Pilot Officer (Later Flight Lieutenant ) Norman H Frost DFC and crew
Norman Frost was born in Northampton in 1921. He joined the RAF as a volunteer in May 1941 and was sent to USA for flying training. He married Eileen Trenfield on 8th May 1943 and was posted with his crew to 103 Sqdn at Elsham Wolds in Sept 1943.
The crew pictured above was as follows. Back row L to R. Sgt P W Wilson - Rear Gunner, Sgt E A Morgan-Smith - Flight Engineer, Sgt N H Frost - Pilot, Sgt R Huddert - Mid Upper Gunner. Front row L to R. Sgt A Burdett - Wireless Operator, F/S W J Bodenic - Air Bomber, Sgt L H Wise - Navigator.
Norman and his crew flew their first operation to Hannover on the 22/23 Sept 43.
On the 3rd Dec they flew their 14th operation to Leipzig. This proved a most eventful flight and is described by Norman Frost as follows :-
“On December 3rd 1943 our luck ran out. We were sent to bomb Leipzig but a few aircraft, including myself, were sent to make a feint attack on Berlin to draw the German defences away from the main force. The whole raid was initially made to head towards Berlin and then turn south to Leipzig while the decoy aircraft feinted towards Berlin. As we left the main force we were picked up by a squadron of Junkers 88 fighter aircraft. The fighter that attacked us scored a direct hit with his first prolonged burst. We had been taught to take immediate avoiding action to spoil the attacker’s aim. I needed no spur and took very prompt action indeed which caused the later rounds from the fighter’s guns to miss us. The attacker was using cannon fire, as we could readily tell by the explosive noises as they hit us and also by the tracer trails that the shells left. It was one thing to avoid the aircraft, and we did not see it again, but the aircraft we were in (Lancaster Mk III JB423) was sorely damaged and lost height rapidly. We descended to 14,000ft before I could get the aircraft on to something resembling even keel. In the dive we reached 420mph which was 60mph above it’s safety limit and in theory it should have broken up. It subsequently transpired that the difficulty I had in gaining control was because one of the elevators and the adjoining tailplane had been shot away.
Once the Lancaster was flying again we tried to continue but a quick check revealed the two main fuel tanks on the starboard wing were holed and losing fuel rapidly. It was now a race to get home on the remaining tanks. The starboard inner engine had failed and had to be closed down. The starboard outer was also hit but we kept it running for a while. We also had no radio. All electrical circuits were out, there was no hydraulic power, all gun turrets were out of action and the trimmer controls to our flying controls were severed.
Our number one problem was that we still had our bombs on board and our aircraft could not maintain height now that our port inner engine was shut down. Our only communication with each crew member was by shouting above the noise of the aircraft. The bomb aimer was eventually called from his position in the nose of the aircraft and was ordered to manually release all our bombs. This was a time consuming operation as he had to crawl along the floor of the aircraft and open panels in the floor in order to reach the bomb-bay and pull a release lever for each bomb. It seemed an age before the aircraft would slowly gain a little extra height and the bomb aimer returned to report ‘Bombs gone’. We had released the bombs near to the small German town of Stendal. Actually a container of incendiary bombs failed to release but we did not find out until we landed.
Luckily we were not attacked on our way home. Possibly because we were at a low level and well off the route of the other bombers. After crossing the coastline of the North Sea (I don’t know where) our starboard engine began to splutter, before eventually stopping. We had run out of fuel on that side of the aircraft, possibly because most of the fuel had leaked out of the bullet holes. Now the real hard work began! As the trimming controls were out of action the aircraft could only be held in the air on a level course by the sheer strength of the pilot. Luckily I was a young man then of nearly 6 ft in height but as the journey home progressed I became very fatigued. My flight engineer removed a length of rope and tied it around the right-hand rudder pedal and helped to take some of the load.
At the time of the attack my two air gunners were hit. The mid-upper gunner was hit around the midriff; not badly, but sufficient to spoil his married life for a while. The rear gunner had his gunsight hit by the first burst of gunfire. The gunsight exploded in his face and blinded him. A large section of the aircraft floor was in holes but the wireless operator did a miraculous job of work getting Pat out of his turret and across that floor to find a seat for him in the front cabin.
