No. 226 Squadron began the war as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force, making it one of the first squadrons
to be sent to France. The Fairey Battle suffered very heavy loses during the Battle of France. No.226 Squadron was forced
to retreat west, and had to be evacuated from Brest in mid-June, reforming at RAF Sydenham in North Ireland.
In the spring of 1941 the squadron moved to East Anglia, and began a series of attacks on German occupied
ports and shipping, swapping its Blenheims for Bostons in November 1941 and for Mitchells in May 1943.
In 1944 the squadron became part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, operating in support of the Normandy invasions.
As the Allies advanced towards Germany, the squadron moved to France, operating in support of the advancing armies to the
end of the war.
October 1937-May 1941: Fairey Battle I
February-November 1941: Bristol Blenheim IV
1941-May 1943: Boston III and IIIA
May 1943-September 1945: North American Mitchell II
January-September 1945: North
American Mitchell III
16 April 1937-2 September 1939: Harwell
2 September 1939-16 May 1940: Reims/ Champagne
May-15 June 1940: Faux-Villecerf
15-16 June 1940: Artins
18-27 June 1940: Thirsk
27 June 1940-26 May 1941: Sydenham
May-9 December 1941: Wattisham
9 December 1941-13 February 1944: Swanton Morley
13 February-17 October 1944: Hartfordbridge
October 1944-22 April 1945: B.50 Vitry-en-Artois
22 April-20 September 1945: B.77 Gilze-Rijen
Squadron Codes: 226, MQ
26 September 1939: Bomber squadron with No.1 Group, 72 Wing, Advanced Air Striking
- During the 1938 Munich crisis No. 226 was allotted the code letters "KP". In WW2 the sqdn's. a/c were coded
First Operational Mission in WWII:
- 9th September 1939 : 3 Battles reconnoitred Thionville area.
First Bombing Mission in WWII:
- 10th May 1940 : 4 Battles despatched to dive-bomb German troops advancing through Luxembourg. 2 bombed target
and 2 FTR.
Last Operational Mission in WWII:
- 2nd May 1945 : 12 Mitchells bombed marshalling yards at Itzehoe.
Bob served with this squadron both at Hartfordbridge and also at Vitry-en-Artois, with the latter to be his
Bob flew in a B-25 Mitchell bomber as both a wireless operator and an air gunner, although he did not
fly long, he did fly several life risking missions, having to avoid both possible enemies in the sky as
well as the barrage of deadly flak that would surround the aircraft on missions being fired at them from the ground below.
Bob flew on missions with Mr. Harry Lorkin, R.A.F. who was the 1st pilot, Mr. Norman Semple, R.A.F. the
navigator, and Thomas Fint R.C.A.F. , an air gunner from Canada who was killed with Bob on November 4 , 1944.
I have had the good fortune of being able to be in contact with Harry Lorkin and he was able to provide to
me some information about Bob, the following are his words:
Bob joined our crew when we were posted to 226 Squadron.
We all took to him immediately: Bob was a very easy guy to like. He joined us because although we had a full crew of
four at the Operational Training Unit in Canada, one of our Canadian air gunners, being a married man, was excused from overseas
Our becoming involved in 226 Squadron was the result of a typical wartime muddle. In Canada we had been trained for Coastal Command. After graduating we were sent to Summerside in Prince
Edward Island where our Navigator – Norman Semple – took an advanced navigation course and I became a ‘Pilot/Navigator’. From there to Debert in Nova Scotia where we learned to fly for hours over open water
in Lockheed Hudsons; some of the later exercises were officially real anti-submarine patrols.
Meantime other groups like us were dicing around elsewhere in Nova Scotia flying Venturas
in close formation at low level, being trained for Tactical Air Force (TAF). They
finished up in Transport Command, and we forgot all about navigation over the ocean and were taught to fly Michells (B25s)
in close formation.
No time was lost in getting us into an operational squadron because the fight to liberate
Europe was well under way. Our task in 2nd Tactical Air Force was
to use ‘pattern bombing’ – six aircraft in close formation all dropping our bombs simultaneously. Our targets were those which were intended to have immediate tactical benefit just ahead of the front line.
Troop Concentrations were a favourite as – unfortunately – were bridges.
Bridges were notoriously difficult to destroy. We certainly damaged them but they were such
vital supply links that they were repaired virtually overnight. The road/rail bridge across the river Maas at Venlo was our
worst nightmare. Bridges were very heavily defended by 88 millimetre anti-aircraft guns (Flak) which could fire more than
15 rounds per minute. Although Germany was not so advanced as us with radar, their optical gun-laying was superb.
By this time, the squadron had moved from its British base at Hartford Bridge to an airfield
at Vitry-en-Artois in northern France. The airfield had little in the way of
facilities; our billets were roughly-made wooden huts. However our crew was by now a really close-nit unit happy in its own
company; Bob was a significant factor in our ‘bonding’.
was a very easy guy to like but certainly not a 'joker'. If I were to sum him up in one word it would be "gentle".
Our squadron, by the time we joined it, never had any close encounters with enemy aircraft. The Germans seemed content to leave it to their anti-aircraft guns which were only too effective.
By that time the German Luftwaffe was a shadow of its former self and they seemed to be devoting all their remaining strength
against the heavy bombers - Lancasters and Fortresses.
