Vickers Wellington IC of No.149 Squadron

Vickers Wellington IC of No.149 Squadron

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Vickers Wellington IC of No.149 Squadron

This picture show OK-W, a Vickers Wellington IC of No.149 Squadron.

No. 149 Squadron

Motto: “Fortis nocte” (“Strong by night”).
Badge: A horseshoe and a flash of lightning interlaced. The horseshoe is indicative of good fortune in the First World War when the squadron flew extensive operations with the loss of only one pilot and observer. A further reason for the horseshoe is that much of the squadron’s work was in connection with the cavalry. The flash of lightning is symbolic of the speed with which work was done during a comparatively brief history.
Authority: King George VI, February 1938.

No. 149 Squadron, RFC, was formed at Yapton, Sussex, on 3rd March 1918, as a night-bomber unit and three months later went to France equipped with FE2b’s. Engaged in bombing enemy communications, airfields, etc., as well as on reconnaissance duties on the Second Army Front, it dropped more than 80 tons of bombs and made 161 reconnaissances.

Two interesting details worthy of mention concern the squadron’s equipment. All the FEs were fitted with a “flame reducer” designed by an officer of the squadron – Captain CES RusseIl. This successfully damped all exhaust flame, an important requirement for night-flying aircraft. All aircraft were fitted with special racks, designed by one of the squadron’s mechanics which could carry either Michelin flares or bombs without modification. The FEs were thus instantly adaptable for either bombing or reconnaissance. Of the squadron’s original 18 FEs which flew to France in June 1918, seven were still in service on Armistice Day.

After the Armistice No. 149 was the only FE squadron chosen to accompany the Army of Occupation into Germany. It returned to the United Kingdom in March 1919, and was disbanded at Tallaght, Co. Dublin, the following August.

The squadron was re-formed in 1937 at Mildenhall – again as a night-bomber unit – and now equipped with Heyford aircraft. Wellingtons were received early in 1939 and on 4th September that year No. 149 shared with No. 9 Squadron the distinction of making the RAF’s second bombing raid of World War 2 the targets were German warships at Brunsbüttel.

The squadron played a prominent part in the early offensive against Germany, Italy and enemy-occupied territory and, after having re-equipped with Stirlings, took part in the first 1,000-bomber raids. In 1943 it made a significant contribution to the Battle of the Ruhr, and also took part in the Battle of Hamburg and the famous raid against the German V-weapons experimental station at Peenemunde. Between February and July 1944 – and in addition to dropping high explosives on the enemy – the squadron helped supply the French Maquis with supplies, arms and ammunition by parachute.

Towards the end of 1944 the Stirlings were replaced by Lancasters and with these the squadron continued its offensive until late April 1945. It then dropped food to the starving people of Holland and later, after the German surrender, ferried many ex-POWs back to England from the Continent.

During December 1943 the squadron was responsible for introducing a new technique of high-level mining. Among the many decorations won by its members was a Victoria Cross awarded posthumously to Flight Sergeant RH Middleton, RAAF, for his part in a raid on Turin on the night of 28/29th November 1942.

Bomber Command WWII Bases:

  • Mildenhall : Apr 1937-Apr 1942
  • Detachment in southern France (Salon) in Jun 1940.
  • Detachment at Lakenheath in Jan/Feb 1942.
  • Lakenheath : Apr 1942-May 1944
  • Detachment at Tempsford in Jan/Feb 1944.
  • Methwold : May 1944 onwards

Bomber Command WWII Aircraft:

  • Vickers Wellington I, IC and II : Jan 1939-Dec 1941
  • Short Stirling I and III : Nov 1941-Sep 1944
  • Avro Lancaster B.I and B.III : Aug 1944-Nov 1949

Code Letters:

WW2 its a/c were coded “OJ” or, in the case of certain Lancasters and possibly Stirlings, “TK”.

First Operational Mission in WWII:

First Bombing Mission in WWII:

Brunsbüttel. 1 claimed to have released bombs over target area and rest jettisoned bombs in sea elsewhere.

Last Operational Mission in WWII:

Last Mission before VE Day:

John Johnson (Author of Air Britain book – 149 Squadron. This is the Methwold )

RAF METHWOLD – 149 SQUADRON – 6.2.1945

No.149 “East India” Squadron was a mainstay of Bomber Command, taking part on the Strategic Bombing campaign from its beginnings in May 1940 until the very end of the war.

Like many Bomber Command squadrons, No.149 began the war with an attack on the German fleet in September 1939, before the Phoney War set in. Once the night bombing campaign began the squadron’s only breaks came when it converted from the Wellington to the Stirling, and then from the Stirling to the Lancaster.

January 1939-December 1941: Vickers Wellington I, IA, IC
November 1941-June 1943: Short Stirling I
February 1943-September 1944: Short Stirling III
August 1944-November 1949: Avro Lancaster I and III

12 April 1937-6 April 1942: Mildenhall
6 April 1942-15 May 1944: Lakenheath
15 May 1944-29 April 1946: Methwold

Vickers Wellington

Building upon the experience gained from Barnes Wallis’ geodetic structural concept, which had been used in the airframe of the Wellesley, Vickers adopted such construction when tendering for a prototype contract to Air Ministry Specification B.9/32. This called for an aircraft capable of delivering a bomb load of 1,000 lbs (454 kg) and with a range of 720 miles (1159 km). These requirements were surpassed by the Vickers proposal, which was for a mid-wing mediu

m day bomber with two Rolls-Royce Goshawk engines and retractable landing gear, able to carry more than 4,500 lbs (2041 kg) of bombs, and having a maximum range of 2,800 miles (4506 km).

