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Library Reference Number: 184

First Ops

George Thomson, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA.

George Thomson bailed out of his stricken aircraft on 12th September 1944, and spent the remainder of World War two as a prisoner-of-war. That occurred on his 20th operation and in the following account he describes how he missed out on the all-important briefing for his First OP.

I suppose all aircrew looked forward to their first operational flight with some trepidation, but in my own case I didn't have time to think about it, as this tale will tell.

Having completed my navigation training, I moved on to No. 11 O.T.U at Westcott, in December 1943, flying in Wellingtons and where I crewed up; from there it was on to 1657 Conversion Unit at Stradishall, where we flew Stirlings, then to No..3 L.F.S. at Feltwell where we converted to Lancasters. Three rounds of circuits and bumps and one "Bullseye" and then posted to Mildenhall in June 1944 to join XV Squadron.

Arriving at Mildenhall, on my first day I reported to the Navigation Office. The Navigation Leader, F/Lt. Jack Fabian, a New Zealander, greeted me warmly enough, but was somewhat perplexed by the fact that he had another Scottish Navigator to deal with. As he said, there were already Scots known as "Jock", "Haggis", and "Bagpipes", so henceforth he would call me "Tommy".

As I was leaving his Office, he threw a fastball at me, "Would I like to do an Op that night with a crew whose navigator had gone sick?" I was somewhat nonplussed and replied to the effect that I would have preferred to do my first Op with my own crew. To my surprise he simply said, "That's O.K. Tommy, there will be plenty opportunities later on."

Four days later, we did a loaded climb and for some reason or another thought that we would perhaps do one or two more exercises before seeing our names on the Battle Order.

Next day, there seemed to be nothing on so we went our individual ways, with the Flight Engineer and myself deciding that we would go to the Camp Cinema that night. We were settled in our seats, and the big movie had just started, "The Picture of Dorian Grey", when a message flashed up on the screen for Sgts Howarth and Thomson to report to the Briefing Room immediately. We hurriedly left the Cinema and made our way to the Briefing Room, wondering what this was all about, when we met the aircrews coming out and getting aboard transport to be taken to their aircraft.

Jack Fabian was at the door, and he handed me a Navigations Bag with the comment, "You'll find everything in there, just follow the plane in front until you get sorted out.” We got transported out to the aircraft where the other members of the crew were already aboard, and I was still unpacking my bag as we trundled to the runway, taking off at 22.57. By the time we were in the air, I had unfolded the chart and found where the target was, a "P" Plane site at L'Hey. The route there and back had already been plotted so, in effect, I was being spoon fed for my first Op.

We encountered slight flak on route and were attacked by a JU88 over the target, forcing the Bomb Aimer to ask the Pilot to go round again. On the second run in to the target another aircraft crossed our path, again forcing a re-run as before, but eventually having unloaded our bombs, we headed back home, landing at base two and half hours after take-off.

To my surprise, neither I nor the Flight Engineer were challenged as to why we had been at the Cinema, nor did we get a satisfactory explanation from the other crew members as to why they had not made contact with us after seeing the Battle Order for that night.

Four nights later we were on our second Op to another "P" Plane site, encountering three attacks by ME110s, one of which was damaged by our Rear Gunner. From then on, we never met another fighter until our twentieth Op on 12th September 1944 and when we were attacked twice as we turned on to the last leg to the target in Frankfurt. The second attack caused severe damage to the aircraft and set part of the incendiary load alight, forcing us to abandon the plane. When we bailed out the Flight Engineer and I landed in the same field, but we didn't get to the Cinema that night!

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