Deadly March

group picture March 1945

Thursday, March 1, 1945

‘A’ party of the echelon left this morning for our new airfield. The extra pilots and Orderly Room staff are to follow tomorrow. Three operations were flown today, the first one at 0812 hours a fighter sweep, the second at 0817 hours as cover to 416 Squadron on a dive bombing effort, the third at 1717 hours another fighter sweep, 1st operation 5 sorties, 2nd operation 6 sorties 3rd 11 sorties.

Friday, March 2, 1945

The extra pilots and orderly room staff arrived today at our new airfield this morning after a very uneventful trip from Brussels. The remaining pilots are to land here after the last sortie today. Two operations were flown today the first at 0731 hours a dive bombing effort, the second at 1050 hours a rail interdiction with bombs.

Saturday, March 3, 1945

Today saw everyone settled in to their new quarters, consisting of Nissan Huts, quite an improvement over tents but not quite as good as our last billets. Tomorrow, some of the pilots intend to pay a visit to Roermond not very far away and perhaps get into Germany itself. Three operations were flown today the first at 0645 hours a fighter sweep 6 sorties, 2nd operation at 1253 hours another fighter sweep 12 sorties, and the third at 1631 hours an armed recce 9 sorties.

Sunday, March 4, 1945

About eight pilots, who were off today,went to Roermond and came back with stories of utter desolation and destruction. They also brought back a Jerry car in running order and sufficient furniture to furnish the pilots dispersal and the billets. Nil operations today.

Monday, March 5, 1945

After their very successful trip to Roermond yesterday, some of the more adventurous types who were off duty today decided to have a go at Munchin Gladbach in Germany, which by the way has only been captured a few days ago. They came back later in the day with stories of destruction and desolation that stagger the imagination. Roermond, they say, is a very good looking city compared to Gladbach. Nil operations today.

Tuesday, March 6, 1945

The Squadron is now the possessor of four German cars, three of which were brought back from Gladbach yesterday and more furniture for the dispersal and billets, According to the stories of some of our pilots who were at Gladbach yesterday, the destruction to the city has been carried out over a long period of time, probably during the raids by the RAF on the Ruhr Valley which isn’t so very far away. The odd few Germans civilians who were encountered were still as arrogant as ever. Nil operations today.

Wednesday, March 7, 1945

Cologne has just been captured according to reports late last night, so nothing would do today but some of the boys who were off duty must visit the place. So accordingly, a truck and a jeep were organized and the boys set off intending to stay overnight if possible. Nil operations today.

Thursday, March 8, 1945

Late tonight the boys who went to Cologne yesterday returned to camp looking very dirty and tired, the first Canadian Airmen to enter Cologne. They spent the day roaming around the city and even got so far as the banks of the Rhine itself. The night was spent with the Americans in a house without any windows whatsoever. Nil operations today.

Friday, March 9, 1945

After no flying for the last few days we finally got airborne today, glad of it too, because this loafing around with nothing to do gets us down. Two operations were flown today the first at 1020 hours; a sweep of the Osnabruck area and the second at 1550 hours an escort mission. 1st operation – 12 sorties with one early return – mechanical. 2nd operation – 12 sorties with 2 early returns mechanical.

Saturday, March 10, 1945

Poor weather made flying impossible today, so we spent the day in the dispersal playing bridge etc., F/O George Nadon and P/O Steve Butte DFC finished their second and first tours of operational flying today. Nil operations.

Sunday, March 11, 1945

Poor weather today confined our flying to a little practice flying and one operational effort. Plans are being made for a bit of a do in the mess tonight in honour of Steve Butte and George Nadon. The Doc, our Sqn MO who is also the Bar Officer of the Mess, promised us we could have a couple of bottles of Scotch and a few bottles of champagne. One operation was flown today at 1400 hours, a sweep of the Hamm Minden area. 12 sorties were flown.

