World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

 A Midsummer's Night Dip In The Baltic

by Malcolm Crapper

People in story: Flt. Lt S. L. [Stan] Scutt, Sgt M [Malcolm] Crapper, FO A. Stienstra, FO R.E. Trindall, PO J. Farnhill, F/Sgt J. Shields, Sgt C.A. Harris, W/C Humphries
Location of story: East Kirkby, Lincolnshire, German port of Swinemunde
Unit name: No.57 Squadron
Background to story: Royal Air Force

Chapter 1

This is the account of the fate of one Avro Lancaster of No.57 Squadron dispatched to drop mines off the German port of Swinemunde in August 1944. Or more precisely this is the account of the events of that night by one crew member of one of the Lancasters involved.

It has been built upon the personal recollections of an ex-airman nearly sixty years after the events actually happened. As one might reasonably expect after such an interval, the memory has played its inevitable tricks and some details may have been lost, or confused. Wherever possible, alternative sources have been used to fill in gaps and to add additional detail to the context and so on. However the core remains indisputably the outcome of a series of conversations between a W.W.II aircrew member and a member of the next generation who was blessed to grow up in the peace and prosperity won so gallantly and at great sacrifice a decade before his birth.

East Kirkby in 1944 was not a special airfield; it was one of many in Lincolnshire that were home to the Lancasters of Bomber Command and the personnel who flew, serviced, maintained and administered their part in the Bomber Offensive. Like so many other wartime airfields, East Kirkby was essentially a small, temporary town put down on the fertile soils of Lincolnshire with the single purpose of prosecuting the air war against Germany. Its buildings were functional in the extreme. Traditional brick and mortar were very much the exception in the sea of corrugated sheet steel, Maycrete and mud. One episode from East Kirkby's early operational days has passed into folklore. The first operation dispatched from the new airfield was briefed in candlelight as mains electricity had not been fully installed. What a stark contrast it must have been for the airmen of No.57 Squadron who had moved from the relative pre-war luxury of RAF Scampton to the rampant utilitarianism of the multitude of Nissen huts that it now made home.

In August 1944, one of the two thousand-plus occupants of RAF East Kirkby was a nineteen year old Flight Engineer hailing from the south of Yorkshire. His name was Malcolm Crapper.

New Boys
On July 7th 1944 a new crew arrived at East Kirkby to become operational with 57 Squadron, having completed their final stage of training with a two-week stint at 5 Lancaster Finishing School at Syerston in Nottinghamshire. The crew comprised:

Pilot Flt. Lt S. L. [Stan] Scutt from Chichester aged 30
Flight Engineer Sgt M [Malcolm] Crapper from Sheffield aged 19
Navigator FO A. Stienstra from Canada aged 21
Bomb Aimer FO R.E. Trindall from Yorkshire aged 25
Wireless Operator PO J. Farnhill from Lancashire aged 23
Mid Upper Gunner F/Sgt J. Shields from Australia aged 24
Rear Gunner Sgt C.A. Harris from Essex aged 21

Flt. Lt Scutt had previously served as a flying instructor and F/Sgt Shields only joined the crew at Syerston where the previous mid upper gunner had gone LMF'.

1. LMF - Lack of Moral Fibre. The categorisation of aircrew who, for whatever reason, could not or would not fly operationally. Some cases were genuine mental illness or loss of nerve. The RAF never sought to disavow the interpretation of LMF as cowardice.

For Malcolm Crapper the path taken to operational duties was by then a well-worn and proven route. Having opted for a direct entry to Flight Engineer, Malcolm, like so many airmen before and after him, started his RAF career at Lord's Cricket Ground. From there three weeks were spent at St John's Wood followed by six weeks at an Initial Training Wing in Torquay. St. Athan in South Wales was the location of the 28 week long Flight Engineer's Course from which Malcolm passed out with the rank Sergeant in March 1944. He was still only 18 years of age.

"I really wanted to join the airforce. On my way home from Sunday School - almost eighteen years old, and still going to Sunday School! I ask you!!" Malcolm laughs about it now, "On the way back from Sunday School we saw 617 [Squadron] Lancs low flying over the local dam. We didn't know what they were up to. No-one did. Not until after the Dams Raid that is. Anyway, those big, dark aeroplanes and their noise really got to me. I knew then what I wanted to do."

