History – Planes

"G" for George

K2 "Killer"

No. 467 RAAF Lancaster Heavy Bomber Squadron by Rollo Kingsford–Smith, Wings Summer 2002

Lancaster B1, R5868, PO-'S'-Sugar of 467 Squadron at Waddington. Motto: "No enemy plane will fly over the Reich territory"

Celebrations after P/O T. N. Scholefield and crew returned after their 100th sortie. An event of great psychological imprtance to ground and air crews who knew only too well that the average life of a bomber was under 30 trips. 'S' Sugar now stands at the RAF Museum where she can be seen today.

Members of Nos 463 and 467 Squadrons: association with an old friend - 8 May 1975

The 7th November 2002 saw the 60th anniversary of the formation in England in 1942 of No 467 RAAF Squadron one of Australia's once famous and now forgotten Lancaster squadrons.

Starting with a handful of mixed Australian, British, New Zealand and Canadian aircrew and mainly British ground crew it soon moved to a war lime airfield at Bottesford in the old county of Rutland where on 2 January 1943 five squadron aircraft made the first of twelve strikes against the enemy that month losing fifteen killed in action.

The squadron's Australian content increased as aircrew reinforcements arrived, crew by crew, although the flight engineers, some gunners, a few other aircrew and the ground engineers remained substantially British. A unique mix of personnel from different parts of the Commonwealth countries it worked remarkably well on the ground and in combat. If anything it enhanced unit spirit, morale and effectiveness although giving some minor administrative problems.

In its second month the squadron maintained the bombing offensive it began in January and was able to build up its strength to twelve operational aircraft and crews.

As 1943 progressed the Allied air attacks began seriously to hurt the enemy. The German home based fighter squadrons were re–equipped and increased to reach their peak of effectiveness. Backed by advanced early warning and gun directing radar plus multiple anti aircraft gun batteries it became the most deadly home defense force ever created.

The Squadron then began a series of the bloodiest sustained campaigns Australian forces have ever experienced.

Striking the enemy on seventy two raids over the next six months, while struggling to build up strength, with reinforcements just exceeding losses. The operations took it deep into and across Germany striking munitions and electronic factories, ship yards and navy bases, to the coast of the Baltic Sea, Czechoslovakia and Italy.

But the cost was high. With an average strength of only about 110 operational aircrew 114 were shot down with 101 killed and 13 taken prisoner Early records do not show those wounded in aircraft damaged by enemy fire and which struggled back to base. This total casualty rate, exceeding 100% of average strength, never slackened and the squadron was only able to continue the attacks due to the fortitude of surviving crews and the stream of reinforcements from the operational training schools and aircraft factories to replace losses.

A ground crew of No. 467 Squadron replace a Lancaster's wheel. Left to Right: Sgt B. R. Dalby; AC1 F. A. Holland (RAF); Cpt J. K. Fussell

By June 467 Squadron strength began to exceed twenty operationally crewed aircraft and the price paid in lives did not slacken nor did the morale and determination of the young and mainly inexperienced bomb aimers, flight engineers, gunners, navigators, pilots and radio operators.

With flew developments giving the Lancasters increased range, 467 Squadron crews fought their way deeper into Germany and over 'Norway, Denmark, Holland, France, Belgium and Czechoslovakia. The Lancaster's greater maneuverability and bomb load, much greater than any other Allied bomber, meant they were used more and more on the major and better defended targets. Losses increased.

In addition to singular attacks on special targets the squadron engaged in four battles, three significant measured in size, casualties and damage to the enemy and the fourth which altered the course of the war– Now forgotten here, had they been fought close to Australia by ground forces they would have been remembered and honoured. The first three were the battles of the Ruhr the centre of Germany’s armament industries, the second, Hamburg with its shipyards and other industries and Berlin the German control centre the third. The battle of Berlin commenced in November 1943 the month the squadron hived off one of its flights of aircraft and crews to form the nucleus of its sister squadron No 463 Lancaster squadron which immediately went into action , the two squadrons operating side by side from a new base Waddington, near the city of Lincoln.

The Battle of Berlin was a nightmare for the crews and almost a disaster for the Bomber forces. The strengthened German defences meant the bombers had to battle against the enemy fighter force all the way on the long haul to what Winston Churchill called the "evil heart of the Nazi empire" and which Hitler had promised would never be attacked. The long return flight was only made possible by the darkness of the long winter nights and that winter was one of the worst on record.

Taking off overloaded with full bomb load from Waddington in snow storms, finding freak winds and temperatures of minus 45 degrees C. at cruising altitude the tired crews were extended to and beyond the limits of their capabilities.

