D - DAY DECEPTION

Operation 'Glimmer'

No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadrons involvement in the 'spoof' convoy operation of June 5th/6th 1944.

 

 

The details and views are of the author, Steve Smith

 

 

PREPERATION AND PLANNING

Everyone is aware of No.617 (Dam-Buster) Squadrons famous involvement in the D-Day deception, known as Operation Taxable. Little, however is known of the involvement of No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadrons and the major role it played in deceiving the Germans into believing a sizable Invasion Convoy was approaching the coastal Port of Boulogne.

Due to the complex nature of the operation, Bomber Commands premier squadron, No.617, was approached in early May 1944 to evaluate the feasibility of such an operation. The forth-coming operation would call for a high degree of flying ability and navigational accuracy, and above all crew discipline; this everyone knew 617 Squadron had in abundance.

A meeting was held was on Sunday May 7th 1944 at No.54 Base, Woodhall Spa to discuss the raid. Apart from a number of high-ranking personnel from the Air Ministry, senior Bomber Command officers were present. The meeting was chaired by Air Commodore Dalton Morris (Chief Signals Officer, HQ Bomber Command). Also attending the meeting was Air Commodore H.A.Costantine (Operations, HQ Bomber Command), Air Commodore Sharp, Base Commander No.54 Base and finally the commanding officer No.617 Squadron, Wing Commander Cheshire, D.S.O,D.F.C.

A number of points were raised by Wing Commander Cheshire who was concerned about the complexity of the operation and the strain it would have on his crews. His feelings were raised at the meeting and acknowledged, and as a consequence of Wing Commander Cheshire's concerns a second navigator and GEE set would be introduced to each of his crews. An extra GEE chute would be fitted to each of the squadron's Avro Lancasters to deliver the required amount of 'Window'. Relief pilots would be posted onto the squadron, to augment the squadrons already overworked crews, and finally extra personnel for maintance and servicing would be required. Like the Dam Raids exactly a year before, No.617 Squadron set about trying to achieve what seemed an impossible task. Within a matter of days the new modifications were successfully carried out and additional personnel joined the squadron. An intense period of training had begun. The squadron was living up to its premier status.

On Wednesday 17th May 1944 a special meeting was held at HQ Bomber Command, High Wycombe. Once again the meeting was Chaired by Air Commodore Dalton Morris. Twenty two senior Bomber Command and Royal Naval officers were in attendance, including the Vice Admiral of Dover, Commodore Jessel, R.N. This meeting, attended by Wing Commander Cheshire, Commanding Officer No.617 and Wing Commander Fenwick-Wilson, Officer Commanding No.218 Squadron finalised the planning of the forth coming operation.

 

 

No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron

Prior to this period, No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron, a 3 Group unit equipped with the Short Stirling Mk.III aircraft, had been relegated to mostly mining (Gardening) operations and short penetration raids into the occupied territories. The poor performance compared with the Avro Lancaster had brought about the Stirlings removal from raids deep inside Germany during the winter of 1943. Sir Arthur Harris, in his book BOMBER OFFENSIVE, wrote about the Stirling, " By 1944 the Stirlings were hopelessly out of date for any operations against well defended targets, but could be profitably used for short raid attacks."

It was during this period of relative inactivity for the Stirling equipped units of 3 Group that 218 Squadron became highly proficient in the use of the Blind Bombing Aid G-H. A number of extremely accurate raids were undertaken by the squadron using this device during the spring of 1944. Two such raids being the precision attack on the German Airforce signals depot at Vilovorde, north of Brussels on the night of April 23rd/24th 1944, and the extremely accurate raid on the railway depot at Chambly on May 1st/2nd 1944, both raids caused extensive damage.

 

Three No.218 Squadron Short Stirling Mk.III's in formation July 1944
Stirling HA-N (LJ522) participated in 'Operation Glimmer'. This particular Stirling arrived on 218 Squadron on March 30th 1944. During the operation of June 5th, LJ522 was the first squadron aircraft airborne, at the controls was Australian Flight Lieutenant Chaplin,R.A.A.F. Short Stirling HA-U (LJ517) also took part in 'Operation Glimmer'.

 

During early May 1944 it was decided that 218 Squadron would be used for the forth-coming operation to augment 617 Squadron. This decision was made due to the formers familiarity with both GEE and G-H systems. No.218 Squadron was, at the time, the only front line heavy bomber squadron fully operational and trained within Bomber Command to use this equipment. Apart from the installation of an additional GEE set no other major aircraft modifications were carried-out. The Air Staffs opinion was that the crews of 218 Squadron were already skilled in precision flying and highly trained in the use of both GEE and G-H, it was deemed therefore that 218 Squadron could complete the task handed to them satisfactorily without extensive training.

