Wednesday, 13 March 2013

No.576 Squadron RAF, an heroic but tragic crew

One such raid was the attack on 3 May on a panzer depot near the village of Mailly-le-Camp. The raid proved to be a disaster for the RAF after signalling failures meant the message from the master bomber to begin the attack were not picked up by the main force. As a result the bombers were left circling over France longer than they should have been, allowing night fighters to concentrate and shoot down 42 bombers. Among those brought down was a Lancaster piloted by Squadron Leader H Swanston and contained a mixed crew of Britons, Canadians and Australians, including Ron Boyd a chemistry teacher from Australia who had volunteered for service in the RAF in 1940. This Lancaster was attacked by a nightfighter, burst instantly into flames and crashed near Villers-le-Chateau. The remains of the crew were recovered from the wreck and buried in the village churchyard.

Even those who survived this dreadful night had ordeals to face. Sergeant Richard Robert Reed of 576 Squadron flew from Elsham Wolds with a crew that had accompanied him on 14 missions already.

The bomber was attacked as it circled by a Ju88 nightfighter. As the cannon shells tore into the bomber, Reed felt it lurch out of control into a diving turn. As Reed wrestled with the control column, the flight engineer, Sergeant Arthur Taylor, moved forward to lend a hand. The two men managed to drag the column back to get the bomber flying level, but the effort was such that the Canadian bombaimer, Michael Saruk, had to be summoned to work the rudder pedals with his hands. Having got the aircraft under control, Reed assessed the damage. The compass was broken, the wireless set out of action, the oxygen supply system destroyed and extensive holes riddled the elevators and rudders.

Further back in the fuselage a vast hole had been torn in the floor and a fire was blazing. The upper gunner promptly baled out, but wireless operator George Hallows went to work on the fire.

At this point the long awaited markers were dropped on the target. Despite the damage to the bomber, Reed turned it towards the glowing lights and dropped his bombs with accuracy. He then turned back to the task of getting home. First, however, the fire in the fuselage attracted a second Ju88 and further damage was sustained by the Lancaster. Taylor scrambled back to investigate and joined Hallows putting out the fire. He then edged along the fuselage to find the rear gunner dead and his turret smashed almost beyond recognition.

As they flew north in the crippled bomber, Hallows got the radio working and signalled ahead to alert the station to the condition of the aircraft. As the Lancaster touched down the starboard undercarriage leg collapsed and the bomber swung off the runway, skidding sideways and coming to a standstill with smoke pouring from one of it's engines. The five surviving crew members scrambled from the wreckage. Each of them was given a medal for the night’s work, but sadly none lived long enough to collect their awards. On 22 May their new aircraft was shot down over Dortmund and they were all killed.

from "Heroes of the RAF Bomber Command, Lincolnshire" by Rupert Matthews.

buy your copy HERE

Book Description

3 Nov 2005 1853069442 978-1853069444 1st Edition
At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, such was the build-up of men and materials in the R A F that Lincolnshire was already known as 'Bomber Country'. Its four main airfields - Hemswell, Scampton, Waddington and Cottesmore - were home to eight squadrons of Bomber Command under the legendary Arthur 'Bomber' Harris. Night after night the skies of Lincolnshire reverberated with the sound of aircraft taking off and landing. For the aircrews the missions were very dangerous and physically exhausting. The chances of surviving a full tour of 30 operations were only 50/50, less in the first five sorties while aircrews gained valuable experience. Their targets were roads, railways, bridges, harbours, dams, factories and oil installations. Many medals were won - some of them posthumously. On the Dambusters Raid alone, 36 were awarded; a VC for the leader Guy Gibson, five DSOs, 14 DFCs, 12 DFMs and three Conspicuous Gallantry Medals. In this well researched and excellently written book, Rupert Matthews - himself the son of a Bomber Command sergeant who fought in the Second World War - describes many of the operations in detail and tells the story of courageous individuals who, despite the odds, flew mission after mission - heroes every one of them.

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