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Thread: Number of crewmembers in BC OTU in 1943-1944

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    Default Number of crewmembers in BC OTU in 1943-1944

    Hi all,

    I am little bit puzzled how many members had a Bomber Command crew when training at the OTU in 1943-44?
    I have learned years ago a rule that there were 5 in OTU + 2 more joined in the HCU (AG + FE).
    But recently I have read account that there were 6 in OTU.
    Was there any exceptions for example depending on the aircraft type used in the OTU (Wellington or Whitley)? Or it varied time to time? I have seen in the ORB from summer 1944 that there was intake of 12 pilots, navs, wops but 24 AGs...

    So I will be grateful for any additional info which may help me to clear and understand this matter.

    TIA

    Pavel
    Czechoslovak Airmen in the RAF 1940-1945
    http://cz-raf.webnode.cz

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    Default Re: Number of crewmembers in BC OTU in 1943-1944

    June-August 1944, dads crew was 6 members, including 2 gunners. They picked up the FE at HCU.

    Jim

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    Default Re: Number of crewmembers in BC OTU in 1943-1944

    Miles Tripp The Eighth Passenger:

    Bomb-aimer on Lancaster ops with 218 Squadron RAF, Tripp recounts his experience of crewing up at OTU in Jun 1944 in Ch 1, Marriage Market.
    It took some days, and they were aiming for a crew of 6, the FE to join later.

    See also http://www.rafcommands.com/forum/sho...525#post154525
    Toujours propos

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    Default Re: Number of crewmembers in BC OTU in 1943-1944

    Don thank you very much for your post.

    Pavel
    Czechoslovak Airmen in the RAF 1940-1945
    http://cz-raf.webnode.cz

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    Default Re: Number of crewmembers in BC OTU in 1943-1944

    Pavel, you're welcome.

    Miles Barton Tripp 1923-2000 wrote a good many fiction books, but The Eighth Passenger is something else. Well-written, from that period when it was not unusual for ex-RAF men not to explicitly id their Squadron on writing about their service. Still, he cites the Squadron motto, shows one of their aircraft in flight with it's Squadron codes...and the Aus War Memorial awards db records their pilot Klenner's DFC with his Squadron no at https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/R1548147, for a Gelsenkirchen raid https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/R1568996

    Reading the text it's also clear that the crew had trained on Wellingtons to late June 1944 with 26 OTU at Wing, in Buckinghamshire: a place, not an RAF organisational unit (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Wing). After further training at an HCU (Stirlings) and at a Lancaster Conversion Unit, in September 1944 they were posted to 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron RAF, In time, then at RAF Methwold on GH equipped Lancasters Is and IIIs.

    In fact, Chapter 1 is so full of info and so readable on crewing up, on training at OTU, HCU and LCU, I propose to post it here in recognition of Tripp's work and of the crew who survived a 40-op late-war tour over Germany.

    "1. Marriage Market
    ON THE FIRST day men were sent to a large hangar and told it was up to them to form crews among themselves; those who were too sensitive, diffident or withdrawn to respond to these conditions would eventually be crewed up with others of similar temperament. This arbitrary collision of strangers was basically a marriage market and yet the choice of a good flying partner was far more important than a good wife. You couldn't divorce your crew, and you could die if one of them wasn't up to his job at a critical moment.

    I felt like a girl at her first dance and cringed at the thought of being a wallflower. Groups of pilots, navigators, wireless operators and air gunners stayed with their own kind but as the morning passed men from each group began to circulate and a jocular insecurity pervaded the cheerless hangar. Every so often one would hear a happy cry, 'Hey, Bill, I've found a navigator!' and if the speaker was an air gunner one readily understood his joy because, although everyone in a bomber crew took the same risk, there was a wage differential between navigators and gunners that created an unacknowledged but undeniable status distinction.

    The day dragged by and when the time came to close the hangar I was still a wallflower. That evening I went to the village, had a few drinks and sat down to play the pub piano. A sergeant navigator with a pint of beer in his hand came and stood by the piano. After a while he offered to buy me a drink. Like me he was uncrewed. I duly bought him a return drink and we agreed to team up. He was from the north, aged twenty-one, and his name was Jack.

    On the following day Jack came to me greatly excited. He had found a pilot who had already crewed up with a wireless operator. The four of us met. The pilot, a tall, lean Australian Flight Sergeant with blue eyes and a thin pale face, was the same age as Jack. The wireless operator, who wasn't yet twenty, was a hefty good-looking lad from Leeds. Both were named George. It was accepted without any discussion that we should join forces; the only problem was that it might be confusing to have two Georges in the same crew. In the end it was agreed that we should call the pilot 'Dig'. When asked my name I said it was Miles but most R.A.F. friends called me 'Mike'. 'Mike'll do for us,' said Dig.