The prototype (K4049) with two 915 hp (682 kW) Bristol Pegasus X engines, and having a Supermarine Stranraer fin and rudder assembly designed by George Edwards, was completed at Weybridge in May 1936. It was first flown by Vickers’ chief test pilot, J. ‘Mutt’ Summers, on 15 June. Later that month, it was exhibited at the 1936 Hendon Air Display, with nose and tail cupolas covered to prevent details of its still secret constructional method being revealed. After initial manufacturer’s testing the aircraft was flown to the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath for official trials. Near there, on 19 April 1937, with tests almost concluded, the prototype crashed after elevator overbalance in a high-speed dive resulted in inversion and structural failure.

On 15 August 1936, however, the Air Ministry had placed an order for 180 Wellington Mk Is to specification B.29/36. These were required to have a redesigned and slightly more angular fuselage, a revised tail unit, and hydraulically operated Vickers nose, ventral and tail turrets. The first production Wellington Mk I (L4212) was flown on 23 December 1937, powered by Pegasus X engines. In April 1938, however, the 1,050 hp (783 kW) Pegasus XVIII became standard for the other 3,052 Mk Is of all variants built at Weybridge, or at the Blackpool and Chester factories which were established to keep pace with orders.

Initial Mk Is totalled 181, of which three were built at Chester. These were followed by 187 Mk IAs with Nash and Thompson turrets and strengthened landing gear with larger main wheels. Except for 17 Chester-built aircraft, all were manufactured at Weybridge. The most numerous of the Mk I variants was the Mk IC, which had Vickers ‘K’ or Browning machine-guns in beam positions (these replacing the ventral turret), improved hydraulics, and a strengthened bomb bay beam to allow a 4,000 lbs (1814 kg) bomb to be carried. Of this version 2,685 were built (1,052 at Weybridge, 50 at Blackpool and 1,583 at Chester), 138 of them being delivered as torpedo-bombers after successful trials at the Torpedo Development Unit, Gosport.

Many of the improvements incorporated in the Mks IA and IC were developed for the Mk II, powered by 1,145 hp (854 kW) Rolls-Royce Merlin X engines as an insurance against Pegasus supply problems. The prototype was a conversion of the 38th Mk I, and this made its first flight on 3 March 1939 at Brooklands. Although range was reduced slightly, the Wellington II offered improvements in speed, service ceiling and maximum weight, the last rising from the 24,850 lbs (11272 kg) of the basic Mk I to 33,000 lbs (14969 kg). Weybridge built 401 of this version.

With the Wellington III a switch was made to Bristol Hercules engines, the prototype being the 39th Mk I airframe with Hercules HE1-SMs, two stage superchargers and de Havilland propellers. After initial problems with this installation, a Mk IC was converted to take two 1,425 hp (1063 kW) Hercules III engines driving Rotol propellers. Production Mk IIIs had 1,590 hp (1186 kW) Hercules XIs, and later aircraft were fitted with four-gun FN.20A tail turrets, doubling the fire power of the installation in earlier marks. Two were completed at Weybridge, 780 at Blackpool and 737 at Chester.

The availability of a number of 1,050 hp (783 kW) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp R-1830-S3C4-G engines, ordered by but not delivered to France, led to development of the Wellington IV. The prototype was one of 220 Mk IVs built at Chester, but on its delivery flight to Weybridge carburettor icing caused both engines to fail on the approach to Brooklands, and the aircraft made a forced landing at Addlestone. The original Hamilton Standard propellers proved very noisy and were replaced by Curtiss propellers.

For high-altitude bombing Vickers was asked to investigate the provision of a pressure cabin in the Wellington: the resulting Mk V was powered by two turbocharged Hercules VIII engines. Service ceiling was increased from the 23,500 ft (7165 m) of the Mk II to 36,800ft (11215 m). The cylindrical pressure chamber had a porthole in the lower nose position for the bomb-aimer, and the pilot’s head projected into a small pressurised dome which, although offset to port, provided little forward or downward view for landing. Two prototypes were built in Vickers’ experimental shop at Fox warren, Cobham, to Specification B.23/39 and one production machine, to B.17/40, was produced at the company’s extension factory at Smith’s Lawn, Windsor Great Park.

The Wellington VI was a parallel development, with 1,600 hp (1193 kW) Merlin 60 engines and a service ceiling of 38,500 it (11735 m), although the prototype had achieved 40,000 ft (12190 m). Wellington VI production totalled 63, including 18 re-engined Mk Vs, all assembled at Smith’s Lawn. Each had a remotely-controlled F.N.20A tail turret, and this was locked in position when the aircraft was at altitude. Intended originally as an improved Mk II with Merlin XX engines, the Wellington VII was built only as a prototype, and was transferred to Rolls-Royce at Hucknall for development flying of the Merlin 60s.

First Wellington variant to be developed specifically for Coastal Command was the GR.Mk VIII, a general reconnaissance/torpedo-bomber version of the Pegasus XVIII-engined Mk IC. Equipped with ASV (Air to Surface Vessel) Mk II radar, it was identified readily by the four dorsal antennae and the four pairs of transmitting aerials on each side of the fuselage. A total of 271 torpedo-bombers for daylight operation was built at Weybridge, together with 65 day bombers and 58 equipped for night operation with a Leigh searchlight in the ventral turret position. In these last aircraft the nose armament was deleted and the position occupied by the light operator.

