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[Home] [Articles and Misc] [Memoirs of F/L Jacob t'Hart DFC and bar]

The Memoirs of F/L Jacob t'Hart DFC and bar RAFVR  - 103 Squadron / 156 Squadron – 1943 / 44

t_ Hart J portrait

Surname : ‘t Hart

Christian name : Jacob ( Jaap in Dutch, Jack in English)

Born : 19th July 1921 in The Hague, Holland

Education : Dutch Primary School, Singapore

High School, Haarlem 1933-38

Cambridge University, October 1939 - October 1940

On the 10th May 1940 I lived in England; I was nearly 19 years of age. The University was closed from the 1st June 1940 until October.

I applied to the Recruiting Centre of the Royal Air Force, but I didn’t get very far - an alien had to wait until the Dutch set up their own Army!

Princess Irene Brigade

It was in October 1940 that I was called up to present myself as a volunteer with the Irene Brigade in Portcawl in South Wales. Various attempts to be accepted into the RAF were refused.

“Playing Soldier” just wasn’t my cup of tea. I got into the Brigade’s Soccer 1st Eleven and toured around England, Scotland and Wales in an Orange jersey on an Army bus playing Allied teams of Belgians, French, Poles etc. I really wanted more positive action.

Every so often the then Captain Berdenis van Berlekom came to the Brigade’s now permanent camp in Wolverhampton - we had moved around a lot until then - to interview volunteers to be trained by the RAF.

Royal Air Force

It was around September 1941 that I was busy peeling potatoes in the kitchen when the above-mentioned Captain started his interviewing in the room adjacent to the kitchen. There were between 10 and 15 hopefuls; I got permission from the Cook to disappear for a while; I went and sat along with the waiting volunteers. Just as it was my turn, the Captain started packing up his bag. I wasn’t on his list, but he interviewed me anyway. At the end of our conversation I admitted that I was there under false pretences. He laughed and gave me instructions to report on 25th November 1941 to the RAF Aircrew Reception Centre in St Johns Wood, London. Here we learned some navigation, the Morse Code etc. It was of course pleasant to be based in London. We were under orders to return to quarters by 10pm, but on the occasion when that didn’t happen, the Dutch suddenly lost their ability to speak English.

On 22nd December 1941 we began our Basic Training at the Initial Training Wing in Cambridge at Trinity Hall College. It was great to be back at the same place where I had been a student, even if only for a short time. It was however hard work. Members of our Flight included about 15 Dutchmen, a few Frenchmen, 2 Poles and a couple of Englishmen; loads of drill, tough discipline, lessons in the mornings, sport in the afternoon. The course ended 22nd April 1942 and in all that time we had not yet seen an aeroplane!

Finally airborne! On 19th May we went to No. 7 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School). We each did 12 hours in Tiger Moth Bi-planes, primarily to ascertain whether we were fit for the training in Canada. After a period of leave, off to the Aircrew Dispatch Centre in Manchester which was a kind of holding centre until there were vacancies at the Flying Schools in Canada.

Canada

Finally to Greenock in Scotland, where in the harbour was moored the Thomas H. Barry, an American troop ship. We were given a sack of oranges, something we hadn’t seen since the beginning of the war. There was loads to eat and the weather was beautiful; this was in June 1942. We and another ship were accompanied by a WW1 battleship, the New York, and 6 destroyers. On 27 June, just before we laid eyes on the USA, we heard that we would disembark in New York. HOORAY! We made all sorts of plans as to what we would do in New York! Past the Statue of Liberty, the skyscrapers, then we disembarked.......orders to keep walking straight ahead and get on the train! One hour later a speedy train ride in a northerly direction. That was my first time in New York.

It was a long and boring train journey. Finally we arrived in Moncton, New Brunswick in Canada on 28th June 1942. This camp was also a type of holding centre, where we waited for 14 days! Then back onto the train for 4 days and 3 nights and on my 21st birthday we arrived in De Winton (25 miles south of Calgary); course No. 31 Elementary Flying Training School – half days of flying lessons and the other half in the classroom. We had good lodgings, ate well and we were flying. Our training plane was an open cockpit bi-plane, the Boeing Stearman, very sturdy with far more room than the Tiger Moth. It was very hot in the prairies.

The course finished on 25th September 1942. I had logged 79 hours. At the end of the course we were asked to state our preference between bombers or fighter planes. I chose bombers - a course flying twin-engined Oxfords; the fighter pilots trained on Harvards in Moose Yaw. Our group ended up in Medicine Hat, approximately 300 km south-east of Calgary. This was on 26th September 1942. Once again, half days flying, half days in the classroom.

