Flying Officer John George James "Doover" MACMAHON
454 RAAF Squadron
Service No. 428818
Date of Birth: 27 Oct 1923
Place of Birth: MARRICKVILLE, NSW
Date of Enlistment: 10 Oct 1942
Date of Discharge: 27 Dec 1945
Rank: Flying Officer
Date of death: 11 Jan 2020
Pilot - Geoffrey Levy
Navigator - Alan L. McIntyre
WAG - John A. Hughes
WAG - John MacMahon
The Following diary images are a series of Emails exchanged between John MacMahon and the Jo (the wife of the late Alan McIntyre)
John MacMahon's Diary 454
Arrived Taranto, billeted in 186 Transit Camp (5 story building near a swing bridge). Fair sized town with large natural harbour, over 100 ships, including battleships, cruisers, destroyers and merchantmen. Three theatres for servicemen, saw ENSA show (S.A.A.F performers) and an Italian variety show at the Littoria. Went to Mass on Sunday with Jimmy Taylor, the service was very casual, in fact we didn't kneel down once and most of the women were without hats. Had a feed in a restaurant that night and tried to engage in conversation with two Free French chaps. We had to resort to sign language and drawings to be understood. A good W.O's and Agts, club, featured classical music and live piece band and a girl soprano was extra good on operas etc. Stayed in the town for just on a week.
Moved to an olive grove 5 miles from Taranto, preparing to leave by road for the north. From here Doc and I went back into town to see and hear an Army band (Tank Regiment) playing every type of music, opera, classical, swing. Last on the programme was Nat Gonella, Britain's ace trumpeter, he was tops.
Arrived Pescara, took 2 days by road. Passed through Foggia and camped one night at San Severo. Country very mountainous in the south, plenty of vineyards and orchards en route. Most of the towns show great evidence of bombings and in Foggia it is doubtful whether there is one whole building standing. We camped about 2 miles out of Pescara, nice locality and close to the drome. Besides being used by our Baltimores, it was also used by 21,24 and 30 S.A.A.F squadrons who flew Baltic Marauders. After six weeks non-flying we were graciously given an air test, was a bit cranky over not getting an ops in as the rest of the boys are getting way ahead of us. Did a stooge bombing trip in Jimmy McGrath's plane, bombed a fuel dump, only one burst of flak.
Left for new drome at Falconara,120 miles further north. Set off at 7.00 pm and as one of the bridges on the way had been broken we had to detour. We got a bit lost and while trying to turn around on a narrow lane we rolled off the embankment onto our side. I was sleeping at the time and was woken by the jolt to find myself covered in kitbags and tents. Doc was in a worse position than either the rest of the chaps as he was unable to move at all. We got him free and luckily he had no severe injuries. Camped the night in the overturned truck and it was pulled out the following morning by a Maintenance Unit heavy truck.
Arrived Falconara which is 10 miles from Ancona on the coast. Ancona, once a large city is now a terrible mess. Every home is damaged and the railway station just a shambles. So far the Allies have not got the railway running as the Germans in the retreat have damaged all the rails behind them beyond repair. We are camped in a beautiful spot next to the drome. We are only about 20-25 miles from the front line and at times we can hear the guns at their artillery duels and at night see the flashes from them. Yesterday we did a cross country trip in formation, I went up in shorts and shirt and boy was I cold when S/Ldr. Payne took us up to 18,000 feet. The surrounding country is all mountainous, the highest peaks rising between 7-10,000 feet.
