Bomber Formations

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by LadyWolf, Dec 16, 2009.

  1. LadyWolf

    LadyWolf New Member

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    Can anyone explain the following situation for me regarding the link to bomber formation and whether it would make sense.

    Through research I have gathered that Lanc MK I, ME558, SR-Q (take off 1900) was being shot at by a German fighter.

    In taking evasive action or in its fall from being shot ME558 crashed into Lanc MK II, LL637 EQ-P (take off1918).

    ME558 also hit Lanc MK II, LL852, BQ-X (take off 1911).

    Another plane also went down but I'm not sure how it was connected. It was Lanc MK III, LM392, BQ-J (take off 1910).

    Is it possible, with these take off times, these planes may have been close to one another at the time of attack by the German fighter?

    It seems odd to me that the first plane would hit a plane that took off 18 and 11 minutes later than it (granted this could be due to starting points being different). Any suggestions?

    I know that LL637 flew from Linton-on-Ouse and LL852 and LM392 were both from North Killingholme. I do not know where the first plane was from.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated!
     
  2. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    It's possible that they were all flying in formation. One takes off and circles waiting for the others take off, once all in the air they head together towards the target.
     
  3. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Hi LadyWolf,

    A bomber's takeoff time wouldn't matter in regards to formation flying, since they climb after takeoff to an assembly point, form up into thier respective positions (these were assigned prior to the mission) and then follow thier course to the target.

    I'm not as well versed on British bomber formations as I am on American, but they all generally flew a formation that would allow thier defensive positions to protect each other, so they would have beeen in close proximity to one another during thier flight.
     
  4. LadyWolf

    LadyWolf New Member

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    GrauGeist, from your statement that they would have been in close proximity to one another, how close is close? Is it close enough that all of these planes could have been affected by the shooting down of the first plane?
     
  5. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    to be more precise how about a date of this tragedy ?
     
  6. LadyWolf

    LadyWolf New Member

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    It happened on the night of the 15th March 1944.
    Times are questionable, some info suggests around 23:30 on the 15th and other info states around 1:30 am on the 16th.

    The tail gunner in LL637 was a relative.

    I have tried to find out who the German night fighter was as well but have not got far on getting answers there. I have reason to believe it may be a particular person but cannot verify one way or another.
     
  7. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    They certainly were close enough for collisions and they did happen. If they were flying in formation they would not be able to take evasive maneuvers. Normally they would only move out of their spot if the plane fell out due to damage or taking the spot of a plane that just fell out to keep the defensive fire together.
     
  8. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    It's not particularly unusual for this sort of thing to happen. In fact, a multiple collison could well account for those Bomber Command losses which could not be definitely attributed to night fighter action or 'flak'.
    The night bombers of the RAF didn't fly in formation in the way that the day bombers of the USAAF did, due mainly, of course, because it was virtually impossible to formate closely at night, let alone downright dangerous. In general, a squadron would be allocated a route and an altitude, and a time over target, with a turning point for the run in to the target, and another for egress. After take off, each aircraft would normally climb to departure altitude, and either set course, or orbit at an assembly point, very often off the East coast of England, before joining a bomber 'stream'. As the name suggests, this was, more or less, a relatively loose 'gaggle', in a stream of aircraft at varying altitudes, en-route to the first way-point. This stream would often be rather like an elongated 'cone', with the tip at the leading edge, and could stretch for a hundred miles or more. Also, depending on the target(s), and any 'spoof' operations etc, there might be converging streams heading for the same general area.
    Picture the scene of this stream, converging on a target, with each squadron allocated a time over target, at differing altitudes, and with the stream maybe ten miles wide and narrowing, all designed to disrupt the enemies defences and emergency services. The raid itself could possibly last hours, with delays between elements deliberately planned in order to achieve maximum disruption and effects on morale.
    In this situation, one aircraft in trouble could, and did, quite easily damage or destroy others accidentaly, and, of course, some were also the recipients of so-called 'friendly fire', when air gunners let rip at what they thought was an enemy fighter approaching in the gloom.
    This doesn't help you find the information you're looking for, but hopefully it might give an idea of how these tragedies could happen.
     
  9. LadyWolf

    LadyWolf New Member

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    Another question for you:

    If they did collide then why is it that despite a French book etc stating that they did collide, the official records have never been changed to link with the collision story? The official records still state it was shot down by a German night fighter. In fact all the planes listed are still considered, by official records, to have been shot down. Would there be a reason for this?

    By the way thanks all for the info!
     
  10. beaupower32

    beaupower32 Well-Known Member

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    Location:
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    07:00 hrs.
    Day is beginning for the 2000 ground staff at a Bomber Command station on the bleak, windswept coast of eastern England. The target information for the next night has been received, in code of course.

