On October 10th 1943 Frank Dennis enlisted in the RAF in his home town of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England.
Dennis felt that the RAF fulfilled his desire to take an active part in the war and have the opportunity to fly.
He had apprenticed at Perkins Diesels as
a precision fitter. He looked forward to using these skill in the RAF as a Flight Engineer.
It was on the completion of his apprenticeship at Perkins that the twenty year old Dennis showed up at the recruitment office.
The next step would be the testing and appraisals of his abilities, this was to take place at Cardington. After three days of medical
and mental examinations he was offered the chance for pilot training. With the path to becoming a pilot taking six months or more
and the chance of being a Flight Engineer almost straight away, the eager Dennis choose the Flight Engineer trade.
The "almost straight away" may have been a slight exaggeration, there would be many months of hard work and few days in between
for other activities. Beginning at Bridlington I.T.W., then on to No. 4 School of Technical Training at St. Athan in
South Wales. Here the trainees had a gruelling routine with only the Sunday afternoon off from their studies.
A weeks leave was however provided after ten weeks of these continuous days of learning their trade. When Dennis returned from his
leave he along with the others were given the choice of which aircraft to specialise in. There were many choices, heavy bombers,
flying boats and the US built heavy bombers.
Considering his choices and possible placements, he choose the Halifax with Coastal Command in mind. Another 15 or so weeks
training lengthened the "almost straight" promise. His marks during the courses provided him with an interview for a Commission,
with the results being that he was recommended for a Commission. the chance to become an officer would now depend on the Engineering Officer of the
operational squadron he would be posted to.
Further Training and a Surprise
On completion of his course he now proudly attached his Flight Engineer's brevet and Sergeant stripes.
His posting was not what he had been expecting, arriving at No. 1659 HCU at Topcliffe he noted the large number of Canadian Officers
and aircrew. The Halifax aircraft were there but not in the paint scheme of Coastal Command. Sgt. Dennis was posted to
Bomber Command and here at Topcliffe he would join an already established crew.
The selection process was a little different, the Flight Engineer Leader told all the new RAF F/E arrivals to
go have a game of Cricket. Unknown to the players they were being judged by their future pilots. According to Dennis
a tall lanky Canadian came up and said "Hello, I‘ve been watching you, how would you like to be my Flight Engineer. Answering
"Fine, who are you" . And so Sgt. Dennis became part of F/O Ron Cox's crew.
Like all training anyone receives, some basic points had been left out of Sgt. Dennis's months of learning. One
that Frank Dennis recalls was not to leave your microphone on, sitting where he was in the aircraft his open microphone picked
up the noise of the four engines and that would carry through the intercom system to all the crew.
The Cox crew flew 60 hours in three weeks, building a strong team. In addition to the cross country and night exercises
the crew flew operations near the enemy coast dropping "Window" , aluminium strips which confused enemy radar, and helped the real bomber stream in their mission.
It was while preparing to take off on one of these ops. that Dennis would learn that counting on others
could be disastrous. An engine failure on the aircraft they were assigned to led the crew to use the spare aircraft.
Being assured that it was ready to go. Dennis and the Cox crew headed to their take off position. As they tried to take off, the instruments read no air speed so Cox
and Dennis worked to cut the engines and apply the brakes. As Sgt. Dennis suspected, on examining the pitot head he
found the cover was still over it. The device was used to feed information on air speed as well as feed its intake to other
devices need to fly properly.
419 Squadron and the Dangers of the Air War
The crew of F/O Ron Cox on arrival at 419 Squadron August 25 1944.
F/O Anthony J. Palanak Bomb Aimer
F/O S.BLair Lindsay Navigator
F/O Lyle Wm Sitlington WAG
Sgt. Frank Dennis F/E
Sgt. John Wilkins M/U Gunner
Sgt. RayA. Toane R/G
First Operational Op.
Sgt. Dennis had spent a lot of time and energy in learning the ins and outs of the Halifax and now here he was
posted to a squadron flying Lancasters. He was given one day ground school shown where the fuel tanks were and how to operate them
and other details of the Lancaster. On a cross country flight as Second F/E he was impressed with the power of the four Merlins
as they took off and mentions just how noisy the Lancaster was compared with the Halifax. As a crew they
completed the squadron bombing practise and other exercises to work up to their first op. But as Dennis
mentioned "we were still green as grass" .
