Author Archives: lifeboatadam

06/vi/44 – D Day 75 years on

I first published this post in 2014 – 70 years after the event. On the 75th anniversary of D Day I thought I would share it again. As the numbers of veterans who were involved in the invasion of Europe dwindles it is important that we do not forget the sacrifices that so many made on that day and in the days before and after.

Once again I say Thank You to my grandfather, his squadron mates and every veteran of World War II for their bravery and tenacity.

6th June 00:30
DH Mosquito XIII HK534 (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/O Scott
Navigator (R): Self
PATROL – Line “BAKER”  – OPERATION “NEPTUNE”
The first “D day” patrol covering airborne landings in Normandy. Patrolling in R/T silence, listening out on Hope Cove (Type 16). Completely uneventful – total observations: 4-6 yellow flares; the same boat twice; & slight A/A activity near Guernsey. 5 patrols completed before returning home.
3:20

14:25
NFT, CINE-GUN & AI EXERCISE III
Crossing contacts with hard evasive by target.
1:00

And so my grandfather recorded his part in the invasion of German occupied France 70 years ago today. Whilst clearing out their house after my grandmother passed away last year, I came across a fuller account of Broody’s recollections of D Day which is reproduced below:

“Some time before dusk on 5th. June, we, as duty Flight, fore gathered at our dispersal hut, with little expectation of any activity. My log book shows that I had not flown operationally since 29th. May, when an unidentified aircraft had turned out to be a Wellington. I should, perhaps explain that the Squadron routine was that each Flight would be available for operations for two consecutive nights, then hand over to the other Flight for the next two. On any given night, eight of the ten crews on a Flight would be on duty – the other two being accounted for by leave, 48 hour passes, sickness and postings. A crew returning from a night or more off, entered the “state” for the night as last off, then climbing up a place per operational night until reaching the “first off” berth. Patrols or operational scrambles were then normally met by taking crews in order: on a busy night in Fighter Command, the first crew or two might well fly twice.

 The first indication we received that anything unusual was in the wind was the arrival of the Squadron Commander, accompanied by armed Service Police, who closed all doors and windows and took up positions outside the dispersal hut. The C.O. then told us that the long-awaited invasion of Europe was to take place that night. Our role was confined to putting up two crews who would, in succession, fly a patrol line from the South Coast to a point close to the tip of the Cherbourg Peninsula, in radio silence, keeping a radar watch. Our patrols would be monitored by a G.C.I. station well to the West. It was our assumption that this station would break radio silence if any significant attack were to develop – and, presumably, if we were not seen to have observed it and moved to intercept.

 We took off from Zeals, Wiltshire, half an hour after midnight on June 6th. in Mosquito NF XIII, HK534, of 488 Squadron, piloted by Flying Officer J,H, Scott, R.N.Z.A.F. Jack Scott, my regular pilot, had come from Invercargill in the South Island and was famous on the Squadron for taking every opportunity that came along (and some that he skilfully generated) to get into the air. Zeals was a not too satisfactory grass airfield, close to Mere. One of its less attractive features was a roadway running across the main “runway” (i.e. the path outlined in the grass by runway lighting) which was showing a tendency to break up and throw pieces of debris at the tails of the aircraft. On taking off in a westerly direction, it was necessary to climb fairly hard to clear a ridge, which was succeeded by a valley, notorious for down-draughts, before another and higher ridge. Contrary to normal practice, the first crew on the state was not sent on the first patrol: the Flight Commander selected the two crews, presumably on criteria of experience.

 Needless to say, we were more than pleased to be operating that night. Such was the superiority of R.A.F. night fighter aircraft and equipment at that stage of the War that we had every confidence that we would win any encounter and the occasion seemed to be one on which we must surely meet some opposition. Incidentally, it was not until years later that it became clear that we were, so to speak, right markers to the operation – patrolling on the western boundary of the invasion area and approaches.

 The navigation was interesting. Like the majority of night fighter pilots, Jack cherished his night vision and firmly banned any significant amount of light in the cockpit. Consequently, I carried two torches of the then familiar “No.8” type, one down each flying boot. The first was used for the pre-flight checks of controls and pitot head, but under no circumstances to be lit in the air. When the battery in this torch became weakish, it was transferred to the other, with two thicknesses of pink blotting paper to reduce the light output. With due care, this could be used to look at a map. The solution I used was to make all notes and calculations in black chinagraph pencil, on a map, which made the markings visible – to some extent – in the restricted light. It must be said, however, that the use of a transponder beacon or two, standard equipment at night fighter bases, made position finding at the northern end of the patrol line fairly straightforward and thereafter, such little matters as drifts and turning points became cause for mental arithmetic.

