How were pilots and crews assigned to planes?

Discussion in 'The War In The Air' started by mikky, Sep 14, 2019.

  1. mikky

    mikky Member

    I'm researching a man killed in a 108 Squadron, Wellington bomber operation over Sidi Barrani on the 27th of June, 1942. I have a couple of questions regarding how crew and captains were assigned to an aircraft.

    The pilot on this particular flight was Sergeant Street, the aircraft Wellington 1C ES.981 which took off from Kabrit and was shot down between that place and Sidi Barrani.

    27/6/1942 Wellington 1C ES.981 Sgt Street "Ops" took off from Kabrit 9.00 p.m. ...Missing Kabrit-Sidi Barrani area.

    On the previous day, (26/6/1942), Wellington ES.981 had been piloted by Sgt P Lettington, and Sgt Street had flown Wellington T.2735.

    How was it decided a particular plane would be flown by a particular pilot, and, did the crew go with that particular pilot on whichever plane he was assigned to, or were the crew always on a particular plane, with, which ever pilot was assigned to that plane?

  2. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    My understanding was that at the beginning of the war pilots, air crews and ground crews were kept together as far as possible for the duration of a tour and each crew had its 'own' aircraft. At some point it was decided that it would be a more efficient use of resources if mechanics maintained a pool of aircraft and pilots and air crews drew an aircraft from the pool for each mission. However this doesn't seem to have happened in Europe until about 1944. The Desert Air Force were somewhat innovative and many things that became RAF SOP originated as something that they had developed in the first place so it's possible that this was introduced in N Africa by 1942. From what I'm read it was bitterly objected to in many quarters. From war time memoirs it would seem that pilots and aircrews stayed together for a tour
  3. mikky

    mikky Member

    Thank you very much Robert-w that's very interesting. So fitters could work exclusively on a few planes and make sure they were airworthy then crews assigned. I can understand why crews would not like that. I suppose that ended naming of particular aircraft.

    Thanks very much


    I take it everyone is aware that these diaries are now available to download online for £3.50/diary month Click
  4. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    As regards Bomber Command, crews would generally stay together after OTU and and on the operational station fly any aircraft available on the BC planned operation according to the outcome of the latest "pre fight inspection" sometimes referred to as "daily inspections".Availability being the key to the numbers of aircraft that could be put up for any operation.Aircraft availability would be a return made at squadron level,then to station HQ,then made to Group and in turn to Bomber Command HQ after the "daily inspections" had concluded. Following the daily morning operational meeting at BC HQ, presided over by Harris, targets would be selected and declared,determined by availability.Aircraft numbers would be notified for the operation from BC to Group and then by Group to individual selected stations and their resident squadrons.

    Any crew absences due to sickness,leave or casualty would be covered by others who were not required for the operation or spare bods who were not part of a crew but part of the squadron strength.Early in the war it was not uncommon for armourers to fill in as ad hoc gunners and engine fitters to undertake the role of Flight Engineers until the FE training scheme produced graduates to man the four engine B.C aircraft when they entered service. Some crews decided to sign up for a second tour,others elected to take up instructor roles while others due to the crew split up found themselves posted to another squadron at another location.Some experienced squadron Flights were used as the nucleus for newly formed squadrons as the Lancaster squadrons expanded.

    Taking squadron pilot strength as an example.On a 3 Flight Bomber Command squadron would have 24 aircraft but 30 pilots on strength,it would be similar for other aircrew designations.There was always aircrew being posted in to a squadron as a policy of succession to counter for losses,either posted in from other squadrons or direct from HCUs and in the case of the Lancaster, from Lancaster Finishing Schools when these were established.

    No particular crew had ownership of an aircraft,it was allocated to them from the result of aircraft availability found from the daily inspection.However some pilots featured skippering particular aircraft a number of times.A look at aircraft crew statistics and ORBs will give details of the manning of particular aircraft through their term on the squadron.There were exceptions to this and this was afforded to squadron commanders who identified a particular aircraft as "theirs"and threw rank to maintain this..Aircraft were always subject to availability, damaged aircraft requiring second line servicing were conducted on site along with scheduled maintenance and had a good chance of being returned to the squadron or another squadron on the same airfield after repair or maintenance.Aircraft and engine supply contractors were generally in attendance on an airfield to assist in repairs and maintain maximum availability of aircraft.There were many reasons why an aircraft was declared U/S across the many trades involved in servicing. Second Line servicing would include preventative maintenance such as "Minor" and "Major" servicing which would be dependant on the airframe hours that an aircraft accrued and would account for longer period of being declared U/S.

