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15 October 2014
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Operation Oyster, Part 1

by peter_ricketts

Contributed by 
peter_ricketts
People in story: 
Flt Lt Albert Ricketts
Location of story: 
Eindhoven, Holland
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A3537461
Contributed on: 
17 January 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Peter Ricketts [son] on behalf of Albert Ricketts [the author] and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

The story describes Operation Oyster, which was a daylight-bombing raid on Phillips Radio Works, Holland, on December 6th 1942. This raid was at the time the largest daylight-bombing raid of the war. This is an account by Fl. Lt Albert Ricketts and is an extract from his WW11 Memoirs. Albert had trained as a pilot and was eventually posted to 21 squadron based at Methwold, Norfolk. Operation Oyster was his first bombing raid (undertaken on his mother’s birthday); he held the rank of Sergeant and piloted a Lockheed Ventura aircraft with a crew of 4. At the end of the raid his aircraft ditched into the sea about 7 miles off Felixstowe and all were safely recovered.

My arrival at 21 Sqdn, which was positioned at RAF Bodney, which was a satellite to RAF Watton, in Norfolk, heralded the start of all that I had wanted since I joined the RAF and for which my training had hopefully prepared me.

The squadron had very recently been re — equipped with Lockheed Ventura A/c which was a medium daylight bomber carrying 3 x 500lb and 4 x 250lb bombs, replacing the Bristol Blenheim Mk 4 which had done sterling work both in the Middle East and Northern Europe. The Squadron had recently returned from the Middle East where they had been involved in a low level attack on the German Fleet at Taranto in the Mediterranean Sea. Not only was 21 Sqdn being re — equipped but the whole of 2 Group, which was a daylight Bomber group within Bomber Command, was also being re — equipped with other types of aircraft which included Douglas Bostons, North American Mitchells, perhaps better known as the B 25 which was famed for its raid on Tokyo where the aircraft took of from an Aircraft Carrier. Later on De Havilland Mosquitoes also joined the Group.

Whilst at Bodney I went on an SBA refresher course at RAF Horsham St. Faith which was on the outskirts of Norwich. Whilst I was on that course, the Sqdn moved to RAF Methwold which was a satellite to RAF Feltwell, again in Norfolk. At Feltwell was our sister Squadrons on Venturas. These were, 464 RAAF Sqdn and 487 RNZAF Sqdn making up 140 Wing of 2 Group of Bomber Command..

The first Operations carried by the recently re - equipped Group were Cloud Cover operations. This was individual aircraft flying to the target in cloud and only dropping out occasionally to verify its position and adjust accordingly. One of our crews were briefed to bomb the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and following the laid down procedure eventually broke cloud immediately over Rotterdam harbour just as our training said he would. I joined the Squadron too late to be competent enough to take part in these operations during which we lost we lost 3 aircraft & crews. One of those aircraft was piloted by a Canadian by the name of Sgt Henry whose aircraft was lettered ' R '.

When the replacement was delivered on the 27/11/42 to our parent station at R.A.F. Feltwell, the home of our sister squadrons, and modified to bring it up to date, I was told that this was to be my A/c and would be lettered ' R '. Interestingly, each one of my crew had the letter ' R ' in their initials namely R. S. Thompson, E. R. Goddard, W. R. Legge and myself A. V. Ricketts. After a considerable amount of training, we were adjudged to be capable of carrying out this type of operation and were briefed to bomb the harbour at Antwerp in The Netherlands. Being briefed to fly in cloud at 1000 ft with the freezing level at 800 ft, I didn't fancy the idea of the A/c being coated in ice and was pleased when the operation was called off for that reason.

That was the last we heard of Cloud Cover operations, for a while. We then concentrated our training on daylight low level operations and from the 21st to 30th Nov, numerous factories in England were ' bombed ' during these practices. We air tested our aircraft both on the 30th Nov and 1st Dec in view of the forthcoming raid. Eventually on the 2nd Dec we were briefed for a raid on the Phillips Radio Works at Eindhoven in The Netherlands. This was going to be, so far, the largest daylight bombing operation of the War involving the whole of 2 Group amounting to about 100 aircraft made up of Bostons, Mitchells ( B25s ) some Mosquitoes and of course Venturas. Due to fog at the target, the raid was put back daily. Each day, whilst the weather at base was good, there was fog at the target and so there was nothing for it but to return to the mess and enjoy the liquid refreshment but bed was the least thing on our minds.

At last on the 6th (my mother's birthday ) the weather was favourable and at 1230hrs, after re — briefing, it was all systems go and the relief and anticipation was plain for all to see. We got into our A/c ' R ' but my air gunner reported that the gun turret was u/s (unserviceable ) and we had to change to another A/c i.e. ' P '. We found out some days later that the flap, which could be raised to enable the air gunner to get in and out of the turret more easily and which had attached to it a control column to make the turret rotate, to raise and lower the guns ( 2 ) with a firing button at the top, could only be brought down with the guns in the ' up ' position, otherwise the turret would not operate.

