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On Cloud Nine

A true account by Tom Scotland

Two and half-hours flying time to the north of Amendola, our southern Italian air base, lay an enemy target we were due to attack. It was dark as we entered our aircraft and began settling into our various stations. Trouble showed up for me when one of our four motors refused to start. The other three motors started readily and I came back to the port inner motor but it was hopeless. By this time other aircraft were belching their flames in take-off power and were disappearing along the runway and flying off towards the north. But still our one motor refused to start. There was nothing else for it; we had to take the reserve aircraft; it was there for such an emergency. But moving our crew and their equipment seemed to take an awful long time and the RAF Base at Amendola was ominously quiet, with all the other squadron pathfinders now departed.


Our target for August 8 1944 was Szombathely Air Base in Hungary. Szombathely and its companion Feuersbrun in Austria, were two enemy air bases that were giving the RAF a lot of trouble with their squadrons of JU88 and Me110 night fighters destroying our planes.


halifax bomberNormally a reserve aircraft meant a worn out aircraft, but not this time. The Halifax II with three bladed propellers had been replaced by a Halifax II (GR) with four bladed propellers, a much superior aircraft. My crew settled in. I worked to get the motors started. Their song became music to our ears. The urgent need now was for us to get to the target on time and play our part as Pathfinders for the RAF bomber force that would follow us into the target. To save time we decided our own route and I gave the Halifax extra power to gain height as quickly as possible and our navigation team then had time to calculate wind speed and direction for accurate target marking as Pathfinders.


The Halifax II (GR) did it magnificently and we dropped our Pathfinder Target Markers at Szombathely on time. But as we made a second run to drop the next part of our load the German JU88 night fighters came in. Planes began to fall.  Just then a German mobile gun battery must have had us in their sights and they let us know they were waiting for us. Those mobile batteries were accurate and they gave crews a lot of trouble. They certainly gave us a fright.


Finally our work was done and we began our homeward flight I felt so thrilled with the Halifax (GR), I determined to try for a record run back to base. Indeed on arrival we were first into the debriefing officers. Then other crews came in and heard that we had been twenty minutes late in take-off. They wanted to know how we made the target on time? Our Navigator, Bill Scott was equal to the barrage of questions, "Well we've been up that way so often we know the right cloud to get on to, don't we Scotty," he halifax on cloud 9said looking at me, his eyes twinkling. One crew hinted we might not have been to the target at all. However next morning our bombing photos of Szombathely told their own story. It had been a very destructive attack and the troublesome air base would take a long time to recover.


Perhaps in the process of our record flight we had actually discovered that mystical "Cloud 9". But our attack had been at terrible cost with the loss of thirteen big aircraft and their crews. 

Two months later the German fighter base at Szombathely was at full strength again. On October 19 the Pathfinders led another attack.  Squadrons of JU88 and ME110 night fighters were able to rise from Szombathely and its companion Feuersbrun air base to meet us. The ensuing air battles in bright moonlight were helpful to the German fighter pilots and the losses were heavy. The Halifax flown by my good friend Jock Bruce was grievously damaged and we saw his plane disappear in a tremendous explosion. The attack was successful, but we grieved for our friends and hoped against hope their parachutes had saved them. After WWII we learnt that Jock’s body and that of two other crewmen were never found. But the body of his radioman was found in Yugoslavia and the body of one of the gunners near Budapest. The exploding Halifax loaded with Pathfinder pyrotechnics had scattered the crew in their devastating fall. The one survivor, navigator Ted Wearing became a prisoner of war.


© Tom Scotland DFC                              Email us

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