2 December 1944 – 5 May 1945: 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF, ‘C’ Flight, RAF Mepal (No. 32 Base)
The crew were posted to the RAF’s only “New Zealand” heavy bomber squadron, 75 (NZ) Squadron based at RAF Mepal, in Cambridgeshire, arriving on Saturday 2 December 1944.
Squadron ORB entry: 2 December 1944.
Administration. NZ426235 F/S Wood J. H. T. and NZ427262 F/S Davies, G. S. and crews arrived on posting from No. 31 Base.
The crew was assigned to C Flight, commanded by S/L Jack Bailey, DFC.
This account of arrival on Base at Mepal comes from Ron Mayhill, DFC, 75 (NZ) Squadron veteran, still living here in Auckland:
“We spent the day going around the various sections getting first hand gen from the very helpful officers and NCOs in charge. There were also a lot of curious but friendly grins from the other ranks who had probably seen a lot of sprogs doing their orientation.– Bombs On Target, by Ron Mayhill, DFC
The Intelligence Officer issued us with an astonishing array of escape gadgets, including the standard knife to conceal in the fleecy-lined flying boots, a little torch with a red night screen, and some French and German money which may have been counterfeit, and a map of Europe printed on a silk handkerchief. We also received a replacement brass button with reverse thread which revealed a compass and two magnetic fly buttons to sew on our battledress trousers. The drill was to cut the buttons off and suspend one above the other by a thread to line up the little north dot. What we were supposed to do about a gaping fly was not revealed.
Some water purifier and glucose and wakey-wakey pills completed the 5×4 inch packet that fitted the battledress pocket.
The notice board was the first thing to look at when entering the Mess, and not just because ‘failing to be aware of standing orders and DROs (daily routine orders) is no excuse for failing to carry them out.’ On DROs we had two issues to collect, a bicycle to make it easier getting around the station, and a Smith and Wesson revolver with some ammunition, a reminder that we could be called upon in emergencies to assist in aerodrome defence. ”
The boys only had a few days to get their bearings – they would be flying their first operation in less than a week.
It was not always the case for a “sprog crew”, but they appear to have been allocated their own C Flight Lancaster from day one, a B.I (Mark 1), serial number HK601, code JN-D, call-sign “D for Dog”, known to the crew as “JN Dog”, or just “Dog”. She carried a piece of nose art depicting a cartoon dog called “Snifter”.
Dog had already completed 50 op’s when the Wood crew took her over.
Ralph Sparrow remembered the crew being referred to as the “D-Dogs”, or sometimes the “League of Nations”!
– More about Dog here.
Along with the aircraft, they also inherited her ground crew, LAC. Dennis Jones (1737234, Flight Mechanic Engines), LAC Ron Schoefield, Sgt Alan Rowe, and one other (name unknown).
However, before they could fly Dog in anger, their skipper had to go on a trip with an experienced crew for operational experience . In RAF slang, this familiarisation trip as 2nd Pilot was known as a Second Dickey.
Earlier in the war, Bomber Command had flown mostly night operations, to avoid losses over heavily defended enemy territory, their Lancasters not able to fly at the higher altitudes that the American bombers could to avoid fighters on daylight raids.
However by late 1944, 75(NZ) Squadron was flying mostly daylight operations.
The Allies had gradually gained superiority over the Luftwaffe in the air, and the nature of Bomber Command’s targets was changing now that the invasion of Europe had taken place and ground forces were fighting their way across France and Belgium. Massed bombers had been used to attack troop concentrations close to the front (requiring extreme accuracy), and rail and other communication networks were being targeted to stop supplies reaching the front.
75 (NZ) Sqdn was part of 3 Group, which specialised in the use of a radar guidance technique called ‘G-H’. This allowed the bomber stream to locate targets “blind”, and as the technique was refined, as well as improving night bombing accuracy, it opened up the possibility of bombing during daylight in total cloud cover.
