Part of the training needed to fly the Lanasters Bombers during WW2
Before flying Lancasters on operation at 460 Squadron, our crew were required to train on other bombers which included the Vickers Wellington and the Handley Page Halifax II. For our crew this was done at Church Broughton and at Lindholme, both in South Yorkshire.
Learning to fly Wellingtons
We now had to learn to work together as a crew. I had to learn to fly the plane, Fred Smith had to practice his navigation and master navigational aids such as Gee, Harry Ellis had to practice his air to ground w/t communication, Jack Trist his bombing and the gunners their air firing and fighter recognition by day and by night.
Most of this was achieved co-operatively in day and night cross countries some of them as long as six and a half hours and running the length and breadth of England, Scotland and Wales.
There was a bombing range off the coast of Wales and we were all quite excited when Jack put his two practice bombs right on target on one day cross country.
was an easy plane to fly and its two powerful 965 HP Bristol Pegasus
engines pulled it along at a top speed of 250 mph. It flew quite steadily on one engine and part of my training was coping with engine failure and learning to make single engine approaches and overshoots. It sat very squat on the ground and the great propellers swung in an arc that came low to the ground and so close to the pilot’s window that we knew not to ever lean out too far.
Our instructors were all men who had completed a tour of operations and, for the first time we began to imbibe the spirit of Bomber Command.
The motto of the station was “Press on Regardless”
and we began to understand something of the dangers and risks that lay not very far ahead as we moved closer and closer to an operational squadron.
The Nuremberg raid on which the Command lost 96 aircraft occurred on the 31st March whilst we were at this stage of our training and I well remember a man being sent to us, probably from Group Headquarters, to explain to us just what had gone wrong and, no doubt, to impress upon us that this was an exception and not the rule.
Bomber command instructors
My first instructor was Eric Langlois (1) a Flight Lieutenant with a DFC. He was 31 years old at the time and had been an engineer in Adelaide. He complimented me on the ability I showed in quickly mastering the Wellington at the circuit and landings stage. “He’s flying it better than I can” was his gracious comment to the crew, no doubt intending to inspire their confidence in their new pilot. Eric later left to do a second tour at Waddington and was acting commander of 467 squadron when he was shot down and killed in a raid on the Dortmund – Ems Canal at Ladbergen in March 1945.
Our Flight Commander was Squadron Leader James Clark (2), ‘Jimmy’, as he was affectionately known. He had done his first tour with 458 Squadron, flying Wellingtons in the Middle East. He too was an older man, married to an English girl, as I subsequently discovered, and recently a father.
He flew with me on my first night cross country and apologised to me for sending me off for my Nickel
after having detailed me for somewhat intensive flying duties in the previous two days. I had done a six and a half hour night cross country on the Monday night, another one of five hours on the Tuesday night and now he had to send me off on the Wednesday for what was considered to be the culminating exercise of our Operational Training.
Nickel was the name given to leaflet raids over France conducted by O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit) crews to give them their first taste of the real thing.
We had to drop leaflets over a place called Etampes
and the prevailing wind would then cause them to fall in the streets of Paris.
They were, of course, written in French and told of the exploits of General De Gaulle
and the Free French forces and of how the Allies were winning the war.
Coming just two weeks before the D-Day
landings they were particularly pertinent in their message of encouragement.
We were detailed to take off right on 1800 hours and we were in the aircraft with the engines run up and ready to go but there was no ground staff man to remove the chocks, as there should have been. I was about to ask one of the crew to get out and do it when I saw a car approaching. It was Jimmy and a fellow instructor coming to see that all was well. As he got out of the car and looked up I gave him the signal to remove the chocks which he and his mate readily did and then with a big grin and a ‘thumbs up’ from each of us we were off.
Sadly, he too was killed later on his second tour with 460 Squadron whilst I was there. At the time he was acting C.O. with the rank of Wing Commander.
Learning to fly the Halifax
Our training complete the next stage was to convert to four engined bombers. This training took place at Lindholme in Yorkshire and the plane we flew was the old Halifax 2, again withdrawn from squadron service where it had been replaced by the more reliable Mark 3. I found the Mark 2 to be heavy and cumbersome. It had an intricate fuel system, which necessitated extreme care in changing from one tank to another—pull the toggles in the wrong sequence and one or more engines would stop with possible disastrous consequences. There had recently been crashes at Lindholme and at its satellite station Sandtoft.
The drill that was therefore adopted was for the Flight Engineer, whom we acquired at this stage of our training, to say to the pilot,“Skipper, (or “Pilot” -some Australians had an aversion to calling the pilot ‘Skipper’) I am about to change tanks.”
The pilot would then ask him to rehearse exactly what he was going to do and the sequence in which he was going to do it. Satisfied that he was doing it correctly they would then talk each other through step by step and feel very pleased with themselves that the engines were still running when it was all over.
It was at Lindholme that I received my commission. Up until then I had been a Flight Sergeant, but an edict had gone out that all captains of four engined aircraft should be commissioned, and so, some of us, who might not otherwise have been regarded as officer material, particularly by the Brits, who could still be a bit stuffy in some things, received our Pilot Officer stripe and, in due course, were kitted out by the uniform section in London.
My total flying on Halifaxes over the four weeks that we were on course amounted to twenty-six hours by day and 18 by night and, again , cross-countries by day and by night accounted for most of these.
A new procedure to which we were introduced at this stage was ‘fighter affiliation’, where we would meet up with a Spitfire
who would make attacks upon us from various directions which we would have to evade by corkscrewing -the gunners meanwhile trying to keep him in their sights throughout the manoeuvre.
As I said, the Halifax was to me as heavy as lead and not easy to fly through this manoeuvre. The Lancaster was a different plane altogether.
And now it was time to convert to the Lanc. (Lancaster) A brief course of only 16 hours compressed into just four days at Hemswell
achieved this conversion and we were now ready for ops.
Acknowledgements and attributions
(1)W/C Eric LePage Langlois, D.F.C., Aus 416685, K.I.A. 3/3/45
(2)W/C James Clark, D.F.C., A.F.C., Aus 402439, K.I.A. 12/12/44