"Air gunnery is very complicated, a lot of rules and don’ts and so on. And you had to be very fit and very quick in your reaction."
The Canadian Bomber Group [No. 6 Group, RCAF] had a station at [RAF] Dalton [near Topcliffe, England], where they gave you courses on how to escape [in the event of being shot down behind enemy lines] and gave you a whole lot of background verses on Bomber Command and what all was involved in Bomber Command and flying with it. And that was for a month and we would have ended up leaving – they had a few guys that had done the escape route through Spain and had got back, they came and talked to us and gave a lecture. So we got some; I think it was the most realistic training you could have had. It gave you some confidence, because you have to realize that new technology, everything’s new, new, new. And naturally, to be honest with yourself, you didn’t really know much about the world.
Well then just a couple miles from Topcliffe was [RAF] Skipton-on-Swale and that was where we ended up being assigned. I was with the [No.] 433 [(Porcupine)] Squadron [RCAF], which is sponsored by the Porcupine District in Northern Ontario. So we’re known as the porcupines. But we had a very interesting tour. They said, well, our squadron, we’d been assigned a lot of special duties, we’re still recognized as a special duties squadron. Part of the special duties was we would lay a lot of sea mines. Good mining was no easy flying. It required very accurate management of it and so on, the right height and speed and all that. But the main thing was that you got in and got out.
One of the most notorious trips I have to report was Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, which is the marshalling yards at the south side of Paris [in German-occupied France; targeted by Bomber Command in 1944 as part of the Transportation Plan to destroy infrastructure ahead of the Allied Normandy invasion]. First, over the coast there were strange aircraft appearing in the stream and, as we approached Paris, we started seeing combat aircraft engagement, and if you’ve never seen a combat with two fighters taking on a bomber, you learn a lot in a hurry. We encountered 13 of these combats with aircraft going down, engaged in going down. Finally, the pilot said, “for God’s sake,” he said, “you can’t report the aiming point” – the navigator kept a note of the timing and our position – it would give a clue for them to sort out where the boys might be and so on. But we had not been briefed at any of this, so we were on a very, very big learning curve.
Well, then we come into the bomb run, steady, steady for three minutes and, fortunately, nobody: we had a clean run. But coming out, at the end of it, we were going to go back onto our main course for home, we had a fighter attack. But Jimmy [the pilot] dealt with it by evasive action and things worked well. He’d beat it off. These were great learning experiences. What we’d been taught as tactics worked. That was the first thing. You don’t fire at certain times, otherwise you give your position away, you give the enemy advantage. Air gunnery is very complicated, a lot of rules and don’ts and so on. And you had to be very fit and very quick in your reaction. You say, “okay, corkscrew starboard” or else you’ll say... and so the pilot does that as violently as he can, you just drop out of the German sight. The German, the enemy, has to raise his head and try to locate you. And then the gunner of the bomber has a no deflection shot at this time and it’s your right moment; what do you mean, don’t shoot, hold your fire? This is your great opportunity. Yeah, if you fire then, the enemy can relocate you and he’s got the advantage. So there’s all kinds of timing and things like that, that experience told you, that you couldn’t do it by theory.
But anyway, we came out of the target at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, we felt good about it, the bomb aimer said yes, he was sure that our stuff, we’d got our bombs around the markers that the Pathfinders had put in around the coloured lights. We were hardly out of that when we started getting ground flak [anti-aircraft artillery fire]. And we were in ground flak right out of France. We went up, we went down, changed our altitude, we couldn’t shake it. And it was a very, very tedious night.