Pilot: F/L J.W.Comans
F/E: F/Sgt K.Randle
Navigator: F/L D.Bowes
Bomb Aimer: F/L K.H.H.Cook
W/Op: F/Sgt R.Woollford
Mid-Upper Gunner: F/Sgt G.Widdis
Rear Gunner: F/Sgt D.Bolland  
The Pathfinder Year - 97 Squadron at Bourn
DETAILS
This crew was posted in from 9 Squadron on 21st December 1943, no doubt to cover the Black Thursday losses. The crew's first operation with 97 Squadron was very nearly their last. The ORB for 1/2nd January 1944 tells of their very narrow escape - Gransden was  a sister PFF airfield four miles from Bourn; like Bourn, it had been gravely affected by the Black Thursday disaster.

JB353L  F/O J.W.Comans, Sgt T.W.Smith, F/O D.Bowes, F/O K.H.H.Cook, Sgts R.Woollford, G.Widdis, D.Bolland.  Up 0030  Down 0710  1 x 4000lb, 4 x 1000lb.  Berlin attacked.  Bombs dropped by H2S and Wanganuis.  Vis good.  10/10ths cloud.  All engines cut on approaching landing field at Bourn but was able to glide and land at Gransden immediately ahead.


The crew survived the worst period of the bombing campaign, and by June 1944 were operating from Coningsby after 97 Squadron had been transfered back to 5 Group. The last ops of their tour are detailed below the following celebratory photograph, taken with their ground crew. The ground crew member on the far left is thought to be Jimmy Cowley, a rigger mechanic whose job was to clean the inside of the Lancasters. Another of the ground crew members in the photo is Bob Philips, thought to be third from the left.
Philips and Cowley worked on the OF-F series of Lancasters, including Mackenzie's aircraft which can be seen on the front page of this website. 




CAPTAIN: COMANS
LANCASTER in crew photo - ND740 OF-F Freddie

CREW
Pilot: F/L James Vincent Comans
F/E: F/Sgt K.Randle
Navigator: F/L D.Bowes
Bomb Aimer: F/L K.H.H.Cook
W/Op: F/Sgt R.Woollford
Mid-Upper Gunner: F/Sgt G.Widdis
Rear Gunner: F/Sgt Daniel Bolland  

For additional information on this crew, click here
Transfers out of 97 Squadron

After completing the above operation, most of the crew had finished their tour, though Randle, for example, had more ops to fly. Most of the crew transfered to training units, but Cook went to HQ 5 Group and Bolland to RAF Brackla, a relief landing ground for RAF Dalcross which is now Inverness Airport (for more details see http://www.secretscotland.org.uk/index.php/Secrets/RAFBrackla)


Crew Transfers
CanR188526        F/Sgt G.Widdis AG        To 24OTU                1.7.44        

1388257                A/W/O R.Woollford W/Op        To 17OTU                1.7.44

Aus413349        A/F/L J.V.Comans DFC GD                To 1661CU                12.7.44

151017                A/F/L K.H.H.Cook GDB        To HQ No 5 Group        15.7.44

1301628                F/Sgt D.Bolland        AG                To A.C.A.C. RAF Brackla        22.7.44

1038418                F/Sgt K.Randle        FE                To 1661CU                12.8.44

I originally wrote that I had been unable to find the posting entry for the navigator, Bowes. Well, less than 24 hours later after posting that remark, Oliver Owen emailed me to say that Don Bowes had gone on to fly with one of 97 Squadron's top pilots, Charles Owen, first in Lancasters and latterly in Mosquitos. Here is some information from Oliver Owen's email.

[Don Bowes] carried on flying Ops, taking over from Bill Shires in my father's crew. Once my father transferred to 54 Base as a master bomber, Don went with him and flew Ops in Mosquitos and the extremely rare two-seat Lightning.

Some details of Owen and Bowes's ops follow, taken from Owen's diary, including the brilliant account of the last operational flight of their RAF service.

