RAF 166 Squadron

The Last Flight of Lancaster RF154 AS-B
16th March 1945
Flg. Off. Bud Churchward & Crew
Reproduced with kind permission of Michael Goldstein, Ron Goldstein and ww2talk website
       Section 1

What follows is an attempt to reconstruct the events in question chronologically. It is an amalgam of various articles, extracts from letters and a transcript of a tape recording , all of which were supplied to Ron Goldstein by four surviving members of Jack’s crew and all of which are strictly first hand reports. It starts with Alf White’s story of events.

Chapter 1 The flight from Kirmington.

[ALF] The 16th March 1945 was just another day for myself and my crew on 166 Squadron based at Kirmington, Lincolnshire. The 14th and 15th of March had been spent on two short practice bombing trips, which, owing to bad weather, we failed to complete. We were having a lateish lie-in on the 16th March, anticipating perhaps that the bad weather might stop any Ops. on that day, but about mid-morning, the inevitable AC/2 came around on his pedal cycle and warned us to be at Briefing immediately after lunch, for our fifteenth and what turned out to be our last operational trip.
Ours was a close knit crew, consisting of
Bud Churchward, the Pilot, R.C.A.F.
Lefty Ethrington, the Navigator, R.C.A.F.
Chock Goddard, The Bomb Aimer, R.C.A.F.
myself, Chalky White the Wireless Operator, R.A.F.V.R., from High Wycombe, Bucks.
Ted Hull, Flight Engineer, R.A.F.V.R. from Romford
Jack Goldstein, the Mid-Upper Gunner, R.A.F.V.R. from Stamford Hill, and
Bob Green, R.A.F.V.R. the Rear Gunner from Barnsley. [1]

We were billeted in adjoining huts which were dispersed amongst small fir trees, about a mile away from the ‘drome’.
After our call from the AC/2, Bud, Chock and Lefty came into the billet and joined the rest of us, and after once again admiring our selection of pin-ups and running through our crew song ‘The Lady of the Manor’, we departed for lunch at the Messes, arranging to meet afterwards to wander down to Briefing.
We all walked past the 250-lb H.E. bomb that had lain beside the path from the Messes
for as long as I could remember , and arrived at the Briefing Room, checked that our crew was on the day’s ‘blood-sheet’. As always, the object of our unwelcome attention for that night remained hidden behind the curtains, and there was speculation as to where it might be, but this was soon answered by the arrival of the C.O., Wing Commander Vivian, the Bombing Leader, and the Gunnery Leader. The curtains were pulled aside and there it was revealed, the red tape dog-legged from Kirmington to Reading, the turning point, and on across the Channel, across France to Nurenberg - not a happy sight, as it was well known that Nuremberg, the seat of Nazism, was heavily defended.

[LEFTY] Our target was Nuremberg on the night of March 16, 1945. At briefing we were told to expect moderate to heavy flak with a possibility of fighters before the target.

[ALF] The C.O. and the various leaders gave their usual pep talks and take-off was timed for about 5.0 p.m. Off we trooped to the crew room to kit up and snatch a quick cup of tea. Kitted-up, we then joined two or three other crews, in the blood wagon to be taken out to dispersal, where Lancaster B. Baker, (TARFU to us - Things are Really ------- Up) was waiting for us, with Bob, Buster and Stan, our ground crew.
All the crew were sorry that we had been told to remove the painting of the naked lady on the side of the Lanc., but apparently this offended the W.A.A.F’s as we taxied past Flying Control, as a bomb was shown as coming from a very strategic place!
We made our pre-flight checks and before long the ‘green’ went from Flying Control and we started up. No sooner were we away when - owing to a change of wind - the runway was changed from the long one to the short one and a lot of mutterings ensued because we were all well aware that we were fully laden with 2154 gallons of petrol and our bomb load. It was going to be difficult to get off the short runway and, allied to this, we knew that the bomb dump was just a few yards to the port side at the end of the runway. The change of runway delayed things, and as we joined the stream of aircraft awaiting the green to go, there were mutterings from Ted, the Engineer, as the Merlins began to overheat. Our turn to go at last came and we taxied on and, as always, I said my very short prayer, “God, Please bring us back!”. We got the green from the caravan and off we went. At full blast, the four Merlins carried us along the runway and as the perimeter track loomed nearer, I thought, “Christ, we are not going to make it!” but with the last bump as we hit the peri. track, we got air-borne, and off we went.
[TED] On the night of the 16th we took off from Kirmington with a 4000 lb Cookie & lots of incendiaries & experienced trouble with the rear turret when it started to fire spontaneously as we left the runway. [2] The firing mechanism was switched off by the rear gunner & the skipper & I discussed whether I should attempt repairs in flight but he decided he couldn’t spare me from the cockpit or having the rear turret unmanned for what could be a long time. I mention this because it meant that the rear gunners reaction time was extended by having to switch the firing mech. on again if attacked.