    08:00 hrs.
    At the far end of the airfield, armourers roll out the huge 4000 pound bombs and smaller 500 pounders and mount them on trolleys, ready to be towed out to the aircraft. Others pack the cases of incendiaries that will surround the high explosive bombs when they are winched into the bomb-bay. Other armament crews feed tens of thousands of cartridges into the ammunition boxes which will service the turrets. At the fuel dump, oil and petrol tankers or "bowsers" are filled. It will be mid-afternoon before the fueling of the Squadron's bombers is complete. In the dispersal areas, where the aircraft are lined up, mechanics rigorously check every part: engines, instruments, hydraulic systems. Test flights are completed and maintenance crews are often at work until minutes before takeoff.

    11:00 hrs.
    At Station Headquarters the Commanding Officer and his staff check weather forecasts and plan the night's operation. Collecting and revising information, they work against time for the afternoon briefing.

    In the locker rooms, members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force pack parachutes and check the many items of equipment and clothing required by each of the 210 airmen. Other WAAF's are in the kitchens preparing rations and filling thermos flasks. Women at the station are also responsible for driving trucks and towing tractors and some are engaged in lighter maintenance work on the aircraft. The delivery of a bomber is often made by women of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary), who fly the aircraft in from the manufacturing plants.

    13:00 hrs.
    The aircrews gather in the briefing room, sitting together facing a stage, a map with the target hidden behind a curtain. The c/o begins by pulling back the curtain to reveal the target. The crews receive their information including precise courses, known defences, tactics to be employed, timing, operating altitudes, permissible radio frequencies, and weather forecasts. Maps are issued to navigators and bomb aimers.

    14:00 hrs.
    The bomb loads are now in place. Armourers slot the Browning .303s through the doors of the turrets and feed in the ammunition belts. The last of the bombers is fuelled and the mechanics make their final checks. Following the traditional pre-operational meal of bacon and eggs, the crews are issued their flying gear, escape kits, and parachutes.

    15:00 hrs.
    Smoking a last cigarette, crews are driven out to their aircraft. Once on board the men grope their way along a dark, narrow fuselage, stow their kit, and then settle down to the long pre-flight checklists. If all is well, the flight engineer gives the traditional thumbs up to the ground crew.

    16:00 hrs.

    As daylight fades the four Merlin engines sputter to life one by one. The aircraft taxis to the end of the runway and the take-off run starts. It is a nerve-wracking affair for the crew as the aircraft strains to lift its tremendous bomb and fuel loads. Dusk is gathering as the bomber flies to a rendez-vous position where all aircraft on the operation from all squadrons will rendez-vous, and then continue to the target, climbing on track. In the hope of overwhelming the defences the bombers travel in a "stream" of numerous aircraft, very close together and travelling the same course, accepting the danger of mid-air collision. Although they rarely saw the other aircraft, their turbulance was often felt.

    The German defences are on alert, warned of the bombers' approach by their Freya early-warning radar. Awaiting the aircraft of Bomber Command are batteries of ground-based searchlights and radar-controlled anti-aircraft guns. Special units of "illuminators" (Junkers 88s) fly above the bomber stream dropping strings of parachute flares to assist those German fighters, not equipped with onboard radar. The aircraft may be attacked by enemy fighters on the way to the target and at any time during their return to base.

    The bombers employ "Window," the name given to strips of aluminum foil released by the bombers to produce false echoes on enemy radar. Diversionary raids are staged, with the hope of drawing the Luftwaffe's attention away from the main target. The bombers' best defence, however, is cloud and darkness; their .303 calibre guns are no match for the 20mm cannon and specialized armaments of the Luftwaffe night fighters. The crew of a badly hit bomber had a one-in-five chance of escaping alive. The G-forces of a diving or spiralling aircraft were often overwhelming as the aircrew attempted to reach their stowed parachutes, clip them on, and make their way to an escape hatch.

    20:00 hrs.
    The climax of every trip was the "run" over the target, often through searchlights and flak. The bomb aimers, spotting the red, green, or yellow target indicators dropped by the Pathfinder Force to mark their targets, give instructions for the bomb-bay doors to be opened and guides the pilot for the final few minutes of the bomb run. The aircraft lift 100 feet as their loads are released; then the doors are closed and, the weaving to avoid fighters begins again as the aircraft turn on to a westerly course for home. However, the crew must remain vigilant for the entire flight. Even in the landing circuit, bombers have fallen victim to enemy intruder aircraft and safety only really returns once the aircraft has returned to its dispersal

    24:00 hrs.
    The English coast, often treacherous to airmen with its low-lying fog, is sighted. Ground staff cheer as their "own" aircraft approaches; others anxiously await crews who will be lucky to complete ten trips in these grim days. Longer routes, adverse weather, and the success of the Luftwaffe defences have all contributed to increased casualties.

    Stiff and weary, the airmen climb into the waiting truck and head for the debriefing hut. There, fortified with coffee and rum, they go through the necessary questioning about the night's events. Another operation has been successfully completed; one more day of war is over.