So it was just bad luck that Johnny’s Second Dickey was a night op’, and not a very nice one.
– Top photo: 75(NZ) Sqdn C Flight Lancaster JN-O, “Dogsbody Again”, on a daylight op’ with the River Rhine visible below. Photo credited to F/S Stuart H. Richmond, NZ425433, A/B in the Robertson crew.
– NZBCA archives, Alan Scott collection.
75(New Zealand) Squadron RAF
Badge: In front of two mining hammers in saltire, a tiki. The squadron was mainly composed of New Zealand personnel, recognised by the incorporation of a tiki, in front of two hammers from the coat of arms of New Zealand.
Motto: “Ake ake kia kaha”
Translation from the Maori: – For ever and ever be strong.
No. 75 New Zealand Lancaster Squadron played a prominent part in the final battle of Germany. From July 1944 until the end of the war, its crews flew 2020 sorties against industrial centres, oil plants, and communications – this in addition to their many missions in close support of the armies, against V-weapon targets, and in minelaying. Such was the squadron’s contribution that throughout all these months it consistently occupied top or second place among the squadrons of No. 3 Group for total sorties flown and tons of bombs dropped. This was striking testimony to the efficiency of the squadron organisation and to the enthusiasm and skill of the ground staff in keeping aircraft serviceable.– Bomber Command and the Battle of Germany.
While chances of survival for bomber aircrew were significantly better by this late stage of the war, as recently as July 1944, 75 (NZ) Sqn had lost 12 Lancasters in one week; seven aircraft (50 men) in one night.
During 1944, 75 Sqn typically had 30 crews, each of seven men, but as 1945 came around, with training output increased and losses dropping, it was carrying more than 60 crews.
The squadron was made up of three Flights, A, B and C. A and B Flight aircraft carried the codes “”AA-“, whereas C Flight Lancasters were coded “JN-“. The typical aircraft strength of the squadron during 1944 and 1945 was around 30.
The squadron had re-equipped with Lancasters in March-April 1944, one of the last squadrons to convert from the obsolete Stirling, despite lack of effectiveness and mounting losses (the highest in 3 Group by late 1943).
75(NZ) Sqdn had been run by a series of “press-on” Commanding Officers, and this, perhaps combined with the high rate of losses during the Stirling days, gave it the reputation of being a “chop” squadron.
However it was also a famous squadron, dating from the first days of the war, and one of which New Zealanders were extremely proud. Sgt Jimmy Ward had been awarded the VC early in July 1941 for a famous act of wing-walking to put out an engine fire on a Wellington bomber, a particular source of squadron pride.
Wing Commander R. J. A. (Jack) Leslie DSO, AFC, mid (a New Zealander with the RAF) was Commanding Officer of 75 (NZ) Sq when the crew joined, however only a few days later, on 11 December 1944, he was succeeded by Wing Commander Ray Newton DFC of Christchurch, who was returning for his second stint with the squadron, having won distinction as a Flight Commander in 1942.
RAF Mepal base was located near Ely, just north of Cambridge, between the villages of Mepal (top of photo above), Sutton (bottom) and Witcham (out of picture to the right). The twin Bedford River canals are visible at top left.
The hangars and base buildings (still under construction in this photo) can be seen right of centre. Buildings were mostly “tin can” Nissen huts. By late 1944 when the boys arrived, the base was much larger, a WAAF camp had been added and two messes catered for 1,884 males and 346 females.
Its design was the standard wartime 3 runway layout with the main runway 6000 feet long and two shorter runways approximately 4200 feet each; it had one B1 type hangar and two T2’s.
Lancasters were kept in the open, dispersed around the airfield, for safety reasons, and to present less of a target. A perimeter road around the outside of the three runways connected the aircraft dispersal ‘pans’ (circular concrete pads about 130 feet in diameter, accessed off the perimeter road by 50 ft-wide taxiways) – crews were delivered out to their aircraft by bus or truck.