A decent trip at last. Our really first serious operation. Target was the Todt Labour camp just near San Marcello. I was the wireless operator and was supposed to open bottom hatch – push my head out and observe our bombs falling. Had some trouble with my oxygen connections and so missed falling bombs and only observed results. Our squadron (454) bombed in 2 boxes of six. We were No.6 in the second box, just missed the target and the flak was the heaviest we have yet encountered. It was actually only heavy, fairly accurate and moderate. Number of bursts were estimated by the gunners at between 80-200. On the way home, as we were passing east of Florence we got another few bursts. I was looking out the bottom hatch at the time and when a couple of bursts came close (approx.20 yards) I whipped my head in quick-smart. Upon landing we examined the kite and found one small piece of shrapnel lodged among the forward guns in the port wing. Geoff (Pilot) is keeping it as a souvenir and it measured about 3” x 1” x ½”. Time of trip was 2.20 hours bringing our total computed hours of this new tour with T.A.F (Tactical Air Force) to 25.10 hours, only 125 hours to go. Played cards last night and lost 100 lira (5/-). We had six Spitfires as escort on our trip and it certainly made one feel safer.
Today was a bad one for the squadron. Two crews failed to return from a raid on the Todt Labour Camp. Unfortunately, one crew was F/O Howard's and they were good friends of ours. The plane (from eye-witness accounts) was hit by a direct burst of flak, both engines burst into flames and 3 chutes were seen to open. The probable survivors would be the navigator W/O Birtles, wireless operator F/Sgt. Murray and spare gunner F/Lt. Litchfield. The pilot F/O Howard was probably killed but we may find out contrary information at a later date. We had been right through our training with Chris Murray, he was one of the best, and we met the other members of the crew at O.T.U. F/Sgt. McGrath, another of our friends who was a member of the crew was in hospital at the time – luckily for him and F/Lt. Litchfield was taking his place, twice before I had flown with this crew. The other plane made a crash landing inside our own lines. The pilot, F/O Gray is presumed killed and the other 3 members are reported safe, although one was critically injured. Won 400 line so far.
Today we bombed Ravenna, a supposedly sticky hole for flak. We only got between 60-80 bursts, some of which was very accurate. We escaped without damage. F/O Hume's kite, V for Victor was hit by flak and crashed on landing, all the crew were OK – just shaken a little. It was V's 13th operation, D for DOG'S 13th operation on the day previous and so everyone is skeptical re number 13. Won 500 lira at “shoot”.
Marshalling yards at Forli was the target for today – uneventful trip. I was W/Op. and missed the fall of bombs once more – can't understand it; all the other chaps see them. Small amount of flak was fired over Ravenna and was probably just to scare us away from there.
Our crew was on duty. Geoff flew down to Pescara to ferry back aircraft from R.S.U. Roger Wilson (F.O) was short of a gunner so I went along for the ride. We bombed gun positions at Montecchio – good results. Only had about 14 bursts of flak, it was a good trip all round. Slept over at Operations tent – uneventful night.
Down for a trip in the afternoon but it didn't eventuate as the squadron was given a stand-down. Went for a walk at night down to the local village. Tried for 2 hours to participate in conversation with some Italians, didn't do any good at all – even tried French but was left hopelessly behind.
Bombed gun positions about a mile north of the Gothic Line and about 2 miles west of Montecchio. S/Ldr. Beaton led our box and maintained a straight course on the bomb run for 48 seconds. This worried us a lot re flak but we only got 20 bursts about 60 yards off. Also dropped approximately 50,000 leaflets. It was great fun and all the boys were singing out “Paper!”, “Morning News”, etc. Slept all afternoon as I was dead tired. My hand is giving me a lot of bother and as I'm not wanting to be kept off operations, I'm not complaining much.
Another trip today and it was much the same as yesterday and was about 3 miles west of Montecchio. No flak, and I being W/Op. was the newspaper delivery boy. Missed seeing the bombs again, got cheesed off with throwing the papers out in small handfuls and threw the last packet out whole, it broke up in the air. When I was throwing the papers out the flare chute, they were blowing up through the open bottom hatch. The inside of the kite was just covered in pieces of paper when we landed.
