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Bomber Command 'Heavy' Crewing

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Bomber Command 'Heavy' Crewing

Old 20th Jan 2021, 12:44
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Bomber Command 'Heavy' Crewing

Here's a question I ought to know the answer to, but don't!

As a generalisation, standard Bomber Command 'heavy' crew composition (101 Sqn excepted) was:

Rear gunner
Mid/upper gunner
Radio Operator
Navigator
Flt Eng
Pilot
Bomb aimer/front gunner.
Many Lancaster Mk IIs and later Halifaxes were equipped with under defence armament (FN64 and Preston-Green positions respectively); my question is: who manned these positions, or was the crew increased to 8?
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Old 20th Jan 2021, 16:00
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Originally Posted by Downwind.Maddl-Land View Post
Here's a question I ought to know the answer to, but don't!

As a generalisation, standard Bomber Command 'heavy' crew composition (101 Sqn excepted) was:

Rear gunner
Mid/upper gunner
Radio Operator
Navigator
Flt Eng
Pilot
Bomb aimer/front gunner.
Many Lancaster Mk IIs and later Halifaxes were equipped with under defence armament (FN64 and Preston-Green positions respectively); my question is: who manned these positions, or was the crew increased to 8?
I have always believed that the Wop/Ag manned the the ventral or 'dustbin turret'.
They were fitted on numerous Bomber Command Aircraft.
They were in Wellingtons' early in the war, featuring in the early attacks on the German Navy in 1939.
Most people don't realise that the Lanc was originally designed with a ventral turret and early versions of the Halifax had them as well.
Also, the Preston Green turret, was a simple fixing with a .5 MG through the floor. It was fitted I think to all MkIII Halifaxes, but was removed due to H2s.
I think the Canadians were the main users of this.


Looking at casualty lists, there does not seem to be any extra crew member carried for it,
so the Wop/Ag would have been tasked with its operation.

Last edited by rolling20; 20th Jan 2021 at 21:14.
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Old 20th Jan 2021, 18:36
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Somewhere amongst my book collection there's a reference to double navigators (Pathfinder Force?) sometimes being carried on Lancaster trips, maybe to operate the electronic apparatus. Also recall something about an eighth German-speaking crew member, presumably on board to confuse the German night fighter pilots and plotters.
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Old 20th Jan 2021, 21:03
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Originally Posted by stevef View Post
Somewhere amongst my book collection there's a reference to double navigators (Pathfinder Force?) sometimes being carried on Lancaster trips, maybe to operate the electronic apparatus. Also recall something about an eighth German-speaking crew member, presumably on board to confuse the German night fighter pilots and plotters.
German speaking were 101 squadron with the Airborne Cigar.
Main force crews ( possibly pathfinders as well) occasionally carried an 8th specialist crew member to operate the H2S set.
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Old 20th Jan 2021, 22:42
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Originally Posted by stevef View Post
Somewhere amongst my book collection there's a reference to double navigators (Pathfinder Force?) sometimes being carried on Lancaster trips, maybe to operate the electronic apparatus. Also recall something about an eighth German-speaking crew member, presumably on board to confuse the German night fighter pilots and plotters.
Yes Steve
Some Pathfinder and main force heavies had 2 'Navs' by 1944 - as you say - they operated the H2S 'set' and other electronic gizmos.
Originally I think the 2nd 'Nav' was called the 'Set Operator' but later became 'Nav 2'.
During WW2 the 'Nav 2' was not necessarily badged as a Navigator - Bomb Aimers and possibly some WOp's with the necessary experience/training also served as 'Set Operators/Nav 2'.
It gets a little confusing with the Pathfinders as they could have the Navigator as 'Nav 1' and (say) the Bomb Aimer as either 'Nav 2' or 'Bomb Aimer' (but operating the set regardless) and using the Flight Engineer as visual Bomb Aimer (many PFF Flight Engineers were trained as Bomb Aimers).
The Nav 1 and Nav 2 later (late war/post war ?) became Nav Plotter and Nav Radar respectively.

