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Let Us Honor Brave Men: Part Two
Bill Winter's bombing raid at Siegen
Peter Hinchliffe (Hinchy)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2008-06-10 06:27 (KST)   

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Let Us Honor Brave Men


Flight Sgt. Bill Winter was a sad man when he went to bed on the morning of Jan. 8, 1945.

He thought he had lost his best pal, Harry Stunnell.

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The two men, both wireless operators on Lancaster bombers, had taken off from RAF Metheringham in Lincolnshire, part of a massive aerial assault on the city of Munich.

Bill had made it home. Back at base, as he looked round the debriefing room, there was no sign of Harry, whose bomber had not returned.

There was no time for mourning in the heat of combat in World War II. That raid on Munich was Bill's 15th sortie against enemy targets. He went on to complete another 16 missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his reliability and gallantry.

Bill and Harry had been friends since meeting at an air gunnery school in November 1943. Bill was from Pooley Bridge in England's beautiful Lake District.

Three weeks after the night when Harry failed to return Bill came close to losing his life on another raid over Germany.

As one of the seven-man crew of Lancaster LM215 F-Fox he flew to attack synthetic oil manufacturing units at Siegen, east of Bonn in Germany.

Bill is featured in a well-researched and thrilling book, To Hell and Back, by military historian Mel Rolf. He told the author of the tension felt by aircrew before setting out on a raid:

In that hour before takeoff it built up. It was caused by fear. I defy anybody to say they weren't frightened. You've been told at briefing what the defences are at the targets, you've got umpteen night fighters after you, anti-aircraft guns firing at you and searchlights looking for you. If you're unfortunate enough to bailout you will end up in an entirely foreign environment. Anything can happen and, of course, it did to a lot of fellows. This could be your last trip, although we didn't talk about that. Once the engines were started the tension eased a little for there were things for each of us to do. It's like a football match; once you start playing you just concentrate on your job.
F-Fox was loaded with a 4,000-pound Cookie bomb and incendiaries. It was one of 271 Lancasters and 11 Mosquitoes of 5 Group sent to attack the oil installations that were vital to Germany's war effort.

Five minutes from the target, after a long and chilly flight, F-Fox was attacked by a German fighter. The crew did not see their assailant. Some of the crew heard a metallic clang.

The plane's pilot, Flying Officer Ross Gray, told Mel Rolfe, "I instructed the engineer to feather the prop and use the fire extinguisher button and this he did. The fire went out. I retrimmed the aircraft, opened the bomb doors and approached the target on the correct height, course and speed. Suddenly the port outer was on fire and again the engineer put it out. I told the bomb aimer to get it right as we would not be going round again on two engines."

Ross Gray had to struggle to keep the plane on a straight course. On two engines he completed his bombing attack then turned for home. F-Fox was losing height. There was no chance of making it back to England.

The crew clipped on their parachutes. The fighter attack had ruptured F-Fox's fuel tanks. High-octane petrol was sloshing about in the cabin. A single spark could cause a huge explosion.

And a generator just a couple of inches above the petrol swilling about beneath Bill Winter's worktable was sparking!

Skipper Gray told his crew to bail out. He was heading for Juvincourt, the emergency landing airfield in France, south of Rheims, recently captured from the Germans.

The crew, realizing that Gray himself would be unable to bail out, decided to stay with him aboard an aircraft that at any second might explode.

Bill Winter radioed Juvincourt, explained their predicament and requested permission to land.

He was told to "bugger off." Ground staff at Juvincourt, being near the front battle line, did not want to attract attention.

They were emphatically told that F-Fox was coming in to attempt a landing.

Eventually, Juvincourt put out three makeshift flares beside the runway -- wicks stuffed into milk bottles containing kerosene.

F-Fox touched down just after reaching the last of the three flares. The crippled aircraft plunged onward in complete darkness. There was a crunching of metal. Then they came to a stop, engines sizzling.

The crew disembarked in record time.

They were to find that they had crashed into and demolished an American Lockheed P-38 Lightning twin-engine fighter.

The next morning, in daylight, they saw that their Lancaster had passed over a five-foot deep bomb crater, its wheels clearing it on either side by a mere six inches.

The crew of F-Fox returned to their base in Lincolnshire, where they were allocated another aircraft. Exactly one week after their lucky escape on the Siegen raid, they were flying through the night, carrying out another bombing attack.

After the war Bill served as a policeman in various parts of his beloved Lake District. On an evening early in 1989 his wife Nancy picked up the phone when it rang in their home near Carlisle.

She told Bill a man called Stunnell was calling.

It was indeed Harry Stunnell who had spotted Bill's name in details of a 106 Squadron reunion. The two friends were reunited.

Bill Winter died in 2003. There was a deservedly generous obituary in his local newspaper, The Cumberland News.

