Enemy Coast Ahead - Guy Gibson VC

#1
Last week I was doing some shopping and paused to look at a stall of second hand books being sold for charity. There was a copy of Enemy Coast Ahead by Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC (I know he had other decorations - DFC?) so I picked it up. I have to get round to reading it, but in the front there is a sobering list of Pilots (and their crews) who were missing from raids he had flown in. How did the crews cope with that?

At school I read Paul Bricknall's (spelling?) book about the Dambusters, and my late Uncle flew as a Flight Engineer in Lancasters before transferring to Coastal Command and Sunderland flying boats.

I have quickly scanned the book and it seems very matter of fact, despite the fact they were doing extraordinary deeds in extraordinary times.
 
#2
Because they were themselves extraordinary, though they likely would not have thought so.

'The successes of Bomber Command were purchased at terrible cost. Of every 100 airmen who joined Bomber Command, 45 were killed, 6 were seriously wounded, 8 became Prisoners of War, and only 41 escaped unscathed (at least physically). Of the 120,000 who served, 55,573 were killed including over 10,000 Canadians. Of those who were flying at the beginning of the war, only ten percent survived. It is a loss rate comparable only to the worst slaughter of the First World War trenches. Only the Nazi U-Boat force suffered a higher casualty rate.

'On a single night, Bomber Command suffered more losses than did Fighter Command during the entire Battle of Britain.'

Bomber Command's Losses

ETA: source & quotation marks
 
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#4
Yeah - how on Earth did they cope with that? How do you cope with seeing aircraft flown by your friends being shot down, then come back to base and learn about other missing aircraft, and go through a debrief, and then find the courage go through it all again a few nights later, wondering who was not going to come back this time?

Uncle Ted noted that some people criticised Bomber Crews and at the time for things like drinking heavily between raids. FFS! He also mentioned having to clear the remains of a rear gunner, a friend, from the tail turret as the ground crew could not face it.
 
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#5
Ages since I read it but from what I remember a good read. Presumably it was ghost written as it was published during the war when the Dog's dad was a bit busy. It starts with his journey from the south coast to join his squadron at the start of the war. IIRC he stopped off for a swift one on the way here Pub honours its Dambusters hero; Squadron leader's letter takes pride of place in local. - Free Online Library

I often wonder when I go into old pubs about people's last pint at home or first pint back after war
 

diverman

LE
Book Reviewer
#6
Gibson like Bader was a product of his times and the pre-war air force, which moulded his psyche. I recommend James Holland's book Dambusters which delves into Gibson the man as well as a commander.
 
#7
Interesting take on bomber command

The RAFFPU showing the Wellington as the workhorse before the Stirling superseded it

Most of the crew did not survive the war.
 
#8
Yeah - how on Earth did they cope with that? How do you cope with seeing aircraft flown by your friends being shot down, then come back to base and learn about other missing aircraft, and go through a debrief, and then find the courage go through it all again a few nights later, wondering who was not going to come back this time?

Uncle Ted noted that some people criticised Bomber Crews and at the time for things like drinking heavily between raids. FFS! He also mentioned having to clear the remains of a rear gunner, a friend, from the tail turret as the ground crew could not face it.
The rear turret often had to have it's contents hosed out, as there was not enough to pick up .
a photographer of that time told me about that.

I worked in a Secret Spy Base, an oppo who had been a rear gunner and he would dissapear occationally to the Mental hospital nearby for a rest.
 
#9
Ages since I read it but from what I remember a good read. Presumably it was ghost written as it was published during the war when the Dog's dad was a bit busy. It starts with his journey from the south coast to join his squadron at the start of the war. IIRC he stopped off for a swift one on the way here Pub honours its Dambusters hero; Squadron leader's letter takes pride of place in local. - Free Online Library

I often wonder when I go into old pubs about people's last pint at home or first pint back after war
There’s a pub in Cambridge who’s name escapes me. Quite a tall ceiling in the bar and still heavily stained with nicotine and smoke.

Why has the landlord not given it a lick of paint to freshen it up you may ask?