By this time all of the Squadron A/c had taken off. Having waited this long we were not going to be denied the opportunity of ' fighting the enemy ' and so we were anxious to get airborne as quickly as possible. In doing so I didn't strap myself in and as soon as the last crew member was inside the A/c and before the door was properly shut, we were building up speed for take off. The fact that we swung on take off and narrowly missed the Air Traffic Control building didn't seem to matter.

We were on our way and anxious to catch up with the squadron aircraft who, by this time, were out of sight. It wasn't too long before we could see them in the distance and was catching up quite quickly. Because we were the last to take off we eventually joined up at the back of the ' gaggle ' of A/c. Having now ' joined up ' with the rest of the squadron, I was able to relax ( as much as one could flying at 235mph at 0 ft. ) Our Sqdn was on the starboard side of 464 Sqdn who was leading the Wing on this operation with 487 Sqdn being on their port side.

Eventually we reached the English coast and crossed it at Southwold in Suffolk. Now over the water without any trees or buildings to hamper us we were right down on the water so as to prevent the German Radar from picking us up and making life difficult for us when we crossed into Holland.

Having been over the water for about 10 mins or so, I saw an aircraft of 464 Sqdn dive into the sea seemingly for no apparent reason. I had to remind myself not to do the same. The course that 464 was flying kept pushing our Sqdn slightly to starboard which meant that when we crossed the Dutch Coast it was over a bird sanctuary so that the noise caused the birds to take off and fly into the aircraft as they passed over. One of the birds hit our windscreen in front of the navigator’s position leaving a bloodstain where it had hit.

The navigator of the Ventura doubled up as the bomb aimer and therefore sat in front of an alleyway to enable him to move down into the bomb-aimer’s position although in this raid, because it was low level, myself as the pilot would release the bombs.

On both sides of the nose of the Ventura were 4 small windows, some of them by the alleyway, and a bird came in through one of them, up the alleyway and hit Ron Thompson in the unmentionables. It wasn't until he saw the feathers that he realised it wasn't his blood. Now we were over land which was quite flat and with ' flak ' towers about 30 ft high, we had to fly as low as possible so as to avoid being shot at. Not long after crossing the Dutch coast we were in the area of the ' dykes ' and of course there were roads on some of these. It came as a bit of a surprise to see a fellow on a bike some 10 ft or so higher than our A/c riding along one of them. He seemed oblivious to our a/c and this was reported by other crews.

Our prearranged track took us to a place called Turnhout where we made a port turn on to our course to Eindhoven which was about 12 miles away. It wasn't long before we were being shot at by guns on the top of the Phillips factory. As we were approaching the factory the bomb doors were opened ready for the bombs to be released. As we were the last A/c to drop our bombs it wasn't surprising that, with the bombing that had gone on before we arrived, the factory was well and truly alight and billowing smoke. The incendiaries we were dropping were of a new type ( for the period ) and exploding on impact the contents would stick to whatever it hit and continue burning.

Unfortunately the A/c in front of me was too close to the building when his bombs exploded so that they stuck to his plane and it went down in flames after he passed over the factory. Not wanting to suffer the same fate, as soon as I had released our bombs, I made the A/c climb rapidly and so we disappeared into the smoke and levelled out at about 600ft. I continued to fly at that height blind and on instruments until we were out of the smoke and then realised how vulnerable we were.

I pushed the nose of the A/c down quickly so as not to attract the anti - aircraft fire little realising the confusion this was causing to Bill Legge who was the air gunner in the downward rear facing gun position. These guns were fed by a switch back system from the bullet panniers positioned on both sides of the A/c. These switch backs didn't have a cover on them and the sudden descent of the A/c caused the bullets, which were linked together, to come out of the switch backs and wrap themselves around Bill's neck.

The expletives he used were unprintable. However now that we were back to ground level, it wasn't long before we were being shot at once again from the flak towers, making us fly even closer to the ground. Not long after leaving the target I managed to make the A/c hit a tree. Fortunately we hit it head on and about one third of the way down. Had it been a wing that hit the tree I would not be alive today to tell this story. The impact was not such that it would cause us to crash but did enough damage to make life quite difficult for us to keep flying. It wasn't too long before I realised that the pitot head ( that that provides the force of air for the air speed indicator to work ) had been ripped off.

Part of the underside of the wing had been ripped away so that Ron was able to see the ground through the side of the A/c. Just before we were about to leave the Dutch Coast our starboard engine packed up. I could only conjecture that the collision had damaged the pipe line to the engine and I had no alternative but to feather the prop and fly on only one, again a practice I had carried out quite often. This was necessary so as to reduce 'drag' and stay airborne.

At about this time I realised that we had lost a lot of fuel and therefore I felt it imperative that we made a landfall in the U.K. as quickly as possible and so we altered course for Felixstowe in Suffolk. Gradually inching higher and higher so that if an emergency occurred we would have sufficient height to deal with it. It wasn't too long before we were at 1,300ft although without any idea of the speed at which we were flying it was important that I didn't cause the A/c to lose flying speed and thereby stall and lose the height that I had been able to gain. Although I didn't think of it at the time, I realised later how much I appreciated all the training I had been put through and the thoroughness with which my instructors had done their job.

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