Raunds lost one of its gallant young men on 4 May 1944 when Cyril Dudley’s Lancaster was shot down on the bombing raid on Mailly-Le-Camp, France, by 335 Allied aircraft including 20 from Cyril’s 101 Squadron.
Here is the personal account of the raid by Flight Lieutenant Russell “Rusty” Waughman, DFC, AFC, also of 101 Squadron, who, as a Pilot Officer, successfully carried out his mission and brought his Lancaster home safely, albeit after some hair-raising moments!
After so many years one’s memories of individual raids become dim, but I will endeavour to lay what facts I have, and give as true a record that memory allows. I have also recorded notes from my diary and log book, more of these later.
My first recollection is at briefing. When first seeing what the target was and the heights we had to fly at; we thought that this was going to be one of the easier operations. The French targets, at this time, were counted as one third of an operation. After Mailly, this was dropped and all operations were counted as “one” operation.
No.1 and No.5 Groups supplied the aircraft for this raid, 335 aircraft in all. We flew as our usual crew in Lancaster ME 565, SR-W, nicknamed “Wing and a Prayer”, the nose-art being a winged P/O Prune with a halo and his hands together in prayer. Our petrol load was 1,750 gallons. The bomb load was made up of 1 x 4,000 lbs (cookie) and 16 x 500 lbs bombs.
There were three aiming points in the target area. Being a “Special Duties Squadron” carrying A.B.C., our squadron (No.101) aircraft were staggered throughout the raid. 5 Group were to assemble first for bombing, followed by 1 Group aircraft. We took of at 21.50 hours on 3 May 1944 with a good met report forecasting clear weather all the way.
The route was to be south of Reading, then to Beachy Head. Just after take off our “monica” became unserviceable. We then crossed the English Channel just north of Dieppe. Up to this point we were flying at 12,000 feet. We then headed directly, via Compiegne, to an assembly point about 15 miles north of Mailly, then dropping down to 7,000 feet.
Eleven minutes before bombing, which was logged at 0015 hours 4850 N 0400 E, we were attacked by a fighter. By “corkscrewing” we evaded the attack. My gunners were excellent, in whom I had every confidence, when they shouted for “corkscrew”, I did not wait to ask “why”. If I had it would have been too late and we would have had cannon shells up our rear end! This co-operation, I’m sure, must have saved us during the many fighter attacks that we had.
The yellow T.I’s (target indicators) at the assembly point were late in going down, being first seen at 0005 hours. The main force was held at the assembly point, waiting for the Master Bombers to make an accurate marking of the target. At the assembly point things hotted up quickly. There was a lot of German fighter activity and main-force aircraft were seen being shot down.
The R/T discipline, I’m afraid to say, was bad. There were many skippers calling for the OK to go in and bomb; their language was fruity to say the least, the night sky was blue!! One pilot was heard to say that he was on fire and for the markers to “pull their fingers out”. An Australian voice came in reply “If you are going to die, die like a man – quietly.” There was considerable interference on the R/T from an American broadcast station, playing a popular tune of the day. This made it very difficult, if not impossible, for the main-force to hear any instructions from the M/C (Master of Ceremonies).
The defences were very active. As well as the fighter menace, there was some very accurate light flak. We reported seeing several, what we thought to be, scarecrows (German shells that burst to look like an aircraft exploding, supposedly to unnerve the bomber crews). On reflection, we were sure that these were actual aircraft being shot down and not scarecrows. We heard the M/C, at 0024 hours, say “Panthers, go in and bomb!” There was no cloud over the target and the visibility was good. We bombed the RSF (red spot flares). Brilliant yellow fires were seen all around the A/P (aiming point) and the smoke billowed up to a great height. Shock waves were seen, caused by the bursting bombs, radiating like ripples caused by a stone dropped in a pond. We were scheduled to bomb at 0022 hours. We actually bombed at 0026 hours at 7,000 feet on a course of 203 magnetic at 190 mph, aiming at one RSF. The attack was very concentrated around the RSF. Other RSFs were seen burning to the south east of the target.