Last edited by longer ron; 20th Jan 2021 at 23:11.
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Old 20th Jan 2021, 23:11
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No. 75 (NZ) Squadron was supplied with four RAF (specially-trained) air gunners on 26th September 1944, to man the make-shift belly gun, so these gunners only flew in the (eventually) six to eight aircraft on the squadron actually equipped with them. Other such gunners were posted in over following months, and quite a bit of coming and going of these man seems to be taking place. I believe these special gunners were not members of a regular crew, and so far as I know did not have a particular regular aircraft. One of them apparently became morbidly fixated on the possibility of becoming a target for a German night fighter crew with "slanted" cannon armament installed in their aircraft, and on one operation over Europe he abandoned his gun position and flatly refused to man it for the rest of the flight. Needless to say, this poor chap had no future in the RAF, and he promptly vanished from the station. I was told about this incident by the rear gunner on this aircraft (he died about 18 months ago, I attended his funeral), but this was one of his stranger stories. I do not know if the other gunners remained with squadron till end of war, as nothing much was mentioned about them in the Squadron ORB. However I do have a list of some of these men, including service numbers.
David D

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Old 20th Jan 2021, 23:15
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The Canadians seemed much more aware of the Schräge Musik upward firing guns and liked having belly 'Scare' guns - but of course it was not possible to have a 'scare gun' on H2S equipped A/C.
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Old 21st Jan 2021, 09:56
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Originally Posted by dduxbury310 View Post
No. 75 (NZ) Squadron was supplied with four RAF (specially-trained) air gunners on 26th September 1944, to man the make-shift belly gun, so these gunners only flew in the (eventually) six to eight aircraft on the squadron actually equipped with them. Other such gunners were posted in over following months, and quite a bit of coming and going of these man seems to be taking place. I believe these special gunners were not members of a regular crew, and so far as I know did not have a particular regular aircraft. One of them apparently became morbidly fixated on the possibility of becoming a target for a German night fighter crew with "slanted" cannon armament installed in their aircraft, and on one operation over Europe he abandoned his gun position and flatly refused to man it for the rest of the flight. Needless to say, this poor chap had no future in the RAF, and he promptly vanished from the station. I was told about this incident by the rear gunner on this aircraft (he died about 18 months ago, I attended his funeral), but this was one of his stranger stories. I do not know if the other gunners remained with squadron till end of war, as nothing much was mentioned about them in the Squadron ORB. However I do have a list of some of these men, including service numbers.
David D
Bomber Command never officially recognised the threat from 'Schrage Musik', even if the odd squadron took steps to man a downward firing gun.
Because an attack of this sorts was usually fatal, the loss was attributed to flak.
The ammunition used was less inclined to glow, so all other crews saw was a sudden fire as the fuel tanks were hit.
Even BC's own operational research scientists did become aware of the fact until after the war.
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Old 21st Jan 2021, 10:38
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Originally Posted by rolling20 View Post
I have always believed that the Wop/Ag manned the the ventral or 'dustbin turret'.

the Preston Green turret, was a simple fixing with a .5 MG through the floor. It was fitted I think to all MkIII Halifaxes, but was removed due to H2s.
I think the Canadians were the main users of this.
That was my reasoning and assumption too; I wanted to try to elicit from the readership a definitive answer or possibly a reference, as my research had drawn a blank thus far. However, an obscure (Canadian) blogsite stated that the Mid/upper gunner manned the FN 64 (when fitted); I find that counter-intuitive/hard to believe as the Mid/Upper had a far better field of view and was a more effective adjunct to the crew's survival prospects than manning the FN64 with its restricted FOV and utility!

My understanding wrt the Preston-Green fitting ('turret' is far too grandiose a term!) was that it was a late-war retrofit for Main Force Halibag IIIs and VIs that were not universally equipped with H2S, this equipment being primarily destined for 8 Gp and other Pathfinder-designated units. As a predominate operator of the more effective Halifax marks, No 6 (RCAF) Gp was, of course likely to be the primary recipient/adopter of this fit, hence their closer association with it. My understanding is that the P-G fit was retrofitted to those airframes in lieu of H2S (ie in the vacant ventral position), rather than H2S displacing the P-G installation. Willing/Stand to be corrected though!
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Old 21st Jan 2021, 10:58
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Originally Posted by Downwind.Maddl-Land View Post
That was my reasoning and assumption too; I wanted to try to elicit from the readership a definitive answer or possibly a reference, as my research had drawn a blank thus far. However, an obscure (Canadian) blogsite stated that the Mid/upper gunner manned the FN 64 (when fitted); I find that counter-intuitive/hard to believe as the Mid/Upper had a far better field of view and was a more effective adjunct to the crew's survival prospects than manning the FN64 with its restricted FOV and utility!

