January 1945

From 1 January 1945, we have entries from Gerry’ Neweys diary, and the privilege of adding his own words to the story.

Gerry’s diary entries, 1-4 Jan 1945.
– Gerry Newey collection, thanks to Phil & Bruce Newey.

Top photo: Fog and frost at Mepal as a 75(NZ) Sqdn Lancaster is refuelled from an AEC bowser named “Baby Dumbo”.
– NZBCA archives.

1 January 1945. Daylight attack against Vohwinkel.

Gerry wrote:

Got up at ten & did a D.I. on D-Dog. Went to briefing at 1300hrs & took off for Vohwinkel at 1600hrs.

Bomber Command Diary: 146 aircraft of No 3 Group successfully attacked the railway yards at Vohwinkel. 1 Lancaster lost*.

75 Sq ORB: Twenty one aircraft were detailed to attack Vohwinkel, in daylight. Nineteen aircraft took off, seventeen of which attacked the primary target. F/O McMillan attacked a last resort target. NZ40984 W/Cdr R. J. Newton and NZ429286 P/O R. Aitchison as 2nd Pilot, failed to return. There was very little opposition in the target area.

Lancaster I NF981** JN-Y
Up 16:00 Down 21:42

F/S Wood, J. NZ426235, Captain (11) 
F/S Pauling, J., NZ422976 Nav 
F/S Hooper, N., A/B 
F/S Newey, G. NZ425285, WO/Air 
Sgt Williamson, D., F/Eng 
F/S Cash, A. R147817, MU/Gnr 
F/S Sparrow, R. R263518, R/Gnr

Bomb load 1 x 4,000 lb H.C, 11 x 500 lb ANM, 1 x 350 Monroe.

Captain’s remarks: Primary target Vohwinkel. Fairly good concentration over T.I’s*** with explosions and red glow.

Gerry’s diary:  Had a good trip except that we strayed over Dusseldorf & drew quite a bit of flak. Left the area smartly. Wind was 110 mph so we hooped along pretty well downwind. Landed at 2140.  

* 75 (NZ) Squadron lost its Commanding Officer on this raid, Wing Commander Ray Newton, on only his second op’ since taking over on 11 December, just three weeks earlier.

“The only successful encounter of the night occurred when a Lancaster of 75 Squadron heading west after it had bombed Vohwinkel, fell foul of Hptm Rokker, St Kptn of 2./NJG2. The entire crew of the Lancaster, including W/Cdr Newton DFC MiD RNZAF, the Squadron OC, perished when their aircraft fell in flames and exploded with great force at Vilt, near Maastricht, having gone down after a single burst of cannon fire from Hptm Rokker’s Ju88.”

Nachtjagd War Diaries

Only 1 Lancaster was lost over the target, however another tragedy occurred on the way back from this raid, as three other No. 3 Group Lancasters returning from the op’ were accidentally hit by American anti-aircraft fire over Namur, Belgium – two crashed with a combined loss of 14 crew members, and the third crash-landed in France. While this incident helped fuel stories of trigger-happy American gunners, it appears that the Lancasters may have accidentally strayed into a no-fly zone near the battlefront on the ground.

**  Incorrectly recorded in the ORB as HK563. The boys had done a DI (Daily Inspection) on Dog that morning but some problem meant that they had to change aircraft. The Battle Order confirms that they were originally allocated JN-D and that they had used the nominated spare aircraft, JN-Y:

From the Battle Order 1 January 1945 – JN-D listed for F/S Wood and crew. Spare a/c JN-Y.

– *** T.I’s = Target Indicators, primary ground marker flares used in night bombing, usually green, laid down by the Pathfinder Force (PFF) for the main bomber stream to aim at. Also known as “Paramatta”. Although this was nominally a “Daylight” attack, the bomber stream would have been over the target at approx. 6:30pm, which in mid-winter would mean darkness.

There were no op’s on the 2nd. Gerry wrote:

Didn’t feel very energetic this morning so I got up at 1100 & had lunch. Went to see Buzz in the Hospital. No op’s for us today.
It looks as if we’ve had our share of the cold weather & now it looks like rain. Stayed in at night & wrote a couple of letters. Will probably be on op’s in the morning but we may as well get them done. Only 20 more to go.