    Aircraft with serious damage but capable of being recovered were repaired at contractor's aircraft repair centres such as those set up for AVRO at Bracebridge Heath in May 1941 and at Langar in May 1942.Aircraft were re-assembled from components recovered from damaged aircraft and new components.It has been recorded that in terms of spares used in the recovery of Lancasters, recovery equated to 700 Lancasters,Unrecoverable aircraft were struck off charge and aircraft fit for service were reallocated to any squadron which had a shortfall which was also made up with new aircraft arriving from AVROs and their sub contractors....not a question of an aircraft Pool policy but one of maintaining squadron strength at optimum level.Aircraft therefore would be found to have a record of service

    First line servicing was undertaken by squadron groundcrew who would conduct the "pre flight inspection" or "daily inspection".Each trade involved,would then sign the Form 700 which the pilot would sign and accept as the aircraft being airworthy,fuelled up and armed as appropriate.Coordination of the trades and the administration task would be undertaken at F/S level and this Chiefy would be the man to urge that the servicing and Form 700 requirement was carried out asap to meet the operational declaration time.On return from any flight,the pilot would note any snags found during the flight.In addition the aircraft would subject to an "after flight inspection" where any snags would be listed for the planning of repairs...typical day in the activities of a squadron.
    Slipdigit, bofors, mikky and 3 others like this.
  5. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA

    I'm curious about Merlin reuse in tanks.

    What type of damage would render crashed Merlin engine parts unsuitable for aircraft reuse but still okay for use in tank engines?
    I would have thought a part was either cracked or bent or it was not but I know some other things must have been considered. If bearing tolerances and dimensions were changed by a crash I would think the part was then worthless for ground use too.

    Rolls-Royce Meteor - Wikipedia
  6. mikky

    mikky Member

    Harry Ree. My apologies for not thanking you for this excellent post. I have not visited this site for a few weeks, Many thanks indeed, your post extremely useful.

  7. dp_burke

    dp_burke Junior Member

  8. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place.... Patron

    The RAF used an interesting method for selecting crews. Pilots, navigators, engineers, wireless operators and bomb aimers were put into a big shed and invited to team up. It worked surprisingly well.
    Chris C likes this.
  9. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Interpersonal choice among crews at the start of OTU training with the skippers getting a crew together....all threw up different personality traits....smokers, drinkers, introverts/extroverts.Social roots and physical appearance dimensions would also be counted for..Nationality discounted.... many crews consisted of mixed nationality types.

    At OTU, the transformation of crews from Flying Training Command graduates to being capable of being a well trained and proficient crew for a Bomber Command squadron commenced. OTU Course.......10 weeks together and 80 flying hours to get in and mould the group as a fighting unit.

    Flight Engineers were late comers and only joined a crew when their HCU course started.Their course at the No 4 School of Technical Training St Athan,a 12 week course on engines was ground instruction only.It resulted in that until they had reached an HCU,they had no flight experience of managing engines,fuel systems and acting as the pilot's assistance pilot.(It does seem that it would have been better if the FE could have joined the OTU crew at some appropriate stage) dedicated airfield per Bomber Command Group, usually equipped with Halifaxes,Stirlings and Manchesters relegated from front line operational duties for a variety of reasons......something that the fledgling crews had to contend with and at times were known, along with inexperience of crews to have contributed to fatal incidents. Some Lancasters were also placed in the HCU role to deal with the conversion training of the Lancaster but this was later abandoned in 1943.To replace this, Lancaster Finishing Schools for those destined for Lancaster squadrons, giving 12 hours flying was established.By the end of 1944,such was the delivery of Lancasters that HCUs once again had the aircraft on strength.

    To start with a 5 week course getting in 20 flying hours,honing their flying,navigation and bombing range skills.By the time the crew had graduated from its HCU,the pilot would have at least 350 flying hours under his belt.From 1944,HCU training was further intensified and HCU flying hours were virtually doubled.Pilots then possessed more than 400 flying hours overall and navigators having accrued over 200 hours from their flying training programme.
    KevinC, canuck and CL1 like this.
  10. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member

    Harry .... just to add to your excellent text, the second air gunner (for the heavy bomber crews) also joined the crew at HCU
  11. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Pete.....that does not seem logical.I cannot see why the second gunner joining a crew at the HCU training stage and presumably bypassing OTU structured training.I am trying to ascertain what the circumstances would be for this to occur and arrived at the following covering all aircrew designations.I cannot see many, except gunners bypassing the OTU structured training programme and following the route as below.

