An account of the Mailly-le-Camp raid 3/5/1944 – by a 576 Sqn Navigator
May 3rd 1944 was to become another infamous day in the history of Bomber Command. It was a bright day at Elsham Wolds and my crew were in good spirits. The days were warmer and there was no need to have a fire in the Nissen Hut. That evening there was another briefing. The target looked an easy one, only a short distance into France. Talk of an invasion of the French coast was spreading around and tonight the target was to be the German army barracks and training centre at Mailly-le-Camp. At the briefing it was said there was little in the way of defenses and so 198 Lancasters of No. 1 Group were to obliterate the railway and prevent the Germans from using it.
At 2125 GMT The navigator wrote in his log that all navigation instruments had been checked and working. At 2135 they were airborne in L2. 50 minutes later, at 2235 GMT (0025 local time), they set off for Reading at an altitude of 12,000 feet. At 23.07.5 they passed over Reading and went on to Beachy Head, which was reached at 23.22.5. The French coast was crossed 10 miles north along the coast from Pointe D’Ailly and course was altered to take them to a position 4 miles north west of the target. The navigator estimated they would be there at 0014.5. At 2346 flak was seen only 3 or 4 miles on their left. An H2S fix at 2352 positioned them at 8 miles from Beauvais on a bearing of 0350. A slight alteration was made to the course and the estimated time at the target was 0016.
At 0012 yellow target indicators were seen and 4 minutes later L2 was over those target indicators. The Master Bomber, controlling the raid, told the crews to go round in a circle and not to bomb until permission was given. By now anti-aircraft fire was coming up thick and fast from Mailly-le-Camp. No defenses indeed! Just 2 miles above the earth the Lancasters were easy targets to the gunners and aircraft began to fall from the sky. The pilot said, “This is going to be another bloody Nuremburg.”
At 0020, still going round in a circle, the navigator got another H2S fix, which put them right over the target. 5 minutes later, at 0025, the Master Bomber gave the crews permission to bomb. This time there were red target indicators on the ground and, flying at only a few hundred feet, the Master Bomber had checked that they were on the target. Amidst a hail of ack-ack fire the pilot turned the aircraft towards the target. At 0030 The bomb aimer dropped the bombs. The heading was 187o magnetic, height was 7,000 feet, Indicated Air Speed was 220 mph, and the calculated speed over the ground was 260 mph. 5 minutes later they were clear of the target area and on their way back to Elsham.
All the crew were appalled at the delay before bombing, 14 minutes in their case, and the slaughter that had taken place as the bombers encircled the target. They never thought that they could have been one of the casualties. There was no point in thinking things like that, if it was to happen it would happen – and possibly they wouldn’t know about it.
After leaving the target area a climb was made to 14,000 feet, a height which was reached at 0116. From then on to Elsham it was uneventful, arriving at 0305 and landing 8 minutes later. Lancaster B2 was lost and 5 of the crew killed. S2 was attacked twice by a JU88 and the one gunner was killed with one missing who was later found to be a POW. Pilot Officer Reed brought the aircraft home and was awarded an immediate DSO.
Pilot Officer Whalley and crew were in B2 that was lost at Mailly. The two crews were good friends, having arrived on the Squadron about the same time. R Whalley (Pilot) was killed, as was his Bomb-Aimer, Wireless Operator, Rear-Gunner and Mid-Upper Gunner, SJ Barr, F Burgess, J McCool and N Reilly. Of the rest Flight Engineer C van De Velde evaded and Navigator JD Ward was taken POW.
49 Lancasters were lost from No.1 Group over Mailly. Apparently only 152 aircraft proceeded to the target area. Almost 1 in 3 crews and aircraft were lost.
576 Squadron report on raid.
Mailly-le-Camp – 3rd May 1944.
18 aircraft were detailed for this attack. Bomb load – 1 x 4,000 MC, 16 x 500 MC Minimum bombing height 6,000 feet.
Route: Base – Reading – Beachy Head – 5000N 0115W – 4854N 0408W – Target (4851N 04411W) – 4825N 0415W – 4818N 0200W – 4835N 0020W – 4922N 0050W – Selsey Bill – Reading – Base.
Weather conditions were 8/10 broken cloud over base gradually dispersing on outward route where it became clear at the south coast of England and remained clear on the route to the target and back to base with only a slight ground haze. PFF opened the attack 5 to 10 minutes late and red spot fires were slightly scattered.
There was a Master of Ceremonies on the target and a slight confusion was caused when the Germans began giving orders and cutting in on him on the same frequency. There was heavy predicted and some light flak. Searchlights were reported as nil, but there were an unusually greater number of sightings of enemy aircraft in the target area and a large number of combats reported.
P/O Reed and crew were attacked by a JU88 on two occasions and badly shot up. The Rear-Gunner was killed and Mid-upper Gunner missing. The rest of the crew were uninjured and though the aircraft was badly shot up P/O Reed made a successful landing in spite of the fact that his undercarriage was in a damaged condition and the rear turret burnt out and almost shot off.
P/O Blackie was attacked on the homeward route just outside the target area by a JU88, which shot up their starboard outer engine and also part of the hydraulics. The JU88 was then shot down by the gunners on the first attack. The pilot made an emergency landing at Woodbridge due to no starboard outer, no flaps and no brakes. None of the crew was injured.
P/O Whalley is reported missing from this operation. All the rest of the crews returned safely to base.
The gunners in P/O Reed’s crew were: Rear-Gunner Sgt Hudson A, Mid-upper P/O McIntosh FJ
End of 576 Squadron report.
Edited by David Fell. Thanks to the gentleman concerned for submiting this item. I have had it on file for many years.