C.L. Gilbert crew 29.9.40

The following information has been very kindly donated to me by Noel Baker. Noel has his own website with a much more detailed history of Colin’s flying career, which can be seen here. Simply because of the scope of this blog, I am just presenting his history relative to his time with 75(NZ) Squadron RAF.

The information drawn on to assemble these pages was derived from 75 Squadron Operations Record Book, War Cabinet Weekly Resume, and “New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force”, part of the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-45.

All missions listed in the Squadron’s Operations Record Book of the relevant dates are included here in order to portray the level of activity the Squadron was engaged in.

The New Zealand government had ordered 30 Vickers Wellington bombers “of the latest pattern” in 1937. RNZAF aircrew were sent to England to train on the new aircraft based at RAF Marham. The crews were to fly the aircraft to New Zealand in batches of six. RAF official records name this group of airman as ‘The New Zealand Squadron’, and as a result of Britain declaring war against Germany, the New Zealand Government made the airman and the aircraft available to the RAF to help with the new war effort. A decision by the British Air Ministry to give them the defunct No. 75 Squadron number plate on 4 April 1940 meant that the nucleus of The New Zealand Squadron personnel remained together as an operational unit of the RAF.

1940 September 21st
Colin was posted to 75 (NZ) Squadron at Feltwell from No.15 Operational Training Unit.
His posting coincided with a change in his status:
On 5th February 1941 an entry was made in the Squadrons Operations Record Book stating that:
Flt/Lt Gilbert promoted to the War Substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant w.e.f. 21.9.40, Auth’y: Extract from London Gazette Serial No.35057 dated 28.1.41”.

1940 September 29th
Ten Squadron Wellingtons carried out an overnight attack on target ‘L.86’, Bitterfeld, Osnabruck and Leipzig. Wellington R3168 captained by P/O/Denton, crashed in Devon due to shortage of fuel, the rear gunner dying in the crash. There was a heavy concentration of A.A. fire in all districts. 5 tenth to 10/10 tenths cloud was experienced over whole of journey. Colin and crew were in Wellington P.9292 for 7 hours; destined to attack targets L.86, M.480 and/or Osnabruck.
Second pilot: P/O N.J.Edwards
Navigator: Sgt. M.G.Harris
Wireless Operator: Sgt. F.Haigh
Front Gunner: Sgt. Broad
Rear Gunner: Sgt F.J.Read

1940 September 23rd/24th
Ten Squadron Wellingtons carried out attacks, overnight, on Berlin, Le Havre or Hamburg.

1940 September 26th/27th
Eight Squadron aircraft carried out bombing attacks on Le Havre.

1940 September 29th/30th
Ten Squadron Wellingtons carried out an overnight attack on target ‘L.86’, Bitterfeld, Osbabruck and Leipzig. Wellington R3168 captained by P/O/Denton, crashed.

1940 October 2/3rd
Colin, captained Wellington R.3297 one of 10 Wellingtons from the Squadron detailed to attack target ‘A.69’; Wellingtons are known to have attacked 9 targets in Germany, Eindhoven airfield and/or the channel ports. Colin took off at 21.25 and returned a little short of five hours later at 02.25.
Fairly accurate heavy and light flak was experienced in all target areas, Weather very poor, heavy cloud over whole of journey. Colin was unable to attack ther target because of the poor visibility. Navigation was mainly by D/R with astro in one instance.
David Duxbury states that Colin’s crew on this occasion were:
Second pilot: P/O N.J.Edwards
Navigator: Sgt. M.G.Harris
Wireless Operator: Sgt. F.Haigh
Front Gunner: Sgt. Broad
Rear Gunner: P/O/ M.J.Miller stood in for Colin’s usual rear gunner Sgt F.J.Read

1940 October 8th/9th
With his crew Colin took off in Wellington T.2550 at 18.45, one of 10 Wellingtons from the Squadron flying over Germany that night, Colin to attack target which included docks, a river also featured, inside Germany. 15 minutes short of 6 hours later they landed back at Feltwell.
Second pilot: P/O N.J.Edwards
Navigator: Sgt. M.G.Harris
Wireless Operator: Sgt. F.Haigh
Front Gunner: Sgt. Broad
Rear Gunner: Sgt F.J.Read

