D.F.C. L.G. 17/10/1944.
M.B.E., D.F.C. 617 Squadron, with logbook, bomb aimer, 50 ops. 29 of with 617 from the first ‘Tallboy’ raid and many precision targets including planting a ‘Tallboy’ from 18,000 feet straight on the dome of the V2 rocket site at Wizerne
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SKU: A8667 Category: Awards For Gallantry And Distinguished Service
M.B.E. 2nd type, military, D.F.C. (GV1) reverse 1944, 1939/45 Star, clasp Bomber Command, Air Crew Europe, clasp, France & germany,Defence Medal, War Medal, Korea (Flt. Lt. R.A.F.), U.N. Korea, G.S.M. (E11R), clasp Malaya (Flt. Lt. R.A.F.), France, Legion of Honour.
One of the last two survivors of wartime 617. The medals were originally sold to raise funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund and the medals he wears today are a dress set of copies. Wing Commander J.R. Bell, still current president of 617 Asscociation, and aged 98 remains a supporter of fund raising and awareness.
With Log Book covering whole of flying career.
An archive of original itens, including photo album, additional photos, newspaper cuttings , award document for MBE, Bomber Command clasp, commission warrant and other
D.F.C. L.G. 17/10/1944.
Pilot Officer John Richard Bell, 617 Squadron 5 Group Bomber Command
Number of sorties 44 Operational Air Bomber.
“Pilot Officer Bell has now completed a total of forty four operational sorties as an Air Bomber. He has taken part in attacks against the majority of the most heavily defended targets in Germany, including eight attacks against Berlin, three against Hamburg, and also attacks against Frankfurt and Dusseldorf. When he had completed twenty two sorties with a Main Force Squadron Pilot Officer Bell volunteered to join a Special Duties Squadron thereby considerably lengthening his period of operations. Since joining this squadron he has taken part in low level attacks against such targets as the Antheor Voaduct, Clermont Ferrand and St Etienne. He has now been operating continuously since July 1943, and throughout his long and distinguished career has proven himself equal to any task which he has been called upon to undertake.
As an Ai Bomber he has displayed exceptional skill and has consistently returned with aiming pint photographs. Pilot Officer Bell has in the face of the most intense opposition shown outstanding qualities of determination, courage and devotion to duty worthy of the highest praise. I therefore recommend him for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.”
Recommendation states :
Squadron Leader John Richard Bell, DFC, Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (UK).
“Squadron Leader Bell qualified as a Photographic Interpreter in 1951. He served in many parts of the world as Photographic Interpreter, including the Far East and Germany, before being posted to the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (UK) in July 1961. During this particular tour he worked first as a member and later as the leader of a specialist team of Photographic Interpreters on a far ranging study analysing the offensive capability and the threat to the Western Wold posed by the Soviet surface to surface rocket forces. It was due largely to his dedication to duty, his wide knowledge and inspired leadership, that the foundations were then laid for the successful completion of this study. Its subsequent publication has received wide recognition and acclaim as a unique and authoritative treatise on this subject.
Largely in recognition for the leading part he played in this project, Squadron Leader Bell was posted to the United States as the only British Liaison Officer in an important United States Centre for Photographic Interpretation in Washington DC. Here again, he displayed outstanding personal qualities, rapidly acquiring the advanced specialist knowledge which was to enable him to make a significant contribution to the research and development work of that Centre. Additionally by his own unaided personal efforts, he was instrumental in forming and cementing many of the ties and special relationships now binging the United States and United Kingdom Intelligence Communities.
On his repatriation to the UK Squadron Leader Bell returned to the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (UK) as the Operations Control Officer on the Staff of Exploitation Wing, an appointment of vital importance to the Defence Intelligence Staff at the Ministry of Defence for the successful exploitation of highly classified materials and photography in the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (UK).
Squadron Leader Bell has now completed his tour at the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (UK). Throughout this period he has, by his personal example, absolute dedication to duty and inspired guidance and leadership, ensured that the highest possible standards of Photographic Interpretation reporting have been set and sustained throughout the Unit. His contribution reflects the greatest credit upon himself and upon the United Kingdom Intelligence Community at large.
It is considered that Squadron Leader Bell’s magnificent sustained effort over the years has been in the finest traditions of the Royal Air Force and fully merits recognition as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”.
John Richard Bell was born 25th March 1923, residing at Stoneleigh, Ewell, SurreyEnlisted as A.C.2, 23rd June 1941. Attaining the rank of Temporary Flight Sergeant, he was discharged to a commission 21st February 1944 as Pilot Officer General Duties Branch (Aircrew).
