Source: Spink Auction catalogue, 25 November 2010.

PITTAM, Norman, Flight Sergeant (1456669) - No.10 Squadron - Distinguished Flying Medal - awarded as per London Gazette dated 13 October 1944. Born Stockton Heath, Cheshire, 1922; enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve for service during the Second World War, with initial training postings including No. 1 A.F.U. Wigtown, from March 1943; No. 10 O.T.U., from July 1943 and 1658 Conversion Unit from October 1943; posted for operational flying as a Navigator to 10 Squadron (Halifax’s), Melbourne, Yorkshire, 11.11.1943; flew in 32 operational sorties with the squadron (mainly with Sergeant L. Fenny as his Pilot) including: Berlin (3) – one of which being 29.11.1943, “Three 10 Squadron aircraft landed away, one of them was ZA-T, flown by L. Fenny, which arrived at Woodbridge on three and 30 flak hits, shattering Perspex and leaving three holes in the left fuel tanks” (Squadron History refers), Frankfurt, Leipzig; Le Mans, Ternier (2); Ottignies; Dusseldorf, Karlsruhe; Essen; Douai and Rennes; Commissioned Pilot Officer, 5.7.1944. The recommendation states:

Flight Sergeant Pittam was posted to No. 10 Squadron in November, 1943 and, after completing 30 sorties comprising 154 operational hours, has been screened and posted for instructional duties.

This N.C.O. was the Navigator of a Halifax aircraft detailed to attack Berlin on the night of 29/30th December, 1943. The aircraft was severely damaged by flak just prior to reaching the target and the starboard-outer engine had to be feathered. On leaving the target area, the aircraft was repeatedly it by flak and No. 3 port tank holed. Height could not be maintained and, owing to fuel shortage, preliminary ditching procedure was carried out. Flight Sergeant Pittam coolly and skilfully navigated the damaged Halifax to an emergency landing ground where a safe landing was made. As normal navigational aids were unserviceable, Flight Sergeant Pittam’s navigational ability played a big part in the safe return of the aircraft and crew.

During a sortie on Leipzig on 19th February, 1944, the aircraft in which he was Navigator was attacked and badly damaged by five enemy aircraft, one Me.109, one Me.110 and three Ju.88’s. His aircraft was also attacked by an Me.109 and two Ju.88’s during a sortie on Ottignies on 20th/21st April, 1944. Despite these incidents, Flight Sergeant Pittam has displayed a high standard of navigational ability throughout which enabled his Captain to obtain two aiming point photographs and others of the target area showing fire tracks. I strongly recommend that his outstanding ability, courage and unswerving devotion to duty be recognized by the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.

After completing his first tour he was posted for instructional duties to 10 O.T.U., Stanton Harcourt, September 1944; by this time Pittam had built up a reputation as a very fine Navigator, despite Jack Currie’s memories of an anecdote of Pittam’s early career, “The funniest thing Pip used to tell me about 10 Squadron was that when he first arrived at Pocklington, sitting in the Sgts’ Mess, having a quiet cup of tea, the Tannoy called for him to report to the Briefing Room.

Pip turned to another chap: “What d’you suppose that’s for?” “They probably want you to go to Berlin tonight.” “Berlin? I don’t even know where the Briefing Room is, never mind Berlin.”

It was whilst at Barford St. John that Pittam came across Currie who was to be his next operational pilot in Mosquitos, when posted to 1409 (MET.) Flight, Wyton; Currie records the event in his book Mosquito Victory: “In the evening, I was working my way slowly through a half of bitter, when Pittam – one of the commissioned navigators joined me at the hatchway in the corridor that served as a bar in Barford’s mess. He was a burly, dark-haired fellow, maybe half an inch taller and a good stone heavier than I, and about my age. I knew that he had done a tour with 4 Group, on the Halifax, presumably starting as an NCO, like me, because he wore the ribbon of the D.F.M., and I had gathered that he showed an easy skill at high-speed navigation. I also knew he came from Lancashire, for which he could not be held to blame, and that he tended to be loud and boisterous when drinking beer’; over a pint Pittam set about convincing Currie to accompany him to a new posting: “He offered a cigarette. Ever heard of fourteen-oh-nine Flight?” “No.”

