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Target for tonight

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Saturday, July 11, 1943

After resting a few days, the “A flight” of 207 Sqn was chosen to be part of the next raid. Their “sister squadron”, the Australian 467 Sqn based at Bottesford, was also elected. At 11:00 am, Horace Badge went to the flight desk and consulted the blackboard : his name was listed. They will be part of that night. In fact, the unpredictable weather would compromise this raid,  it was eventually canceled and rescheduled the next day.

Sunday, July 12, 1943

Badge and his crew did a final test flight in the afternoon and on their return, they tried in vain to sleep in the afternoon. At 02:00 pm (at the time, the British applied the "double summer time", which was GMT + 2), the 10 available aircraft were prepared: more than 10,000 liters of fuel and bomb load type "Usual". Clearly, this means a bomb load of a "Cookie" which weighed  2 tons plus 700kg of  incendiary bombs in containers or  “Cookie/Plumduff” , which meant  a  "Cookie", plus 3 explosive bombs of 1,000 pounds and 350 incendiray bombs in containers. With such a bomb load, the target is likely to suffer a massive destruction of buildings.

The team of mechanics prepare the machines, even though the objective is not yet officially announced, given the number of liters of fuel added to each machine, it is clear that the journey will be long. The skipper will need the full capacity of their “kit”, especially for the older Mark 1.

As time passes, the stomach is tied. At around 07:00 pm, the crew gathered together in the squadron’s operations room. A large sheet still covers the map of Europe, the wait won’t be long.

The bets are launched : Berlin, Dresden or a mission over Italy with landing in North Africa?

The officer in charge of the flight plan and navigation gets up on the podium and reveals the map : that night Turin will be visited by nearly 295 airplanes of  1, 5 and 8 Groups. The main objectives are the industrial infrastructure in the north of the city, the Fiat factories, Caproni aircraft workshops, steel foundries and the Royal Arsenal, the old town and train station. The aim is to stop the supply of war material to Southern Italy.

No doubt there must have been a stir in the audience at the sight of the flight plan provided: "Another boffin in London who has had this great idea!".

Indeed, the path from the cliffs to the beaches of Dungeness,  Cayeux, then draws a straight line to the Lake of Annecy and then goes directly to the target  Turin. The return provides a wide detour through Bordeaux and Brittany, finally arriving at the island of Whight. It will be a long night : at least 10 to 12 hours will be required to travel the 2800 km planned.

The weather officer takes his turn: the target will be clear but be prepared for summer storms from the French coast to the Alps. The return flight should be relatively calm.

Then, Flying Officer Schmeidler, the intelligence officer provides the information necessary for the smooth running of the operation. The stream of bombers should not encounter too many problems over France: the bulk of the strength of the Luftwaffa’s Nachtjaeger is stationed in Holland, Belgium and West Germany. One can expect Flak around major cities, including Dijon. The Italian defenses should not interfere with the crews task. For the return flight, be careful of Flak concentrations around the ports of Bordeaux  and Flakboats in the Bay of Biscay.

Eventually, the Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Peter Jennings wishes the traditional "good luck and good flight" to his men.

At around 08:00 p.m., Horace and his friends go together to one of the barracks used as the dining hall to eat or at least try to eat scrambled eggs with potato powder ("operational egg"), accompanied with a traditional cup of tea

The crews then head to the locker room to take their parachutes, survival kits and their heavy flight suit. On leaving the local, ‘the doc’ provides tablets of vitamins or caffeine for those interested.

Ninety minutes later, all the crews rejoin their aircraft scattered around the perimeter of the airfield. All means of transport are used, by foot, truck or bike. One must not forget that the airfield is several kilometers long. The pilot makes a final visual check around his machine. The crews exchange a few words, smoke a last cigarette or wait in silence, just before going back to their respective positions. All aircraft are ready and await their time to engage on the taxiway. Pilots and Flight Engineers proceed to the final checklists.

Badge and his teammates are ready and climb on the machine assigned to them: the EM-Q (serial ED412). The tension is at its peak and they no longer talk or say anything. The fear must give way to concentration: the target assigned tonight is not a problem in itself, but the navigator will certainly have a lot to do.

10:15 p.m.: the engines are started one after the other, first the engine 2, then 3, 1 and finally 4. The machine shakes, the tension rises another notch. The machines are aligned one behind the other on the taxiway. The radio silence is required, each aircraft has a specified take-off time and waits its turn.

10:35 p.m.: EM-Q is aligned on runway 19, some of the mechanics and WAAF are there to wish them a good flight. Finally, the green flash of the Aldis lamp from the control tower - Badge then runs the motors at full speed,
Bobby Wood is at his side and helps him in this delicate maneuver. With a plane full to the brim with fuel and loaded with a Cookie, the takeoff becomes a maneuver which must be performed  with finesse.

10:36 p.m.: the bomber takes off, taking with it seven men to an end they do not suspect.

En route

They fly over the countryside of the valley of Belvoir and climb to their cruising altitude of 20,000 feet (about 6,000 meters). Then Badge head in the direction of Dungeness, the first waypoint. Each machine flies in the dark towards its goal. No further radio transmission will be used between the aircraft. In contrast to the USAAF, the RAF bombers follow the directions given at the briefing in complete darkness. No possibility to cover each other during such missions.

Arriving around the English coast, Badge turns off his navigation lights and sets course for Cayeux, en route to a long straight that will take them to Lake Annecy.

To perform his  navigation, Arthur Jepps uses all the "working tools" of the time which consisted of a basic radio navigation system, the "Gee," which allowed him to follow a track accurately over a radius of 600 km from the English coast. Then he would rely on the stars, his astrocompass and his map. But if the environment is such that the celestial vault is invisible, then he will trace his route based on information provided during the briefing, estimating the deviation expected by the wind and plot his path by following the clock, this in the complete darkness.

En route, the stream of bombers meets relatively large electromagnetic storms. Icing poses a fair amount of problems for crews : icing on a wing edge or a pitot tube can be catastrophic. Under these conditions,  some crews have decided to fly "under" the storm. Flying above poses the risk of having to climb very high to avoid turbulence, with no guarantee not to be shaken in the cumulonimbus cloud formations. Flying in the middle of a storm is obviously out of question.

The German Night Fighter Force is discreet that night. The presence of a dozen of the
Nachtjäger is reported all the way. The night fighter unit based at Dijon-Longvic (5./NJG 4) reports no particular activity and the Flak encountered  over France poses no major problems. The raid is now heading to the Helvetic territory in darkness the blackout.

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