The Story of 35 Squadron Halifax L9512 TL-U and Crew
|Halifax L9512 TL-U from 35 Squadron was one of nine aircraft from the squadron to take part in a daylight bombing raid on Scharnhorst at La Rochelle on July 24th 1941. The aircraft was flown by Flight Sergeant Stanley Greaves and crew. During the attack the aircraft was shot down. Below is the story of the attack with contributions from the Pilot, Flight Sergeant Stanley Greaves and Sergeant Ernie Constable the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner who were onboard that day. This story did not conclude with the end of the war. Forty years after they were shot down the crew were reunited and spent a very moving and memorable day when they finally flew back into their old air base to complete their operation.
The Crew of L9512 TL-U
|Ernie Constable was the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner onboard Halifax L9512 TL-U on July 24th 1941, here he recalls his role in the daring daylight raid to......
Stop the Scharnhorst
After the fall of France in 1940, the Germans occupied the French Naval Dockyards at Brest. The French officer in charge, Captain Le Normand, in order to prevent the transportation of his skilled French work force to Germany as forced labour, became a reluctant collaborator.
One of the men Captain Le Normand had chosen to serve with him was a Lt Jean Phillipon. This young officer had little love for the British after the attack by the Royal Navy on the French Fleet at Oran, when nearly 1,300 Frenchmen were killed. However, working in occupied dockyards he had even less reason to love the Germans and towards the end of 1940 he joined the Resistance.
The Resistance group in Brest arranged for him to become an agent for British Naval Intelligence and he was given the code name 'Hilarion'. His information was transmitted by a wireless operator named Bernard Anquetil, an ex Naval Quartermaster. This brave man lived some 250 miles away at Saumur. The dangerous task of conveying the information to the wireless operator was undertaken by Paul Mauger, code-named 'Mimi'.
On March 22nd, 1941 the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sailed into the port of Brest. They had been at sea for 60 days - a record for German capital ships. During those 60 days they had sunk 22 merchant ships and had been a constant problem for the Royal Navy. Soon after the arrival of the great ships, Lt Phillipon reported to London that a pile of burnt out boiler tubes from the Scharnhorst were on the quayside. From this the Admiralty were able to deduce that the ship would be out of service for some time.
During the next few weeks Brest was attacked many times by RAF bombers. The Gneisenau was badly damaged on three occasions. The Scharnhorst, known throughout the German Navy as a lucky ship, lived up to its reputation by always escaping damage.
Early in July Lt Phillipon discovered that a large order for provisions had been placed for delivery to the Scharnhorst with July 20th as the dead line. As this could only mean the imminent sailing of the surface raider, he reported the fact to London via his Resistance network.
On the morning of July 23rd, the Scharnhorst slipped out of Brest and sailed to La Rochelle, a port on the Atlantic coast to the south of Brest. The same day the RAF brought back the photograph of the giant ship berthed at a jetty jutting out from the port. The Scharnhorst now posed a major threat. How could she be stopped?
A daylight-bombing raid was decided upon, but with the target more than 600 miles away, fighter cover was out of the question. As the then new Halifax bombers were considered able to defend themselves without fighter support, the task was given to them. At that time the Halifax bomber had only been in service four months and there were only two squadrons in existence. Both were Yorkshire based - No.35 Squadron at Linton-on-Ouse and No.76 Squadron at Middleton St. George. On the afternoon of July 23rd, the crews of these squadrons were summoned to their briefing rooms. Among those at 35 Squadron was F/Sgt Stan Greaves and his crew. Having raided Hanover on the night of the 19th-20th and Mannheim on the night of 21st-22nd they had expected a couple of days rest. This urgent call to the operations room indicated something special.
The crews were surprised to be told they were to be "bombed up" and take off that evening to fly to Stanton Harcourt in Berkshire. They were to land with a full bomb load and full fuel tanks. Two members of their ground crew were to accompany them to ready the aircraft for take off the next day. A daylight raid on the Scharnhorst.
