Air War NW Europe 1939-45 (World War 2, 3 September 1939 to 5 May 1945)

About This Campaign

This campaign was based  on the Royal Air Force's engagement with the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica (Italian Airforce) in NW Europe over Britain, France and Germany, and lasted until 5 May 1945.  

Many Australians served in RAF Squadrons and in a number of RAAF and other Dominion units.  Aircrew were generally trained under the Empire Air Training Scheme. (/explore/campaigns/13)  

Australian "Article XV Squadrons" all with a 400 series number, were attached to RAF Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands.  Article XV Squadrons also included Canadian, New Zealand and South African Squadrons, in which Australians also served. 

The greatest number of Australians served as individuals posted across the RAF force.  These men were nown colloquially as "Odd Bods".

The sector operating at the greatest intensity were those flown by RAF Bomber Command and Australian aircrews flew in virtually every major operation, including the first Thousand Bomber raid, Operation Chastise (the Dambusters raid), Pathfinder Force and major operations against Hamburg Berlin and the Ruhr Valley, German's industrial heartland.

Although in numerical terms less than 2 per cent of Australia's World War II total enlistments, the 3486 men who were killed in Bomber Command accounted for almost 20 per cent of all Australian combat deaths, the other largest single group being PoW of the Japanese. The squadron with the greatest losses - 1019 men - was 460 Squadron RAAF, (/explore/units/28) which operated Vickers Wellington and then Avro Lancaster bombers from England from 1942.

In late 1943 and early 1944, during the peak of the bomber offensive against Germany, the bomber crews suffered a loss rate of nearly five per cent on each operation (a bombing raid or 'op' for short).  The chance of surviving a full tour of 30 'ops' was remote.   

Aircraft were often lost with all crew but on many occasions, at least some members of the crew might escape a doomed aircraft.  About 1,500 RAAF aircrew 'bailed out' from their aircraft over enemy territory and spent the remainder of the war in prison camps.

The Air War comprised a number of phases, some of which were concurrent:

The "Phoney War" – pre May 1940

Fighter Command Operations  - 452 and 457 Squadrons  (/explore/units/391) 453 Squadron (/explore/units/390)

The Battle of France – May-June 1940.  Pilot Officer Leslie Clisby DFC (/explore/people/13447), from South Australia, became an ace in this campaign before being killed in action in May 1940.

The Battle of Britain – July–October 1940.  Relatively few Australians played a direct role in the Battle.  One who did was Flight Lieutenant Richard Reynell (/explore/people/378906) who flew with the RAF's 43 Squadron.  He was killed in action on 7th September 1940.  His father had been killed in action commanding the 9th Light Horse Regiment at Hill 60 at Gallipoli in August 1915.

The Blitz -  November 1940-June 1941. 456 RAAF Night Fighter Squadron (/explore/units/960) defended Britain from night bombing raids.  Squadron Leader Bob Cowper DFC, (/explore/people/512078) who flew with and commanded No. 456 Squadron later in the war had 'cut his teeth' in a similar RAF unit, No. 108 Squadron, before being transfered to the Mediterranean theatre.

‘Rhubarbs’ & fighter escorts – June 1941–D Day. 

Post D Day - ground attack and interdiction of enemy ground forces

Bomber Command Offensive.  

Australia's 460 (/explore/units/28), 462 (/explore/units/801) (Special Duties) , 463 & 467 Squadrons (/explore/units/398) and 466 Squadron (/explore/units/743) flew as part of RAF Bomber Command.  Tens of thousands of Australians flew in RAF Squadrons. Collectively they suffered the highest loss rates of any Australian grouping in WW2.

