Lancaster head on

Lancaster EE139 'Phantom of the Ruhr'

· Lancaster Mk III EE139 was delivered fresh from the factory to 100 Sqn at Waltham on 31st May 1943. It was initially allocated the code letters ‘HW-A’, although it subsequently became ‘HW-R’.

Phantom of the Ruhr nose art · The aircraft was allocated to a new 100 Sqn ‘sprog’ crew straight out of training: W.O Ron Clark (Pilot/Captain), Sgts Harold ‘Benny’ Bennett (Flt Eng), Jim Siddell (Nav), Doug Wheeler (Bomb Aimer), ‘Lish’ Easby (WOp), Les Simpson (Mid-upper Gunner) and Geoff Green (Rear Gunner).

· Clark and his crew first flew EE139 on a cross-country and local (training) flying detail on 2nd June 1943. They flew their first operation in the aircraft, a raid on Dusseldorf, on the night of 11/12th June.

· The crew named the aircraft ‘Phantom of the Ruhr’. ‘Benny’ Bennett, the crew’s Flt Engineer, painted the ‘Reaper’ on the nose with its skeletal hands scattering bombs and also started the mission tally with the bomb symbols (bombs for German targets (red for raids on Berlin, yellow for others) and ice cream cones for Italian trips).

· Clark’s crew flew 24 operational trips in ‘The Phantom’ between 3rd June and 23rd September 1943 – they went to Hamburg four times, Berlin and Cologne on three occasions each, Manheim twice and their other targets included Dusseldorf, Bochum, Turin, Essen, Remscheid, Nuremburg, Peenemunde, Leverkusen, Rheydt, Milan and Munich.

Phantom with some Aircrew · ‘The Phantom’ completed all four of the raids which became known as ‘The Battle of Hamburg’, including the final one when fierce winds scattered the bombers all over Germany. That night ‘the Phantom’ left her bombs on Bremen after being caught and damaged in a box barrage.

· On 17th August 1943, ‘The Phantom’ was in the second wave for the raid on Peenemunde. She bombed from 7,000 feet and afterwards Clark, on seeing how many fighters were about, decided to come home at 150 feet, much to the delight of the gunners who took the opportunity to shoot up anything they thought worthwhile.

· The longest trip of this period was to Turin on 12th July 1943 – an 11-hour trip. The route went direct to Turin but back out over the Bay of Biscay to avoid fighters. When ‘The Phantom’ arrived back at Waltham, Ron Clark was so tired he made a bad landing, bounced and had to ‘go round’ for another attempt. When they finally landed, the fuel gauges read zero.

· The Mannheim raid on 23rd September 1943 turned out to be Clark’s crew’s most eventful and was their 25th and last trip in ‘The Phantom’.

o Over the target the ‘Phantom’ was picked up by a radar-controlled master searchlight and became “the centre of attention” for most of Mannheim’s defences.
o Ron Clark put the aircraft into a steep dive but this did not throw off the searchlights.
o They were hit by at least two large-calibre anti-aircraft shells – one came up through the bomb bay, passed through the empty end of the 4,000 lb cookie they were carrying, and went out through the fuselage roof without exploding, narrowly missing ‘Lish’ Easby the WOp. En route, the shell severed the starboard aileron control and the aircraft went into a spiral dive.
o The control column was jammed hard over and it took the combined strength of the pilot and engineer to bring the stick back and to level the aircraft out, having lost 17,000 feet of height, from 25,000 feet to 8,000 feet.
o Ron Clark DFC with damaged Phantom of the Ruhr During this period, they were attacked by a night fighter. The WOp spotted it from the astrodome and shouted instructions to the pilot to ‘cork screw’ but then realised that the aircraft was, in fact, out of control.
o They were still blinded by searchlights, under attack from a fighter and then they were hit by another anti-aircraft shell, this time on the starboard tail plane.
o The rear gunner, Geoff Green, subsequently commented when they got back to base that the searchlights had been so bright, “at least I had enough light to finish the crossword”!
o Once the pilot had regained control, the bombs were jettisoned over Mannheim and finally they got out of range of the searchlights.
o The aircraft was vibrating violently and the crew were resigned to baling out, clipping on their chutes and waiting for the order to go.
o The starboard tail plane and fin were flapping wildly and threatening to part company with the aircraft.
o Then ‘Benny’ Bennett, the Flight Engineer, had an idea; he reasoned that although the aileron control cable was severed, the trimmer tab was still connected, causing turbulence in the airflow behind the wing, which was, in turn, causing the tail plane to flap around.
o He cut the cable and the aircraft settled down into almost stable flight.
o They made it back to Waltham for an emergency landing with only one aileron functioning.
o Inspection of the damage revealed two gaping holes in the fuselage where the shell had passed through and a hole in the port wing caused by cannon fire from the night fighter. The starboard tail fin could be turned by hand through several degrees in the vertical plane. In addition, the tail of an incendiary bomb, dropped from another bomber above, was found lodged in one of the engine cowlings, having bent one of the propeller blades and been drawn into the engine – They were very lucky to have got back.