War substantive Flying Officer 28th August 1944, promoted War Substantive Flight Lieutenant 22nd February 1946. Extending his service as Flying Officer General Duties Branch (Aircrew) Royal Air Force 15th May 1947. Promoted Substantive Flight Lieutenant 29th June 1950 and granted a permanent commission 1st June 1954. Transferred to the General Duties Branch (Ground Section) Photo Interpretation 1st January 1955. Promoted Squadron Leader 1st January 1967 and to Wing Commander 1st July 1972, he retired at his own request 31st March 1977 after 36 years of service
At 6 foot 4 inch bell was told he was too tall to be a pilot and so commenced training as an Observer with 45 Air School, Oudtshoorn, South Africa 4th July 1942 in an Anson and later Oxford aircraft. Joining 14 Operational Training Unit at Saltby 10th March 1943 as an Air Bomber flying in Anson and Wellington bombers. Joining 1660 Conversion Unit at Swinderby 25th May 1943 as Bombardier in Manchester aircraft, he joined 619 Squadron at Woodhall Spa flying Lancaster Mark III bombers teaming up with Bob Knights with whom he would fly all his 50 ops.
As a Lancaster had only a single pilot, Bob Knights decided that he would train his bomb-aimer, John Bell, to fly the aircraft in case he was killed or incapacitated. He felt that the bomb-aimer could most easily be spared from his other duties in such an eventuality (usually role of the Flight Engineer) . John Bell, later said that he spent several hours in all at the controls of a Lancaster with Bob standing beside him advising him. It is unlikely that such a novice Lancaster pilot, with no other piloting experience, would ever have been able to land the aircraft if his pilot was rendered ‘hors de combat’, but at least he might have been able to fly it back over friendly territory before the crew took to their ‘chutes’. John Bell also said that he always seemed to over-control the aircraft, finding it difficult to keep it steady. When he was flying it, he said, “The rest of the crew were not best pleased!”
Going operational at the height of Bomber Command losses his first sortie was Hamburg in the night of 24th July 1943. Together with his further sorties there on the 27th & 29th these constituted 'Operation Gomorrah' the firestorm raids which has been the source of much controvery down the years. Hamburg heavy industry never fully recovered before the end of the war.
Of the remaining 21 sorties with 619, 19 were on heavily defended German targets including 8 to Berlin where bomber losses averaged an attritional 5.8.%.
Towards the end of the tour Knight's crew who had slightly differing sortie counts as a result of sickness etc. were concerned that some would be be obliged to finish their 30 tour with another crew and at a later date return for a second 20 tour with a new and possibly green crew. Accordingly they applied to transfer to 617 for an extended tour. Folllowing an interview with the new C/O of 617, Leonard Cheshire, they were accepted 29/1/1943 and flew their first sortie with 617 to Limoges on 8 February (as below) in their Lancaster 'Thumper 3' with the artwork – the cartoon rabbit holding a foaming pint of beer painted on the nose and a bomb log painted under the cockpit.
Mark low, bomb high.
By this point No.617 Squadron was beginning to look like a unit without a purpose. Low level raids were too costly, while the Oboe navigation system wasn't quite accurate enough to allow target markets to be placed on small targets. Leonard Cheshire, believed that the best way to solve this problem would be for the squadron to carry out its own marking using low flying aircraft to achieve accuracy. On the night of 8 February 1944 he was allowed to try this out officially for the first time, using a Lancaster as the marker. The target was the Gnome & Rhône aircraft engine factory at Limoges, an important target but one that was too close to French civilian houses for Bomber Command to attack by conventional methods. The Germans must have shared this opinion, for the factory was only defended by two machine guns. Cheshire took advantage of this to buzz the factory twice to give the French workers a chance to escape. He then accurately dropped his markers and eleven more Lancasters from the squadron bombed on target, knocking out production at the factory.
617 (with John Bell present) made a series of attacks with astonishing accuracy, destroying an aircraft factory at Albert 2 March, the Michelin plant at Clermont-Ferrand 16 March where Cheshire flew three times over the factory to warn the workers before the factory was destroyed, the Tuilieres explosive factory at Bergerac 18 March which was completely destroyed, power station at Lyon 29 March, the aircraft factory at Toulouse 5 April 1944, (destroyed), signals depot at Saint-Cyr-l'École 10 April 1944, (destroyed) and Juvisy marshalling yards on 18/19 April (destroyed).
All operations in May 1944 were ceased and it was spent in training for Opertion Taxable to support the D-day landings, 617 Squadron was given an unusual mission. It was tasked with pulling off a deception raid. The squadron was to make a series of low level approaches to the Pas de Calais, dropping window with each pass. If delivered sequentially the window might simulate the approach of an invasion fleet and confuse the enemy about the real D-day landings in Normandy. 617 was disappointed, and felt they should be used in a more conventional manner to destroy real targets, but they did as they were told. In fact, they were the only unit that could pull it off. On the night of 5/6 June 1944, 617 Squadron used precision flying to drop window over the channel at low level in succession, generating the radar appearance of large numbers of approaching ships. This deception simulated the approach for an amphibious landing in the Pas de Calais. In retrospect Cheshire felt they may have saved more lives with this mission than in any of the others they did.
