460 Squadron – “U” Uncle

Our First Operation was on “U” Uncle on 8th September 1944
There is a first time for everything and for me on 460 Squadron it was flying the Lancaster “U” Uncle on my first operation. This operation was on the German troop positions on the outskirts of Le Havre in France. Here is that story …


Introduction to 460 Squadron

460 Squadron was one of eighteen Australian Article XV Squadrons, set up under the Empire Air Training Scheme (the EATS), and that served with the Royal Air Force in the Air War of 1939 to 1945 against Germany and Italy. Of these eighteen squadrons, seven served at some time with Bomber Command and four of them, 460 in 1 Group, 463 and 467 in 5 Group and 466 in 4 Group, exclusively so.

From March 1942 till the end of the war these fought through the ‘heat and burden of the day’ (‘of the night’ would be more appropriate), particularly in the great offensives of 1943 and early 1944 against The Ruhr, Hamburg and Berlin, when ‘the levels of death and destruction’ (to quote Middlebrook and Everitt in ‘The War Diaries’), both in the air and on the ground, mounted dramatically.

My story deals with only a short phase in this total war which was the four months from the end of August  to the end of December in 1944. At this stage the allies had air supremacy over the Luftwaff, targets were attacked by day and by night and, though there were still losses, just as grievous for those who suffered and for those who mourned, they were not to be compared, in number, with those suffered in the years referred to above.

But, we were proud to have played our part in a great Command, however it might be denigrated by the revisionists who were not there; to have upheld the honour and reputation of a great Squadron; and to have been numbered amongst that splendid company of men who willingly went in jeopardy of their lives.

“U” Uncle – My first Lancaster

#1 – “U” Uncle Lancaster by Mike Garbett and Brian Goulding
Our First Operation was on “U” Uncle on 8th September 1944  PB 407 arrived on the squadron from 32 Maintenance Unit in August 1944 and I saw it shot down over Emmerich on the 7th October 1944. It received a direct hit from incendaries falling from above which set its right wing on fire and, as it went cart-wheeling down, we counted seven parachutes opening as the crew bailed out; all of them became Prisoners of War. Eric Greenacre was the pilot on this occasion. He was a Flight Lieutenant, on his second tour and this was their fourth operation. After the war Eric became a doctor and practiced as a GP in Bathurst until the early 1980s.He died at Manly in December 1986.
But the plane really belonged to Tony Willis who, at the time, was “B Flight” Commander. We all had planes which we considered our own and generally, when we flew on ‘ops’, we flew in our particular plane. Sometimes, however, the plane might be in for a service and we would be allocated another; sometimes, when we were not on the Battle Order, some other crew would take our plane.

Each aircraft had its own ground crew to look after it: usually four aircraftmen under the control of an NCO. These men were responsible for maintaining the plane in a serviceable condition. One was an Engine Fitter, another an Airframe fitter another a rigger and the NCO was probably a jack of all trades. Generally they acquired as much a proprietary interest in their plane as did the aircrew.

“U” Uncle’s ground crew were under the control of Flight Sergeant Harry Tickle, probably the most senior of the Australian N.C.O’s on the station. He was quite an identity and the stories which were told concerning him became legendary. Eventually he was to fly home to Australia in “G” George,the plane which is now in the Canberra War Museum.I can still recall the look on his face and the attitude of the other ground crew members on the morning of the 8th September 1944 as the tender disgorged our crew on the dispersal under the wing of “U” Uncle. We were to take this plane on our first operational flight – an early morning ‘milk run’ to Le Havre. To Harry Tickle and his men we were a ‘sprog’ crew, still wet behind the ears. In actual years we would have appeared to them as a bunch of boys. What perverse fate had entrusted their plane and the plane of a veteran flier like Tony Willis to a team such as this?

It was well known that the loss rate amongst crews during their first five ‘ops’ was higher than at any other time
during their tour. This was due to inexperience in many areas. The pilot might have only a little over ten hours flying time on the Lancaster; the other crew members are also just getting familiar with their equipment and their crew positions. None of them have any experience of battle conditions, of flying in a sky crowded with other aircraft to say nothing of enemy action: flak, searchlights, night-fighters.