When postings came through, Sgt Crapper found himself destined for No.5 Group in mid Lincolnshire. RAF Scampton, famous for its association with 617 Squadron and the Dams Raid, and former base of No:57 Squadron, was his destination. Whilst there Malcolm spent his 19" birthday. He recalls "I was with three other Flight Engineers listening to the radio the day after my birthday when we heard the shocking news. 94 aircraft had been lost at Nuremberg. Not one of us had even flown at the time..."

Of this quartet of FEs, one was killed at Winthorpe with a Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU), the remaining trio were eventually posted to East Kirkby and all survived the war. Having gone through three months training with 1661 HCU at Winthorpe, the final step to operations was a two-week course at 5 Lancaster Finishing School (LFS) at Syerston.

Down To Business
After their arrival at East Kirkby, Stan Scutt's crew had a period to assimilate themselves into their new surroundings - coming to terms with the geography of the airfield and the topography of the rising land to the north of the airfield where the billets were located, for starters. It was very much like new boys at school. Common practices had to be learned, squadron protocol and idiosyncrasies absorbed.

Both squadrons based at East Kirkby, Nos. 57 and 630, had spent July undertaking a wide variety of bombing work, compared to the repeated hammering of German cities, particularly Berlin, over winter of 1943/4. The style of, and techniques used in, the precision bombing of French targets could not be more marked from the urban area attacks on Germany.

French rail yards were attacked to impede German troop movements to counter the thrust inland from the Normandy coast, and to prepare for the Allied landings on the French Mediterranean coast. U-boat pens at Bordeaux and St Nazaire, warships at Brest and V-Weapon launch and storage sites throughout France were all attacked. Even Dutch airfields were attacked to prevent their use by Luftwaffe aircraft for air-launching V l s at Britain. The most risky sorties of all were the battle-front bombing in Normandy were the price of inaccuracy was Allied infantry and armour.

That is not to say that there was a respite for the German cities. Despite the use of his force in supporting the invasion of Europe, Butch(2) Harris still maintained, albeit on reduced scale, his onslaught against the Nazi homeland and its industry. Kiel, Brunswick and three raids on Stuttgart were carried out in this period.

(2) Although known to British public by the epithet `Bomber', Sir Arthur Harris was known through his command by wry, black nicknames, both `Butch' and `The Butcher' being widely used. His fondly remembered Old Lags still use them in admiration some sixty years on.

Eleven days after they arrived, F/L Scutt and crew flew their first operational sortie. It was not easy - the target was Caen where stiff German resistance was halting the Allied break-out from the Normandy beach-head. Bomber Command was detailed to smash the German forces holding Caen thereby allowing the seriously delayed breakout, code-named Operation Goodwood, to proceed.

Malcolm recalls "The summer of 1944 was a very busy time at East Kirkby. We were doing flying training, attending briefings, flying ops - and sleeping. In the week between July 18th (our first op) and July 25th, when we went on leave, we did five ops and two training flights. On returning from leave on August 6th we discovered that the pace hadn't relented. The Lanc we flew our first op in. DX-F [PD212] had gone missing. In the ten days after our leave we flew eight ops and two training flights. The weather was pretty good and I don't recall any delays or postponements."

One of the sorties was a daylight raid on a V 1 storage site at Bois de Casson, just outside Paris, on August 6th. It proved eventful for the Scutt crew flying Lancaster LM582, DX-B. Sgt Crapper:

"We were caught by two Messerschmitt Bf109's whilst on our bomb run. The worst possible time - not that any time was a good time to be in a British bomber in daylight, bounced by a couple of Jerries. The Skipper ordered me to the front turret as the bomb aimer was prone working his bombsight. 1 can't remember if I fired a few rounds in anger or not. It happened so quickly. As soon as it started, the attack seemed to finish and I slid out of the nose turret, avoided trampling our bomb aimer and made my way back to the skipper's right hand.