The designation Mk IX was allocated to a single troop-carrying conversion of a Wellington IA, but the Mk X was the last of the bomber variants and the most numerous. It was based on the Mk III, but had the more powerful 1,675 hp (1249 kW) Hercules VI or XVI engines with downdraught carburettor, and was identified externally from earlier marks by the long carburettor intake on top of the engine cowling. Internal structural strengthening, achieved by the use of the newly-developed DTD646 aluminium alloy, allowed maximum take-off weight to raise to 36,000 lbs (16329 kg). Production was shared between Blackpool and Chester, with totals of 1,369 and 2,434 respectively. After withdrawal from first-Iine service with Bomber Command, Mk Xs were among many Wellingtons flown by Operational Training Units. After the war a number were converted by Boulton Paul Aircraft as T.Mk 10 crew trainers, with the nose turret faired over.

Making use of the experience gained with the Wellington VIII torpedo-bombers, the GR.Mk XI was developed from the Mk X, using the same Hercules VI or XVI engines. It was equipped initially with ASV Mk II radar, although this was superseded later by centrimetric ASV Mk III. This latter equipment had first been fitted to the GR.XII, which was a Leigh Light equipped anti-submarine version. Weybridge built 105 Mk XIs and 50 Mk XIIs, while Blackpool and Chester respectively assembled 75 Mk XIs and eight Mk XIIs, but with 1,735 hp (1294 kW) Hercules XVII engines.

Weybridge was responsible for 42 Mk XlIIs and 53 Mk XIVs, Blackpool for 802 XlIIs and 250 Mk XIVs, and Chester for 538 Mk XIVs.

A transport conversion of the Mk I, the C.Mk IA, was further developed as the C.Mk XV, while the C.Mk XVI was a similar development of the Mk IC. They were unarmed, as were the last three basic versions which were all trainers. The T.Mk XVII was a Mk XI converted by the RAF for night fighter crew training with SCR-720 AI (Airborne Interception) radar in a nose radome. Eighty externally similar aircraft, with accommodation for instructor and four pupils and based on the Mk XIII, were built at Blackpool as T.Mk XVIIIs. Finally, RAF converted Mk Xs for basic crew training were designated T.Mk XIXs. In total 11,461 Wellingtons were built, including the prototype, and the last was a Blackpool built Mk X handed over on 25 October 1945.

The fourth production Wellington Mk I was the first to reach an operational squadron, arriving at Mildenhall in October 1938 for No.99 Squadron. Six squadrons, of No.3 Group (Nos. 9, 37, 38, 99, 115 and 149) were equipped by the outbreak of war, and among units working up was the New Zealand Flight at Marham, Norfolk, where training was in progress in preparation for delivery to New Zealand of 30 Wellington Is. The flight later became No.75 (NZ) Squadron, the first Dominion squadron to be formed in World War II. Sergeant James Ward of No. 75 later became the only recipient of the Victoria Cross while serving on Wellingtons, the decoration being awarded for crawling out on to the wing in flight to extinguish a fire, during a sortie made on 7 July 1941.

On 4 September 1939, the second day of the war, Wellingtons of Nos. 9 and 149 Squadrons bombed German shipping at Brunsbuttel, sharing with the Bristol Blenheims of Nos. 107 and 110 Squadrons the honour of Bomber Command’s first bombing raids on German territory. Wellingtons in tight formation were reckoned to have such outstanding defensive firepower as to be almost impregnable, but after maulings at the hands of pilots of the Luftwaffe’s JG 1, during raids on the Schillig Roads (Heligoland Blight) on 14 and 18 December, some lessons were learned. Self-sealing tanks were essential, and the Wellington’s vulnerability to beam attacks from above led to introduction of beam gun positions. Most significantly, operations switched to nights.

Wellingtons of Nos. 99 and 149 Squadrons were among aircraft despatched in Bomber Command’s first attack on Berlin, which took place on 25/26 August 1940 and on 1 April 1941, a Wellington of No.149 Squadron dropped the first 4,000 lbs (1814 kg) ‘blockbuster’ bomb during a raid on Emden. Of 1,046 aircraft which took part in the Cologne raid during the night of 30 May 1942, 599 were Wellingtons. The last operational sortie by Bomber Command Wellingtons was flown on 8/9 October 1943.

There was, however, still an important role for the Wellington to play with Coastal Command. Maritime operations had started with the four DWI Wellingtons: these had been converted by Vickers in the opening months of 1940 to carry a 52 ft (15.85 m) diameter metal ring, which contained a coil that could create a field current to detonate magnetic mines. Eleven almost identical aircraft, with 48 ft (14.63 m) rings, were converted by W. A. Rollason Ltd. at Croydon, and others on site in the Middle East.

No.172 Squadron at Chivenor, covering the Western Approaches, was the first to use the Leigh Light equipped Wellington VIII operationally, and the first attack on a U -boat by such an aircraft at night took place on 3 June 1942, with the first sinking recorded on 6 July. From December 1941 Wellingtons were flying shipping strikes in the Mediterranean, and in the Far East No.36 Squadron began anti-submarine operations in October 1942.

In 1940 the entry of the Italians into World War II resulted in Wellingtons being sent out from Great Britain to serve with No.205 Group, Desert Air Force. No.70 Squadron flew its first night attack on 19 September, against the port of Benghazi, and as the tide of war turned during 1942 and 1943, units moved into Tunisia to support the invasions of Sicily and Italy, operating from Italian soil at the close of 1943. The last Wellington bombing raid of the war in southern Europe took place on 13 March 1945, when six aircraft joined a Consolidated Liberator strike on marshalling yards at Treviso in northern Italy.

