The History of 625 Squadron Losses
Coat of Arms — Motto — Crew Positions

The Squadron coat of arms is comprised of a Lancaster rose encircled by a seven link gold chain.

The Squadron's motto was appropriately self explanatory: We Avenge.

The rose in the coat of arms was symbolic of the majestic aircraft that carried its brave crew into combat. The links in the chain represented the individual crew members that depended on their tight knit camaraderie and teamwork to survive the almost impossible odds of a thirty operations tour contract.

The pilot/captain was almost always the leader of the crew, responsible for the critical phases of flight during an operation, including avoidance of attacking night fighters and major decisions of op abortion and aircraft abandonment. This included remaining at the controls until his crew was safely out. Only then would he relinquish control to save his life. The only exception was inflight breakup or explosion. On occasion when a decision was to be made regarding baling out or making a hazardous return over the North Sea in a mortally wounded Lanc, The pilot would often take a straw poll of the crew before the final decision was made. It is quite likely that many of the Bomber Command losses reported as Missing- Lost without a Trace (LWT) chose the latter and faced a ditching in the unforgiving frigid waters of the North Sea. The crew of PB302 proved a rare exception. F/L J. Goldsmith, a prior 625 Squadron navigator, was a member of this crew. 625 Squadron's 1st Lt. Max Dowden took a straw poll on the return leg of the catastrophic Nuremberg raid. He managed to reach English soil pull off a miraculous off airport wheels extended landing!

The flight engineer was the pilot's right hand man, assisting him with the multitude of tasks involved in managing a four engined bomber with a mind of its own during the critical phases of flight — especially landing and takeoff. During an op he was responsible for monitoring aircraft systems, in particular fuel management, and attending to inflight failures due to wear and tear or combat damage. In addition he provided a spare pair of eyes to detect night fighters and identify navigational landmarks. During combat emergencies he would act as line of communication between the pilot and other crew members and provide first aid. In the event that his pilot was killed or incapacitated he was expected to remove him from his seat and take temporary control, in order for his crew mates to bale out. On the rare occasion, with the aid of the navigator, he was able to return to England to allow the crew bale out and avoid becoming POWs. There were several incidents of flight engineers successfully crash landing their trusty Lancs. More common was the situation in which a mortally wounded Lanc required the dual efforts of the pilot and flight engineer to maintain straight and level flight for the remainder of the crew to safely exit. 625 Squadron losses# 21- ND641 and 32- LM513 are prime examples of this cooperation and sacrifice.

The navigator was a significant link in the chain, most often the intellect of the crew. His task was precise and unforgiving- from wheels up to wheels down on a training or operational flight he was responsible for the exact geographical location of their aircraft at all times. This was not always and easy task taking into account incorrect weather briefings,unforecast weather changes, failure of navigational aids, unpredicted course changes due to flak avoidance or night fighter. Despite these distractions he was expected to give his pilot instantaneous course directions to the target or home Base. Under normal circumstances he worked in the relative comfort of his lit, curtained cubicle. However, under combat conditions his site could be reduced to a dark cave without the instruments or tools of his trade. This is a time when intellect and innovation could be life saving.

The bomb aimer had the very focused role of ensuring that their bombs were released on the correct target, verified by the target photo. If this was not done according to strict protocol the op would not count towards the thirty required to tour expire. The time from "Bombs Gone" until the photo flash were unbearable for the crew — the straight and level flight over the target for confirmation was a time of extreme anxiety due to vulnerability to flak and night fighter attacks. 625 Squadron loss# 66- PB815 was due to friendly incendiaries during this phase of the bomb run. No doubt many of the crews that failed to return fell victim to flak, night fighters worst of all falling friendly bombs — as a result of attempting to return with a target photo! The bomb aimer in his position at the front of the aircraft he had the task of identifying important landmarks for the navigator and the pilot. He was also responsible for manning the forward turret. It was often used to extinguish pesky searchlights and flak sites — almost never to fend off night fighter attacks. One of the bomb aimer's tasks was simple to fulfill but could have catastrophic results if overlooked — visually checking that no bombs were hung up before requesting the pilot to close the bomb bay doors. On returning from a raid on Friedrichshafen, 1st Lt. Dowden found it virtually impossible to trim out his frisky Lanc. On inspection the reason was obvious — a 4000 lb 'Cookie' rolling loose in the bomb bay!

The wireless operator was the communications centre of the aircraft and was responsible for informing the pilot of messages from Base or Bomber Command. His aids included navigational and night fighter detection devices. In emergency situations such as abandoning aircraft or ditching his Mayday message was often the last clue of the fate and whereabouts of a crew versus: Missing- No news after takeoff.

The mid upper and rear gunners had the unenviable task of protecting the crew from night fighter attacks. Despite extreme cold and fatigue they were expected to be constantly vigilant, alert the pilot of impending attack and direct his corkscrew maneuver to avoid the fighter pilot's line of fire.

They were often the first to be injured or die in an attack. Isolated in the rear of the aircraft they were on their own and fought as an integral team. Their escape route was the door in the rear starboard fuselage used for crew entry. The rear gunner was forced to stow his parachute in the fuselage outside his turret — a most unenviable situation. On two occasions rear gunners survived a high altitude bale out sans parachute or a solo crash landing trapped in the turret. It was not unheard of for gunner teams to make a pact that they would not abandon their partner in circumstances preventing one of the team from baling out.They would die together. It is quite possible that this was the situation with the deaths of F/Ss Adcock and Gledstone, the air gunners of 625 Squadron's loss# 38- PB126.

Despite the seven link principle there was no guarantee of safe return, even for veteran crews. However, if due to reasons of incapacitation a crew member had to be replaced by a 'spare bod' from another crew the chain was often broken and another crew would fail to return to Base.

Sgt. Joe Williams, the rear gunner, of 625's 68th loss to Chemnitz survived the bale out and war's end. His reading of Noel Coward's poem, Lie in the Dark and Listen, to the Merlin crescendo of Lancs straining to become airborne will be included with that loss. One line in the piece is most haunting and evocative: Theirs is a world you will never know.

© 2004-2024 John Albrecht