Were these costly campaigns against the factories in the German cities successful? After the Hamburg attacks the Nazi War Minister informed Hitler "if these attacks continue a rapid end of the war might be the consequence" and added, "the bomber offensive opened a second front before the invasion of Europe"

By mid 1944 the damage from the bombing had significantly reduced Germany's ability to wage war. Tank production had been cut by 35%, aircraft by 31% and European railway system on which the German Army relied so heavily was constantly cut. Destruction of oil refineries, oil storage centres and synthetic oil plants was just beginning. There were further significant results. To protect the homeland over one million German troops, 74% of all heavy artillery and 55% of lighter weapons were engaged at the expense of the German armies soon fighting on two major fronts.

Prior to June 1944 in its fourth and most important battle the squadron switched to a tactical role before D Day, the day when the joint Allied land and air forces invaded the strongly defended coast of occupied France No 467 turned its attention to German military camps, ammunition dumps and railway junctions, all in France, all important to the enemy once the invasion was launched On the day of the invasion it attacked and destroyed German coastal guns and later it battered a concentration of enemy tanks. On following days it continued attacking the enemy land forces until the Allied troops had built up their strength on enemy soil. All much more significant to the out come of the war and very much more successful than the landing at Gallipoli in WWI.

Yet D–Day, involving many Australian aircrew and squadrons, was not remembered here this year

Although the enemy defences in Germany cost the squadron the most lives the attacks on the military targets in France were not without losses when captains of aircraft took extra risks to avoid unnecessary harm to French lives or property. They flew very low over sometimes heavy anti aircraft fire and took their time to ensure they had the right target in the bomb sights. One instance was the attack on railway yards in Lille shortly before the invasion when 467 and 463 squadrons suffered their heaviest joint losses The target in the city was difficult to identify and to ensure it was correctly marked by the Pathfinder aircraft the bombing force held back for ten minutes giving the German fighters and anti aircraft gunners the opportunity to shoot down six Lancasters killing forty men.

On the Continent while the Allied forces were making progress against entrenched enemy opposition, German research and production of sophisticated and terrifying long range weapons made alarming progress, receiving maximum priority with scientists, manufacturing plant and masses of slave labour London and parts of England came under increasing attack from the VI and V2 long range missiles.

German scientists continued to make progress towards the nuclear weapon. Had they won the race in the development of this weapon and with proven long range ballistic vehicles to carry it, Hitler would have dictated peace on his terms.

It was essential to complete the destruction of German military and production capabilities as quickly as possible and maximum pressure was maintained on the bomber force. 467 Squadron kept up its relentless rate of attack by day and night and returned to German industry where the defences remained valiant and effective right to the very end of hostilities

By war's. end, after twenty eight months of non stop action the squadron's casualty list had reached the obscene total of 791. Five experienced Squadron Commanders were included in the 590 killed in action. 117 were taken prisoner after their aircraft were shot down, 10 seriously wounded and 84 shot down but evaded capture due mainly to the assistance given by the gallant civilians in the countries under German military domination. The losses meant that for long periods the average life expectancy of a bomber crew was very short and they had to fly thirty before they had finished their first tour of operations.

These shocking statistics were well understood by the aircrew yet all those detailed for operations were single minded in their determination to reach and strike the target. Before take off they meticulously went about their duties of checking their aircraft, its range of equipments, the weather en route, target details absorbed the mass of information at the briefing and took off on time in their overloaded Lancasters and headed into enemy territory

No wonder the British High Command awarded squadron members 6 Distinguished Service Orders, 146 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 2 Conspicuous Gallantry Medals and 36 Distinguished Flying Medals. There would have been more but some intended recipients were killed before their awards were gazetted.

Like the Anzacs the men of 467 squadron fought and died far from home. But unlike the Anzacs they have been forgotten by the present generation as have all those RAAF men who fought year after year in the skies over Europe.

When the 467 Squadron losses and the more than 4000 RAAF killed in bomber operations are compared with the numbers of Australians lost fighting in Malaya. New Guinea, Korea and Vietnam there seems to be no acceptable reason or excuse for the almost deliberate memory failure on the part of Australian Ministers and authorities.

In recent years our Prime Minister has honoured our dead with visits to war cemeteries and battle areas but not the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede not far from London engraved with the names of all those who lie in no known graves across Europe and the surrounding seas. The Runnymede list commemorates the names of 1400 such Australian aircrew including members of 467 Squadron yet few Australians know of its existence or the names of the heroes on it.

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