“After a few seconds he caught my eye and tilted his head at the port wing. I knew that the Lanc's wings flexed in flight - I had seen it so often that I no longer noticed - but this was different. The movement was not only more obvious but far more pronounced than I had ever seen. I drew breath to speak at which point the skipper help up his forefinger to his pursed lips in a semi-theatrical “Shhh!” mime. I got the message and remained silent. The trip home was largely uneventful and we landed OK. Next day at dispersal we were told a cannon shell had hit the spar between No. l and No.2 fuel tanks. Fortunately the spar had not failed. Equally fortunate was the fact that neither tank had received the shell. However, further investigation revealed an even less welcome surprise in the form of an unexploded 20mm cannon shell embedded in the main spar. Had that one exploded.,....”

"The only time, as far as I remember, that I visited any of the hangars in my time at EK was to see the unexploded shell in the main spar. All routine servicing took place on the dispersals, regardless of the weather. And, of course, I only saw the summer cycle. How they [ground crew] coped in the ice and snow and screaming winds coming in from the North Sea is beyond me.

"We were grateful that the Americans had significantly reduced the effectiveness and expertise of the Luftwaffe fighters. I am quite sure more experienced pilots would not have let us off”.

The Commanding Officer of 57 Squadron, W/C Humphries was also attacked by a pair of Bf109s. He and his crew survived, Humphries being awarded an immediate DFC for his actions.


Chapter 2


Bomber Command Operations Summary

A force of 461 Lancasters attacked the port and its industrial area The number of aircraft lost was five.

A total of 348 aircraft attacked the port and shipyards (196 Lancasters, 144 Halifaxes and 9 Mosquitoes). Three Halifaxes and two Lancasters failed to return.

• Diversionary Sweep over the North Sea (145 aircraft);
• Berlin (23 Mosquitoes);
• Deelen Airfield (5 Mosquitoes);
• Dortmund (3 Mosquitoes);
• Kamen (3 Mosquitoes);
• Sterkrade (3 Mosquitoes);
• Radio Counter-measures sorties (33);
• Intruder/Anti-nightfighter patrols (47 Mosquitoes);
• Mine laying in the Baltic and Kiel Bay (89);
• Mine laying in the River Gironde (4); and
• Operation Training Unit sorties (24)).

A total of six aircraft were lost, 3 Halifaxes in Kiel Bay, 2 Lancasters off Swinemunde and a single OTU Wellington. Just under 1,200 sorties were dispatched in a wideranging and geographically dispersed series of operations.

Source: The Bomber Command War Diaries (Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt)

In East Prussia, the Red Army had surrounded a large German Army and evacuation by sea from Konigsberg and thence Stettin, was the only viable means of saving it. Responding to Soviet appeals, Bomber Command attacked Stettin and laid sea mines in the deep water channel between the port and Swinemunde.


RAF East Kirkbv

The RAF bomber airfield at East Kirkby in east Lincolnshire, received the usual morning notification by teleprinter that both its squadrons would be operating that night. For sixteen crews, it would be the usual pounding of German cities that became synonymous with Sir Arthur Harris, but for another six crews, the orders were different; they were charged with laying sea mines in the Baltic off the port of Swinemunde.

In some ways a `gardening' sortie came as relief to the aircrew; it was a break from the still highly effective Luftwaffe night-fighters and flak units that resolutely defended the Reich homeland. But gardening was not without its own risks. Low flying over water at night in virtually no moonlight [the New Moon was only two days off] was not a sport to be undertaken lightly, especially where tiredness and any lapse of concentration of the part of the pilot could have fatal consequences. Light coastal flak, ship-mounted weaponry and roaming night-fighters could, and did, both surprise and inflict terrible punishment on the minelayers.

By the time Sgt Crapper joined 57 Squadron, the practice of specialist briefings was in place. All operating and stand-by Flight Engineers would be briefed before an op. by the engineers' leader. Malcolm's first FE briefing came from F/L Clarke who was shot down on the 31st of July. The replacement engineers' leader was F/O Blanchard.

Bomb aimers, navigators, wireless ops. and gunners all had their own specialist briefings by their respective leaders, as did pilots. Final briefings included all crewmembers scheduled to operate or be on stand-by.

