My name is Nigel Thomas Bowers and I live in Biddulph, Staffordshire, United Kingdom. I started researching my family and created a web site http://www.nigelbowers.co.uk
I would like to see this blog used as a potential contact site for anyone who my think they are related or would like to more about researching a family tree.
HOPE TO HEAR FROM YOU
At mid-day on Saturday 7th October 1944, Short
Stirling bombers, now converted to towing duties, made the cross-country flight
from their airfield at Harwell, from which they had recently taken part in
Operation MARKET GARDEN - the airborne drop at Arnhem. The Stirlings, and
their Airspeed Horsa gliders, formed part of No. 38 Group, and many of the
local airfields previously occupied by the U.S. Air Forces were taken over by
Two squadrons were based at Rivenhall, Nos. 295 and
570, consisting of two flights of each, 'A' and 'B'. No. 295 Squadron was coded
8Z for 'A' flight and 8E for 'B' Flight. 570 Squadron Stirlings were coded E7.
The Short Stirling Mark IV differed from the
earlier marks in several external features. The nose machine gun turret had
been replaced with a clear plexiglass observation position and the mid upper
turret removed and faired over. This reduced the defensive armament to a rear
turret comprising four Browning 303 machine guns. The bomb bays were retained,
there was an exit hatch in the bottom of the rear fuselage for use by
paratroopers, and each aircraft was equipped with a 'U' shaped tow attachment
under the rear turret.
The stalky undercarriage was a distinctive feature
of the aircraft. In order to improve the Stirlings performance, it had been
decided to increase the angle of attack of the wing that would help to reduce
the touchdown speed on landing. The consequence of this meant a longer
undercarriage which resulted in an unfortunate tendency for it to collapse when
turning off the runway too fast. In addition, the tyres were prone to burst
after picking up flints or stones from the runways or perimeter track.
The Airspeed Horsa was perhaps the most successful
glider used by any of the airborne forces in World War II. It was a high wing
monoplane with a span of 88 feet (only 11 feet less than the Stirlings) and
extremely large split flaps, which have been described as 'being as big as barn
doors'. These flaps were the secret of its very steep descent and short landing
From the outside, the Horsa looked like any other
big aeroplane, but without engines. As soon as one stepped inside the
difference was evident - it had the appearance of a big model, everything in
the structure being of wood. The sound of footsteps and the echoes in the
fuselage sounded like walking in a wooden hut, and seated at the dual controls
it came as something of a surprise to find they were made from laminations of
multiply. In flight, the controls were heavy, as one would expect from such a
large machine, and the ailerons had a 'delayed action' effect. After applying
aileron to bank the aircraft in a turn or to pick up a dropped wing, there was
no immediate reaction, which invited the application of more aileron, when it
took effect and the ailerons were centralised, the wing kept on lifting,
requiring opposite aileron, and so on. The result was over-controlling until
the pilot got the hang of it. Altogether there were some thirty aircraft to
each squadron, with the same number of gliders, and the airfield took a
distinctly crowded appearance.
Practice flights were swiftly instituted and the
local inhabitants saw for the first time just what the gliders were capable of
in the hands of an experienced pilot. Contrary to popular belief, glider pilots
were not volunteers. Such volunteers as there were fell far short of the
requirements and in order to offset the heavy losses incurred during the Arnhem
operation, many R.A.F. pilots were seconded to the Glider Regiment This
enforced transfer was the reason for a certain amount of bitterness in some
glider pilots, who felt they had been trained for bigger and better things than
A tactical landing was a heart stopping sight. The
Horsa, traveling at 100 m.p.h. would cast off from its tow, lower its huge
flaps and point its nose downwards. This descent slope of 1 in 1 1/2 and to the
onlooker seemed certain to end in disaster. At the lat moment, the glider would
round out, landing on its main wheels, rock onto its front wheel, and apply
brakes. This manoeuvre, if correctly executed, could enable a skilful pilot to
land the Horsa in little more its own length.