He lowered his voice, bringing it down to the decibel-count of Ancurin Bevan addressing a public meeting. “Met. Reconnaissance. They’re called the weather spies.”

I remembered something Arthur Smith had said, a year ago, at Lulsgate – something about sending a Mosquito out before the heavies went, “Oh, that,” I said. “Sounds pretty boring to me.”

“Boring? It’s bloody interesting,” he shouted. “Blokes reckon it’s the most interesting job in Bomber Command, these days.”

“What – checking the met. winds?”

“That’s not all they do, for Christ’s sake. Pre-attack target recce, photography, finding the fronts before they get to Europe…. All sorts …. Apparently, they call for a new crew every four months.” He turned back, smiling, eyes bright with excitement. “They want one now.”

Pittam and Currie were posted to 1409 (Met.) Flight in the first week of April, “there were ten crews in the Flight, all specially selected, and to carry out our special tasks we had six special aeroplanes – Mark XVIs in PR blue with pressure cabins – plus one unspecial, and unpressurised, Mark IX.”; when a flight was called for, the code name “Pampa” was used and normally came from the C-in-C Bomber Command, “No. 1409 Flight flew by day or by night as and when required. Sometimes there might be one aircraft out, sometimes there might be three or four. Their total time in the air often covered most of the twenty-four hours of a day. Their penetrations into Germany were quite deep even in broad daylight in clear weather. Naturally they flew high and fast, but the danger was extreme, and it was a most nerve-racking job for the crews concerned…. Generally, they would be required to report either at a particular spot or down a particular line in Germany. They would plan their route with suitable changes of course to throw off possible enemy fighters, and would pass through the area required, taking a full record of the weather at the appropriate positions. They had no guns of any sort, and nothing offensive. I often wonder whether it was appreciated at Headquarters Bomber Command, or for that matter by any other senior officers who called for a Pampa, that in doing so they were asking an unarmed aircraft to proceed deep int the heart of enemy territory, often in broad daylight, without any cloud clover” (Pathfinder, Air Vice Marshal D.C.T. Bennett, refers); they undertook their maiden operational flight together, 12.24.1945, “Two-five-oh should get us back to base,” said Pittam, “or near enough.”

He never asked, as other navigators did, for 249 or 251 degrees, or maybe 248 or 252, according to their calculations. He seemed to know that it was easier to steer calculations. He seemed to know that it was easier to steer along a main division of the compass, - on five or zero – so he picked the nearest, and made up for it later with a right or left correction. An easy man to live with in the air was Norman Pittam, and on the ground, we had established a tolerable modus vivendi, if not to say rapport. At Wyton, this had been really essential, because most members of the Weather Flight lived in a biggish, pre-war OMQ, with each room housing one aircrew. Pittam and I enjoyed a bedroom where, as I imagined, some Flight Lieutenant of the 1930s had kissed his youngest child goodnight. So closely juxtaposed, we soon knew all about each other…. In fact, for several months, I was to spend more time in Pittam’s company, by day and night, than ever in my wife’s. And, when I had the chance to visit her, he – like the girl-friend’s mother of whom Jack Buchanan sang – came too. Luckily, Nina took a liking to him from the start, treating him as though he were a favourite, if naughty, younger brother, to be kept, with all affection, in his place. She soon discovered that a determined tickling beneath the lower ribs reduced him to a helpless, shrieking jelly, and so had little difficulty in keeping order. The merest threat of this corrective became enough to send him into panic flight, wild-eyed and bellowing “No, Nina, please! No!” With other exits barred, on one occasion in the WAAF OQ at Warboys, he somehow scrambled through a casement window, headlong into the outer darkness, leaving shreds of skin, of battle-dress, and the echo of an anguished cry behind.”