RAF General Hospital, Ely

Gerry mentions visiting “Buzz” in Ely Hospital several times over a period of 3 months, sometimes with skipper, Johnny Wood. “Buzz”’s identity was for a long time an intriguing mystery – what was the connection and why was he in hospital for so long?

More about the Buzz mystery here.

3 January 1945. Daylight attack against Dortmund Oil Refinery.

Gerry’s diary: Didn’t know we were on the Battle Order until Cash accidentally met a chap with the knowledge. Had a fast breakfast at 9.30. Briefed at 9.45. Took off at 1233 for the oil refineries at Dortmund.

Here is the Battle Order:

75(NZ) Sqdn Battle Order, 3 January 1945

Bomber Command Diary: 99 Lancasters of No 3 Group made G-H attacks through cloud on the Hansa Benzol and Castrol-Rauxel plants at Dortmund. Bombing appeared to be accurate at both targets. 1 Lancaster lost from the Dortmund raid.

75 Sq ORB: Fourteen aircraft were detailed to attack the above target in daylight. Crews bombed by instruments in ten tenths cloud. Results were unobserved. NZ42397 F/L Hannan landed at Mendalsham on return, but reached Base later the same evening.

Lancaster I HK601 JN-D “Snifter”
Up 12:32 Down 17:41

F/S Wood, J. NZ426235, Captain (12) 
F/S Pauling, J., NZ422976 Nav 
F/S Hooper, N., A/B 
F/S Newey, G. NZ425285, WO/Air 
Sgt Williamson, D., F/Eng 
F/S Cash, A. R147817, MU/Gnr 
F/S Sparrow, R. R263518, R/Gnr

Bomb load 1 x 4000 lb H.C, 14 x 500 lb G.P, 2 x 500 lb M.C.

Captain’s remarks: Primary target Dortmund Oil Refinery. Very concentrated stream over target, the best yet seen.

Gerry’s diary: Reached target at 1530 but 10/10th cloud obscured it. Heavy flak at Munster for the boys who overshot the turn. Pretty heavy flak over the target but not very accurate. One kite blew up. Landed at 1743. Stayed in the hut at night & did some laundry for my leave.

HK601 JN-D-for-Dog is recorded as damaged on this op’, presumably by flak (Bomber Command ORS AIR14 log of aircraft lost and damaged on operations), however the maintenance crews did their magic and she flew again 2 days later with the Crawford crew to Ludwigshaven.

Thursday 4 January 1945.

The crew had been on duty for a month, demanding, stressful work like nothing they had experienced before. Now they had six day’s leave and a welcome break.

No doubt Jim and Doug visited their families, but Gerry’s diary tells us that the others headed up to Birmingham and spent quite a lot of time in each other’s company. Despite the war, England’s cities and night life still held a lot of attractions for the young airmen from the colonies:

Took advantage of the time off & slept in until 11. Paid at 11.30. Took until 3.30 to get all my gear packed & left for Ely.
Hitched a ride to Witchford & caught the bus to Ely. Had tea and took the bus to Cambridge arriving at 6.
Lucky enough to get a room with Cash & Johnny in a private house. Sparrow & I went to the dance at the “Dorothy”*.
Finally climbed into bed at midnight.

* The Dorothy Ballroom, Hobson St., Cambridge.

Friday 5 January 1945.

Caught the 9.30 train for Birmingham. Changed twice & finally arrived at 4. Stopped off at Rugby for lunch.
Got a bed at the Services Club. Sent Dad a cable.
Cash, Johnny & I went to the “Falstaff” for the evening. Had quite a fair sort of a time. Jack finally met up with us in the Falstaff.

Saturday 6 January 1945.

Had a pretty fair sleep in & just made the grade by 11. Played a game of snooker with Cash & Sparrow & went to see the picture “True Love” at the Gaumont. Not a bad show. Went back to the Annexe to shave & then went out to tea with Cash.
Met Kay & Jackie & had a pretty fair sort of a night. Stayed at Kay’s place.

Sunday 7 January 1945.

Crawled out of bed at 9.15 & walked down to the corner with Jackie. Helped Fred (USA) to mix a pretty fair breakfast.
Stayed for lunch & Cash & I beat it back to town for a clean up. Took Jackie out during the evening. Cash & Kay came along too & we had a pretty fair time. Stayed at the Club.

