Don “Mac” McFarlane, an Observer on 82 Squadron flew in R3821 on a number of occasions prior to 13th August 1940 and was scheduled to fly on the 13th August. After engine start on the morning of the 13th and just prior to taxying out for take-off, a member of the squadron ground crew gave the signal to cut the engines. At fist they thought the raid had been scrubbed after all but on talking on the telephone to Mac’s pilot, Donald Wellings, announced that they had all been posted as instructors to Operational Training Units and the standby crew of Hale, Oliver and Boland took R3821 instead. They of course, did not return.
Here Mac recalls some of the raids R3821 took part in prior to Aalborg:
On 17th May, 1940, twelve aircraft of 82 Squadron, based at Watton, in Norfolk, took off to attack troop concentrations at Gembloux, Belgium, where the German army was sweeping West towards the Channel ports. Eleven of them were shot down and the survivor, badly damaged, managed to reach Watton, but it was written off due to the damage sustained. Fortunately, for me, my name did not appear on the flying programme for that day! Shortly afterwards, replacement crews and aircraft arrived at the Station, including R3821, which was painted with the wartime 82 Squadron code – UX, and given the individual letter – N.
Unluckily for her, (if I may call a beautiful aircraft “her”) she lasted only from May to August, and was lost on 13th August when eleven aircraft of 82 Squadron were shot down during a raid to Aalborg aerodrome in Northern Denmark. This time my crew did appear on the flying programme, but by an amazing stroke of luck, we were informed as we were running up the engines, that all three of us had been posted, and that the spare crew would take our places. They did not return. And a remarkable story has been told about the eventual excavation of R3 821 from the crater on Aalborg aerodrome, and the subsequent burial of the remains of the crew, in 1995!
The total flying life of R382l amounted to some 45 hours and I was privileged to fly in her for just over 36 of those hours, mainly with the same Pilot and Wireless Operator/Airgunner. Most of the operations we carried out in her were pretty standard at that time, North Sea sweeps, and attacks on the German army overrunning NW Europe, but possibly of interest are two which are highlighted in my memory
On 29th July 1940, we were detailed, as a single aircraft, to take R3821 to Hamburg, and to bomb the oil refinery situated on the North side of the docks. As the take-off was scheduled for 0950 hrs, and the weather was fine, this seems to me with hindsight to have been a suicidal mission. But the Blenheims of 2 Group were often called upon to carry out many dicey jobs, and being young and somewhat gung-ho, we carried them out without demur! We crossed the North Sea, climbing to avoid bad weather, and crossed the Zuider Zee in an electrical storm, which was a bit scary. Coming out the other side, the weather cleared and we dropped to 5,000ft, with a clear blue sky dotted with puffs of summer cumulus. We had planned our track to make feints towards other cities, and eventually came to the river Elbe, where we turned to port and followed it’s course to the target, unaffected by either fighters or Flak. We now know that the Germans had primitive radar, but can only suppose that it was affected by the severe electrical storm we had passed through.
We made a shallow dive approach, setting the F24 camera on the approach, and as we dropped our bombs so the Flak opened up, but we continued to dive, passing at low level over the aerodrome at Stade, where Me 109’s were visible, taxying to a take-off point. We crossed the coast between Cuxhaven and Wilhelmshaven, and turned to port to fly alongside the Frisian Islands. A call from the Wop/AG informed us that he had sighted three dots on the starboard quarter, and these turned to their starboard, following and gaining on us, proving to be Me 109’s. We used the 9lbs boost to increase speed, and shortly they gave up the chase and continued towards their homeland. We supposed they had been on patrol and were running short of fuel. Another stroke of luck! We arrived back at base after a trip lasting 5hrs and 15 mins, and found we had left the overlap camera running. Development of the film showed either the Bremen or Europa, with steam up, in the Hamburg docks, and we heard that later that night a force of Hampdens were sent out to deal with it. Results unknown to us!
On 7th August, 1940, our crew, in R3821, were one in a formation of 12 aircraft of 82 Squadron detailed to attack the aerodrome at Haamsteede, in Holland. Take-off was at 1725hrs, and we climbed, in formation, to 20,000ft, this being a new idea of our newish CO. As we crossed the North Sea, the weather became more and more murky, until it was almost like flying through milk. We noticed several aircraft break formation and dive out of sight, and wondered why. We pressed on and near ETA we dived to find the navigation was spot on and there was the Dutch coast, with the target not far ahead. None other of our formation was visible, and so we dropped our bombs on a group of Me 109’s outside a hangar. Not waiting to see the result as some of these little nasties were moving, we turned tail and shot off across the North Sea towards home!
I have a letter from a Dutch author who was carrying out some pertinent research many years later which told me that Dutch and German records of the time showed that a single aircraft approached Haamsteede on the date and at the time, and dropped bombs which burst among a group of Me109’s of 4 Staffel , Jagdgeschwader 54, which caused the Squadron to be taken out of it’s Battle of Britain role, several pilots and airmen being killed, and several machines being destroyed. I like to think that this might have saved the lives of some of our fighter boys! The same author told me that he had met and spoken to the then CO of the German Squadron, who had said that he was so incensed that he took off in his own Me109 to exact revenge, but the murk was too much! Luck still with us!
Don McFarlane, DFM, ex- observer, 82 Squadron, RAF Watton.