John E. Fauquier

World War II Bomber Hero

Johnnie Fauquier

A Short History


John Emilius Fauquier came from a well-to-do family. He attended the fashionable Ottawa school, Ashbury College, where he rose to be Head Boy and was a wizard at math. He considered a career in medicine, but on graduation he left home for Montreal. There he became a successful St. James Street bond salesman and moved in the fashionable social circles. He seemed to have a comfortable career and married life set for himself, but he was restless and full of energy. His position wasn't interesting enough, so he sought out speed in the cars and motorcycles of the 1920's. In a fateful decision he joined the Montreal Light Aeroplane Club and discovered that he was a natural pilot. It so appealed to him that he dumped his entire life, excepting his wife, and set up a small bush airline called Commercial Airways operating from a lake at Noranda, Quebec. Noranda was booming as it was the centre of mining and mineral exploration in northern Quebec.

He started his airline with a Waco and a Fairchild. It was a tough business as bush flying was in it's infancy, but he thrived on the continual challenge and hard work. It was a far cry from Montreal's business and social climate, but it suited John Fauquier. His wife frequently travelled with him on long flights across the wild lakes and bush of northern Quebec in aircraft that could be very temperamental. By 1939 he had logged over 300,000 miles in the air.

On Nov. 1, 1939 he enlisted in the RCAF after the government had sent a notice to all commercial pilots informing them that they would receive an immediate commission. As a Flight Lieutenant his first assignment was to take the instructors course at Camp Borden and Trenton. The RCAF used it's experienced ex-commercial pilots in training other men to form the first wave of Canadians to fight in the air over Britain. This was one of the RCAF's smartest decisions, there was little point in wasting these men in the initial air battles when they could better serve training others to do what had taken them years to learn. Being posted to a training base depressed him, he was anxious to tangle with the Germans. He spent a year trying to get overseas as a pilot. Instead of flying over German territory, he spent 12 months flying with raw recruits teaching them the basics of keeping a de Havilland Tiger Moth in the air. Then, in June 1941 he was posted overseas to a glider and parachute training school. The glider training didn't last long. In September, he was posted as a pilot to the first all-Canadian bomber squadron that had formed on April 23, 1941 at Driffield, Yorkshire. He was old compared to the average bomber aircrew, being 32 years old. His first operational posting was as a pilot to No. 405 (Vancouver) Squadron flying Vickers Wellington Mk II medium bombers. They were assigned to 4 Group who were flying Whitleys because both aircraft used the same engine, thus making the repair and supply logistics easier.

Flying was the most important activity in training a Squadron to operational proficiency. Fauquier and all of the new crews were supposed to spend countless hours in the air doing local flying to familiarize themselves with their home base, cross-country flying to improve navigation and crew cooperation and fighter affiliation exercises - simulated combat maneuvers - to increase their chances of surviving fighter attacks. Their first 12 Wellingtons were grounded for most of May due to engine problems and then two were lost on June 4 from a Luftwaffe raid on their airfield. Two replacement aircraft were received June 5, but then all 12 were again declared unfit to fly due to further defects in engine mountings. Then they were moved from the fully equipped, established base at Driffield to a newly constructed base at Pocklington. They had the dubious distinction of being the first occupants of a group of small, cold, corrugated tin Nissan huts. Consequently the squadron had only 7 flying days before it's first operational sorties on June 12/13, 1941 to the railway marshalling yards at Schwert, Germany. This was the RCAF's first bombing operation. One aircraft failed to get off and one turned back. Only three dropped bombs in the general vicinity of the railway yards. The next op came three nights later with seven crews of 405 Sqdn detailed to bomb the railway yards in Cologne with 91 other aircraft. Again, one aircraft failed to get off, but one failed to return. The squadron's first, but far from last, casualties. The Germans recorded that only 55 bombs fell on the city that night with negligible damage. Sorties were made in June and July to Wilhelmshaven, Bremen, and twice to Brest. The second set of sorties to Brest were in daylight to destroy the cruisers Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen. Heavy Flak and fighters were encountered over the target, the ships were lightly damaged and the docks were heavily damaged. Unfortunately, a third of No. 405 Sqdn aircraft were lost, including the Squadron Leader's. July was finished with sorties to Cologne again. This was a typical set of operations for an RCAF Squadron in the early to mid-war years.

August, 1941 saw incredibly ineffectual efforts by 405 Sqdn over Kiel. The crews encountered very poor weather and could only guess they were over the Danish-German border when they encountered heavy Flak. They dropped their bombs in 10/10s cloud when they figured they were over Kiel, also based on more heavy Flak and a calculated flying time. The city reported little damage and no casualties. The next target was Mannheim, with similar results. Several crews actually saw their aiming point over Berlin in September but with little better results. Further raids on Turin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Stettin, Essen and Nuremburg brought few results. It was generally disheartening to Fauquier and the other crews. They were putting their lives on the line with every sortie but their efforts were not inflicting sufficient damage to warrant the effort. No. 405s average losses to the end of October were 3.2% of their aircraft per operation over Europe. If they crashed on takeoff or landing they were not included in the "operational loss" statistics.