Ron Clark DFC · Shortly after the 23rd September sortie, Ron Clark was awarded an immediate DFC and ‘Benny’ Bennett a DFM.

· By this point ‘The Phantom’ had flown at least 29 sorties with 100 Sqn.

· ‘The Phantom’ was repaired, over the next two months, and then transferred to the newly formed 550 Sqn at Waltham on 25th November 1943. It was re-coded BQ-B.

· It flew several ops with 550 Sqn from Waltham until the Sqn moved to North Killingholme in January 1944.

· On 3rd/4th June 1944 ‘The Phantom’ was damaged by a night fighter during a raid on the Wimereaux Gun in preparation for the D-Day invasion. The aircraft was attacked by a FW190 and by a Me110 on the bombing run. The mid-upper gunner probably damaged the FW190, while the rear gunner returned the 110s fire, both German aircraft breaking off and not coming back.

· On 12/13th July, the aircraft lost an engine en route to the target but the crew continued on three engines, bombed the target and even dodged a night fighter.

· On 24/25th July the aircraft again returned to base on three engines

Phantom of the Ruhr bombing up · ‘The Phantom’ became the first 550 Sqn aircraft to reach a tally of one hundred missions, a ‘century’, on 5th September 1944, after flying a daylight raid on Le Havre.

· The pilot on this one-hundredth mission was Fg Off Hutcheson, with his crew of Sgt Wright (Flt Eng), Sgt Smith (Nav), Flt Sgt Francis RAAF (Bomb Aimer), W.O. Smith RAAF (WOp), Sgt Hodgson (Mid-upper Gunner) and Sgt Tosh (Rear Gunner). This crew flew 30 ops in ‘The Phantom’ between 22nd June ’44 and 23rd September ’44 –flying a full operational tour on one aircraft was probably a unique achievement.

· On her 102nd trip, a raid on Frankfurt, ‘The Phantom’ was again coned by searchlights and suffered further minor flak damage before her pilot, Plt Off Ansell, was able to shake them off. Then a Me BF 109 fighter attacked her three times with considerable persistence but once more ‘The Phantom’ got away.

· Two trips later (on her 104th mission) ‘the Phantom’ came to grief on landing at Killingholme after a raid on Stuttgart. The brakes failed on landing and the aircraft ran the full length of Killingholme’s main runway, careered across two fields and finally came to rest on her nose in a third field. She was dragged out, patched up and went on to do another 17 trips before being retired from operations.

· ‘The Phantoms’ operational career finally came to end after flying a night raid on the Aschaffenburg railway marshalling yards on 21st November 1944, in the hands of a very experienced and highly-decorated crew, captained by Sqn Ldr Caldow DSO, AFC, DFM, this crew being on their second tour of ops.

Ron Clark in front of Phantom · ‘The Phantom’ had amassed 121 operational missions, including 15 trips to Berlin, and had clocked up 830 hours of operational flying. She had received significant damage from flak on several occasions and had combats with night fighters on three separate occasions. She had been declared Category 3 (repair beyond the capacity of the unit) three times but each time was repaired and put back in the air. She was now considered an ‘old lady’ even though she was actually only 18 months old.

· After being retired from operations she was sent to 1656 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU) at Lindholme and later to 1660 HCU at Swinderby to be used for training new Lancaster crews.

· In February 1946 EE139 ‘The Phantom of the Ruhr’ was finally struck off charge and unceremoniously scrapped.


Header Image: ( Larger size) Lancaster head on (Photographer: Gordon Jones)

Image 1: ( Larger size) Phantom of the Ruhr art work

Image 2: ( Larger size) Phantom of the Ruhr crew

Image 3: ( larger size) Ron Clark DFC with flak damaged

Image 4: ( Larger size) Ron Clark DFC

Image 5: ( Larger size) Phantom of the Ruhr bombing up

Image 6: ( Larger size) Ron Clark DFC in front of a Phantom

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