In the Far East, too, Wellingtons served as bombers with No.225 Group in India, Mk ICs of No.215 Squadron flying their first operational sortie on 23 April 1942. Equipped later with Wellington Xs, Nos. 99 and 215 Squadrons continued to bomb Japanese bases and communications until replaced by Liberators in late 1944, when the Wellington units were released for transport duties.

After the war the Wellington was used principally for navigator and pilot training, Air Navigation Schools and Advanced Flying Schools until 1953.


Specification: Wellington Mk 1C

Crew/Passengers: crew of eight

Number Built: 11,462 (incl. 181 Mk I, 1887 Mk Ia, 2,685 Mk Ic, 401 Mk II, 1,519 Mk III, 220 Mk IV, 394 Mk VIII, 3,803 Mk X, 180 Mk XI, 884 Mk XIII, 841 Mk XIV

Power Plant: Two 1,000 hp Britol Pegasus XVIII Engines

Performance: Max Speed: 234 mph (377 km/h)

Service Ceiling: 18,000 ft (5,486 m) Range: 1,805 mi (2,905 km)

Weights: Empty: 18,556 lb (8,459 kg) Max T/O: 29,500 lb (13,381 kg)

Dimensions: Span: 86 ft 2 in ( 26.26 m) Length: 64 ft 7 in (19.69 m)

Height: 17 ft 6 in (5.35 m) Wing Area: 840 sq ft (78.04 sq m)

Armament: 2 x 0.303-in (7.7-mm) machine guns in nose turret, 2 x 0.303-in (7.7-mm) machine guns in tail turret, 2 x 0.303-in (7.7-mm) machine guns in beam positions plus up to 4,500 lb (2,041 kg) of bombs.

Specification: Wellington Mk II

Manufacturer: Vickers Aircraft

Crew/Passengers: crew of eight

Power Plant: Two 1,130 hp Rolls Royce Merlin X piston engines

Performance: Max Speed: 235 mph (378 km/h)

Service Ceiling: 19,000 ft (5,791 m) Range: 1,540 mi (2,478 km)

Weights: Empty: 18,650 lb (8,459 kg) Max T/O: 29,500 lb (13,381 kg)

Dimensions: Span: 86 ft 2 in ( 26.26 m) Length: 64 ft 7 in (18.54 m)

Height: 17 ft 6 in (5.31 m) Wing Area: 840 sq ft (78.04 sq m)

Armament: 2 x 0.303-in (7.7-mm) machine guns in nose turret, 2 x 0.303-in (7.7-mm) machine guns in tail turret, 2 x 0.303-in (7.7-mm) machine guns in beam positions plus up to 4,500 lb (2,041 kg) of bombs.

Specification: Wellington Mk III

Crew/Passengers: crew of eight

Number Built: 11,462 (incl. 181 Mk I, 1887 Mk Ia, 2,685 Mk Ic, 401 Mk II, 1,519 Mk III, 220 Mk IV, 394 Mk VIII, 3,803 Mk X, 180 Mk XI, 884 Mk XIII, 841 Mk XIV

Power Plant: Two 1,425 hp Bristol Hercules III or XI Engine

Performance: Max Speed: 255 mph (411 km/h)

Service Ceiling: 18,000 ft (5,486 m) Range: 1,470 mi (2,366 km)

Weights: Empty: 22,000 lb (8,459 kg) Max T/O: 29,500 lb (13,381 kg)

Dimensions: Span: 86 ft 2 in ( 26.26 m) Length: 64 ft 7 in (19.69 m)

Height: 17 ft 6 in (5.35 m) Wing Area: 840 sq ft (78.04 sq m)

2 x 0.303-in (7.7-mm) machine guns in nose turret, 2 x 0.303-in (7.7-mm) machine guns in tail turret, 2 x 0.303-in (7.7-mm) machine guns in beam positions plus up to 4,500 lb (2,041 kg) of bombs.

Vickers Wellington Ic (P9272 OJ-A) crashed on a mission to Kiel on 1940-08-28

On Tuesday, 27 August 1940, (a part of) the aircraft of the 149 squadron (RAF), took off for a mission to Kiel in Germany from a station (airfield) in or near Mildenhall.
One of the crew members was Flight Lieutenant P F R Vaillant. He departed for his mission at 20:22. He flew with a Vickers Wellington (type Ic, with serial P9272 and code OJ-A). His mission and of the other crew members was planned for Wednesday, 28 August 1940.

Information by the son of Sergeant Mabey, Mike Mabey: "my father was the tail gunner of vickers wellington p9272 n for nuts sgt L F MABEY the last man left on the bomber the crew bail out over holland vailant saywood connolly butt feeder after takeing a hell of a ponding from the german fighters the wellington was on fire dad was jamed in the back with a german bullet jamed in the hinge of his seat things where moveing fast with in seconds the bomber was going down just as fast as it went down it came up and leveled out at the same height the fire was out a german spotter plane had been watching the events unfold hoping the plane would drop out of the sky and the british bombers would turn back seeing the fire was out thay sent another german fighter to shoot down vickers wellington p9272 he spotted the fighter coming around with no crew and the hydroics shot out he was on his own it was battle stations he was fighting for his life it was hard going moving the guns into alinement with no hydrolics the german spotter plane filmed"

Photo of the Wellington P9273 OJ-N

Wellington Mk lC P9272 OJ-N: Acting Flight Lieutenant Paul Francois Reginald Vaillant was a Wellington pilot in No149 (East India) Squadron. He had been crewed up with

  • Pilot Officer M G Butt (second pilot)
  • Sergeant Johnny Fender (Obsen/er)
  • Sergeant D H G Connolly (wireless-operator) a Maori rear-gunner,
  • Sergeant L F Mabey, RNZAF
  • Sergeant R W Saywood (gunner).