Monday 8 January 1945.

Around town during the day & tried to get my shoes fixed, but they wouldn’t let me stand on one foot while I waited so I quit & went out to Kay’s with Cash & met Jackie at 7.
Did the rounds during the evening. Went to the Bear & took the Gang to Pops for supper.
Walked home while it snowed. About 2” fell.

Tuesday 9 January 1945.

Met Jackie in town at 12.30 & went to a couple of shops. After eating at Savorys we went to the Odeon to see a couple of shows.
Saw Jackie onto a bus at five & looked up the town timetable.
Spent the evening in the Bear dancing and having a couple of drinks.
Stayed at Kay’s with Cash.

Wednesday 10 January 1945.

Left a good bed at 7.30 & beat it into town amid large quantities of falling snow to wake Skip & Sparrow. Cash stayed at Kay’s for breakfast. I had breakfast at the club.
Skip asked me to be his best man at his wedding to Betty which is due to come off after our tour.
Left Birmingham at 10.23. Changed at Northampton & Peterborough & arrived in Ely at 4.15. The camp is under a foot of snow & there’s plenty of wind to cool it off.

W/C “Mac” Baigent, DFC
– NZBCA archives, Mac Baigent collection.
New Squadron Commander

On the 6th of January, Wing Commander Cyril Henry “Mac” Baigent, DFC, RNZAF  (NZ411973) was posted in from HQ 3 Group as the new Commanding Officer of 75 (NZ) Squadron, to replace Wing Commander Ray Newton DFC, RNZAF, killed on air operations on 1 January.

Ten days short of his 22nd birthday (!), Baigent was already on his third tour, having completed 55 op’s with 15 and 115 Squadrons, and took over on 6 January as the youngest squadron commander in Bomber Command, leading the squadron for the remainder of the war. He was very popular with the men, and highly respected as a pilot.

“Mac” went on to fly a further 15 op’s as W/C, for a total of 70 by war’s end.

Dog appears to have been sent away for maintenance during this period, disappearing off op’s after the 8th of January. The Wynn Russell crew flew her back to Mepal from RAF Waterbeach on the 17th of January but she didn’t recommence op’s until the 28th.

11 January 1945.

Gerry’s diary: Back on the job again but not on the Battle Order thank Christ. Nineteen of the crews went out today and returned at five. We did a D.S. on Zebra in the morning & nothing else all day.
Saw Buzz in the hospital. Received 8 letters from home. Answered a couple of them.

“Zebra” was Lancaster HK554 JN-Z, this photo taken before she was re-coded from JN-F.
She was already an old kite, having flown 57 op’s when the crew took her to Saarbrücken the next day and she went on to complete 71 bombing op’s.
– Ian Wallace, Historic Aviation Services.

13 January 1945. Daylight attack against Saarbrücken.

Bomber Command Diary: 158 Lancasters of No 3 Group attacked the railway yards at Saarbrücken. The bombing appeared to be accurate, though with some overshooting. 1 Lancaster crashed in France.

75 Sq ORB: Eighteen of nineteen aircraft detailed carried out a successful daylight attack on Saarbrücken Marshalling Yard carrying 4000 lb H.C, 500 lb M.C, 500 lb M.C, 250 lb G.P. and Monroe bombs. W/Cdr Baigent in “A” had to return with his full load owing to technical trouble which prevented release of bombs. Crews bombed on special equipment. The Marshalling yard was visible and many bursts were seen on the target. No opposition was reported. All 75 Sq aircraft were diverted owing to bad visibility at Base. They were all down safely by 19.30hrs.

Lancaster I HK554, JN-Z
Up 11:53 Down 18:14

F/S Wood, J. NZ426235, Captain (13) 
F/S Pauling, J., NZ422976 Nav 
F/S Hooper, N., A/B 
F/S Newey, G. NZ425285, WO/Air 
Sgt Williamson, D., F/Eng 
F/S Cash, A. R147817, MU/Gnr 
F/S Sparrow, R. R263518, R/Gnr

Captain’s remarks: Primary target Saarbrücken. Appeared good concentration. Blue smoke puff very effective. Landed at Portreath.

