207 SQUADRON ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORY
207 Squadron & The Wesseling Raid
21/22 June 1944
The five 207 Squadron aircraft lost on Wesseling were: -
LM578 EM-C F/O TT Smart (13th op)
ME827 EM-I F/L GFW Gallagher DSO (24th op)
LL973 EM-M P/O CJ Solly (13th op the crew of FR Haslam and EC Chapman)
DV360 EM-U P/O EA Goodman (first op)
ME683 EM-W F/O A Corless (7th op)
Harry Priestley was spare bod Flight Engineer in P/O Eaton's crew
Harry Priestley was spare bod Flight Engineer in P/O Eaton's crew on WESSELING, in ND982 EM-L of 207 Squadron: WESSELING was a hell of a raid and always stuck in my mind. Your father will tell you - being a spare bod was a dangerous pastime on a Bomber Squadron during that war. Eaton's F/E was off sick for some time. I was 21yr lm at the time of WESSELING, which was my 32nd trip. The briefing indicated to me another relatively short trip, i.e. four hours plus, but I do remember that the target was smack in the middle of Germany's most heavily defended area, both box flak and fighters.
Sure enough, as soon as we crossed into enemy territory things started hotting up. Action was taking place all round us. I knew from my past experiences on some pretty nasty trips that it was not going to be a picnic. The action intensified to such an extent that I took it upon myself to tell the crew to cut out their excited chatter and keep the inter-com free for action. My own skipper for 25 trips, F/O Smith, would not tolerate any intercom chit-chat and I am sure that this factor saved us on many occasions of fighter attack.
I recollect that we took a lot of evasive action and saw much intensive activity, both in the air and on the ground - fires and mid air explosions. By the Grace of God we returned safely to RAF Spilsby. On returning to Base from a raid you always knew whether or not aircraft were thin on the ground - especially by the time you had been debriefed. But you never accepted the fact that your friends were missing - not until you had slept a few hours and then had been awakened by the RAF Police removing the belongings of crew members gone missing from your Nissen Hut. It also became apparent when you assembled either in the Mess or at the Crew Room for NFT and briefings.
One thing, if there were any Canadians gone missing you could be sure their belongings would be cleared quickly, as they always were sent loads of cigarettes - Sweet Caporal I think was the make!
Shortly after the WESSELING trip P/O Eaton was posted to PFF - he asked me to stay on with his crew, but WESSELING had affected me. It made me think that I was pushing my luck. I did five more trips with him and then turned down his offer.
Harry says of Gallagher, with whom he did a spare bod first trip (to BERLIN) he was a Press-on' type and it was said that he would go in low over the coast to get his gunners to shoot up targets.
Like your father - we were only boys - it was exciting at first and then you suddenly became a thinking man. [letter & call to FWH November 1991]
The late Arthur Sale, W/Op in ND555 EM-D, P/O Norman Owens crew
The late Arthur Sale (W/Op in ND555 EM-D, P/O Norman Owens crew [Raymond Glynne-Owenss uncle]) also recalled, with a reminder that memory is fallible, the intense fighter activity: -
If possible you should try and get hold of the National Newspapers of that time. I think I read in the Daily Mirror RAF Heavies bring Luftwaffe to Battle. I do not know about us bringing them to battle, for it was them bringing battle to us! I cannot remember whether I was the alternative channel W/Op to the Master Bomber W/Op that night, but I do recall that across the North Sea we went and before we had reached the coast all hell was let loose by the German nightfighters. They pasted the attacking force good and proper. Brown (the B/A) and both gunners were reporting continuous air battles.
Lester had quite a time logging them all. The sky must have been clear at our height and the cloud well beneath us. We had been corkscrewing well but were not attacked. Another Lanc' Ronnie would say.
I remember listening to the Group half hourly Broadcast (call sign 9SY or B3G) and receiving a message to the effect that Bandits were in operation (!). I passed the message on to the pilot (we never used names) and the crew were derisory in their comments, but Norman immediately cut this short. We lost the nightfighters, but shortly after Lester enquired if there were any route markers (no), extensive fighter activity started again. It was as if the Germans knew our route. Lester indicated to me by sign language that we should soon change course when Brown suddenly called out that a route marker had been dropped about a mile away. Eventually the fighter activity died off. The next thing I remember was a conversation between Norman, Brown and Lester concerning our course because we were flying between heavily defended areas.
We were now approaching the target area and the night fighters were at us again, although we were not attacked - I recall that at about five minutes to target we did not have any contact on MONICA. I was called on to the A1134 intercom set by sign language - usually being hit on the knuckles with a rule by Lester, for my hand was always on the morse key. It was Norman asking if there were any sightings on MONICA - I immediately said 'no'.
