Veteran Stories:
Gordon Webb

Air Force

  • Mr. Webb's crew in "Pistol Packing Mama" Halifax bomber, from left to right: Vic Painter (Navigator); Cy Young (Bomb Aimer); George Bova (Wireless Operator / Air Gunner); Ed Scarffe (Rear Gunner); Gordon Webb (Pilot); George Hutchinson (Mid-Upper Gunner); Johnny Whitehouse (Flight Engineer).

    Gordon Webb
  • Mr. Gordon Webb flew in 72 missions over enemy territory. Here, his bomber nose nicknamed "Pistol Packing Mama".

    Gordon Webb
  • "Pistol Packing Mama"'s route in an out during the Nuremberg raid, 30-31 March, 1944.

    Gordon Webb
  • Mr. Webb's medals, from left to right: Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar; 1939-1945 Star; The Air Crew Europe Star with France & Germany Bar; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; War Medal 1939-1945; Canadian Korea Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal for Korea; United Nations Service Medal Korea; Canadian Decoration and Bar;

    Gordon Webb
  • Mr. Gordon Webb, August, 2012.

    The Memory Project
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"And when the crew’s sitting in the briefing room, sitting there looking at it, man, they’re not serious. Well, they were serious all right and off we went into Nuremberg and we lost a lot of airplanes."

Transcript

Well, number one, the raid [on Nuremberg] should never have happened.  But that’s okay, I mean, you know, they thought it was a good idea.  So because the weather was so - it was in March, weather was beautiful.  And we’d had trouble at Essen two nights before.  Matter of fact we had a terrible trip and we had to have an engine change and a few other things.  And so on the morning of the 30th, I guess it was, I wanted to do an air test because I wanted to check that engine out and a few other things. And so I got the crew together and I said, “Let’s go, we’re going flying.”  And we put, early in the morning, so we could get back at noon and we knew with the weather nobody’s going to fly tonight, there’s almost a full moon.  All across Europe was clear.  And so we went out and did what we had to do.  I checked the engine out and everything was fine.  We came down just before noon and geez as we approached the airport there seemed to be an awful lot of activity going on for an airport that’s supposed to be quiet, it didn’t look too good to me.  And, I guess, Vic said, “Geez I don’t like the look of this, I don’t think we’re, I think we’re in business.”

So anyway we taxied in and sure enough they were loading aircraft up and they were waiting to put our bombs on.  And the crew were saying, oh, they were grousing a bit because the night before [the raid over] Brunswick had been cancelled because of the weather.  And I said, “Look you guys we’re not going anywhere tonight.”  They said, “I know, it’ll be too late for us to do anything cause, you know, we weren’t going to take off till just before dusk.”  And I said, “Oh no, forget it, you got a night off, you can’t go anywhere.”  And sure enough we were on.  And when we saw the, when the crew saw the track – I’d already seen it in the afternoon ‘cause pilots and navigators get a look at it first – to Nuremberg, that’s a long way into Germany.  And when the crew’s sitting in the briefing room, sitting there looking at it, man, they’re not serious.  Well, they were serious all right and off we went into Nuremberg and we lost a lot of airplanes.  We lost, on that track from Charleroi [Belgium] to Fulda [Germany] about 260 miles, I think, we lost an airplane every two miles.  And I could see them, you know, I lost track.  I’d usually try to keep track of what was going on.  Well, I lost track of our aircraft and the dummies the Germans were dropping, I don’t know how many we lost.  And, anyway, we managed and we got back.  And we realized then we’d lost an awful lot of people.

And, you know, the Germans were pretty clever.  They built up camouflaged towns over here and industries over here and I became a Pathfinder.  So that’s why the Pathfinder Force was created so we could go in there, identify that target and mark it properly.  And the main force would come in, if you’ve survived the main force bombing for around 26, 27 trips usually, you could be selected for Pathfinders.  Now it’s volunteer, you don’t have to go, matter of fact if you’re smart you don’t.  But they sent a chap up, Mahaddie, I remember him very well, Hamish Mahaddie.  He was a Group Captain RAF navigator and he would go to different squadrons and look over the records and choose people he wanted to go into the Pathfinder Force.  So guess what, we were called up ‘cause we were top of the list by that time.  We were the most senior crew and we were and, you know, we were a pretty good crew.

