Extracts from 'Lucky B-24' written by Arthur Anthony
Two weeks into his eighteenth birthday Arthur volunteered for the RAF. He was accepted for training as a flight mechanic, engines (FME) or airframe (FMA). On October 1st (1941) he joined a group that went to Cardington, Bedfordshire where they were kitted out. They were then sent to Great Yarmouth to do their square bashing after which Arthur was sent to Halton in Bucks where he underwent sixteen weeks training as a flight mechanics engines, He was then posted to 605 Squadron who were based at Ford, Sussex. 605 Squadron had been wiped out by the Japanese in the Far East and was being reformed with Havoc Is and Boston IIs which had been inherited from 23 Squadron who were leaving Ford re-equipped with night-fighter Mosquitos. At this time 605 Squadron was commanded by Wing Commander Peter Townsend (later to befriend Princess Margaret)
Daily Routine Orders were asking for volunteers from the ranks of FMEs and FMAs to train as flight engineers. Arthur put his name down. In the meantime he was anxious to get airborne and one afternoon got a ride in a Havoc that was driven all over the skies with the consequence that Arthur was sick. Within a few days he was airborne again. This time he flew in the front gunner’s position which was much more to his liking. One morning, whilst servicing a kite, he and a rigger had pulled the port engine through and had just crossed past the nose to do the starboard when the four Browning machine guns were fired accidentally by the armourers testing the electric firing solenoids. There were twenty two lifeless .303 cases lying on the ground. In early September the first serious accident to groundcrew occured when a colleague was hit by a rotating propeller. It was Arthur’s first experience of seeing a lot of blood. The casualty was screaming and crying out, it took six men to pin him down as he was a strong, well built amateur boxer. An officer gave the injured lad a shot of morphine from an aircraft’s first aid kit. The young man survived after having a silver plate inserted in his head.
During October the groundcrew of 605 Squadron were kept very busy, not only tending their own aircraft but also caring for Lancasters and Halifax bombers which landed at Ford after long trips to and from Germany and Italy. On the 22nd January (1943) nine Lancasters, all of whom had been to Dusseldorf, flew into Ford. Shortly after this date Arthur was posted to Cosford to do a Fitter 2 E’s course. At this point in the war flight engineers had to be qualified fitters. After eighteen weeks of training Arthur was posted back to 605 Squadron who were now operating from Castle Camps near Haverhill with night intruder Mosquitos.
In September 1943 Arthur was posted to St Athan in Wales to do a flight engineer’s course. There was usually a delay of a week or so before the course started and newcomers stayed in a ‘pool’. Arthur volunteered to guard a would be escapee in the camp’s IDH (infectious diseases hospital).
St Athans was dedicated to producing flight engineers and during the war years turned out over 20000 of them. Direct enteries from civvy street were trained for twenty six weeks, Fitter 2 E’s or A’s received instruction for seven weeks. At Athan there was only one Liberator. Arthur was impressed with its size, comfortable seats and robust look; ‘so began a love affair with it’. Forty men were required to be trained on the B-24, over 200 of the new trainess volunteered. First direct entries were illiminated as were those who were under six feet tall, this still left too many. All those whose serial number on their 1250 (identity card) ended in zero were picked. Arthur’s serial number ended in zero. There was a lot to learn, Arthur found the going pretty tough, especially the maths relating to fuel consumption. The course included an hour’s dinghy drill and another hour dedicated to ground parachute training. At the end of the seven weeks Arthur failed the course but only on the one subject of the fuel system. He was given a further weeks training after which he passed.
After a leave and a short stay back at St Athens those that had passed went to Blackpool where early one misty and cold February morning they took a train to Greenock from where they sailed on the ‘Queen Mary’ to New York. They went across the Atlantic without an escort at great speed on a constant zig-zag course to New York. The ship was not crowded. After a few hours of sightseeing in New York they took a train journey to Lachine which is located to the south west of Montreal, Canada. In Montreal the food, after four years of English wartime food, was ‘out of this world’. After a week they board a train to Miami, Florida where they took a supply ship to Nassau in the Bahamas. Early in the war Winston Churchill had given Teddy Roosevelt concessions to build two airfields on Nassau. 111 OTU Nassau provided nearly all the trained crews of Coastal Command Liberators which, with their extremely long range, were able to close the vital gap in the Atlantic where U-Boats could roam free. Nassau consisted of two fields: Oakes, a B-25 base and Windsor Field from where the B-24s were flown.
