Robert Beer, 1945.Robert Beer
Robert Beer's crew in Yorkshire England.Robert Beer
A target token that was awarded to Robert Beer's crew for making a particularly accurate run.Robert Beer
Robert Beer, 2010.Historica Canada
"It was around the end of our tour and the trip was to Augsburg, the same place my brother got shot down. So we were kind of thinking, this is too much of a coincidence."
Well, after training in Canada, through [RCAF Detachment] Montreal, [RCAF Station] Calgary, [RCAF Station] Mountain View and then [RCAF No. 1] Y Depot [Halifax], I was transferred to England. We went, of course, everybody went to [RAF Hurn] Bournemouth, to start with; and then we got posted to an OTU [Operational Training Unit] in [RAF] Honeybourne and we were halfway through our training when our skipper went deaf, so we had to get a new skipper, who turned out to be Dave Borland of Erie, Pennsylvania, USAF [United States Air Force] in the Canadian. He actually had been training in Canada and was an instructor. He had over 1,200 hours on [North American Aviation T-6 Texan] Harvards [advanced training aircraft], etc., which was quite the thing because most of the pilots that arrived only had about 200 hours.
Fortunately for us, he had complete control of the aircraft. He saved us a couple times when we got caught in the brute flame and we got out of it twice: once over Kiel; once over Hamburg. What it is is the directed beam is blue and once it hits your aircraft, all the other searchlights come on in you and then they fill the cone with flak [anti-aircraft fire]. Unfortunately, over Kiel and over Hamburg, we got caught; and twice, he got us out of it, by doing what we call a corkscrew maneuver.
I remember one time we had a full bomb load, 19,000 pounds onboard, and we couldn’t drop our loud. We had to fly back because the electrical system went. We had to fly back to our base and land that load there. Fortunately, it didn’t blow up on us, but that was a dicey trip. We knew what could happen. But thanks to Dave, it didn’t.
But there was a couple trips like that where we got hit by flak and one that tore the plexiglass out of the rear gunner. Didn’t get him, but it took the plexiglass out. So we figured that was close enough.
My brother, now for instance, was on his 28th trip. That was in 1943 and that included 13 trips to Berlin, which was a hotbed at the time. Then they went to Augsburg and they got shot down. They ran into a mountain. They were shot down, and they hit a mountain; and a 12 year old schoolboy saw it, saw them explode. One guy got out, Mullick, he was the mid-upper gunner, he got out, he became a prisoner of war. I can’t really think what date it was, but after the war, [No.] 408 Squadron had a reunion here in Halifax and I met Mullick then, we talked quite a bit. But I had met them overseas too, before.
When I first arrived there, Lloyd [my brother] come down. I was at Bournemouth and he met me in London; and we had a couple days there and then we went up to Nottingham and then he went back, and I come back to Bournemouth. He went back to the squadron. That’s the last I saw of him.
Berlin was the one nobody wanted to go to, because that was the jewel of the Nazi kingdom. And so they had lots of fighters, they had lots of flak and searchlights. It was considered a very, very rough target. Lloyd was on 13 of those trips before he got shot down. We were a really happy crew, even before our trips. We were in the… after we were briefed, we had to go and get ready to go, we were usually laughing, joking. We did one trip there and we got briefed on this trip; and when we got back out, nobody was saying much, they weren’t talking much; and the trip was cancelled. It was around the end of our tour and the trip was to Augsburg, the same place my brother got shot down. So we were kind of thinking, this is too much of a coincidence. But when they cancelled the trip, we all looked at one another and we knew why we were quiet. I said, yeah, I know. But fortunately, the trip was cancelled.