‘Tallboy’ was a remarkable weapon, combining the explosive force of a large, high-capacity bomb and the penetrating power of armour-piercing munitions. When it was introduced it was the only weapon in the Royal Air Force’s inventory capable of breaking through the thick concrete structures of the German U-boat shelters, E-boat pens and V-weapon sites. ‘Tallboy’ measured 21 feet long and contained 5,200 lbs of Torpex explosive. With a streamlined (ogival) shape, it was fitted with a long, light-alloy, conical tail with 4 small square fins. These fins were offset by 5 degrees, causing the bomb to spin during its fall, aiding stability and improving its accuracy. To increase its penetrative power, the nose of the bomb contained a specially-hardened and precisely-machined, steel plug. ‘Tallboy’ was ballistically perfect and in consequence had a very high terminal velocity. Released from an altitude of 18,000 feet, a ‘Tallboy’ took only 37 seconds to fall to ground; when it hit, it was supersonic and still accelerating. It could penetrate 16 feet of concrete and made a crater 80 feet deep and 100 feet across, which would have taken 5,000 tons of earth to fill. The bomb was designed to detonate below ground, transferring all of its energy into the target structure. This 'earthquake' effect caused more damage than a direct hit, as it shook the whole target structure, causing major damage to all parts of it and making repair impossible or uneconomic. The fuses in the rear of the bomb could be set to give it sufficient time to penetrate before exploding. The time delay could be set to between 11 seconds and 30 minutes after impact.
The first time that the John Bell dropped a ‘Tallboy’ from “Thumper Mk III” was the operational debut for the new bomb on the night of 8/9th June 1944 (D-Day+2). The target for the new weapon was the Saumur railway tunnel in France, some 125 miles to the south of the Normandy battle area. This raid was prepared in great haste, as intelligence indicated that a German Panzer unit was expected to move by train through the tunnel. The aim was to prevent these and any other German reinforcements reaching Normandy from the south. The target area was illuminated with flares by four Lancasters of 83 Squadron and then marked at low level by two Mosquitos of 617 Squadron. Twenty-five Lancasters of 617 Squadron, 19 carrying ‘Tallboys’, dropped their bombs with great accuracy. One ‘Tallboy’ actually pierced the roof of the tunnel and brought down a huge quantity of rock and soil. The tunnel was blocked for a considerable period and the Panzer unit was badly delayed.
On 14 June 1944, came the daylight attack upon the E boat pens at Le Havre. The pens protected fifteen E boats, which posed a threat to the invasion fleet. Attacking the pens with Tallboys, the roof was caved in, and all but one of the E boats were damaged beyond use. In addition, 617 attacked the German ships in Le Havre by dropping Tallboys into the waters of the harbour. The explosions were so strong that ten ships were blown straight out of the water and onto the quayside. Commented Cheshire, "Barnes Wallis had a big bomb."
Further 'Tallboys' came on the 15th (Boulogne E Boat pens severely damaged), 24th Wizernes V2 weapons site put out of action, 25th Siracourt flying bomb storage facility (successful)
John Bell remembers the direct hit with ‘his’ Tallboy on the north-west edge of the concrete dome at the V2 rocket site at Wizerne on 17th Jul 44. He watched the bomb all the way down to impact. This attack caused severe damage to the site, which was still under construction. Three Tallboys, including the one dropped from “Thumper”, exploded next to the tunnels, one burst just under the dome, and another burst in the mouth of one tunnel. The whole hillside collapsed, undermining the dome support, and burying the entrances to the V2 launch tunnels. Although the concrete dome was unscathed, the buttresses supporting it were dislodged and the dome tilted, jeopardising the bunker from underneath.
From his Lancaster flying at 18,000ft the target was a tiny dot and he knew he had just one opportunity to deliver the 12,000lb bomb. "The pilot had to maintain a straight, level and steady speed for about 10 minutes on the approach so I could make the calculations," says John, on revisiting the scene for tv inrecent years. "If there was any flak you just had to ignore it but the real problem was cloud. "Fortunately it was clear that day. "I was able to track the bomb all the way to the target and I was elated when it hit. "I shouted out 'bullseye'.
Further 'Tallboy" raids on the 25th saw a sortie to Watten V2 construction site rendering the whole structure unstable and the site was abandoned. The 31st saw both ends of the railway tunnel at Rilly-la-Montagne collapsed. The 5th August saw John Bell's 50th and final sortie to the U Boat pens at Brest wherethe huge 300 meter long structure was penetrated by six bombs.
John Bell later said
"I was reluctant to leave 617 Squadron because there was great camaraderie but I had got engaged,"
"We did lose aircraft and I suppose I was just lucky. "
I never thought about being shot down. "When I tell people I was in 617 Squadron the first question is always: 'Were you on the dams raid?'
A stunning 617 group. A rare oportunity for a group with named medals and an exceptional 617 logbook.
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