Peenemunde – The Jim Love Story

Jim Love

Jim Love was a long-time supporter of the museum. He visited frequently from his home in Calgary and we enjoyed and learned from his memories of being a navigator on Lancasters. On several occasions he told us about his most memorable operation, the raid to Pennemunde in 1943 where the Nazi’s were developing and testing one of their “Vergeltungswaffen” or “Vengence” weapons -the V-2 rocket.

James Nelson “Jim” Love was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan but was living in Regina when he enlisted in the RCAF in 1941. #3 Air Observers School was located in his home-town and he graduated from the school as a navigator on July 31, 1942. After completing his training in England, Jim was posted to No. 207 Squadron RAF.

Jack “Lucky” Pegrum, (“Lucky because he was the sole survivor of a crashed Hampden bomber on Friday the Thirteenth of February, 1942) was the wireless operator on Jim’s crew. He recalls that at the time they did their tour the loss rate was very high. The German night-fighters were at their peak and during their frequent flights to the Ruhr, Jim’s crew found that every target was well defended.

Jack wrote, “Our first trip was a relatively easy one to the submarine pens at St. Nazaire and we were proud to get that one under our belts. The next one was a ‘shocker’ to Essen, just about the toughest target one could get at that time. The next night we went to Keil where the German naval gunners really knew their stuff! We made the long haul to Spezia after that. Mont Blanc looked lovely in the moonlight -but I don’t think the Italians were too pleased to see us. Two nights later we were off to bomb the Skoda works in Pilzen, Czechoslovakia. They were making tanks in those days. In another 48 hours we were back to Spezia again -the Alps were becoming quite familiar.

(l-r) Jack “Lucky” Pegram; Jack “Steve” Stephens; Jim Love

“The next month or two proved to be more or less a shuttle service to the Ruhr, with trips to Genoa and Nuremburg thrown in just to give us a change of scenery. Then it was up to the Baltic for what was one of our most memorable trips -to destroy the V-2 development sites at Pennemunde.

“Then came a Berlin raid and it was during the run-up that Steve (pilot John ‘Steve’ Stephens) asked for a course out of the target. We were startled to hear Jimmy (navigator Jim Love) answer, ‘Go where the — you like. I couldn’t care less.’ I turned round from my set to look at the navigator’s table and saw Jimmy looking as though he had a skin-full down at the Plough (our local pub). His oxygen pipe was dangling from the roof of the aircraft -He was unplugged! Once he was plugged in again he soon returned to normal. We dropped our bombs and hightailed it for home.”

A sortie to Mannheim completed Jim’s crew’s tour of thirty operations on September 23. Jim was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the citation referring to, “many successful operations against the enemy in which he has displayed high skill, fortitude and devotion to duty.”

JIM’S CREWTop Row (l-r): Ken Bate (Bomb Aimer); Arthur (Joe) Barfoot (Mid Upper Gunner); Jack Stevens (Pilot); Jack (Lucky) Pegrum (Wireless Operator)Bottom Row (l-r): James Love (Navigator); Nat Bury (Flight Engineer); Art McDavitt (Rear Gunner)

The V-1 flying bomb could be seen and defended against by fighters and anti-aircraft guns but the V-2 was effectively invisible after it had been launched. The first Londoners knew about a V-2, was when it exploded. The rocket was 46 feet in length and, fully loaded with fuel and warhead, weighed 13 tons. From launch to the speed of sound took only 30 seconds. Its maximum trajectory height was between 50 to 60 miles for long-range targets. The warhead weighed one ton and could do devastating damage.

V-2 at Pennemunde Museum.

On September 8, 1944 the first V-2 hurtled down on London without warning and exploded with devastating effect. The campaign reached a climax in February 1945 when 232 hit southern England. In all, 1,115 fell, 517 in the London area. Although 2,754 people were killed and about 6500 were injured, the V-2 program did not change the course of the war as Hitler had hoped -but it might have.

General Eisenhower wrote following the war, “It seems likely that if the Germans had succeeded in perfecting and using these new weapons earlier than he did, our invasion of Europe would have proved exceedingly difficult, perhaps impossible. I feel sure that if they had succeeded in using these weapons over a six-month period, and particularly if they had made the Portsmouth-Southampton area one of the principal targets, “Overlord” (The D-Day Invasion) may have been written off.”

Pennemunde was located on the Baltic coast, due north of Berlin. Here the Nazis had assembled a group of scientists and a workforce that operated under the greatest of secrecy. One of the leading scientists was Wernher Van Braun who would go on to play a leading role in the Apollo program that succeeded in making the first lunar landing in 1969. In 1943, the Polish underground movement had sent back information about the Pennemunde program and facilities. As well, the RAF had aerial photographs of the site.

As part of the planning for the Pennemunde raid, a diversionary raid on Berlin by Mosquito Bombers was to be launched with the hope that German fighters would be drawn to the defence of the capital. It was thought that perhaps the first, second and even the third of the three waves of bombers would be able to drop their loads without interference from fighters. The attack was to be made from an altitude of only 7000 feet and in full moonlight. This was necessary to obtain the accuracy required to identify and destroy the individual buildings in the complex. The low-level, moonlight raid was highly unusual for Bomber Command, making it much more hazardous for the crews -there would be no hiding in the clouds on this night but the risk had to be accepted.

