Tommy Smith’s Freshman Mission

Peter Smith sent me this transcript from his father’s war memories after I posted Eugene Gagnon’s first mission.

I always share information people send me with their permission.

This account of a Freshman mission would be the same one Eugene Gagnon would have written after the war.

Eugene Gagnon

Ghislaine Laporte’s collection

He never spoke that much about the war. Eugene would died in a plane crash on October 21, 1947.

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Jacques Gagnon’s collection

Night of 31st August-1st September 1944

As we had completed 4 night X-countries without mishap, we were allowed to do our ‘Fresher Trip’. We went to briefing at 7pm where other members were being given targets for ground strafing of trains etc. Took off at 10.30 after the others were off, and proceeded on the so-called ‘Steep Turn round the Zuider Zee’.

It was almost full moon, with a fresh breeze blowing, so I could fly over the sea at 300ft visually, with the radio altimeter set at 400ft, showing red all the time.

Soon after crossing the coast we passed through the middle of a convoy of coastal tramps, black and rolling in the clear moon-track. We droned on and on unable to get a ‘Gee’ fix of any sort, and relying entirely on the course being right. I was a bit uneasy about this, as the navigator had unthinkingly computed all courses and times for 2000ft! Three minutes to ETA off the Dutch coast.

I climbed up straight ahead to 200ft., and there, in the gloom of a line of thunderclouds, was the white line of the coast. My first sight of occupied territory.

I had watched the lightning flashing both in and below this line of cloud, all the way from Norfolk, and but for them would have climbed to 3000ft to ‘dive over’ the coast.

As soon as we began to climb up from the sea, the Hun radio location scanners made its appearance, or rather noise. A loud singing buzz which came and faded, grew and faded, in the radio intercom, as the scanning beam passed over us. At 200ft. we were hanging in the filthy gloom just under an uneven, threatening ceiling of black cloud. I expected to turn South over the coast until the ‘Gee’ fix came into line, then dive over, but the Nav. could get no ‘Gee’, and on seeing water behind the coastline jumped to the conclusion that it was the mouth of the canal at (?) and said ‘turn North’. I was very sceptical. The steady singing announced that we were held in the A.A. beam: the up currents under the bellying cloud threw the Mosquito up and around like a cork, while the lightening flashes half blinded me every few seconds. I was so concerned about keeping right side up and out of the cloud, and worried about where exactly we were on the coast that I’d forgotten to worry about the Hun although we were stooging around just above his coast, being in the beam. We bucketed about, heading north, but immediately saw the promontory with Den Helder at the point, so turned South again, and dived across at 1000ft. doing 300+ mph.

So we were inside, skelping across the black flat land in bright moonlight, the clouds left behind. No lights were visible, nothing but the reflection of the moon running over the straight canals. I varied height ‘as per the book’, and soon the curving edge of the Zuider Zee came into view. We were slightly north of track and made allowance as we headed S.E. across the water. It was calm and bright in the moonlight, with slight broken silvery clouds above. Half a dozen times a little Dutch sailing vessel was silhouetted black against the shimmering moon track. Then the far coast came up. A moment of uncertainty, then we saw the little bulge that was our pinpoint at Harderijk. The houses and quay were clearly visible in the moonlight as we circled, then North to the Polder at Urk.

This time the coast was hard to see as we were coming ‘down-moon’ and the Polder was completely flooded in many places.

The western dyke, running north like an arrow, was a fine pointer, so we turned off for Hoorne, the place where we entered the Zuider Zee.

As we neared the little bay, I turned right over the town, to be sure of hitting the north sea coast correctly, and at once the navigator said ‘Theres’ a searchlight, and its got us.’

I could not see it in the bright moonlight but did not have far to look, for on his words a hail of orange lights whipped past behind the tail and hung in the air, a brilliant cluster, as they receded. The first ‘light flak’ I had encountered and not very pleasant. I dived for the ground, which was plainly visible, and kept right down to 100ft or so, with the Nav. yelling ‘Pull out’. The searchlight soon lost us, and looking behind I could see it probing about, with the orange tracers flying around uselessly with the beam.

We neared the west coast, and the scanning, uncanny singing began, but we reached the sea and dived to 300ft. without incident.

The trip back was tedious, and I was glad to see the Norfolk coast, and hear the landing chatter of aircraft on the R.T.

In the Mess having bacon and egg, we remarked that we’d been fired at on our ‘Freshman Trip’, which evoked ‘cries of shame’. ‘Things must be done.’ ‘Write to the League of Nations. The Hun should know we use that route as a training run!’

Which makes you think. No German aircraft has dared the North Sea crossing to Britain for some months and we stooge around the borders of the Fortress of Europe with impunity (or very nearly).

Since seven or eight crews had done this trip in a fortnight, it was evident Jerry had decided to do something.

First time over Hoorne, we woke him up.

Passing over again in moonlight like day he was all set and woke us up. (Time taken 2 hours.)

Tommy Smith

Peter Smith’s collection

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