The attacking force was to comprise 15 aircraft, nine from 35 Squadron and six from 76 Squadron. That evening all the aircraft flew to Stanton Harcourt and, to the relief of the aircrews and even greater relief of the ground crews, landed safely with their bomb loads and full petrol tanks. F/Sgt Stan Greaves was last in and, although by then it was dusk, he made a perfect landing. The Group Captain was so impressed with it that he took him aside to congratulate him on his skill.
July 24th dawned bright and clear and, after an uncomfortable night sleeping on the floor of a hangar, the crews prepared for the mission. At 10.30 am the roar of 36 Merlin engines filled the air and at 10.35 m the nine aircraft of 35 Squadron took off at one minute intervals and joined up in VIC formation of three. These sections of three forming again into VIC formation. Soon the six aircraft of 76 Squadron joined the formation and the raid was under way.
In an effort to avoid enemy radar the bombers flew below 1,000 feet to Lizard Point and then to a point 50 miles west of La Rochelle. From the turning point they climbed steadily. The intended bombing height was 19,000 feet. The weather was excellent. A cloudless sky with brilliant sunshine and perfect visibility.
As the formation neared the Isle d'Yeu, about a hundred miles from the target, an enemy destroyer was sighted. Apparently thinking it was about to be attacked the ship took evasive action and opened fire. This sighting of the bomber force was most unfortunate as it removed the element of surprise.
By this time the formation was reduced to 14 aircraft as one of the 76 Squadron machines had turned back with engine trouble. Although a height of only 14,500 had been achieved on approaching the target it was decided to attack from that height. Arriving at the target area it was evident that the destroyer had warned of the approaching bomber force. Thirty-one ME109's were counted circling the area and, as the bombers neared the Scharnhorst, they were met with a murderous barrage of flak.
Despite the formidable opposition the formation carried on in echelon to attack as planned. The fighters closed in and attacked as the bombers neared the Scharnhorst. The giant ship was protected by its own 51 guns as well as those of its destroyer escort. With the addition of shore batteries a flak box was put up through which the formation had to fly to press home the attack.
The sky turned black with all the smoke from bursting shells and the acrid smell or cordite filled the interiors of the aircraft. The enemy fighters, paying little heed to their own flak, made repeated attacks. The gunners in the Halifaxes fought back fiercely as the fighters came in. As a result of this battle one 35 Squadron Halifax, three 76 Squadron Halifaxes and four German fighters were shot down.
After the attack Sgt 'Sammy' Walters, the bomb aimer in Halifax L9512 TL-U, called over the intercom that he had only released half his bomb load. The Skipper, F/Sgt Stan Greaves, then called to the crew "Shall we go in again?". Receiving a unanimous "Yes!" he took the Halifax in again. As a result of this attack, the bomb aimer scored five direct hits on the Scharnhorst. Three of them penetrated the armour-plated deck and then went through the bottom of the ship without exploding. The other two damaged the starboard shaft tunnel and No.4 dynamo room causing fire to break out.
As a result of the damage, the Scharnhorst shipped 7,000 tons of water. Despite this, the watertight bulkheads held. After the fires were put out, the Ship's Commander, Captain Hoffman surveyed the damage and decided the ship would be sufficiently seaworthy to return to Brest for urgent repairs. These repairs were to take four months.
When the Scharnhorst limped back into Brest, Lt Phillipon sent a message to that effect to this wireless operator for transmission to London. German detector vans had been trying to pinpoint the operators location for some time and during this transmission he was caught and arrested. After much torture by the Gestapo, he was executed. Despite the torture he kept silent and as a result Lt Phillipon continued his activities until the end of the war. He later became the Commander in Chief of the French Mediterranean Fleet.
After successfully bombing the Scharnhorst, Halifax L9512 TL-U, was encircled by seven ME109's who took it in turns to attack the bomber. During this battle, Sgt 'Gilly' Gillbanks, the rear gunner, shot down two of the enemy fighters before he was seriously wounded in the face.
