NutsStirling Pilott Nuts

The Versey Crew.

Flt Lt B G Versey                Pilot

Sgt L W Cass                       Nav

F.O. A Clarke                      Air Bomber

Sgt A R Miller                     Flt Eng

Sgt L Brittain                       W.Op

Sgt D Jackson                      MU Gunner

Sgt J A G Cox                       Rear Gunner

 


149 (East India ) Squadron Aircrew  in 1944 at Methwold in front of a Lancaster.


A look at the ‘Lancaster’ interior.

 


OJ-A at Methwold

 

Pilots.

 

These crew members were not just the flyers of the aircraft, they were its 'skipper'. This meant that they were required to demonstrate not just the ability to fly, but the qualities required to be the 'leaders' of their crew and have at least a modicum of knowledge of all the crew’s positions tasks and functions. So a pilot learned about navigation, bombing, gunnery, radio procedures and the technical skills required to manage the aircraft systems. They were not required to use all these skills in the air, but needed them to underline the other crew's functions.
To this end, the training was a multi-faceted affair, with flying at its heart. After the initial assessment the training route varied. Some pilots were trained in the UK, but many were passed to the ‘Arnold’ scheme or the BCATP (British Commonwealth Air Training Plan) scheme.

The Arnold Scheme was brought into being with the aid of General 'Hap' Arnold in the USA. In it, a number of trainee pilots were sent by ship to Canada and then by train to training units in the south of America. The weather conditions were very conducive to amassing a reasonable number of training hours without having to rely on the British weather. It was not an easy option, however, with high dropout rates and more than a few accidents keeping the numbers fined down from the initial intake.

 

 

Navigators - The observer, at the start of world war two, was the navigator and bomb aimer of the crew. As systems developed and navigational aids were increased the actual navigation of the aircraft rose in importance, as did the function of bomb aiming. In larger aircraft these positions were mutually incompatible, as the navigator needed to spend his time plotting and checking his course. Navigators, and Bomb Aimers eventually replaced the Observer aircrew category, as the workload required of them increased. Navigators were dedicated to the accurate navigation of the aircraft and the use of the various navigational aids fitted.

 


An evocative pose from a young Lester Cass, Versey's Navigator..
Date unknown, but post March 1945.


Lester Cass’ Navigator Training.
Lester came late to the war, joining in mid 1943 and starting his flying training in November. He qualified as an Air Navigator in February 1944.
No 41 Air School. Collondale, East London, South Africa. (Formerly No 1 Air Observer’s school S.A.A.F.) is where he started his training in November 1943, flying in Avro Anson aircraft.  He qualified as a Navigator in February 1944.
After making the trip from South Africa to the UK he was posted to No 6 (O) AFU (Advanced Flying Unit) in May ’44 and continued training on Anson aircraft until mid June of that year. His next posting was to No 20 OTU (Operational Training Unit) at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland. This was in July 1944. It was here that he first crewed up with Flt Lt Versey, who would be his regular pilot for the rest of the war.
The aircraft they were flying in was the Vickers Wellington and they continued their training until the 18th of July ’44 at Lossiemouth.

 

The ‘Count’ at Methwold with Versey's crew.

 

 

Flight Engineers

These personnel were, initially at least, drawn from the ranks of the technical personnel on squadrons. They had already acquired the skills and knowledge to work with some of the aircraft systems and required less training to fit them for their task as the aircraft's 'technical expert' on board. As the war progressed, so the recruiting of Flight Engineers was expanded to include direct entrants with limited or no technical knowledge.

 

Sgt Albert Miller’s Flight Engineer training.

In early 1944, Bert received instructions to attend a two-day assessment at an Aviation Candidates Selection Board (ACSB).
As directed, he packed a small suitcase, his civilian respirator and the requisite paperwork and travelled to No 2 Recruit Centre at RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire.
Over the next couple of days he undertook a series of medical examinations/tests which assessed his aptitude for the six aircrew categories, namely pilot, navigator, bomb-aimer, air-gunner, wireless operator and flight engineer.

