EPISODE 167PART TWO: THE VICTOR POPPA STORYalan skeochOct. 2019This is Part 2 of the Victor Poppa storyYou will either like Part Two or wonder why you are reading it. After the raids on Hambergand the solo flight to the submarine pens at St. Lazar, Victor’s crew had a layoveras they lost two pilots one due to illness and one shot down on a training missionover German territory. Wellington bombers were being replaced by larger four enginedHalifax and Lancaster aircraft which meant the crew had to be retrained. This took many monthswhich gave Victor and his new mid upper gunner, George Freeman planty of timefor romancing as many girls as possible. Some descriptions of their sexual activityare quite humorous.But Victor knew the full horrors of air warfare. Air crews were expected to make20 missions. Survival was unlikely since the acceptable loss on eachair raid was 5%. Twenty missions at a 5% loss rate meant that there wasa 100% expectation that air crews would be shot down or get into mid air collisionsor fail to land at Base because crippled or be forced to ditch in the North Seawhere it only took 3 minutes for hypothermia to kill. Victor knew all this andoccasionally in the following journal he makes a comment such as “a goodfriend was lost”. Most of the time Victor was cheerful. George (Hank) Freemanand Victor Poppa drank an immense amount of beer as they searched pubsand dancehalls for women and girls willing to roll around in haystack nests.Te air force provided condoms free for the taking. Two reasons for this.One, the fear of general Disease spreading. Two, the fear that airmenwith V.D. would be to sick to fly and thereby weaken the impact of BomberCommand on German civilian life.A news clipping Victor attached to his journal/.diaryrefers to the Hamburg raids which killed between 35,000and 45,000 people. Plans to do follow up raids on asmall bayonet factory which was surrounded by hospitalsfilled with Hamburg survivors bothered Victor. The hospitalraid was cancelled.
The nature of the bombing changed as the mid point of World War IIarrived. Initially the targets were military and industrial installations.Then the bombing targets became civilian. The leaders of BomberCommon, principally Bomber Harris, nicknamed by his own air crews,‘Butcher Harris’. Bomb loads always carried incendiaries to setGerman cities on fire. One highly placed British officer wondered ifwhole cities could be set afire since many German cities had historicancient wooden beam construction. (see 17the century image ofLeipzig…lots of wooden buildings preserved and admired)“Could we set these cities onfire? Could we create a firestorm that would wipe out working classneighbourhoods and thereby reduce German ability to produce theweapons of war? The answer was decidedly ‘Yes” as was provenin July 1943 when the City of Hamberg was set alight in three devastatingair raids. Victor was the tail gunner on a Wellington bomber for theseraids. He could see Hamberg burning on the horizon days afterthe first raid. He must have known the death rate was Horrific. Actually43,200 civilian were incinerated. Many died in air raid shelters…sufficedas the oxygen was sucked out to feed the firestorm. A firestorm sopowerful that it set the asphalt streets on fire. The superheated windsblew people to their deaths as if they were fallen leaves in winter wind.If you can look beyond Victor’s womanizing you will no doubt feel thesense of foreboding. There is a feeling of inevitability about Victor’sjournal/diary. No escape. Not quite no escape but a very tiny chancethat Victor will be able to survive his 20 missions. Who couldpredict that his survival happened because his aircraft, HX 313,was shot down, a fiery coffin plummeting to earth with Victor, the tailgunner trapped inside. But that story will come in Part 3 of the VictorPoppa story and this is only Part 2.
THE SEXUAL ADVENTURES OF VICTOR POPPA
Victor liked women. Actually he loved them and loved them bythe dozen. Sometimes in amusing situations…three in bed on oneoccasion, love making in the grass of a London road median in another.In a hay stack well used by other airmen including my cousin in another.Here is a list I made just from Part 2 of the Victor Poppa story.Let me make the list more personal by using Victor’s words.“Alan, I kept notes and can list the names of all the girls wemet and romanced….nearly all I mean.”“What do you mean by ‘we’?”“Your cousin Hank…George Freeman to you…was with meon many of these sexual exploits.”“How many?”“Well between August 1943 and February 1944 we had a goodtime withKay, Pat, Edna, Mary, Anne, Vera, Mary, Ruby, Murial,Betty,Marg, Lily , Nancy, Rhoda, Wendy (size44), Nancy, Marg,Queenie, Laura, Doreen, Joan, and Norma.”“How do you remember all these girls?”“I kept notes.”“Did you feel no guilt?”“No, I loved every one of them…respected them too.”“Sounds like exploitation.”“Our couplings were alway mutual…willing In oher wods.”“Hard for me to believe.”“You just had to be there to understand…since you were notthere you will probably have trouble believing my journal. Therewas nothing done in a nasty way. I loved those girls…still doin my mind…making love on a highway median makes me smilejust thinking about it.””“ALL OF THEM?“Alan, there are some whose names I did not record as youwill see if you read my journal…I wrote all this for you…reallyfor Hank who was my best friend”
WHO WAS VICTOR POPPA?Victor Poppa was born in Hamilton, Ontario on August 30, 1921. He fell in love with airplanes when he was four years old.By 1943, Victor was 22 years old and a tail gunner with the RCAF Bomber Command based in Yorkshire, England.His crew had spent many months flying Wellington twin engined bombers but that was about to change.“Our Halifax 4 engined bombers were not new. Rather they were second hand planes originally used bythe Royal Air Force (RAF). They had Rolls Royce Merlin engines and triangular fins. Merlins worked great for theLancaster bombers but were not as good for the Halifax’s. Later we were to get Halifax bombers with Bristol Herculesmotors…1650 Horsepower.These engines made the Halifax into a very superior bomber..”SEVEN MONTHS CHASING WOMEN…WITH MUCH SUCCESSVICTOR’S JOURNAL FROM AGUST 4, 1943 TO FEBRUARY 1945“On August 4, 1943, I reported to my flight section and was given 6 days combat leave.First thing I went with Ken to Leeds where we went dancing.then we parted company and I caught the 3.30 tran to Brightonn to visit my brother Max who was in the Canadian Armywith an anti=aircraft battery…2nd Heavy Ack, Ack, 2nd Division. (75 mm. anti aircraft)”“Between Leeds and London I met a real doll by the name of Kay. It was standing room only of the train, so to kill time we keptourselves occupied feeling, necking…this was after we managed to get a spot on the floor out of everyone’s way. Her body feltgreat no matter where I touched. I had my great coat over us during all of this activity. We were totally oblivious to all those other soulsnear us. Now just a fond memory.”Note: Victor kept a journal during World War II…then in 1987, encouraged by my fascination with his wartimeexperience he hand wrote an expanded version nearly 100 pages long. All dong in long hand. Today, in 2019,I am converting his hand writing into print.“We parted at Kings Cross Station , Took the underground to Victoria Station, then the Electric train to Brighton. This train didnot have any aisles. The seats were full width facing each other with a door at each end. Upon arrival in Brighton I wasdisappointed to find that his battery were out on maneouvers. I stayed in Brighton overnight and caught the morning trainto London. I got put up at the Queens’ Garden YMCA…walked around a bit, had a few beers, got lost in the blackout.Difficult to find my way back to the YMCA but eventually did so and went to bed. Spent the rest of my leave in London…Zoo, LondonBridge, etc.”“August 19, 1943, I departed London for York, but ended up in Darlington with a real nice girl named Pat. We both got into our cupsand we ended up with a happy evening.“August 20through September 14, 1945 … uneventful days but managed to get another 6 days of combat leave.“August 21, 1943: Bill, our pilot had been having serious bladder problems. As result it appeared he was going to be removedfrom flying duties. Also we were not going through our conversion to 4 motored Halifax’s because of Bill’s bladder problems.After being in combat inaction causes boredom so I put my name down as a volunteer (called flying as a spare body.)“September 15,1943, Today I was assigned to go on operations with Sgt. Rawlinson, this was to be his first operationalmission as pilot in command (PIC). I had trained in Canada with his rear gunner…red headed and a real fine person. For thismission I was to fly as a mid-upper gunner. I found this set- up very undesirable, notably Was to operate a single Vickers .303 machine gunwhich is not much good. The C.O. in charge of 429 squadron, Leeming (Yorkshire), had the mid-upper turrets removedand the mid-under gun installed instead. This new set-up was to cause serious attrition problems for 429 squadron and anyother squadron foolish enough to adopt this method. What was really needed was a third gunner as a mid-underpin a properlydesigned mid-under position with single .50 calibre gun shooting down and aft leaving the mid-upper gun turret intact asoriginally designed. Later this was incorporated in some variants of Halifax’s which made survivability of aircraft andcrew much enhanced. “