Sgt 'Oggie' Ogden, the Flight Engineer/Air Gunner, and Sgt 'Connie' Constable, the Wireless Op/Air Gunner, who were manning the beam guns both received leg wounds. The second pilot, Sgt 'Gibby' Gibson was wounded in the ankle. When the cockpit exploded, Skipper F/Sgt Stan Greaves had perspex bedded in his face. Only the bomb aimer, Sgt 'Sammy' Walters and the front gunner, Sgt 'Bert' Henery were unscathed.
By this time three engines were on fire and the fuselage looked like a colander. It was a miracle that anyone survived the ceaseless onslaught. With one engine functioning Stan Greaves fought desperately to keep the aircraft on an even keel as the enemy fighters kept up their merciless attacks. With the fires spreading he gave the order to bale out. Despite their injuries all the crew managed to leave the stricken bomber. Stan Greaves had only just cleared the aircraft when it exploded - a sad sight to the crew strung out across the sky in their parachutes.
On reaching the ground or in some cases the sea, the crew were taken prisoner. Those needing medical treatment were taken to hospital to be patched up before being sent to POW camps, where they were to spend the next three years and nine months. Thanks to the skill of German surgeons the sight of 'Gilly' Gillbanks was saved.
Six years after the raid, on December 29th, 1947, Stan Greaves was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his "Marked display of determination and coolness in pressing home a successful attack on the German battleship Scharnhorst on July 24th, 1941, in the face of considerable anti-aircraft and fighter opposition." This was one of the last decorations of the war. In the eyes of his crew there was no worthier recipient of that award. Two of the crew were also mentioned in despatches.
After the war the crew all went their separate ways with no thought of ever meeting again. However, in 1979 Stan Greaves set about tracing his old crew and on July 23rd 1981 they assembled at RAF Scampton, then the home of 35 Squadron. The following day, July 24th, exactly 40 years to the day after leaving he flew his old crew back to their old base at Linton-on-Ouse. The Commanding Officer, Group Captain Don Oakden, was on the tarmac to greet the crew with the words "Welcome back even though it took you 40 years. Better late than never".
The Sergeants Mess commissioned an oil painting of Halifax L9512 TL-U together with a brass plaque to commemorate the return to base 40 years later. They are on display in the Sergeants Mess with the words "MISSION COMPLETED".
By Ernie 'Connie' Constable.
|Stanley Greaves was the Pilot onboard Halifax L9512 TL-U on July 24th 1941, here he recalls how 40 years later the crew made their.......
Return to Linton-on-Ouse 24th July 1981
Being a POW is an experience most certainly not to be recommended. To quote the late Winston Churchill, who was a prisoner of the Boers as a young man - "The hours crawl by like paralysed centipedes". I was lucky to escape from a forced march on the 9th April 1945. I was recaptured three times, managed to get away each time, and saw my first British Tank on the 16th April. I arrived back in England on the 21st April 1945, and as the war ended on the 8th May, you might well think that it was hardly worth the trouble!
After being demobed I returned to my pre-war job in Insurance and tried to concentrate on becoming a civilian.
Being shot down and taken prisoner is a rather traumatic experience, and from time to time over the years my mind would relive the events of the 24th July 1941. I resented having been deprived of my freedom and prevented by the enemy from returning to base. Like many other members of aircrew I was possessed of an illusion known as the 'It can't happen to me' syndrome, and had been proved wrong in the most devastating way. I suppose the rest of the crew would have similar thoughts from time to time, and like me would realise that we had been extremely fortunate to survive, particularly so when, at the time of the Scharnhorst raid, the average length of life from joining an operational Squadron and being either dead or a POW was three weeks! The ratio of living to dead was reckoned to be one in seven! The fact that all seven of us had survived never ceased to amaze me.
In the winter of 1969, having previously resumed flying light aircraft for pleasure, I decided to enrol for a Flying Instructor's Course, and in July 1970 commenced teaching aspiring aviators to fly, as a part-time instructor with the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club at Leeds/Bradford Airport.
