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You Are To Carry On, Good Luck Z-Zebra


Operational with 460 (RAAF) Squadron

Equipped with Avro Lancaster bombers, 460 (RAAF) Squadron had transferred to RAF Binbrook on 14 May from RAF Breighton, East Riding of Yorkshire and since the move only Gardening (Minelaying) missions had been flown i.e. by five aircraft on the 18th. But on Sunday 23 May there was to be a raid on Dortmund and 460 Squadron was to contribute 24 aircraft to the force of 826 aircraft. There was to be no milk run for P/O. Charles Harrison and his crew; they were to be thrown straight in at the deep end.

Charlie and the crew were allocated Lancaster MkI W4967 built in 1942. They took off from RAF Binbrook at 23:25 hrs with a bomb load of 1 x 4000lb HC, 48 x 30lb Incendiary Bombs and 540 x 4lb Incendiary bombs.

The weather was clear and at debriefing it was reported that they had identified the target by the Pathfinder flares and the target was a mass of flames, the fires being visible from the Dutch coast

They bombed the target from 20500' at 01:40 hrs and landed back at base at 05:04 hrs apparently unscathed. Charlie reported that this was a very good concentrated raid.

The raid itself was considered very successful with large areas in the centre, the north and the east of Dortmund being devastated. 2000 buildings were totally destroyed and many large industrial premises hit particularly the Hoesch steelworks which ceased production. 599 people were killed and 1275 were injured with about 25 bodies never being found. 38 aircraft were lost, 2 of them from 460 Squadron.

Extract from 460 Squadron Operations Record Book showing details of P/O. Charles Harrison and the crew of Lancaster W4967together with details of their part in the raid on Dortmund 23 May 1943 - Courtesy National Archives of Australia

There was to be little time for rest or reflection as on the night of Tuesday 25th of May they were briefed to bomb DĂĽsseldorf. 460 Squadron was to provide 19 aircraft as part of a 759 strong force despatched for the raid. Charlie and his crew were again flying Lancaster W4967 and took off at 23:48 hrs with an identical bomb load to that of the Dortmund raid. There was 4/10th cloud over the target which was identified by the Pathfinder flares. They attacked from 20500'. at 02:05 hrs and landed back at base at 04:50 hrs on the 26th of May.

The crew later reported that good fires were starting over a wide area and Charlie stated that the raid was scattered.

The raid was indeed scattered due to the Pathfinder Force having had great difficulty in marking the target mainly because of two layers of cloud obscuring the target area. It was also believed that the Germans were operating decoy markers and fire sites. 50 - 100 buildings were destroyed and 30 people killed. The raid was considered a failure and although all aircraft of 460 Squadron returned safely 27 others were lost.

Extract from 460 Squadron Operations Record Book showing details of P/O. Charles Harrison and the crew of Lancaster W4967 together with details of their part in the raid on Dusseldorf 25 May 1943 - Courtesy National Archives of Australia

That night the crew had a night off ops and amongst other things no doubt took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep.

The following day, Thursday the 27th of May RAF Binbrook enjoyed a surprise informal visit by the King and Queen. They arrived at noon and as well as touring the station met some of the aircrew.

The Royal Visit to RAF Binbrook 27 May 1943 - Courtesy Australian War Memorial

Also on 27th May P/O. Charles Harrison and his crew learned that they were to take part in a raid on Essen that night. Another 17 crews of 460 Squadron were also given the same news.

Charlie and his crew had been allocated another aircraft in the shape of Lancaster Mk. III ED804 AR-Z. Delivered new to 460 Squadron on 20 March 1943 it had flown a total of 67 hours.

At the briefing they were informed that aircraft of Number 1 Group, which included 460 Squadron, were to meet at Southwold: the 104 Lancasters of the group at 16-17000' and the 29 Wellingtons at 12000'. They were then to continue to climb in order to cross the enemy coast as high as possible over Egmond, North West Holland, before turning first south east, then due south towards Essen. Wellingtons were to bomb from above 16000' and the Lancasters from above 20000' then leave the defended area as quickly as possible climbing to maximum height for the return journey. The minimum amount of evasive action was to be taken over the target area particularly during the bombing run. The main force was to bomb in ten waves each of 50 aircraft. Lancasters of 1 Group were to make up the third wave bombing between 00:55 hrs and 00:59 hrs. Further aircraft of 1 Group were to combine with aircraft from 5 Group to make up wave nine, bombing between 01:25 hrs and 01:29 hrs and wave ten was to be made up exclusively of 1 Group aircraft, bombing between 01:30 hrs and 01:34 hrs. The route briefed was:

Egmond - 5200N 0705E - Essen - 5210N 0725E - 5323N 0517E

It was a fine evening with well broken cloud and moderate visibility when at 22:31 hrs the first Lancaster of 460 Squadron took off from RAF Binbrook; by 23:21 hrs all eighteen were airborne and en route to bomb Essen.

During a brief quiet moment earlier that day Charlie took the opportunity to write this letter to his family: it was to be his last.

Courtesy Mrs Florence Morgan

The reference to number eleven refers to No. 11 Elsiemaud Road the family home until they were bombed out in 1940 and their subsequent move to No. 27.

In the letter Charlie still refers to himself as Pilot Officer Harrison although he had been promoted to Flying Officer on probation (war subs) with effect from 9 April 1943. The announcement was made in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 21 May 1943.

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RW 04.10.2015

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