Flying Lancaster Bombers from 460 Squadron Binbrook 1943-44
One aircrew’s story of a Lancaster bomber mission that could have gone so wrong, but turned out aright. The story about ‘planting vegetables’ in the North Sea with 460 Squadron during World War II.
|Sea Mine – World War 2|
The Air Force had their own particular jargon and whenever they went out to drop mines in enemy waters it was always ‘to plant vegetables.’
|Weather Chart – WW2|
At briefing we were told that there was a front approaching rapidly from the West, that we would take off in clear conditions but that, on our return, the front would have passed over the East coast of England and would be out in the North Sea. There would be a band of cumulus cloud form with its base at 2,000 feet and tops reaching to 16,000 feet; icing conditions would exist and the only recourse for safe flying would be to come home under the cloud.
|West Frisian Islands – www.worldatlas.com|
To ensure that all these conditions were adhered to, a camera was rigged up in the navigator’s compartment. It focussed on the H2S screen and, no doubt also, on the navigator’s instrument panel (he had a duplicate set of altimeter, airspeed indicator and repeater compass) and its trigger was linked in with the bomb-aimer’s release button. When he pressed his button the camera flashed and produced its picture. The instructions given at briefing were that a timed run had to be made from an identifiable point on one of the Frisian Islands on a particular course and the mines were to be released at the end of that run.
|Lancaster Bomber taking off – www.galgos.co.uk|
We took off in the rain at ten minutes past six p.m. and climbed steadily on course to our briefing height of 12,000 feet. Instructions were to maintain this height on the outward leg and for the dropping of the mines and then to come down for the return trip. I was paying particular attention to the air temperature gauge as we were in dense cloud all the time. The temperature dropped steadily as we climbed, passed the zero degree centigrade and was just under four degrees below when we levelled out at 12,000 feet. This was in the danger area for icing.
|Lancaster Bomber in flight|
Any lengthy period of flying in these conditions would result in such a build up of ice that the aerodynamics of the wing would be altered thus producing less lift and this, combined with the weight of the ice, would cause the plane to drop out of the sky. If, as it dropped to lower heights and warmer atmosphere the ice melted, it could recover its flying ability. If the ice did not melt before it reached the ground: too bad! Well this was the theory and I truly believed it.
|The crew from left to right – Ian Hall (engineer), Henry Baskerville (pilot), Harry Ellis (wireless operator), Jack Golding (mid upper gunner), Jack McQueen (rear gunner), Jack Trist (bomb aimer) and Fred Smith (navigator).|
As it happened, when Fred looked up from his charts to check his instruments. Navigators are a breed all of their own: they keep a careful eye on their pilot to ensure he is flying the course, speed and height as instructed and do not hesitate to come on the intercom with,
“What course are you flying, pilot?” when he might be just one or two degrees off the one they have given him. He saw that we were flying at 17,000 feet he almost had a fit.
“What height are you flying?” he shouted down the intercom. “How do you expect me to navigate when you’re five thousand feet over the briefing height?”
“Fred”, I said, “I’m sorry you didn’t pick up on it, but we couldn’t stay at 12,000 feet.” “God knows where we’ll be on E.T.A. (Estimated Time of Arrival),” he said.
“We’ll come down to 12000 feet on ETA, you can turn on the set and ,hopefully, we’ll pick up some identifiable landmark.“
|German Night Fighters www.acesofww2.com|
It was inevitable that we would find either the Friesian Islands or the Dutch coast. We couldn’t be too far off course even though the winds could be quite different at 17,000 feet from those predicted at 12,000. Eventually we came out into clear air with cumulus tops beneath us and it was time to let down. We were still in clear air at 12000 feet although there was cloud all below us. At 2000 hours Fred switched on the H2S and soon announced that we were right over the aiming point. We should have been, according to his calculations, over the point at which the timed run was to start, so things were not too bad.
|Lancaster Bomber – Low flying www.fiddlersgreen.net|
It was no good dwelling on these possibilities because we had no option but to bring it home and hope for the best. Steadily we lost height down through the cloud to try to find clear air under the cloud base. This should have been encountered at 2,000 feet but at that height we were still very much in cloud and now we were encountering very severe turbulence. The aircraft was bucking around as it never had before. We finally found the cloud base at 500 feet and, at this height, with the cloud just above us, the sea beneath us and driving rain squalls all around us we drove steadily on towards home.
|Binbrook Airfield – www.w4960.nl|
Eventually we crossed the coast and could see drem systems, the circle of lights which surround airfields and indicate the circuit for planes landing at night, but they were of airfields to the north of Binbrook. Fred was able to give a correction that brought us into our own circuit. At 500 feet we circled the drome and told the control tower we had one vegetable hung up.
|Group Captain Hughie Edwards tpg.com.au|
So the message came through, “Oboe, pancake!” It was still pouring with rain and as I came in on the approach, there was so much water obscuring the windscreen that I could hardly see the runway lights. For probably the only time in my tour I turned on the landing lights to help me see the ground. The rain, in the glare of the lights seemed to be coming like horizontal glass bullets and splattering against the glass in front of me but somehow I felt for the ground and eventually dropped it on without too much of a jolt. And nothing happened. The mine stayed where it was, still hung up. It was removed by the armourers next morning.
“Good to see you Baskerville. We thought you were gone tonight!”