Sgt Len Brittain’s Wireless Operator Training.
The crew’s Wireless Operator was Leonard Brittain. His training would have been roughly as follows:
Basic Wireless Operator training
Training for a Wireless Operator was a thorough and exhaustive process, where instructors gave practical demonstrations on W/T aids to navigation and passed on their knowledge and expertise. The aim of the course was to produce a well-rounded, embryonic crew member who would quickly fit into a crew. Len did his training at RAF Yatesbury, East Camp. One of the Instructors there was Arthur C Clarke, later a famous Sci-Fi writer and inventor.


Gunnery training
After completing his Wireless Operator training, Len would have been sent on an ‘Emergency’ Air Gunner’s’ course, so it was off to an EAGS (Elementary Air Gunner School) to give him the basic training needed to take an Air Gunner’s position in times of need.
The course was much shorter than an air gunner’s course and there was no flying. He was instructed on the 303 Browning machine gun which included stripping and re-assembling, gun turrets, turret manipulation, sighting, aircraft recognition, types of ammunition, pyrotechnics, fuses and dinghies. Part of the course was firing from a gun turret on a range for one day. Mounted on a trailer was a Frazer Nash power operated four gun turret. A stationary engine on the trailer drove the hydraulic pump to operate the turret. On the range was an area with an electrified rail, the same as a greyhound track. Attached to the little trolley that circled the rail was a pole on top of which was mounted a model of a German aircraft.


Early Air Gunner Training

But his training was not yet over, as a posting to a Signals Air Operating Course  would have followed. Here, personnel spent 3 weeks flying in Anson aircraft carrying out Air to Air and Air to Ground wireless operations before becoming a fully qualified Wireless Operator, entitled to wear the ‘S’ half wing.

Five personnel would already have formed a crew and would have completed flying training on twin engine bombers, normally the Wellington.
This meant that they would need to add two members to their crew, Bert as their Engineer and a new Gunner, for the Mid upper position.
Their crew training was initially on the Halifax aircraft operated by 1669 HCU, but then they were posted to No 3 LFS (Lancaster Finishing School) at RAF Feltwell in November 1944, where they converted to the Avro Lancaster bomber, staying there until late November 1944. Their next posting as a crew was to 149 (East India) Squadron at RAF Methwold, making their first squadron flight on the 14th December 1944. During their introduction to 149 Sqn they did manage to clock up four Ops, being Siegen, Trier, Hangelar and Rheydi. All were carried out successfully.

OJ-P serial number NF971, the ‘Count’.
At Methwold on an overcast day.

The crew arrived from No 3  Lancaster Finishing School, RAF Feltwell, with Flt Lt Versey as the Pilot and Skipper.

The full crew were:

Flt Lt B G Versey                   Pilot

Sgt L W Cass                       Nav

F.O. A Clarke                       Air Bomber

Sgt A R Miller                       Flt Eng

Sgt L Brittain                       W.Op

Sgt D Jackson                      MU Gunner

Sgt J A G Cox                       Rear Gunner

The full “Versey” crew 149 Sqn Operational history follows:

1st Op -  Lancaster 1, serial MM708 coded OJ-Q
              15th Dec  ’44 Target – Seigen
Take Off (T/O) at 11.34 from RAF Methwold, landing at 14.29. It was not an auspicious start, as the crew were recalled along with the rest of the squadron. It is interesting that during the return trip the squadron jettisoned their bombs in a ‘safe’ area over the sea. For many years squadron members were certain that during this ‘load jettison’ the explosions were responsible for the loss of the ‘Norseman’ aircraft carrying Glenn Miller to France.

 

2nd  Op -        Lancaster 1, serial MF970 coded OJ-O
              16th Dec  ’44 Target – Seigen
Take Off (T/O) at 11.51 from RAF Methwold, landing at 17.06. Bomb load 1x400lb, 14x500lb and 4lb incendiaries. 10/10ths cloud. Bombed on G-H leader.

