The Bochum Raid

The Bochum Raid

Certain periods in our lives were experienced with such intensity that they remain deeply etched in memory. The short time that Emmy and I were at Linton-on-Ouse was such a time. There was only the present, and it was full of excitement fear and for me, glory.     

David Sokoloff February 1996

 

On  November 4  1944 at 5.30 pm , a four-engine Halifax heavy bomber of 408 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, took off from its base at Linton-on Ouse in Yorkshire in the north of England. It’s mission was to bomb an oil refinery at Bochum in the Ruhr valley industrial area of Germany a few miles east of Essen.

     Alan Stables, our nineteen year old bombardier, wrote a report of the raid in his log book after he returned. He came across the account fifty one years later and sent it to Emmy and me. While we were on flying “operations” Emmy and I were living off base with our year old daughter Mitzi. Using Alan’s memoir we have filled in some background to give a more complete picture of what it was like during what was a momentous experience for us so long ago.

     Home base of 408 the Goose Squadron RCAF  was located in the north of England, ten miles northwest of the city of York at  Linton-on-Ouse. Linton housed two squadrons, 408 the “Goose”  Squadron, and 426 the “Thunderbird” Squadron. Linton was one of seven  operational and four training airbases which made up 6 Group, which was a predominately Canadian The RCAF  provided the pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and gunners, all the crew that  is, except the flight engineers who were provided by the RAF Group headquarters  were at Allerton Park Castle, a 75 room Victorian mansion near  Knaresborough Initially at Linton the aircrews flew Wellingtons but later converted to Lancasters and Halifaxes. During the war 6 Group lost more than 1500 bombers not including those that crashed in  England. Each crew was made up of seven men so well over 10,000 failed  to return from operations. The two squadrons at Linton lost 321 bombers.

There were seven of us in the crew, I was the pilot; I was twenty four years old and had been at Yale University studying  Architecture and had joined the RCAF in Montreal. John Sargent, our twenty three year old  navigator was an accountant who lived in New Hazelton way up in northern British Columbia. John was a mystic. I think he was part Indian. After the war he owned the store and the movie theater in their small town where he and his sons taught wilderness survival techniques to oil exploration personnel

     Alan Stables was nineteen years old.  He came from Port Alice in British Columbia.  He was a wild man, full of energy and devilment.  He was a born leader and a dominant personality.  He was competent and fearless, reckless and warm-hearted.   His father had managed a paper mill up northern British Columbia His father was a tough hard man.   Alan inherited his toughness but not his hardness.

Allan and Hex
     Dick Richardson, our  RAF flight-engineer was a twenty-two year old Englishman from  Darlington, a town not very far from our base. He replaced Vic Weston who had  trained with us at Dishforth Heavy Conversion Unit but had gone *LMF when we were posted to 408 Squadron.  *LMF, “Lack of Moral Fibre”  were the words recorded in the record of aircrew persnnel who refused to fly on operations. They were then stripped of rank and posted to some other base The threat of being classified LMF hung over crews to discourage them from turning back on raids.
     We ourselves turned back on a deep penetration raid to Magdeburg. One of our engines cut shortly after take-off., and we couldnt get it restarted. We had to fly around below 400 feet until the main bomber force started to climb as they reached the enemy coast.  We then climbed to 1000 feet, jettisoned our bombs.We returned to a very cold reception at our base.  Luckily for us investigation showed an airlock in a fuel line. Scotty Frazier, who  came from Melita in Manitoba, was our wireless operator. He was twenty five  years old. He and Alan were close friends and talked about the possibility  of opening a tavern together after the war if they survived. Alan changed his mind  and went to University. He ended up as Superintendent of Schools for the Victoria School District in  British Columbia.
     Lloyd Swindells, our mid-upper gunner was nineteen  years old. He came from Vancouver. We called him “the Baron” because he was so immaculate in his dress and and fastidious with  his personal possessions. His mother ran a stationary store in Vancouver  which he took over after the war.  Lloyd also became the athletic coach for the Canadian Olympic track team He was very successful and dearly loved He was gentle man. Alan and Scotty teased him unmercifully.
Dave Hardy, our rear  gunner, was nineteen years old and came from from Saskatoon Saskatchewan. Like his father before him in the first world war, he became a prisoner of war. 1 did not know him well, Alan kept him in line. Hex Hexemer was our  ground crew chief. He came from Toromto. He was thirty nine years old. He  took care of cur aircraft as though we were his own kids.
     Emmy and I and our year old daughter Mitzi lived at the nearby village of Tholthorpe with Mr, and Mrs Harland. He was the  local butcher. I had a car which my father had loaned me since while “on operations” I was entitled to a petrol ration. I was allowed to live off  base as long as I was within three miles of Linton. Tholthorpe village, which was within the flight pattern of Tholthorpe  airbase, was one of the eight airfields within a ten mile radius of  Linton.John Sargent lived at the Officers’ mess  at Linton which was a pre-war permanent base with brick buildings equipped with central heating. The officers’ mess had a bar, a dining room, a main lounge with comfortable armchairs, and a ladies’lounge with a piano! Officers were assigned “batmen” who were WAAFs who were responsible for looking after their rooms.   John recieved a DFC a year after he was discharged.

