At the outbreak of the Second World War the British government
realised it did not have adequate resources
to maintain the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the impending air
war in Europe. While British factories could
rapidly increase their aircraft production, there was no
guaranteed supply of trained aircrew. Pre-war plans
had identified a need for 50,000 aircrew annually, but
Britain could only supply 22,000.
To overcome this problem, the British government put forward a plan
to its dominions to jointly establish a
pool of trained aircrew who could then serve with the RAF. In
Australia the proposal was accepted by the
War Cabinet and a contingent was sent to a conference in Ottawa, in
Canada, to discuss the proposal. After
several weeks of negotiations, an agreement was signed on 17
December 1939 which would last for three
years. The scheme was known in Australia as the Empire Air Training
Under the scheme 50,000 aircrew would be trained annually, each
dominion would conduct its own elementary
training; advanced training would be conducted in Canada because of
its closeness to the British aircraft
factories and the war zone. From November 1940, some training was
also conducted in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Australia undertook to provide 28,000 aircrew over three years. The
first basic flying course started on 29
April 1940, when training began simultaneously in all participating
The first 34 Australians graduated from RAAF Service Flying Training
Schools on 18 November 1940, with a
further 37,000 aircrew eventually trained in Australia. To meet this
commitment, the RAAF established 2 Air
Navigation Schools, 3 Air Observers Schools, 3 Bombing and Gunnery
Schools, 12 Elementary Flying Training
Schools, 6 Initial Flying Training Schools and 8 Service Flying
Training Schools. In addition, 7 Schools
of Technical Training and other specialised technical schools were
established to train ground crews in the
maintenance of aircraft and equipment.
The duration of World War II saw 15,746 RAAF pilots, navigators,
wireless operators, gunners and engineers
sent to British squadrons and 11,641 to Australian squadrons. These
men exemplified themselves in every major
The following article was obtained from the website of the “Nanton
Lancaster Society Museum” in Nanton,
A Lancaster crew numbered seven - the pilot, flight engineer,
navigator, wireless (radio) operator, bomb
aimer / forward gunner, mid-upper gunner, and rear gunner.
Invariably all were very young, a man of
twenty-five would likely be referred to as the "Old Man" or
"Grandpa." They were of different ranks, came
from all walks of life, and often from more that one country.
However, they quickly bonded together to form
a very special, tightly-knit group. This camaraderie was
crucial to maintaining morale and efficiency in the
air. Most felt that their crew was one of the best in Bomber
Command. They generally spent many of their
off-duty hours together as well as the first day or two of a
The bomb-aimer's compartment was situated in the front of the
aircraft at a level below that of the main
cockpit. Lying on his stomach and looking through the bombsight out
the large perspex blister, the bombaimer
would guide the aircraft to the target and release the bomb load. As
well, the bomb-aimer was responsible for
operating the front gun turret positioned directly above him,
although this was not necessary on most
Regardless of rank, the pilot was always in command of the aircraft.
Behind his head was the only piece of
armour plating that a Lancaster carried.
Seated beside the pilot on a seat which was hinged to permit crew to
travel to and from the bomb-aimer's
compartment in the nose of the aircraft was the flight engineer. He
assisted the pilot on take-off and landings
by handling the throttles etc. In flight he was constantly
checking his panels to monitor oil, fuel and
pressure gauges to assess engine performance and fuel
consumption from the Lancaster's six wing tanks.
Although flight engineers were generally trained to fly the
aircraft "straight and level" they had no formal
pilot training and hoped that they would never have to try to
land the aircraft.
Behind the pilot and flight engineer, the navigator worked in a
curtained off compartment so that the lights
he required would not give away the position of the Lancaster
to enemy fighters. Few navigators had the
time, or the inclination, to leave their station during a raid. They
were constantly plotting the aircraft's course
and making adjustments for wind and other factors. As
electronic navigational aids developed during the war
the navigator's work load became even greater.
The wireless operator's station was just in front of the main spar,
in the rear part of the cockpit section. In
addition to his official duties related to the radio
equipment, the W/Op was also expected to have a working
knowledge of the navigator's equipment, understand the
aircraft's electrical and intercom systems, and
administer first aid as necessary. As well, he was generally
on duty in the astrodome in the event of contact
with enemy fighters and over the target. The astrodome was a
dome shaped piece of perspex which
protruded above the aircraft's fuselage in order that the navigator
could take star shots. As well it provided
an excellent viewpoint.
The mid-upper gunner and rear gunner completed the crew. Both were
extremely vulnerable and in the coldest
part of the aircraft. Their duties were to continuously scan the
night sky for enemy fighters from the
moment of take off until the aircraft landed, sometimes ten hours
later. A most important contribution was
to spot the fighter and instruct the pilot to take evasive action.
When this occurred the fighter generally
broke off the contact and looked for another bomber with a less
alert air gunner.
Of all the personnel who were housed on a wartime Bomber Command
airfield, only ten percent were aircrew.
