Black Friday

All images and files have been retrieved from the archives of 404squadron.com

February 1945

Black Friday

On 9 February, the Z.33, a Narvik class destroyer, accompanied by escort vessels (including a sperrbrecher), two minesweepers, tugs and trawlers, was found stationary in Førde Fjord by two Recce Beaufighters of 489 Squadron. Amongst various other local fjords, the recce aircraft reported, “no less than 5 transports were seen in Nord-Gulen, the largest between 4000-5000 tons, very attractive targets indeed. ” Even though normal operations would target the merchant vessels the warships were rare prizes and it was decided that this difficult target warranted attack.

At 1400 hours, only three hours after the vessels were spotted and only 30 minutes after the recce planes landed, eleven Buffalo aircraft were airborne loaded with RPs. Led by S/L Christison in “U” NE686, 404 Squadron was part of a 45-plane formation including nine Beaus from 144 (RAF) and eleven Beaus from 455 (RAAF) Squadrons of Dallachy Strike Wing. Included in the sortie were 2 ‘outrider’ Beaufighters (flank scouts), 10 Mustangs from 65 Squadron would provide fighter cover and two air/sea rescue Warwicks of 279 Squadron, each carrying a boat would be ready to save any downed aircrew. Interestingly there were no torpedo aircraft and all Beaufighters were TFX variants. 144 Squadron was configured with cannon and machine-guns only, while 455 and 404 also carried RPs. The CO of 455 Squadron, W/C CG Milson, DSO, and DFC and bar led the overall force.

Weather wasn’t a factor on this day, with fair visibility and a few rain-showers as the planes formed up in vics and proceeded to Førde Fjord. The initial plan was for the Strike Wing to use the now mature tactic of making landfall, flying inland a short distance, then attacking down fjord. This would allow the attacks to be conducted quickly, with a minimum of time in subjected to anti-aircraft fire before heading directly to sea and the journey home. If the attack were conducted quickly enough, the force would be homebound before enemy fighters could be scrambled.

The force made landfall west of Sogne Fjord. The outriders immediately started the search for enemy vessels or aircraft to the north and south of the main force. No trace of the destroyer was reported, and one enemy aircraft was sighted but not intercepted. The force continued on to Førde Fjord while the outriders returned to base, their missions completed.

The force prepared themselves for the attack and proceeded into the fjord in preparation to attack towards the sea, only to find the vessels weren’t where they were expected to be, and were ready to defend themselves from a probable attack. It is possible that the vessels had been alerted by the presence of the outrider Beaufighters. On arrival, the Wing was immediately subjected to flak from the vessels that were now beneath them.

In the fjord, two vessels situated themselves against the sheer cliffs, the Z.33 was on the opposite side of the fjord and three flak ships were in the center with excellent arcs of protective fire. To top it off, there were several batteries of anti-aircraft guns situated around the shoreline. Normally, the Wings attacked using surprise, catching an unprepared enemy, quickly striking then escaping. It seems obvious that in Førde Fjord, this was not the case – the enemy was prepared, well sited defensively and fairly close to protective fighter-aircraft bases. As was to be seen, the Strike Wing was flying into a nightmare scenario.

In fact, the vessels were so prepared that some of the vessels had non-essential personnel evacuate before the attack, and some civilians were even instructed to seek safe haven in their cellars. Unfortunately, the extra time taken to set up the attack allowed enemy fighters to get airborne from the airbase at Herdla. The nimble fighters included some of the latest marks of FW.190s and many of the pilots were battle-hardened veterans of the Russian front, including ‘Blue 4’, flown by Lieutenant Rudolf Linz, an ace with 70 victories.

When the targets were found, the Strike Wing was not prepared to attack “and the formation leader orbited the force twice to get into a suitable attack position to attack and then ordered the attack up fjord. As the Beaufighters made their way in, they met an intense crossfire in the form of a box barrage ”.

