Leopold Ian Adrian Millett, RAFVR (1164817), 2nd Pilot / Pilot. 1941

IanMillett

Ian Millett – Reproduced from Into The Drink; By A Member Of The Goldfish Club Ian A Millett; The Memoirs Of A Royal Air Force Bomber Pilot 1940-1945, Copyright Ursula Millett.

Many thanks again and always to Chris for another fantastic and well researched post – especially gratefully received as I am still working through my emails, rather than writing posts myself!

Leopold Ian Adrian Millett was an Englishman who migrated to America after the war. I was loaned a copy of his memoirs,  ‘Into The Drink‘, by another 75’er, Doug Williamson.  Doug and Ian met in Canada after the war, and found out that they had both served with the same Squadron, albeit at different ends of the war.

Ian had trained as a Pilot, and met up with his crew at 11 OTU Bassingbourne:

11_OTU_Bassingbourn_May_1941

11 OTU Bassingbourne, Course No. 30, May 1941.

However, on arrival at 75 (NZ) Sqdn, ‘A’ Flight in June 1941, the crew was split up:

From Ian’s book “Into The Drink“:
“Eventually we completed our training, and our crew was sent to 75 New Zealand Squadron. Now don’t ask me why, except that before the war the New Zealanders bought a whole lot of Wellingtons, and they were going to form a squadron and take it back to New Zealand. The only trouble was there weren’t enough New Zealanders to fill the squadron out, so we got posted there. We, as a crew, reported to Squadron Leader “Popeye” Lucas – a great guy, and much loved by his men. He explained that he was going to break up the crew, I would fly as 2nd pilot to Pip Coney, a New Zealander, and Pip’s 2nd pilot Frankie Fox would take over the rest of the crew, and this way we would all be flying with experienced men”.

It was standard practice at 75 (NZ) Sqdn, at this stage of the war, for Pilots to fly as 2nd Pilots for up to 10 op’s before captaining their own crew.

Millett also flew 2nd Pilot with Fox, and there seems to have been some mixing of the two crews.

Operational history (Ian Millett):
10/11.6.41, Brest
Wellington 1C R1648, AA-K
Sgt Phillip Ronald Coney  RNZAF (NZ391825), Pilot
Sgt  Ian A Millett RAFVR (1164817), 2nd Pilot / Flight Engineer
P/O Derek Clare RAF (103536, 951765), Navigator
Sgt Cliff Simpson RAFVR (943822), Wireless Operator
Sgt Jack Wilson Bottomley RAFVR (943398), Bomb Aimer/Front Gunner
Sgt (Ken?) Tommy Oddie RAF, Rear Gunner

From “Into The Drink”:
“My first operation was on June 10th, 1941. This was the time when the Bismarck accompanied by the Prinz Eugen and the Gneisenau, broke out of their base at Bremen, and started sinking any shipping they could find in the North Atlantic. Eventually they were located, after an intensive search (which included Bomber Command and my squadron) by a Coastal Command PBY aircraft. It shadowed them for some eighteen hours, which gave the British Navy time to intercept the ships. Fortunately for the Navy a “stringbag” – a torpedo carrying aircraft – got a torpedo hit on the steering gear of the Bismarck. As a result it could only steam in circles. The Navy moved in and proceeded to sink the Bismarck. There was no surrender. The other two ships made a run for Brest, and spent the rest of the war there. However they remained a threat to Atlantic shipping, so every once in a while, we visited them and left a few calling cards!

This operation was down to Brest, on the coast of Brittany, to bomb the German ships moored there. It was a clear night, however the Germans had blanked out the harbour using smoke generators on barges. The wind carried the smoke over both the docks and the town. Danny Clare the navigator and bomb aimer, had to guess the position of the ships and we bombed through the smoke.

The return trip brought us back over Lulworth Cove as dawn was breaking, and it was fascinating to see the land formation – a perfect example of a volcanic caldera, part of which had been eroded by the ocean. Our flight path also took us over Bournemouth and I was able to pick out my mother’s house quite easily.” 

R1648AA-K-taxying

Ian’s regular aircraft, and eventually his “own”, Wellington 1C R1648 AA-K Photo from Cliff Simpson, via www.feltwell.net.