    It might be related to the AM Order of 29 January 1942 for any deserving cases of crew being allowed to wear an aircrew brevet through an informal procedure where AOCs (Air Officers Commanding....these would be BC Group Commanders and individuals would have been initially recommended at squadron level.) were authorised to do so provided that the AOC could certify that the individual had passed an OTU course or could pass the associated tests.The practical flying requirement was that the individual had to have logged at least 30 hours of operational flying and had at least completed 10 sorties in doing so.The AM Order Regulation of 29 January 1942 continued in practice throughout the war and was cancelled by the AM Order of 31 January 1946....declared never to be anything but a temporary arrangement.

    With this AM Order,it was possible for such a gunner to turn up at the HCU stage but I would say this was the exception rather than the rule.
  12. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member

    Harry, my understanding (which may be wrong) is that a five-man crew flew the two-engined medium bombers whilst training at the OTU .... once they had completed their training, they would be posted to the HCU where the additional air gunner and flight engineer would join them to form the seven-man heavy bomber crew
  13. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place.... Patron

    I think that is right. The OTU seem to have been equipped with Whitleys or Wellingtons. No Mid Upper gunner needed.
  14. FreddyGardner

    FreddyGardner Member

    That is correct in the case of the second air gunner.
  15. alieneyes

    alieneyes Senior Member

    Sorry to disagree but there are literally hundreds of cases of 6 man crews (2nd gunner inc.) at OTUs. One file I have has both gunners taking turns in the rear turret of the Wellington. Here's an example. 12/13.08.1944 No. 101 Squadron Lancaster III PB258 SR-V F/O. Gene Mitchell Atyeo, RAF Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire.

    And to further confuse the issue, Canadian army members, mostly stationed (waiting?) at Aldershot were allowed to transfer to the RCAF. Quite a few of them bypassed OTU and were to join their crews at HCU or on the squadron.


  16. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    I am reviewing this and looking how this practice of late joining a HCU by the second gunner would interfere with the mainstream structure training at OTU. It would mean that some gunner graduates at OTU would be held as an "holding section" awaiting a posting to an available HCU crew, a group that would be unknown to second gunner and compromise the philosophy of forming full crews at OTU in order to create team spirit and bonding.Training was by batches,indexed as Course number and I would expect that it was not the policy of the Air Ministry to have gunner graduates hanging around while they could be involved in the next training stage of HCU.

    The FE joined at the HCU stage simply because it was thought that the FE could pick up on the job training as relevant to his flying role.I am sure that if the scheme had been set up again that some AOCs with hindsight would have preferred to have their FEs on the OTU course.However when the Lancaster first entered service with No 44 Squadron in early 1942,it was quickly recognised as it would be the main bomber of the expanding Bomber Command.Therefore the priority was to get the squadrons worked up as soon as possible from a non operational state to an operational state and that meant that crews would be passed though training to meet the planned trained output targets. .

    One thing I have noted in looking back at the start of operational training from the establishment of the Group Pool Training squadrons in August 1939,(OTUs from April 1940) that Bomber Group AOCs had varied opinions and these were discussed vigorously among themselves throughout the subject of flying training and the designation of crews. No doubt they were allowed some discretion at Group level.Overall the ultimate outcome was the splitting of operational flying training away from front line operational squadron responsibility.From then on, the responsibility was placed on the newly created Bomber Command Bomber (OTU) Groups.There were three by the end of the war with over 30 airfields dedicated as OTUs.