[ALF] We were all tense on the way out and our crew song was always reserved for coming home, but this time it was not to be.
We joined the gaggle (no one could describe it as a formation) of aircraft and successfully rounded the turning point over Huntley & Palmers Biscuit factory at Reading, always a danger spot in my mind, and headed out across the English Coast. Being the Wireless Operator, my duties were not too strenuous, and all I had to do was to listen out for the bombing winds [3] and any change of plans. These were usually transmitted in at about 12 w.p.m and presented no difficulty to me.

[LEFTY] Everything was going well until we crossed the French-German border, a few miles south of Strasbourg. Then the rear turret guns kept firing short bursts. The firing solenoid had packed up so the tail gunner had put them on to “Safe”. As we approached Stuttgart on a course of approximately 030º, the skipper said he was altering course to dog-leg around it as they were pooping up a lot of flak. We passed Stuttgart without further trouble and got back on track. Then we altered course to approximately 096º for our run in on the target, which was the central marshalling yards. As soon as we had altered course , the rear gunner started reporting fighter flares on both port and starboard. Then kites started going down all around us.
I logged five then quit to take pictures of the H2S (( Ground Scanning Radar)) screen as we were fourteen miles from the target. I adjusted the gain control and set the range dial. The target was showing up perfectly. I looked at my watch noting it was exactly nine thirty [4] and as we were due on the target at nine thirty four I figured we’d be just about spot on.

[ALF]Everything went well en route except for a bit of flack and we crossed from France into Germany. That night, the BBC were broadcasting an account of a fight between Roderick and Danahar, and in my position, I was able to tune in and listen, but I was unable to hear the result because the last bombing wind was due at 9.30 p.m., and by then we were nearing Nuremberg. I obtained the bombing wind and passed it to Lefty and then, as we approached the target, Bud told us to clip on our chutes. On the inter-com. I listened to Bud, Lefty and Chock talking, and I could see the ‘wanganui’ flares [5] being put down by the Pathfinders over Nuremberg. We started our run up to the target at 20,000 feet and I could see the flack exploding all around.

Chapter 2 The attack by the Luftwaffe.

[TED] We were on the approach to the target (Nuremberg) but had not yet opened the bomb doors. The target was in flames & there was some flack ahead but none in our vicinity. A good indication the fighters were about, when the rear gunner shouted ‘Corkscrew Skipper for Christ’s sake’.

[LEFTY]
Then it happened -- the tail gunner yelled “corkscrew starboard”. Just as we started our dive to starboard, I heard the .50s in the rear turret open up and then slugs started hitting our starboard wing creeping towards the fuselage and bomb bays containing a “cookie” (4,000 lb. H.E.) and six 1,000 lb. incendiary clusters. Someone screamed, (probably our M/U gunner) and I looked at the floor to see it starting to melt along the side of the fuselage underneath my table. The incendiaries had caught fire.

[LEFTY/L] (( On 26/3/96 Lloyd wrote to Ron with some afterthoughts ))
I heard Jack say “Corkscrew P...... He was obviously going to say Port but he didn’t. All that came out was “P” and it was several seconds before the tail gunner yelled “corkscrew starboard”. I believe it was several seconds before Bob Green sounded out. I also feel we were hit with a JU 88 with upward firing guns. They had them then. They homed in on the H2S transmission . They flew immediately under the Bomber Stream and the guns fired automatically. Because of Jack’s incomplete command I felt at that time and still do, that he was hit in the turret and didn’t get out. The hydraulics were also damaged. In the rear turret the .5 guns elevated and jammed Bob’s foot so he couldn’t get out. He manually cranked his turret around to beam, opened the turret doors, leaned out and pulled the ripcord. The ‘chute’ pulled him out with his boots left in the turret.

