The History of NA337
Halifax Mk VII, serial number NA-337 was delivered to RAF’s 644 Squadron at Tarrant Rushton, Dorset, England on 5 March 1945 and was given the squadron’s identification code 2P-X. On 24 March 1945, NA-337 took part in Operation Varsity, the last large-scale allied airborne operation of the Second World War: the crossing of the Rhine River. For this operation, it towed a Hamilcar glider that contained a Dodge truck and an artillery gun to be used by the army. Between 30 March and 24 April 1945, it participated in three supply drop operations to resistance forces in Denmark and Norway. On April 23, 1945, Halifax NA-337 was assigned what became its final mission.
On April 23, 1945, Halifax NA-337, carrying the No. 644 Squadron Code 2P-X, was assigned its fourth mission, flying to Norway on a Special Operations Executive (S.O.E) operation. It was flown by its regular crew of Flt/Lt Alexander Turnbull DFC (pilot), Flt/Lt Walter Reginald Mitchell (navigator), Flt/Sgt Gordon Russell Tuckett (bomb aimer), Flt/Sgt Goronwy Amman Bassett (flight engineer), Flt/Sgt Alec Naylor (wireless operator), and Flt/Sgt Thomas Weightman (rear gunner). Operation ‘Crop 17’ required the dropping of 13 containers and 2 packages from an easterly direction on drop zone 328 (60 27 50N, 11 51 23E) at Mikkelsberget in Norway.
0800 hrs Base wide daily weather brief and BBC news update.
Days not flying were spent studying flight call signs, station standing orders and daily routine orders. Ground crews did physical labour, such as digging slit trenches around the sleeping quarters. New planes were quality tested, inspection of parachute packs were done periodically, gunnery practiced firing at drogues. Other practice exercises often held in the mornings included: formation flying, glider towing, live drops of troops, air to air and air to ground practice firing, navigation practice.
1200 hrs F/L Turnbull tells 2P-X crew to eat, then rest. Looks like a long night ahead.
Flight Lieutenant Alexander Turnbull DFC (Pilot)
Turnbull was 20 years old when he enlisted in 1940. From Edinburgh, Scotland, he was a very good golfer and played often. He was a member of the Edinburgh MG Car Club and attended local car rallies. His intention was to become a flight mechanic or flight rigger. In that capacity his unit was part of the Allied retreat caused by the counter attack of Rommel’s Afrika Korps in the Libyan Desert. He became a pilot in 1943. He married Veronica Wood on August 25, 1943. They had one son, Billy, born in 1944.
1600 hrs Afternoon briefing for the night’s mission assignments.
At the afternoon briefing, crews were given targets; the Navigator was informed of the route to be taken and the latitude and longitude of the drop zone. Meteorologist office gave info on wind speed and direction, type of cloud and coverage. Wireless operator got the latest frequency changes, call signs, colours of the day. Flight Engineer received info on gas load and the canisters and packages to be delivered. Bomb Aimer was given the Morse code letter the reception committee would flash from the ground. Air Gunner was advised of the latest enemy fighter tactics.
1605 hrs Time Hack: A military term, meaning to take note of the current time is 1605
12 crews are assigned missions and aircraft. F/L Turnbull and crew are tasked 2P-X “Xray” (NA-337). Special Operations brief of F/L Turnbull for 23 April mission. “Crop 17. Navigator F/L Mitchell given the Drop Zone position, 60 27 50N, 11 51 23E.
Flight Lieutenant Walter Reginald Mitchell (Navigator)
Wally Mitchell, or “Mitch” to his colleagues came from London, England and enlisted in 1941 at age 20. Two weeks after his marriage Wally was posted to No. 6 Bombing and Gunnery School, Mountain View, Prince Edward County, Ontario, for a six month Air Observers Course. Following more training in Quebec, PEI and Scotland, he was posted to No. 42 Operational Training Unit, Ashbourne, Derbyshire in January 1944. He married Ethel Strickland on August 5, 1942 and they had one daughter, Jacqueline.
1800 hrs Flight Engineer F/L Basset heads to the aircraft for preflight
Flight Sergeant Goronwy Amman Bassett (Flight Engineer)
Bassett was the eldest of the crew, enlisting in 1940 at age 29. He came from Ammanford, Wales, and married Georgia Chapman on October 18, 1941 (no children). He began his training as an air gunner but switched half way through to Flight Mechanic Airframes. He completed his Flight Engineer’s course in March 1944. He then reported to Shropshire, England. He loved music and sang Welsh Folk Music called “Penillion”. He was the nephew of famous Welsh conductor Rae Jenkins, of the BBC Midland Light Orchestra.
1900 hrs F/L Turnball and the rest of the crew arrive at the airfield and NA-337
1905 hrs F/L Bassett declares A/C is all good . “Ready for your takeover skipper.”
1910 hrs Turnbull and Bassett begin pre engine start checks.
1925 hrs Starting with number 3 (then 4, 1, 2), the Bristol Hercules engines rumble to life.
1940 hrs Turnbull and Bassett run through the pre taxi check list.
1943 hrs All checks complete. Crew is ready for takeoff. Prepare to taxi into position.
1944 hrs F/L Turnbull advised there’s a 3 minute delay (enjoy one last tune before take off).
1950 hrs Throttles full forward. NA-337 charges down the runway.
1951 hrs NA-337 is airborne heading northwest to the Wash, the North Sea and beyond to Norway and drop zone “Tistel”.
Continue to “The Mission”
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