My ‘Second Dicky’ trip in a Lancaster Bomber 1943
Every pilot had to do their “second dicky” where they stand as a passenger behind an experienced pilot and watch what happens on a real operation. My ‘second dicky’ was with Arch Cambell in a raid on the Naval Base at Kiel. Here is that story ….
My ‘second dicky’ to Kiel
I arrived on the squadron with only sixteen hours flying experience on Lancasters, ten of them being solo, so, wisely, we were given some further training before being made operational. We did a day and a night cross-country and a fighter affiliation exercise before I had my first trip as a ‘second pilot’ (really a passenger) on a raid on Kiel
Arch Campbell (1)
was the pilot and I stood close to him throughout the trip trying not to get in the way of the Flight Engineer. I remember that we had to fly out over the North Sea under 500 feet to avoid the German radar
and then climb quickly to cross the Dutch Coast at a reasonable height so as to avoid the light flak
. It was quite exciting to see all these planes low down over the water some lower than others, as the evening closed in.
We lost sight of them once darkness fell by which time we were at height and saw them not again till we were over the target. Then, in the light of the searchlights, the fires and the exploding photo-flashes, they were all there, above, below and around, a milling throng all vectoring in on to the aiming point marked out by pathfinder flares on the Naval base below.
How there were not collisions or planes destroyed by bombs dropping from above one never knows; the fact is that, on every raid, these factors would have accounted for some losses but few survived to tell the tale. Suffice it to say that, on this occasion, we got through and dropped our bombs without incident and got safely back to base. Now I, as the pilot and captain of my own crew, knew something of what it was about and that experience was supposed to stand me in good stead. Later in my tour I took two other new captains on their ‘second dicky’ trips. Neither of them survived their subsequent tour of operations.
Early days on 460 Squadron
We were fortunate in that we arrived on the squadron just as the allied armies were consolidating their position on the French mainland and gearing themselves for the first great breakout at Falaise
. At this time Bomber Command was under the control of the Supreme Commander and was being used as a tactical rather than as a strategic weapon. Accordingly we were directed to raid the various French ports, Calais and Le Havre
, where German garrisons were still holding out.
We also raided troop concentrations in the field and dropped bombs on the cross channel guns at Cape Gris Nez. These were all relatively short, low-level raids (say, from 3,000 to 10,000 feet and were often conducted in murky weather where the target was not easily identifiable. Some of them were controlled by Master Bombers and, on two occasions, he made us take our bombs home because he could not be sure of the aiming point.
Just before I got there, the squadron had participated in a raid on troop positions and bombs had been dropped amongst the Canadians. Various explanations have since been given for the mistake but, whether or not the Command was culpable, stringent measures were taken to make us realise the magnitude of our error. All crews that participated in the raid were excluded from further daylight raids and confined to night operations and every Squadron Commander whose squadron was involved, lost his command. I think my first assembly in the briefing hut was when the whole squadron was gathered to hear Wing Commander Douglas (2)
make an emotional farewell address. Everyone felt extremely sorry for him but it was the old principle of the ‘Captain being responsible for his ship’ being worked out. As I said earlier, the RAAF found another command for him once the heat had died down and he was in charge of 467 Squadron
when he was killed in a night attack on the Dortmund-Ems Canal
on the 7th/8th February 1945.
After he left, Tony Willis (3) assumed temporary command of the squadron until the arrival of Keith Parsons (5) from Australia. On one occasion, during this series of raids, we were diverted to Spilsby the home of 207 Squadron in 5 Group because Binbrook was fogged in. Lyall Notley (4) had received the base plate of a 1000lb. bomb back from the ground and into his port inner engine (we were bombing from 3000 feet), and, though he got home to Spilsby, his plane could not be flown back to Binbrook the next day. I was detailed to bring him and his crew home.
Binbrook was still fogged in next day and we had to grope around in the murk looking for the ground. On two attempts I missed lining up with the runway and had to go round again. On the third as I was on the approach, peering ahead looking for the start of the runway, I suddenly saw it but over to my right.
By this time I was determined not to go round again, so, on the approach, at about 500 feet, I put the plane into a steep turn to the right and then quickly again straightened up to land on the runway. In the event, I didn’t judge it quite right and landed on the grass at the right hand side of the runway. Fortunately the ground was firm and I got away with it. Tony Willis who was watching from the Control Tower
was horrified when he saw this great bomber doing steep turns in the funnels and called for a report on the flying abilities of the pilot. The report, whatever it was, must have satisfied him because he said nothing to me at the time and only confided that he had taken such action when I was with him at High Wycombe
many months later. “Lucky you were in a Lancaster”, he said, “You would not have gotten away with it in any other plane.”
Lyall Notley who was strangely quiet throughout also made no subsequent comment. His was the plane on the Kiel raid that was lower over the water than any other and drew comment from Arch Campbell’s crew.
(1) F/O A.W.Campbell, D.F.C., Aus 410046
(2) W/C J.K.Douglas, D.F.C.,A.F.C. Aus 403564, K.I.A. 8/2/45
(3) W/C A.V.Willis, D.F.C., D.F.M., Aus 402940
(4) F/O L.J. Notley, D.F.C., Aus 421027
(5) A/Cdr K.R.J. Parsons, D.S.O., D.F.C., Aus 0337