The most likely target being the Bremen shipyards, where the Battleship ‘Tirpitz’ was, as it is the main target mentioned for 8/9 October. Colin reported that his a bombs fell short of target, in docks on Northern side of the River. Observations of bombs uncertain because of heavy A.A. fire,

1940 October 10/11thth
75 Squadron took part in an operation to attack Gelsenkirchen which was a centre of coal production and more importantly, oil. The Krupps armaments factory was in the same area which includes the city of Essen.
The War Cabinet Resume for week 58 states that the Krupp works at Essen were attacked on three nights of the week, the attack, on the night of the 9th/10th, being particularly heavy and effective. Fires were started, which were burning fiercely when the aircraft left the area.

1940 October 14/15th
Colin and Crew, along with 8 other crews were on operations. Colin took off in Wellington L7797 at 19.00 to successfully attack target ‘A.76’. He landed back at base at 02.15 having been in the air for 7 hours 15 minutes. Given the flying time their target must have been well inside Germany, possibly Berlin. Colin’s crew were again:
Second pilot: P/O N.J.Edwards
Navigator: Sgt. M.G.Harris
Wireless Operator: Sgt. F.Haigh
Front Gunner: Sgt. Broad
Rear Gunner: Sgt F.J.Read

Heavy cloud was experienced to English coast on journey out, but the weather from then on was clear. Very little A.A. fire was experienced. Colin reported the that his bombs fell across the length of the target from South to North starting three fires burning with orange/red flames. Fires suddenly spread with great rapidity and a tremendous explosion followed almost immediately. Showers of sparks were thrown high into the air; orange fire raging as target was left. Navigation was by D/R, Q.D.M.s and Astro.

1940 October 16/17th
Nine of the Squadrons Wellingtons, Colin not among them, were over Germany to attack target ‘D3’, probably the port of Keil, but Bremen and Merseburg were also attacked that night.

1940 October 21st/22nd
Nine Squadron Wellingtons, Colin in Wellington Mk.1C AA-A, serial T.2820, set out on a 6 hour flight to attack the port and shipyard at Hamburg which, at that time, contained the German battleship ‘Bismark’. The target was left with12 fires, 8 of which were ‘large’.
David Duxbury says that Colin’s crew were:
Second pilot: P/O N.J.Edwards
Navigator: Sgt. M.G.Harris
Wireless Operator: Sgt. F.Haigh
Front Gunner: Sgt. Broad
Rear Gunner: Sgt F.J.Read

CB.349 (Wellington R.3158 captained by F/O Elliott) crashed and was burnt out at Manston, the crew escaping without injury. The aircraft captained by F/Lt. Gilbert lost port airscrew on return journey and crashed (undercarriage retracted on Methwold Fen) while trying to effect forced landing in fog. The crew suffered slight injury. Intense and accurate heavy A.A. fire was experienced. Weather was hazy over target area, and heavy cloud was encountered on return journey. Colin reported that results were not observed due to glare from the searchlights. Three 500 lb bombs dropped to facilitate escape from searchlights and A.A. Inceduries retained and dropped on railway sidings N.W. of Hamburg. Fire resulted with a few small explosions.Navigation was by D/R, Astro, and Q.D.M.s.

Wellington T2820 sported nose art, a depiction of 'J. Wellington Wimpey' the hamburger loving character from the Pop-eye cartoons.
Wellington T2820 sported nose art, a depiction of ‘J. Wellington
Wimpey’ the hamburger loving character from the Pop-eye cartoons.

These photographs of a stricken Wellington are two of 5 photographs handed down through the family, they must therefore be significant. However, Colin’s aircraft, Wellington T.2820, carried the Squadron code AA-A, wheres this Wellington is coded AA-B. The image does illustrates the likely outcome of the crash Colin and his crew survived.

