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A Bedfordshire Bomb Aimer - Part One

by bedfordmuseum

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

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People in story: 
Flying Officer Raymond Howitt Marshall, DFC, June and David Howitt Marshall, Mr. Harry Marshall, Flying Officer Douglas Lachlan Maclean
Location of story: 
Upper Caldecote, Bedfordshire, Torquay, Devon, No.6 BFTS Ponca City, Oaklahoma, USA, Trenton, Ontario, Kinloss, Scotland, St.Eval, Cornwall, Dunholme Lodge, Lincolnshire.
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
31 January 2006

‘A Bedfordshire Bomb Aimer’ Flying Officer Raymond Howitt Marshall, DFC.

Part one of material edited from ‘A Bedfordshire Bomb Aimer’ written by David H. Marshall about his brother, Flight Lieutenant Raymond Howitt Marshall, DFC (1918-1981).

“Raymond Howitt Marshall was born on 25th March 1918 in Upper Caldecot, Bedfordshire. He had an elder brother, Philip, a younger sister, June and a younger brother David. Their father, Harry Marshall died of pneumonia in January 1928. Their mother remarried in 1936 to ex RAF pilot Flying Officer Douglas Lachlan Maclean (1907-1960). After being educated at Repton School Ray continued the family tradition and took up farming. Ray built a 4,000 square foot glasshouse on the 6 acre property in Upper Caldecote. War clouds gathered just as this enterprise was becoming viable. Although in a ‘protected’ industry Ray could not resist the call to arms, especially as his elder brother Philip was in the regular army, being evacuated from Dunkirk with the remnants of the BEF in June 1940. Leaving the business in the capable hands of his employee, Claude Randall and other employees Ray volunteered as a Pilot/Navigator/Bomb-aimer (PNB) in the Royal Air Force in May 1941.

Ray was 23 years old when he was selected for aircrew training and sent home to await a re-call, which came several months later. Ray received notice that he was to report to the Aircrew Receiving Centre at Regent’s Park, London on the 1st September 1941. They were marched down to the zoo for their meals in the restaurant there. Ray found it difficult to be ordered about and received several disciplinary punishments in consequence.

After undergoing basic training in discipline and square bashing he was then posted to 13 Initial Training Wing (ITW) at Torquay, Devon on 4th October 1941. Starting in 1942 all new PNB candidates were given 12 hours of dual flight training during which their aptitude for flying an aircraft was evaluated. Ray did well enough at the ITW for he was selected to continue training in the United States and Canada ‘Under Training’ (UT) for pilot. A white cap flash now identified him as an aircrew trainee.

Prior to leaving England Ray had purchased a diamond to sell in Canada to provide him with a little more pocket money than the very strict currency regulations permitted. On 1st February 1942 Ray embarked on the twin funnel mv. ‘Highland Brigade’ at Bristol. In peacetime the ship had accommodated 444 passengers in two classes. As a troopship several thousand troops were carried by installing bunks in the hold and tween decks, these bunks were often four to six high.

Ray arrived in Halifax on 11th February 1942 in the middle a Canadian maritime winter. They entrained destined for 31 RAF Personnel Depot (PD) at Moncton, New Brunswick. Six weeks later Ray learned that he was being posted to warmer climbs on what was called All Through Training Scheme (ATTS) for pilot training at a flying training school operated by the US Army Corps. This was to be at No.6 British Flying Training School (BFTS) in Ponca City, Oklahoma for twenty eight weeks effective from 10th March 1942.

Ray and the other trainees were ‘Royally’ treated by the citizens when they arrived in Ponca City on 12th March 1942. Ray was detailed to present himself to ‘A’ Flight. After a few days of acclimatization to the ways of No.6 BFTS Ray was ‘adopted’ by the Dixon family. Alta, her husband Arthur and young daughter Ardath-Ann made him one of the family when Ray was able to leave the airfield to visit them.
The primary trainer was the P.T.Boeing-Stearman, two place biplane aircraft (span 32 feet 2 inches). After graduating from the P.T. the student then moved up to take basic flying training in the Vultee BT-13A (span 42 feet 10 inches). This low wing monoplane with a single 450 h.p. Wright Whirlwind radial engine and looking very much like a Harvard, but with a fixed undercarriage, was ‘A gentle step up after the Boeing-Stearman although equipped with a two speed propellor, flaps and a radio’ wrote John Chatterton 53 years later. Ray’s flying log for this period is not available but a photograph album has established that Ray went solo in the P.T. on 13th April 1942. For whatever reason Ray was ‘washed-out’ like so many aircrew volunteers, he would now serve his country in a role other than as a pilot. Although the Valaint had a fixed undercarriage it was more complete to fly than the Stearman. The BT-13A had the reputation for flick-stalling in a spin. Ray would be posted to a training school in Canada to be trained as an Observer. At the time Ray was in transit a new aircrew classification of Air Bomber was created for training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). After approximately 17 weeks of flying training Ray left Ponca City on 6th July 1942 en route to Trenton, Ontario.

