View Full Version : "Nursery Crews" in WW2

25th Oct 2013, 15:09
I had been generally aware of the term "Nursery Crews" being used to describe new crews on Bomber Command squadrons in the later years of WW2 who might be sent on one or two 'Gardening' (ie Mine-sowing) sorties before joining the main offensive. However, I've just spotted the term being used in the 10 Sqn F540 for 14 September 1940, and it pops up regularly after that. By and large that period seems to have been when the replacement of regulars who had flown for the first year of the war began on a significant scale - indeed, I also see that individuals began to be 'screened' from ops about that time.

The "nursery crew" term first appears in the narrative without explanation, as so often because those reading the 540s at the time knew very well what it meant. However, I assume that some kind of Command policy decision must have given rise to the usage, and wonder if anyone can steer me to where that might be found? It looks very much like a precursor of the various categorisation schemes that many of us would have known in post-war years.

25th Oct 2013, 18:06
It's not a term I've heard before - was it only used on that squadron? I believe that analysis of losses showed that if a crew survived the first (I think) 5 sorties their chances of surviving the tour rose dramatically. A policy was introduced of sending "Freshmen" pilots with an experienced crew for one or more operations so that they could learn some of the tricks and then use them with their own crews.

25th Oct 2013, 19:53
Cheshire used to fly as a copilot with new crews on missions. For this he deserved several VC's

25th Oct 2013, 22:35
I'd be surprised if this was term used only on one squadron, but I can't swear to that - effectively why I'm interested to understand if there was a wider policy decision behind use of the term.

And in September 1940, it seems quite clear from the records that the basic 5-man Whitley crews went off on their own. The first that occasion that I've spotted occurred on the night of 23/24 September when 3 'nursery' crews attacked Boulogne, a possible invasion port.

27th Oct 2013, 15:54
I think I can put this issue to bed now after a bit more digging around and having made contact with some of 10 Sqn Association's Halifax veterans. The 'nursery crew' term means nothing to the latter, who were with 10 Sqn from 1943 and later. So it appears to have been a term used only in the Whitley era, and possibly only at Leeming. The last use I've found concerns Whitley crews on 7 December 1941, when 10 Sqn's transition to the Halifax had begun, and I've seen nothing similar thereafter. (And for what it's worth, in early 1941 the Sqn was reporting Operational, Nursery, and Emergency crews in its Daily States.)

My contacts, a Captain and a Nav, both confirm the later practice whereby a new Captain would get one or two trips to gain some experience, after which he and his crew went straight in at the deep end.

old,not bold
27th Oct 2013, 16:44
a new Captain would get one or two trips to gain some experience, How would that work, I wonder? Does it mean riding as supernumary in another crew?

A pilot either flew an operational sortie with his crew, or he didn't fly at all, AFAIK.

My father converted to Lancs from Wellingtons from 9th August 1943 (before he did any flying over Germany apart from a bombing trip on 4th Sept 1939).

On 21 Sept he did a "Bombing & Air Firing Exercise Wainfleet" with his crew.

On 22nd September, he did a 1 hour flight "NFT and Liaison with AMPV", followed by a 5:30 bombing trip to Hanover, all with the same crew.

On 23rd September they flew to Mannheim, on 24th they flew "Base - Ford - Base" and on 26th a sortie "NFT - API Test" for 40 minutes, followed by Hanover again but aborted (2:30 flight time) due "Rear Gunner u/s"; it's not clear if he meant the guns or the gunner.

On 29th Sept. it was a trip to Bochum with the same crew, and on October 2nd it was Munich. On the return from that they were shot down in a fighter attack, and the aircraft exploded on the way down at 6,000 ft, thus proving the adage about 5 trips.

Perhaps if he had flown the "experience" trips, things might have turned out better. (He survived, just, to spend the rest of the war in SLIII, thus taking part in the "long march" in the final stages.)

27th Oct 2013, 17:14
How would that work, I wonder? Does it mean riding as supernumary in another crew?

Exactly so, I understand. In one case, the Captain, he had two trips over Munich and Hanover, and he used the term "supernumerary" to me. In the other, the Nav's pilot did just one such sortie before he took his crew into action on two consecutive nights.

Dan Winterland
28th Oct 2013, 01:37
A chap who would have been my uncle had he survived arrived on 101 Sqn in December 1941, flying Wellingtons. On 2 Jan 1942, he was used for the SAR crew. On the 4th, he was laying mines of Brest. On the 10th, he was on a raid dropping bombs on Wilhelmshaven. On the 20th, he bombed Emden, but was shot down and killed near Texel on the way back from the target.

Four sorties, the first two 'lighter duties'.

28th Oct 2013, 08:42
Several years ago I had occasion to talk to a gentleman, a retired Flt Lt Lancaster pilot, who described his nearly completed two tours of ops. He showed me his log book and I noticed several sorties to Berlin. He said he'd done more than that, and to other targets too, as he often flew with newly arrived captains, but didn't log them as he was only in an advisory role and not part of the constituted crew. His DFC was well earned.