The new recruits began their training on the B-24. Nassau was an ideal place to train for crews could fly around the clock and the weather seldom interfered with the flying programme. Arthur’s captain was P/O Briscoe who at 32 was the maximum age for training pilots. Roxy Hart, the co-pilot, was just twenty which was about average for the rest of the crew. Briscoe was a fine looking, well educated man. Roxy though not in the same class as Briscoe when it came to flying was a very likeable person. Briscoe let Arthur sit in the co-pilot’s seat and encouraged him to take the stick and have a go at flying the Liberator. That gesture made Aerthur feel ‘about eight feet tall’. In no time at all the final ‘Kingsley’ exercise day arrived. This entailed flying with a full petrol load and eight Torpex depth charges to a rendezvous with a British frigate operating out of Bermuda. When the Briscoe crew arrived above the frigate it put out a smoke float which the Briscoe crew ‘attacked’ at zero feet with one of the depth charges. As the B-24 climbed and broke away Arthur was instruction to open fire on the smoke float from the port waist gun. Arthur’s fuel consumption figures were very close to those established when the tanks were dipped after the nine and a half hour flight.
The Briscoe crew had a choice of being posted to the Far East or back to the UK, they decided on the UK. A boat took them back to Miami, where after a one night stay in a hotel on the beach, they caught a train to Moncton, Canada. After a three week wait they went to Halifax and boarded the ‘Empress of Scotland’ which took them to Greenock. A train took them to Harrogate. Out of the blue came a posting, with fifteen other Liberator crews, to 223 Squadron which was based at Oulton, Norfolk. Like most significant airfields, Oulton had a satellite called Great Massingham airfield. 223 Squadron was equipped with black painted B-24s and shared Oulton with 214 Squadron who operated the same coloured B-17s. Both squadrons were in 100 Group Bomber Command. The Briscoe crew learned that they were to be trained to Bomber Command standard and take the role of airborne jammers to counter the new German V2 rocket. After fourteen hours and twenty minutes of flying training the Briscoe crew were ready for their first operational flight which took place on the 3rd October 1944. By now Arthur had been given the name ‘Whizz’ by his crew.
For the flight of the 3rd the Briscoe crew had two Spitfires for escort and were instructed to fly between the Scheldt Estuary and The Hague. There were twelve in the crew (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight engineer, WOP, four air gunners and three special operators to actuate the jamming equipment). Much of the flight deck was allocated to the front special operator and all his jamming gear. On the way to the target area the Spitfires overtook them and were not seen again. The Dutch coastline came into view and as they were about to complete the first leg of their patrol they came across a lot of flak some of it bursting very close. Many years later Arthur did some research that revealed that the flak had come from flak ships operating in the area of Nordwal. The mid-upper gunner constantly monitored the sky and every time he did so the rotation of the turret caused the wireless operator to be caught in the back. The constant rotation eventually led to a break in the oxygen bottle feed line and for the rest of the flight Arthur had to constantly supply the gunner with a recharged portable emergency bottle. When fifteen minutes into their four hour ‘stint’ on patrol they saw their first V2 vapour trail, it was going upwards ‘at a hell of a lick’. The wireless operator sent a signal that they had seen a launch. The special operator threw all his jamming gear switches but it made no difference - on and upwards the V2 went.
Three days later the Briscow crew were on their second patrol. When two thirds of the patrol had been completed the intercom went dead and then the radio shut down. Arthur shouted to Briscoe that all three engine generators had cut out and the batteries were flat. The captain gave orders to start the putt-putt (APU) but Arthur knew that this was not feasible. Everyone got cold as there electric suits were out of action and it was decided to abort the patrol. The propeller revolutions were electrically controlled on the B-24, they were set at low cruising revolutions and could not be changed to high for landing. The Liberator made a perfect touchdown. During this patrol they had again seen V2s launched.