  • Early on, twin engined medium bomber aircraft such as the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, Handley Page Hampden, Avro Manchester and Vickers Wellington formed the bulk of the force but they quickly became obsolete.  Their losses were high and the decision was taken to switch to night operations.  
  • A Luftwaffe decision to bomb London at night during the Blitz in 1940 triggered a response raid on Berlin which began Britain's main offensive campaign until the D Day landings.
  • Early results were disappointing mainly due to problems with navigation.
  • The introduction of four engined bombers, the Short Stirling, Handley Page Halifax and the famed Avro Lancaster bomber changed things.  Also added to the inventory was the very fast twin engined de Havilland Mosquito.  The creation of the Pathfinder force in mid 1942,  led by Australian Wing Commander Don Bennett, to mark targets for the main force, and later still the introduction of navigation aids such as "Gee" and "H2S" inreased accuracy and the damage inflicted increased exponentially.   The Lancaster in particular formed the backbone of the night bomber force from 1942.  It was arguably the best bomber of the war; able to carry a prodigious bomb load and faster than its American day bomber counterparts, if not as well armed and protected.
  • Despite the aircraft's success,  its losses were horrendous, with fully half of the Lancaster fleet of over 7000, lost in action mainly to enemy night fighters and anti aircraft fire (known as Flack).

First 'thousand bomber raid' Cologne May 1942

The Dams raid May 1943.  Numbers of Australians took part in this famous raid by 617 squadron ("The Dambusters") including pilots Mickey Martin and Dave Shannon.

Pathfinders. The Pathfinder Force was consolidated in No. 8 Group of Bomber Command

The Ruhr (Germany's industrial heartland)

Hamburg

Berlin

Support to Operation Overlord (May - September 1944)  The Transportation Plan raids over France and Belgium.

D Day - paratroop and glider-borne Assaults, resupply operations

Dresden Feb 1945 - the most controversial raid of the campaign - flown at maximum range from the United Kingdom.

Relief Operations  - Post war's end repatriation of prisoners and dropping of emergency food supplies in Holland, 'Operation Manna'

Transport Command Operations

Special Operations Executive  - infiltration of agents into occupied Europe

Coastal Command Operations  - North Atlantic.

The Battle of the Atlantic and the U Boat scourge.  Australia's 10 Squadron (/explore/units/392)served throughout the War and was joined by 461 Squadron (/explore/units/392) in this role operating Short Sunderland Flying Boats.

Maritime Strike. RAAF 455 Beaufighter Squadron (/explore/units/408) played a key role attacking Nazi shipping in the North Sea and Norway.

 

Steve Larkins 15 May 2013

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Stories

Bad night over Lille - 10/11 May 1944

Lille is a major rail hub in northern France close to the Belgian border and a major junction between Paris, to the south, Calais to the west and Brussels (Belgium) to the north. It was a key target in the run up to D Day in June 1944 when a major bombing offensive called the Transportation Plan, was directed at transport infrastructure, to impede the provision of reinforcements to the intended battlefront - the location of which was, of course, top secret at this point in time.

On the night of 10/11 May 1944 a large fleet of bombers were despatched to bomb a series of rail yards in northern France, at Lille, Lens (further south), Courtrai, Ghent (further north in Belgium) and Dieppe on the Atlantic coast. Over 500 aircraft were involved; the majority were Lancasters but also Halifaxes and some fast and nimble Mosquitos performing a Pathfinder and Target marking role.

Both 463 and 467 Squadrons RAAF were scheduled to take part in the Lille raid on the evening of 10/11 May. It was to be the worst night of the war for the two Waddington squadrons. Of 31 aircraft despatched between them, six failed to return. The total losses of the raid were 12 so the two RAAF squadrons represented 50% of the total losses. A total of 42 men were missing the next morning. This represented a loss rate of 20%. The impact of the empty seats at breakfast would have been devastating.

This was followed the next night by the loss of 467 Squadron's CO, decorated Pacific veteran GPCAPT John 'Sam' Balmer OBE DFC and his crew, leading another Transportation Plan raid.

There was only one survivor from the six Australian aircraft. Squadron Leader Phil Smith, DFC, flying B for Baker in 467 Squadron was thrown clear of his exploding aircraft, and managed to parachute to safety minus a flying boot and then spent four months evading the Germans. B for Baker exploded as it was dropping its bombs; it may have suffered a similar fate to JO-J in 463 Squadron - been destroyed by a German night fighter attacking from below (but unlikely given they were directly over the target where the risk from flak and falling bombs tended to discourage night fighter attack), been hit by flak or most likely, it may have collided with another aircraft

The story of JO-J's loss from 463 Squadron, provides an insight as to the fate that befell a number of aircraft that night and the cause of losses that was only identified the following month when a German nightfighter fitted with upward firing cannon, was captured after it landed at an occupied airfield by mistake. JOJ was shot down on its way home, by Lt Hans Schmitz flying a Messerschmitt Bf110G night fighter variant with upward firing cannon, nick-named 'Schrage Musik' by the Germans. The aircraft positioned itself in a blind spot under the Lancaster, before unleashing a hail of 20mm cannon fire into the underside of the bigger plane. The effect was often catastrophic as was the case with JOJ, which broke up in mid-air and rained wreckage in and around the Dumoulin quarry near Langemark in northern Belgium. There were no survivors.