 

3rd  Op -         Lancaster 1, serial NG224 coded OJ-J
              19th Dec  ’44 Target – Trier
Take Off (T/O) at 13.03 from RAF Methwold, landing at 18.15.
Aborted over target due to leader’s G-H failure. Bombs jettisoned.

 

4th  Op -         Lancaster 1, serial NF362 coded OJ-S
              24th Dec  ’44 Target – Bonn Hangelar
Take Off (T/O) at 14.56 from RAF Methwold, landing at 20.36. Reported as: Clear. Bombed on T.I.s.  2 concentrations of TIs. There were more bomb bursts and fires on the S/W concentration.

 

OJ-A clearly showing the G-H stripes on its rudder identifying it as a G-H equipped aircraft.

5th   Op -        Lancaster 1, serial NF362 coded OJ-S
              27th Dec  ’44 Target – Rheydt
Take Off (T/O) at 12.23 from RAF Methwold, landing at 16.51.
Bombed visually on yellow TIs (master bomber’s instructions). Explosions, smoke and fire. Concentrated attack.

 

6th  Op -         Lancaster III, serial LM692 coded OJ-P
              2nd Jan  ’45 Target –  Nuremburg
Take Off (T/O) at 15.31 from RAF Methwold, landing at  23.06.
Weather – No cloud. A number of fires were seen and a great deal of smoke.

 

7th  Op -         Lancaster I, serial NE352 coded OJ-T
              5th Jan  ’45 Target –  Ludwigshafen
Take Off (T/O) at 11.48 from RAF Methwold, landing at  17.29.
Clear, Good Visibility. No flares were seen.

 

8th  Op -         Lancaster I, serial HK551 coded OJ-J
              7th Jan  ’45 Target –  Munchen
Take Off (T/O) at 18.47 from RAF Methwold, landing at  03.20.
Cloudy, Target area like daylight and many aircraft seen.

 

9th  Op -         Lancaster I, serial NM760 coded OJ-W
              11th Jan  ’45 Target –  Krefeld
Take Off (T/O) at 11.54 from RAF Methwold, landing at  17.02.
Thin cloud, This aircraft was leading in the formation and at the time of bombing only one flare was seen.

 

10th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial ME252 coded OJ-T
              13th Jan  ’45 Target –  Saarbrucken
Take Off (T/O) at 11.41 from RAF Methwold, landing at  17.59 (RAF St Mawgan)
No cloud over target, but haze and cloud all around. Some overshoots, but most of the bombs were falling in the target area as this aircraft passed over the target area.

 

11th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial ME252 coded OJ-T
              15th Jan  ’45 Target –  Langendreer (Bochum)
Take Off (T/O) at 11.45 from RAF Methwold, landing at  16.46
Cloudy over the target.

 

12th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial NN756 coded OJ-R
              22nd  Jan  ’45 Target –  Duisberg/Hamborn
Take Off (T/O) at 17.12 from RAF Methwold, landing at  21.54
No cloud – good visibility. Bombing appeared to be very concentrated.
13th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial NM760 coded OJ-W
              1st  Feb  ’45 Target –  Munchen Gladbach
Take Off (T/O) at 13.20 from RAF Methwold, landing at  18.18
Cloudy – two blue Puffs visible near aircraft when the bombs were dropped. (Blue Puffs were the 250lb Flares carried for sky marking)

 

14th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial NG356 coded OJ-V
              2nd  Feb  ’45 Target –  Weisbaden
Take Off (T/O) at 20.40 from RAF Methwold, landing at  02.44
Cloudy.

 

15th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial NG356 coded OJ-V
              3rd Feb  ’45 Target –  Dortmund/Hansa
Take Off (T/O) at 16.11 from RAF Methwold, landing at  21.37
No cloud – small fires were seen burning in the target area. Red TIs were well grouped.

