Updated Extracts from ‘Wings Over Rutland’ by John Rennison
Published by Spiegl Press in 1980
Extracted from the chapter covering the History of Woolfox Lodge Airfield
Between the 26th and 29th of July 1942 the members of No 1429 Czech Operational Training Flight [COTF] arrived on the station from East Wretham in Norfolk. The unit trained bomber crews for 311 (Czech) Squadron based in Norfolk. Only the previous month they had provided crews for the first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne. One of the crews taking part had been that of Pilot Officer Joe Čapka, an instructor on the training flight. He was ordered to fly with his fledgling crew to Honington in Norfolk. At six in the evening they were briefed for the raid. Joe was incredulous that the RAF was contemplating making up the numbers with raw half trained crews. He half believed that it was some sort of practical joke. Later as he crossed the coast heading for Germany, Joe realised that this was his 53rd operation and hoped that his luck wouldn’t desert him.
He was flying Wellington R1269 ‘G’ which had taken-off at 2352 hours. His crew was Sgt Jan Irving, P/O Josef Němeček, Sgt František Švedar, Sgt Novák and Sgt Josef Böhm.
Suddenly, the rear gunner gave warning of an enemy night fighter. Not feeling too sure of his young gunner, Joe slowly swung the aircraft. The gunner immediately confirmed Joe’s suspicions, when he reported that the enemy aircraft was moving and changing the colour of his lights! A much relieved and somewhat amused Joe told the young airman that he had fallen for the oldest one in the air gunner’s book. What he was watching was a cluster of stars ! The glow in the sky caused by the conflagration at Cologne could be seen for miles. Joe’s Wellington dropped its bombs on target despite nearly colliding with a Stirling bomber whilst on the bombing run. The trip home was incident free, landing at 0415, and after debriefing the crew returned to base. The airmen were obviously elated and the rear gunner was still convinced that they had been attacked by a night fighter. The glaring headlines the next morning did not explain that the magical figure of 1,000 bombers had only been reached by the inclusion of training crews. That the operation had been a success there was no doubt. Cologne had been swamped by the bombers and a terrible blow had been struck against the morale of the German people.
The black-bellied Wellingtons of the Czech Flight were destined to be at Woolfox for only a short time. Orders were received for a move to Church Broughton. The advance party of Flying Officer Mareš, three NCO’s and ten airmen left Stamford station at 12.46 on the 26th of August bound for Tutbury. The main party leaving three days later, again from Stamford station. On the 30th the aircraft flew out, all arriving at Church Broughton safely. Only a small rear party remained at Woolfox to tidy things up.
How the media reported the 1st 1000 Bomber raid:
© F/Lt John P Rennison retd. 2011