A birthday to remember 1944 (TM Telford)

Flying with No. 35 Squadron Path Finder Force from Graveley, our crew took part in an attack on Magdeburg on 21st January 1944.

Time of take-off was 20.00hrs and the crew of our Halifax MKII TL-N LW323 was:

  • Kenneth Alexander Petch (Pilot)
  • Charles Louis Potter (Navigator)
  • Thomas Mercer Telford (Air Bomber)
  • William Henry Curness (Wireless Operator)
  • John Napier (Air Gunner)
  • Richard HA Shirley (Air Gunner)
  • Ryszard Cederbaum (Flight Engineer)

Our role in the attack was Blind Backer-Up. My job after obtaining fixes on Gee up to the enemy coast and on H2S to the target area was to arm our load blind using H2S to maintain the marking set up by the Primary Blind Markers.

We were on the bombing run when the Flight Engineer, watching from the astrodome, reported a fighter at 1000yds on the starboard quarter flying along a lane of fighter flares.

He lost the fighter in the glare and cannon shells ripped through the rear turret and fuselage before the rear gunner had spotted it.

Jack (Rear Gunner) shouted “Dive Starboard, Dive” following up with a vividly unprintable description of the fighter pilot who had wounded him.

The mid-upper swung his turret to the rear and opened up on the Me210 less than 100yds away. The fighter pilot raked the underside of the Halifax and the jamming equipment blew up in the wireless operator’s face, the H2S and Gee returned from active service and the port inner handed in its cards. The ammunition tracks were set on fire by a phosphorous shell and bullets were flying and exploding everywhere. However, the combat manoeuvre was effective and the fighter was lost.

We jettisoned the bombs in the target area, retaining our target indicators and flares and Ken Petch (Pilot) set course for the north west and home. Unfortunately, in a state of shock, he set a reciprocal and the error was not noticed for about 10 minutes.

We had gone south east, deeper into Germany and we knew that we had no chance of catching up with the Bomber Stream if we turned around and flew back on our correct course. We therefore decided to set a direct course for England.

After a few minutes, Charlie Potter (Navigator) says “take some astro-shots, Tom” and I started doing this only to hear Charlie say “it’s no use, I forgot to pick up the Astro Tables at briefing and the ones I have are out of date” You b…… clot, Charlie” I said.

We flew on dead reckoning not knowing our position accurately for about three hours. It was a dark, cloudy night and map reading was impossible. We encountered heavy flak lasting several minutes, probably passing over the northern fringe of the Ruhr but good flying by Ken Petch avoided further serious damage.

Our three Merlin engines continued to run sweetly and after a while, knowing we had crossed the Dutch coast, Bill Curness obtained a wireless fix for over the North Sea. We then set course for the big emergency runway at Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Petrol was running low and Ken Petch got them on the RT as we approached and they immediately gave us the green light to land. Our relief on landing safely was unbelievable. We were so lucky to survive after flying on our own for some three hours over Germany and occupied territory, not knowing where we were to within 50 miles and without attracting a night fighter. One could only assume all available fighters had followed the bomber stream as it left Magdeburg.

We inspected the Halifax the next morning and it looked rather like a colander. Being shot up when straight and level on the bombing run is not to be recommended. We were picked up later in the day and we were back at Graveley at 16.45hrs on the 22nd.

Jack Napier made a good recovery from his wounds after a lengthy stay in Ely Hospital. He had sustained a compound fracture of the right leg above the ankle and severe lacerations to his face when the perspex of his turret was shattered by the hail of bullets.

21st January 1944 was my 23rd Birthday ….. believe me, no one ever had a happier one. We were so lucky

This article, written by TM Telford, first appeared in the Bomber Command Association Newsletter 1994.

It has been published here with the kind permission of Richard Telford