Jim Love’s pilot, Jack Stephens, recalled, “The first thing that baffled everyone was, “Pennemunde?” No one had the slightest idea where it was or what it was -we were to find out! There were two other aspects of this raid that were puzzling and rather scary. We were to bomb from 7000 feet rather than our usual 18-20,000 feet and it was a full moon.”

The Pennemunde raid was considered to be one of the most important of the war and this was emphasized by a personal message to the crews from Bomber Command chief, Arthur Harris. Jim Love recalled very clearly the warning that the squadrons were given, “If you don’t knock out this important target tonight it will be laid on again tomorrow and every night until the job is done (regardless of losses).” The airmen had not heard anything like this before. Sergeant K.W. Rowe of No. 434 Squadron recalled, “There wasn’t the usual babble and horseplay and I remember coming out onto the airfield, right into the rural surroundings and sunshine and I thought, ‘This can’t be happening to us on such a lovely day.'”

A total of 596 bombers including 62 from the Canadian No. 6 Group took off during the evening of August 17, 1943. The first wave of two hundred aircraft was due to start the attack at 00:15, with the second attacking at 00:30 and the third at 00:45 hrs. Jim Love’s squadron was part of the second wave. The Canadian aircraft were part of the third.

Of the flight to the target, Jack Stephens wrote, “The trip out was uneventful but very scary -flying a bomber at night with a full moon is like walking down your busiest road -naked! Everyone can see you. You are a sitting target for every fighter in the Reich. You want to hide but there’s no place to go.

“Eventually we crossed the north of Denmark and turned south to Pennemunde. Before long the target appeared. The first wave of bombers had already arrived and when we bombed, the target was well alight. Jerry had put up a smoke screen but too late.”

Lancasters of the Pathfinder Force had marked the target and continued to drop target flares as the raid progressed. In this case the markers were dropped some distance from the target and the crews flew a pre-arranged course and distance from the markers before dropping their bombs. This ensured the markers would remain visible and not become obscured by fires and smoke. The deputy Master Bomber for the Pathfinders was a Canadian, W/C Johnny Fauquier of No. 405 Squadron.

Most of the first wave aircraft were on their way home before the flak opened up and the remaining crews found themselves in the thick of intense gunfire. Many of the bombers flew across the target at altitudes a low as 4000 feet, making themselves ideal targets. Fortunately the diversionary raid to Berlin had been successful and the enemy fighters, upon realizing that Pennemunde was under attack, had to land and refuel. The second wave, that included Jim Love’s aircraft, saw lots of fighters but it was the third wave that included the Canadian squadrons that encountered the majority. When the fighters arrived, the bombers were silhouetted against the bright flames on the ground and bathed in brilliant moonlight.

Jack Stephens recalls, “We bombed and turned on a reverse course for home. It was then it seemed that fighters were everywhere. I saw a Lanc ahead of and below us, clearly visible in the full moon. All four engines were on fire and the fighter was standing off, following it down. Then I saw tracers streaming out from the rear turret but the fighter was obviously out of range. In my mask I was silently screaming, ‘Get out, get out.’ The tracers continued to stream out and then it was too late. He hit the Baltic and it was all over. He is my unknown V.C.

“Twice on the way back fighters maneuvered into position for attack and each time they were spotted in time and conversely the full moon was our salvation. With the fighter below and behind, a turn up-moon brought the fighter into full view while we on the dark side became invisible to him. The Gods were with us that night.”

Bob Charman, another navigator who became a Nanton Lancaster Society member, recalled, “All over the sky planes were going down in flaming infernos. I had barely given Frank (Frank Brady, his pilot) a course for home, when Jimmy Fletcher, the tail gunner, broke in with evasive action. A Ju-88 was bearing down on our tail. We went down into a dive, trying to avoid the fighter. Then the aircraft quivered, like in killing poultry you strike the brain with a knife and the feathers release -that is the way the aircraft felt. A horrible smell of gunpowder enveloped the aircraft and the wireless operator lay beside me dying, with his entrails exposed. . .” Bob was one of only two crewmembers of his No. 427 Squadron Halifax to escape and become a Prisoner of War.

In his navigator’s log, Jim recorded, “several aircraft seen shot down” and “dozens of fighters about.” During visits to the museum he often spoke of the vividness of his memories of watching bombers going down in flames around him. His logbook entry shows the name “Pennemunde” written in extremely shaky printing. He later told his family that it was no joke -he was still frightened when he made the logbook entry. In a letter to his mother written the day following the raid Jim wrote, “Had a very ‘shaky-do’ night before last at Pennemunde but managed to scrape through by the ‘skin of our fins.’ We had a rather charmed life I guess.”

Jim understood that he was one of the lucky ones. Bomber Command lost forty aircraft that night, 6.7% of the attacking force. But the Canadian squadrons in the third wave lost twelve aircraft, suffering a staggering loss rate of 19.3%. The Luftwaffe estimated that they might have shot down 200 bombers had the diversionary raid to Berlin not been so successful.

The Pennemunde Raid was clearly a tactical success with a high percentage of the bombs being on target. Following the attack, the V-2 program was dispersed to various other locations. Estimates vary as to the delay the raid caused in the development of the V-2 program -the consensus being at least two months and possibly six. As well, the raid resulted in the scale of the program being significantly reduced.

All seven of Jim’s crew visited Nanton in 1990, the year before the museum building was constructed.