Beningbrough Hall
     The rest of the crew, who were NCOs lived close to the base at Beningbrough Hall, a beautiful manor house built in 1716 belonging to Lady Chesterfield. The house and estate are now part of the National Trust.
     After I completed OTU, the operational  training course, with my original crew on the outdated twin-engine Wellington heavy bomber I contracted pneumonitis. I spent three  weeks in a hospital in London. My original crew was assigned to another pilot  and went on without me I “inherited” a new crew who were without a  pilot. Their pilot had been shot down while a passenger on his  “familiarization” trip. Since the Halifax  carried only one pilot, it was standard procedure for a new pilot coming to the  Squadron to go as a passenger with an experienced crew on at least one  operation. He would get a fee! of things before he went as skipper with his own  crew I flew on two “familiarization” trips, one to Osnabruck in
daylight, and one to Kiel at night

     When we ourselves became an experienced  crew, we took new pilots on a “familiarization” trips. They were  amazed at how the crew would respond to orders before they were given This was  because we flew at night and were, in a sense, flying alone, if we were at the  right height, at the right place, at the right time, we would be in the  comparative safety of the main bomber stream. We only knew for certain that we  were not alone when we saw the loom of another aircraft, or the glow of  someone’s exhausts, or when a flash lit up the sky. Since mid-air collisions  were not uncommon and keeping a good look-out for fighters was critical, we  were very dependent on each other for survival and we became closely “tuned”to each other.

Our aircraft  “F” for Freddie was a Handley-Page Halifax Mark VI1 heavy bomber powered by four 1680  horse-power Bristol “Hercules” sleeve-valve radial engines. The plane’s loaded weight was 65000 pounds  maximum. The fuel capacity was 2196 gallons of gasoline. The plane could carry  a 14000 pound bomb load. The maximum range  was 1800 miles with a service ceiling of 20000 feet. Cruising speed loaded was 170  miles an hour.   Maximum speed was 280  miles per hour.

     The aircraft was equipped with a mid-upper  gun turret with two 30 caliber machine guns, and a rear gun turret with four 30  caliber machine guns. The gunners had electrically  heated flying suits. The rear gunners removed the rear Plexiglass panel in  order to improve their night vision. In winter at night at 19000 feet it could  reach 80 degrees below zero Fahrenheit! The the plane had no armor other  than a a steel plate behind the pilot.

Bombadier

Alan, the  bombardier, with his bombsight,was up in the nose.  Behind him  sat John Sargent the navigator. John had a small  window  on  which  was painted  a vase with flowers to make things more homelike.   John and Alan shared  the operation of the two major radar navigation systems, Gee and H2S Gee allowed fixes  to be taken by “strobing” onto a cathode screen.the elliptical radar signals being broadcast from England. Gee was very accurate but had a limited range and was subject to jamming.It became less and less effective the deeper we penetrated enemy territory.  H2S was a blind map-reading scanner. Unfortunately the scans were often difficult to interpret since the equipment was somewhat primitive.