Had a stand-down today. Slept in all morning and went up to Lesi (pronounced Jessie) in the afternoon. Lesi is about 15-20 kilometres away and we were fortunate in going the whole distance by jeep. First time I had ever ridden in one. In the town we struck hundreds of Kiwis who had just moved over to this front from the Florence area. Everywhere we walked they called out “hi ya Aussie”. The ANZACS certainly stick together. Saw a beaut fight between a Canuck and an Eyetie. After a while it turned out to be a big brawl between Canuck and Eyetie civilians. As I'm reading Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography I took his advice. He says “Fightings and Paintings should be reviewed from a distance”.
Was supposed to do Ravenna over but the trip was cancelled at the last moment. In the afternoon we bombed a gun position just forward of our lines. In fact, our Army had to retreat a distance to be out of our bombing area. Did a good job. I was in the turret and besides over 12 Baltimores, I saw at least 12 Spitfires, 6 Marauders and 6 Mustangs. The other day when W/Op. I saw Kittybombers of No3 R.A.A.F. Squadron shooting up bridges etc. but today I didn't see any. We've only done 6 ops. This month and I hope we get a better go next month. The army sent us congratulations for the job we did today and they (the army) pushed forward, gained the position and went 2 miles further on.
From Forward Bomber Control, congratulatory messages as follow:
AIR SUPPORT CONTROL. Over the signature of a Lt. Colonel, I have watched the light and medium bombing operations today from an O.P. It was simply incredible devastating, their accuracy and the destruction they caused was unbelievable.
CHIEF OF STAFF. The army is thoroughly grateful and the troops have tremendous confidence in the light and medium bombers. Special tribute to the ground staff.
Went over Rimini today. As the Jerry is being pushed back, he is dragging his artillery with him and as Rimini was a bit sticky before, we knew it would be worse with all the extra guns – it was! Dropped our eggs on the wrong target, but the opposition didn't aim their ack-ack at the wrong place. The Marauders went in first, then our first box, then us. The barrage was the heaviest yet encountered – over 1,000 bursts. I was in the turret and got a bit of a shock when I caught the last few words over the mic. From Alan. He said “one of the kites is on fire”. I looked all over our formation, found them intact, we were OK and only then did I realize it must be one of the Marauders. One was traveling behind the others with flames and smoke pouring from it's engines. It soon broke formation and went into a slow spiral dive. I saw something come out of this kite and I took it to be a chute partially opened which caught on fire and went up in black smoke, (one of the other gunners also believed the same thing). Watching the burning chute I lost sight of the plane for a time and the other chaps say 4 of the crew got out OK. I caught sight of the flaming aircraft through the clouds just as it hit the ground, exploded and instantaneously completely burst into flames. Our first box collected a lot of flak holes and we escaped untouched. Still it makes one think the jerries are getting a bit fair dinkum. The boys who went on the afternoon raid also reckoned it was no picnic.
Took off at 1830 hrs. to bomb Rimini. It was the latest take-off until now and we just managed to beat the darkness with the landing. I was W/Op. and when the time came I couldn't open the bottom hatch right up. Anyway I looked out as far as I could and still missed the bombs. There was over 100 bursts of flak on our box of six and it was very accurate. Heard 3 loud reports and thought we must have been holed but we were lucky again. I was definitely worried when looking out the hatch I saw them bursting closer each time. Also had a camera which I practically forgot about and owing to the small opening and inexperience I don't think I got one good shot, it sure was a bad day for me, I don't ever want to see the bursts that close again.
First time in 6 days we've flown owing to the weather. It didn't rain all the time but was very cloudy, especially over the target. Airborne at 1459 it was an uneventful trip as we only received about 50 bursts of flak.
Same target as the 11/9/44. Gun positions on the Gothic Line, S.W. of Rimini. No flak which was a good show. Target was just 2000 yards in front of our trips. Most of the heavy flak has probably been shipped further north.
Flew twice today for the first time. We were on gun positions again west of Rimini. Got 3 bursts the 1st raid and about 20 bursts on the 2nd. They were just letting us know that they are still a bit keen.
