- No. 576 Squadron Royal Air Force during the Second World War -
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No. 576 Squadron Royal Air Force
No 576 was formed at Elsham Wolds, 25th November 1943 from C Flight of No 103 Squadron. It was part of the main force of Bomber Command, flying Lancasters. No 571 was disbanded on 13th September 1945.
Airfields No. 576 Squadron flew from:
- RAF Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire from 25th November 1943 (formed. Lancaster I, Lancaster III)
- RAF Fiskerton, Lincolnshire from 31st October 1944
24th Dec 1943 576 Squadron Lancaster lost
25th Mar 1944 576 Squadron Lancaster lost
4th May 1944 576 Squadron Lancaster lost
17th Jun 1944 576 Squadron Lancaster lost
29th Jul 1944 576 Squadron Lancaster lost
If you can provide any additional information, please add it here.
Those known to have served with
No. 576 Squadron Royal Air Force
during the Second World War 1939-1945.
- Griffiths Jimmy S.. P/O
- Hull Lesley. Sgt. (d.21st Feb 1945)
- McLeod John Wilbert. F/Sgt (d.7th May 1944)
- Mitchell Hubert Stanley. Sgt (d.24th December 1943)
- Shearer James Maxwell. F/Lt. (d.7th May 1944)
- Tabner George.
The names on this list have been submitted by relatives, friends, neighbours and others who wish to remember them, if you have any names to add or any recollections or photos of those listed, please Add a Name to this List
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P/O Jimmy S. Griffiths pilot 576 Sqd.My father was Jimmy Griffiths, who is named on the Elsham Wolds page on your site.
I recently stumbled across your site on Google and I mentioned it to my mum, Jimmy's widow. Below are some memories which she provided. Feel free to use them, edit them as you see fit and please get in touch with me if you would like any more info.
I'm guessing you've read the book 'The Lancaster at War'. If not, it's well worth tracking down, as it contains Jimmy's account of the doomed April 1994 flight as well as a photo of Jimmy with the veteran Lancaster, "Mike Squared":
In April 1944, we arrived at Elsham Wolds to join 576 Squadron as 'new boys'. To our dismay, we were allocated the oldest Lancaster on the station. But just one week and three operations later, the Flight Commander, whose posting to PFF had just come through, yielded to our protests and let us have his new Lanc BIII, LM527 UL-U2.
Briefing was over, final checks had been made on the aircraft and the crews were relaxing in the few minutes left before take-off time, on a lovely spring evening, April 30, 1944 - target Maintenon. I was thrilled at the prospect of flying one of the latest Lancasters, so much superior to old M2, the veteran aircraft I had flown on my first three operations. The runway in use was the shortest one on the 'drome and necessitated revving up aginst the brakes, almost to full power, before take-off, similar to the method employed on aircraft carriers. Time to go - always a tense moment - and we are soon lined up on the runway making the last quick cockpit check. "Rich mixture", "Propellers in fine pitch", "Flaps up", "Fuel gauges OK". Ready to go! Throttles are opened slowly against the brakes until the aircraft throbs with power, straining and vibrating until the brakes can barely hold her. brakes are released and we leap forward. Keep straight by use of throttles and rudder and ease the control column forward to bring the tail up. "Full power!" the engineer takes over the throttles and opens them fully, locking them in that position. The tail is now off the ground, giving full control on the rudders for keeping straight, and the airspeed indicator is creeping slowly up towards the take-off speed.
Something's wrong! We are nearing the end of the runway and haven't yet reached take-off speed. We should be airborne by now! A glance at the instruments shows that, whilst all four engines are running smoothly, they are not giving maximum power. Too late to stop - the fence at the end of the runway is right under our nose - speed is dangerously low. I yank back on the stick and the aircraft labours painfully off the ground. We are on the point of stalling and I have to level out, praying that I'll miss the small hill beyond the fence. I have just time to shout "Wheels up!" when - Crash!!!
The aircraft shudders violently; the nose kicks up at a dangerous angle and I instinctively push the stick forward to avoid stalling. I ease the stick back quickly, flying a matter of inches above the ground which, providentially, is sloping downards. I nurse the aircraft along, still hugging the grass. The speed slowly increases beyond the danger mark and very gradually the altimeter needle creeps away from ZERO in answer to a slight backwards pressure on the stick. I start to breathe again, brushing the perspiration from my brow and feel a cold chill up my spine as I think of the load of high explosive bombs beneath my feet hanging on their inadequate-looking hooks. "A fine start to an operation," I was thinking; but more was to follow.
We were climbing very slowly and I realised from the sluggishness of the controls that all was not well. Charlie Bint, the bomb aimer, climbed down into his compartment in the nose and was able to inform me that the starboard wheel had not fully retracted! It must have taken the full force of impact into the hill. No amount of pumping would budge it either up or down, and I knew we would not be able to continue the mission as it was taking too much power and consequently too much fuel to overcome the drag of the damaged wheel.