Scotty Wireless Operator

Behind the navigator sat Scotty the wireless operator. Scotty’s ceiling was the my floor Scotty’s job was an unenviable one He had to monitor the quarter-hourly broadcasts from Bomber Command,and in between broadcasts he had to listen in case anything else was transmitted which might affect us. In the target area Master-Bombers would direct the main stream, they would tell us for example to bomb upwind of the yellow target indicators Scotty had to sit in his tiny dark box just listening under circumstances requiring iron nerves.

     Behind me was Dick Richardson’s flight-engineer’s station with the fuel and engine gauges and controls. Dick helped me during take-off and landing as we did not have power assists and it took two of us to manage the “thirty-ton truck” Dick was happy that we were assigned the Halifax Vlls which were equipped with radial engines; he didn’t like the in-line glycol cooled engines on the Halifax 1 l’s which we flew during final Heavy Conversion training.

     Although the Halifaxes suffered heavier losses than the Lancasters due to the their 2000 foot height ceiling disadvantage, the survival rate among Halifax crews who were shot down was higher than that of the crews flying Lancasters. This was due to the design of the Halifax which had well placed escape hatches. The wireless operator and the navigator were located in the nose of the aircraft close to the forward escape hatch instead of in the mid-section of the fuselage as in the Lancaster.

 

 

 

The following is a transcript of Allan Stables’ log :

     Being our thirteenth trip, the whole crew was a bit nervous Superstition was usual among air crews. In our crew, Sok our skipper, had to bring his battered everyday uniform cap. One crew suffered because their good luck charm was their skipper’s white sweater which could not be washed or cleaned without risking losing its protection.

The first Page of Allans Log

     Once all the complete crews were present at the briefing room, the briefing officer spelled out the target, the route, the take off time , the speeds and altitudes, the points where we had to change course and or height, available emergency airfields, the composition of the raid and its purpose, which was the destruction of an oil refinery outside the city of Bochum.  Then the meteorological officer gave us the weather forecast for the trip and it didn’t look good. We were to climb through the heavy overcast, climbing up through holes in the clouds as heavy icing was expected.

     On a raid to Chemnitz, southeast of Leipzig,. We took off in icy conditions. Our squadron lost three out of fourteen Halifaxes shortly after take-off due to heavy icing. One of the bombers crashed in York killing six of the seven man crew. The seventh was the wireless-operator who baled out too low for his parachute to open fully. When the plane hit the ground and exploded, the blast blew him up into the air opening his parachute. He was injured but was the only one who survived. Below is my “Captain’s of aircraft map” of the Chemnitz raid on which we were airborne 9 hours 15 minutes.

CAPTAINS   Of  AIRCRAFT   MAP     NEWCASTLE to PRAGUE

Captains of Aircraft Map

 

Take- off was scheduled for 4:00 PM. Once a raid was announced the navigators and bombardiers had to go to the briefing shack at least a half an hour before the rest of the crew to prepare their flight plans.

     The raid was to consist of 400 Lancaster and Halifax heavy bombers  carrying a mixed load of heavy case high explosive bombs and incendiaries. We  were scheduled to be airborne for six hours. “Mosquito” were to mark the target with green and red target indicators. De Haviland” Mosquitos” had twin  Rolls-Royce engines and carried a pilot and a wireless-operator/navigator. They  were used by the Master Bombers as part of the Pathfinder Force to mark the target.

     John, our navigator, looked occasionally  up at the overcast sky saying “Why the hell don’t the bastards scrub it in  this weather?” The Catholic Chaplain came around to give us comfort.  Finally the skipper called “It’s okay boys, ready for starting.” We  climbed in through the rear escape hatch giving each other a friendly pat on  the rear and getting in a word or two of encouragement and good luck to our  tail gunner who we normally wouldn’t see again until we landed.

     We settled into take-off  positions, lying down in the crash position behind the main spar as one by one  our engines roared into life. Sok’s cool voice with its English accent over the  intercom ran through his take-off checks “Hydraulics trim mixture pitch  fuel flaps gyros, etc. Then he and Dick Richardson ran the engines up the to  full power to check the magnetos and the instruments.