I thought often of my crew and wondered how they were getting along, but we had lost touch since the war ended. The first to 'surface' was Albert 'Bert' Henery who somehow traced me and told me about the story he had written entitled 'Operation Scharnhorst' which was published in the Linton-on-Ouse Station Magazine. This extract formed part of a much longer story he hoped to have published. I visited his home in Hartlepool, met his family, and spent quite some time reading through his manuscript. It was wonderful to see him again.
I had become a member of the RAF Ex-POW Association and at one of the London functions I had the great pleasure of again meeting my Flight Engineer, Gordon 'Oggie' Ogden. A great character, this man, who started his service career as a Halton Boy Apprentice and continued as a Regular in the Royal Air Force after the war.
During a visit to London in the mid-seventies I spent some time in the Public Records Office at Kew, and in the Archives was able to read the full record of the Scharnhorst raid Intelligence Reports and details extracted from No.35 Squadron's Operation Record Book. I was delighted to discover our bombs had damaged the Scharnhorst to such an extent that the stern of the heavily armoured vessel had been flooded with several thousand tons of sea water. Back at Brest, the crippled ship had taken four months to repair, and never returned to the North Atlantic Run where it had been such a menace to Allied Shipping.
It was after this visit to the Records Office that I thought how wonderful (for me) it would be if, providing they were all alive, I could trace my entire crew and fly them back to base at Linton-on-Ouse. An ideal date would, of course, be the fortieth anniversary of our attack on the Scharnhorst, and this would be the 24th July 1981.
The first thing to do was to sound out whether or not this would be possible. No.35 Squadron was now based at RAF Scampton flying Vulcans, so in November 1979 I drove down from Yorkshire and presented myself at the Guard Room! I would say the plans for our unique re-union started there.
During the next nineteen months I spent more time at the Records Office, again visited Scampton, and finally, in June 1981 concluded my travels with a meeting at RAF Strike Command, High Wycombe to discuss details of such essentials as Press Releases etc.
Through 'Bert' Henery I had made contact with 'Gilly' Gillbanks, my Rear Gunner, now living near Keswick, had spoken on the telephone with my Second Pilot, 'Gibby' Gibson (Kings Lynn) and my Navigator 'Sammy' Walters (Southampton) both of whom had been traced through Directory Enquiries, after using old letters as a starting point.
The whereabouts of 'Connie' Constable (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) were completely unknown. Was he even alive? I did not know. Then I remembered hearing, shortly after the war, that he worked for an insurance company. I ran their London Personnel Department, and was told that he had been employed by them at their Whitehaven Office, but had left many years before. I took a chance and telephoned the Whitehaven Branch of this company. Would you believe it? The Lady who answered the 'phone had worked in the office as a young girl and had just returned to take a part-time job. She remembered 'Connie' and was able to supply me with the telephone number of the firm where he worked as a departmental manager. I rang the number, ask for him, refrained from giving my name, and when I heard his well-remembered voice I said "'Conny', this is the Skipper, - watch out for those 109's!" There was a brief silence and then an explosive "Stan, is that you?!". The thirty-six year gap since we had last spoken disappeared in an instant.
Now contact had been made with everyone in the crew. They were enthusiastic to a man to go along with my plans, so all that was left was to tie up the loose ends and hope we should each live long enough to achieve our goal.
It would have been wonderful to return to base in a Halifax, but no such aircraft had survived the war in a flyable condition. Luckily, three brothers, who were members of the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club, owned a Piper Lance single-engine monoplane with six and a half seats, and I was able to negotiate with them for the loan of this machine, and their enthusiastic co-operation was quite remarkable.
It was agreed that the 'Northerners' - 'Gilly', 'Connie', 'Bert' and 'Stan' would fly down to Scampton in the Piper Lance on the 23rd July, and meet with the 'Southerners' - 'Gibby', 'Sammy' and 'Oggie', who would drive up to Lincolnshire from their respective homes.