“I reported for target briefing. This time we were to raid “Mont Lucon”, a target in France at Laititude 46 degrees 22 minutes Northand o2degrees, 35 minutes East. We were sending 377 aircraft. We were to bomb the Dunlop Tire Company factory as a bigorder had just been completed and was about to be shipped out. We crossed the French coast without too much problem fromFlak. Our rear gunner spotted and took some shots at a night fighter that was not too keen to engage us. Our attack on the DunlopTire seemed accurate from where I was sitting. Some huge fires were started.Our bomb load consisted of one 2000 lb bomb anda mix of 30 phosphorus bombs to a canister 4 magnesiums bombs with 144 to a canister. Our total bomb load this night was 5,300 lbspacked aboard 377 Haifax bombers. We returned to base in good shape. I was really elated.”“Wrote to my sisters and friends saying , “If these missions keep being as tough as mission Number 5 (missions so far were 1,3,4,and5)I did not think my survival rate was worth a damn. Mont Lucon was a gllmpse at the end of the tunnel. Praise the Lord and pass memy commission which in fact will, Ken, George and myself received May 26, 1944. The engineer, Maurice received his from RAF on alternate.”NOTE: May 26, 1944 was a very significant and tragic day for HX 313 and its crew. The next night they were shot downover Bourg Leopold and the young upper gunner, my cousin, was killed in his turret we think. On May 26, the boys gottheir commission and the next day they were either killed or taken Prisoner. Their Halifax bomber 313 was a pile of smokingdebris on a Belgian farm field. But that story is yet to come. Victor may sound cheerful in his journal but readers shouldnote he had become well aware that his chances of survival were slim.NOTE: This journal could not have been written in 1943 and1944. And it wasn’t. It was written in 1987 … transcribed fromVictor Poppa’s war diary. That diary would have been found among his personal affects at the Squadron 424 base at Skiptonon Swale…packaged up and sent to his home in Hamilton. Retrieved when he walked out of his POW camp in Germanyand made his way to the American sector in 1945. That is conjecture.“This flight to Mont Lucon took 7 hours and 40 minutes. We had no sleep and after de briefing and breakfast, I found I was tofly again with Sgt. Rawlinson. Mission #7 for me. We were to go and bomb the entrance to a train tunnel that connectedFrance and Italy. We were to plug the French end. At briefing we were told that Leeming would be socked in after we leftand our alternative airfield would be an American airfield at Thurleigh. There were 420 aircraft on this raid. We wouldbe carrying a 5,000 lb load of high explosive bombs. Our ‘Gee’ set quit and our navigator decided it was a ‘no go’ situationso we flew out over the North Sea and jettisoned our bombs. Then we got lost and after much figuring and 4 hours and 25minutes we found Thurleigh.”“The Americans, as always, were the perfect hosts treating us very well and giving us the run of the base. NCO’s were invitedto eat in the Officers’ mess. I got into crap game and won a point. Crap games were not forbidden in the Officers’ mess.And I was given a tour inside of a B17 ‘fortress’ and even given a look at their famous ’Norden’ bombsight. Later these werescattered all over Germany. During the morning of the 17th the rest of Squadron 429 landed. The C.O. of 429 gave us abriefing saying the weather at Base had a ceiling of only 500 feet with tops of clouds at 8,000 feet, For those that did not feelcomfortable with this type of weather then they could wait it out but our C.O. was going to fly to Leeming using instruments.Our hero pilot elected to fly under these conditions as did most of the other crews. It took us 2 hours form take off to landing.The Tower let us descend from on top of the clouds via a method that was caliled ‘QGH’. Thismeant that each aircraft in turn wasgiven a 500 foot descent spread and the lowest aircraft allowed drop 500 feet followed by the next lowest and so on withonly one command from the Tower. There were no accidents and I was very happy when we broke through into the clearand landed.“Attrition was very high in 429 Squadron because of the missing mid upper turret. Sgt. Rawlinson was givena commission as a Pilot Officer and was acting as a Flight Lieutenant (captain). He and his crew were shot down lateron their 30th and last mission. Later I met Rawlinson’s navigator at a POW transit camp just north of Frankfurt on Main.I cannot recall their Target that night. The navigator was the only survivor. the fortunes of war.”“I am now going to Skipton off and on. Flying as a spare body. On Sept. 23, 1943, I was briefed for a bombing raidto Mannheim but the mission was cancelled. Pilot was again Sgt. Rawlinson“Sept, 25, 1943, I am briefed for a raid to Kiel. This mission was also cancelled. Pilot is warrant officer Smith, DFM.”“September 27m 1943: This one is for Hanover and W.O. Smith DFM is again our pilot. On this mission there were 708aircraft . For me it was Mission #8. We were just nicely underway when our port outer motor’s propeller ran amok. On thisflight we were taking a new Sgt. pilot with us. He was a twin, his brother also was on 429’s roster. This fellow musthave been barley past his 20th birthday. W. O. Smith instructed him to feather our port outer engine propeller. Insteadthe 2nd pilot feathered the port inner propeller. W.O. Smith was very skilled and managed to save the situation. For some reasonwe could not return to Leeming and were forced to land at Topcliffe. Upon touching down W. O. Smith found ourbrakes would not function. So we had to go back to Leemng by truck. There was only about 15 mlles between thesetwo airports. This aborted mission took 3 hours and15 minutes flying time.”“Oct. 1,1943: I’m still volunteering for missions. This time we are briefed for Stuttgart and again the mission was cancelled.“Oct 5, 1943: I am temporarily posted to Leconfield and went on a fight with w.o. Butler using a Whitley aircraft built byArmstrong Siddley. The Whitley appeared ancient. The Navigator/Bombardier’s position looked lkie a Victorian drawing room withfloor and sides covered with green mohair rug like material. The Whitley has Rolls Royce Merlins. The wing has anextremely thick air foil. It was a very slow flying machine. When the Whitley flew straight and level it looked likeit was in a shallow dive which confused observers. This was an advantage since enemy fighters oftenmisjudged thinking the Whitley was in a dive. On this first flight, I was using a camera gun.”“October 6, 1943: I went on another spare body flight, this time with flight sergeant O’Neil who failed to find ourdrogue training airplane so we returned to Leconfield. Again on Oct 6, we searched and found our Drogueairplane and completed the exercise.”“October7, 1943: with flight sergeant O’Neil we completed another exercise this time I was using a camera gun.“October 8, 1943: Flew with W. O. Butler on an air to air exercise. I had a runaway gun. The only way to stop this gunfrom firing ws to flip up the breech cover. In my eagerness to do this the cocking stud hit my thumbnail…hurt.but only slight damage. I used up 1,000 rounds against the drogue. My flying time for Leconfield is 6 hours and 35 minutesand managed to score quite well.“October 1, 1943: I returned, sleeping withthe guys on my regular crew. Ken had been ona raid to Nuremburg where our airforce lost 95 aircraft. Ken thought his time was up. He, like myself, had volunteeredto fly as a spare body Bombardier. Our losses that night must have been close to 15%…extremely high. Losses like this could put us out of business.”Nurenberg, Oct. 1“We were informed that since we lost Bill, our pilot, we were going to be parcelled out to other crews. We had been a 5 mancrew with Bill. Now it was Bob, Ken, Wilf and myself. We talked to the adjutant and requested the we for be kept together. Wewere then told we would be posted to Croft, #1664 Conversion Unit where a pilot and flight engineer were waiting to crew us withus. We were still short a mid-upper gunner. However we were told that Air gunners were in transit to #1664 C.U. Croft andshould complete our crew. The four of us departed for Croft Oct. 14, 1943.”“I left all my females behind but I also knew I was heading into new pastures. married men in the air crew were supposedto be celibate. Rather than rock their boat, we single persons did not pry into their private affairs.”“Oct. 15, 1943: and Oct. 16, 1943: We took it easy then on Oct. 16 we woke at 7.30 to meet out new pilot flight officerDesmond Short, an ex flight instructor. Expect he will speed things up. Croft was a wartime flying field with plenty of mud.”“That night I met and took out Edna. The evening was just great except she was having a problem women havefrom time to time.”“October 17, 1943: Des brought our Flight Engineer with him, an English man named Maurice Muir. He seemed to behaving a problem with acne. We were still short a mid-upper gunner. Ken, Wilf and I went to Bob’s room where we atethe best part of his food supply and returned to our quarters where I read a few pages from a book then went to bed.”GEORGE (HANK) FREEMAN CREW, OCT. 18,1943George (Hank) Freeman looked so young when he volunteered. By 1944 hehad certainly matured. I think the picture below is Kay who he planned to marry.She was an English NCO assigned to Skipton on Swale airbase as a driverat 60 cents a day. Not much money.