     Once we were airborne we went to our  “battle” positions listening to the interchange between the pilot and  the engineer… “lock throttles – adjust the pitch on the starboard outer  – wheels up and locked Skipper synchronizing engines – adjusting trim tabs –  throttle back to climbing boost” . Sok said “Every one check back  when in position.”. Then we all called back starting with me then John,  then Scotty, then Lloyd the mid-upper gunner, and last Dave Hardy the rear gunner.

The Crew of My Vauxhall car

     Sok said “Okay John give me a  course”. We climbed up through the scattered clouds into the eastern  darkness with the fading light behind us, leveling out at seven hundred feet.   We would hold this heading and altitude over the North Sea until we were within  forty miles of the Dutch coast in order to avoid enemy radar. Then would have to climb like hell to be at fourteen thousand feet above the range of light  flak as we crossed the enemy coast.

     We had settled in but as usual I was  concerned about my sandwiches, chocolate bar, and apple. If thev were located  too close to the exhaust heaters they would melt and if they were too far them  would freeze solid since at final altitude it would probably be about seventy  degrees below zero Fahrenheit — unfortunately the distance between too close  and too far was only about six inches. An enormous amount of creative effort  and energy was devoted to this problem by our ground crew.

It was a routine  flight to the Dutch coast with the checks continuing between the pilot and the navigator and the tension wore off. Now the gunners  had to search the sky for night-fighters. If they saw them first we had a  pretty good chance of getting away. From the nose position I tried to watch  below and slightly behind, This was our blind spot where we were most  vulnerable to enemy night-fighters equipped with upward-firing twenty millimeter cannon.

Coming up to the  Dutch coast we could see flashes of light flak and the beautiful  trace it makes streaming upwards as if fired from a hose. It was dark now  and every now and again we would see the loom of one of our own  aircraft which was comforting because it meant we were part of the bomber stream

Our Original Crew at Dishforth Heavy Conversion Training Unit

At this point we started climbing . We began to have difficulty at about ten thousand feet and by fourteen thousand  feet Dick suspected that we had carburetor icing . We had gone on oxygen at  twelve thousand feet and we had to climb to nineteen thousand which was our  height to bomb The aircraft at the head of the bomber  stream were at the lowest level with those following stacked up increasing  heights so as to lessen the danger of running into someone else’s bombs. Sok  came over the intercom ordering me to jettison some of the bombs as the  aircraft just wouldn’t climb. I went back and jettisoned half the load but the  best we could make was an extra 1000 feet. We were five thousand feet below
everyone else, a very dangerous position to be in and we had at least another  hour and a half to go to the target. Scotty went back to shovel out the  Window*. Then he returned to his radio to receive the quarter-hourly broadcast
from bomber command Then he backtuned his transmitter to German fighter  vector-control frequency and broadcast static at full volume from a microphone  next to our generator.

•Window was introduced in July 1943. It consisted of 9 inch strips of  aluminum foil which showed up on the German radar screens rendering them virtually useless .  The German response  was to use various forms of illumination available at the target area to make  the bombers  visible to the night-fighters. Window was still useful in disguising the size  of the incoming force and in  blinding the radar controlled Flak guns.

Ahead the searchlights, hundreds of them came to life, pointing  accusing fingers against the black sky. I wondered how the hell we would get  through them at this altitude without being “coned”, but I didn’t  have much time to wonder as the rear gunner yelled “fighter port go”.   Down we went to the left in a “corkscrew.” This was our evasive action,  but very shortly the rear gunner called to resume course telling us that a  Messerschmidt 210 had made a pass at us.

 

 

Pilots Cockpit

 We were now starting  into the outer defense of searchlights protecting the Ruhr industrial area. .   “Aircraft coned on our starboard beam up” I yelled I watched it for a  few seconds struggling in the cone like a fly in a spider’s web, flak poured up  at it and a Lancaster went down.

