Arthur Adcock W.O RAF

WO A Adcock 1946

WO A Adcock 1946

In 2004/5 Mr Arthur Adcock donated a number of items to the archive relating to his wartime experiences in the RAF as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, primarily with 171 Squadron. His material consists of a 90 page typed memoir and a number of scanned wartime photographs. Additionally, Mr Adcock was recorded for the Centre in September 2004.

Arthur Adcock was born in December 1924 in Newcastle upon Tyne. His family were originally from the Leeds area, and they returned to live there while Arthur was still a young child. He attended elementary school in Hunslet and then went on to Cockburn High School in Beeston, Leeds. He was still at school at the outbreak of war, but left shortly afterwards and went into clerical work. He had however long harboured a desire to fly:

‘ …. from being a child really. I saw Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus on Middleton Clearings with the old string and canvas aircraft and I thought that this is wonderful. I just wanted to fly’

Just short of his 18th birthday, in November 1942, he was able to fulfil his wish when he volunteered, and was accepted, for air crew training in the RAF. In April 1943 he reported to the Air Crew Reception Centre at Lords cricket ground for basic training, and then moved on to No 2 Radio School at Yatesbury for Wireless Operator training. He had vivid memories of waiting for his first flight during training:

‘ … I well remember receiving my parachute harness and standing on the airfield with my stomach churning and feeling sick with apprehension, looking at what to me was a large aircraft – a DH Dominie: a twin-engined bi-plane complete with struts and wires – nonetheless a lovely sight to me’.

Once airborne he was:

‘… given a list of frequencies and had to tune the receiver to find the signals being transmitted from the ground, then tune the transmitter back to the signal’.

He had no difficulties finding the required frequencies during training, but using the Morse key was not that easy on board an aircraft, as:

‘…. the key, the Morse keys, were in a Bakelite wrapping so that the sparks couldn’t ignite any vapour, and they were very awkward to use, especially with four pairs of gloves on’.

Just before Christmas 1943 Arthur passed his examinations at Radio School, and was promoted to Sergeant before leaving for 8 Air Gunnery School at Evanton, Scotland. Air crew losses were high at this time and their training was therefore being accelerated. His three month course at Gunnery School was reduced to two months. He passed his gunnery examinations in March 1944 coming top of the course, and thus being the first to receive his air gunner’s wings at the Wings Parade.

After completion of his course at Gunnery School, Arthur was posted to No 8 Advanced Flying Unit at Mona, Anglesey. Flying training there commenced in April 1944, and he did his first night flight on 29 April 1944. During the flight he:

‘..had been given lists of frequencies to contact, usually to request bearings, but, to vary the routine, requests for barometric pressures, signal strength, or wind-speed and direction, the latter being of use to the Navigator, were made.’

With four more of both day and night flights, the course was completed, and then,
in May 1944, he went on to 20 Operational Training Unit, Lossiemouth. The air crew intake here were told that for the next fortnight they would receive instruction in their own specialities, but were also to form themselves into crews. He teamed up with six others without any problem to form a crew, but his pilot went sick and another newly arrived pilot was allocated to them. Their new pilot was the sole survivor of a crash while on an exercise some months earlier and proved to be a reliable and safe skipper of their ultimately strongly bonded crew. Training was intense with Wellington conversion training, cross country exercises, and bomb target practices.


Air Crew with W.O.Adcock

Air Crew with W.O.Adcock

A short course on escaping techniques at Acaster Malbis, York followed and then in early September 1944 Arthur and his crew were posted to 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit, Ricall flying Halifax IIIs.

Finally, in November 1944 they were posted to 102 Sqn at Pocklington. During the initial briefing on their arrival their new  Flight Commander told them: (very gently)

‘…. .. that our chances of surviving a tour of operations were about 30% and wished us good fortune’.

After all the training their first operational flight on 21 November 1944 was to bomb an oil refinery at Sterkrade in the Ruhr. Arthur had his first baptism of fire:

‘..There had been plenty of flak over the target, as we had seen from the distance, but on our approach run a box barrage was sent up at our height which we would have to fly through. To me that seemed impossible; with hundreds of shells bursting, I did not see how we could escape, and even with the knowledge that most aircraft had got through, I was so scared that I resigned myself to being shot down’.

Their aircraft dropped its bombs and he:

‘..felt the aircraft lurch slightly as the 8,000lb load was released. The photo-flash was dropped and we still had some thirty seconds of straight and level flying to do whilst a photograph of our release point was taken – the longest seconds of our lives.’

