After a previous post this week regarding Malcolm Harris, I am pleased to post a couple of recollections from Nick , his son, about Malcolm’s time with 75(NZ) Squadron. In addition to these stores Nick has also very generously passed on some photographs of Malcolm, taken while he was with the Squadron.
Nick picks up the stories about his father;
“My Old Man was quite a strong willed character even as a young Sergeant in 1940 . . apparently. It’s something that doesn’t really come across in most of the written works about Bomber Command and Pathfinders in particular, in that you quite often see photographs from the time stating ” . . . Sqn/Ldr Soandso and crew”. The pilot usually got the credit for everything the whole crew did, and usually the higher award.
This was something that vexed my Dad right up until his last moments, he often used to say that the whole crew shared the same dangers and there was no way that a pilot would see or know where he was over a blacked out Continent, even in decent weather. The Navigator was in his opinion the “brains” of the crew getting them over the target even if they were not able to see it, and back.
There is a 10 hour trip he did to Turin in his log book, which was later on in his tour with 75(NZ) Sqn, this was routed over the Alps which the Wellington struggled to get over with a full bomb load. During this trip the radio caught fire which resulted in the loss of any Radio Direction Finding (RDF) capability, so out came the night sextant and he got them back to base using the stars.
In Pathfinder squadrons there was a fiercely strong “Navigators’ Union”, often relegating the pilots to “taxi driver” status. This apparently was the case in 139(J) Sqn. I recall my Father telling me about a small Irishman who was a Navigator there, he used to walk out from the Ops room with a pencil and a clip board towards the aircraft. His pilot used to call after him
“What about your Nav. bag (containing plotted route maps and rulers etc.) ?” The reply would come, “Sure, I know where I’m going, I don’t need all that c**p”, the bemused pilot would then heft the bag out to the waiting aircraft himself . . . he fell for that one a few times apparently.
I’m proud of what my Father did, and am very happy that some of the documentation and pictures which have gathered dust for years, are now able to be seen by many more people than I could have hoped to show them to in my lifetime.”
and on the bombing of the German battle cruiser the Gneisenau……..
“You’ll note in my Fathers’ log book, two raids on Brest on the nights of the 3rd and 6th of April 1940. This was actually part of a concerted attack on the battle-cruiser Gneisenau, which was in dock at the time. The brief was apparently to attack at “medium” height with armour piercing bombs (the German ships had steel decks, unlike the British).
Unfortunately the physics of bombing was still a dark art at the time, and a complete unknown to a great many pilots. On the first night, all the pilots insisted on getting “down on the deck” to make sure of hits, despite them being night raids, causing some alarm to the rest of the crews.
The result was although many of the aircraft (tail gunner) could see that their sticks of bombs were hitting the target, they were skipping off and failing to explode. The bombs were still falling in a horizontal position on impact, failing to detonate the percussion caps in the nose.
The arguments that ensued back at Feltwell were apparently very emotional, with all of the pilots being berated for their apparent lunacy in attacking so low, and being a predominantly New Zealand squadron, the language was something to be heard.
On the night of the 6th, a chastened group of pilots with crews watching them like hawks, attacked the same target from a more rational height, but with poor accuracy results. This prompted the “See ? I told you !” altercations back at Feltwell. Life was anything but dull on the Squadron.
The Gneisenau was continually attacked from the air with some damage resulting in a fairly major re-fit of the vessel, which kept it in dry dock until the following year, when it ran up the channel to the North German ports with the Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen.”
More images from Nick