On May 19th, HQ Bomber Command issued instructions to 218 Squadron, based at R.A.F Station Woolfox Lodge, Rutland, to commence timed training flights. Six experienced senior crews with two reserves were selected. On May 20th training commenced under the leadership of Wing Commander Fenwick-Wilson, A.F.C. Within the short space of eleven days 119 training flights had been flown, and furthermore, in that short period of time the squadron had reached the required standard of navigational and precision flying that would be required.

Crews who operated during this period simply recorded within their Log Books, 'Special Local Flying' or similar mundane entries. Little did these crews realise that they were ready to undertake probably one of the most important operations of the war. The speed with which the squadron reached the stringent operational requirements confirms the very high standard of both the Air & Groundcrews. It also pays tribute to the very special leadership qualities of the squadron's Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Fenwick-Wilson, A.F.C.

June 1944 commenced where May finished, with more training flights. Equipment tests were flown on June 2nd, 3rd and 4th, and twenty eight flights were flown by the selected crews. The weather during this period was far from ideal; low cloud, heavy rain and visibility down to 5 miles was not encouraging. However, the squadron crews were, regardless of the weather, ready and eager to operate.

 

Log Book entry for Flying Officer Barker, Bomb Aimer to 'A' Flight's Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader John Overton, D.F.C.
At 15.00hrs on the afternoon of June 5th Squadron Leader Overton flew his last training flight prior to 'Operation Glimmer'. The Operational Records Book and Flying Officer Barker's time of take off differ by 1 minute.

 

INTO PRACTICE

At 23.39hrs on June 5th 1944 the first wave of squadron aircraft began take-off; Flight Lieutenant Chaplin, R.A.A.F with Flight Lieutenant Webster as 2nd pilot lifted off from R.A.F Woolfox Lodge's main runway. Their aircraft, Short Stirling Mk.III LJ522 HA-N, was the first of the squadron's aircraft to get airborne. Two minutes latter 'B' Flight's commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Brentnall with Pilot Officer Ecclestone as 2nd pilot followed in Stirling LJ472 HA-K.

 

Log Book entry for Flying Officer Isherwood, D-Day 1944.
Flying Officer Isherwood was the Navigator to 'B' Flight's commander, Squadron Leader Brentnall.

 

Squadron Leader Brentnall was followed at 23.44hrs by 'A' Flight's Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader John Overton, D.F.C., with Flight Lieutenant Funnell in Short Stirling Mk.III EF133 HA-A. At 23.50hrs, the two reserve crews took off, the New Zealander, Flight Lieutenant Locke, with Australian Flight Lieutenant Coram were airborne in Stirling LJ449 HA-E, followed shortly after by Flight Lieutenant Knapman, R.N.Z.A.F., and Flight Lieutenant Stirling, R.A.A.F. in LJ517 HA-U.

Squadron Leader John Overton, D.F.C, 'A' Flight Commander.
John Overton joined No.218 Squadron via No.1657 Con.Unit w.e.f 21st May 1943. He undertook his first operation, as 2nd pilot on May 23rd. Together with his crew he completed 30 operations between May 1943 and August 1944. He was awarded a well-deserved D.F.C in January 1944. He was 'A' Flight commander on both No.623 Squadron, and No.218 Squadron. He commanded the squadrons detachment to R.A.F Tempsford during the moon period of February / March 1944 when the squadron undertook a number of S.O.E flights.

 

Forty nine minutes later, the first of the second wave aircraft consisting of Flight Lieutenant McAllister, R.A.A.F, with Flight Lieutenant Young, were airborne in Stirling LK401 HA-I. Within 3 minutes the combination of Flight Lieutenant's Seller and Scammel were airborne in Stirling LJ632 HA-J. The squadron's last aircraft to take off was Flight Lieutenant King with Flight Lieutenant Gillies in Short Stirling EF207 HA-F. On board each aircraft were 2 pilots, 3 navigators, 1 wireless operator, 1 flight engineer, 2 airgunners, 2 Window droppers, plus 2 replacements, a total crew compliment of 13.