My first instructor was a Pole; typical of the English - there’s no problem for 2 foreigners to communicate successfully! However the otherwise extremely likeable Pole had an appalling English accent and I simply couldn’t understand the man. After a chat with the Chief Flying Instructor I was assigned an English instructor and things moved on apace. The wooden twin-engined Oxford was no easy aircraft for trainees, but it was an excellent plane in preparation for flying bombers.

Having spent a month in Medicine Hat, it was decided by the authorities to swap over the 2 flying schools. So off we went to Moose Yaw in our Oxfords. In the winter it gets extremely cold in the Prairies - 20, sometimes 30 degrees Centigrade below zero. It was only after the war that oil was discovered in Western Canada, so at that time all buildings were heated with coal. This then was how the barracks were heated - the stoves were automatically fed coal twice every night. This was such a noisy process that it woke everyone up. A couple of times, after heavy snow, the outside doors were blocked in.

So we had to wait for our breakfast until we were dug out. The runways were made out of rolled and compacted snow and there wasn’t much difference between those and asphalt runways, except you had to be careful with braking.

There wasn’t much going on in that small town; paradise for teetotallers! The province of Alberta was dry, alcohol was not available. But the people were very friendly and their doors were always open for us.

Between the EFTS and the SFTS we had 8 days leave. Six of us, 2 groups of 3 Dutchmen, all of us with no money, hitch-hiked to the so-called American- Canadian border. It was late summer and beautifully warm. We were thirsty, and hooray, just before the border, surrounded by nothing other

than prairie grass, was a real Wild West pub, complete with swing doors. We did a John Wayne, kicked the doors open, thumbs in armpits; there was sand on the floor and spittoons scattered around the place. There was absolutely no-one about. It was noon.

After we had made lots of noise the landlord finally appeared and poured us wonderfully cold beers. We had certainly earned those after a long time of enforced lack of alcohol! We waited until a couple of locals arrived, and you’ve got it ....... one of them spat his plug of chewing tobacco straight into the middle of a spittoon.

A day or two later we landed in Butte, Montana, a town with huge copper mines. The locals were amazed at our RAF uniforms with “Netherlands” on our sleeves. They had never seen that until now. Enormous hospitality – we weren’t allowed to pay for any food or drink. One of the first acquaintances we made was with the Sheriff who insisted we to have a tour of his jail. He gave a phone number to use in case we needed transport etc. Three of us were asked to give interviews on the radio. All of us, except me, had escaped Nazi occupied Holland, and in turn told of their experiences. At the end I was asked how I had come to be in England. Without hesitating and with straight faces they called out that I had swum the Channel........ and they all believed it; it even appeared in the paper!

Geography was not considered to be an important subject at school in the USA. When the time came to return, we asked the Sheriff for help. The reply came: “I’ll fix it”. We were picked up by a chauffeur-driven car, the State Highway Patrol, who drove us to the Glacier National Park. We stayed the night there, and the following morning a second Highway Patrol car stood waiting for us. The cop had to hand in his gun, handcuffs and other such paraphernalia at the border, and thus we returned to the camp.

On 19 February 1943 we were presented with our Wings. I received the entry “above average” in my log book. Because all our paperwork had been sent by the RAF to the Dutch Airforce HQ in London, the RAF was unable to promote us to rank of officer; so we became Sergeants.

The train journey to Moncton (the holding centre) was comfortable. There were good beds in the sleeping carriages. On 10th March we travelled by train in a southerly direction. With amazement we looked at the sky-scrapers of New York. The train rolled onto the wharf where a large ship was moored. Everybody on board. It turned out to be the Queen Elizabeth. We sailed past the sky-scrapers and the Statue of Liberty. And so I’ve been to New York twice in my life!

Back to the UK

The ship was pretty full, 16,000 passengers in all. Two meals per day, and sleeping was done in shifts. There were even bunks on deck. I was fire watchman on the very ornate staircase in first class. There was nothing to do, but fortunately I had a couple of books to read. The ship travelled at great speed - at 28 knots! We were not accompanied by any warships. The route was, of course not direct - lots of directional changes to avoid meeting German U-boats. After six days we arrived in Scotland. Straight to a holding centre in Harrogate. Six days there and then onto No. 3 Pilot Advance Flying Unit (P/ AFU) in South Cerney. In comparison with the weather in Europe, the Canadian weather had been good, so we had to learn to fly the Oxfords in a more changeable climate. Navigation too had been easier in Canada - all roads go in a north-south or east-west direction. If you ever got lost you could always read the name of the villages off the grain silos.

