Flying Officer Tom Parsons RAAF flew with 139 Squadron RAF from RAF Upwood.
F/O Parsons had the misfortune of writing off Mosquito BXX KB148 XD-L on 13th April 1945 while landing after an air test. Tom described this particular aircraft as not being very sluggish.
I turned 18 on 5th September 1940, and trotted off with the local boys from Rochester and joined the 17th Light Horse Machine Gun Regiment. After about 4 months of that, I joined the RAAF, and was selected for training as Air Crew. After postings all over Australia, in the middle of the Jap bombing of Darwin, which we were not told about, I finally graduated as a Sgt Pilot at Mallala in South Australia.
Time passed, we were sent to England, re-trained on twin-engine Oxfords, and I was fortunate to get top marks, and was sent to Scotland where I graduated as a Twin Engine Flying Instructor. I was commissioned as an Officer, and commenced duties teaching pilots to fly in English skies. After about 2 years of this, and flying about 1000 hours, I was sent to fly Wellington and Lancaster heavy bombers. Half way through this conversion, I was sent to fly Mosquitoes, and I ended up at No 139 Squadron with the world’s best navigator, or I reckoned he was, F/Lt Dick Burgess DFC
The Bomber version was capable of carrying 4 large 500 pound bombs, and later in the war, more powerful engines were developed by Rolls Royce, and the Mosquito could carry up to a big 4000 pound bomb. They fitted two moulded wing tanks made of papier mache, each one held 50 gallons of fuel. When this was used, the tanks were dropped off, usually over Holland. The country side must have been littered with these tanks. Funny thing, after the war, I met some Dutch people who migrated out here, and he remembered going looking for these tanks, as some had a small amount of petrol left inside. The Bomber version of the Mosquito was unarmed, depending on speed to escape from pursuit. The fighter versions were fitted with 4 cannons and 4 machine guns in the nose of the aircraft
Later they fitted all sorts of rockets etc. The P.R.U. (photo reconnaissance pilots) loved the speed, as they were able to get in and out quickly to carry out their task. My friend John Robb, with whom I shared a room when we were both instructors, was sent to a P.R.U. unit, and later lived at Goulburn in New South Wales. John is completely deaf, as the makers removed the baffles from the exhaust of the engines to get more speed. John flew many missions both from Scotland and Borneo, after he flew a Mosquito all the way from Scotland to Borneo.
Back in 1942, an Australian Pilot named Don Bennett was given command of the newly created “Pathfinder Force,” and the first thing he did after establishing his headquarters was to develop and test some new aids to navigation that would assist in making the identification of targets possible even in very bad weather.
In those days, transistors and micro circuits had not been invented, so we had to put up with reasonably heavy boxes of lots of wiring etc. These took up valuable space in the cockpit of a Mosquito. H2S was the fore-runner of radar as we know it today. There were no satellites to get position reports, and in the larger bombers they had a dome on top where the navigators could get some astro-fixes on the stars. H2S was developed to send out a radio signal which would hit buildings and solid objects, rebound and end up back at the receiver on the aircraft and show on the small screen as small blobs of light. Lots of buildings would show as lots of blobs. Water would show as a blank area on the screen. This enabled us to see lots of white for a city, and no signal for the coast lines. They fitted these new H2S units in Lancaster’s as well as Mosquitoes. Don Bennett was given the very best pilots to commence his Pathfinder force, and one of those was a pilot, called Leonard Cheshire. He was eventually promoted to a very high rank, and was awarded the V.C. for his exploits. In early times, he used to fly into the target area very low and drop coloured flares, then call up the bomber force and tell them the area to aim for. The casualties amongst pilots doing this sort of flight was extremely high. H2S enabled navigators to mark targets from up to 20,000 feet with remarkable accuracy, and this is where the Pathfinder Force came into its own. German Night Fighters had a field day if they were above us and the pathfinder aircraft was “coned” by several searchlights, provided they could catch us!
There were several other new navigational aids developed at this time. One was called Loran. This was a powerful beam of radio signal sent out and the Navigators could pick up and calculate a course back home. Another interesting one was called “Gee.” This was a peculiar set of signals all over England and Scotland and out to the Europe coast, but not much further. It was remarkably accurate, and on several occasions, my navigator, Dick Burgess was able to guide me back home right to the approach of the runway.
Over Europe, the early Pathfinders tried dropping powerful flares over the targets, which enabled the bombers to see for aiming. The Germans soon woke up to this, and when an attack was imminent, they would light false flares miles away from the cities.