Weather prevented us from getting off yesterday and flew twice again today. Took some beaut photos. Different lots of smoke and fire on the ground confused me, couldn't find our bomb bursts and so took a shot of everything. Even got a shot of a Spitfire as it shot along underneath us. No flak for both trips.
S/Ldr. Beaton led us in today with a bomb run lasting over 30 seconds. The flak was very accurate and I nearly told Geoff to do his own evasive action when Beaton continued to fly straight and level. The 2nd box copped even more flak, one kite getting 12 holes, another 6 and a couple in some of the others. I only heard 1 burst but Geoff says he heard six. That is just a bit too close for comfort. Target was gun replacements further north of Rimini.
Gun positions and railway junction north west of Rimini. Fairly large target area and consequently we got an “apple”, (direct hit). I was on the old job of tossing out leaflets and sure enough I had trouble again. There were some old ones which had been left in the kite about a week before. Thinking I might as well clean up the ship, I tossed the old ones out also. Unfortunately they weren't wrapped properly and consequently they all flew back into the inside of the fuselage. The mess was terrific with little bits of paper in every possible nook and cranny. I'll learn yet. Just a few more bursts of flak but not close enough for us to worry.
Didn't fly for three days owing to clouds and rain. Now that the 8th Army has advanced beyond Rimini and are on the go we have been switched from Close Support to Tactical work again. This morning we went for a fuel dump just north of Ravenna. We were expecting a hot time as Ravenna used to be deadly. We only got about 50 bursts, very inaccurate (owing to good evasive action) and it followed us out to sea. We missed the target again. Returning after a tiring trip I was just about to do a bit of spine-bashing when Len Wardlaw asked me to fly with his crew. I had to say “yes” and this afternoon we bombed another fuel dump just outside town of Forli. We missed again and some of other bombs landed near a factory in the town. Although we were no where near Ravenna they fired 3 bursts straight up in the air from there. Maybe they were trying to scare us off. The crew were F/Lt. Fraser, F/O. Matthews, F/Lt. Wardlaw.
My crew flew today but I missed out as I was totally incapacitated from a severe bout of diarrhea and tomaine poisoning. Apparently I missed an interesting trip as they got about 200 bursts and 6 holes in the aircraft, just my luck.
Had a big bludge trip today. Ladezzola, which is about 30 miles south of Venice was supposed to be today's target. It was completely covered with cloud and after circling the target 3 times we came home. Two hours and a sortie for a PLEASURE CRUISE. The cloud formations were amazing and beautiful.
FROM: General Reece, Commanding 8th Army, personally to the Air Officer Commanding Desert AirForce.
“Request you communicate to all members of Desert Air Force the grateful appreciation of the 8th Army for their wonderful support in all our recent operations. We have been helped in the greatest degree by the unceasing pressure you have kept on enemy positions, guns and supplies, at every point of our advance. The advanced troops have complete trust in the accuracy of the close support bombing, and are full of admiration for the courage and dash of your pilots! In the fighting which lies beyond, in more open country, I am confident that the Desert Air Force under you will lose no chance to punish the enemy and smash his supply columns. To all of you my best wishes and my thanks”.
FROM: Officer Commanding, 1st Canadian Infantry Division, to the Air Officer Commanding Desert Air Force.
“I wish to thank you on behalf of all ranks under my command for the magnificent help given us by the Desert Air Force. In the operations just concluded, any support we asked for was provided at once and as required. The assistance you provided played a very large part in getting us to our objective”. These two messages were published in our D.R.O.'s on 25/9/44.
The above was received after 2 successful operations on the Gothic Line near Fabbricce. We went on the 2ND Raid of the day. Had a good view from the bottom hatch and even saw the bombs fall. Bags of our fighters around and no flak.
We were stand-by crew for both raids today and had to taxi out to the runway on both occasions. Unfortunately all other kites were OK so we didn't get airborne. The boys didn't do as well as yesterday and were even reported to have bombed (in error) the neutral state of San Marino, north west of Pescara. No-one is worrying about that in the slightest. Obviously we received no glowing reports from the army.
