Friday, 16 December 2011

Benny, One of the Many



Laurence ‘Benny’ Goodman was born on 24 September 1920 in London. As a young man he was educated at boarding school which in those days had an Officers Training Corps. At the age of seven, Benny held a rifle for the first time which he remembers being extremely heavy for a young boy to wield. Nevertheless military service was in his blood.
           In the First World War Benny’s father had fought on the Eastern Front against the Bulgars and Turks – a most determined enemy that Benny recalls his father speaking of with utmost respect due to their fighting spirit.
          The Second World War broke out when Benny Goodman was eighteen years of age and he decided that he ought “to do something. It didn’t hit me until I was walking along the street one day and I saw army lorry loads of chaps in uniform being taken and I saw thought ‘yes, it’s about time I did something. Plus, a great friend of mine was in the Territorial Army and he got snapped up immediately and I thought ‘what am I doing here? I decided that I wanted to volunteer for aircrew.’”
          After passing an aircrew medical in Euston, Goodman now faced, with much trepidation, additional tests which quite frankly could either send him on his way towards RAF service or ruin his dreams of flying.
          On completion of one such test, Goodman remembers confidently walking up to a sergeant and saying ‘Oh Serg, that was good! When am I going to get in?’ To which the sergeant, slightly bemused, retorted ‘Are you talking to me lad?!’ A little surprised Goodman sheepishly replied that he was. ‘You’re an AC2 now. You will stand to attention when you talk to me and call me Sergeant.’ The sergeant then informed Goodman that he would go home and perhaps hear something within the next week or two. Six long weeks passed before Goodman was finally called up for basic training.
           Goodman’s life was soon engrossed with boot polishing, ‘square-bashing’, rifle drills and parades, until he was posted to RAF Abingdon.    Abingdon was an Operational Training Unit, equipped with Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys. It seemed an exciting place to be for Goodman until a few days later when he and his fellow pupils were told that the RAF had scrapped all ‘straight through courses’ and that they now had to wait for a posting to an Initial Training Wing before flying. Utterly hacked off by this revelation it seemed that things couldn’t get much worse for the young, green hopefuls, but it did. Goodman was soon told that during the interim period he was to serve as a Ground Gunner at Abingdon. The appointment would prove rather depressing, as Benny recalls:

“Ground Gunners lived in a Nissan hut and we had a Fairey Battle packing case as our sort of recreation and instruction room. We had no blankets, no sheets, no pillows and we dug our own latrines because we lived out on the airfield in a gun emplacement. We didn’t go in for meals we used hayboxes, which was ‘supposed’ to keep our meals warm.”

          As part of the airfield’s defence Goodman and his colleagues were instructed to march around the perimeter at night or at dawn to challenge anybody they came into contact with to make sure they were friend and not foe. A new password was issued each day at the airfield but when the Ground Gunners challenged most people for it they were given a four letter word followed by ‘off’ instead. Goodman remembers that in general they were challenging aircraft engineers and such like who were busy serving the Whitleys, but they had to do so because if they failed to challenge and an officer caught them then would be in serious trouble for not doing their duty.
        With many cold nights out on the airfield Goodman felt absolutely fed up by his plight and began to think that aircrew training was like looking for the Holy Grail. However after six months he was finally posted to ITW and “there they almost treated us like human beings. We spent six very good and informative weeks. We learned about navigation, meteorology, airmanship, and all the things we needed to know for a chance of survival.”
          The course ended with examinations which caused a great deal of anxiety for Goodman and the other chaps desperately trying to pass out for aircrew. Fortunately Goodman passed with flying colours and he was soon posted. “I was bursting, totally overjoyed and I was sent to No.7 Elementary Flying Training School at Peterborough and from there I was regrettably sent on an instructors cause. Now, in the air force during the war, if you were a flying instructor that had done no operations, people didn’t think very much of you. I wasn’t very happy on the course and I said so. I just didn’t feel part of it.”
          Despite feeling somewhat out of place as a flying instructor, Goodman was pleased about the new living conditions at Woodley, Reading. For a start there was better sleeping arrangements, better food and someone to clean his boots for a change! But this wasn’t enough to keep Goodman’s spirits up. After explaining his feelings once again he was posted to Clyffe, Pyparde which was a holding unit.
          After a brief spell at Clyffe, Goodman then found himself at Gourock docks near Glasgow where he boarded a Norwegian cattle boat bound for Canada.