A Dangerous Occupation

Flying and fighting in bombers was looked down upon by just about every rookie pilot who passed training school. They all wanted to fly fighters, but the Allied air forces needed more than just fighters to knock Germany out of the war. The concept of strategic bombing had developed early in the history of flight and now bombers were coming on-stream that might be able to take the offensive fight to the Germans. The rapidly aging Handley-Page Hampden was used along with the Vickers Wellington as medium bombers. Soon the Short Stirling , Handley-Page Halifax and the AVRO Manchester, all of which held much promise, would be operational as heavy bombers. The truth is that bomber pilots were not the top of the class in aerobatics, gunnery or situational awareness, but they had to be calm to the point of being nerveless, had to endure 8 to 12 hour flights in frigid temperatures with muscles cramping, fatigue fogging their brains when it was necessary to be alert, and the ever-present strain of never knowing when a night fighter would appear out of the murk to fire on them. Once they arrived over the target, if they arrived on time and in the right location, the area was typically a hot-bed of radar directed Flak, search lights, fake fires and night fighters. It was not easy, glamorous or even very rewarding. They rarely saw their targets, never saw the effects of their operations, except in aerial reconnaissance photos, had loss rates of 3 - 8% per sortie, weather was a continual hazard and were fighting in what appeared to be a flawed strategy.

Time delayed photo of anti-aircraft fire over Berlin.
AA Fire

Flak guns

Anti-aircraft fire, "Flak", was an ever present risk about which even veteran airmen could do very little. It came in all sizes and colours. Flying low meant that every unit with machine guns, 20 mm and 37 mm cannons would fire at you, often with devastating effect. Up to 49,000 ft. the ubiquitous 88 mm cannons directed by searchlights and radar were most effective with high accuracy and a high rate of fire. For more devastating fire the large 130 mm and 150 mm AA cannons took over, and while their rates of fire were low, they were almost always radar controlled. When the bright yellow flashes of exploding Flak shells appeared, a turn to the left or the right, a climb, or a dive could just as easily carry a bomber into the next burst as maintaining a straight course. In combination with Flak batteries were batteries of high intensity search lights. A few were also radar controlled, and could track aircraft quite well. While over a searchlight belt one pilot reported
Radar controlled 88 mm Anti-aircraft guns
"Starry searchlights picked us up but on turning into them, [I] put them off. Then a bluish searchlight picked us up and I couldn't shake it off. I climbed, dived, and did 90 degree turns, but to no avail. Then more and more searchlights coned me and it was impossible to look out as it was momentarily blinding."
Unless immediate, violent and drastic action were taken, typically going into a steep dive, either the Flak guns would zero in on the aircraft and rip it to shreds or a nightfighter would target the aircraft and pound it into a flaming wreck. The violent activity required to escape a cone also ruined the bombers chance of hitting the target area. If the target wasn't badly damaged it would require a repeat visit, through the bad weather, nightfighters, Flak and searchlights.

Encounters with night-fighters were different. Even when using AI radar, the enemy could often be eluded if seen in time and if the bomber took appropriate evasive action. The standard manouver against a night fighter was the "corkscrew". When a gunner would yell out "Corkscrew left" the pilot would fling the bomber into a sudden left bank and drop altitude by several thousand feet while throttling back to drop the bomber's speed, then he would level out briefly and fling the bomber into a climbing right bank with engines at full power. This frequently upset the fighters aim and lost the bomber in the darkness, until radar on the ground and later in German night fighters was used to track bombers. Alertness was the key, yet it seems that it could not aleasys be taken for granted over six or seven hours in the air. Pilots have recalled how they annoyed their gunners by fequently asking for situation reports to keep them awake. The Germans realised the power and utility of 20 mm and 30 mm cannons mounted in aircraft before the Allies did. Their nightfighters were heavily armed with 12 mm machine guns and often two or more 20 mm cannons. Later in the war they mounted sets of 20 mm cannons to fire obliquely up so the fighter could pull up under a bomber's blind spot and give it a lethal blast of cannon fire. This armament system was code named Schrage Muzik (Jazz Music). Many Allied aircrew survivors reported that they never saw a nightfighter, just that their engines and wings blew apart, caught fire or fell off and they baled out of the crippled aircraft.

