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Aileron Trouble

Fox Crew
Flying Officer Eric Fox and crew

On 4th August 1944 Flying Officer Eric Fox and crew were on their 32nd Operation - a straight forward daylight raid on the flying bomb installation at Foret de Nieppe. For the Fox crew it was to be anything but straight forward.

Flying Officer Eric Fox, captain of LK-R, tells of his hair raising experience:

We took off at 1818 hours and the plan was to fly down country at 2,000 feet, cross our coast at 8,000 feet and, after a rapid climb over the Channel, to cross the French coast at 15,000 feet.
Five to ten minutes later, I had trouble with aileron control and immediately asked the flight engineer, George Hodgson, to inspect various details of the aircraft to see if he could discover the cause. After searching out all likely and accessible parts, he reported he could find nothing untoward.
We set course, and, bearing in mind this potential problem, I decided to increase height before reaching the coast so that in the event of further trouble, we would stand a better chance of bailing out successfully.
Shortly before we were due to cross our coast, nasty things began to happen. The control column was wrenched out of my hands and despite every effort that I made, the wheel swung wildly from side to side. The mid-upper gunner called up on the intercom "I don't know what's wrong, skip but your starboard aileron is jammed vertically and your port one is flapping like the clappers."
At this point I was struggling to raise the starboard wing by using the port rudder. Eventually, I achieved this, to a limited extent, but then found that the aircraft was going into a steep climb. I tried hard to use the trimmer tabs but to no effect. It took all my forward pressure on the control column to prevent stalling. Because of the uncertainty of our situation I warned all members of the crew to prepare to abandon the aircraft.
The rear gunner, Darkie' Dey, announced that he was moving forward. In an emergency bale out, he should have turned his turret onto the beam and gone out backwards. Because sometime previously he had told us he would never use this method, which he considered hazardous, I decided to say nothing, knowing full well that when he did come forward, Peter Goldsmid, the navigator, with whom I had already made arrangements, would see that everything was in order.
By this time the aircraft was nearly out of control and I gave the order to 'jump'. The wireless operator was the last to leave before me. I told him that I was going to attempt to fly over the sea, if not on to it, so as to avoid Lowestoft.
I did my best to keep the aircraft reasonably level for the crew to make their exits but, shortly after I saw the wireless operator, Frank Middleton, disappear through the forward escape hatch, it turned over on its back. After a struggle I managed to retrieve the situation, again using the port rudder. It was now time for me to make my own departure.
To put on an observer type parachute while sitting in a pilot's seat is almost impossible even under the best of conditions, for one has to sit practically side­saddle, take hands off the controls, find the various harness clips, and fit them on.
The control column seemed to have a mind of its own - not a case of my flying the aircraft but of it flying me! Getting some semblance of level, I made my first attempt to stand up and attach my parachute. Part of the harness caught in the control levers on the starboard side of the seat and, with the violent movement of the aircraft, I found myself hanging upside down with the webbing jammed into the mechanism and my feet trapped in the seat supports.
Following various desperate manoeuvres, I eventually managed to get myself and the harness free. I groped my way back to the pilot's seat and made yet another attempt to bring the aircraft on to a reasonably even keel before having a second shot at escape.
Flying more or less level again, I stood up, well clear of the levers this time, managed to find and clip on my parachute and made my way down the cockpit steps, past the wireless operator's cabin. and was able to straddle the open forward escape hatch. Before I could jump through, the aircraft turned on its side, looking down out of the hatch the sea appeared to turn turtle and the sky came into view again. It was now or never, so I forced myself out vertically. Mercifully, the slipstream blew me clear of the propellers and the tail-plane. My canopy opened, thank God, and I found myself floating down, with a grandstand view of LK-R which had now turned onto its back, completed a half loop and plunged into the ground, a short distance from the shoreline. There was a monumental explosion - I was later told that the crater was well over thirty feet deep and sixty-five feet across - and I could feel the heat of the blast even at my height. Although I had not achieved my objective of ditching the aircraft and the bombs in the sea, I was thankful that, at least, I had avoided the town and the surrounding population.
I was also thankful that the wind was blowing me inshore. I came to earth in a field of nettles and other spiky growth there to be met by the farmer and his wife who took me back to their house, where I had a good wash and brush up and a very welcome cup of tea.
Shortly after an armada of vehicles from the local USAF station appeared. From memory tnere was one tank, four bren gun carriers, two jeeps and a handful of despatch riders. After thanking my hosts, I was conveyed in style back to the American base at Halesworth, where I was offered copious quantities of 'Scotch on the Rocks' before being ushered into the presence of the Commanding Officer. He was sitting behind a desk with one leg propped up on a chair and encased in plaster. He explained that we had something in common for he had recently made a parachute jump, his twenty-first, and had come to grief as a consequence.
I was very anxious to discover the fate of other members of my crew and it was not long before I was assured that they had all landed safely apart from Frank, who had swung into a tree and damaged his spine. He had been taken to hospital. My crew were equally anxious as to my welfare, for none of them had seen me bale out. In fact, they had reported me as missing and therefore I had to telephone Burn, hurriedly and then home, with the assurance that I was still alive and kicking.
The following day, to our utter amazement, a Halifax bomber landed at the US base, Halesworth, bearing the identification letters LK-R. The pilot was Flight Lieutenant McGowan and he explained that this was our replacement aircraft. We all clambered in, and within an hour of take-off were safely back at Burn.
Frank, we subsequently discovered, had damaged his spine in two places, which meant he had to be encased in plaster from the waist upwards for several weeks. He told us that during this time he played for his ward team in a football match which was won easily, for most of his side were similarly plastered-up and, by standing in carefully chosen positions, the ball could be made to bounce off their chests, straight into the goal!

