P/O Deane's early experiences with 49Squadron

The following extracts from Group Captain Deane's memoirs are published by kind permission of Michael Deane.
They must not be published whole or in part anywhere else without permission.
(Michael Deane: mdeane@cwgsy.net )

The Hunt for the Deutschland

Then on the 21st December 1939 I had my first operation. It was typical of the disorganization of the time. I was fast asleep when someone banged on my door to inform me I was required at Flights for immediate take-off. It was 6.30 a.m. I rushed to the hangar and with no breakfast, boarded a Hampden.

Apparently I was required as navigator/bomb aimer on the Right Commander's aircraft. We took off and in my unshaven and underfed state I enquired where we were going. To where was I to navigate? Not that I could very efficiently, for no maps nor charts had been provided.

I gathered from the Flight Commander a report had been received that the German battleship Deutschland was moving up the coast of Norway and we were to bomb it in company with another Hampden Squadron, No.50.

Onward the formation droned across the North Sea with a Naval officer in the lead aircraft to identify the Deutschland. Navigation was not all it might have been. Our course was too far south and we made a landfall in Denmark not Norway. The formation turned north, up the coastline of Sweden up to Norway. No sign of the enemy did we see. At latitude 60 degrees north we turned westward for home into a gale force wind.

Long after our estimated time for reaching the English coast, we were still over the sea. The Naval officer said he recognized it, declaring we had passed the north of Scotland! It is a gift being able to recognize one wave from another! We were just about to turn back when a fishing boat was sighted. The lead aircraft flew down to it and the skipper pointed to where the coastline was. We flew in that direction, passed over Holy Island and landed at the nearby airfield by Acklington. Some 200 miles north of our intended destination of Scampton.

We had been flying for over eight hours. Through shortage of petrol, one of our aircraft crashed into the church at Acklington, whilst 50 Squadron encountered other problems. Discontented with the leadership of 49 they took a different route back which was even further north in fact to the Firth of Forth in Scotland. The City of Edinburgh Fighter Squadron was alerted and 50 Squadron were attacked as enemy bombers!

In all, quite an epic for my first trip against the enemy and I refer to it as indicative of the poor navigational standard and general ineffectiveness of Bomber Command at the time.

People and Places

Perhaps worthy of comment is that in squadrons, Christian names were rarely used, but nicknames were prevalent. Mine was Dixie like most Deans and I would mention two at Scampton at the time who subsequently became eminent.

'Babe' Learoyd who was awarded the VC for his successful Dortmund Ems canal attack in 1941 and 'Boy' Gibson who later became famous for his leadership of 617Squadron's breaching of the Möhne and Eder dams for which he also received the VC. Why Learoyd was christened 'Babe' is hard to analyse for he was a big, jolly, bluff chap maybe his red chubby cheeks were the inspiration. In the case of Gibson the nickname 'Boy' was no doubt connected with his then immaturity. When we were together again at Coningsby during the last year of the war, he was quite a different person quite grown up.

At Scampton there was a full quota of 'joie de vivre types', notably Bob Allen, 'Drain' Low in 49 and 'Oscar' Bridgeman, Jack Kynoch and Jackie Withers in 83.

In consequence the Officers' Mess was a lively place as was the annexe at the Saracen's Head pub in nearby Lincoln. Sadly no more as Woolworths subsequently took over the site for one of their shops.

It was said of the Saracen's Head that if aircrew were required for operations complete with the name of the target, just ask the barmaid!