John Nettleton second from left sitting.
Picking out the buildings of interest, Nettleton and Garwell pressed on, their bomb doors now open. Inside B-Baker, McClure remained as calm as ever, giving minor changes in heading to Nettleton as the Lancaster roared ever closer to their target before shouting ‘bombs gone’. Closing the bomb doors as he turned away hard to port to make his escape, Nettleton then took up a heading for home. His aircraft had been hit several times, but not enough to prevent it from getting away. Darkness had yet to fall and they still had a very long way to go.
Meanwhile, in A-Apple it had been much the same, as Flight Sergeant Frank Kirke directed Garwell closer to the target before releasing their bombs. But the crew of A-Apple had not enjoyed any luck. Their aircraft had also been hit repeatedly during the run-in to the factory and was now on fire. Finding it increasingly difficult to control the aircraft, Garwell scanned ahead to see if there was anywhere he could put the aircraft down. But Southern Bavaria is full of dense forests and undulating terrain, and not at all what he wanted to see. Suddenly, though, he saw an area that gave them a chance and he pushed the aircraft downwards towards an open field. As he controlled the Lancaster as best he could, the aircraft slid across the field, breaking in half before it finally came to rest; four of the crew, including Garwell, survived.
Just minutes later, all six of 97’s Lancasters were roaring up the valley towards the target. They had all reached Augsburg unscathed, but by the time the first section commenced its run-in towards the factory, every antiaircraft gun in the area was putting up a barrage of fire. Sherwood did not flinch as he led the charge towards the factory, fast and very low, through what had become a horrendous wall of fire. He could have asked no more of his two wingmen, Flying Officers Darky Hallows and Rod Rodley. Both were relatively inexperienced in terms of operations, with just six and eight ops to their names respectively, but they continued to stick to their leader like glue, just as they had done since leaving Woodhall Spa five hours before.
To anyone observing the scene, it would have seemed all but impossible for anything to get through the defensive barrage that now filled the sky, but the three Lancasters pressed on towards their target. Flying as low as he dared, Sherwood was eventually forced to ease K-King over the chimneys before dropping back down and finally releasing his bombs. Just seconds behind, Hallows and Rodley made their final adjustments before completing their attacks. It was at that point that Rodley saw Sherwood’s aircraft emitting smoke as it turned starboard to escape to the north, then K-King burst into flames. As the bombs from 97’s lead section exploded on their target, Sherwood’s Lancaster smashed into the ground; miraculously, though, Sherwood would survive, although the rest of his crew were killed.
While Hallows and Rodley started their long journey home, the final section of 97 was making its run-in towards the factory. As the last to attack, the rear section was a formation full of experience. It would need to be. The section leader, Flight Lieutenant David Penman, was on his second operational tour and a holder of the DFC. Penman’s two wingmen were Flying Officer Ernest Deverill, who had flown more than a hundred operational sorties, mainly with Coastal Command, and had been awarded the DFM two years before, and Warrant Officer Tommy Mycock, another holder of the DFC.
Penman had no desire for his formation to be caught up in the explosions from the previous attacking aircraft and so he decided to hold his formation with a couple of orbits before commencing their attack. The three Lancasters then began their run-in towards the factory, but the formation soon came under intense anti-aircraft fire. By now the defending gunners had established the exact line of attack.
In U-Uncle, Penman held his aircraft as steady as possible, despite being hit several times. He was now just 3 miles from the factory. Alongside him to his right, Mycock’s P-Peter suddenly received a devastating burst of gunfire at the front of the aircraft, causing an immediate fire that quickly spread through the aircraft. It was a mortal blow, but Mycroft used all of his experience to hold the Lancaster steady long enough for it to reach the target and for the bombs to be released. Then, P-Peter was seen to pull up and swing to the left before plunging into the ground.
Penman and Deverill succeeded in completing their attacks but, while over the factory, Deverill’s Y-Yorker was hit yet again, causing his gun turrets to jam. Somehow, the two Lancasters managed to resume formation and headed for home. It was to be a long return transit for the surviving crews. According to the briefing, it should have been getting dark as soon as the Lancasters were off-target, but it would be another hour before the crews considered it to be dark enough to remain unseen.
The four surviving Lancasters of 97 Squadron landed back at their base at around 11.00 pm, having been airborne for eight hours. No aircraft landed back at Waddington. Nettleton, the only survivor from the six Lancasters of 44 Squadron, was still airborne. His problems were far from over as he suffered navigational problems during the return transit. He eventually landed at Squire’s Gate, near Blackpool, just before 1.00 am the following day, nearly ten hours after getting airborne.
