Tag Archives: bombed from above

Munster Viaduct 21st March, 1945 – mea culpa

I have been mulling over my previous post regarding the fateful events of the Munster raid for the Squadron and have, until I feel I have a better and, it would suggest through subsequent research, a much bigger picture of the circumstances, decided to remove the original post.

In hindsight, I gathered together what information I had and probably tried to create too big a picture with it. In doing so, I think by inference, I suggested positions and actions that were too heavily based on conjecture and not enough on definitive information.

Clearly, what happened on the 21st of March were based on a series of circumstances, the result of which led to the loss of 3 of the Squadrons aircraft and the lives of 12 airmen. The true story may never be known, but the effort needs to be made to try.

If anybody has any information relating to this raid, including identification of the other Squadrons that flew on the Op and in particular any crew comments from the respective Form 541’s I would be very interested in seeing them – I already have information from 115, 514 and 218 Squadrons respectively, but I think more Squadrons might have taken part – I am keen to try to understand from the comments in these logs any additional information relating to the timing or position of 75(NZ) under the main stream.

I would also be grateful for any general information on bombing tactics, regarding formation and structure to a raid. I believe 75(NZ) lead the Op that day, but would like to understand if this is correct, what implications it might have had regarding bombing height and target marking.

Finally, despite the general and ongoing request for logbooks, I would be very interested to see any logbooks that are from individuals that flew on this Op – particularly to try to identify the G-H leaders and gather any other notes or observations about the raid.

many thanks in advance

Simon

Munster Viaduct 21st March, 1945 – The final operational losses for 75(NZ) Squadron

IMG_5223 cropped to munster

The route for the Munster Viaduct Op
courtesy Steve Smith

My previous post about Robert William ‘Boby’ West, Wireless Operator with the Barr crew, one of 3 Lancasters to be lost from 75(NZ) Squadron, on the Munster Viaduct Op of the 21st March 1945, started a bit of a research activity, to try to understand what happened that afternoon.

I must confess, when normally doing a post, I will assemble a starting crew list and then trawl through Form 541 of the Squadron Operational Record Books to assemble a raid history for the crew. Sadly, in many cases, the terminating Op of this list results in the loss of that crew – the word ‘missing‘, instead of a down time is enough of an epitaph for the boys as far as Form 541 is concerned.

In email correspondence with Malcolm, Margaret’s husband, he alluded to a question over the reason for the loss of Boby and his crew mates and it perhaps slightly shames to me to admit that it was only at this point that I actually began to read the notes for this Op – expanding my attention beyond the word ‘missing’

In advance of the rest of this post, I’d like to thank Margaret and Malcolm, Kevin and especially Steve for helping me piece together information that sheds a few more perhaps fractured beams of light on the events of that March afternoon.

I would also like to stress that in no way does the following post look to apportion responsibility for what happened that day – there are too many gaps to be definitive, I have simply tried to gather information and present it in a logical order. Having said this, this is perhaps the most difficult post I have put together, including those dealing with the loss of my father.

Form 541 of 75(NZ) Squadron contains a consistent series of observations regarding the events of that afternoon………

P/O John O’Malley RA510 AA-E – ‘Bombing was upset when bombs from another formation fell through – it appeared as though the leader overshot the tracking pulse.’

S/L Jack Wright EF190 AA-F‘Converging aircraft dropped bombs from above us. Attempted to swing off in effort to avoid bombs.’

F/O Trevor Cox PB418 AA-C – ‘Should have followed JN-Z but as he was weaving considerably it was found better to go ahead and bomb on AA-F, following was very difficult owing to the fact that another squadron was bombing from height up.’

W/O Fred Bader LM276 AA-S‘Impossible to assess owing to bombs falling from above and need for evasive action.’

F/S Tom Good HK561 AA-Y‘Bombed in steep turn when cookie fell 10 feet to port.’

F/L Russ Banks RF129 AA-M‘Leader overshot target and bought Squadron over other Aiming Point where bombs were falling all around aircraft and had to S turn to come over Aiming Point.’

F/O Duncan Stevenson PP663 JN-Z‘G.H. went u/s just before the final run to target. Attempted a visual run on the railway lines east of the viaduct, but bomb aimer had not time to reset the time interval after swerving to avoid bombs from aircraft from another Squadron at about 20,000 ft. ‘

F/O Les Sinclair NG322 JN-F‘Leader lost when formation was broken by bombs falling from above.’

F/O Wi Rangiuaia HK563 JN-W‘Formation broken by falling aircraft and bombs from aircraft above.’

F/L Bill Alexander HK593 JN-X‘Found difficulty in following original leader JN-F as he was constantly weaving and forced out of formation by slip -stream and on final run up so connected with nearest available aircraft JN-D.’

Loss of G-H tracking
G-H was the final development of transmitter based navigation systems used by Bomber Command and it would appear, particularly 3 Group, to guide aircraft to a target and also to set and synchronise the release of bombs over the target. A ‘G-H Leader’ would bomb on a transmitted signal from the UK, with usually another 2 aircraft following in close formation would then release their bomb load at the same time. This process would then be repeated a number of times with the following aircraft and their respective G-H leaders.

RAF Waterbeach Station ORB Records“GH run was short by aircraft off track” 

No.3 Group ORB (Air25/54) – Weather Clear Good Vis. – ‘Although some good results were achieved this attack was a bit of a shambles. GH co-ordinates for the two aiming points were reversed and the main weight of the attack fell on the smaller of the two. Two aircraft were destroyed by flak and one by falling bombs.’

