Library Reference Number: 007
Well, You Wanted to Fly!
Bob Hamilton, D.F.C., a former Hon. Secretary of Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA, flew as W.op/AG in Bomber Command. Completing his RAF service as a Signals Officer in India, Bob gives a brief glimpse of one or two incidents which occurred during his earlier flying career, where he completed two operational tours, firstly in Stirlings then in Lancaster aircraft. The title is prompted by his insistence on flying duties when selection procedures initially tried to install him in a ground trade.
Our first operation was from OTU (Operational Training Unit) on the second thousand bomber raid to Essen. We were coned after bombing, and lost height trying to escape, which got us caught with light flak and ground fire. We eventually got out of it and set course for home but a landfall seemed long overdue and I got a couple of fixes for the navigator. These showed we were flying up the coast off the Suffolk/Norfolk area so we altered course and the skipper called Mayday. Runway lights came on immediately and we made a no circuit landing at a fighter airfield. Our fuel gauges were registering zero by this time, and the ground staff told us next day the tanks were practically empty. Ignorance is truly bliss!
On posting to 149 Squadron, 3 Group, on Stirlings, the skipper was told to take the Anson to Manston (cue for a song?) with a spare part for a Stirling which had landed there from ops. On arriving at the airfield, there were ME109's buzzing about and Spitfires coming up to engage them. We were told to get down quickly, and as we came in two Spitfires came soaring towards us down-wind and took off over our heads! When the raid was finished, we took off for home but the grass field was slightly uphill, was heavy, and we never reached flying speed. We went through a fence and hedge at the perimeter and wrecked the Anson. On posting a week later to the re-forming 90 Squadron, we began our operational tour. Can you credit it? The skipper had to do two second dicky trips before he took his crew out on gardening trips to break us in?
This was September 1942, at the height of the Bomber Campaign, so you will not need explanations of Flak, Fighters and Searchlights, which were most nerve-racking when there weren't any! A few incidents still lodged in my memory banks are worth mentioning. First was when I took a couple of astro shots over the Bay of Biscay, (the navigator taught me the sextant routine) which showed we were heading for St.Nazaire on the homeward leg from the Franco/Spanish border. A good place to avoid is St. Nazaire. Second was when the 'cookie' hung up on bombing, and on the approach to the Dutch coast we spotted a flak ship pooping away. The bomb-aimer made a run up on it, and I was detailed to go back, lift the inspection cover and release the 'cookie' manually. A good idea, except the bomb had a yellow band around it with the letters 'T.N.T.' in black facing up into the fuselage, so that I was in no doubt as to what I was kneeling on, with my tender parts 6" from the casing! However, the bomb went down , and although no explosion was seen, the rear-gunner reported no further flak from the ship.
Third was when we made our run into the target, and notwithstanding the mid-upper & rear-gunner, pilot & f/engineer beside him, also myself in the astrodome, it was the bomb-aimer in the nose who shouted " dive skipper - dive!" . . . the nose went down quickly and another Stirling zoomed over us! I looked up as it passed over us and could clearly see his open bomb bays with all his incendiaries, even to the details of the red/silver paint. He was so close, he took my main aerial off. The idiot must have had his trailing aerial still out, as well as bombing across the main stream.
The fourth incident was when a 1,000 pounder hung up then dropped off after the bomb doors were closed. We stopped weaving when we heard something rolling around below decks. If caught in this situation, I advise you not to open the bomb doors to let the bomb out. It rolls into the opening gap, jams the hydraulics, and you are left with it sticking out and fully primed. This leaves you with 3 or 4 hours to think about landing! In the event, the skipper landed absolutely smoothly, and with a Stirling that took some doing. After we taxied to dispersal, we left the aircraft and ran like hell, leaving the ground staff to take over the wayward bomb!
The fifth incident that comes to mind was an attack by two ME109s, each making two passes, but the rear-gunner and skipper out-manoeuvred them with the cork screws and they only got us with fringe fire. One of the 109s came alongside and waggled his wings after his final attack. We thought well, this is pretty decent of him, then when the flak came up we realised he was sending down our speed, height and course to his friends below - dirty Nazi! A flak shell got a near miss and took a section off the starboard mainplane at the tip. The starboard outer engine caught fire, and wouldn't be extinguished or feathered - then decided to run wild! This caused extreme vibration and our thoughts were on the plane disintegrating. Skipper said he couldn't hold her, and to prepare to bale out. I just couldn't get my chute onto my chest clips as the shaking of the aircraft was so severe. It was fortunate therefore, when the engine seized up, the prop shaft snapped, and the propeller went flying off into space.
I must stop there, as I have reached the allotted space given for the purpose of this collection of 'aircrew stories.' Surviving two operational tours leaves one with a fund of memories, and it is not possible to give a full comprehensive account of all those experiences in very brief form. Perhaps on some other occasion, there may be opportunities for recording some more accounts to give future generations an inkling of 'what it was like for us.'