Monday, March 12, 1945

More practice flying today. The Squadron is rapidly assuming the name of No. 403 O.T.U. with all this practice flying. We finished the day off with a patrol of the Nijmegen Goch area at 1805 hours. It was quite a party last night with some of the boys getting to bed in the wee hours of the morning. One operation was flown today at 1805 hours – 4 sorties were flown.

Tuesday, March 13, 1945

More and more practice flying, wotta’ life, it’s worse than any O.T.U. The Adjt’s relief arrived today and we haven’t seen our old Adjt smile so much since he came to the Sqn. Our new Adjt is to be F/O Jack Bennigan, just new from Canada. One escort trip completed in the early afternoon.

Wednesday, March 14, 1945

Hazy weather around here, but not bad for flying. A little formation practice done and two operations flown in the afternoon in the Nordhorn-Munster and Enchede-Munster areas. The old Adjt, F/O Birchnall, is getting itchy to be on his way home, and is busy getting the new Adjt genned up on the routine.

Thursday, March 15, 1945

Weather lovely – clear and warm. Two operational trips flown, both escort. R124758 WO.1 G.V. Boudreau has been reported missing. He was seen to make a safe forced landing behind the line so here’s hoping he makes it back safely one day.

 

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Warrant Officer I G.V. Boudreau

Friday, March 16, 1945

An old timer with this Squadron, J14030 F/L H.R. Finley, reported for duty to-day. Finished a tour with us July/44 and is raring to go on his second. P/O Butte, DFC tour complete, posted to 83 GSU ferry pool, and F/L G.R. Nadon, second tour completed, left today for Bournemouth and repatriation to Canada. A dull day, no flying carried out.

Saturday, 17 March, 1945

A little rain in the afternoon, cloudy. One operational escort and one fighter sweep in the Rhine Munster area carried out. The boys had a real bang up at a mess party to-night, lots of liquor which had been gathered from all over the country the past few weeks, but lots of disappointment when only four nurses showed up. Consequently all drinking and no dancing.

Sunday, March 18, 1945

A dark cloudy day. No operational flying carried out. The CO, S/L Zary, is sporting a new Opal to-day, a green finished German car. The boys were fortunate to be off ops to-day, as a few hangovers are yet to be seen from the previous night. Afternoon was spent polishing up their spits. F/O Birchnall, the old Adjt. left for the U.K. today for repatriation to Canada.

Monday, March 19, 1945

Two operational sweeps carried out in the morning and afternoon, both in the Rhine-Osnabruck area. Very good flying weather. CAN.J89351 P/O H.C. Byrd was reported missing within enemy territory. Details unknown. Pretty quiet otherwise around the Squadron, a little bridge being played in the off hours.

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Pilot Officer H.C. Byrd (on the left)

 

Tuesday, March 20, 1945

Fair weather, one operational escort to the Haltern area carried out, keeping the boys in the air pretty well all day. Uneventful. Doc (F/L) Carsons is around the dispersal with his ‘noc’ needles again and some of the boys will be u/s for a day or two. Flight Commander ‘Cap’ Foster returned with a really beautiful alpine tan to-day after a skiing holiday in the Alps.

Wednesday, March 21, 1945

A clear day, but no operational flying carried out by the Squadron. The day was spent in the dispersal playing bridge, and reading. A baseball team is emerging amongst the pilots, and we have already been challenged by 443 Squadron. A little ball practice done.

Thursday, March 22, 1945

Lots of aches and pains from the ball practice yesterday, but well worth the effort. 443 Squadron lost to us 13 to 9 in the baseball game this afternoon. 443 stood the beers in the mess at night. No operations carried out. Flying pretty well scrubbed to-day with the exception of some practice and tests.

Friday, March 23, 1945

A beautiful clear day. Three operational trips completed. Uneventful. Rather a quiet day around the dispersal, everyone keyed up and wondering when the ‘big push’ at the front will be coming off, which is rumoured very soon. All the boys are very keen to chalk a few Jerry’s to their credit, and see real action soon.