Sergeant Len Darkie' Dey, the rear gunner of LK-R describes what happened to him:

I was on my thirty second operation. Talking with our wireless operator before boarding the aircraft, I found that he, like me, was not looking forward to this trip, although we couldn't say why.
When I got into my turret, I left the doors open, for I was in such a sweat that I could feel perspiration trickling down my stomach. I didn't feel any better when, later, the navigator advised over the intercom that we were joining the main Bomber Force. Riding in the rear turret is not the most comfortable experience at the best of times but is made considerably worse when flying in the turbulent air created by the slipstream of many aircraft.
Suddenly, the aircraft seemed to go out of control, diving, climbing and twisting for no apparent reason. I later learned that the aileron rods had snapped. Eric Fox, our pilot, decided that there was no option but for us to abandon LK-R, and gave the necessary order. I'd always maintained to my crew, that under no circumstances would I be prepared to bale out, preferring the alternative, and they were, therefore, very surprised when I announced my intention to come up front and exit through the forward escape hatch.
My previous remarks had been based on the prospect of baling out from the rear turret. This was a complicated business which involved the removal of flying boots, in order to prevent feet becoming trapped in the gun carriage mechanism, and trying to make a successful job of attaching the parachute in a most confined space, where getting at the various clips was difficult to say the least, particularly for me being just on six feet tall.
I have no recollection of jumping out of the aircraft, or even pulling the ripcord, but obviously I must have done this, otherwise, I would not be here to tell the tale. Together with other members of the crew I landed in a cornfield, I suppose in a state of some shock, for the mid-upper gunner gathered up my parachute and thrust it into my arms, as it was regarded a serious matter to lose it.
Our plight had been observed from the nearby US Air Force Base at Halesworth in Sussex. In no time at all a contingent of motor cycles arrived to look for survivors.
An immaculately dressed officer approached me and, after enquiring how I felt after the drop, and finding me to be intact, insisted that I mounted the pillion of his machine to be rushed back to Base Sick Quarters. "I guess you're in need of a shot, Bud." When I protested this was not necessary, for I had not received any cuts and was, therefore, unlikely to suffer from tetanus, he replied, "Naw! Not that kind of shot.... you need a large slug of Vermouth." This was duly administered immediately on arrival. The hospitality from these chaps was unbelievably good.
Our premonition theory seemed to have been fully justified, particularly in respect of the wireless operator who damaged his back in three places. As for me, pride and nothing more allowed me to take part in another eight operations in order to complete my total of forty.