On the 19th October they flew their one and only night patrol which lasted six hours five minutes. By this time the backroom boffins had come to the conclusion that airborne jamming of V2s was a waste of time. After the war it was learned that the research had been carried out on the wrong piece of rocket hardware.
The other squadron at Oulton (214) were deeply involved in the role of ‘window dropping’ and ‘target support’. 223 Squadron joined 214 in this role. The rear half of the B-24 bomb bay was boarded up so that it could carry a huge load of ‘window’ (metallic foil strip) which when dropped over enemy skies would mislead the German radar plotters. Also on board was a mass of jamming equipment which was used to interfere with the control of the German searchlights, flak and night fighters. On the 22nd the Briscow crew set of for their first ‘window spoof’ to Essen. As they climbed through cloud the aircraft iced up. The B-24 was put in a steep dive to find warmer air conditions which got rid of the icing problem. Through a gap in the cloud the Liberator resumed its operational height. Soon after the navigator informed his skipper that they would be nineteen minutes late arriving at their allotted point and would thus achieve nothing. The mission was aborted. As they approached the runway, due to a surplus of unburnt fuel and unused window on board, the aircraft did not handle well. The B-24 touched down a bit late on the runway and was fast running out of space. The captain slewed the plane on to the grass by using heavy braking on the starboard wheel. The B-24 came to a safe stop. Arthur ‘began to realise more than ever that he was in the hands of a very able pilot’.
On the 9th November there was a stand down. Late in the afternoon five crews from 223 and some crews from 214 were gathered as a last minute change of plans required a window spoof to Saarbrucken. The weather on route was terrible and the Briscow crew were the only one of the five 223 crews to get through and complete the mission. The station was congratulated on its efforts by a personal message from the AOC. At this point crews were allocated to particular aircraft and the Briscow crew got T Tommy TS526. Six days after the flight to Saarbrucken the Briscoe crew flew a window spoof to Coblenz in TS522. On their return flight, due to extremely bad weather conditions at Oulton, they were diverted to Carnaby near Bridlington, a huge base with wide and long runways that were specifically designed to accomodate ‘kites’ with problems. Next morning the crew could see many smashed aircraft. ‘Lancs and Halibags’ littered the place with the ‘odd Mossie’ here and there. Many men were located all over the airfield busily engaged in repairing and dismantling aircraft. The crew were stranded at Carnaby for four days. On their return to Oulton they learnt about an Eighth Air Force Liberator that had been diverted to their base and during the take-off to return to its own airfield had crashed and burnt out. It appeared that as the B-24 began its departure it left a trail of fuel behind. In the past a badly replaced petrol tank cap had created a vacuum which had caused fuel to be drawn out, the fuel could easily be ignited by the red hot turbo exhaust.
Flying over East Anglia during the war was quite an experience. A sharp look-out had to be kept at all times as there was aircraft everywhere. Looking down there seemed to be an airfield passing by every few minutes.
On the 20th November the Briscoe crew took TS524 on a window spoof to Karlsruhe. On the 23rd they took TS533 on a spoof raid to Cologne. On the 27th they took the same B-24 on another spoof raid to Mannheim. This flight took six hours twenty five minutes and was the crew’s tenth operational flight. On the 4th December they undertook a spoof raid to the Ruhr area and the following day flew on a window spoof to Rheine. On the 9th another spoof was flown to Augsburg. Two types of window was dropped. MM which was used to cover 65 to 200 MHz Freye’ and FUG 200 German radar and N3 which was used against German radar Wurzberg operating in the 350 to 600 MHz range. The flight engineer together with the rear special operator would place the window in the dropping chute. They were given instructiions by the navigator when to start and cease dropping and were also given the rates of bundles per minute, usually about ten, increasing to fifty bundles and then the rate gradually tailed off. The B-24s also carried anti-flak and anti-fighter window on board. Arthur always put generous bundles of the anti-fighter window down the chute in the hope that a lurking fighter would go after it on a wild-goose chase.