My understanding wrt the Preston-Green fitting ('turret' is far too grandiose a term!) was that it was a late-war retrofit for Main Force Halibag IIIs and VIs that were not universally equipped with H2S, this equipment being primarily destined for 8 Gp and other Pathfinder-designated units. As a predominate operator of the more effective Halifax marks, No 6 (RCAF) Gp was, of course likely to be the primary recipient/adopter of this fit, hence their closer association with it. My understanding is that the P-G fit was retrofitted to those airframes in lieu of H2S (ie in the vacant ventral position), rather than H2S displacing the P-G installation. Willing/Stand to be corrected though!
I think over enemy territory it wouldn't have been feasible for the MU to man both.
My understanding is that the fitted P-G was removed as H2S became available.
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Old 21st Jan 2021, 14:59
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The Canadians seemed much more aware of the Schräge Musik upward firing guns and liked having belly 'Scare' guns - but of course it was not possible to have a 'scare gun' on H2S equipped A/C.
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Old 21st Jan 2021, 17:37
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My dad who flew with RCAF #434 on 6 of his crew's last 7 missions in June/July 44 had an extra MUD/AG on the crew, even one with a 2nd pilot as well. The navigator mentioned that they did not like the addition to the crew because he "fired at everything." They may have been alerted to a new danger as on the last flight, that was without a MUD/AG, the rear gunner was uncharacteristically nervously "slewing the turret for the whole flight." This mission Halifax which had a lower gun position did not have the extra gunner.


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Old 21st Jan 2021, 18:05
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Originally Posted by rotarywrench View Post
My dad who flew with RCAF #434 on 6 of his crew's last 7 missions in June/July 44 had an extra MUD/AG on the crew, even one with a 2nd pilot as well. The navigator mentioned that they did not like the addition to the crew because he "fired at everything." They may have been alerted to a new danger as on the last flight, that was without a MUD/AG, the rear gunner was uncharacteristically nervously "slewing the turret for the whole flight." This mission Halifax which had a lower gun position did not have the extra gunner.
2nd Dickies ( extra pilot) were not uncommon and were usually there for their first trip to gain experience with a seasoned crew.
Unfortunately there were many who were killed or made POWs. Which meant their crews would be looking for a new pilot.
Also senior officers ( often station commanders, Group Captains usually) would accompany crews on certain missions, usually to an interesting target like Berlin. Again many didn't return. The highest ranking officer lost on Ops, though he did survive, was an Air Commodore.
Again , looking at casualty lists, crews carrying an 8th member as a gunner, looks to be extremely rare.
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Old 21st Jan 2021, 23:30
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Originally Posted by longer ron View Post
The Canadians seemed much more aware of the Schräge Musik upward firing guns and liked having belly 'Scare' guns - but of course it was not possible to have a 'scare gun' on H2S equipped A/C.
This is a bit of a thread drift, but in what I've read (not extensive, but not tiny) I've found no suggestion that the RAF knew anything about Schraege Muzik. Could you point me to something, please, whether RAF or Canadian related?
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Old 22nd Jan 2021, 07:55
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Originally Posted by FlightlessParrot View Post
This is a bit of a thread drift, but in what I've read (not extensive, but not tiny) I've found no suggestion that the RAF knew anything about Schraege Muzik. Could you point me to something, please, whether RAF or Canadian related?
This subject was talked about on here, back in 2017. I don't think there was any evidence that the RAF or the Canadians knew anything about SM.
For what it's worth, here is my post from that discussion:


rolling20
28th Aug 2017, 16:21
Bomber Command may not have known about Schrage Musik, but in the summer of 43, 1 Group gunnery leaders were teaching their gunners to ask pilots to dip a wing to look for fighters below. This was possibly before the official advent of SM in August 43. In July 44 an intact Ju88 Night Fighter landed at Woodbridge. However the only thing that BC learned was that 'Monica' was being homed in on by the night fighters. It had no SM guns.It would be interesting to know if the captured pilot knew of, or made any references to SM. After D Day, the tide slowly turned in favour of the bombers.
Attacking a bomber from underneath with front firing guns or even a turret is in my opinion pure folly and virtual suicide for a night fighter pilot. To quote from an X user of SM with whom I corresponded: 'To shoot into the fuselage too near was dangerous because the aircraft could explode of bombs and oxygen-bottles.
We were aiming for between engines Nr 1 and 2 left side a short second and then moved away right away. In most cases the fuel tanks between the engines and wing were burning, so the boys had time to parachute from fuselage.'
There were a number of recorded cases, where bombers just caught fire in level flight and with no warning. One must wonder about debriefings and of attacks that failed, were they widely circulated? Don't forget SM did not use tracer, so no one was aware of the attack. It would seem odd though that no reports did get back to England from survivors. Freeman Dyson though mentioned before that the escape hatch on a Lanc was an inch or so too small for a fully clothed crew member to escape from with ease. However, nothing was done to remedy the situation and he calculated that 10,000 crew members died needlessly.
BC powers that be were as mentioned in Max Hastings book still telling crews to use IFF over enemy territory as crews believed it interfered with German radar, when the opposite was true. Also as mentioned here earlier, 'Scarecrow Flares' were not some pyrotechnic fired up by the Germans, but aircraft , usually fully ladened receiving a direct hit. BC seemed in both cases to have decided that moral would be affected if the truth was known. I often wonder if the same was true of SM?
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Old 22nd Jan 2021, 08:38
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I tend to agree with Rolling20's view that the RAF probably knew more about Schräge Musik than was perhaps generally known by the Squadrons/Crews.Any armament expert inspecting the type (and angles) of damage to Bombers which managed to survive an air attack from below would be able to work out the likely type/layout of guns and attack method.

Prior to the Preston Green gun mounting - there had been some 'home made' scare guns fitted in the fuselage of some Halifaxes,W/C J.D. Pattison DFC of 429 Sqn seems generally credited with ordering that the mid-upper turrets be removed and the that displaced gunner would lie on a mattress on the floor as an observer, looking through a perspex blister for night fighters coming up from below.But I have not seen a primary source for that.

From
https://tailendcharlietedchurch.word...nery-training/


Preston Green TurretThe most effective of these simple Under-Defence positions was the Preston Green Mounting, which was used by several Squadrons. On 29th February 1944, a Halifax III, (LW650), took off from Boscombe Down. It appeared to be just another Halifax, with the bulging blister of H2S Radar beneath the Fuselage, but close inspection would have revealed a 0.5in. Browning protruding through the rear of the blister. The Aircraft was being used for Trials of the Preston Green Under-Defence Turret. Preston Green began with an American Mounting used by USAAF Bombers. It gave a free movement of the Gun whilst providing a firm Anchorage. Work had begun 18 months earlier when it was suspected that Enemy Night Fighters were Attacking from below. At this time, the H2S sets were looked on as an essential aid, but the production of Bombers was outstripping the supply of Radars, and it was decided to install Preston Green mountings in all Halifax IIIs. The Adapter was fixed across the Base of a bowl-shaped enclosure immediately behind the Bomb Bay. The Gunner had an aft-facing Bucket Seat within the Blister, with a tilting Back Rest. The Gun could be swung clear of its Aperture when searching, but could rapidly lock in the Firing position if needed. Had more Bomber Command Aircraft been fitted with the Preston Green Turret, this previously non-existent protection from Attack from below would have cut down the Toll taken by Luftwaffe Night Fighters using upwards Firing Cannon. Unfortunately, when H2S production increased, the Turrets were taken out, much to the annoyance of Bomber Crews.
A poor image of a Preston Green mounting



Wallace Clarke's British Aircraft Armament Vol 1 probably has more details

Last edited by longer ron; 22nd Jan 2021 at 08:56.
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Old 22nd Jan 2021, 08:55
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Jeffords - Observers and Navigators book says....