12/13.6.41, Hamm
Wellington 1C R1648, AA-K
From the ORB: Sgt Coney’s crew observed their bombs bursting among fires already started in the rail yards.

16/17.6.41, Dusseldorf

Wellington 1C R1648, AA-K
From the ORB: Observed bomb bursts among fires in the target area.

Note: For this op’ only, Rear Gunner Oddie was replaced by Sgt Robert William TOLLER, RAF. (1054292). Three months later (15th September) Toller was W/Op in the crew Captained by James Allen “Jimmy” Ward V.C. that was shot down over Hamburg – 4 of the 6 crew were lost, including Toller and Ward.

Between op’s, Ian tells some intriguing stories about life on Base.
“The New Zealanders stationed at Feltwell had a little mascot, he was a monkey and had a neat little uniform that the girls in the canvas shop made him. He used to sit on the radiator in the Sergeants’ ante room to the mess – a room where the armchairs and tables were, not the dining part of the mess.

And we had this one Warrant Officer, one of the ones who had been in the Air Force all his life. Well, he didn’t like this monkey, and he came storming in and opened the window, threw the monkey out and closed the window which was rather unfortunate for him, because two very large New Zealanders seized him by arms and legs, and they threw him right through the window, which was by then closed.
 
Well when he got out of hospital, he was posted on to the machine gun and bombing range, which was our practice range, where we used to nip in and test our guns before an operation. And man, every one, on any excuse, used to go over to Laken Heath firing range, and I’ve seen them put smoke bombs right through the hut where he had to sit. He came back, one time, and he was a shaken man, absolutely trembling. They never quite got him, but man they did their best.”

18/19.6.41, Brest
Wellington 1C R1648, AA-K
From the ORB: R1648  failed to observe any bursts.

21/22.6.41, Cologne
Wellington 1C R1648, AA-K
From the ORB: R1648 confirmed that their bomb bursts were observed in the dock area on the Rhine.

“We could volunteer to carry cameras on bombing raids. Normally if you were doing photography from the air, you were doing line overlaps with a camera mounted in the aircraft. We had these beautiful Fairchild hand held cameras, with about 8.5in lenses in them. You were supposed to take so many photographs a month. So what we used to do, was go down to low level, open the astrodome and at low speed with flaps down at about 85 mph, which is pretty bloody slow, take pictures of pubs from sometimes 50 feet and sometimes 100 feet. Then the photographic department would develop them and then we’d go round to the pubs and sell them the photographs.
 
I often wonder how many of these are still around. Of course, they always gave you a beer on the house and all that good stuff. Some of the guys were very good at taking these photographs and also very handy with the barmaids.”

24/25.6.41, Kiel
Wellington 1C R1648, AA-K
From the ORB: R1648 failed to observe their bomb strikes.

“Altogether I flew fourteen operations, and the most memorable of these was a raid on Kiel, where we got ”coned” by searchlights. Our usual practice when dealing with the German searchlight and anti-aircraft batteries as we crossed the coastline, was to drop empty beer bottles over them.

The bottles screamed like bombs, and the men on the searchlights would dive for cover, and we could make it through, without losing any altitude. Sometimes of course, this did not work, and we had to let a live bomb go.

On this particular night out target was the U-boat pens at Kiel. We were carrying 2000 lb armour piercing bombs, hoping they would penetrate the very thick concrete surrounding and covering the pens. We came in from the North, over Denmark but in spite of this they “coned” us, meaning that a great white searchlight was focussed on each aeroplane, one at a time, and all the other searchlights and anti-aircraft guns were able to range in on us. Our Wellington was the first to be picked out and everything in the town opened up on us. The only thing that saved us was the fact that we had our bombs on board, and they acted as armour plate in the floor. The bomb doors were shredded, so we jettisoned our load and high tailed it for home. I shall always remember flying down the Kiel canal amongst the barrage balloons, hoping we were just high enough to miss them, and knowing they wouldn’t fire at us in case they hit their own balloons. Whilst we were scooting along the canal, our rear gunner, Ken Oddie, yelled “I’ve just shot down one of those balloons, and it’s burning nicely!” “

Note: The practice of dropping empty beer bottles from the bombers is also mentioned by Jack Moller, Bomb Aimer with the Kearns crew, 1942.

27/28.6.41, Bremen
Wellington 1C R1177, AA-F
From the ORB: Sgt Coney’s crew dropped their bombs and observed bursts in the target area.