LL881 - 22/03/44 to 10/05/44, Callsign JO-E: 11 Missions.
The first on 22/23-Mar-1944 to Frankfurt.
The 9th mission on 10/11-May-1944 to Lille when LL881 was listed as missing.

418915 FSGT John Henry BROWN RAAF WOP 31 HELLEMMES
427445 FSGT George Martin DANN RAAF RGNR 30 FOREST/MARQUE
430019 FSGT Colin Henry EASTGATE RAAF MUG 29 FOREST/MARQUE
410493 FLGOFF George Oswald JONES RAAF NAV 23 FOREST/MARQUE
10119 POFFR William John LEWIS RAAF FENG 32 FOREST/MARQUE
416443 WOFF Alan Richard MacKENZIE RAAF BAim 26 FOREST/MARQUE
420413 FLGOFF Dudley Francis WARD RAAF PILOT 24 FOREST/MARQUE
8 missions were flown by this crew.

LL-882 - 463 Sqn. 24/03/44 to 10/05/44, Callsign JO-J 'The Langemark Lancaster - see related story.
There were 15 missions recorded in the Operational Record with the first in March 25/26 1944 to Aulnoye.

407199 FLOFF Robert McKerlie CROFT RAAF MUG 27 WEVELGUM
407821 FLOFF David Payne CROSTON RAAF RGNR 32 WEVELGUM
1443752 FSGT Bertram FRASER RAF BAim 22 WEVELGUM
134697 FLOFF Ronald JACQUES RAF NAV ? WEVELGUM
1802369 SGT Harry Law MOLYNEUX RAF FENG 21 WEVELGUM
422817 SQNLDR Mervyn POWELL RAAF PILOT 29 WEVELGUM
406700 FLTLT William Neil READ RAAF WOP 22 WEVELGUM

HK535 - 463 Sqn.
20/12/43 to 10/05/44, Callsign JO-N 11 Missions.
First mission to Frankfurt 20/21-Dec-1943. This was their 11th Mission

24519 FSGT Richard William ASH RAAF MUG 20 HELLEMMES
1609134 SGT Raymond Herbert BOULTON RAF FENG 19 HELLEMMES
422414 FSGT Ivan CHAPPLE RAAF NAV 24 HELLEMMES
423878 POFF Walter Thomas PETERS RAAF BAim 24 HELLEMMES
1459044 SGT Leonard Edgard PRINGLE RAF WOP ? HELLEMMES
425226 FLTLT Eric Mc Laren SCOTT RAAF PILOT 22 FOREST/MARQUE
424888 WO William Allen SLADE RAF RGNR 23 MISSING

No. 467 Squadron RAAF

LM475 Callsign PO-B for 'Baker'. A very experienced crew. First mission Dec 1943 See blog link in Sidebar. This was their 20th Mission and the last for Phil Smith to complete his second Tour.

1352851 SGT Eric Reginald HILL RAF MUG 22 LEZENNES
425413 FSGT Alistair Dale JOHNSTON RAAF WOP 24 LEZENNES
658844 FSGT Jeremiah PARKER RAF BAim 30 LEZENNES
423311 FSGT Gilbert Firth PATE RAAF RGNR 27 LEZENNES
412686 WOFF Royston William PURCELL RAAF NAV 22 LEZENNES
400495 SQNLDR Donald Phillip Smeed SMITH RAAF PILOT EVADE the only survivor from 12 aircraft
1850279 SGT Kenneth Harold TABOR RAF FENG LEZENNES

