Avro Lancasters of No 57 Squadron, Royal Air Force, lined up in the dusk at Scampton, Lincolnshire, before an operation.

Avro Lancasters of No 57 Squadron, Royal Air Force, lined up in the dusk at Scampton, Lincolnshire, before an operation.

Woodbridge ELG

Woodbridge ELG (lower left) was specially built as the first of three Bomber Command emergency runways for damaged allied aircraft returning from operations over Europe. It was opened in No. 3 Group, Bomber Command, on 15 November 1943 and was administered as a satellite of RAF Bentwaters (upper right). Dispersal loops, onto which crashed bombers were taken and serviceable aircraft parked, adjoin the south side of the single large runway (3,000 yards long x 250 yards wide), the size of which should be compared with those of the airfield at Bentwaters.

On the night of the 16th/17th December Bomber Command went back to Berlin yet again. Most of the bombing hit housing and railways rather than industrial sites. Over 700 people were killed, although German records were no longer as accurate as they had been. As many as 279 of those killed were foreign workers, including over 70 when a train received a direct hit. By now around a quarter of housing in Berlin was uninhabitable. Damage to the railways was now starting to cause serious delays to munitions traffic for the Eastern front.

25 Lancasters were lost to fighters and anti aircraft fire over Germany. Worse was to come as the bombers returned to England in the early hours of the 17th to find that many of their airfields were fog bound. The situation became desperate at the planes began to run out of fuel.

Some crews abandoned their aircraft and baled out. More died when their planes crashed on landing. In total 29 planes were lost and 148 men killed. It was the worse single night for such ‘accidental’ losses. No 97 Squadron RAF was the worst hit. Three of their aircraft managed to find Gravely where FIDO – a system for burning off the fog and lighting the runway using large quantities of burning petrol, sprayed from pipes beside the runway – was in operation. For others time ran out too quickly:

16.12.43

21 aircraft detailed to attack Berlin. Good concentration of bombing in early stages falling off later. No results seen only reddish glow. 10/10ths cloud tops 3/5000′, vis good. Defences H/F moderate to 22,000′ and moderate L/F 14,000′ – S/Ls ineffective. Many fighter flares and scarecrow flares. F/L Pelletier in Lanc JA960 was attacked by an enemy fighter JU88 and claims it damaged.

One aircraft, F/L Brill and crew failed to return – no news heard since.

On returning to base aircraft encountered bad visibility over England and the Squadron had a disastrous night in aircraft losses and 28 aircrew being killed.

The following is a brief summary of the return. 8 aircraft landed safely at Bourn and 3 at Graveley. One aircraft landed at Wyton.

F/Sgt Coates after being hit by another aircraft’s incendiaries and having two engines put out of action on the same side by flak, put out a ditching signal when not far from the Danish coast. With great skill he flew the aircraft back on the two engines and landed safely without further damage at Downham Market.

Two crews, P/O Smith and F/O Mooney the captains, baled out safely over Ely and Wyton. All the crews were uninjured but one aircraft is missing and untraced.

S/L Mackenzie DFC crashed at Bourn on the edge of the airfield. Three were killed – S/L Mackenzie, F/O Colson, P/O Pratt, the remainder are either in hospital or sick quarters.

F/O Thackway and crew crashed near Bourn airfield, killing all except Sgt Mack who is in hospital and Sgt Laver who escaped uninjured.

S/L Deverill DFC DFM and crew crashed at Graveley, all being killed except for W/O Benbow who is in Ely hospital.

F/Sgt Scott and crew crashed at Graveley, all being killed.

P/O Kirkwood and crew crashed near Gransden, all being killed.

Total loss of aircraft – 8. Aircrew killed – 28, injured 7.

The story of 97 Squadron was originally available at http://www.firebynight.co.uk/website%20menu.html – FirebyNight.It may be possible to access this from the internet archive.

FIDO (Fog Investigation Dispersal Operations).

FIDO (Fog Investigation Dispersal Operations) petrol burners are ignited on either side of the main runway at Graveley, Huntingdonshire, as an Avro Lancaster of No. 35 Squadron RAF takes off in deteriorating weather.

RAF personnel on a bomber station in Britain view a display of target photographs taken by their aircraft during the previous night's operation over Germany. The photographs taken from the various aircraft are displayed under the aircraft identification letter.

RAF personnel on a bomber station in Britain view a display of target photographs taken by their aircraft during the previous night’s operation over Germany. The photographs taken from the various aircraft are displayed under the aircraft identification letter.