We were there for 2 months. The surroundings of the Cotswolds were rural and had rolling hills. The old villages were very peaceful and it was hard to imagine there was a war on. The pubs were full of antiques and comfortable chairs. They did good business as a result of all the training airfields in the area.

We also did a one week course solely on flying blind - the trainee pilot had to wear a hood so that he couldn’t see outside. We were also trained to use the Standard Beam Approach (SBA) System to make a normal landing approach in conditions of low cloud and/or bad visibility.

With all the toing and froing we didn’t have many possessions; one suitcase for uniforms and underwear and a kitbag for shoes. The suitcase had to be sturdy as the trains were almost always full and it doubled as a seat.

In June 1943 I landed up in Hixon at No. 30 Operational Training Unit (OTU). The machinery was somewhat heavier - the Vickers Wellington twin-engine medium bomber. The crew comprised pilot, navigator, bomb-aimer/air gunner, wireless operator (W.O.P) and rear gunner.

The English had a peculiar way of forming the crews. We were all, just under 100 of us , called together into a large hangar. The Wing Commander said a few words, finishing with; “and now sort yourselves out”. The idea was to have a bit of a look around and, when you saw a reasonable navigator, have a few quick words and as a pair choose the rest of the crew just as quickly! When I think back to that now, it comes across as a bit of a dangerous lottery. You had no idea at all how they would behave when things got serious. Eventually we got together - myself, three Englishmen and a Canadian bombaimer/ air-gunner.

The course involved around 70 hours flying, mostly at night - long navigational flights over Scotland and the Irish Sea. A lot of attention was paid to team building the crew. Although the other crew members were all Sergeants, I, as a Pilot Officer, spent a lot of my off-duty hours with them - English pubs were an ideal place to get to know your crew. There was virtually no total inebriation. There were also the dance halls, which were very popular.

On 30 September 1943 we went to Lindholme Heavy Conversion Unit – 14 days to get to know the four-engined Halifaxes and Lancasters. Then one week in the classroom learning about instrumentation and emergency procedure, including the operation of the rubber boat which was housed in the starboard (right-hand) wing next to the cockpit. Although we didn’t actually do any parachute jumps, we were taught the procedures and technique. The reason we did no jumps was that any resultant injuries, such as twisted ankles etc, would be deemed unacceptable.

We also received two additional crew members - a flight engineer, a jovial cockney who had worked in a Ford factory in London before the war, and a mid-upper turret gunner, who had been first in his class and promoted to Pilot Officer. And so we were seven.

As a result of our excellent training I had no trouble handling the four engined planes. I got yet another “Above average” entered into my log book.

The crew was now a working unit in which every member could count on any other in any circumstance. On 23 November 1943, with 2 years of training behind us, we were posted to 103 Squadron - No. 1 Bomber Command based at Elsham Wolds Airfield.

My flying hours totalled 420.

103 Squadron – RAF Elsham Wolds

Elsham Wolds was an airfield which had been built at the beginning of the war. There were 3 asphalt runways. The accommodation there wasn’t particularly luxurious - Nissen huts, not insulated and heated by a pot-belly stove. It was extremely cold in winter. The barracks, just like the planes, were scattered over the whole airfield. The officers’ mess was about 2km away from our barracks. Almost all of us had a bike. The officers’ canteen was quite comfortable; the food was quite good and the bar was open on nights when there was no flying. The airfield was situated in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town was Scunthorpe, a real factory town, where the only entertainment was a big dance hall with a really good dance band. My rear gunner came from South Wales and, like most Welshmen, sang well behind a microphone.

I saw my first action as co-pilot with Warrant Officer ( Sergeant Major) Townsend, a New Zealander, who unfortunately later died near Berlin. The danger of the night fighters and the relentless explosion of anti-aircraft fire on the outward and especially the home bound flight left a great impression on me. After dropping his bombs the pilot had to maintain a dead straight course for a minute. Every aircraft was fitted with a photo flash that was dropped with each bomb load. This went off at a lower altitude and lit up the surrounding area. At the same time a photo was automatically taken. The photo pinpointed the place where the bombs had exploded. We had no bad experiences on this particular mission and returned safely after six and a half hours in the air.

There was only one pilot in a Lancaster. The automatic pilot was only used on the home bound flight when we had got halfway across the North Sea. The rest was flying by “hand”, which was very tiring on long flights lasting up to 7 or 8 hours. Furthermore you were always flying in the slipstream of the planes ahead. All long distance missions were flown by night.