“October 18,1943: I reported to my section and talked to one of the new air gunners. This fellow introduced himselfas “Hank” Freeman. We chatted for a while. He sure sounded like an easy going guy. He said his full name was GeorgeFrancis Freeman but preferred to be called Hank. He had not yet joined a crew. “Our crew needs a mid upper gunner,are you interested?” He said “sure” and we went looking for the rest of the crew. Hank’s easy going way made himfit in easy with the guys. We were all Canadians with the exception the flight engineer.”october 19 to November 7, 1943: All that time was spent taking lectures, test flights … learning all we couldabout our aircraft, the Handley Page Halifax. the models we would fly had the Rolls Royce Merlin motors which werenot that great. The Halifax did not have the big bomb bay of the Lancaster, however, this was partly compensatedby 3 bomb bays in the wing either side of the fuselage between the two inboard motors. Nor did the Halifax carry asheavy a load as the Lancaster. None the less it did have some good qualities which were corrected when the BristolHercules motors were installed. “Note: One of the good qualities was the odds of survival if the crew had to use escape hatches. Halifax crewshad higher survival rates than Lancaster crews This fact would be helpful on May 27/28 when 5 of the 8 mancrew actually survived.“Along with our studies we had our evenings free for fun and games. Hank really shone here and managed very wellwith the girls. No grass was going to grow oder his feet. A man after my own heart.”“Oct. 28, 1943: I went into Darlington and ran into two fellows I trained with in Canada. We had a great time at the YMCAwhere there was no shortage of girls.”“October 31, 1943: I was selected to do guard duty for an NCO what had beaten the daylight out of an officer ina bar. He was awaiting a court martial and confined to barracks except for meals. I was given a holster anda .38 Smith and Weson pistol to carry out this duty. I’m glad he did not try anything while I was guarding him.If he had tried to run away I could not picture myself shooting him. Anyway he was peaceful and nothinghappened while he was in my charge.”“Nov. 1, 1943: I met a girl named Mary who lived in Middlesborough and wanted to go home that night. Mothers’ orders.I was feeling good so took the train home with her. Later I made my way back to the railway station and on theway a fog set in. I nearly killed myself by walking right off the loading dock onto the tracks. Thick fog. To make mattersworse there were no trans back to Croft until morning. Spent the night in the station. Sitting up…awake. Then at 7 a.m.caught train back to Croft where I was surprised to discover that the train did not make a full stop so I had to jump.Love sure causes troubles. Boy, was I fired..”
NOTE: These are NOT the crew of HX 313. I chose these pictures
from the Memory Project collection (Rudyard Griffiths) …chosenbecause the picture sows how YOUNG the airmen were. Averageage 21 years…many of them just 19, fresh out of high school.
“November 3, 1943: My brother Max came to Croft as he had a 7 day leave so we went out and had a great time drinking.Max is a quiet soul. You could leave your daughter with Max overnight and she would still be a virgin in the morning..”“November 4, 1943: Max’s visit coincided with visit from the daughter of my mother’s friend who movedback to England from Canada just prior to World War II . Her husband died in England. Young Anne, when I knewher in Canada was not a great beauty. Her pictures as a young lady were different…very pretty. She had joinedthe British Women’s Army and was presently stationed in Scotland. Max and I went to the staton to fetch Ann.She looked even prettier than her photos and I was delighted. The three of us went dancing at the YMCA andalong with a few drinks really enjoyed ourselves. This was one time I wished Max had not been visiting me.I fixed it with our WAAR sergeant to billet Anne that night.”“November 5, 1943: Anne left to visit with her mom in Atherton, Manchester, escorted by Max as far as Edinburghthen on to her base outside of Glasgow. Later Ann and I were to get together in a more personal manner.”“November 6, 1943: Won five pounds in a crap game, had a few beers and then off to bed.”“November 7, 1943: Today was our first time flying with Des as a crew. We had not flown for 24 days so wesent the day doing takeoffs, circuits and landings…”Circuits and Bumps” then we went to the movies.”“Nove.8, 1943: The weather turned sour. No flying. Max showed up again after a few days in Edinburgh.He had mismanaged his funds. He was broke so I gave him two pounds ($8.90) and he left for Catenham where hewas stationed just south of London.”“Nov. 9, 1943: Today we did more practise flights and landings. Some of Des’s landings are nothing to brag about.We went into town in the evening where Wilf, Bob and Ken went to the movies while I decided to go to a favourite bar.There was a girl there who did not look so hot but after a few drinks her proportions were looking more desirableso I threw caution to the wind and took her on. The evening turned out just fine. Before I left she siad hername was Vera. I said they call me Victor.”“We had another crash on base today.”“November 1, 1943: I reported to my flight section but there will be no flying today. I don’t know why but Ken and Iwere given shovels and ordered to do some digging. I think the reason was to give us something to do. Boy,were we tired.”“November 11, 1943: More circuits and landings today…we then practised 2 and 3 motor flying. In the air for1 hour and 25 minutes. Our instructor for Des this time was Squadron Leader Boogey. Took off in early afternoonand this time Des was the pilot in command as we did some flying the Beam… instrument flying.“November 12, 1943: Our flying activity is increasing as this morning we went on an air to sea firing practice for Hankand I. 3 hours and 25 minutes. And we are now getting night flight practise. Des is given dual cirucuits and landingsat night. Our instructor is again S/L Boozey (or is it Boogey?). It seems Des has been cleared as pilot in command.”“I had a date with Mary for the evening but flying came first. Hope she understands.”“November 13, 1943: We flew today climbing to 20,000 feet and practised fake bombing Strensal. But we could notfind the target because Des did not fly the course Bob gave him, hence no target. Des is a bit of a problem yet heis our pilot so we can do little about it.“November 15, 1943: Things picked up today. Since the weather is too bad for flying someone started a crap gameand I ended up with 16 pounds more than I started with. Hank won 8 pounds so we went out and had fun.In the evening we Des practised night flying and landings with instructor S/L Boozey who cleared Des as readyto be Pilot in Charge (PIC) then we did two hours of circuits and landings with no mishap.”“November 16, 1943: Today we did a cross country flight as a daylight exercise. The weather was murky and thistime Des paid attention to Bob’s navigation. Ken got int his bomb practise at Stensall this time.NOTE: IN 1943 the officers in charge of Bomber Command were aware of the sad fact that new bombercrews were very likely to be shot down while veteran crews were not. Why? Perhaps active bombercrews were put into action too early. They needed to be skilled … ready for evasive action, ready to flya crippled plane with only two or three engines functioning, ready to make a night landing with a damagedaircraft. That is why Victor’s crew are spending so much time training. The change from a two enginedWellington to a four engined Halifax…different airplanes, handling differently. Training could not last muchlonger.“November 17, 1943: Flying today twice with Spitfires simulating German fighter attacks. Hank and I had a veryimportant role. If we saw a hostile fighter, our first act was to warn Des using the command “Go!” which meant takeimmediate evasive action. This early warning role was critical. We were spotters first, gunners second.2 hours and 30 minutes flying time today.“Mary was mad at me when we went out for tea but later all was forgiven.”“November 18,1943: We were called in for a briefing concerning a missing aircraft down somewhere in the North Sea.We were shown where to search, doing a ‘square search’. But it turned out to be fruitless. Wilf received a radio messagethat a dingy from the downed plane had been sighted. It was empty. A mute testimony. Flying time was 4 ours.