Dennis was posted to C Flight, 75 (NZ) Squadron, Mepal around January 1944, when the squadron was still operating Short Stirlings.
The other “Erks” and “Joes” called him by the nickname “Jonah” – his daughter Glynis says he was also called “Basher”.
The first aircraft he was assigned to was Stirling Mk.III EH948, AA-Q, seen here in these spectacular photos.
In the photos, Queenie was being flown by F/S Cecil Ernest ‘Snow’ or ‘Snowey’ Armstrong, RNZAF NZ42354, which would mean they were probably taken in late January 1944. Armstrong and his crew had arrived on the 10th of January, and only flew Queenie once on op’s, on 28 January, mining in Kiel Bay. That was a night op’, so these photos were probably taken on a daytime training flight. Sadly Queenie was lost on 24/25 February, Mining Kiel Bay, with the Bruhns crew, all killed.
Snow Armstrong was also lost with all his crew on the night of 22/23 May 44, in Lancaster III ND768, JN-F “Freddie”, hit by flak over Dortmund, detonating Freddie’s bomb load.
After having been relegated to second-line operations for the past five months, due to the limitations of the Stirling bomber, the squadron was finally converted to Lancasters in March 1944. Dennis and the other FMEs would have needed specialist training before the new planes arrived, changing from the Stirling’s Bristol Hercules radials, to the Lancaster’s Rolls Royce Merlin 12 cylinder inline engines. So he was probably off-Base for some time during January-February, attending training courses.
At some point he also completed a next-level qualification Fitter II Engines (F2E) conversion course.
The first new aircraft arrived on the 6th of March, and this photo of C Flight ground crew was probably taken to commemorate the occasion – C Flight Commander S/L Ken Climie standing centre of the group:
By the end of March the squadron had 20 Lancasters, and by the end of April, 26, almost a full complement.
One of the March deliveries was Lancaster MkIII ND802, the first Lancaster to be coded JN-D for “Dog”, and nicknamed “The Flying Scottsmen”, after her first ‘owners’, Sgt Frank Scott RNZAF and his crew.
Dennis’s next crew was the Megson crew (March – July 44):
The Megson crew flew ND802 JN-D “The Flying Scottsmen’ only once, on the 10th of May to Courtrai, but flew 21 op’s in their regular kite, ND801 JN-X “Get Sum Inn”/ “Astra”, between May and July 44. It’s possible that Dennis kept photos of a one-op’ crew, but there is also the possibility that he was actually assigned to JN-X during this period, and transferred to the JN-D ground crew later.
ND802 was lost on the night of 27/28 May with the Scott crew (3 killed, 5 PoW).
The Megson boys safely completed a full tour, flying their final op’ on 25 July to Stuttgart.
Dennis’s next crew was the Colin George Nairne crew (June – July 44), whose regular kite was Lancaster HK558, JN-D, ie., the replacement for ND802 and the new “Dog”. HK558 arrived on the 2nd of June, five days after ND802 was lost.
The Nairne crew flew 23 op’s in an incredibly short span of time; just eight weeks.
Dennis remembered George in a letter written in 1999:
George was a wonderful fellow. He always showed his appreciation for what we had done, and treated us as equals, and was a thorough gentleman. Late on the previous day (Saturday) I was just knocking off work when he asked me what I was doing that evening, when I said “Nothing special” he asked me to go around to his billet as he had a parcel from home, some cake & some ‘goodies’. It was then he showed me a photo of his wife and the daughter who was born after he left New Zealand. What English Officer would extend such an invitation to a mere ‘Erk’ – a hand of friendship from a real gentleman, whom I will never forget.
Sadly, the following day, the 30th of July, George and his crew flew an op’ to Amay-sur-Suelles but failed to return. HK558 is thought to have collided with another Lancaster over the English Channel in low, heavy cloud, as witnessed by the crew on a nearby minesweeper HMS Hannaray. George and all his crew were killed, with only the body of the Air Bomber recovered and buried at sea.