Saturday, March 24, 1945

The ‘big push’ is on. Boys were all up very early in the dawn in readiness to take their part when called upon. A glorious day for all, especially the pilots, who have been waiting so long to see a little action. No victories scored by us, very little of the enemy seen in the air, which was a little disappointing to most. Ten operational trips made – weather recce, dive bombing, and armed recce. Two new pilots, R195315 F/S K.S. Watchorn and R144093 F/S J.C. Pickering reported for duty, and greeted into the Squadron with a hearty welcome.

Sunday, March 25, 1945

Another heavy day of flying, and not much slack time amongst the Squadron. Five operational trips, all patrols completed. Uneventful. F/O F.B. Gillis force landed amongst the paratroopers and gliders across the Rhine, and was seen to land safely. Word came through that he was safe, and would be returning to the unit.

Monday, March 26, 1945

Flying operations began early dawn, and carried out steadily all day. Ten operational trips completed, all of which were patrols. The pilots are really getting the hours packed in these days, with a few near completion of their tours.

Tuesday, March 27, 1945

A very dull and foggy day, no flying carried out in the Squadron. The day was spent in dispersal checking maps and following the movements of the ground troops across the Rhine. F/O F.B. Gillis returned to the Squadron, none the worse for his experience of the 25th.

Wednesday, March 28, 1945

J87156 F/O M. Reeves reported missing (believed killed) in a crash in the early afternoon. Eight operational patrols carried out, tanks, trucks and gun positions attacked. The boys are really in the groove these days, and giving the Hun everything they’ve got when their turn comes. Many wagers around the dispersal between the pilots on who will get the first enemy aircraft in this show.

 

Mac Reeves

Flying Officer Mac Reeves

Thursday, March 29, 1945

A very dull day, no flying carried on in the Squadron. Day was spent around dispersal playing bridge, and reading. There’s no holding the pilot’s back, and a day like this rather depresses the majority.

Friday, March 30, 1945

Three dive bombing operations carried out on buildings and rail centres. All very successful. The Squadron will be moving into Holland tomorrow, and a great rush around the quarters in preparing to move off in the morning. While the stay at this airfield was short lived, the pilots are all anxious to move in closer to that front line, and glad of the move.

Saturday, 31 March, 1945

The Squadron moved this morning from B.90 to B.78 Airfield, Eindhoven. Move uneventful. The new quarters are superb to the Nissan huts, being set up in brick houses, and plenty of room for all. The squadron dispersal also seems to be more suitable in its layout. Two dive bombing operations in the Osnabruck area carried out, and one patrol of the Bocholt-Coesfeld-Stadtlohn area. Can/J8397 F/L E.G. Aitchison reported missing on the first operation. Pilot stated that he was going to bale out, but was not seen to do so due to low cloud. Can/J15922 F/L T.S. Todd, also reported missing on the third operation, and was seen to bale out safely and touch down OK

 

Edward Aitchison

Flight Lieutenant E.G. Aitchison

Tommy Todd

Tommy Todd

The Squadron remains in its good fighting spirit, and morale good amongst the pilots.

Erks and the necktie story

I first  heard the word “erks” from George  Stewart’s mouth when  he phoned me in 2011. I  never thought  a Mosquito  pilot  would  have ever phoned  me.

I asked John last  Saturday  if he knew George Stewart.

He did not.

I  am sure  George  doesn’t  know  who is J. B. Le May also because I am  pretty  sure George doesn’t  read this blog, not even  my blog about  23 Squadron,  a night intruder  squadron  in the R.A.F., the squadron  he flew with in WWII.

It doesn’t  really matter because  I  just write  so people will  find  my blogs  about  their  father, grandfather, uncle, granduncle… just like Andrew Tood did a few years ago.

All this writing  about  people  I  knew  nothing  about  led me to meet virtually,  or in person,  wonderful  caring human  beings.