Gerry’s diary:  On the target at 3.30. Very surprised to find no flak at all. Had difficulty in getting Zebra up to 19,000 couldn’t get any higher. When over the Channel received a diversion to Portreath in Cornwall. Landed at 6.38. Went to the local dance in flying boots. Had a good time but it’s pretty hot with two pullovers on.

Sunday, 14 January 1945. Portreath.

Got up for breakfast at 8. Some of the boys left for home, but as usual we were left with our port inner U/S. Tried to start it all day & finally gave up at 4. Had a good tea & left for the local village. Took a walk along the seafront and went into the local with Jack. Finished up at the dance on the WAAF site.

15 January 1945. Portreath – Base, 1 hr 50 mins.

Rose at 10.30 & had an early lunch at 11.15. After much difficulty the port inner finally started and we took off at 1255. Beat up the drome and & left for base. Arrived at 2.40.
Stayed in after tea. The rest of the Squadron went on a trip today.

The crew experienced only one air-to-air combat, on their first night operation, vs. a FockeWulf 190 early in the morning of 17 January 1945:

16/17 January 1945. Night attack against Wanne Eickel.

Gerry’s diary: Had an early briefing but the weather prevented a takeoff. Briefed again at 2.pm. but the visibility was still too low. Third briefing at 2145 & took off at 2320 for the oil refineries at Wanne-Eikel.

Bomber Command Diary: 138 Lancasters of No 3 Group attacked the Benzol plant at Wanne-Eickel in the centre of the Ruhr, 2 miles outside Gelsenkirchen. No results known. 1 Lancaster lost.

75 Sq ORB: Seventeen aircraft attacked Wanne Eickel in ten tenths cloud, tops being 6-7,000 feet. Crews bombed with the aid of H2S and sky markers. Flak was moderate in the target area. The general impression was that bombing was concentrated on markers and red glow seen through cloud. A short inconclusive combat took place between the aircraft captained by NZ426235 F/S Wood and a Fw.190. The aircraft captained by NZ414376 F/L T. Blewett unfortunately crashed in this country*. The captain and air bomber NZ426234 F/O J. Wilson were killed and the navigator 1398282 F/S Cornell died as the result of injuries.

Lancaster I HK597 JN-P, “Bad Penny IV
Up 23:39 Down 04:31

F/S Wood, J. NZ426235, Captain (14) 
F/S Pauling, J., NZ422976 Nav 
F/S Hooper, N., A/B 
F/S Newey, G. NZ425285, WO/Air 
Sgt Williamson, D., F/Eng 
F/S Cash, A. R147817, MU/Gnr 
F/S Sparrow, R. R263518, R/Gnr

Bomb load 1 x 4000 lb H.C, 10 x 500 lb G.P, 2 x 500 lb M.C, 2 x 250 G.P, 1 x Monroe

Captain’s remarks: Primary target Wanne Eickel. Good concentration on glow with four large explosions and smaller one as leaving the target.

Gerry: On target at 0228. 10/10 cloud but there were a good many big red explosions. Plenty of red glare so it looked like a good effort. Attacked by F.W.190 soon after target but not caught.

Here is the Combat Report:

Combat Report, 14.1.45, Wanne Eickel, JN-P HK597, J. Wood crew. “F/S Sparrow R. C. Can” fired 300 rounds at a FW.190 fighter.

The action is described by Johnny in the Report:

At 16.1.45. at position 51.13 N. 06 E. at 0241 Lancaster Mk.I HK.597 Rear Gunner sighted a F.W.190 against light cloud attacking from Port Quarter Down at 300 yards. Rear Gunner gave order to Corkscrew Port and opened fire. E/A closed in and opened fire, was held to closing range of 150 yards then broke off attack to Starboard Quarter Down. No hits were observed on E/A which did not make further attack.

Rear gunner Ralph Sparrow in his turret
– Ralph Sparrow collection, thanks to Dave Sparrow.
Ralph in full flying gear.
– Ralph Sparrow collection, thanks to Dave Sparrow.

Flight Engineer Doug Williamson describes theirs as “a charmed life”:

”We seemed to, or at least I did, acquire a casual attitude after so many routine uneventful trips. The only thing that alerted us to the fact that there was an enemy out there trying to get us was on one night op’ when we were all alerted by the rear gunner yelling, “Fighter! Fighter! Corkscrew Port Go!” and heard the rattle of his guns.

