To bale out or not to bale out? (2)

The last RAF post was about an Avro Lancaster III of 61 Squadron, serial number DV 232, squadron letters QR-K which went for a swim in the River Trent near East Stoke on September 6th 1943:

They had taken off, one of many, at 2015 on September 5th 1943 from RAF Syerston to go and bomb Mannheim. This was a huge operation and involved 605 aircraft including 299 Lancasters, 195 Halifaxes and 111 Stirlings. Of the 605 aircraft, 34 were lost, some 5.6% of the attacking force. The trip to Mannheim was a very, very, costly one for the young men of Bomber Command:

9 Squadron  (14 killed)
10 Squadron (7 killed )
12 Squadron (2 killed)
44 Squadron (7 killed)
49 Squadron (5 killed)
51 Squadron (5 killed )
73 Squadron (4 killed )
76 Squadron (6 killed)
77 Squadron (12 killed )
78 Squadron (19 killed )
83 Squadron (7 killed)
90 Squadron (7 killed)
101 Squadron (1 killed )
106 Squadron (13 killed)
149 Squadron (12 killed )
156 Squadron (2 killed)
196 Squadron (6 killed)
405 Squadron (3 killed )
419 Squadron (13 killed )
427 Squadron (7 killed )
619 Squadron (6 killed )
620 Squadron (4 killed )

The people in Mannheim weren’t exactly dancing in the shattered streets either. The Pathfinders did their job perfectly, marking a target completely free of clouds as if it were a training exercise. The bombs fell exactly where they were scheduled to fall. We have very few facts and figures about the exact damage done. This was because the raid was so severe that the report gathering and recording process broke down completely. Indeed the German records use only one word about this night. That word is “catastrophe”.

Around six months later, during the night of March 24th-25th 1944, pretty much the same men who had been the crew of QR-K in the River Trent, but were now part of 97 Squadron, were compelled to ditch into the Channel after their 16th trip to Berlin. Fortunately for them, they were picked up by a German E-boat and became prisoners. Only poor Sergeant Robson, the flight engineer, still only 20 years old, perished. He was drowned in the very severe impact and his body was never found. The crew that day was Todd, Robson, Fuller, Duvall, Housley, McCloskey, Cartwright:

One man lost a leg and several of them were quite badly injured. But as far as my researches tell me, they all survived the war.
I don’t know though, about some of the others….people who made just occasional appearances in the crew’s line up, such as Patrick , or Debnam, for example. I have no initials and too many dead Debnams to make even a wild guess about him.

I might have found a match, though, with Frederick Cyril Shergold of 207 Squadron. On September 22nd 1943, at the age of only 21, Frederick was killed during a raid on Hannover. Like the Shergold on September 6th 1943, he too, was a navigator, so I strongly suspect he may have been the same man who went into the River Trent on that “All’s Well that Ends Well” night . Alas! More than one man called Shergold was killed in the RAF during this greedy war to be totally, absolutely certain.


Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History

22 responses to “To bale out or not to bale out? (2)

  1. Andy Jones (ON 70-80)

    John, Did you ever discuss Lancasters with Sandy Powell? During A level studies he made very oblique references to his time flying them, and I suspect he had far more to tell than he ever let on to us. A wonderful, modest man – would love to know more if you have any info. Rgds

    REPLY : No, as far as I know he was involved in lobbing shells at Germans! He never mentioned anything other than that to me.

    • He used to fly Short Sunderland flying boats over the Atlantic and he also visited West Africa, presumably something to do with the Vichy French. He saw the Dornier Do X flying boat there. Dick Elliott was a Lancaster pilot and as far as I could see he suffered from it in later life. He was a lot like my Dad in that respect. Jeff Leach was in the fourth or fifth jeep to go into Belsen.

      • Andy Jones (ON 70-80)

        Thanks John – had no idea about CRBE and JPL. At all. Keep up the good work!

      • jan

        I don’t recall JPL ever mentioning his wartime experiences. Do you know if he was involved in Intelligence / Psych Warfare operations? They were very often in the van in such situations.

  2. I was six months old and there is always a lump in my throat when you put a name to one or two or more of the tragedies that Hollywood turned in to movies.

