A Bomber Command Navigator 80 Years On – 10th and 12th April 1942: Operations Essen​

Aircraft image source: ww2aircraft.net – see more images of the Stirling here.

After taking part in the ill-fated combined RAF/Royal Navy operation (codenamed Fuller) which failed to stop the escape from Brest harbour and the subsequent “Channel Dash” of the 3 German capital ships (Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen) on 12th February 1942, it was almost 2 months before Alan Green was involved in another mission. While the 12th February was the last time his squadron operated the Wellington, that day marked its first operational use of the mighty Stirling, the RAF’s first 4-engined bomber. During this period between operations, Alan undertook 23 flights, including aircraft delivery, bombing practice and navigational exercises, all of which formed part of his conversion/familiarisation training on the Stirling.

Photos from Alan Green’s logbook

To facilitate the introduction of the Stirling to frontline service, the RAF instructed several squadrons to create specialist conversion flights. As one of the selected units, 218 Squadron initially allocated 4 aircraft (W7454, N6128, N6129 and N6078) and 7 instructors, including S/Ldr Ker and P/O Jones, to the task. It can be seen from the logbook extracts below that Alan flew under the command of both Ker and Jones, while the longest flight was a 6-hour plus daylight navigational exercise encompassing Abingdon (Oxfordshire), West Zoyland (Somerset) and St Eval (Cornwall).

Photo of Harold Ashworth aged 26 (Source: 218 Squadron available here)

On 28th March 1942, Alan undertook his first of many flights commanded by S/Ldr Harold Ashworth, on this occasion a 2.5 hour trip to Peterborough and back. Alan’s first 2 operational missions on the Stirling (his 8th and 9th  overall) finally took place on 10th and 12th April 1942, both against the German city of Essen under the command of S/Ldr Ashworth, who had joined 218 Squadron aged 39, well above  the average age for bomber crews which was around 22.  Harold Ashworth had been a celebrated civilian pilot before the war, most notably taking part in the 1929 2-day 1,179 mile Kings Cup Air Race, although he failed to finish as result of damaging his Avro 594 Avian IIIA in a heavy landing at Lympne.

Alan’s Logbook Entries (February-April April 1942) Source: S Green

Thanks to its location in Germany’s industrial “Ruhr” area, Essen was considered a key target by the new head of Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshall Harris, who had been appointed to the role on the 22nd February 1942. Harris supported the widely held view that war could be won by bombing alone, so he soon implemented the directive issued by the Air Ministry on 14th February 1942, authorising large scale attacks on Germany’s towns and cities. Essen was also particularly significant on account of the huge arms production (battleships, submarines, tanks and guns) carried out by the Krupp corporation, the largest company in Europe at the start of the 20th century.  Alan’s Stirling (J6072) was one of 9 despatched by 218 Squadron on 10th April 1942 but, according to the operational records shown, his crew reported “no direct results seen owing to 10/10 cloud”, although “fires seen burning by reflection on cloud”. Despite “slight flak damage to aircraft” caused by Essen’s extensive air defence, the Stirling returned safely to base.

On 12th April 1942, a further 11 Stirlings from 218 Squadron returned to Essen with Alan and his crew once more aboard J6072 under the command of S/Ldr Ashworth. Although there was no cloud this time, the crews reported that “industrial haze made pinpointing difficult”. Over the course of these 2 attacks on Essen, the Squadron dropped 47250lbs and 67550lbs of bombs respectively, even though the operations had been hampered by poor visibility and technical problems with the new GEE navigational equipment, which was first used operationally on 8/9th March 1942. GEE was the first “hyperbolic” radio navigation system based on measuring the time delay between 2 radio signals to create a fix with an accuracy of a few hundred metres at ranges up to 350 miles.

See below a map we’ve been creating of all of Alan’s missions in the Second World War.

218 Squadron Operations Record Book (April 1942), Source: National Archives

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

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