The moment when the full crew came together again after all those years on the morning of the 23rd July 1981 at RAF Scampton was incredibly moving. Time seemed to stand still, and suddenly all the years between just fell away. The seven men standing alongside the plane, a complete Bomber Crew from the 1939-1945 war, with ages ranging from 59-73, were now 'young' men. 35 Squadron welcomed back seven airmen who had been posted 'missing' in July 1941. What a welcome it was - but that is another story.
I was awake very early on the 24th July 1981. Forty years before had been the most glorious summer morning without a cloud in the sky, very warm, and with a gentle breeze. Now it was the most atrocious day with very low cloud and driving rain. There was almost a gale blowing and we could expect a very bumpy ride. More like winter than summer.
Ground crew fussed around our little aircraft as the pre-flight checks were completed. I looked around the crowded cabin. It was a very proud moment for me. My crew were with me again, just like forty years before, and although some of them had not been in an aircraft since we were short down, not a trace of apprehension could I discern. Like me, they were to a man eager to be up and away on this unique flight which to all of us had become a pilgrimage to the memory of the thousands of Bomber Command airmen who never would make it back to their base.
There is only one runway at Scampton. The surface wind was from 330 degrees and we were taking off on Runway 05. An 80 degree crosswind. Seven men crammed into a six and a half seater light plane, the half seat intended to be for a small child. We had carefully calculated the weight and balance beforehand, but the surface wind and direction were not ours to dictate. The valiant Piper Lance lifted off and crabbed along above the runway, climbing to just below the dark and ominous cloudbase, which was below 600 feet.
We had been given special permission to use our old Halifax call-sign, and so we were 'Halifax, Lima 9512 'U' Uniform' (not 'U' Uncle as of old) but as you may imagine quite a stir was caused at those Control Towers receiving our call that day.
The turbulent flight from Scampton to Linton-on-Ouse took 55 minutes, and the weather continued to deteriorate, our approach being fully radar controlled. During the descent 'Oggie' suggested that we reported to Linton Tower that we had four wounded on board, - this would indeed have been the case if we had returned in 1941. So this was done, and acknowledged by the Controller, whose voice welcomed us home. We broke cloud at approximately 250 feet and touched down on Runway 28 with indescribable feelings of pride and gratitude at being able to complete our mission of forty years before.
We taxied around to the parking area and noticed that we were being guided in by extremely smart and efficient batoneers. One of the figures in a brilliant white coat seemed to be somewhat older than one would have expected, and to our delight and amazement turned out to be Sgt Alf Mitchell, one of the ground crew who cared for Halifax 'U' Uncle and who waved us off on the Scharnhorst raid. His first words to me were "Where the hell have you been for the last forty years?" It was wonderful to see him, and such a surprise - the first of many unexpected things to unfold for us on our arrival home.
We were officially welcomed by Group Captain Oakden (then Station Commander) and it was a proud privilege to introduce to him, individually, each member of my crew in turn. I shall never forget that moment.
We were transported to the Sergeants Mess for the official reception, and on parade outside the mess building were ATC Cadets, extremely smart and erect. They seemed pleased to be 'inspected' by seven elderly aviators, and I do not think they could have been more surprised if we had been visitors from another planet.
The Mess was crowded with Members, TV Interviewers, Cameramen and Newspaper Reporters. We had not expected anything quite like this, and it was a new and novel experience for us all.
Shortly afterwards Group Captain Oakden arrived in the Sgts Mess and made a short speech welcoming us back to Linton and congratulating us on completing our Mission. On the wall behind him was a green baize cover, and during his speech he provided us with the biggest surprise of all up to that moment when he unveiled a magnificent oil painting of Halifax 'U' Uncle, together with an engraved plaque commemorating the event. This painting had been specially commissioned in our honour by the Sergeants Mess, and this proud moment took our breath away. It was my privilege to acknowledge this honour on the crews behalf, and afterwards 'Bert' Henery surprised me with a personal presentation of a superb scale model of our Halifax Mk I standing on a polished mahogany base, with a suitably engraved brass plate. The Members of the Mess gave a Linton-on-Ouse tie to each of us, and this gesture was very much appreciated.