    • Yes, Hollywood does tend to gloss over the horror of war and to turn it into one huge game of “Go, go, USA”. Personally, I don’t like the way they took cowards who did not go to war and made them stars by playing the lead in war films. My respect goes exclusively to Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable and director William Wyler. Even the B-17 crews thought he was pushing his luck.

  3. It’s difficult to look at the statistics and know that each was a young man with the hopes and dreams that we now take for granted.

    • I imagine it as a large lake with a tiny island in the middle. On that island stands 21 year old Frederick Cyril Shergold. All around the shore of the lake stand figures of the future. His future wife. His future children. His aging parents happy to see him return from the war. His medical staff at the hospital where he may work, and so on. There is a mist and nobody can see anybody else or what is happening.
      Now, an example, his future wife stands and waits for Frederick to come in his little rowing boat and then they will be together as a happy couple. But he does not come, She waits and waits and waits. Finally she walks away. And the others all wait and wait and wait. Frederick does not come. He has gone away to somewhere they cannot go to. His parents weep and pass away. His future children stand there until they just melt away into the mist and are no more. His future patients walk off to find another doctor.
      Bomber Command had 55,573 lakes like that. The Eighth Air Force pretty much the same. Every single one had a life they sacrificed for us.

  4. I wonder if bomber crews ever questioned the blanket bombing strategy? There was an interesting interview on Look North this week where a pilot blamed Churchill for the strategy and claimed that Harris was a scapegoat. Did we really need to bomb the heart out of all of those towns and cities?

    • What my Dad said that he was “never so stupid as to think that every single bomb dropped on German cities was dropped with unerring accuracy onto a military target and he realised that many relatively innocent children were dying horrible, violent deaths as a result of his efforts. Again though, it boiled down to the idea that in war dreadful things happen. That is why war is dreadful. The secret is to try and put feelings of guilt out of your mind as you wage what you believe is a just war. Otherwise, you would go mad.”
      Personally, I myself have no sympathy whatsoever for the Germans of the period. Look at film of the Nuremburg rallies or Hitler’s birthday party parades. The Germans were all crazy for Hitler. They eventually had to stop holding the Nuremburg rallies because they disrupted the business of the nation so much. What Hitler wanted and did, they all agreed with and knew all about what was going on. And they wanted it too, as long as they kept winning.
      ‘Butch’ Harris was the man in favour of area bombing not Churchill, but, ironically Harris was the man who refused to bomb Dresden and was ordered to do so by WSC.
      The bombing policy in general was necessary because…the RAF couldn’t raid in daylight, they were slaughtered. At night, they tried to be accurate but it was impossible until later in the war. Bombing was the only way to get back at the Germans who, in the Blitz, had killed 32,000 civilians, seriously injured 87,000 and destroyed two million houses. They were guilty of doing the same thing in, according to Harris, “Rotterdam, Warsaw and half a hundred other places.” The British people wanted revenge. Later in the war, the Germans totally refused to give up the fight. Plenty of men were killed in April and May 1945. Bombing would make victory quicker and less costly. As Harris said “I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.”
      The Germans were also being taught a military and political lesson. They had started two world wars and the British didn’t want a third. A lot of British people wanted the Germans bombed back to the Stone Age to prevent their starting WW3. In addition,
      in 1945, there was a very real fear that Stalin would just keep coming with the Red Army until he got to the Channel. The RAF were demonstrating what they could do to Russian cities if the need arose.
      I can never see why we agonise about all this. Nobody ever agonises about the US air raid on Tokyo that killed over 100,000 Japanese and left a million homeless.
      The Germans/Nazis did not care about their adversaries, most of whom they considered as sub-humans. My friend’s mother, in the Land Army was attacked and machine gunned by a Bf109 fighter as she worked in the fields in Norfolk. It happened twice. An isolated incident? …….

      • I like to go to Germany and I suppose we (I) agonise because the German people are so nice and friendly so it is hard to reconcile this with the events of WW2.
        I agonise about the bombing of Japan, that was a dreadful thing to do. I agonise about the bombing of Syria and wonder just how sensible it is.

