A Bomber Command Navigator 80 Years On – Missions 21 and 22, Bremen (3rd June 1942) and Emden (6th June 1942)

Having successfully evaded the 2 single engine fighters, which attacked them as they were landing back at base (Marham) after the second 1000 bomber raid (Essen), the crew of Stirling W7530 (HA-Q)were soon airborne once more on 3rd June 1942, the target being Bremen, an important industrial/military centre in Northern Germany, home to shipyards, submarine pens, oil refineries and the Focke-Wulf aircraft works. W7530 (HA-Q), again under the command of S/L Ashworth, took off from Marham at 2255 with Alan Green as the Navigator, who was on his 21st mission.

Extract from Alan’s Logbook – Source: S. Green

As noted in the extract from Operations Record Book (ORB) above, W7530 was one of 7 Stirlings despatched by 218 Squadron, joining 7 Wellingtons from Marham’s 115 Squadron. These aircraft were part of 51 provided by No3 Group in a total force of 170 bombers. While “flares were very well placed over the old town and eastern dock area” and “satisfactory but not spectacular fires were started”, it was clearly a costly night for Bomber Command with 14 aircraft lost, one of which was a 218 Squadron Stirling, W7414 (HA-K) flown by F/Sgt John Webber, from which “nothing was heard from this aircraft since take-off”.

According to the Squadron historian, Steve Smith, the loss of the experienced Webber crew made a big impression on everyone at Marham. Although only 19, John had already completed 31 missions on both the Wellington and Stirling and was about to complete his operational tour and be promoted to Pilot Officer. Having been intercepted by an enemy night fighter at 10000 feet over Holland, W7474 (HA-K) eventually crashed 1km south of Den Helder with the loss of everyone on board, apart from the rear gunner, Sgt Keith Cox, who spent the rest of the war as a POW. Of the 7 fatalities, only the bodies of F/Sgts Leo Farley and Norman Sibley (both Air Gunners) were identified, while the remaining 5 were buried as “unidentified” airmen. All 7 were eventually laid to rest in Bergen op Zoom War Cemetery, 40km NW of Antwerp.

As indicated in the ORB extract below, 2 of the 218 Squadron Stirlings abandoned their missions due to technical issues, resulting in them jettisoning their bombs and returning to Marham. W7503 (HA-R), under the command of P/O Ball, suffered failure of rear turret, while N6077 (HA-V) lost the starboard inner engine. Although the loss of one engine would not normally present major problems for the 4 engine Stirling, N6077 (HA-V) became increasingly difficult to control, leading to a challenging landing for the pilot, F/Lt Don Allen. Meanwhile, Alan Green and his crew on W7530 (HA-Q)“ arrived on target twenty one minutes early, Bremen, 0119 15000”, noting “two miles South East of target, aircraft seen to fall and burn on the ground”. No doubt the men on W7530 (HA-Q) counted themselves lucky once more, as they made it successfully back to base at 0355 on 4th January, albeit somewhat later than the other returning aircraft.

After safely returning from Bremen, Alan Green was soon departing on his 22nd operation on 6th June 1942, this time a return to the port of Emden on the Northern coast of Germany, which he had previously visited in a Wellington on 20th January 1942. Emden, which dates back to the 8th century, was selected for its links to the industrial Ruhr area of Germany via the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Interestingly, Alan’s logbook entry states Emden, whereas the ORB extract below refers to Bremen as the target. Reference to a WW2 database and Steve Smith, the 218 Squadron historian, also mentions an attack on Emden on 6th June 1942, involving 233 bombers (124 Wellingtons, 40 Stirlings, 27 Halifaxes, 20 Lancasters, 15 Hampdens and 7 Manchesters).

As on the first 1000 bomber raid on Cologne on 30th May 1942, the crew of Stirling W7530 (HA-Q) carried a high-ranking officer on this mission, although this time it was Group Captain McKee, Marham’s “Boss”, rather than AVM Baldwin, C-in-C of No3 Group Bomber Command. Given the furore caused by Baldwin’s trip on W7530 (HA-Q) in May 1942, Steve Smith (2020) suggests “the flight was probably undertaken without the knowledge or agreement of either the C-in-C AVM Harris or McKee’s immediate boss Baldwin”, owing to the potential propaganda coup for the Germans, if McKee had been shot down and captured!

According to the 218 Squadron ORB, “eleven crews were detailed and briefed for operations tonight” with crews subsequently reporting “visibility was good and the town was identified by adjacent landmarks”, while “a large fire started in the town was still visible from 130 miles away”. While another 11 bombers were lost on this mission, all Marham’s Wellingtons and Stirlings made it home safely, although R9354 (HA-N), under the command of F/Lt Donald Allen, had to return early as “all engines overheated”, with the crew also noting “very dark but Northern Lights visible”!

Thanks to the excellent conditions, finding the target proved relatively straightforward, with the result that substantial damage was inflicted on the dock area, as well as the gas works and large railway station. This was confirmed in the post flight ORB report by Alan Green and his crew on W7530 (HA- Q commanded again by S/L Ashworth), stating that “identification of target was visual by lakes near the docks”, which is further corroborated by reference to maps of Emden, as shown below.

Map of Emden showing the lakes referred to in W7530’s ORB Report – Source: Google Maps

There is one final question mark concerning the reporting of W7530’s (HA-Q) involvement in this raid, as Alan’s logbook entry clearly refers to the aircraft having “diverted Lakenheath”, rather than return to Marham. The ORB, on the other hand, makes no mention of this fact, nor is it reported by the 218 Squadron historian, Steve Smith. While further research is necessary to solve this mystery, G/C McKee’s participation was undoubtedly a tremendous confidence boost for Marham’s 2 Squadrons, 218 and 115, which helped to make Alan’s 22nd mission a great success!

Extracts from the 218 Squadron Operation Record Book (June 1942) – Source: National Archives

References

AIR 27/1350 218 Squadron, June 1942

Chorley, William, RAF Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War 1942 (Leicester, Midland Counties Publications, 1994)

Hope, Barry, ‘and in the morning’ Database

Longmate, Norman, The Bombers, The RAF Offensive Against Germany 1939-45 (London, Hutchison & Co, 1983)

Smith, Steve, From St Vith to Victory, 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron and the Campaign Against Nazi Germany (Barnsley, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2015)

Smith, Steve, Courage Was Not Enough, No. 218 (Bomber) Squadron, Weston-super-Mare’s Own 1936-42 (Merthr Tydfil, Mention the War Ltd., 2020)

Lecturer in Air Transport Management at Buckinghamshire New University, Module Leader in Aviation Sustainability Management. Experienced Airbus/Boeing Captain.

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