Sergeant Mabey was the only New Zealander, all the rest were English.

On 27/28 August Bomber Command sent out a mixed force of fifty Hampdens, Wellingtons and Whitleys to bomb various targets in France, Germany and Italy. No 149 Squadron's target was Kiel, where the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were harbouring. But Kiel was obscured by ten-tenths cloud, so Paul Vaillant set course for the alternative target, Wilhelmshaven. Over the Elbe they were coned by searchlights and hit in the port fuel tanks by flak. With the tanks empty, Vaillant had no option but to order the crew to abandon aircraft. They baled out safely at about 0200 hours. All were rounded up during the next few hours by searching Germans. While Vaillant remained behind at Dulag Luttfor seven weeks, Maurice Butt and the rest of the crew were sent to Barth.

P9245 OJ-W R3206 OJ-M P9272 OJ-IV at the back over England Training Flight in August 1940

P9245 OJ-W and P9272 OJ-N for Nuts on Training flight in August 1940

Photos from the book"Wire and Walls": Paul Francois Reginld Vaillant on the top right, having a smoke.

4 A shot from the film "Target for Tonight". See the film here:

The film was made just after the "Battle of Britain". It was made using the crews of 149 Squadron in the filming. They had not forgot N for Nuts, who did not made it back.

The bomber with the New Zealand Maori Hei Tiki sign at the side.

This what probably happened when they were over Holland and the bomber caught on fire. The crew baled out.

All of a sudden the bomber dropped out of the sky falling thousands of feet. Just as fast it shoot up and levaled out, it was then he faced a German fighter.

With the bomber onfire. He was stuck in the back. From there he was flying with the gods. Sergeant L F Mabey was jamed in the back with the radio shut out. They would have thought he was dead.

Drawing: The place (Kiel) where Sergeant Mabey was captured.

This record can also be found on the maps of Back to Normandy with Google coordinates. You can find the maps by clicking on this link on this location.

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Vickers Wellington IC of No.149 Squadron - History

Wellington P9270 was airborne from RAF Newmarket, Suffolk at 22.30 on 23 May 1940 to provide tactical support in the battle area. A marshalling yard at Givet on the Franco-Belgian border was the target. Crashed (cause not established) near Barton Mills, Suffolk, as the crew prepared to land back at Newmarket. As stated above, three crew injured, three crew killed.

Crew of Wellington P9270:
Flight Lieutenant (Pilot) Ian Douglas Grant-Crawford, RAF 37501, age 28, killed in action 24/05/1940, buried at West Row Baptist Chapelyard, Suffolk, UK
Flying Officer Holdsworth survived, Injured
Sgt Mundell survived, Injured
Aircraftman 1st Class Edgar Sydney Hewitt, RAF 547085, age 22, killed in action 24/05/1940,buried at Skegness (St. Clement) Churchyard, Skegness, Lincolnshire, UK
Aircraftman 2nd Class (Wireless Op./Air Gunner) John Burton, RAF 627969, age 22, killed in action 24/05/1940, buried at West Row Baptist Chapelyard, Suffolk, UK
AC.1 Crook survived, Injured

Revealing the Ineffectiveness of Early British Night-Bombing Raids

Before World War II began, there was a general acceptance that the strategic bombing of cities and industrial areas would be a major factor in deciding the outcome of any future war. In 1932, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin gave a speech in which he noted that “the bomber will always get through.”

This phrase became widely quoted in the pre-war years among those who believed in the effectiveness of strategic bombing. It was claimed that fleets of well-armed bombers would be able to accurately deliver their loads to targets deep within enemy territory. When the war began in September 1939, it rapidly became clear that this was not so.

Daylight raids by British bombers, mainly against German naval bases, led to such high losses that they were quickly discontinued. Daylight operations by the aircraft of Bomber Command were limited throughout the remainder of 1939, and by the spring of 1940 most bombing raids were being carried out at night.

RAF Bomber Command 1940 Vickers Wellington Mk IC bombers of No. 149 Squadron in flight, circa August 1940.

This switch to night bombing reduced the losses experienced during daylight operations, but it also inevitably meant that bombing accuracy was decreased. Nevertheless, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was confident that it was effectively striking its targets.

The British bombing campaign continued into 1941 with increasing numbers and sizes of raids using twin-engine bombers such as the Wellington, Hampton, and Whitley, as well as the first of the four-engine British bombers, the Short Stirling.

Short Stirling Bomber code XT-M of No. 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit RAF

The RAF claimed that the bulk of its bombs were falling on their targets. For example, in the weekly Cabinet briefing for July 17-24, 1941, it was noted that attacks had been carried out on industrial and rail targets in Frankfurt, Mannheim, Cologne and Hanover.

The Cabinet were told that “Over 670 tons of H.E. and over 58,000 incendiary bombs were dropped, and it is estimated that a large proportion of these fell in the target areas.”

The RAF was confident that it was inflicting serious damage on the Nazi capacity for industrial production, but not everyone agreed. One of those was Professor A. V. Hill, a noted British scientist who was also a Member of Parliament.

Heinkel He 111 bomber over the Surrey Commercial Docks in South London and Wapping and the Isle of Dogs in the East End of London on 7 September 1940

Hill gave a speech to Parliament in which he pointed out that German bombing of British cities in 1940 had actually led to an increase in civilian morale and had not significantly reduced British industrial capacity: “The loss of production in the worst month of the Blitz was about equal to that due to the Easter holidays.”

Hill questioned whether the British bombing of German industrial capacity was really as effective as the RAF was claiming.

