Veteran Stories:
Arthur Kenneth “Ken” Dean

Air Force

  • Arthur Kenneth Dean's Squadron Crest and Medals (Left to Right): Distinguished Flying Cross; 1939-45 Star; Air Crew Europe Star; War Medal (1939-45).

    A. Ken Dean D.F.C.
  • Photograph of Arthur Kenneth Dean (in uniform) with, from left to right, his father, his mother, his future wife, and his sister, taken leaving Buckingham Palace, London, England, after Arthur Kenneth Dean was invested with the DFC by King George VI, July 20, 1945.

    A. Ken Dean D.F.C
  • A page from Arthur Kenneth Dean's Log Book, showing his 23rd, 24th, and 25th operations, 1943.

    A. Ken Dean D.F.C
  • Officers and non-commissioned officers - all Navigator Bombardiers - from 51 Squadron Royal Air Force, 1945.

    A. Ken Dean D.F.C
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"I often used to wonder really what happened to people down there. But again, war was war."


Well, at the beginning of the war, I joined the ATC, Air Training Corps, in my hometown of Eastleigh in Hampshire [England] and, from then, I rose to the giddy heights of a flight sergeant and then I was called up, I volunteered for the RAF, but I wasn’t required until 1942. We all wanted to be pilots, but at that time, the four engine bombers were coming in and as I hadn’t soloed quickly enough on my aircraft, I was asked to go and take over the job as air crew. We were sort of general purpose. We were air bombers, as we were called, and we had to have a bit of knowledge of navigation, firing guns, dropping bombs and even flying. And so that helped us quite a bit when we eventually arrived at the squadron.

But I did my initial training wing at Scarborough in [North] Yorkshire [England]. We were based at local hotels. And then at Heaton Park in Manchester [England] where we lived under canvas [in tents] for the time, before we went and did our courses. And evidently, I was, my fate was decided because the four engine bombers had come out and they needed air bombers and wireless operators very badly, and so I trained as a navigator bombardier. And that included gunnery and bombing courses on the [Armstrong Whitworth] Whitleys, [Avro] Ansons, [Airspeed AS.10] Oxfords and even [Boulton Paul] Defiants.

And, after we did that, we normally would have gone to a training school for further experience and crew up, but as the four engine bomber had come out then and the [Handley Page] Halifax and the [Avro] Lancasters, they more or less, well, I in particular was sent straight to a squadron, without any of the previous experiences gained by flying these aircraft. And virtually, I was booked straight onto a squadron, 51 Squadron in Yorkshire. I was lucky enough to be crewed up with a, a second tour crew. They’d done a first tour of operations and they were doing their second and I was rather fortunate to have people who were experienced in flying.

Berlin, and that was my seventh operation, it’s an eight hour trip and just an idea of, giving you an idea of the bomb load that we had was two 1,000 pound bombs, four small bomb containers carrying incendiary bombs and so on, and I think we had some others with larger incendiaries as well. That was quite exciting for me.

The next one was Nuremburg and so on, that was another fairly successful operation. We evidently got some very good pictures that the aiming point that we had had to aim for was, we hit it. So we were very pleased about that, got a pat on the back. Because when you have flak coming up at you, and the pilot and everybody else yelling at you to get rid of the bombs, which your job was to concentrate on hitting the target. And the other people were just sort of on edge all the time until the bombs were gone because bombs onboard the aircraft could also be a very lethal thing to have onboard in case they were struck and not that they would be easily exploded, but one never knew.

My twenty-second trip again was to Gelsenkirchen [Germany]. Then I went on a bombing leader’s course at [RAF] Manby and I did, I was flying [Handley Page] Hampdens, [Bristol] Blenheims and those type of aircraft and training on the use of the new Mark 14 bombsight, which they brought out, which gave us a possibility to route a bomb where we could sort of line up very quickly and it’s all done automatically for us. All we had to do is tell the pilot to fly in a certain direction. It had wind put on it, it had air speed and also wind speed to give the speed over the ground. And from that, we could sort of aim the bombs more accurately, which the Mark 14 bombsight allowed us to do. It did away with the Mark 9B bombsight, which was a bit of a, well, it did its job then, but the Mark 14 was an automatic one that once you put the terminal velocity of the bombs you were carrying, you fed that in, the wind speed and the height were always automatically fed in by the instruments. So it made life a little bit easier.

We always had them in a string of bombs, never individually, because you just made one run over the target, hopefully that the centre of your string of bombs that you dropped off would be the centre of the aiming point. But I often used to wonder really what happened to people down there. But again, war was war.

All my operations were done on the Halifax four engine bomber. We liked it. I always thought it could take more punishment than what the Lancaster could, but the Lancaster did have slightly better, probably climb higher, probably slightly higher speeds and very maneuverable. But when they put the different tail plane on the Halifax, it made it us maneuverable as what the Lancaster was. And altogether, I think it could take more punishment than what the Lancaster could. If you look at the tail plane of a Lancaster, it looks very flimsy, very tall and long. Whereas the Halifax was big and square and maybe they had certain advantages. But I didn’t know, we had our hopes and that in our aircraft and it certainly didn’t let us down. We came back with it several times full of holes. In fact, one aircraft that came back was so badly damaged, we were lucky to get back, and it was immediately written off, it wasn’t worth repairing.

My last trip of my first tour was Peenemünde [Germany], which was really quite an exciting one. It was where the experimental rockets were being produced and we actually had a pretty good trip. We did it low, we lost an engine, by the way, on our way out there, but we decided to press on regardless. And we managed to fly it, but we had to, after we dropped the bombs, we were pretty successful with those, but on the way back, we decided to keep right down on the ground because with only three engines, if we were caught by a fighter, we wouldn’t have stood a chance. And after a few scares and missing a few balloons that were up in the air and high chimneys, from part of the territory that we had to come back on, we got back and then when we landed at the debriefing of the operation by the intelligence people, the wing commander flying came up to us and put his arm around us and said, “Well chaps, that’s your first tour over.” Much to our surprise because we thought we’d have to have another five operations at least to get 30 in. But they decided that the number of the length and everything else of the trips that we had done were sufficient and 25 was our number.

I did go back and do another [tour] as bombing leader. I was commissioned my first tour and then I did a bombing leader's course and then was offered to come back to 51 Squadron as a bombing leader after about a year of training at a local, well, not too far away from where they trained the air crew on the Halifax bomber, from their normal Whitleys or whatever they trained in. And then I finished the war as bombing leading of this squadron and managed to get about another 14 in. But I had to fly with anybody who would have me because we weren’t the leaders, we had bombing leaders, we had nav [navigation] leaders, we had wireless operator leaders and so on. And then I was, as I say, in my second tour, I was a bombing leader, and I had to fly with anybody who had some of these short, particularly as a navigator bombardier. And I managed to get 15 in before the war ended. So it was quite exciting.

But I had a good war from that point of view and I must admit, I quite enjoyed it. I liked the thrill of it, which I think some people couldn’t quite understand, they thought I was a bit of a nutcase I think. But it was something, and I always had a definite feeling, that’s my, I would survive the war. And that’s what gave me the courage. I also was quite religious in my outlook and that was another big factor that helped me get through.

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