In addition to the danger of the anti-aircraft flak and the German night fighters it was also very cold; in fact incredibly cold. We did have some heating in the cockpit but at 7,000 metres (20,000 feet) in the winter the temperature sank to 30 to 40 degrees centigrade below zero. There was no insulation anywhere! Between us and the outside world was a couple of millimetres of plate aluminium. The so called heating didn’t make much of an impression!

The two gunners had electrically heated vests as well as lambs fleece lined boots and still a few gunners got frost-bite in their fingers and toes. The cockpit crews tried to dress as warmly as possible - two woollen jumpers, long johns and three pairs of gloves (silk, wool and leather). But sitting without even the slightest movement for a good 7 hours didn’t do much to encourage good circulation. On the other hand, if you arrived home to base in one piece everywhere seemed warm and cosy. It was then that I often thought of the Infantry, in ditches or tanks, who constantly faced discomfort.

It was on 3rd December 1943 that my first flight as Pilot took place. First of all we were given notice of a briefing to be held at a certain time. All crew members were first given a briefing specifically based on their individual roles.

Afterwards there was a collective briefing outlining the route, anti-aircraft guns, night fighter “nests”, full weather forecast, bomb-type and weight, fuel, etc. Then we each received a parachute and life jacket, an escape kit, a plastic container with foreign currency appropriate to the route, stimulant pills, water purifying tablets, some chocolate, etc. The pilot sat on his parachute, a hard seat. The other crew members had theirs stored close to hand. I always carried with me a small canvas bag which contained a pair of shoes, socks, a raincoat and some food in case I was ever shot down and then would be able to attempt to evade capture.

We were driven to our planes by truck. I was given a brand new Lancaster, just like that, straight from the factory. The Wing Commander’s thinking was that if we had our own plane we would take pride in it.

In addition each plane had its own 5 mechanics to do its routine servicing - we, its crew, got to know these blokes well. When we got back at 3, 4 or 5 in the morning, there were always at least 3 of them waiting for us: “Had a good trip, Sir?”

The briefing dictated the engine start-up time; depending on the wind direction it could sometimes be a long wait on the way to the runway, especially when there were two squadrons at Elsham Wolds - around 25 to 30 Lancasters lined up waiting for take off. Sometimes it got to nail-biting

proportions whether the Glycol in the engines would reach boiling point – then the engines would have to be switched off to prevent further damage. So take-off was always a tense time. You always had a payload of around 4 bombs weighing a total of 5,000 kg (10,000 lbs), the biggest of which, the blast bomb, was 2,000 kg (4,000 lbs) and the smallest, an incendiary bombweighing a few kilograms or pounds ........ plus a maximum capacity load - 9,500 litres (2154 gallons) of 100 Octane fuel!

As if all of this weren’t enough,there was always the potential danger of collisions, especially in low cloud. In addition to our 25 to 30 Lancasters there were a further 400 to 500 (and often more) airborne four-engined bombers. At our airfield we experienced a low level collision. A huge flash and 14 good men were killed. That was the only time I experienced a military funeral during the war.

After take-off the pilot had to really concentrate on the instruments. Most of the time it was dark, although we sometimes took off in the late evening when it was still light. The plane was very heavy and had trouble climbing. We were usually already at the Dutch coast before we had reached our proscribed altitude of between 6,000 and 7,000 m (18,000 and 20,000 ft).

On 3rd December our target was Leipzig; first direct to Berlin, then due south over Leipzig. We did see some fighters, but everything went well and after 8 hours we were back at base. Then came the debriefing from the intelligence officer, who was often a woman, with a hot cup of tea laced with a shot of rum. Then off to bed. But it was often difficult to get to sleep, especially on an airfield which was never quiet during the day.

It was the beginning of the Battle of Berlin. Of my first 14 missions, 11 were over Berlin. Most of them passed without incident; this was principally thanks to the vigilance of the gunners, whose job it was to protect us from night fighters.

You weren’t ever able to protect yourself from Flak. Every now and then we would come back to base with holes in the fuselage or in the wings. Strong searchlights were also a danger, especially if you got caught in the crossbeams of 3 lights with the plane lit up at the top of the pyramid. The pilot wasn’t able to read his instruments because of the intensity of light, and the anti-aircraft gunners could calculate your height exactly. Many an aircraft was taken out this way. I myself was caught in searchlights like this twice.

The best way to escape them was to bank steeply, at the same time go into a rapid dive, then a sharp climbing turn to the right, then a sharp diving turn to the left, and so on. This corkscrew manoeuvre also proved useful during attacks by night-fighters. If there were a lot of night-fighters around, the corkscrew could last for 10-15 minutes. The crew didn’t always find that pleasant, particularly those with a tendency for air-sickness. Fortunately my crew didn’t suffer from that!