    Interestingly the AOCs' discretion was invoked in the case of Army officers as outlined in Post #11....some were trained as gunners and others flew operationally (no OTU or HCU) in order to obtain information relating to Ack Ack. Both were were allowed to wear the gunner's brevet but the latter were expected to not to retain it when their detachment finished.They did, contrary to the Air Ministry's instructions not to wear proved to be a contentious issue apparently.
  17. PeteT

    PeteT Senior Member

    I have extracted the following from a training monograph that was written post war (possibly from the same document you have Harry) ...... if this accurately represents the situation in 1942, it would be interesting to see if the system changed ... and, just as importantly ... when

    "The new courses began in April 1942. The medium bomber (Whitley and Wellington) OTUs continued to operate with 54 medium bombers (the two Whitley OTUs Nos. 10 and 19 - were increased from 48 to 54 aircraft in January) and with 18 Ansons, (although a few months later the Anson establishment was reduced to 10), and two Lysanders and one Defiant were added to each OTU, the former for use as target towers and the latter as attack aircraft for gunnery practice. The target tower establishment was raised to give by the end of the year, by which time the Anson, Lysander and Defiant establishment were common to both medium and light bomber OTUs. Intakes were altered to 14 crews per fortnight (a few weeks later they were increased to 16 a fortnight) and the course length standardised at eight weeks, plus two extra weeks for ground preparation prior to the commencement of flying training. This was the basic (summer) course. The winter course was 12 weeks.

    Crews comprised one pilot, two observers (replaced as soon as the new crew categories were trained by one navigator and one air bomber), one wireless operator/air gunner (*). Those crews destined for heavy bombers were joined by a flight engineer and an extra air gunner at the conversion unit. The Hampden and Blenheim OTUs remained unchanged by this reorganisation. The former, equipped with 49 Hampdens and 13 Ansons and training 60 crews at a time (comprising one pilot, one navigator, one wireless operator/air gunner and one AG), provided 72 flying hours for the pilot on an eight weeks (summer) course. The two light bomber OTUs (Nos. 13 and 17), equipped with 48 Blenheims and 16 Anson, trained 80 crews (comprising one pilot, one navigator and one wireless operator/air gunner) at a time on an eight weeks (summer) course which provided 80 hours flying. At both the Hampden and Blenheim units winter courses wore extended to 12 weeks".

    (*) I am not sure if this is meant to read one wireless operator and one air gunner

    An interesting subject matter ........


  18. Pat Atkins

    Pat Atkins Patron Patron

    I believe Wop/AG was a single aircrew role, which in practice meant the man was the crew's wireless operator. I don't know whether he would have had full training and/or an allotted position as an air gunner as well; perhaps it depended on aircraft type? I'm sure others will know this, however.

    Cheers, Pat
  19. FreddyGardner

    FreddyGardner Member

    I think that the WOp/AG role originated with the earlier light bombers crewed by Pilot, Observer and WOp/AG (Battle, Blenheim, etc). While crews were still being trained up on the 5 man format for Wellingtons they were Pilot, 2nd Pilot, Obs (as Nav and Bomb Aimer), WOp/AG and Rear gunner, later as Pilot, Nav, Bomb Aimer, WOp/AG and Rear gunner.
    Obviously when a 5 man crew left OTU early in the Lancaster era they were 2 men short and required a Flight Engineer and Mid Upper. Several aircrew biogs mention this situation. I dont have solid knowledge of Halifax equipped units so will not comment on those. As one might expect, later, once the Lancaster had been widely adopted crews were fully formed at OTU including F/E and Mid Upper and flew together at OTU and CU.
  20. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    The WOp/AG aircrew designation has its origin from the creation of Bomber Command in 1936.The role would be dual but as far as the gunnery role was concerned the Air Ministry failed to deliver it's intention that all gunners would attend a structured course on gunnery.By the Munich Crisis,there was little put in place to deal with a rapidly expanding Royal Air Force because Bomber Command were not provided with training facilities to cope with the training demand.However four week courses on gunnery were available from June 1938 at North Coates and Eastchurch and further places were established from January 1939 to make a total of four, now deemed Armament Training Stations.

    In practice at this time, the bulk of air gunnery training was completed on the squadrons as on the job,with the practical training being delivered by experienced WOp/AG or Air Gunners. Ludlow-Hewitt, the Bomber Command AOC from September 1937 recognised the training deficiencies of the RAF and before his departure from the role in 1940 established the requirement that RAF aircrew should be a properly trained full time professional force.It was his vision to set up OTUs from the previous Pool system, against an argument that it would adversely affect resources for the front line force.

    As regards Wireless Operator training,it seems to have been also scant and in 1938,the Air Ministry declared that they had to pull back on the structured training already in place. Emphasis again was put on training at squadron level.

    60 years after WO/AG Sgt Ronald Jolly, DFM was killed on operations with No 144 Squadron on 12-13 1940 at a time when the RAF were heavy involved in the Blitzkreig,veterans of the squadron remembered him as an experienced WO/AG who had played a good part in their WOp/AG training on the squadron.