"After final briefing we wanted to get to our dispersal as quickly as possible to go through the pre-flight checks," recalled Malcolm. "Stan Scutt was an extremely conscientious pilot who insisted on strict intercom discipline. We had great faith in him and he was very much the gentleman. We took pride in the fact that we were a daylight formation leader.

"There was no obvious apprehension amongst the crew because this would be our thirteenth op. Like virtually every wartime crew, we were superstitious, but there was a strong feeling that `it couldn't happen to us'."

Making their way to the dispersal that was home to Lancaster III, PB384 DX-F, the pre-flight checks proceeded. This was an almost brand new aircraft, the previous DX-F [PD212] having been lost whilst the Scutt crew was on leave. It was in this aircraft that they had flown their first operation. Her flying career totalled only 58 hours.

With ground checks completed, the aircraft fuelled, the sea mines loaded, guns armed and crew provisions stored, engines could be started to check oil pressures, engine temperatures, compressors, hydraulic systems, generators and magnetos (testing for the dreaded 'mag drop' that could be a justification for an early return).

At 21:17, on August 16th 1944, Lancaster PB384 took off from RAF East Kirkby en route for the Baltic Sea off Swinemunde. In her capacious 33 feet-long bomb bay were six Mk 14 sea mines. Her course took her east, out over the famous Clock Tower at Skegness. Malcolm recalls the outward flight as "Low level across the North Sea. It was a dank and misty evening. Not at all pleasant. We kept hitting the slipstreams of aircraft in front of us, but never actually saw one."

He continues: "There were short moments when it was possible to relax amid the noise and vibration of a heavily loaded bomber, after it had clawed its way upward. Comfortable that engine and oil temperatures were OK and all pressures were right. Check the fuel tanks.... fine.

"A crackle on the headphones and the all too brief overture of an intake of breath preceded 'Enemy Coast ahead!' Aaah! The eternal bomb aimer's cliché! Very soon, we knew, lay The Baltic."

The mining force climbed to altitude before crossing the Danish coast with the Main Force at 20,000 ft. Malcolm describes the next phase of the operation: "We descended to 200 ft over the Baltic and northern Germany. We circled an in-land lake that at our briefing was identified as our holding point whilst the mining area was marked by Pathfinder Lancs of 97 Squadron using flame floats. Light flak was encountered, but we were not hit. Our gunners fired back although they almost certainly knew they weren't going to do much harm but maybe make a few heads duck

(3) ‘Mag drop' was phenomenon inherent in the basic design of these early magnetos which both produced the electrical energy to fire the engines spark plugs and distributed the electrical impulses to the correct plugs in the engine's firing cycle. If the magneto produced a reduced sparking voltage to any of the spark plugs, it would produce a smaller spark to ignite the fuel/air mixture in the cylinder, which resulted in incomplete ignition. Over a relatively small period, carbon and/or oil could accumulate on the plug rendering it virtually useless, thereby reducing the efficiency of the engine, ultimately resulting in total failure.

(4) Early returns citing `Mag drop' were in some instances seen as, if not grounds for accusation of LMF, but possibly a precursor to it, particularly if the trouble seemed to repeatedly afflict a specific pilot.

To put the operation into some perspective, it required accurate low level flying over water and precise air-to-air control. The major risk to survival came from the light and medium flak that would ring the obvious harbour and its approaches. Some commentators have drawn a number of comparisons between the Swinemunde mining operation and the famous Dams Raid of May 1943. One went so far as to state that Swinemunde was a most demanding raid, second only to the Dam-busters in terms of the demands made on skill and courage.

"The Master Bomber from 97 [Squadron], WIC Porter radioed on VHF that he had been hit. I clearly remember him saying `Boys - I've been hit - this is it, going in now. Good-bye.' And with that, they were gone. You don't easily forget something like that... One of the deputies called us in and we started our mining run. The light flak intensified and appeared to be coming from all angles. As we flew straight and level at 300 ft we took hits.