Today is the 5th anniversary of the outbreak of war. We were supposed to go on a raid but a storm came up and we were stood down till it was over. I should have liked to do a trip to commemorate the occasion. Rained heavily and the ground soon turned to sticky mud and clay.
From Canadian Corps Forward Troops:-
Bombing by Basltimores this afternoon on gun areas was excellent. Artillery much reduced and many thanks. The above congratulation resulted from our bombing of gun positions south west of Cessenatico. We didn't get airborne till 1600 and carried 40lb. anti-personnel bombs. We were the 2nd box and had quite an amusing time. The 1st box went in and didn't get a flak burst at them. After a practically short perfect bomb run and good evasive action, the opposition threw up (according to the de-briefing report) intense, very accurate and heavy bursts. They were mostly 88 mm and included a few rockets which burst above us. Coming off the target we all got split up and came home in two Vic's of 3 instead of one box of 6. It was the most violent evacuation we've done yet – 60 deg. Banks and screaming dives ((300mph). With the bottom hatch open, I was hanging on for grim death . Our Vic made for the sea while the other one went south towards the bomb line. They were followed by ack-ack right from the target area till they were over our lines. Seven of us got holed. We got a fairly large one running on a slant from the top leading edge of the tailplane and coming out half way back on the bottom of the tailplane. Unfortunately it was 4/5'd our beaut kite “W” (Wandering Willie” but it should be OK for our next trip.
1/10/44 – 6/10/44.
No flying for this period by our crew. On 1/10/44, twelve of our kites got off, but we weren't among them.
Finally got off today for the first time in 11 days. The target was Bulgarno, it was a day of troubles for us. Firstly , we had 3 attempts before we got on with the raid, secondly we took off with our gills open, thirdly, Alan, when he went to clip on his parachute harness had left it behind and lastly to complete the day we didn't drop our bombs. Our box scored a direct hit but we had to jettison ours out to sea. Only 4 bursts of flak, we don't want too many days like that do we?
Been in the RAAF two wars today. Celebrated the occasion by going for a stooge trip. The cloud wasn't as bad as on the 7/10/44, when the base of the cloud was down to 800 ft. Our primary target was just NW of Rimini and our secondary target was Ravenna. Nobody was too keen for the trip and when we got about as far as Pesaro, the leading navigator decided the weather was too bad and we returned. We dropped our bombs in the sea off Fano. Coming home in the gharry from the drome, all the navigators and crews got together and the story they evolved was that we had passed over the bomb-line, closely observed the target area and decided to return. Actually we couldn't have been closer to the bomb line than 30 miles. No flak, no worries and we got it classed as a sortie with the time of 1 hour 10 minutes – just the job!
Because only 1 of 2 boxes yesterday got airborne, our box had to fly again today, so as not to dis-organise the programme. While waiting before take off, we watched a Beaufighter try to land on one wheel and with one engine. He kept straight and level when he hit the deck for about 50 yards, did a ground loop [and then finished up on it's nose. I don't know if either of the crew were hurt, but 2 ambulances and a fire engine raced up – late as usual. It was a good attempt on the part of the pilot. Got just on 2 hours for our trip today when we bombed Pieve Salutare, close to Forli. The cloud was very thick all the way up but cleared up completely over the target. We made 2 bombing runs and fortunately we met no ack-ack. Most of our bombs fell in the allocated area and although the target was supposed to be fuel dumps, no oil fires were started. Today was the first time we dropped incendiaries.