Unfortunately, the abilities of bomber crews at the time to find and accurately bomb the target were dismal. The Butt Report of Aug., 1941 identified that on most nights a small minority of crews (1 in 5) dropped their bombs within 3 miles of the target, and only 1 in 10 dropped bombs within 5 miles of the target over the smog-choked Ruhr Valley cities. Changes were made to crew compliments and operations to improve navigation. In Wellington bombers, the second pilot was replaced with a dedicated navigator which freed the navigator/observer to be a full time observer/bomb aimer, and navigators were given courses in astro-navigation (already taught at BCATP schools in Canada). Better post-sortie debriefing was supposed to instill more enthusiasm and determination in the crews. The concept of pathfinders was suggested at this time, but was not implemented. With hind site, even if they had identified and bombed the targets, the British bombs of the time were the heavy, under-powered bombs left over from WWI. They didn't have the explosive power to do much damage. One significant development of the time was a simple, 4 lb. incendiary bomb, but Sir Richard Peirse, then in charge of Bomber Command, did not allow area bombing with such weapons as he felt they were unethical.

Around this time it became popular in Bomber Command to use their Interrogate Friend or Foe (IFF) infra-red signalling apparatus to douse enemy searchlights. This of course was impossible as the infrared light from IFF could in no way affect either the Flak-directing radar or the searchlights. But even Fauquier succumbed to the use of any tool that would misdirect the deadly searchlights. On a raid over Emden he switched his IFF on and off at one second intervals and reported that not once was he coned by searchlights. One Flight Engineer reported using IFF like this:

"Suddenly a powerful blue beam (the white light appears blue when it locks on to you) caught us, and ten more beams arced over to join it. We were blinded! Pat shut his eyes, and tried to weave by instinct while I rememberd the boffin and his new device. I groped my way back to the panel, felt for the [IFF] switch, and began flicking it on and off. We were being flung about the sky by exploding shells ...Then suddenly, all searchlights arced away. "My God it works!" we all shouted."
Under examination at the base it turned out that the IFF had been miswired and the FE was turning on and off the landing lights. The Flak crews probably assumed that they had coned one of their night fighters.

On Nov. 2, 1941 Bomber Command was slighted in the British newspapers for not continuing to hit Berlin, and had not done so for nearly 6 weeks, due mostly to bad weather. On Nov. 7, Bomber Command ordered Berlin attacked despite horrible weather conditions over England and Germany. Heavy cloud, icing conditions, hail, sleet and electrical storms assailed the crews flying to the German capital. Once there the radar-guided Flak defences were alert and accurate as usual, despite the weather. 405 Sqdn sent 10 aircraft on the raid, 5 attacked "the general vicinity" of Berlin, four chose alternates and one went missing. Flt. Lt. Fauquier had serious misgivings about the mission when the meteorologist appeared "nervous and seemed unable to make up his mind about the wind velocity for the return to base." As he found out they

"had nothing but dead-reckoning and forecast winds to get up to the target. Finally we reached the point where we thought, and hoped, Berlin lay ... dropped our bombs and turned for home. It wasn't long before I realized we were in trouble because the winds had increased greatly in strength and were almost dead ahead. Eventually, I lost height down to a few hundred feet - to avoid icing conditions and to save fuel since the head wind would be less strong."
"I have seen the North Sea in many moods but never more ferocious than that night. Huge waves of solid green water were lifted from the surface and carried hundreds of feet by the wind. After what seemed like hours in these appalling conditions I realised we were unlikely to make base. I had little or no fuel left and told the crew to take up ditching positions ... It was then I saw briefly one of those wonderful homing lights and made a bee-line straight for it."

Upon landing a Home Guard unit surrounded them and were going to lock them up, until they proved their identities by phoning their base at Pocklington. Fauquier summed up the mission

"Utterly fatigued, half frozen and disgusted at being launched on a major operation against the German capital in weather totally unfitted to the task."

A Shift in Strategy

It became necessary to abandon night "target bombing" in favour of "area bombing". Target bombing was intended to hit a specific target, for example a steel mill in a specific city. But with such poor accuracy the bombers were not even hitting the proper area where the steel mill would be located. Area bombing was intended to concentrate bombing on specific areas of a city where concentrations of industry or business were known to be. To be effective more bombers were required to saturate the area. This required a complete change in tactics and weapons. The image on the right shows a target load, while the image on the left shows an area load as they eventually evolved. The target load used all HE bombs, with the large cylinder being a 4,000 lb HE blast bomb known as a "cookie". The area load typically used a single "cookie" to knock down buildings, and masses of 4 lb and 30 lb incendiaries to light the damaged structures on fire. If a good concentration of bombing was achieved in a specific area of a city, the fires started would spread and join together to engulf large areas. This is what happened at Hamburg, Lubeck, Rostock and Dresden. They were the first cities to be destroyed by "fire storms". Eventually Bomber Command tried to start fire storms as often as possible, but they rarely achieved this horrific effect.