Millett-crew

L to R: Cliff Simpson, Frankie Fox, Danny Clare, Pip Coney, Jack Bottomley, Tommy Oddie. The a/c behind them appears to be R1648. Photo from Cliff Simpson, via http://www.feltwell.net

30.6/1.7.41, Cologne
Wellington 1C R1177, AA-F
Sgt Francis Charles Fox, RNZAF (NZ40762), Pilot (later F/L, DFC)
Sgt Ian A Millett RAFVR (1164817), 2nd Pilot / Flight Engineer
P/O Derek Clare RAF (103536, 951765), Navigator
Sgt Cliff Simpson RAFVR (943822), WO/AG
Sgt Jack Wilson Bottomley RAFVR (943398), F/Gnr
Sgt (Ken?) Tommy Oddie RAF, R/Gnr

11 crews were briefed to carry out individual attacks against Cologne. A mixed bomb load was carried, consisting of 1,000lb GP, 500lb GP, 250lb GP and containers of incendiaries.
From the ORB: Sgt Fox’s crew observed their bomb bursts in the target area. No results given.

“Most of the night flights were on moonlit nights, because our navigation systems were so poor that we were literally going on what was called DR navigation, or Dead Reckoning, where you calculate where you are by using windspeed, ground speed and direction. We got a lot of help from the big German radio stations, we used Texal, and we could pull in the Swiss stations – they had one very powerful one – and of course, the dear old Vatican, the world’s most powerful station, I think it was 1500 watts that it put out and you could put a loop on it to get a bearing.

Moonlit nights over Germany were quite something. Cologne was a great place which we loved to bomb because all the targets were in a straight line, and if you missed the tank works you could get the bridge, if you missed the bridge you could get the cathedral. We missed the cathedral and got a big block of flats, and I swear to this day, that when we hit that block of flats one night, every light in that building was turned on, and I also swear that I saw a man blown through the roof in his bed! I was sober at the time too.”

7/8.7.41, Münster
(This op’ is listed in the book, but neither Millett, nor Coney or Fox crews appear in the ORB for this night?)

This was the op’ that resulted in probably the Squadron’s most famous act of heroism, from efforts by the Widdowson crew flying Wellington L7818, AA-R to put out an engine fire and bring the a/c and crew safely home.

2nd Pilot, Sgt “Jimmy” Ward, RNZAF, earned the Victoria Cross; S/L Ben Widdowson, RAF, the Distinguished Flying Cross; Sgt Allen Box, RNZAF, the Distinguished Flying Medal, and Sgt R A Lawton, RNZAF, Navigator, was to receive the Air Force Cross.

“We had a New Zealander, a Sergeant Ward, who was awarded an instantaneous Victoria Cross. How he earned it was, that he was 2nd Pilot on a Wellington, and they were coming home and they were attacked by a night fighter and the right engine caught fire, because there was a 60 gallon tank of fuel in the Nacelle, and so the flames were pouring out. So this guy takes down the astrodome puts the fire extinguisher in his Sidcop flying suit, kicked holes in the Wellington till he got to the wing, proceeded to punch holes in the wing until he got out to the Nacelle in which the reserve fuel tank was sitting, and sprayed it with the fire extinguisher, put the fire out and climbed back in – and all this at about 10,000 feet.

A Wellington’s body and wings were covered with canvas, and this was why he could punch holes in it. We tried it out next day; we went out to our flights, took down the astrodome and tried to get out, and it was bloody near impossible as the force of the wind pushed you back in. Anyway, by mid-day the whole squadron had been assembled for the Victoria Cross award. The Duke of Kent came and they had a great big bean feast for him in the Officers’ Mess, and they did the most unusual thing, they invited all Sergeant air crews to join the officers in their mess. And I tell you, that was one of the wildest parties I ever went to in my life. We were all very happy about that, and very proud of Ward.”

JAWardVC-Menu

Autographed menu, “On the occasion of the approval of the award of the Victoria Cross to Sgt. James Allen Ward. 7 August 1941” – Copyright Air Force Museum of New Zealand.