[TED] Apparently it was a JU88, which was already firing at us & all I could see were the cannon shells ripping into the fuselage on the starboard side below Jacks position & into the wing root which caught fire. My intercom was cut off in the attack so I had no further contact with the rest of the crew. I shut down the starboard engine, which was in flames, & operated the fire extinguisher for same but could not observe the results as by this time there was fire at my position & the floor was melting due to the incendiaries having ignited. I noticed that the front escape hatch had been jettisoned & the bomb aimer had gone, indicating that the skipper had instructed us to bale out.
My position was up front with the skipper so I couldn’t see Jack as the midupper turret was over half way down the fuselage & he would bale out of the normal entrance towards the tail, as would the wireless operator & possibly the rear gunner if he couldn’t get out over his guns.

[ALF] We were within a few seconds of ‘bombs gone’ when, with an almighty crash we were hit in the bomb bay and port wing. From my vantage point in the astraldome I saw that we were on fire, that the port wing was well alight, and some foreign object had come through the bomb bay. It was only too obvious that this was our ‘lot’, and Bud said, “Get out quick!”.
My point of exit was the rear entrance door and it did not take long to climb over the main spar and make my way to the door. I had to pass under Jack’s turret, and on my way I slapped his legs in case he hadn’t heard Bud’s order.

[LEFTY] I called the skipper saying, “Skip, the bomb bays are on fire”, he said, “Can you put it out?” I replied “Hell no!” and with that he said “OK boys, bail out”. By this time, the fire had really gained headway and my table was on fire. I swung around to the forward edge of the bench and started putting on my ‘chute’. It went on the left clip okay, but the oxygen tube stopped it and one of the elastics caught in the clip. I took off my helmet and unhooked the oxygen tube and after what seemed like hours I freed the elastic and clipped my chute on.
By this time the flames were coming up on my right side and I knew I was getting scorched but I couldn’t feel any pain. I scrambled past the skipper who was still at the controls trying to keep it on a steady keel, down into the bomb aimer’s compartment where the escape hatch was located. By the light of the flames I could see the escape hatch door jammed upright in the hatch. [6] I tried in vain to move it as the slipstream was holding it fast. Then I decided to drop through the front half of the hatch. I dropped until my chute jammed against the edge. I thought I’d bought it then and there, but I prayed, cussed, swore and pushed and dropped into space. All this happened in approximately one minute from the time we started to dive.

[BUD] After we were hit and the aircraft was on fire and Ted and Alf and Choc had done all they could to put it out , the extinguishers were empty. I gave the emergency jump order. I watched the ones leave who went out the front escape hatch but Jack and the rest were to leave by the rear door so I couldn’t see who left. After I thought they were all gone I gave a roll call to check and I did get an answer from Bob Green only. He was stuck in the rear turret. After he told me he was going I again asked if everyone was gone before I left. Not hearing anymore I assumed everyone had jumped .

Chapter 3 Bailing out and capture by the Germans.

[TED] I moved down into the nose & baled out, saw our tail wheel pass over me (I was on my back) then I must have hit something, for I came to suspended from my parachute which I have no recollection of releasing from its pack & suffering from burns to my face, broken teeth & pain in my back & side, then lost consciousness again & woke up in a ploughed field adjacent to a forest into which I crawled to wait for dawn.

[ALF] I jettisoned the door and it was then that the aircraft must have exploded, because the next thing I remember is floating down with my chute above me with the cord from my inter-com. almost choking me. I know that we had been told to take our helmet and inter-com off before bailing out, but things had happened so fast that I didn’t do it. I remember trying to free my inter-com. from the shrouds of the chute, but all this did was to cause me to swing violently. I must have then passed out, because the next thing I remember was coming to, with quite a few German soldiers surrounding me , on the lawn of Nuremberg Gaol! (No question here of burying your chute and making every endeavour to escape.) I was now a ‘Kriegie’ (Kriegsgefangener - German for prisoner of war).