I am immensely grateful for the information supplied to me for this story by Bill's son, Edward M. Winter, professor of the Physiology Department at Sheffield Hallam University.

Amazingly, professor Winter is a near neighbor of Harry Stunnell in Sheffield. They see each other often.

As you can well imagine, they are never short of things to talk about.

***

RECOMMENDATION FOR HONOURS AND AWARDS

Christian Names: WILLIAM EDWARD
Surname: WINTER

Rank: FLIGHT SERGEANT
Official Number: 1685355
Command and Group: BOMBER, 5
Unit: NO. 106 SQUADRON, R.A.F

Total hours flown on operations:
1st tour: 210 hours, 25 minutes
2nd tour:

Number of Sorties:
1st tour: 31
2nd tour:

Total hours flown on operations since receipt of previous award: N/A

Number of sorties since previous award: N/A

Recognition for which recommended: DISTINGUISHED FLYING MEDAL

Appointment held: WIRELESS OPERATOR (AIR)

Particulars of meritorious service for which recommendation is made:

FLIGHT SERGEANT WINTER IS A KEEN AND RELIABLE W/Op (Air) who has shown exceptional ability in this capacity as a member of his crew on several operational flights.

On the night of the 1st February, after the aircraft in which he was flying had been badly damaged by enemy action, and was flying on two engines, he carried on with his duties, although his clothing was literally saturated with petrol, and petrol several inches deep was "swilling" around the floor of the aircraft in his position.

On the night of the 8th February, 1945, the Squadron was required to supply a Controller and W/T Link team for a spoof controlled attack on New Brandenburg. F/Sgt. Winter was detailed as Link 2, a duty which he ably carried out. On the night of the 14th March, the Squadron was called upon at short notice to provide a full W/T Link Team. F/Sgt Winter being detailed as Link 1 for an attack on Lutzkendorf. He again performed his duties with outstanding accuracy and efficiency, and the Squadron was congratulated by the Air Officer Commanding 5 Group for its excellent controlling.

At all times F/Sgt. Winter has performed his duties conscientiously and has displayed coolness and courage in the face of danger, thus gaining the complete confidence of his Captain and crew. F/Sgt. Winter is recommended for the award of the DISTINGUISHED FLYING MEDAL.

[Signature of Commanding Officer]

Date: 8/5/45
Rank: G/C

REMARKS BY BASE COMMANDER:

Recommended.

[Signature of Base Commander]

Date: 19th May, 1945
Rank: Air Commodore

REMARKS OF AIR OFFICER COMMANDING:

Recommended for an award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Date: 22nd June, 1945
A.V.M.
Commanding, No. 5 Group, R.A.F.

DETAILS OF SORTIES CORRIED OUT:

DATETARGETTIMESUCCESSFUL OR UNSUCCESSFUL
14.10.44Bombing - Brunswick7.10Successful
17.10.44Bombing - Westkapelle (Daylight)2.35"
19.10.44Bombing - Nuremburg7.20"
16.11.44Bombing - Duren5.05"
21.11.44Bombing - Dortmund Ems Canal5.45"
26.11.44Bombing - Munich9.30"
4.12.44Bombing - Heilbonn6.45"
6.12.44Bombing - Giessen6.10"
8.12.44Bombing - Urft Dam (Daylight)4.45"
9.12.44Bombing - Urft Dam (Recalled)2.30Unsuccessful
11.12.44Bombing - Urft Dam (Daylight)4.50Successful
13.12.44Bombing - Horten. Shipping6.20"
4.1.45Bombing - Royan7.15"
5.1.45Bombing - Houffalise5.20"
7.1.45Bombing - Munich9.10"
13.1.45Bombing - Politz10.35"
14.1.45Bombing - Merseburg9.55"
16.1.45Bombing - Brux9.10"
1.2.45Bombing - Siegen (Landed Juvincourt)5.00"
8.2.45Bombing - Neubrandenburg8.55"
23.2.45Bombing - Horten6.55"
24.2.45Mining - Oslo Fiord7.45"
11.3.45Bombing - Essen (Daylight)5.05"
12.3.45Bombing - Dortmund (Daylight)5.20"
14.3.45Bombing - Lutzkendorf8.55"
16.3.45Bombing - Wurzburg7.35"
21.3.45Bombing - Hamburg5.20Unsuccessful
4.4.45Bombing - Nordhausen (Daylight)6.10Successful
7.4.45Bombing - Molbis (Nr. Leipzig)8.30"
8.4.45Bombing - Lutzkendorf9.15"
13.4.45Mining - Kiel Bay5.30"

TOTAL NUMBER OF SORTIES: 31
TOTAL NUMBER OF HOURS: 210 hours, 25 minutes
TOTAL NUMBER OF SORTIES SUCCESSFUL: 29
TOTAL NUMBER OF SORTIES UNSUCCESSFUL: 2
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Peter Hinchliffe

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