Library Reference Number: 011
No 106 Squadron, 5 Group, RAF Bomber Command
Gilbert Gray is author of the book "Green Markers Ahead, Skipper!" widely acclaimed by reviews in 'Intercom' and other aviation journals. Intercom reported ".. a triumph of accurate reporting of circumstances in which we all feel closely identified".
There I was with 72 Entry at St.Athan, having discarded the white 'flash' of the aircrew trainee, now sporting my new Sergeant Stripes and Flight Engineer brevet. It was the beginning of December 1943. I had joined up on March 22nd of that year fulfilling a long-held ambition to fly with the RAF. I first flew as a 'spare flight engineer' at 7.10 pm on February 2nd 1944, in a Short Stirling at Wigsley 1654 HCU - 1 hr 25 mins of 'circuits and bumps'.
Later air sickness (fortuitously) delayed my becoming attached permanently to a crew but on March 15, I, a Scot, became a member of Sgt Peter Browne's crew which comprised two Canadians and four Englishmen who were converting from two-engine to four-engined aircraft. After HCU, we joined the illustrious 106 Squadron of 5 Group, Bomber Command, based at Metheringham, Lincolnshire, on April 27th and at 10.05 pm on May 4th we set off in Lancaster ZN-A (Serial Number JB663) on our first operation with 11 other crews to attack a very large ammunition factory at Salbris, 50 miles south of Orleans. After attacking at 7,000 feet, we returned to base unharmed only to find out four of our chaps were missing, a salutary beginning, not only for us, but for the veterans of the battles of Berlin and the Ruhr who perceived the French targets as 'a piece of cake'. At this time, Bomber Command was playing a crucial role in 'softening up' the enemy communications and bases during the month before D-Day so we continued with five more ops in May. In June, we resumed on the morning of D-Day, taking off at 2.39 am to attack the coastal batteries at Pointe du Hoc overlooking Omaha Beach where the U.S. Rangers struggled desperately from about 7 am to gain a foothold. We, ourselves, fought off four FW 190 fighters which attacked us as we left the scene at 5 am.
A further 11 ops followed in June - railway centres, troop concentrations, V1 and V2 bases plus German oil-producing centres - often with aircraft damaged but with crew unscathed. One of our attacks, on June 10th, on a thirty mile stretch of railway line south of Orleans, was accomplished from just 800 feet at night! Ten of us from 106 Squadron took off at 10 pm and took turns to illuminate the target for our colleagues and accomplishing our mission before returning to base at 4 am. Intensive practise in formation flying prepared us for a projected massive combined US Air Force and RAF Bomber Command daylight attack on the Reich but this was abandoned due to lack of adequate fighter cover. June 29th saw us despatched on our first daylight raid at 12.20 pm to a flying bomb site at Beauvoir.
Returning from leave in early July, we discovered the Squadron had lost seven aircraft in two attacks on a flying bomb depot at St. Leu d'Esserent. We were despatched on eleven further operations during the remaining sixteen days of July, five of them to tiny V1 and V2 targets in daylight with each aircraft fending for itself. Sometimes, jostling for position, there were collisions and some aircraft were hit by bombs dropped from above. Fighter escorts were always a welcome sight. We visited Germany - Kiel naval yards and Stuttgart, twice, entailing a round trip of nearly eight hours. Our second trip, in the early hours of July 29th, nearly cost us dear. Having just dropped our bomb-load, Charlie, our wireless operator noticed on his 'Window' screen that we were being tailed by 'something'. Shells and bullets from two JU88 night-fighters ripped into our starboard engine nacelle, petrol tank, fuselage and hydraulics causing severe damage. The episode lasted about one second and it was a long way home, nearly fours hours, but we made it, despite landing on a flat tyre and swinging off the runway!
Our LL953 (ZN-C) was withdrawn for extensive repair and we were returned to JB 663 which had carried us on our first op and which would achieve fame by completing 111 operational sorties by the end of the war. Our tour ended with a burst of activity in August. Eight operations in eleven days, six of them in daylight and two of these to U-Boat pens at Lorient and Bordeaux. On the latter, our 34th which completed our 'tour of ops', we were one of four 106 aircraft sent out ten minutes ahead of the main force, on a glorious autumn day, to circle over the etams south of Bordeaux at 19,000 feet to calculate the local winds at our altitude. Findings were relayed to the main force that included our neighbours 617 Squadron. We then joined with them to drop our 2,000 lb armour piercing bombs on the 'indestructible'concrete U-Boat pens.
Within days, our crew was dispersed to various units, myself, as a screen engineer to 1660 HCE at Swinderby where I stayed until the end of hostilities, instructing fledgling flight engineers on Stirlings and latterly, Lancasters. After VJ Day, declared redundant, I was remustered as an Equipment Accounts Clerk and was posted to 337 MU at Avadi, South India in November, returning a year later for demobilisation in April 1947.