Area loadTactical load
Area load
Target load

In the early part of the war, bombers flying at night against a target left their dispersals independently, flew their own routes to the target, and selected their own altitudes. This made the bombers easy targets for the nightfighters, the radar controllers and the Flak as they had bombers to target for relatively long periods of time. Area bombing required a heavy concentration of bombs falling in a relatively small area to be effective. This required that the bombers be coordinated in timing, directions, and altitudes. The bomber "stream" tactic was developed initially. It could be 20 miles long and several miles wide, however, the Germans developed a tightly woven system of ground-based, radar sites from the tip of Denmark to Paris, in the Ruhr, and around the Frankfurt-Mannheim-Stuttgart industrial complex. The air space over occupied Europe was divided into night-fighter boxes. Each box contained a pair of radars one to locate and track a bomber the other to locate and guide a night fighter to the bomber. Once close enough the fighter called the visual siting and the radar controllers switched to another pair of bomber and night-fighter. It was an inflexible system, but it worked while the British were flying in long, uncoordinated bomber streams. Night-fighters also circled over the target and attacked any bomber above a pre-set height, allowing the searchlights and Flak those below the height. The obvious solution was to overwhelm the radar sites and fighters with waves of closely spaced bombers that would arrive over the target from a variety of directions, at a variety of altitudes and within the space of an hour. This, it was hoped, would saturate the defenders abilities to fight.

The Germans also developed an intricate set of tricks to attract bombers to non-target areas, including huge fires in rural areas or parks, and literally spraying the ground with dummy incendiaries and imitation fire blocks in the neighbourhood of un-important targets, hoping to attract a share of the bombs.

"Long before you reached the target area you would see ahead of you a confusing maze of searchlights quartering the sky, some in small groups, others staked in cones of twenty or more. These often had a victim transfixed, as if pinned to the sky, their apex filled with red bursts of heavy flak. The ground would soon be lit with lines of reconnaissance flares like suspended street lights, here and there illluminating water, perhaps a section of river, that you would frantically try to identify. As the raid developed, sticks of incendiaries criss-crossed the ground sparkling incandescent white, until a red glow would show the start of a fire.

"Gun flashes, photoflashes, bomb-bursts, streams of tracer of all colors, and everywhere searchlights - it was all very confusing, especially when the air gunners were directing the pilot to avoid flak and searchlights in all directions at the same time.".

Original artwork by Randall Whitcomb
Halifax bombers over Hamburg

Adolf Hitler accused the Allies of terror bombing German cities. Winston Churchill eventually agreed this was essentially terror bombing of German populations, but, the Germans started the practice and it was one of the few ways that the Allies had of directly attacking German forces in Europe. Bomber Command tried to make up for it's inaccuracy with numbers of bombers and weight of bombs. The concept was to saturate German cities in order to disrupt industry and to destroy the morale of the people. It generally failed to do either due to the incredible efforts of Albert Spier, the Nazi Armaments Minister, at dispersing manufacturing. This was not recognised, or at least admitted, until many years after the war.

Wesel

Destruction typical in German cities at war's end, Wesel.

405 Sqdn flew the Wellington until April 1942, when they were re-equipped with the Handley-Page Halifax II, which turned out to be very unsatisfactory. It was very difficult to fly, having a nasty habit of going into a rapid, flat spin if it was thrown about very much. The spin was nearly impossible to correct as the tail units tended to lock up. This caused many aircrew casualties until the tailfin design problem was discovered and corrected in the Mark III. However, many of these aircraft were in the front lines and would be used for some time to come.

Halifax Mk. III

"The Queen Returns" original painting by Rich Thistle.

A favourite storey that other pilots in the Squadron would tell of Fauquier was the night over Bremen when he used his bomber to strafe searchlights. Radar directed Flak and searchlight batteries were creating havoc in the bomber stream. When a main, radar-directed searchlight would light up a bomber, other searchlights would fix on it "coning" it with light, then the Flak guns and fighters would chew it to pieces. Over Bremen Fauquier realised something had to be done, so he pushed his bomber into a steep dive and picked out an assembly of Flak and searchlight batteries. He leveled off just over the ground and directed the nose, mid-upper and tail gunners to fire on the batteries. He caused considerable confusion on the ground, smashing lights and directing fire away from the other bombers. It was especially amazing having done it in the Halifax II, as it was known to react badly to violent maneuvers, stalling and crashing. When asked if he was frightened he said:

"A man who isn't frightened lacks imagination, and without imagination he can't he a first class warrior. Let's face it: the good men were frightened. Especially between briefing and take-off. The bravest men I knew used to go to bed right after briefing, and refuse to eat. Sick with fear. Any man that frightened who goes to the target is brave."

By Aug, 1942 John Fauquier had completed his first tour of 35 operations. He had performed so well as a bomber pilot that he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The Citation read:

"Throughout the many sorties in which he has participated this officer has displayed the highest quality of courage and leadership. His ability and grim determination to inflict the maximum damage on the enemy have won the admiration of the squadron he commands. Wing Commander Fauquier took part in the two raids on Essen when a thousand of our aircraft operated each time. He is an exceptional leader."