I was amused by the skipper’s response as he put the Lanc’ into a dive; “You’ll get shit if it’s one of ours.”

* Gerry also noted in his diary that night: One of the boys apparently went to sleep at the controls last night as we saw him hit the deck a few miles from home. Johnny Wilson the B/A & the Pilot were killed.

ORB Form 540: The aircraft captained by NZ414376 F/L T. Blewett unfortunately crashed in this country. The captain and Air Bomber NZ426234 F/O J. Wilson were killed. The Navigator 1398282 F/S Cornell, B.T. died later as a result of severe injuries.

The Tim Blewett crew came down in PB761 AA-Y on the journey home from Wanne-Eickel at Wood-Ditton in Suffolk. Tim and his Bomb Aimer were killed on impact. Y-Yoke quickly became an inferno. The surviving crew members dragged the navigator clear but he was beyond help and succumbed in hospital 2 days later.

An inquiry found the cause to be pilot error, however that seems unfair given the circumstances. The Blewett crew had flown a five hour operation the previous day, and for this op’, crews had been briefed three times and stood down twice during the day before taking off at 11.30pm. It was another five hour trip, this one at night, and flying home at 4 in the morning, exhaustion seems a more likely explanation.

The weather closed in over the next six days, frustrating operations:

17 January 1945.

Slept all day & stayed in at night. Wrote a few letters.

18 January 1945.

Did a D.I. on P-Peter & went back to the section to get some flimsys* up to date. Paid at 11.30. Went up to the P.O. & collected a tin of pears from the Comforts Commit. Banked £4.
Briefed at 1815 but didn’t make the trip.
Went up to Percy’s and had a pint with Jim.
Got into bed at mid-night after spending most of the night in the hut by the fire. The wind is around 60MPH & cold.

*  Flimsy – list of airfields with names, locations, signal letters and secret radio call signs changed every day. Written on rice paper, to be eaten rather than fall into enemy hands. Issued by the Wireless Section.

19 January 1945.

A bit of ice around this morning with a strong wind still blowing. Did a D.I. & fixed up flimsy’s all morning.
Briefing 2.30. Flying scrubbed owing to weather. There has been a hell of a hurricane blowing over this country for the past few days.
Went to a dance at Chatteris with Jim.

20 January 1945.

Nothing much doing during the morning except a D.I. on P-Peter. No flying again today. Stayed in during the night & pressed my battle-dress & wrote a letter to Betty thanking her for having me as best man.
The crew had one of its usual political arguments which always end up the same & on the same subject.

21 January 1945.

Did a D.I. on Peter and not much else doing. Briefed but trip scrubbed.
Stayed in during the evening & wrote a couple of letters. Still a bit of snow around.

22 January 1945. Night attack against Duisburg.

Nothing doing all morning apart from the usual routine.
Briefed at 1400 & took off at 1718 for Duisburg.

Bomber Command Diary: 286 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitos of Nos 1, 3 and 8 Groups. 2 Lancasters lost. This raid was intended for the Benzol plant in the Bruckhausen district of Duisburg, at the western end of the Ruhr valley. This target was identified visually by moonlight and much damage was inflicted on it. Further bombing also hit the nearby Thyssen steelworks, either by mis-identification or by a simple spread of the bombing. Duisburg’s local report assumed that the steelworks were the primary target and stated that 500 high explosive bombs fell on the Thyssen premises.

75 Sq ORB: Fifteen aircraft attacked Duisburg as detailed. Visibility was good. Crews saw the Rhine. Fires and explosions were seen coming from a concentrated area. A successful attack was reported. No opposition was encountered.

Lancaster I HK597 AA-N, “Bad Penny IV” *
Up 17:17 Down 21:53

F/S Wood, J. NZ426235, Captain (15) 
F/S Pauling, J., NZ422976 Nav 
F/S Hooper, N., A/B 
F/S Newey, G. NZ425285, WO/Air 
Sgt Williamson, D., F/Eng 
F/S Cash, A. R147817, MU/Gnr 
F/S Sparrow, R. R263518, R/Gnr

Bomb load 1 x 4000 lb H.C, 5 x 500 lb ANM, 2 x 500 lb G.P. (LD) 2 x 250 lb G.P, 1 x Monroe.

