Flying Officer Desmond McFadden, Service No. 432538 (0211684) was a Lancaster pilot during the War. He is a friend of the Spitfire Association.
Des was born on the 4th December 1924 at Haberfield, NSW. He trained as a teacher before the war, and after the war he resumed his studies and attained his BA Dip ED in 1949 at Sydney University. He enlisted on the 2nd January 1943 and started training as an air gunner at Bradfield, NSW. He soon found himself in November 1943 on the SS Mariposa heading for San Francisco, and then via the Queen Mary to the Clyde in England, and then overland to Brighton. In no time, he was in Chipping Warden learning the ropes in Wellingtons, and later based at Chedburgh for the heavy conversion unit (Stirlings). Later, he moved on to RAF Feltwell for Finishing School 3 Lancasters.
On the 23rd June, Des was in a Mid Upper (dorsal) turret on his first sortie holding a machine gun, and watching the ice build up on the wings and fuselage at over 20,000 feet over Brunswick (Lower Saxony) in Germany. In three days, their aircraft, piloted by Sid Stuart DSO DFC DFM, who was 22 at the time, flew on three sorties in daylight. On the last day, Des said they lost 39 heavies as the Germans were waiting for them and jumped us. Their bomb aimer was the only one on target that day, as they had been there twice before and they ignored the Pathfinders, who were way out, and just did their thing and got the hell out of there.
Impressions, that Des had while being a crewman of a Lancaster, was that the crew was like a family, a team really, and he had an incredible closeness with his comrades. We became a family, said Des. And Des, like many a young fellow, would need this closeness with men who learned to hide their feelings. Imagine being all alone at the top of the world, closeted in a turret with your thoughts while you searched the black sky for signs of the enemy fighters, who you knew were lurking close by. Des and thousands like him were made of stern stuff and were very brave.
Des noted that on a night sortie, the target would be illuminated and the snakes of German anti aircraft fire would reach up for them and streak past his Perspex window to hell. The thumping of the German fire hitting his aircraft was a vivid memory, although the icing up of the aircraft at that height was also a very serious problem.
Other sorties were flown over Frankfurt and Essen, although he had his own opinion that the OIC for bombing, Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, Air Chief Marshall, was on the wrong tack, and instead of building tens of thousands of heavy bombers and bombing enemy cities, they should have been building more Mosquitoes and Typhoons and blasting the German fighters. That may have been more effective. But, Des said ruefully, that the old “Bomber” Harris had a fixation, which was shared by Churchill and so the carnage continued. The chop rate was high.
One night after a raid, they were heading back for home, and saw through the gloom a Lancaster flying close by, so they thought it would be a good idea to format on its port side. After trundling along for about 10 minutes, all hell broke loose. The Lanc’s crew must have not noticed them there, and as it was pitch black eventually saw something looming up on them, and thinking it was an enemy aircraft, they let fly. Their two gunners opened up on Des and his mates. Quickly their pilot, Sid Stuart, peeled away to ensure they were not brought down by their own side. It was indeed a close call and a lucky escape from a situation which they would avoid in future.
The photo is of Des, on the extreme right with his arms crossed, with his “family” in front of their aircraft.
After being commissioned, Des eventually made his way back to Australia on the SS Strathden, and departed England on the 17th September 1945. He arrived back in sunny Australia on the 11th October 1945.
Des received the DFC in a letter from his Commanding Officer, RAAF Headquarters, dated the 27th March 1945. He also received the Reserve Force Decoration. He flew a total of 34 sorties and was aged 21 years when he was discharged on the 7th December 1945.
His DFC Citation was as follows:
Pilot Officer McFadden has taken part in many successful attacks against the enemy. In August 1944 when detailed to attack Rocque-Court, his aircraft was attacked by a Messerschmitt 210. This officer’s accurate fire forced the attacker to break off the engagement. Throughout his tour of duty, Pilot Officer McFadden has displayed outstanding enthusiasm and courage. His vigilance and skill inspired his crew with confidence. (LG 27/3/1945 p 1656)
The final photo on the right is of Des in the front row, extreme right, with his mate, “Grim” Turner, the Bomb Aimer, directly behind him. Thanks fellows, you did well.
Steve McGregor and David Hamilton
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association