The 1943/44 winter weather was really bad. We had no means of removing the ice from the wings. Ice is very dangerous; it alters the profile of the wings. The extra weight, if the ice builds up over time, can cause disasters. If the windscreen was iced up on the inside, this could be removed temporarily by a cloth soaked in anti-freeze, but the upshot was that the pilot usually had torely solely on his instruments.

A few hours before Bomber Command lift-off, a couple of Mosquitos would fly over enemy territory to report on the weather. The weather conditions for our homeward flights were also very important. We had a landing system called Standard Beam Approach (SBA), but it was difficult to fly a heavy crate with any precision, especially if you were tired. Still, I did make use of this landing aid about 3 times. But sometimes many aircraft end up having accidents; one runs out of fuel, another crashes into a hill, etc. Given that the crew was of more value than the aircraft, the rule was that if you ran out of fuel or got lost the crew had to parachute out.

We often sat on the runway ready for take-off when a white Very light was let off from the control tower; that meant that the raid had been called off – the weather was too bad. Sometimes if the weather was too bad to land at our own airbase, usually due to poor visibility, we were ordered to fly to another airfield where the weather was better.

Berlin was our target on 16, 23 and 29 December 1943. For a change Stettin was the target on 5 January 1944 - 8 hours and 45 minutes.

Then, in a period of bad weather, it was to Berlin on 20 January 1944, to Magdeburg on 21st January, then back to Berlin on 27, 28, 29 and 31 January 1944. Four long flights in 5 days - that was incredibly tiring. The height at which we flew meant that we always wore oxygen masks – extremely uncomfortable as a result of sweating, beard growth, condensation etc.

Leipzig: the flight to Leipzig on 9 February 1944 was dangerous. The German fighter pilots had guessed well. We lost 78 four-engined bombers. Stuttgart: missions on 20 February and 15 March

Frankfurt: 18 and 22 March. Then Berlin: the last flight to Berlin on 24 March 1944.

The wind speed at 7,000 metres had been reported as being 80km/ hour, but in reality it was in jet stream of 215km/ hour. The planes ended up spread out all over the place, but the attack was not a total failure; 73% of the bombers dropped their payloads within the appointed time.

Our Squadron suffered the following losses in the attacks on Berlin:

17 aircraft brought down, 91 crew members killed, 13 taken prisoner of war

The other Squadron stationed on our base, No. 576 which was only formed in December 1943, suffered: 58 killed in action, 3 wounded after an emergency landing in England 9 missing aircraft

The total cost to Bomber Command for the Battle of Berlin was: 495 aircraft (6%) with72 planes damaged in England as a result of emergency landings

2,938 crew killed in action, 716 crew taken prisoner of war, 36 crew made it back to England after many adventures, 92 crew wounded. Total: 3,782 crew affected

On 26 March to Essen and after that the infamous attack on Nuremberg; three quarter moon, a good concentration of German night fighters on the outward journey. (There was a rumour of betrayal in the air, but that was never confirmed). My trusty crate flew out above the other Lancasters and we had no trouble from the night fighters. We suffered the costliest defeat of the war; 95 Lancasters out of a total of 779. The weather over the target wasn’t good and Nuremberg was only lightly damaged. On the return flight I climbed to 8,000 metres (24,000 feet) and that paid off; we saw no night fighters.

Of the 16 Lancasters from our Squadron we lost two; from 576 Squadron we lost one.

On 19 March we flew our longest flight - 9 hours 15 minutes - to Gdynia, where we flew at low level over water in the bay and dropped mines. It was beautiful weather, nearly full moon. Our return route took us over the southern section of Sweden and then over Denmark home. The Swedes had flak but shot most of it before our arrival and only started up again after we had left their territory. There was some lower cloud over Denmark and we saw a couple of JU88 as silhouettes against moonlit clouds.

My last flight with 103 Squadron was to Aachen. Some time before this we held a crew conference to discuss our future. It was RAF regulations that, if you had been fortunate enough to have survived a tour of 30 missions, you had a rest period of 6 months. That meant that the crew would disband and become instructors at the OTU’s ( Operational Training Units). Another possibility was to volunteer to join the Pathfinders for a second tour of duty lasting 20 missions. We decided by majority to transfer to the Pathfinders; the only exception was the Mid Upper Gunner who had just got married. He was posted to the Gunnery School as instructor.

And now for a few important observations:

1. Our ground staff was fantastic. They worked outside during the hard winter to keep our Lanc in excellent condition.

2. Our Lancaster JB 746-B had carried us safely through 22 out of 23 missions without any technical failure (but see later.......)