There were occasions when fighters were put up against our attacks but happily for us they were always directed against
Lack of fighter opposition was a blessing because our type of attack was always very vulnerable to enemy fighters.
We flew in tight formations of six aircraft, three in one "V" and three more close in behind them. This produced
a 'carpet' of bomb-bursts. The leading aircraft had one gunner who was the 'master gunner' and his task in the event
of an attack was to direct all the formation;s guns by radio so that - in theory - the incoming enemy would be met by
a mass of bullets.
So, Bob and Tom spent all their time over enemy territory searching
the sky for signs of opposition.
Venlo became a target for the first time on September 28th when we attacked it
twice on the same day. On the second raid our aircraft’s hydraulic system
was put out of action so that we had to use emergency methods for lowering the undercarriage and operating the brakes on landing.
Then on the fateful day – November 4th – we went to Venlo in the morning
but brought our bombs back because heavy cloud obscured the target. This did not prevent encountering some uncomfortably accurate
radar-directed anti-aircraft fire. We were briefed to return to Venlo in the afternoon when the cloud would have dispersed.
Over the target the cloud had indeed cleared away so that we had a good view of the target
and the ground gunners has a good view of us. Just as we were leaving the target area, having dropped our bombs, we received
a large piece of flak in the oil-cooler which caused us to lose all the oil in our starboard engine in just a few seconds. The oil, as well as lubricating the engine also operated the change of pitch of the
Normally when an engine is damaged the pilot ‘feathers’ the propeller, that is
he turns the blades at right angles so that the movement through the air does not cause them to ‘windmill’. But with no oil in the system the blades of the airscrew turned itself into the ‘fully
fine’ position which meant it ‘windmilled’ very fast indeed. With
no oil for lubrication, the engine started tearing itself to pieces becoming white hot in the process. The noise it produced
as almost unbearable.
At this stage I warned the crew to ‘stand by to jump’. This would mean that they should vacate the turrets, clip on their parachutes and jettison the lower door
then await further instructions. A problem with the Mitchell was that there was
no real physical contact between the air gunners at the rear and the pilot. There
was a very narrow gap between the top of the bomb bay and the fuselage but we could not even see each other. Thus it was essential that we all kept plugged in to the inter-com until the last minute. The navigator/bomb-aimer was rather better off having a tunnel over the nose-wheel compartment to move
between his position in the nose and his seat alongside the pilot.
Sadly, for some unaccountable reason, Bob and his colleague removed their helmets and so could
not hear a voice from the ground telling us what course to steer to reach an airfield.
Norman shouted “I can see it” and a few seconds later he pointed and said “There it is”. In those few seconds he had left his position in the nose compartment, negotiated
the tunnel and sat himself next to me.
The airfield was quite close so that we had to descend very steeply because we were going
to get only one chance of landing. The increase in speed caused by the steep
descent caused the damaged engine noise to become even worse. In the rear compartment,
with the floor hatch open and no ear protection from helmets, the noise must have been unbelievable.
I selected ‘under-carriage down’ but only one leg emerged, so the hydraulics had
also been damaged. Fortunately the only leg to lower was on the side of the good
engine. Not that it made any difference, everything collapsed as soon as we touched
the runway and the aircraft slid along on its belly causing such an array of sparking metal that I thought we would catch
fire. In the event every thing went blissfully silent and I pushed Norman out
through the roof escape hatch and followed him hastily.
We stood there for a moment bathed in a feeling of sheer elation and the desire to find the
owner of that saving voice to thank him. We walked to the rear intending to help
the two lads out and our elation turned to puzzlement. Where were they? Two helmets
there and parachutes gone.
Before we had a chance to speculate I was approached by a senior officer who seemed more concerned
with the fact that we had dropped a wreck on to his runway when a group of fighters were waiting to take off. Meantime Norman was led away by another person. Little did
I realise then that he was being taken to identify two bodies which had landed on the end of the runway; they had jumped too
late for their ‘chutes to open.
No one knows what prompted them to jump when we were so near to the ground. Perhaps the terrible noise prevented any logical thought. I
have often agonised over whether I, as the pilot, should have been more insistent about parachute drill but at that age we
were invulnerable, any problems would happen to the other guys.
The wartime air force had no time for sentiment. We
had to wait a couple of days at that base which we learnt was Volkel, a former Luftwaffe airfield. On returning to Vitry, the C.O. made it plain that he would contact their families. We were sent on an two-day ‘errand’ to the UK and by the 11th November we were operating
again with two new gunners and by the 19th we were back over Venlo when the flak was so accurate that our formation
leader’s aircraft suffered a direct hit and exploded.
I suppose that was the way in wartime. Rather
like the way an unseated rider is urged to get back on a horse as soon as possible.
No time was allowed for grieving.
My sadness was compounded by the fact that Bob had
confided in me that he and an English girl had fallen deeply in love but I had no way of telling her what had happened.
Bob never mentioned the girl's name. It was something he mentioned after we had been moved
from the UK to the airfield in France. He seemed to be worried as to
how things would eventually work out but gave no details and did not want to talk about it afterwards.
I have never forgotten Bob, and as you see the memory is still vivid. Yes Bob was a very easy
guy to like.