Amica at Quinte Gardens
Royal Canadian Air Force – 427 Squadron – Served 3 years
Robert was a Flying Officer and Navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force, 427 Squadron.After training in Toronto, Malton, Trenton, Quebec City, and in England and Wales, he served in Leeming, Yorkshire.
He served 3 years and completed 30 bombing missions with the 427 Squadron Bomber Command. Created in October 1942, the Canadian Bomber Group #6 had an objective of being manned by Canadian officers and men. For any 100 aircrew in the Bomber Command, 51 were killed in operations; 9 were killed in England; 3 were seriously injured; 12 were prisoners of war; 1 evaded capture and 24 survived unharmed.
November 30, 1944 was a night Robert will never forget:
“November 30, 1944 was a clear sunny day in all of England, which helped the outlook of our crew as we entered the briefing room for our first night operation. I was the Navigator for a crew captained by Flight Lieutenant Rod Gould, an excellent pilot and very conscientious leader. We were the new crew attached to 427 Squadron based at Leeming Yorkshire, part of Canadian 6 Group.
“With only one trip to our credit, daylight to Munster where we had some ‘flack’ damage, the first night operation briefing received our full attention. The stomach butterflies gave way to concentration on the details I would require to get to and to return from the identified target “Duisburg”. The designated route, forecast weather and winds, time over target and turning points were transcribed to my charts and log sheet carefully.
“The route to the target would take the Squadron almost due south from Leeming to a point on the English Channel near Southampton, keeping the bomber stream west of London. Crossing the Channel, landfall would be south of Dieppe and into France before turning northeast to the target. Duisberg is approximately the same latitude as the South of London.
“Wing Commander, Gandy Ganderton wished us well as we waited for transport to our aircraft, a ZL Y, a Mark III Halifax which had just returned to the line after engine work. After being dropped off at the aircraft the crew boarded and did their pre flight inspection before getting out for a last breath of fresh air or a cigarette.
“Take off time at 1630hrs was uneventful. Flying south in daylight hours, we were on track and could see other bombers on the same course. After flying for some time and before reaching our turning point on the coast, smoke started to come from the main navigational aid, the ‘GEE’ box. The wiring to the back of the box got hot and soon the signals disappeared and the tube went black. The wireless operator, Frank Manzo, took care of the fire with an extinguisher.
“The other navigational aid, the H2S set, was still working, so the decision was made to continue the flight. Crossing the English and French coast we were on track and on time. This was verified by clear images on the H2S and by visual sighting.
“In France we turned to a northeast course for the targeted area when we started flying into heavy rain and turbulence. The pilot identified a variation in degrees between the magnetic and the DR compasses. We decided that the magnetic compass would be the most accurate and would use it for the rest of the trip.
“It was approximately in the same time frame that our problems increased – the H2S had shut down, the scanner stopped rotating and the tube went black. All electronic navigation aids were now out of service.
“My last fixes had shown we were on track and on time, so we continued with the mission and hoped the rain would stop and an astro fix could be obtained to verify our location. If this ‘dead reckoning’ did not work, we would fly to the searchlights and antiaircraft fire generated by the rest of the bomber stream.
“The scheduled ‘time on target’ for the bomber stream came and went without anything lighting up the sky, so we started flying in larger circles to increase our search area. Still nothing. We were lost. As a navigator it gave me a feeling of failure – I felt I had let the six others in the aircraft down.
“The rain stopped and the clouds were breaking up when German fighter flares started dropping in the area. Rod requested a course for home, which I could not give him since our location was unknown and I now had no faith in my navigation. I suggested we fly west until we reach the coast and then our wireless operator could request a fix from stations in England.
“With no faith in the compass, I stood by the pilot and kept the North Star over right shoulder so we could have a westerly course. After about 15 minutes, we sighted a coastline through a break in the clouds. Assuming this was the Belgian coast, the wireless operator sent an SOS to verify our position.
“An immediate reply came back locating our aircraft over the north end of the Zuider Zee. Due to the occasional dropping of fighter flares in the area, we were forced to wait some time before transmitting for another fix of our location. A second request verified we were over Holland, north of Amsterdam. With these two fixes, an alteration in course got us back to England. And with the fantastic support of the ground wireless operators, safely back to base.
“Our aircraft was the last to return and we were met and interrogated by Wing Commander Ganderton. The next morning I was told to report to 6 Group Headquarters at Allerton Park, where I presumed they shot you for getting lost, or sent you for more training.
“Air Vice Marshall McEwan conducted the interview and wanted to know what happened and why we were cruising around northern Germany. After hearing my story, he told me not many aircraft from 6 Group had been successful due to heavy cloud cover. I was told to return to the squadron.
“W.C. Ganderton ordered an inspection of the aircraft which found that after the engine changes, no magnetic compass swing had been completed. This oversight created the large variation and compass error, especially on northern headings. My respect of Ganderton was increased by initiative shown in getting to the cause of our nightmare.
“Two nights later we took the same aircraft to Hagen without a problem. That one night of being lost made me respect navigators from earlier war years when radar and wireless were not available and they got into storms and lost. That night also taught me to pray with emotion.”