 I have neither record nor memory of our height, but think it was probably 10,000, possibly 15,000, feet. The night was clear on our patrol Line and. Although we saw nothing of the invasion fleet, which would have been some miles to our East, we did see, on each run, South and North, some craft on the water below, frantically circling – or so it seemed to us. We surmised that the crew heard our engines each time and were taking precautions.

 Otherwise the three hours of the patrol were totally uneventful and to us at the time a grave disappointment, although with hindsight we should have been pleased that the element of surprise had been so effective.

 The excitement came when we returned to base just after 0330 hours when, of course, the sky was lightening. Between us and our late supper or early breakfast seemed to be a solid carpet of gliders and tugs, all heading South. In the restricted light, this posed something of a problem – how to get below them without getting involved with their tow-ropes or creating problems for the glider pilots with our slipstream. We certainly avoided the former and hope the latter as well.

 So ended a totally undistinguished contribution to the Liberation of Europe!”

A fascinating read, and peppered with other useful facts about Squadron life and RAF Zeals.

Pasted into his journal is the flying map from the night, showing the patrol line, observations and numerous navigational calculations.

Flying Map showing the patrol line flown by Broody in the early hours of D Day

Flying Map showing the patrol line flown by Broody in the early hours of D Day

It fills me with enormous pride that, as Broody explained, he and Jack were hand picked for the mission over the first crew on the “state” for the evening – Testament to their ability and experience. Although the night was uneventful for 488(NZ) Squadron, D Day was one of the most pivotal days in the entire war, and the fact that my Grandfather played an important part in it is humbling.

Plt Off AJ Broodbank - Hand picked to fly a 3 hour patrol over the invasion beaches on D Day - 06/vi/44

Plt Off AJ Broodbank – The Navigator of one of 2 crews of 488(NZ) Squadron hand-picked to fly a 3 hour patrol just after midnight over the English Channel as the D Day invasion began – 06/vi/44

The internet is awash with D Day resources, especially as we mark the 70th Anniversary. If you want more information about the RAF’s role in Operations Neptune and Overlord, I suggest you look at the resources on the RAF’s website.

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Gone The Dark Night – now published

I’m really pleased to be able to share the news that Graham Clayton’s history of 488(NZ) Squadron has been published and is now available to purchase online.

gone the dark night

I have just finished reading the book and have to give credit to Graham for writing such a meticulously researched piece of work. The story follows the Squadron’s reforming at Church Fenton in the UK as a night fighter squadron operating Beaufighters through to the conversion to Mk XII, Mk XIII and ultimately Mk 30 Mosquitos as they moved first up to Scotland then to the south of England before crossing the Channel into France and then Belgium where the Squadron was disbanded in the dying days of the war.

The Squadron’s effective use of early versions of Radar is explained in good detail, and leaves you amazed at the ability of the squadron’s airmen as they hunted and identified aircraft in pitch black conditions using a screen that is smaller than most people’s mobile phones!

Graham was able to draw on eye witness accounts of squadron life as well as official records which makes this the most complete record of the Squadron’s activities that has ever been written. The use of contemporary reports and photographs of the time really brings the squadron and it’s personnel back to life.

This book is an essential addition to any wartime aviation historian’s collection and sits well alongside “Defence Until Dawn”, the first biography written by Leslie Hunt soon after the war when Radar and Air Interception was still shrouded in secrecy.

On behalf of the families of 488(NZ) Squadron’s airmen and ground crews, thank you Graham for your tenacity in getting this book researched, written and published!


2019 update

The lifespan of active posts on this blog was always going to be limited by the “real-time” nature of the original posts. Almost 5 years have past since this site was updated regularly, although I have posted if any significant new information came to light.

The site continues to get a good number of hits, and the odd enquiry or request for information from people researching their ancestors’ roles in the war. I hope to be able to add some new Aircrew Biographies in the future, but it is a slow process and only made possible by family members or other researchers providing me with additional information.

I will always share, free of charge and without expectation, any information I have that will help others with their research. If anyone has any information they would like to share; or has any suggestions as to how I could bring this site back to life without detracting from it’s original purpose, I’d love to hear from you.


488 (NZ) Squadron camera gun footage

The Imperial War Museum has added some web-accessible RAF Camera Gun footage to it’s online collection. The video, which can be found by following this link, has over 250 clips of 16mm cine “camera gun” film showing successful combats.

The collection includes 7 clips of 488(NZ) Squadron kills. The quality of the footage is understandably poor, and nothing like the shocking combat footage that we have been shown of more recent war zones. However, we must take into account the quality of the film itself; and the fact that all these combats were filmed in the dark. I believe that they do all add to the story of the Squadron.

