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15 October 2014
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Tail-end Charlie, Lancaster Bombersicon for Recommended story

by Geraldine T

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
Geraldine T
People in story: 
Cyril Hector Crouch
Location of story: 
Elsham Wolds, Fiskerton, Helmswell, Lincolnshire
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A6001237
Contributed on: 
03 October 2005

War broke out when I was in my early teens. I was working on a farm, so I was exempt from being called up, as it was a reserved occupation. When I reached the age of seventeen (1943) I put my age up a year and went into the RAF to train as an Air Gunner. Being in a reserved occupation meant that Air Crew was the only service I could join.

I went to Peterborough and signed up to be a rear gunner, then went to St. John's Wood, London for induction. After that I went to Bridlington, Yorkshire for basic training, then on to Air crew training at OTU just outside Leicester, with further training at Ayr, Scotland.

I started operations with 103 Squadron and our first op. was to Dortmund, 11/11/1944. We did three more, 18/11, 21/11 and 27/11, and went on leave. The Bomb Aimer took the pilot, an Australian, to his home in London. They had a car accident and both finished up in hospital, so the rest of the crew were put in other crews. I went to 576 Sqn. at Fiskerton.

On my 13th op., 21.2.1945, we went to Duisberg and were shot down over Holland. We were lucky and landed on our side of the Front Line. We were hit in the port wing and it was a mass of flames. I can still see the Perspex running like water. I don't know how I got out. I think it took forty-five seconds for the wing to fall off. In that time I had to centralise the turret, disconnect the intercom, (this got caught up in something and I had to rip it off my head), undo oxygen mask, heating plug and safety belt. Open the turret door, climb over the tail plane, pick up my parachute, (which I dropped), clip it on, open the escape doors and bale out. How I did it I do not know.

My face was badly burned, but I survived. The pilot was lucky. When the wing fell off he was sitting on his parachute and he just rolled out of the escape hatch. If it had been the other wing he would have been on the wrong side and would have gone down with the plane.

The three men in the middle went down with the plane — the wireless operator, mid upper gunner and navigator. Ken Wallis, the engineer, landed not far from me. He cut off a bit of my parachute, which I put over my head to protect my face.

Some time later some Dutch people picked us up and took us to their home. There they arranged for us to be taken to hospital and we finished up in 50 MFH in Eindhoven. From there I was flown to RAF Hospital, Swindon, where I was treated. When I went to back on ops. I was transferred to 170 Sqn, Helmswell, 25/3/1945. I took some leave 27/3/1945-1/4/1945. When I returned I went on another 13 ops before the war was over.

One of the ops. involved dropping food to the Dutch people because they were starving. We called them the 'Spam Raids'. The Germans allowed us to fly over Amsterdam and Rotterdam Stadiums to drop food. We had to fly on course at six hundred feet. When we dropped it I think every window in every house had someone waving to us.

We also took a bomb bay full of coal to Berlin as it was very scarce for them then. We walked round some of Berlin to the Brandenburg Gate. It wasn't very pleasant — utter destruction. Then we went on to Naples and Bari in Italy to bring soldiers home. We had 20 soldiers packed in the Lancaster fuselage, but they were just glad to come home.

I was demobbed in March 1946, a few weeks before my twentieth birthday.

As a rear gunner my chances of survival were the lowest of the whole crew. I was shot down on my 13th op., the only crew member on 13, and went on to complete another 13 ops. This combined with the experience of being shot down left me with the feeling that 'when your time is up you will go and not before'. Thirteen was certainly a lucky number for me.

I am a member of the Caterpillar Club as I saved my life by parachute and I go to reunions most years in Blackpool.

I kept the piece of parachute that Ken cut off and put over my face, and used to wear it as a scarf. Without that I wouldn't be here to tell my story. Without that there would be no children or grandchildren to pass this on to.

F/Sgt C. H. Crouch 1880938

Units and Crews:

103 Squadron, Elsham Wolds:
P.O. D. M. Furler, Australia;
Sgt. G. H. Wilson;
Sgt. E. Johnnie, Chad;
Sgt. G. W. Blackshaw;
F/Sgt. R. Nairn, Australia;
Sgt. Lesley Hull;
Sgt. C. H. Crouch

576 Squadron, Fiskerton:
F/Lt. C. Don Thieme, Capt.;
Sgt. Ken Wallis,
W.O. J. H. Lowing, Australia;
F/Sgt. Vine, H.W.;
F/Sgt. Robinson, G. B., Australia;
Sgt. Lesley Hull;
Sgt. C. H. Crouch.

170 Squadron, Helmswell:
F/O Simpson, Capt.;
Sgt. Smith;
F/O Jeakins;
F/O Pile;
F/Sgt. Watts;
F/S Bradner,
Sgt. C. H. Crouch

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Message 1 - Tail-end Charlie, Lancaster Bombers

Posted on: 03 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Mr Crouch

Yours is a very fascinating story. When you were shot down you say "I think it took forty-five seconds ... In that time I had to centralise the turret, disconnect the intercom, ... undo oxygen mask, heating plug and safety belt. Open the turret door, climb over the tail plane, pick up my parachute, ... open the escape doors and bale out".

That barely conveys the complexity of a gun turret and what you had to do to get yourself clear.

I have two WW2 RAF training films, restored and now on DVD, one for the Fraser Nash Gun Turret and the other for the Boulton Paul Gun Turret. Before I saw these training films I never realised how complex gun turrets were, nor the intricate drill for getting into one and arming it. I have watched these films many times and I have since examined the Lancaster rear turret on the plane at Coningsby. How anyone ever got out of one in an emergency still amazes me.

Having to fly many more times after that must have been quite an ordeal.

Many thanks for an excellent story.

Peter Ghiringhelli

 

Message 2 - Tail-end Charlie, Lancaster Bombers

Posted on: 03 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Since posting the above message I have located details of your flight on 21/22 February 1945, the raid on Duisburg.

It was a massive raid, the last on Duisburg. 362 Lancasters and 11 Mosquitoes of 1, 6 and 8 Groups took part. Seven lancasters were lost.

Sgt Crouch was in a Lancaster I, code RA516 UL-Q2. He took off from Fiskerton at 1939 Hrs. The plane is believed to have crashed in the vicinity of Roermond (Limburg), and perhaps you could confirm this.

Sources:

"The Bomber Command War Diaries" by Middlebrook and Everitt.

"Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War", Volume 6, by W R Chorley.

Regards,

Peter

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