The technique for mass landings was rather
different, much longer landing runs were used to enable gliders to reach their
appointed place and leave the area clear for others. In the early stages of
training, many gliders landed outside the airfield perimeter, often in a badly
damaged condition. The news of a crashed glider would flash around the district
and unless a guard was placed on the wreck, many parts of it would swiftly
disappear. Plywood was a rare commodity during the war years and a Horsa was
built of very little else. Bungee rubber was also used in its construction and
this also was quickly spirited away. The writer well remembers acquiring 1/16
inch thick plywood, useful for making model airplanes, which was removed from a
Horsa, Stuck firmly in a hedge. Parts of a number of fuselages may still be
seen today, often used as shed in gardens or allotments. A standard Horsa
comprised thirty production units, mainly produced in furniture factories, and
subsequently assembled together. It weighed a total of 7000 pounds, and was
capable of carrying twenty-nine fully loaded troops or a 75mm pack Howitzer.
Although the squadrons based at Rivenhall had the
outward appearance of a glider group, the Stirlings were used extensively for
several other duties besides that of towing Horsas. One of these was the supply
of arms and equipment to the many resistance groups in Occupied Europe. The
navigational efficiency required, in order to locate a pinpoint in the heart of
enemy occupied territory had to be of the highest order. In addition, each
aircraft, operating alone, had to ensure that the drops were made from a
certain height with the greatest accuracy. The correct signal had also to be
received from the reception committee, whose members often waited for the
supplies at the risk of their lives.
The Norwegians were reported to be among the best
at marking the dropping zones and in giving the correct signal from the ground.
Aircraft flying toNorway had only approximately half an hour in which to
locate the zone, in a land of mountains, mist and snow before a shortage of
petrol made their return essential. The total flying time was approximately
Warrant Officer Peter Baldock, of Braintree,
flew with 295 Squadron as navigator of B-Beer, serial No. LK129. He recalls
that Special Operations Executive (S.O.E) drops were made whenever the weather
conditions were favourable. During the month of April, the aircraft of 295 and
570 Squadrons flew S.O.E. missions to aid the resistance fighters
near Copenhagen and other place in Denmark. Wherever possible
these operations were carried out in at least half moon conditions, as the
final part of the navigation had to be visual.
Returning from a successful drop to the freedom
fighters in Holland during this period, B-Beer was coned by the
searchlight defences. The pilot pushed the control column forward to build up
speed and began to take evasive action from the anti aircraft fire that was
being hurled at them. Leveling out of the high-speed dive, in which the
aircraft touched over 300 m.p.h., the rear gunner got in a good burst and
knocked out one of the searchlights
On the night of 26th April, seven aircraft took
part in an operation code named 'TABLEJAM 343' and were assigned to different
targets in Denmark. The defences were reputed to be severe and the
instructions were to 'go in low'. B-Beer was one of the three aircraft that
returned safely, after dropping its supply load of twenty-four containers and
two packages. W.O. Baldock saw one of the Stirlings that was flying extremely
low, belly in on the shores of an inland lake. On their return from the target
it was learned that the crew of the crashed Stirling had escaped
without serious injury, but there were casualties among the other lost
aircraft. One of the hazards of low flying was small arms fire, the wireless
operator of a 570 Squadron Stirling on the night of 23rd April was hit in the
shoulder by a spent bullet, which was assumed to have been caused by small arms
The Short Stirling was the first four-engined
bomber of the war, although its limited ceiling prevented it from ever
attaining the fame of its later compatriots, the Halifax and Lancaster. Nevertheless
it did continue to serve in its original capacity with 295 and 570 Squadrons,
both of whom underwent bombing training in addition to their other varied
In February 1945 the crews put their training to
good use when they were called on to perform tactical bombing in support of the
1st Army Group. The operation called for close support bombing, at night, just
behind the front line. The aircraft successfully delivered their loads of 24 x
500 pound bombs, bombing being accomplished using 'Gee' radar control. Used
correctly it was possible to bomb within an accuracy of 200 yards.
Both of the Rivenhall squadrons, together with
others of No. 38 and 46 Group took part in the final large scale airborne
operation of the war, code named 'VARSITY' On Saturday 24th March 1945, in
conjunction with Allied troops on the ground, the American 17th and the British
6th Airborne Divisions were landed on the east bank of the Rhine. Two days
before, gliders, airborne troops and aircrews were 'sealed off'. They were not
allowed to leave camp, post letters, telephone or be telephoned. On 23rd March
the glider pilots, crews and airborne troops were carefully briefed. They were
told that the success of their mission would considerably hasten final victory.