Lester asked if I would check on the long-distance channel (up to 16 miles) to verify whether we were in the main stream. I was unable to help as the screen was full of dots and it was impossible to tell the difference between WINDOW and aircraft at long distance. [the Germans no longer had this problem and could detect individual Lancs from considerable distances by their MONICA transmissions FWH].
I should think that every Bomb Aimer [and in Dad's case the F/E FWH] was working at a hellish rate throwing out WINDOW. On our return, Brown confirmed that he and the other Bomb Aimers were throwing handfuls of WINDOW out at a time instead of individual parcels. [a parcel = 2000 strips]
I was instructed by Norman to stay on the A1134 (this meant changing to Channel C) which meant I had to cease jamming. Apparently either the sky was clear around us or the clouds below us were sufficiently thin for searchlights to pierce. I never pulled back the blackout curtain and never saw target indicators, route markers etc., so I gained my picture from the reports of the crew.
I am not sure but I think we were either caught in searchlight beams continuously or in clear sky. Norman just wanted me to concentrate on MONICA for by now both gunners and Brown were queuing up to give Lester details of fighter activity and of crews baling out. I have a feeling that there was no flak, but cannot be sure.
Ronnie (Smith, the M/U gunner) was very upset with crews baling out, especially if not the whole crew and was continually asking me if MONICA had picked anything up - the answer was always no. To me it was as if Ronnie was crying with emotional anger at seeing so many crews baling out, aircraft on fire or blowing up.
Onwards we went and Brown, as always, was his stolid self, well controlled, with precise signals - left - left - steady - steady - left - steady .. perfection. Out went the bomb load. I had already opened up the floor access and then operated the manual release, but I knew that the bombs had gone by the kick we all felt as they left the plane.
We then headed for home and left the scene of devastation to a proud and noble bomber force. That is all I can recollect but the utter carnage has never left my thoughts. I cannot remember anything of the briefing or debriefing.
The late Dennis Dear (EM-G, spare bod B/A in Wilson's crew)
The late Dennis Dear (EM-G, spare bod B/A in Wilson's crew) wrote to the editor (15.11.91): At some period 207 suffered terrible losses over one week when we were reduced to having only five a/c left on dispersals - and I think we had no more than eight or nine crews left. This was a very depressing time and the only remedy was to ignore it as far as possible and (he writes) get down to the pub or into Skegness (good old Skeggie!). I think this may well have been March 1944 when the Squadron lost 130 killed [in fact July 1944 was the worst month with 74 names on the roll of honour editor] but we had another bad period in June/July 1944.
At this period (WESSELING) we seemed to have a lot of new crews on the Battle Order and the unusual pairings of four crews with two navigators and four crews with two bomb aimers and four crews with two pilots indicated an urgent need to get first op experience for a lot of new people.
Dennis wrote again (28.11.91): You will see (from the ORB extract that you sent me) that P/O Wilson in G had two bomb aimers, one of whom was me on my 34th operation. Wilson was on his first operation [the listing of aircraft for the raid says Wilson was on his 9th op so there may have been other reasons Dennis was asked to go with them] and I was there as bomb aimer and minder. I remember the Flight Commander telling Wilson that he was the Captain of the aircraft but he ought to listen to anything I might say or advise. I certainly dropped the bombs.
This was a 'Midsummer Night's trip'... the forecast was for clear visibility but in the event near 10/10 cloud, low, somewhat thin. I think the Pathfinders marked on H2S. I also seem to remember a lot of activity with fighters and not a lot of flak. What searchlights there were reflected on cloud which would have shown us up to any fighters above.
Bombing height was 18,900 feet on a true heading of 134 degrees and bombing was timed at 1.45 am. The photograph does indicate the thin cloud [actually many crews reported 9/10ths cloud FWH] and some searchlight reflection. I do seem to recall that the bombing frame (timed to the photoflash at 29 seconds) was normally frame 5B. This picture is frame 7B so may well be two frames on from the bombing photograph. However I do vaguely recall that there was some amendment to the frame sequence around this time.
I recall getting a clear sight of a green marker at the last minute - it would be sod's law to find that the marking was greens and yellows - it was a very unsatisfactory run-up with very poor visibility on the ground. Then at the last minute this very clear sight of the green through the cloud and the need for only a minor correction to get a good drop.
Unfortunately my target map is virginal! On some of my other target maps there are pencilled notes re target indicator colours etc. but this night must have been simple and did not justify notes. Target maps were pretty useless anyway and only contributed in that they could be used to familiarise oneself with main features before take-off. In this example one could only have hoped to see the bend in the river given a clear night!'