The big moment for their first op. arrived and as they taxied to the take off area, Dennis noticed a light coloured spot on
the tire, he first thought was it was paint, then deciding it was not paint e told the pilot Cox to stop. Finally reaching a
location where he could better see the tire, the spot could not be seen. So he waved to the pilot to move forward slightly.
Now the bolt head showed on the tire. With 8 tons of bombs on board, taking off seemed like a bad idea. Calling over the
Engineering Officer to have a look. The aircraft and crew were "scrubbed" from their first op. by the Engineering Officer.
November 1 1944 Oberhause
By now the crew were well experienced but tonight would be a turning point in the lives of many of the Cox crew
on KB767, VR-U.
In the words of Frank Dennis:
We were to have quite a few problems on other operations but that was by far the worst.
Some of what took place may not be in strict chronological order, particularly during the
first hour following the attack. There were so many things to attend to and do but basically that was it.
1st November 1944. Operation was to Oberhausen, Ruhr Valley again, it was a "travel centre", lots of roads
met at Oberhausen, so did lots of railways, communications centre.
In the words of Frank Dennis:
It wasn't too bad over the target, a bit of flak, which we missed. But we also missed a turning point by
a few seconds, probably about 20 seconds, after we had left the target which, I suppose, put us slightly
outside the bomber stream. There weren't many aircraft on this operation but we were attacked at about
There were two bursts from a night-fighter, one three-quarter rear, which raked us from the rear
turret right up to just behind the mid-upper turret, and then came in behind and I thought he
must have emptied his magazines. It went on for ages it seemed, a long time, this long, long,
long burst. He must have been a bit too close to do complete damage, because you could see
the cone of fire from the guns meeting, converging, in front of us.1
But, of course having said that, quite a number of shells hit the inner engines and other
parts of the aircraft. First thing that happened was the starboard inner must have caught it,
because that burst into flames but the "Graviner" extinguisher did work and put out the fire,
I feathered it at the same time. A lot of things happened here. The Skipper seemed to have
difficulty in controlling his end, but we had lost the intercom, we'd lost the blind flying panel,
most of the other instruments had gone. Ron Cox shouted at me:
I may not be able to hold it, Frank. You had better get your 'chutes on!"
So I told the Bomb Aimer, still down in the nose, we'd only just left the target:
"Get your 'chute on, Tony!" I yelled at him.
Tony, apparently, couldn't see. He was blinded by hydraulic oil. The pipes in the front turret
had fractured and there was oil everywhere. Somehow he managed to pull the 'chute in the nose,
it probably caught on jagged metal. It billowed out, started burning, like everything else was burning.
The Nav’s table was burning, his curtains were burning, everything that was combustible was burning.
We managed to get that out but poor old Tony was very upset, not having a ‘chute now, very upset, so I said:
"We won't jump, Tony, we won't jump"
and I took my parachute off, which seemed to quieten him down a bit.1 But a lot of things happened
in a short space of time there.
I thought I had better go back and check on what things were like. Incidentally, the Nav had been
hit, he'd passed out. He had been hit in the face, his oxygen mask was sort of buried in his face,
but he came round from time to time. Once, when he came round, he asked for a fire extinguisher,
which I took from the front of the aircraft, and he sprayed the leading edge of the starboard wing,
which was burning. It had burst open and all the cables were burning there. He sprayed that and got
himself burned a bit in the process, but he put it out. He brought his hand back inside and flopped
down on his table again.
I went back to see what I could find and the Mid Upper wasn't in his turret. He was on the floor
with one leg hanging out of a very large hole in the floor where the H2S was. It was just open.
