23rd March 1945

With the 21st Army Group poised on the banks of the Rhine, with Operation Plunder a mere 12 hours away, 121 Wing 2TAF were tasked with attacking anti-aircraft positions that were out of range of Second Army’s heavy artillery. 174 Squadron put up three sorties with RB396, flown by Plt Off Frank Johnson, flying on each.

The first sortie for 174 Squadron was airborne for 09:05 and was an Armed Reconnaissance to Appelhülsen, south-west of Münster. RB396 and Frank were the ‘spare bod’ on this sortie and once they had crossed the bomb-line, and with the 8 aircraft of 174 Squadron all serviceable, they returned to B.100 at Goch after a flight of 40 minutes.

A German 88m Flak 37 emplacement in France, c1944. Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-496-3469-24 / Zwirner / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The next sortie of the day got airborne at 13:05 and was an Armed Reconnaissance back to the Münster area. RB396 and Frank Johnson flew as Red 3 (with Sydney Russell-Smith as Red 2) and F/L D.C. Nott leading the 8 aircraft of 174 Squadron. They joined up with another 8 aircraft of 245 Squadron and proceeded to the recce area. Flying to Ahus, they patrolled east of Münster and south to Hamm. With no movement spotted on the roads, the two squadrons made a railway cut and returned to base. While nothing was seen, Frank noted in his logbook that they encountered “bags of light flak”, but all aircraft returned safely ready for the next call.

That call for close support came around 17:00 and S/L Monk lead 10 174 aircraft to Gedringen just across the Rhine in the Netherlands. RB396 and Frank Johnson flew as Yellow 1, but before they made their attack, Red 2 flown by F/S K.C. MacKenzie was forced to return to base with engine trouble. The remaining 9 aircraft were vectored to a gun position where 4 dual-purpose guns (possibly 88’s) had been spotted. With the crossing and the largest single drop Airborne operations hours away, 88’s and their kin were prime targets.

Circling around to the North-East, they commenced their attack to the South-West. Frank noted in his logbook that they: “Pranged gun positions, good shooting.” Which it was. Despite low cloud and dust thrown up by the rockets, the Army was able to report back that they had knocked out 3 of the 4 guns in the gun pit. It was not all plane sailing. F/O D.H. Gardner flying as Red 4 took damage and was losing Gylcol. He made it back to B.100 at Goch where he successfully force landed.

RB396 didn’t get through the sortie unscathed. Frank notes that there was intense flak over the target that they were hit in the spinner and port fuel tank. RB396 returned to B.100 without incident and The Erks would have her patched up and ready to fly in support of Operations Plunder and Varsity on the 24th March 1945.


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