He was posted first to RCAF Overseas HQ for a stint behind a desk to get some HQ experience and for a rest. He was promoted to Group Captain and send to 6 Group HQ for experience with the Canadian command structure for much of the winter. Meanwhile, in October of 1942, 405 Sqdn was temporarily transferred to Coastal Command to strengthen the air offensive in the Bay of Biscay at the time of the North African convoy movements. Their duties were primarily to bomb ports, U-boat facilities and to conduct U-boat patrols. They moved from Yorkshire to Beaulieu, Hantshire in the south of England. This duty was a respite from the continual stresses of night operations over occupied Germany.

When No. 405 returned to Bomber Command on March 1, 1943 Group Captain Fauquier was given command of the Squadron. They flew for a few weeks with No. 6 (RCAF) Group back in Yorkshire. The Canadian bomber squadrons in 6 Group were known for their lax discipline on the ground. One day a Pilot Officer became upset when two of the ground crew didn't salute him. Fauquier pulled him aside and pointed to the four rings on his sleeve and pointed out that no one ever saluted him. Shortly after this they were transferred, until the end of the war, to No 8 (Pathfinder) Group as the Canadian component flying from Gransden Lodge, Bedfordshire. This was considered to be a prestigious assignment as the Pathfinders were specially trained groups for marking bombing points and routes over targets. Thus, they had to be very accurate with their marking, or much of the effort of bombing a target would be wasted. However, once the Germans realized what the Pathfinder aircraft were doing, they became the prime targets over German cities for Flak and night fighters. Many of them were shot down prior to or during the marking of their target locations.

The first time Fauquier saw the new AVRO Lancaster he was coming back from a tough raid when

"the Lancasters came streaming by, and were home forty-five minutes ahead of me. I said to myself, 'I've got to get my hands on one of those' "

He didn't have to wait long, in August, 1943 No. 405 Sqdn was re-equipped with the Lancaster.

"You can imagine our relief when we knew we were getting this superior aircraft, which in the end carried the heaviest bomb in the European theatre, the Grand Slam. Morale went up fantastically as the Lancaster proved herself to be easy to use. This was a big aircraft, and she flew as easily and as dexterously as a Tiger Moth. The lanc had no bad habits ... you could dive the Lancaster at phenomenal speeds to escape the cone of enemy searchlights."

On the famous raid (Aug.17/18, 1943) against Peenemunde (Operation Hydra), the secret German rocket research base in the Baltic, he acted as one of the first Assistant Master Bombers.

V2 Rocket Peenemunde was a high priority target as it was the development and testing facility for the V2 ballistic rocket program. If they missed or only partially damaged the facility on this raid, they were under orders to go back again as many times as it took to destroy the facilities.

V2 Rocket

In order to maximize the chance of success the bombers were ordered to bomb between 6,000 and 15,000 feet, which was very low for heavy bombers, with loads of primarily HE bombs with a few light incendiaries. They used all of the tricks they had, including H2S (the first ground mapping radar), a new improved marker bomb, metal foil code named "Window" to jam German radar, a route that appeared to be headed to Berlin, a decoy pathfinder bomb attack by Mosquitos on the German capital, and the use of a Master Bomber (an on-scene commander). Fauquier's job was to provide backup for the Master Bomber (Group Captain John Searby) who was to circle the target area above the bomber stream while directing them by radio. Group Captain Searby led the 600 bombers to the target and then circled it for 30 minutes while directing the bomber stream. That first op as an Assistant Master Bomber turned out to be a piece of cake for Fauquier and his crew, as the whole system worked so well that he flew around the area for the whole time watching the action. His navigator reported

"From our vantage point, circling the target throughout the raid, we witnessed some of the most accurate marking and bombing we had ever seen. Miraculously, in spite of our lengthy stay in the target are, the only time we were shot at was by a few stray bullets from one of our own aircraft.

The Master Bomber did a fine job throughout. This was fortunate for us as we were able to sit back and watch, fascinated, as one would a theatre spectacular."

When he could see that the raid was nearly over Fauquier swept back over the target and dropped his own HE bombs, but he took his target markers home. Ever the frugal warrior, this characteristic would bring him some notoriety later in the war.

Womens Dorms

Women's dormatories near Peenemunde.

While the Flak from an anchored ship was not particularly effective, 40 bombers were still lost on the raid when German night fighters managed to intercept the final waves of Allied bombers. The rocket development facilities, labour camps and dormatories at Peenemunde were devastated and many skilled forced labourers, technicians and German scientists working on the projects were killed. The V2 program was set back considerably, meaning that the Germans did not get to use them until September, 1944, missing the Normandy landings altogether. V-2 rockets could have made the use of port facilities and the Mulberry harbour very difficult.