Arriving in July 1942 at Trenton, Ontario at the Komposite Training School Ray was probably downhearted at being washed-out as a pilot but he would not dwell on it but simply look upon it as another way station and look forward to what fate had in store. At the end of his month at Trenton, Ray was selected to be trained as an Air Bomber. Previously, many of those washed-out as pilots were trained as Observers. That had all been changed. Finally, Bomber Command had decided that it was too much to expect an Observer to assume the role of bomb-aimer on top of his primary duties as navigator in making sure that the bomber both found and bombed the right target. Being enclosed in a well lighted compartment reading and plotting on white maps, the Observer found his eyes unaccustomed to the inky blackness of the bomb-aimer’s compartment when the time came for the run-up to the target. Ray was therefore one of the first to be trained as an Air-Bomber. ‘Bomb-aimer’ was the preferred designation by those wearing the new ‘B’ half wing on their uniforms. The designation was so new there was no ‘B’ half wings then available. The graduation photograph, taken in Canada, of Ray standing proudly in his Pilot Officer’s uniform with the Observer brevet.

On 1st August 1942 Ray was posted to nearby Picton for an eight week course at 31 Bombing and Gunnery School flying in Avro Ansons and Fairey Battles. On 24th September 1942 Ray was posted to Mount Hope (Hamilton) which is at the western end of Lake Ontario and close to Niagara Falls for an eight week course at 33 Air Navigation School The course concentrated on map reading. The student was given a point to reach and passed the information back to the navigator. At the end of each trip they would be given the opportunity to practice bombing. Following his graduation on 5th November 1942, 1318947 AC2 R. H. Marshall was promoted to Leading Aircraftsman (LAC) as an ‘Air Bomber (Armament)’. Only 242, in the new category of bomb-aimer had graduated under the BCATP up until that moment. Ray was commissioned in Canada on 6th November 1942 as a Pilot Officer. Ray was apparently the only graduate not to receive congratulations from his fiancee and family or sent money for a celebration. His mother was later to tell him, ‘I thought you were an Officer anyway’. This concluded 11 months of training in North America. Ray had to wait again at 31 PD Moncton for a ship to return him and many hundreds of other trained aircrew back to the United Kingdom. He returned aboard the Queen Elizabeth, with approximately 24,000 other airmen and troops. Ray returned home in time for Christmas and brought back gifts for the family with him.

On his return in December 1942 Ray married his fiancee, Joan Ann Kendall at the Holy Trinity Church in Bedford on 2nd January 1943. Ray reported back for duty on 12th January 1943 to No.19 Operational Training Unit (OUT) at Kinloss in Northern Scotland. Ray crewed up with Sgt.S.Mogford, a New Zealander, as his pilot and served as a bomb-aimer. Flying in Amstrong Whitworth Whitleys the Scottish winter was not the best time to commence night flying. When the weather improved they were seconded to 10 Operational Training Unit at the other end of the country, St.Eval, Cornwall. Here the crews performed anti-U-Boat sweeps in the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic. Ray continued to fly in the white painted and obsolete twin engine Armstrong-Whitworth Whitleys staying airborne for nine to ten hours as they made daylight sweeps of the Bay of Biscay searching for German U-Boats. German Ju 88’s ranged over the Bay of Biscay intercepting Coastal Comman aircraft.

On 30th April 1943 Mogford and his crew flying in R for ‘Robert’ (Whitley LA880) sighted a submarine and three days later the crew, again in Whitley-R claimed to have sunk a U-Boat. Ray’s low level bombing accuracy, that he demonstrated in Canada, obviously contributed to the claim. However it is recorded that of the ten attacks made by 10 OUT aircraft during the first week in May 1943 the only one that had any effect was that made by Whitley-K on the 7th which wounded the U-Boat commander. The only U-Boats sunk on the 3rd were due to an accidental collision between U-659 and U-439.

The five man crew after graduating from OTU were next posted to No.5 Group’s 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) at Wigsley in Nottinghamshire. It was a fortuitous posting as Nol5 Group was the elite bomber group in Bomber Command. Here the crew picked up two additional crew members, a Flight Engineer and a mid-upper gunner. From 20th May 1943 until their posting to 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron at the beginning of July, Sgt. Mogford and his augmented crew flew twin engine Avro Manchester and war weary Avro Lancasters. Training would have included ‘Bulls-eye’ night flights (including RAF night-fighters interceptions) and dropping practice bombs at the nearby bombing range. They would have all become familiar with the more complex equipment of the Avro Lancaster four engine bomber, flying at night and working together as a crew, in preparation for their posting to an operational bomber squadron.