The Squadron was given a Stand-Down for 24 hours. Kev O'Brien, Doc and I took advantage of this and went exploring. We planned to have a look at the front line but it was too far away. Left early in the morning and by lunchtime made Rimini. Although it had been occupied by our troops for 3 weeks, it was still in a terrible mess. The railway station was unrecognizable and by far the majority of the houses and buildings had been reduced to rubble. While looking for the YMCA to have a cup of tea, we met some Kiwis who invited us to have lunch with them. The food, although plain, was greatly appreciated. Upon leaving them, we returned part of the way home in one of their lorries. Then we got a lift in an army fire engine, next a jeep (Kiwis driving), next a D.A.F H.Q. gharry, next another jeep, next an Italian truck and lastly a South African drove us the last stage to camp. For the whole days journeying of 150 miles we hitch hiked on 9 trucks – 2 on the way up and 7 coming home. At Rimini we were about 15 miles from any activity.
Another Stand-Down and Kev and I went to Loretto. It is a little town 17 miles SW of Ancona and situated on top of a high hill. From the hill can be seen an amazing panorama of the surrounding districts, including Ancona. At this Loretta place, is one of the most beautiful and interesting churches I've seen. It dates back to approx. the 13th century and pre-war it was the centre of much tourist trade. The church itself is built over an old brick room, which tradition and legend says to the The Holy House of Nazareth, and was transported by angels to Loretto in 1294. The Basilica is fortress built and was made so to protect it's valuable contents which include oil paintings on canvas, mosaics and precious minerals.
Another day off, so Kev, Doc and I decided to make for Fabriano. Set out at 8,00am and 3 hours later found us only 15 miles away and having 4 gharries to our credit. Just as we were deciding to give up, along came another truck which took us 5 miles this side of our destination and then a further one took us into the town. The scenery throughout the trip was wonderful. The road passed through valleys over towered by colossal mountains. It reminded me of passing through the Grand Canyon, Colorado, USA. Fabriano turned out to be a dead loss. We only stayed an hour and returned home on 3 trucks, two of which were driven by Kiwis. In three days of excursions we have traveled 300 miles on 22 vehicles.
Last night I slept over at 458 Squadron's billets. Just before I went into breakfast I rang our Squadron and found I was supposed to take off in 25 minutes. Ran all the way over to the kite, would have been in time to takeoff but Charlie Lancaster had taken my place, and as he had gone to the inconvenience of getting up early I had to let him fly with the crew. It was an uninteresting trip for them and no flak. Unfortunately I missed out on a series of photographs before and after the raid which were taken of the crew by Laurence Li Guag ( Official Overseas Photographer RAAF). In the afternoon we bombed Bertimoro, almost due west of Cesena. Dull trip, no flak. I was at the bottom hatch and I certainly held on tight when we did some screaming evasive action. Coming home we had some undercarriage trouble but Geoff managed to get the wheels down OK, after a bit of mucking about. I won't say I wasn't worried “cause I was".
Took off with the intention of bombing Bertimoro. Foolishly circled the target 3 times owing to cloud obscuring our view and then headed north for our secondary target. It was Proto Corsini, a few miles north of Ravenna. As Ravenna used to be a hot-spot we were all worried but Capt. Dryden, who was leading us, had all the clues. We practically bombed on the turn and literally threw our bombs at the harbour installations. I doubt if we even flew over the land for a second. Scored an apple so everything turned out OK, no flak, were we relieved
Just to finish off the month we were given a target the furthest north we had yet flown. Lonigo was it's name and it was just at the foot of the Alps and due west of Venice. As we crossed the coast we could see Venice quite clearly and it looked like a nice place. It is on a sort of island and is connected to the mainland by a causeway or road. The mountains up there were all snow capped and it was a beautiful sight. Just a little cold, about 10º below zero. Had 12 Mustangs as escorts and they bombed after us. Of the Baltimores, there were 4 boxes of 6 in each – 12 from 454 and 12 from S.A.A.F.'s. The latter led the wing. The bombing wasn't terribly good but we did manage to start a large fire, the smoke of which was visible for a good many miles. It was probably a petrol dump as we were after an M.T. carpark. There wasn't much flak, about 6 bursts and we re-crossed the coast and a lot of ack-ack which didn't affect us at our height.