V2 Facilities

Before and after photos of the V2 construction facilities at Peenemunde.

It says a lot about his abilities as pilot and commander that Fauquier was chosen to be the Master Bomber for the opening op of the Battle of Berlin. On Aug. 23/24, 1943 a total of 727 aircraft were sent on the first of 16 raids to Berlin. Unfortunately, the Pathfinders couldn't locate the centre of Berlin by H2S (the first, very primitive, airborne groundmapping radar) and they dropped their flares in a southern portion of the city. Johnnie Fauquier tried energetically and with gusto to redirect the bombers, but most of them bombed inaccurately, with their bombs landing in open countryside. Those few bombers that hit the centre of Berlin did considerable damage to government buildings and ships in the canal, but at the steep cost of 56 bombers and crew. The Flak crews and the night fighters also cooperated in an unprecedented manner. The Flak stayed below 20,000 ft and the fighters roamed above that. One of the many problems faced by Fauquier in attempting to direct a series of bomber waves was the poor radio reception in the air over Germany caused by the types of radios used, the jamming set up by the Germans and the general confusion of a bomber raid over the target.

As CO of 405 Sqdn Fauquier thought a lot about their job and instituted several improvements in the way the bombers operated. One improvement was in shortening bomber takeoffs. Usually a line of bombers waited along the lateral runways at the end of the main runway, waiting as each bomber in front of them cleared the fence and became airborne. It took a considerable while to get all of the bombers off the ground for a raid, those aircraft waiting were burning precious fuel and the drawn out process made forming into discrete bomber waves very difficult. Instead, Fauquier had the second aircraft start rolling down the runway while the first aircraft was still 3/4 of the way down. If the first aircraft aborted or crashed on takeoff the second aircraft would takeoff a bit earlier than usual or would swerve past the first one. This same technique was used on landing, thus speeding up both processes considerably. This streamlining of the take-off and landing processes had costs, in terms of mens lives and lost aircraft through crashes. However, life on a bomber base was inherently hazardous. The process of bombing up, taxying around the dispersal and taking off was a hazardous one. Many aircraft ran into each other, some defective bombs went off, photo flares lit aircraft on fire, there were numerous ways to die on a bomber base.

Lancaster blowing up

A loaded Lancaster blows up at dispersal.

Fauquier remained as Squadron commander until Jan. 1944, when he completed his second full tour of operations. He was again posted to No 6 Group HQ at Allerton Park (also called Castle Dismal) and promoted to Air Commodore. His title was Senior Operations Staff Officer (SOSO) and was the right-hand of the Senior Air Staff Officer. In June, 1944 he was made CO of No. 62 "Beaver" Operational Base controlling the RCAF Stations Linton-on-Ouse, East Moor and Tholthorpe, Yorkshire. He became distressed in the late summer and fall at the poor bombing results of 6 Group. Overall bombing accuracy had "deteriorated considerably inpart due to the gross errors incurred by a minority of crews who, through bad navigation, inefficiency, and poor captaincy negligently wasted their bombs." In November he decreed that squadron bombing leaders were to test and rate all of their crews on a weekly basis, so that those with training errors greater than 280 yards or operational errors more than one thousand yards could be taken off the order of battle temporarily and given further training. At least one crew was discredited for a sortie because they missed the target altogether. It must be noted that this increased lack of crew efficacy was due, in large part, to a bubble of newly arriving crews straight from their Heavy Conversion Unit courses.

Railyard at Orleans.
Orleans railyard.
This was because the Allied invasion of Europe had shifted the bomber focus from the heavily guarded German cities to support the Army by crippling the western European transportation infrastructure (called the Transportation Plan), German fuel storage and manufacturing facilities, tactical objectives and aircraft factories. These operations caused far fewer casualties so the percentage of crews finishing their tour of duties, either early or at all, increased.

No one could have, or would have, blamed him for spending the rest of the war in an HQ position, however, that was not Fauquier's style. He heard that Sir Ralph Cochrane (Harris's right-hand man) was looking for a replacement for Wing Commander Willie Tait to command Bomber Command's elite No 617 (Dam Busters) Squadron. Tait had a DSO and 3 bars and a DFC with 2 bars and desperately needed a rest, but Cochrane was being fussy about who to put in his place. Of course, he didn't approach Fauquier for the position was only as a Group Captain, and Fauquier was now an Air Commodore. True to form, Fauquier surprised many by voluntarily stepping down to Group Captain in order to get back into the fight leading the Dam Busters in December, 1944.