I flew east, still climbing very slowly, meaning to jettison the bombload in the North Sea and return to make an emergency landing. One hour after take-off we had reached 9000 feet and were circling a few miles east of Grimsby, the North Sea looking cold and deserted underneath. I depressed the lever which should have opened the bomb doors but no red warining light appeared! This was serious. I dived steeply and pulled out quickly in the hope of shaking the doors open, but to no avail. The flight engineer reported that the tank for the hydraulic fluid was completely dry. It was obvious that in our attempts to retract the damaged wheel we had pumped all the fluid into the atmospshere through a broken pipeline.
There was no alternative but to return to base for instructions. It was safe to break radio silence now that the rest of the squadron had been on their way for almost two hours. The WAAF radio telephonist lost no time at all in passing my message to the Flying Control Officer and very soon I was talking to the Station Engineering Officer and finally to the 'old man' himself. We were ordered to make further experiments, but when we had tried everything it was finally apparent that we were saddled with a bobmer fully laden with bombs which couldn't be released and a damaged undercarriage which would make landing a hazardous affair not to be contemplated when our bombload was enough to blow an aerodrome to pieces!
"Stand by," I was ordered and we circled round, wondering how long it would take them to reach a decision. Tommy Atherton, the navigator, brought me a cup of coffee out of his Thermos flask and we had a quiet crew conference. "What do you think they'll decide, Skip?" - this from Taffy, one of the gunners. I spoke the thought that had been in my mind since the bomb doors had refused to budge. "How would you like to join the Caterpilliar Club?" (This is a Club consisting of airmen who have baled out to save their lives.) There was a bit of joking, but it sounded rather forced and I called up the 'drome to ask them to speed up their decision.
"Reduce height to 5000 feet and stand by!" I knew then that I had correctly assumed what the order would be - we were coming down to a level where a parachute wouldn't drift too far from the 'drome!
I reported again at 5000 feet and the next instrcution produced a stir of activity. "Fly upwind and order crew to bale out one at a time. Remain at controls and stand by." The crew needed no second bidding. Through they filed - two gunners, wireless operator, navigator, and engineer, filling the confined space of the cockpit, their parachutes fixed firmly across their chests. Charlie was already in his compartment in the nose, opening the escape hatch in the floor. As they stepped quietly out of my sight to take their turn at jumping, each one shook my hand vigorously as he passed.
In a very short time I was left alone, and very much alone I felt. The roar of the engines seemed to grow louder, the controls seemed heavier and the aircraft seemed suddenly to be larger, more powerful, more sinister. "All out," I advised control.
"Circle and stand by," I was ordered. Then folled the loneliest few minutes of my life and I was glad to hear 'the voice' again. "Fly across the 'drome on an exact course of 080 degrees. Engage automatic pilot ('George'). When exact height and course being maintained - bale out!" I welcomed the opportunity of having something to occupy my attention and spent quite a long time adjusting the controls until the aircraft was flying 'hands off' at exactly 5000 feet on an exact course of 080 degrees. I engaged the automatic pilot, made a few final adjustments and then, as the 'drome appeared ahead, I hurried down into the bomb aimers compartment where the escape hatch lay open, almost invitingly.
I was glad that I had taken the precaution of having my parachute hooked on before the crew had gone and, with a final quick check, I crouched beside the hatch, my hand already clutching the steel handle of the rip-cord. I sat on the edge of the hole and let my legs dangle. The rush of air immediately forced them against the underside of the aircraft and I allowed myself to roll out into space, head first. I did four complete somersaults, seeing the four exhaust pipes of the aircraft glowing each time I turned over. I was counting one, two, three, four at each somersault and suddenly thought I must be near the ground. I pulled the ripcord handle and it came away so easily that I remember gazing at my hand, which was still holding the handle, and thinking, "It hasn't worked!" Before I could feel any panic there was a rush of silk past my face, followed by a not too violent jerk and I found myself dangling comfortably under the silken canopy. I felt a surge of absoulte exhilaration and was grinning like a fool. I wish I could describe the feeling of power, of remoteness, of unreality, of sheer exuberance I felt. No wonder our paratroops are such grand fighters!
There was no rush of air to indicate downward speed and it came quite a shock, on looking down, to see a field rushing up to meet me out of the darkness and a few scattered houses taking shape around it. I had hardly time to brace myself when I hit the ground, heels first, travelling backward. I sat down with a bump, rolled over in a backwards somersault and pressed the release catch to prevent being hauled along the ground. There was no need: the parachute flopped lazily over me and I lay still for a few moments, not beliving this was reality. I bundled the parachute under my arm and trudged across the field in unwieldy flying boots towards a large house about fifty yards distant. Fortunately there was a telephone in the house and the old couple, whom I eventually wakened, plied me with questions and cups of tea until the car arrived from the 'drome.
