Veteran Stories:
Bernard McNicholl

Air Force

  • The remnants of a Halifax bomber destroyed on the night of March 3-4, 1945 near RAF Foulsham, Norwich, England, the home station of Warrant Officer 2 Bernard McNicholl's No. 192 Squadron.

    Bernard McNicholl
  • Warrant Officer 2 Bernard McNicholl (third from left) poses with his No. 192 Squadron crewmates, March 1945.

    Bernard McNicholl
  • Squadron crest of No. 192 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

    Bernard McNicholl
  • Warrant Officer 2-Air Gunner Bernard McNicholl posing near the turret of the Halifax bomber he flew with while serving with No. 192 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

    Bernard McNicholl
  • Bernard McNicholl in Chilliwack, British Columbia, October 19, 2010.

    Historica Canada
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"But it was scary, I guess, but we were young and we were just, I don’t know, just doing a job, just used to it."

Transcript

We went over in January 1944. But we were sent to a special duty squadron, [Royal Air Force No.] 192 [Special] Squadron, 100 Group. Our squadron was what you called electronic gathering and we picked up all the radar and radio frequencies from ground stations and from the [German] night fighters. We were one of many squadrons in Bomber Command, but we were the only electronic gathering squadron. What would happen is, we’d pick up all these radar frequencies and it took Jerry [the Germans] about a week to change them all. So in the meantime, our jamming squadrons would accompany the main force bombing or else we’d do spoof raids [also known as decoy raids] as they called them; in other words, we would try and redirect the fighters from the main force to the spoof raid’s forces, and became main targets at times, and would split up the fighter forces.

My crew, we managed to complete a tour of operations. Well actually, the one that stands out, it was not a great big combat, is that, as I mentioned, we did the corkscrew in which I tried to turn and bank in one direction and dive. Turn, bank and dive. And then when you got to the bottom and your maximum diving speed, you’d roll and go 60 degrees the other way. And don’t forget, a fighter can only get you when he has his gun platform, which is his wings, deflecting in front of you. So when you’re corkscrewing, he can’t really shoot at you. You can get one good shot at them usually and that’s it because the rest of the time, you’re standing on your head and all the rest of it and you’re not, you can’t shoot too well when the aircraft who’s attacking you is not there. But don’t forget, at night, you can only see a plane about 400 yards and our ranges were set for 400 yards. But the old saying goes, if you can’t hit them, you can at least scare them.

But as I mentioned, we didn’t shoot unless we really had to. Usually if you saw a fighter, whoever saw each other first is the one that got it. But then Jerry came out with, and he did this in 1943 to start with, but he didn’t really show until 1944. We’d mentioned that we see firing coming from below [to Bomber Command]. And they said, well, he’s just standing on his tail or something. But it ended up that Jerry had mounted upward firing cannons [Schräge Musik: upward-firing autocannons] onto his fighters. So he’d go under you and he learned to shoot in between your wings at the gas tanks because if we shot into your bomb bay, especially you’re carrying an 8,000 pounder [bomb], he’d be gone too. And plus other aircraft in the bomber screen.

But so this one time, with having the radar operators, they could also see everything around them too. My radar operator yelled, he says, there’s a fighter coming in on us. I’d say, where is it? And he says, starboard quarter, down. Right away, I should have thought about this because we knew about the upward cannon and so I said, corkscrew starboard, go, go, go. And that was all. We didn’t have all the spiel in training: fighter, fighter, port quarter up or whatever. This way, when you saw him, it was usually port go, go, go or starboard go, go, go.

I came screaming down and the mid-upper [gunner] said, what’s that? And I see, he just went screaming by, a 110, a Me [Messerschmitt Bf] 110 [German heavy fighter aircraft]. I bet he wasn’t 10 feet from us and I’m quite sure that he headed home right away to clean his pants. But the skipper said, what’s that? I says, got good news for you, skipper, and some bad news. He said, what’s the good news? I says, we just pretty near well got ourselves an Me 110. And he said, well, what’s the bad news? The Me 110 pretty near got himself a [Handley Page] Halifax [heavy bomber]. But it was scary, I guess, but we were young and we were just, I don’t know, just doing a job, just used to it. Our odds of surviving a tour in Bomber Command was pretty bad. Even though when I got in, it was a little better. But even, even in 1945, from the first of January to the 2 May 1945, we lost over 600 bombers. Our strength at that time, we were up about 1,600 full strength. So out of 1,600 bombers, you probably can get a 1,000 in the air to do a raid.

Interview date: 19 October 2010

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