So they called me in and Mahaddie, I think that was his name, was sitting there and the CO* said they would like you to go to Pathfinders.  Now it’s all volunteer you don’t have to go.  And with 26 trips you only have four more to do till you’re finished.  And so they gave a big story and they said, “What do you think?”  It’s on Lancasters**.  And I thought, yeah, that’s pretty good, I’d like to go.  But I said, “I guess I better tell my crew.”  Well, when I told my crew the way I put it was, “Look you guys, I’ve just volunteered us for Pathfinders.”  I was the most unpopular guy in that room.  But anyway they accepted it and we went off to Pathfinder School.  But in order to get to Pathfinders you had to be a top-line crew and a lot of people say, “Oh, they just went to Pathfinders.”  You don’t.  You have to be top-line crew and when you get there, you go to a school, Pathfinder School on Lancasters.  And when we arrived, D.C. Bennett was AOC*** in Pathfinders.  And he said, he interviewed us and he just looked at us and he says, “Well, welcome to Pathfinders, if you make it through the school.  But we don’t accept one mistake.  You guys make one mistake here at the school, you’re out.  So let’s look for the mistake.”

Pride enters into it, you know, so we didn’t.  We graduated from that, ended up on 405 Squadron flying Lancasters on Pathfinders.  And that was a different operation from us altogether and we lost a lot of people.  A lot of people don’t understand what Pathfinders is all about because what, in the past before Pathfinders, crews used to go in with all flak [anti-aircraft fire] and fighters, you know.  The human nature tendency is to get out of there, just get out of here, drop them and let’s go.  So there was, bombs were scattered and I used to think, well, you know, we haven’t flown all this way over here to bomb Frau Schultz’s potato patch.  We want to, if we’re going to come over here we’ll do what we’re supposed to do.

Well, Pathfinders enabled the main force crew to have a specific target.  Now when you first go on the squadron your first seven trips is as illuminators.  You go in seven and a half minutes before the raid and you illuminate, you light the whole place up.  Then the markers, the main markers come in and depending on what kind of raid you’re doing, might be a Wanganui**** or whatever it is – the main force has to sit back and wait or at least they’re on their way in.  The regular markers then come in and they can see the target, it’s all lit up.  And they can put the flares right down to where they’re supposed to be and then the illuminators can scoot off and the main force then comes in.  Then the Pathfinders, after you’ve done your seven trips, you become one of these other people.  And you can, you direct the main force to, you bomb the red flares on the right or undershoot the red flares or bomb the green flares on the right.  Give them a specific place to bomb and that stopped the creep back, the creep back^ as they called it.  And that’s what Pathfinders did.

And another job Pathfinders did that they got absolutely no credit for – during the flight you fly a certain route.  Some Pathfinders had the job of going in and dropping track markers.  They put the track marker down and the main force come in and if they see that they know they’re on course and whatever.  Well, the Germans soon caught up to that cause they knew that soon as that flare went down the Pathfinder’s going to be back to put another one up to back it up.  So they’re just sitting there waiting.  And the main force guys they smartened up pretty quickly.  They’d see that marker and they’d offset, they’d stay off a piece so they didn’t go anywhere near that marker but they could still stay on track.  So the guys, the Pathfinders would have go in and drop another one.  Geez, you know, it was dicey (laughs).  But they did it.

I just wanted the politicians, the Prime Minister primarily and as I mentioned, I mentioned this to MacKay,^^ if he’d stand up and I don’t care about people like me but what I am interested in is the people that didn’t come back.  All the Johnny […] and the Clare […] and all those other lads who, they didn’t come back.  Surely to goodness somebody should recognize them.  Wouldn’t you think they’d say, “Look, these guys lost their lives for a good purpose.”  They finally put that monument up in England [Bomber Command Memorial in London, England] and it’s a great one.  I was number one on the list to go [for the memorial inauguration] but I just couldn’t make it.  I’m sorry I couldn’t but I couldn’t.  But at least there’s something in England.  They finally recognized that […], that Harris, Harris^^^ did a great job at tremendous strain to himself.  ‘Cause I’ve often put myself in his shoes.  How would you like to turn a whole bunch of young men out to go out tonight and bomb Germany and know they’re not going to come back, you know.  But he did it.

*Commanding officer

**Avro Lancaster, a British four-engine heavy bomber

***Air Officer Commanding

****Codename given to one of the target marking techniques used by the RAF Pathfinder Force, with its name taken from a town in New Zealand

^With the tendency of air crews to drop their bomb load as soon as they honourably could, bombing operations frequently had “creep back” along the direction of approach of the bomber stream, as crews dropped their bombs slightly short of the aiming point

^^Peter Gordon McKay, the Canadian Minister of Defence at the time of the interview recording^^^Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Harris, the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command

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