Bomber Command pilot Frank Mouritz on ‘the night we nearly bought it’

Frank Mouritz
Frank Mouritz at the RAAF Museum in Bull Creek.

By Frank Mouritz

 

FRANK Mouritz is a 97-year-old WWII veteran who lives at Cape Care in Busselton, Western Australia.  Frank was a RAAF pilot who became part of the Empire Air Crew – serving as part of Bomber Command, flying a Lancaster dubbed Mickey the Moocher out of Lincoln, England in 1944-45.  This is Frank’s story.

 

 

“It was our 20th operation; we were an experienced crew but not too experienced to be over-confident.  On the 13-14th January 1945, our operation was to attack for the second time a synthetic oil refinery at Politz, near Stettin on the Baltic coast in Northern Germany.  This was our maximum range on this route and we carried full fuel tanks of 2154 gallons and 12,000lbs of 500 and 10,000lb high-explosive bombs, some with delay fuses.  We flew in our new Mickey the Moocher, as the original Mickey the Moocher having been retired after 130 trips – this was a brand-new Lancaster 3.

The route out was over the North Sea to Denmark, across the Kattegat to Southern Sweden, then turning south across the Baltic to the North German coast.  The return route was to be similar.  Denmark, being occupied, was heavily defended by German armed forces, Sweden however, although neutral, shot up quite a lot of light flak, but never in our direction so it was relatively safe to fly across their territory.

The attack, purely a 5 Group operation, was planned as a blind attack through cloud, but was changed to a visual one as the target was clear.  Although we carried out our usual fighter search, there was no real danger til we neared the target after crossing the Baltic.  We bombed on time through very heavy flak and numerous search lights, as the refinery was very heavily defended.  After bombing, we set course for home over the Baltic, on the briefed route over Sweden, and then over Denmark.  This meant that the Luftwaffe had little trouble working out the probable times and position that the returning bombers would cross Denmark.  No doubt the Nazis had agents in Sweden that radioed their passing to Germany.  The skill of the navigator and bomb aimer in map-reading kept us on track, as there was little cloud cover and the coastlines were fairly visible.

On nearing Denmark, we went into maximum banking searches at every one or two minutes and saw several flashes of gunfire from aerial combats.  We were about 15-20 minutes on the route home after crossing the Western Danish coast, and I was easing up on the banking searches thinking that a couple more would be sufficient, when the silence of the intercom was broken by the mid-upper gunner.

“Twin-engined aircraft underneath”.

Mickey the Moocher
Frank Mouritz and crew in front of Mickey the Moocher. Photos: Supplied

He did not say which side down, but as he could not see straight down it must have been on the starboard side.

My reaction, which luckily must have been the correct one, was to put the Lancaster into a violent diving turn to starboard and calling out, “going down starboard”.  The wing had just started to drop when we heard explosions and saw flashes under the starboard wing, between the inboard engine and the fuselage.  Possibly five or six shells, probably 30mm, hit us and as we dived I heard our guns firing.  One of the gunners called out excitedly, “we’ve got him and he is heading for a cloud bank below on fire”.

In retrospect, we assumed that the mid upper gunner had sighted him before he was in his best position and our violent diving turn had spoilt his aim.  He had to break away to avoid a collision and as we were nearly on our side the two gunners were able to rake him with our 6 Browning machine guns across his top.  As I straightened out the Lancaster, I found that our emergency signal lights at each crew station had come on – and we were lit up and in full view if the fighters were hunting in pairs.

I called out to the wireless operator to get to the fuse panel and pull out the appropriate fuses.  Dave’s reply in his slow Queensland drawl was, “hell, I’m just taking a broadcast”.  The calmness in Dave’s voice reduced the panic that was beginning to appear in the crew.  This all took place in a few seconds.  The problem of the lights was solved by the rear gunner smashing his light with his cocking toggle, short circuiting the globe, and blowing the fuse.  By this time, of course, we had all lost our night vision.