David Sandell, a good friend of mine, was posted to 467 Squadron at Waddington, in 5 Group just weeks before I arrived at Binbrook. One of his earliest trips, his first as Captain with his own crew, was to Konigsburg in East Prussiaon 30th August 1944 – a target, at extreme range for a Lancaster, that was covered by low cloud when they got there which caused a twenty minute delay in opening the master bomber controlled attack. One hundred and eighty nine planes circling the target while German night- fighters sought them out. What a trip on which  to send a new crew! Fifteen planes were lost and David’s was one of them.

#4 – Stirlings www.anselm.edu 

We were to be part of a force of 333 aircraft predominantly Lancasters with some Mosquitoes and three Stirlings. This was to be the last occasion on which Stirlings were to carry out bombing operations. 460 was contributing 21 aircraft.

We took off soon after seven o’clock in driving rain and climbed to our cruising height of some 3,000 feet in cloud all the way. As we settled down on course to the south of England, I was unhappy about the conditions. There was nothing to be seen outside except the murk and I didn’t know what other aircraft might be groping their way through it close to us.
I climbed up a thousand or so feet but we were still in it. I decided then to come down and try to get under it. At 500 feet we were still in it. I crept lower and lower hoping for a break and conscious that I still had a hundred feet more than was shown on the altimeter to play with. Binbrook was a hundred feet above sea level and we always set our altimeters at zero on the tarmac before take off.
But at 300 feet there was no change and I felt that I was stretching my luck to go any lower so I climbed back to 3,000 feet and stayed there. This is another example of how inexperienced pilots can get into trouble. I was taking greater risks of collision with all my climbing and descending than I would by staying where I was.  Eventually the cloud dissipated in the south of England and steadily climbing to reach our bombing height of 6,000 feet we crossed the coast in clear air except that there was higher overcast and poorer visibility towards the ground.
#5 – Lancaster over Le Havre www.normandie.canalblog.com/ 

Our target was German troop positions on the outskirts of Le Havre. They were defending the port and were being gradually pushed back, by British and Canadian Divisions, towards the city, into which they eventually entered and managed to hold out for another three days.

When we arrived at 0815 we could see the markers which had been dropped by the Pathfinders burning on the ground. Jack Trist immediately began to give directions for the bombing run, I opened the bomb doors and we dropped our load of 13 thousand pounders and four five hundred pounders. The bombs had hardly gone when we heard the voice of the Master Bomber declaring that the visibility was too poor to continue the attack and ordering all aircraft to take their bombs home.
#6 – Debriefing after raid ww2australia.gov.au/

When we got back and were being interrogated there was obvious concern on the part of the Intelligence Officer, Squadron Leader Leatherdale. He was a fine stamp of an Englishman and a pilot whose flying days were past because of his age. He fitted in well into the Australian scene and had an apparent sympathy
for the young men who flew in peril of their lives. His concern arose from several facts: one, that we were an
in-experienced crew on our first op; secondly, that the attack had been called off and yet we had bombed; and thirdly, that there had only recently been a disaster, when Bomber Command had dropped bombs on Canadian ground troops in the same area, with very serious repercussions: Our C/O, Wing Commander J.K.Douglas had lost his command as a result and so had every other commander whose squadron participated in that raid. As for the crews that bombed: they were henceforth relegated to
night raids only.

So it was with some degree of apprehension that he awaited the target photo which would show where our bombs had dropped. Jack Trist was sure we had no cause for concern as he had definitely bombed on the markers. Nevertheless, we were there with controlled eagerness as soon as the photos were released
and were relieved to be given a clean bill of health by an equally relieved Intelligence Officer.

The end of an earlier “U” Uncle

#7 Image Source – “U” Uncle Binbrook
Here is a photo donated by P Patrick to the Australian War Memorialthat shows the moment when “U” Uncle disintegrate in a fireball.The huge column of smoke billowing over the dispersal area of the base was caused by exploding ordinance from ‘T’ Tommy (DV172) which had it’s entire bomb load accidentally released onto the ground on Binbrook station.’T’ Tommy’s 14 boxes of four pound incendiaries (with contact fuses), began to burn immediately but once the 4,000 pound ‘cookie’ exploded it disintegrated ‘T’ Tommy and nearby ‘U’ for Uncle.Substaintial damage was done to five other Lanacsters, later written off, and four others were holed to some degree, including ‘G’ George.Despite the devastation, no one was killed and Lancaster ‘G’ for George (W4783) was repaired and returned to operations on 14 August 1943.


