- Contributed by
- Stockport Libraries
- People in story:
- Leslie Landells, Pat Dwyer, Boris Threadgold, Eric Martindale; Albert Storey, George Gregory
- Location of story:
- RAF Wickenby, Lincolnshire; Germany
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 August 2005
An extract from Les's Logbook. Details were kept to a bare minimum in case they fell into enemy hands.
This story was submitted to the People's War Website by Elizabeth Perez of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Leslie Landells and has been added to the site with his permission. He fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
Pat's account of missions added to and edited by Les
Bomber Crew -
Pilot: Les Landells, Distington, Cumbria
Navigator: Albert ‘Bud’ Storey, Harrington, Cumbria
Bomb Aimer: Boris Threadgold, East Mosely, Surrey
Flight Engineer: Eric ‘Marty’ Martindale, Carlisle, Cumbria
Wireless Operator: Pat Dwyer, Perth, Australia
Rear Gunner: Fred Dartnell, Hainault, Essex
Mid Upper Gunner: George Gregory, Laindon, Essex
9 November 1944 — Wanna Eickel
The next trip was to Wanna Eickel in the Ruhr. Our aircraft was UM G2, and this was our first flight in it. All the pre-flight checks were done, run up etc, and everything was spot on. Time to go and we taxied out onto the perimeter track to follow other Lancasters as they headed for the runway. The plane developed a problem, the two inner engines were dropping revs, and this was very serious for us, because of the ‘all up weight’* of the plane, we needed maximum power to take off.
* (Note by editor: the ‘all up weight’ of an aircraft is the weight of a serviceable aircraft with fuel, ammunition, oil, bombs, etc. The all up weight of bombers in World War II was pushed much beyond what would have been acceptable in peace time, and a bomber would need all available power to make enough speed on the runway to become airborne. To help achieve this, the engines were very highly tuned to enable them to develop more power than they would ever have been asked to do in peace time. On a 4-engined bomber, failure (or drop in power) of just one engine could be, and indeed generally was, catastrophic, with the aircraft (and well over 2,000 gallons of highly flammable, high octane fuel and up to 16,000 lbs of high explosive and incendiary bombs) veering off the runway, the undercarriage collapsing, and the resulting explosion being heard for many miles around. Few aircrews were lucky to survive such a crash on take-off).
There was a danger of crashing on take-off with the potential of fire and explosions and the blowing up of the aircraft. Not only could the crew be killed, but the plane would be out of control and other people could be killed if it hit a village, houses etc. The pilot made the decision to declare the plane ‘US’, and we pulled into the nearest dispersal point, and cut the motors. The other crews took off safely and were on their way to the target. Our crew stayed in the aircraft, and watched the others leave; that was the end of the raid for us, as far as we were concerned, or so we thought. A car pulled up in front of the plane, it was the Squadron C.O. He got out of the car and called out “Landells, what’s going on?” Our Skipper, Les, replied “We have declared the plane ‘US’ Sir, the two inner engines are dropping revs.” There was an instant reaction by the C.O., but our story about revs dropping in two inner engines was ignored. No check was made and we had to obey orders. The demand was maximum effort from each squadron and this was the C.O’s responsibility. These days it would be a criminal offence to take off in a plane in such condition. We had our orders, and the engines were started, and we took off thirty minutes after the others had left. There was no dropping of revs at that stage, fortunately for us. We flew in 10/10 cloud heading for the target, and the engines started playing up again. We carried on and got to the target area, but the cloud was that bad, that all we could do was hope we were over the target. We dropped our bombs and headed home. The engines were still playing up, but we kept flying. We reached Wickenby and made our approach to the main runway from the south side. We had full flaps; wheels down and 2850 revs and we were over the fields before the drome. Suddenly, the revs dropped and we landed in the fields before the runway. We hit and smashed a concrete drainage pipe, and a fence went flying. We hit the main road to Wragby, bounced up into the air, and came ‘crabwise’ onto the runway. What we had worried about on take-off happened when we were landing, which added to our original concern. The official squadron report for the operation details our problem with the engines, but did not state that we had the problem before take-off. We had touched down at nearly 100 mph. Which confirmed our original concern about the two inner engines, which were dropping revs, but was not accepted. The report also showed that we took off thirty minutes after the other aircraft. There was normally traffic on the Wragby Road, but fortunately it was clear, when we hit it (or so we thought*).