Over the target, the enemy fighters were very active and several were seen.
There was an old “line shoot” in the service that went - “There I was, upside down, with nothing on the clock but the maker’s name”, the clock being the airspeed indicator. Well that is what actually happened to us.
In my diary, I record that a “scarecrow” exploded immediately beneath us. As previously mentioned, we are now sure that it was an actual aircraft blowing up. The bomb-aimer, who was lying down in the nose, saw the explosion and the blast and flames rising rapidly towards us. He had no time to say anything before the blast hit us. We were blown nearly completely upside down. I recall having to pull back very hard on the control column, as if coming out of a very badly executed loop the loop. The ASI (airspeed indicator) read well over 300 mph, almost up to 400 mph. This happened at about 7,000 feet; we eventually pulled out at just under 1,500 feet going very fast with the aircraft creaking with the exertions put on it. This happened just after we had dropped our bombs; I doubt if we would have recovered if we still had our load on board.
When we became straight and level again, I checked the crew for injuries. All seemed OK until I checked with Taffy, Idris Arndell, the wireless operator. On hearing him call “Blood, Blood!” I looked back through the navigator’s curtain to see Taffy wiping his face and head. Little did I know that it was our “pee can” that had tipped over him in the mêlée. It was not advisable to use the elsan toilet at sub-zero temperatures, so we had an empty A10 fruit, nicked from the mess, which we used. This was kept in the warmest spot in the aircraft to stop it freezing, just beside the wireless operator’s position. There was no chance of Taffy washing until we got back to the billet after debriefing and the intelligence report. He was not exactly “flavour of the month” and he was given as wide a berth as possible. The other crews also gave him some funny looks and passed some very unkind remarks about his incontinence!
On our return to base, we found that the aircraft had a few dents and the odd scorch marks, but it was otherwise quite all right. The flight back was, as far as I can remember, uneventful. We came back from the target south of Chartres, crossing the French coast near Bayeux and the English coast near Selsey Bill, and then, via Reading, back to base. We landed at 0315 hours with 586 gallons of fuel left after a trip of 5 hours and 15 minutes.
There have been several papers written and references made regarding this raid, and why the T.I’s were late going down, and why the M.C. held up the raid so long. Some very harsh things were said about the Pathfinders, led by, the then, W/C Cheshire; and there was, what I believe to be, an American radio station broadcasting a popular tune of the day on our frequency, blanking out the M.C’s instructions. There was a lot of tension, I hesitate to say panic, at the assembly point. Things were hot enough there, but the Pathfinders were flying a damned site lower over the target, endeavouring to mark the target correctly and so ensure its success.
My diary reads: “3rd, Wednesday, Ops MAILLY-LE-CAMP, France. A 17th & two thirds trip. Tank Training School and M.T. Assembly. 18 tanks, 5,000 troops and M.T. Took 5.25 hrs. What a trip for a one third. Three quarters moon all the trip. Fighters everywhere, saw several aircraft shot down; prang quite good. Scarecrow burst underneath us over target and blew us into a 300mph+ dive. Kite dented, but no real damage. Four crews missing. F/O BAKER, P/O MUIR, W/O DREW (Cyril Dudley’s pilot), & F/L KEARD.”
My logbook reads: “Ops MAILLY-LE-CAMP (France). Bright moon and bags of fighters. Scarecrow burst under kite and blown into dive!!”
No.101 Squadron, RAF Ludford Magna
Twenty aircraft, with Airborne Cigar (ABC) were detailed, FOUR failed to return! One was aborted.
Note: In view of their special role, with electric counter-measures, these aircraft were to be spread evenly over the period H+20 to H+25.
This presumably was when the German night-fighter forces were anticipated to be most active having had time to assemble with the “warning” provided by the first phase of the attack.
Fl/Lt Russell “Rusty” Waughman DFC. AFC. RAF (retd)!!