Friday, 26 March 2010

Strike Hard. Strike Sure. - The Great Ingratitude

On 26 March 1944 at 1944hrs Lancaster Bomber LL749 of 166 Sqn took off for Essen from RAF Kirmington. It FTR (Failed to Return)

Strike Hard. Strike Sure.

Flt Sgt John McInroy was 21, a Lancaster Bomber Flight Engineer. He had said to his aunt (my great grandmother) that he did not expect to return from his next op. Rather than a premonition, this was probably recognition of Bomber Command's heavy losses at this time - operational expectancy of crew was 16 operations in early 1944, i.e you statistically would not complete your 30 operation tour of duty.

He was particularly unlucky on this raid as the sudden switch to Ruhr target surprised the Luftwaffe, only 6 lancs were lost and 1 of those was a crash landing on return to base. My father recalls the family were told he was shot down on the way back. One member of the crew got out and spent the rest of the war as a POW.

A book called 'The Great Ingratitude' sums up our legacy of Bomber Command. No memorial, aside from a statue of Bomber Harris, exists.

The following is from an account of a fellow flight engineer whose lanc was lost on the same raid.

The Raid on Essen 26-27th March 1944:
At Linton-on-Ouse, all Lancasters of 426 ‘Thunderbird’ Squadron in flying condition were checked at their dispersal points. Aircraft DS711/OW "B" regularly flown by P/O Olsson was in repair having been badly shot up several days earlier. This was taken as a bad omen by four of the crew, including Tom who individually spoke to Sgt Hughes-Games the NCO in charge of servicing that night. One of the mess staff who had just become engaged to Vic Jones the mid-upper gunner was in tears and said, “She just knew they weren't coming back”. Tom's Lancaster DS789/OW “A” was bombed up with one 8,000 lb High Explosive ‘Cookie’ and 426 Incendiaries, loaded with over 2,000 gallons of high octane fuel and checked by ground crew. All aircrew flying that day attended a morning briefing when details of the targets in Essen, the bomb loads, rallying point, route, predicted weather conditions and specific problems were discussed. The Essen area was well defended; it contained Krupp armament factories and an oil refinery at nearby Gelsenkirchen.

In the afternoon, the crews rested and then collected their flying gear, ate a traditional meal of bacon and eggs and were taken to the dispersal points by motorised transport as they were weighed down by flying kit, parachutes and the breathing apparatus for high altitudes. The transports were often driven by WAAFS, which must have been traumatic for them knowing that they might not see these men again.

The aircraft was checked by ground crew and by Tom as Flight Engineer. It taxied from dispersal to the main runway, taking off with nine other Lancasters of 426 Squadron at 19.58 and rendezvoused over the East Coast with the main bomber stream.
The stream flew at 18,000-20,000 ft for the raid on Essen, avoiding areas of high flak and enemy fighters by ‘dog legging’ to the target. The target area was clearly marked by Oboe-equipped Mosquitoes and bombs were released at 20,000- 23,000ft through cloud....

705 bombers had taken part; 476 Lancasters, 207 Halifaxes, and 22 Mosquitoes. Six Lancasters were lost, almost the lowest total during that spring. Considerable damage was inflicted on Essen: 48 industrial premises and 1756 houses hit, 550 people killed including 74 slave workers and 138 concentration camp inmates. By the end of the war, it is estimated that 28% of industrial buildings, 24 % of housing and 20% of all facilities had been severely damaged.

Looking back:
It is impossible for us to appreciate the full horror of flying over occupied Europe in a Lancaster. The crew was in continuous darkness for six to nine hours, in cramped conditions, enduring deafening engine noise, using breathing equipment, at temperatures well below freezing and mainly in radio silence.

They knew that mechanical failure, fire, damage from anti aircraft fire and night fighter attack could cause injury or death and that the plane could be brought down over hostile country. The chances of escape from the plane were slim and even if they landed safely, capture on the ground and imprisonment for the rest of the war was almost inevitable. They were well aware too that the chance of surviving thirty raids, the normal tour of duty, was probably less than 50% at that period of the war.

It is for these reasons I feel it is essential not to forget the sacrifices of these men and many thousands more for our freedom today.

The Flight Engineer:
Flight Engineers tended to be the oldest in the crew. They normally came from an engineering background and would have worked as apprentices in civilian life becoming ground crew first, then aircrew. Tom would have been exceptional, joining the regular RAF at the age of 28. Training took about two years and as in Tom's case, was often in Canada where over 10,040 men were trained.

The Flight Engineer’s job was complex and involved liaison with ground crew to identify and solve problems. Before a sortie he was responsible for checking all electrical, hydraulic and mechanical systems were working correctly, the fuel tanks in the wings were balanced and that the engines were running at the correct temperatures and oil pressures, and that there was no outstanding damage to be repaired. This included over forty outside checks on flaps and mechanical linkages, including checking for oil, hydraulic and fuel leaks and checking his own and the pilot's control panels.

During take-off and landing he assisted the pilot with control of engine speeds, monitoring all systems and rectifying minor problems. During the flight he would monitor the balance in the fuel tanks and transfer petrol from one to the other to ensure even flight. He would look out for flak and enemy fighters, go forward into the nose and help the bomb aimer to drop ‘window’ to confuse enemy radar. If the plane were damaged, resulting in loss of control, he would make every effort to rectify the problem and assist the pilot to keep the plane flying correctly. The flight engineer would also help keep the plane straight and level during the bombing run. If the pilot was killed or injured, then Tom could take over and fly the plane, having been trained for this eventuality during basic training and on conversion to operational duties on Lancasters.

In Memory of

1820970, 166 Sqdn., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
who died age 21
on 27 March 1944
Son of James and Annie G. McInroy, of Dunblane, Perthshire.
Remembered with honour

In blessed repose, grant, O Lord, eternal rest to the soul of Your servant, John, and remember him forever. Eternal memory; eternal memory, grant, O Lord, to Your servant, John, blessed repose and eternal memory.

166 Squadron Memorial

1 comment:

Rachel Gray said...

Great Bomber Harris video. I'm struck by all the Biblical allusions, as well as by the very tough-minded language-- how they talked when there was real danger and no one had time to be PC.