10/11.7.41, Cologne
Wellington L9626?
For this trip, Ian is re-united with his original Navigator, Deryck Polly, and regular Rear Gunner Oddie is replaced by a Sgt Stevenson:
Sgt Francis Charles Fox, RNZAF (NZ40762), Pilot (later F/L, DFC)
Sgt Ian A Millett RAFVR (1164817), 2nd Pilot / Flight Engineer
Sgt Deryck Polly RAFVR (977080), Navigator
Sgt Cliff Simpson RAFVR (943822), WO/AG
Sgt Jack Wilson Bottomley RAFVR (943398), F/Gnr
Sgt James Blake Stephenson (Stevenson?) RCAF, R/Gnr

13.7.41, Bremen

Wellington 1C R1648, AA-K
From the ORB: Sgt Fox’s crew bombed their target but the results were not observed.

“We used to come home off an operation for our eggs and bacon, if nothing else. There was a civilian cook attached to the Sergeants’ Mess and there was also a civilian Mess Steward, who had hired this cook. So we all came in, very hungry for breakfast one day, after having been debriefed. While you were being debriefed, you could drink as much rum as you wanted, and there were cases of beer. So by the time you had finished the de-briefing and told your story, you were pretty happy.

Well, the whole troop of us, about 50 or 60, sat down waiting for eggs and bacon, and this bloody cook, served us BOILED FISH! Well, they got the mess secretary but even better than that two very large New Zealanders (who shall be nameless, but probably the same two who heaved the Warrant out of the window) went and got the cook; and they held him up against the wall, at the end of the mess, spread-eagled, and we threw all the fish at him until there was no fish left and he was plastered with it; then he was told in accents loud and clear that if he ever served fish again he’d be feeding the fish on the end of a hook.”

21/22.7.41 Mannheim
Millett is replaced by P/O Raphael as 2nd Pilot in the Fox crew for this op’.

24/25.7.41, Kiel
Wellington 1C T2805, AA-D
From the ORB: Sgt Fox’s crew completed a bombing attack and observed fires starting .

WellingtonR1648AA-K

Another view of Ian’s regular aircraft, Wellington 1C R1648 AA-K Photo from Cliff Simpson, via http://www.feltwell.net.

6/7.8.41 Mannheim
Wellington 1C, R1648, AA-K
Finally, Ian got to fly as Captain of his own crew:
Sgt Ian Adrian Millett RAFVR (1164817), Pilot
Sgt Richard Grosvenor Morgan RNZAF (NZ402239), 2nd Pilot / Flight Engineer
Sgt Deryck Polly RAFVR (977080), Navigator
Sgt Cliff Simpson RAFVR (943822), WO/AG
Sgt Jack Wilson Bottomley RAFVR (943398), F/Gnr
F/Sgt William Neill Kennedy Mellon RAF. (176808), R/Gnr

” I was, of course, flying a Wellington 1C. Our mission that night was to bomb the tank works at Mannheim. I was the captain, Derrick Polley was the navigator, Simpson was the wireless operator, there was a fellow called Morgan, a New Zealander, who was the second pilot, Bottomley was the front gunner, and the rear gunner was Mellon, a replacement for our regular gunner, Oddie. Derrick and I were all out to get our names in print, so we volunteered that night to carry a camera, which was a foolish thing because after we had done our bomb run, we had to go back and do a couple more runs for filming, so we were late getting off the target.
We were intercepted over Germany. A cry came from the rear gunner “There’s an aircraft behind us!” Before I could yell at him, “Fire!”, we received the first burst which hit us and made a mess of the aeroplane, and she caught fire. I promptly went into a left hand turn and yelled at the front gunner “watch out!”.

We circled, the guy came by, he came right up alongside of us on the right hand front, which was a stupid thing to do because Bottomley raked him from end to end, and it was a Messerschmitt 110, and they had no armour on the side anyway, and he pulled away in a dive.
We were, of course, in bad shape. The good old Wellington caught fire in the fuselage, not anywhere else, and eventually it was put out, by Derrick Polley with the use of a fire extinguisher. I decided we would head for home, even though we had been badly hit.

The instrument panel was non-existent, and of course, in the Wellington, once your hydraulics were hit, your undercarriage tended to hang down. So I did a long sloping dive, trying to get out of altitude and down to ground level where I thought we would be somewhat safer than if we sat up top at 18,000 feet and let the anti aircraft guns have at us. Well, Derrick threw all the spare ammunition out, the oxygen bottle, everything except his astro-compass, which was a Mark 8, and he wanted to keep it.