The G-H leaders, so far identified, for 75(NZ) on that Op were;
F/O Sinclair JN-F
F/O Eggleston AA-U
S/Ldr Wright  AA-F (G-H u/s)

Twenty one aircraft took off from Mepal – this would suggest based on 3 G-H leaders, that the aircraft were split into 3 groups of seven – the ‘uneven’ 7th, or 1st, being the G-H leader at the front of each group, the others in the group either flying in line or in a ‘v’, 3 aircraft on either side of the Leader. As noted in the comments by Chris, smaller figures would normally format behind a G-H Leader, so it strongly suggest that within the 21 aircraft, there were other, as yet unidentifed G-H Leaders

Sinclair’s and Egglestone’s comments are perhaps relevant based on this possible ordering;
F/O Les Sinclair NG322 JN-F‘Leader lost when formation was broken by bombs falling from above.’
F/O Val Egglestone PB427 AA-U‘Poor lead in and bombs appeared to fall south of Aiming Point.’

These comments seem to feel like a comment regarding another leading aircraft and by simple elimination, this suggests S/Ldr Wright (simply because at this point he is the only other identified G-H leader), may have been the LEAD, lead aircraft for the Squadron that day. The note that the G-H was u/s (unserviceable) adds a terrifying immanency to the events that were to unfold as the Squadron approached the target……

The note from No.3 Group ORB (Air25/54) –
GH co-ordinates for the two aiming points were reversed and the main weight of the attack fell on the smaller of the two.
perhaps suggests that the overshoot was a result of the G-H coordinates ‘swapping around’, thus causing the overshoot as a result. Though perhaps what is not clear is whether this affected all aircraft in the Op or just those of 75(NZ). Clearly, at the point the error was realised, action had to be taken to try to get the Squadron back on course, relative to the primary aiming point.

F/L Russ Banks RF129 AA-M‘Leader overshot target and bought Squadron over other Aiming Point where bombs were falling all around aircraft and had to S turn to come over Aiming Point.’

No.218 Squadron ORB (No.31 Base) F/Lt. Les Harlow DFC who flew a number of Base Leader operations makes an interesting comment – ‘Formation was fairly compact but stream ahead was well off track and the Base ahead was scattered.’

F/O Arthur ‘Tiny’ Humphries (Navigator NG449 AA-T – Jack Plummer crew)
“On this daylight raid to Munster things went reasonably well until we were almost coming up to the target, flying in formation. But something went wrong with the leading aircraft and we overshot the turning point and flew on for quite some distance. Then we turned onto the target but now on the wrong heading and in fact, under-flew another squadron bombing from above. At that stage the flak was very, very heavy. We didn’t get hit by falling bombs, although there were bombs falling all around us. We were hit by flak, in one engine which went on fire and another engine got hit on the other side.”
(page 156 ‘Forever Strong, The story of 75 Squadron RNZAF 1916-1990. Norman Franks, Random Century)

It would seem that 75(NZ) were due to bomb first – with this final error and desperate need for correction, the delay and advancing Squadrons meant the outcome was almost enevitable………

Bombed from above
No.195 Squadron ORB (No.31 Base) –
‘Some aircraft bombed from below our height at 18,000ft.’

Arthur Robson, Wireless Operator with Alfred Brown’s crew :-
“A bomb or bombs hit the front of the aircraft. One knocked the nose right off, taking (James) Wood with it as he huddled over his bomb sight. ‘The was a massive explosion and the Window the Flight Engineer was throwing out was whirling through the aircraft’. Robson had already seen what he thinks was the third 75 Lancaster going down – ‘the one in which they were all killed – It was all buckled up, hit right in the bloody middle’………..”
(page 494 ‘Night after Night – New Zealanders in Bomber Command, Max Lambert, Harper Collins)

Arthur’s description ‘hit in the bloody middle’ is ambiguous – though if applied to a hit by flak, the likelihood of seeing the aircraft ‘all buckled up’ is dubious – it would have almost certainly exploded if the strike was prior to the dropping of its payload. His description of the subsequent events in his own aircraft make it clear that a bomb strike from above in the center of a Lancaster- even without detonation –  would certainly have resulted in a catastrophic structural failiure.

The ensuing loads on the remaining airframe and the effects on the aircrew tend to suggest little chance of survival. Interestingly, the only body recovered was that of Alwyn Amos, the Rear Gunner. I do not know if he was found within wreckage or clear of wreckage, but it would suggest a pattern evidenced before regarding survivors in the Squadron, where the rear portion became detached and the occupant was able to exit the broken end (Jack Hayden, Roberts crew, Berlin Op – was sent to rear of a/c to check rear gunner after fighter attack. The aircraft then exploded and he fell out of the open end of the fuselage. John Gray, rear gunner with the McCartin crew, Homberg Op. The aircraft exploded and he came round in the detached rear portion of the fuselage).

I will observe before anybody else does that these 2 examples are both the result of explosions not falling bombs, however, I think I am trying to identify a structural failure (probably at the incomplete cross section at the mid upper turret) which might at least allow the back of a bomber, Stirling or Lancaster a separation from a much heavier mass within the rest of the aircraft.

The ensuing forces on the occupants of an aircraft in rapid decent would have made escape impossible. The final impact, if still with a full bomb load would have been utter.

The only losses on the Munster Op were the 3 Lancasters from Mepal.

They were the Squadron’s last operational losses of the war.

Ake Ake Kia Kaha