Chris has been doing some digging into the ‘unanswered question’ – here are his thoughts……
One of the questions Andrew wanted to answer from the previous post about first cousins Ewen Elmslie, Jim Elmslie, and Wally Sneddon, was why Jim Elmslie and his crew only completed 2 op’s before leaving the squadron. It turns out the answer was right under my nose.
Peter Wheeler’s excellent book, Kiwis Do Fly, is a collection of personal accounts of New Zealanders in Bomber Command. On the hunt for photos of 75 Lancasters, I was recently thumbing back through it, when one of the crew photos jumped out at me (the photo above). I’d read the book a year ago, but had forgotten about this story, and now I recognised a face – Jim Elmslie.
In The Wrong was written by Alan Wiltshire, and it tells the story of his frustrations with a series of incidents that delayed he and his crews’ efforts to get into frontline operations. One of those incidents was a take-off accident on a bad night at Mepal, which caught the ire of Wing Commander Jack Leslie, a notoriously tough taskmaster.
Alan was Jim Elmslie’s Navigator. Alan and Jim and the crew would have first met up and trained at 11 Operational Training Unit (OTU), RAF Westcott, folowed by 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit, RAF Wratting Common, a week or two at No.3 Lancaster Finishing School (LFS), RAF Feltwell, then finally being posted to 75 (NZ) Squadron based at Mepal in Cambridgeshire, arriving on 30th September 1944.
In Alan’s words:
“It was a gungho group full of press-on types, and they consequently suffered great casualties. I had to fit into this pressure cooker Squadron and our first Op was to Emmerich on the Rhine on October 7, followed by Duisberg on the 14th.
On the night of 15th October our Lancaster was in the take-off queue. There was a pranged Liberator just off the perimeter track and in swinging round it, one Lanc’ ahead of us hit another. There were delays while the wrecks were cleared away but our third Op’ wasn’t destined to be finished.
After further delays and much shouting by the Station Commander at last we hurtled down the runway. Our pilot put one wheel into the grass and started a classic ground loop. 400 yards from the boundary he retracted the undercarriage and pancaked us into the dirt.
We all got out safely but the pilot copped the Commanding Officer’s frustration and he went back to LFS.”
The pilotless crew was then sent on to RAF Ganston to pick up a new skipper, where “as I’d run foul of 75’s Wingco a day or two earlier, they had to look for a new navigator as well!”
– From “In The Wrong”, p.42, Kiwis Do Fly: New Zealanders in RAF Bomber Command, by Peter Wheeler. 2010, New Zealand Bomber Command Association. Reproduced with permission of the author.
Interestingly, the Pilot is only identified in the story as “Jim ‘E'”, indicating that sensitivities remain after all these years.
Interesting also that both Pilot and Navigator separately fell foul of Leslie, and that in another account from Kiwis Do Fly, Pilot F/L Stan Davies mentions W/C Jack Leslie, saying “By all accounts the previous Commanding Officer had been a bastard and had to be replaced“.
So this explains why the whole crew left at the same time, although not together – Jim would have had to find a new crew at another Squadron, and perhaps went on to complete more op’s.
In an intriguing twist, the photos shown were taken in front of, and underneath, Lancaster AA-A (NN745?), whereas the two op’s the crew completed were flown in AA-F and AA-H.
So were these photos taken on 15 October, the day of the accident, with the kite they were due to fly that night? The op was Mining in the Kettegat area, but there is no mention of an accident in the ORB’s, and the crew is not listed for that night so it would be difficult to confirm, unless perhaps damage records are available.
And I would love to see a better shot of that nose art!
Thanks to Andrew, and to Peter Wheeler for his help.