It was due to the skill of Len the navigator that we crossed the Suffolk coastline at 300ft with the RAF Woodbridge runway dead ahead. We had no sure way to inform the control tower of our approach so I ordered the wireless operator to fire off all our Very lights on our approach. Of course, they did not see them .
RAF Woodbrige had only recently opened as an emergency airfield and this showed in the way in which the unit operated. Our aircraft was not noticed when it landed. It was only when our remaining incendiary bombs ignited and set fire to the runway that a vehicle was sent out to investigate and noticed my wrecked aircraft which was eventually dragged clear of the runway. An ambulance took my wounded crew members to hospital and then several USAF aircraft which had lost themselves were able to land as well as another damaged Lancaster. Eventually the rest of us were debriefed, fed and found some sleeping accommodation. Naturally sleep did not come easily so I decided to visit sick quarters to enquire as to the welfare of my two injured crew. There I fould a very junior medical officer trying to cope with the night’s casualties. He had already attended to my crew members.They had their wounds dressed and were awaiting transfer to hospital for surgery. I was able to talk to them and took note of letters they wished me to write to their families. They were both in need of a smoke which I managed to light for them. It was not easy for a non-smoker. I saw them off to hospital and stayed for a while to give what help I could to the very harrassed young doctor. I’m afraid my medical skills were limited to clearing up soiled dressings and finding fresh ones, but it kept me occupied.
By daylight I returned to the aircraft with my Canadian bomb-aimer in order to make sure the aircraft was safe. We disarmed all eight guns and made sure no bombs were left on board. Our very trust worthy aircraft was then pronounced a complete wreck, fit only for scrap. Official records say Lancaster JB423 was damaged and declared Cat SOC at Woodbridge airfield on 4 December 1943 after 77 flying hours.
Transport was then ready to take us to the station for a train back to base. We were given a reserved compartment and slept soundly all the way. Thus ended the most eventful two days of my life.
Pat, my rear-gunner never regained his full sight. He later returned to Canada where he received a life pension for his services. I kept in touch with him for many years. Bob, the mid-upper gunner was given ground duties for the rest of his service but he was not a letter writer and we lost touch. I flew a further 12 operational sorties until March 1944.
On 12 January 1944 I was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by HM King George V. Later that month I was commissioned as a Pilot Officer.”
Navigator Sgt Len Wise was also awarded a DFM for his part in the incident.
Norman Frost and his crew flew the final operation of their tour to Augsburg on the 25/26 Feb 1944.
The photo below shows Norman with his crew taken in early 1944. Probably at the end of their tour.
Note the 2 new Air Gunners and also the new Air Bomber - all on the front row
Back Row L to R. Sgt A Burdett, P/O E A Morgan-Smith, Sgt L H Wise DFM, P/O N H Frost DFC.
Front Row L to R F/S G J Watson, Pilot Officer T K Wright, Sgt J W Lowrie.
P/O Wright was a second tour Air Gunner who was killed in May 44 flying with another 103 Sqdn crew. Sgt Lowrie was awarded a commission and the DFC. He was killed flying with 69 Sqdn on 23 Jan 45.
After Elsham Wolds he was at RAF Swinderby instructing on Lancasters. At the end of the war he was with 617 Squadron and was sent to India. The war ended before the Squadron flew any operations and the squadron returned to the UK. They landed at St Mawgan on 19 April 1946 and most of the aircraft were scrapped. Norman finally arrived home in May 1946. He then returned to his pre-war occupation with the LMS Railway and also rejoined the RAF Volunteer Reserve, flying at Sywell airfield in his free time.
Then in 1951 he was called up by the RAF because there was a shortage of QFIs. At first he was stationed at Wellesbourne, not too far from home in Northampton. He then applied for a permanent commission and remained in the RAF until 1968 when he PVRd and bought the village stores and Post Office in Milton under Wychwood, Oxon. He died on 3 Sept 2000 aged 79.
Acknowledgements - Many thanks to Gill Barnard for the photos and information about her late father.