito XII HK227 (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: P/O Scott
Navigator (R): Self
NFT & Cine-Gun
Various American targets, whence no IFF interrogator check – cause of later repercussions
0:40

19:25
SCRAMBLE – Searchlights
Scrambled late for 12-16 raid. On searchlight control, but they had an R/T failure. Picked up free-lance contact near intersection & obtained visual. No resins & no IFF response obtained. Re-established contact with ground, who said they thought it hostile. Examined at length in adverse glare from moon & decided it to be a Ju88. 1 second burst hit port engine & fuselage & set on fire. A/C crashed and blew up. Later identified as a Beaufighter of 68 Squadron returning from a chase. Pilot baled out – Navigator killed. Our A/C hit in port radiator by piece of oil pipe & lost Glycol. Returned with port engine idling & landed ok. Court of Inquiry absolved us from blame, but deprecated the lack of Interrogator check.
[F/O Schultz & F/O Williams, 410 Sqdn. destroyed 3 Do217’s]
0:55

This has been the hardest post to write so far, and covers what I imagine was the defining moment in Broody’s war. I was going to leave this Scramble out of the blog, but after much consideration I have decided to include it. There is enough information available in the public domain to identify the fact that HK227 and her crew were involved in this incident. I think it is important to share this event, and present all the information I can that is not so readily available, for both historical and (personal) cathartic reasons.

I tried to track down a copy of the original “Proceedings of Court of Inquiry” to try and understand exactly what happened on the night, and see what the Court of Inquiry judgement said. I was  given some invaluable assistance by the Archives Department of the RAF Museum at Hendon on this matter. Although Proceedings of Court of Inquiry were routinely destroyed after 3 years, the museum archive still holds a copy of the Accident Record Card (Air Ministry Form 1180) of which the museum kindly sent me a copy. The information on the form states that the Court:

“…considers pilot of HK227 wrongly recognised target and opened fire. NB no IFF seen though IFF on Stud 3. Recognition attempted when a/c flying into moon, windscreen misted. Ground reported a/c hostile. Bullseye with enemy aircraft at same time. Recommend closer GI cooperation. SD158 [Routeing, recognition and identification of aircraft] to be modified. Air Officer Commanding: Pilot’s Error of Judgement not carelessness. Several [-unreadable-] rules re opening fire stressed.

The important facts to understand here are:

1) The IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) channel (Stub 3) was not operating correctly, therefore Jack and Broody were unable to get clarification by this means that the aircraft was friendly.
2) The Beaufighter was not displaying Resin lights –There were rear facing identification lights controlled by a switch in the cockpit. These lights would display a pre-selected colour and morse key as a tool for visual identification of friendly aircraft. As these weren’t being shown on the Beaufighter, another opportunity to identify the aircraft as friendly was lost.
3) Ground Control (Trimley?) were of the opinion that the aircraft was hostile, and reported it as such to the crew of HK227.
4) Scott and Broody “examined [the target] at length”. There was no hasty identification and opening of fire.
5) Identification was hampered by the light of the moon and made through a misted windshield.
6) As well as the hostile aircraft being hunted, there were other allied fighters in the area, as well as allied bombers carrying out a practice bombing raid (Bullseye), making the area busy with aircraft.

It is also necessary, I think to put yourself in the position of Jack and Broody. They have been scrambled at night to search for and intercept enemy aircraft. The enemy aircraft were armed, and would have shot down allied aircraft given the opportunity. As a lifeboat helmsman, I have experienced the emotions and adrenalin rush of being paged in the middle of the night for a shout. The change from “down-time” to “fully-alert” takes a heartbeat. You need to wake up instantly, and focus on the task in hand. It can be a disorientating feeling. Making quick decisions can be hard, often in a hostile and unforgiving environment. I cannot imagine adding to this the real risk of being shot down and killed.

I defy anyone reading this to blame Jack and Broody for their actions that night. In war, friendly fire incidents are all too common; even in the modern age with technology that has advanced 70 years since 1943. I know Broody carried guilt about this incident, and I understand that. I also say to him: You did your duty, and acted properly with the information available to you. I understand how this incident came about, and in my eyes you are no less of the great man that I remember you to be.

If it hadn’t already, this was the day that war became all too real for Broody. And for me too.

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