Halifax V, EB-276, WL-G "German"

This story is written in honor of P/O Gregg Johnston, pilot of crew #9. Special thanks to crew-member & Nose Artist – P/O Lloyd Christmas, M/U-AG.

Researched and written by Replica Nose-Arist; Clarence Simonsen

Lloyd Christmas was born in Hamilton, Ontario, on 21 July 1919. Drawing and painting became a major part of his life from a very early age. Upon entering High School Lloyd began art classes, then due to the depression and family problems he was forced to leave school and go to work. He became an apprentice in a silk screen- printing company, which at least give him experience in the graphic arts.

Lloyd entered RCAF Manning Depot at Brandon, Manitoba, in February 1941, reported to Toronto the next month and began two months guard duty at Camp Borden in June. In August he reported to Trenton, where - “they tried to make everyone a Wireless Air gunner.” Next was a train trip west to No. 2 Wireless School at Calgary, Alberta. “Not having finished High School caused me my problems in the Air Force. Long on the art but short on the Math.” Lloyd was now sent to Trenton, and a new trade, Air Gunner, arriving at No. 6 Bombing and Gunnery School, Mountain View, in December 1941.

2 February 1942, graduated as Sgt. Air Gunner, leave, marriage, report to Stormy Downs, Wales, advanced Gunnery course 24 May 1942. 28 June, crewed-up (P/Sgt. R. Wright) at No. 22 O.T.U. Wellsbourne, flying Wellingtons. 1 October 1942, conversion to the Halifax at No. 1652 H.C.U., then joined No. 408 (Goose) Squadron on 24 October. First flight was in Halifax DG239, 26 November 1942, Air to Sea firing at Filey Bay.

Completed seven (night) operations as rear gunner in crew of Sgt. R. Wright, No. 408 Squadron

06 February 1943 - Halifax “C” - DT749 - Gardening - Friesian Island

26 Attacked - 2 lost.

13 February 1943 - Halifax “Q” - DT679 - Lorient

10 attacked.

16 February 1943 - Halifax “H” - DT797 - Lorient

78 attacked.

18 February 1943 - Halifax “J” - DT769 - Gardening - Friesian Islands

26 attacked, 1 lost.

19 February 1943 - Halifax “J” - DT769 - Wilhelmshaven

3 attacked.

24 February 1943 - Halifax “?” - DT676 - Wilhelmshaven

88 attacked.

26 February 1943 - Halifax “J” - DT769 - Cologne

69 attacked, 3 lost.

The original crew now broke up due to burn out of one member. The remainder flew with other crews who were short of aircrew for some reason or another.

Lloyd flew rear gunner with two different crews, both (night) Ops.

04 April 1943 - Halifax “S” - Kiel

Pilot P/O Harty, 108 attacked, 4 lost

10 April 1943 - Halifax “D” - Frankfurt

Pilot F/Sgt. Wood, 90 attacked, 4 lost.

27 May 1943 - Halifax “R” - DT968 - Essen

Pilot F/O Smith, 43 attacked, 4 lost. Note - Lloyd flew as Mid-upper gunner (night).

Lloyd next filled in for a missing mid-upper in the crew of pilot Gregg McIntyre Johnston, 23 years, from Rosetown, Saskatchewan. An RCAF bomber crew’s first loyalty belonged to the others with whom he flew. The already-assembled crew of Johnston accepted the new mid-upper gunner into their band of comrades, and Lloyd agreed to remain until the end of their operational tour. On 11 June 1943, they flew their first operation to Dusseldorf, in Halifax Mk. II (“T for Tom”). The night operation took six hours and ten minutes, 80 bombers attacked and seven were shot down. The following night they flew the same Halifax “T”, to bomb Bochum, 28 attacked, three were shot down.

 “I do believe we thought up the nose art idea of painting something while we gathered in a pub at Leeming, which was adjacent to 408 Squadron”. “It never came to fruition until we received a brand new Halifax Mk. V, (Halifax “G”, EB276) in No. 434 (Bluenose) Squadron."

In July 1943, three experienced aircrew were sent from No. 408 (Goose) Squadron to form the nucleus of No. 434 (Bluenose) Squadron based at Tholthorpe, Yorkshire.

The crew of P/O Gregg Johnston became one of the three picked for transfer.

“We had quite a bit of free time while No. 434 was getting itself organized. We went on leave and I was able to go hunting on the squadron property. I also had time to paint my first (and last) aircraft nose art.” “I had to first scout around to find someone who could give me the German words that we needed, and I still don’t know if those words are correct?” “I had much difficulty painting with the coarse brushes I borrowed from the ground crew.”

Replica Nose Art painting by Lloyd Christmas dated 28 July 2003.

On the night of 18 August 1943, a force of 597 aircraft attacked the German V-weapon research establishment at Peenemunde on the Baltic. One Canadian Halifax bomber carried “German” lettered nose art - “TODT KOMPT BEI NACHT” and this is the story of the Mid-Upper gunner who painted the art.

“I will describe what I remember about Aug. 17, 1943. It was a beautiful sunny day and the flight engineer (RAF Keith Rowe) and I had ridden my motorcycle into a nearby town. Near lunchtime we returned to the Sergeant’s Mess, which was alive with speculation we were going to the “Big City” - BERLIN. When it came time for briefing the big wall map was opened, revealing the tape stretching from Flamborough Head due east across Denmark and then a right angle turn south in direction of Berlin. The thing that surprised us was that it went only a little distance south and then turned west toward England. I do recall we were warned that if we failed to destroy it on this first try, we would go back as many times as it took to get the job done. That was the first time any of us had ever heard that. I remember as we taxied out and started our take-off run that there was an unusually large crowd of personnel lined up parallel to and back from the runway. Because of the light, the sun was just going down, they looked like a big line of crows. I felt a sense of foreboding.”

“Over the channel we test fired our guns and sure enough, two of my 303’s refused to fire. I was still working on them when we reached the target. We were attacked three times by three different German night fighters.

The first one shortly after we left the target, flying north to south during our bomb run and turning west on a course home. This was a single engine fighter spotted by the husky French-Canadian rear gunner Doug Labelle. He quickly gave Johnny instructions to dive to starboard and we lost him. Immediately a twin engine, Me110, attacked us and again we lost that one. Suddenly from below and off to the port side, obscured by a dark patch of ground, a third aircraft fired cannon shells that arched up like big orange balls, directly into our port inner engine, just below me. Our Halifax seemed to shake and then flame poured from the engine and spread along the complete wing. Pilot Johnny gave the order to bail”.

Gregg Johnston maintained control long enough to allow his crew to escape, but he did not get out himself and was killed on impact. The following day the Germans took the rear gunner Labelle to the crash site to identify the pilot who was lying up in the nose section of the Halifax. He was promoted to pilot Officer posthumously and cited for valor.

Peenemunde was able to resume work after a delay of only six weeks. The raid cost the lives of 735 Germans, including 178 civilians of the settlement. The Lufftwaffe’s Chief of Staff, General Hans Jeschonnek, (responsible for defence of Germany) committed suicide on hearing of the attack.

RCAF 434 Squadron would like to thank P/O Lloyd Christmas and Clarence Simonsen for submission of "TODT KOMPT BEI NACHT"