Of the eighty-five men who had taken part in the raid, forty-nine were missing, although it would later be discovered that twelve had survived to become prisoners of war. For his outstanding leadership of the raid, John Nettleton was awarded the Victoria Cross. His citation concludes:
Squadron Leader Nettleton displayed unflinching determination as well as leadership and valour of the highest order.
John Sherwood was also recommended for the VC and, as with Nettleton’s award, the recommendation was endorsed by Harris. But it appears that someone in the Air Ministry scrawled ‘to be recommended for DSO if later found to be alive.’ Miraculously, Sherwood was found alive, although the rest of his crew had not been so lucky, and so he received the DSO instead of the VC. Only the person who wrote on Sherwood’s recommendation knows why. Would two awards of the VC for the same raid really have been too much? It had happened before.
In addition to Nettleton and Sherwood, there were a number of other immediate awards for survivors of the raid. From 97 Squadron there was a DSO for David Penman for having demonstrated great skill in the handling of the rear section and for the greatest determination in attacking the target from a very low level in spite of intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire. There was a DFC for Darky Hallows, for taking over the lead section after Sherwood had been shot down, and for displaying great courage and determination throughout the raid. The two other surviving captains, Rod Rodley and Ernest Deverill, both received the DFC, as did Penman’s second pilot, Pilot Officer Hooey, and his observer, Pilot Officer Edward Ifould. There were DFMs for Flight Sergeant Brian Louch and Sergeant Tom Goacher (wireless operator and air gunner to Hallows); Sergeants Ron Irons and Ken Mackay (wireless operator and air gunner to Deverill); Sergeant John Ratcliffe (air gunner to Rodley); and Sergeant Doug Overton (air gunner to Penman). Although many felt Tommy Mycock’s courage should have been recognized with a VC, he was instead awarded a posthumous Mentioned in Despatches, as were others killed in the raid.
From John Nettleton’s crew there was a DFC for each of the officers – Pat Dorehill, Desmond Sands and Charles McClure – and a DFM to each of the rest of his crew – Charlie Churchill, Buzz Huntly, Len Mutter and Frank Harrison. When it was known that Ginger Garwell had survived, he was also awarded a DFC and there were awards for the three other survivors of his crew: a bar to the DFM for his observer, Frank Kirke, and a DFM for his second pilot, Sergeant Laurie Dando, and for the only gunner from his crew to have survived, Sergeant Jim Watson.
Plaudits arrived from all over. At the two squadrons a signal was received from Arthur Harris:
the following message has been received from the Prime Minister – ‘We must plainly regard the attack of the Lancasters on the U-boat engine factory at Augsburg as an outstanding achievement of the Royal Air Force. Undeterred by heavy losses at the outset, 44 and 97 Squadrons pierced and struck a vital point with deadly precision in broad daylight. Pray convey the thanks of His Majesty’s Government to the officers and men who accomplished this memorial feat of arms in which no life was lost in vain.’
There was also a message from Sir Charles Portal, the Chief of the Air Staff:
I would like 44 and 97 Squadrons to know the great importance I attach to this gallant and successful attack on the diesel engine factory at Augsburg. Please give my warmest congratulations and thanks.
The success of the Augsburg raid has long been debated by post-war historians. The decision to use the Lancaster to carry out a low-level raid by day when its crews had essentially been trained to operate at night has often come under scrutiny, as has the decision to attack a target deep into southern Germany that seemingly did not appear on any of Bomber Command’s priority lists. That said, the damage caused by the eight Lancasters that managed to reach the target caused sufficient damage to hold up diesel engine production for several weeks.
Included in the messages of congratulations received at Waddington and Woodhall Spa in the immediate aftermath of the raid, Harris summed up his own thoughts:
The resounding blow which has been struck at the enemy’s submarine and tank building programme will echo round the world. The full effects on his submarine campaign cannot be immediately apparent but nevertheless they will be enormous. The gallant adventure penetrating deep into the heart of Germany in daylight and pressed with outstanding determination in the face of bitter and foreseen opposition takes its place amongst the most courageous operations of the war. It is, moreover, yet another fine example of effective co-operation with the other Services by striking at the very sources of enemy effort. The officers and men who took part, those who returned and those who fell, have indeed deserved well of their country.
The Augsburg raid was also a huge propaganda success. The Air Ministry was quick to release a communiqué in time for the national papers, where headlines such as ‘War’s Most Daring Raid’, ‘Amazing Day Raid by the RAF’ and ‘Augsburg Success – Our New Bombers Used – Diesel Works Damaged’ were there for all to see. Nettleton and others who had taken part in the raid suddenly found themselves the subject of newsreels and newspaper reports.
Although the value of the Augsburg raid is likely to remain the subject of debate for many years to come, it must rank amongst the highest achievements in the history of Bomber Command.