The plan, once airborne, was for the squadron to fly elongated orbits with the major axis of the orbit perpendicular to the coast. During each of the orbits 'Window' would be discharged at a rate of 12 bundles per minute. Very precise flying was needed to achieve the desired effect. The timing called for an advance of 18 miles at a speed of 7 knots, this involved the front line aircraft totalling 23 orbits. To achieve the desired effect of a convoy steaming out from the coast, the second line of aircraft came in 8 orbits later than the first, thus these were required only to fly 18 orbits. The flying time for the first line was 2 ¾ hours, and for the second line 1-¾ hours. There was 3 aircraft in each line. These complicated orbits would, if the 'Window' were discharged on schedule, produce an imaginary convoy, which in turn would be picked up by the German Freya Radar. A small Invasion force would be heading a cross the English Channel straight towards Bolougne.

 

Flight Lieutenant John McAllister, R.A.F
John McAllister an Australian joined No.218 Squadron July 1943. He successfully completed his first tour during August 1944.

 

The first three crews settled into their practiced routines, and these were soon followed by the 2nd wave. Each individual crewmember was only too aware of the importance of this operation. The lives of many thousands of Naval and Army personnel were dependent on both waves achieving total success. With each of the squadron aircraft in it's allotted position, and an accuracy requirement measured in yards, 218 Squadron's involvement in D-Day was on. Operation GLIMMER was underway.

 

For the next 3 hours, the six crews, totalling 78 airmen, maintained a faultless series of orbits, slowly edging closer to the French coast. Every 12 minutes bundles of silver Window were dispatched into the night sky. The intensive training program was soon seen to pay off; the German heavy coastal guns positioned along the route soon opened fire and distant flashes were observed by the crews. This was the only sign of the enemy; thankfully no German Night fighters were encountered.

 

The first squadron aircraft to return home were the reserves; neither crew was required. Flight Lieutenant Knapman landed at 02.55hrs, followed shortly after by Flight Lieutenant Locke at 03.30hrs. These two crews had orbited the South Coast in readiness if they were required. After nearly five hours of precision flying, the remaining six crews, tired but jubilant, headed back to base, and their bacon and eggs. At 05.02hrs, Flight Lieutenant Seller landed followed by Flight Lieutenant King. Squadron Leaders Overton and Brentnall were next to land, followed by Flight Lieutenants Chaplin and McAllister. The latter was the last to touch down, at 05.12hrs. For No.218 Squadron Operation Glimmer was over.

 

 

GERMAN REACTION TO GLIMMER

The German reaction to Glimmer was immediate. Official Air Ministry and Naval documents state that the Germans mistook this raid for a genuine threat, unlike 617 Squadron's activities. German long-range guns along the French coast opened fire on Glimmer's imaginary convoy. German searchlights were also pressed into service, as too were a number of E-Boats; these were dispatched into the convoy area. The bulk of the German night fighter force was sent to intercept an R.C.M operation carried out by the A.B.C equipped Lancaster's of No.101 Squadron, No.1 Group, and No.214 (F.M) Squadron, a Fortress equipped unit of No.100 (R.C.M) Group. The German High Command mistakenly thought that the combination of A.B.C and R.C.M was the cover for the Glimmer convoy.

 

Proof of the success of Operation Glimmer.
Copy of an official Bomber Command document on raid.

 

 

Complete success.
Another section of the Bomber Command Post Raid Summary Report

 

THE NEWS BREAKS

No.218 Squadrons post raid summary records the following for the operation of June 5th/6th 1944:

VERY SUCCESSFUL OPERATION, 218 SQUADRON COMPLETED GLIMMER EXACTLY TO SCHEDULE, WITH NO CASUALITIES, AND SIMULATED AN EXTREMELY EFFECTIVE CONVEY.

 

At around 19.30hrs on the evening of June 6th a message was received from the A.O.C, HQ No.3 Group:

"I HAVE RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE FROM C IN C FOR AIRCREWS…

"YOU DID FAMOUSLY LAST NIGHT IN THE FACE OF NO MEAN DIFFERCULTIES. FIRE FROM COASTAL BATTERIES WHICH WERE YOUR TAGETS HAVE BEEN VIRTUALLY NEGLIGABLE.""