crash1

crash2

Colin referred to this event in a letter to his parents which was ‘quoted’ in the Adelaide Advertiser on June 17th 1941. It should be born in mind, however, that wartime newspaper reports were often heavily influenced by the censor, possibly the propagandist, and the press:
Mentioned in despatches Squadron-Leader Gilbert has been piloting Vickers-Wellington bombers, and took part in the Norwegian Campaign, and has also made a number of flights over Germany. Recently he was mentioned in despatches for “high example of courage, devotion to duty, airmanship and coolness in the face of danger” in operations concerned with a night bombing flight over enemy territory. The operations referred to were described in a letter to his parents, in which he says:-
“We took off after dark and made for the ‘other side.’ We duly arrived over the target, and after a period of searching, identified the place. Just as we were about to drop the first bomb, we ran into “merry Hell”. There seemed to be literally hundreds of searchlights, all of them right on us, and the most terrific and accurate A.A. fire I have seen. We were hit by the first salvo, and we went down and down, completely blinded by the searchlights. In desperation, I dropped my bombs, and was able to regain control. We then limped home.
Just off the English coast we ran into shocking weather. The port engine burst into flames, and by using an automatic fire extinguisher I confined the fire to the engine. The next shock was when the ‘prop’ began to wobble and finally fell off, taking the front of the engine with it. I could not maintain height with one engine owing to our damaged condition. There was a thick fog, and we went down until the altimeter showed ‘0.’ Suddenly two trees loomed up in front … and then came a splintering crash. I was the only casualty, the rest of the crew having only bruises and slight cuts.”
Squadron-Leader Gilbert concludes the description in a typically casual way. “I was carried off to sick quarters,” he says, “patched up and put to bed. The next morning I had an X-ray taken to verify that no bones were broken, and then got a lift home.

A telegram was sent to Daphne, Colin’s wife, at her grandfather’s home in Cornwall:

telegram

Colin’s crew on the 21/22 October were:
Second pilot: P/O N.J.Edwards
Navigator: Sgt. M.G.Harris
Wireless Operator: Sgt. F.Haigh
Front Gunner: Sgt. Broad
Rear Gunner: Sgt F.J.Read

Colin’s usual 2nd pilot, P/O Norman Edwards, was posted from No. 15 O.T.U. to 75 Squadron about the same time as Colin. P/O Edwards was killed over Germany nearly a year later, 4 days after his brother was killed.

The fate of the other aircraft to crash, and to burn out on Manston airfield, was Wellington Serial R.3158. Their experience is related in the book ‘Forever Strong’ by Norman Franks. Curiously the book incorrectly identifies Colin Gilbert as the captain of that aircraft, the captain was Flying Officer R.P.Elliott.

As a result of injuries received Colin was stood down until 6th December 1940; however his crew was flying again, temporarily with P/O E.B.R.Lockwood, from 14th November 1940.

1940 October 23rd
Five aircraft were sent out to search for P/O Sanderson and crew who had come down in the sea, but to no avail. They were not on the operation

That evening five 75 Squadron Wellingtons were among 23 Wellingtons flying into Germany that night, 12 to bomb Berelin and 11 to bomb Emden.

1940 October 25/26th
Nine 75 Squadron Wellingtons on overnight operation to attack target ‘B.8’, which could have been either a German oil installation or harbour.

1940 October 28/29th
Ten of the Squadron’s Wellingtons in the air overnight to attack target D.4, and others, in Germany.

1940 October 30th
Due to the difficulty of identifying and accurately targeting specific objectives the RAF is issued a directive sanctioning ‘Area Bombing’.

1940 November 6th
Two Squadron aircraft despatched in the small hours to bomb target G.30. 1940 November 8/9th
Eight of the Squadron aircraft on an overnight raid to bomb target M.487 etc.

1940 November 10/11th
Eight Squadron Wellingtons on an overnight raid to attack Gelsenkirchen.

1940 November 12/13th
Seven Squadron Wellington again on overnight attack, target almost certainly Gelsenkirchen.

1940 November 14/15th
Nine Squadron aircraft on an overnight mission to attack Berlin; Soesterburg Aerodrome or Schipol Aerodrome, both in Holland.

1940 November 16/17th
Nine Squadron Wellingtons on overnight mission to bomb Hamberg. One hundred and thirty bombers were sent as a response to the devastating destruction wrought on Coventry that commenced on the night of November 14th.

1940 November 23/24th
Eleven Squadron Wellingtons on an overnight bombing mission to attack Berlin, Cologne, Potsdam Station or the Aerodrome at Koln. One aircraft is listed with neither a take-off or landing time and no explanation given, perhaps it didn’t return; or it may have been declared unserviceable.