Next came television and newspaper interviews, after which we moved into another room where a magnificent luncheon had been provided for us and other members of the Station and Mess. Centrally placed was a beautifully decorated cake with a model Halifax on the top (yet another surprise), and subsequently a photograph was taken of seven hands on one knife, cutting the cake together. Yet another memory for us.
Time was passing all too quickly, and a mini bus with a young, smart and most attractive WAAF driver was waiting to take us on a tour of the Station, accompanied by Sergeant Bill Steel as a guide. Incidentally it was Bill Steel with whom I liaised over the last few months prior to our return to Linton, and his full co-operation and remarkable organising ability enabled everything to run so smoothly. We were all deeply indebted to him for his enthusiasm.
It was my personal wish before leaving that we should visit the dispersal hard standing from which our Scharnhorst adventure started. The minibus conveyed us to the far side of the airfield, and we walked over to the centre of the concrete circle, which had been the resting-place of 'U' Uncle between raids. Here she had been serviced and prepared for battle by Sergeant Alf Mitchell and his team, and it was here they would wait for us to return. We stood in silent prayer remembering all those aircrew comrades who had not returned and had made the supreme sacrifice in the air war against Nazi Germany. It was a very moving moment, and it seemed as though we all felt a 'presence' there. Some of you may have read stories of similar moving 'experiences' at World War II airfields - even those that are now disused or which may have been reclaimed as farmland. Suffice it to say that we all walked back to the minibus in silence, to find our pretty WAAF driver in tears.
Our last visit was to the 'Flights' where we spent a nostalgic and hilarious ten minutes drinking steaming hot mugs of tea made as it only can by the personnel occupying this bastion of the Royal Air Force.
The time for our departure from Linton came all too soon. We said our farewells, squeezed into the small aircraft, started the engine, and after receiving permission from the Tower we taxied along the line of 'Top Brass' and other personnel waiting to see us leave. I turned on to the runway having been given clearance, opened the throttle eased back on the control column, climbing into the increasingly murky overcast to return to Scampton for our final crew dispersal. Had it not been for the noise of the engine, it would have been a very silent aircraft.
By Stanley Greaves DFM
Wilfred C. 'Sammy' Walters died 2nd October 1982
Albert 'Bert' Henery died 25th September 1985
Alan 'Gilly' Gillbanks died 31st December 1994
Gordon 'Oggie' Ogden died 26th June 1995
Noel 'Gibby' Gibson died 5th June 1997
Stanley 'Stan' Greaves DFM died 30th April 2006
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM
S/L Bradley DFC
Took off from Stanton Harcourt at time stated, and proceeded as leader of the formation, the Squadron joining up in 'vic' en route to La Rochelle to attack the German Battleship Scharnhorst. Both visibility and weather were excellent. Encountered intense heavy flak and numerous enemy aircraft immediately upon entering the target area. Good sight obtained on target, but bomb doors failed to open due to hit by anti aircraft fire. Doors did however open in time to deliver attack on a moving destroyer, south of the target, but evasive action necessary in countering both flak and enemy aircraft attacks did not permit observation of result. Tail Gunner had one gun out of action and another firing only spasmodically, but succeeded in defending the aircraft and shot down one of the enemy. During the attack, in the many hits scored by the enemy fighters, Sgt Bolton the 1st Wireless Operator, received injuries in the chest and died instantly. The second Pilot, Sgt Rowley-Blake, received slight shrapnel wounds in the left thigh, calf and shoulder. Although the aircraft suffered damage to one propeller and the controls and the other many hits, it returned safely to England landing at St. Eval at the time stated.
