454 and 459 RAAF Squadrons
Flight Lieutenant Ross Sydney WOODHEAD
454 RAAF Squadron
Service No. 426939
Date of Birth: 22 Jul 1921
Place of Birth: BLYTHE, SA
Date of Enlistment: 15 Aug 1942
Date of Discharge: 21 Dec 1945
Rank: Flight Lieutenant
Date of Death: 31 Oct 2007
Norm Gilham - Pilot
Ross Woodhead - F/L Navigator
Geoff Wilkinson - Wing Operator Air Gunner
C.B. "Tommie" Tutin - Wing Operator Air Gunner
Video interview with FLT LT Ross Woodhead - Courtesy of his Grandson Christopher McGrath
The following information is written by Norm Gilham:
I had been briefed for one of these intruder missions on the 24th of April 1945; but about 11pm I was briefed for a special mission that required an experienced crew. The Army had a large number of Germans bottled up at a bend in the Po River, and the Germans were busy building a temporary bridge, to escape during the night. Our job was to destroy the bridge and prevent their escape. We had the right plane for the job, because we were flying Baltimores, which were very fast and heavily armed, and carried a bomb load of 2,000 lbs.
It was a clear night, so I crossed the river clear of the target, and had a look at the situation. I continued North to gain the element of surprise. I turned around, dropped to 1,000 ft, and headed for the bridge. The anti-aircraft guns were a bit slow in their response, and as I turned away we could see that our bombs had badly damaged or destroyed the bridge and anyone working there. We also spotted two barges further up the river, so I quickly circled around, dropped even lower to 300 ft, and came back past them, with the turret and belly guns spraying them with bullets. The anti-aircraft guns were right onto us by now, and although I answered with my forward guns, we were badly hit. All the instruments and communications were put out of action. I had no contact with the rest of the crew, and I did not know if any of them were alive or dead. The crew knew I was OK because we were sere still flying! I flew clear of the area, and then gained height. I tried to call the crew without success. My nerves were totally on edge; and I nearly jumped out of the plane when something grabbed my foot. It was Ross, the navigator; his compartment was below and forward of mine. He handed me a note to say he had been hit.
He then reached up with another note with a course for base. Without instruments working, I didn’t know how high we were, or how fast we were going. I simply had to fly by my experience and understanding of the aircraft; by feeling and instinct. If you fly too slow you simply fall out of the sky, and if you are going too fast you can’t land. Tom and Geoff, the two wireless operator/air gunners, were unhurt and did their jobs well. One sent a wireless message that we were in trouble; and as we approached base, the other set of a double red flare, which meant an emergency landing. Just as well they did because I could not contact base at all. I landed the plane quite safely; but our troubles were not over. We had no brakes! Near the end of the runway I turned the plane sharply with full rudder, spinning it off to the side, leaving the runway clear. The three of us got Ross out, as his compartment hatch had jammed. Then the ambulance and fire crews took over. There was always the chance of fire with damaged aircraft so they played it safe.
It was now about 1 am on the 25th April 1945; Anzac Day. We had certainly named our plane very well – “Eventful Eve” –
as we had taken off on Anzac Eve, and landed on Anzac Day. Our fortieth operational mission with 454 Squadron, and our last; because the war ended while Ross was in hospital. In the morning we counted 198 holes in the plane; and because of internal hydraulic damage it did not fly again. There were six holes in Ross’ parachute, so if we were forced to jump, he was doomed. He has often thanked me for getting us back to base; but I continually thank God for extending our lives.
Once again my prayers had been answered. Before each flight I said a little prayer, for a successful mission and a safe return; and after shutting off the engines on return, I sat in the silence; and said a little prayer of thanks. When Ross came out of hospital, we got a new plane EIIbut in our minds nothing could replace the one that had carried us through. On Anzac Day like so many others we remember our dead, but after OUR Anzac Day 1945, we are very thankful to be alive.
Passed away 31st October 2007.
Much loved Husband of Thelma
(decd). Beloved Father and Father-
in-law of Jeanette and Jim
McGrath, Ron and Fran Woodhead,
Merilyn and John Edwards, and
Grandfather and Great-
grandfather to their Families.
Family and Friends are invited to
attend a Celebration of Ross life to
be held in the Morningside Uniting
Church, Thynne Road,
Morningside on Monday, 5th November
Chris McGrath - grandson of Ross Woodhead made the above model
of a RAAF Baltimore Mk III