It is difficult after rather more than sixty years to remember every little detail of my time with Larry Blaney, however the memory of that time will never fade.
To me he was the epitome of what a good pilot should be – flying straight and level in ideal conditions almost anyone could manage with some tuition,
to fly a four engined bomber, often in adverse weather plus the fact that the Germans were doing their damnested to make life as uncomfortable and dangerous
as possible meant that not only was the skill of actually piloting the aircraft a very different matter as well as there being a requirement for the temperament
and the determination to succeed and bomb whatever target we had been briefed to do so.
When I joined the crew at 1664 Heavy Conversion Unit the rest of them had flown on twin engined Whitleys but moving up to either Halifaxes or Lancasters
meant that a Flight Engineer was necessary. I had only just finished at Engineers’ School and was a rather naïve and inexperienced nineteen year old.
Crew selection seemed very haphazard, it so happened that, together with other uncrewed Flight Engineers, I was in the Crew Room when eight Canadian
pilots came looking for engineers to be posted to 419 Squadron to fly Canadian built Lancaster Xs. Although I had initially trained on Halifax IIIs I had no real
hesitation in approaching one of the pilots and saying that I would like to be his engineer. I can’t really remember what was actually said but I became part of the “Blaney Crew”.
More training on Halifaxes followed, all rather ancient and not always terribly reliable, but we managed. Already a tremendous spirit was developing under
Larry’s guidance and so we moved on to 419 Squadron in mid September 1944.
It was customary for non-operational pilots to do a couple of “second dickie” trips with an experienced crew to get some idea of what it was going to be like
when it became their turn to be a captain.
At last our names appeared on the battle order, a night trip to Essen in the Ruhr Valley, probably the valley was one of the best defended in terms of
anti-aircraft guns with just a few night fighters for good measure. On this, our first “op” we were attacked by a fighter but by “corkscrewing” Larry managed to
shake off the fighter and continue the bombing run accompanied by the inevitable flak. So the pattern seemed to be established that wherever the Blaney
crew went, flak or fighters or both were sure to be waiting. There followed over the next two days two daylight raids, one again to Essen followed by another
daylight and then another night raid to Cologne. Four others followed in quick succession until Bochum.
At first it seemed like any other trip because by this time we had welded into a very workable crew, each depending on the others, but before long there was
trouble. We crossed the Dutch coast by The Hague and then it was flak all the way to just short of the target, then it stopped, that usually meant that fighters were about.
The events of this particular night, November 4th 1944 are still as fresh as yesterday after all these years. All in all we were attacked by 5 fighters,
they seemed to be taking it in turns. All this time we were corkscrewing, the rear gunner, Don Lanctot, had hit a Me 110 which was later confirmed as destroyed.
The mid upper gunner, Ray Altham had seen flashes after hitting a Me 109 but no definite confirmation. The last attack, however, was very determined.
The rear turret was put out of action and Don Lanctot was severely wounded. He lost an eye, had wounds in his arm and chest and a number of cannon
shell splinters in his head. In my position, on Larry’s right hand side the amount of tracer shells passing between me and the starboard inner engine was
unbelievable and although the dinghy in its compartment was riddled with holes, no major damage was done to the petrol tanks or the engines.
Larry, meanwhile, either by accident or design had put the Lancaster in a very steep dive, this had the effect of losing the fighter, I suppose the fighter pilot
thought it was a “kill”, our airspeed was at least 300mph, a bit fast for a Lancaster, and then the problem was whether he could get out of the dive before it was too late.
Yet again, Larry was equal to the best and with me leaning over and assisting him in trying to pull the control column back, he managed to pull out at about 2000 feet,
few pilots could have done that. Then it was time to set a course for Woodbridge in Suffolk, not far from Ipswich, which was an emergency landing strip where
all facilities were on hand for receiving badly damaged aircraft, often with wounded on board.
After getting Don out of his turret and to the rest bay and making him as comfortable as possible, albeit in anything but desirable conditions, I then went up front
again to check fuel etc and to assist in the landing.
We touched down without further incident except that Larry said he could not get the tail end down until we had virtually stopped. Anyway, after Don had been
taken away by ambulance we inspected the aircraft and found that the starboard fin and rudder had been mostly shot away and what was left of the starboard
elevator was twisted in a downward position, giving the tail that unnecessary lift.
Although the aircraft was subsequently repaired, returned to the squadron and actually survived the war, on the very early morning of 5th November 1944 the
opinion of experts was that had we tried to make base the aircraft would probably not have made it.
That same night German fighters accounted for thirty-two bombers and had it not been for that very able pilot, Larry Blaney, the number would have been thirty-three.
A week’s leave followed, then back to the squadron for not quite more of the same until our last one on the night of 20th-21st February 1945. This time Larry didn’t make it,
but as I have said on previous occasions, it was only his coolness and determination that allowed his crew the chance to escape from the burning bomber.
No man could have given more for his crew and it was my good fortune to have met and served with such a man but my regrets are many that he did not survive.