|Halifax L9512-L||F/Sgt Greaves
|1035||missing||Took off from Stanton Harcourt at time stated. Joined up with the leader and proceeded to La Rochelle. This aircraft was seen to score a direct hit on the Scharnhorst, but, in the conflict with the enemy fighters and bad visibility caused by AA bursts, was not seen again and did not return. It is officially reported 'missing'.|
|Halifax L9500-H||F/O James
|1037||1740||Took off from Stanton Harcourt at time stated. Joined up with leader and proceeded to La Rochelle. Excellent weather. Heavy flak encountered, and about thirty enemy aircraft on reaching the target area. Although this aircraft suffered heavier enemy aircraft attacks than any other in the formation, the Captain, with high display of skill and coolness went on to successfully penetrate the defences and attacked the target with precision. It was not possible in the circumstances to observe the results of the attack but photographs were obtained. In all, this aircraft had twently encounters with enemy aircraft, and with unexampled display of coolness and skill in the face of such odds, Sgt Sachs the tail gunner, not only successfully defended his aircraft, but succeeded in shooting down one 'confirmed' and two 'probable' enemy aircraft and damaged several others. This aircraft kept in close formation throughout with Halifax L9501-Y, Captained by F/O Owen, and returned safely to England landing at Weston Zoyland at time stated.|
|Halifax L9501-Y||F/O Owen
|1038||1742||Took off from Stanton Harcourt at time stated. Joined up his section in 'vic' on leader and proceeded to La Rochelle. Weather excellent. Heavy flak and enemy fighters encountered immediately upon entering target area. Level attack delivered from 14,500 feet, bombs being seen to burst in sea 200 yards off Scharnhorsts beam. Very intense and accurate heavy flak from both ground defences and the ship itself and blast from bursting shells blew aircraft off target and holed it in many places but suffered no worse damage. Enemy fighters delivered in all ten attacks upon this aircraft, one being claimed as shot down. Great coolness and deliberation was shown by Sgt Higgins, the tail gunner in fighting back and successfully defending his aircraft. On seeing an apparently disabled Halifax being attacked by two ME 109's he directed his Captain to the scene of the combat and succeeded in drawing off one of the attackers. Aircraft returned safely to England landing at West Zoyland at time stated.|
|1039||1740||Took off from Stanton Harcourt at time stated. Joined up with section and leader and proceeded to La Rochelle. Weather and visibility was excellent, no cloud and brilliant sunshine. Encountered very accurate heavy flak immediately upon entering target area but level attack was delivered from 14,000 feet. Bombs were seen to fall short to the north of the jetty, no doubt due to the Captain having to take evasive action just at the time of release. The aircraft was then attacked by enemy fighters. The tail gunner, Sgt Sankey, proved his ability to be of the highest standard, not only successfully defending his aircraft against seven encounters, but shooting down one of the enemy and probably another. The aircraft returned safely to England landing at Stanton Harcourt at time stated.|
|1040||missing||Took off from Stanton Harcourt at time stated. Joined up with section and leader and proceeded to La Rochelle. This aircraft was last seen in the target area descending in a slow spiral with smoke coming from one or two of its engines. It failed to return and is officially reported as 'missing'.|
|Halifax L9511-D||P/O Holden
|1041||1645||Took off from Stanton Harcourt at time stated. Joined up with section in 'vic' on leader and proceeded to La Rochelle. Perfect clear weather. Enemy aircraft attacked on approaching target area and accurate heave AA fire was encountered immediately upon entering the target area. The port wheel was burst and the aircraft holed in many places, and although preparation was made to deliver attack, the bombs hung up. The aircraft was then attacked by enemy fighters, the first attack with cannon fire killing the tail gunner, P/O Stone and raking up through the fuselage and wounding both beam gunners, Sgt Smith and Sgt Perriment slightly. The Captain held steady both his aircraft and his section in the formation. Sgt Perriment, although in acute pain kept his post and continued in the defence of the aircraft and Sgt Smith in a state of semi-coma and barely able to see persisted in remaining by the second operator, supervising the operation of the set and so the aircraft returned safely to England landing at St Eval at time stated.|
|Halifax L9491-J||P/O Miller