Despite sustaining some minor flak damage they made it back to base without further incident, but sleep didn’t come easily when he got back to his billet:

‘I could still feel the cold, hear the engines, see the target and the flak and feel the fear’

Several more bombing missions to the Ruhr followed then, after a request initiated by their pilot, he and his crew were transferred to 100 (Special Duties) Group at 171 Sqn North Creake, Norfolk in early December 1944.

 171 Sqn Crest

Their crew was now joined by an additional member, a Special Operator, who operated the on board radar equipment. The main duties of 100 Group were to shield the Main Force of bombers by radar jamming and Window (thin aluminium strips which confused the enemy radar) dropping, and to try to split the German night fighter forces. On an operation 100 Group aircraft would fly with the Main Force to an agreed position over Germany, but then divert to a secondary target while radar jamming and dropping Window. They would then bomb the secondary target before the Main Force reached its primary target, thus drawing the night fighters away from the Main Force.

Lancaster dropping Window

Lancaster aircraft dropping Window

In his memoir, Arthur gives a very detailed description of a typical day for Bomber Command air crew in the lead up to operational flying that night, starting at about 10:00am when the evening’s Battle Order would be pinned up.

For air crew on the Battle Order:

‘…no matter how many operations you had completed, that feeling of fear when you saw your name on the Battle Orders, never diminished’.

During the day checks were made on their aircraft and its equipment before signature of the aircraft’s maintenance book in the Flight Dispersal Office. Then it was back to their billet to don silk-lined woollen flying underwear, shirt, tie, sweater and lastly battledress. Then to the Mess, for a pre-flight meal typically of eggs, bacon, sausages and fried bread. After the meal a visit to the locker room to dress in a quilted inner suit, zipped from ankles to knees, wrists to elbows and up the front, an outer suit with a fur-lined collar, sea boot woollen stockings and fur-lined flying boots.

‘Over all that, a Mae West then a parachute harness. When flying, silk, chamois leather, woollen gloves and leather gauntlets would be worn but until then they remained stuffed into the pockets of the outer suit.’

‘Once dressed, we would go down the corridor to the Parachute Section to be issued with parachutes. I always took the one given to me without any qualms but some people insisted on refusing the first one and accepting the second, much to the annoyance of the Cpl in charge, who did not or would not understand the superstitions that some crews had’.

Separate briefings for air crew members then preceded the main briefing where, on entry, each crew member was issued with:

‘a block of plain chocolate, chewing gum and a bag of barley sugar sweets; a carton of ampoules of morphia, a strip of Benzedrine tablets … a small sealed plastic box containing evasion aids comprising a small safety razor and stick of soap, glucose and Horlicks tablets, silk maps, miniature compass and amounts of French, Dutch, Belgian and German currency’

‘In our squadron, crews tended to sit together (at the main briefing), so by the time we had sorted ourselves out, the Group Captain and his briefing officers would enter the room. Groupie would always commence the briefing in the traditional way, saying “Gentlemen, the target tonight is ….” and pull open the curtain to reveal the target and the route. There would be groans and extremely rude comments from the crews who had been to the target before, but Groupie would attempt to calm the situation by making some witty remark such as “Don’t worry too much chaps, the last time I was there it was guarded by two men and a dog” which provoked even more obscene remarks. The serious business of fuel and bomb loads, jamming frequencies, where we would leave the Main Force and, hopefully, re-join them on the way home, was heard in silence, but when the Met Officer took the stage, he would be greeted with howls of derision’

‘Briefing over, the C of E and RC Chaplains would be on hand. My own feelings were very mixed about being blessed when I was going out to bomb a city and to kill anyone, regardless of age or sex, serviceman or civilian, who just happened to be unfortunate enough to be in the path of our bombs.’

‘Outside on the perimeter track, lorries or buses would be waiting to take us to our dispersal points, usually carrying two crew each.’

‘At the dispersal our ground crew, bless them, would be fussing over the aircraft, polishing the cockpit windows and turrets. A speck of oil on the turrets could, in the dark, be mistaken for a fighter.’

‘Equipment would be stowed on board and the four engines started and run-up to check for any faults, during which time the turrets were traversed and guns elevated and depressed. I checked my fuses and generator readings and satisfied myself that my radio and radar equipment were operational. This exercise took only a few minutes and the engines were rundown when the pilot and engineer were satisfied with their checks.’

‘After this came about a half-hour wait whilst the bowsers came round to each dispersal to top up the fuel tanks and during this time trucks arrived with hot coffee and sandwiches to drink and eat at the dispersal and to fill our Thermos flasks with coffee to drink during the flight – in our crew, usually on the way home. Crews tended to be very superstitious about their last act on the ground, some would board their aircraft in the same order, but we would do a Zulu rain dance. Ken (the crew’s bomb aimer) had been trained in South Africa and had seen the real thing, but our attempts cluttered in flying kit must have been hideous!. Then … we would form a semi-circle and have our final pee on the port wheel, to the amusement of the ground crew and the scampering off in all directions of any WAAFs present!’