The Wireless Operator had been hit badly, only semiconscious. I pulled the Mid Upper back in,
unconscious. I didn't know what the matter was with him. I couldn't see any serious injury, didn't
seem to have been hit but obviously the detonators had been hit. His turret was just above the
detonators to the H2S which you were supposed to detonate to destroy the H2S if you crashed or force
landed anywhere in enemy territory to blow it up, highly secret and all that. But they had been hit, which
had blown the H2S right off. The explosion had blown him up, apparently, I found out afterwards,
had blown him up in to his turret and knocked him out and he had just flopped down.
I went to see if I could see the Rear Gunner, I couldn't see him. He was still in his turret.
Well, I thought he was probably in a poor way and can't get out. Well, there's a handle, a dead man’s
handle they call it sometimes, which you could rotate the turret with by hand, but it had jammed.
I couldn't move it; I had to leave him still in there and have a look at the Wireless Operator,
who had been hit in the stomach, hand and arms, bleeding badly.
So I got the Ambulance kit out, which was quite a good Ambulance kit, lots of things, lots of stuff in it,
including ampoules of morphine. He must have been in pain and I wanted to give him one but he wouldn't have it. So I cut his clothing off his arms and hands. He was in a bad way, you could see the bones of his hands, his arms were badly injured as well, and he had been hit in the face too. Couldn't see out of one eye. So I patched him up with the Ambulance kit to try and stop the blood flow, which at 18,000 feet, on a cold winter’s night, temperatures in the low -50ºs, wasn't too difficult, it congeals.
Then I dashed back up to see how the Skipper was getting on
As I did that the port inner caught on fire and once again the "Graviner" worked. Surprisingly really
that it worked, but it did. So we put the fire out and feathered that one which just left the two outer.
So we put those up to maximum cruising: 2650rpm, + 7 inches of supercharger boost.1 Supposed to be for
not more than half an hour, but not more.
Then the starboard outer started to act up, missing now and then. Fuel starvation, I suppose, and of course
we couldn't hold height, not in a crippled aircraft. Whether the bomb doors were open or the flaps were
drooping because of hydraulic failure, I couldn't really tell. Anyway, a lot of things happened.
The Mid Upper had come round and he didn't seem too bad, a bit dazed, and he said he would go and try to
get the Rear Gunner out. I talked to him and the Wireless Operator again, who was obviously in pain and
I wanted to give him morphine but he wouldn't have it, he said he didn't want it. He wanted to get the
dinghy radio set out to get some interference through to let them know we were in trouble. So I left him
"If we have to bale out and I am at the front, I will signal you with the torch just to bale out!"
Of course we had decided to head for Woodbridge after this happened, which wasn't our course at all but
it was a long way across the North Sea and bailing out over the North Sea in wintertime you wouldn't stand
much chance, a minute chance.
We couldn't hold height and gradually sank down. Jack couldn't get "Toaney"2 out either, but he did get
himself out shortly after and he was in a poor way, too.
Hit in the face, hands, feet, couldn't see very well. They stayed in the middle of the fuselage with their
'chutes on. I said:
"If we do have to bale out, if there's no alternative, I will try and signal you with a torch, from the front."
Shortly after that the aircraft dropped into cloud at about 14,000 feet. We had lost 4,000 feet by that
time, no instruments, crippled aircraft, we dropped into a spin very quickly. The rotations built up.
It was very steep and tight, the G-force was tremendous. I was sitting on the end of the Navigator's
bench actually and I couldn't move from there, but I did manage to get my torch out of my tool bag.
"Well, I don't think we are going to get out of this."
I got ready to signal.
When we broke cloud we were about 5,000 feet, still spinning. I tried to signal but the torch wouldn’t
work either so I couldn't.
Whether they could have moved and got out is a matter of conjecture, but you could see the moonlight
patches on the sea going round and round and round and getting closer and closer. It looked all up,
"This is it, let’s get it over with quickly."
The Skipper was yelling at me to help pull it out of this but I couldn't move. I passed out then.
Obviously, he got it out in the denser air. The controls must have started to work better. When I came
to we were going up like a rocket to
4,000 feet or thereabouts.
Obviously we would never make Woodbridge, so we turned back to the Dutch coast. With three badly wounded on board,
we might be able to put it down on the seashore or the Dutch polders. That was the plan.