1940 November 26/27th
Ten Squadron Wellingtons on an overnight mission to attack target ‘M.501’, ‘B.51’ and/or Berlin.

1940 November 29/30th
Six Squadron aircraft on a late evening mission to bomb attack Bremen or Cologne.

1940 December 6/7th
Colin and crew back on operations flying Wellington T2549. They took off at 21.00 to attack Area 1, and bombed Calais, landing back at Feltwell at 02.00. The primary target was most probably Dusseldorf.
David Duxbury says that Colin’s crew were again:
Second pilot: P/O N.J.Edwards
Navigator: Sgt. M.G.Harris
Wireless Operator: Sgt. F.Haigh
Front Gunner: Sgt. Broad
Rear Gunner: Sgt F.J.Read

1940 December 9/10th
Colin and crew set off at 16.45 in Wellington T2547 to bomb target ‘CC.26’, most probably Bremen, landing back at Feltwell at 23.05. His crew were the usual men:
Second pilot: P/O N.J.Edwards
Navigator: Sgt. M.G.Harris
Wireless Operator: Sgt. F.Haigh
Front Gunner: Sgt. Broad
Rear Gunner: Sgt F.J.Read

Eight Wellington aircraft of this unit were detailed to carry out individual bombing attacks against above target. Results were not observed owing to searchlight and light flak activity, but one fire was seen on the N.W. corner of inner basin at Calais. Many dummy flare paths were seen. The blackout in Paris and suburbs was very poor.Intense A.A. fire was experienced in parts of target areas. Intense and accurate searchlight activity encountered in parts of the route. A number of enemy aircraft were seen but no attacks made. Heavy cloud with icing conditions, was experienced in some parts of target areas.

1940 December 11/12th
Five Wellingtons from the Squadron set out to attack Boulogne and Mannheim.Some heavy A.A. Fire was experienced en route but there was very little over the target areas. Slight searchlight activity was experienced over Boulogne and Calais, but they were ineffective over Mannheim due to cloud. Ten-tenths cloud, with icing conditions, were experienced over Mannheim.

1940 December 13/14th
Eight Wellingtons of this unit were detailed to carry out individual attacks on target N.62 (Bremen or Keil). Fairly heavy and accurate A.A. fire was experienced over target areas, but there was very little activity elsewhere. Searchlights were ineffective over target area due to cloud, but many, which were very effective, were experienced over Amsterdam. Heavy cloud was experienced over almost whole of route and in target areas.
One of these aircraft, Colin and crew in Wellington T2547, took off at 16.45. They landed back at Feltwell at 21.45, 5 hours later.

1940 December 22nd/23rd
Colin and crew in Wellington T2835 took off at 16.45 to attack target D55, but returned at 21.40, with bomb load still on board having failed to identify the target. Sergeant Chuter and crew failed to return.

It has not been possible to identify the target Colin Was destined to attack is unclear but possibly Rheims aerodrome. Colin’s crew had a substitute member for this flight in Flight Lieutenant McGrath:
Second pilot: P/O F.A.Andrews **
Navigator: Sgt. M.G.Harris
Wireless Operator: Sgt. F.Haigh
Front Gunner: Sgt. Broad
Rear Gunner: F/L McGrath

The other photograph’s the family possess from Colin’s flying days all date from his time with 75 Squadron. Two of them are posed alongside the battle scarred Wellington AA-C. The serial number beginning with ‘T2’ and ending with ‘5’, together with its Squadron code, suggests that it is Wellington MK1.C serial T2835, the aircraft Colin had captained on 22/23rd December, his last sortie with 75 Squadron.

David Duxbury, quoting 75 Squadron Operations Record Book says Wellington T2835 arrived at 75 Sqn a couple of weeks before, on 10/12/40 from 8 MU, Little Rissington, and seems to have led a charmed life with 75, not being sent away till 1/11/41 when it was sent to the BAT Flight at Mildenhall.

Flight Lieutenant Colin Gilbert, December 1940.
Flight Lieutenant Colin Gilbert, December 1940.
Colin and crew
Colin and crew

** Frank Andrews went onto play an important role in the ongoing life of 75(NZ) Squadron. By June 1941 he had completed a tour of 30 hostile operations, and was posted to an Operational Training Unit. By April 1943 Frank Andrews, now Squadron Leader, was back with 75(NZ) Squadron in the role of Flight Commander; by which time they were operating Stirling Bombers. He was awarded the D.F.C. on 9th July 1943.