"It turned out we were hit, very badly, by light flak from dead ahead. Stan Scutt, called for a bale out as he tried to climb from our 300 ft mining altitude. We knew the aircraft was fatally damaged and we were already on our way out. Our BA [Bomb Aimer] kicked out the hatch under the nose and went through; I followed him. The aircraft was not even at 500 ft. altitude. In those short few seconds since the kite was first hit, she was burning quite fiercely. Without hesitation I yanked the ripcord. Despite my fear, I still had the presence of mind to recognise that counting to ten before pulling the handle was not a good idea. It seemed that I fell out of the burning Lanc. and into the sea in one movement. One crystal clear memory of those few fleeting seconds was seeing the reflection of our aircraft's flames in the sea below as I jumped. Even now I can shut ray eyes and clearly visualise it. Our aircraft evacuation training must have been pretty good - on hitting the water I hit my parachute release button to avoid being dragged under by the rapidly saturating canopy. Only then did I recall that swimming was not one of my strong points.

"Not content with sweeping the water with searchlights, the Germans started machine-gunning what they thought were aircrew struggling in the water. Every time a searchlight swung my way I tried to duck under the water. Whether my four crew mates who lost their lives died when the plane hit the water or were shot struggling in the sea, I don't know...

"Somehow 1 made the shore. It was then that I realised I had lost one of my baggy flying boots. It was the one in which I stowed my revolver. My other boot, in which was secreted the 0.38 ammunition, was still there. What use were bullets without a bloody gun? Bugger! Edging up the shore I came to a sign planted in the sand. It was too dark to read and anyway it would be in German. I guessed, bearing in mind the nature of the English coast since 1939, that it would almost certainly read "ACHTUNG! MINEN! ". On this premise I agreed that discretion was indeed the better part of valour.

"Moving back a few yards towards the sea, I found a shallow depression in the sand that would shelter me from the sea breeze, and I tried to get some rest, preferably sleep. I must have dropped off. When I woke daylight was breaking and the sign, which had troubled me a few hours earlier, now taunted me. It read in German: "BATHING" and underneath hung a vivid red and white lifebuoy! "ACHTUNG! IDIOT!" I thought to, and of, myself."

Unknown to Malcolm at this time, another of his colleagues had baled out of the crippled Lancaster and had landed close to one another on terra firma. The bomb aimer, who baled out immediately in front of Malcolm, landed close to the mid upper gunner who somehow had struggled free from his turret and leapt from the fuselage door. He broke his pelvis on hitting
a tree on his way down and medical treatment became an absolute priority. From the *injured party's perspective, he was fortunate to have the assistance of a fellow airman but in so doing deprived a comrade-in-arms the chance to evade capture.

Meanwhile, back on beach near Swinemude, Malcolm Crapper forced himself to think and consider his options. The most promising would be to somehow make contact with one of the Swedish sailors whose vessels delivered iron ore to the port he was helping close off very early this morning. What other options were there? Not many, when he thought seriously. OK - first step is to get close to a Swedish ship. After that work out a strategy for getting on board and sailing off to neutral territory.

After making his way in-land into nearby woodland, Malcolm struggled through the undergrowth for what seemed an age. Eventually he emerged into a clearing.

"Leaving the stamina-sapping undergrowth behind me, I was relieved to get into the clearing that opened up in front of me. Relief turned to shock and alarm. Oh Christ! There was a light flak battery at the opposite edge of the clearing. Had they seen me? Do I turn and run? What do I do? What? I didn't want to risk a bullet in my back if I turned and legged it, so I raised my hands. The buggers had not seen me! But by then it was too late. Some young squaddies ran over to me and roughed me up a bit. An older Sergeant appeared from nowhere and barked an order. From the tone of his voice, I guessed the NCO was giving the youngsters (they were probably only seventeen or eighteen years old) a right royal bollocking. I was helped to my feet, taken to the flak battery and basic interrogation took place.

'Your Name?' `Crapper'
'Initials?' 'M'
'Rank?' `Sergeant'
`Serial Number?' `1591526'

"None of the phoney Red Cross forms and whatnot that we had been repeatedly warned about. Coffee and bread were offered. The coffee, or whatever it was, tasted awful but it was hot. The bread, black bread, was inedible but I took it and saved it for later.