Started off this month quite interestingly bombing Yugoslavia for the first time. Again 4 boxes of 6 but this time we led. Our target was a quaint little village called Kocerye. It was very picturesque and looked so very peaceful with its little stream running through it. The surrounding countryside was much different from Italy. Mountains of barren rock near the coast and further inland flat country with a peculiar type of shrub. Being Autumn this shrub fawn-brown in colour contrasted beautifully with the white rocky mountains and the green fields. I hope we fly over this country more often. I was W/OP on this trip and I had a camera. Counted the bombs away OK, saw them burst and when I went to take photos the target was nowhere in sight. Apparently we did a steep dive off the area and as we were on the outside of the turn, I saw everything else except the bomb results. We scored a near miss but the S.A.A.F.'s pranged it alright. No flak. Upon returning to base, the trouble started. The trip took nearly 3 hours and so we were all short of juice. While everyone was hurrying to get in, up came the Yanks. They had been bombing Munich, got shot up and were low in petrol. They wanted to come in first. The control tower refused to let them land but taking no notice the first Liberator came in. It only had 1 engine, came right in behind a Balt. Causing it to run unto the mud and then it pranged – right in the middle of the runway. That prevented anyone from coming in. Our box was sent to Lesi but this place wouldn't answer us on the R/T so we had to hurry back to base. As the petrol situation was becoming desperate we were told to land and leap over the B24 on the runway. This we did and although we nearly hit the Liberator we came down OK. After that they removed the offending Yankee kite and straight afterwards a second B24 with 2 engine did an awfully steep approach and crashed off the end of the runway. The rest of the Yanks and all our kites came down alright. It was exciting while it lasted. There was I picking out fields in which to crash land were we to run right out of gas. Another trip completed, our 42nd.
Got my wish and went over Yugoslavia way again. The port we bombed was Fiume. It's really in Italy but right on the border of Yugoslavia. Expected bags of flak as it is an important pre-war naval base. Only light stuff was encountered in quantity and a half dozen bursts of heavy. This trip on a whole was uninteresting as we flew over the same sea 95% of the time.
Bad weather still over the bomb line and battle areas in northern Italy so off we went to Fiume again. Capt. Dryden led us in and although most of our bombs overshot and fell in the water, a few fell in the dock area and among shipping. We are officially credited with sinking a 5,000 ton ship and severely damaging 2 destroyers. This time we got a few bursts of tracer flak, red in colour and it looked beaut. I was W/OP and got several good photos of the bomb bursts.
Quite a funny thing happened today. We were to fly No.4 in the first box. The leader went u/s? and we were told to take over. All the crew were very excited and we prepared to make the most of our opportunity. We had to rendezvous with Spitfires at Fano. We got there a bit late but just in time to see the S.A.A.F.'s setting course. We circled twice but as the 2nd box of our Squadron didn't turn up off we went. Arriving at the Fiume area, we were extremely disappointed in finding 10/10 cloud covering the whole place. We didn't hang around looking for breaks in the cloud or decreasing height but came straight home. McIntyre told us later he didn't have a suitable map to aid his navigation and more or less guessed our courses to steer. Both he and Geoff did a good job. All the junior officers and crews of the squadron were also disappointed that we didn't bomb, as it may have shown the Flt. Lieutenants and Squadron Leaders a thing or two. On today's effort we may get another chance later. It was quite an event for me to be a Gunnery Leader, if only for 1 trip.
Switched to bomb line targets again and we bombed a place near Villa Nova, NW of Forli. The Army said we did a good job but we only classed it as a near-miss. The weather was very cloudy Between the drome and Rimini but from there on it was perfectly clear. Not much flak, in fact only 1 or 2 bursts. It's getting that way that I hardly know what flak looks like.
Since learned that yesterday's target was rightly called Pianta just due south of Villa Nova. The latter place was our target for today. We flew in No2 position to F/Lt. Strickland. Coming off target the ack-ack really opened up on us. I was gunner and got a good view of it all. At one stage it was bursting right behind us and quickly catching up. The formation dived to sratboard and from then onwards it was all above us. Really only approx. 60-80 bursts but very accurate. As the army draws nearer Faega the flak will probably become worse. Today makes the 6th operation in six running days.