 

A FURTHER MESSAGE WAS RECEIVED ON June 7th at 10.55hrs from the C in C Bomber Command to Officer Commanding No.218 Squadron:

"IT IS ALREADY ESTABLISHED THAT THE OPERATIONS ON WHICH YOU ENGAGED ON THE NIGHT OF 5/6TH JUNE WERE VERY SUCCESSFULLY AND IT MAY WELL BE WHEN THE FULL FACTS ARE KNOWN IT WILL BE FOUND THAT YOU ACHIEVED RESULTS OF EVEN GREATER IMPORTANCE THAN CAN BE KNOWN AT PRESENT. THIS CAN ONLY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT ABOUT BY INTENSIVE TRAINING AND ATTENTION TO DETAIL AS A RESULT OF WHICH CREWS CONCERNED ACQUITTED THEMSELVES ADMIRABLY. THE NAVAL COMMANDERS HAVE EXPRESSED THEIR GREAT APPRECIATION OF THE SUPPORT OF NO.218 AND 617 SQUADRONS, AND IT IS NOW DISCLOSED THAT THE PATROL CARRIED OUT BY 101 & 214 SQUADRONS SUCCEEDED TOGETHER IN DELAYING THE ENEMY'S APPRECIATION AS TO THE ACTUAL POINT OF ASSAULT, THEREBY ASSISTING THE MEASURE OF TACTICAL SURPRISE GAINED FOR OUR MAIN ASSAULT FORCES."

 

The euphoria and obvious pride felt by all the squadron was short lived; within two days of Operation 'Glimmer' the squadron was again on the Battle Order. June 8th saw nine squadron Stirlings detailed and briefed for yet another minelaying operation. Just prior to take off, one Stirling developed engine trouble and was withdrawn from the operation, the aircraft was LJ522 HA-N, the first aircraft to take off for 'Glimmer'. The remaining aircraft successfully planted their 'seeds' in their allotted Garden areas. Forty six mines were dropped ranging in locations from Le Havre to Ijmuiden. Three of the pilots who operated on Operation Glimmer were airborne on this trip, as was the Squadron Commander, Wing Commander Fenwick-Wilson, who operated in the role of 2nd pilot to Pilot Officer Eccelstone All eight crews returned safely to R.A.F Woolfox Lodge.

So ended a period in No.218 Squadron's history that we can all be justly proud of. The squadron was not a specialist unit, it was a typical front line heavy bomber squadron made up of ordinary men drawn from all over the Empire. It was the calibre of those men, both Air and Groundcrews, and the leadership qualities of the squadron's Commanding Officer, that when called upon they achieved something thought impossible to do.

 

Within months the squadron would be equipped with the mighty Avro Lancaster, the combination of this magnificent aircraft and the skill acquired with G-H meant that No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron led the way in precision 3 Group attacks on Hitler's oil and transportation systems right up to the end of the war.

 

 

THE AIRCRAFT WHICH TOOK PART IN OPERATION 'GLIMMER'

 

EF133

T.o.C No.218 Sqdn, 19th December 1943. Transferred to No.149 Sqdn 11th August 1944. S.o.C 14th April 1945.

EF207

T.o.C No.218 Sqdn, 28th April 1944. Transferred to No.149 Sqdn 11th August 1944. S.o.C 24th April 1945.

LJ449

T.o.C No.218 Sqdn, October 1st 1943, Transferred to No.149 Sqdn, 11th August 1944. S.o.C 6th June 1945.

LJ472

T.o.C No.218 Sqdn, 26th November 1943,  Transferred to No.149 Sqdn, 11th August 1944. S.o.C 24th April 1945.

LJ517

T.o.C No.218 Sqdn, 16th February 1944, Transferred to No.1657 Con.Unit, 26th July 1944. S.o.C 19th July 1945.

LJ522

T.o.C No.218 Sqdn, March 30th 1944, Transferred to No.149 Sqdn, 23rd July 1944. S.o.C  19th July 1945.

LJ632

T.o.C No.218 Sqdn, 8th May 1944, Transferred to No.149 Sqdn,23rd July 1944. S.o.C  19th July 1945.

LK401

T.o.C No.218 Sqdn, 8th May 1944, Transferred to No.149 Sqdn, 11th August 1944. S.o.C 19th July 1945

 

A Short Strling Mk.III bomber as used by No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron.

The above account was written by the 218 Squadron historian Steve Smith. Steve has a vast knowledge of 218 Squadron, and indeed in 3 Group and the Stirling squadrons in particular. If you think Steve might be able to help you with any information on 3 Group, or the Stirling aircraft type, or indeed if you have some information or photographs that you would like to share with him, please click here to email him.  (please replace the "AT" with an "@" before sending your email)

 

Click here to return to our homepage

Click here to return to our Bombers page