“November 19, 1943: Tonight we are to fly what is called a ‘Command Bullseye’ to practice simulated bombingaround England. At the same time test Britain’s air defences. We were coned by searchlights on the English SouthCoast for 15 minutes and again at Northampton for 10 minutes. This is my 4th Bullseye fight. Des does not followinstructions too well. We would’ve been shot down if this Bullseye had been the real thing. The same thing would havehappened when we were on our higher affiliation exercise on November 17th. Shot down…shot full of holes and killed.Des may have been a great instructor but as an active bomber pilot he was not much good. The next day Bob, Ken,Hank and I … with Wilf looking on…had a pow-wow about Des as our bomber pilot. He was given a thumbs down.We felt we would not last long on bomber missions. Our decision was to give Des the benefit of the doubt for a coupleof missions hoping he would clean up his act. If he did not then he would get no cooperation. He would have no crew.Bombing missions were tough on good crews. If we were to risk our lives then that was to be expected. But to throwour lives away…we would not do that. flying time to date 105 hours and 55 minutes day flying and 111minutes and25 minutes night flying. Total flying time 227 hours and 30 minutes.NOTE: This sounds like mutiny. What consequences would the crew face if they refused to fly with Des?Court Martial perhaps.“November 20, 1943: An air firing exercise was scrubbed today.”“November 21, 1043: No flying today. I waited until 6p.m. then went to Mary’s quarters. We went for a walk toour favourite hay stack. Love making with Mary was always tender. She is a very sweet person.”“November 22, 1943: We were told that tomorrow is moving day. We were reposted to Tholthorpe, 431 Squadron, a fewmiles down the road from Croft. I went with Mary for our usual walk. Mary is very easy to talk with. She speaksof many interesting things. I’ve spoken with her about my girl friend Louise who lives back in Canada. Maryaccepts this information. Hank, Bob, Ken and Wilf all go into town and got stoned.”“November 24, 1943: We reported to our new adjutant who gave us a nice welcome and extended the rest of theday off. After lunch, we caught the bus into York and went to a movie to kill time and then headed for Betty’s Bar.We drank enough to be in a partying mood so went dancing. Then caught the last bus back to the base.”“November 25, 1943: After Breakfast we reported to the Flights and were introduced to our new Wing Commander.Then we managed to get 9 days of combat leave starting tomorrow.”Des. our pilot, was obligated to go on a mission to Stuttgart as a 2nd pilot. This was mandatorysince he had no combat experience as a PIC (Pilot in Command). After Des’s briefing and the Squadron departureto Stuttgart a big party was planned on the base. Hank and I were having a good time and started looking aroundfor the rest of the crew but lost track of them. I headed for sargent of the Women’s A.A.F. She looked thin butas I got closer I could see she was more skeleton than thin. They say nearer the bone, the sweeter the meatso I thought What the heck, give it a try. After a brief conversation I assumed we were both on the same wavelength and we headed for an air raid shelter. It was a cold and damp place and the seat was made of cement.After much maneuvering and giving it our best, we gave up. There was no other spot nearby so we called ita night.”“November 26, 1943: We had been paid the day before and I had 18 pounds and was anxious to start our leave butwe waited around to see Des return from the Stuttgart Mission but gave up and caught a ride into York.We would call the adjutant from York and askabout Des. Bob called and was informed that Des was ‘missing in action’ along with the whole crew thatflew to Stuttgart. We all had more than a few drinks. Shocked. Hank was going north with me and the rest weregoing south. Hank and I got into a train compartment and I fell asleep. After a bit, Hank woke me up. Opening myeyes I saw this British army female across from me and as I lowered my eyes to her lap, I noticed she hadtwo high top, size 10 boots on her lap and my feet were in those boots. It seems I was trying to make myself ascomfortable as possible. She was given an apology and Hank explained about Des being missing in action. Ourpilot gone. We finally arrived in Edinburgh where we stayed the night. I planned to carry on to Glasgowand then on to Alexandria where Ann was stationed. Found a hotel there and next day looked up Ann at herbase. That evening we went to her friends house. Her name was Ruby. We decided to pay visit to Ann’s motherat Atherton Manchester. Ann managed to get a 72 hour pass so the three of us were on our way.The train waspacked. Even though we had a first class coach at first we transferred out and found we had to stand up forthe rest of the way. Her mother had the graveyard shift at work unfortunately so the three of u s went toa pub then back to the house where I slept in my assigned room and the two girls to theirs. After a while Ithought this is not right so I got up and went into the girls room and got between these two lovelies andgot busy warming up under the covers. Big decision, which one first? I chose Ruby, saving Ann for dessert.Later Ann confided to me that she was hurt because I chose Ann first. I explained she washy dessert and that pacifiedher though she seemed skeptical. In the morning Ann’s mother arrived. We left. i had to get back toTholthorpe and the girls back to Scotland.”“December 2, 1943: The tran trip was uneventful. I picked up my mail and my parcels…2,600 cigarettes from various sources.Hank and I pooled our cigarettes stuffing the lot in a large suitcase. Hank and I never sold cigarettes. Wegave them away to our WAAF friends in the mess and when the girls went on leave we would lend themmoney and not expect any repayment. These girls were real nice types and their meagre pay was about 60 cents(Canadian) a day. We never ran short of cigarettes thanks to kind Canadians back home.”“December 3 and 4, 1943: I spent the day answering letters…14 of them.“December 5, 1943: By noon hour our crew was back together. Bob and Wilf had been on one long booze up.Hank managed to get himself rolled for 7 pounds and was he ever mad. Wilf went right to bed sick from too much.Bob must be more experienced. (sex? I assume?) Maurice got himself married to a WAAF he knew from the past.He showed us the wedding pictures of his new bride. (Victor’s comment was not flattering). We heard from Bill, ourprevious pilot who was doing very well over at Dalton. He was assigned to help the adjutant..Decemer 6, 1943: Bob woke us up this morning. Wilf, Ken and Hank decided to go to York. Bob, Maurice and Idecided to stay on base and read. The day is very cold and foggy and damp.“December 7, 1943: I went over to Clothing Stores and managed to get some warmer clothes. I met Murial andtried my best to get some action but got nowhere. Later Hank and I went to our local pub in Tholthorpe andleft feeling quite good..”“December 8, 1943: Today is pay day for 431 squadron. Not much doing today. We are wishing for a postingto a conversion unit.”“December 9, 1943: The gods heard us. We are being posted to 1659 Conversion Unit at Topclifffe, today.December 10, 1943: I met a WAAF sergeant from Eastmoor at the sergeants dance but did not get anywhere withher.Hank loaded up quite well this evening.December 11, 1943: Went to the movies to see “Victory Through Air Power”, a Walt Disney film. Then Hank andI went to the Saint Georges Hotel, had a few drinks then went dancing.“December 12, 1943: Hank and I hung around the YMCA for a while. We met two nice girls, Betty and Marg,,,real sweet things. Stayed in Harrogate until 2 a.m.“December 13, 1943: Hank and I decided to go to the air crews mess for a few beers when this Flight Lieutenant Pilotcame over and introduced himself as Eric Mallet. He asked if he could sit with us for a few minutes. We toldhim about Des getting shot down on his first mission as a 2nd Pilot on a raid to Stuttgart. “So we’ve been shippedout to topciffe to get a new pilot.”. Eric in the meantime was filling us in on his background. He had been a flightinstructor in Canada and had asked for an overseas posting. Eric was rushed through an Operational Training unit(OTU) and from there to 1659 Conversion Unit at Topcliffe. Our destinies were meshing. Eric said, “Do youthink I’ll do?” The rest of our crew were on the base except for Moe so I asked Hank to go and get the guys asthis guy Eric looked promising. Over they came and a bargain was struck. Since it was OK with us, Eric wouldput in for us thereby making a full Bomber crew.’“I noticed Wilf and Bob were talking quietly. The gist of their conversation was that they would strangle Hank andme if Eric turned out to be another lemon . Eric turned out to be an excellent pilot who understood our survival dependedupon that important word ‘co operation’. We hit it off right away. It pays off when a crew is put together by ademocratic process.“December 15, 1943: Today was Dingy Day… a practice that would come in handy if we went down in the North Sea.Interesting to know that if we went down in the North Sea in the winter months…like now…we would have three minutesto make peace with our maker. That’s how quick death would happen. My response was that it would be betterto bail out over Europe. At least then we would last longer than three minutes.. The good news was that wemanaged all to get a four day leave. We went from Topcliffe to Ripon to York…which was close to Betty’s Bar thankfullyAfter that we went dancing and stayed overnight at the YMCA.“December 16, 1943: We caught the morning train to London…Ken, Wilf and I…parted ways there as i had to visit RCAFheadquarters for some back pay as I am now Flight Sergeant. Had a few beers and went dancing where I spotted a nicelooking female and after a few choice words we went for a few drinks at a nearby pub. Since I wasn’t sure of thelay of the land it looked like the grassy median was best. The blackout prevented us from being seen. The cars droveby with their subdued lights. I was a bit tired and said to her, “Would you like maximum penetration?”She nodded the affirmative. I saidI’ll lie down on my back, you climb on facing me.” Well, she got in motion with enthusiasm. She really knew what it was allabout and I was really pleased. So much so that I asked her if she wanted to do it again? She nodded her head and awaywe went again. When she got home she must have had a job removing the grass stains from her knees. Memory ofthis episode always makes me smile and feel good about it. The girls knew what things were about and were nothypocrites. I don’t make fun of these girls as it was a two way street…mutual pleasure.“December 17, 1943: I got up early and sent Mary a telegram then went to a show after which we had a few in thelocal pub then looked up a person I trained with but noone was home. Later I met a girl by the name of Lilly andwe went dancing and then to her house.“December 18,1943: Packed my things and caught the 12.45 from kings Cross Station for York. Stayed at the YMCA andlater met a girls from Ireland named Nancy. She was some teaser. You can’t win them all.“December 19, 1943: Reported to Flights and we did some more dingy practise. Received mail from Ann and twoletters from Ruby.“December 20, 1943: I received Christmas parcel from my mother. Collected 16 pounds and 5 shillings. What a dull day.“December 21, 1943: Another dull day“December 22, 1943: We flew with Eric for the first time today. A dual pilot flight, Eric and a squadron leader named NeilDFS.December 24, 1943: We flew with Eric doing practice circles and landings. Eric catches on fast. I phoned Mary atDishforth and picked her up for a nice dinner in Harrogate then to a theatre. Got her back to Dishforth on time. Too lateto do much else.December 25, 1943: Christmas Dy. Received a nice cake from Louise and cigarettes. These always came quite often fromvarious sources. We had a nice Christmas dinner on the base. Then I went over to Dishforth to see Mary and give hertwo boxes of chocolates. I spent the night at Dishforth where we got into some heavy knocking on the sofa. I had tospend the night in the Sergeant’s Lounge.“December 26, 1043: I managed to catch a cab back to Tiopcliffe where not much was doing so I went over to the aircrew messI had eight gins and later got into a crap game and lost 6 sounds. Later I had fun with Rhoda in the games room thentook her to her billet.December 27, 1943: We went flying today more dual pilot skill testing for Eric this time with flight lieutenant Rodwell as instructordoing more circuits and landing with overshoots.“December 28, 1943: received much mail today. Flying again today practicing landing with overshoots. This timeno instructor with us. Eric has done really well after only 6 hours and 25 minures in a Halifax.“I took in a movie and met Wendy in the process. Boy this one has big breasts, twin 44’s and firm.”“December 29,1943: We did more dual flying today only this time the instructor was flight Lieutenant Rodwell.Three motor flying, Circuits and landings. Eric only had 20 minus dual flying as he did not need more time. We droppedoff the instructor then we headed for Scarborough and out over the North Sea where we picked up our targettowing airplane. Hank and I took turns shooting up the drogue which was flying parallel to us. We had Eric adjusthis distance to a point just ahead of the drogue where the tow line was attached. At this point I managed to getmy sites right on and when Hank got his on the same spot we let fly. Four machine guns each firing around1200 rounds per gun per minute. After a few seconds the drogue disappeared as we shot off the attach point.We gave ourselves a cheer. On the way back to base we had fun low flying. Hank and I used up 3,000 roundson this exercise.:December 30, 1943: Reported to Flights…nolthing on, so I took a turn on the link trainer for practice. I saw Wendyin the afternoon and got in some necking. She has a Canadian ground crew type for a boyfriend so going‘all the way’ was out of the questions so I had to be satisfied with half loaf…but what a half loaf!“December 31, 1944: Reported flights…nothing on today so had happy time in the aircrew mess then wentdancing with Wendy. i received a letter from Mary, Louise and Christmas card from my brother Max.“January 1, 1943: Went to Flights…nothing on in morning but in afternoon we did a high altitude test to 20,500 feetthen we did some bombing at Stresall. We are to go again this time for some night flying. So far Eric has no night flyingexperience on 4 motored aircraft. Again we had F:/Lt Rodwell for an instructor. Eric did well. A sweet WAAF pickedus up at dispersal. I made a mental note to get close to this one.“January 2, 1944: We flew again with FLT/Lt Redwell. This time doing 2 and 3 motored flying. At night the airwas turbulent especially near the ground. I was banged around a lot because of it. Tail position.“January 3, 1944: Today we are to do fighter affiliation with a Spitfire. Hank and I had fun with this once again.This was a dual flight with 3 pilots…Eric Mallet #1, Sgt Tanister #2, andSft Gustafson #3. Then we did a soloflight as well.While I was waiting for Eric to warm up the airplane motors I was getting some necking in with Nancy…the cutetransport driver I met Jan. 2. This cute young thing even repairs her own truck. Later I went to get mylog book signed off by the flight Lieutenant in charge of this duty. He sined my assessment ‘A-A’ whichhe told me means Above Average.“January 4, 1944: Wilf has come down with hives and Eric is in bed with tonsillitis…looks like too much ofmany things. The rest of us are trying for a 5 day leave. Hank and I took out a couple of girls. Mine was Marg…abut of abag. Hank’s was Queenie. I took mine to a show and Hank took his elsewhere. Marg was having her monthlyproblem so nothing happened. Hank turned up later and we swapped tales.. Hank struck out as well.“January 5, 1944: We got the 5 day leaves we were after. Hank and I decided not to go anywhere distant.We got to feel quite good after drinking away most of the evening in the air crew mess. We then went toHarrogate for fun and what have you. We went to the Railway Hotel for a beer but it was closing time…nobeer for us. On our way out we saw 4 people…2 airmen and 2 women. I said to Hank “You take the girlon the right and I’ll take the girl on the left/“ And we just hooked our arms under theirs and walked awaywith them. The two airmen must have been too surprised to act and the girls didn’t complain so away wewent. I imagine the two airmen having a post mortem and deciding to not let that happen again. Nexttime it would be ‘Watch out for the Hun in the sun’,an old WW1 saying among fliers.The girls were not too shabby. The one Hank took was wearing a red mitten. . We took thegirls to a restaurant and after that we split up agreeing to meet at theYMCA later; One girl was Lauraand the other Doreen. My girls took me home where everything was done in comfort. Since I hadpromised to meet Hank at theYMCA I left Laura’s nice warm bed around 5 a.m. to meet Hank whohad arrived ahead of me. We compared notes. Hank figured Doreen was the last virgin in Harrogate.When I asked him about the red mitten he said he thought the hand was artificial. The rest of the earlymorning was brutal as we tried to sleep in chairs with our torso’s draped over tables.“JANUARY 6, 1944: We rested then paid Eric a visit. I ran across Mary and we had a little chat.Hank and I spent the rest of the day trying to get over the previous evening. We also felt we shouldclean up our act a little. The weather has been rotten, fog right down to the deck.Note: The crew of HX 313 did not fly again until January 21,1944“January 7, 1944: Today we are going to take an H2S course which mean two more weeks of instructionprimarily for Ken and perhaps Wilf. H2S is a radar thing of sorts. The set sends out a signal and bouncesback images. These images show city built up areas and a chart on board our aircraft is used to compareoutlines giving the navigator a good idea of which city is in view. H2s also gave us an altitude andwas used by out Pathfinder squadrons for some very accurate bombing.Hank and I went to a movie on the station and we ran into Joan and Norma. these two are a real coupleof cards and knew some dilly jokes. Hank and I managed to snuggle them to visit our billet on afood pretence. we were rooked by the girls. After eating our food, they split. That’s life!“January 8, 1944: Hank and I got up at 11.30…feel better after all that sleep. I was going to phone Maryat Dishforth but got into a crap game instead and made 5 pounds 10. That leaves me just 3 pounds in thehole. I made up my mind to go and visit Mary but Eric turned up and said ‘how about going to a showin Harrowgate. So we all went together. Show was quite good.NOTE: Readers may be wondering if a war was actually being fought since the Crew of what wouldbecome HX 313 are not battle bound. It seems the training of bomber crew was not taken lightly.So many crews were shot dow over Germany that those not attached to Bomber Command wonderedabout the training. Seems that the training was intense. Flying a four engined Halifax bomberon two engines required great skill as did finding he home airport and landing safelyin the darkness of night.“January 9,1944: Hank and I cleaned up our room. Now ir looks respectable. After dinner withHank and Eric in the aircrew mess I wrote some letters then Wilf arrived with a little black dog whichwe promptly named “Nooky”. She became our new crew member given the rank of Squadron Leaderespecially after she peed in Bob’s hat.“January 10, 1944: Everyone tired today with the exception of Bob who was still in bed with his girlin Harrogate. Hank and I saw the movie ‘Casablanca’ in the evening.Note: Just a personal comment. I think Victor would have been a good stand in for Humphrey Bogart.“January 11,1944” Did nothing then went for dinner and bed“January 12,1944: Weather still bad…fog down on deck. Eric came over to ‘shoo away” thebad weather . did not work. I played poker most of the night with Hank, Eric, Wilf, Boband Maurice….lost 2 pounds10.“January 13,1944: same bad weather.“January 14, 1944: Bob and Maurice were at odds and the Group Captain was to the matter. Fight.“January 15, 1944: We were supposed to fly today but weather closed in again. Boband Maurice had their say with the Group Captain. Bob won. Good for him. Later Hank and i wentout with our two charmers, Joan and Norma. These two are good at going just so far, and that’s it.”“January 16, 1944: Weather closed in again. This weather sticks like glue…real heavy moisture.We all went down to the hall to do some exercise. That was a mistake. Now I know where my muscles are.Hank and I went over to the mess for a few beers. Maurice is a real Shit. He was never asked to jointhe crew. He is the residue from when Desmond was our pilot. Maurice may spoil tings for thewhole crew.“January 17, 1944: No flying today. Weather bad. At least this gives the ground crew a chance to catchup on maintenance as the aircraft at Topcliffe are the worst the I have encountered since being inEngland. One night we used up 4 aircraft. just go 1 hour of flying time. Flight time at Topcliffestarts when the wheels leave the ground on takeoff and stops when the wheels touch down onlanding. Mary is off for 48 hours. I’m peeved with Wilf and Maurice. Solved problems though.“January 18, 1944: The weather turned bright for a short time today. One aircraft tookoff and crashed. This was a real bad crash. Normally this news does not get around. Crashescan have negative effects on crews. It chips away at the nervous system. It makes for a feelingof depression and can be classed as battle fatigue. Acting in a bizarre manner for instance. Likecrying for help. During WWI flyers behaved in the same way and some preferred to be alone.some were real quiet. Some were the reverse. Some realized they were mentally fatigued andasked to be relieved from flying. In the trenches they called it ‘ being shell shocked’During WWII, if you couldn’t convince your superiors that your nerves couldn’t take it any moreThen you were told you were displaying L.M.F. (Lack of Moral Fibre).To give our crews incentive we were told that after 20 missios we would be puled offoperations for 6 months rest…usually sent off to be instructors for that period. Our operations losses averaged around5% which means at 20 missions we reach the 100% mark. Our statistical chance of survival is close to zero.“January 19,1944: Raining. Eric and Bob popped in for a chat. Baker and his crew crashed today…Baker brokehis leg . Pierre and his crew crashed in the side of a mountain. There were no survivors. We wonder whenwe will get ours. I still think Maurice is a Shit.“January 20,1944: Wearher still sour. I made up with Maurice after all he is part of our crew.Bob, Wilf, Ken, Hank and I went into Harrogate. This was the first time I was to meet Kay…a littlelater Bob was to marry her. We were also introduced to Kay’s friend Mary. Mary sure isa living doll.“January 21, 1944: At last! We flew twice today. Flight #1 was a cross country flight and the weatherwas clear and he sky deep blue. Base to Luton, Taunton, Liverpool and back to Base. Flight #2 was Base to Kings Lyn,Lester and back to Base. Weather remains Beautiful.“January 22, 1944: No mail today…I owe Mary, Anne and Louise letters. We flew again today.Cross country trip to Dundee, Edinburgh, Douglas, Barrow, Darlington andback to base.The weather was super and the food in the mess was very good. All of us in the crewwent to the show in evening.“January 23, 1944: Another cross country from Base to Luton, Norwich, Peterbrough and back to Base.Eric was to do some night flying. Needed practice. When he came in for a landing he forgot tolower the landing gear and as a result damaged the Halifax. When the Halifax landing gear isretracted,the wheels are sticking out from the nacelle and the tail wheel on this particular Halifaxis fixed in the down position. As a result the only thing damaged was the four propellers. Eric felt badthat landing of course and Eric got nick-named “Wheels up Mallett” by Ken. The nick name stuck.NOTE: There were 6,178 Halifax Bombers manufactured between 1939 and 1945 of which 2,627 were loston the war. Bomber Command only cointed losses on operations. Crashes in England were not countedbut many were lost in England so real losses were 15% higher.“January 24, 1944 Got a haircutJanuary 25, 1944; Planned another cross county but airspeed indicator got stuck. Cancelled“January 26, 1944 Bob and I went down to the shooting range and got some firearm practice. thento the aircrew mess and drank some beer.“January 27, 1944: Flew another cross country Base, Colne point, Neston. LundyIsland, Nottingham, and Base.Missed dinner when we got back. Eric and Moe went on an evening fight and were almost killed due to anengineering error. I went to air crew mess with Hank and Ken for a few beers.“January 28,1944 Took in a movie with Hank. We ran into Pat anther girlfriend, nothing fruitful withthese two. Eric finished his night circuits and landings. Hank and I got politely drunk. We shouldbe winding things up here soon…all of this bad weather put us behind in flying.“January 29,1944: Night flying from Base to Bedford, Taunton,Oxford, Birmingham, Lancaser, Stranreer,Jurby, Douglas, and Base.“January 30, 1933: Well, at last we are leaving Topcliffe. We were supposed to go to 428 squadron for a posting.Eric tried for our posting to 433 squadron at Skipton. Instead we are posted to 424 squadron at Skipton.Usually two squadrons were in each airfield. All of us took in a movie. Total flying time at Topcliffe was43 hours, 15 minutes (34 hours day and 9 hours 15 minutes night)Victor kept a notebook like that below. Especially to record his
time in the air His flight book also was a perfect place for daily notes’“January 31, 1944: Now Monday and we were taken to Skipton by RAF transport. Skipton is a wartimeairfield, but not as muddy as some. All Canadian squadrons are grouped around Yorkshire in 6 Group BomberCommand.Later Hank and I went on the prowl. I met Bette and had fun with her in the local pub. Hank picked upa nice girl…she was a cute one.Feb. 1, 1944: We are now satellite to Leeming. I caught the bus to Leeming and got myself signed inand collected 7 pounds 6 shillings owed to me by the paymaster.I made the rounds to see old friends. Attrition has taken its toll on aircrews. Jack F., a real nice fellowI trained with was killed as his aircraft crossed the Dutch Coast and the flight engineer had an eye shot out.Jack F had been in a nice safe job and had elected to go for aircrew at 35 years of age. he had a wife andchildren. Very sad. After returning Hank and I visited a few pubs.“February 2, 1944: Reported to Flights and had 45 minutes practice on the gun turret then went and gota parachute harness and a Mae West (life preserver). Back in our quarters I played with Nooky, Wilf’s dog.Then Hank and I went pub crawling.“February 3, 1944: Hank and I did not get to bed until around 4 a.m. after all our fun with a couple ofnice girls. We reported to Flights and attended a lecture in the morning and another in the afternoon.Had a shower then Hank and I went back to our new haunts.“Feb. 4, 1944: Hank and I were assigned airplane to inspect .. Hank put in15 minutes of turret manipulation. Then the two of us went to Topclifffe to a pub called Sam Huttonfor fun and games.Two girls tried to pick us up. We declined. Back to Skipton.“February 5, 1944: Reported to Flights. Hank and I inspected another aircraft cleaned up 8 Browningsand checked the acton. We are preparing to go on operations.Hank and I lined up a couple of girls from our Mess, Joan and Nora. However we did not press themfor a dae. We then went to the St. Georges Hotel and drank a quantity of beer. We were feelingpretty good so then went dancing. We met two not so hot girls at the dance. Things did not workout too well with the girls. So we headed for the YMCA and spent a most uncomfortable night tryingto sleep on chairs with our heads on the table.“February 6, 1944: Hank and I reported to Flights and were instructed to do an inspection on “S” Sugar.Then changed our clothes, read our mail and reported back to Flights for a lecture.Picked up Joan and went pub crawling. Nothing happened. Whoever came up with that saying that,“Candy is dandy but Liquor is Quicker!” should have added, “No all the Time!”February 7, 1944: We did some local flying and then some 2 motor and 3 motor flying.Note: Victor and the whole crew were well aware that practice flying with two enginesshut down was an indication what they might expect once their bombing missions were started.Bad times were coming.“February 8, 1944: We cleaned our billet and reported to Flights where we were sent on anothercross country practice run. We were caught up in a jet stream that pushed us to 370 m.p.h. Ourreturn trip was tough fighting the same jet stream. Back at base I talked with Nora for a while thenoff to bed.”“February 9, 1944: We went to Flights and both Hank and I did another inspection of “S” Sugar, a newmodel Halifax bomber. Then went to a very boring lecture. Later we flew in our new Mark III Halifax, areal nice airplane sporting all the latest modifications. Four 1,615 H.P. Bristol hercules mottos, H2S, new ‘D’type Fins, rounded wing tips, capable of an all up weight of 65,000 lbs which included a 13,000 lbbomb load, mid-upper turret sported four .303 machine guns and the original four guns in the rear,the nose gun was simple V.G.O. gas operated drum fed in neat plexiglas nose…and our latest bombsightwas the Mark 14.”Halifax Mark III bomber with modifications described by Victor Poppa“February 10, 1944: Hank and I reported to Flights the did an inspection on “U” Uncle. No mission was on sowe went over to Topcliffe to see if we had any mail. My brother Max sent me a letter from his Canadian Armybase south of London. Later we were given a talk by Group Captain Samson. Then I slipped into theofficers bath house and enjoyed good soaking in a real hot tub…a real luxury. Amen.“February 11, 1944: Reported to Flights. We went on another cross country that took 4 hours and 40 minutesusing”P” Peter , one of the new Halifax Bombers.“Hank and I dated two girls from the mess. I had Joan and Hank had Kay. Kay was later named ‘Razor Blades’ becauseshe had a rather sharp nose. Kay and Hank used to make trips to a nearby haystack for fun and games. They werenot the only persons using this haystack. The stack started out at 15 feet high but within a short time the hay wasspread around into a lot of nests by a lot of active people. I wondered how the cows managed with all those usedcondoms thrown about indiscriminately in the hay. Hank and I took Joan and Kay to the roundabout where wespent some time drinking beer and then they were invited back to the haystack. One night in the haystack the condomwas lost internally while Hank and Kay were making out. After some fussing the condom re-appeared. Hanksweated that one for a couple of weeks. He was a little up tight about it so he wasn’t teased.”i1.wp.com/www.mackenziekincaid.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/wwii-vdposters2.png?resize=300%2C101 300w, i1.wp.com/www.mackenziekincaid.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/wwii-vdposters2.png?resize=768%2C259 768w, i1.wp.com/www.mackenziekincaid.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/wwii-vdposters2.png?resize=1024%2C346 1024w, i1.wp.com/www.mackenziekincaid.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/wwii-vdposters2.png?resize=1170%2C395 1170w, i1.wp.com/www.mackenziekincaid.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/wwii-vdposters2.png?resize=585%2C197 585w” sizes=”(max-width: 1170px) 100vw, 1170px” data-recalc-dims=”1″>NOTE: Let’s talk about condoms. “There was a box at the door to the mess filled withcondoms, “Take a handful if you’re going on leave.” Why would the RCAF get involvedin such seemingly personal matters. Simple answer. Use of a prostitute cost around$2. Protection using a condom sold at pharmacies cost 3 for $1. Expensive in other wordsso air men might be tempted to forgo the condom and thereby come down with a venerealdisease that would put them out of commission. “We were encouraged to grab a handfulas we went out the door,” said one veteran I know. Were they wrapped in fancy packageslike today? “Not at all, Made for ease of use.” Getting V.D. was also one way ofavoiding battle so someone who got V.D. regularly was always suspect as a malingerer.Young men, like Victor and Hank might not have even considered random and regularsexual activity if they were still living at home. But wartime changes everything.As Victor noted when he ran into a boy he knew from high school. “He seemed a lotolder than I expected. I wonder if I seem that way to others.”Condoms were sometimes rolled over the end of gun barrels to keep moisture out.Unwrapped condoms were best because a person in the heat of sexual activitymight tear the package with his teeth and thereby put a hole in the condom.Amusing i hope.
Venereal Disease (V.D.) was a major concern of military leaders because treatmentsfor both Gonorrhea and Syphilis put airmen (and soldiers) in hospitals. Syphilis treatmentcould involve as much as 6 months. Why did Victor ignore this danger? Because hewas not cavorting with prostitutes. His romancing was far less dangerous. That’s whyI decided his activities are more amusing than dangerous. The same applies to Hank, mycousin. Actually I am sure that Kay was the girl he planned to marry when war ended.What must be remembered is that many of these airmen were barely 19 years old.The average age was 21. They may have joined the air force because flying soundedexciting but they soon learned that their deaths were likely. So they tried to live lifeto the fullest. The Fires of Spring comes to mine when I think of these fellows. AlsoI think of the American General George Patton when inspecting American pilots linedup in front of their planes.“How old are you son?”“18, sir.”“And you fly that goddamn thing?”“Yes, sir.”“Well, I’ll be a son of a bitch.”(words from my memory)
“February 12, 1944: Today we are to practice fighter affiliation with a Spitfire. This time Eric had another pilot withhim, First Lieutenant Compton. He is an American who joined the RCAF.Note from Victor n 1985: ” Compton later joined the United States Army Air Force (USAAF).During our 424 squadron 1985 reunion at Trenton, Ontario, I met Mel Compton in person. I was really pleasedthat he survived the war, not many of us did. We were photographed and a crew picture taken.”‘Hank and I took Kay and Joan dancing where Joan drank too much and made a scene that was hard to handle.Eventually we got her home to her billet. Tomorrow is post mortem day for Joan.”“I almost forgot. We almost had a mid-air collision with another Halifax. It was really close so we were lucky.”“February 13, 2019: Reported to Flights then went to Intelligence and read over the latest ‘Aeroplane’ and ‘Flight’magazines . Weekly magazines that are always interesting.“Hank andI went to dinner. Hank picked up ‘Razor Blades’, Kay, and I asked Joan out. The squadron is on operationstonight but only Eric from our crew is going. He will go as a second pilot. Eric has no battle experience so mustgo with another crew on one mission. Next time he will take the whole crew with him in his own plane. Later,operations were cancelled so Hank and I had a few beers with the girls. Nice evening.“February 14, 1944: Reported to Flights. Hank and I were told to check out “P”Peter again.“Joan, Kay and six other girls invited Had and I to play Basket Ball with them. Hank and I makeall kinds of mistakes touching and rubbing our hands on the girls ‘don’t touch spots’. Sometimesthe word ‘don’t’ does not apply. The girls were very sporting about this and seemed to enjoythisattention.”“Operatons are on again tonight and Eric is to be 2nd pilot again. But Operations were cancelled again.Poor Eric. I can imagine how he felt to get all keyed up to go on a mission and then not go. This kind of thingreally tears at your guts. I’ve been briefed at least 25 times to go on missions that were cancelled. Oh! My poorintestines.”This is a shot of an air crew and ground crew in front of a Halifax Bomber
…not Victor’s crew.The air crew of a Halifax bomber with the ground crew preparing the bomber
for flight. Usually 7 men. Loaded down with Mae West life jackets, parachutes,big fleece lined boots and jacket . These flights were freezing cold.