But below 4,000 feet the loss of height was far more gradual, we were still losing height but not at all
that rapidly. So we crept along the Dutch coast and somewhere near Zeebrugge they opened up with flak,
anti-aircraft fire, all over the place. So we had to shear off out to sea. We had enough trouble as
it was without that happening, crept back to the coast again but obviously we would never make it all
the way down to where the occupying invading forces were. As we got to the Pas-du-Calais area we could
see the searchlight cone over Manston, Manston was an emergency ‘drome as well, like Woodbridge.
They still had their emergency cone up, which surprised me. You could see it from our side of the Channel.
The Skipper said:
"Do you think we can make it to over there, Frank?"
"I don't know how much fuel is left, I'm really not sure, but it's worth a chance, it's worth trying!"
So we thought we'd try, so low level we went across the Channel. We crossed the Kent coast at a few hundred feet.
I had arranged with Tony, the Bomb Aimer, to fire off "reds" as we were going in to Manston. Showed him how
to operate the "Very" pistol and where everything was but he couldn't see properly. Fortunately the Wireless
was conscious, and he showed Tony what he should do. So Tony was firing "reds" off on the approach.1
What the speed was on the approach, I had no idea. I managed to get the undercart down, with the emergency system,
that came down. I don't think we used flaps, if I remember rightly. We had come in at a fair old rate, must
been 150 knots, I would think. The runway was three widths of a normal runway, divided into three. We were
signalled to come in on the centre part, so we came in on that one. But as soon as the wheels touched down
first the starboard folded, we had come in on the rims actually, both tyres had been hit.
The starboard folded, which swung us round and I was thrown all over the place. Then the port folded and off
we went across onto the grass. Still got a terrific speed on, straight through a hedge into a field. Eventually came to rest. Of course the first thing was to get the wounded out in case it started to burn, though there could not have been much fuel. But, we were down at Manston. The emergency services were soon there, fire engines, ambulances, all the rest of it. They were very quick, but they had been warned by the "reds" being fired by Tony. The starboard outer was burning so I yelled at them to put some foam on it, but there wasn’t much point really, there wasn't a lot to burn.
"U-Uncle" was looking in a very sorry state. Perspex missing, full of holes, fabric control surfaces were in
tatters, non-existent in some cases. How it all held together in that spin. I don't know how the aircraft stood up to it - enormous strain, but it did. The three seriously wounded were carted off at 3.00 am by Air Ambulance to RAF Halton Hospital and we were given a room, but I don't think we felt like sleeping much, any of us. They had a look at Jack and Tony, the medical people bathed his eyes and that sort of thing and that was it.
I went down the next morning to have a look at the crashed aircraft. I ripped off a piece of elevator fabric,
it was green, in tatters. I took this as a souvenir.
I found a 20mm shell, which hadn’t exploded, in a pool of oil in the nose, I took that as a souvenir
We had to get the train back to Middleton St George and got a lot of frowns from our fellow passengers
on the train, because we carried all our gear. We took it with us, couldn't leave it and it was badly
blood stained. They didn't like it at all, but anyway we got back up there.
I was hobbling about for some days after this. Everybody has a crash position except the Pilot and the
Flight Engineer. The Pilot, of course, was strapped in, the Flight Engineer was thrown about a bit,
but I didn't report it. It seemed so minor after what happened to the others so I left it as it was.
I had some much-needed leave after that and I didn't fly again until December.
Frank Dennis's Oberhausen: a footnote
We had an intelligence room on the station and aircrew were encouraged to use it. I used to go up there
quite often and read all the reports. Because all the conversations between Ground Control and aircraft
were recorded and typed up. So you could see what happened on that particular night.
On the night we were "clobbered" there was some information given to a night-fighter ‘drome to take off
and search for an aircraft flying at about 18,000 feet heading on a certain heading west, due west and
investigate what it was. Well it must have been us! It said "Locate and shoot it down". Well at that time
we were losing height into cloud. So when he got there we weren't, fortunately, and he didn't locate us.
I was tempted to keep that report but I didn't as I thought others would need to read it, and it was
definitely an FW-190.
F/O Frank Dennis pt.2