16th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial NG356 coded OJ-V
              7th Feb  ’45 Target –  Wanne Eickel
Take Off (T/O) at 11.47 from RAF Methwold, landing at  17.49
Very cloudy. Ground visibility – nil.

 

17th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial NG356 coded OJ-V
              9th Feb  ’45 Target –  Hohenbudberg (Krefeld)
Take Off (T/O) at 03.32 from RAF Methwold, landing at  08.16
Thin cloud. TIs were down and well grouped.

 

18th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial NG356 coded OJ-V
              13th Feb  ’45 Target –  Dresden
Take Off (T/O) at 21.54 from RAF Methwold, landing at  06.55
Hazy, but no cloud below. Whole area was alight and visible from 150 miles away.

19th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial NG356 coded OJ-V
              14th Feb  ’45 Target –  Chemnitz
Take Off (T/O) at 20.09 from RAF Methwold, landing at  04.40
Cloudy. No sky markers were seen.

20th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial NF972 coded OJ-S
              20th Feb  ’45 Target –  Dortmund
Take Off (T/O) at 21.40 from RAF Methwold, landing at  03.34
Thin cloud. Flares seemed rather scattered.

21st   Op -      Lancaster I, serial HK654 coded OJ-G
              23rd Feb  ’45 Target –  Gelsenkirchen
Take Off (T/O) at 12.00 from RAF Methwold, landing at  18.15 (RAF ACklington)
Cloudy.  Nothing seen over target due to cloud.

22nd   Op -     Lancaster I, serial HK654 coded OJ-G
              27th Feb  ’45 Target –  Gelsenkirchen
Take Off (T/O) at 11.14 from RAF Methwold, landing at  16.43
Cloudy.  Cloud covered the target area, Blue Puffs were  well concentrated.

 

23rd   Op -      Lancaster I, serial ME352 coded OJ-T
              2nd Mar  ’45 Target –  Koln
Take Off (T/O) at 12.45 from RAF Methwold, landing at  18.27
Abortive sortie. All bombs brought back to base.

 

24th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial PB509 coded OJ-C
              23rd Mar  ’45 Target –  Wesel
Take Off (T/O) at 13.51 from RAF Methwold, landing at  03.45
Slight haze only. A lot of smoke and a very large explosion seen.
This was marked in the logbook as a ‘special target’. 10 picked crews - target 1500 yards ahead of Field Marshall Montgomery’s troops. Successful.

 

25th  Op -       Lancaster III, serial PA186 coded OJ-A
              5th Apr  ’45 Target –  Merseburg
Take Off (T/O) from RAF Methwold, landing after 9.00 hrs
Low cloud.  TIs very scattered. Large areas of fire seen.

 

26th  Op -       Lancaster I, serial NF971 coded OJ-P
              18th Apr  ’45 Target –  Heligoland
Take Off (T/O) at 09.37 from RAF Methwold, landing at  15.02
No cloud – good visibility. A great deal of smoke seen and only the northern end of the island visible. This was the crew’s last War Operation.

 

 

Non-Operational Flights – the rest of the crew’s time on 149 Squadron.

During May 1945 the crew flew five sorties consisting of a trip to the Hague on supply dropping (Operation Manna) a series of trips to and from Juvincourt carrying up to 24 POWs being repatriated to the UK and a ‘Baedeker’ trip which visited Courtral, Aachen, Duren, Cologne, Coblenz, Weisbaden, Frankfurt, Kassel, the Mohne Dam, Dortmund, Duisberg and Wessel.

The Baedeker trips carried ground staff to show them the results of their contribution to the war effort by showing them some of the bombed cities and other targets. Quite a few of them were badly affected by these trips and they were discontinued quite quickly.

In October 1945 the crew left 149 Sqn for RAF Tuddenham and No 138 Squadron, again with Lancasters.
The crew flew missions from Tuddenham between November 1945 and April 1946.
For them, the War was finally over. Indeed, an illustrious career for the crew.

History records that for over fifty five and a half thousand British and Commonwealth aircrew, their lives were over.

 

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

 

 

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