    Mid-air collisions occurred often during the many concentrated raids of the war's latter years. This Halifax (pictures 4 and 5)had about nine feet of its nose section chopped away in an aerial collision over Saarbrucken on the night of January 13/14, 1945. Its skipper, F/O A.L. Wilson, lost his navigator and bomb aimer, both of whom were at their stations in the nose. With only three instruments on his panel working, Wilson brought the Halifax back and is seen here (centre) the next morning with the surviving crewmembers
     
  11. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    The bomber LL 852 was shot down by a Bf 110G-4 flown by Major Rolf Leuchs at 22.35 hrs., Stab II./NJG 6

    ME 558 or LM 392 was shot down by a Bf 110G-4 flown by Unteroffizier Robert Koch at 22.35 hrs., 6./NJG 1 S.E. Se'lestat (Schlettstadt).

    LL 637 ?

    E ~
     
  12. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Hi Lady Wolf,

    I get the impression from Erich's preceding post that the collision theory is just that - a theory. Also, official records reflect the data that was available at the time. It's the job of historians to present different causal factors. Finally, the job of updating wartime records to reflect the latest research is just too big. I've visited the Air Historical Branch many times. They have a tiny staff that simply is not resourced to investigate individual aircraft losses to the level of detail required.

    Hope this helps.

    Kind regards,
    Mark
     
  13. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Very good post Airframes, best I've seen on the subject. Add in different speeds, navigation, flying techiques of aircraft and crew and a 10 minutes difference in takeoff times is nothing.
     
  14. LadyWolf

    LadyWolf New Member

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    Erich, where does your information on the two planes, ME558 and LL852 come from?
    This would help a great deal in sorting the true story of what took place that night via the German perspective. If these men were involved and either happens to be alive I would like their version of events.


    buffnut453, the collision perspective has suposedly come from an eye witness but the person was a French teenager on the ground looking up at the planes going over... I gather from people in France that this info can be found in at least one French book if not more. Although this point of view has to be considered, I need other points of view (e.g. that from the sky from other bombers and the german fighters involved) in order to verify or discard aspects of the story. It has to be correct when I write it.

    Thanks for all the info so far. Keep it coming!
     
  15. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    #15 buffnut453, Dec 17, 2009
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2009
    LadyWolf,

    That's a laudable aim but don't be surprised if you have problems reconciling very different accounts - just ask a policeman who's interviewed witnesses to a car crash. During night operations, bomber crews often didn't know what hit them - was it a night fighter, flak, collision with another aircraft, or was their aircraft hit by a bomb dropped from another bomber flying above them? All were actual causes of aircraft losses during both daylight and night bombing missions.

    Eyewitness reports are also notoriously problemmatic (again, the car crash analogy applies) - just look at the number of fighter pilots who mis-identify the aircraft they attack. Split-second observations made in the heat of the moment, when pilots (or, indeed, other observers) are suffering from sensory overload are not video recordings of reality but a snapshot of what the viewer perceived - and that snapshot can change markedly over time.

    Now, if wreckage from the 2 aircraft is found in the same location, there's a good chance that the aircraft did collide...but, perversely, the aircraft could still fly some distance apart from each other before crsahing.

    Finding the "truth" is virtually impossible so we are often left with drawing the most likely conclusions based on available evidence.
     
  16. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Out of curiousity, how was it that a french teenager on the ground was able to see what was going on way above, and at night?
     
  17. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    That's a dam good question.
     
  18. LadyWolf

    LadyWolf New Member

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    "Drawing the most likely conclusions based on available evidence" is what I'm after.

    I have issues with taking one point of view, from one person, who happened to be thousands of feet below the activity. Thus why it is very important, and only right, to give each groups perspective to the story before coming to my own conclusions. However, regardless of my own conclusions, all the perspectives will be in the book along with my personal conclusions. That is as good as the "truth" will allow in such situations.
     
  19. LadyWolf

    LadyWolf New Member

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    That is exactly why I am questioning the perspective of a teen on the ground.... but must not completely disregard it until I have considered all points of view. The story from the French has been going around for a very long time.... I have someone working on it but have many questions as you can imagine.
     
  20. LadyWolf

    LadyWolf New Member

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    Buffnut,
    "Now, if wreckage from the 2 aircraft is found in the same location, there's a good chance that the aircraft did collide...but, perversely, the aircraft could still fly some distance apart from each other before crsahing."

    Info as follows... it is general info stated in one place or another by the French. Facts via squadron and other website info linked to official records.

    ME558 shot down by night fighter.
    Fact: crashes at Breitenheim near Mussig

    ME558 collides with LL637 and LL852.
    Fact: LL637 crashes in a farmer's field between Hilsenheim and Wittisheim
    Also fact: LL637 had split in two and landed in two different spots
    (front closer to Witisheim and tail end closer to Hilsenheim I believe). My relative was in the tail end. This aspect of two parts is verified by the French and can most likely be verified independently in the field.

    Fact: LL852 crashed at Appenwihr

    Another plane is mentioned vaugely... LM392 and it crashes at Artolsheim but I have no clue why it is mentioned or how it relates to the above incident.
     
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