A Letter from Plt Off P A Dorehill DFC dated 21 April 1942
We are very grateful to Pat Dorehill’s daughter Pippa for donating a copy of a letter written by Pat to his parents in the aftermath of the famous Augsburg raid. The letter represents a fascinating personal account of the operation, written by a crew member of the lone 44 Squadron aircraft to return from the raid. The intention is to present the letter to the Bomber Command Digital Archive.
Last week we had a fairly interesting time ending up with a grand finale, the trip to Augsburg.
For most of the week before the big day we were doing formation flying at low level in preparation.
Friday, the big day, eventually arrived. I was Squadron Leader Nettleton’s second pilot and six Lancasters set off from this squadron. Six also set off from another squadron.
The six of us crossed the French coast at about 20 feet. We were leading the formation of six. The other pilots kept formation very well.
We were flying at tree top level at 200 mph and all was going well. I had time to view the French countryside which was very beautiful and peaceful. It was around 4.15 pm. All would have been well but unfortunately we flew straight over an enemy fighter station. The next thing we knew was that we were being attacked by about 20 - 25 enemy fighters. It was no joke but we didn’t have time to get scared. We kept formation and flew on at 20 feet.
I saw two of our machines crash in flames. Two others had the same fate but I didn’t actually see them go. The attack lasted about ten minutes and there were now two of us left, so we flew on. Just as the fighters broke off we again were unfortunate enough to go straight over another aerodrome from which the tracer and light flak made patterns about us. How we weren’t hit I don’t know. From there the two of us flew on unmolested to the target. We were feeling pretty sore about losing the other four machines.
The German country, and particularly that of Switzerland, which we saw was the most beautiful country I have ever seen. The villages were clean and tidy and well-forested mountains looked enchanting.
The last twenty miles to the target we opened up to about 240, sticking down as low as we could for a surprise attack, still keeping close formation. It was thrilling - the last few seconds following the canal up. just missing the chimney pots and then dead over the factory at about 50 feet, I should say. We were greeted by a hail of machine gun bullets and light flak. The tracers went in all directions. Our bombs, however, went bang in the middle of the factory, so our tail gunner said, and went off with a terrific explosion. As we weaved away we saw our companion catch on fire. He had been hit by a tracer. Things were bad apparently, as we saw him make a forced landing. Though the cab quickly started burning as he crash-landed, I think they may have got away safely.
We were pleased we had bombed the target so successfully, but felt pretty peeved at losing all our comrades. This was at six o’clock GMT. Two hours later it got dark and under cover of darkness we re-crossed the fighter zone and got back to England safely after a fairly hectic trip of 9 hours 49 minutes, being the only machine in the squadron to get back.
The other squadron came over the target soon after us. They were more fortunate than us having gone through the dangerous fighter zone after us and were not attacked as the fighters had used up all their ammunition. They successfully bombed the target but lost two machines over the target area.
We were all glad to get back and thank our lucky stars. Squadron Leader Nettleton flew very well and kept remarkably cool. He should get a DSO or a DFC. I think the Navigator/Bomb Aimer will get one as well. We got 48 hours leave from which I have just returned after having had a good time.
I have now done my share as second pilot in Lancasters and am going on the conversion course tomorrow to become a first pilot and captain of my own Lancaster, which is probably the fastest heavy bomber in the world.
I hope I have luck.
The Nettleton Crew. Pat Dorehill is seated front left, next to Squadron Leader Nettleton