“We slept anywhere we could. We got bread but when you opened it there were creepy crawlies everywhere. I’m sure the crew were not any happier than we were, because overcrowding wasn’t the word. It was really bad.”
          When the cattle boat finally made it across the ocean without being torpedoed Goodman thought they had had their luck for the year. Although aware of the likely dangers Goodman and many of his comrades didn’t really take it as seriously as one might suppose.

“We were too young to be really scared. The thought of death didn’t really enter our minds, if you can understand that now living in normal life.”

          After reaching Canada, Goodman then travelled to RAF Carberry, Manitoba, where he was able to begin training on Avro Ansons. Previously, Goodman had already been up in an Anson while he was stationed at Abingdon. Benny recalls the flight:

“This is how lax it was back in those days: I stood up between the two pilots! Nobody said you should be strapped in for takeoff and landing. There were seats at the back but I didn’t want to go and sit back there. Can you imagine these days with all the health and safety? So I stood up, we took off and landed, I loved it and couldn’t wait! So at Carberry, I thought because I had been in one once I could fly it, but I soon learnt better I assure you.”

          After completing the course at Carberry, Goodman was then posted to Kingston, Ontario, to instruct Acting Leading Naval Airmen. The appointment came as quite a surprise for Benny because naval tactics were totally different from those used by the RAF.

“I was showing and teaching the naval airmen things that I would be court-martialled for in the RAF! Jinking after takeoff, dive bombing and suchlike, but they enjoyed it and I did too. I learnt a lot about flying and instructing.”

          When Goodman’s time came to an end at Kingston, a good and trusted friend advised Benny of a leaving ritual, saying - ‘When you leave, everybody does it, we expect you after takeoff to beat the hell out of the control tower.’

“And like an idiot I believed him! I’d known him for six months or whatever it was when training on Ansons. He was a good mate of mine and I didn’t think he’d really drop me in it. So I believed every word and I said ‘Okay’. By that time I was pretty experienced in a Harvard and so I did beat the hell out of the tower. When I got back and landed the Wing Commander was out on the tarmac with two Pilot Officers and I thought ‘that’s funny’.”
         
          As Goodman climbed out of his aircraft he heard the Wing Commander shout ‘Goodman! You’re under close arrest.’

“I thought ‘What have I done?’ and he said ‘The air traffic controller said he could see the time by your watch’ I said ‘Well I don’t think that is quite true sir!’ ‘Anyhow’ he said, you’re under arrest and you’re going before the Station Commander.’ I thought ‘Oh, what a way to end life’.

Goodman was confined to his room where a friend of his was supposed to be on guard outside of his room. Benny continues the story:

“I asked if I could see the medical officer because I had very bad hay fever and it occurred to me, with very slender hope, that I might say that I had very bad hay fever after I took off and I was sneezing and sneezing and couldn’t control the aircraft. The senior medical officer, who happened to be a Canadian, said ‘Well, I’ll go this far Goodman, I will attest to the fact that you do get very bad hay fever and I treat you for it, but I certainly won’t attest to the fact that you lost complete control of the aircraft because of it’ The danger you risk is that you could be taken of flying permanently because of hay fever.”

          Seemingly stuck between a rock and a hard place, Goodman decided it was a risk he had to take. In the presence of the Station Commander and Wing Commander, the medical officer stuck to his word and said that Goodman’s hay fever could be controlled with medication, which he apparently had not taken at the right time before takeoff. The Station Commander dismissed the case as a medical issue and thanks to the medical officer; Goodman lived to fly another day.
          The return journey back to the UK from Canada did not go as smoothly as Goodman had hoped. For a start he was on a New Zealand passenger boat full of women and children, which seemed most strange given the circumstances in Britain.
          During the trip home an American destroyer which was sailing nearby was torpedoed by a German U-Boat. The attack also affected the New Zealander passenger boat and sunk part of it. Goodman’s trunk, which contained his flying logbook, was lost. Fortunately it was returned to him six months later with water damage, but Goodman was utterly relieved to get it back.
          Soon after, Goodman was posted to an Operational Training Unit at Silverstone. It was there that he began to fly Vickers Wellingtons. After this, Goodman went to a Heavy Conversion Bomber Unit at Swinderby, to fly Stirlings. Goodman was then posted to a Lancaster bomber conversion unit and once completed he found himself on the brink of operations. An interview followed which caused Goodman’s crew a great deal of curiosity as they all wondered what sort of trouble he had gotten himself into this time. But when Goodman returned from the interview he announced that they were being posted to No. 617 Squadron. A few laughs and comments of disbelief ensued until the crew realised that their captain was being deadly serious. It was a time of great excitement for Goodman and his crew, for No.617 Squadron was infamous for its exploits during the Second World War, the Dambusters raid being one of them.
          Goodman’s great friend Tony Iveson, who was a Battle of Britain pilot in 1940, was also awed with being a part of No.617 Squadron. Tony recalls:

“Being in 617 I did feel part of an elite force. There was that extraordinary reputation, and the fact that we had this big bomb, 12,000lbs, when the original specification for the Lancaster laid down a limit of 8,000lbs...We were the only squadron with the SABS bomb sight, and the only squadron doing these special ops on our own. We knew very well that much was expected of us, and we had to live up to the Squadron’s reputation.[1]

          Goodman’s first operational flight with his crew did not go as planned. They had been detailed to go to Brest to bomb the shipping pens there but after takeoff Goodman was interrupted from carrying out his course due to an unforeseen occurrence. Benny explains:

“The aircraft caught fire! The whole cabin filled with smoke and I couldn’t see the instruments. The Wireless Operator said ‘Skip, my set’s on fire! I’ll try and get it out.’ The Navigator wasn’t best pleased but I couldn’t see anything, so I did my best to keep us on a reasonable course. He got it out fairly quickly, but that wasn’t a very good baptism of fire for us as a crew.”
           “My fourth trip, believe it or not, was to the Tirpitz!”

Just before 0200 hours on 29 October 1944, Flight Lieutenant Benny Goodman climbed into Lancaster NF992 (code lettered ‘KC-B’) with his crew. The Squadron had left RAF Woodhall Spa on the 28th and flew to Milltown in Scotland in preparation for an attack on the Tirpitz. Goodman’s faithful crew consisted of Flying Officers Watkinson and Hayward and Sergeants Burnett, Booth and Hulbert. It was a miserable night with low cloud base and heavy rain. While waiting on the perimeter track, Goodman set about to doing all of the necessary cockpit checks when suddenly his flight engineer nudged him in the ribs and said, ‘Look!’ Goodman looked up and saw a massive undercarriage going right over his cockpit. Goodman instinctively ducked as Tony Iveson’s Lancaster roared overhead into the night. It was a nervous moment, but Goodman soon settled down and got back to the task at hand. It was also a nervous moment for Tony Iveson who also had to calm his nerves as he climbed his aircraft into the dark sky, destined for his second attack on the Tirpitz.
The German battleship Tirpitz was a sister ship to the infamous Bismark. Tirpitz was launched in 1941 and with its heavy armament had thus far proven a great threat to Allied and British convoys. The battleship was armed to the teeth with eight fifteen-inch guns, twelve six-inch guns and approximately eighty flak guns. Many attempts had been made by the Allies to sink the Tirpitz but the battleship’s resilience had kept it afloat. Under the command of Wing Commander Willie Tait and in conjunction with No.9 Squadron, No.617 had previously attacked the battleship on 15 September 1944 with Tallboy bombs. The Lancasters operated from Yagodnik near Archangel in Russia but accurate bombing runs were foiled by a smoke screen which surrounded the ship. However, one of the thirteen Tallboy bombs dropped scored a hit and put the Tirpitz out of action. It was Willie Tait’s bomb-aimer, Danny Daniels, who had damaged the vessel. As a result the Tirpitz was towed to an anchorage near Tromso, where it was reasonably sheltered off the coast of Norway. For the Squadron’s second attack, which Goodman was involved in, each Lancaster carried a 12,000lb Tallboy bomb and extra fuel to carry out the 12 hours and 20 minute round trip. The Lancasters flew north to Tromso to arrive just after dawn, but the Tirpitz was blanketed by low cloud base. Goodman and his colleagues carried out their bombing runs and dropped the Tallboys despite the poor visibility. As a result of this operation some damage was sustained, but the
Tirpitz, known as the ‘Beast’, continued to live up to its reputation.
          On 12 November Nos. 9 and 617 squadrons, led by Squadron Leader A G Williams, DFC and Wing Commander James Tait, DSO, DFC, took off from Lossiemouth at about 0300 hours to attack the Tirpitz once again. This time visibility was good and in the space of four minutes, No.617’s Lancasters dropped their bombs from 15,000 feet. No. 9 Squadron also made its run but one of its aircraft was damaged by flak and forced to land in Sweden. The initial attacks saw near misses but the battleship soon received two direct hits and the infamous Tirpitz capsized and was finally beaten.
          Another memorable operation that Benny recalls with clarity took place on 12 January 1945.
          The Squadron along with No.9 Squadron were ordered to Bergen to drop 12,000lbTallboy bombs on the submarine pens there. Mustangs of No.315 (Polish) Squadron were instructed to protect the Lancasters as fighter escort in company with two Mosquitoes from 100 Group. In total 31 aircraft would be involved in the Bergen attack.