On the 17th December it was decided to discontinue using front gunners, the guns were removed and the turrets doped over. This led to better handling of the B-24. On the 21st December there was another window spoof to the Ruhr area, on the way back they received a coded message to land at Milltown and touched down after being airborne for seven hours thirty five minutes.
Christmas arrived and there were masses of window used for decoration, the length of the this window was now useless as the Germans had changed the wavelengths on their radar. There was a strong feeling of goodwill between the flight crews and ground crews. Arthur had got to know a lot of the servicing personnel very well, the fact that he had formerly been ground staff helped. On the 28th December the Briscoe crew flew on a window spoof to Frankfurt. The following night they flew to Munster and the next night to Wesel. Time on an operational flight would go very quickly for Arthur. He had to keep an updated fuel consumption log, together with a record of all engine temperatures and pressures, plus a call-up of each crew member about every twenty minutes for an oxygen supply check. The electric suits were a ‘godsend’. They were not, however, 100% efficient, quite often a slipper or glove would fail. In December Arthur had two pay rises and was automatically promoted to Flight Sergeant. On the night of the 29th/30th December the Briscoe crew flew TT336 on a window spoof to Munster. They took off at 15.55, dropped window from 18.43 to 19.40 and jammed on five frequencies from 18.35 to 19.32. They landed at 21.20 having completed their seventeenth sortie.
On the first day of 1945 the Briscoe crew were assigned to a ‘target’. This involved getting over the target area just as the pathfinders began to mark it and then orbitting above the bombers of the main force jamming the German radar controlling the flak and searchlights. In addition they would also jam the ground to air radio control of the German night fighter. The target that night was Dortmund. They orbited above the pathfinders and main force and saw how well the main force was illuminated by the fires on the ground. They did not see any bombers shot down. After their alloted time over the target the captain opened the throttles and went into a shallow dive and headed for home.
The following night they did a window spoof to Frankfurt. On the 14th January the Briscoe crew carried out a new tactic for 100 Group. This involved flying to Frankfurt on a window spoof and then withdrawing to fly over friendly territory for an hour before carrying out a further window spoof over Munster. Total flying time for this sortie was six hours forty minutes. On this raid the squadron lost its first B-24, TT336, on operational flying when F/Lt Noseworthy’s crew was shot down over Antwerp. At this juncture of the war Antwerp was in Allied hands and was receiving more than their share of V1s. Allied flak gunners at Antwerp were understandably trigger happy. On the 2nd February Sergeant Mellors, one of the crew of TT336, arrived back at Oulton and four days later so to did his captain. The rest of the crew are buried at the British Military cemetery at Hanover. The remains of TT336 is exhibited in a ‘Wings of War’ museum at Merrhout, Belgium.
The flight of the 14th was the last for three of the Briscoe crew all of whom had completed their second operational tour with Bomber Command. From this point on the Briscoe crew had to find ‘spare bods’ to make up a full crew. Both the Gunnery leader and WOP leader flew part of their second tour with the crew, who never had trouble making up a crew, Briscoe having made a name for himself for being reliable. As far as Arthur was concerned his captain was ‘as solid as a rock, I would fly with no other skipper’. The crew’s next operational sortie was on the 16th January when they flew a window spoof to Flensburg.
On the 22nd January TS526, the crew’s allocated B-24, had a No 3 engine change and on the afternoon was flown for just over an hour to allow the engine to run in. As Roxy (Hart) was not around Arthur had been taken up as co-pilot. He felt there was a lot to think about and it got to his nerves because he made a foolish mistake. He had left the mixture control for No 3 in automatic rich as instructed but instead of moving the mixture controls for the other three engines to automatic lean he moved them to automatic cut-off. The nose immediately dipped. Briscoe knew what he had done, knocked his hands away and reset the controls. After a post flight telling off and an apology from Arthur he was still on speaking terms with his skipper. That same night the Briscoe crew flew on a window spoof to Gelsenkirchen in TT526 and after orbitting friendly territory made a second window spoof to Mainz before returning to base.
