Squadron Leader Tommy Broom D.F.C. Bar x 2
Squadron Leader Tommy Broom D.F.C. Bar (twice)
Born: January 22nd 1914 at Portishead, Bristol. Died: May 18th 2010. Age 96.
Navigator of a two-man Mosquito Bomber crew known throughout the wartime R.A.F. as the “Flying Brooms”.
In August 1943 Broom was the chief ground instructor at the Mosquito Training Unit when he first met his namesake Flight Lieutenant Ivor Broom (later Air Marshal Sir Ivor Broom), an experienced low-level bomber pilot. They immediately teamed up and flew together for the remainder of the war, forming a formidable partnership and completing 58 operations together, including 22 to Berlin.
Initially they joined No 571 Squadron as part of Air Vice-Marshal Don Bennett’s Pathfinder Force, and on May 26 1944 they flew their first operation, an attack on Ludswigshafen. Their ground crew embellished their Mosquito with two crossed broomsticks, adding the legend “The Flying Brooms”.
On August 9 they took part in a spectacular night-time mission to drop mines in the Dortmund-Ems Canal. They descended rapidly from 25,000ft to fly along the canal at 150ft, releasing their mines under heavy anti-aircraft fire. The force of eight Mosquitos closed the canal for a number of weeks. Tommy Broom’s brilliant navigation had helped ensure the success of the raid, and he was awarded a D.F.C.
The Brooms took part in another daring attack on New Year’s Day 1945. In order to stem the flow of German reinforcements to the Ardennes, the RAF mounted operations to sever the rail links leading to the area, and the Brooms were sent to block the tunnel at Kaiserslauten.
They were approaching the tunnel at low level just as a train was entering it. They dropped their 4,000lb bomb, with a time delay fuse, in the entrance and 11 seconds later it exploded, completely blocking the tunnel – the train did not emerge. Tommy Broom received a Bar to his DFC and his pilot was awarded a DSO.
When Ivor Broom was given command of No 163 Squadron, Tommy went with him as the squadron’s navigation leader and they flew together until the end of the war. Their last five operations were to Berlin, where searchlights posed a perpetual problem.
On one occasion they were coned for as long as a quarter of an hour. After twisting, turning and diving to escape the glare, Ivor Broom asked his disoriented navigator for a course to base. Tommy replied: “Fly north with a dash of west, while I sort myself out.” A few weeks later Tommy Broom was awarded a second Bar to his DFC – an extremely rare honour for a bomber navigator.
Thomas John Broom was born on January 22 1914 at Portishead, Bristol, and educated at Slade Road School, leaving when he was 14 to work as a garage hand. As soon as he reached his 18th birthday he enlisted in the RAF and trained as an armourer.
He served in the Middle East, initially in Sudan, and in 1937 was sent to Palestine to join No 6 Squadron. With the threat of war in Europe, however, there was an urgent need for more air observers; Broom volunteered and returned to Britain for training. In February 1939 he joined No 105 Squadron at Harwell, which was equipped with the Fairey Battle.
On the day the Second World War broke out No 105 flew to Reims in northern France to support the British Expeditionary Force, and within three weeks Broom had flown his first reconnaissance over Germany.
After the German advance into the Low Countries on May 10 1940, the Battle squadrons were thrown against Panzers and attacked the crucial bridges across the main rivers, suffering terrible losses. After the fall of France, Broom and some of his comrades managed to reach Cherbourg to board a ship for England. No 105 Squadron was re-equipped with the Blenheim, and during the Battle of Britain Broom attacked the German barges assembling at the Channel ports in preparation for an invasion of England.
During a raid on Cologne in November 1940 his aircraft was severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire, but the crew managed to struggle back to England where they were forced to bail out as they ran out of fuel. For the next 12 months Broom served as an instructor.
He returned to his squadron in January 1942, just as the Mosquito entered service, and on August 25 was sent to attack a power station near Cologne. As the aircraft flew at treetop height across Belgium, the crew spotted an electricity pylon. The pilot tried to avoid it but the starboard engine struck the top of the pylon and the aircraft ploughed into pine trees. Both men survived the crash, and were picked up by members of the Belgian Resistance.
They were escorted to St Jean de Luz by the Belgian-run “Comet” escape line, and Broom crossed the mountains under the aegis of a Spanish Basque guide on September 8; his pilot followed him two weeks later. Twenty-five years after the event Broom returned to St Jean de Luz to meet the woman who had sheltered him from the Germans.
In accordance with the policy at the time, he was taken off operations and became an instructor before teaming up with Ivor Broom a year later. Tommy Broom left the RAF in September 1945, but he and his pilot remained close friends until Sir Ivor’s death in 2003.
After leaving the RAF, Broom worked for the Control Commission in Germany to “help rebuild the country I had spent years trying to destroy”. Unable to speak the language, he was allocated an interpreter, a young German war widow. In July 1948 they married and returned to Portishead the following year.
Broom worked in the accounts department of Esso Petroleum for many years. Apart from the war years, he spent all his life in Portishead where he was a well-known and much-loved character. Comfortable mixing and conversing with all ages, he took part at the age of 77 in the annual May Day race with his grandson.
He always enjoyed a pint and was a regular at his local, The Poacher. During the war Ivor Broom did not drink; if by accident Ivor was included when a round was being ordered, Tommy always defended his pilot against those who tried to press a drink on him: “He doesn’t want it, he doesn’t like it and he doesn’t need it. But if you insist, go ahead – and I’ll drink it for him.”
A biography, “Squadron Leader Tommy Broom DFC -The Legendary Pathfinder Mosquito Navigator”, by Tom Parry Evans, was published in 2007.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard of the Spixworthonian Language School.