Perils of low level Mosquito bombing

Mosquito B Mark IV Series 1, W4072, on the ground at the De Havilland Aircraft Company’s aerodrome at Hatfield, Hertfordshire. W4072 served with No. 105 Squadron RAF as ‘GB-D and flew the first Mosquito bombing raid to Germany on 31 May 1942.

Mosquito B Mark IV Series 2, DZ313, in flight shortly before delivery to No. 105 Squadron RAF at Horsham St Faith, Norfolk, as ‘GB-E.

Fifty two “Intruder” sorties were flown against railway targets and aerodromes in enemy-occupied territory; two aircraft are missing.

From the Home Security Situation Report for the week, as reported to the British War Cabinet, see TNA CAB 66/28/22

The RAF were now mounting numerous small raids throughout occupied Europe to keep the air defences on a state of constant alert. Sometimes these were mounted as diversions to large scale raids by the main Bomber Command force. On other occasions single aircraft were despatched simply to set off the air raid sirens and disturb the sleep of the residents and munitions workers. Berlin was a particular target for this purpose.

The new De Havilland Mosquito was ideally suited to these raids, its speed usually enabled it to evade enemy fighters. Yet there were other hazards when it operated on low level raids. Flight Lieutenants Tommy Broom and E. A. Costello-Brown were one of three crews from 105 Squadron that mounted an attack on 25th August 1942:

We took off from Horsham St Faith at 7.30 p.m. and went in formation to the Dutch Island at the mouth of the Scheldt where we split up and proceeded individually. Not long after crossing the coast and the islands, we were very low and brushed the tops of the trees.

A few minutes later after crossing another small wood, an electricity pylon suddenly loomed in front of us. We pulled up but the starboard engine struck the pylon at its top. Immediately the engine and the propeller stopped. The action of hitting the pylon jammed the controls.

We were eighty feet up and there was nothing we could do. We were doing about 250 mph and just had to wait until we hit the ground. I said to Costello-Bowen, ‘Well this is it’.

It’s a funny thing, but neither of us was worried and we were very calm, although death stared us in the face. We lost height steadily and crossed a couple of fields. Then the pinewoods loomed up in front. We were bound to crash into them – this was about half a minute after hitting the pylon.

Just before we hit I instinctively released my safety harness; why I don’t know. Then we hit and everything went black; no physical pain, just darkness and I felt myself rolling over and over like a ball. I must have been unconscious for a time. [They had crashed in Paaltjesdreef Wood at Westmalle in the Belgian hamlet of Blauwhoeve].

When I awoke I was covered in branches and bits of aeroplane and there was a strong smell of petrol. I was amazed I had no injuries; not even a scratch. I must have been flung out of the top of the cockpit as I was right in the front with the nose of the aircraft. It was amazing that the aircraft did not catch fire or the bombs explode. The nose of the aircraft must have passed between two trees. How lucky can you be?

My next thought was Costello-Bowen. Although it was nearly dark, I found him in some wreckage about twenty yards away. He was unconscious and looked in poor shape. The rudder pedals had torn off both his shoes. After talking and patting his face for a few moments, he finally awoke. I lifted him up and half carried him about 400 yards away, where we both sat down. He gradually recovered and we were soon talking. We both felt very despondent at the thought of being made prisoners of war.

See Martin Bowman: The Men Who Flew the Mosquito which has the remarkable story of how they made it back to Gibraltar on 21st September 1942, after crossing crossing France and Spain with one of the ‘escape lines’ run by the French Resistance.

Vertical aerial photograph taken during a daylight raid by 20 De Havilland Mosquito B Mark IVs of Nos. 105 and 139 Squadrons RAF on the German naval stores depot and marshalling yard near Rennes, France. A Mosquito flies over the target area at low-level as bombs burst on the store sheds below.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Uwe Klitsch August 30, 2013 at 4:13 pm

John, the Oslo raid of 25 September 1942 was flown by four Mosquito B Mk IVs of No. 105 Squadron, and was commanded by Squadron Leader George Parry flying with navigator Flying Officer “Robbie” Robson. The other three crews consisted of: Flight Lieutenant Pete Rowland and Flying Officer Richard Reilly; Flying Officer Alec Bristow and Pilot Officer Bernard Marshall; Flight Sergeant Gordon Carter and Sergeant William Young.
Despite their low altitude, the Mosquitos were intercepted by two Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters of 3./JG 5 flying from Stavanger, causing Gordon Carter’s Mosquito to make a forced landing in Oslofjord. Rowland and Reilly were pursued by the other Fw 190 until it clipped a tree and was forced to break off the attack.

Uwe Klitsch August 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm

John, your uncle and his navigator were lost with Mosquito DZ320 on 13-Nov-1942 at 12:51 o´clock at Oostkapelle during an attack on German ships off Vlissingen. They were shot down by AAA fire from the German merchant ship “Neumark”.

Glen Towler August 25, 2013 at 8:40 pm

I never ceases to amaze me some of the stories of survial from WW2 . It also shows how strong the airframe was on the Mossie I must read this book one day

John Graham May 3, 2013 at 9:05 pm

My Uncle. F.O. Charles Andre Graham (RAAF) flew Mosquitos with RAF Squadron 105. His navigator was a Canadian F.O. Robert Fred Lindsay Anderson. They were both KIA on 13th or 16th November 1940. I have tried unsuccessfully to find some “war diaries”, or such that might tell of his activities. In particular the raid on the Gestapo building in Oslo in Sept 1942. I have found several reports on that raid but none mention who took part other than who led it. Can anyone assist please?

Adelaide Greg February 7, 2013 at 1:26 pm

I am in awe of you fellows who performed these incredible flights of daring in what must have been the most desperate of times. I have always been a fan of the mossie but now have a greater appreciation of the people who flew them and embarked on such dangerous missions in the service of their country. I dips me lid to you.(to quote a great Australian author in C J Dennis aka The Sentimental Bloke)

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: