A Flight Engineer’s story from the Thousand Bomber Raids to the Battle of Berlin
Flight Lieutenant Humphrey Phillips DFC, MiD (twice) had an exciting war. Originally trained
as a flight mechanic, he became one of the very first of the new breed of flight engineers.
Posted initially to 102 Squadron, he was allocated immediately to the Conversion Flight,
helping to convert new crews from two engines to four.
While ‘instructing’, he was flight engineer to many of the famous names of the time –
‘Daddy’ Lashbrook, Peter Robinson, and Harry Drummond – and flew in the first two of the
historic, showpiece 1000 Bomber raids against Cologne and Essen as part of a scratch crew
of tour-expired instructors.
Posted to 1656 Conversion Unit he became the flight engineer leader, flying regularly with
the unit’s Commanding Officer, David Holford, Flight Commander, Eric Campling, and two
‘crazy’ Australians – ‘Bluey’ Graham and ‘Shorty’ Fahey who became legends in the RAAF for
their flying skills and mad antics. He also survived a number of scrapes with novice pilots
(many who went on to have distinguished careers) and was Mentioned in Despatches for
inventing two devices to instruct new engineers on the Lancaster’s fuel and hydraulics
Keen to operate, he was eventually hand-picked by Wing Commander Philip Haynes to join
his crew for a tour with 626 Squadron, at the height of the Battle of Berlin. He was also the
squadron’s flight engineer leader. When not flying with the CO, he flew with both Flight
Commanders, and on one operation his Lancaster was struck by incendiaries, seriously
injuring the mid upper gunner and obliging them to crash land. His crew included the
famous naturalist, Eric Simms, who was an early ‘star’ of the BBC.
Humphrey survived his tour, was awarded the DFC, and returned to instructing, being once
more Mentioned in Despatches with 1668 HCU before the war’s end.
Coming Down in the Drink tells the story of Flight Lieutenant John Brennan DFC, one of the last surviving members of the Goldfish Club. John has a fascinating record that covers both the ‘forgotten’ bombing war in the Middle East in 1941/42 to a main force heavy bomber squadron at the end of
Fighting High is continuing its series of highly-acclaimed 'Failed to Return' books with this timely focus on the Battle of Berlin, one of the bloodiest periods in Bomber Command's history. I've contributed two chapters for the book which is due out in the Spring.
The January 2016 issue of FlyPast features an article on Reg Parissien, a former 156 Squadron Pathfinder who featured in my book, The Pathfinder Companion.
Alfie Fripp was shot down on his first ever sortie in October, 1939. The event was so remarkable at the time, that the German press interviewed the victorious pilot. Read the contemporary interview and the heroic action of Alfie's pilot, Mike Casey, later shot as one of the 'Fifty'.
Len Judd had always been fascinated by all-things mechanical. It was not surprising, therefore, that when war came, and he was old enough, he volunteered for aircrew training as a flight engineer. What he didn’t know, is that he would be posted to Pathfinder Force (PFF), the elite target marking force of Bomber Command, and find himself flying in the crew of one of the greatest Master Bombers of all time, Wing Commander Brian ‘Mac’ McMillan. Read Len’s remarkable story, as told to Sean Feast, in the April 2015 issue of FlyPast.
Air Commodore John Mitchell LVO, DFC, AFC, one of the first of ‘the many’ who took part in bomber operations over Germany in 1940/41 has died. He was 97.
In a remarkable career spanning more than 30 years, John will also be remembered as the navigator on ‘Ascalon’ – the personal aircraft of Winston Churchill. John was responsible not only for delivering the Prime Minister to a series of critical meetings with other world leaders, but also for the safe travel of a number of other VIPs, including HM King George VI.
Born in Sanderstead on November 12, 1918, after schooling at Bancroft’s he looked destined for a career in the civil service until Hitler invaded Poland, and the world was once again plunged into turmoil. Already in the RAF Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR), John was one of the first to be mobilized and just missed going to join 98 Squadron, a Fairey Battle Squadron in France where he would have undoubtedly been killed.
Posted instead to 58 Squadron at Linton-on-Ouse and flying the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, he flew his first operation over Germany having had fewer than 10 hours night flying experience. He never found the Reisholz oil refinery that had been the ‘target for tonight’, and returned with his bomb load intact. On his third operation, returning from a long haul to Genoa, his aircraft ran out of fuel while still some way off the Kent coast. Rescued by the local lifeboat, John became something of a national celebrity when he appeared on the front page of the Daily Sketch the following morning, bedecked in a top hat and tails. His uniform had been ruined by the sea and he had chosen some new clothes from the local morgue! He was most put out that he was denied entry to the officers’ mess at Hendon for being improperly dressed!
After 23 operations and two abandoned sorties he was rested and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), after which he was sent to the US, helping to develop the first navigation training simulators with the famous Link Trainer factory. (He was later awarded the US Legion of Merit, signed by the President Harry Truman. The citation hung in his downstairs bathroom until his death.) He was also among the first to complete the Specialist Navigation (Spec.N) course in Canada, marking him out as one of the best in his field.
Returning to the UK in 1942, John was selected to join the crew of Winston Churchill’s personal aircraft, the famous Avro York – Ascalon. For two years he navigated ‘The Owner’ – as he was known – around the world from North Africa to Italy, the Middle East to Moscow, including to the famous Teheran and Yalta conferences. He flew ‘General Lyon’ (aka HM George VI) on several occasions, as well as some of the great military leaders of their time from Alexander to Alanbrooke, Smuts to de Gaulle. To his DFC was added the LVO – a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order – a personal decoration in the gift of the monarch.
In his autobiography, Churchill’s Navigator, written with Sean Feast, John played down his role in history: “We never lost sight of the fact that we were mere bit part players on an otherwise enormous stage,” he said. “Our task with The Owner and indeed all of our VIPs was to ensure their safe and timely air transportation. No more; no less.”
He did, however, have a bountiful supply of Churchill anecdotes, including the time that Churchill insisted on landing the aircraft, only for his stomach to get in the way of the control column with near disastrous consequences!
After the war John continued to enjoy an eventful career. He was Senior Navigation Instructor at the RAF College, Cranwell and then held a similar post at RAF Manby where he undertook long-range exercises over the North Geographic Pole in the converted Lincoln, Aries III. He later returned to Air Attaché duties and was appointed to Moscow during the Brezhnev regime, finishing his career in the Air Intelligence world of the MoD.
By any measure, Andy Wiseman (born André Weizman) was a lucky man. The only son of a Polish father and an American mother, Andy was born on January 20, 1923 and grew up in Berlin, just as Adolf Hitler was coming to power. As a Jew educated at the famous Werner Siemens Real Gymnasium in Schoneberg, he left only months before his school was closed down and fled with his family to Poland, one step of ahead of the Nazi persecution that was to follow and later take the life of his father. From Poland he again fled to England, this time without his parents, arriving as a 16-year old with little or no grasp of English. After a crash course in the language, he avoided being called up into the Polish army in exile thanks to the timely intervention of no less a man than General Sikorski himself, to enlist in the RAF to train initially as a pilot and then as an air bomber in South Africa. On his return to the UK he was posted to an all-Australian Squadron (466 Squadron) equipped with the Handley Page Halifax. After his first operation in which he was nearly shot down, Andy survived a handful of eventful trips before falling victim to one of the Luftwaffe’s top nigthfighter pilots and landing in France. Briefly on the run he was betrayed and captured, spending the next 12 months as a prisoner of war, using his knowledge of Russian, Polish and German to act as one of the principal camp interpreters, and working as a ‘scrounger’ for the ‘X’ committee of escapers. Moved from camp to camp, he was one of those forced into the ‘Long March’ by the Germans attempting to escape the Russian advance, and afterwards played a key role in avoiding the potential bloodshed that threatened when the Russians refused to allow the British and Norwegian prisoners to return home – a role for which he was later recognised by the King of Norway. Upon his release, Andy used his language skills to work with the BBC monitoring service and later, BBC Television as a producer, sharing many adventures with the great broadcasters of their time, including David Dimbleby and Raymond Baxter.
Interviewed by Howard Leader of the BBC on Sunday 6th April about The Last of the 39-ers.
Listen to it here: http://youtu.be/W33HNAIuoB
A dozen Bomber Command veterans attended the official launch of the new book to raise funds for the Bomber Command Memorial at the weekend at RAF Hendon. As well as the veterans, the principal authors of the book - Jim Dooley, Gordon Ramsey (from the Daily Telegraph), Steve Darlow (the book's publisher) and Sean Feast were also there to personalise copies of the book on its first day of issue.
According to reports in the Daily Express, more than 2,000 copies of the book have been sold in the first few weeks of publication, raising more than £20,000 for the upkeep of the memorial in Green Park. The Express reporter described the new book as 'Stunning'. The launch was preceded by a warm up launch at the Aviation Bookshop on Saturday (15th December), with veterans from the local aircrew association.