By June 1944 207 Halifaxes had been fitted with the Preston Green Gun Mounting along with 48 Lancasters and 68 Stirlings.
There may be more details on P256 but I could not view it on googlebooks and I do not have a paper copy.
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Old 22nd Jan 2021, 10:43
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My late father was a Navigator on Stirlings in 1942 and I think all his operational trips had a crew of 8. On one occasion, the first 1000 bomber raid on Cologne, they even had a 9th crew member, AVM Baldwin C in C No 3 Group Bomber Command. My father was shot down twice - the first in a friendly fire incident in May 1942 involving the ill fated Turbinlite operation at Tangmere, The second over Holland in June 1942 when 3 of the 8 crew were killed. My father was eventually taken prisoner and ended up
in Stalag Luft 3 along with the second pilot, Des Plunkett who
went on to have a major role in the Great Escape.
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Old 22nd Jan 2021, 18:15
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I went into this topic (i.e. the under gun mounting) in some detail while researching at The National Archives many years ago. The facts contained in several Bomber Command files that I studied are at odds with what you tend to read in books published since the '60s (and, by extension, what you read in threads such as this.).

Bomber Command had actually picked up on the increase in attacks from beneath as early as the summer of 1942, almost as soon as the upward firing guns were trialed by the Luftwaffe. While the nature of the attacks was recognised, the means of delivering them was at this time thought to be from a steep angle of attack by the night fighter (which the majority probably were, suspicions about upward firing guns came later).

Harris attended a conference at the Air Ministry in June,1943 to discuss improvements to the under defence of bombers. The meeting was mainly about improving the field of view (particularly downwards) from the tail turret. This would eventually lead to a proposal by Fraser Nash for a two gun adaptation of the existing FN20 rear turret known as the FN220 which ultimately came to nothing.

As an interim measure, a scheme was devised by the Bomber Development Unit which consisted of a single .5" Browning as illustrated above by longer ron, utilising the original opening intended for the ventral turrets which had already been deleted. It was ackowledged as being a "lash up" right from the start. There was a version for the Stirling, Lancaster and Halifax and there was to have been a version for the Wellington but I was never able to establish if this actually went ahead. The requirement was for all aircraft of the Main Force to be equipped and also those of the Conversion Units.

Of the three installations, the Halifax was considered to be the least satisfactory and it was re-worked into what is referred to as the Preston Green mounting. I cannot say this with 100% certainty but I have been unable to find any commercial firm with such a name - it is however interesting to note that the Handley-Page representative at project meetings was a Mr. P.R.T. Green - perhaps he got given the job of improving the original installation?

The whole scheme was meant to go ahead with the usual energy and priority (Harris was probably thinking of those long winter nights on the road to Berlin and other Eastern German destinations). Installations were made on the bomber production lines and conversion sets were delivered straight to the Groups. There were some delays in obtaining the necessary conversion parts (certain parts from the U.S.A.), and some Squadrons with Mk. II Lancasters initially received the wrong conversion sets, but by the end of 1943 the work was going ahead. Each Group nominated a base for the work to be carried out. I have seen communications from the Groups indicating that the work was largely complete by the spring of 1944*, however this coincides with the period when H2S was being installed so it must have been a particularly hectic time on those airfields, gun one week, radar set the next!

In the end, and as already pointed out, the installation of H2S took priority over the under gun. Some surviving aircraft and left over conversions sets were passed on to 3 Group (for use on aircraft without H2S) and some were still in use at the war's end.

That's about as far as my research took me. What's missing from the narrative is just how much use was made of the installation by the Squadrons, i.e. were they enthusiastically received and put to use or just treated as another rush job with little practical value? I've seen individual accounts of an eighth crew member being taken on ops, sometimes a "spare bod" gunner and sometimes even a volunteer from ground crew, but I've never come across a comprehensive report from the end-users which perhaps helps explain the general level of ignorance about this topic.