On the 9th February the crew flew a target support sortie to Hohenbudberg. They took off at 03.27, orbited the target area from 06.10 until 06.20 at 21000 feet. There was accurate flak in the area and a lump passed inches away from the rear gunner’s head. Shortly afterwards he reported that his turret was out of action. Briscoe asked Arthur to get down in the bomb bay and check the hydraulic reservoir. He was down there ‘like a shot’. The reservoiur was at its specific height, there had been no loss of fluid. Arthur flashed his torch all through the fuselage, there was not a leak to be seen. Arthur told his skipper that he thought the engine hydraulic pump was u/s. By now the starboard main wheel, with no pressure to keep it up, had slipped from its housing and hung half-way down. The crew decided to leave things as they were until they were back at base.
Over Oulton Arthur switched on the electric booster hydraulic pump which started with a friendly screech. He opened the emergency cock leading to the main system and they were back in business, their skipper selected wheels down and out they came. The following day a new hydraulic pump was fitted to No 3 engine, the specially waisted drive shaft had sheared off. If the pump malfunctioned the shaft broke rather than allow damage be caused to the drive mechanism operating the pump.
On the 13th February the Briscoe crew flew a window spoof to Bonn, this was their twenty fourth mission. The next day they flew a window spoof to Mainz, they were airborne at 21.55 and touched down at 02.45. Their next operational flight was a target support sortie with the main force, covering the bombers for an attack on Gravenhorst which was close to the Dortmund-Ems canal. Soon after they began to orbit the target the master bomber adandoned the mission as the cloud blaketed the target right down to 500 feet. The following night they flew a window spoof to Dusseldorf. On the 23rd February the Briscow crew were assigned to protect the main force of 374 bombers who were to attack Pforzheim. Flying at 12000 feeet they saw three bombers go down in less than three minutes. This was their longest operational flight to date having lasted eight hours ten minutes.
One evening towards the latter part of their tour the crew had only just got airborne en route for another window spoof when the rear special operator called in sick. When asked if the flight could continue the operator replied no. Arthur suggested that the front operator take the rear operators place and that he operate the front jamming equipment as he had watched the front special operator many times over the last few months and felt he knew what to do. The captain opened up the engines and the B-24 returned to Oulton. They arrived in the gathering dusk, kept radio silence and made a good landing despite the B-24 being heavily ladened with fuel and window. Arthur rushed the sick airmen to the edge of the perimeter track sprinted back to the Liberator which immediately returned to the runway. When they got the ‘green’ they roared back in to the sky. The navigator had worked out a new course that cut a few corners which enabled them to carry out the assigned task on time.
On the 7th March the Briscoe crew flew in their own T Tommy in support of the main force that was attacking Hemmingstedt. The flight took six hours twenty minutes. On the 13th March the crew flew, again in TS526, on a window spoof to Frankfurt. Three days later they took T for Tommy on another window spoof to Hanau. On the 19th the Briscow crew flew TS526 to Kassel. The next day (20th March) another crew, whose captain was F/O Ayres, took T for Tommy again to Kassel. TS526 failed to return. Arthur felt ‘a pang of saddness and annoyance at losing T Tommy’. He was ‘surprised how one becomes attached to an aircraft’. On the 22nd the Briscoe crew carried out a window spoof to Bremen and two days later they flew to Wesel where they saturated the Rhine front line with window.
On the 2nd April the Briscoe crew flew on a window spoof to Hamburg. In the same month they received a letter from W/O Cole a special operator with F/O Ayres crew. TS526 had been attacked and had crashed in a heavily forested area. W/O Cole had not been able to exit the doomed B-24 and his German rescuers had used block and tackle gear to extract him from the wreckage, he was the sole survivor. On the 16th April the Briscoe crew flew as target support to bombers attacking Pilsen in Czechoslovakia. They took off at 23.35 and landed at 07.40. At the time they were unaware that they were flying their thirty sixth and last operational sortie. Arthur was the only one of the crew who had never missed a trip with their skipper. By coincidence Arthur’s first and last operational flights were in TS533. It was agreed that Arthur would do a second tour with F/Lt Briscoe. The squadron was going to convert to B-17’s, Roxy was getting a crew of his own and Arthur was asked to convert to take the co-pilot’s seat. On the 5th May there was a request for three crews for posting to Transport Command, each crew to consist of a pilot, navigator, air bomber and WOP. Flight Lieutenants Allnut, Briscow and Croft were chosen. No flight engineers were asked for. V-E day took place three days later. By the end of May most of the squadron’s Liberators had been flown to a maintenanace unit at Lichfield. On the 4th July the last 223 Squadron B-24 was ferried to Gatwick. On the 29th July the squadron was disbanded.
