Heroes: the Royal Air Force
"...when we landed the ground crew, instead of coming to give us a hand, cleared off as fast as they could. We were mystified-until we climbed out. Then we got the shock of our lives. Sticking out of a tail fin was a 250-pound bomb. The bomb had been dropped by a Liberator of the American Air Force over the same target area..."
- Branch of Service: Royal Air Force
- Unit: 108 Squadron
- Dates: 1939 - 1948
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: NCO, Tail Turret Gunner
- Birth Year: 1923
- Entered Service: Scotland
The 250-lb bomb wedged in the Wellington's tailplane
the Lucky Escape
John Robertson was the maternal Grandfather of this story's contributor, Mark "Macky" Coff. John was born in Scotland and moved to England. He joined the RAF during the war years -- approximately in 1939 and continued to serve with the RAF until 1948. He was serving in the middle east when he was recalled to the UK on July 7, 1945.
During the war years, John flew a total of 73 bombing missions including the mission that will be mentioned in this essay.
John Robertson flew on a number of different aircraft including the Gipsy moth, Tiger moth, Westard Wallace, Gorackburn Skua, Page Harrow, Anson, Oxford, Wedon, Billington, Lancaster, Vickers Warwick and a Dekota (All RAF). He also flew on a Viscount (not RAF).
John Robertson was the tail turret gunner (Type FN 120). His RAF squadron was the 108 Squadron, and the call sign was "Charlie." John had a record of twelve Me-109's shot down to his credit as well as the 73 bombing missions he flew.
The most memorable mission took place on April 4, 1942. While on a mission to Tripoli from a base at Kibrit the Vickers Wellington when his place was hit by a 250-lb bomb that was dropped apparently by a B-24 Liberator in a flight above his flight.
My Grandfather John Robertson was an Officer in the Royal Air Force in the second world war. He flew bombing raids all over Germany and had the unenviable task of a rear gunner (tail end Charlie).
Whilst on one of these raids a U. S bomber above my Grandfathers Wellington released its load. One of these bombs hit the tail of his aircraft cutting him of from the rest of the crew. My Grandfathers crew carried on and dropped their load then returned back home. On landing they were shocked to see the ground crew running away because amazingly with all the noise in the aircraft they were unaware of the deadly cargo they had on board. A specialised team took over getting everyone out safely. The bomb was tested and found to be in perfect working order."
John Robertson in RAF uniform.
In John Robertson's own words:
"In June 1942 I took part in a raid on Tripoli as the Rear Gunner in a Wellington bomber. There was a lot of flak over the target and in all the confusion no one noticed anything out of the ordinary happening to the plane. Mission complete, we had a peaceful 300-mile flight back to the desert airfield at Kibrit. But when we landed the ground crew, instead of coming to give us a hand, cleared off as fast as they could. We were mystified-until we climbed out. Then we got the shock of our lives. Sticking out of a tail fin was a 250-pound bomb. The bomb had been dropped by a Liberator of the American Air Force over the same target area. I was only three feet away from the bomb in the rear gunner's nest. A good job I didn't know it was there at the time!"
Included with this essay of John Robertson, we are fortunate to have some aerial images of targets taken before and after some of the raids that John went on as well as some extracts of John Robertson's journal that he kept after each raid.
"His Offices Cap goes down at the sides instead of standing tall like other British Caps. this is because he thought the German cap was much better looking and made his look similar, a task which often got him into trouble with his superiors. He received the DFC for his service over Europe, and a membership to the Goldfish Club for coming down in the sea.
As well as receiving the D.F.C. John was a Boxing Judge and a member of the "Goldfish Club" for coming down in the sea (unfortunately the date is not stated). He was in the Masonic Lodge with his brother Robert whom he opened a bookshop with after the War. He was also a keen drummer.
Newspaper article depicting the "Lucky Escape" bomb incident.
Text of Newspaper Article:
Page 10 -- The Peope's Journal, Saturday, September 10, 1055.
The best "pictale" of them all
Although it's 13 years since this "pictale" was taken, it's worth every penny of the ten guinea price for the best one of the season.
It comes from Mr. JOHN ROBERTSON, 70 MAIN STREET, CROSSHILL, GLENCRAIG, FIFE.
An ex-R.A.F. airgunner, he completed 73 bombing missions and was awarded the D.F. C. for his part in operations over Europe.
Mr. Robertson is a member of the famous Goldfish Club. To qualify you must have come come down in the sea. Mr. Robertson owes his life to a rubber dingby.
But his most hair-raising expoit happened over Africa. Just read this: --
In June 1942, I took part in a raid on Tripoli as the rear gunner in a Wellington bomber.
There was a lot of flak over the target and in ----------- no one noticed anything out of the ordinary happening to the plane.
Mission completed, we had a peaceful 300-mile flight back to the desert airfield of Kobrit. But when we landed the ground crew, instead of coming to give us a hand, cleared off as fast as they could.
We were mystified -- until we climbed out. Then we got the shock of our lives.
STICKING OUT OF A TAIL FIN WAS A 250-POUND BOMB.
The bomb had been dropped by a Liberator of the American Air Force over the same target area.
I was only three feet away from the bomb in the rear gunner's 'nest'. A good job I didn't know about it at the time."
Log Book Entries:
Log Book Entries: April 4, 1940 to July 24, 1940
Log Book Entries: June 10, 1940 to June 30, 1940
Log Book Entries: January 4, 1942 to August 7, 1942
John Robertson Images:
Members of 108 Squadron. John Robertson is dead center of image
John Robertson was a boxing judge. He is in the center of the photo
Target Before/After Images:
Politz. Synthetic Oil Plant. Before and After Pictures
ULM. Attack on night of 17/18 December 1944. Before and After Pictures
The materials depicted on this page were reprinted with kind permission of the Grandson of the subject of this essay -- Mark "Macky" Coff.
We, at the World War II Stories - In Their Own Words web site wish to offer to Mr. Mark Coff our most profound THANK YOU for his sharing of the poignant story of his Grandfather's experiences -- during World War II and especially for allowing us to share those memories. We will always be grateful for Mr. John Robertson's contributions to the war effort and to the countless other men and women who put forth their "finest hour".
Original story transcribed from notes received between 30 January and 1 March 2004.
Story added to website on 8 March 2004
Here are some interesting links that are related to this story:
The Royal Air Force -- Home Page
Vickers Wellington: Serial Numbers
The Vickers Wellington Wimpey
3D Animated Flags--By 3DFlags.com
September 5, 2002.
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