A talk to the Friends of Metheringham Airfield Reviewed by Andy Marson.
The McRea Crew 463Sqn Subject of the talk
Ex-RAF Navigator Dave Pike gave the lecture on 22nd July 2015, analysing a WW2 Lancaster Navigator’s logs and charts. He has recently discovered a folder containing almost all of the logs and charts of a Lancaster crew of 463 Sqn, RAAF at Waddington, during their tour of 32 operations between September 1944 and April 1945.
Dave has painstakingly researched these documents and his lecture gave an interesting and informative insight in to the life of a bomber crew in the latter stages of WW2. Charts consisted of a latitude and longitude grid, with an over-lay of basic coastal outlines. The logs, however, were extremely detailed, including such information as moon and sun times, met forecasts and planned tracks. All observations made by the crew were logged by hand and these papers were larger than A3 size and could be up to three pages long. Once complete, they became legal documents and were surprisingly neat in presentation. A gem of real-time history!
The logs and charts belonged to Fg Off D. Pybus RAF the Navigator of an Australian crew captained by Flt Lt K. McRae DFC. The Flight Engineer, Plt Off B. Brennan was also an RAF man, as the RAAF was not training Flight Engineers at that time.
The crew’s first operation was on 10th September, 1944 and their last on 7th April, 1945; 32 in total. The Captain was awarded the DFC after sortie 8 to Bremen. 463 Sqn RAAF was formed out of C Flight 467 Sqn RAAF.
The charts were produced on good quality paper, the logs less so and therefore damaged more easily. They were therefore photo-copied by Dave to enable further handling. Analysis showed the Lancaster crew completed 10 day and 22 night sorties, with one further sortie recalled. The average trip length was six hours, covering 1000 statute miles (nautical miles were not in use at that time.) The average timing error over the target was +/- 1 minute and Pybus had logged 35 aircraft shot down, reported by his crew. Some trips were longer, Munich was 9 hours 30 minutes and Politz, twice, at 10 hours 30 minutes.
The worst trips logged were to Bremen, where the crew survived five fighter attacks. On trip 22 to Politz they were initially diverted to RAF Lossiemouth for weather, then re-called to RAF Waddington, then diverted again back to RAF Lossiemouth before being directed to RAF Strubby. Air traffic control at RAF Strubby was shut, not expecting any inbound operations due to bad weather, however; they landed anyway and ran out of fuel on roll-out.
On trip 25, a further fighter attack was logged and Pybus was airsick. On trip 28, aircraft around them were shot down and to evade an enemy fighter, the Lancaster performed a cork-screw manoeuvre.
The logs revealed the following information: the first two trips of the crew’s tour were by no means easy ones. Following D-Day, Le Havre was surrounded by allied troops and therefore the accuracy and timing of the bombing raids were critical. They landed at 19:00 hrs on the 10th June, 1944 and took off again at 05:25 hrs on the 11th June, 1944. The first 30 logs were assessed and marked upon return by the Nav Leader, giving advice on early sorties and critical commentary on later ones. Indeed, annotated just like having one’s homework marked!!
Navigation timing at this stage of the war was paramount: the Germans deployed the Kammhuber Line, consisting of Freya early warning radars and tracking radars in-land, in over-lapping boxes. Initially the RAF were sending the bombers as singletons to meet over the target, therefore crossing the radar lines at different places in the radar boxes, presenting themselves as easier targets. This resulted in a great number of bomber losses. The solution was to saturate the German defences with ‘the bomber stream.’ This required accurate navigation, however, and the advent of the GEE navigation aid solved this problem. If any aircraft lost its place in the stream or wandered off track or time, it became a sitting duck, ripe for enemy attack!
Despite the pressures of being under fire, the writing in the logs was immaculate, a testament to the education system and training of that period in time! The flight plans commenced overhead base on height and time. The crew took off 15 minutes early and dog-legged using GEE homing back to the airfield. En-route fixing was every ten minutes using GEE. It was fascinating that no astro shots or visual pinpoints were ever utilised and only radio bearings were logged occasionally.
GEE was a hyperbolic aid and was short for GRID. Locally Stenigot, in the Lincolnshire Wolds, was a Slave station on the Eastern Chain and in order to change these chains, the Nav had to replace the complete receiver box. GEE coverage extended to the Ruhr but enemy jamming tended to degrade it. H2S mapping radar could be used, however enemy fighters fitted with the Naxos device could home onto its transmissions. In 1944, 5 Gp replaced the H2S with LORAN. This had an improved range over GEE and covered o