LL788 Callsign PO-G
2221020 SGT Charles Arthur NASH RAF MUG 23 FOREST/MARQUE
424914 FSGT Herbert William Reid FERGUSON RAAF RGNR 28 HELLEMMES
417176 FSGT Brian Gordon GRASBY RAAF WOP 21 HELLEMMES
422506 FSGT William Stanley HANCOCK RAAF BAim 22 HELLEMMES
1431527 SGT Cyril DUTHOIT RAF FENG LEZENNES
420870 POFF William Eldred FELSTEAD RAAF PILOT 22 LEZENNES
1580333 SGT John MELLOR RAF NAV 30 LEZENNES

EE143 Callsign PO-J
427870 FSGT Bernard Francis CODY RAAF MUG 23 ANNAPPES
2220133 SGT George BENNETT RAF RGNR 27 HELLEMMES
419298 FLOFF Harry Ronald CROUT RAAF BAim 29 HELLEMMES
414997 POFF Douglas HISLOP RAAF PILOT 23 HELLEMMES
1891298 SGT Bertram Stephen LONGHURST RAF FENG 37 HELLEMMES
25243 FLOFF John Francis TUCKER RAAF WOP 25 HELLEMMES
424239 FSGT Kevin Campbell WAIGHT RAAF NAV 20 HELLEMMES

Three other Australians were lost in other aircraft on the raid;

414761 POFF Hugh DonaldD CAMPBELL RAAF PILOT 23 9 Sqn LM528 WS-D HELLEMMES
423359 FLOFF Albert Edward TYNE RAAF BAim 33 9 Sqn LM528 WS-D FOREST/MARQUE
425794 FSGT Walter James WHITE RAAF AG 23 9 Sqn LM520 WS-X FOREST/MARQUE

This remains a work in progress

We are tracking images of these men; if you can help, Register and join over 20,000 people who have contributed material to the site.

Thanks to ADF Serials website for this detail, and to the researchers of 'Aircrew Remembered' to which links have been posted.
Thanks also to Conrad Dumoulin, Belgium for providing assistance in the preparation of this article and that of the 'Langemark Lancaster' to which his father was a witness.

Thanks to Adam Purcell, his excellent blog @somethingverybig.com and the story of 'B for Baker' of No. 467 Squadron
CWGC websites and cemetery pages
WW2 Nominal Roll
AWM Roll of Honour

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Slow motion nightmare over Dusseldorf - April 1944

Out of the 596 aircraft on the raid 29 were shot down. These figure were fairly typical of RAF raids on German targets at the time – immense destruction was now almost assured at a cost that was, if not acceptable, then at least sustainable.

Flight Engineer Sergeant C.H. ‘Chick’ Chandler was on one of the Lancasters that was not shot down that night. His experience was about as bad as it could get without becoming a casualty. In his memory the traumatic events remained to be replayed in slow motion:


It was 0110 HOURS on the morning of 23 April 1944. We were a XV Squadron Lancaster III crew from Mildenhall on our 17th op and we were hit simultaneously by heavy flak and cannon fire from an Me 109 at the precise moment that our bombs were released on Dusseldorf. Being the flight engineer, I was standing on the right-hand side of the cockpit, as was usual during our bombing run, with my head in the blister to watch for any fighter attack that might occur from the starboard side.

The bombs were actually dropping from the aircraft when there was a tremendous explosion. For a brief period of time everything seemed to happen in ultra-slow motion. The explosion knocked me on my back; I was aware of falling on to the floor of the aircraft, but it seemed an age before I actually made contact. I distinctly remember ‘bouncing’. Probably lots of flying clothing and Mae Wests broke my fall, but under normal circumstances one would not have been aware of ‘bouncing’.

As I fell I ‘saw’, in my mind’s eye, very clearly indeed, a telegram boy cycling to my mother’s back door. He was whistling very cheerfully and handed her the telegram that informed her of my death. She was very calm and thanked the boy for delivering the message.

As I laid there I saw a stream of sparks pass a few feet above the cockpit, from back to front and going up at a slight angle. This caused me some confusion. If the sparks were from a burning engine they were going the wrong way. It was some little time before I realised that the ‘sparks’ were in fact tracer shells from a fighter that I did not know was attacking us.

