RAF Watton – Extracts from the 1940 Diary of Jack Bartley

Sgt Jack Bartley Wop/AG on 21 Sqdn

Sgt Jack Bartley Wop/AG on 21 Sqdn

The following are extracts from the personal diary of Jack Bartley ex. RAF No. 626100 who served at RAF Watton with No 21 Sqdn as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner during the first half of 1940.

Feb 27th 1940.

Posted to 21 Sqdrn RAF Watton from 101 Sqdrn RAF West Raynham. Posting was to have been to 15 Sqdn. Wyton but whilst I was at home on leave it was all changed. Caught the train from E. Rudham in the morning and spent 3 hours in Kings Lynn, 1 hour wait at Swaffham and arrived at Watton around 3 p.m. Went through the usual arrival routines. 82 Sqdrn are also here and lost one of their Blenheims on ops today. 2 aircraft have been lost from here since war began.

Wed. February 28th.

Torn off a strip by the B Flight Commander for not saluting him then later found I had been allocated to his aircraft. He is a fiery red haired Scot named Pryde – Sqdrn/Ldr G.A.M. Pryde in full, known to the erks as Gamp not surprisingly. Later learned that the allocation was changed and Woggy O’Connor had been allocated as W/Op A/G on his aircraft.

Friday March 1st

Flew in Gamp’s aircraft to Shawbury where I saw a ‘Defiant’ fighter for the first time. We picked up a new Blenheim which I came back in piloted by Sgt Hastie.

Sat March 2nd

Arrived at hangar and told to report to the Ops room in S.H.Q. Told we were going on a reconnaissance of the enemy Flak ships around the Heligoland bight. Took off at 1115 with Sgt Hastie as pilot and made landfall on the Dutch coast then flew N.E. Visibility unlimited in clear blue skies. Lucky not to see any sign of German fighters. Turned for home around 2 p.m. and ran into low cloud so returned only a few feet above the waves. Spotted a mine at one place and wreck of a ship at another. Must have given quite a fright to some merchant ships as we zipped past them. Arrived back at 3.30 debriefed at Ops room. Went home (to London) on 60 hour pass.

Tues March 5th

Flew over to West Raynham for air firing practice with the drogue aircraft (Fairey ‘Battle’). Managed to get some rounds in the drogue. Dropped a pan of ammunition somewhere over Skegness! We have to practice putting on a new pan of ammunition with the gun in the elevated position which means leaning out of the turret with the slipstream whipping round the ammo pan. Reason for this is that the Jerry fighters have timed their attack for when they see the A/g depress the gun and seat assembly in order to take a new pan of ammunition from the stowage in the fuselage. Shooting the “Get some Ops in” line to my old Oppo’s still training with 101 Sq. Went to ‘B’ flight party in evening. Caught bus to Norwich and then to Wroxham to ‘Ye Olde Ferry Inne’and had a good sing-song. Tug Wilson (later killed in action on May 14th 1940) gave a solo ‘Over the rainbow’ and one or two people narrowly missed a ducking in the Broads on emerging from the pub.

Thurs March 7th

Flew to Yeovil area on Army Co-operation flight of about 3 hours duration. Wrote letter to my best Oppo from training days, Fred Smith (Later killed when serving with 98 Sqdn after boarding the S.S. Lancastria at St. Nazaire for evacuation at the time of Dunkirk and the ship received a direct hit from a Stuka dive Bomber. Only 2 persons of 98 Sqdn survived the sinking.)

Friday March 8th.

Took off 1115 with P/O Gilmore in control on submarine spotting sweep over North Sea. 31/4 hour flight but saw very little, certainly no subs.