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Dec

16

1943

US Destroyers sink U-boat U-73


16th December 1943: US Destroyers sink U-boat U-73

The destroyer dropped a pattern of depth-charges which exploded below the U-Boat, inflicting considerable damage. There was water entry forward between the bow torpedo tubes. A sea inlet valve of the Diesel cooling system was fractured causing water to flow into the motor room. “U 73” lost trim and sank to a depth that was variously estimated to have been between 160 and 230 m. (524.8 and 754.6 ft.).

Dec

15

1943

Lord Mountbatten arrives as ‘SACSEA’


15th December 1943: Mountbatten arrives at South East Asia Command

Wingate pointed out to me that it was equally true to say that the Japanese had never captured a British strongpoint in the jungle. When I replied: ‘Well that’s encouraging anyway’, he said: ‘Not at all, the only reason they have not captured any strongpoints is that the British have never succeeded in building any strongpoints!’

Dec

14

1943

French Canadian V.C. in determined infantry attack


14th December 1943: French Canadian V.C. in determined infantry attack

Captain Triquet, ignoring the heavy fire, was everywhere encouraging his men and directing the defence and by using whatever weapons were to hand personally accounted for several of the enemy. This and subsequent attacks were beaten off with heavy losses, and Captain Triquet and his small force held out against overwhelming odds until the remainder of the battalion took Casa Berardi and relieved them the next day.

Dec

13

1943

A place to sleep on the Italian front line


13th December 1943: A place to sleep on the Italian front line

It is amazing what the human frame can stand when necessity demands, and what circumstances one can sleep through. About fifty yards down the slope behind us we looked straight into the muzzles of our guns. That first evening at twilight as we crawled into bed they opened fire. Even if you have stood to the side, or behind, an artillery piece when it is fired you will not have experienced anything like the ear—splitting blast which reaches you directly in front. As I said, we were virtually looking down the muzzles.

Dec

12

1943

The infantryman’s nightmare – the ‘S’ mine


12th December 1943: The infantryman’s nightmare – the ‘S’ mine

These things could be fired by pressure switches or pull igniters,but were usually fitted with trip wires connected to pull igniters. By using a ‘Y’ shaped double-ended igniter they could be linked in series, so that one going off would often bring several jumping after it. ‘S’ mines were an infantry man’s constant nightmare: some of my earliest recollections as a raw rookie were of hearing old soldiers talk of them in tones of hate and horror.

Dec

11

1943

Secrets and lies to protect Jews in Nazi Germany


11th December 1943: Secrets and lies to protect Jews in Nazi Germany

My friend Mobius also belongs to the SS, but you need have no fears because of that, his thoughts on these matters are even more radical than mine. Only I beg you, you must not say that you are well off with us. On the contrary, you must complain about bad treatment; otherwise we will get into trouble, and it will be to your detriment above all. Schluter essentially failed because he got a reputation for being favorably disposed to Jews…”

Dec

10

1943

Desperate bravery of Australian PoWs on Death Railway


10th December 1943: Desperate bravery of Australian PoWs on Death Railway

I have nothing but admiration for these game chaps. One Dutchman I was talking to said neither he or any of his countrymen would even dream of placing their heads on a block, even though such sorties might result in the obtaining of much needed food for the very ill. ‘You Australians beat me’, he said. ‘Only wants one of the guards to change his pattern of patrol, and your friends will die’.

Dec

9

1943

B-17G Flying Fortress 42-31420 fails to arrive


9th December 1943: B-17G Flying Fortress 42-31420 fails to arrive

I particularly remember S/Sgt. Moss Mendoza (engineer) on the floor of the radio room in a very awkward position and asking for help. He had what appeared to be a serious head injury. The impact had tossed him from his regular station (starboard side) across the plane to the radio operations post (port side) with a force that resulted in his left leg breaking through the bulkhead. When I tried to help him, I discovered that both of my arms were broken and I was unable to assist.

Dec

8

1943

The trials of a new USAAF Bomber Group in England


8th December 1943: The trials of a new USAAF Bomber Group in England

Vulnerability to German fighters. The early planners had so admired the B-17, which, when first designed, could defend itself quite well, by its speed and altitude, that fighter escort was assumed to be unnecessary. They forgot that fighters could improve too. During the first year of combat, American bomber forces took tragic losses. Available fighters were too “short-legged” to follow the bombers all the way in to far away targets that had to be destroyed.