KB720 -Piddlin Pete

The arrival of the first Canadian made Lancaster X aircraft to 419 squadron began in May of 1944, among them was KB720, the twenty first Lancaster off the line. Built at the Victory Aircraft Company located to the North of the city of Toronto in the village of Malton. The Lancasters differed from the UK built Lancasters in that thy had components made in North America, including Merlin engines manufactured by Packard, the instrumentation as well as other parts of the aircraft were all unique to the Mark Xs.
For KB720 code VR-P, the origin of the nickname "Piddlin Pete" seems to lost. The nose art spells out "Piddlin' Peter" but "Piddlin' Pete" seems to be also a way KB720 is remembered. The first Lancaster VR-P, for there were to be two other VR-P Lancasters, began operation on the night May 11/12. From then until August 11th KB720 would complete over 31 operations as VR-P. Interestingly all except two or her captains were officers, the exceptions being Sgt. H.D. Witwer on one operation in July, and Sgt. Phillis on June 6th.

VR-P Encounters Night-fighters

It was on that night in June that while returning to base and over the Channel that Sgt. Phillis and his crew on VR-P were attacked by night fighters. At just short of three quarters past midnight flying low at 3,000 feet the rear gunner spotted a Ju88 1000 yards dead astern of "Piddln Pete", the enemy fighter was seen to turn on to the same track as the Lancaster was following, then climb 800 yards above the bomber. The twin engine fighter dove and was lost to sight in the darkness of the sky. Sgt. Shortt gave the order to turn starboard to place the Ju88 against the lighter section of the sky. With the Ju88 now silhouetted it was easy for the gunners, Shortt and Searson to keep it in sight as it continued on the same track, eventually disappearing into the clouds, it was not see again.

Second Attack

The Lancaster again continued on track to home base for a little over a quarter of an hour before another attack came at VR-P. Coming in on the rear of the bomber, a single engine FW190, first sighted by Sgt. Shortt. From his position in the rear turret Shortt spotted it while it was still off the stern by 900 yards. The deadly fighter just seemed to be waiting for something, maybe thinking it had not been spotted or had not yet spotted VR-P. For the next two or three minutes it just held back, then quickly moved into a range of 400 yards. That is when the rear gunner gave the order for a corkscrew to starboard and opened up with two medium bursts ( 200 rounds) from his guns towards the fighter. This did not deter the enemy pilot who simply veered slightly to port avoid the bursts, but still closed into within 200 yards of KB720. Phillis then took the Lancaster into the cloud cover and lost the fighter.

The crew on night of June6/7 were:
Pilot J.A. Phillis
Navigator Sgt. W.H. Devine
Bomb Aimer Sgt. R.G. MacKinnon
WAG Sgt. J. Spevak
F/E Sgt. J. Norman
M/UG Sgt. J.E. Searson
R/G Sgt. J.P.Shortt

Another Night, Another Crew, Another Attack

On the night of July 25th with F/O Bowerman at the controls of VR-P, heading towards Stuttgart he and his crew would also face two enemy night-fighters.
Fighter flares were dropped by enemy fighters to help locate bombers in the dark skies, dropped from above they fell while giving off a bright glare which outlined bombers. In this case the flare had the opposite effect, as a dropped flare began to fade it enabled Bowerman's crew to see a fighter coming in dead ahead on the port bow at about 400 yards. The fighter opened fire with a short burst as it neared 250 yard range, then sped by breaking away underneath KB720 as Bowerman pulled back to raise the nose of the Lancaster. The crew and VR-P sustained no damage and continued on to the target. The fighter was lost to sight, and since no guns on the Lancaster had been able to fire on it, the fighter too remained undamaged.

Another attempt at Piddlin Pete

As the crew were settling back into the routine of getting the aircraft to the target, the rear gunner sighted a fighter at 400 yards off on the port quarter, in the darkness of the sky. Sgt Farral from his rear turret called for a combat manoeuvre to corkscrew port. The fighter broke off again underneath the bomber, giving neither gunner a chance to fire upon it. With no damage to either aircraft the crew were able to carry on the operation and return to base successfully.

The crew on night of July 25/26 were:
Pilot F/O L.E. Bowerman
Navigator C.K. Rice
Bomb Aimer F/O J.P. Hindle
WAG F/S E.J. Swift
F/E Sgt. R.E. Lucking
M/UG Sgt. L.W. Toth
R/G WO W.K. Farrall

KB720 - Retired

After 31 operations plus numerous squadron training flights, KB720 was in need of major work. The aircraft's normal ground crew would look after her through all her fights, breakdowns and normal wear and tear, but for now KB720 would have to be completely checked out and overhauled. So she was removed from service and flown off to be renewed.
KB720 would no longer be VR-P, after the work was completed on her, she was sent to the No. 1664 Conversion Unit as part of crew training. By the summer of 1947 she was sold for scarp, a Warrior no more.
Other VR-Ps would take her place at Middleton St. George, first KB786 then KB774 then once more KB786 would carry the VR-P on her side. If the other squadron VR-P aircraft continued on with the nick name is not clear. Only a few of the crews who flew KB720 the original Piddlin Pete had the chance to fly the later VR-P Lancasters. Only F/L Anderson captained all three VR-V aircraft.

Loss of KB786

Sadly KB786 during it's second stint as VR-V was lost in the closing months of the war. On the night of March 20/21 st 1945 KB786, 419's last VR-P was brought down by night-fighter action. Six of the crew were killed, and now are buried in the Hamburg War Cemetery.
The crew on that night were:
Pilot F/O Robert William Millar
F/E Sgt. Sydney Dominc Booth
Navigator F/L Hector Bernard Rubin DFC
Bomb Aimer F/O Anthony Joseph Palanek
WAG P/O Charlie Alvin Elliott
Rear Gunner F/O Lionel Charles Croucher
Air Gunner F/S John W Aitken - wounded -PoW