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409 Squadron RCAF: The Nighthawks

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Could this be A-Able Under the Eiffel Tower?

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Nic Shelley Sqd Ldr RAF (Ret'd) writes:
'I have a copy of a photo of A-Able flying through the Eiffel Tower. It is signed by the late Bill Bryant RAF, an old friend of mine, who was the navigator of that aircraft piloted by Bob Boorman RCAF. The caption reads as follows:'

"This Stars and Stripes photograph was taken on 14 September 1944 and shows a Mosquito Mk Xlll of 409 Squadron RCAF. Pilot W/O Bob Boorman RCAF, Navigator F/S Bill Bryant RAF flying through the Eiffel Tower. How the picture came to be taken is another story told to me before Bill Bryant died!!"


Aircrew Remembered has a record claiming the pilot was actually F/O (Later LtCol) Robert L Fullerton (RCAF Service Number 21844). In fact, we were contacted in September 2018 by Ms Ruth Ann Whipp, the daughter of the Editor of this entire Nighthawks book, with the information that her father - who ought to be in a position to know as he was 409 Squadron Intelligence Officer - confirmed in an article in the Canadian Airforce magazine in 1986 that the pilot was indeed Robert Fullerton. Apparently his name was covered up at the time and subsequently as he rose high in the ranks of the RCAF. We are most grateful to Ms Whipp for contacting us with this valuable information. She went on to postulate that the photo itself is probably a faked-up montage, and the fact the small crowd facing the Tower is apparently unaware of a loud fighter-bomber approaching them at 250 mph lends credence to this idea. Ms Whipp is sending us a copy of the Airforce magazine story so that we may expand this account to include the Fullerton material.

What seems possible is that there were at least 2 incidents of a 409 Mosquito flying under the Eiffel Tower. The account we give below is so detailed that it is most unlikely to have been an invention, and for this reason we leave this account standing. It seems 409 was a squadron of characters!

The photographer of the Boorman/Bryant story was - according to a post in an aviation forum - an American whose name may have been Statz. We are searching for details.

Here is a letter from the son of Bill Bryant, which seems to support Sqd Ldr Shelley's version:

"I'm the son of F/S Bill Bryant (navigator) who, flown by his pilot W/O Bob Boorman, was in the aircraft photographed. My father passed away a few years ago, after a happy and fulfilled life, but had told me at lhow this event came to take place.

The squadron had been the first nightfighter squadron into Europe after D-Day and had supported the Allied landforces' advances over the following weeks, moving from airfield to airfield in France and Belgium before crossing the Rhine.

One evening, after the liberation of Paris, the two men decided to enjoy an evening in the city and were enjoying (several) drinks in the Hotel Trocadéro when they were joined by a reporter and photographer from the Stars Stripes (US Forces) newspaper. After several more drinks, the Americans asked the flyers if they were planning to fly the next day, to which they replied that they were due to be on patrol over Paris the following morning.

The Americans then suggested that a shot of their aircraft flying between the legs of the Eiffel Tower, visible just a few hundred yards away, would make a good picture! After further discussions about wingspans and clearances while standing (unsteadily) on the balcony looking across at the Tower, Bob and Bill, slightly the worse for wear at this stage, agreed to give it a go! The Americans promised to be in place and, having taken their squadron details, bade them a good night.

The following morning, with somewhat sore heads, the two were flying over Paris when Bob asked Bill if he fancied taking up the challenge suggested the previous night. “You must be joking!” protested Bill. After further protests, he agreed that they ought to at least go and take a look. Flying around the Tower a few times, they agreed that there was in fact greater width and height than one might expect, and decided to go for it.

Bill told me that the flight through went without a hitch, but that they had got a shock as the hotel came quickly into full view and they had to pull up sharply to avoid ploughing straight into it at 250mph!

They heard nothing from the two Americans for some time, as the squadron continued to move forward from airfield to airfield towards Germany. However, after a few weeks a brown-paper parcel caught up with them and it was opened to reveal the photo in question. The two men did not want their names publicly attributed to the event at the time as this would undoubtedly have been a court-marshal offence, but word soon got around unofficially. I also have a copy of the photo, inscribed as has been previously mentioned by one of dad's former Aircrew Association colleagues (whom I hope is still with us!), on my study wall in front of me as I type.

Best wishes to all former wartime members of 409 – it would be wonderful to hear from any although I suspect almost all have gone on to ‘touch the face of God’ by now. Kindest regards to all relatives of these heroes too."