    Late in the nineteenth century Dig's grandparents had emigrated from Germany and settled in Australia and although he made a joke about bombing the land of his forefathers he spoke very little about his background. During the next few days I tried very hard, perhaps too hard, to know him better, and was uneasily fascinated by the lack of rapport between us. Dig was everything I wasn't — tough, mechanically minded, contemptuous of the Arts, a lover of slapstick, loyal and courageous. He had, he told me, a sheila in Perth who was a beaut, and because he was the first Australian I had ever heard I mistook his fair dinkum slang for poetic imagery. But it soon became apparent that the only close point of contact between us was that I could play I haven't said Thanks for that Lovely Week-End and this tune reminded him of his sheila. When I began to sing he asked me whether it hurt me as much to sing as it hurt him to listen.

    George, the wireless operator, was very keen to fly on operations. He had taken a signals course with the Air Training Corps and when he had reached the minimum age, seventeen and a half, he had volunteered for aircrew duties. Although he didn't think I talked posh and I didn't think he was a bai-goom Yorkshireman I believe we were both slightly conscious of differences which went beyond accent, and we had few interests in common, although once again I found that the piano was a friend indeed. George's favourite tunes were Paper Doll and It Could Happen to You, but I think that if we had been travelling in the same train, instead of singing in the Mess, we should have retired behind newspapers after a few moments of polite conversation.

    One day Dig informed us that he had got a brace of gunners and therefore the crew was complete until we reached Conversion Unit when we should be allocated a flight engineer. The gunners, Paul and Harry, had already agreed that Paul would man the mid-upper turret and Harry would be 'Tail-end Charlie' in the rear turret. Harry had a brown skin, high cheekbones and an arrogant bearing; it was not difficult to imagine that the Scottish seafarers and African women among his ancestors were proud clansmen and the daughters of tribal chiefs.

    Occasionally he would adopt a mannered way of speaking and embellish subordinate clauses with ironical euphemisms to such effect that the listener would become lost in a maze of nineteenth-century diplomatic English. Of one somewhat plain member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force he remarked, 'It is to be doubted if anyone could with justification state that here was a flower born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air.' But while he could appreciate delicacy and nuance in conversation, he could also swear hard and fight. At this time there were very few West Indians in England and, of these, only a handful were in aircrew. During the entire period of training in Bomber Command, and later when on a squadron, we did not see or meet another West Indian flyer. Harry was twenty-four and the old man of the crew.

    The other gunner, Paul, had been born in Aberdeen of English parents but most of his life had been spent in Liverpool and he possessed the lively eyes and slightly undernourished look of a typical Liverpudlian. He was the smallest man in the crew and sometimes called 'Junior'. He loved danger and to say that a man was a crazy bastard was about the highest praise he could bestow. He laughed a lot but spoke sparingly, usually in short, clipped sentences. Everyone liked Paul; he was game for anything, hardly ever complained, and was against nothing and nobody except bullshit and authority. He preferred gambling at cards to taking a chance with a woman, and he drank heavily. Dig brought the six of us together in the Sergeants' Mess and ceremoniously bought six pints of beer with which to toast our future success. While we were drinking, another Australian pilot came across. 'You blokes got him,' he said, looking at Dig. 'I tell you. When we were at S.F.T.S. I was the only bugger with the nerve to formate on him.'

    Dig bellowed with laughter. 'Don't take any notice of young Gog,' he said. 'Gog doesn't know his arse from a hole in the ground.' He glanced at us affectionately. 'I've got the best bloody crew in Bomber Command,' he said.

    I admired his confidence. At this stage we had not been on a single flight together. But soon we were on our way. While Jack remained at base to gain navigational experience, flying with senior crews, the rest went with Dig to a satellite aerodrome so that he could practice circuits and bumps on a Wellington. Jack didn't like being left behind but was consoled by the thought of seeing his fiancee at the week-end. She had just become pregnant and they wanted to accelerate plans for the wedding.

    We said good-bye to Jack and the next news we had of him was that he was dead. He had been inside a Wellington which had blown up on its landing approach.

    A gloom fell over us but Jack's fiancee must have felt utter despair. We didn't know her name, or where she lived, and, although it might have been a nice gesture to seek her out, condolences are merely an acknowledgement of sorrow, they do not palliate grief.

    It was an exciting moment when Dig took off for the first time without an instructor on board and, to prove that we were on our own and could do as we liked, George, contrary to regulations, tuned in to the Forces programme, and for a while dance music played over the intercom.

