Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Komet Come

On the 10th of April 1945 American forces were approaching Leipzig. In support of this push the RAF launched a daylight raid on the marshalling yards. Around 200 bombers were dispatched, consisting of about 90 Halifax’s and 110 Lancaster’s. Some of the latter belonged to the RCAF's 405 squadron, the RCAF's only pathfinder unit. The bombers were escorted by twelve RAF piloted Mustangs from 165 Squadron. The route the formation took was from over the North Sea and then directly towards the target, during this phase of the mission some German fighters were seen in the distance.
About 1602 GMT, over the marshalling yards, at 16,000 to 17,000ft, pitching in the flack bursts, the pathfinders released their target markers. Suddenly drawing a line of smoke a small dot screamed towards the bombers, this was a lone ME-163 Komet from Jagdgeschwader 400 based at Brandis airfield. The blazing dot lined up on a Halifax from 415 squadron. Hurtling in the Komet was spotted at about 1500 yards, on the port side by the upper turret gunner. He called out a warning and the Halifax threw itself into a starboard corkscrew manoeuvre. This brought both the upper and tail gunners to bear on the Komet both of whom opened fire between 700 to 800 yards and swung the bomber out of the way of the Komet’s attack.
With its initial target evading, the Komet powered out the top of the formation, nosed over and dived back downwards, by now the formation was responding. One of the Mustangs got on the Komets tail and attempted to follow it, blasting away at the speeding German. The Mustang pilot bent the wings on his plane, badly enough to write the plane off, in an attempt to keep up. A Halifax from 425 squadron also took a shot at the Komet as it streaked past. The Komet’s new target was one of the pathfinder Lancaster's.

Four 30mm rounds struck the rear of the bomber, completely shooting off the port rudder and both elevators as well as the rear gun turret, killing the gunner, Flight Lieutenant Melborn Leslie Mellstrom from Calgary. Flt Lt Mellstrom was buried by Allied POW's, alongside a POW who had been killed in an air raid on the 13th of April, at Engelsdorf, about ten miles from Leipzig.
Back in the bomber the upper turret gunner was also badly wounded, as was the plane. After the initial impact the bomber nosed over and plunged towards the ground, only the efforts of the pilot, Squadron Leader Campbell Haliburton Musells, and the engineer, Pilot Officer Charles Rene George Ryan, they managed to pull the stick fully backwards, and bring the Lancaster out of the dive.
It was impossible for Squadron Leader Musells to hold the stick back on his own, so a rope was tied to the control column, and Pilot Officer Ryan helped pull on the stick. Soon the rope became soaked with his blood as the rope lacerated his hands and caused severe friction burns. Despite this pain, and the need to hold onto the rope, Pilot Officer Ryan also managed to run his normal controls and keep the engines working, and the speed balanced, as the bomber wallowed through the sky.
Several of the escorting Mustangs closed in to escort the bomber back to the UK.

Musells and Ryan wrestled the bomber back to the UK. The engines had to be run at a low enough power that the vibrations didn't cause the bomber to break up, but fast enough to keep the bomber from stalling. To add to the difficulties the wounded craft hit bad turbulence. Despite all this Plt Off Ryan kept all four of the engines balanced and the Lancaster in the air.

Over RAF Woodbridge the crew were ordered to abandon the plane and parachute to safety. Both the flight crew could not abandon their craft, because if either let go the plane would immediately plunge into a crash dive, and the wounded gunner was unable to be evacuated safely. 

The terrible damage struck again when the undercarriage was lowered, suddenly the plane dropped rapidly, the flight crew managed to keep the nose up and brought her into a very steep crash-landing at RAF Woodbridge.
For his actions Plt Off Ryan was awarded a DFC. There were also two other bombers lost on the raid. A 433 Squadron Lancaster shot down by flak, and a 415 Squadron Halifax that was hit by falling bombs.

Image credits:
aircrewremembered.com and www.junobeach.org