The illusion that the tracer shells were going upwards was no doubt caused by the fact that our Lancaster was going into an uncontrolled, screaming dive, but because of the slow-motion effect that I was experiencing, I did not appreciate this fact. This whole episode had taken 2 or 3 seconds at most, then the slow-motion effect began to wear off, and I became aware of the screams of the bomb-aimer.

[after the aircraft went through violent evasive dives they threw off the fighter … the order to prepare to ‘bale out’ was withdrawn after they discovered that most of the parachutes had been destroyed]

My task now was to check the aircraft for damage and casualties. My checks started at the front of the aircraft, in the bomb-aimer’s compartment. I am afraid to say that my sheltered life had not prepared me for the terrible sight that met my eyes. It was obvious that this area had caught the full blast of the flak, and Alan Gerrard had suffered the most appalling injuries. At least he would have died almost instantaneously.

Suffice to say that I was sick. At this stage I risked using my torch to shine along the bomb bay to make sure that all our bombs were gone. My report simply was that the bomb-aimer had been killed and that all bombs had left the aircraft.

Next stop was the cockpit. The pilot had really worked wonders in controlling the aircraft and successfully feathering the engine that had been on fire. Then on to the navigator’s department; on peering round the blackout screen I saw that Ken Pincott was busy working over his charts, but that Flight Lieutenant John Fabian DFC, the H2S operator (the Squadron navigation leader), appeared to be in shock. However, once I established that there appeared to be no serious damage, I moved on. The wireless operator’s position was empty because his task during the bombing run was to go to the rear of the aircraft and ensure that the photo flash left at the same time as the bombs. Next, down to the mid-upper turret, where Ron Wilson had re-occupied his position, albeit only temporarily. (Unknown to me, he had suffered a wound to his ear that, although not too serious, would keep him off flying for a few weeks.)

On reaching the next checkpoint I was again totally unprepared for the dreadful sight that confronted me. Our wireless operator, Flight Sergeant L. Barnes, had sustained, in my opinion, fatal chest injuries and had mercifully lost consciousness. It was found later that he had further very serious injuries to his lower body and legs. He died of his wounds before we reached England.

From the rear turret I got a ‘thumbs up’ sign from ‘Whacker’ Mair, so I rightly concluded that he was OK. As well as having to report the death of our bomb-aimer, and the fatal injuries to the wireless operator, I had to report the complete failure of the hydraulic system. The pilot was already aware of the fact that we had lost our port inner engine through fire, and that our starboard outer was giving only partial power. The bomb doors were stuck in the open position, and the gun turrets had been rendered inoperative because of the hydraulic failure.

Post script: They had just enough fuel to make it back to England, gradually losing height all the way, only to discover that their undercarriage was stuck as they came in to land. The remaining crew survived the emergency landing. All the survivors remained on flying duties, only the slightly wounded mid upper gunner had a brief respite.

See Bowman (Ed.) RAF Bomber Stories: Dramatic First-hand Accounts of British and Commonwealth Airmen in World War 2

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Showing 2 of 2 stories

Names

Showing 8 people of interest from campaign

GIDDINGS, Bryan Wilba

Service number 416949
Pilot Officer
No. 97 Squadron (RAF)
Royal Air Force
Born 19 Mar 1915

CONSTANTINE , Alexander Noel

Wing Commander
Born 13 Dec 1914

TURNER, John James Joseph

Service number 410017
Flight Sergeant
No. 15 Squadron (RAF)
Royal Air Force
Born 26 Jan 1921

COSSON, Donald Walker

Service number 10776
Flight Sergeant
Aircraft / Repair / Salvage Depots
Royal Australian Air Force
Born 25 Mar 1907

POTTER, Robert Lincoln

Service number 406680
Flight Sergeant
No. 460 Squadron (RAAF)
Royal Australian Air Force
Born 9 Mar 1912

SANDERS, Francis Carstairs

Service number 416155
Flying Officer
No. 3 Squadron (RAAF)
Royal Australian Air Force
Born 20 Jul 1920

SMITH, Stephen Allen

Service number 35590
Flight Sergeant
No. 576 Squadron (RAF)
Royal Air Force
Born 12 Aug 1919

WALCH, Stuart Crosby

Service number 40063
Flight Lieutenant
No. 238 Squadron (RAF)
Royal Air Force
Born 16 Feb 1917