- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Margaret Fielden for Nick Carter
- Location of story:
- returning from a mine laying mission in Danzig Bay
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 April 2004
In March 1943 Lord Haw Haw, traitor and German propagandist, allegedly reported on the radio that a Lancaster had been shot down over Denmark. This is the real story.
The Entry from Squadron 57's air operation book (Air27/538) tells us that on 13/14th March 1943, a Lancaster 1 W4201 was 'shot up by fighter off west coast of Denmark. Extensive damage caused to the aircraft.Crash landed just off the aerodrome. No severe injuries to any member of the crew. Rear gunner wounded in fighter attack.'
An extract from the operations report- F/O Jeavons was intercepted by an unidentified fighter when about twenty to thirty miles off the west coast of Denmark on the return journey. Although handling was dfficult and all W/T aids had been made useless the aircraft was brought back over base and crash landed just off the aerodrome. The rear gunner was wounded and the flight engineer and Captain injured in the crash. None of them seriously.
This is the story of the journey home. The story of F/O Bill Jeavons, Pilot, P/O Dougie Warwick, Navigator, Sgt. Nick Carter, Flight Engineer, Sgt Bob Hood Morris, Bomb Aimer, P/O R Gibbons, Wireless Operator, Sgt. George Cooper, M/U gunner and Sgt Paddy Hughes, Rear Gunner told in the words of Nick Carter.
That night March 13th, we were once again detailed for minelaying. The main bomber force were going to the Ruhr again but that was cancelled because of weather conditions over their target, this was just before their take off time; we had departed some three hours earlier. It must have been a last minute cancellation for them because when we arrived back we found a number of them in line on the perimeter track, but more of this later. This time we were going to Danzig bay carrying only four mines because of the distance involved, we flew over Denmark and over the southern end of Sweden, which of course was a neutral country, and we could see all the towns street lighting, it looked so nice after our British blackout.
We arrived without any problems at Danzig and commenced our level flight to drop the mines when a dense curtain of flack burst around us. We had never experienced this before; it was the German Navy taking exception to our presence. It took under a minute to drop the mines but it was a very long minute. However, we were not hit and then started back on the return journey, once again over Sweden and then at 7000ft over Denmark. We had left the Danish coast about 15 minutes earlier and Paddy had just said that it wouldn't be too long before we were having our eggs and bacon, when it happened.
A junkers 88 night fighter fired at us from slightly below and behind, neither Paddy or George spotted it until we were hit. The aircraft went into a steep dive, the cabin was full of smoke and flames and the side windows had been blown out. Our cabin lights were flashing on and off, mainly on, and the wing tip lights were on. Bill seemed to be having a hard time pulling out of the dive and I tried to assist, she finally came out at what I thought was 700ft ( Bill said years after that he thought it was 500ft). We both agreed we could see the waves far too clearly. Flying level we then had to worry about the fighter. We concluded some days later that after seeing all the flames and lights he had decided we were finished. Meanwhile, Dougie had been dealing with the flames which turned out to be signal cartridges which had been hit by a cannon shell, so we had a wonderful, but very unappreciated, fire-work display of all colours. Dougie tried various methods to get rid of the burning cartridges and finally ended up putting on several pairs of gloves, picking up the cartridges and throwing them through the now windowless side of the cabin. I had to do something about the flashing lights and having quickly opened the fuse panel taking out what fuses I could, smashed others which I couldn't remove which were giving trouble. We worked out later that the 20mm cannon shells which had set fire to the cartridges and blown out the windows must have missed Dougie and me by about 24 inches.
Now it was time to see what other damage had been done, the intercom was dead - which was not a good start but not too much of a problem. It was when I went down the rear of the fuselage with my flashlight that I found the problem: The elevator and rudder controls were square sectioned tubes passing down the port side and located in supports made form a material called Tufnol. Between two of these supports the elevator control had been completely severed with about a ten inch gap, the supports had been blown 40 or 50 degrees out of line and had jammed the rudder control. Then I went forward into the bomb aimers compartment, from there I could check the airleron controls, more problems, the chains had formed a loop and severely restricted the movement. No wonder Bill was complaining that the aircraft was difficult to handle. I reported back to Bill and suggested that I could try to do something with the rudder control but he said to leave it alone, he was coping and didn't want to take any chances that might make it worse. Dougie by this time had collected his Gee maps which had blown down the back because of the wind coming through the missing windows and was trying to find out where we were. Luckiliy the Gee equipment was still working. I thought perhaps we could do something to prevent the wind from giving us so much trouble; the lower part of the cabin below the windows had some fairly stiff panels so I unscrewed them and to my great surprise (and Bill's) managed to jam them into the blank spaces where they stayed for the rest of the flight. Forty five years later Bill related this to Kathy, my second wife, over a gin and tonic whilst we relaxed on the deck of his house in Virginia.