Photo Attribution

#1 – This photo appears in a Book entitled “Lancaster at War 2” by Mike Garbett and Brian Goulding. They hold the copyright from 1979. The photographer was “E.D.Evans”. It is a safe bet that this is the plane I flew on that first raid.
#2 – Painting by: Brittain, Flight Lieutenant Miller Gore, 19710261-1436, Night Target, Germany
#3 – Image from home.st.net.au/~dunn/htickle1.jpg
#4 – Image about Stirlings from http://www.anselm.edu
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9 Responses to 460 Squadron – “U” Uncle

  1. Tony Mac says:

    My father was First Engineer on “Uncle”. He was stationed in Stanley Bay in Alexandria, Egypt with the aircraft “Uncle” during the war and flew with the Royal Air Force, United Kingdom. I have a splendid photo with the full United Kingdom crew of 15 positioned on top of the aircraft engine, cockpit and body of the plane whilst in Egypt, sporting 22 strikes at that time with the Unicorn above,

    • Richard Filler says:

      My father Harry Filler was leading aircraftsman Flight Mechanical Engineer in WW2. He was stationed with 9 squadron oct 42 at Waddington, 625 squad oct43 at Kelston, 12 base seopt 44 Kelston, 15 base April 45 Scampton. I have a photo copy of what seems to be the same photo as Tony Mac (I did have origionals but they were stolen). 15 crew on the plane (my dad is 6th back on the top back of the cockpit. The markings are exactly the same 22 strikes uncle with a unicorn above. I also have photocopies of U-uncle with the pawnbrokers balls on dated 1943. One has a listing of groundcrew Moody? Taylor, Creary, Martin, Fill crew F/lt Neyer or Weyer, Sgts Johnson rear gunner, Wilbee bomb aimer/air gunner, Hart maintenance unit aircraft, Hunter flight engineer, Sinclair wireless op/air gunner and Mc Corkindale navigater. If any one has any other photos especially of ground crew I would love copies of them and also any stories that may involve my dad. Many thanks Richard Filler

  2. Phil Taylor says:

    My dad’s cousin John Haley was the engineer on what I believe was the replacement U for Uncle – Lancaster PB567 (call sign AR-U) that was delivered to RAF Binbrook on 27th October 1944 but didnt return from the 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne on 31st October on its first mission & all crew were lost. I’ve found bits of information on the internet but nothing of great detail, If anyone has any further information about John, his plane or mission I would be very grateful.

  3. nvarchitect says:

    Phil according to my dad’s records, SGT. John Haley flew with two crews. His first crew was with pilot N H Hudson, Bomb aimer V H Lucas, Navigator G H Jackson, Wireless operator C Mc Intosh and Gunners A Farr and A R Frail. My dad says that Pilots and Navagators were mostly Australians but the rest of the crew came from anywhere in the Commonwealth.

    John’s second crew on “U” for Uncle included pilot E F Reid Australian #A427044, Bomb aimer F/O M A Flory Australian #A22943, Navigator F/S A F Emery Australian #42453, Wireless operator F/S R H Royes Australian #A434018 and Gunners SGT. R C Coley and F/S M. Marshall Australian #A427527. John and his crew were killed in action on 31/10/1944. His Lancaster took of at 18:02 from BinBrook with the entry “Missing, no news since take off”.

    Binbrook 460 squadron records show that ‘U’ PB 567 piloted by F/O Reid was lost on the raid on Cologne on the 31 October 1944. The weather was fine but windy. 23 aircraft from the squadron took part in the raid. There was a full moon, considered on the whole to be a straightforward attack through the target. There were 905 bombers in total on the raid but this raid was not the one referred to as the 1,000 bomber raid. That raid took place much earlier in the war.

