Ben Knights DFM
104 & 162 Sqns

Apart from straightforward bombing missions, some very small, others up to 100 aircraft, support was given to the Main Force heavies by using Window to confuse enemy radar and to create diversions for the fighter defence systems.

The Berlin trip of 1200 miles involved sophisticated planning as ‘The City’ was well defended by night fighters, belts of searchlights, and heavy flak. The power and accuracy of the AA version of the 8.8 cm gun was well known but Berlin was also defended by three, almost indestructible, flak towers mounting 24 large 12.8 cm guns with a range up to 45,000 ft.

My squadron’s Canadian built Mark XXVs, with American Packard Merlins, were tardy performers on the long ops and Berlin runs took either side of four and a half hours depending on the weather and tactical changes of course. On 25th April 1945, Robbie and I flew our last bombing operation to Munich, the target being the Reichsbahn power station after which there was a stand down in LNSF night operations. The Bombing Line between Allied and Russian Forces had become blurred for some time and we had been varying special identity cards round our necks – just in case.

Shortly afterwards, the question of operations in the Far East came up and who could expect to be posted there. The dividing line was said to be dependent on the number of operations already completed. Those who had completed one tour plus a third of a second tour would remain on duties in the UK. In addition, airmen from mainly allied countries were given the opportunity of returning to their homelands including large numbers of Australians who wished to be in a position to serve against the Japanese.

Our large proportion of Aussie navigators, including Robbie, were very quickly off the mark and I wished him the very best of good fortune when he joined his compatriots – what a reliable bunch they were.

Variable UK postings came up but opportunities were limited and 162 was not equipped to deal with large scale food supplies or the rewarding job of repatriating PoWs. Quite a few chaps became involved in test schemes to do with refined radar navigation equipment, but the remainder of us remained at Bourn.

My squadron had shared Bourn airfield with 105 Squadron, a first class marking outfit and one of the finest Pathfinder squadrons. Their top quality Mosquitoes were amongst the few fitted with OBOE and they contributed to the success of many highly important sorties against the main targets. They too had lost personnel and it was decided on a merger and to base the combined operation at Blackbushe, the forerunner of London Airport.

We also became part of Transport Command and had to undergo fresh medicals which I failed at the initial urine test. However, all was well and I was indeed fortunate to team up with F/Lt. ‘Flash’ Gordon, a triple DFC, who had been navigator to the CO of 105 Squadron, Wing Commander Wooldridge DSO DFC* DFM.

The main task was the delivery of important despatches, diplomatic mail, a selection of London newspapers and vaccines. Regular ‘Jane’ flights were made over northern Europe delivering the tabloids to remote Service stations who put out illuminated triangles on which we would drop canisters of papers. The more serious regular runs were to (Oslo and Copenhagen), Brussels, (Rome, Naples, Athens), (Malta, Cairo), Prague and Vienna.

Our brand new aircraft were full of American gear which was of limited use except for getting swing music from the American Forces Network. Long Range LORAN equipment was fitted, with which we were unfamiliar, and most of the trips ran off our Gee network. It was, therefore, mostly a question of basic Dead Reckoning and map reading. ‘Flash’ revelled in this role, not surprisingly, as he had operated in early low level operations with 105.

I carried out these duties for six months and count them my most spectacular and enjoyable flying experiences. It all came to an end in February 1946 after a final run to Oslo. I was offered a Permanent Commission which I declined, as peacetime service held no appeal, and thenceforth devoted myself to normal family life, banking, and golf.

Links & Notes

Anti-aircraft guns of Germany http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Anti-aircraft_guns_of_Germany
Blackbushe (Hartford Bridge) Airfield http://daveg4otu.tripod.com/airfields/bse.html

page last updated 28 June 2010: ACA Surrey Branch 2010