For ease, I have listed the combats below, and referenced the time stamp on the video so that you can easily find the clip you are interested in. I should point out that the dates on the clips refer to the actual date of the combat which may differ to the dates quoted on this site. This is because my reference is the Squadron’s ORB which will record a victory on the day the pilot took off – therefore flights that span midnight may be a day out.

Timestamp Pilot Date
07:48 Sqn Ldr Bunting 14/iii/44
10:02 Fg Off Vlotman 22/iii/44
10:10 Flt Lt J Hall 22/iii/44
10:16 Sqn Ldr Bunting 22/iii/44
21:41 WO Bourke 19/iv/44
21:48 Flt Lt J Hall 19/iv/44
38:22 Flt Lt J Hall 15/v/44

 


In memory of Sgt Jimmy Thornton

As we spend the day remembering and giving thanks to those who gave their lives in conflict, I thought it timely to share another poem that was included in my grandfather’s collection of war memorabilia.

As with the last poem I published, I am not sure of the author. It is unlikely that my grandfather was the author, as the poem makes reference to time spent in Canada and Harrogate. Broody was not stationed at either of these locations.

“Jimmy”

(In memory of Sgt Jimmy Thornton)

From forty one to forty three
We lived our lives as one.
We trained and talked, drank and walked.
Our lives were in the sun.

From Blackpool, Brid to Heaton Park
And Aston Down as well.
Each station brought us near our goal
‘Though some of it was hell.

Wintered in Canadian snows
Our brevets and tapes to earn.
Then back home to Harrogate
And still much more to learn.

Then the parting of the ways,
Our paths no more to cross.
From OTU to HCU
Then a crew for a squadron loss.

We flew, we fought by night and day
Our duty must be done
Without a thought for future years
Till the fight was won.

I tried to found out where you’d gone,
‘Gone missing ‘, so they said.
Then I found in later years
Your name among the dead.

Your name is now emblazoned
On Runnymede’s great wall
In letters clear of shinning gold
Your death reminds us all –

You lie in some forgotten field
Or in a watery grave.
Now I, who live, am humbled
By your young life you gave.

I’m sure you’ll agree this is a very moving piece of writing – a personal tribute from one airman to another who trained together and then went their separate ways to fight in the air war.

Some research of the CWGC database only lists one James Thornton as remembered on the Runnymede Memorial [Panel 277], a Sgt. James Dennis Thornton (1317255) of 36 Squadron.

For much of the war, 36 Squadron had been based in the Mediterranean and North African theatres, but in January 1945 the Squadron was flying Wellington Mk XIVs out of RAF Chivenor, on Anti-Submarine patrols with RAF Coastal Command.

The Squadron’s Operations Record Book for 24/i/45 reports that at 01:39, aircraft NB880 took off on patrol duty LV42. The crew for that flight were:

F/Lt Walter George Edward Becker (62695)
F/O Harry Edwin Hastings (189139)
F/Lt Stanley Walton (125847)
W/O Henry Thomas Large (1384700)
F/Sgt James Murray Smith Richie (656758)
Sgt James Dennis Thornton (1317255)

There is no “Down” time recorded in the ORB. The entry reads:

“This aircraft failed to return. F/Lt Becker and his crew are missing. Later reports state that a fire was seen at sea. P/407 sighted oil patches and wreckage (thought to be pieces of fabric) in position 5302N 0450W.”

(This is a position approximately 18 Nautical Miles SSW of RAF Valley on Anglesey)

Please spare some time today to remember, among the thousands of others, these 6 young men who have no grave except the Irish Sea and who gave their lives so we could have a better tomorrow.


New Biography Added – WRV Lewis (RAAF)

1 new Aircrew Biography is now available to see on this site. As a result of replying to a (very old) thread on the RAF Commands Forum, I discovered that the Australian National Archives had digitised – and made available for free – the service records of William Robert Vivian Lewis.

“Bob” was an Australian airman who spent 6 months with 488(NZ) squadron between September 1942 and March 1943. Bob had 2 further Operational Tours, both with 456 Squadron before returning to Australia in July 1945. He continued to fly after the war with various civil airlines.

You can read this latest biography here.

As ever, I would ask anyone with information relating to airmen of 488(NZ) Squadron to get in touch so  that further biographies can be added to serve both as useful historical research tools and of course lasting tributes to these brave men. It does not matter how much or how little information you have – I am more than happy to dig deeper if I get an interesting lead.


Squadron Aircrew List updated

I have just published an update to the Squadron Aircrew list. A few new Christian Names and Service Numbers have been added.

The page can be found here or by navigating through the 488(NZ) Squadron Research tab at the top of the page.

As always, if anyone has any corrections or additions to this list, I would be delighted to hear from you via the contacts page.


