RAF 23 Squadron
November 1944 saw the same pattern of operations with bomber support and night and day Intruder and Ranger patrols. No. 85 Squadron continued its run of success with a superb individual effort during a night Intruder on 4/5 November when Bomber Command’s main thrust was against Bochum, with smaller raids on the Dortmund–Ems Canal and on Hanover. Three Bf 110s were claimed shot down, one each by Wing Commander K. H. P. Beauchamp and Flying Officer Mony of 157 Squadron, Flight Lieutenants N. W. Young and R. H. Siddons of 239 Squadron, and Squadron Leader Tim Woodman and Flying Officer Arthur F. Witt of 169 Squadron. Bf 110 of II/NJG1 was shot down at 1900 hours at a height of 20,000 ft (6,100 metres). Unteroffizier Gustav Sario, the pilot, was injured and baled out. Unteroffizier Heinrich Conrads, the radar operator and Obergefreiter Roman Talarowski, the air gunner, were both killed. Bf 110G-4 Wrk Nr 440648 G9+RS of VIII/NJG1 crashed at Bersenbrück, 20 miles (30 km) north of Osnabrück. Feldwebel Willi Ruge, the pilot was wounded and baled out. Unteroffizier Helmut Kreibohm, the radar operator, and Obergefreiter Anton Weiss, the air gunner, were both killed. Also shot down that night by a Mosquito was Leutnant Heinz Rolland, the 26-year old pilot of IV/NJG1, who had fifteen victories at night. Rolland, Feldwebel Heinz Krueger, 25-year-old radar operator, and Unteroffizier Karl Berger, the 22-yearold air gunner, were killed when their Bf 110 crashed south-west of Wezel. By far the greatest achievement that night, though, went to Squadron Leader Branse Burbridge DSO* DFC* and Flight Lieutenant Bill Skelton DSO* DFC*. They were airborne from Swannington at 1731 hours on a high-level Intruder patrol south-east of Cologne, crossed the enemy coast and headed into Germany. Burbridge wrote later:
We were returning to our patrol point from Limburg at 15,000 ft [4,600 metres], on a north-westerly course, when Bill reported contact at 1904 hours, range 4 miles [6 km], crossing starboard to port at about our level. We turned in behind it, flying west, looking vainly for Type F response while closing in. I obtained a visual at 1,500 ft [460 metres] range. At 1,000 ft [300 metres], I believed it to be a Ju 88, and using night binoculars Bill identified it as a Ju 88G. I fired a short burst from 500 ft [150 metres], producing strikes on the port engine. A dull flame appeared. A second short burst gave the same result, and a fire slowly developed in the engine as the enemy aircraft lost height. Soon it began to dive steeply, exploding on the ground at 1909 hours.
By the time we had climbed up again to our patrol point, the markers were beginning to appear in the target area, so we set course towards it. On returning to a reciprocal brief investigation of further flares south-west of us were fruitless, but at 1953 hours Bill reported contact at 4 miles [6 km] range. We dived after it and found that it was taking regular evasive action by losing height at high speed, weaving up to 45° in either direction. After about five minutes we had lost height to 7,000 ft [2,100 metres], and I obtained a visual at about 1,200 ft [365 metres] range. Again no Type F response or exhausts were seen. We closed in and identified the target with binoculars as a Ju 88. At 500 ft [150 metres] range, having finger trouble, I pressed the camera button by mistake, but the absence of thunder and the mocking buzz of the camera on the R/T put me right. Ashort burst (cannon) gave strikes and a flash from the port engine and fuselage, but owing to the dive I lost the visual against the darkness of the ground. Bill regained contact, and although the evasion of the enemy aircraft had increased and became irregular, we closed in again to visual range of about 1,200 ft [365 metres] after a further five minutes, our height now being 3,000 ft [900 metres]. Another short burst at 2002 hours at the same engine produced the same results, and once again the visual was lost below the horizon. We searched around, but were unable to pick him up again; our position was roughly 5 miles [8 km] SE of what we took to be the dummy flarepath of Bonn. At 2005 hours, an aircraft exploded on the ground some distance ahead of us. Two minutes later I saw what I believed to be another crash on the ground.
We now proceeded to regain a bit of height, and when at 8,000 ft [2,400 metres], set course from the last-named position to join the bomber homeward route near Duren, which point we reached at 2020 hours. It was our intention to fly on the reciprocal of the route, towards the target, and to intercept contacts coming head-on: these would most likely be hostiles attempting late route interceptions, as the bombers should all have been clear. After two minutes flying on 50° my attention was attracted by a recognition cartridge (red and white) fired about 25 miles [40 km] east of us. We hurried in its direction losing height on the way, and shortly the red perimeter lights of an airfield appeared. Then I saw the landing light of an aircraft touching down east to west at 2028 hours.