Saturday March 9th

Flew with F/o Sarll to Stradishall then on to Newmarket where the racecourse is now an airfield with a Sqdn of Wellingtons. Met another oppo from initial training at Cardington, where most people were nicknamed after the town they hied from. This was ‘Grimsby’. He is billeted in the grandstand and told me they had recently lost 6 Wellingtons on a raid on Heligoland. Saw a W/op A/g sporting a D.F.M. Flew back to Stradislall and thence to Watton. Went to Norwich in the evening and met some oppos from West Raynham in the ‘Prince of Wales’. Primed up there and then on to the Samson & Hercules for dancing. Learnt from Cpl Jackson that he is to go on a Gunnery Leaders course and should be commissioned Pilot Off. at the end of it. Ginger Sneddon told me he is posted to 114 Sqdn in B.E.F. France.

Sunday March 9th

Flew on formation exercise with F/Sgt Carter pilot to Peterborough. Concert in NAAFI in evening with stars from London show ‘French for Love’. Clifford Mollison, Alice Delicia & Tom Webster.

Monday March 10th

Flew with G.A.M.P. to Ternhill after somehow managing to fly through Birmingham balloon barrage. Went by car to a factory in Birmingham to pick up a spare part. Met the brother of my friend Frank Snelling from home at Walthamstow who is Sgt Pilot at Ternhill. Frank joined up shortly after me and is Wop/Ag on Lysanders with 1 Sqdn in B.E.F.

Tuesday March 11th

Went to Watton cinema saw ‘Five came back’. Going on reconnaisance over Germany tomorrow. 82 Sqdn kite sank a sub today.

Wednesday March 13th

Up at 6 a.m. To Ops room at 6.30. Took off at 0730 Sgt Hastie as pilot. Lots of cloud cover and outward flight uneventful. Became lost on the way back and I was unable to get a position fix on the M.F. Couldn’t get any R.F. power into the Aerial. Finally ran out of accumulator power and found that the B.D.G. (Engine Driven Generator) was not charging the Acc. Sgt Hastie was considering lobbing down in the sea but after passing a convoy of ships we spotted the Helter Skelter at Skegness. Landed 2 hours late and was chewed up by Signals Chiefy, then up in front of Gamp for another rollocking. Test flight later showed that fault was due to the trailing aerial sparking across to the fairlead.

Friday 15th March

With Sgt Hastie again for long 4 1/2 hour submarine sweep. No contacts made. Called to ops room at 8.30 p.m. briefing for bombing raid tomorrow with dawn take off. Working till 1030 p.m. on aircraft

Saturday 16th March

Up at 4 a.m. Took off at 0630 with 11 other machines for bombing raid on flak ships. Flew to Texel in formation and then separated. At 9.30 saw a 109 climbing at about 3000 ft below us. I used the 2 guns recently fitted under the engine nacelles which are operated without any control of direction by 2 wires with wooden handles which I pull, the idea being to bring the fighters up above our level which is the only way we can get them in our gunsights. Sgt Hastie made for cloud cover. On emerging from cloud found 2 109’s on our tail. The first one came in and attacked and I got a fair few rounds back at him till he veered off showing its underbelly. My shots seemed to go in front of his nose from the tracer tracks. I then saw the other 109 right behind with smoke rings blowing out from his gunfire. We dived from about 18,000 ft to under 10,000 to find cloud cover. I cried with the pain in my hands as the circulation returned. Managed to get back into cloud cover and returned to base at about 11 a.m.. We found 5 bullet holes in the aircraft. One in the engine missed all the vital parts and ended up in part of the carburettor. One bullet missed Barney our Observer by inches. We dropped one 250lb bomb result unknown. Woggie O’Connors’ aircraft was attacked by a 110

Sunday 17th March

Dodged out of church parade in the morning and went home on pass in the afternoon, got home at 7 o/c and went to Prince of Wales pub Highams Park.

Tues 19th March

Returned to Watton.

Sunday 31st March

Blenheim P6887 in which I have frequently flown with S/Ldr Pryde came to a messy end today when it crashed on take off not managing to clear some trees in the next field. The crew, including Gamp and O’Connor were lucky to get away with bruising only. Both engines cut as they took off. The wings ended up about 50 yds from the fuselage. The port airscrew landed on the starboard mainplane. A petrol tank ended up in a tree. Numerous turnips were uprooted .We are to be bombing Flak ships again tomorrow.

