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156 Squadron - Warboys - 1943

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Flight Lieutenant Eric Ivor Townsend DFC
 

Serial Number: 116450
RAF Trade: Air Gunner
Date of Enlistment: November 1940
Rank Achieved: Flight Lieutenant
Operational Sorties: 32 Ops with 149 Squadron,
3 Ops with No. 11 Operation Training Unit (O.T.U.),
6 Ops with 12 Squadron
and 25 Ops with 156 Squadron.

Date of Birth: December 1909

Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross 5/2/1943


Personal Details:
Eric Townsend was the twelfth and last child of Sidney George Townsend and Kate Townsend (nee Chamberlayne) of Llywn-y-gaer, a farm near Raglan, Monmouthshire.   
 

After joining the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, he was posted to RAF Manby in November 1940 for four weeks gunnery training, flying in Battles, Blenheims and Wellingtons.  A further eight weeks training was completed in March / April 1941 in Wellingtons at RAF Harwell.  Whilst at Harwell, he experienced his first mission over enemy territory on a ‘Nickel’ raid to Paris dropping propaganda leaflets.   
 

In April 1941, he was posted to 149 Squadron at RAF Mildenhall as a Rear Gunner, completing 32 missions in Wellingtons.  On 31 missions, his pilot was P/O Dougie Foreman, later promoted to Flight Lieutenant and awarded the DFC.   
 

In November 1941, Eric attended the Central Gunnery School at Chelveston, flying in Hampdens and Wellingtons, qualifying as a Gunnery Leader on 7 January 1942.   
 

From April to July 1942, Eric was instructing with 11 O.T.U at Bassingbourn.  During this time, ‘Bomber’ Harris was implementing his ‘1,000 Plan’, sending 1,000+ bombers to Cologne (night of 30 May), Essen (1 June) and Bremen (25 June).  To make up the numbers, training aircraft were called into action and Eric flew as a Rear Gunner in Wellingtons on these 3 missions with pilot P/O Campbell.   
 

August 1942 brought a posting to 12 Squadron at RAF Binbrook, where he completed 6 missions as Rear Gunner in Wellingtons (pilot S/LDR Blomfield) over six weeks.  Not being wholly happy with the crew he was flying with, he volunteered for the new Pathfinder Force.   
 

So, in late September 1942, he joined 156 Squadron at RAF Warboys as a Rear Gunner teaming up with 21 year old pilot Lighton Verdon-Roe (son of Sir Alliott Verdon-Roe OBE).  They completed 23 missions together in Wellingtons and Lancasters over the next six months.   
 

With Bomber Command’s losses, never knowing whether today was to be your ‘last day’ meant that flight crew enjoyed themselves in ways not to be encouraged in peacetime.  On one occasion, Lighton, with Eric on board, flew a Lancaster under Tower Bridge, London.  On a second occasion, he flew the aircraft – banked, it wouldn’t have got through otherwise - between brickwork chimneys in Peterborough.  
 

In February 1943, Eric was awarded the DFC.  His last mission with 156 Squadron (photo reconnaissance over Nuremburg) was on 8 March 1943.  Lighton Verdon-Roe went down with his aircraft and all the crew Eric had flown with (except JD Mitchell) over Duisberg on the night of 12 May 1943.   
 

In June 1943, Eric married Jean Shackleton, a former ‘Miss Huntingdon’ (Huntingdon – just down the road from Warboys).  It wasn’t easy finding a bestman, given the losses Bomber Command was experiencing.  One by one, Eric’s first three choices went down on missions, his fourth choice and eventual bestman was a Met Officer – ‘Pat’ Patterson.   
 

After 65 missions over enemy lines, he had the opportunity of promotion to Squadron Leader, a role that would have meant at least one mission a month.  Believing he had ‘pushed his survival luck’ to the limit, he declined and saw out the war in non operational flying with postings to N.T.U. Gransden Lodge, N.T.U. Upwood, 17 O.T.U. Gunnery Flight Turweston and A.C.H.U. Bruntingthorpe and in the RAF Equipment branch at Hemswell and Bicester.   
 

After the war Eric used his pre-war farming experience, in agricultural machinery and seed sales roles.  He died in October 1981.  His wife, a son and daughter survived him.   
 
Author – Ian Townsend, son

 Ops prior to joining 156 Squadron:  
 

149 Squadron    Aircraft – Wellingtons    Pilot – P / O Foreman, except * S/LDR Cookson and ** S/LDR James
15 / 4 / 41 KIEL *
23 / 4 / 41 BREST **
26 / 4 / 41 HAMBURG  
30 / 4 / 41 KIEL  
3 / 5 / 41 COLOGNE  
5 / 5 / 41 MANHEIM  
7 / 5 / 41 BREST  
8 / 5 / 41 HAMBURG  
15 / 5 / 41 HANOVER  
2 / 6 / 41 DUSSELDORF - Returned with engine trouble
11 / 6 / 41 DUSSELDORF  
12 / 6 / 41 HAMM  
16 / 6 / 41 DUSSELDORF  
18 / 6 / 41 BREST  - Hydraulics shot up    Crash landed Lakenheath
22 / 6 / 41 BREMEN  
25 / 6 / 41 BREMEN  
1 / 7 / 41 BREST  
3 / 7 / 41 ESSEN  
14 / 7 / 41 BREMEN - In electrical storm for three hours
17 / 7 / 41 COLOGNE  
20 / 7 / 41 COLOGNE  
23 / 7 / 41 MANNHEIM  
25 / 7 / 41 HAMBURG  
2 / 8 / 41 HAMBURG  - Landed Stradishall
5 / 8 / 41 MANNHEIM  
31 / 8 / 41 COLOGNE  
3 / 9 / 41 BREST  
7 / 9 / 41 BERLIN  
11 / 9 / 41 KIEL  
28 / 9 / 41 GENOA - Landed Hampstead Norris
30 / 9 / 41 STETTIN  
1 / 11 / 41 KIEL  - Held in searchlights and shot up by fighter
 
 
11 O.T.U.    Aircraft – Wellingtons    Pilot – P / O Campbell
30 / 5 / 42 COLOGNE - 1,000 plan
1 / 6 / 42 ESSEN - 1,000 plan
25 / 6 / 42 BREMEN - 1,000 plan
 
 
12 Squadron    Aircraft – Wellingtons    Pilot – S / LDR Blomfield
1 / 9 / 42 SAARBRUCKEN - 1 x 4,000
2 / 9 / 42 KARLSRUHE - 1 x 4,000
4 / 9 / 42 BREMEN - 1 x 4,000
13 / 9 / 42 BREMEN - 1 x 4,000
14 / 9 / 42 WILMHELMSHAVEN - 1 x 4,000
16 / 9 / 42 ESSEN - 1 x 4,000

 

The  details and photographs on this page were supplied by his son Ian Townsend