The act of appointing a Canadian to lead the famed 617 Sqdn was next to heresy, and he was tested hard when he took control. Many of the aircrew had two tours under their belts so they weren't impressed by Fauquier's accomplishments. He had to defeat their cynical attitude that they had nearly won the war and now they could sit back and relax. Sir Ralph Cochrane had told him to keep 617 up to their level of ability and maintain them that way for the remainder of the war. In his inaugural meeting with the men someone shouted "Sing a song or take your pants off"... their favourite way of puncturing the dignity of a high officer. Fauquier unhitched his pants imperturbably and was cooled off with a can of beer strategically aimed from the rear. Fauquier philosophically hitched up his pants and thus passed the test. Fauquier was a driven man, a perfectionist, and he drove 617 Sqdn hard. When snow storms over Europe gave them a break he had them outside for frosty PT drills. To fill the days he gave them lectures and had them shovel snow off of the runways.

A big man, Fauquier was brusque. He never said much, but his forceful manner and decisiveness eliminated the need for chatter. His crews didn't love him the way they had loved Leonard Cheshire, but they had enormous respect for his courage and skill. His example in the air was a challenge to all of them. He eventually earned the DSO three times, a feat no other Canadian accomplished in WWII.

On the last day of 1944 they got word that the weather over the North Sea had cleared and that they were to hit a German convoy making from Norway to Holland. It was a bleak, dark night over the sea, but they found the convoy and lit it up with flares. Immediately all of the ships started to zig-zag independantly. They had never hunted a mobile target before so they were not too successful. Fauquier and several others discovered a cruiser and set about her, only to just miss their target time and again. They flew home empty handed, or so they thought. They discovered later that the cruiser had run aground on rocks trying to avoid their bombs.

When the weather let up again they were off to Bergen, Norway to destroy the U-boat pens there. This was the first bombing mission that Fauquier flew in a Mosquito as a Master Bomber for his crews. Unfortunately, German fighters intercepted their flight and shot down several crews, then heavy Flak over Bergen dropped another. Armed with 10,000 lb Tallboy bombs they took their revenge by blowing up a large ship in harbour and planting several bombs on target.

Grand SlamsThe Squadron was the first to drop the massive 22,000 lb Grand Slam bomb. It was the offspring of the very successful 10,000 lb Tallboy bomb that had been used against specially hardened targets like V-1 rocket sites and the cruiser Tirpitz. Grand Slam was designed to take out very difficult targets, like the massively constructed U-boat pens and important railway bridges that had proved to be extremely hard to hit. Grand Slam was designed to be dropped from 49,000 feet and to penetrate deeply whatever it hit. It was so powerful that it would creat a local earthquake and a cavern a hundred feet under the surface so that bridges and viaducts would shake apart and/or collapse into the hole created under them. Another brilliant project by Sir Barnes Wallis, designer of the Wellington bomber; the cylindrical, bouncing, dam-buster bomb; and, the Tallboy bomb.

German resistance was collapsing all over France as the Allies pushed them back towards their own borders. Eisenhower asked the Air Forces for an all-out assault on German communications to sever the front from the rest of Germany where supplies and reinforcements could be expected to come from. With the Dortmund-Ems canal destroyed the railways became the most important targets, and the major route to the front crossed over the Bielefeld Viaduct near Bremen. This was the main link between the Wehrmacht defending the Ruhr and the cities of north-west Germany. Eisenhower's idea was to starve the front of men and materials and split the country into islands that could be taken or by-passed as the case required.

Up to Feb. 1945, the Bielefeld Viaduct had received over 3,000 tons of bombs to no effect. The light case bombs merely chipped the stone Viaduct or rearranged the tracks that could be easily repaired. No. 617 Sqdn was given the job of knocking down the structure. They attempted the attack on the 22/23 of Feb. 1945 but had to return without bombing due to heavy clouds over the target. They returned on the 9th of March and again on the 13th but had to turn back due to heavy clouds both times as well. They could not waste their Tallboys on area bombing, from 18,000 ft. the Viaduct was hair thin. That evening two lorries arrived at the bomb dumb with enormous, canvas covered shapes. They were immediately removed and winched aboard two specially prepared Lancasters. These were the Grand Slam bombs straight from the manufacturers. They had never been tested, and no one knew if they would go off, or drop as they were designed to. At 1:00 PM 617s engines were running up, Fauquier was in one of the Grand Slam loaded aircraft and S/L Calder in the other. Suddenly from Fauquier's inner starboard engine there was a crash and the propeller ground to a halt. Fauquier leaped out of his disabled aircraft and made for Calder's as fast as he could run. Calder saw him and guessed what was up so he gunned his engines and rolled onto the track, there was no way he was going to be deprived of dropping such a weapon for the first time. The rest of 617 rolled after him, leaving Fauquier behind, still fuming. The 28 Lancasters skirted Bremen with it's lethal flak and picked up the rail tracks leading to the Viaduct. Minutes later S/L Calder dropped the first 22,000 lb Grand Slam within 30 yards of the viaduct. He wheeled away and circled to watch. Seconds later the marsh split open and a mass of mud and smoke shot into the air. Then Tallboy explosions bracketed the Viaduct, hiding it in more smoke and mud. Calder continued to wheel until the air cleared. There were 7 arches of the Viaduct missing. More than 100 yards of it had collapsed into the cavern created by the Grand Slam bomb. Later investigation of the bridge found that the bomb had penetrated about 100 ft into the mud until exploding. The shock wave shivered the stone bridge to the breaking point and the enormous underground cavern created by the explosion, robbed it of its support. Most of the structure collapsed into the cavern. A perfect trapdoor effect. The Viaduct was cut for the remainder of the war.

