Phil Agnew - Flying with the Americans

Running time
5 min 5 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


We were living with the Americans. Allen and I were living in a tent and the Americans tent in amongst all of them. When we were going on a mission, we'd always get ready before dawn and they'd have somebody detailed to come and wake up all of the crew who were flying that day. They'd come around and wake us up. We'd get our gear and go up to the mess and have breakfast. Then go to the briefing room and get last minute briefing. Get driven down to the airstrip, into the plane. There'd be a big bag of clothes on them because where the aircraft was sitting out on the tarmac in the sun, they'd just heat up like an oven and when you got up there, it was cold.

We used to carry warm gear in a bag with us, put it on as we got up. Our flying day could be 12, 13 hour trip, round trip. We'd take tea sandwiches. They'd always taste like petrol. The radar gear in some of the Liberators ... We used to fly ... We didn't always fly with the same crew or with the same aircraft. Americans had their planes in a pool, and they were allocated to individual crews as they went each strip. This applied to the radar gear, which happened to be in whatever plane there.

We'd be going on this trip, probably with a crew we hadn't met before and some of the planes, the radar gear was situated above the bomb bay and some of them, it was in the nose of the plane. I didn't like the ones above the bomb bay much because when they opened the bomb doors, it was like sitting in a wind tunnel. I used to prefer operating the ones where all the gear was in the nose of the plane, you could see what was going on there too.

Most of the trips I did were group formation of four squadrons, so that's 32 Libs going. The four squadrons had been grouped together but not all bunched together. It was like four separate groups. We never flew directly to the target. They'd generally fly near the target but wouldn't fly directly at it, until the last possible moment. The reason for that was, that the Japs had an aircraft guns that they could move quickly, and we didn't want them to know where to move it to, until the last minute.

Before going in to do the raid, they'd change the course, the air speed and the height and that's when we'd switch on the jamming gear. I didn't explain about the jamming gear yet. It was a little transmitter ... radar consists of a signal which is transmitted and then bounced off the target and back to the transmitter. We were being the target, when we received this signal and we had gear, we could recognise what sort of a transmission we were receiving, and we could tell if it was a ... one of these high frequency radar signals, we could tell that we were receiving them and if so, we'd tune in another transmitter to that frequency but not turn it on.

Then before we did the actual bomb raid, we'd change course, speed and height and then we'd turn on the transmitter at the last minute. The reason for that was that, we didn't know whether they had a second set up on a different frequency, ready to switch on. We didn't know if they had that. We found that the ... It must have been pretty effective because they never shot us down.

One day, my friend Alan was supposed to go on a trip, and they didn't wake him up, so he didn't go. When the squadron came back, where Alan would have been sitting, there was a big hole in his seat. We congratulated him on his good luck, having survived, and he said, "Well, if I had been flying with my gear on, they might not have shot us and they might not have been able to get us." We didn't know.

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