*Special note: 59 years after this incident at a 626 Squadron Reunion, a lady, hearing Les recount the story to another ex-R.A.F. aircrew member, said she could hardly believe her ears. Apparently, she had been travelling with her father and mother along the Wragby Road at the time. Les did not see them as he was so focussed on controlling the aircraft. The family had been trying to trace the pilot for years and years. So we shared many thoughts and memories. Les keeps in touch with her still. Incidentally, this family were friends of the farmer whose new fence was demolished. Both of these farming families had always said, as long as the R.A.F. crew were safe, they accepted the fence did not really matter.
20 February 1945 — Dortmund
Our next trip was to Dortmund carrying a ‘Cookie’ and 1000 pounders, and we were given the use of another crew’s aircraft. This aircraft was about three weeks old on squadron, and was what we could hopefully aspire to, when more experienced. We arrived safely at Dortmund, and let the bombs go over the target. All bombs went except a 1000 pounder, which was fired by Boris, but was still hung up. We could not release the bomb, and headed home. We kept the bomb bay doors open over Germany, the pilot bounced the plane, but the bomb still stuck. Over France we closed the bomb bay door and opened them again over the North Sea. The pilot did everything possible to shift it, but we had no luck.
We headed back to Wickenby, where there had been an intruder causing a blackout, and one of our planes crashed on its approach, killing two crew and injuring the others. We made our approach and then touchdown. As soon as we hit the deck, the bomb dropped loose onto the bomb bay doors, making very unpleasant noises as it rolled around. The runway was 2000 yards long and we made an emergency R.T. Call and we were told to travel to the end of the runway and to the first dispersal point. We were unaware of what was going to happen, as we knew the bomb was not very safe. We got into the dispersal point, cut the motors and got out of the plane very promptly. The emergency crews had arrived and had a stack of mattresses to put under the bomb, which had spread the bomb bay doors, so it was hanging nose down over the tarmac and wedged by the doors through which it was slipping. Obviously we were lucky to have reached the dispersal point before it dropped, as it would most likely have exploded when it hit the runway and blown us up.
There was a sequel to this happening, as the hanger for the bomb was ‘US’ before we took off. It had been marked ‘US’ by a ground crew member, but this was ignored by the other ground crew member, who was involved with the bombing up of the plane and declared all OK. He was charged and found guilty of an offence and punished. Boris, our Bomb Aimer, was a witness at the hearing. The chap, who was found guilty, would have probably got away with it, if we had been blown up. Next morning, after the raid, I was having breakfast with our crew in the Sergeants’ Mess, when an English
crew we were friendly with came to our table complaining that we had ‘stuffed’ up their good aeroplane. We didn’t take much notice of their grizzle and had a laugh about it. About four weeks later, that crew went on a raid in terrible weather, the raid was cancelled and they dropped the ‘Cookie’ in the ‘North Sea official dumping zone’. They returned to Wickenby on three engines, with the balance of their bombs aboard. The weather was too bad to land and they had to do an overshoot and they were diverted to another drome. Over the drome they dropped a wing and crashed, killing all the crew. The crash set off bombs in the airfield bomb dump causing further casualties.
A Cumulus Nimbus Spin and White Lines on the Road
On another trip to Germany, we reached the target, dropped our bombs and headed back home. The weather was not too good and we were flying through 10/10 cloud. At 18,000 feet over France, we flew into a cumulus nimbus cloud, which threw us out of control and we went spinning down in the dark. Les, the Pilot was not able to regain control until we came out of the cloud at a very low level. Boris, the Bomb Aimer said that when we came out of the cloud, he could see that we were flying with one wing down. The pilot corrected this and we flew over France under the cloud. When we reached England, the Bomb Aimer could not only see the blackout headlamps of vehicles on the road, but also the white lines on the road. He advised the Skipper, who thought that Boris was talking nonsense, but Boris said the plane started to gain height quickly. He presumed that Les had checked the height from his window and then taken action.
A Fuel Tank Leak
We had completed all our checks and those who did, smoked their last fag, and were in the plane all set to go. It was dark, but when I looked out of my window at the starboard wing, I noticed petrol dripping off the wing. I reported this to the Skipper and he called to our ground crew about the problem. They checked and said the tank was overfilled, and all was okay and there was no tank leak. We took off and were on our way, got to the target safely and then dropped our bombs. ‘Marty’, our engineer reported that our fuel reserves were down and we would have to watch our usage on the return leg. By the time we had reached the English coast, the problem had become critical, and we were unable to switch the fuel tanks, because of fears of an engine cut. On our return to Wickenby, we made an urgent call for an emergency landing. We received approval, fired the Red Verey cartridge and landed safely. An after-flight check of our fuel tanks, recorded only four gallons left in the starboard wing and forty gallons in the port wing tank.