3. Returning from an attack on Berlin we were advised on the radio that England was nigh on closed in. On arrival it seemed to have cleared up a bit and so with the help of “GEE” we landed safely in low cloud and bad light, but immediately we felt and heard a bang. After we had taxied to a standstill, it turned out that we still had a 1,000kg (2,000lb) bomb sitting on the bomb doors.

4. A bit more upsetting was the explosion of a 2,000kg (4,000lb) “cookie” during loading. A couple of Lancs were badly damaged and a number of ground crew were injured or killed.

5. Shortly after take-off to Berlin on the night of 16/17 December 1943 there was a collision involving two Lancasters, one from our 103 Squadron and one from 576 Squadron, also based at Elsham Wolds. The collision took place in low cloud.

6. The losses and the transfer of those, who had finished the tour but chosen not to continue, made it possible for me to be promoted quickly to the rank of Flight Lieutenant ( equivalent to Captain in the Dutch Air Force). It was not until May 1945 that I was promoted to First Lieutenant.

7. The total of those killed in action, taken prisoner of war and wounded in the attack on Nuremberg had come to 745. This total was higher than that of men killed in action during the Battle of Britain.

8. Of the 15 Dutch pilots to have completed the EFTS course at De Winton (Canada) 7 were later killed or injured.

28 Dutchmen flew with Bomber Command. Of those: 11 were killed in action, 2 became prisoners of war, 2 managed to escape to England

….......

156 (Pathfinder) Squadron – RAF Upwood

Before we were transferred to 156 Squadron we had to complete a Pathfinder course at Warboys, close to Upwood. The main purpose of the course was to upgrade the skills of the navigators and the bomb-aimers. It lasted one week and on 28 April 1944 we moved to Upwood, where both 156 Squadron and 139 (Pathfinder Mosquito) Squadron were stationed.

Upwood was a pre-war airfield with permanent buildings. It had hangars, central heating and a comfortable officers’ mess. This was in some contrast with Elsham Wolds! The job of the Pathfinder Force (PFF) was to drop different coloured markers - red, green and yellow - over the points to be hit by the bombers bringing up behind. These markers didn’t stay alight for long and needed to be topped up from time to time.

There were two Mosquito Oboe marker Squadrons. They flew at around 10,000 metres (30,000 feet), following an electronic beam relayed from England. At the exact time the markers reached their target another English station sent out a signal to the Mosquito pilots, who then pressed the button to release their markers. The whole operation was a very precise one, but because of the curvature of the earth the range was limited to the Ruhr area.

Beyond the OBOE limit the markers were dropped visually by the Lancasters.

The Pathfinder chief was Air Vice Marshall Don Bennett, who was only just 32. He was an expert in navigation and radio, and was of course a pilot. In 1941, during an attack on the battleship “Tirpitz” in the Norwegian Fiords, he was shot down but parachuted to safety. He made it back to England across Sweden. He was a difficult man who couldn’t understand that not everyone was as intelligent as he was, but despite that his juniors had great respect for him.

As a result of the huge losses at Nuremberg combined with the plans for the invasion of Continental Europe the role of Bomber Command changed. This happened at the point when we joined the Pathfinders. In order to limit the movement of German troops as much as possible railway junctions became the principal bombing targets.

Our first flight with the Pathfinders was to Hasselt in Belgium on 11 May 1944. This attack was led by a Master Bomber who radioed instructions as to the exact location for the markers. Everything possible was done to spare the Belgian population. En route from Brussels to Hasselt we were told that Hasselt was shrouded in thick fog, and so the mission was aborted. We turned round without dropping our payload of bombs. Shortly after that we were attacked by a German fighter; suddenly we were on fire. In the fuselage the hydraulic oil in the Mid Upper Turret was burning; one engine was hit and burst into flames. Fortunately the crew was able to extinguish the fire in the fuselage, but we weren’t able to put the fire in the wing out. In the meantime I had thrown the aircraft into a spiralling dive to get rid of the night fighter. The fire in the wing only went out after a steep dive to 600 or 700 metres (2,000 feet). In addition to one engine, whose propeller wasn’t turning, we had other problems. We still had the bombs on board, no electrics at all, so no light, no radio and no intercom to the crew, and most important of all, the bomb release mechanism was out of commission.

Luckily we had shaken off the night fighter. He must have thought that the dive as well as the burning wing was an indication that our end was close at hand. Through a little hole we were fortunately able to release the bombs one by one by putting pressure on with a screwdriver; there were 12 bombs!