"Later I was put in the sergeant's bed. It had blue and white gingham sheets. Now that detail I have absolutely no doubt about whatsoever. We were supposed to be winning the war and the Germans were supposed to be suffering unbelievable privations. So how come this was the first time in months - no! the first time in years - that I had enjoyed sleep in `proper' bedclothes? "


Chapter 3

Meanwhile, with their mines sown, the surviving 5 Group aircraft turned north-west and thence home. While Malcolm came to terms with his wholly unknown circumstances, crews safely returned to base went through the routine process of post-raid interrogation by their Intelligence Officers. At Coningsby, the crews from 97 Squadron were going through the ritual over sweet tea and cigarettes. The Operations Officer at the time was W/C Guy Gibson VC, founding commander of 617 Squadron. The following extract is taken from No.97 Squadron's Operational Record Book for 16/17 August 1944 recounting the squadron's role in marking the mining area:


One side of the channel has square buoys [sic] and the other conical buoys [sic]. At 01:01 the flare force came in and dropped their blind bombing apparatus over the channel.
Illumination was hardly necessary as the Germans had guessed what was happening and had criss-crossed the bay with searchlights. However the Controller W/C Porter and two deputies S/L Parkes, S/L Locke DFC RAAF who were down at 300 ft., decided to PRESS ON [emphasis in original text].
In the face of great batteries of light flak guns from all sides of the bay, and although they were coned the whole time, they located the buoys and flew down the channel, marking it with 2501b flame floats and dropping mines in between. By 01:15 W/C Porter machine had been badly hit, that he called up S/L Parkes on the VHF telling him he had "had it" and would have to bale out. He also wished everyone the best of luck.
A minute later, a W/T message was received from W/C Porter's aircraft for the main force to go in and drop their mines over the flame floats.
It is believed that his crew had every chance to bale out successfully.
W/C Porter, Parkes, Locke awarded immediate DSO and message of congratulations from the AOC.

In his account of the mining sortie written long after the war, F/L Blanchard, 57 Squadron Engineer Leader, recalled the background of the Swinemunde raid. In particular the abnormally low dropping altitude [300 ft], which caused considerable concern amongst the crews, obliged to operate at that height. All the aircrews mining off Swinemunde came from within No.5 Group and had been specifically selected for this potentially hazardous operation.

Blanchard wrote: "Our Station Commander was present at the briefing. I shall always remember him standing there, chipping in with `there will be ships there, big ships - and flak.' Not exactly confidence building! The port of Stettin was to be bombed from high level at approximately the same time as our mining was to take place."

The demise of the Master Bomber near Swinemunde was witnessed by F/L Blanchard. "WIC Porter of 97 Squadron went in to lay the flame floats, to mark the channel from Swinemunde to Stettin. One could see the light and medium flak firing at the marking force. Suddenly the Master Bomber was hit... I think he went in to the hills east of the channel. We were called in to bomb by one of the deputies. The skipper held the a/c steady for the drop and all six mines went away. The bomb doors were closed and we increased revs. and prepared to climb to miss the high ground at Swinemunde. At that moment another aircraft was on fire and going in - right in front of us." That aircraft was Stan Scutt's.

Even in the drama, moments of humour emerged. Blanchard's Lancaster mined at the prescribed 300 ft, but 30° of flap proved necessary to provide extra lift at the relatively low mine-dropping airspeed. On the return journey over Denmark at around 12,000 ft., the pilot remarked about the aircraft's sluggishness and poor airspeed. Only then did the penny drop that they had struggled westward across the Baltic, still with 30° of flap on!

Just inland from the Baltic coast, the incarcerated Malcolm Crapper was alone with his thoughts, contemplating how the interrogation that undoubtedly lay ahead might go. The RAF had a pretty thorough understanding of German interrogation techniques, and briefed aircrew accordingly. Would it be `good guy/bad guy' routine? Or sleep deprivation? Or courtesy and kindness? Or the `we know all about you already so what have we got to lose?' setup? Or fake Red Cross forms? Or possible physical violence? Probably a bit of most....
"The following afternoon I was marched, blindfold, into Swinemunde where a Luftwaffe car was waiting to take me to a nearby airfield. I had a day of solitary confinement to consider what fate had in store, as my expected interrogation didn't take place until the next morning.