I levelled the plane and returned back on course and started to take stock of our damage – from the front we could not see any fires – by calling each member of the crew in turn from back to front, asking for a report on themselves and their equipment.  No one had been wounded and all their equipment was functioning, except the flight engineer’s.  He reported that we had lost some power on the starboard inboard engine and that he was possibly losing fuel from the starboard inboard tank.  The Lancaster has 3 tanks in each wing, all interconnected, and it was the rule to draw them all down together so that no tank held maximum fuel, as this could be lost if punctured.

The air space above the fuel in the tank was filled with inert nitrogen gas to help prevent fires.  Jim Leith, the flight engineer, immediately started to run down the holed tank by feeding the fuel from it to all engines.  We also adjusted the controls to bring the bad engine up to the others and carefully watched the gauges.  The navigator had a problem with his protractor, calculator and other equipment, as they were tangled due to the violent manoeuvre we had carried out.  He had them all tied to a centre point with pieces of string but they took some sorting out.  We had just settled down and began to analyse the combat when the rear gunner reported an object going past his turret followed by another one.  The flight engineer managed to have a look at the damaged wing with his torch and reported that the dinghy cover was missing and so was the dinghy.  We assumed that was what the rear gunner had reported.

The navigator, flight engineer and myself had a discussion on the distance to base, fuel consumption and remaining fuel.  Having lost our dinghy, a ditching in the North Sea was out of the question.  The other alternative was to return to Denmark and bail out.  However, we worked out that if we flew at our most economical airspeed and height we could make the English coast with a small margin to spare.  I did think about putting out a May Day call but left it for the time being as we still had 3½ engines and probably enough fuel.  We discussed the combat and concluded that the fighter plane, a Junker 88, had probably been following us on his radar for some time, waiting until we stopped the banking searches and that the decision to bank to starboard was the correct one.  If we had turned to port he could have followed us down and used his front guns as well.

Many years later, when reading the accounts of the Luftwaffe night fighters, I learnt that their preferred aiming point when attacking from below was between the inboard engine and the fuselage.  This was possibly to give the crew a chance and also that a loaded Lancaster has bombs stretching along underneath the centre section of the fuselage and a strike on the fuse of a bomb would blow up both aircraft.  So we headed for home at the most economical speed with the rear gunner keeping a lookout for any more pieces of wing flying past the turret.  Nothing further happened and I was tempted to try to lower the undercarriage, to test it, soon after we crossed the coast but decided to leave it until we entered the circuit in our normal manner.

On arriving at base, I lowered the undercarriage, which made the right sort of noises and vibrations, and the indicator light came on, so I completed the approach.  As soon as we touched the runway, I knew that something was wrong.  The aircraft tried to drop the starboard wing and I managed to hold it up with full aileron til we lost speed, then it dropped down, something dragged on that side, we left the bitumen and slewed around in an ever decreasing circle till we ended up, luckily, almost in our own disposal point.  The starboard tyre had been shot to pieces.

An inspection of M Mike next morning showed that most of the underneath starboard wing plates were missing or holed, there were some holes in the lower section of the fuselage, but no major structural damage.  The loss of power had been due to some ignition leads being cut.  Repairs were carried out at our aerodrome, but the Lancaster was out of action for nearly six weeks.  The Junker 88 was later confirmed as damaged, as another crew had seen the combat and the Junker 88 going down into cloud, on fire.  He may have ended up in the North Sea.

When we analysed the action, we realised that the sighting by the mid-upper gunner had saved us and that on future operations extra banking searches would have to be carried out on the return journey and at irregular intervals.

I was very pleased with the overall crew reaction with little or no panic.  We realised that constant surveillance and not allowing ourselves to relax on the way home would be necessary for survival on the remaining operations.

This had been our longest trip, 10 hrs 30 mins airborne.

The photo reconnaissance stated that the plant was reduced to a shambles.  However, we attacked it again in 3 weeks’  latter and the production of oil ceased, proving to be a great set back to the German war effort.

When we analysed the action, we realised that the sighting by the mid upper gunner had saved us and that on future operations extra banking searches would have to be carried out on the return journey and at irregular intervals.

I was very pleased with the overall crew reaction with little or no panic.  We realised that constant surveillance and not allowing ourselves to relax on the way home would be necessary for survival on the remaining operations.

This had been our longest trip, 10 hrs 30 mins airborne.

 

 

 

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
x