Bad weather and bad luck kept us on the ground for the last few days. On 11/11/44 we were to go on a raid but as we went to taxI onto the runway we burst our port tyre. It was a terrible job getting us out of the way so the other kites could take off. We were rather pleased we didn't go on this trip as it was raining heavily and sleety snow was falling. The box we were supposed to be in had to land at Faro as the weather was too bad over our drome. We bombed Castiglione, got an apple and 30-40 bursts of flak. Quite a nice easy trip. I was W/OP, and although I thought I got a good look at the bomb bursts, it was impossible to work it out on the map when we landed. The ground for miles around looks the same.
Today we bombed using V.H.F. for the first time. By the method the leader of a Vic. Of 3 aircraft is in constant R.T communication with a Radar station. This station plots our position and on approaching the target gives the correct course to steer and tells us exactly when to release the bombs. We got a 250 yard error which wasn't too bad at all. The target was Santa Lucia in the Po valley and consisted of fuel dumps and stores. By using V.H.F bombing it was possible to bomb through cloud. There were only 2 bursts of flak and it was too far away to worry about.
Porto Di Malanocco, a little port 6 miles south of Venice was bombed by us today. Just before we took off the chap in the photographic section asked me to take some photos of Venice as I was W/OP. Our bombing run was ideal for photography and I was so intent on taking shots of Venice that I forgot all about target pictures. Actually passed within two miles of the “gondola” city and I reckon I took some beaut snaps. I hope we get some prints of them. They shot from flak at us from Chioggia, about 40-50 bursts, but not very accurate. Once when I was looking down at the ground I saw the gun position pooping off at us and I think I got a good shot of that. One of the best trips I've had as W/OP and had bags of fun with the camera. We pranged the target. In the afternoon we got airborne again but on account of disorganization by the raid leaders we returned early without bombing. Because S/Ldr. Cashmore was in a bad mood he refused to give us a sortie, Boy! Was I cranky! Landing with bombs in is no joke especially as Geoff put in his worst effort so far, we bounced at least 6 times.
Yugoslavia again and back to our original target at Kocevje. Still the same peaceful village but the surrounding country looked different as it was mainly snow covered. Our work was actually in co-operation with Tito's Partisans and they were to attack after our bombing. The results were better than last time and no flak was encountered. If the partisans moved in it will be the last time we bomb that place. At night while we were having tea we heard a prang on the nearby runway and rushed out to see the sight. It was a Beaufighter which on pranging immediately burst into flames. It was an amazing spectacle when the petrol tanks exploded and the ammunition and pyro-technics went off. An amazing escape was had by the navigator. As the kite hit the ground it broke into two parts and he was thrown clear. I doubt from reports that he was seriously injured. The pilot was either killed instantly or burnt alive as he had no chance of getting out. Some of the boys who went down to the drome and saw the pilot said he was in a terrible mess – I wouldn't doubt it. Three fire fighters were injured by exploding bullets.
Saw the remains of the Beau from last night. Just a heap of rubble which would fit in a suitcase. Bombed Birandola, fortified houses near Faenza. Huge masses of cloud covered everywhere except just a wee patch of clear ground over the target. S/Ldr. Cashmore and his navigator did a wizard job in being able to bomb at all. Only 3 bursts of flak. Probably we weren't expected on account of the cloud because yesterday, out of 6 aircraft which bombed near, four were holed with very accurate flak. Had we been able to land immediately in returning to base we would have only got 1 hour 25 minutes time. As it happened we were forced to circle the drome for over an hour and this increased the official time to 2 hours 30 minutes. Everyone was cranky for having to wait so long and the drome controller was heartily cursed by all crews. Still we got the time so we shouldn't have complained.