The simple answer is that when you look closely at the ceiling it is covered in graffiti from bomber crew who used to drink there. 70 year old graffiti lovingly left alone to remember the memories of those brave men.

ISTR that there is a picture of then Memphis bell behind the bar and I think that crew signed the ceiling.
 
#10
I read Enemy Coast Ahead when I was in my teens. It struck me that not only did he find the time to do the extraordinary things he did in his day (night?) job, but found the time to write a book. By the age of 26.
 

petetheplane

LE
Book Reviewer
#11
I grew up in Maidstone in Kent. As a schoolboy, my nextdoor neighbour was a Solicitor. He told me that he had been at school for six years with Guy Gibson and thought that he was "absolutely hateful". I suppose that that characteristic would be an essential for the VC.
 
#12
Gibson like Bader was a product of his times and the pre-war air force, which moulded his psyche. I recommend James Holland's book Dambusters which delves into Gibson the man as well as a commander.
Bader by all accounts was a complete cock.

I can’t help but think that when you have survival rates like bomber command had you just got an a did amazing things because there was little other option.

The wireless operator who climbed out on the wing to extinguish flames is a good example. He did it because there was no other option.

It isn’t exactly the scenario when you can bunker down in a shell scrap and wait until the nastiness goes away.
 

diverman

LE
Book Reviewer
#13
Bader by all accounts was a complete cock.

I can’t help but think that when you have survival rates like bomber command had you just got an a did amazing things because there was little other option.

The wireless operator who climbed out on the wing to extinguish flames is a good example. He did it because there was no other option.

It isn’t exactly the scenario when you can bunker down in a shell scrap and wait until the nastiness goes away.
Yet you have a total contrast in Leonard Cheshire VC, who was a Group Captain by the age of 26, flew many missions, revered by both air and ground crews, because he respected and looked after them. Even today many commanders could learn that lesson.

Leonard Cheshire - Wikipedia
 
#14
I grew up in Maidstone in Kent. As a schoolboy, my nextdoor neighbour was a Solicitor. He told me that he had been at school for six years with Guy Gibson and thought that he was "absolutely hateful". I suppose that that characteristic would be an essential for the VC.
Bader by all accounts was a complete cock.

I can’t help but think that when you have survival rates like bomber command had you just got an a did amazing things because there was little other option.

The wireless operator who climbed out on the wing to extinguish flames is a good example. He did it because there was no other option.

It isn’t exactly the scenario when you can bunker down in a shell scrap and wait until the nastiness goes away.
It does seem to go with the mould. Have met some individuals,complete spunktrumpets. But unbelievably courageous.
 

Joshua Slocum

LE
Book Reviewer
#15
Yet you have a total contrast in Leonard Cheshire VC, who was a Group Captain by the age of 26, flew many missions, revered by both air and ground crews, because he respected and looked after them. Even today many commanders could learn that lesson.

Leonard Cheshire - Wikipedia
and after the war, and witnessing the atomic bombs, spent his savings caring for others
his Leonard Cheshire trust still exists
 
#16
I grew up in Maidstone in Kent. As a schoolboy, my nextdoor neighbour was a Solicitor. He told me that he had been at school for six years with Guy Gibson and thought that he was "absolutely hateful". I suppose that that characteristic would be an essential for the VC.
Did the Solicitor have any interesting war experiences ?
 
#18
It does seem to go with the mould. Have met some individuals,complete spunktrumpets. But unbelievably courageous.
I tend to find those types glory seekers and should be given a wide birth.

It’s the normal people in extraordinary environments doing extraordinary things that always amaze me.
 
#19
There’s a pub in Cambridge who’s name escapes me. Quite a tall ceiling in the bar and still heavily stained with nicotine and smoke.

Why has the landlord not given it a lick of paint to freshen it up you may ask?

The simple answer is that when you look closely at the ceiling it is covered in graffiti from bomber crew who used to drink there. 70 year old graffiti lovingly left alone to remember the memories of those brave men.

ISTR that there is a picture of then Memphis bell behind the bar and I think that crew signed the ceiling.
The Eagle.
 

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