History Book Reviews

Bomber Command: Failed to Return II – Steve Bond, Steve Darlow, Linzee Druce, Sean Feast, Julian Evan-Hart and Andrew MacDonald

This, the second in the series about Bomber Command individuals and crews that failed to return from operations, follows the same high quality format as the previous publication. Steve Darlow has gathered together a number of historians who each provide one or more chapters, each being the moving story about specific incidents resulting in a failure to return.

The subjects include the loss of a Blenheim in a wood near Zeist in Holland in 1940 and the discovery of parts of the aircraft that have been recovered; the conversion of one pilot from Fighter Command to fly Mosquitoes with Bomber Command but who failed to return from a patrol over the Paris/Lille area in 1943; of operations in support of the French Resistance; and of the disastrous main force raid on Leipzig on the night of 19/20 February 1944 – amongst many others.

The chapter “Taking on the Beast” details the attack upon Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord near Trondheim by aircraft of 35 Squadron on 28 April 1942. One Norwegian historian likened the attack to the Charge of the Light Brigade, except on this occasion they used Halifaxes instead of horses. Of the twenty-three Halifaxes and eleven Lancasters despatched, two of the former were lost. Sergeant Jock Morrison was the wireless operator/air gunner on one of these two bombers, 35 Squadron’s Halifax II, W1053, TL-G. Flown by Pilot Officer J.R. Roe RCAF, W1053 had taken off from Kinloss at 20.37 hours.

“We had to fly at 150 feet above sea level into the fjord – the mouth about a mile wide and the cliffs one side at 800 feet and at the other side 400 feet,” Morrison recalled after the war.  “By the time you got to the top end of the fjord it was about 200 yards wide. How Johnny Roe [the pilot] ever got that ’plane out of there I do not know. The Germans had filled the fjord with smoke and when we reached the point at which the Tirpitz was – it was supposed to be sheltering up against one of the sides – Reg Williams [the Navigator] shouted that it had been swung round ninety degrees. Johnny responded, ‘Right we’ll go round again’.

Just at that point we were hit and caught fire. Someone shouted out to Johnny, ‘Make for Sweden, it’s only forty miles away’. ‘That’s impossible,’ Johnny responded. ‘I’ve got very little control of the aircraft. Take your positions.’

“We knew where we had to go. Dennis Butchart the engineer was in the second pilot position.

Reg Williams, myself and Rusty Russell, the second wireless operator who was in the mid-upper turret, should have gone to the rest position. Reg and I did so but there was no sign of Rusty.

“Before we crashed we opened the escape hatch and we always flew on operations with the steps to the hatch in place. I was still in communication with Johnny. I was plugged into the intercom and I could hear exactly what Johnny was saying and I knew exactly when we were going to crash. When we did I was knocked out for a few seconds.

Jock Morrison suffered a cut to his lip and broken teeth but at least he was still alive. As he climbed out of the crashed Halifax, the bomber caught fire. Besides Morrison, Sergeant Reg Williams was badly burned, whilst Sergeant Dennis Butchart suffered a broken arm and broken ribs. Sergeant Rusty Russell, however, did not make it. He was crushed by his gun turret. Both Russell and Halifax TL-G failed to return.

The book is well-illustrated and full of fascinating stories such as that of Jock Morrison and Rusty Russell.

Review courtesy of Britain At War Magazine.

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