Detailed Description Of The Attack

At 3.0pm on Thursday 17th April 1942 fourteen Lancasters from both Waddington and Woodhall Spa took off simultaneously and headed for the coast of Normandy; they were due to rendezvous at Grantham but again never found each other. The reserves turned back over Selsey Bill at 4.15pm and returned to their bases, the other two flights of six flew on - each flight in two "Vics" (V formation) of three planes. Hugging first the water and then the soil of France, flying wingtip to wingtip they sped, in fair weather, at their maximum speed towards Augsburg.

According to the Air Ministry plan, at that particular time - Z minus 10 minutes ( Z being the time the Lancasters crossed the coast) two diversionary raids were to be carried out by 24 Boston bombers with Spitfire escorts on Rouen and the docks at Cherbourg, as well as the Grand Quevilly power station. Another 72 Spitfires were also to go and harry the Luftwaffe over the Channel. However no one thought to clarify which coast had been specified and it seems that instead of the English coast, the diversionary force assumed the French…..In any case, at 4.45 pm - thirty minutes after the Bostons and Spitfires had gone home - Nettleton's flight from 44 squadron crossed the coast of France. As they approached the area between Bernay and Beaumont-le-Roger in Normandy, Jagdgeschwader 2 was also returning to their airstrip at Beaumont - The luck of 44 squadron had run out.

The first of the German pilots was in a hurry to land but as he approached his runway, he looked up and saw the Lancasters a few kilometres away. Viewed from above the Lancs. were almost invisible due to their camouflage and their proximity to the ground, but from nearly ground level they were silhouetted black against the blue sky. The fighters immediately pulled out of their landing trajectory and sped off after the bombers - the first sighting of a Lancaster by the Luftwaffe. Beckett, flying last in the second "Vic", was the first to see the fighters' approach, at first hoping that they had not been spotted and that he could preserve radio silence as instructed. His rear gunner, Sergeant Trustram, watched helplessly as the enemy approached - his turret would no longer rotate due to mechanical failure. Beckett decided to break silence as an attack was imminent and Sergeant Bill Seagoe (my Uncle, aged 24 and married for less than four months) made his last transmission as Beckett radioed to warn the others "109s at eleven o'clock high!"

Hauptmann Greisert closed on Beckett's V-Victor and the hapless Trustram realised that his four Brownings were also jammed and unable to fire, leaving the two guns in the mid-turret as the Lancaster's only defensive firepower. Theirs was a lost cause as Greisert fired from beyond their range, hitting one of their engines which burst into flames. The resulting fire spread rapidly through the airframe and Beckett, Moss, Ross, Seagoe, Hackett, Harrison and Trustram were blown to pieces as their 30 tonne Lancaster laden with four 1000lb bombs, fuel and men ploughed into an orchard in Normandy.