Finally, after a year and ten months, Ray and the rest of the crew were now trained to a level that would enable them to join an operational squadron. Trained but not experienced. The latter would only come with time and many new crews were denied that one life saving element.

In July 1943 Ray and the rest of his crew were posted to 44 (Rhodesian) Squadron, flying Avro Lancasters, operating from the recently opened airfield at Dunholme Lodge in Lincolnshire. Joan would go up to visit a cousin who lived very close to the airfield. Ray had been promoted in May to Flying Officer (F/O) but the Squadron’s Operations Record Book persisted in showing him as a Pilot Officer until 29th September 1943.

During the time that F/O Ray Marshall was with 44 Squadron, No.5 Group was commanded by Air Vice-Marshal The Hon. R.A. Cochrane CB, CBE, AFC. No.5 Group HQ was at Grantham and received its orders from Sir Arthur Harris Commander-in-Chief RAF Bomber Command who was headquartered at High Wycombe. The group was form4ed on 1st September 1937. At the outbreak of war it had five stations and ten squadrons all equipped with Handley-Page Hampdens., Air Vice-Marshal A.T. Harris assumed command of No.5 Group on 11th September 1939 and stayed for 14 months.

This group was responsible for many of the most dramatic and specialized attacks of the war. These included the successive breachings of the Dortmund-Ems Canal; the destruction of the Mohne and Eder Dams and the great Kembs Dam on the upper Rhine; the sinking of the Tirpitz and Lutzow; and the shuttle bombing of Friedrichshafen and Spezia whilst flying between bases in England and North Africa. No.5 Group was disbanded on 15th December 1945.

In December 1941 the Squadron’s Hampdens were withdrawn and early in 1942 it became the first squadron to convert completely to Lancasters. The Squadron’s establishment was 20 aircraft in 1943. This number was increased later as Lancasters became more plentiful to 26 plus 2 reserves. Introduction to operations was delayed by bad weather and training requirements until 3rd March 1942 when four of 44 Squadron Lancasters mined Heligoland Bight. The first Lancaster bombing operation was on the night of 10th March 1942, when two Lancasters of the Squadron participated in a raid on Essen. No.44 Squadron was disbanded in July 1957 but was re-formed in August 1960 at Waddington as a V-force Squadron. The Squadron was disbanded once again on 31st December 1982 following the Falkland Island War.

At the time that F/O Ray Marshall joined 44 Squadron in the summer of 1943, Bomber Command had, at last, become an effective force with many squadrons equipped with Lancasters. Air Chief Marshal Air Arthur Harris had become leader of Bomber Command on 22nd February 1942. He was an aggressive commander.

The time that F/O Ray Marshall was flying his 25 bombing operations would be the period of greatest activity by Bomber Command over Germany. Those aircrew following after F/O Marshall would be flying more operations over occupied Europe, in support of the Normandy Landings, than over heavily defended Germany and suffering fewer losses in consequence. There were some exceptions, especially German military targets in France. F/O Ray Marshall was fortunate in some ways, that experience gained by Bomber Command over nearly four years of war, all more or less coalesced by mid 1943. That did not mean it would be an easy tour, far from it. Bomber losses would remain high in Bomber Command until restrictions were made on the use of airborne electronic equipment and by the landings in Normandy, in June 1944, ultimately pushed back the German radar early warning system from the European coast.

There follows a log of raids that F/O Ray Marshall took part in as ‘Bomb-Aimer’ (Continued in A Bedfordshire Bomb Aimer' Part Two)

Raid One - Hamburg 24th July 1943 - Sgt. Mogford pilot

F/O Ray Marshall did not participate in the other three raids in the ‘Battle of Hamburg’. He flew to Essen on 25th July and then was stood down until 9th August. The Battle of Hamburg was comprised of four major raids on the nights of July 24/25, 27/28, 29/30 and August 2/3. A total of 3,095 sorties was made by Bomber Command aircraft on these nights. In total 86 bombers (2.8%) were lost with another 174 damaged (5.6%) 44 Squadron lost one aircraft in the Battle of Hamburg. This was on the last raid 2/3 August, when F/Sgt. A.R. Moffatt and his crew were shot down off the coast of Holland near the port of Harlingen. One crew member was rescued but six perished. Eighth Air Force lost 43 aircraft. In terms of casualties this represented over 1,000 Allied aircrew. The damaged aircraft probably added another 50% or more.”

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