    Then we were allocated a new navigator. Les, a pale-faced, lanky youth from Sheffield, had been a clerk in a builder's office before joining the R.A.F. He was diffident and shy and a neglected remainder in the marriage market. For a man of his temperament it must have been painfully embarrassing to join a crew who had lost their previous navigator in tragic circumstances, and if he was made to feel at home almost immediately this was entirely due to Dig's insistence that he had the best crew and, if Les was in it, then he must be the best navigator.

    Nor was Dig's confidence shaken by Les's failure to find the right target in a ground exercise called a 'grope' which was designed to simulate operational conditions in a lofty, darkened room. Twenty minutes after the other crews had bombed Wuppertal, Les was bombing an unmarked area near Aachen. By the time he had navigated his aircraft back to England the other crews had left for lunch.

    A fierce argument followed between Dig, who was a mere Flight Sergeant, and the instructor who held the rank of Flight Lieutenant. The instructor wanted to hold Les back for further training and to give us another replacement, but Dig refused to accept this suggestion. One couldn't help admiring Dig for his stand but I knew that if I had been in his position I would have accepted the instructor's offer. The difference between us, and it is discreditable to me, was that Dig was a born leader with a leader's sense of team loyalty and I was a man for whom self-preservation was ultimately more important than any loyalty.

    During the next few weeks we flew as a crew. Dig quickly became bored with night flying exercises and would ask me to take over while he went to the back of the aircraft to lie down and sleep. This helped me to know and work better with Les, because I would fly for as long as three hours on the courses he gave, but sometimes I worried about having a sleep-prone pilot. How would we fare on operations, I wondered, if he was constantly yawning and talking of taking a kip.

    The mishaps which befell most crews occurred to ours. There was the time when our aircraft landed with less than ten gallons in its tanks; the time when anti-aircraft defences near Stratford-upon-Avon opened fire on us; the time when Dig set the altimeter one thousand feet too high and it was Harry's keen night vision that detected we were skimming hedges and treetops; the time I tried to teach Paul about bomb-aiming and he dropped a practice bomb so far from the authorized area that it fell beside the main line from Euston to Crewe; and the time I tried to map-read the way to my home only thirty miles from base when we should have been air-testing a Wellington, failed to find it, and, without a navigator on board, then failed to find base. We were lost for nearly two hours. Then we were posted to Conversion Unit so that Dig could learn how to handle four-engined aircraft.

    We were joined by the seventh and last crew member. He was just nineteen years old but had been top of his course as flight engineer and possibly he had been delegated to our crew to improve our level of performance. His name was Ray, he came from a village in Norfolk, and it had been his childhood ambition to keep goal for the Norwich Canaries. Ray and I enjoyed a natural animosity from the start. He had close-cropped hair; mine was long. He had no time for music and literature; I sneered at technical know-how. He would spend an evening polishing and sweeping his bedspace; the ration of coal was stored under my bedspace where it was reckoned safe from theft by other crews. In general, he was as intolerant of arty-crafty types as I was of swede bashers. We were destined to form a love-hate relationship in which the love was derisory.

    Another training mishap, less typical than the others, befell the crew one afternoon when returning from a navigational exercise which had been delayed. Dig began glancing at his watch. He had a date with a WAAF and had yet to shave and change into his best blue; the time for his date was less than twenty minutes away as we approached the airfield. I went to sit beside him to put down the wheels, advance throttles and let down the flaps (the bomb-aimer's task on Stirlings) but when the aircraft was fifty feet from the ground it was obvious that a landing on the short runway was impossible. I expected Dig to order overshoot procedure, but he said nothing; his jaw was set and each whisker bristled with the determination to meet his girl-friend on time.

    The wheels touched down half-way along the runway and at the same moment I pulled back the throttles, trying to strangle life from the engines. But in spite of this, and Dig's attempts to brake, the Stirling careered past the concrete runway end, bumped over rough ground, crashed through a hedge and hit a ditch. The undercarriage collapsed and the port wing broke while its revolving airscrews churned up turves. I was thrown upwards and my head banged the cockpit cover; Dig seemed to slide away beneath me.

    The hazard of exploding petrol tanks and the fire made me move fast. I wrenched back the cockpit cover, clambered out and dropped to the ground. Dig followed, but there was no explosion and luckily no one had been hurt apart from minor cuts and bruises. Dig had to forego his date; the Commanding Officer wished to see him.

    He came away from the interview looking remarkably cheerful. He had been told that his commission had come through on that very morning and his only punishment was to be a red ink endorsement in his log-book and the withholding of promulgation of his promotion until he was due to leave the unit. Considering that the Stirling was a total wreck, and had to be written off as scrap, this was generous treatment. Harry was not so fortunate. To his bewilderment he was charged with not being in his correct crew position, the tail turret, during the landing. He was taken under escort to the Commanding Officer and the rest of us went to the Mess to wait for him. Eventually he re-appeared, his head held high and his face taut with well-bred disdain.

