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Beating the Odds

by Brisbane_boy

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Ned Fuery, Tom Howley, Jock Davidson, Mike 'Slim' Barber,Ted Page, Bobby Roberts, Reg Allen
Location of story: 
Holme-on-Spalding-Moor, Yorkshire; Karlsruhe, Germany
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
30 September 2004

Ned Fuery and crew 76 Sqn RAF June 1944

(This story was written by my father a few years ago about one of his more memorable operations as a RAAF pilot in 76 Squadron, Bomber Command. Dad flew his first tour in 1944 and he and his all-British crew went back to the squadron in early 1945 to fly their second tour. He was happy to agree to my sending you this story.)

Beating the Odds
— T E (Ned) Fuery DFC (ex Flt. Lt., 76 Squadron RAF & 466 Squadron RAAF)

The morning of April 24 1944 dawned bright and clear as sometimes it did in Yorkshire at this time of the year. The date sticks in my memory because of the events which followed our attendance at breakfast in the Sergeants’ Mess at our base at Holme-on-Spalding-Moor. We, the crew of a Halifax bomber were rostered to commence our one week’s leave on this morning (we were given one week away from operations after six weeks’ work) but first, in accordance with instructions, I, as skipper, must check with the flight office whether we were required for an operation that night. We had been over enemy territory five times between the 9th and 23rd of April, and it was disappointing to learn that we were on the ‘battle order’ for the 24th. My rush to the bus stop was just in time to recover the two youngest of my crew who were already in the queue. Naturally some comment, not repeatable here, was made.

The day’s activities proceeded as normal. We took our aircraft up for an engine test and out over the sea to make sure the guns were operating effectively. The gunners cleaned and polished their turrets and we had morning tea (‘cuppa char’ and a ‘wad’) with our ground crew at the N.A.A.F.I. wagon; after lunch, a game of crib in the mess until afternoon tea and then briefing at 1600 hours.

The target was Karlsruhe, a large industrial city in south-west Germany, about a 61/4 hour trip. The route set out would take us north of the Ruhr area to avoid the massive anti-aircraft defences and then south to the target, turning west to France and north to home.

After the usual dinner in the mess at 1900 hours, there was time for letter writing or listening to the radio before our ‘ops’ meal of bacon and eggs at 2100 hours. Alcohol was banned in my crew from lunch-time onwards. Time was spent checking route maps and survival kits and drawing parachutes from the store before take-off at 2200 hours. Our individual time on target was between 0100 and 0103 hours.

Nothing untoward happened on the outward journey. We climbed to 20,000 feet, skirted the flak and searchlights but saw a few planes going down — the result of German fighter activity.

However, our so far uneventful trip turned bad over the target area. After lining up on the markers in accordance with the Bomb Aimer’s directions, instead of the usual “bombs gone”, I heard “Skip, the bloody bomb doors are jammed half-open and the bloody bombs won’t release!” “O.K. Tom, we’ll go around again.” Through the target for three minutes, turn to port to do a ten mile circuit to rejoin the stream without crossing it.

Half-way around the ear-phones came to life again — this time with the Rear-Gunner’s voice: “Skip, JU 88 700 yards port quarter, closing, prepare to corkscrew.” “O.K. Jock. Slim (Mid-Upper Gunner), watch starboard.” Jock again: “600 yards. Corkscrew port. Go!” Half-way through the manoeuvre, the rattle of four 303s told me Jock was on target, and then: “O.K. Skip, Jerry’s broken off.” I regained height and turned into the stream for another attempt. The result was the same and we went around again (this time without incident) for Tom to try manual release. No joy and, by now, we had been in the target area 20 minutes and the rest of the force — those still flying — would be well on their way home, making it easy for the German radar operators to pick us up on their screens. Fortunately, there was thick cloud about 2,000 feet above us and I wasted no time in climbing into its friendly shelter.

Heading west to give Ted (Navigator) time to work out a course for base whilst secure from attack, we soon had other problems. The windscreen and turrets frosted over and the pitot head iced up, taking the air speed indicator and the altimeter out of service. I still had the compass, the artificial horizon and the turn and bank indicator. The de-icers in the wings kept the leading edges free of ice and we were able to keep the protection of the cloud until well into France where it became scattered tufts.

Fully expecting a fighter attack, my main concern was: how many? We could have coped with one or, being ready, I was confident we could handle two, but three and we would be in God’s hands. Thankfully, He intervened early and there were no German fighters awaiting our emergence from the clouds. Ted was able to get a star shot with the sextant and give us a course for home.

However, we were not yet out of the woods. Over the North Sea, Tom got rid of the bombs by cutting the carriers free with a tomahawk, but the extra drag of the half-open bomb doors and the additional time we had taken played havoc with our fuel supply. (Engineer) Bobby’s dire warning that we had only about 10 minutes flying left made it imperative we get on the ground quickly. Over Norfolk I called the first aerodrome and asked for emergency landing. The unwelcome reply “Standby. We have a crash on the runway.” caused me some concern because we were at 1,000 feet, a bit low for all to bale out. After a time that seemed like minutes, but, in fact, was seconds, the control officer came back with “Diversion to Little Snoring”. (Wireless Operator) Reg produced the call sign quickly and I again asked for emergency landing. The reply “Come in” was a welcome relief and the aerodrome lights were switched on. Fortunately we were pointed straight down the runway about five miles out and about two minutes flying. We touched down at 0500 hours without measurable fuel in the tanks after seven hours in the air. Tom was first out to kiss the ground.

The Karlsruhe trip did several things for us: It cemented our burgeoning friendship, it gave us total confidence in one another, and it helped considerably in making us a more professional unit. We went on to carry out a further 46 operations over Europe before the war ended in that theatre, with a break of five months between September 1944 and January 1945.

Incidentally, all my crew were English from various parts of the country. Sadly, only three of them are still alive.

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