"I was interviewed in the station CO's office, complete with the obligatory framed pictures of Hitler and Goering on the wall. The Commanding Officer was quite an imposing figure, with a very smart (I thought at the time flash) uniform and an array of medals. He sat behind a vast desk and when he spoke, it was in immaculate English. He was very easy going, what we would call laid-back today, and tried to put me at ease. Sit down, would you like anything to eat or drink? Loosen your tunic - there is no reason for unnecessary formality and it is quite hot, isn't it? As I undid my battledress blouse the black bread I had stashed had crumbled and fell all over the immaculately polished floor. Fortunately he found it amusing and asked 'Don't you like our bread?' This more or less set the tone as he made no attempt to interrogate me. He told me that my bomb aimer [Flying Officer Trindall] was in another cell close to mine. He added that another member of my crew was in hospital. He regretted that he could not tell me what had happened to the other four crew members...

" The next morning, a blindfolded FO. Trindall accompanied by a similarly blindfolded Sgt. Crapger were marched to the nearest railway station. Despite being unable to see, the two crew mates heard some noise on their journey, the like of which they had never before experienced. With the benefit of hindsight, Malcolm now understands why both he and FO Trindall were blindfolded. What they heard were almost certainly jet engines. Their captors were not taking any chances that somehow reports might be smuggled back to Britain about new German aircraft, seemingly without propellers.

The two captive airmen were embarked with guards on a local train. Fellow passengers included farmers' wives carrying boxes loaded with chickens and rabbits. Malcolm recalls his surprise that the women took not the slightest notice of the two RAF men: "they probably thought we were all Luftwaffe." The local train dropped Malcolm's party at a station where a mainline service sped them to Berlin.

The city had to be crossed by foot from their arrival terminus to the next staging point. Malcolm noted, "Although very badly damaged by Allied bombing, life in Berlin had an air of normality about it. We were taken by our guard to the German equivalent of the NAAFI under Amhater [sic] Station. Again, no-one took the slightest notice of us. It would have been quite nice had Frankfurt station shown us the same hospitality!"

Frankfurt station was indeed a very different cup of tea. The two RAF men were literally thrown into a dungeon with some badly wounded USAAF airmen. From Frankfurt the next stop was interrogation at Oberhausel. In their cells, the prisoners could hear the sound of artillery on the western front. It was a short-lived boost to morale, as they swiftly transported to the Polish border. Again, the sound of artillery was audible, only this time it was the weight of the Red Army engaging German forces.

A Prisoner-of-War camp at Bankau became Malcolm's `home' until January 1945. It was probably here that Malcolm was reunited with his Australian Mid Upper Gunner, F/Sgt Shields, who had recovered from the broken pelvis sustained when he landed in a tree, after baling out of their stricken Lancaster. The advancing Russian Army prompted the Germans to move their PoWs westward, on foot. Forced to march night and day with virtually no food and in severe weather conditions; it was an appalling experience. Malcolm forced himself to dig up with his bare hands and then eat frozen beet, in an effort to get some food inside himself. He suffered stomach cramps and other severe physical distress. The march ended at a camp in Luchenswalde [sic] some 20 miles south of Berlin.

The relentless progress of Soviet forces on Germany's eastern front led to some extraordinary command decisions. In April 1945, some thousand British airmen, including Sgt Crapper, were rounded up for transport to Hitler's redoubt. Their purpose? They would be held hostage, presumably to discourage allied bombing of the site. Thankfully, disruption of the rail network meant that neither trains nor routes were available and a return to camp was ordered.

Eventually the camp was `liberated' by the Russian army, but the allied servicemen were effectively held hostage by their liberators for use as bargaining chips. A deal was struck whereby the allied prisoners were exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners - whom the Russians promptly massacred once they had control over them.

The Aircraft Crash report for PB384 DX-F, 57 Squadron 17th August 1944 was completed by F/O Trindall with a brief addendum from F/Sgt Shields. The phrasing suggests the anecdotal information almost certainly originated in a prison camp.