Thurs 11th April

Back from leave. Johnny Ball was killed the night I went on leave. I was standing by to fly in the machine they crashed in on the previous day. I did my inspection of the radio gear leaving my flying helmet plugged in as I expected to fly in the machine later in the day. In the event the call to action didn’t come in the morning and my crew were due for leave from 1200 hrs that day whereupon P.O Stapledon took over the aircraft with Johnny Ball his gunner. They took off at dawn the following morning and were all killed when they crashed on take off. 82 lost a machine as well. Late back from leave due to having some bleeding in my throat. Went to local Hospital for X-Ray. Taken off flying on return to Watton and arranged to go to Littleport Hospital for check.

April 15th

Rumours are that we are to be posted abroad. Have had to sign up passport sheet.

April 21st

Had great night out in Norwich. Went to Samson & Hercules dancing. Lost my greatcoat and my gasmask somewhere. Going to Littleport tomorrow to see specialist.

May 11th

Germany invading Holland. Took off at 3 o/c attack on enemy mechanised transport between Maastrich and Tongres with Sgt Outhwaite. Flew out over Holland located enemy and attacked from low level with bombs and guns. Saw dog fight going on in the distance between biplanes. Pulling out of bomb dive saw bombs fall on road and houses on either side of road fall in on transport columns. Jerry soldiers running for their lives. Felt terrific smack on floor of kite and thought we had been seriously hit, but after return flight in which our aircraft led the formation back at zero feet all the way, found piece of shrapnel about an inch square stuck underneath my seat. It had pierced fuselage and floor of turret but screwdriver laying between these saved my skin and took the full force from it so it hadn’t enough velocity to pierce the steel of the seat base. Arrived back at 6 o/c Mac had a cut on his chin from a bullet which had come in through the glass of one side of the turret and gone out the other. Paddy Chariton was killed by the only bullet that hit the machine and pierced his lung. Pretty successful raid despite the Ack-Ack over target and from points all the way over.

May 12th

Standing by all morning. Took off at 7 o/c for attack on German troop concentration at Tongres. Flew out in tight formation and continually fired upon over ‘friendly’ territory. Saw many fires rising from Antwerp flying south of the city. Arrived over the target at sunset which had the effect of turning the Ack-Ack blobs into dull red. Saw terrific Ack-Ack barrage going on to port and S/Ldr Pryde headed formation straight into it. Still in formation dived from 15 to 8,000 feet, though the barrage intensified every second and supported by hundreds of red tracer shells that seemed to come up on either side of the fuselage and meet overhead. Aircraft being thrown about some, and me clinging to turret sides watching the hypnotic sight with one foot on my parachute. Bump from the front of the machine and we were hit but not seriously. Looking out to port saw great pieces of metal flying by which found on return to be part of machine of Doc Watson, Hymer Webb and Butch Burgess who must have got a direct hit from the Ack-Ack and slapped straight into the deck with their bombs on and exploded on the target area. Then our bombs are gone and we are through the barrage which astern looked like one great red cloud in the sky. Lionel yells out fighters but it is a false alarm. Out of the area and trying to reformate. Machine approaching from the rear and in doubt for a while in the failing light whether it is a 110 or a Blenheim, but it is Wilton-Jones catching up. He must have pushed his firing buttom and fired a few rounds at Gamp’s aircraft and he is replied to by Woggie. Antwerp still burning fiercely on the way back and a few flaming onions thrown up at us from Flushing but not at our height. Circled Watton for nearly an hour whilst Rowson tried to get in and landed around 1030 feeling very tired hardly able to walk. Butch’s machine is the only one missing.

(N.B I Learned 50 years on at Watton re-union from Wilton-Jones He was testing guns in response to Lionels warning)

May 14th was Jack’s last operation from Watton. The full story can be read here.

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