The Flight Engineer reported that the fuel tanks hadn’t suffered damage. Given that I wasn’t able to communicate with the Gunners, I sent the Flight Engineer back to see what was going on. He was back pretty fast with the news that both of them had jumped. Who can blame them?....... a steep dive, on fire, unable to communicate with the rest of the crew they decided to take the safe way out. They were both taken prisoner of war. Meanwhile we had dropped our bombs; the now lighter plane could now start to climb despite the one silent engine. Our onboard searchlight (Aldis Lamp) wasn’t working either and so we had no idea what the damage to the wings would be. We had no navigation lights, and maybe no brakes!

I decided to set a course on our emergency compass to Woodbridge (near Ipswich) which was an emergency landing area with three parallel runways of 2,000 metres (6,000 feet) - in those days an enormous stretch!

The airfield was easy to find. Three searchlights intersecting at one point were visible from far out in the North Sea. Two runways had the usual white and yellow lights. The third was lit in green. We had no communication with the control tower and had to bear in mind that there was a possibility of wing profile damage. We had furthermore discovered a one square metre hole in the fuselage and had no idea if the landing gear would hold. We decided on the green runway.

The crew was directed to take up crash positions. Two circuits of the airfield while we tried to get the landing gear down. That worked. Because of the damage to the wings and the large hole in the fuselage I made the approach at 20 to 25 miles an hour faster than normal. A careful landing with the tail up; the landing gear held! We needed the full length of the long runway and came to a halt on the grass.

A few seconds later somebody climbed through the no longer existent back door - the gunners had, on departure, failed to close the door behind them!!!!! A loud voice: “Anybody hurt?”....... We shouted “No”. Then the reply, “ Well then, have a whisky”. Meanwhile our plane was pulled off the runway; the green one always had to be kept clear!

After debriefing by the intelligence officer and a traditional meal of bacon and eggs, it was off to bed. It was hard to get to sleep!

We thought that the Woodbridge control tower would be in contact with our airbase in Upwood. For some reason or other Upwood had no idea what had happened to us. When by the afternoon we had heard nothing we sent another message and a Lancaster was quickly dispatched. Until that moment we had been registered as missing; the adjutant had even gathered up all our belongings!

In the morning we wandered around Woodbridge. A couple of hundred wrecks were scattered around the place, lots of American Flying Fortresses and Liberators as well as English Lancasters, Stirlings, Halifaxes and fighters.

To our amazement we came across our trusty Lancaster JB 746, which had carried us safely through 22 missions from Elsham. There wasn’t much left of it. Naturally we were very interested in our plane. The damage was considerable, and there were indeed several holes in the wings and the fuselage. The bomb-aimer had been lucky; where he had been in the nose several bullets must have shaved past him. All things taken into consideration, we felt as if we had won first prize in the lottery. What I remember most was the stink of the burning electric wires. In those days there was no plastic. The smell hung around in my nose for days.

In the afternoon we were picked up by the Upwood Lancaster; we had to be interviewed, also by the Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Bingham Hall. Two days later I was summoned by him. He congratulated me and informed me that I had been awarded an immediate Distinguished Flying Cross. A fortnight later the Officers in the crew were also awarded the DFC, and the Sergeants the DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal).

Under normal circumstances I would have been summoned to Buckingham Palace where King George V would have presented me with the DFC. This was not procedure for Allied Military personnel who still had family in Occupied areas. So they held a ceremony at Upwood. All off-duty air and ground staff made up a parade. I was called forward and had the DFC pinned to my chest by Air Vice Marshall Bennett. That night in the mess there was a party!

I didn’t know many aircrew as I had only been at this airbase for a short time. There were some other Dutchmen stationed at Upwood - Jan Bosch, van Amsterdam, Eric Hazelhoff, Roel Sema and his navigator, Ben Vlielander Hein. These boys flew Mosquitos with 139 Squadron.

I can still remember clearly the time a Mosquito lost its engine during take-off and ended up crashing through the Ground Crew sleeping quarters, unfortunately with tragic consequences.

In the second half of May 1944 we flew to Duisberg, Dortmund and Aachen, the fighter airfield in Rennes, and in June to Tours and Gelsenkirchen (oil refinery), Lens (railway), Bambiers (V1 dump) and to Foret d’eay and Domlieger.

In July we did another 4 missions to the V1 ( flying bombs), which were targeted on London. A couple of times I was Deputy Master Bomber. On 18 July we flew to Scholven Oil Refinery where, as one comedian was heard to say, you could walk on the flak from the anti-aircraft guns. Then to another oil refinery and a petrol storage area at Donges near St. Nazaire. Then back to Germany, Stuttgart and Hamburg, where I flew a plane that I couldn’t get above 5,000 metres (15,000 feet).