A Rear Gunner’s poem

I’m wandering slightly off topic now, but one of the items I found in my grandfather’s collection of wartime material was the following poem.

I know he didn’t write it, as it is the story of a Rear Gunner in heavies with Bomber Command. At any rate, rather than languishing in a box in Somerset, I felt it should be shared.

Please do feel free to reproduce the text or share this post (but please credit as appropriate). Maybe someone out there will recognise it as a poem their ancestor wrote.

A word of warning – this poem will transfer you back to a cramped rear-gunner’s turret in a heavy bomber some 70 years ago!

Another Op

Bumping down the runway
With the turret on the beam,
Flashing past well-wishers
Lit by the drem’s dull gleam.

The pulling of the stomach
As we slowly climb on track
Setting course to eastward –
How many will come back?

The clipped command to alter course
As we cross the Anglian shore,
Then extinguish navigation lights
As the engines increase their roar.

The throbbing of the engines
Disturbs the fading light
As onward, ever onward
We fly into the night.

Routine settles to a rhythm,
And those ‘up front’ dictate
The course, the speed, the height
And the passage of our fate.

Searching ever searching,
The turret turns to and fro,
Looking, always looking
For our enemy and foe.

The sound of throbbing engines
Envelopes our immediate night,
And the clammy taste of oxygen
As I adjust the dull ring sight.

A quiet statement from the Nav –
‘Enemy coast a head’,
The blood flows quicker thro’ the veins –
Our training stifles the dread.

Searching ever searching,
For that darker smudge of black.
Looking for the fighter
That could stop us getting back

The Nav again is heard to say
‘Target. Dead ahead’.
The tightening of the stomach
Is the only sign of dread

As a lonely, cold rear gunner
I always face the rear
And never see the target.
Till the aircraft’s there.

Flying ever closer, closer
To that awful scene.
Every nerve is strung so tight
You stifle the need to scream

The observer now takes full control
And by his directed call
Keeps the tingling nerves on edge
Till he lets the bomb load fall

With the sudden upward lift
We all expect the worst,
But heave a sigh of intense ‘relief
As the aircraft changes course.

Nose well down and increased speed
To escape from that dreadful sight.
We race across the crimson sky
To the safety of the night

As those up front now search the sky
For the fighter that lurks in the dark
While I at last see the target fires
Where we have left our mark.

 


RAF Zeals – 1944 Aerial Photograph found

On 04/v/44, 488(NZ) Squadron moved from RAF Bradwell Bay to RAF Zeals.

This move was covered in earlier posts, but I have just found an aerial photo of RAF Zeals dating from March 1944, only weeks before 488(NZ) Squadron arrived.

As a reminder, RAF Zeals is at Grid Reference ST 78018 32945, between the villages of Stourton and Mere, just off the A303. The photograph below shows how the airfield looked on 24/iv/44.

You can see the issues that 488(NZ) Squadron faced with the airfield – no proper runway, just a grass track. In his account of his D Day Patrol, Broody described the state of the airfield at Zeals:

“Zeals was a not too satisfactory grass airfield, close to Mere. One of its less attractive features was a roadway running across the main “runway” (i.e. the path outlined in the grass by runway lighting) which was showing a tendency to break up and throw pieces of debris at the tails of the aircraft. On taking off in a westerly direction, it was necessary to climb fairly hard to clear a ridge, which was succeeded by a valley, notorious for down-draughts, before another and higher ridge”

Aerial photograph of Zeals airfield looking south east, the control tower, technical site and blister hangars are at the top, 24 March 1944. Photograph taken by No. 544 Squadron, sortie number RAF/NLA/80. English Heritage (RAF Photography).

Aerial photograph of Zeals airfield looking south east, the control tower, technical site and blister hangars are at the top, 24 March 1944. Photograph taken by No. 544 Squadron, sortie number RAF/NLA/80. (Image Source – IWM / English Heritage – Original image at – http://www.americanairmuseum.com/media/6185)

Not much remains of the airfield today – it has returned to agricultural use – apart from the old control tower which has been converted into a private residence.

The site of RAF Zeals as it looks today. (Image from Google Earth)

The site of RAF Zeals as it looks today. (Image from Google Earth)

Please note that as the 1944 image was taken from an almost southerly aspect, I have also rotated the Google Earth image for better comparison.


The Broodbank Collection – Catalogue now available!

At long last, I have catalogued the various items in my grandfather’s collection. You can see a complete list of all archive material by following this link.

This is still a bit of a work in progress, as there are currently no links to images etc, but in time this page should allow researchers to view the material in my collection.

As ever, if you want to get in contact about this or any other page on the site, please use the Contact page.