At 2 a.m. on the morning of the 24th the crews were called, given
breakfast of bacon and eggs and received a last briefing that included final
weather reports. All aircrews were given revolvers and warned that if they had
to bale out over Germany the Nazis might be too disorganized and
panicky to take prisoners.
The Stirlings were marshalled along the perimeter
track, facing the main runway. The airborne troops, khaki clad figures with
maroon berets, filed into the gliders that were parked together as a group. The
tug aircraft converged on the runway from the perimeter track, the towrope was
fixed and the next glider brought up by tractor. The Control officer signaled
the first aircraft away at 0700. As one Stirling cleared the end of
the runway another was given the signal to go. The take-off, with a fully
loaded glider, was sluggish. The Horsa was first off the ground, after a run of
about thirty seconds, and three seconds later the Stirling became
airborne. The vast air armada made rendezvous
over Hawkinge, Kent before heading out over theNorth Sea. The
four-hour flight, in perfect spring sunshine, was fairly uneventful.
Nos. 295 and 570 Squadrons had the distinction of
leading the airborne fleet over the Rhine at Wesel, where the
gliders were cast off. The drop was not without incident. Fighter Bombers of
the 2nd Tactical Air Force, whose task it was to nullify the defences, had been
partially prevented from doing so by the early arrival by seven minutes of the
tugs and gliders. The paratroopers and gliders had to descend through dust and
smoke, in the face of anti aircraft and ground defences. The glider lands were
exceedingly accurate, many touching down within 20 or 30 yards of their
objective. Fortunately the casualties were light. About three hundred gliders
were damaged, more or less severely, and ten were shot down. Among them was the
Horsa towed by B-Beer, one of the first aircraft to cross the Rhine. All
Stirlings from Rivenhall returned safely. With the Allied armies racing across Europe,
the question of supplying essential materials to the forward areas became of
paramount importance. During the month of April, Stirlings from 295 and 570
Squadrons were called upon to ferry 625 gallons of high octane fuel in jerry
cans to Allied fighter aerodromes. It says something for the logistics of that
period, when it is realized that in order to carry the 625 gallons to the
waiting fighters, each Stirling used between 1,000 and 1,200 gallons
of fuel on the round trip.
As the war in Europe drew to its close,
the squadron's Stirlings were used in yet another capacity, as ferry aircraft.
The advancing Allied armies liberated many prisoner of war camps and the freed
prisoners were transported to Brussels. There, the Stirlings picked them
up and flew them back toEngland and freedom. In the months that followed,
Rivenhall became one of the busiest airfields in East Anglia, so much so
that eventually customs facilities were installed. The Stirlings continued to
ferry the returning ex P.O.W's and servicemen on leave or for demobilization,
during the weeks following the end of the war in Europe.
On V.E. +1 10th May 1945, the squadrons of No.
38 Group were engaged in operation DOOMSDAY, the airlifting of troops for
occupation duties inNorway. The manifest for B-Beer included 16 R.A.M.C.
personnel, one motorcycle and one dog. An ex-Luftwaffe airfield, Gardermoen, 40
miles north of Oslo was the destination, where the German commander
surrendered to the senior British officer. The German personnel continued to
man the airfield services and to assist the turn round of aircraft. Tragically,
three aircraft from the group crashed due to bad weather, which involved the
loss of Air Vice marshal Scarlett Streatfield and many soldiers of the 1st Airborne
Division. At the time of writing (1976) an attempt is to be made to recover the
wreck of one of these Stirlings, No. LJ899 belonging to No. 19 Squadron,
from Lake Rydafors, Sweden.
With the war in Europe over, the
Rivenhall Stirlings began making almost daily trips
to Brussels, Munster, Schleswig, acting as mail and newspaper
carriers for the occupying troops. Occasional trips were also made
to Copenhagen, Prague and Vienna. From September 1945, with
the war in the Far East finished, the aircraft assisted Transport
command in ferrying spares and machine parts to such far distant places
as Karachi and Cairo via Tripoli. The 'slip crew'
system was used whereby a crew took over an aircraft along the route in order
to speed the whole operation and turn round. W.O.Baldock was unfortunate to be
part of the crew when the aircraft was used to carry a load of carrier pigeons
back from Tripoli. He still recalls the smell.