|1042||1708||Took off from Stanton Harcourt at time stated. Joined up with secion and leader and proceeded to La Rochelle. Excellent weather with no cloud. Encountered accurate heavy flak immediately upon entering target area, port wheel being burst and port inner engine damaged. Continued on to deliver attack from 13,000 feet although unable to take correct sight as height bar shot away. Bombs seen to burst in dock area. During the attack this aircraft was engaged in five encounters with enemy fighters, the first attack wounding the tail gunner, Sgt Walker, in the leg and rendering his turret unserviceable. He remained in his turret, however, and continued giving directions to his Captain until a further attack with cannon fire completely wrecked the intercom. The remaining guns were made full use of and the aircraft otherwise successfully defended through the engagement. Returned safely to England landing at St Eval at time stated.|
|1043||1705||Took off from Stanton Harcourt at time stated. Joined up with section and leader and proceeded to La Rochelle. Both weather and visibility excellent. Encountered accurate heavy flak upon entering target area and starboard outer engine was damaged. Attack was delivered, however, although under great difficulties, and bombs seen|
Daylight Bombing Raid on German Battleship Scharnhorst at La Rochelle 24th July 1941
Nine aircraft took off from Stanton Harcourt at 1035 hrs at one minute intervals. Joined up in Squadron'vic' formation in sections of three also in 'vic', and proceeded via Lizard Point to a point 50 miles west of Ushant and then direct to the target. From Base to the turning point off Ushant was made at 1,000 feet and below, and the climb to the bombing height between this point and the target. 19,000 feet was the intended bombing height, but only 15,000 feet was reached before arrival at the target area. The weather was excellent, brilliant sunshine and no cloud, with perfect visibility.
An enemy destroyer was passed in the proximity of the Isle D'Yea, which, apparently believing itself about to be attacked, commenced evasive action and opened fire but did no damage. This was accounted a most unfortunate incident for it is supposed that the destroyer, finding itself not to be the target, passed on information of the Squadron, for on it's approach to the target area a very heavy barrage of AA fire was immediately put up, and some thirty enemy fighters were observed, some in the air and others taking off from aerodromes in and about La Rochelle.
The Squadron went forward however, to attack in echelon as planned, but the intensity of the AA fire not only damaged several aircraft, but one, Captain F/Sgt Godwin, was seen to go down in a slow spiral with smoke coing from one or two of it's engines, but necessitated evasive action and the formation became considerably disrupted. Several aircraft were attacked by enemy fighters on the approach to the target and encounters were experienced over the target area, some of the enemy aircraft paying little heed to their own AA fire. The concentrated attack however, was carried out as the Squadron was withdrawing, and at this stage air fighting became general and extremely active, only breaking off after the target area was left well behind. Those aircraft which were lucky enough to be in formation with another suffering less, while one aircraft was engaged in as many as twenty combats, another ten, and another nine.
Sgt Bolton, the first operator of the Leader's aircraft was killed, and the second pilot injured. P/O Stone, tail gunner of another aircraft was killed by cannon fire which went on to rake the aircraft and injure both beam gunners. Another wireless operator was wounded seriously and another tail gunner slightly wounded. All kept to their posts and with the tail gunners, displayed the very highest standard of coolness and skill. They not only defended their aircraft successfully throughout all attacks, but came away with the score of five enemy aircraft confirmed shot down and three probables with many others damaged.
All aircraft, except one whose bomb hung up, succeeded in delivering their attacks, but shell bursts, evasive action and damage permitted no reasonable sighting and although many registered near misses, only one aircraft, Captain F/Sgt Greaves, was seen to obtain a direct hit. This aircraft did not return to Base, and the conflict with the enemy fighters and the bad visibility caused by the AA bursts apparently covered its withdrawal from the formation for it was not seen at all by any other aircraft. All the remaining aircraft returned safely to England, those damaged and with dead and wounded landing at St Eval, two at Weston Zoyland and the other at Stanton Harcourt.
The following message was received by the C in C from the C.A.S. and forwarded on:-
The C in C sent the following reply:-
The following message was received from the C in C:-
|My grateful thanks to Ernie 'Connie' Constable and Stanley Greaves for kindly allowing me to use their words and pictures on this page.|