Into the Drink - The Ditching of Wellington X3404 Sgt Kitney and others.
Into the Drink
Transcript of report made by Sgt Kitney of 103 Sqn following his ditching off the Humber Estuary 3rd August 1941.
Ditching of Wellington, X3404
60 miles off Grimsby - all crew saved Lindholme Dinghy.
This crew was returning from. a night bombing raid on Hamburg on the 3rd August 1941. When over one hour's flying from England, they realised that they would not be able to reach the coast and accordingly had ample opportunity to prepare for a forced landing on the water. Guns and other heavy equipment were thrown overboard. and every member of the crew had ample opportunity to take up correct dinghy crash stations as laid, down in the drill. SOS message was transmitted and, the. I.F.F. turned, to the distress signal.
The ditching stations at which the crew braced themselves were as follows:-
Pilot strapped in pilot's seat, Wireless operator braced at set. Rear Gunner in. rear turret. The remainder of the crew braced themselves aft of the main, spar and near the astro dome hatch.
The pilot had ample opportunity to prepare for and make a forced alighting in daylight. The two top hatches were opened before the final approach. The bombs had been dropped over the target. The bomb doors were closed and the flotation gear inflated. Flaps and undercarriage were up.
The Pilot approached the sea as slow as possible with the tail well down. When at approximately one foot above sea level he pulled the control column, right back and stalled on to the water. Despite this he says that the impact was violent and that the nose went right down and then rose again. A considerable amount of water came in through the hatch and, filled the front cabin to depth of about two foot. After this the aircraft assumed a horizontal position on the water and remained afloat for 3 hours.
The second pilot operated the dinghy manual release and the navigator leapt first out of the astro hatch to secure the dinghy which had opened satisfactorily the right way up. He stood on the starboard wing fending off the dinghy and assisting the other members of the crew into it with-their equipment. The front gunner took with him the emergency pack and the second pilot the signals. All were in the dinghy well within one minute with the exception of the rear gunner who was floundering in the water and nearly drowning near the tail plane. The rest of the crew managed to rescue him and pull him on board.
Once in the dinghy the crew cut the painter and remained in the vicinity of the floating Wellington, They were in the dinghy for thirteen hours about 60 miles out from Grimsby, During this. time a number of aircraft were sighted but only one Blenheim and one Hudson spotted them.
The Blenheim saw them whilst carrying out a Met Flight at 0830 hours, unfortunately it gave a position 45 miles out which probably resulted in the crew not being picked up earlier.
The next aircraft to see them was a Hudson which dropped smoke floats and continued to circle them, until a "Lindholme" Hampden came up at 17.30 hours and dropped a Rescue Dinghy.
The crew got into the rescue dinghy and lashed the two of them up together. Unfortunately, the line between the rescue dinghy and the container had broken and the containers drifted from them. Efforts were made to paddle up to the containers but those were not successful. The Hudson continued to circle them and this gave the men in the dinghies great confidence they were, however, beginning to get rather cold and miserable.
At 20 30 hours an M.T,B. arrived and took them back to Grimsby The pilot of this Wellington made the following suggestions.
1 - The cordage connecting up the Rescue Dinghy and Containers should be stronger.
2. Verey cartridges are most important; he suggested that a store should be carried in the dinghy or pack as well as marine distress signals.
3. The captain must organise a system of rationing and exercise at the very beginning and he must see that no member of the crew deviates from this.
4. He suggests that a small transmitting set be carried.
Lessons to be Learned from the above ditching.
1/ Flotation time of Wellington over three hours is especially noteworthy and shows what can be done with the aircraft provided the flotation bags are used to full effect and bomb doors closed.
2/ This crew did not inflate their flotation bags until just before the final approach but they could, with advantage have blown them up much earlier.
3/ The depth of water should be carefully observed by a crew as giving some indication of the available buoyancy.
4/ Crew were out of the aircraft in one minute but they might have left vital equipment behind and not risked retrieving it.
5/ Water lines and depth of water are being closely studied to provide information for crews in the future
The above from an interview with Sgt.Kitney at RAF Station, Elsham Wolds, Lincs on 22nd August 1941.
Sgd C M M Grece ( S/Ldr) RDS 3 for Director of Technical Development.
Footnote - Of this crew Raymond Kitney, Johnnie Tett and Harold Lindo went on to have impressive war time careers.
Ray Kitney RAFVR flew 2 tours with 103 Sqdn and was awarded a DFM. He was killed whilst instructing at an OTU in July 1943.
Johnnie Tett RCAF, pictured right, completed his tour with 103 Sqn and was awarded a DFC. Post war he joined the Ontario local government to develop and establish the province's leisure and recreation systems. In the early 1950s he rejoined the RCAF in a similar capacity to establish and head up the RCAF recreation organisation. He retired in 1964 with the rank of Wing Commander having established a highly professional and effective structure. Johnnie died in the mid 1970s in a canoeing accident.
Harold Lester Lindo RCAF from Jamaica completed his tour and was awarded a DFC. He was killed in Feb 1944 at the start of his second tour with 103 Sqn.
The Officer who complied the report is quite notable fellow and worth a mention:-
Clair Mansell Maybury Grece RAF DFC DCM was stationed with 59 Sqn in France in the first few months of the war as a P/O (pilot). He was a member of the small detachment that stayed behind in France after the rest of the squadron had left on the 20th May 1940. He was Officer Commanding "B" Flight by the time the Battle of Britain had begun, a position that he relinquished when he was posted to HQ-Flight on 12/09/40 and had reached the rank of F/L. He would later return to the Squadron and become Commanding officer in charge of 59 Sqn and in May 1942 was posted to No.6 OTU and later onto 405 Sqn. When war ended in Europe he was in command of 608 Sqn.
After the war he became an Air Attache in Rome and from 1949-1951 he was C/O of the fighter station RAF Wattisham. He then was posted to RAF Middle Wallop where he took command as G/C (Group Captain).
Grece, his wife Joan and her uncle H.D Harmon died on 12th July 1954 when the Vega Gull they were flying stalled and crashed to the ground.
Other 103 Squadron Ditchings
There were only a handful of 103 Sqn crews involved in successful ditchings and none from 576 Sqdn.
The first concerned Wellington T2610 Sgt W R Crich and crew on the 10th Feb 1941. They ditched after engine failure and were rescued after 48 hours by the SS Tovelil.
The second incident was that of Sgt R Kitney described above.
Third was another Wellington, R1393, with Sgt G O John and crew on the 25th March 1942. They ditched 5 miles off Orfordness and were rescued.
The fourth was Lancaster W4318 on the 13th Apri 1943 with Sgt J S Stoneman and crew. They came down in the Channel 50 miles from Falmouth on return from a raid on Italy and were quickly rescued. The conditions were very calm and attempts were made to salvage the aircraft but it sank whilst under tow. See pic below.
Finally Lancaster JB278 with F/S C H Ogden ditched in the Channel on the 24th April 1944 on return from a raid on Karlsruhe. They were rescued by lifeboat.
On the 12th Feb 1942 S/L I K P Cross ditched in the English Channel whilst involved in Operation Fuller. Of the crew of 6 four, including Cross, were captured and 2 are missing. There may well be others who ditched and were picked up by the Germans. David Fell