I  could  write  a book about  all these meetings, but I  am too busy writing  my blogs.

This  being  said, John B. told  me so many anecdotes  when  I  met  him that I  have enough  material  to fill a book. Luckily  he wrote  most everything  in his ebook.

Take  the  time  to  read it.

ebook

Now what about the necktie  story  I  told John  B.?

https://rcaf403squadron.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/the-necktie/

Just another group picture?

Think again.

I love this group picture taken late March 1945 at Petit Brogel in Belgium.

403 Petit Brogel March 1945

Loved it so much I added labels.

403PetitBrogleMarch1945_0002 identification

I wanted to use it as a reference tool.

That was before I met virtually Josette Nadon on the Internet. Her father was a Spitfire pilot who was only remembered by a picture and a one liner.

Georges Nadon 122 Squadron

Girlfriends and beer…

Georges Nadon has now his own blog to be remembered…

Tommy Todd Redux

I have posted a few articles about Tommy Todd on this blog.

This was the first one. He was just a name and a picture in Walter Neil Dove’s photo album and a story that I had found on the Internet.

For those who never read it I am posting it again.

Tommy Todd

Walter Neil Dove collection

Start

Who is Tommy Todd?

Standing on the wing of a Me-109
Walter Neil Dove collection

If you want to know more about this pilot…

Click here. 

It’s great reading.

On August 20th 1943, Canadians flying Spitfires arrived here from Lashenden as their runway needed repairing. Lashenden was not used again until 1944 when P51 Mustangs flew from there.

The two Canadian Squadrons were 403 and 421, led by Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson CB CBE DSO DFC DL. He finished the war as the RAF ace destroying 38 German planes. He was the only Englishman in the Canadian Wing, and he led both squadrons. He has visited us since the war and shown us the logbook he used when flying from here.

Every man, both pilots and crew, was under canvas. Briefings always took place in a large wireless-type vehicle parked under an oak tree opposite Weeks Farm. After briefings the pilots were taken aboard a utility van to their Spitfires which were at dispersal points around the airfield. Johnnie Johnson would always walk with his black Labrador across a field and over two ditches to his plane, which had the initials ” JEJ” on both sides. These are frequently seen on airplane kits to be found in model shops. I always looked out for these letters when the planes returned from operations in France. From here they flew sorties carrying small bombs to drop over France. They strafed landing barges, trains, airplanes and anything that moved. The Spitfires also escorted bombers. Many other planes had to land here due to fuel shortages etc.. On one day 13 Flying Fortresses had to land because of fuel shortage or damage. We saw most types of planes landing here with some problem or purpose!

Soon after the Spitfires arrived one of the Canadian pilots, Flying Officer Thomas Todd visited Kingsden – my home, to ask my mother if she would accommodate his wife while he was stationed at the airfield. He had married a 19-year-old Welsh air controller called Val in Swansea. The answer must have been “yes” because they both moved in with us and remained until October 1943. Toddy flew a Spitfire that had the squadron letters AUT on the fuselage (another one I always checked for on their return). One particular morning Toddy had overslept and was woken by his batman calling him from under the bedroom window. Having no time to dress or eat breakfast, with only five minutes to spare until he was due at briefing, he pulled his uniform on over his pyjamas, and went off to cause havoc over France – if only the enemy had realised!