Dozens of others were required to prepare each Lancaster for flight
and the ground crew were most appreciated
by the aircrew. Generally working outside, the conditions especially
in the winter were often windswept, wet
and cold. Their contributions to the successes of the effort cannot
be overemphasised. The ground crew which
were associated with each aircraft took immense pride in "their"
aircraft and would joke that they were
only "loaning" the bomber for a few hours and that the aircrew were
"not to break it."
The following article was
the website of
the “Nanton Lancaster Society Museum” in Nanton,
The PFF (Path Finder Force)
was established on 15 Aug 1942. Pathfinder aircraft fly ahead of the
mainbomber stream dropping target-marking flares over the main
Markers, Target Indicators
Each TI contained 60 pyrotechnic candles. A barometric fuse set to
operate at low altitude (3,000 ft) blew
the TI open, cascading the candles onto the ground, igniting as they
went. Seen from above, each TI would
appear as an intense pool of light, about 900 ft (275m) in diameter.
Burn time was about three minutes so they
were replenished at frequent intervals.
To prevent German decoy fires from drawing bombers off the intended
target TIs were made in a series ofcolours; red, yellow, green,
etc., and used in a predetermined order which varied from raid to
Sky Markers - parachute flares in a variety of colours dropped by
specialised aircraft equipped with radio
navigation aids. Sky markers required a complicated offset bombing
technique and the procedure was only used
when clouds covered the target.
Newhaven - codename for visual marking with TIs, etc.
Parramatta - codename when TI marking was supplemented by bombers
which were equipped with terrain reading
Wanganui - codename for sky marking.
HC Bombs use by the RAF Bomber Command:
The 4,000 lb High Capacity (HC) bombs referred to in the Operations
Record Books (ORB’s) were often referred
to as ‘Cookies’. These bombs were constructed with a relatively
thin, light casing and incorporated a
greater proportion of explosive material. Most 'normal' bombs
(termed ‘Medium Capacity’ by the RAF) at
that time contained about 50% explosive by weight, the rest being
made up of the bomb casing.
The 4,000lb (HC) bomb was little more than a cylinder full of
explosive - it was un-aerodynamic and had n
fins. The thin, light casing maximised the ‘air blast’ effect
and were used in conjunction with the smaller 4lb
Incendiary Bombs. These particular HC bombs were used only by
RAF Bomber Command.
Loading a 4,000lb 'Cookie'
(An HC [high capacity] air-blast bomb used in
conjunction with clusters of 4lb Incendiaries)
A Full Load
(A full bomb load ranged from
7,000lb ~ 12,000lb depending on fuel requirements)
The following item was obtained
from the website of the “Nanton Lancaster Society Museum” in Nanton,
Battle of Berlin
November 18, 1943 - March 31, 1944
35 major air
raids (16 against Berlin, 19 against other cities to dilute the
German air defences)
Berlin 23/24 August 1943 (56) with another 67 lost in two more raids
against Berlin over the next two weeks).
Munich 2/3 October 1943 (8)
Stuttgart - 7 October
4 major raids against Berlin in both November and December with a
total loss of 180 bombers
Berlin - 18 November
Berlin - 22 November
Berlin - 16/17 December 1943
Magdeburg - 21 January 1944 (55)
Berlin - 28 January 1944 (43)
Leipzig - 19 February 1944 (78) 
Stuttgart - 15/16 March 1944
Berlin - 24 March 1944 72 (16th RAF raid on the city in a little
over 4 months)
Nuremberg - 30 March 1944 96
1,047 aircraft lost with more than that number damaged.
Ernie and his crew
lost on this raid. Biggest single loss to date (78 aircraft).
Refer 'Notes' for commentary from two surviving crew members from
another aircraft on that fateful night.
The following comment on the
“Berlin Air Offensive” has been extracted from the BBC online
archives and covers the question of cost
effectiveness of Bomber Command’s operations over Germany during
1944 in the light of increasing Bomber
Berlin Air Offensive
November 18, 1943 - March 31, 1944
“Widespread damage to the city of Berlin at a high cost to British
“By March 1944, it became clear that the area offensive had fallen
short of its goals and that Bomber Command
was facing destruction by night fighters just as it had earlier
faced destruction by day fighters.”
(Noble Frankland, historian and Bomber Command veteran).
Eight raids on Berlin in November and December 1943 reduced much of
the city to rubble, killing over 4,000
Berliners and making half a million homeless; 220 aircraft were lost
to German night fighters during the raids.
Six raids in January 1944 did limited damage on the ground but cost
A raid [on Berlin] on February 15, with a cost of 43
aircraft, caused extensive damage but little loss of life;
much of the population had already fled the city. A final
raid on March 24 was scattered by bad weather
with the loss of 72 aircraft.
Losses were running at the unsustainable rate of 6-7 per cent per
raid, with no prospect of a German
surrender. With Germany re-asserting command of the air and the
Normandy landings in prospect, Air Chief
Marshall Arthur Harris's dream of defeating Germany through bombing
was slipping away.”
