We knew we were doing something different because we had special operators and special equipment onboard, but it was so secret, they didn’t even tell us.
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[No.] 192 [Squadron, Royal Air Force] was a special duties squadron in Bomber Command. It didn’t carry bombs. What it did carry was special electronic equipment, radars, special operators and so on. Our function was to fly along in conjunction with the bomber stream and try to subvert the German forces by misleading them, diverting them and so on.
We were using a number of different ways. For instance, they would send us out on bad weather occasions when the rest of Bomber Command was grounded to try to simulate an attacking bomber force that would draw the Germans into the air and then we would scoot around and go back and land again, having wasted their time and effort. That was one sort of thing we’d do.
We would fly along with the stream and we had equipment onboard that we could use to simulate our presence in a large bomber stream, even though we were only sitting near a few aircraft at the time. What we could do was divert from the main bomber stream and head off in a different direction; and using the devices we had onboard, we would make the Germans think this was a major alteration of the bomber stream and it was heading for a different target. So hopefully, they would chase us and stay away from the main stream. So that was another thing we used to do.
And now and then, we would carry German speaking operators onboard and they would get on the fighter control frequencies and confuse the fighters by giving them misleading instructions, telling them to go left instead of right and up instead of down, etc. And telling them to ignore the instructions they were receiving through their controllers. We would, in other words, try to do everything we could to mess up their work. And now and then we’d tell them, go back and land right away, weather conditions are terrible. So that was some of the things we used to do.
Well, it was so classified [laughs] that they didn’t tell us what we were doing for the first 12 trips. We knew we were doing something different because we had special operators and special equipment onboard, but it was so secret, they didn’t even tell us, which left you wondering: geez, they’re shooting at me, what am I doing here anyway?
My gunners did shoot down a Focke-Wulf [Fw] 190 [German fighter aircraft] on one of our trips. And I should tell you about that trip. We were carrying German radar equipment onboard, testing it. They had been taken from a wrecked German aircraft. We were testing it for its capability in airborne interception. And what happened was my special operator, using this German equipment, spotted this fighter coming in on us and he alerted our gunners, so that our gunners were able to open fire before the Focke-Wulf 190 even knew we were there. Now, I have to say, remember, we’re in complete darkness at the time, so the fighter didn’t know that he was virtually on top of us until he got shot down. So that was an interesting one.
There was another event we had when… Bomber Command used to fly in gaggles. There’d be up to 1,000 aircraft flying around, each on their own in what they called a gaggle. You were all trying to meet the same deadlines and navigation, you know, in order to be in a certain place at a certain time. And it’s lights out for your own protection, and it’s black night. So you can imagine that produces a lot of hairy situations. Bomber Command policy was [such] that there weren’t really many midair collisions, but we used to see them now and then, it would happen.
So I’ll never forget one raid when it was a pitch black night. I’m looking to the left out the window in my [Handley Page] Halifax [heavy bomber] aircraft; and I saw the instrument panel lit up on a German fighter as it flashed by. Now you can imagine how close it must have been, when I could see the lights in the cockpit. So that’s about as close as I ever came to a midair.
The routine in Bomber Command was that you do a tour of 30 ops [operations]. There would be a layoff period when you’d be instructing or something, come back and do second tours, and so on after that. But at that stage of the war, the replacement air crew were coming out of Canada in such numbers that they didn’t bother holding us for a second tour, they just put the new arrivals in for their first tour. It took a while to settle down. It’s a different sort of existence when you go from a wartime situation like that to working in an office. Your memories take you back through some things that you’d prefer to forget, but it takes a while to settle down. When you go from flying on ops to editing, there’s nothing in common really: Should I put a comma here or should I put a semi-colon?