Tag Archives: Dambusters

To bale out or not to bale out? (8)

Last time, I  told the story of how, on November 3rd 1943, Lancaster LM360, O for Oscar, took off from its base at RAF Syerston, piloted by 21 year old Flight Lieutenant William Reid. He and his crew were intending to bomb industrial facilities near Düsseldorf.

During the operation they were attacked at first by a Messerschmitt Bf 110G-4 night fighter:

And then a Focke Wulf Fw 190 single seat, single engined night fighter:

During the latter attack, Flight Sergeant John Alan Jeffreys, the Navigator, was killed outright.

As I told you, for his bravery, Bill Reid received the Victoria Cross. Here is the citation which I hope will not upset too many people by my quoting it, albeit in shortened form:

“Air Ministry, 14th December, 1943.

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —

.
Acting Flight Lieutenant William REID, No. 61 Squadron.

On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Reid was pilot of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf.
Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot’s windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. The rear gunner’s hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately but after a brief delay he managed to return fire and the Messerschmitt was driven off.
During the fight, Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were out of action. Reid ascertained that his crew  were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.
Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke Wulf 190. The enemy’s fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator and the wireless operator were killed. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though wounded, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.
Reid refused to turn back and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. Reid had memorised his course continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer knew nothing of his captain’s injuries. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.
Steering by the pole star and the moon, Reid set course for home. Weak from loss of blood, the oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He became semiconscious. The flight engineer and the bomb-aimer kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.
The North Sea was crossed and an airfield was sighted. The captain recovered, resumed control and prepared to land. Ground mist obscured the runway lights and he had lots of blood getting into his eyes. He made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed.
Wounded twice, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator and wireless operator dead, the aircraft crippled, Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating 200 miles into enemy territory to attack such a strongly defended target, every mile increasing the hazards of the long and dangerous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.”

On July 31st 1944, Bill was busy on a different mission, flying with his crew at 12,000 ft over the target, a V-weapon storage facility at Rilly-la-Montagne, not too far from Rheims. He was in an Avro Lancaster Serial Number ME557, Squadron Letters KC-S. At this point, Bill had left 61 Squadron and was flying with the glamorous 617 “Dambusters” Squadron. On this occasion, they were using Tallboy, 12,000 lb, bombs. Here’s one I photographed earlier:

Suddenly, Bill’s bomber was hit by another Tallboy bomb, released by an aircraft some 6,000 feet above him. It hit his Lancaster in the fuselage, causing catastrophic damage. Bill gave the order to bale out. That was not a straight forward action for Bill as the G-forces initially pinned him down in his seat. Just in the nick of time, he baled out, but because of the low altitude, he hit the ground with some force and broke his arm. A group of German soldiers had seen the whole thing, including the Lancaster’s spectacular splitting in two in mid-air, and they took Bill prisoner.

Not everybody escaped the Grim Reaper, however:

Flight Sergeant Donald George William Stewart, the Flight Engineer, was buried in Germaine Communal Cemetery some 25 miles north west of Chalons en Champagne. This was close to where the aircraft fell. Donald was just 27 years old and before the war, he had worked for Southern Railways, cleaning locomotives. He too, though, had answered the Call of the Skies, being a keen member of Redhill Flying Club.

The navigator, Flying Officer Joseph Ovila Peltier, a French Canadian was 26 years old. He was the son of René and Emilie Renaud Peltier from Windsor in Ontario and the husband of Lillian Ilene Peltier also from Windsor. He was buried in Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery at Hautot-Sur-Mer.

The bomb aimer, Pilot Officer Leslie George Rolton was the son of Olander Rolton, and of Elizabeth Rolton from Romford in Essex. He was only 22 years old, and was buried in Clichy Northern Cemetery on the northern periphery of Paris:

The wireless operator, Flying Officer David Luker became a prisoner of war in two different camps, Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria, the same camps as Bill Reid.

The mid-upper gunner, Flight Sergeant Albert Arthur Holt was 31 years of age and the son of Henry Holt and Florence Elizabeth Holt. He was the husband of Gladys Maude Holt from Douglas on the Isle of Man. He was buried at Clichy, in the same plot as Leslie Rolton but not absolutely next to him as far as I can ascertain.

The rear gunner, Warrant Officer John William Hutton was also buried in Clichy Northern Cemetery. His grave is next to that of Albert Holt.

Bill Reid died in 2001. His family sold his medals at auction where they realised a record price for a Victoria Cross of £335,000. They included a 1939-1945 Star, an Air Crew Europe Star, a War Medal, a 1953 Coronation Medal and a 1977 Jubilee Medal:

 

 

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