Tag Archives: RAF Zeals

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!


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.


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.


Summary for July 1944

SUMMARY for JULY

TOTAL MOSQUITO DAY 8H05M
TOTAL OXFORD DAY 1H05M
TOTAL DAY FLYING 9H10M
TOTAL MOSQUITO NIGHT 21H35M
TOTAL NIGHT OPERATIONS 21H35M

As reflected in Broody’s flying hours for the month, Squadron activity increased in July after a lull in June on account of poor weather. In the early part of the month, many crews were forced to land at either Hurn or Ford on account of poor visibility at Zeals.

On 28/vii/44, the Squadron moved some 25 miles north to RAF Colerne. Aircrew were billeted in tented accommodation.

July also saw the Squadron’s longest period of “no activity” – it was not until 29/vii/44 that any success was recorded. In all, 7 enemy aircraft were destroyed by 488(NZ) Squadron in July:

Peter Hall & Dick Marriott  – 2 Kills

“Robbie” Robinson & Terry Clark – 1 Kill

Norman Crookes & Jamie Jameson – 4 Kills

 

 

 


31/vii/44 – NFT

31st July 18:30
DH Mosquito XIII MM558 ME-E (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/O Scott
Navigator (R): Self
NFT
Hazy. Generator U/S, so back in after one circuit & an overshoot for a Spitfire.
0:10

20:50
NFT
With P/O McCabe. All OK this time
0:40


20/vii/44 – Patrol in Cherbourg area

20th July 00:20
DH Mosquito XIII MM439 (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/O Robinson
Navigator (R): Self
PATROL – GCI 15801 (Tailcoat)
West of Cherbourg Peninsula & Bay de Mont St.Michel area. Several bogies – One Havoc, one Halifax, two broken off by control as friendly before contact & one no-contact suspected Hun almost out of GCI coverage. Down through 8,000 ft of cloud to land at base for a change.
2:55


19/vii/44 – NFT with F/O Robinson

19th July 18:50
DH Mosquito XIII MM439 (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/O Robinson
Navigator (R): Self
NFT
Quick test with W/Cdr Haine in thick haze.
0:30


17/vii/44 – Seine Estuary Patrol

17th July 02:35
DH Mosquito XIII MM558 ME-E (A/I Mk.VIII)
Pilot: F/O Scot
Navigator (R): Self
PATROL – GCI 16121 (Legion)
Instrument take-off in shallow layer of fog. One bogie right at the beginning – no contacts thereafter. N & S patrol across Seine estuary & no activity, Ground R/T failure. Tried Hartford Bridge, but sent to Ford. Landed after one unsuccessful attempt in fog.
2:45

13:00
FORD ~ BASE
Cloud at 50ft at Ford, but clear by Winchester.
0:20