James Thompson - Whitley Bomber Pilot and Serial Escaper

Thompson flew his first trip in a Tiger Moth from Sywell on 14 May 1939; the aeroplane was G-ADGU and his instructor was his regular instructor, Fg Off Dalrymple. His third trip in a Tiger was in G-ADGT on 21 May.  Thompson’s last trip at 6 E&RFTS was on 23 July 1939, thereafter, he continued his Tiger Moth training at No 9 E&RFTS at RAF Ansty in Warwickshire, completing the Course during October 1939.

Between November 1939 and April 1940, Thompson trained on the Avro Anson at No 8 FTS, RAF Montrose, before flying hi first flight in an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley at No 10 Operational Training Unit (OTU), at RAF Abingdon in Oxfordshire, on 1 May 1940.

First Production Whitley IWM Resize

The First Production Whitley in Flight, 1937 (IWM)

Graduating with an ‘Above Average’ grading as a Heavy Bomber Pupil from the OTU, Pilot Officer James Thompson was posted to 58 Sqn at RAF Linton-on-Ouse on 10 June and was soon in the thick of the action.

58 Sqn Whitley 1940 IWM

58 Sqn Whitley, 1940 (IWM)

Airborne on an Air Test on 12 June, his operational flying as a second pilot was soon underway; his missions were as follows:

1.  13 Jun.  Target Laon.  Unable to identify target so town of Marle (15 nm NE of Laon) was bombed from 6000’.

2.  14 Jun.  Target Ruhr. 

3.  17 Jun.  Target Wedau (Ruhr).  Target identified and attacked in a glide from 12000’ to 10000’; bombs seen to fall in target area.

4.  18 Jun.  Target Dusseldorf (Ruhr).  Target bombed in a gliding attack from 15000’ to 12000’; railway sidings hit and fires started in marshalling yards and the town.

5.  20 Jun.  Target Essen (Ruhr).  Difficulty in locating target due to intense haze.  Bombed from 15000’ to 10000’ but no results seen. 

6.  26 Jun.  Target Ichendorf (Ruhr).  The crew was unable to identify the target so bombed rail and canal junctions at Weert from 4000’.  Returned along the Hollandshiep estuary at 300’ but sighted no shipping.

7.  28 Jun.  Target Moorst (Logbook says Ruhr).  Target attacked from 10000’. 

8.  1 Jul.  Target Kiel (Scharnhorst).  Bombed in a dive from 12000’ to 2500’; bombs seen to burst in NW corner of floating dock.

9.  11 Jul.  Target Cologne (Leverkusen, Ruhr).  Land Abingdon.

10.  22 Jul.  Target Paderborn.  Target could not be located, possibly due to skilled camouflage.  The crew located the road leading to the target and bombed the approximate position in a gliding attack from 12000’ to 9000’.  One small hole in starboard wing.

11.  24 Jul.  Target Hamburg (Ships Bismarck, Bremen, Europa). Due to poor weather over the target, ops were abandoned and bombs brought back. 

12.  29 Jul.  Target Dusseldorf (Reizholz Oil Refinery, Ruhr).  Unable to locate target so bombed on DR and ETA from 6000’.  Cloud, icing and Flak.

13.  4 Aug.  Target Sterkrade (Oil Plant, Ruhr).  Target located by flares and bombed from 10000’ at 2357.  Bombs seen to burst in target area.

14.  10 Aug.  Target Frankfurt (Oil Refinery).  Unable to locate primary or secondary targets, so bombed Hangelar aerodrome (4 nm NE of Bonn).  Diverted to Hatfield, returning to Linton at 1310 on 11 Aug.

15.  13 Aug.  Target Milan (Caproni ac factory).  One of ten 58 Sqn ac, 7 of which refuelled at Harwell and continued.  Target attacked with bombs seen to burst on the works.  Returned via Harwell.  One of 35 Whitleys sent to Milan and Turin – the first attacks on Italy since the Battle of France.

16.  16 Aug.  Target Jena (Zeiss works).  Fired on by British AAA 2 miles E of Norwich.  Starboard and main tanks holed; RTB. 

17.  18 Aug.  Target Rheinfelden (Aluminium factory on German /Swiss border).  Bombed target from 7000’ and saw roof blown off and chimney collapsed.  Machine gunned the target from 3500’ and also dropped flares and started fires in the Black Forest 12 nm North of target.

18.  Target Milan (Margenti Magneto Works).  Refuelled at Abingdon and set off for target.  Icing conditions – unable to climb plus insufficient boost.  Returned with bombs and leaflets.  Diverted to Bibury then returned to Linton via Abingdon.

19.  30 Aug.  Target Berlin; Thompson’s first operation as First Pilot.  Operations abandoned.  Fuel stoppage, forced landing at Leeming and a return to Linton with unserviceable hydraulics.

20.  2 Sep.  Target Frankfurt (Oil storage plant).  Primary and secondary targets obscured by haze and cloud so RTB initiated.  Attacked factory at Neuwied and an airfield, probably Wiesbaden.  Diverted to Honington for fuel then Linton.

21.  5 Sep.  Target Regensburg (Oil Refinery).  Attack made as near as possible in the absence of flares; Wurzburg aerodrome also bombed and incendiaries dropped Koblenz – Wurzburg.  Returned via Martlesham and Wyton.

22.  8 Sep.  Target Bremen.  Primary target not located; secondary – Delfziul – bombed from 8000’ with bursts observed near road & rail junctions to N or town.  Electrical storm, freezing level below 6000’; ac iced up.


Whitley T4134 GE T 58 Sqn 10 09 1940.jpg6

Whitley V T4134 'GE-T' post ditching (aircrew remembered.com)

23.  10 Sep.  Target Bremen (logbook quotes Hamburg).  Whitley V T4134 GE-T.  2325 - .  1st Pilot; 2nd Pilot: Plt Off Hadley.  Bombs dropped – shot up by flak – engine lost – forced to ditch in Baltic.  Sgt Ball wounded.  This was Trevor Hadley’s second dunking in 2 weeks (30/31 Aug – abandoned ac off Hornsea post Berlin).  Hadley’s brother Ronald was also a 58 Sqn Whitley pilot and was killed near Docking in Norfolk while attempting to land at RAF Bircham Newton following a raid on the synthetic oil plant at Gelsenkirchen on the night of 8/9 October 1940.

Whitley T4134 GE T 58 Sqn 10 09 1940

Whitley T4134 'GE-T' being recovered by German forces (aircrew remembered.com)

The above gives a brief flavour of Whitley bomber operations during 1940, the variety of targets and the challenges faced by the crews; we have researched more detail of each mission here.

Thompson was captured when he landed on the shore of the Baltic near Lubeck.  A few weeks after capture, he escaped from a tram at Stralsund station while being transferred from Oberurssel to Barth.  He climbed out of the window while the guard’s attention was distracted and crawled along the railway track.  His absence was discovered and he was recaptured after a very short time.

 While at Stalag Luft 1 at Barth, Thompson studied the general layout of the camp and the movements of the guards over a period of months.  During January 1942, he gained admission to the NCOs’ compound to take part in a football match and remained in hiding when the other officers left.  Later that night, he crawled under the double gate leading to the football field and climbed over the perimeter fence.  The operation took 9 hours and, once free, he made his way towards Stralsund.  He was recaptured there 3 days later while waiting for a boat to Sweden.

 Subsequently, Thompson took part in several tunnel digging operations, but these were all discovered before completion.  He was repatriated during September 1944.

 Our thanks to aircrewremembered.com for the photographs of Whitley T4134 and the detail of Thompson’s activities post ditching.


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