The next problem to overcome was communication. Dougie had to give Bill changes of course, but this was solved when I suggested that I would be standing next to Bill and Doug could tap me behind either my right or left knee using one tap for each degree of turn, I would then change the needle of the directional compass as required. This worked very well and when I changed the reading Bill would give me an OK nod. All those years later, on that deck in Virginia, Kathy and Lois, Bill's wife, were in fits of laughter because Bill was partially deaf in one ear, the one that I could reach. I didn't know about this at the time and he didn't know that I had defective colour vision. It was fortunate that we didn't have to converse too often until we were approaching Scampton; the colour vision was not a problem in the circumstances. By very careful engine control Bill managed to fly the aircraft quite well: It was a case of decrease power to lose height, increase to climb, to turn port open up the starboard engines and the opposite to turn starboard. After what seemed like ages we crossed the Lincolnshire coast, I wasn't sure if they were still working but I flashed out an SOS message on the downward identification lights. Although we didn't know at the time, the signal was seen by the observer corps, who phoned the local RAF Stations to ask if they had a Lancaster missing. There were only 11 Lancs in action that night and so Scampton were standing by when we approached. Then Bill, having decided that a landing with no flying controls would be very tricky, decided that we should bail out. It was then that I had to tell him that I couldn't because my parachute had been used by Dougie to smother some of the burning signal cartridges. Bill then wanted the other five crew members to bail out while he and I attempted to land, this they refused to do saying that they would stick with us but would, of course, take up crash positions between the front and rear wing spars where they passed through the fuselage.
We prepared for landing as soon as we could see the airfield, by now it was six thirty am. and fairly light, on Bill's instructions I selected flaps down and that was OK, the next thing was to get the wheels down. Nothing happened so I moved back to the wireless operators position to where the emergency hydraulic hand pump was on his left hand side. All I found was a hole in the side of the fuselage where the pump should have been. There was one more thing to try, a last resort, a compressed air system that if used would blow all the oil out of the hydraulic system and hopefully lower the wheels. However, this meant that they could not be retracted. It worked, they came down but the starboard tire had been slashed by the cannon shells which didn't help the situation. Now it was more or less up to Bill, as we came closer to the airfield, losing height for touchdown, we found we were making directly for the line of aircraft left in situ when ops were scrubbed for that same night. All Bill could do was to use the engine power to gently make a 360 degree turn to make another approach, it was probably a ten mile radius and we were not happy to find that we were still lined up with the Lancs on the perimeter track. It was then that Bill took drastic action, we were at about 1000 plus feet and he suddenly opened the engines up to nearly full power. The aircraft banked to port in the required direction in what was a twenty or thirty degree bank, now we had to straighten up and so at Bill's nod I put the port engines at nearly full power, reducing the power on the other side. Nothing happened, we just slid side ways staight into the ground. I had tried to jam myself between the back of the pilot's seat and the navigator's table watching the ground come close and thinking B------ Hell, this is it. The next thing I knew I was lying full length on my back in the bomb aimer's compartment feet facing forward, with the front gun turret which had come off its mounting sitting on my legs. I looked over my head towards the back of the aircraft and there was Dougie trying to open his escape hatch but turning the handle the wrong way. I yelled to him to turn it the other way, which he did and promptly left. I then found I was the only one left in the aircraft and could see that there was some smoke coming out of the starboard wing. I tried to free my trapped foot, the left one, but without success and then had a sudden brainwave, I unzipped the flying boot and out came the foot unharmed. Then it was a simple matter to exit via the pilot's escape hatch and slide down the side of the fuselage, except I hadn't unplugged my intercom from the socket and found myself suspended about a foot above the ground by my leather flying helmet. At that moment Paddy and George ran back and while Paddy held me up George removed the helmet. It really is very strange but we had come to rest in a field next to our own dispersal point and there was our own ground crew coming throught the hedge to help us, plus an ambulance crew who had been waiting at the control tower with the fire engine and another truck with cutting equipment. I learned afterwards that my little RAF friend Twinkle was also with the spectators.