[LEFTY] I looked around and couldn’t see our kite so I pulled the ripcord. I heard a sharp crack and felt a violent tug at my harness so I knew my chute had opened okay. I breathed a sigh of relief and began to take interest in my surroundings. I bailed out about 12 or 14,000 feet so had about five minutes to get to the ground. I could see the target plainly, I judged it to be about ten miles away. There were a series of explosions, then, they must have really hit something as there was a load roar and a blinding explosion and a rush of air passed me. I believe it was the gas works. Below me was a dummy target. From the usual bombing heights it looks like a genuine target, but as you get closer it just looks like a field full of electric lights being turned on and off. It is supposed to be burning incendiaries.
I drifted past it and a few minutes later a kite hit the deck and blew up a few miles from me. I looked down and saw the ground about a hundred feet below.
Seconds later I hit the ground and rolled. I heard a couple of kids and a dog nearby so I hastily snapped off my chute and Mae West and headed for a bush a few hundred yards away. Safely in the bush, I took out my escape aids and found a small compass. The stars were out, so between Polaris and Nuremberg I judged myself to be about ten miles south-west of Nuremberg. [7]
With the aid of my compass I started heading in a south westerly direction. After walking for a couple of hours my face and hand started to sting. Up until then I had completely forgotten about being scorched. I took out my lighter and after lighting a cigarette I looked myself over for damages.

[BUD] Upon landing I headed West and I wasn’t captured for several days and finished up in a prison in Stuttgart until they put us on a road march East. The American Army finally caught up to us and we were liberated. I didn’t see any of the rest of the crew until I returned to England.

[TED] (Morning of Saturday, March 17th) When it was light enough, I used my escape map & compass & set off through the trees but it was not long before I heard voices and concealed myself in some bracken. They passed me by, all but one, & he was aiming a rifle at me , so there was nothing to do but stand up with my hands on my head.
They eventually left me with an old chap with a luger pistol who marched me off across field after field & eventually through a hedge into a hutted camp at the side of a forest & on rising ground.
To my right between myself & the forest was a large pit (100’ x 40’ ?) newly dug & being worked on by people in prison garb. Further along on the same side was what looked like a refilled pit of the same size, then further along still & higher up the rise was another pit with people in uniform moving around it & there was the sound of small arms fire. There were Gestapo & SS men around as well as some in the drab army uniform. [8] I was then taken into one of the large huts & noticed some of the army men showing each other items of jewelry etc. to each other as they came through the door. I built a picture in my mind & became very frightened. Was then taken into a room where two SS officers were seated at a round table & they indicated I should take a vacant place. They questioned me in the expected manner at first but said ‘You are a Jew to come from a Jewish Squadron’. This I denied but they persisted & said
‘Your Midupper gunner is a Jew & so are you’. This kept on for about an hour & then I was locked in a log cabin like a cell about the size of a garden shed with bars on the windows. As you can imagine, by this time I was in a state of shock & I’ve no exact idea how many days I was in that camp. Three times they interrogated me along the same lines & on one occasion while I was in the cell I heard various voices & on looking out of the bars observed a small group of people with armed guards moving towards the pits. My view was from the side but to this day I’m certain one of them was Jack. He was very distinctive as you well know & not easy to miss.