I was not on duty for their take-off but I well remember waiting for them coming back and when my ‘kite’ didn’t come back I asked the other aircrews if they had seen anything but nobody had. I made enquiries as to whether they had put down on one of the prang dromes but again no information. I remember sitting for hours on the end of the runway, I cried my eyes out.
Dennis never forgot the little girl in the photo, nor the loss of his friend, and many years later he would follow up on the connection.
– More about the little girl in the photo here.
Meanwhile HK601, the new JN-D Dog, and the aircraft that came to be nicknamed “Snifter”, arrived at the squadron on 4th of August.
The second regular Dog crew that Dennis looked after was the Sam Wilson crew (July – November 1944):
They flew 21 op’s in Dog, several times bringing home shell holes, chunks of German metal, and no doubt a few jangling nerves, but nothing more serious.
Dennis remembered them :
‘My’ Aussie crew – Skipper F/O Wilson, he had two more Aussies in his crew, the R/G ‘Shortie’ Pettet and the M/U/G, Charlie Jones, the rest of the crew were English lads. The crew completed a full tour without any injuries.
They were typical Australians, didn’t give a damn about anybody but had hearts of gold. ‘Shortie’ had been in the Australian Army. He must have been the keenest gunner in the Air Force. Every day, operation the previous night or not, those four Brownings were stripped and cleaned, and when on an operation, as soon as the Port Outer engine was started up, ‘Shortie’ would be elevating the guns and swinging the turret followed by a quick burst! If it was a rough night and he was not flying, he would get up in the middle of the night, cycle up to the Flight and check his turret covers were on alright.
I remember telling him that he would cut us to pieces one night if he wasn’t careful. He said: “Jonah, see that water tower (on the other side of the airfield) well you watch it next time we take-off.” Sure enough the tracers flew across the airfield! When they landed he reported “an accidental firing.” What a lad!
The Wilson crew flew Dog on their 35th and final op’ on 20 November to Homberg, and were tour expired the following day:
Two weeks later, the Johnny Wood crew arrived at Mepal, and were allocated Dog as their ‘kite’, inheriting Dennis and the team as their ground crew.
Flight Engineer Doug Williamson, only 19 at the time but 93 now, doesn’t remember Dennis specifically, but speaks very highly of the D-Dog ground crew. He says the groundies deserve a lot of credit for the effort and expertise they put in to keep the bombers operational and reliable; working all hours, all weathers.
The Wood crew’s very first op’ together was a daylight trip to attack Duisburg railway marshalling yards in the Ruhr Valley, on 8 December. Dog struggled to keep up with the other 20 aircraft – Doug later wrote in his book, “The Nazi & The Luftgangster”:
We had to increase the revs and the boost as much as we dare, but we could only tag along at the back of the gaggle and 2000 feet below them. By the time ETA on the target arrived, we could only see them in the far distance, like a swarm of bees with lots of little puffs of brown smoke from the flak amongst them.
In fact, the late arrival probably worked in their favour, as by the time they arrived over the target the flak batteries had apparently clocked off, and the boys dropped their load without a single shot being fired.
It turned out that there was a problem with the flame arrestors.
The problem was fixed, and the skipper suggested that we give a party for the ground crew, as our lives depended on their good work. The Canadians and New Zealanders got parcels from home, and we had quite a jolly party, much appreciated by our hard working ground crew who kept JN Dog in good trim for the rest of our tour.
The Wood boys had one or two more issues with their engines during their tour, so no doubt Doug and Dennis spent many a happy hour comparing notes, and discussing icing problems, revs and boost, oil pressures, mag drops, and other good stuff.
Doug recalled that one of the ground crew was responsible for Dog’s nose art, which he describes as a Disney Pluto-style character. In fact it was based on the Australian wartime comic strip character “Snifter”, drawn by Hottie Lahm.
The mechanic who painted it offered to paint a copy on the back of my flying overalls – he had them on my last op’. When I eventually got back to Mepal he said that he had them for me, but I let him keep them, as a thanks for keeping JN-D in such good shape while we were flying.