    If you look at the crew list for the particular Hampden, P4345, lost on 12-13 June 1940,it throws up a crew designation manning different from the formal structure designation....crew manning was never rigid or written in tablets of stone as this illustration clearly shows.Two Pilots and two WOp/AG were crewed where the formal crew structure would be Pilot.Observer WOp/AG and AG.

    W/C J J Watts DSO Pilot (Newly appointed Squadron Commander.)
    P/O J F E Pilot (would be discharging the navigator, bomb aiming,emergency pilot roles)
    Sgt A Winstanley WOp/AG
    Sgt R Jolly WOp/AG

    It is not known who was undertaking the role of WOp but the ORB entry suggests that Sgt Jolly was not undertaking the WOp role....since the two Sergeants were classed in the two designations,it would give flexibility in the wireless operation role.

    The number of crew and their designations changed when the Air Ministry raised the specification for the four engined heavies to various aircraft contractors.Unlike the Hampden there would be no dual roles for the likes of the Observer (navigation, bombing and acting as an emergency pilot) and the WO/AG (wireless operation and gunnery) These roles on the Hampden already were too demanding if the aircraft was to deliver bomb loads and defend itself in the air.Consequently aircrew designations were introduced to match the operational workload of the aircraft with a typical crew on a four engined heavy being:

    Flight Engineer
    Bomb Aimer
    Wireless Operator
    Mid Upper Gunner
    Rear Gunner

    Existing Observers would take up the role of Navigator or Bomb Aimer according to preference or official selection.The redundancy of the Observer designation was recognised when the structure training for the new designations of Navigators and Bomb Aimers. Observers would continue to wear the Observer brevet irrespective of their role of Navigator or Bomb Aimer.

    Crewing of the Lancaster was initially at variance to the above as regards crew designations.A Lancaster MK 1, was put through its paces by Air Fighting Development at Duxford on 24 April 1942.The Lancaster was one of the first delivered to the RAF, the recipient being No 44 Squadron.Crew was as follows which was the structure adopted before the plan of the 2nd Pilot being replaced by a Pilot's Assistant whose duty was to aid the Pilot and act as Flight Engineer and Front Gunner.An Air Bomber whose duties are map reading and bombing was to be carried in place of a second Wireless Operator.After crew review, the 2nd Pilot concept for bombers was dropped,the Air Ministry having arrived at the decision that one pilot and George (auto pilot) were sufficient to handle an aircraft from the position that two pilot manned aircraft losses led to the loss of highly trained pilots.

    Pilot and Captain......left hand seat.
    2nd Pilot..... .............right jockey hand seat.
    Observer......Navigator and Bomb Navigators desk but relocated to front turret for bomb aiming duties
    WOp/Air Gunner ....Wireless Operator
    WOp/Air Gunner......Front Turret
    Air Gunner ..............Mid Upper Turret
    Air Gunner...............Tail Turret

    Contrast that with the original specification P13/36 of the Air Staff Requirements for a Medium Bomber Landplane which led to the manufacture of the Manchester,a type that was abandoned and re-engineered to the 4 engined Type 683 Manchester 111,later after AVROs further development renamed the Lancaster.Type B.1/39 a specification raised by the Air Ministry in March 1939 for a four engine bomber capable of handling a bomb load of 10.000 lbs finally was met by the Lancaster

    An extract headed Crew from the specification:-

    Provision is to be made for a crew of 4 as follows:-

    2 of the pilots to act as navigator/bomb aimer and front gunner
    1 W/T operator
    1 Air Gunner

    Accommodation must be provided for one additional pilot,who will act as relief pilot or navigator on long flights,and for one additional observer who will act as relief W/T operator or air gunner on long flights.This provision to be regarded as alternative load.

    Clearly in the conversion to these medium bombers and in the light of working up the new aircraft and early experience with the type, the provision detailed as alternative would appear to have never been put into practice.It also reflected the position of the Observer whose status had not been fully defined by the Air Ministry. Ludlow-Hewitt had prewar reservations about Observers being Sergeants.The RAF 1940 Rates of Pay shows Corporal Observers in the pay structure as well as Sergeant Observers.

    As the war continued,the RAF was subject to continual change in order to manage new technology and aircraft.With that,the training of groundcrew, aircrew, the composition of aircrews and their designations reflected what was necessary to keep ahead of the Luftwaffe.

Share This Page