Bielefeld Viaduct

The remains of the Bielefeld Viaduct.

Following this highly successful raid the other railway viaducts from the Ruhr to the front lines were systematically cut by Fauquier and 617. The second one to fall was the Arnsberg Bridge, then the Arbergen Bridge and the Nienburg Bridge. On this raid Fauquier evolved a new plan and had four Lancasters make the initial bombing run while the others circled a ways off. He dived low off to one side to watch the effects. The four bomb aimers dropped their bombs at nearly the same second. A Tallboy hit one end of the bridge while a Grand Slam hit the other end at the same moment. The bridge span lifted bodily still intact when another bomb hit it in the middle. The others took home their 15 special bombs. When he landed Fauquier said "Hell, I'd have to hate to do that again to prove it." They destroyed the last bridge the next morning. The effects of this type of bombing, and the sustained effort of the Transportation Plan, caused a massive decline in the German war production in the last three months of the war.

With all of the bridges down their refocussed their efforts on the massive U-boat pens constructed at Farge and Brest. The roofs of the pens at Farge were constructed of 23 feet of solid reinforced concrete. On March 27 they sank two Grand Slams into the roof which exploded right through, making holes 20 ft across and bringing down thousands of tons of concrete. Several Tallboys made direct hits and others undermined the structure and cracked it. The pens were never used. Lanc dropping Grand SlamLancaster dropping a Grand Slam.

Good targets were becoming scarce, but a recce aircraft found the cruiser Lutzow in the Baltic. Heavy Flak over the target destroyed one Lancaster, others were badly damaged. Three bombs straddled the ship, one landing between the ship and the dock. The bomb damage airphotos showed the Lutzow sitting exactly where they had left her. A lot of swearing did nothing to change the photos. Two days later they found out that the bottom had been torn out of her, and she had sank in less than 50 ft of water. She was never used operationally.

Their last operational sortie was to Berchtesgaden, to flatten Hitler's mountain retreat, the "Eagle's Nest". Unfortunately the mountains and the buildings were covered in snow and were indistinguishable from each other. So they had to make do with destroying the barracks of Hitler's SS guards with 1,000 pounders and Tallboys.

The Admiralty was not convinced that the big bombs had destroyed the U-boat pens at Hamburg, so Sir Harris told Fauquier to go over and have a look at them. With another Group Captain and an interpreter he wheeled his jeep into the city. It was supposed to have surrendered but had not yet due to the usual confusions in wartime. While looking around the blasted U-boat pens they were surprised to find nearly 200 German sailors still working on the demolished pens. Their commanding officer immediately offered Johnnie Fauquier his formal surrender and invited him to lunch. He was the only RCAF commander to accept formal surrender from an enemy.

Following the war John Fauquier was reinstated to the rank of Air Commodore and was retired. He did some promotional work for the RCAF, but it wasn't long before he and his wife settled in Toronto. There he worked until his second retirement running a large concrete firm.

Bomber pilots and crew rarely get mentioned when one speaks of "aces". The "glory" goes to those who fly the single-seaters, their value rated by the number of other aircraft they shoot down. No one has rated bomber crews as "aces" because they survived a tour of operations, or two tours. But these men were as brave as those in Spitfires, doing the job assigned to them. If, as it turned out, much of their effort did not accomplish what was intended, it was not their fault. They suffered the slings and arrows of nightfighters and Flak over Germany night after night, taking the battle to the Germans in their homeland. John Fauquier was among the bravest of these brave souls. He earned distinctions no other Canadian did with high ability and grim determination to inflict the maximum damage on the enemy. John Fauquier became the supreme bomber pilot when it was necessary. Then he turned his back on it forever.

Lancaster at night

"Courage by Moonlight" original painting by Rich Thistle.

Canadian Aces Home Page

Images From:
"The Queen Returns" and "Courage by Moonlight" original paintings by permission of the artist, Rich Thistle. "Over Hamburg" original painting by permission of the artist, Randall Whitcomb.

Quotes From:
Spencer Dunmore and William Carter, Reap the Whirlwind. The Untold Story of 6 Group, Canada's Bomber Force of World War II. 1991.
Paul Brickhill. Dam Busters. Evans Brothers Limited, London. 1951.
Jerrold Morris, Canadian Artists and Airmen
NFB Film, "The Last of the Lancasters."