19 July 1944
Target: Thiverny - V1 Storage site
A/C Mosquito DZ521
Time: 3.00
First trip in Mossie, and my first daylight op. Took off an hour after the Lancs and caught them up at the French coast much to the joy of Don, who'd had enough of sitting behind the curtain in a Lanc and twiddling knobs. France looked very peaceful in the afternoon sun, and I even caught a glimpse of Paris in the distance. Heavy flak at the target, but the Lancs caught while we watched. Left the Lancs at the coast and beetled back to base flat out. Arrived at dusk and beat up the mess, much to the consternation of the gang at the bar. Decide that a Mossie is definitely a safe way of going to war.

18 August 1944
Target: L'Isle d'Adam - V1 storage depot A/C Mosquito DZ931
Time: 3.15
Another daylight stooge to France, but more amusing than last time.
Had to mark the target myself in a hurry and went down to 100ft.
Luckily no defences opened up and we got away with it. Quite a lot of flak from Rouen on return, and we followed a Lanc down and saw it belly-land in a field. Went down to have a look and saw the pilot climb out and wave. Came home across France at 0 feet, and saw some very surprised Huns when we nipped over a big chateau near the coast.
Quite an amusing trip, and Don very pleased.

23 September 1944
Target: Dortmund-Ems canal and aerodrome A/C Lightning 423517
Time: 3.00
First night trip in the new two-seater Lightning. Unfortunately the compass packed up soon after take-off and we wandered somewhat. First place we met trouble was Arnhem, which was in full swing, and later bags of flak and searchlights which looked like the Ruhr. It was. Essen to be exact. This was some 65 miles off track, so we reached the target too late to be of any use, and came back by setting the gyro by the Pole Star. Rough and ready, but effective. Don found the front cockpit very comfortable, but took a dim view of the compass. So did I.

5 October 1944
Target: Wilhelmshaven - town and port facilities A/C Lightning 423517
Time: 3.40
Last trip of the war for Don and I, and a pleasant daylight stooge across the North Sea. I was doing Deputy  to Johnnie Simpson, so I could sit back and enjoy myself. Good trip out in sunny weather, and very quiet except for flak from Heligoland. Target was covered by 10/10 cloud, but a good deal of flak. I went up to 25,000ft and watched Johnnie being shot at down at 12,000ft. Saw plenty of our Mustang escort but no Huns. Good thing. Came home at 26,000ft in bright sunlight and not a cloud in the sky. Very peaceful except for a V2 shooting up from Holland, leaving a long jagged white trail. First time I'd seen one. Came in very fast, and beat up the aerodrome before landing. Live! Johnnie came in in the Mossie, ten minutes later. It was his last trip too, so we adjourned to the bar before lunch and celebrated suitably. Recollection of subsequent session somewhat hazy.
Good show.




Wedding Group - picture of the crew.
Bolland left, top row 
Comans left, bottom row

The other crew members are thought to be as follows:

Top Row
2nd from left: R Woollford
3rd from left: K H Cook
4th from left: G Widdis

Bottom Row
Bridegroom: K Randle, the flight engineer
Far right: Don Bowes

With many thanks to Ed Tonks for providing the wedding photo and other information.



Last ops of the Coman crew's tour, taken from the ORB


5/6 June 1944 - St Pierre du Mont
ND740F  F/L L.J.Comans, F/Sgt K.Randle, F/L D.Bowes, S/L P.A.Stevens (Aus 415190), F/Sgt R.Woollford, F/Sgt G.Widdis, F/Sgt D.Bolland.  Up 0300  Down 0703.  11 x 1000lb MC, 4 x 500lb GP.  Layers of cloud at 10,000' and 7,000'.  Vis moderate.  Target identified by red and green TI.  Descended 2,000' where red and greens were already down.  Red TIs appeared 600 yards to starboard of two green TIs.  Aircraft bombed latter.  Visibility not good enough to see results and assessment not heard.  API unreliable.