“Ready for run-up to the target”  — “Christ” I yelled as a fighter came head on at us. The trace of his  cannon seemed to be coming right at me . I closed my eyes and said a prayer.  The engineer yelled “Port engine on fire Skip, let’s get the hell  out.” The cannon shells of the fighter had hit our port inner engine and  as I looked out I could see the flames licking back over the wing in which our  gas tanks were stored. Sok’s voice came cool over the intercom “Feathering
port inner, hit the graviner* switches Dick, prepare to abandon aircraft, bomb  doors open, drop your bombs bomb-aimer”

*The graviner switches controlled  compressed incombustible carbon-dioxide which could be sprayed into the engines and hopefully  serving as engine fire extinguishers.

/ looked out, my bombsight was on the  target area now burning and smoking from the earlier bombs. . The bomb doors  were open and I pressed the release tit feeling the bump as the bombs left the  aircraft. Then the searchlights coned us and flak started coming up. What happened then was that as 1 was dropping  the bombs the crew left their stations and went to the exits. Sok stayed at the  controls but didn’t open his escape hatch but put the plane into a steep dive
to put out the fire. I was in the nose trying to untangle my intercom cord from  my parachute wondering if I would ever get them apart. I was about to give up  when John signaled to me. He yelled into my ear, “Hang onto me and we’ll  go together.” John knew as well as I did that this was crazy.

Emmy, Mitzi and I

 Finally we were down to four thousand feet and out of the searchlights. Sok called the gunners but got no reply. “Bomb-aimer  please check the crew. Navigator give me a course.” The dive had put out  the fire. I went back to the rear to see if Dave Hardy was hurt. I found the  Baron by the rear escape hatch holding his head but not plugged in. “What  the hell are you doing?” I yelled in his ear. “We’re OK, get back in  the goddamn rear turret” “OK, Al, thanks” “What for you  nut” I replied. Then I tried to get into the turret, but had to report to  Sok that it was impossible.

The Baron wanted to talk but I was off to the rear turret which was jammed sideways and Dave Hardy was gone. This was  serious because it meant that now we were defenseless against stern attacks.

Rear gunners baled out by rotating the turret and dropping out backwards. Unfortunately Dave Hardy had pulled out his intercom plug and hadn’t heard that we had got the fire out and when he baled out he jammed the rear gun turret sideways.

We had come out of the target in a diving  turn to head between two groups of lights on the ground. I had a hunch, and  instead of heading between them I told Sok to go over the group on the right.   It was a lucky hunch as the German flak batteries had been placed between the  lights which were decoys
Me with Dick Richardson

. We could see the searchlights coning  a couple of kites. There was no flak, but fighters came in and in a few seconds  two more bombers went down in flames In the hurry and excitement as we opened  the escape hatches in order to bale out, the navigator’s log and maps had been  sucked out of the aircraft Now John had to take us home by “dead  reckoning” and guesswork. Our main fuse panel had been hit. We had no  radar, no fuel gauges, and we didn’t know whether we had lost fuel.

Then the mid-upper gunner reported two  fighters tailing us. One came in and we corkscrewed* to starboard. During the  next hour and we were attacked seven times. We tried taking shelter in what  little cloud there was. A couple of times when we came out of it a fighter  flare would drop and in would come a fighter. We were now down to two thousand  feet. We lost him and kept heading west while John was trying to figure where  we were.

Me with Dick Richardson

* The “Corkscrew was standard  evasive action from fighter attack. If the attack was from the left and below  you headed into the attack with a dive to the left followed by a climbing roll  up to the right.   Since the fighter pilot had to aim ahead of  the target he was forced to aim blind.

With no fuel gauges  and at our last reading our fuel registering low, Dick said that we should try  to land as soon as we were beyond enemy held territory. John said  that we should make for Brussels which he thought was about  fifty miles to our north. As we headed towards the city we could see  the air-field runway flares lit up. We had already been forced so low by  taking evasive action that we were probably down below 300 feet  during the last ten minutes of our approach. We did not identify ourselves  or turn on our lights as we didn’t want to expose our position to any  fighters which might have been lurking. They would follow the bomber stream on the way back  picking off stragglers.