States his a/c was hit in the port outer engine and a set alight the pilot continued his operations Later the PILOT gave orders to abandon, and inflate Mae West. Trindall says
that he landed on dry land. Sgt Crapper who was third out and last person to leave a/c managed to swim ashore. F/Sgt Shields was badly wounded and is in hospital. Trindall was told by Germans the rest of his crew were dead.

When I baled out I landed very heavily among trees, being badly wounded and taken to hospital.


Before the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Malcolm Crapper went on a holiday to Berlin and Eastern Europe. He recalls part of his coach journey: "We were on our way to Checkpoint Charlie. I recognised the entrance to Amlater railway station. It was the only building standing in a sea of destruction and dereliction."

With the breakdown and collapse of the Eastern Bloc came access to westerners to parts of Europe closed off for decades. In 1992, Malcolm Crapper, accompanied by his brother, travelled through Germany and into Poland. "After much searching, we eventually found the beach at Swinemunde. The one I had swum ashore in 1944. Forty-eight years on, and I was back. Naturally all the memories came flooding back, the intense flak, baling out, burning aircraft reflected in the sea.... The only thing we could possibly do after that was to travel to Poznan and pay our respects at the graves of the four who did not survive..."


1 18 July 1944 Caen Daylight 942 6 0.6%
2 18/19 July 1944 Revigny Night -French railway 109 24 22.0%
3 20/21 July 1944 Courtrai Night 302 9 3.0%
4 24 July 1944 Donges Evening 113 3 2.7%
5 25/6 July 1944 Stuttgart Night 550 12 2.2%
6 6 August 1944 Bois du Cassan Daylight- V1 site. 107 3 2.8%
7 9/10 August 1944 Foret de Chatellerault Night 190 2 1.1%
8 10 August 1944 Bordeaux Oil depots 109 0 0.0%
9 11 August 1944 Givors Rail yards 179 0 0.0%
10 12/13 August 1944 Falaise Night 144 0 0.0%
11 14 August 1944 Falaise Daylight 805 2 0.2%
12 I S August 1944 Deelen NJG airfield Daylight 1,004 3 0.3%
13 16/17 August 1944 Swinemunde Sea mining. A/C FTR 89 5 5.6%
TOTAL 4,643 69 1.5%

Sources: Logbook of Sgt M Crapper, 57 Squadron
The Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook & Chris Everitt

As a point of interest, the `compound loss rate' for the thirteen operations that made up Malcolm Crapper's tour is calculated as 35.4%. This can be interpreted as a survival probability of 64.6%. i.e. nearly a two in three chance of coming through these thirteen ops.

This contrasts with the winter period 1943/4 when a thirteen operation series offered a 56% chance of survival. In the period January to March 1944 a thirteen op series, which includes the raids on Leipzig and Nuremberg, where losses were exceptional, the odds fell to 48%, less than an even chance of reaching thirteen completed operations.

On average, Malcolm operated every 2.2 days during the 29 days between his first and last operational flights. This compares with a 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron Flight Engineer who operated between 20 October 1943 and 24 April 1944. His completed tour took 187 days, with an average of one operation every six days. One explanation for the significant differences is that the latter was involved in the Battle of Berlin and the Bomber Offensive against German cities over the winter of 1943-4, and the weather was a major factor in limiting Bomber Command's ability to operate. Malcolm, on the other hand, operated in the summer of 1944 when weather was seldom, if ever, a constraint on operations. Furthermore the ability of the Luftwaffe to mount defensive sorties had passed its zenith and daylight operations became viable for the RAF `heavies'.

These statistics are only used to illustrate how the balance of the bomber war shifted in a relatively short period. They cannot reflect the unpredictability of a flak barrage or the night vision of an air gunner or the reflexes of a pilot. The most telling statistic, if indeed it is a statistic, is that for the crew of Avro Lancaster PB384 DX-F the number thirteen did prove to be unlucky. But as Malcolm Crapper freely admits nearly sixty years on from the events over, and in, the Baltic Sea, he could have been a lot more unlucky.

In memory of:
Flt. Lt S. L. Scutt,
F/O A. Stienstra,
P/O J. Farnhill
and Sgt C.A. Harris