Hampden Pilot then PoW - Bill Wootton

Bill Wootton joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve aged 18 in 1937 and began his flying training at 6 E&RFS, Sywell. Although he carried out much of his early training on G-ADGS, he flew G-ADGT on 3 October 1937, carrying out aerobatics with his regular instructor, Fg Off Dalrymple, who sent Bill off to practice solo aerobatics, also in G-ADGT.


Bill Wootton standing with a Brooklands Tiger at Sywell

Wootton continued his training at Sywell, flying the Hawker Hart and Hind biplanes, before joining 44 Sqn at RAF Waddington here he continued his training on the Avro Anson. His training continued on the Handley Page Hampden bomber with both 44 and 76 Sqns before he joined 61 Sqn at RAF Hemswell, where, although qualified to Captain the Hampden, he operated as second pilot to FS Ross on operations. Wootton’s first operational mission was to Northern Germany on 24 March 1940, carrying out reconnaissance of Warnemunde and Rostock and dropping leaflets on Gustrow; the crew commented on the accuracy of German searchlights and were fired on by a flak ship. On 11 April, Wootton’s was one of 6 crews tasked with attacking enemy shipping at Kristiansund in daylight; the weather over the target was too clear to provide cover and the mission was abandoned. On 17 April, the crew was tasked with a night minelaying operation, but returned early due to unserviceable radio equipment. On 23 April, the task was again night minelaying (‘gardening’), with the crew successfully dropping their ‘vegetable’ near Schleswig in Northern Germany before landing at RAF Bircham Newton in Norfolk.


Wootton piloting the Hawker Hind

The German offensive in the West started on 10 May, with German troops entering Belgium and Holland. On the night of 11 May, Wootton’s crew was one of 37 tasked to attack road and rail communications at Monchengladbach, the RAF’s first raid of the War against a German town. They returned shortly after departure due to an unserviceable generator; 2 Hampdens and one Whitley were lost during the attack. On the night of 17/18 May, 48 Hampdens bombed Hamburg, FS Ross dropping his four 500lb bombs from 16000 feet to cause fires at the edge of the oil tanks; they landed at Abingdon at 5.05 am after 7 hrs 10 min airborne. The night of 19 May saw the crew deliver another four 500lb bombs against a German industrial / railway target.





On the night of 23/24 May, 122 aircraft were tasked with attacking German communications to the battlefront. The Hampdens were targeted against trains, railway lines and junctions to the West of the Rhine and in Holland. FS Ross’ crew communicated with Hemswell at around the time of their expected return, which confirms suspicions of a navigational error, as does the location of their forced landing in Germany, in the Black Forest between the towns of Horb and Rottweil, well to the South East of the targets attacked by 61 Sqn that night. The crew were taken prisoner, with Sgt Eugene Corrigan dying in captivity. Bill Wootton kept an immaculate record of his transfers between PoW camps until his liberation on 2 May 1945.


Map showing the approximate location of Wootton's downed Hampden



Wootton's record of PoW transfers and eventual liberation

Post War, Wootton returned to the family construction business but resumed flying Tiger Moths at Sywell as an RAF reservist with No 6 Reserve Flying School. He qualified as an instructor and was recalled to RAF service at the time of the Korean War, serving as an instructor at No 7 FTS, RAF Cottesmore, flying the Harvard. He also flew the Prentice, Chipmunk and Balliol and made one solo flight in the Gloster Meteor jet. His last flight as an RAF pilot was on 18 December 1952. Finest Hour is indebted to Bill’s cousin Colin and especially his daughter Olivia for allowing us access to his records and pilot’s logbooks.

His full story, including his time as a PoW at Stalag Luft 1 can be found here.

Copyright © 2024 Finest Hour Warbirds Ltd. All rights reserved.
Website by MCCS Ltd.