We plodded on, and I guess we got fairly close to the English coast. Unfortunately, we ran into the fog, and without any instruments, and precious little but a compass, I just ended up flying it into the sea.

 There was a terrific crash – the Wellington has a big belly, of course, and it took it. And when it was all over, four of us climbed out. Derrick Polley, Simpson, Mellon and I were the four who made it. Bottomley had gone back to get his little mascot out of the front turret, but the front turret had snapped when we hit the water. I pulled the release handle over the pilot’s cockpit, jumped out only to be pulled back again because I had forgotten to unhook the pipe that brings the oxygen to the oxygen mask. So I threw my helmet away, swam round to the left engine, put my foot up on the spinner, grabbed the prop and climbed up onto the wing. By this time, Simpson, who had his wits about him, had released the large round dinghy, which was stowed in the wing, and the four of us climbed in. The rear gunner appeared to be jammed in his turret, and we couldn’t get him out. So we just drifted away, watching the Wellington sink. “

Shot down after bombing target Mannheim 6.8.41; ditched in North Sea; crew 4 POW and 2 killed:
PILOT Sgt Ian Millet RAFVR POW. PoW No. 106, PoW Camps – Dulag Luft, Stalags IIIE, Luft III, Luft VI and 357. Promoted to W/O while a PoW.
2nd Pilot Sgt Richard Grosvenor Morgan RNZAF POW.
NAV Sgt Derek Polly RAFVR POW. PoW No.104. PoW Camps – Dulag Luft, Stalags IIIE, Luft III, Luft VI, and 357.
W/AG Sgt Cliff Simpson RAFVR POW. PoW No. 150. PoW camps – Dulag Luft, Stalags IIIE, Luft VI and 357.
F/Gnr Sgt Jack Wilson Bottomley  RAFVR (+) Commemorated on Panel 40 Runnymede Memorial.
R/Gnr William Neill Kennedy Mellon RAFVR (+) Commemorated on Panel 48 Runnymede Memorial.

letter

“Failed To Return” letter from W/C Cyril Kay to Ian’s mother. – Reproduced from Into The Drink; By A Member Of The Goldfish Club Ian A Millett; The Memoirs Of A Royal Air Force Bomber Pilot 1940-1945

After 6 days in their inflatable dinghy, Ian and the other three survivors, Simpson, Polly and Morgan, were picked up by a German flak ship, and transferred to first the German navy, and then to the Luftwaffe, for interrogation.

Ian spent the rest of the war as a POW, promoted to Warrant Officer while still a prisoner.

After the war, Ian and his wife moved to California. Ian passed away on December 10, 2010 at 90 years of age.

Reference and excerpts from: “Into The Drink; By A Member Of The Goldfish Club, Ian A Millett; The Memoirs Of A Royal Air Force Bomber Pilot 1940-1945”, Publisher: Ian A. Millett (2000).
Special thanks to Mrs Ursula Millett for permission to reproduce these extracts and photo.

2 thoughts on “Leopold Ian Adrian Millett, RAFVR (1164817), 2nd Pilot / Pilot. 1941

  1. Andrew Polley

    My father was Deryck Polley and Ian Millett was corresponding with him in the late ’90’s and early noughties. My father died in 2001 however. We received a copy of Ian’s book at the time and he also wrote a fantastic letter to my mother after hearing news of my fathers death. As I have always understood it, the night of 6/7 August was a ‘volunteer’ scratch crew to make up the numbers for that night, after recent losses….They both became companions as POW’s too, along with Clifford Simpson and others… I would love to learn more of these times…

    Many thanks

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    Reply
  2. Chris Newey

    Hi Andrew, Thanks for leaving a message, and sorry for mis-spelling your Dad’s name! Great to make contact with family of a crew member. I have never met Ian, and only have his book to go by, plus whatever I could glean from the ORB’s. I guess you will have seen the photos on the Feltwell site (http://www.feltwell.net/raffeltwell/75p5_r1648aak.htm), including one from Stalag IIIE, which appear to have come from Cliff Simpson. And I guess you know that Ian’s wife Ursula is still living in California – she may have more of Ian’s photos and mementos? Cheers, Chris

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