The proximity fostered a good understanding and partnership between Mosquito Pilot and Navigator and Currie and Pittam carried out Met. Recce flights over the Ruhr, Kiel, Cherbourg, Hanover, Osnabruck and the Dutch Coast, during one such trip over the Dutch Coast. “Unaware, therefore that General Montgomery, in his wisdom, had seen fit to let the 2nd Army by-pass most of Holland on their eastward march, I was cruising nonchalantly along the Dutch coast at about 8,000 feet, while Pittam took his photographs, when suddenly the sky around us was full of patent breaches of the peace.

“Pip”, I said, “can you see a Jerry kite behind us?” He put down the camera, and craned his neck. “All Clear.” “That’s funny – those gunners are firing at something.”

More bursts appeared in front of us, like balls of dirty cottonwool. I changed course, hastily. Pittam’s eyes were wide, above the mask. “You’re right,” he said, “they’re firing at us!” “Bloody gunners,” I complained. “Don’t they know a Mossie when they see one?”

“Course they do – they’re Jerry gunners. The buggers must still have this bit of the coast”…. I commenced a steeply diving turn towards the sea, and pushed the throttles forward through the gate “Come on D-Dog,” I urged, “you’re supposed to be the fasted piston-engined warplane in the world – now’s the time to prove it.” The needle of the ASI moved past 400 knots, and the fragile airframe trembled. “I wonder what speed the wings ‘would come off at?”

“The way you’re going”, growled Pittam, “we’ll soon find out.” Pittam and Currie also carried out “Pre-Attack” work, an example of this was on Schwandorf, 17.4.1945, “We heard the squadrons from nearby airfields go while we were dressing – 7 from Oakington, 35 from Gravely, 156 from Upwood – but we had lots of time ahead to take a look at Europe’s weather, and still make rendezvous with them before they reached their target. This was a place called Schwandorf, down in south-east Germany, on the edge of the Bavrian Forest, and it was on the list because it was a communications link with the Austrian ‘Redoubt’ where, so the story went, Hitler’s death-or-glory boys would make their final stand. East Anglia lay dark beneath us as we climbed towards the coast – so dark that it might have been anywhere, or nowhere. Only Pittam’s radar recognized that shapeless nothingness for what it was. Those radar blips lit Pittam’s world-for him, as the cool, blue panel dials lit mine…. Then a flickering of gunfire 30,000 feet below came as a reminder that, down there, the war was going on…. I had been to Berlin nine times in the Lancaster, in ’43 and ’44, and it had never been my favourite target – nor anybody else’s, for that matter. Then there had been mile upon mile of heavy flak and probing searchlights, of malignant prowling Messerschmitts and ill-intentioned Focke-Wolfes, and of hostile land whichever way you went now, like a beaten boxer Berlin was hanging on the ropes, defences down, and taking a terrific pounding from the left and from the right…. Down there, on Able’s port beam, that long awaited harvest was coming home to the Berliners.

The vengeful schoolboy in me thought “that serves you right, you bastards”; a more sophisticated part of the ego knew it for a fearful, cataclysmic sight. “My God, Pip, just look at that!” “Uh-huh. Alter course starboard on to one-eight-zero.” “You see the guns firing from the east – they’re Russian, aren’t they?” “Yeh, they would be. Let me know when you’re steady on course.”

We flew south across the Elbe, past Dresden on the left and Chemnitz on the right, and on across the Czechoslovak border until we came to Karlsbad, on the starboard beam. There we turned south west towards Bavaria and the bombers’ target. They were to arrive just after five a.m., and I meant to complete the recce thirty minutes earlier, which would give me time to tell the Master Bomber what the weather was while he still had a hundred miles or so to go.’ Having been promoted to Flying Officer earlier in the year, Pittam stayed with 1409 Flight until the Summer of 1946, when he was seconded to the British Overseas Airways Corporation before taking up employment as a Navigator with British European Airways; whilst employed with the latter he flew in Viking and Dakota aircraft; he later went on to be employed by Orient Airways, flying out of Karachi.