Berlin was considered to be the most dangerous target as it was
situated deep inside enemy territory
resulting in increased exposure to enemy defences. Berlin was
considered by all to represent a target of
special importance and consequently the enemy defences were greatly
strengthened in the vicinity.
It is understood that night bombing operations by Bomber Command
over northern Germany were temporarily
curtailed somewhat around this time.
The following information on
German Anti Aircraft Armaments was obtained from the following
German Anti-Aircraft Armament “Flak”
Light Flak typically consisted of heavy 12.7 mm machine guns and
20 mm towed cannons that could be set up
quickly. These guns were light, fast firing and quite effective
against aircraft at low altitudes.
The towed 20 mm Flak guns were served by four men with some set up
in Flak wagons, a light tank body with
four 20 mm cannons mounted on it.
Medium Flak guns were typically 37 mm towed guns operated by a
large crew. They were slower firing than
the 20 mm guns, but had a longer range and were more deadly. Their
streams of shells could be seen rising
into the bomber stream as globes of yellow or red. They were contact
bursting shells only.
Heavy Flak (88 MM)
typically consisted of the highly effective
88 mm cannons set up in anti-aircraft
mode. By 1942 over 15,000 of these 88 mm cannons formed the main
Flak defences for Germany, arranged in
belts stretching across Holland and Germany, in places 20 Km thick.
Many batteries were radar directed and
worked cooperatively with searchlight batteries. Heavier guns of 130
mm and 150 mm were also used. The heavy
Flak shells exploded at pre-set
Flak was the nightmare of bomber crews as it wasn't predictable.
They exploded in daylight with puffs of
black smoke with little red interiors, and at night they
flashed yellow or red. When one hit close the
fragments (shrapnel) banged through the aircraft and pinged
off more solid members. With a direct hit from
an 88 mm or larger shell the aircraft would stagger and
stall, sometimes a wing would fold up and the
bomber would go straight down in flames. Other times the
entire aircraft would simply vanish in a dirty ball
of fire and smoke. Many other times the aircraft and men
would fly on, riddled with holes but still fighting,
only to have to try to land somewhere without lights, damaged
under carriages, missing engines and
wounded or dead crew. Often they bombed their targets only to die in
a crash landing.
The 88 mm heavy Flak guns were typically set up in semi-permanent
batteries intended to provide long-term
protection in a Flak belt or in a city. However, they were mobile
and could be quickly relocated. When
directed by radar and, or working in conjunction with searchlights
they were quite deadly, often downing more
aircraft over a city than the German night fighters. They fired
altitude-fused or proximity-fused shells
up to 49,000 feet at 3 shells per min.
The 200CM German Scheinwerfer-43 searchlights were rated
at 2.4 Gigacandela. Powered by a
120 kilowatt generator, it could detect
targets at distances of up to 13 kilometres.
Typically the 200CM searchlight was deployed at the centre
of a triangle formed by 3, 150CM
searchlights spaced about 2 kilometres
from the central "master", 200 CM searchlight. The
master searchlight would find
the target, and the 150CM lights would ‘cone’ the target.
Heinkel 219 Uhu
(Owl) German Night Fighter
Without doubt the best German night-fighter of the war, the He
219 Uhu (Owl) possessed in abundance all
three attributes essential for such combat: high speed,
heavy gun armament and efficient radar. Fastest of all
the He 219A series versions was the He 219A-7/R6 with
2,500-hp engines and a top speed of 435 mph (700
km/h ). Most aircraft were equipped with radar. Of all
RAF Mosquitoes lost during night operations more
than 60 per cent (estimated ) fell to He 219s.
Powerplant: two 1,800-hp Daimler-Benz DB 603E inline pistons
Max speed: 416 mph (670 km/h ) at 22,965 ft (7000 m)
Two 30mm MK 108 cannons in wing-roots
Two 30mm MK 103 and Two 20mm MG 151/20 in ventral gun
tray in Schräge-Musik configuration.
Two upward-firing 30mm MK 108 cannon in rear cockpit.
Junkers 88 Night Fighter
From May 1940 onwards, the appearance of ever increasing numbers of
RAF bombers at night over Germany had
forced the Luftwaffe to set up a powerful night air defence
organisation which soon became involved in
a bitter see-saw battle for supremacy in the night sky. The Junkers
Ju 88 night-fighter was a key weapon in
this crucial battle.
Power Plant: two 14 cylinder,
air cooled, BMW 801D-2 radials of 1,700 HP each.
Performance: Maximum level speed 356 mph (573 kph) at 27,890
ft with SN-2 but no upward-firing guns.
Normal range 1,553 Mls (2,500 Km); Maximum endurance on internal
fuel 4.75 hours. Armament: Four fixed
forward-firing 20mm MG 151 cannon in ventral tray with 200 rounds
each and one flexible 13 mm MG 131
machine-gun at rear of cockpit with 500 rounds. Optional 'Schräge
Musik' installation in upper fuselage with
two 20 mm MG 151 cannon firing obliquely forward.