Ground trials of the new radar navigational aid GEE were in progress at Marham, Norfolk in the summer of 1941. Twelve pilots and twelve observers from 115 and 218 Squadrons were involved in the trials and had been informed they would not be undertaking operational flying until these were completed. Understandably, they were surprised to be notified of briefing for an attack on Bremen on Sunday 13th July 1941. It was to be a "maximum" effort. The "maximum" effort consisted of 69 Wellington bombers, 47 of which were targeted on Bremen, 20 on Vegesack and 2 on Emden. All crews would encounter heavy cloud and icing. 16 aircraft would claim to have bombed Bremen. Two Wellingtons would fail to return from the Bremen attack. The high casualty rate among aircrews tended to breed superstition. Young men who under normal circumstances would have had a highly rational outlook on life succumbed to the carrying of talisman and lucky charms. Any innocent member of the WAAF who happened to have two successive boy friends who failed to return from operations would be labelled a "chop girl" and shunned. Superstition even extended to members of the aircrew fraternity. Some aircrew could be considered unlucky to fly with and would be regarded as a jinx.
The crew of 115 Squadron Wellington R1502 KO W, Sergeants J. Reid, pilot and captain, G. Buckingham, observer, I. Wallis, wireless operator, M. Dunne, front gunner and T. Oliver, rear gunner, were short of their regular second pilot. He had been sent to London to attend a Commission Board. Sgt pilot F.B. Tipper was to take his place. Sgt Tipper was regarded as a jinx by the rest of the Squadron. The crew he had flown with on his first sortie had suffered a very shaky "do". On his second operation the aircraft had crashed on take off, fortunately with no fatal result. Bremen would be his third operational flight.
The observer's chair in a Wellington moves backwards and forwards in tracks firmly fastened to the floor of the aircraft. When he boarded the aircraft Geoff Buckingham found to his intense annoyance that the tracks to his chair were broken leaving it free to slide all over the place in the event of violent evasive action. Further the chair cushion was missing. Instead of throwing his parachute pack on the bed as he usually did he would have to sit on it in lieu of the cushion. Little did he realise that before the night was out the object of his annoyance would save his life.
The sky was clear in England but over the North Sea thick cloud was encountered. As they approached the enemy coastline there was a partial thinning of the cloud and Sgt Tipper was able to pass a pinpoint on the Dutch Coast to his observer. Tipper then left the cockpit and made his way aft to the astrodome where he would keep a constant vigil for night fighters. The Wellington was now at 9,000 feet. Sgt Buckingham had just spotted Texel Beacon and was returning to his station from the cockpit when Sgt Oliver in the rear turret yelled over the intercom, "Fighter".
Simultaneously he opened up with his guns racking the fuselage with vibration and filling it with the fumes of cordite. Oberleutnant Egmont Prinz zur Lippe-Weissenfeld, the Austrian Prince and Staffelkapitan with the IV./NJG1 had just made his initial strike setting the starboard engine of the bomber on fire. He was now somewhere out in the darkness manoeuvring for a second attack.
Sgt Buckingham rushed forward to the cockpit and pressed the starboard engine fire extinguisher button. This put out the fire. Next he jettisoned the bombs and gave the pilot a reciprocal course to fly. He then returned to the cabin to check his log. At this moment the second attack occurred and it was far more devastating than the first. Cannon fire from beneath the bomber raked the whole length of the fuselage wounding all members of the crew, some more seriously than others. Sgt. Buckingham blacked out. When he came round he was lying across the step, adjacent to the forward escape hatch. As the aircraft had gone into a dive the loose seat which he had cursed so roundly at the beginning of the flight had slid to the nose and deposited him on the floor by the escape hatch. His parachute pack which he had used as a cushion was lying on top of him.
He took stock of the situation. The bomber was on fire and he was wounded in face and arm with cannon shrapnel. There was a hole in the back of his leg which was bleeding profusely. The door to the front turret was wide open. There was no sign of the pilot. Fastening his parachute pack to the harness he found that one J clip had been smashed by the cannon fire. He used the remaining clip then heaved on the edge of the escape hatch. In an instant he was out and away into the night. Hanging awkwardly beneath his parachute, suspended at an angle by one clip only, he made a bad landing injuring his anklebone.
Wellington R1502 KO W crashed at 0028 on 14th July 1941 at Onderdijk, 5 kilometres south of Medemblik. Sgt Tipper's body was recovered from the wreckage. It was assumed that he had been killed by the second burst of fire from the night fighter. Later zur Lippe visited the crew in hospital and expressed his regret that a member of the crew had died. He said he was after the bomber not the crew.
Sergeant Frederick Birkett TIPPER, 928888 RAF(VR), age 27, 115
Squadron. Grave 1.E.13 Bergen General Cemetery, Holland.
On 12th March 1944 Major Egmont Prinz zur Lippe-Weissenfeld, Kommodore of the NJG5, while flying during daylight in the Ardennes touched the ground, crashed and was killed. He was credited with a total of 51 night victories.
Writer's footnote - Geoff Buckingham and I stood in the same line for attestation into the RAF(VR) at Uxbridge on Friday 7thJune 1940. His service number was 1251742, mine 1251735. We both trained as Observers. We were both eventually posted to 115 Squadron at Marham but our postings were one year apart. He became a POW on the night of 13th July 1941. I was made POW on the night of 13th July 1942. We both survived the war. Who says the number 13 is unlucky?
Written by Don Bruce - Observer 115 Squadron -POW Stalag VIIIB
© Jean Darley 2013. Please respect the copyright.
This is an article that my father has written and is included in his compilation of 115 Squadron's Roll of Honour.