Once when returning from a  raid we were stacked up waiting our turn to make our final approach when Lloyd  yelled “Jesus there’s a plane next to us with black crosses on its  side!” It was a Junkers  88.   They were “Intruders”.   They would strafe aircraft  as they were about to land.

 

The skipper made out  the landing strip. We came in down-wind very fast with no flaps or  brakes as we had  lost our hydraulic fluid. Everyone was in crash  positions with the escape hatches open and down we came. We hit once, bounced on the runway, hit again and our  undercarriage collapsed. We were  down on our belly as we tore past the control  car at the end of the runway and across an open field with a railroad track  through it. One big bump as we crossed a ditch and earth came up through  the floor of the kite and we stopped about two hundred feet from some houses. There was a mad scramble to get out before she blew up. We were lucky and she didn’t catch fire. Scotty got  a black eye from someone’s knee  climbing out. That was our only casualty.

(We were equipped with tanks of  compressed nitrogen which, filled up the gas tanks as thy emptied with a non-combustible  mixture. This  was unreliable even when no damage had been sustained.) Fire engines and  ambulances came screaming across the field. A truck stopped and picked  us up and  we were taken to an office in the control tower.   After a short while we were taken by truck into Brussels to the Imperial Hotel a place with everything including a show lounge with live  entertainment!   We got the driver to  stop at a bar on the way where we traded a parachute for some brandy.  When we got to the hotel room it was difficult to sleep, we were so keyed  up. We drank brandy and lay awake for hours going over what had happened

The next morning a  truck took us back to the airport which was a shambles. It had  been taken by the Allies only three days before. There were  piles of bombs alongside the runway and there were damaged aircraft, both German and Allied  all over the place.

We went out to our  plane to collect parachutes and souvenirs. It was half full of  dirt and we counted over a hundred bullet and flak holes. Sok couldn’t  find his sheepskin-lined leather jacket. The civilian armed guard thought  that we were accusing him of stealing it. There was a big argument  but. we found it in the plane. We were all impressed because we didn’t know that Sok spoke  French.

We hung around till a snotty transportation  officer told us we would probably have to wait at least all day and  maybe longer before we could get a ride back to England. Sok told  the officer that we’d be happy to stay in Brussels for
as long as possible which made him change his mind and he got us onto a DC. 3  “Dakota” transport that was taking some air
crew and some escaped prisoners  back to England.

Scotty Frazier Moe Blad Allan Stables John
Sargent David Sokolof, Dick Richardson, Lloyd Swindells,
Hex Hexemer

 

We did twenty three more trips after the raid to Bochum  At the beginning of our tour of operations we were lucky to do two short trips to  France. We also did seven daylight, trips to Germany. These were small precision raids mainly to oil refineries. On a raid to the oil refinery at Castrop-Rauxel just  north of Dortmund in the Ruhr, we were the deputy leader of 70 bombers with sixteen squadrons of fighter  cover! With this massive fighter protection  we suffered lower percentage losses. When we had done twenty five trips, Bomber command raised the number of required operations for a tour to 36. A few weeks after we finished our tour the required number of operations was reduced back to 30 because losses had increased  again.

John and Cathy’s wedding

After we finished our  tour John Sargent married Cathy, a Canadian nurse. The crew  were at the wedding and I  was best man. We’ve kept in touch with Cathy. We visited Kay Scotty’s  widow in Salmon Arms Manitoba a few years ago , but we have lost touch with Lloyd’s wife Jeanne.

 

There was a reunion  of the squadron in 1980 in Vancouver. Dick Richardson, our engineer had died and we had not kept in touch with Moe Blad our rear gunner At the reunion we were the only crew which had five of its seven crew members present and not only that but we all had our original wives!  Sad to say within two years of the re-union  John, Scotty, and Lloyd all died, leaving only Allan and me as of this writing

.Allan and Evelyn  live in White Rock BC just over the border We stay in touch and we spend  time together every year. This memoir is for all our children and grandchildren.



After landmg from our last operation.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*