Halifax L9524 (10/10/1941)

Halifax L9524 was one of five No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Essen on the night of the 10th / 11th October 1941.

Its seven-man crew comprised:

  • Edmund Keith Creswell (Pilot)
  • Richard Roye Drummond (2nd Pilot)
  • Gerard John Peter Henry (Observer)
  • Stanley Turner (WOP / AG)
  • Walter Montague Gordon Wing (WOP / AG)
  • G Lowe (Air Gunner)
  • Dennis Sidney Hunt (Flight Engineer)

The squadron’s Operations Record Book shows: “Unable to close bomb doors after bombing owing to hydraulics being unserviceable. Forced landed at Long Stratton. Aircraft undamaged”

Extract from AM Form 1180

  • Bomb doors failed to close after the attack
  • Flight Engineer accidentally released port undercarriage
  • High boost and revs to maintain height.
  • Considerable static; wireless operator unable to read loops
  • ETA Dutch Coast of 1/2 hour was wrong, circling the coast for 1 hour before realising
  • Shortage of fuel

AM Form 78

The aircraft was classified as FB / AC and, having been repaired, was returned to the squadron on 21st January 1942

Extract from DS Hunt’s memoirs [Courtesy of Christopher Tasker]

Trouble started soon after take-off from Linton. The engines were set to rich mixture to give maximum power for take-off and in this condition the fuel consumption was very high. So as soon as maximum power was no longer required the engines were changed back to weak mixture for cruising, but on this occasion the mixture control on one engine would not function and the engine remained in rich mixture. In rich mixture the engine emitted long exhaust flames which could make the aircraft easily seen by German night fighters or possibly also by AckAck crews. We had no choice but to continue onto Germany in this state.

Anti aircraft fire was particularly heavy over the Ruhr that night and we took a lot of shrapnel damage. After our bombing run we found that we could not close the bomb doors and concluded that our hydraulic mechanism in the bomb bay had sustained some damage. My duties included checking all the instrumentation regularly, including fuel consumption and logging readings. I had noticed that the fuel in the tank serving the rich mixture engine seemed to be going down quickly but this was to be expected due to the rich mixture, but on the next engine check I found that the fuel in a second tank was also lower than expected and it was doubtful whether we would have enough fuel to get us home.

The captain ordered the navigator to set the most direct course for us to hit the English coast and the radio operator to send out a distress call as soon as we were approaching the coast. But we ran into thick overcast cloud and had no sight of ground for a long time and no means of checking our course and position as no stars were visible. Eventually we ran into an area of broken cloud and the captain said he could see a coast ahead but nobody could identify it so the pilot and navigator decided to fly south along the coast until they could find a landmark they could recognise. Soon the pilot said that although he was following the coast which was expected to run north and south he was now in fact flying around a large bay and was now headed first west and then north. The navigator decided this was the Wash and the pilot ordered the distress call to be sent. Almost immediately the runway lights of an airfield appeared below us. The pilot circled preparatory to landing and I moved back to release the undercarriage locks so that the wheels could be lowered when required. As I did so the wheels fell down unexpectedly and locked in the down position (due to lack of hydraulic power to hold them up). Whilst we were trying to cope with this surprise the second pilot spotted a bridge or causeway ahead crossing the bay, and the navigator, after consulting his maps, announced that we were not flying around the Wash but this was in fact the Zuyder Zee (sic) and the airfield we were approaching must be an enemy one. We were now in an awful dilemma; with bomb doors open and undercarriage down the aircraft was just wallowing along. We were already down to 3000 feet and could not climb away, furthermore we were so low on fuel that it was touch and go whether we could reach the English coast. As we set course for the nearest spot in England the airfield lights went out and we flew through a barrage of enemy gunfire. Miraculously we were not hit directly but we did take a lot of flak fragments.

And so we set off across the North Sea. Fuel was now the main issue together with our ability to maintain height. All the fuel gauges were showing low and in fact the one serving the rich engine was showing empty but the engine was still running so the gauges were obviously not accurate. Normally as soon as a gauge showed empty we would change to another tank but in present circumstances we knew we were going to have to squeeze every drop of fuel out of our four tanks. The captain and I decided we would run that engine on the seemingly empty tank until the engine started to cut and then I would change it to another tank. Provided I could do this quickly enough to prevent the engine stopping completely and getting air into the whole fuel system we could also do the same for the other tanks. There were other complications but the biggest difficulty for me was the fact that the fuel tank change levers were under the rest bench seat in mid fuselage and I had to lie on my stomach and reach under the seat to operate them. In this position it was impossible to reach an intercom point to communicate with the pilot. However I could tell from the engine notes when an engine started to cut and which engine it was so I lay on my tummy for a long time manipulating the tank controls whilst the rear gunner acted as communication link between me and the captain. Fortunately this all worked. Our progress across the North Sea was painfully slow. We were still losing height and attempting to drain all the tanks when we saw the English coast in the distance — it now being daylight and we all raised a cheer. We crossed the coast at less than 1000 feet and looked for somewhere to land. There was no airfield that we could see and it was a misty morning. The two pilots saw a likely looking park below but could not find a path between widely spaced trees that was long enough to take a Halifax landing but at this point another engine cut and with all gauges showing empty the Captain had no choice but to put down immediately.

With the exception of the two pilots we crew were ordered to adopt crash positions which meant sitting on the floor in the fuselage with our backs against some solid support and that was the last I saw of our approach and landing. We could feel the initial bump as the aircraft struck the ground but then we were flung about as it careered on over very uneven ground and we were all waiting for the final crash as we hit a tree or something— but it never came. After much banging and bumping the plane slowed and came to a stop. I opened the rear hatch and looked out and what did I see — cabbages.

We all piled out breathing sighs of relief and congratulating the pilot for getting us safely down, we took stock of our situation. We could see our tracks across the parkland and we had ploughed through two hedges, across two cultivated fields and were now stuck in a cabbage field. The plane appeared to have suffered no serious damage although the fuselage, wings, rudder and engine cowlings were peppered with shrapnel holes. Amazingly the undercarriage seemed ok and to have stood up well to the rough landing but a hydraulic pipe had been cut through by shrapnel causing the loss of hydraulic power.

There was no sign of life anywhere though we could see some farm buildings in the distance. But while we were inspecting the plane and thanking our lucky stars, a policeman arrived on his bicycle. He was relieved to find it was a British plane and not a German one as he had anticipated. He had imagined the plane had crashed and he had already called for an ambulance expecting casualties, this soon turned up. A small crowd of people gathered from nowhere together with some members of the Home Guard. Then a tractor came dashing along the track of our landing and proved to be the farmer— owner of the land. He had brought with him a bottle of brandy which we soon put away between us but he was not pleased about the amount of damage done to his fields, crops and hedges.

The captain decided that he and other members of the crew, except me, would use the ambulance to take them to the nearest RAF airfield which was 12 miles away. He would report to the Flight Commander (Cheshire) and arrange for transport back to Linton. I would be left behind together with the Home Guard to protect the aircraft against souvenir hunters and further damage. To this end I got the farmer to return to his farm to bring some ropes and posts that we could erect around the plane to hold back all the inquisitive people who had now arrived. He came back not only with ropes and posts but also with a big bag of sandwiches and two big thermos flasks of coffee for me and the Home Guard lads.

Cheshire’s 1941 Norfolk rescue: The untold story of Halifax bomber L9524

An unpublished manuscript, by Anne Wells, tells the story of the events surrounding the loss of this aircraft, which crashed at Tacolnestone, South Norfolk. It tells the remarkable story of how Leonard Cheshire flew the aircraft off of the field where it had force landed, returning it back to Linton