In a ‘Wing and a Prayer’ – Former Bomber Command Pilot Tells His Story

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The Royal Air Force Air Cadets of 121 (Nuneaton) Squadron heard a first-hand account of what it is was like to be part of a wartime Lancaster crew when they welcomed former Bomber Command pilot Flight Lieutenant Russell “Rusty” Waughman DFC AFC as their guest speaker.

Flight lieutenant Russell “Rusty” Waughman from Kenilworth, Warwickshire, told the cadets how, as a teenager in 1941, he volunteered for service in the RAF. After his initial flying training in Canada, Rusty returned to the UK to undergo further training some of which took place on Wellington bombers at RAF Bramcote before qualifying as a heavy bomber pilot on the Lancaster.121_img265

Having qualified for operational duty, Rusty requested a posting to 101 Squadron so that he could join one of his best friends and in November 1943 at the age of 20 he was posted to No.101 (Special Duties) Squadron at Ludford Magna in Lincolnshire. Unfortunately on his arrival at his new Squadron he learned that his friend had been killed the night before. His flight commander also told him, that due to the nature of the special operations undertaken by 101 it was “the squadron with the highest attrition rate”.
101 (Special Duties) Squadron’s highly classified mission was to fly along in the bomber stream using a special radio counter measures devise called ABC (Airborne Cigar) which enabled a German speaking operator to listen in on the German Fighter Controller’s instructions to their night fighters and jam their broadcasts. The down side of the ABC system was that the night fighters could home in onto the device, making 101 aircraft even more vulnerable to attack, thus their high attrition rate.”

Rusty described how he went on to complete a full tour of 30 operations, which began during the Battle of Berlin, during which he took part in several operations, surviving a mid-air collision with another Lancaster, only to write off his aircraft (ME565 SR-W named ‘Wing and a Prayer’) on landing.

Rusty then went on to explain how, in his replacement aircraft (LL757 SR-W ‘Oor Wullie’) he and his crew also survived the Nuremberg raid on 30th March 1944, when 97 aircraf121_img267t were lost in a single night, including one quarter of 101 Squadron’s total strength.

Speaking about the Nuremberg raid, Rusty, now aged 93, said: “Our crew didn’t suffer very badly at all but the raid itself was a disaster. We sent 790-odd aircraft and we lost 97 over Germany and lots more when we got back. Just on the way to the target on the German border we counted 16 aircraft going down”.

“We just concentrated on surviving, fortunately my gunners were brilliant, suddenly, all at once, we had five fighter attacks and we couldn’t think of anything else other than trying to keep our aircraft in one piece, it wasn’t until many years afterwards that you reflect back and realise what we went through”.

“I still don’t believe what I did, but as the pilot, you’re part of a team, just the one sitting at the front, I had seven others at the back doing their job. We trusted each other and relied on each other. If the rear gunner said ‘dive starboard go!’, you didn’t say ‘why?’ It was too late if we did. A great deal of luck was involved and we were fortunate to be one of the crews who did make it back”.

“Of course, when you’re young you don’t think about the dangers, although you lost friends, back in the mess we’d have a drink and say, ‘Here’s to the health of so-and-so and here’s to the next one to die’ – you just never knew if you were going to come back or not”.

Following Rusty’s talk, Flight Lieutenant Paul Hincks Officer Commanding 121 (Nuneaton) Squadron said, “We were delighted to have had Rusty with us tonight, his account of his wartime exploits and how he stayed on in the RAF after the war and took part in the Berlin Airlift provided us all with a fascinating insight into his personal experiences during some of the most dangerous operations ever undertaken by the RAF. Despite being 93, Rusty is as sharp as a button keeping everyone interested in all that he had to say. Rusty was in fact the same age as some of our cadets when he first joined the RAF and went to war, something that really brings home the realisation that we mustn’t forget what his generation of young men went through”.

“On behalf of 121 Squadron I would take this opportunity to thank Flight Lieutenant Rusty Waughman DFC AFC, for one of the most fascinating talks that we have all had the privilege of listening to, a truly compelling story of the life of a former Bomber Command Lancaster pilot who flew in a Wing and a Prayer”.