With the coveted destroyer well protected, the attack runs were made, but the tightness of the fjord and the danger of aircraft colliding forced the Beaus to fly through anti-aircraft fire. Flying into a swirling hell of flak, the Beaufighters made their attacks. Some reports indicate that the three flak vessels in the middle of the fjord received the brunt of the attacks, but Z.33 was also targeted, with many near misses.

While waiting their turn to attack, the Beaufighters were surprised by a flight of at least 12 Fw.190s. The air battle quickly became a whirling maelstrom of enemy fighters, Mustangs, and Beaufighters struggling to put in their attacks while trying to avoid being bounced. P/O WE Blunderfield, the pilot of “V” with navigator P/O WA Jackson.

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Both killed on Black Friday. It is possible that “V” piloted by P/O Blunderfield and P/O Jackson was the first of the Beaufighters to be shot down. A German narrative reports that the FW.190 attacked from above and the Beau lost its tail, exploding on impact with the ocean. A Canadian body was later found in the water, but an identity is not known.

F/O OW Knight, navigator, was on squadron less than three weeks.

The fate of another Buffalo Beaufighter is described – “Near Gaular terrified civilians witness how a Beaufighter is pursued by a Focke-Wulf and is hit several times. The Beaufighter tries to land on an elevation, but the terrain makes this an impossibility. The plane breaks in half during the ensuing crash and the cockpit section slides down the hillside for more than 500 meters. Sadly, the crew perished in the crash. This was EE-C. The crew, F/O Knight and F/O Lynch was on their first strike.” The pilot that shot this crew down, Heinz Orlowski, then shot down a Mustang attempting to save the Beaufighter before finally having to bail out of his own damaged Focke-Wulf.

F/O JR ‘Rog’ Savard, DFC, pilot and F/O J Middleton, navigator, made a crash landing on the ice of Førdefjord. Middleton died as a result of injuries, and Savard spent the remainder of the war as a POW.(Sqn Archive)

Roger Savard

F/O JR Savard made a wheels-up landing on the ice with his aircraft on fire, likely after being hit by flak. The Beaufighter survived the crash, but turned upside down and trapped the crew. Norwegian civilians ran out to the aircraft but had to retreat when they were fired at by German soldiers. Savard and Middleton were seen to be pulled from their aircraft by flak crews, but Middleton was so severely wounded that he did not survive. Savard spent the rest of the war as a POW.

Middleton

The 404 aircraft flown by F/O JE Nelson and WO RG Gracie in NT916 had just broken away from their attack when they saw two FW.190s on the tail of another Beaufighter. They immediately came to the rescue and shot down one of the enemy fighters. The second FW.190 turned upon its attacker, but Gracie managed to put a burst of fire into it from his navigator’s ‘pop gun’ and the German pilot turned away. Nelson “received a DFC for driving a 190 off a comrade’s tail”.

Another Beau, flown by F/O HP Flynn and P/O MH Michael in “T” NE686 engaged two more FW.190s in an inconclusive combat as the enemy pursued another Beaufighter. Flynn’s number 2 (port) was Roger Savard. On Flynn’s starboard was Bill Jackson, another crew that was lost. During the melee, Flynn was able to attack the Z-33 and was credited with two RP strikes.

Black Friday resulted in the loss of six crews. What is known is the fate of F/O JR Savard and P/O J Middleton, P/Os WJ Jackson and WE Blunderfield, and F/Os HC Lynch and OW Knight. What is not known is the ultimate fates of F/O H Smook and WO AM Duckworth, F/Os C Smerneos and ND Cochrane, and F/O PR Myrick and F/S CG Berges who were also lost that day, with several Beaufighters being seen to impact the steep sides of the fjord. Three Beaufighters and a Mustang from other squadrons did not return. Post war German sources claim that seven Beaufighters were shot down by flak, while the FW.190s claimed two more and a Mustang.