    There was a chorus: 'How did it go, Harry?'...'What happened?'
    'He asked what I had to say in answer to the charge, and I told him! I said 'God, man, if I'd stayed in my turret I'd be dead! And because I'm not dead, you charge me!'
    'What did he say to that?' everyone asked.
    'He dismissed the charge,' said Harry.

    Dig was not chastened by the experience but he was growing fed up with the craze for playing bridge which had developed among the crew and was being carried to the extent of playing rubbers during day flying exercises. George, Les, Paul and Harry would all squeeze into the navigator's compartment leaving Ray to look after the engines from a position half-way down the aircraft, and Dig and me in the pilot's cabin. One day Dig winked and mouthed the words 'Hold tight'. He pulled the control column into the pit of his stomach and the Stirling's nose reared up. The airspeed dropped to 90 m.p.h. and the aircraft shuddered on the brink of a stall; then Dig pushed the stick forward and gave full right rudder. The Stirling dived and began to roll. He slammed on the opposite rudder and heaved back the stick so that the aircraft soared out of its dive with an awful drag in the opposite direction. Cards floated out of the navigator's compartment like a flock of doves and Les's anxious face appeared. Dig was almost sick with laughter as the Stirling bucked all over the sky like an unbroken bronco. His playful hint worked. There were no more flying bridge schools.

    The crew was posted to a Lancaster Conversion Unit for a fourteen-day course on Lancasters before joining a squadron and it was here that I had a mortifying come-uppance. A snap examination on the Mark XIV bombsight, fuses and detonators, was held and I returned an almost blank paper. Previous exams had been passed by last minute swotting and something like photographic memory; but the unexpected test revealed the immensity of my ignorance. The chief bombing instructor summoned me and said he couldn't recommend my posting to a squadron. I would be a fatal liability to any crew. In these circumstances there was no alternative but to hold me back and provide the crew with a 'spare bod' bomb-aimer.

    I went straight to Dig and told him what had happened. By this time his faith in his crew must have been sorely tried. At Operational Training Unit he had been told that the instructors were making a book on which crew would be the first to get chopped on operations and that his crew were favourites. Paul had disclosed that luck and bluff had carried him through gunnery school; his eyesight really wasn't very good. There was Les's failure in the 'grope' and now I was telling him what the chief bombing instructor had said. He looked anxious at first, but then he grinned. 'The mechanics of a bombsight?' he said. 'I don't give a damn so long as you drop the bombs in the right place.'

    He arranged for me to have a special two-day course on the bombsight, fusing, circuits and other technicalities. At the end of the two days I was given a further examination and passed. The crew was then posted to a squadron which had a reputation for moving its base frequently, almost nomadically. Its present temporary base was at Methwold in Norfolk. However, it had been in existence long enough to have its own crest — an hour-glass - and a motto - 'In Time'.

    2. A Debut to Forget
    ON AN AFTERNOON in late September 1944 we walked down a lane which passed a pine plantation. At the end we saw a deserted airfield and for a moment wondered if we were in the right place and had not, by mistake, come to an abandoned camp. Then we understood the reason for the peace and stillness all around. The entire squadron was somewhere over Europe on a daylight operation."
    Source: MB Tripp (1923-2000) The Eighth Passenger Leo Cooper 1993 (c) MB Tripp 1969, 1985, 1993
    Last edited by Don Clark; 3rd October 2020 at 02:57.
    Toujours propos

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    Default Re: Number of crewmembers in BC OTU in 1943-1944

    That is a b****y fantastic narrative, so beautifully written, matches up and expands on everything I have read on the subject of crewing up (which in my case included those great introductions to the history of WW2 - the infamous British "War Comic!") Actually I am fairly certain that some of the writers of these comics probably had at least some war experience, and a good understanding on the underlying mores of those times. (I was born in 1951, so prefer to rely a great deal on those who were actually "there" to get the atmosphere right.
    David D

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    Default Re: Number of crewmembers in BC OTU in 1943-1944

    Don thank you for re-typing so long quotation which is really appreciated and confirms my information I have from another sources.

    Pavel
    Czechoslovak Airmen in the RAF 1940-1945
    http://cz-raf.webnode.cz

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    Default Re: Number of crewmembers in BC OTU in 1943-1944

    You're welcome, Pavel, although I did not have to retype it, thank goodness.

    The OCR package that came with my scanner is quite effective, compared to earlier versions.
    A page scanned to JPEG at suitable res & quality runs to text via a PDF conversion then displayed in Firefox as text selectable, with very little tidy-up.

    Miles Tripp's The Eighth Passenger is a very good account indeed of late-war Bomber Cmd/Lancaster Sqn ops.
    Toujours propos

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