Sgt. George Hartford and crew arrive

On the very first day of March of 1944, Hartford crew were posted to 419 squadron. Arriving from Base No.61 having completed their conversion training on Halifax heavy bombers and ready for the operational duties that lay ahead for them

The crew:

F/O N. Douglas Johnston Navigator
Sgt. Burns W Foster Bomb Aimer
F/O John Knox WAG
Sgt. R Butler RAF F/E
Sgt. Sig O.V. Teit Air Gunner
Sgt. R. A. Piotrewaski Air Gunner

Squadron Operations

The crew would stay together through the whole tour of 30 Operations. But before they could proceed with even their first operation together; their captain Sgt. Hartford was required to complete his time as 2nd Pilot.
This duty involved flying on a squadron operation with an experienced crew. Normally completing two trips as a second pilot before they were considered ready to take their own crew over Europe. Sgt. Hartford did not have a long wait for his turn at 2nd. pilot duties. Having just time to unpack his bags, and if was lucky to find his way around the base. He was assigned to an operation on the very next night (Mar. 2/3) the mission to Meulan-Les-Mureaux proved to be successful and uneventful as would his second turn at "2nd Dickie" the following night of March 3/4 over Garonne Estuary completing the difficult and dangerous "Gardening" mission, laying the mines in the Estuary as planned.

The First Op as a Crew

After all this haste to get him in the air, it would be a couple of weeks before he and his crew would operate together. And just to make it interesting it was a Gardening op in Kiel Bay. A diversionary raid to mask the larger 800 aircraft raid on Frankfurt. But that didn't diminish the heavy flak experienced while flying low and dropping the mines in a pinpoint pattern.
Hartford and his crew would now have a short break from Gardening ops, but not from operations. For almost every night from March 23 on to April 1 the crew would fly over France. The last three would return them again to Gardening ops. It would be during the first of these three nights, while over Heligoland Bight that F/S Hartford reported seeing rockets in use against the bomber formations.

Nearing the end of the Halifax Years

For the crew there would be two more operations flown in a Halifax. April 9/10 would see them fighting heavy unexpected winds that the boys in "Met" had miscalculated. And now the gaggle of 419's bombers had to dogleg over the channel to waste time and not arrive ahead of the rest of the squadrons over the target of Lille. All this left them exposed to danger of detection by the very effective German radar defenses.
But for Flight Seargent Harford and his crew their major worry was an engine problem that had developed and now all the extra flight time was proving detrimental to the Halifax's engine and completion of the operation looking less likely. So as captain of the aircraft Hartford decided to chance returning to base with a full bomb load. After a safe arrival back at base the crew were off operations while they were being prepared to crew the newer Lancaster. But not before one more Halifax operation on their arrival back from training.

Enter Lancaster VR-L "S-for Smitty-LOVE"

April was a new beginning for the squadron in one way, the replacements for the Halifax bombers had arrived. Canadian built Lancaster X aircraft had arrived and were being checked out by ground crews. The Lancasters had already been inspected by AVRO when they arrived in Britain, then passed on to the RCAF bases. It was a standard procedure for the RAF before putting the aircraft into service, even though they knew the RCAF would do the same inspections on arrival at their bases.
Among the Lancasters received by 419 squadron was serial number KB712, which had been christened at the Malton factory as "S for Smitty" . In honor of a female friend of some government official, or so the story goes. In some mix-up or other KB712 was given the VR-L designation. Whether those who decided the squadron code letter were unaware of the given name or if it was just following some policy as to which aircraft was given a particular letter designation I am not to sure of.
In time the word "LOVE" appeared on the side of KB712 using bomb shapes to make up the word.

"S-for Smitty-LOVE" proves lucky for P/O Hartford

The future F/O Hartford would find himself behind the controls of KB712 for more then half of the remaining operations he and his crew would complete. Although many of his reports fail to mention any serious events during these operations. "VR-L" or S for Smitty-Love, KB712 was not always lucky enough to escape the attention of German defences.
On one operation on the Ruhr area in July of '44, the crew found themselves the center of the unwanted glare of six or seven German defensive search lights. The searchlights soon coned the Lancaster and the guns from below found their target's range. Flak damage to the bomb bay doors, fuseage and some of the engine nacelles were the result. P/O Hartford brought the crew and damaged aircraft back to base safely.
KB712 wasn't without it's little tricks of it's own. After enduring the dangers of an operation on the boat yards at Kiel and dropping their bomb load near the target, Hartford was disappointed to find that because of an electrical fault on "L" all the bombs had dropped in "Safe" mode.

Completion of a Tour

F/O George Hartford's skills had brought his crew through their 30 ops and then some. For the crew it appears from the squadron's logs that they completed 34 operations together and Hartford himself 36 operations. For the crew some promotions and new postings were listed in the OBS. Some may have been omitted or missed by myself but here is what I found.
F/O George Hartford promoted to F/O June 26, 1944
F/O N. Douglas Johnston Navigator, "screened" from squadron in September of '44
Sgt. Burns W Foster Bomb Aimer, Commissioned to P/O August of '44
F/O John Knox WAG , posted to No. 1664 CU as instructor
Sgt. R Butler RAF F/E
Sgt. Sig O.V. Teit Air Gunner, posted to No. 1664 CU as instructor
Sgt. R. A. Piotrewaski Air Gunner, Commissioned to P/O August of '44
For more on post-war George Hartford and crew see "For My Dad on "D-Day"