Tag Archives: Night Operations

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.


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.


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.


02/ix/44 – Last Patrol of the Tour

2nd September 14:10
DH Mosquito XIII MM558 ME-E (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/O Scott
Navigator (R): Self
NFT, CINE-GUN & A/I PRACTICE
With S/Ldr Watts. A/I rather poor
1:00

21:00
PATROL – GCI 15083 (Radox)
10m off Normandy coast, between Avranches & Le Havre. At 6000ft over cloud. Bright moon & not a thing about.
3:55

And so almost a year to the day that he arrived at RAF Bradwell Bay to join 488(NZ) Squadron, Broody flies his last Operational Patrol of the tour. Today is also his final flight in “The Mighty E”.

In all, Broody has now flown a total of 176 hours 5 minutes on Operations. Of these, all were night operations apart from 35 minutes of daytime ops when he was scrambled to search for lost B17 Fortresses of the 8th USAF in January.

In that time, although he never had any “success” in destroying an enemy aircraft, the countless bogies discounted as friendly due to his interceptions played a valuable part in the war effort. There were, of course, some hairy moments. He was shot at a number of times (by allied aircraft); suffered mechanical failure; got coned in a German searchlight; and had a near miss with the French coast.

There are still a few more entries in the journal, and another month with the Squadron, but the Operational side is over – Broody has survived his war.


24/viii/44 – More A/I Mk.X training and a patrol off Le Havre

24th August 14:20
VICKERS ARMSTRONG WELLINGTON XI MP535 (A/I Mk X)
Pilot: F/O Collier
Instructor: F/Lt Clemo DFC
U/T Navigator (R): Self
U/T Navigator (R) F/O Skudder
U/T Navigator (R): F/S Brock
U/T Navigator (R): Sgt Tuffill
A/I Mk X – EXERCISE II
Crossing flights – target straight & level
2:00

19:50
DH Mosquito XIII MM558 ME-E (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/O Scott
Navigator (R): Self
NFT & A/C TEST
All Ok.
0:35

23:45
PATROL – GCI 15121 (Legion)
On North & South line, South East of Le Havre at 8000ft. Lively sea activity, but nothing in the air.
2:40


21/viii/44 – Patrol in very bad weather

21st August 03:20
DH Mosquito XIII MM558 ME-E (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/O Scott
Navigator (R): Self
PATROL
– GCI 15121 (Legion)
Le Havre & Liseaux area. Mostly at 7000ft, but between 5 & 12,000ft trying unsuccessfully to get out of Cu & Cu Nimb clouds. Very bumpy & severe electrical storm. Two bogies – both discounted on IFF before contact. Down to 500ft over Isle of Wight & rest of the way home. Bumpier still!
3:50

20:00
NFT
With W/O Moore, in poor weather.
0:30


18/viii/44 – Patrol off Le Havre with F/Lt Cook

18th August 03:20 
DH Mosquito XIII MM558 ME-E (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/Lt Cook
Navigator (R): Self
PATROL – GCI 15121 (Legion)
N & S Patrol @ 8,000 ft on a 20 mile line Soth East of Le havre. Nothing at all in the air, but much ground activity.
Starboard CSU fully coarse (1800rpm) while setting course for home – linkage broken. All Ok.
3:25


12/viii/44 – Patrol over France

12th August 14:40
DH Mosquito XIII MM558 ME-E (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/O Scott
Navigator (R): Self
NFT, CINE-GUN & A/I PRACTICE
With P/O McCabe.
0:55

21:35
PATROL – GCI 15121 (Legion)
South East if Le Havre & Seine Estuary. One bogey – Mitchell. Engaged by Hun searchlights while breaking away after identifying it. Considerable activity on the ground to the West.
3:35

Also on this day, the body of P/O Oliver Hills was interred at Epsom Cemetery. You may remember that Hills was one of the early casualties of Broody’s tour. He and S/Ldr Dudley Hobbis were killed on 25/xi/43. F/O Jack Warner represented the Squadron at the burial.

 


09/viii/44 – Patrols at either end of the day

9th August 01:20
DH Mosquito XIII MM558 ME-E (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/O Scott
Navigator (R): Self
PATROL – COL 15074 (Tailcoat One)
St Malo & Mont St Michel area at 5,000ft. One bogey – Stirling which kindly fired on us, without effect.
GCI 16081 (Tailcoat)
Rennes & Laval area at 4,000ft. Two bogies – a Stirling & a Lancaster. Otherwise very dull.
3:40

14:15
NFT, CINE-GUN & FORMATION
With F/O Robinson. Long run as target for W/O Addison DFC DFM & then formation beat-up of Robbie’s house & formation home. A/I switching circuit U/S on the way home.
1:15

21:40
NFT & IFF CHECK
On Robbie again – his IFF apparently U/S
0:15

PATROL – COL 15073 (Yardley One)
Cap de la Hague & Alderney area. No activity whatsoever.
2:50