409 Squadron RCAF: The Nighthawks
Radar look the night out of nightfighting. Crews became specialists working with ground interceptor stations.
In a Sector Ops Room the progress of every aircraft is plotted. In darkened cubicles overlooking the Ops Room Controlers direct the Nighflighters on patrol. If unidentified or enemy aircraft entered the Sector a nightfighter would be vectored after it immediately. Short staccato commands would ring over the R/T. Gradually the nightfighter crew would be brought within range. As the fighter closed, the Navigator would take over from the Controller, It was his job to bring the pilot within visual range.
A last "patter' would flow over the intercom, as the Navigator, watching his instruments, interpreted the target's moves.
"Hard port, steady, speed up, 10 degrees off, 20 degrees above, range one and a half miles" might ring out in quick order and the pilot's reflexes must be good as he acts instantaneously on his partner's instructions.
As the crew close within range, both pilot and navigator stare intently at the target. "Is it a Hun or is it one of ours?"
It's a Hun and the pilot closes and shoots it down.
Newspaper headlines carry the story next day, 'Nightfighter Destroys Hun, Squadron Shoots Down Enemy Aircraft'.
The kill had been obtained through their own skill yet the crew consider themselves lucky: lucky that they were vectored after an enemy aircraft. They realize the many hours of monotonous patrolling that are put in by every nightfighter crew without being vectored after an aircraft. They have learned from personal experience that by far the greater majority of chases end in visuals on Allied Aircraft. They know what it is to fly in cloud for endless minutes on instruments. They have experienced rain, hail, icing, thunderstorms, gales, while on patrol.
They have been fired at by our own and enemy anti-aircraft fire when on chases. They are aware that over enemy territory an enemy aircraft may have assistance from its own ground control. It is in these instances that the painstaking efforts of the groundcrew pay dividends.
Groundcrew take a personal pride in their work. The aircraft is their 'kite', the pilot and navigator 'their' crew.
Bright and early in the morning they go over 'their' aircraft carefully, checking to ensure that it is fully operational. After the aircraft has been flown and tested in the afternoon, any last minute adjust- ments are carefully made. Their 'kite' is then ready for the night's operations.
Often the most painstaking efforts of the groundcrew are lost through a turn of fate as indicated by the following excerpts fom a pilot's diary.
Febr 28th - All the joy these days seems to be in the Ruhr sector. So there is a race for the pool when four or so kites take off together since generally the first ones there get sent to the best area. If you get sent to do a stooge over the Dutch Isles or somewhere, the others make rude noises at you over the R/T. I should know!
Mar 1st - It's funny lo hear pilots kidding N/Rs (navigators) about their horror boxes. Particularly the Winco (wind commander). They can't help it when the damn things go unserviceable, but a pilot rarely sympathises. Our s-- packed in last night just after we had been given a vector onto a bogey. Old Bill was nearly in tears all the way home.
Mar 2nd - I am not alone in having a twitch doing patrols in dull weather. Most of the boys think it is the worst aspect of night flying, particularly when there is a lot of ice about. We did a 200 ft circuit last night getting in. I'm still breathing hard. ..
Mar. 3rd - Everyone is keen as hell again since there was joy last night. Lots of evasive during NFTs. Cold wet weather makes good maintenance a full time job. The 'erks really work when they think their kite might get a Hun. My boys keep asking when I will get one for them I just look fierce and say, 'Have patience!'
Mar 4th - The moon is coming up bigger and better every night again. How I love it! It's a treat to be able to see the ground on a bright night and you don't have to fly by instruments all the time. Then if you get on to a target, with luck he's a piece of cakel
Mar 5th - After last night I take back all I said about the moon! Bill and I were having a grand time up at 10 thou, watching the Yanks on the ground knock Cologne about, when control came thru' with trade down at Angels 2. He said there were fast jobs orbitting and gave us a vector. So down we went (Bill with his head in the box and me checking to make sure the guns were on 'Fire'. Control encouraged me by saying "Watch out. they'll be hunting you as much as you are him".
The moon seemed to get brighter! We were doing about 250 when he said. "You're in amongst them now".
Old Bill didn't see anything in his box so I kept on vector and nearly collided with a Stuka going the other way I felt good about that, and did a hard orbit, throttled right beck and plunked the wheels down. A Mossie takes its time slowing down to Stuka speed, and as I cursed it and all Controllers we nearly pranged head on into a second one.
They had seen us first. Control said he couldn't see them any more, and suggested I lower my wheels as they were slow jobs. Gr-r-r-r. We saw bomb bursts to starboard and figuring that was our targets doing some dive bambing went down in that direction. The Yanks saw us coming and let fly with tennis balls and flares so we came out and waited for Control to help. He didn't and I claim visual on two 87's."