August was the last month of my tour of duty. I wasn’t involved in the Invasion. I had a week’s leave. It’s unimaginable that, due to the losses, although no longer so high, there were still pilots to spare.

We now flew a lot by day, except not to Germany. The daylight flight to Pauillac near Bordeaux was a strange experience. We flew BELOW 200 metres over England to and past the Scilly Isles and the Atlantic Ocean in order to remain under the German radar scan. It was a beautiful day but very tiring flying for four hours directly above the waves. The oil refinery was totally destroyed.

We flew 7 missions to V1 locations, one as Master Bomber. And once again to the battlefield near Caen attacking German positions.

The last two missions were to the Opel factory in Russelheim. The German flak was very heavy, and we wondered with trepidation “Shall we make it?”.

The French targets were much easier than the German ones, although you still had to watch out; the flak was especially tricky. Because petrol and aircrew were getting in short supply we didn’t meet many German fighters.

I had been in action for 9 months and was pleased the end was in sight. But on the other hand, the crew, who had shared so many experiences, had to disband.

Another set of statistics: Flying hours: Total in Lancasters: 413, Total active night flights: 258,Total active daylight flights: 29, Total in action: 287, Average active flying hours: 5.25 hours

I believe that the main reason I survived those 9 months can be put down to luck or fate. Why is it that an aeroplane just a few hundred metres away from yours is torched and “you” just keep flying? And that happened repeatedly.

A good crew possessing courage and a high level of skill is essential. This was especially true of the navigator, Pilot Officer Dudley Charles Jones, who was a Colossus in his trade. I have until now forgotten to mention that I was assigned a second navigator, because of the increased navigational workload with the PFF, who specialised in Electronic Aids - H2S-GEE.

In October 1944 I had the honour of being presented by Queen Wilhelmina with the Dutch Flying Cross.

….......

Conclusion

After a period of leave I transferred on 11 November 1944 to Upavon Central Flying School to do a three month course for Flying Instructors. It was only then that I learnt to fly “properly”! It was there I heard that I had been awarded a second DFC (a Bar) mainly because I had survived the two Tours with Bomber Command.

At the end of this course I was transferred to No. 6 Advanced Flying School in Little Rissington in the Cotswolds (beautiful scenery). As an instructor I also had a few Dutch students who had come from liberated areas. I participated in the end of the war celebrations at that airfield, where a big party was held.

Having worked as an instructor for 5 months I was transferred to Ypenburg to the O.D.L.S.K. section, known in English as the Aircrew Selection Centre. Volunteer Airforce Pilots were interviewed here by us (Hans van der Kop was my colleague). The war in the Far East was not yet over. After 7 months in Ypenburg I was transferred to Twente, to the AVOT – as instructor on twin-engined Oxfords. The airfield was very pleasant after all the war rubble had been cleared.

In 1941 I had been compelled to sign a contract which stated that the Minister of War had the right to keep me on for a timespan of three years after the end of the war. I didn’t quite make those three years! In February 1948 I was discharged. Meanwhile, on 14th January 1947, I had got married to an old school friend. In January 1951 we emigrated to New Zealand.

In January 1997 we celebrated our Golden Wedding Anniversary.

Photos of F/L Jacob t'Hart DFC and bar

….......

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* 1st January 2024 - Pamplin Profile

1st January 2024 - Milan - 24/25 October 1942

* 1st December 2023 - Photos of F/L Jacob t'Hart DFC and bar

1st December 2023 - Bremen – 2/3rd July 1942

1st December 2023 - Skinner Profile

* 1st November 2023 - Memoirs of F/L Jacob t'Hart DFC and bar

1st November 2023 - Mine laying Biarritz / Biscay coast - 21 November 1942

1st November 2023 - Billie - Lancaster - W4364 - 103 Squadron

1st November 2023 - Curtin Twins Profile

*1st October 2023 - Dusseldorf - 1 August 1942

1st October 2023 - RAF Usworth Photo Album - 103 Squadron Era 1937/38

1st October 2023 - Mills Profile

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1st September 2023 - Ostend docks and barges - 22 December 1940

* 1st August 2023 - Defensive Armament - 103 Squadron and 576 Squadron

1st August 2023 - Chesterton Profile

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1st August 2023 - Numerous additions and updates throughout the site

*1st July 2023 - Armed Reconnaissance/Leaflet Raid – Koblenz area – 20/21 March 1940

1st July 2023 - Air Dropped Weapons Article

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Also of local RAF Bomber Command interest are the

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