Near Miss on the Runway
We had arrived back on the Wickenby circuit, after a successful trip to Germany, and were flying at the advised height, waiting for our turn to land. Finally, we got the okay to ‘pancake’ and made our final approach. It was a good landing and we rolled down the runway. Pat was standing up in the astrodome and looked up and saw a Lancaster ready to land. He could not fire the Red Verey cartridge to warn them, as I thought the flash would blind the pilot and cause him to crash, as the pilot’s cockpit was no more than 70 feet directly above us. Fortunately, an overshoot call on R.T. was given from Control and the pilot did as was advised. It was so close, that Pat thought the other plane was going to land on us.
We were well on the way to the target, when there were complaints from the front of the plane about the smell of burning rubber in the plane. Pat hadn’t smelt anything, but got involved in the search for the source of the problem. When he got out of his seat, he found that a type 20 Resistor, which was involved with voltage control on the equipment, had a short circuit and was glowing like a household radiator. The smell was the soles of his rubber flying boots smouldering, as his feet were next to the radiator. With his oxygen mask on his face, together with a nasal problem, he was unable to smell anything unusual. He had not felt the heat through his boots, but no doubt that would have happened eventually. He went to the engineer for tools to try and fix the problem, but if he remembers correctly, he found our ‘tools’ consisted of an axe. He remembers trying to fix the Resistor lying on the floor under his table. He thinks he had to disconnect the unit for safety, as he was unable to cut out the short circuit.
8 March 1945 — Kassel
We were well on our way to Kassel, flying at our pre-set height of 20,000 feet, with all system on go, when we had a problem with a port motor, which we had to cut. We then hand a problem with the second port motor, which was cutting in and out. Finally we had to cut the motor and that left us with only two starboard motors. This left us with a problem of keeping up with the bomber stream, as not only would we be late for the target, but we could also be a ‘sitting duck’ for the fighters. Our Skipper was determined not to abort the trip, so to keep up our speed, we had to lose height. Over the target we were at 13,000 feet and we missed the flak, which was being fired at the bombers above us. We headed for home, and luck was with us, as we were not bothered by fighters or flak. Back in the UK, the big worry was not to drop the port wing and crash, so we made all our turns to starboard. When we reached Wickenby, Pat, the WOP had to fire the Red Verey cartridge to clear the way for an emergency landing, and thanks to the skill of Les Landells, this was completed safely.
Further rather ‘dicey’ missions as related by Les:
One mission was with a full bomb load and one bombless on the return flight. On both occasions we ‘iced up’ and the instruments therefore failed. We lost hundreds of feet, but I managed to regain control, but only with the help of praying with all my might. Quite frankly, I cannot really describe the difficulty of trying to regain control of a large four-engine bomber in complete darkness without instrumentation and mechanical support. The physical and mental demands were awesome.
18 April 1945 — Heligoland
Our final mission was to the North Sea island of Heligoland, a thorn in our side from the outset of WWII. The island was heavily protected with massed A/A and fighter cover. Many of our aircraft, having flown off course, had been shot down over the area in the past.
2/3 May 1945 — ‘Manna’
The missions that brought us most satisfaction were those on the 2nd and 3rd May 1945. The missions were named ‘Manna’ and they were to drop food for the Dutch people who were starving (a ceasefire had been agreed). As we were flying at 500 ft and less, we saw innumerable wrecks of aircraft along the beaches: Lancasters, Halifaxes, Flying Fortresses, Spitfires, Hurricanes and many others types of planes, including German. The food was dropped at 100 ft or less so it wouldn't burst open!
The guns of the German A/A guns were pointing downwards with their gunners just standing around, as agreed in the terms of the truce. But, as was said later, our air gunners were ready to fire if the truce was broken. Some of our boys were ‘itching’ to do so and many of us had tears in our eyes for our friends and comrades who had died in the wrecked aircraft we saw scattered below.
Go to, "What happened to Les' Bomber Crew after the War Part 1" by Leslie Landells.
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