Report of the navigator, F/Lt Waltera:
At a briefing at 10.30 hours on 31st May, 1942, my crew and three others were
instructed as follows:
1. Depth charges dropped by one of our aircraft earlier that
same morning were believed to have damaged a U-boat.
2. The U-boat was to be located and sunk.
3. Each of the four aircraft were to search at intervals of
15 miles from each other.
4. We were to take off as soon as possible.
Right: F/Lt Alfred Waltera (photo: http://listakrzystka.pl/)
RAF Tiree, May 1942. The squadron's Wellington Mk IC, R1245, NZ-Q.
We took off at 11.27 hours and reached our patrol
area 32 minutes later. The weather on the way was good, but in the patrol area
there were clouds and mist. At 13.30 hours, the co-pilot, then at the controls,
reported trouble with the port engine. We were flying at about 1,000 feet. I
went astern and ordered the rear gunner to pump the oil. I then looked through
the astrodome and saw that dense smoke was coming out of the port engine, and
that the upper covering of the wing was torn in a number of places between the
engine-nacelle and the wing tip. I at once ordered the pilot to return to base
and the wireless operator to contact base and switch on the IFF. The first pilot
took over and our depth charges were jettisoned. I fixed our position and told
the wireless operator to report it to Base. He did so and continued to send
signals so that Group could fix our position.
The pilot reported some minutes
later that we were losing height quickly. The flotation bags were filled and I
ordered the crew to take up ditching stations. I was just about to pull the
dinghy releasing-handle when the pilot shouted:
We hit the water lightly and then a second time, very
heavily. I was thrown so that my head struck the oxygen cylinder, but I managed
to release the dinghy. I was up to my chest in water by the time I reached the
astrodome hatch, where I got out. The rear gunner was standing on the fuselage
near the fin, waiting for me: the rest of the crew were already in the water
righting the dinghy which had turned turtle. The engines, nose turret and wings
of the Wellington were submerged, but the tail remained high out of the water.
We ditched at 13.50 hours, our
position being 580 49’ N, 140 35’ W. It was impossible to
discover the cause of the engine failure; the holes in the wings indicated AA
gun-fire, possibly from one of our own vessels.
The dinghy contained three flares, two paddles, a
rudder, a first-aid kit, a knife, hand inflation pump, and half a bottle of rum.
We were all cut and bruised, and first we did the necessary first-aid. The
dinghy was shipping a lot of water, and we used our boots for baling. Some of
the crew became seasick after an hour, but we remained cheerful. Several large
fish swam round the dinghy, and, as there are sharks in the North Atlantic, we
were glad when they cleared off.
A Hudson flew eastwards some two miles from us at 18.50
hours. We lit a flare, but the aircraft flew off. Another Hudson flew by at
19.45 hours. Again we lit a flare, but again the aircraft flew off. The sky was
cloudless, but there was a slight mist on the water and the sea became rougher.
A third Hudson came along at 20.50 hours. It was
flying low, and just behind, at about 1,000 feet, was a Wellington. We lit our
third flare. Both aircraft passed us, but the Wellington returned a few minutes
later and began circling over us. Then the Hudson flew back and dropped a
canvas-covered bag by parachute. It hit the sea too far off for us to reach.
Another one was dropped much nearer, but fell to pieces on the surface - we only
managed to pick up a box of biscuits.
Both aircraft now began flying off and returning; black smoke
plumes soon appeared on the horizon and two destroyers steamed up to us at full
speed. Two more Wellingtons turned up at this point.
It was H.M.S. Boadicea which
came up, and the ratings helped us aboard at 22.15 hours. We were led below and
found everything ready for us. We ate a hearty meal; the doctor examined us and
dressed our injuries; officers lent us their pajamas and gave up their bunks. We
had been picked up none too soon, for after midnight a violent gale blew up. We
landed at Greenock on 1St June at 16.00 hours.
Wellington MkIc, NZ-D, DV671.