On the way back we dropped down to some stratus-like cloud which should at least have prevented us from being jumped from below. It was a clear visibility night on the way back and we saw a twin-engined aircraft with a single rudder (assumed Ju88) flying ahead of us and to port. The gunners asked if we should attack it! I recommended that I concentrated on watching him whilst they kept searching in other directions, in case he had a friend. At this time there was concern that fighters sometimes hunted in pairs, one distracting the bomber - even switching on navigation lights - whilst the other came out of the dark part of the sky.
Anyway, this lad drifted off to port after about 10-15 minutes but I remember I kept telling the crew to keep quiet unless there was something to report and to keep well alert as there was obviously a lot going on. We got home OK - I had the impression that the crew thought it was not too bad - but I remember telling Wilson that he ought to make sure that they kept the chat down on the other trips.
The late Ivan Hall was rear gunner in F/O Giddens crew
The late Ivan Hall was rear gunner in F/O Giddens crew and for him WESSELING was the final trip of his tour of 34 operations. They went in ND866/G EM-B. Mike Solly's crew did three trips in the same aircraft (CLERMONT FERRAND, TOURS, MAILLY-LE-CAMP). Ivan says It was uneventful and I did not realise until reading The Nuremberg Raid by Martin Middlebrook that the losses on WESSELING were 28%". [letter to FWH 12.11.91. The /G suffix on the aircraft number denotes that it was to be kept under guard but no -one can recall why, so far.]
EK (Peter) Phelps was Flight Engineer in F/O Stamp's crew
EK (Peter) Phelps was Flight Engineer in F/O Stamp's crew ME667 EM-X; he served on the 207 Sqn Association Committee: I believe that we were layered from about 18,000ft to 22,000ft. We saw at least three of the force on fire and falling and yet we didn't see a fighter, but most of this was before we reached the target. The flak at the target was as we had expected, intense, and we were glad that we were able to drop and proceed home.
As for what it was like on the Squadron at that time, to me it was a rather strange life. There was very little time to get to know people and as we had only arrived earlier that month we in fact only got to know those people sleeping in the same Nissen Hut - no, I can't even recall who they were.
I remember waking up after WESSELING and finding five beds empty and wondering whether any were still alive. Then food and duty and up to the Flight. It was certainly never made a discussion point - we all realised that there must be losses, but few ever thought it would be them.
207 Reunion stalwart Alec White was M/U in Grant's crew for WESSELING
I was with Grant's crew as one of his gunners was elsewhere at the time. Before crossing the enemy coast homewards, I recall turning my turret from starboard to port and seeing a twin engined plane alongside us and slightly above, quite close. I reported this to the Skipper with a dive instead of a corkscrew. We were into heavy cloud at the time and I never established the make of a/c - anyway we lost it. It gave me quite a shock at the time.
Alec remembers the aftermath well: I do recall the number of flamers going down and knowing that we had some heavy losses. The news of so many of our own Squadron missing after we landed confirmed this, as we always waited to get any news - especially of pals - hoping that they had diverted to another airfield, even if they were overdue. The next morning's news of losses decided me to suggest to the Gunnery Leader that I must be nearing the end of my first tour as I had by then completed 35 ops, mostly German targets. It became my last op. [letter to the editor 18.11.91]
Squadron Leader Pat Pattinson, a 207 Squadron Flight Commander
Squadron Leader Pat Pattinson, a 207 Squadron Flight Commander, also took part in the June 21/22 WESSELING raid I was on Wesseling synthetic oil plant. It took me four hours in total. You ask about the feeling about the losses - the great thing was you couldn't let it all get to you and get you down, otherwise you wouldn't last the pace. So you just sort of said Well that's unfortunate, the poor chaps have gone and we've got to get on with the job.' If you got all moody about it, you'd wind up LMF, as simple as that. [conversation with the editor 14.6.91]
Roy Millichap's crew
Roy Millichap's crew - which shared a Nissen hut with Solly's Sinners - was one of those stood down on 207 Squadron on the night of 21 June. The late Dave Schwab, Millichaps rear gunner, recalls the Wesseling raid for two reasons: -
Firstly, the heavy loss that the Squadron suffered (I must admit that the loss rate you quote - 27.8% - was a surprise to me, even now). Secondly, because as a result of the losses suffered by 630 Squadron (at East Kirkby), my skipper Roy Millichap was promoted to Squadron Leader when as a crew we were posted to East Kirkby where my skipper became a Flight Commander.
Needless to say, perhaps, but on the morning of 22 June 1944 once the number of aircraft lost became certain .. there was a terrible sadness at the loss of their crews. This was a sadness magnified in me and my fellow crew members because of our fairly long (for those days) association and friendship with Mike Solly's crew. [letter to the editor 1.7.91]