When she heard this, Glynis emailed :
I have sent over a photo of a very tatty page from a publication called “MAN”, Feb 1944, and it shows an advert for posting rates for the publication and it shows a boy scout and his dog. My dad has written underneath it ‘SNIFTER’ and it is the same dog that was painted on the nose of D Dog. Looking at the state of the much handled cutting and the fact it has survived since 1944, I am guessing that it could very well have been Dad that used it as a template for painting it onto the plane. He could draw quite well. So it may be Dad that had that connection with Doug, but no more evidence than that.
MAN was an Australian magazine, famous for its “girlie” photos and cartoons, so most likely the Snifter nose art and name came about through the Aussies in the Wilson crew.
– More about Snifter here.
Dennis has also kept a copy of a Battle Order that the Wood crew boys would have seen pinned to the Op’s noticeboard the morning of their third op’:
Life wasn’t all about the squadron – Dennis met his sweetheart Joyce in her hometown of Stafford:
Johnny Wood and his crew did indeed live ‘a charmed life’ on their tour, although again, Dog managed to collect quite a few pieces of angry German metal over various enemy targets. She brought Johnny and his boys back safely from 18 of their 32 op’s, with hardly an incident.
However, their final op’ on the night of the 4th of April, was a particularly ‘hairy’ one – this time Dog almost didn’t make it back, and she left one of the boys behind …
– Read the full story here.
With Doug safely parachuting into Germany, Jack Pauling managing to put out the flames and rescue Jim Hooper, who was badly burned, Skipper Johnny Wood, who also had some burns, managed to bring Dog safely home to England. But she was a charred mess. The crew landed at an emergency landing airfield at RAF Manston, and Dog was sent off to a Maintenance Unit (No. 54) for repairs, She didn’t return to the squadron until the 28th of May, after the war in Europe had ended.
HK601 is incorrectly listed in the ORB as flying an op’ on 13/14 April, to Kiel with the Shaw crew, but this would have been her replacement “JN-D Dog”, NF981, which appears in the ORB on 30th April.
Dennis did get to fly in a Lancaster, in fact twice! Firstly on Operation Manna, probably on the 8th of May, when the ORBs record a “Cpl Jones” flying as “Passenger” in Lancaster HK554, JN-T with the Trewheela crew on a supply drop over Rotterdam. He recalled flying so low that they were skimming church towers.
And incredibly, he got to go to Berlin. Dennis said it was in the week that the war ended, which would place it in mid-August. He may have taken part in what was known as ‘Operation Spasm’, a series of flights to the ‘big city’ to survey the damage on the ground. Selected air and ground crew were flown to Gatow airfield in what was to become the British sector of Berlin, stayed overnight, and were allowed to tour the shattered city. He said he will never forget the sweet acrid smell (of rotting bodies).
The war in Europe was over, but the ground crews had another sad day on the 21st of July, when 75 (NZ) Squadron left Mepal to relocate to RAF Spilsby. The squadron had been re-formed with all-New Zealand crews, and was working up for participation in Tiger Force, to help in the bombing campaign against Japan. The ground crews, who were mostly RAF, and employed by RAF Mepal, were not included. Apparently it was a very emotional farewell at the railway station, as the the departing air crews were waved off by the staff staying behind.
Just after they left, 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron moved to Mepal (in fact 44 and 75 had swapped bases), likewise training for Tiger Force. So Dennis was looking forward to re-training on Avro Lincolns, but when the Japanese surrendered and the war ended on the 8th of August, Tiger Force was scrapped.
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Glynis Bakker, for her input, and permission to reproduce photos and material from the Dennis Jones collection. Personal correspondence, Dennis Jones with Arthur Arculus, 1999. Thanks to Paul Crucq, NZ researcher (the late) Arthur Arculus, and 75 veteran and ex-75 NZ Sqdn Assn President, (the late) Randal Springer and his wife June, for their help in Dennis’s search for Gloria. Also to Keith Springer for permission to reproduce the photo of Colin George Nairne. Wood crew photos thanks to Phil and Bruce Newey, and Doug Williamson. Extract from “Aiming Point Walcheren; The Bombardment of Gun Emplacements and Strong Points, Walcheren Island, October 1944”, by Paul M. Crucq (Vlissingen : ADZ, 2000).
NEXT: Dennis post-war