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Library Reference Number: 197

106 Squadron Bomber Command – A New Experience in June 1944

Gilbert Gray, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA

The first daylight raid by 106 Squadron since the attack on Milan on 24th October, 1942, had been planned for 21st June, 1944. In preparation, aircraft camouflage had been altered - our Squadron and aircraft letters - in our case ZN - C - had been painted in white and the tail fins painted white with a green stripe. The attack was cancelled and, instead, 20 of us were sent to attack oil installations at Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr. Two of our aircraft did not return, including that of our close chums P/O Jim Brodie and crew.

On the 22nd, we, as a crew, had our first taste of formation flying. For an hour, we led a 'vic' of three which was, as I remember, to be positioned beneath the main formation. It culminated in a 'mass bombing attack' ("sham of course" as I wrote in a letter home). At the time, a massive attack on Berlin was envisaged in which Bomber Command would join the USAAF. Fortunately, our Commander, Air Marshall 'Butch' Harris, eventually called it off when he discovered that there would not be sufficient fighter cover. (He describes the situation in his book 'Bomber Offensive') Nine crews were involved that morning.

Formation flying, for me, was terrifying. Peter, our pilot, had to control the general flying attitude with his left hand on the control column and with his right hand adjusting the speed by manipulating the outer engine throttles. Turns were particularly hair-raising since not only were the Lancasters heaving in the air currents but they tended to slide inwards on the turn. Equally, the danger of getting into the slip-stream of other aircraft was dangerous.

On the 24th, the night flying test for the operation scheduled for that night - a flying bomb site at Pommereval in the Pas de Calais - included further formation flying and a high-level bombing exercise. We lost another aircraft - seven more lads that night.

The next two days were wet and ops were cancelled, and my letter home on the 27th spoke of frustration. "Last evening, ops were definitely off, then, just as a lot of fellows were preparing to go off camp they were put on again and later they were finally 'scrubbed'. Today has been the same. We were actually in the aircraft when they were cancelled." Such was the fluidity of the situation, reflecting not only the weather conditions in Lincolnshire, but also the rapidly changing battlefield situation in France.

However, 16 of us were out over the railway marshalling yards at Vitry Ie Francois on that night of the 27th. A further two of our crews did not return.

A further day of ‘standing by' passed but on the 29th, 14 of us from 106 Squadron took off on our first daylight raid just after mid-day. It was strange to see ourselves in the company of so many other aircraft for there were 87 Lancasters and 4 Mosquitoes making for the first navigating position where they would then set course for the precise target - a flying bomb site at Beavoir. We were at about 19,000 feet and would attack in four waves. Each aircraft navigated independently of all the others and we approached the target in a great gaggle at varying heights though we closed up on nearing the target.

On the way out it was reassuring to see the Spitfires wheeling above us but they were well beyond the anti-aircraft fire through which we had to fly. The sun glinted on their canopies. The 'flak' was frightening. At night, the flash was gone 'in a flash' and the smoke which the explosion left was barely seen. It was very different when we had to fly through the smoke puffs waiting for the next one to come up.

However, even more scary were the aircraft slightly above us. Near the target, their bomb doors opened to reveal the load – eleven 1,000 pound bombs and four 500-pounders - and there they were, just above us. I remember that just before the target, we accelerated slightly to take us clear of the main force so that we would not be struck by bombs dropped by our own aircraft - as some unfortunately were.

On those summer days above the clouds, it became very hot under the Perspex of the cabin and we were generally in shirt-sleeves. My Flight Engineer's tool kit bag served as a picnic hamper to accommodate the sandwiches and drinks which were supplied, while my escape kit (a small plastic box containing paper maps, chocolate, currency, etc) was stowed there too. Escape photographs were stowed under my Sergeant's stripes. A three-penny piece was sewn under my brevet for luck!

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