“Sometimes what made ops a little more stressful perhaps is when waiting by your aircraft for a red Very of green Very. Red meant ‘scrub’, green meant ‘go!’, so you were left to think for a bit, but I can truly say once I got into the aircraft any nerves I may have had were gone once I had something to do. I had the responsibility of flying the aircraft and doing it properly, so I got on with it.”

Once Goodman had taken off from base he flew on to Peterhead in Scotland with the Squadron to rendezvous with thirteen Mustangs that had been equipped with long-range fuel tanks in order to make the long trip to Bergen, which is half way up the Norwegian coast.
          Owing to a brake fault on his usual aircraft, Squadron Leader Tony Iveson had to take off in Lancaster NG181 after the rest of the Squadron had left for Scotland. Despite the frustrating delay Iveson and his crew eventually managed to catch up with the Squadron which he found flying in loose formation on route to the target.
          One of the first Lancasters over Bergen successfully dropped its Tallboy over the target area but the explosion threw up a large cloud of smoke and dust which remained over the target because there was no wind to clear it. An order was soon given for the remaining Lancasters to orbit the target area in the hope that the mucky cloud would disperse, but hanging around over enemy territory was the last thing a bomber crew wanted to do.
          The order would prove costly as Tony Iveson recalls:

“After a while my rear gunner, Ted Wass, said, ‘Okay, skipper, we’ve now got the fighters.’ He thought they were the Polish Mustangs, and so did I.
          They were not. We learned very quickly that we had attracted a collection of some 20 Focke-Wulf 190’s and Me109’s. The next thing we knew there was lots of noise... I remember there were sheets of white stuff going over the top of the canopy and the port inner engine suddenly burst into flames. At the same time, M-Mike (Iveson’s aircraft) tried to stand on its tail! A Focke-Wulf 190 had come in behind us and fired at us.[2]

          The pilot of the Focke-Wulf 190 was Heinz Orlowski of 9 Staffel. As well as setting the Lancaster’s port inner engine ablaze, his attack had struck the aircraft’s port fin, rudder, the port elevator and tail-plane. The Luftwaffe fighter pilot was convinced that he had destroyed the bomber seeing as its engine was on fire, trailing smoke and he had seen three of its crew bale out. Under this impression, Orlowski broke off from the engagement and went after a Lancaster of No.9 Squadron.
          By the end of this operation three Lancasters had been lost. Contrary to Orlowski’s claim at the time, Iveson’s ‘M-Mike’ was not one of them.
          Amid the enemy fighters and heavy flak, Tony Iveson, in a marvellous feat which earned him the DFC, expertly flew his damaged aircraft back to Britain, with the help of his flight engineer, Taffy Phillips, his navigator Jack Harrison and his bomb-aimer, Frank Chance.
          On 16 March 1945 the London Gazette printed the following about this ordeal:

This officer has completed numerous sorties on his second tour of operational duty, including three attacks against the battleship Tirpitz. In January, 1945, he was detailed to attack the U-boat pens at Bergen. Whilst over the target his
aircraft was attacked by two fighters. The first burst of machine-gun fire from the enemy aircraft struck the tailplane, rudder and elevator. The port inner engine was set on fire and the rear turret was put out of action. After the fighters
broke off their attack Squadron Leader Iveson's aircraft came under heavy fire from the antiaircraft batteries. It was almost impossible to maintain level flight. Squadron Leader Iveson instructed another member of the crew to lash the
control column in such a way as to ease the strain. Under these most trying conditions, Squadron Leader Iveson flew clear of the fire zone and afterwards reached a home based airfield where he landed his seriously damaged aircraft safely. By his great skill, courage and determination, this officer was undoubtedly responsible for the safe return of the aircraft.
         