March 18/19

[TED/T]
I was just sort of dozing on and off and with quite a lot of pain and the burns and that and then the door opened one day or morning and there were two guards or two uniformed people anyway with Shmeissers and bicycles and I thought well they’re taking me somewhere and I’m not coming back and so they beckoned me out , Oh, not that it makes any difference, but obviously I’d lost my flying boots when the parachute opened and they’d fixed me up with some old ammo type boots which were pretty uncomfortable but that’s all they give me and so they beckoned me out , and put one each side of us and escorted me back the same route where I’d previously seen Jack but instead of swinging round left at the end of the huts towards where they were firing , not that I saw Jack from there, don’t forget, but that was the way out to the pits then they carried me straight on between the new pit and the old filled one.
We went into the woods, we walked through these woods and we came to a lane where we turned left and when I got up there I started to calm down and I realised that these two lads that had got me were Luftwaffe uniform and anyway we carried on and went through quite a small village, the local inhabitants obviously had been warned we were coming, they’d got some indication cause they all seemed to turn out and they were wanting to get hold of me but these two chaps I’d got escorting me at one stage they stood back to back with me in the middle, at one stage ,one of them actually fired his automatic into the air for to calm them down one actually got hold of me just before that by the arm, anyway they saved me from that and we went on walking for an hour or something after that and we came to a permanent Luftwaffe station. I was taken into there and immediately taken to the medical section where an SS still in his dress uniform, he’d been out for the evening, or something like that , anyway he had a look at me.
He took all this muck off my face and the paper bandages and cleaned it all up, gave me some anti-tetanus injection which he showed me was May & Baker of Dagenham and he cleaned my face up then in a small, it looked like a fridge or a freezer mounted on part of their work top he took out a cassette, looked like a stainless steel type cassette, which I should think was about three inches or so long, maybe four inches long, about the size of a 35 mill film cassette only more than twice as long, and out of that he pulled out what looked like a piece of skin and it was a pinky creamy colour and he put one on each side of my face cause there was only one piece in each cassette so two cassettes
That’s right and then bandaged my other dressing on top of that and then bandaged the whole of my head up I’d just got room to see and to open my mouth and breathe. Then I was put down in like a dungeon underground then the next morning we were taken out, although I say we, I was the only one in that one, but there were about half a dozen of us on this lawn upstairs and some local officer taking photographs of us as a group. That’s where I saw my bomb-aimer, this was Chuck of which I see some people call Chock, Chuck Goddard, course he didn’t recognise me and I had to grab his hand and said ‘Chuck!’ and he recognised the voice and he said ‘Jeez Ted, what the Hell happened to you !’ and before we could say much they were taking these photographs and of course I’d still got hold of his hand and I shall remember this to this day he shook my hand off, he didn’t want a photograph holding a man’s hand !!, I don’t blame him !
That’s right, it was later on the same day , I didn’t go back in there.