        I understand about strategic bombing but not indiscriminate destruction and I know the German Luftwaffe was equally responsible for that.

        Will anyone ever be able to justify the Dresden bombing raid? I doubt it!

        Could the RAF bombers have ever reached Russian cities?

        REPLY: Not from Britain with Lancasters but I rather think that the Swedes, their traditional enemies, would have been only too ready to lend out airbases to the RAF. And the Norwegians too, in the very far north. Don’t forget that the bombers would probably not have been Lancasters but B-29s either crewed by Americans or by RAF personnel. If we had had those, we could probably have bombed Russian cities from England.

      • Regardless of the debate what I would say is that Germany made a better job of rebuilding its bombed cities than we did here in the UK. Coventry is my example of this. Everywhere in Europe made a better job of it than us. My theory is that we had too much Marshall Plan money too quickly and didn’t spend it wisely! The Germans and the French and the Poles had a lot more time to wait and plan and achieve a better reconstruction.

  5. The numbers certainly are tragic especially as they were so young. It sounds like the two Shergolds maybe the same, a service number would certainly confirm your suspicions.

  6. Chris Waller

    I have often wondered if the bombing of Dresden was carried out just to indicate to Stalin that the RAF/USAAF could reach Russia if necessary. This was at the time when the talks between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill were not going well due to Stalin’s refusal to do as he had promised regarding Poland.

    • According to the many programmes I have watched recently, the problem was that Roosevelt totally refused to believe Churchill that Stalin was a power mad tyrant and that he would keep coming until he owned Paris. At Yalta, when Stalin asked Churchill about helping out the Red Army by bombing communications centres in eastern Germany Churchill rushed to agree. It was vanity…”We are still a world power”, and personal showing off “I command a fantastically destructive force”. It was also a demonstration of what the RAF could have done to the Russians if they didn’t abide by the agreements made.
      In actual fact, within Germany, Stalin did not really put a foot wrong and abided by all the things he had agreed to. The Russians wanted control of Poland so that it would act as a buffer state in the event of a third bout of Western aggression. That is still the case now, with Putin not wanting American missiles in Poland, the Ukraine, Turkey or Georgia.
      There was a silver lining to Dresden for some people. That day its citizens were due to send off their Jews to Auschwitz and it never happened. Political prisoners were also due to go, but they too escaped. I am sure that I read somewhere that Dutch communist actually walked all the way back home from Dresden.
      By the way, the very long answer to a comment above is, in my humble opinion, a pretty good summary of what Bomber Command was all about. Above all, I think we tend to forget what all of the other countries either did or tried to do, especially the V1s and V2s. We also play down the desire for revenge. Revenge is always seen as something dreadful, often by people who have seen three Rambo films and all of the Death Wish series.

  7. Lord, John, some of these posts are just so hard to read. Just the word “killed” stopped my Heart! So many lives lost, so many young dead leaving loved ones behind. War is nothing to glorify about. I hope to find a world someday that the word war is not even known or understood. Fantastic writing!

    • Thank you, Amy. You are very kind. I write about WW2 because nobody wanted a world as Hitler wanted it. And lots of people gave their lives to that end and they should not be forgotten. The problem is that so many foolish people forget the sacrifice that a war entails. None of our Prime Ministers can’t sleep at night because of the lives they brought to an abrupt end, and I doubt if your Presidents are too bothered either. All the people with problems caused by politicians’ decisions live a long way from the big houses politicians have. It is easier to forget them that way!

      • Bless your Heart, John! Unfortunately politicians and the higher ups are not actively participating in wars … just the young ones used as pieces in a chess game. People need to remember those who lost their lives and they need to understand how horrible war is. Even if these posts are sometimes hard for me to read, they are very much needed!

  8. So many deaths. I often wonder about the life of the survivors. Thank you

    • My pleasure! There were almost 60,000 deaths in Bomber Command. The survivors were often very traumatised and it took them a long time to readjust to their normal lives. Quite often, they no longer had a job and even divorces became more and more common as men returned after an absence of perhaps five or six years. Yet another argument that quarrels should be solved by negotiation!

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