They would fly up to three missions a day, weather permitting. Toddy flew as wingman to Johnnie Johnson and his successor; this meant he had to protect the tail of the Wing Commander’s plane, with a great risk of being shot down. This must have helped Johnnie Johnson to become the Ace! There were very few accidents or losses while the Spitfires were here. Johnnie Johnson left here on September 9th for a course in preparation for D-Day. His place was taken by Wing Commander Hugh Constant-Godefroy until October 14th 1943, when with much regret the squadron left for a permanent base for winter at Kenley. Val returned to Wales to await the birth of their baby, and later sailed to Canada to stay with Toddy‘s family. During his stay with us I had taken photographs of Toddy and Val, and my mother had taken one of me with them. We each treasured these photos for 47 years until we met again. In 1990 they came over from Canada to visit Val’s family in Wales, while over in the U.K, they came to visit us and take part in the service held in September at the memorial in Bedlam Lane for Battle of Britain Sunday. There they were joined by the next generation of pilots of the same wing. The young pilots had flown over from Germany for the ceremony (and did so for a few years afterwards). We shall never forget the sight of these youngsters cornering Toddy at Elvey Farm, where we had gone for tea. They were so interested in his Spitfire flying experiences. We have remained close to Val and Toddy and have visited them three times at their home to the north of Toronto. Toddy was shot down 6 weeks before the end of the war and was taken prisoner. He should not have been flying that day, but had offered to take the place of a young pilot who was exhausted. He records his dreadful experiences in the hands of the retreating German soldiers and the Hitler Youth for his grandsons. They can be read in the blue covered book.

Another pilot who joined the Canadians while they were here was a bit of a loner, a rebel. Johnnie Johnson had been asked to take him into the squadron and try to straighten him out. He couldn’t, but tolerated him as he was an excellent pilot. Unfortunately he would not fly as part of a team. If he saw the enemy he would fly off and deal with them himself, usually successfully, and often outnumbered by them! I remember so well how he would go off in a Tiger Moth Bi-plane trainer during the evening. He would go up very high, and then he would put the nose down and let the plane float down in a dive. This was called “the falling leaf’. He would recover just before reaching the treetops and go up again. He was asked – perhaps told – to stop this activity or face a courts martial. He did it again but the Canadian Commissioner let him off, as he was such a good pilot! His name was George Beurling known as “Screwball” Beurling or “Buzz” Beurling.

As far as I remember there was no enemy activity over here during the summer of 1943 in daylight, there may have been some after dark. No bombs were dropped on airfields around here. During that time the young airmen took part in ” Evasion Exercises” which they called “ringo” operations. The object was for the pilots of 126 Wing at Staplehurst to try and find a way into the Headcorn (127) Wing airfield and vice versa. The following extract from the diary of D.R. Matheson shows it was a welcome break from the busy operational flights they had made that summer.

“…Commanding Officer Ian Ormeston and I had been dumped out of the back of a truck in the general area. From there we pinched a bike and found our way to the vicinity of Headcorn Airfield. We crept up through the barbed wire and eventually got into the airfield. You may know that we were all living in tents at that time. Ormeston and I crept into the tent of Group Captain William McBrien, the 127 Airfield commander. We stole some of his clothes, then we stole his Station Commander’s car. We were considering the theft of his personal Spitfire but found it to be too closely guarded. We drove his car out of the main gate, getting the appropriate salutes from the service police on guard and returned in triumph to Staplehurst. Later that day a whole assortment of other pilots arrived back. One flew into the airfield in a Tiger Moth, while another arrived in a new Spitfire 12 stolen from another airfield.. ……”
He later adds that this seemingly “nonsense” training was put to good use two months later when he found himself an evader in France!

Prior to all this on October 17th 1940, in this area, a Hurricane crashed after being shot down from above the clouds by a German ME109. We heard the cannon fire and knew that it was a German plane firing, as the RAF did not have cannons. The Hurricane whistled like a bomb through the clouds and exploded on hitting the ground. A local airman home on leave, possibly Bob Turk, Dick Weeks’ cousin collected the pilot’s scattered remains.
He was Sergeant Pilot Atkinson -just 19 years old. His identity tag was later found in the crater. The Rolls Royce engine remained 12 feet down until it was dug up in 1975. Later in 1940 two very large bombs were dropped within this area, one made two craters, the other made three, the latter measured 90 yards around the perimeter and the earth was piled up around it.