    My dad was the pilot of one of the other 23 Lancasters from 460 squadron that night. He flew “O” for Oboe. His log book states – “OPS – Cologne (Germany) No. 16. South west of the city, 17,000 feet, weather fine, full moon, 1 x 4,000lb + 13 S.B.C. Flak weak – Good prang. 1 Lost.” S.B.C is short for Small Bomb Containers (incendiaries). John’s plane would have carried the same bomb load. My dad was on his No.16th trip and John was on his 32rd trip. A good prang means that the squadron fulfilled completely the orders they were given.

    My dad knew of F/O Reid and said that he and his crew (including John) had volunteered to do an extra 5 trips beyond their call of duty which was only 30. This explains why John was on his 32nd trip.

    Hopefully you can do further research on the members of John’s crew to find out further information. I’m sure if John were here today he would say what my dad says that “we were proud to have played our part in a great Command, to have upheld the honour and reputation of a great Squadron and to have been numbered amongst that splendid company of men who willingly went each night in jeopardy of their lives.”

  4. Phil Taylor says:

    Thanks very much for the extra information, really interesting & moving, I’m sure my dad will be fascinated to hear this detail in particular that John had volunteered for the extra trips. I have found a newspaper article from the day after the raid in The Yorkshire Post in Leeds library that says that 1,000 planes took part in the raid and only 2 were lost, unfortunately 1 of them being John’s. My dad also tells me that John’s remains were not actually found until around 15 years after the war. He remembers John’s sister Norah, just after her son Kevin was born, coming running into his house hysterical saying she had heard footsteps up the stairs and then actually seen indentations appear on the bed – a few days later the letter arrived saying his remains has been disovered in Germany – very spooky!

  5. nvarchitect says:

    UPDATE from – 460 SQUADRON RAAF, WORLD WAR 2 FATALITIES
    http://www.awm.gov.au/catalogue/research_centre/pdf/rc09125z011_1.pdf
    Date of Death : 31 October 1944
    Source: AWM 64 (1/295) AWM 237 (63) (64)
    NAA : A705, 166/35/374
    Aircraft Type: Lancaster
    Serial number: PB 567
    Radio call sign: AR – U
    Unit: 460 Sqn RAAF
    Summary:
    Lancaster PB567 took off from RAF Binbrook at 1802 hours on 31 October 1944 to
    bomb Cologne, Germany. Bomb load 1 x 4000lb and 4 x 500lb bombs, 630 x 4lb
    incendiaries. Nothing was heard from the aircraft after take off and it did not return to
    base. Twenty three aircraft from the squadron took part in the raid and one of these
    PB567 failed to return.
    Crew:
    RAAF 427044 FO Reid, E F DFC Captain (Pilot) Born 13/7/1923 Age 21y9mths
    RAAF 424263 PO Emery, A F DFC (Navigator) Born 29/12/1925 Age 18y10mths
    RAAF 422943 FO Flory, M A (Bomb Aimer) Born 2/12/1922 Age 21y10mths
    RAAF 434018 Flt Sgt Royes, R H (Wireless Operator Air) Born 14/6/1923 21y4mth
    RAF Sgt Haley, F (Flight Engineer) Age Not Available
    RAF Sgt Coley, R G (Mid Upper Gunner) – Age 24yrs –
    RAAF 427527 Flt Sgt Marshall, M (Rear Gunner) Born 20/11/1923 Age 21y1mth
    Post war it was established that all the crew were killed. Six of the crew are buried in the
    Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, Germany, and the name of FO Flory who is missing is
    recorded on the Memorial to the Missing at Runnymede, Surrey, UK.
    W.R.Chorley records in his book ‘RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World
    War, 1944’, that the average age of the crew was 20 years with Sgt Haley being the
    senior at 24 years of age. The individual ages of the crew are recorded above.
    163

  6. Gerald says:

    My father, Dougald A MacDougall Flew in U Uncle Lancaster as a tail gunner. Shotdown over Germany January 28, 1945, only survivor.

  7. hi folks i’m trying to research a lancaster from the 460 squadren H Harry can any one give me any info on said aircraft eg serial numbers etc i’m building a scale model for a friends granfather who flew as the tail gunner

  8. Chris Burton says:

    My Uncle Harry Gill was Naviagator on U uncle 460sqn winter of 44/45. I think the skipper was Jolly? Any info greatly received.
    Chris Burton
    nesssy147@hotmail.com

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