Jim joined the R.A.F. in June 1941 and it was a rather an inglorious start as on joining up he was immediately diagnosed with pneumonia, but as compensation during recuperation was put up in a rather grand house overlooking Regents Park.
All RAF aircrew were volunteers and his initial aircrew training took place in in Canada at Winnipeg Manitoba. Canada was something of a paradise to the young airmen being trained compared to Britain with its strict food rationing. Being trained in Canada meant that he had a Royal Canadian Air Force log book (for Aircrew other than Pilot).
By this stage of the war the RAF had standardised on ranks such that all aircrew were NCOs. His first logged flight in Canada was in July 1943 in an Anson flying as 1st Navigator for an hour and ten minutes. This was most likely providing a general familiarisation flight around the local area and taking in and learning visual references. Training then proceeded until November 1943 when Jim qualified as a navigator. At this stage he had logged 58 day hours and 41 night hours.
After training in Canada, Jim was posted to No.1 AFU (Advanced Flying Unit) at Wigtown, at Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland. Here he took the Air Navigator AFU course over a month’s duration, adding another 17 day hours and 12 night hours to his flying time and still flying in Ansons.
In April 1944 Jim was posted to RAF Chipping Warden, near to Banbury in Oxfordshire, to Number 12 Bomber Command OTC (Operational Training Unit).
Here he flew in the Wellington bomber and also met and first flew with pilot Bob Cameron, whom he was to go to serve with operationally.
Jim’s next training posting was to 1651 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit) based at Wratting Common, in Cambridgeshire, continuing his training on the four engine Stirling bomber.
His final training posting was to No. 3 LFS (Lancaster Finishing School) at RAF Feltwell in Norfolk where, as the name suggests, flight training was undertaken to convert crews to flying the Lancaster Bomber. After twelve hours of flying in a Lancaster here, Jim was posted to 622 squadron at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.
His first operational flight for 622 squadron was just a few days after arrival, on 18th July 1944 to Caen, bombing German troop and tank concentrations on a daylight raid.
Jim flew six ops for 622 squadron until he left, on 10th August 1944, for XV squadron, still at RAF Mildenhall with his first Op for XV squadron on 14th August 1944.
Left to right: .303 calibre machine gun bullets the Lanc. gunners typically used; " normal" German night-fighter cannon shell; deadly 20mm cannon shell fired upwards from night-fighters
On his fourth Op, this time to Stuttgart, they were attacked by an ME110 night fighter and Jim also notes that they lost 62 aircraft on this attack (so over 400 highly trained aircrew either killed or captured).
It is worth pointing out what they were up against as compared to the night fighters, as the Lancaster was equipped with just .303 calibre machine guns whereas night fighters were using cannon shells as the norm and were increasingly using heavy calibre twin upward firing cannon of 20mm.
These were the so called Schräge Musik night fighters, (loosely translated as ‘Jazz music’) which would manoeuvre into position underneath a bomber, where for the Lanc there was a blind spot, before firing at almost point blank range, obviously devastating from very close range.
Typically these night fighters would actually traverse under the Lanc’s wing, rather than risk firing upwards into the bomb bay, given the potential for mutual destruction.
Jim mentions having a very close personal call when some flak sliced through his navigator’s table on his tenth operation to Russelheim on 25th August 1944 as he recalls:
"I too had a lucky experience in that, again whilst over Germany a flak shell burst underneath the aircraft, sending a bit of shrapnel straight through my chart table, if I had been leaning over it, it would have taken my head clean off"
One of the ground crew actually found the piece of flak in the aircraft above the navigator’s position and Jim kept this as a souvenir. It weighs nearly 100g.
Jim’s longest Op was on his 11th, to Stettin, where the total duration was nearly ten hours. It was clearly not a pleasant Op as he says, “Coned over target. Bags of flak and panic.”
On his thirteenth Op, Jim and the rest of the crew were asked to take US General Schlatter of the USAAF with them, who wanted to see what an RAF bombing trip involved. Given the typical losses sustained by Bomber Command he was clearly a General that led from the front. Jim recalls that they were all pretty nervous of having such a high ranking passenger on board. It was clearly an auspicious trip since they all got back and for the Lanc, O Oboe, it was its fiftieth trip.
Jim's "souvenir piece of shrapnel which nearly had his 'name' on it
Not all Ops were traditional bombing and Jim’s 18th trip was a mining trip, dropping mines into the Kattegat sea between Denmark and Sweden.
Mining sorties were typically a relatively low risk operation and he does record this as an ”easy trip”, albeit one where they had to divert to Lossiemouth in Scotland due to bad weather, returning to base the next day.
Jim’s final trip was unusual, in that he was asked to do an additional Op after the normal number of 30, so making a total of 31.
For this last trip both Jim and his pilot Bob Cameron flew together but with another set of crew.
Jim recalls: “It was only for a small target, we were only away for 4 hours. I was back in bed by 06:00. When I got up at mid-day I met my crew and told them that I had been out on an Op that night, they did not believe me, as anybody who has already flown 30, does not in their right mind fly another. I still I have my flight log to prove it.”