All the crew had reported safe landings and some had already been picked up by the time I returned. There were many theories put forward regarding the part failure of the engines and it was finally decided that they must have been running on 'hot' air, a device used under icing conditions, which reduced the amount of power to each engine.
All this time the aircraft was flying steadily onwards towards enemy territory and we learned later that the Observer Corps had plotted its journey more than half-way across the North Sea, maintaining the height and course I had set. The Duty Naviagtor who had given me the course computed that the fuel supply would last until the aircraft was somewhere in the Hamburg area. We can only guess the outcome. Before abandoning the aircraft I had switched on every available light, and I often wonder what the Luftwaffe and the German AA gunners must have though when they saw a large bomber approaching from the direction of England, lit up like a Christmas tree, flying steadily on a fixed course and blithely ignoring flak, searchlights and fighter attacks. I like to think that 'George', guided by his saintly namesake, would point the aircraft in its final dive towards some important military objective, the destruction of which may have contributed in some way to the dramatic collapse of the Reich war machine which was soon to follow.
We then reverted to our origional Lanc, Mike Squared, ED888 UL-M2, which served us well and we completed our tour. Indeed Mike Squared went on to become Bomber Command's top-scoring 'heavy', with 140 operational sorties safely completed.
I came upon the Wartime Memories Project by chance and was so pleased to see my late husband's name. He was F/Lt. Jimmy Griffiths and he flew 30 missions from Elsham Wolds in Ed 888UL-M2 or Mike Squared, as she was affectionately called. The 30th April 1944 mission was written up by Jim as 'The Pilotless Bomber' and was included in Mike Garbett's book 'The Lancaster at War'.
Jim left Elsham Wolds in 1944. I am sorry I am unable to give any information on F/O Eddie Saslove or on Robert Alonzo Lyons.
We very briefly met one of Jimmy's crew in Glasgow in 1952. As far as I can remember he was George Bryson, who had left the RAF to look after his baby son as his wife had become ill. It is in my mind that his son became a well known writer, Bill Bryson, but I may be wrong about this and Jim is not here for me to check the facts.
Tommy Atherton and his wife Margaret visited us in Market Harborough in about 1985 and I am still in touch with Margaret although Tom died some years ago. About that time, we also met Jim Bell (Tinkerbell) who took over from Jim in 1944. At the time of our meeting, he and his wife lived in Melton Mowbray.
Jim and I attended a reunion at Elsham Wolds about 1984. None of his crew were there but we met two members of another crew who had been stationed at Elsham at the same time. One of these was called Jim Frost (or Jack Frost as he was nicknamed) and he told us he had come primarily in the hope of meeting my husband again. Jack died a few months later. His friend's name I can't remember but I was glad we had gone and all had enjoyed this reunion.
Sadly, Jimmy died in 1998 but I think his flying days were the most fulfilling days of his life and he had many happy memories of his time and friends at Elsham Wolds.
Helen GriffithsDavid Griffiths
George Tabner 576 SquadronGeorge Tabner, a very special friend, passed away September 30, 2009. His memorial service took place at 11am on Saturday, October 10th, at the RCAF, 427 London Wing, (2155 Crumlin Side Road, London, Ontario), the Venerable Dr. Timothy Connor, Archdeacon of the Deaneries of Brough and Medway officiating.
I have found this recorded transcript on the Canadian Dominion Institute's Digital Archive site. I think it would be appropriate to include this on your memory site as George was a navigator on 576 Squadron flying out of Lindholme. Listen to George's storyMartie Grof-Iannelli
Sgt Hubert Stanley Mitchell 576 Sqn (d.24th December 1943)I have the medals of Sgt Mitchell, including Aircrew Europe Star. He was RAFVR, and being TA myself, I have researched his background. He was one of seven Lancasters lost between the start of 576 Squadron's operations on 2/3 November 1943 and the end of December 43. I have visited his grave in the British War Cemetery, Berlin. I have not been able to identify his actual Lancaster, or fellow crew members, and would ask if anyone has this knowlege.Bernard Wills
Sgt. Lesley Hull 576 Squadron (d.21st Feb 1945)My dad's cousin Lesley Hull was an air gunner who died in active service and is buried in Eindhoven. I'm looking for pictures or information.Jeanette Atkinson
F/Sgt John Wilbert McLeod 576 Sqdn. (d.7th May 1944)My uncle J W McLeod was killed on 7th May 1944 along with most of the rest of the Lancaster crew of pilot J M Shearer (RNZAF 415721). They were shot down about 59 kms north of Le Mans.Tony McLeod
F/Lt. James Maxwell Shearer 576 Sqdn. (d.7th May 1944)Pilot J M Shearer was killed on 7th May 1944, along with most of his crew. They were shot down about 59 kms north of Le Mans.
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