6/7 June 1944 - Argentan
ND740F  F/L J.W.Comans, F/Sgt K.Randle, F/L D.Bowes, F/L K.H.H.Cook, F/Sgt R.Woollford, F/Sgt G.Widdis, F/Sgt D.Bolland.  Up 2327  Down 0314.  9 x 4.5" clusters, 4 x 500lb MC, 3 x red TI, 3 x 4.5 reco flares.  10/10ths cloud, tops 9000', base 5000'.  Below was a layer of veil stratus cloud.  Located target by Gee, glow of yellow TI (Oboe).  Marking was fairly quick, backing up of flares was called for but was done by others.  Satisfactory trip though obliged to land at Bourn because of 10/10ths cloud at 10,000'.  Haze made it impossible to assess result of raid.

8/9 June 1944 - Rennes
ND740F  F/L J.W.Comans, F/Sgt K.Randle, F/L D.Bowes, F/L K.H.H.Cook, F/Sgt R.Woollford, F/Sgt G.Widdis, F/Sgt D.Bolland.  Up 2301  down 0342.  2 x green/red stars, 8 x 7" clusters, 2 x TI yellow, 2 x TI green, 2 x TI red (No 16s), 3 reco flares.  Weather clear, slight haze.  Cloud 10/10ths above, base 11,000'.  Target identified by H2S.  Released flares on box as briefed at 0135 hours.  Controller requested (on VHF) to mark RSF with green TI, other RSF already having been cancelled by yellow.  Marked to Controller's satisfaction.  More flares descended at 0142 hours, supplied at 0143 hours, waited until 0147 hours when ordered home.  Heavy flak encountered on bombing.

12/13 June 1944 - Caen
(Controller W/C Jeudwine of 83 Sqn in Mosquito aircraft).
ND740F  F/L J.W.Comans, F/Sgt K.Randle, F/L D.Bowes, F/L K.H.H.Cook, F/Sgt R.Woollford, F/Sgt G.Widdis, F/Sgt D.Bolland.  Up 2358  Down 0422.  2 x TI red, 2 x TI green, 2 x TI yellow No 16s, 8 x 1000lb MC, 2 flares green/red stars.  8/10ths cloud tops 4000', thin stratus, vis good.  Target identified by H2S and Gee.  Oboe down on time at 0212 hours.  Target well illuminated. Considerable delay in marking target.  At 0214 hours Controller advised Main Force to orbit.  I personally saw two RSF approx 100 yards apart and heard one of the Markers say that wrong spot fire was no longer burning (approx 0215 hours) and that remaining RSF was about 200 yards overshot.  At about 0217 hours Controller called in Main Force to bomb.  Controller then reported engine failure and handed over to Deputy 1.  At 0223 hours asked Deputy 1 if he wanted RSF backed up; he did not.  Then went in and bombed and again contacted Deputy 1 who instructed to leave target area and at the same time stopped bombing at 0229 hours.

15/16 June 1944 - Chateaurault
ND740F  F/L J.W.Comans, F/Sgt K.Randle, F/L D.Bowes, F/L K.H.H.Cook, F/Sgt R.Woollford, F/Sgt G.Widdis, F/Sgt D.Bolland.  Up 2131  Down 0320 (Upwood).  2 x TI red, 2 x TI green, 2 x TI yellow No 16s.  9 x 7 x 4.5" clusters, 3 x 4.5" reco flares.  (Seputy Controller 2).  No cloud. Vis good.  Location by H2S.  Dropped flares on box as briefed at 0047 hours.  Markers said they had marked and Controller went in to assess.  Within 3 minutes Controller had assessed and called for deputies 1 & 2 to back up existing RSF with green TI (0050 hours).  This was done and an order to bomb given 0051 hours.  Onorbiting target again I noticed that bombing was particularly concentrated, also large fires, one big explosion and much smoke. Controller again called on Deputies 1 & 2 at 0101 hours to back up existing reds and greens with red TI, which was immediately carried out.  These remained burning until order to cease bombing. The illuminating was excellent, marking prompt, the aiming point kept marked throughout attack and bombing concentrated.  Good H2S picture.  Model attack.