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Thread: Height flown when returning from operations

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    Default Height flown when returning from operations

    Does anyone know what height would be normal for aircraft returning to base after an operation? I have the full route from the op order but there is no mention of height. The aircraft Iím interested in crashed into a hill at 1,000 feet on the middle leg of its U.K. route (Lyme Bay - Taunton - Northampton - Breighton).

    Iíve looked at the Op Order, the ORBs (both Squadron and Station) the Board of Inquiry Report, the accident report, the Night Raid report, but none of them show any detail.

    Thanks
    Daz

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    Default Re: Height flown when returning from operations

    Hi Daz,

    I think a lot of Captains liked to get down low after bombing to doge both the Falk & Fighters, thatís from what Iíve read.

    Cheers,

    John.

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    Default Re: Height flown when returning from operations

    Hi Daz,

    '78 Sqn' suggests we're talking about Bomber Command and the route suggests gardening sorties or ops against French ports? The height instructions for BC ops would be in the Form B issued by (for 78 Sqn) 4 Group HQ. They are often fairly vague, especially about the return. 26-27th Nov 43 (Berlin) the orders were cross RV at 18,000'. Maintain that height until after bombing until crossing 7 degrees E on return where a/c to descend to 14,000' to avoid strong headwind. More typically through the Berlin period the bombing height ordered would be 'as high as possible between 19/22,000'. Maintain that height until crossing enemy coast out.'

    Tee Emm warned constantly of the risk of unauthorised low flying and the dangers of 'cloud-boring', i.e. descending through cloud when not 100% sure of location. Unless descending into the circuit, aircraft would ordinarily keep above 3,000', the height where resin lights would be used over home airspace. Homing on a Gee line was used in 1943/44, which would give the navigator some idea as to minimum safe heights - but 16/17th December 1943 shows that plans could still go horribly wrong.

    Other documents that would have a bearing on heights flown include the SD158 series (routeing and identification of a/c over UK, controlled/prohibited airspace etc), Notices to Airmen, AP3024 Flying Control and Local Flying Orders.

    Hope this helps,

    Richard

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    Default Re: Height flown when returning from operations

    John, agreed, but there must have been some sort of control especially with hundreds of aircraft in the air. I get the idea of reducing altitude so that you could get off of oxygen, perhaps drink your thermos of coffee etc., but how do you avoid collisions if there is no direction from higher formation or Command?
    The aircraft Iím interested ďflew into high groundĒ which was ďcovered in cloudĒ, the crew had not reported any issues but appeared to be heading for an O.T.U. Airfield which was off their briefed track and miles from home. The airfield was where the pilot did his training, other than that he was probably familiar with it, I can see no reason why he was heading for it.

    Daz

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    Default Re: Height flown when returning from operations

    Richard,

    Thank you thatís very interesting and confirms my basic thoughts. This aircraft was indeed returning from a gardening op to La Rochelle. The return route was crossing the U.K. coast at Lyme Bay then a heading to Taunton for a turn which took them in a straight line to Northampton.
    I would have expected them to be at around the 3,000 feet mark for the transit. The crew were very experienced and had not reported any issues, the WOp, Nav and Flight Eng logs all survived the crash and didnít offer any explanations.

    Thanks again
    Daz

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    Default Re: Height flown when returning from operations

    No probs, Daz - I've just revisited SD158. Part 1 'Recognition' (TNA copy dated Jun 42) says that for bombers on op flights, resin lights were to be used above 8,000'. It isn't clear when Nav lights would be switched on as a/c descended. There's a later section on 'Friendly bombers over the UK', which says that 'bombers on operational flights over the UK are to fly at a height not exceeding 7,000' and below cloud, If however cloud base is less than 2,000', then bombers may fly above cloud. Note. - Bomber crews should wherever possible fly over Great Britain at a height below 3,000' when weather conditions permit, provided that they know where they are and that there is no danger from balloon barrages. In this way they will not only lessen the risk of being attacked by enemy intruders, but will also assist Fighter Command in their operations against the enemy and at the same time reduce the chances of themselves being intercepted by our own fighters.'

    However - the whole section is heavily crossed out in red, suggesting that new and specific instructions on operating heights followed later - but the amendment isn't included.

    Cheers,

    Richard

    PS - just revisited the Feb 44 BC Standard Landing Procedure - height for approaching an airfield was 2,500' or below cloud unless otherwise ordered, with nav lights on.
    Last edited by Richard; 9th September 2023 at 13:47. Reason: adding postscript

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    Default Re: Height flown when returning from operations

    Richard
    Many thanks, the aircraft was flying with its navigation lights on, this is recorded in the Court of Inquirey report. One of the many oddities in this case is that the crew had been flying on a NNE heading, most likely as per the flight plan issued in the op order, however when they crashed they appear to have been heading south. Another peculiar aspect is that the crash was at 0220, yet the Flight Engineer has not made an entry in his log for 2 hours. The WOp made an entry in his log 10 minutes before the crash but does not mention any problems. The Navigators log is also kept up to date (last entry 0203) and suggests that the aircraft is heading for Pershore, but doesnít say why. Entries in the Navigators log are subsequently questioned by those involved in the inquiry.

    Daz

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    Default Re: Height flown when returning from operations

    I’m late on this thread, but as has been stated, heights were normally identified in the operational orders. I have all of these for dad’s operations (Sept 1944-Mar1945). There are caveats. At times these state crews were ambiguously told to return at “own heights and speeds to base”. Also, gardening sorties typically called for smaller forces, requiring less urgent control of heights and speeds. Upon return, heights and speeds were probably dictated by by the associated needs for traffic control over the highly congested wartime skies over Britain.

    The circumstances of raid to Chemnitz, 5/6-March-1945, demonstrates the issues pertaining to outgoing and incoming heights over Britain. 6-Group lost 10 aircraft to crashes, with 9 of these crashing in England. In my paper on the raid, I wrote:

    “ At 2337, H2S was switched off and at 2342, Seale records “climbing out of clouds” climbing from 9,500’ to 15,000’. At this time a Gee Fix on the chart shows they were back on track and Seale records a/c TMT (Alter Course “To Maintain Track”). Note the flight plan in the Form “B” instructed crews at this location to “…increase speeds to 220 IAS letting down at 500’ per minute to 3,500-5,000’…” Clearly F/L Cave had other ideas as he had made up his mind to fly over France and England at height band of 13,000-15,000’ and the ORB records his concern about icing over the French Coast noting that coming out from French Coast, the briefed heights were too low for the icing conditions. F/O Peter Tulk reported that the force should have returned over England at 8,000’ and F/L Fred Dawson stated that the icing at the French coast was too high for briefing heights. S/L Dave Hunter offered the sarcastic and damming inditement that “…route and tactics good if Met had been right…” 100-Group recorded 10/10ths stratocumulus cloud from 5o00’ E to the Channel. Lancaster KB.778 of 428 Squadron at 2355 encountered severe icing while flying at a low level and crashed into the mountains in the Ardennes in Belgium, injuring the pilot (F/O Mytruk) and killing the Bomb Aimer, Navigator and Flight Engineer. The consequences of following the flight plan in this instance was catastrophic.”

    Jim

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