Many thanks to Chris for this photograph from ‘Dying for Democracy’, written and self published by Grant Russell, who was the 75(NZ) Squadron Bombing Leader from March 44 to May 45. In this role, which seems more of a training and admin role, he would occasionally fly op’s as fill-in for ill or absent A/B’s. During his stay with the Squadron he flew with amongst others, the Stevenson and Zinzan crew. He also flew a number of times with the Thomson crew – Don Thomson was his old Pilot from OTU and 218 Squadron, who ended up at 75(NZ) on his second tour.
I must confess, I was quite taken a back and excited when I saw the photograph, titled as it is ‘Some of the Bomb Aimers from 75(NZ) Squadron – especially as I instantly saw the grinning face of Jimmy Wood (Russell Bank’s A/B)………But no, sadly my Father is not in it.
As a self published book, this is a very scarce publication. Chris is currently reading through it, but he passed on the following extract that has a direct relevance to me;
‘Flight No 35. Wanne-Einkle, Germany. Date 16/1/1945.
Mk III Lancaster NoPB427.
Pilot: F/O Zinzan.
Load carried: 1 x 4,0001b H.C. bomb, plus 12 x 500 M64 bombs, plus 4 x 2501b G.P. bombs1. Total weight = 11,466 lbs or 5.12 tons.
Distance flown: 1,055 miles.
Time airborne: 5hrs l0min.
This was a night flight and once again against Germany. Over the target, things became exciting and exasperating as I unhappily watched a Lancaster at our level, and only a few yards in front, explode into many small pieces. Very unnerving. The Germans had assessed our level of flying and great masses of enemy shells were exploding all around us. But it was always like that at every target. Pilots had to have wonderful nerve control to be able to fly their aircraft straight and level under such conditions, yet they all did. It was absolutely necessary, otherwise bomb aimers would never be able to take aim at the target. At each pre-flight briefing, a certain point of a broad target was invariably indicated as the aiming point and that aiming point was usually a very industrious war producing business.
We were coned by search lights just as we cleared the target but my very experienced pilot quickly whisked us out of that by dropping the nose of our kite, diving downwards while banking steeply to port and cleared the cone of search lights. We then swooped smartly up to 20,000ft again from which height I had just dropped our load. Our considerably reduced all up weight rendered our kite readily manoeuvrable.
Jerry must have been as thick as two planks not to have got the British message by now. But we would keep on and on until he really and fully understood.
This night was my pilot’s second consecutive almost all-night flight, all of which was of course under high tension. Coming in to land, he made a slight miscalculation. He levelled out while the aircraft was still some 15 or so feet above the runway, causing the kite to drop with a considerable thump. Our heavy landing was at 15 minutes after four in the morning. No one was actually hurt. An inspection in daylight revealed no damage to the aircraft. The strong construction only served to heighten my admiration of Lancasters. Further proof that it was still in good shape was illustrated by the fact that it did another all-night trip the very next night with another crew and returned safely to Base’.
Grant was one of a number of Air Bombers that flew with Vernon and the boys, before my Father returned to Mepal to become their new, regular Air Bomber. I can’t help but smile at Grant’s description of Vernon’s landing – Ken Mesure was lost from the crew after their first Op owing to a heavy landing and Dougie Williamson has also recounted to me a particularly ‘acrobatic’ landing by Vernon on another occasion. Despite these recorded mishaps, Vernon and his original crew completed their 1st tour before the end of the war, including 21 with Dad as Air Bomber, so perhaps, it suggests that style didn’t count for much after being in the air for over 5 hours.
Now of course, this photograph, which until yesterday I didn’t even know the existence of, means that there could potentially be more equivalent group photographs of this kind, collecting together the different aircrew trades of the Squadron. Individuals present in the picture would suggest March 1945 and possibly/ perhaps the same time when the full Squadron and Flight group photographs were taken – though, in the absence of a concrete date for ANY of these photographs this is conjecture.
Please please, please, if anybody has an original copy of this group photograph, or indeed one of possibly the equivalent for another trade group taken at the same time, I would love to have a copy to add to the ‘Group Photographs’ section of the blog.