Captain’s remarks: Primary target Duisburg. Red glow seen 50 miles away.

Gerry’s diary: Clear night but very cold. Clear over target. Good results observed with plenty of fire & smoke Ack Ack moderate. Made base OK at 9.53. Had supper & hit the bed at 1AM.  

* HK597 was re-coded from JN-P to AA-N some time around 20 Jan 45..

There were no op’s for the next five days due to fog and hoar frost.

Sunday 27 January 1945.

Still on the deck owing to the poor weather. Had a lecture by the Winco & a kit inspection.
Stayed in at night.
Detailed for Window crew* tomorrow.
Still plenty of snow & hoar frost about.

* Window crew – one crew was rostered to distribute the bundles of “Window” to the aircraft at their dispersals, prior to each op’. Window was the code name for strips of anti-radar metallic paper thrown from aircraft to confuse German defences. It was stored in bundles tied with string.

28 January 1945.

Plenty of snow still around & bad visibility etc keeps us on the ground. Did a D.I. on Willie.
Most of the Sqdn got off the deck late in the morning & attacked the Ruhr. All returned OK.
Up at Percy’s with Johnny & Cash during the evening.
Jack went into hospital with a poisoned knee.

Dog was flown that day by F/L Don Thomson and crew, to the Gremberg railway marshalling yards near Cologne.

Ground crews refuelling and bombing up an Avro Lancaster of 75 (NZ) Squadron RAF at Mepal, for a night raid on Krefeld, January 1945.
An AE Matador fuel bowser (this one named “BABY DUMBO”) is backed up to the Lancaster which took 2154 gallons of fuel in the wing tanks on its longest sorties.
The bomb load consists of a 4,000-lb HC ‘cookie’ and mixed 1,000-lb and 500-lb MC bombs.
– IWM.

29 January 1945. Daylight attack against Krefeld Marshalling Yard.

Bomber Command Diary: 148 Lancasters of No 3 Group attacked the Uerdingen railway yards at Krefeld without loss. Bombing was claimed to be accurate but a short Krefeld report states that bombs fell over a wide area.

75 Sq ORB: Nineteen aircraft attacked the above target in ten tenths cloud. Aircraft bombed in formation with the aid of H2S. A good concentration was reported. Slight heavy flak over the target was the only opposition encountered.

Lancaster I HK601 JN-D “Snifter”
Up 10:19 Down 15:35

F/S Wood, J. NZ426235, Captain (16) 
F/S Coulson, E. NZ429310, Nav
F/S Hooper, N., A/B 
F/S Newey, G. NZ425285, WO/Air 
Sgt Williamson, D., F/Eng 
F/S Cash, A. R147817, MU/Gnr 
F/S Sparrow, R. R263518, R/Gnr

Bomb Load 1 x 4,000 lb H.C, 9 x 500 lb ANM, 2 x 500 lb M.C, 4 x 250 lb G.P.

Captain’s remarks: Primary target Krefeld Marshalling Yards. Seemed a concentrated formation at release point.

* F/S Eric Coulson, ex-Atkin crew, replaced Jack Pauling as Navigator – Jack was in hospital.

Gerry’s diary: Good trip with spare navigator. Light to medium flak but I’m afraid that the Hun wasn’t very accurate.
5.20 mins & we made base 4
th. 10/10 cloud over the target (railway yards) but a tower of smoke rose above the clouds 20 mins after bombing.

30 January 1945.

Big snow drifts over the road today but the weather is warmer & by afternoon it had started to melt. Did a D.I. on Dog.
Wrote to Kate* & stayed in during the night. Station dance on, but not very keen on the concrete floor.
Skipper put his F/O up today.

* Gerry’s oldest sister.

Johnny Wood received his promotion to Flying Officer.

In fact Gerry’s logbook listed his skipper as Flying Officer Wood for the previous day’s op’ to Krefeld. Johnny Wood’s “Appointment to Commission” is recorded in the Squadron monthly summary for January ‘45, but dated as effective from 19 December 1944.

Johnny’s promotion to Flying Officer was no doubt a source of pride for the crew, but it would mean he would have to move out of their hut!

And the severe cold weather of December and January had finally come to an end – February would be much more productive.

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