Liberators of 160 Squadron - Leslie King/Michael Bruce
In late April 1945 the were based at Minneriya located in the jungle some forty miles south west of Trincomalee. The range of the squadron’s B-24s had been increased by adding three fuel tanks inside the fuselage. In May the squadron was converted from a minelaying role to a supply dropping role which involved parachuting SOE (Special Operation Executive) teams, weapons and supplies into Japanese occupied south-east Asia.
The squadron’s main customer was Force 136 (a British organisation which was part of SOE and responsible for the training and arming of guerrilla and sabotage teams and for providing tactical intelligence) whose men were dropped into Malaya and Sumatra. At Minneriya there were only five hard standings and six taxy tracks giving access to the runway, by disregarding safety regulations it was possible to get the squadron’s sixteen aircraft parked. In addition to the 160 Liberators a detachment of B-24s from 357 and 8 Squadrons were located at Sigiriya and flown to Minneriya when required for operational flying. In July the Liberators from 357 were moved to Toto Bay near Trincomalee.
The major problem related to any operational flight was how to get to the drop zone (DZ) and back without running out of fuel. The distance covered was often equivalent to a return crossing of the Atlantic with the B-24s remaining airborne for between 22 and 24 hours.
The ability to get the best out of an aircraft varied between pilots even when the same machine was used. The Liberator would be flown at pre-determined speeds, heights and engine settings. The automatic pilot was used much of the time since it increased the performance by 5%, particularly in rough weather.
The auto-pilot applied instant correction to any deviation of the B-24 thus keeping movement of the control surfaces to a minimum. Pilots were given detailed instructions on how the various stages of the operation were to be flown. On the outward trip, when the Liberator carried a lot of fuel, a relatively high speed was maintained to prevent a nose-up attitude that would consume more fuel. There was insufficient fuel to cater for a lengthy search for the DZ which during the day would be marked by white panels forming a ‘T’ and at night would be lit. On the return a slow speed gave the lowest consumption. Nothing could be done to improve oil capacity (at 27 gallons designed for half the distance being flown) and some Liberators were not flown operationally because of their oil consumption. American technicians from Consolidated visited Minneriya because they believed it was impossible for their four engine bomber to stay in the air for as long as they were doing so.
A mission would commence with a daylight take-off with the enemy coast being approached soon after dark at a low height. Approaches to southern Malaya were made down the Malaccan Strait. Once the coast was crossed height was gained.
At the DZ, if parachutists (known as ‘Joes’) were to be dropped, a pre-arranged recognition letter was flashed from the ground. After a check on wind speed and direction at the DZ vicinity the approach was made into wind at a few hundred feet. Maintaining the correct speed and height as the drop was crucial. Often the B-24 would have to fly over the shoulder of a hill, glide down into a valley for the drop and then climb up over the hills on the other side of the valley. The Liberator could not be flown like a dive bomber. After the drop was made the worst part of the trip began. The return journey, at a relatively slow speed, with a constant concern over the amount of fuel left, seemed endless. On the very first day of operations one of the six Liberators that left Minneriya was lost. No definite information was ever received about the fate of this B-24 or its crew.
A success rate of more than 70% was achieved with bad weather over the DZ and tropical storms over the Malaccan Straits being the main reason for failure. On the 31th July a Canadian crew were airborne for 24 hours 10 minutes. Often a crew would only have a two day rest between operational flights. The B-24’s would take-off with AUW of 66000 pounds.
After VJ day the flights continued but the supplies dropped were medicine and food for POWs. At the end of August the Canadians crews were repatriated increasing the work load on the remaining crews.