          Like Iveson, Goodman does not remember seeing any Mustangs over the target area during this hair-raising operation but unlike some he was able to get out of the hot zone fairly quickly and safely return home.
          There were of course other times that Goodman’s aircraft was struck by enemy fire as he recalls:

“On one night trip I really did smell the flak it was that close! My bomb-aimer was lying flat and a piece of flak came through the aircraft and lodged in his boot. The wireless op had an even luckier escape on one occasion when something came through just as he bent forward, just for a second, and it came through one side of the fuselage and went out the other. It was quite a large hole and we reckoned that it certainly would have gone through his head. We also had an engine shot up, but I suppose everybody did really. Once or twice we came back on three engines but it was a no brainer; there was nothing in it with three engines and no load, as we had dropped our bombs. I was fully confident in our Merlin engines. Oh, the noise those beautiful engines made when you throttled back, there is no other sound in the world like it.”

          On 19 March 1945, No.617 Squadron bombed the railway viaduct at Arnsberg using six Grand Slam bombs which blew a 40 foot gap in the target. Goodman was one of those that dropped one of the 22,000 lb Grand Slams.

Benny remembers:

“I never had any concern, carrying a Grand Slam bomb on take-off, that it wasn’t going to get off the ground. It was a little but sluggish, but anything they put on, a Lancaster was capable of handling. It was slow in climbing, but we got to bombing height and joined the others and got over the target. My recollection was that we didn’t have to say ‘bomb gone’ because the aircraft went up like a rocket. But my flight engineer Jock said, not only did the aeroplane climb quickly, but he heard a hell of a bang; it may have been the release mechanism. It never got to the point where the whole squadron had Grand Slams, we always had a mixture with Tallboys. There were no complaints about the flying characteristics, despite the huge load.[3]

On 9 April 1945, Goodman flew one of the 17 Lancasters of No.617 Squadron that bombed the U-boat shelters in Hamburg. But unavoidably, Goodman’s bomb did not release immediately over the target and it fell into the workers houses around the port area instead. Goodman flew his aircraft out of the area and on the way back he had a very eerie encounter with an unexpected foe. Goodman’s flight engineer, Jock, nudged him to get his attention and cast his eyes to their right. Goodman continues:

“I looked out of the window and there was a Messerschmitt Me262 in close formation with us, which to say the least was a bit disconcerting!”

Time seemed to stand still for Goodman and his crew as the Luftwaffe jet stuck menacingly to the Lancaster’s starboard in the dark sky. Goodman entertained the idea of doing a corkscrew manoeuvre to evade the jet, but with other Lancasters in the vicinity it was just too risky. There was no mid-upper turret either, so in their current position there was absolutely nothing the Lancaster’s defences could to anyway. In any case Goodman decided that it was probably best not to do anything to provoke the Me262 anyway. Goodman thought that this was ‘it’ for him and quietly wondered if their attack on the workers houses had prompted this encounter. Then suddenly, to the relief of Goodman and his crew, the jet broke away into the dark sky.

“We decided he had probably run out of ammunition and couldn’t shoot us down, so he had decided to give us a bloody good fright, which he did! Jets in those days were in their infancy but to have one watching you like that wasn’t a terribly comfortable feeling. About two years ago, I was talking to John Langston, who was a navigator at the same time I was flying with No.617and he said ‘Oh Benny, yes that was the 262 that was shooting at us and didn’t hit us once, so he must have been a really new pilot, fortunately, and gone on after you.’”

It was a strange encounter which left a lasting impression on Benny.
          By the end of the war Benny Goodman had completed 30 operational sorties. The odds of survival whilst serving in Bomber Command were indisputably against him, so to make it through a tour of duty unscathed is something Benny attributes to pure luck. He remembers his last operational flight with the Squadron:

“The last trip I ever did was Berchtesgaden, the Eagle’s Nest and they certainly had flak there I can tell you, but it was right at the end and I think it was more of a token trip than anything else really, to show people that we could do it.”

          After the war Goodman still wanted to fly. He served in Transport Command for some time flying Stirlings and later flew Hastings with No.51 Squadron. He was eventually posted to No.604 Squadron, which was equipped with the legendary Supermarine Spitfire. It was a complete joy for Benny who said that ‘the Spitfire was the most beautiful, beautiful aeroplane to fly’.  Goodman left the RAF in 1964 as a squadron leader. In 2008 he was still flying his own Comanche 250 private aircraft. 

Benny's Log Book & Tirpitz Raid entry

Benny, centre & 617 Sqn Lancaster

Copyright Christopher Yeoman 2011
 


[1] Iveson, Tony, Milton, Brian, Lancaster: The Biography, Andre Deutsch, 2009, page 193
[2] Iveson, Tony, Milton, Brian, Lancaster: The Biography, Andre Deutsch, 2009, page 19
[3] Iveson, Tony, Milton, Brian, Lancaster: The Biography, Andre Deutsch, 2009, page 184

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