‘A green flare from Flying Control was the signal to board the aircraft. Once inside I could physically feel the last half-hour’s laughing and bravado draining away from me, being replaced by a clammy, slightly nauseous feeling. I tried, without much success, to project my mind forward to the end of the mission. …. taxi-ing out from the dispersal around the perimeter track towards the runway, the navigator and myself would sit on the rest position bench and look out of the side windows at the small groups of people who had come to see us off. At the end of the runway we would sit on the floor with our backs to the main spar, our hands behind our heads to cushion any jolts, the two gunners with their backs to the rear spar, all of us listening to the pilot, bomb aimer and engineer repeating the take-off drill. Our aircraft identification letter would be flashed from the caravan at the end of the runway. The throttle would be pushed forward and the brakes released, then, with a deafening roar, we would start the long journey down the runway. Everyone in the aircraft would be particularly tense at that time; it was always a hazardous few minutes getting a fully loaded aircraft airborne…’ ‘Then the order would come to go to our flying positions whilst we circled base and set course’

‘Looking out of my small window I could see aircraft all around in the dusk; an awesome sight, yet in the darkness we would feel all alone in the sky. There was always absolute silence in the aircraft, except for the necessary chatter between the pilot and engineer and pilot and navigator. At ten thousand feet, we clipped into our oxygen supply …. the higher we flew, the colder the aircraft became; the heating system was ineffectual and the object of much abuse by aircrews. Despite the layers of clothing we had under our flying kit, the cold was numbing and almost unbearable, made worse due to the fact that movement of any kind in our cramped positions was impossible’.

In April 1945 Arthur and his crew completed their thirtieth and what should have been their final operation, but on return were told that it had been decided they would continue their operational flying to the end of the war:

‘ .. this news shook us to the core. The CO was apologetic and concerned, but there it was we had to go on. As we were not on the Battle Order that day we spent much of the time in the Robin Hood at Walsingham and succeeded in drowning our sorrows.’

Returning from an operation some days later Arthur’s crew had an encounter with a German night fighter ME410:

‘A favourite method of attack was for the night fighter to be homed onto its target by the Ground Controller until its own airborne radar brought to a visual sighting, then the attacker could slip underneath its target, the target’s radar blind spot, climb to within range and fire its upward firing cannon into the belly of the target. This particular night I had a quick contact on my radar … enough for Charles (the pilot) to corkscrew to starboard just at the time the night fighter opened fire on us. We were hit, the cannon shell blowing away our bomb bays and some of our rear fuselage belly and, as we were dropping, the night fighter, now above us, was clearly visible against a moonlit sky. Our gunners fired a 2 to 3 second burst from all eight guns right into him and the aircraft, an ME410, exploded with a huge flash. I saw the bright flash quite clearly from my small window, but the gunners reported seeing large pieces flying in all directions, then nothing – no parachutes were seen, so the crew of two had died. The night fighter must have been stalking us for some time, but our part of the action lasted only about 30 seconds, so apart from the initial shock, I had no time to feel fear during the action, that came later when I had time to think how close we had come to being shot out of the sky’.

(Chapter 12 of Alfred Price’s ‘Instruments of Darkness: The History of Electronic Warfare 1939-1945’ contains a good account of the operational activities of No 100 Group in the final months of the war in Europe)

Arthur was on leave when the war officially ended on 8 May 1945 and noticed immediately on his return how the airfield:

‘…had lost the bustle and sense of urgency…’

Arthur and his crew flew their last flight together, a cross country run, on 5 July 1945 and, shortly afterwards, 171 Squadron was disbanded. After 171 Sqn’s disbandment, Arthur and those members of his crew who had not been repatriated to Canada, were posted to 192 Sqn at Foulsham ferrying aircraft around the UK. During this time the war with Japan ended.

In Sep 1945 Arthur was posted to RAF Watton – a radio warfare establishment, and in December 1945 he was promoted to Warrant Officer. In Spring 1946 he was posted to another Radio Warfare establishment at Shepherds Grove, Suffolk, and about this time he married his childhood sweetheart, Joyce.

Shortly after his arrival at Shepherds Grove, Arthur was posted to 7 Advanced Navigation School at Bishops Court in N Ireland as a Staff Wireless Operator. He was to be an instructor flying with trainee wireless operators and navigators who had recently gained their wings. He did this initially but, in October 1946, he was ‘rested’ from air duties and seconded to Equipment Accounts instead. He was demobilised in February 1947 after four years of service in the RAF.