“February 15, 1944: reported to Flights. For once Hank and I are on time for roll call. Operations are on againtonight only this time the planes will take off from Leeming air base. Eric goes there for his 2nd pilot duty.Eric was elated. 427 squadron flew to Berlin which has become a very hot target. When I was with 429 squadronI must have been briefed at least 8 times but never went. Berlin is a nice one to have in my log book.“February 16, 1944: I received mail today from Louise.NOTE: Victor and Louise were married once he returned to Canada after walking out of his POWconcentration camp. Marjorie and I met the Poppa family several times in the 1980’s and it seemedthat Louise was well aware of Victor’s wartimeadventures. Both Victor and Louise had a wonderfull sense of humour. He met her while trainingnear Quebec City. Victor did not speak French. Louise did not speak English fluently. Yet they gotalong very well. Wonder why?“February 17, 1944: Hank and I did an inspection of “R” Robert. Later we got our pay, then went to clothingstores for some new flying equipment. Then we went to Sam Hutton (pub) where we had a few.FIRST BOMBING MISSION FOR VICTOR IN MONTHS“February 18,1944: Hank and I were assigned to inspect “D”Dog, “T” Tommy, and”Q” Queen. A missionwas planned for tonight then scrubbed at the last minute, another gut wrencher.“February 19, 1944: Reported to Flights. We are to go on operations tonight using one of the new Halifax Bombers,“C” Charlie. Hercules Motors. Tension is building as we go through the day. Wonder where we are to go?We have our last meal so to speak. There is not much being said. Our thoughts? Will tis be our last
flight? Shot down? Later we findthe bombing target is Leipzig. We go to our briefing and find that Bob had reported sick so we are assigneda navigator with no experience by the name of Ozzie, must be a nickname. He is commissioned. Bob’snew wife must have banged on his ear since his reason for not going is just a cold. Our briefing covers the weatrher, whatto expect in wind, types of cloud and other niceties. We are shown by a red ribbon the route and are toldwhat height to fly at both going and coming home. All of this is interesting to Ozzie who makes notes. Our turning pointto start the flight to Germany is Reading just north of London. From this point we set our ETA (Estimated Time ofArrival) to the target.“OUR BOMB LOADBombs ranged in size from small 40 lb incendiaries to immense ‘Grand Slambombs weighing 22,000 lbs. The Handley Page Halifax bombers couldnot carry the huge bombs which were reserved for the Lancaster.(Public Achives photo #213 867)
“Our bomb load is 4000 pounds of incendiaries. Ken makes notes. Tonight there will be 852 aircraft, Lancastersand Halifax’s. By the time the raid is over we will have lost 75 aircraft and 553 aircrew. We are told where the heavy flak islocated and what the chances are of running into night fighters and we are also told to watch out for our own Mosqutioes, twoengined fighter bombers sent in the lead of the bomber stream to mark the targets with coloured flare bombs. “Look beforeyou shoot.” There are also searchlights to be considered. These coning lights cannot shoot us down but being caught inthe cone of a master searchlight and then pinpointed by other smaller starlights can get us all sorts of unwanted attentionfrom both flak and night fighters.“Our takeoff time is to be 2345 hours. (11.45 pm) The squadrons crews are loaded into busses and trucks. Then dropped offat our assigned aircraft dispersal point. We are greeted by our ground crew who have laboured all day to get “C” Charlieset for operations. Hard work for sure. In no time we are rolling around the perimeter track following other aircraft. Thenwe reach the end of our assigned runway. We slowly taxi into position and hold until the preceding aircraft hasbecome airborne. Eric is given a green light. Flaps have been set, Throttles advanced to their stops.There is a powerful surge, a feeling of real power being exerted. A feeing of confidence settles us down. We are building up speedfast. In no time at all the tail has lifted. Eric uses a little rudder to count torque from the our motors. We are now off therunway and flying. Eric raises the landing gear and raises the flaps. We are on our way.“Hank and I cock our guns , and turn on our reflector sights. “C” Charlie is climbing steadily to our assignedaltitude. Soon we reach our turning point at Reading and Ozzie gives Eric a new course to fly and an airspeed to maintainso that we will arrive at Leipzig as scheduled. We are now crossing the enemy coast and I can see searchlight hereand there and flak burst that are distant and nothing to worry about.“I start to relax. My nerves are less jumpy Hank and I keep our talking to a minimum even though the intercom ismostly ours to use. Wilf is working his radio set while Ozzie calculates our course using the and directions given tohim at briefing. Then major trouble is discovered. The wind directions Ozzie was given are all wrong and our entirebomber force becomes scattered over 50 miles wide and 200 miles deep instead of 5 miles wide and150 mlles long.“TheLuftwaffe are up in force using their Heinkels as their flare droppers lighting up the night sky. I spot 2 aircraft 1000 feetto our aircrafts’ right. These two are silhouetted against their own searchlights which gives me a rare opportunity.The enemy fighter furthest right is an FW190 (Foch Wolf 190) sporting 50 calibre machine guns. The otherfighter is a twin motored ME110 (messerschmit 110) The ME110 fires two rockets that miss our aircraft on the left.The ME110 wanted us to turn right so as to give the FW190 a perfect deflection shot. Or so I figured. I told Eric to “Diveleft when I say GO!” then pull right in a climb. I told Hank to keep an eye on the FW190 as we are now diving withthe rockets coming for us. Now the only way for the FW190 to get shot at us is to turn sharply to his left and get adeflection shot from this new direction. When I see the rockets are now very close I yell “Go!”. Eric slams his wheelover and pulled up. Just then I see the whole underside of the FW190. He is so close that I can see even in the darkthe that whole of the FW190 has a full-length streak of blackout along the underside of his fuselage. We are only about50 feet apart at this point.If I had not said GO when I did , the German night fighter would have flown right into my turret then forward to Eric’sturret chewing though our oxygen tanks to Maurice, our flight engineer, then Eric,Wilf and Ozzie and Ken wouldbe enveloped in one gigantic explosion. When the FW190 went by my face he was really moving. His motor hasa lot of mass and energy. I am sure the FW190 pilot must have lost us briefly with his night vision. No one in hisright mind would want to press in that close for a kill at the expense of his own life.“Hank, you were to keep ypur eye on the FW190, what happened?” “Sorry I watched the rockets.” Nothing was said.
Hank had made a serious error and knew it. The FW 190 also made an error and lost his chance to fire.If a new person can get through his first mission he becomes that much wiser. I was having trouble withmy oxygen mask which kept freezing up. Then I had a short circuit in my right foot electric slipper and the soleof my foot was gettng burned. I kept switching the suit heater off and on. Ambient temperature was minus 50 degreesFahrenheit. The target began to appear off in the distance which meant we would have to fly through more flak andsearchlights. Off and on since we crossed the enemy coast we were getting our share of the flak which shakes us upwhen exploding close by. The black puffs look dirty as they whiz by and the smell of cordite permeated ouroxygen masks. We had five more encounters with night fighters but none were near as stimulating as our first attack fromthe ME11 and FW190.”This mission was so rough that I thought we would never make it back to England. Ken started making preparations todrop your incendiaries…all 4,000 pounds of them. On our run in on target we were coned by searchlights. Ken tripsthe bomb release and then we fly straight and level while the camera takes pictures of where our load lands. After thiswe head for England. Our mission is now half over.The trip back was not too bad and I was happy when we crossed the English coast. The sineibe asked Ozzie, “Do youknow where we are?” “No!” he responded. So we had to start calling ‘Darky’ which is a short range transmitterwith a range of ten miles. All the air bases in England had a Dark set up. Short range to rescue lost pilots yet
avoid giving German bombers a signal They could use to destroy English bases.“Hello Darky, Hello Darky, This is Nemo”“Hello Darky, Hello Darky, This is Nemo.”This was kept up until someone answered.“Hello Nemo.”‘Switch your outer circle lights on and off, please.”In this case we wherever touched down atrgwDownham Market, an air force base used for towing gliders. Eric overshot the field, skimmed over the Towerand made it around the second time which was a good thing as we had very little fuel left. After we had parkedI went around to cover my gun muzzles to keep out the moisture. Just as I finished this chore, I heard a “bang”and a bullet whizzed over my head and went “Whing” as it ricocheted off into space. Hank came out and said,“I was trying to get the bullet out to deactivate the guns when the breech block slipped.”Hence the bullet over my head. We were either a bad luck crew or a good luck crew. Take your choice.We were de-briefed at Downham Market and given a place to rest.“February 20, 1944: In the morning we were fuelled and took off for Skipton. Upon arrIval Iwrote my report of what happened at my end of he airplane on our raid to Leipzig . I also filled in my log bookthen went to breakfast . I managed 4 hours sleep.”
German Foch Wolf 190WellingtonGerman citizens searching for survivors in the rubble of Leipzig
THE LEIPZIG MISSIONThe Leipzig air raid was not exactly a success. 823 aircraft were sent 78 of which were shot down (8.6%). 420 air crew were killed. 131 successfullybailed our and became Prisoners of War. This was the most disastrous Bomber Command mission to this point in the war. The older Halifax Bomberswere pulled from missions after the raid. Victor Poppa and crew used a new model Halifax lucky for them since 34 others were shot down.But, on the other hand, a great swath of Leipzig was flattened and incendiary bombs kindle fires in the medieval city making it a ruin.Leipzig as imagined in an 17th century engraving. It was a wooden city … wooden
cities burn as was proven over and over again by Bomber Command incendiary shells.END OF PART 2 OF VICTOR POPPA STORY(PART 3 AND CONCLUSION WILL COME NEXT IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS)alan skeochNovember 2019