My last two posts have involved an RAF Bomber Command raid on Mannheim during the night of September 5th-6th, 1943. And as the titles have suggested, there was more than a little emphasis on the idea of baling out. Is it better to stick it out inside a damaged aircraft? But then, you might have huge problems in trying to land safely. Is it worth it to risk finishing up in the River Trent?
Or is it better to jump out into the unknown? Perhaps into the freezing North Sea, or into one of the hundreds of minefields strewn down the eastern coast of England. Both decisions involve unknown consequences, and in the case of Bomber Command in 1943, they often involved, literally, a step in the dark:
During that same raid on Mannheim that accounted for Lancaster serial number DV 232 and squadron letters QR-K, in a second Lancaster, the pilot, Flying Officer B.C. Fitch, found that his own aircraft, Lancaster LM360, was steadily losing height. He was totally unable to gain any altitude to improve the situation. In addition, the mid-upper turret was not working. The crew made the decision to turn back for home. Not a popular thing to have to do, as it meant the operation did not count towards the magical 30 raids which would take them off combat flying. This particular night they were carrying, among other things, a 4,000lb Cookie, which the pilot dropped into the North Sea at position 54 21 North, 01 40 East:
And then they carried on, lighter but still slowly losing height as they made their way westwards. Within a short time, according to Murphy’s Law, one of the engines caught fire. The pilot, Flying Officer Fitch, extinguished the blaze and feathered the propeller. On they went, but it wasn’t looking good. Fitch decided to give the order to bale out as they were now over land. All of the crew duly did this, and they all survived without a problem except for the odd bruises and twists associated with a parachute escape. Flying Officer Fitch flew on alone. On and on, with the plane apparently feeling better and better about the whole idea:
So Fitch decided to attempt a landing at RAF Winthorpe. Wonder of Wonders! Not a problem and he ate all the bacon and eggs prepared for the rest of the crew as they sat on very slow moving buses travelling at a snail’s place towards King’s Lynn.
The crew was:
Flying Officer B.C. Fitch, (pilot)
Sergeant T.W. Taylor, (flight engineer)
Flying Officer S.A. Jennings, (navigator)
Pilot Officer A.Lyons, (bomb aimer)
Sergeant G. Kershaw, (wireless operator / air gunner)
Flight Sergeant H.W. Pronger, (mid-upper gunner)
Sergeant L.W. Cromarty, (rear gunner)
Sergeant Livesy, (2nd wireless operator / air gunner)
Harold William Pronger, the mid-upper gunner, was a 33 year old Australian whose parents lived in Bundaberg in Queensland:
His parents were called William Charles Pronger and Helena Pronger. Sadly, despite his life being saved by his parachute, Harold was disappointed not to become a member of the Caterpillar Club, an organisation which is open to people who have successfully used a parachute to escape from a disabled aircraft. They receive a membership certificate and a very attractive lapel pin:
Sadly, Harold had used the wrong brand of parachute! He had, apparently, a GQ Obs. type parachute, made by the GQ Parachute Company Limited of Woking. Harold did receive though, for his bravery, a GQ Club Badge, No.181.
All of the crew of Lancaster LM360 survived the war as far as I can ascertain…except one. There are, though, a lot of men called Livesey, rather than Livesy, just in case an error has been made. And at least half a dozen of these Liveseys were killed while serving in the RAF.
We’ll look at the one man who did not survive the war next time.
18 responses to “To bale out or not to bale out? (3)”
Another good one – keeping us guessing at the end 🙂
Thank you, Derrick. I was raised on the Batman TV series in the sixties where one episode was shown on a Saturday night, finishing with a cliff hanger, and then everything was resolved on the Sunday night. The only problem is that with these tales of Bomber Command, it is only ever going to end one way.
Takes me back to Saturday Morning Pictures
If there are eggs and bacon waiting why bale out?
Have you ever made a parachute jump?
They baled out because the pilot ordered them to. At that time, the pilot’s word was law and whatever the crew thought, they would have had to obey. As for my making a parachute jump, I’d have to admit that I haven’t. I’ve never seen the point in risking my one and only life when I don’t need to, although I can see that, if all goes well, it would be an exciting experience.
Exactly my thoughts too!
With even mine fields on land, the decision would be tough.
Absolutely. England at the time had minefields on all of its beaches and in many. many other places as well. Landing in a tree or on a roof or wrapped round the town clock can also end in disaster. England has plenty of water to fall into…rivers, lakes and, seventy years ago, a lot more marshes than there are now. And parachutes in WW2 did not always work properly for a variety of reasons including sabotage. For myself, it would depend on the pilot and whether it was daylight or not, and what the weather was like.
It must have been a very difficult decision to make, certainly your chances over the UK were better than Europe! As for the sea, the chances of survival were negligible. Looking forward to the next instalment as always John.
Yes, people forget that so many Allied flyers were murdered by German civilians and in many cases they got away with it. Having said that, there were allegedly similar incidents in England during the Blitz although that was single figures rather than the hundreds in Germany. Strangely enough, you seemed to be more at risk in the German countryside than in the towns, but that could just be the accidental biass of the stories that I have read.
It could well be although I guess there may have been fewer military personal out in the countryside to stop it and capture aircrew. Certainly some I’ve read highlight German military having to protect aircrew. Out of the frying pan into the fire I guess.
GQ did a base metal and enamel badge, though I’m not sure if it was the equivalent of the caterpillar. I found reference to this whilst searching. Looks like your man was unlucky in missing out.
Thanks a lot for that link. It’s a beautiful little thing, but I’m not so sure that it’s a beautiful little price !
Yes, it made my eyes water. 🙂
Merci beaucoup John for these stories.
Aucun problem, Pierre!
Jumping into the unknown! And hardly any time to take that decision. Thank you
My pleasure! In England we have a saying “Look before you leap!” and I suppose jumping out of an aircraft at night, not really knowing where you are, must be one of the most terrifying things to do. A lot of men were never seen again, sadly.