* All those Airfix/Revell/Frog/Hasegawa Lancs, Stirlings and Halifaxes on the modelling forums which ought to have the gun but don't!

Last edited by 682al; 26th Jan 2021 at 14:17.
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Old 22nd Jan 2021, 19:59
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Originally Posted by 682al View Post
I went into this topic (i.e. the under gun mounting) in some detail while researching at The National Archives many years ago. The facts contained in several Bomber Command files that I studied are at odds with what you tend to read in books published since the '60s (and, by extension, what you read in threads such as this.).

Bomber Command had actually picked up on the increase in attacks from beneath as early as the summer of 1942, almost as soon as the upward firing guns were trialled by the Luftwaffe. While the nature of the attacks was recognised, the means of delivering them was not immediately identified.

Saundby chaired a conference at Bomber Command in the autumn of 1943 with a view to making urgent improvements to the under defence of our aircraft (this had come from Harris). Particular reference was made to a one-off installation of a .303" gun in the lower escape hatch of a Stirling - it was a local initiative by an Engineering Officer if I recall correctly.

A scheme was devised by the Bomber Development Unit which consisted of a single .5" Browning as illustrated above by longer ron. It was ackowledged as being a "lash up" right from the start. There was a version for the Stirling, Lancaster and Halifax and there was to have been a version for the Wellington but I was never able to establish if this actually went ahead. The requirement was for all aircraft of the Main Force to be equipped and also those of the Conversion Units.

Of the three installations, the Halifax was considered to be the least satisfactory and it was re-worked into what is referred to as the Preston Green mounting. I cannot say this with 100% certainty but I have been unable to find any commercial firm with such a name - it is however interesting to note that the Handley-Page representative at the conference was a Mr. P.T. Green - perhaps he got given the job of improving the original installation?

The whole scheme was meant to go ahead with the usual energy and priority (Harris was probably thinking of those long winter nights on the road to Berlin and other Eastern German destinations). Installations were made on the bomber production lines and conversion sets were delivered straight to the Squadrons. There were some delays in obtaining the necessary conversion parts (mostly the gun mountings from U.S.A.), and some Squadrons with Mk. II Lancasters initially received the wrong conversion sets, but by the end of 1943 the work was going ahead at full speed. I have seen communications from the Groups indicating that the work was largely complete by early 1944*, however this coincides with the period when H2S was being installed so it must have been a particularly hectic time on those airfields, gun one week, radar set the next!

In the end, and as already pointed out, the installation of H2S took priority over the under gun. Some surviving aircraft and left over conversions sets were passed on to 3 Group (no requirement for H2S) and some were still in use at the war's end.

That's about as far as my research took me. What's missing from the narrative is just how much use was made of the installation by the Squadrons, i.e. were they enthusiastically received and put to use or just treated as another rush job with little practical value? I've seen individual accounts of an eighth crew member being taken on ops, sometimes a "spare bod" gunner and sometimes even a volunteer from ground crew, but I've never come across a comprehensive report from the end-users which perhaps helps explain the general level of ignorance about this topic.

These notes are taken from memory as I do not have access to my files at the moment. When I do, I'll correct any errors that have crept in.

* All those Airfix/Revell/Frog/Hasegawa Lancs, Stirlings and Halifaxes on the modelling forums which ought to have the gun but don't!
Interesting post.
However SM wasn't used until Peenemunde , 16/17th August 43. Even in early 44, only about 30% of nightfighters were fitted with it. It was usually given to experienced crews.
I haven't seen the Saundby conference notes, so cannot comment. However ,as mentioned before there are no conclusive reports of SM being used. The only thing I have ever seen was inconclusive.
When the Saundby conference would have taken place, there would have been very few SM equipped nightfighters, so I remain sceptical.
Early MK 2 Lancs were fitted with a ventral turret, but it was removed. As far as I know there were no H2S MkII Lancs and there were only about half a dozen or less squadrons were equipped with the MKII and by D Day, only 2 still flew them.
My final point is again Freeman Dyson, he maintained that BC Operational Research knew nothing about SM.
​​​​​​​If that was indeed the case, then Saundby or somebody is guilty of a cover up.
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