Bomb damage to a street in Birmingham after an air raid

One of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s most trusted advisors, physicist Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell, agreed and he persuaded Churchill to commission an independent report on the effectiveness of British night bombing.

The task of compiling the report was given to one of Lindemann’s assistants, a young economist working for the Statistical Section of the Admiralty, David Bensusan-Butt.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, a British night bomber, c. 1940.

Butt analyzed photographs of over one hundred separate raids by RAF night-bombers which had taken place in June/July 1941—the same period covered by the Cabinet briefing paper quoted above in which the RAF claimed that “a large proportion”of its bombs were hitting their targets. These photographs covered forty-eight targets and over five hundred individual sorties.

The report was completed and published in August 1941 and its contents were both shocking and devastating. Of bombers which reported that they had successfully bombed, on average, only one in five had actually dropped their bombs within five miles of the target. For targets in the heavily defended Ruhr, this dropped to one in ten. On nights when there was a new moon, this fell to one in fifteen.

De Havilland DH-98 Mosquito, is a British twin-engine shoulder-winged multi-role combat aircraft used also as a night bomber.

And this included only aircraft which claimed to have successfully bombed the target—it did not cover those which for a variety of reasons had not been able to complete their mission. Butt went on to note:

It must be observed also that by defining the target area for the purpose of this enquiry as having a radius of five miles, an area of over 75 square miles is taken. This must at least for any town but Berlin consist very largely of open country. The proportion of aircraft actually dropping their bombs on built up areas must be very much less.

The bomb-bay of an Avro Lancaster

For all the courage, professionalism and determination of the British bombers crews, it was clear that most of their bombs were falling harmlessly on open country and very, very few were actually hitting the factories and rail-yards which were their targets.

It was estimated that only 1% of all bombs dropped actually fell in the immediate vicinity of their target. Far from delivering a decisive blow to German industry, the RAF was losing crews and aircraft for almost no discernible effect.

Avro Lancaster bomber over Hamburg

A heated debate followed in which detractors of the RAF sought to divert resources to other parts of the British armed forces. Instead, the RAF continued its night bombing campaign, but switched from “precision bombing” to “area bombing.”

In February 1942, the Area Bombing Directive was issued. This switched RAF attacks from industrial and transportation targets, which the Butt report showed that they were incapable of hitting reliably, to attacks on whole German cities in order to directly disrupt the German industrial workforce and undermine the morale of the German population.

Typical bomb damage in the Eilbek district of Hamburg

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As the war progressed, the RAF’s capacity to hit targets at night increased dramatically. The Pathfinder Force, highly trained bomber crews equipped with the latest navigation devices, began operations in 1942, dropping flares to guide the rest of the bomber fleet to their target.

Radio navigation devices including Oboe, GEE and G-H became widely fitted to new British bombers such as the Halifax and Lancaster in 1942/1943. In early 1943 the first airborne, ground-scanning radar, H2S, was fitted to some RAF bombers, allowing them to identify and accurately bomb targets even in clouds and haze.

By the end of WWII, RAF bombers were able to reliably drop bombs within twenty-five yards of their target from 15,000 feet. When RAF bombers of 617 Squadron attacked the Michelin tire factory at Clermont-Ferrand in France in March 1944, they were able to minimize French casualties by completely destroying the vital workshops while leaving the canteen alongside largely undamaged.

The publication of the Butt report in 1941 was a painful shock, not just to the RAF but to the entire British government. However, instead of leading to the abandonment of the night-bombing campaign, it instead provided vital impetus in the drive to improve British bombing accuracy.

Wellington Down

Established on 21 January 1941 as part of 6 Group RAF Bomber Command, the role of 21 OTU was to train night bomber crews. Wellington bombers were used for instruction, starting off with war weary Mk 1c aircraft, converting to the Mk III and finally the Mk X version.

Vickers Wellington IC, W5705 E for echo, responded slowly. A veteran of war built at the Vickers factory in Brooklands, Weybridge in April 1941, she was now a venerable old tutor for a bomber crew learning their trade.

In the company of five other Wellingtons on 29 January 1943, W5705 had taken off at 16h56 hours on a leaflet dropping operation over Nantes in France. Known under the code word ‘Nickel’, this kind of operation was considered as a graduation exercise carried out towards the end of the operational training course. It represented the culmination of hours of circuits and bumps, cross country navigation, bombing, gunnery, night flying, formation flying and defensive manoeuvres.

In essence a ‘nickelling raid’ was used to give student crews a reasonably low risk experience of an operational sortie over enemy territory. The propaganda war was important and leaflets were one of the few ways that the allies could communicate with citizens living under Nazi rule.

The weather was worse than forecast. Only Sgt McCausland and crew reached the target, two crews dropped their leaflets over St Brieuc, a third on Lamballeand the last crew landed at Colerne with mechanical malfunction target.

At 5 foot 8 inches the Canadian was probably more suited to the cockpit of a fighter, but already in his short time at 21OTU he had shown his skill at handling a bomber.

He had been cited earlier in the month when flying Wellington Mk Ic R1649. As he was descending towards base form 4000 feet on 26 January, the port engine exploded. Turning onto finals, he was baulked by another aircraft, which was on the flare path ahead of him. Calmly, he retracted the undercarriage and force landed alongside the other aircraft, causing minimal damage to the valuable bomber, no injuries to the crew and a promotion to Flight Sergeant.