[LEFTY]
I found my right pant leg had been completely burned off just above the knee and the back of my leg was a mass of large water blisters with a small piece burned out just below the knee. My right hand was covered with torn dead white skin where the blisters had broken. It looked a mess. I then took out my first aid kit and smeared anti-burn jelly over my leg and a patch on my face. Then I put a cellophane bag filled with sulpha powder on my hand. I started walking again until 1:00 a.m.[Saturday March 17th]
By this time I was tired out so I found a ditch with little bushes along one edge and decided to try and sleep awhile. I had another cigarette, noting I only had two left I slept in fits and starts until just before daybreak (around 5:30).
At dawn, I got up to see a farm house no more than two hundred yards away. I skirted around
this and walked some more. My leg was beginning to bother me now so I thought I’d give myself up for treatment. About seven o’clock, I was walking slowly along a narrow roadway in a bush, when suddenly a man in brown raincoat and hat appeared coming up the road from the other direction. I thought at first he was a German soldier, but then remembered their uniform was a dark greyish green. When he was about ten yards away, I stopped. He came up and pointed saying “Deutch”, I said “English”. To my surprise he started babbling in French and shaking my hand furiously. He was as happy as a clam at high tide. I finally made out that he was French and had been sent to Germany for forced labour.
He changed the bandage on my hand and regulated and wound my watch which had gone a little off kilter, and said “Au Revoir” after shaking hands again. So I started walking again, thinking “I can’t even give myself up”. Shortly after this episode I had to dodge around a lumber camp. Just before eight o’clock I came to the edge of the woods and decided to have a snack, so I ate a few dry biscuits from my emergency rations and started walking across the fields.
About 8:30 a.m. I came across a little village. It had about a dozen houses. I picked one separated from the rest and knocked on the door. A dog barked and I heard people inside but no one came. I knocked again with no results so I gave up. I went from there across a little stream to the rest of the village. A half a dozen women around but they just gave me a passing glance and kept going. I came up to a large house and decided to try there. Success -- some old geezer answered the door. Then I was stumped for something to say so I said “doctor”. He mentioned me to come in. I stood in the hall for a few seconds while he went to the back and got another fellow out of what looked like a flour mill. He searched me and then took me into the kitchen where he offered me a chair so I sat down. Then I had my last cigarette and a couple more biscuits. There was a mirror across the room from me so I took a gander at my face. A large scab had formed on my right cheek extending to just below my eye. There were a few little scabs on my nose and around the rim of my ear.
Two or three little urchins in the house were standing looking at me wondering what the score was. One was munching on a piece of rye bread and jam. I suppose it was his breakfast. Then two or three women appeared and gave me the once over. The woman of the house must have called over her neighbours. They stood away looking at me.
About an hour later the burgomaster showed up smoking what looked to be a short piece of rope. It also smelled like it. I suppose it was the German equivalent of a cigar. He asked if I spoke German and I shook my head. Then if I spoke French and I again shook my head. Finally he said “Do you speak English?” I answered “Yes” but he said no more so I gathered it was all the English he knew.
By this time quite a crowd had gathered outside to see what was going on, everyone with their nose pressed against the window. Then about half an hour later, two German police officers arrived on bicycles along with three or four Volksturm (German Home Guard). They searched me and took my escape rations, maps and first aid kit. They all tried my Ronson but finally gave it back to me. Then one asked if I could walk. I nodded, so he waved a pistol under my nose and said the German equivalent to get moving. I waked in front while he rode his bike.
About half an hour later, we came to a little place called Kammerstein where an old woman came out and after cursing me in German, spit on me. A bunch of urchins followed us about a mile but didn’t do anything. Then a kid of ten or eleven years old passed on a bicycle and called me “Pig of an Englander”. He also spit on me.
Then we came to another little town called Haag. Another bunch of urchins followed us through the town. Everyone we passed gave me a dirty look and said something to the German police officer whereon they’d both laugh. After another hour’s walking we came to a fair sized town called Schwabach. [9] When we reached the centre of town some goon rode up and said, “How you like kill women and children, eh?” I was kind of jittery as there were crowds of people around who didn’t look too happy with me. We finally got to a Luftwaffe camp on the edge of the town where they put me in the hoosegow. [10] I breathed a sigh of relief.
A few hours later I was taken out of the cell and went to see one of the Luftwaffe officers. He could speak English and started asking questions which I wasn’t allowed to answer. Then he took my identification card, dog tags, and lighter, saying I’d get them back later when I was moved to a Stalag. I was taken back to my cell.
It was about six feet by ten feet with one little window. The door also had a little window. It was now well on in the afternoon and so far I had nothing to eat except for the couple of biscuits. I made motions to one of the guards that I was hungry so about an hour later I was given a bowl of watery soup and a thick piece of rye bread and some rotten cheese. I ate the soup but I couldn’t stomach the bread and cheese.
Next morning [Sunday, March 18th] I started to really get hungry, but all I got was a cup of mint tea which was lukewarm so I made an effort and ate the bread and cheese from the day before. That night I got another bowl of watery soup and one slice of bread. The following morning it was a cup of ersatz coffee and a slice of bread.

[ALF] [Friday, March 16th] Very quickly, I was taken inside and, surprisingly, I was only suffering from slight burns and cuts, which were promptly treated by my captors. A German Airforce Officer, who spoke perfect English, interrogated me, wanting to know my squadron, the names of my crew, the aiming point, etc., and accusing me of being an English bandit who killed civilians in preference to bombing military targets. Before long, I found myself alone in a cell, [11] the equipment of which consisted of three bare boards lying on the floor. There I stayed for a few days, not knowing what had happened to the rest of my crew, but thinking that they must have all got the ‘chop’. My spirits were at their lowest ebb one day when, to my joy, from the next cell I heard the strains of “The Lady of the Manor” being sung by Lefty as only he could sing it!
A day or two later, the time came to move, and together with some other RAF and American Airforce air crews, we were taken from the gaol and put into a lorry which was to take us for interrogation to Munich.[March 19th, according to Lefty’s account].


End of section 1