- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Alan Haworth
- Location of story:
- Zimbabwe, Suffolk, Germany
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 January 2004
I was just 19 when war was declared. I had hoped that it would be avoided but once we were in it I was determined to volunteer for the RAF. This was principally because I did not want to see Germans marching in Trafalgar Square and also because I wanted to learn to fly.
I volunteered in July 1940, was interviewed and medically examined and sent to Torquay for initial training in October 1940. After that I was sent to Zimbabwe for flying training; we went by ship from Liverpool to Cape Town and by train to Bulawayo where we arrived in May 1941.
In my six weeks flying lessons I was never able to judge the height from the ground for landing; I smashed the undercarriage of two Tiger Moths and was told it would take too long to teach me to fly so I was sent to South Africa to train as an observer (navigator).
Failing the pilot’s course was lucky for me (although I did not know it at the time) because the successful ones on my course were posted to Singapore and were captured when it surrendered.
I was successful on the navigator course; was presented with my ‘Observer’ wing by General Smuts and came back to Liverpool from Cape Town in February 1942 on the ‘Cape Town Castle’ which was unescorted but thought likely to avoid submarines because of its speed. Luckily we did not meet any.
I was a sergeant when I arrived back but coon after arrival was told to go to the nearest tailor for a Pilot Officer’s uniform. I had no interview for getting a commission but was told that I had done well on the navigation course. I was then sent for an advanced training course but did not complete it because a navigator was needed by 214 Stirling Squadron at Stradishall in Suffolk. This was again lucky for me because I became part of a crew which had already done 6 missions. This was in mid-1942 when aircrews believed that if you managed to get through six trips you had a chance of completing your tour of 30.
My first mission was to Essen in the Ruhr Valley (known to aircrew as ‘Happy Valley’ because of the intensity of its searchlights and anti-aircraft guns) in June 1942. From then until November 1942 I did 26 more trips, all at night with this crew. The targets include Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, Hamburg, Saabrücken, Düsseldorf, Nürnberg, Munich and Turin. Never once on that tour or my later ones was I ever briefed to attack any target other that submarine works or armament and ball-bearing factories, I get very cross when I hear the media say that all we did was attack the centres of large cities.
In mid-1942 I may not have got the bombs as close to the target as I wanted because having no radar assistance I had to rely on ‘dead reckoning’ navigation, Met-forecast winds and visibility but camera shots taken of the bomb-bursts showed that I was often within 200 yds.
In the 6 months of my first tour I had more instances of my good fortune. On 3 occasions we were attacked by night fighters and each time the gunners of our crew were too good for them and shot them down; we then continued to our targets. For this the whole crew was decorated and I received the DFC from H.M. George VI.
During one of the night-fighter raids a cannon-shell had exploded in the bomb-nose of the Stirling under the pilot’s armour-plated seat so when I went into the bomb-nose to do the bombing there was a big hole where there should have been fuselage which, fortunately, I saw although it was dark in the plane and avoided it or else I could have walked out without a parachute at a height of 16,000 feet!
On my last trip of that tour to Turin (the Fiat works) we had to bomb from a height of 2,000 feet. When we were near the target, I saw from the bomb-nose an Italian biplane fighter no more than 200ft. from me. I could see the pilot but fortunately for all of us he failed to open fire.
From Jan. to Sept. 1943 I was on 214 training squadron but after 6 months got fed up, volunteered to join Donald Bennett’s pathfinder group and was accepted. I was posted to Marham in Norfolk to join 105 squadron flying Mosquitoes using the OBOE tracking device. My pilot was Ian McPherson who had played football for Arsenal F.C. before the war.
After many weeks of training on OBOE which was essentially the transmission of signals from ground stations to the aircraft to enable you to fly down a curved track which was 40ft wide at a known, fixed height and airspeed. The track went directly over the target. It was the navigator’s job to get the plane to a point on that track which was 10 minutes flying time from the target.
The time for release of your bombs or flares could be calculated by the ground stations and transmitted back to us. From my records I see that our bombs or flares landed within 100 yds of the target on all 73 trips I did in Mosquitoes.
If flares were being used to mark the target for the heavy bomber force, they had to be renewed by other OBOE Mosquitoes. If you happened to in the second or third Mosquito, it was quite dangerous because the German anti-aircraft batteries knew exactly the height and speed at which you would be flying.
On three occasions, McPherson and I were hit and had to return on one engine. Once we had lost our electrics and a lot of petrol. We were not able to identify ourselves when we came back over England and were fired at by our own gunners. Fortunately for us, they missed. We had just enough petrol to get back to Marham.
Another lucky occasion was when we returned from a mission on a night when it was below freezing even at ground level and so the small bombs, which were fitted outside under our wings and which we had tried to shake off when were over the sea, fell off on impact when landing on the grass of RAF Marham (this was before runways had been built there). The bombs were ready to explode.
As we were the third aircraft to land we were lucky to miss the bombs of the previous aircraft but we had seen and reported them and the other aircraft were then diverted. In Jan. 1944 we crashed on landing because one of our landing wheels had been punctured by enemy shrapnel whilst flying at 31,000ft.
Between Jan. and Nov. 1944 I did 73 trips with 105 Squadron. Before D-Day the targets were mainly armament (often ball-bearing) factories in small towns which were marked for small forces of heavy bombers. The opening of the second front was exciting. We marked the gun positions on the coast so that the bombers could destroy them. This was 0200 hrs. on 6th June and I saw the ships and barges sailing across the Channel.
After D-Day most of our marking and bombing was in support of the advancing soldiers, and a lot of it was in daylight. My last mission - my hundredth - was to Stuttgart.
But now to my best piece of luck during the war. On 31st Oct. 1943, Ian McPherson phoned the Marham Officers’ Mess at 2200 hrs. and invited me to the Sergeants’ Mess to a Halloween Party at which there were also some girl telephonists from King’s Lynn. I did not feel like going because it was late and I had had quite a lot to drink. But I decided to go so that I could get to know Ian better.
One of the telephonists I met agreed to meet me again in King’s Lynn; our friendship developed and a year later we got married. I had promised her father that I wouldn’t marry her until I had finished flying operationally. I did my hundredth trip on 7th Nov. 1944 and so completed my third tour of operations; we got married on 11th Nov. 1944 and we have just celebrated the anniversary of 59 years together.
A few days after our marriage I was notified that I had been given a Bar to my DFC. I think this was because I had been lucky to survive 100 missions.
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