Rivenhall continued to be one of the busiest airfields in
the U.K. until January 1946 when No. 295 and 570 Squadrons moved to
Shepherds Grove airfield, situated 12 miles North east of Bury St. Edmunds.
On the 8th January 1946, 570 Squadron was disbanded, followed by
295 Squadron on 14th January.
Occasionally I pop onto the EBay website and see what is about and a couple of days ago I came across this by putting in the search - Battle of the River Plate
WHY ? Well one of my relatives Albert Bowers was on HMNZS Achilles during to battle when eventually the German 'raider' Graf Spee was defeated. The document was an official record of the accounts of the battle, so I though bid on it. Well I won it and it is a fascinating read, when they talk about engaging the enemy at * 11 miles * and actually hitting each other with deady accuracy.
So what is the point of of this Blog - Well I started doing some more research on the internet and found that since my initial research a few years ago, a lot of people have posted article on the NET. So much so I have been able to find a more detailed record of the history of Achilles and even the crew names in 1939. And yes Albert was mentioned - Bowers - Albert - C/MX47257 -Sick Berth P.O. It was also interesting to find out that 60% of the ships company was made up from the British Navy, the rest being native New Zealanders..... Hence why Albert was on board...
What started out as an EBay purchased developed into a lengthy Facebook chat with relatives around the world and also finding new reference web sites that I can now share via this blog.
I will keep researching as it is the 75th Anniversary this year
I had a very interesting email from a Steve Clark, who lives in Canada and who has been interested in the 295 Squadron, through his dad. He had just recently been onto the National Archieves web site and downloaded the Operational Orders of 295 Squadron.
Well it had to be done, so £10.46 secured me access to 3 pdf documents with a total of 1814 pages to look through.
Very interesting as it recorded the operational activity of the squadron from it's formation upto the end of 1945. It also listed the flight crews of the aircraft on the operations, which included:
D Day landing, Operation Varsity - Rhine crossing and Operation Doomsday - Liberation of Norway. also mentions several S.O.E. (Special Operations Executive) flights........
I have spent most of the day on the records and found my Uncle Ern:
Air Gunner Sergeant 2221280 E.Hill
At the time he was in Stirling Bombers and flew out of Rivenhall, Essex with his first recorded flight on 24.3.1945 taking part in Operation Varsity - Rhine crossing with 6th Airbourne.
He flew 22 missions until 8.12.1945 when all the Air Gunners were posted to RAF Pockligton.
I have managed to find a couple of flight logs:
RIV 2029 - Operation Spur 3 Call Sign 8CY
DZ (Drop Zone) Norway
Flew all the way to Norway taking off at 2311hrs and landing at 0700hrs.Too much cloud over DZ to complete drop, returned to base with 3 packages and 18 containers.
RIV 2085 - Operation S.O.E. Norway Blinkers 7 Call Sign 8EU
DZ 60.55 N 06.41 E
Very 'bumpy flight;, with poor weather conditions throughout, Enemy Coast not reached.
Pilot F/O Skipton
Navigator F/S Vines
Flight Engineer Sgt Williams
Wing Op W/O McLellan
Bomb Aimer F/O Woodger
Gunner Sgt Hill
Need to do some more research to find out when Uncle Ern was posted to the squadron....
Henry Bowers. born 1903 is tragically killed in a mining accident on 26.2.1919 when he was Handmining on the North level at Victoria Colliery, Black Bull, Biddulph, U.D. He was living at home which was still 140 Back Brook Street, Brown Lees, Black Bull, Biddulph. His occupation given as Colliery horse driver. At a coroners inquest held on 1st March 1919 the cause of death was recorded as,'Suffication through accidentally falling under a tub of coal'. He was buried in the family grave in St Lawrence Church, Biddulph.
I think he was in charge of a pit pony that drew the carts from the face to the main shaft. I don't thing there would have been mechanised equipment then.