Sgt McCausland left his job as a qualified teller with the Bank of Montreal in 1941, having started his career there as a junior clerk in 1937. He enlisted in the Canadian army on 25 April 1941, and was discharged 5 months later, with the rank of Lance Corporal, for service in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Initially assigned to 3 ITS (Initial Training School) Victoriaville Quebec, he began his flying training on Fleet Finch aircraft. Having passed the first stage of pilot selection he moved on to No 22 EFTS (ElementaryFlight Training School) based in Quebec City, again flying the Finch, a rugged little biplane. Fitted with a sliding canopy, as protection from the Canadian elements, this type of aircraft became a very successful elementary trainer.

The last stage of the course was at 9 FSTS (Service Flying Training Schools) at Centralia, near Exeter, Ontario. This was one of the largest training stations in Canada. Here the trainee pilots flew Avro Ansons and Harvards.

On 3 July 1942 McCausland achieved his pilot qualification and was promoted to Sergeant. He then took 2 weeks leave, probably to visit his family before he embarked on a troopship for the 10 day sea voyage to Bournmouth where he was registered as a new arrival at 3 PRC (Personnel Reception Centre) on 18 August 1942.

Nantes was an important support port for the famous submarine bases at Saint Nazaire on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Loire. The anti aircraft defences were significant.

Wellington GR Mark VIII, W5674 DF-D, of No. 221 Squadron RAF based at Limavady, County Londonderry, seen here at the Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd works at Brooklands, Surrey, following its conversion from a Mark IC aircraft by fitting ASV Mark II anti-submarine radar. This aircraft subsequently flew with No. 7 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit, also based at Limavady.

Still in the turning bank the crew of W5705 were blinded by the bright white light of a searchlight followed shortly afterwards by loud explosions and the sound of shrapnel hitting the aircraft

The pilot looked around desperately, instinctively planning the evasive action and was relieved to find cover in the deep clouds that covered the city. More flak was thrown up into the clouds, but no further damage was done to the aircraft.

All the crew called in unharmed, but they could feel that things were not as they should be. The flak had damaged the starboard engine with a resulting loss of power.

Sgt McCausland called for a repeat of the heading home from Sgt Farren and read the instruments on the panel ahead of him, noting a fall in the oil pressure on the damaged engine.

By the time they crossed the French coast between Guernsey and Cherbourg, the aircraft had steadily lost height. The dicey motor was still running and the crew felt confident they could make it back to base.

Cloud cover was expected to be 10/10, with a ceiling of 1400 feet, and there was a weak southerly wind that helped them reach the shores of England.

They were flying on instruments and relying on the readings and calculations of the navigator. The altimeter was slowly unwinding and it became clear that they would need to find a landing field.

Percy Farren was sure they were close to airfields they were familiar with from their training flights. He suggested they try Aston Down and began to give directions to the pilot, calling off distance and heights.

In the darkness and swirling cloud Sgt McCausland desperately circled the area, searching for the aerodrome and losing precious height.

George Ayers made every attempt to raise the tower at Ashton Down, but it was a training base and not even an emergency field. It was too dark and dangerous to attempt a landing. The skipper called for a new heading for the next closet airfield.

They turned away from Aston Down, desperately low with no power left and only a hope of making a safe landing.

“This is the Skipper, all crew to move to crash positions, I will let you know when to brace yourselves” Sgt McCausland ordered over the radio. The gunners left their turrets and with the navigator and bombardier, they wedged themselves in the fuselage between the engines, reputedly the safest place to be in a forced landing.

The plane was steered to the new heading, flew over the Rodborough Fort and soon after turned to the port, lining up on to NE runway at Moreton Valance.

As he peered ahead James McCausland saw the square steeple of a Church ahead and very close the rooftops of a village. In a final attempt to gain some height, he pushed the throttle controlling the port engine hard against the stops and hauled back on the controls, in the vain hope they would skim over the rise and see the airfield dead head.

Ernie Watkins had not been in bed long in his Stone Cottage on Primrose Hill when he heard a commotion and shouting. He went to the window, he never slept with the black-out curtains closed. In the valley near the mill pond he saw flames and people running.

He threw on his Home Guard trousers and coat and ran down to see what was happening. There were a number of villagers watching the fire burning in the centre of the aircraft, but no one ventured close to the scene.

Howard Watkins, home on leave from the RAF, and Ernie saw that the tail had broken off the aircraft and they went down to see if they could rescue the gunner. They pulled the tail back from the rest of the wreckage, but were driven away by a series of explosion and ‘stuff flying everywhere’. Before they moved away they had realized that there was no one in the turret.

Although seemingly far from the war Stroud had a very active Home Guard. It was necessary to have a military authority handle the various incidents brought to the valleys by the conflict. On Home Guard duty that evening at 23h04 was Lance Corporals Bert Hogg and Harry Smith who witnessed the crash. They immediately reported the incident to the police and their platoon commander who ordered them to the scene.

There he found Lt A J Durn already at the site pulling out ammunition belts as other rounds exploded inside the buried part of the plane. Then NFS and the Platoon Commander arrived and cordoned off the site. The Watkins men were asked by an Air Force officer why the tail was so far back and when they related what they had done, he told them they were either brave or incredibly stupid.

Searchlights played across the woods and valley searching to see if anyone had baled out

The next day US troops were sent to recover the crew, the aircraft and to guard the site. They were made welcome by the village residents and enjoyed their hospitality when they were off duty from working in the inclement weather

A tented camp was set up on the rise opposite the pond. Attempts to use farm horses to recover the wreckage proved unsuccessful, so tractors were brought in to pull the heavy parts of the wreckage out of the soft ground. This was no easy task and at times when dragging the front fuselage and engines out of the mud the heavy tractors were in danger of being dragged down with the wreckage.

