Last time, John Jackson mentioned his brother, Robert Jackson, who was a member of No 418 “City of Edmonton” Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, flying the American twin-engined Douglas Boston Mk IIIs. He was based at RAF Debden, around 34 miles north-east of London. They flew “Intruder sorties” into occupied Europe at night, and at low level to avoid the German radar. Their purpose was to destroy German aircraft, as they took off or came back to land. Sometimes, these were German night fighters, returning from operations over England. More important, though, were the attacks on German bombers as they returned from bombing England. The other main activity were “Ranger sorties”, when they would shoot up either enemy airfields, factories, power stations or shipping. Above all, they tried to destroy as many locomotives and as much rolling stock as possible:
The Bostons went deep into enemy territory, although they did not carry their own radar. They used the naked eye, fortified with an hourly consumption of carrots. 418 Squadron also spent a great deal of time dropping propaganda leaflets on occupied countries such as Belgium, France and Holland.
The Douglas Boston Mark III had extensive armour protection and large fuel tanks for longer range. Its speed was well in excess of 300 mph and fighter versions came closer to 400 mph. 418 Squadron flew a development of the Mark III called the Mark III Intruder, with specialised adaptations on the exhausts to mask the flame effects of the engines at night. They carried four 20mm cannon in a ventral pack under the central portion of the aircraft’s fuselage, and a bomb load of up to two thousand pounds.
The Bostons were painted completely matt black, an unusual paint scheme in the RAF. Squadron letters were in matt red. 418 Squadron was an élite outfit in the RCAF. They carried out more missions than anybody else, both by day and by night, they shot down more German aircraft than anybody else, both by day and by night, and they destroyed more aircraft on the ground than anybody else.
The squadron motto was in Inuit, the single word “Piyautailili” or “Defend Unto Death”:
They trained hard to master flying at low level at night, although it was far from easy. Casualty rates became extremely high in 1942. Aircraft were lost on February 24th, March 9th (two), March 26th and 29th, April 1st (two), 12th and 27th (two), May 17th and 20th (two), July 9th, August 1st, 2nd, 17th, 21st, 28th, October 19th, November 8th and 18th, December 1st and 5th. 24 aircraft in total, with potentially, 72 men killed.
During the winter of 1942-1943, the main problem was that, operating now from RAF Bradwell, they were penetrating deeper and deeper into Germany, much further than ever before. When they left England, conditions might be acceptable, but six hours later, there could be thick fog or ice or snow. They might be short of fuel as they looked for an airfield. There were lots of accidents and lots of casualties.
Bradwell Bay was the only fighter base to be equipped with FIDO, a method of allowing aircraft to land during periods of persistent, thick fog.
A pipeline either side of the runway had burner jets placed equal distances apart along its entire length. Petrol was pumped in and ignited. The subsequent flames would evaporate the fog droplets sufficiently for any aircraft waiting to land to see the runway:
FIDO was usually employed at bomber stations. Here it is, being lit. Mind your eyebrows:
The cost of training a seven man crew, was very much more than 100,000 gallons of petrol per hour. “Bomber” Harris always said that it was cheaper to send twelve men to Oxford or Cambridge for three years than to train a Lancaster crew: