Lancaster pilot survived numerous scrapes

Name: Frank Slade
Date: 1944
Unit: 156 Squadron RAAF
Location: Europe

Squadron Leader Frank Slade of the RAAF had made many raids on German targets during World War II so another trip to Hamburg on 28 July 1944 was just another day at the office

This time, however, things became a little more hairy for him and his crew. As they were on the approach run to release their bombs their Lancaster was badly hit by flak which damaged a 48 square foot section of the port wing.

Despite this set back, S/Ldr Slade kept flying on course and their bombs were released over the target. After all, he'd been in this situation before.

Then the fun started. His aircraft went into a spiral, out of control and losing height rapidly. All appeared to be lost.

Slade ordered his crew to stand by to parachute while he wrestled with the stricken aircraft.

"I had elevator control and managed to lift nose and bring speed back to 155 knots, still in spiral," Slade wrote in his report. "I applied coarse right rudder, extra power on port side (2650 plus 8) and with rudder and motor, lifted aircraft onto even keel, still without aileron control."

Faced with a journey of hundreds of miles back to England, Slade checked his controls to find the ailerons weren't working. An inspection of the wing showed a huge section torn back and sticking up in the air, slowing the aircraft and affecting its performance.

As they approached the coast, the bomber was forced to evade enemy flak again as best it could. As Slade threw the Lancaster around the sky, the torn piece of wing finally broke away giving the pilot better control of his aircraft.

Slade had spent the entire return journey side-slipping his aircraft, driving home the right rudder to maintain balance and fighting to hold the plane steady. At his engineer's suggestion he used up the petrol from the port tanks to lighten the load on the damaged side.

In his report S/Ldr Slade wrote:

"As engines were O.K. I decided to make for Woodbridge and gave the navigator necessary instructions. We kept about 25 miles from the enemy coast in case of emergency, when we would have to make an emergency landing. I then ordered a bombing check, but found that the 4 T.I's and 2 x 1000 M.C. bombs were still hung up."

Unwilling to try a manual release because it would have meant flying with the bomb doors open causing too much loss of height, they continued to limp for home.

Finally they made it back to England but as they approached home base to touch down, the drama continued. A tyre, which had been damaged by flak, burst on landing causing the port wing to drop. The port leg collapsed, the wing dug into the ground swinging the plane onto its other leg which also collapsed under the strain.

The Lancaster skidded off the runway on its belly for about 150 yards before grinding to a halt.

The crew could hardly believe their luck as they climbed unsteadily out of the Lancaster. Thankfully the bombs in the aircraft remained intact and the crash party and fire tender were not needed.

S/Ldr Slade said afterwards the success of the mission had been due to the fine crew cooperation throughout the trip.

S/Ldr Slade was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) to go with the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) he had earned the previous year.

The announcement in The London Gazette on 11 February 1944 said that

"One night in December 1943, this officer (Acting Flight Lieutenant Herbert Frank Slade RAAF of No 156 Squadron) captained an aircraft detailed to attack Berlin. When nearing the target his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire but, although his aircraft sustained much damage, Flight Lieutenant Slade completed his attack and bombed the target with great accuracy. His effort was typical of the determination he has always displayed. He has completed very many sorties and has achieved much success."

It was all becoming somewhat routine for S/Ldr Slade. On 18 September 1943 during a raid on railway marshalling yards at Modane on the French-Italian border, close to the entrance to the Mt Cenis tunnel which carried the vital main railway line between the two countries, S/Ldr (then WO) Slade and his crew in 'N' Nuts had another narrow escape.

In his weekly Station Commander's Weekly Parade, the CO of 156 Squadron, said the target was a small one, lying in a valley enclosed by mountains rising to over 12,000 feet. "The attack called for great accuracy in navigation and bomb-aiming," he said. "Weather and visibility were good, the target was highly pinpointed and although full details are not yet to hand, it seems highly probable that the attack was a great success.

"This raid was a striking instance of the fact that the Pathfinder technique can be used to great effect not only in the destruction of German industry, but also in paralysing communications, and this having a direct and immediate effect upon military operations.

"Losses on this attack were very light and all aircraft of 156 Squadron returned safely, but W/O Slade and his crew in 'N' Nuts had an adventurous trip.

"One second before bombing the aircraft was rocked by a terrific explosion, probably caused by the blast from another aircraft's bombs.

"The S/B fin and rudder were torn, the S/B elevator trimmer was ripped off, and the rear turret perspex pierced. On the return route icing caused further trouble, but once again the Lancaster gave proof that it can 'take it' and 'N' Nuts, battered but still airworthy came safely home."

S/Ldr Slade went on to instruct USAAF crews from November 1944, earning high praise from his US bosses. His work as liaison officer entailed training crews in night-bombing techniques.

"By countless lectures and by practical demonstrations in the air, S/Ldr Slade has instructed our crews in night-bombing tactics and has inculcated in them the spirit of teamwork which is essential to success," wrote Col H H Upham from HQ Army Air Force Station 179.

"Moreover, in order properly to gauge the effectiveness of his instruction, S/Ldr Slade has flown numerous combat missions with the crews he has instructed. The results of his authoritative instruction has been of incalculable value to this group."

S/Ldr Slade was awarded the US Bronze Star Medal.

When the war ended, S/Ldr Slade was attached to the Historical Records section at Australia House in London where he was responsible for collecting material for the Australian War Memorial.

Frank Slade had migrated to Australia when he was 15 under the "Big Brother" scheme. He worked on various station properties throughout NSW and was living at Bourke when he joined the RAAF.

On his return to Australia he settled at Harden, married his wife Lorna and had two sons, Colston and Gilbert. He drew a Soldiers' Settlers' Block at Baradine, NSW, and lived there until his death in 1962.

The material for this article was supplied by Mrs Lorna Slade of South Australia


Last updated: 3 June 2019

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Lancaster pilot survived numerous scrapes, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 14 August 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/lancaster-pilot-survived-numerous-scrapes
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