Although I felt fine and I am sure we were all glad to be alive, in my travels from behind the pilot's seat to the aircraft nose my face must have come into contact with the four throttle levers and also the four propeller pitch levers; cutting me over the left eye and eyelid and also across the mouth. It looked much worse than it proved to be but the medics insisted on stretchering me back to the ambulance. All the crew were with me and on arrival at the medical centre I was taken into the operating room and though Bill stayed with me the others went for debriefing and then to the officers' or sergeants' mess. I was placed on a flat padded table to allow the very young doctor to see what he could do. I remember Bill gripping my right arm above the elbow and me feeling embarrassed because I had a hole in the sock on my left foot. The doctor said he would have to put some stitches in but couldn't give me an anaesthetic because of shock. I think Bill felt it worse than I did. After that I was given a large morphine tablet and woke up 24 hours later in a hospital bed. One of my earlier thoughts was that this episode should be worth a few beers. I hadn't been awake very long when there was a huge explosion from somewhere on the airfield and later we found that a cookie, a 4000lb bomb, had blown up one of the aircraft destroying, I believe, three other Lancasters. I soon had visitors, first Twinkle and another waitress and then the crew. My head was bandaged up so that just my eyes and mouth were visible. I did get to look when the doctor was checking progress, after he'd left I nipped out of bed and viewed my reflection in the brass finger plate on the door. Later I heard that during breakfast of the morning of the crash Paddy had complained that his legs were a bit painful. He ended up in a local hospital where he had small pieces of his rear turret removed from the knee area, a cannon shell had passed under his seat and exploded. One foot higher and Paddy would have been killed. I still think of him and wonder why the heck he should volunteer when he came from Southern Ireland, I believe he survived the war, he was a great chap. He and George had carried me from the aircraft to and through the hedge before the medics took over.
I was then given some sick leave and ordered to report to Emmanuel College, Cambridge to have the stitches removed at the end of my leave. The college was being used as an initial training wing for aircrew cadets. With my small suitcase I stood at the bus stop by the Scampton gate when as large Rover car pulled up and the driver asked if I would like a lift. This, of course, was very welcome and he started a conversation by stating that a Lancaster had crashed into one of his fields a few days before, I said I knew, I was in it. Well I'm darned he said, or something like that, if you've got time before your train I'm going to buy you a lunch. Which he did and I still think how nice it was of him. The day before I had walked over to the site of the crash, I could see where the wing had first hit the ground and could work out what had probably happened. On first contact the reaction had righted the plane to level attitude, it had torn across a field, then knocked down a derelict cottage and passed through a small orchard. Then it had reached the road past the airfield which being higher than the field took the undercarriage off allowing us to pass over the road like a flying boat. We then knocked down a telegraph pole and went through the barbed wire boundary fence which was about fifteen feet high; this wrapped itself around the two outboard engines and tore them off, the fuselage ending up in the field next to our dispersal area. I went into what was left of the aircraft and found a ground engineer writing a report and sitting in the pilot's seat. Now the funny thing was just prior to the trip I had got an empty dope can and painted it in blue and white stripes so that any of us at the front end could use it if we were taken short. We had used it and I had wedged it behind Bill's seat, it was still there and I remarked about it as I took it away. The officer said he had been puzzled by the awful smell. Why it stayed in place while I didn't was I suppose a matter of weight!
Thanks to Bill Jeavons of Virginia USA, Nick's friend of many years, died August 2003, to Bob Hood Morris, Nick's roomate, later POW, and to Bob's wife who sent silver shoes for the wedding of Mary, our mother, to Nick, to Dougie Warwick, of Vancouver, who played the best piano sycopation Nick had heard who died 16.09.1943 with the Dambusters, to George Cooper died 20.04.1943 and Paddy Hughes of Ireland, who together carried Nick their housemate, from the crashed aircraft, and to R Gibbons who made up a great team.
This story is from the memoires of Nick Carter, written for his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Thanks to Nick, our Dad, our hero, died 4.02.2002, from Maggy, Lissie and Nick Jnr.
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