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Lancaster I RA526 crashed in the sea of Kattegat west of the island of Samsø 12/3 1945.
Bombardier F/O Robert Mains
The Light house keeper Otto Mønsted was approached by the leader of the Germans and asked to
have the survivor handed over, as the crash had been seen from the mainland. If
the local garrison did not manage to find any survivors “the black gang” would
arrive from the mainland and do the search. Guards was set at the
Pilot Kenneth A. Ayres DFC
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Bombardier F/O Robert Mains recalls the night:
Tomorrow we were going on leave for 7 days and did we need it! The war was fast drawing to a close with terrific progress being made by the Allied Forces in east and west Europe. Consequently we in Bombe /command had been operating day and night for the past few weeks and the crew of which I was a member had borne it’s share.
This was March 12th 1945 at Scampton in Lincolnshire and we were part of 153 Squadron which had moved here after the departure of 617 Squadron which achieved such fame in the Dam Busting Raids. We were proud to fly from this famous station which was also the HQ of number 1 Bomber Group. By we, I mean my crew which was made of as follows:-
Skipper – F/O Ken Ayres who came from South Molton in Devon. He was the ‘old man’ of the crew having reached the ripe of age of 24, married, he had one little girl of whom he was constantly talking. In civilian life he had been a commercial artist.
Our navigator was a Scot who hailed from Edinburgh. An excitable character who was nevertheless as cool as a cucumber in the aire at his beloved charts. He had just celebrated his 22nd birthday, so much for Reg McMinn.
Bill Taylor was our engineer and for him there was no place like Bournemouth. He had been an engineer in civvy street and he was in his glory looking after the mass of instruments connected to those 4 great Merlin engines.
Birmingham (Cradley Heath) provided F/Sgt Dennis Head for wireless operator and at 19 he was the ‘good looker’ of a motley crowd.
From the same little town we had the ‘baby’ of the crew, Derek Cox, also 19 he was the comedian and was never anything but cheerful. He had to be, he was our tail and Charlie and like ‘Mrs Mopp’ it was being cheerful kept him going.
In Jock Wilson we had a 19 year old mid upper gunner who had been brought up in a small mining community in Ayrshire. He was a quiet lad who had surprised us all by returning from his last leave with the news that he had taken a wife.
Besides the ‘Skipper’ I was the only other commissioned type, flying as Bomb Aimer, 20 years old and a ‘Geordie’ who wanted nothing more than the war finished and back home to the ‘coal country’. Unfortunately, I was to be the only one of the seven to realise that ambition.
We had completed 22 operations over various parts of Europe and this afternoon we were to report to Briefing Room for our 23rd trip and hoped for an easy number to finish off before going on leave.
The Briefing Room at Scampton was just inside the main gates and in charge was Corporal Ken Burns who live about quarter of a mile from me back home in the little village of Windy Nook on the outskirts of Gateshead. He used to wish me luck on each trip and I think he used to scan the faces of the returning crews just in case!
There were only 6 crews to report on this occasion so we knew this was to be a ‘Gardening Trip’. We had previously operated on 5 of these mine laying operations and considered ourselves lucky to be alive as on each occasion we had seen 2 or 3 of our pals go down in flames. We much preferred the company of anything up to a 1000 bombers to making this comparatively lonely sortie.
Tonight we were to go to the most northern point of ‘Jutland’ and to drop our mines on a run of 180 degrees and then make a rush home by the quickest possible means.
Briefing over we made our way to the ‘crew room’ to collect our equipment and as usual there was a tense sort of atmosphere when only the very brave were free of ‘butterflies’.
Our dispersal point was very near at hand and we used to walk straight out to our aircraft J for Johnny, having a last cigarette en route. Having reached the aircraft it was the practice for each member of the crew to check over the instruments peculiar to his job. This carried out we taxied out to the end of the runway ready for take off.
When the whole Squadron was operating it was not an unusual thing for 100 or more of the ground crew to be lined up at the end of the runway to see the boys off but on this occasion the lone spectator was LACW Monica Wood who at the time was the constant companion of our W/Op Dennis Head. She looked a really lonesome figure as we trundled on to the runway. The skipper had a last minute check and then those 4 great engines roared and we moved off gathering speed. When we were fully loaded it sometimes seemed we would never get airborne in the 2000 yards of runway but we always made it.
Tonight we had to be at the rendezvous at 9.00pm and we were to fly low over the North Sea until we reached the Danish Coast where we were to climb to 11000 feet to ‘sew our vegetables’. Flying over the sea at about 1000ft there is a wonderful sensation of speed and we seemed to be fairly hurtling along. Having reached the /Danish Coast without mishap we began to climb to 11000ft and at the same time changed course to bring us over Jutland. We also began our final preparation for our run into the area to be mined.
The arrangements were that the flight engineer went into the nose of the aircraft and dropped each mine on instructions from the ‘Bomb Aimer’ whose task it was to scan the latest radar instruments which showed the whole of the coastline below on a screen not more than 5” in diameter. On reaching a pre-determined spot we were to drop mines at 10 second intervals on a course of 180 degrees and a photograph had to be taken of the screen as the mine was dropped. We understood this was done in order that accurate plots could be made of the minefields we had laid.
Everything went according to plan and we were about to set course for home when without warning there was a loud crunch and the aircraft seemed to jump all over the sky. The skipper seemed to steady her a little but the port wing was a mass of flames and the aircraft was rapidly filling with smoke.
The skipper gave the order to abandon aircraft and I moved forward to the front of the aircraft to the front escape hatch, the cover of which had been removed by the engineer who had been in the nose. As I came up alongside the skipper he glanced quickly at me and nodded and I noticed that he was taking his feet off the rudder bar prior to getting out. The aircraft immediately started to play tricks and he immediately replaced his feet. This in my opinion was to give us the opportunity to ‘bale out’ and he must certainly have jeopardised his own chances. At this time I was squatting at the top of 3 steps which led right to the hatchway with Reggie McMinn right behind me. The aircraft must have gone out of control completely as all I can remember was being tossed about like a cork in an angry sea, and then a sensation of falling through the air. I must have been temporarily knocked out for I recollect seeing a ball of fire in the air above me and I automatically pulled the ring to open my chute. I was still half dazed but the jerk of the parachute opening nearly tore me apart. Drifting down at the end of a parachute is not my idea of the most comfortable mode of travel and somewhere in the back of my mind something was telling me that I would be very fortunate to land anywhere but in the sea.
Looking down was no help as everything was pitch black with not a light to be seen, nor could I see any sign of the aircraft below or above. Gradually I could make out the black outline of what I could only hope was the land and as I was drifting gently down it was obvious that the least that could happen was a damn good soaking. I had lost one boot somewhere and I quickly rid myself of the other and prepared to get rid of the chute which I feared might drop over me and hinder me in the water. Coolness had never been a strong point with me but I seemed to be doing things automatically. The water came up pretty quickly then after pressing the parachute harness release button I was immediately under water but came straight to the surface and stayed afloat with the aid of my ‘Mae West’
The shore didn’t seem to be too far away and I began to swim slowly towards
the land. Being only a moderate swimmer I frequently had to lie on my b ack and
float and it seemed hours before my feet touched the bottom. Who knows, it may
have been hours, I had lost all sense of time and was absolutely bewildered.
After struggling out of the water I just lay on the beach looking out over the
water and for a while couldnt’ even imagine how I’d got there.
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