Remembering the last raid on Nazi Germany

Kiel raid Wearn Image copyright Christopher Coverdale
Image caption Ted Wearn (left) was 22 years old when he flew in the final RAF bombing raid on Nazi Germany

On a May evening 70 years ago, Ted Wearn was photographed in a field in Norfolk sitting on a very large bomb.

Later that evening, the 22-year-old was going to take off in a Mosquito aircraft and drop the 4,000lb bomb on Kiel in northern Germany.

It was 2 May 1945 - and the photograph was taken, with the date and destination chalked on the side of the bomb, because this was going to be the last RAF wartime bombing raid on Nazi Germany.

Mr Wearn, now aged 92, was recalling his part in this historic raid after the discovery of another photograph taken at the same airbase that evening.

Last month, the BBC published a picture, found in a family album, that showed an RAF crew also preparing for this final bombing raid of World War Two in Europe, from Downham Market in Norfolk.

It had been found by Brian Emsley. His late father was one of the ground crew in the photograph, but he didn't know much more about it.

Sharing memories

But the publication of the picture brought first-hand memories, family connections, historical records and other photographs of the last raid of the War, which were sent to the BBC, including celebrations at the airbase a few days later, when the war ended.

Image copyright Ted Wearn
Image caption Ted Wearn, now aged 92, with a picture of himself from his RAF days

It has also helped to put names to some of the faces.

The Ministry of Defence's Air Historical Branch confirmed that this was Bomber Command's last raid against Germany.

It was targeted at Kiel, after fears that German forces were gathering to try to escape by sea to Norway for a last stand.

The last embers of the Nazi regime were being extinguished. Hitler was already dead, and the surviving German forces in Berlin were surrendering to the advancing Soviet army.

There had been a lull in the bombing raids that had been pounding Germany. But there was going to be one last air raid.

'Just another raid'

Christopher Coverdale, who maintains a commemorative website and has written a history of the RAF's 635 squadron based at RAF Downham Market, came forward with an explanation of what happened that evening.

Image copyright Christopher Coverdale
Image caption The Mosquito carried a single bomb on its raids over Germany

To capture the historic moment, he says, the RAF station's photographer, Jack Walmsley, was asked to take a series of pictures of air and ground crews. They used the same bomb and aircraft, but switched the crews.

In the photograph of Mr Emsley's father, he suggests names for two of the crew, Pilot Officer Turner and Flt Sgt Bryant. Mr Wearn also believes these were their names.

Image copyright Brian Emsley
Image caption Mr Emsley's father is on the left of the picture. Pilot Officer Turner and Flt Sgt Bryant have been suggested as the names of the airmen wearing lifejackets

Mr Wearn, now living near Christchurch in Dorset, is pictured in his flying boots and lifejacket.

Looking back on that night, he says the crews were not certain that would really be the last raid of the war. They thought they were preparing for "just another raid".

"It was a job, an intense job," says Mr Wearn, who was a navigator, part of a two-man Mosquito crew in 608 squadron that attacked at night with a single bomb.

'You grew up rapidly'

Looking at the photograph of himself 70 years ago, he says: "The first thought is how good humoured it was. They were such grand people. It's not the raids you remember, but the friendships."

Image copyright Christopher Coverdale
Image caption Ted Wearn remembers the "exceptional" flying skills of his pilot, John McCormack, pictured on the right. The New Zealander survived the war but died at a relatively young age in peacetime

"There were some remarkable people," he says, often men and women who had mundane jobs in civilian lives and found themselves caught up in "something special".

"You grew up very rapidly," he said. By the time of the raid on Kiel, he was already a veteran of many raids over Berlin.

"It's not something that you'd want to repeat, war is something that should be avoided at all costs."

But he remembers the closeness of people whose lives depended on one another.

In the same photograph is John McCormack, a New Zealand airman, described by Mr Wearn as an "exceptional pilot".

Mr McCormack survived the war but died young - and Mr Wearn says that looking at the picture brings back his old friend's mannerisms, how he walked and talked. Such crews knew everything about each other and their families, says Mr Wearn.

Flying from Norfolk to a target such as Kiel was more than a three-hour round trip. But such was the level of concentration required that "you didn't really have to time to be scared", he says.

Image copyright Martin Smith
Image caption The family of Jeffrey Smith sent in their father's logbook from the final raid

But on the return trip, once away from the threat of being shot down, Mr Wearn says, he used to watch the engines on the aircraft and think that his life depended on every single part functioning.

"You could see the engines glowing red hot."

This was not the era of counselling.

"When you got back, you went down a ladder, and then you were whipped away in a lorry for a debriefing. You were quizzed at length. They didn't say, 'Poor chap, you look tired.'"

There were casualties, and this could affect people deeply, but, he says much of the time it was "never mentioned".

Logbook record

Mr Wearn's final bombing raid appears in Mr Coverdale's records, taking off from Downham Market at 21:34 BST, dropping their bomb at 23:22 BST and landing back on the morning of 3 May at 00:42 BST.

He was part of the first of two waves of Mosquito bombers.

Image copyright Christopher Coverdale
Image caption VE Day was celebrated by the air and ground crews at Downham Market

Another piece of family history provides a record of this last raid.

The family of another RAF airman, Jeffrey Smith, sent in a picture of his logbook showing his flights from Downham Market.

He was a Mosquito pilot who also took part in 608 squadron's last wartime mission on 2 May. The records show Mr Smith taking off a few minutes after Mr Wearn.

"Like many of his generation, he never referred much to the war," said his son, Martin Smith. His father died in 2013 at the age of 90.

The very last bomb?

There are now only a diminishing band with first-hand memories of flying on these final bombing raids.

Dick Maywood, now aged 92, served at Downham Market. in May 1945 as a 22-year-old navigator.

Image copyright Christopher Coverdale
Image caption The men and women at Downham Market on the night that the war in Europe ended

He described the build-up to a mission, with a briefing in the afternoon about targets, working out the route, the preparations of the aircraft and the bomb and then getting the parachutes ready. The favourite meal before they flew was bacon and eggs.

"There was always a certain amount of apprehension.

"But once you were in the aircraft, you were too busy." Navigation was a labour-intensive operation, demanding his attention. Once they approached the target, he said, all the concentration was on aiming the bomb. This was "a job of work".

Bomber Command

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When the war finished, Mr Maywood flew along the Ruhr valley, and, he says, it was like something from Hiroshima, mile upon mile of destruction.

There was no sense of any regret, he says. "We hoped we would do as much damage as possible."

He also says, in the face of constant danger, there was a strong sense of needing to remain light-hearted.

It was only when the war ended that they realised the level of tension and the relief that they had survived. He remembers plans on VE night to go to his parents, but never got further than a nearby pub.

And who dropped the very last bomb? According Mr Coverdale's records, it was a Pilot Officer Nichols and a Sgt Easy, who took off a couple of hours after Ted Wearn, returning to Norfolk at 02:18 BST of 3 May, the last wheels touching down from the last raid.

Within a week, the war in Europe was over.

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