Wally Ward, 2005.Wally Ward
Flight Lieutenant Wally Ward in Normandy, France, 1944.Wally Ward
Wally Ward while stationed on Annette Island, Alaska, 1943Wally Ward
Wally Ward (back row, far left) with No. 118 Squadron, RCAF stationed on Annette Island, Alaska 1943.Wally Ward
A Hawker Typhoon.Wally Ward
"The last thing we expected was an enemy attack because we'd hardly seen a Luftwaffe German airplane in the air."
The first trip that I did, we came back over Dieppe [Normandy, France]. Why I don’t know, but we did. Because it was my first flight, I was like the tail end Charlie [air force slang used to designate the last aircraft in an aerial formation]. I was off at the end of the wing and I just got over to Dieppe and pow, bang, bang, these great big black clouds of shells exploding all around me, it was anti-aircraft fire, which you’d expect around Dieppe of course. And I was hit, my aircraft was hit. And I remember thinking: "Well, that’s a stupid thing, I don’t think I like this war if this is what they’re going to do."
Anyway, my first concern was, how badly was I hit? Well, I got hit in the radiator at the front there and my cooling was in jeopardy, which meant I was losing glycol and in time, when you lose your coolant, then your engine’s going to overheat and it would seize up. So I radioed to my squadron leader and he kept somebody with me, because I had slowed down. And I got across the [English] Channel, losing height all the way, and when I got the coast, I was down to about 2,000 feet but there’s an aerodrome right at the coast, [RAF] Tangmere. And they had radioed ahead and I just went straight in and landed safely and when I taxied in and shut the engine off, there was this stream of liquid still pouring out the front of the aircraft. So that was my first flight.
The whole purpose of our squadron, the wing, we were 143 Wing [143 Wing, Royal Canadian Air Force, established on January 10, 1944, as part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force (TAAF)] and we had three Canadian squadrons there. There were other squadrons there but we were three, 438, 439 and 440. And every target we had was tactical. That is, we were in the Second Tactical Air Force, which meant that our prime role was to support the army. Our targets would be identified by the Canadian Army.
Now sometimes, we would fly to that target and the [Royal] Canadian Artillery would use red smoke. What they would do is when they could see us getting close to the target, they’d hear us and see us, coming in about 10,000 feet, they would fire a few shells that when they exploded, they’d land right on the target area, there would be red smoke would come up. So we’re flying at 10,000 feet and we’d look down, we could see: "Oh! There’s the red smoke. That’s our target. " So it was a big help to us in making sure. Because it was very challenging, you had to be very careful that you didn’t bomb your own troops. There were a couple of times when they used another technique. If it was overcast and it was solid clouds and you couldn’t see the target, they had a system whereby we would take off and then there would be somebody with equipment up close to the target area, who would be in radio communication with us. And that person would direct us what course to fly and he, I guess he had a radar installation, so he would plot us. And he would actually tell us when to drop the bombs. We would just fly along, over the clouds and he would say: “Bombs away!” We never saw the target and that was a technique that they used.
At 8:00 on January the 1st , my squadron and at least one other squadron were lined up waiting to take off on a mission. So you’ve got to picture, there’s probably about, oh, I’d say maybe 16 aircraft. And one of the airplanes had actually taken off and just at that moment, over the horizon came, it wasn’t a full squadron but a number of Messerschmitt 109s [German Messerschmitt BF-109 fighter aircraft, flying as part of Operation Bodenplatte]. And they were firing, they were coming towards us right down the runway, firing their guns. Well, the last thing we expected was an enemy attack because we'd hardly seen a Luftwaffe German airplane in the air, saw the odd one but very few. You know, the air battle, the air battle was essentially over but this was the last attempt by the German Army and Air Force I guess to stage a comeback. But our aircraft field was surrounded by what was called The RAF [Royal Air Force] Regiment. These were the artillery guys who had our own anti-aircraft but they were very bad at … Like when we first landed in Normandy and we were stationed there, they used to shoot at us thinking we were Focke-Wulf 190s [German fighter aircraft]. So they changed their rules. The rule was that no individual aircraft gunner on his own could decide to open fire. He had to get his orders from a central command. And on the morning of this attack, before this, during the previous night, some saboteurs had cut all the communication land lines. So that these anti-aircraft guys couldn’t fire a shot. They didn’t.
There was a tremendous amount of damage done and your first impression was: "We just lost the war right here." Because there was nothing left. And the aircraft were just absolutely destroyed and I happened to, the next day, I had to fly to Brussels [Belgium]. Now our aircraft, the ones that weren’t flying, were dispersed, that is they weren’t close together, but, in Brussels, because they were so far back from the bomb line where the enemy were, that they didn’t bother to disperse the aircraft and they had B-24 Liberators [American bombers] lined up side by side, wingtip to wingtip. Well, when the German pilots attacked, they just strafed right down that row, they couldn’t miss, and they just wiped them out. And when I flew over, and landed there, it was like carcasses of airplanes all over the place.
Now, the amazing thing about this story is that two to three weeks later, our squadron was fully re-equipped and flying again. They had enough [Hawker] Typhoons [fighter-bombers] in reserve, they were able to bring new aircraft over and they were operational. I thought that was astonishing.