A minute later we had a snap contact and fleeting visual of an aircraft above us, but were unable to pursue it. On commencing a right-hand circuit of the airfield, however, Bill obtained a contact (on the north side of the aerodrome) at 2 miles [3 km] range and at our height, which was about 1,000 ft [300 metres] above the ground. Following round the south side, we closed in to identify an Me 110. He must have throttled back rather smartly when east of the airfield for we suddenly found ourselves overtaking rapidly, horn blaring in our ears, and finished up immediately below him about 80 ft (24 metres) away. Very gradually we began to drop back and pulling up to dead astern at 400 ft [120 metres] range, I fired a very short burst. The whole fuselage was a mass of flames, and the Me 110 went down burning furiously, to crash in a river about 5 miles [8 km] north of the airfield, which we presumed to be Bonn/Hangelar. The time was 2032 hours.
We flew away to the north for a few minutes, and then turned to approach the airfield again. As we did so Bill produced yet another contact at 2 miles [3 km] range, 80° starboard. When we got in behind him he appeared to be doing a close left-hand orbit of the airfield. Again we followed round the west and south sides, and as he seemed to be preparing to land, I selected 10° of flap. I obtained a visual at 1,500 ft [460 km] range; no a/c was visible, so I took the flap off again. We identified the target as a Ju 88 and a very short burst from dead astern, 400 ft [120 metres] range, caused the fuselage to burst into flames. The cockpit broke away, and we pulled up sharply to avoid debris. Crosses were clearly visible in the light of the fire, and the Ju 88 dived towards the airfield. He finally turned over to starboard and exploded in a ploughed field just north of the aerodrome at 2040 hours.
We could see intruder warnings being fired from aerodromes in every direction by this time, and although we tried to investigate one further recognition signal some distance from us, we obtained no joy, and presumed that we had outstayed our welcome.
Burbridge and Skelton landed back at Swannington at 2223 hours and submitted claims for one Bf 110, one Ju 88 and one Ju 88G destroyed and one Ju 88 probably destroyed. Their Bf 110 victim was a II/NJG1 machine which crashed into the River Rhine near Hangelar airfield at 2150 hours. Oberleutnant Ernst Runze, the pilot, was killed and Obergefreiter Karl-Heinz Bendfeld, the radar operator, and the bordschütze baled out safely.
James Lansdale Hodson, a newspaper reporter, visited Swannington and in his subsequent article attributed Burbridge’s and Skelton’s great success to ‘intelligence’.
They know before they set out precisely where they will be at a certain time. They carry a picture in their head of the whole night’s operation … the various bomber streams, times, targets. They try to read the enemy mind … they visualize at what time he will discover what is happening, how far he will be misled, what he will do, what airfields he will use, what times he will rise, whether he will fly, what his tactics will be. They act accordingly. If one expectation fails, they know which next to try. After they had shot down three on the night they shot down four, Burbridge said, ‘Time we were starting for home, Bill.’To which Skelton replied: ‘Well if you like, but I’ve got another Hun for you.’ They went round after him and destroyed him too. Then they had a further look round, ‘But,’ says Burbridge’s combat report, ‘we found no joy and presumed we had outstayed our welcome.’
The popular press dubbed Branse and Bill the ‘Night Hawk Partners’. Such was the need for morale-boosting headlines. Less happy reading was that although 100 Group Mosquitoes claimed six enemy aircraft that night it had been a sorry twenty-four hours for Bomber Command. Despite the actions of the Mosquito crews (239 Squadron and 157 Squadrons also destroyed an enemy aircraft apiece) and a Window Spoof by 100 Group, out of a combined 1,081 sorties during the day (to Solingen) and night, thirtyone bombers were lost, the highest for some time.
Two nights later, on 6/7 November, the bombers attacked the Mittelland Canal at Gravenhorst. It was about of the worst night’s weather Tim Woodman had ever flown in.
We left the target area and flew into a cold front of exceptional violence. We were thrown all over the place, ice quickly froze on the windscreen and static electricity began to spark about the cockpit. We would drop like a stone and I feared my wing tips would come off. Down at 800 ft [240 metres] the ice cleared but it was too dangerous so close to the sea so I went back up to 2,000 ft [610 metres]. Flying Officer Witt had his straps loose in order to operate the Gee set but after he had hit the top of the cockpit for the third time I told him to lock his straps and I would fly due west until we reached better weather. I listened out on the radio. Other crews were obviously in dire trouble from the nature of their calls. Outside the propellers were whirling discs of violet fire, the aerials on the wings glowed violet like neon tubes. The inside of the windscreen was a lattice of static and, as I leant forward concentrating on the instruments the static struck across like pinpricks on my face. We dropped out of the sky in another violent air disturbance, the instruments went spinning and we waited to hit the sea. Arthur Witt then said, quite calmly, ‘Another one like that, why not let the controls go’. Then it will all be over. I am quite easy about dying.’ We made it after some more dicey episodes. But poor Arthur was killed a fortnight later flying with another pilot. Eleven aircraft were lost due to the weather, including two 100 Group Mosquitoes.
