Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, May 27, 2018


Late in the day of 6th July 1941, No 75 (NZ) Squadron Wellington Mk.Is took off from RAF Feltwell. Their target for tonight was Munster. The Germans had just launched their invasion of Russia, and Munster was a major transport hub. By striking it the British hoped to relieve pressure on the Russians.
As they plunged through the darkness the crews were struck, and more than a little relived, by how little enemy action there was. No night fighters, only a handful of search lights and just a few bursts of flak. They arrived at Munster and bombed the target, the city looked like it was in flames. On board one of the Wellingtons the pilot of the bomber circled the city so the crew could see what was going on. The pilot was Wing Commander R. P. Widdowson, whom was also the Squadron Commander, and his second pilot was Sergeant James Allen Ward. 
Sgt Ward
After Wg Cdr Widdowson had seen how the battle his squadron was engaged in had progressed they set course for home. Crossing the Zuider Zee Sgt Ward was standing with his head in the astrodome, keeping an eye out. Suddenly he spotted the first German resistance of the night, the shadow of a lone ME110 was closing from port. Sgt Ward keyed his intercom to warn of the impending attack. However, the intercom had broken in the previous few hours and no one had realized. The German plane raked the bomber with its cannon, spraying red hot shrapnel everywhere and fracturing a fuel line in the wing causing the fuel line to catch fire.
Wg Cdr Widdowson threw the plane into a dive to escape, at the same time Pilot Officer A. R. J. Box in the rear turret returned fire. This wild burst scored several hits on the ME110, and it was seen spiralling out of control. When the plane levelled out they followed the course of the Dutch coast to see how the fire would develop. Two of the crew were wounded by shrapnel, the nose gunner and Sgt Ward.

The crew attempted to put the fire out, first they smashed a hole in the side of the Wellington trying to get to the fire with a fire extinguisher, however their efforts were in vain. Next the crew tried throwing coffee from their thermos flasks at the fire, this did improve matters slightly by damping down the fabric around the wing but didn't extinguish the flames.
The damage to the Wellington after it landed at base.
The crew by now had decided to risk crossing the channel. At this point Sgt Ward volunteered to climb out of the astrodome hatch and crawl out to the fire to extinguish it. A rope was retrieved from the dinghy and tied around Sgt Wards chest, he tried to climb out the hatch, however it was very narrow and he wanted to take his parachute off. The crew refused to let him, and so he tried again and squeezed out. He was now sitting on the roof of the Wellington's cockpit while it was doing somewhere between 100-200mph. Sgt Ward then put the Wellington’s geodesic construction to good use, he kicked holes in the fabric and used the structure to stand on. Like this he made his way down to the wing. He was carrying a large cloth cockpit cover to help him smother the fire. However, it kept being caught by the wind and threatened to blow him off the plane. When he reached the wing, he began to crawl along it using holes made by the German's attack, and new holes he tore in the fabric himself. He was unable to stay close to the wing as his parachute was on his chest and this allowed the howling wind to get underneath him, once lifting him away and slamming him back into the wing. Eventually he managed to reach the engine and was now exposed to the full blast of the back draft from the propeller, but he carried on.
Sgt Ward's route along the wing of the plane
Sgt Ward got to the hole where the fuel and fire was coming from and tried to stuff the cover into it to smoother the flames and clog the fuel pipe. The second he let go the cover caught in the air flow and ripped away. Sgt Ward managed to grab the cover and dragged it back and rammed it back in the hole. Again, the wind tore it away instantly and although Sgt Ward grasped at it, he missed and the cover was gone.

The fire from the fuel pipe was now contained. There was nothing that could catch fire near the flames and so Sgt Ward made the difficult journey back to the cockpit. He was so exhausted by his journey he had to be hauled the last foot or so and into the cabin by the rest of the crew. As the Wellington neared the English coast the flames suddenly flared up, a small pool of fuel had collected inside the wing and had caught. Fortunately, this quickly died down again.

The German attack had also damaged the hydraulics which meant the landing gear was stuck and had to be hand pumped down. Instead of landing at RAF Feltwell, Wg Cdr Widdowson decided to land at Newmarket where there was a much longer landing strip. After circling the airfield Wg Cdr Widdowson radioed to the tower "We’ve been badly shot up. I hope we shan’t mess up your flare-path too badly when we land."
The Wellington thumped into the runway, and rolled forwards, it seems likely the brakes were also damaged as she rolled right off the end of the runway and came to rest in a barbed wire perimeter to the runway. Luckily no one was injured.

Sgt Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions. Unfortunately, Sgt Ward would not survive the war, in September of that year his bomber was shot down by flak and Sgt Ward was killed.

Image credits:
 For more on Sgt Ward's exploits, see this page, it contains some new pictures I'd not seen before.