On October 12th 1940 a ME109 tried to hit Headcorn station but the bomb missed, exploding close to “Chantry” the home of Frank Foreman’s family in Oak Lane. Frank’s mother, his 22-year-old sister Mary, his Aunt, Blanch Munn and the gardener, Walter Tassel were killed. Lawrence Woodcock had been delivering bread there and was fortunate enough to crawl, badly shaken, safely out from the rubble.

Occasionally in daylight during the winter of 1942/43 ME109s used to nip over here with one bomb each to attack Ashford station and strafe the streets. During that winter, Tom Milgate, Bergan Harper and I attended Ashford Tech for farming classes every Friday. The Germans seemed to know we would be there on Fridays. One particular day we were on our way back to the tech after visiting Hansons, the famous fish and chip shop, when there was a great deal of noise as we reached the High Street. A German fighter was strafing Bank Street, it was too late to take cover but we survived!!

A Flying Fortress with engine trouble was the first American plane to land on our field on February 15th 1944. One of the crew remained on guard and I went over to view it. The guard showed me all over the inside, a wonderful experience for a plane mad lad of 15 and a half.

On April 12th 1944 the American 362 Fighter Group consisting of Squadrons 377, 378, and 379 flew in with 87 Thunderbolt fighters. 84 were painted green, 3 were unpainted. About 2000 personnel accompanied them, all living under canvas. I believe the senior officers lived in the commandeered houses along Bedlam Lane. The Americans arrived very well organised, but the one thing they had not planned, was where to empty their latrines (loos). Murray Mitchel at Burnt House Farm had mostly poultry and some market garden produce, tomatoes and cucumbers. The cucumbers were grown on ridges with gullies between each row. It was in these gullies that the latrines were emptied, and in the same gullies the local women stood to cut the cucumbers, poor souls!

Where the Brookgate Caravan Park is now situated in Bedlam Lane there stood four dwellings, known as Brookgate Cottages. Due to the danger of being situated at the end of the runway they were demolished in 1943. Ironically on June 13th 1944 a Thunderbolt piloted by Lt. Curtis was taking off west to east when his plane caught fire. He kept it on the ground, running off the end of the runway where he came to a halt in the road between the two sharp corners a few yards from where the cottages had stood! Lt Curtis climbed out only seconds before the fuel and the bomb the plane was carrying exploded, leaving a large crater in the road.

The Americans flew two or three missions a day weather permitting The fighters acted as escorts to bombers with whom they would rendezvous over the channel. Because of the distance to the targets, they would carry extra fuel tanks holding 100 gallons under each wing which could then be jettisoned, allowing them to leave the bombers and hasten home, faster and lighter. In the mean time another group of Thunderbolts would take off with extra tanks to meet the bombers and escort them home. These Thunderbolts were also able to carry one tank under the fuselage and two 5001b bombs under the wings. The belly tanks used here were brought over from America in plywood packing cases to protect them while in transit. They would dive bomb the marshalling yards, trains, bridges, tunnels, and barges on the rivers Rhine and Moselle, airfields tanks and lorries on the road, besides aircraft in the air.

Alan Palmer 2004

End

This blog about RCAF 403 Squadron will never end soon if people keep writing comments.

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They would fly up to three missions a day, weather permitting. Toddy flew as wingman to Johnnie Johnson and his successor; this meant he had to protect the tail of the Wing Commander’s plane, with a great risk of being shot down. This must have helped Johnnie Johnson to become the Ace!

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Walter Neil Dove collection via Greg Bell

I am just lost for words…

This might be the first time I am lost for words on this blog…

This letter is dated November 11, 2013.

I just received it in the mail. It’s from Andrew Todd, Tommy Todd’s grandson.

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Andrew Todd Lost for words

The necktie…

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The information…

Andrew Todd 002 Andrew Todd 003 Andrew Todd 004

Andrew Todd 005 Andrew Todd 006 403 squadron information

To be continued…