On the night of 6/7 November 100 Group crews claimed two Ju 188s, a Bf 110 and a Ju 88 and Ju 188 as probables. Two Ju 88G-6 aircraft were lost. 620396 R4+KR of Stab/IV/NJG3 was shot down by a Mosquito and crashed at Marienburg. Hauptmann Ernst Schneider, the pilot, was killed. Oberfeldwebel Mittwoch, the radar operator, and Unteroffizier Kaase both baled out safely. Wrk Nr 620583 R4+TS of XI/NJG3 was shot down in air combat and crashed south-west of Paderborn. Oberleutnant Josef Foerster, the pilot, survived. FeldwebelsWerner Moraing, the radar operator, and Heinz Wickardt were both wounded. Squadron Leader Dolly Doleman and Flight Lieutenant Bunny Bunch DFC of 157 Squadron at Swannington received confirmation of a Bf 110 destroyed. Doleman reported:
We were airborne at 1734 hours and before reaching our patrol point obtained a contact to starboard on 090 just by the Rhine. Chased and obtained a visual on exhausts like a Mosquito, but on closing in to identify definitely, aircraft did steep turn to port. Chased on AI on target, which was taking evasive action, and obtained a second contact head-on, which we chased and got a visual on an Me 110 going west. The position and time are somewhat uncertain after the first chase. Minimum range on weapon was poor, but opened fire on a visually estimated range of 500–600 ft [150–180 metres] with a short burst. Strikes and explosion occurred instantaneously and poor Hans went straight down in flames.
Contacts were obtained on bags more, Mosquitoes and the odd bomber throwing out Window, and also on two aircraft (at different times) going north-west at very high speed. Mosquito flat out but contacts drew steadily away. One visual obtained on two pairs of exhausts, one of these at 6,000 ft [1,800 metres] range. Do not know what they were but most certainly they were not Mosquitoes on one engine.
Returned from these chases towards Koblenz, and was followed by some crab in a friendly for about fifteen minutes, in spite of G band, Type F and calling on Command Guard. At 2040 hours set course for base as supplies of chewing gum were running low. Saw one beacon lit up. No contacts obtained and Monica was unserviceable by then anyway. Near Brussels was challenged by an American on Channel C and put navigational lights on as second American was advising our chum to ‘Shoot the basket down’ – only he didn’t say ‘basket’. Landed base with nasty smell of burning in cockpit at 2155 hours. Claim one Me 110 destroyed.’
When the fitting of AI Mk X into 100 Group Mosquitoes began there were not sufficient equipments available for the whole force. Tim Woodman recalls:
Although 85 and 157 Squadrons had been attached to 100 Group since May 1944 with 10 cm AI we considered they were not shooting down the numbers of Hun night-fighters they should have. Our Mk IV radar was completely jammed over Germany. Only half a dozen crews of 85 and 157 were getting scores; two or three doing quite well. I challenged the SASO, Air Commodore Rory Chisholm, to let two of 169 crews have the use of 85 Squadron’s aircraft for five ops each, guaranteeing to shoot down a Hun apiece. We went over to Swannington, myself to fly with Flying Officer Simpkin, an 85 Squadron observer, plus Mellows and Drew from 169. What a delight to have 10 cm radar which could range up to 8 miles [13 km] ahead and no jamming. Mellows proved my challenge by shooting down a Heinkel 219 on the second of his five ops. I failed but nearly got a Ju 88 on my fifth op on 2 January. Chased three Huns but had partial radar failure. Shot at a Ju 88 as it entered cloud. Followed him down through, shooting blind on radar. Clear below cloud. A light on the ground and another pilot said he saw an aircraft crash. Made no claim, however, and climbed back up as unsure of the height of the ground.
This was Tim Woodman’s fifty-first op, and his last with 169 (85). He was assessed as a ‘Bomber Support pilot: exceptional’. He received a commendation from 100 Group’s AOC for meritorious service and was appointed to be operational test pilot at the BSDU at Swanton Morley. There he, Squadron Leader Gledhill, and Flight Lieutenants Arthur Neville and Tommy Carpenter, specialist radar observers, checked out ASH, Perfectos, Piperack, centimetric homer and other electronic devices, and flew eight more operations.