A Stirling effort: a crew from No. 622 Squadron, RAF debrief following a raid to Berlin, 22-23 November 1943. But why is the female RAF Intelligence officer out of the picture?

BY RICHARD MADDOX

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1941-1945. (CH 11640). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205213014

THE TWO IMAGES shown here are from the online IWM Collection and were taken by Pilot Officer A Goodchild (an official RAF photographer) on the same night and at the same place.

They show two Short Stirling bomber crews being debriefed by two Intelligence Officers, one male and one female on the results of their mission.

Except that in the published image you would not have seen the female officer.

So why  has the official censor (or the picture editor of the publication the image was to be used in) decided to crop out the WRAF Intelligence Officer conducting the debrief as well as the two other airmen (one hidden behind her)?

Given that the Stirling was manned by a crew of seven, there are two men missing from the suggested cropped image, one to the left of the WRAF and another (difficult to see) behind her head and all those seated could conceivably be from the same crew with the airman leaning in being from another.

The caption which accompanies this image is long and detailed with the Squadron number, the date of the raid to Berlin, the RAF Station the crew have returned to (Mildenhall), the number of aircraft  that took off (764) and names of just the five airman to the right of the vertical line as well as some information about their ultimate fate.

As the material is available from the IWM Collections website I have focused on just the names of those depicted in the main part of the photograph. The man leaning in and three others in the background are not named on the caption.

… Seated left to right are: Pilot Office R J Brown (captain), Sergeant W Brodie (flight engineer), Sergeant F Forde (wireless operator/air gunner), Flight Sergeant P Harwood (bomb aimer) and Sergeant F E Tidmas (navigator). With the exception of Harwood, all were to perish over Berlin on the night of 30/31 January 1944 in an Avro Lancaster of the Squadron.

The caption for the second image (also taken by Goodchild on the same night at the same debrief) shows and names all the seven crew as well as the (male) Intelligence Officer ,

This too is part of the online IWM Collection. It has the same introductory information in its caption as the previous image and again I have focused on the names of those central to the image. What happened to the crew is not specified,

THE STRATEGIC BOMBING OF GERMANY, 1942-1945 (CH 11641).  Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210950

The relevant part of the caption reads:

Those shown are (left to right): Flight Lieutenant R D Mackay (navigator), Flying Officer G Dunbar (interrogating officer), Sergeant J Towns (rear gunner, partly hidden by Dunbar), Pilot Officer K Pollard (wireless operator), Flight Sergeant C Stevenson (second pilot, standing), Squadron Leader J Martin (captain and flight commander), Sergeant W Rigby (mid-upper gunner), Flying Officer Grainger (bomb aimer) and Sergeant H Fletching (flight engineer).

According to historian Martin Middlebrook (1), Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, having been briefed on ‘near perfect’ conditions for the attackers ordered a ‘maximum effort’ raid on Berlin.

Seven hundred and sixty four aircraft took off for the raid, the greatest number sent to Berlin at this point in the war.

Only No. 617 Squadron (by now recognised as a specialist bomber squadron and two De Havilland Mosquito squadron equipped with OBOE, (specialist bombing guidance equipment) were exempt from the order to fly that night.

The raid would be led by Pathfinder aircraft equipped with an air-to-ground radar to enable them to ‘see’ through smoke and cloud to the target below and mark it with flares for the main bomber force.

Of the aircraft taking part fifty would be Short Stirlings, the first of the four-engined bombers to enter RAF service but now out performed by newer designs.

Twelve of these returned early to base with mechanical problems without bombing, meaning that although the overall loss rate of 3.4% of the total number of aircraft despatched, the loss rate for the slower and lower – flying aircraft was appreciably higher.

This was the last time Stirlings were sent to bomb Germany.

Very heavy cloud on the way to and over Berlin grounded the Luftwaffe night fighters and stopped searchlight illuminating the bombers for the German guns.

Despite the weather, the raid was seen as perhaps the most effective of all those on the German capital .

During the 22 minutes scheduled for the attack, aircraft were to bomb the target at a rate of 34 a minute, starting at 19:58.

Around 2000 people were killed on the ground that night, including 500 when a public air raid shelter at Wilmersdorf was destroyed.(2)

So to return to the original question, why was the female officer removed?

I  have no definite answer.

By this time the general public in the warring countries knew that women were serving in the armed forces in a variety of roles.

Although away from the front line, these roles – particularly in a naval dockyard, air force station or headquarters building –  all carried the threat of death or injury to some extent.

If it was to protect her identity for some reason the film negative could have been destroyed with nobody any wiser or the photographer (a servicing RAF officer presumably used to giving and receiving orders) simply told not to take it.

And there we have it – another unanswered mystery…

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SOURCES:

(1) The Berlin Raids R.A.F Bomber Command Winter 1943 – 44 Martin Middlebrook (1990)

(2) The RAF Pathfinders Martyn Chorlton (2012)

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