Both his thirtieth and thirty-first Ops were to Trier in the Moselle valley and the thirtieth Op was in daylight and he added a newspaper cutting to his log book showing a Lanc over the target – no doubt he wondered if it was his Lanc!
Note: Not © of James Glasspool
From Jim's logbook - a newspaper cutting of an attack on Trier that Jim took part in. A Lanc. can be seen far left.
After some leave Jim was assigned as the new “Gee-H” officer although this was, at least initially ‘news’ to him:
“This car dropped me off at the corner of a hanger and the driver said that's your office, 'I said my office?', he said 'Yes, you are the new Gee-H officer, I'll tell you all about it later.' Anyway, I was later taken to where I was going to work. This was out of the hanger, across the road and into the wood opposite. Here was the group command headquarters, which controlled around 20 airfields. There were plenty of WRAF officers around, with a large plotting table and a similar thing set up against the wall. I was pointed to a chair and told that this was my desk.
On this desk was a compass like thing that was used to set the bearing of the GH beam, there was also a telephone with three large knobs on. I had no idea what these knobs were for, or even what I was doing there. Well, the phone rang and a chap on the end said 'Mildenhall?' I said 'Yes', he then went around calling out the names of the other twenty odd stations. Once he had everybody he said 'Scramble'. I didn’t know what the hell he meant, so I called over this WRAF officer and asked her what he meant, she said 'You press the middle and the left buttons', this made everything go gobblygook so that nobody could listen in.
So then they proceeded to give me the target and other information, and then me, at only 20, had to go and brief two squadrons on what they had to do. I also had to debrief them all when they came back and write up all of the reports. I spent about six months doing this, which was when the war came to an end, and that was it.
Gee and the later Gee-H, were radio guidance systems that were used to guide the bombers, however once the bombers had crossed the coast the Germans would typically jam these signals, although both were very useful as a nav aid in getting back to base.
After the end of the war Jim continued as a navigator and worked on a number of interesting projects, the first of which was the Baedeker tours or more commonly known as Cooks’ tours, after the travel agent.
These “tours” allowed bomber crews and their ground crew to fly over the bombed German cities, at low level, and see the damage they had inflicted. Often this might be the first time a ground crew had actually flown. Jim flew his tour on the on 2nd August 1945 and it also included overflying the Möhne dam, of Dam Busters fame.
Operation Dodge was an allied operation to repatriate allied servicemen quickly back to the UK from Italy and the Mediterranean. Jim flew to Bari in Italy. They returned a couple of days later to Tibenham with 20 men on so called ‘Python leave’.
Extending the Baeddeker tours, crews from Mildenhall were allowed to fly to Berlin to see at first hand and at ground level the effects of the bombing. Although only there for the day, Jim did manage to have a drink and also ‘bag” an SS glass from an SS officer’s mess [the glass still exists within the family].
In 1946 Jim continued to fly with XV squadron, either in a training role or in supporting various tests of new equipment.
This included test flying with ‘Lucero’, an early form of ILS (Instrument Landing System), which provided a centreline to the runway.
In addition with the end of the war many RAF flights were made to dispose of ordinance which was dropped from the Lanc into the sea. The most used location was Beauforts Dyke, between Scotland and Northern Ireland, but in Jim’s case they dumped ordinance into Cardigan Bay in Wales.
Starting in March 1946, ‘Project Ruby’ was a joint, Anglo–US investigation into bombing highly protected targets. This involved test bombing on the Valentin submarine pens at Farge, with both Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs. The Valentin submarine pens had earlier been disabled by bombing by 617 squadron.
Jim took part dropping the 12,000lb Tallboy bomb with the effects then assessed by the ‘boffins’. On one of Jim’s test bombing runs with a Tallboy bomb the scientists called up by radio that the crew could return to base without dropping the bomb.
On finals for the landing, for some reason, the Tallboy bomb actually fell off the bomb rack and then skidded down the runway at 100 odd miles an hour, scattering the various bystanders!
With the Lanc suddenly freed of a 12,000lb bomb load it flew upwards and then stalled into a banking manoeuvre around the edge of a wood. Jim remembered being literally thrown around in the Lanc and thought for sure they would crash, but luckily the pilot, F/O Bull, managed to regain control and make a normal landing.
Jim doesn’t record why the bomb detached and I’m sure he never personally found out why. Luckily the bomb didn’t explode either!
© IWM (CH 15380): A Tallboy bomb being dropped on the flying-bomb store at Watten, France, 19 June 1944. Jim only dropped Tallboy bombs in testing after the war had ended.
© IWM (CH 15363): A Tallboy bomb being loaded.
After the war, a Tallboy bomb fell off Jim's Lancaster on landing.
Last RAF Flight
Jim’s final flying ‘trip’ for the RAF was in July 1946 and to Farge once more, this time testing rocket bombs.
His last day of service in the RAF was 8th November 1946 before being ‘demobbed’ and having, like so many others, to start all over again in civilian life.
Unlike many of his fellow trainees and eventual squadron mates, Jim and the rest of his crew, survived their operational tour of duty, so beating all the odds for Bomber Command.