RAF Waddington (call sign “Slangword”) was a pre-war, permanent airfield, so wartime crews had comfortable, heated quarters when compared to emergency airfields where Nissen huts with their famous “pot-bellied” stoves were standard issue. At the start of the war, Nos. 50 and 44 squadrons operated from Waddington, flying Handley Page Hampdens and latterly Lancasters. With the increasing use of heavy bombers, it became necessary for all-weather concrete runways to be laid on the previously grass-covered airfield in order to maintain the impetus of operations. In April and May 1943, 50 and 44 squadrons moved out in order that dispersal areas and permanent runways could be laid. When the work was complete, 467 RAAF Squadron (call sign "Mozart") moved in on 12th November 1943 from its previous base at RAF Bottesford. A week or so later, a nucleus of crews from “C” Flight formed a new squadron, 463 RAAF, (call sign “Fuller”) which would also share Waddington. 467’s dispersal area was on the north-east side of the airfield near the Lincoln to Sleaford road, 463’s dispersals were towards the southern boundaries.
Aussies at War
Australians volunteered in their thousands to train as aircrew under the auspices of the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS). Airmen enlisted for the same reasons that men joined the other services: duty, the chance to travel, the lure of adventure – and escape.
The officers who issued the questionnaires and conducted the interviews and tests wanted men who could make decisions quickly, had sharp reflexes, were ready to lead, and had a good education and “all-round interests, with a mechanical bent”. They needed men able to learn quickly to fly the most advanced aircraft in the most extreme and demanding circumstances. They had to learn to navigate, shoot accurately, operate radio and radar equipment, and send and receive Morse code. As the pilot was captain of his aircraft, and in the air each aircraft was effectively alone, a pilot had to be able to lead. The selecting officers looked for those “inspiring liking and respect in their fellows”.
Given the demand for places in aircrew training, the selecting officers could afford to be selective. Those chosen were likely to have been sportsmen, preferably having been captain of a team, were educated above the average, had an air of confidence, spoke fluently and indicated some interest in flying – or at least in motor cars or motor bicycles. Over 90 per cent of aircrew in 1940 had over four years of secondary schooling, when at that time such a qualification was less common than a degree is today. In 1939, those with the education were likely to be university students, school teachers, journalists, public servants, and junior office workers in banks and large insurance and trading firms.
The men who entered Initial Training Schools as Aircraftsman Second Class were young. Where the age of men joining an infantry battalion early in the war might average 27 and later could be 25, aircrew were around 24 when they died, and even younger late in the war. That is, they were at least three years younger than the men in an infantry battalion. The Air Force believed that its preference for youth was justified: in the training schools the youngest did better even than those aged 23, and much better than those aged 27. And given that aircrew graduated as sergeants and pilot officers, they were very young by rank. (Extracts from the 2003 History Conference - Air War Europe by Hank Nelson, Professor in the Research School of Pacific and Asian History at the Australian National University in Canberra.)
A tour of duty
An operation (op. or sortie) was a successfully completed flight where the main (or secondary) target had been attacked. If the aircraft developed a technical problem which meant having to return to base, the crew were not credited with an op. A tour of duty was 30 completed ops., once this milestone had been reached, the crew was 'screened' (ie taken off ops.), split up and sent to Operational Training Units (OTUs) to instruct new crews. After six months in this "less arduous environment" (though training new crews was not without its own dangers and losses were dangerously high, 8,305 were killed in flying or training accidents), crew members came back for a second tour of 20 operations. 74 crews completed a tour of operations on the squadron, but the chance doing this was a mere 2.6%.
Statistically, during their first five operations, a new crew ran ten times the risk of more experienced men, quite simply because they didn't know the ropes despite their training. New pilots usually flew their first sortie as "second dickie" with an experienced crew in order to get the feel of things
Getting down safely
On any operation, indeed on any flight, there were many potential and actual hazards encountered. Taking off in a fully laden bomber in the dark, possibly with 14000lbs of bombs and 2000 gallons of high octane aviation fuel was an almost nightly danger. On the route to the target and in the target area itself crews could expect enemy nightfighters and flak, not to mention the possibility of collision with other bombers and being hit by bombs dropped from above. The journey home was no less fraught, again possibly with nightfighters and flak. But even when the crews might think they were safely near their home base, there were still many potential dangers, possibly from German "intruders" who had followed the bombers home and hoped to catch them in an unguarded moment of relaxed vigil as they descended into their circuit, or from the weather which may have "clamped" causing a diversion to another base, not to mention the fact that the aircraft itself could be damaged needing an emergency landing of some type.
But even assuming that all had gone well on the operation, that there were no losses or damaged aircraft, it still meant that as many as 30 aircraft manned by tired crews had to be brought down safely. The system developed to achieve this was called the Drem system. This comprised an ellipse of lights around the airfield and a series of lights along each of the (usually) three runways. When crews were returning home, the outer lights and the lights for the runway in use were switched on.
Aircraft approached the airfield at 1500ft and at right angles to the runway (1) in use. The pilot called the Control Tower identifying the aircraft, the Tower would answer "Proceed upwind." At this position (2) at an altitude of 1000ft the pilot called "Upwind" and later "Crosswind" at (3). Other pilots would be calling in at their position in the circuit. At (4) downwind, the aircraft began a descent to 500ft, the pilot reporting "Funnel" as he turned towards the runway; he hoped to hear the reply "Pancake" meaning he was clear to land. If there was trouble the command was "Overshoot". On successfully landing, (6) the pilot reported "Clear of runway."
This aerial photograph of the airfield at Waddington shows the main hangars, admin and accommodation blocks in the lower left-hand quarter. The Lincoln to Sleaford road runs from the lower left-hand edge towards the top right, 467's dispersals being the other side of the road. 463 squadron's dispersals are to the right of the airfield.
467 squadron dispersals
463 squadron dispersals.
The photograph was taken by F/Lt Perry of 463 Squadron, which shared Waddington with 467, on 2nd March 1945, the day before the Ladbergen raid. Lancasters can be seen at dispersal. The pictures below attempt to give a flavour of daily life for all those at Waddington, working hard to keep the Lancasters on the offensive.