Contrary to many village rumours the bodies of all the aircrew were recovered and there is no wreckage left on the site. In more modern times the pond has been drained and the slope where W5705 crashed has been ploughed over and reshaped.

The body of Sgt McCausland was only recovered on 2 February, carried up to the farm on a sheep hurdle and then taken to the Aston Down airfield mortuary. His funeral was held at 15h00 on 6 February 1943 at the Cirencester Cemetery, a long way from Tyne Valley Prince Edward Island, where he was born on 9 September 1919.

On Sunday 31 January 1993 the Gloucestershire Branch of the RAF Regiment Comrades Association, under the chairmanship or Eric Papps, placed a plaque in the Ruscombe Chapel in memory of the crew that had died that winters night in 1943.

Vickers Wellington bomber – Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft

In late 1944 a radar-equipped Vickers Wellington bomber was modified for use by the RAF’s Fighter Interception Unit as an Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft. Flying at an altitude of 4,000 feet (1,200 m) over the North Sea, it directed Mosquito fighters charged with intercepting He 111s from Dutch airbases that sought to launch V-1s from the air.

In June 1944, the home-based night fighter squadrons were suddenly pitched into a defensive battle against the first of Hitler’s `revenge weapons’ – the V-1 flying bomb. The Mosquitoes opened their score against the V-1s on the night of 15/16 June, when a Mosquito VI of No. 605 Squadron from Manston (Flight Lieutenant J. G. Musgrave and Flight Sergeant Sanewell) exploded one over the Channel. Four Mosquito squadrons – Nos 96, 219, 409 and 418 – were assigned exclusively to anti-flying bomb operations, known as Diver patrols, and were joined later in June by Nos 85, 157 and 456. Other squadrons operated against the V-1s on a part-time basis, as priority was given to patrolling the Normandy beachhead. Between them, the seven full-time anti-Diver Mosquito squadrons claimed 471 flying bombs, while the part-timers claimed 152 to give a combined total of 623, or about one-third of the RAF’s total claim against the V-1s.

The Mosquito squadrons began to take losses in the later phases of the campaign against the V-1. In September 1944, with their bases in the Pas de Calais overrun by the Allied advance, the enemy began flying bomb attacks on London and other UK targets, such as Portsmouth and Southampton, with V-1s air-launched from Heinkel He 111s of KG 53. Later in September air launches were made against east coast targets from positions off the Dutch coast. Catching the Heinkel launchers was very difficult, for they flew slowly at low level, and several Mosquitoes were lost to return fire, or because they stalled at low speed while trying to intercept. In an attempt to improve interception rates, a radar picket ship, the frigate HMS Caicos, and a specially equipped radar Wellington of the Fighter Interception Unit were used to direct the Mosquitoes, which patrolled over the sea at about 4,000 feet between Britain and Holland. These operations continued until 14 January 1945, by which time KG 53 had lost seventy-seven aircraft, forty-one of them on operations.

History [ edit | edit source ]

World War I [ edit | edit source ]

Formed on 3 March 1918 at RAF Ford, near Yapton, West Sussex, as No. 149 (NB) Squadron RFC, Ζ] the squadron soon moved to France for night bombing missions above occupied France and Belgium, flying Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2s. After the war the squadron for three months took part in the occupation force in Germany, being stationed at Bickendorf, moving to Ireland in March 1919 where the squadron was disbanded on 1 August 1919. Η]

World War II [ edit | edit source ]

149 Squadron aircrew before being briefed for a raid at RAF Mildenhall

Pilot and co-pilot of a 149 Squadron Wellington bomber circa 1941

The squadron was reformed from 'B' Flight of No. 99 Squadron RAF on 12 April 1937 under No. 3 Group RAF at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk where it remained until April 1942. Initially equipped with Heyford biplane bombers, the squadron converted to Vickers Wellingtons in January 1939. On 4 September 1939 L4259 was flown on "Ops Brunsbüttel 4/500 GP", the day after the declaration of war against Germany by Great Britain. (Source Pilot's Logbook). After being re-equipped with the Short Stirling in November 1941, the squadron took part in the first 1,000 bomber raid. Ώ] The squadron also formed No. 149 Squadron Conversion flight on 21 January 1942 to train new Stirling crews and on 7 October this was formed into 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) together with 7, 101 and 218 Squadron Conversion Flights. Δ] In August 1944, the Stirlings gave way to Avro Lancasters, which served the squadron until 1949. At the end of the war no. 149 squadron participated in Operation Manna, to drop food to the starved Dutch population still under German occupation, and Operation 'Exodus', to return former prisoners of war back to the UK. ⎖]

Post war [ edit | edit source ]

After the war no. 149 squadron continued to fly with RAF Bomber Command, moving to RAF Tuddenham in April 1946 and then later in November on to RAF Stradishall. In February 1949 the squadron returned to RAF Mildenhall, where the Lancasters were replaced with Avro Lincolns. The squadron remained at Mildenhall until disbanding on 1 March 1950.

Retirement was short though, because on 14 August 1950 the squadron was reformed as the RAF's first Boeing Washington bomber unit, moving to RAF Coningsby in October of that year. The Washingtons were on loan by the RAF from the USAF as an interim nuclear bomber pending the arrival of the RAF's own jet bomber, the Canberra. ⎗] The squadron reequipped with the Canberra in March 1953 and in August 1954 it relocated to RAF Ahlhorn in West-Germany, where it joined 125 wing of Royal Air Force Germany. The following month it moved again, this time to RAF Gutersloh, where it the unit had its final disbandment two years later on 31 August 1956.

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