The Pathfinders developed a system of coloured flares that would be dropped, suspended on parachutes, showing different combinations of colours for each night. This was the best of the lot. The flares had to be dropped within a 3 minute time frame. Any earlier or later was no good. The bomber force had to be over target at that specific time, see the colours for the night, and then aim for the colours.
Let me tell you about my conversion training to the Mosquito.
I went up in this special model fitted with dual controls with my Instructor. He took off, talked me through the drill and he landed it with me lightly holding the control column. Next it was my turn. Off I went, did a circuit and landed quite well. We wheeled Mossies in not 3 point landings. I did another circuit. Landed, then he climbed out. And away I went, and that was that!
A typical day of my life as a Pathfinder, spent between 3rd April and 8th May 1945.
11.00 am Batman (usually a woman) would knock on our door, and waken Dick and I. We would have a shower, then go to the Officers Mess in time for our first meal of our 24 hour day, which was everyone else’s lunch.
At about 2 pm we would walk to the Flight hut, look at the blackboard to see if we were on that night, and to which aircraft we had been allotted. We would get a ride out to the dispersal site, where all the mosquitoes were parked. I would consult with the “chiefy”, find out if any work had been done overnight on the aircraft, walk over with ground staff, walk around and inspect control surfaces, tyres etc. get the staff to hook up the ground battery trolley used for starting, Dick and I would climb up the silly small ladder into a very small cockpit, fit my parachute in the metal seat, and we both would check all the instruments etc. Check petrol, turn on tanks, give a signal, and start the engines. If all OK give a signal to remove chocks, and taxi out to the runway threshold. Run up both engines, check magneto drops at about 1600 revs on each magneto, brief full burst, back to about 1000 revs. Do cockpit drill TMPFFI etc get green light from tower and take off. Watch for swing when tail lifts, and about 120mph start to lift off. When airborne, raise undercarriage at about 300ft, raise flaps and climb away to about 10,000 feet, watching oil temp & pressure and all the other little things. When Dick finishes checking his instruments and the H2S, back we go, join the circuit, undercarriage down on down-wind leg, cross wind flaps and turn in at about 125–130mph, line-up and do a wheeler landing. A stab of brake when the tail drops and taxi in to dispersal. Talk to ground staff if necessary, they fill fuel, fit 2 drop tanks on wings fill them, armourers load bombs etc for the night to be ready after tea.
Back to Officers Mess, no drinking, have a rest and a light meal and to the briefing room by 7pm When the C.O., briefing officer and met man walk in we all stand, and seated by the C.O. Up to now the wall map is covered, the covers are removed to show the target for the night. All phones from the base are now disconnected from the outside. Time announced when the Lancaster’s will be over target. We MUST be there 3 minutes beforehand. Not earlier not later. Each one of the 12 or 14 pathfinder aircraft flies independently, never to see the others, all at one height going in the same direction. Bombers are under us. We are usually picked out by German searchlights. When about 50 miles from the target, the flak comes up very close. They are very good at this. Once we start the run in, no dodging flak. Just down with the seat, down with the head and watch the instruments. On the way to the target, if we were a long way back, and the flak was getting close, I used to crib a bit. I would do a gradual turn of 5 degrees to port, drop about 100 feet and count 10 seconds, turn gradually back and count another 10 seconds etc. hoping that my Nav would not go too crook at me. I reckoned I could dodge the flak this way.
The radar, or as we knew it, the H2S had an 8 mile blank centre, and this was not so good for good navigation. We had to line up way back, open bomb bay doors and keep the head down and fly very accurately. Dick would count down, I would push the button on the control column, which started the camera going as well as releasing the load of flares and high explosive or incendiary bombs, whichever was our load. Two minutes exactly straight and level, to allow the camera to take good pictures, then close bomb doors, and head home quick smart.
One night, the Oil Temperature on the starboard motor started to go up as well as an Oil pressure drop, so I feathered the prop and come home on one engine. Actually with no load, the one engine took us home at about the same speed as we did with 2000 pounds of bombs.
Berlin and back was about 3 hours 45 mins. The Lancaster’s used to take about 8 hours for the return trip.
Dick would give me courses to somewhere near the Wash on the east coast of England. I would pick up our own beam and bring the Mossie in on the beam. Landing a Mossie with one engine was quite dicey, too much torque when power taken off, so we used to have to glide approach the last 500 feet at about 180 mph. I only did that in daytime practice. I am glad I never had to land on a glide approach at night.
In we go, check with ground staff, back to Intelligence to report, then off to some bacon and eggs at the Mess between 3.00 and 4.00am in the morning. Back to bed, and hopefully sleep until about 11.00am when our batman wakes us up, and we start the whole lot again.