1940 December 28th
On 5th February 1941 an entry was made in the Squadrons Operations Record Book stating that:
F/Lt. C.L.Gilbert posted to R.A.F. Station, Feltwell, w.e.f, 28.11.40 Auth’y: 3 Group 3G/6601/3 dated 20.1.41.”
In effect he was posted to the Station that he was already stationed at when with 75 Squadron, which poses a mystery. Presumably this will be made clear when His Service Record becomes available. Another entry made on the same date records that “Flt/Lt Gilbert promoted to the War Substantive rank of Flight Lieutenant w.e.f. 21.9.40, Auth’y:”

Extract from London Gazette Serial No.35057 dated 28.1.41” 75 Squadron Operations Record Book

A well known photograph belonging to the Imperial War Museum collection depicts a group of airmen striding past the camera led by an officer in pale overalls; the caption states that it was taken in 1940/1 on the eve of a raid on Hamburg. When compared with the 460 Squadron cartoon of Colin and a school photograph, the likeness to Colin is striking.

Aircrews of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF walking past a Vickers Wellington Mark I at Feltwell, Norfolk, before a night raid to Hamburg, Germany. © IWM (Ch2671)
Aircrews of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF walking past a Vickers Wellington Mark I at Feltwell, Norfolk, before a night raid to Hamburg, Germany. © IWM (Ch2671)

The staging of this scene, from the RAF viewpoint, would have been delegated to an officer of sufficient rank to recruit participants, yet not a rank for whom the task would have been inappropriate. A ‘Flight Lieutenant’ would seem to be the appropriate choice. Colin was a Flight Lieutenant at the time. So could this be Colin?

Portraits of Colin, l. to r. Age 17, Age 23, Age 22, Age 22. All but the second right are confirmed images of Colin.
Portraits of Colin, l. to r. Age 17, Age 23, Age 22, Age 22. All but the second right are confirmed images of Colin.

The semi-profile head and shoulders of the central figure was enlarged and compared with known images of Colin. The photograph of Colin as a 17 year-old shows a similar aspect of his face; it reveals a striking similarity of deep set eyes, slightly prominent ears, jaw-line and especially his obvious nose. All of these characteristics are to be seen in the sketch of Colin from his days with 460 Squadron RAAF. The familly’s collection full face photograph dating from his time with 75 Squadron replicates his moustache. It seems very likely that the photograph’s central figure, in pale overalls, is Flight Lieutenant Colin Gilbert.

1941 June 13th
Colin was promoted from Flight Lieutenant to Acting Squadron Leader, thought to have been the youngest Squadron Leader in the Commonwealth forces at the time.
Colin and Daphne’s son, David, was born on this day.

Four days later, on 17th June, The Adelaide Advertiser reported:
Friday, the 13th of June was not unlucky for Colin Gilbert, a 23 year-old South Australian Airman attached to the RAF. On that day he became a father and was also promoted to the rank of squadron-leader. News of the arrival of their first grandchild and of their son’s promotion was received by cable yesterday by Squadron-Leader Gilbert’s parents, Mr and Mrs. L Gilbert, of Clifton street, Prospect. A P.A.C. old scholar, a member of the college eight for three years, and a former amateur cycling champion of S.A., Squadron-Leader Gilbert joined the R.A.A.F. in January, 1936, at the age of 18, and was posted to Point Cook for training. In December of the same year he received his “wings” and at that time was the youngest pilot officer in the British Empire. In January, 1937, he was selected to go to England to transfer to the R.A.F., and on arrival there soon obtained further promotion in rank. Last year he married Miss Daphne Corbett, daughter of Captain Corbett, of H.M.S. Cornwall”.

Adelaide Advertiser 17th June 1941 [This event occurred on 23rd October 1940 and is recorded above.]

1941 December 1st
Acting Squadron Leader Colin Gilbert promoted full Squadron Leader. This probably occurred at the same time as he took up his new posting with 460 R.A.A.F. Squadron.

continue Colin’s story here

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