I was at Salbani from 1944 to 1945 initially as a second pilot and finished our tour (300 hours/30 trips) as the ‘skipper’. We were a normal sized Liberator crew of eleven consisting of four Australians (RAAF) and seven British ‘types’ (RAF). We were accommodated in three separate huts with the erstwhile paddy fields. Suspect we were too busy and…
Bob on the left and Jack on the right. Picture taken Sorrento (Italy) 1945
Bob on the left and Jack still on the right Picture taken Bob Juniors Back Garden 2001
I was first contacted by the sons of Bob in February 2001 asking about their fathers Service records. I checked the copies of the Operations Records Books for 178 Squadron and found details of their fathers crew. In April 2001 I was contacted by Jack Freer who was looking for members of his old crew, again I turned to the ORB's for 178 Squadron and found that he was on the same crew as Bob. I then contacted both Jack and Bob's sons and told them of the discovery (there is a embarrassing story connected to this). After several emails between them they finally got together again on the 8th July 2001 some fifty six years after they last saw each other.
I had joined the RAF in Jan. 1941, did square bashing at Blackpool then seven months at No 12 S of T.T. Melksham Wiltshire, aircraft instrument training. I passed out A/C 1, Trade group 1, and was posted to my first operational unit No.22 Squadron, at RAF station Thorney Island, Coastal Command, near Portsmouth.
By January 1942 the squadron, flying Bristol ‘Beaufort’ torpedo bombers was moved to RAF St. Eval, North Cornwall. The aircraft were attacking Brest harbour where three capital ships of the German Navy, the ‘Scharnhorst’ the ‘Gneisenau’ and the ‘Prinz Eugen’, were sheltering. All three battleships broke out from Brest and made a dash home through the Channel to German ports on Feb, 11-12, a remarkable achievement for the German Navy.
Then I moved to RAF Molesworth, Huntingdonshire where the new 159Squadron Bomber Command, with Consolidated B24 ‘Liberator’ aircraft was formed. As these were new aircraft to the RAF I was one of the few ground crew from each trade detailed as air party to fly out later and rejoin the squadron in India. We received ‘gen’ on Boeing B.17 Flying Fortress’s based at the USAF airbase at Polebrook, and eventually flew to the Middle East refuelling at Gibraltar, then on to RAF Fayid in Egypt. Bombed out from here, we moved up in to Palestine, operated against Rommel’s Africa Corps, until October 1942, when the desert war had eased somewhat.
I then took off for India to join up with 159 Squadron proper now in Bengal, and flew first to Habaniya, Iraq, then on to Karachi.
Due to an undercarriage failure thirteen of us had to bail out from the aircraft over Karachi. I was OK but the aircraft was a write-off. As a result of bailing out I became a member of the ‘Caterpillar Club’ formed by the Irvine Air Chute Co, and eventually received the gold caterpillar tie pin given to all members who had saved their lives using an Irvine parachute. I still have this pin . Crossed India by train, via Lahore and Calcutta, and finally 100 miles west of Calcutta to Salbani, ‘in the blue’ in Bengal, where 159 Squadron proper was operating against the Japanese. I stayed with 159 until war ended abruptly with the atom bombing of Japan, then flew down into Pegu, just north of Rangoon in Burma, living in tents on a Japanese airstrip, with four converted 159 Liberators spraying anti- malaria DDT over the jungle.
Jan 1st 1946, I left Rangoon River on the troopship HMT ‘Shropshire’, called at Colombo, steamed through the Suez Canal, Bay of Biscay and on to Liverpool—31 days on the troopship, which was marvellous! I was all in one piece and was going home after three and a half years service abroad. Two weeks leave, then posted to RAF Bentwaters in Suffolk, to No. 56 Squadron, Fighter Command, who were at that time flying Gloucester ‘Meteor’ jets.
Finally I was demobbed at Uxbridge in July 1946, after five and half years in three operational squadrons. I had joined the RAF with nothing, but now had savings and gratuity worth £450, and had five years technical experience when I left the Royal Air Force for good. . Extremely lucky George! I met my wife to be in January 1947; I then really began to live. I had just had my 24th birthday!
William Ballantine Wheatley was born at Chester, New York, 17 December 1902, the first of three children of William A. Wheatley, a public school superintendent, and Mabel Ballantine Wheatley. He was twice married, first, about 1927, to Esther C. Wheatley, of Massachussetts. His second marriage was to Miss Grace Lenore Ray, 18 April 1935, at Washington, D.C. They would have a son and two daughters.
After two years of college, Wheatley joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet, 3 March 1925. He trained as a pilot at Brooks Field, Texas, and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, 13 March 1926. On 4 May 1927, Lieutenant Wheatley was assigned to the 118th Observation Squadron, 43rd Division, Air Service, at Hartford, Connecticut, as a pilot and observer. He served in the Air Corps Reserve until 1937.
In 1928, Wheatley went to work for the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company as a test pilot. He was an air mail pilot in 1928-1929, and then, in February 1929, he became a test pilot for Reuben H. Fleet’s Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at Buffalo, New York. In 1935, Consolidated moved to its new headquarters at Lindbergh Field, San Diego, California. Wheatley moved with it. He and his family lived in a 3 bedroom home about three miles northeast of the airport. In 1940, his salary as chief test pilot of Consolidated was $50,000 per year.
Initially flew a tour on Whitley bombers with 10 Squadron and then joined the Wireless Development Unit (later 109 Squadron) gathering information about a radio beam from a transmitter near Cherbourg which was used by the Luftwaffe to guide German bombers to targets in England. These missions provided information for the scientists at the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) who developed a similar aid. This led to the development of Oboe – so called because the radio tone, heard by the aircrew using the aid, was similar in note to the musical instrument. The system was based on the transmission of a radio beam from ground emitters located on the East coast and aimed at the target. A dot or dash in the pilot’s earphone would indicate whether the aircraft was to the right or left of the beam – a steady note indicated that the aircraft was flying on the beam. The navigator would be listening for the radio signal which determined the moment to release the bomb. Keith Somerville (KS) was one of five pilots who flew over Germany perfecting oboe. Flying a Mosquito KS and his navigator took part in the first oboe raid on December 20th 1942 - the attack achieved moderate success. Refinements were made and on the 5th March 1943 KS flew one of five Mosquitos used to mark the Krupps factory at Essen – some of the markers fell within 75 yards of the factory. Arthur Harris remarked ‘this was the precise moment that Bomber Command’s main offensive began.’ After two years with 109 Squadron KS was posted on a ‘rest tour’ to Pathfinder HQ. Some Lancasters were fitted with Oboe and through still on a ‘rest tour’ KS was the pilot of the first oboe equipped Lancaster operation which took place on the 11th July 1944. Four days before this operational flight KS had flown a Mosquito to France to collect the top secret oboe equipment salvaged from a Mosquito that had crashed in an area of fierce fighting near Caen. In October 1944 KS returned to operational status as squadron leader of 105 Squadron the second oboe equipped Mosquito squadron. In March 1945 he was promoted to group captain having flown 117 operational flights over enemy territory. In April 1945 the Mosquitos of 105 Squadron used their oboe equipment to pinpoint precise locations in western Holland to allow the main bomber force to drop food supplies to the starving Dutch people – Operation Manna.