F/O H Smook, pilot, who was lost along with navigator WO AM Duckworth. (Sqn Archive)

After the mission, it was thought that damage to the enemy was substantial. Besides one aircraft destroyed and another damaged, 404 assisted in scoring hits on the destroyer, setting fire to a patrol vessel and severely damaging two other ships. Mustangs of the fighter escort claimed two FW.190s as destroyed and two damaged. The cost of this strike was heavy and for 404 it was the single worst day for the unit during the war.

The squadron’s adjutant penned these words in the ORB, “Today’s losses were a staggering blow, and a keen sense of personal loss is felt by every member of the Squadron and the servicing echelon. The many expressions of regret from personnel of the Squadrons on the Station and from Station Headquarters, indicated the high esteem in which these twelve men were held. Flying Officer JR (Rog) Savard and Pilot Officer J Middleton his navigator, were approaching the end of their tour, and Pilot Officer WJ Jackson and his navigator, Pilot Officer HE Blunderfield, had passed the half-way mark. These two crews, besides being two of our most experienced and capable, were also two of the most popular. Although Flying Officer H Smook and navigator Warrant Officer AM Duckworth had been with the Squadron but two months, and Flying Officer C Smerneos and his navigator, Flying Officer ND Cochrane, only six weeks, these crews were already highly regarded by the older members of the Squadron. Flying Officer PR Myrick and Flying Officer OW Knight, his navigator, and Flying Officer HC Lynch and navigator Flight Sergeant CG Berges had only been with the Squadron three weeks and were on their first operational sortie, however, the pre-operational flying of theses two crews had been of a high standard and they were regarded as worthy members of the Squadron.”

German pilot, Lieutenant Rudi Linz, with 70 victories was shot down by one of the escort Mustangs.

F/L PE ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson became 404 Squadron Adjutant on 10 October 1944 and held the duty during the tragic day known as Black Friday. (PL 40772)

Author Andrew Hendrie was stationed at Dallachy at the time of the Black Friday attacks and was witness to the state of the aircraft on return from the disastrous mission. “They landed like a flight of wounded ducks; a number just pancaking. The scene was like a Hollywood film set – but this was real. Later in the Mess I saw some of the Beaufighter aircrew with their clothing truly in ribbons…In the Mess about that time, I heard broadcast Elgar’s ‘Chanson de Matin’, music ever to recall in my mind 404 Squadron’s ‘Black Friday’.” In RCAF Overseas, the Sixth Year, this disastrous day is referred to as ‘Fatal Friday’.

Well after the war, some of the surviving aircrew were still very bitter about the experience of Black Friday. There are many questions that will likely never be answered. One member personally felt that if the outrider Beaufighter had properly observed the placement of the vessels in Førde Fjord, then it is possible that the attack would not have progressed in such a well-defended area.

In June 2008, the CO 404 LRP&T Sqn, LCol Doug Baird, DCO, Maj Chris Larsen, and the Senior Maintenance Training Manager, MWO Rob O’Brien, travelled to Norway to visit the site of the Black Friday mission and to lay a memorial Stone on the floor of Førde Fjord to pay honor and tribute to the ten members of 404 Sqn who perished that day. Below are some photos which, we hope, will aid in preserving their memory and serve as a reminder of their dedication and sacrifice.

Beaufighter debris at the site of the crash of F/O H. Lynch of Mallorytown, ON and F/O O. Knight of Vancouver.The image of a Beaufighter aircraft is carved into this stone on the hillside overlooking the fjord. It is believed to be very near the crash site of one of 404 Sqn’s Beaufighters.This memorial stone was erected in 1985 and contains the names of those 14 Allied Airmen lost in the Black Friday mission. The caption at the bottom reads“They gave their lives for our freedom 9.2.1945. Erected with thanks by NROF Indre Sunnfjord on 8.5.1985 with cooperation of the people of the villages around Fordefjord.”.The final resting place for those members recovered from the Black Friday mission. Originally they were interred at Førde Lutheran Church but were later relocated to the Allied War Cemetery in Haugesund.The Maple Leaf flies beside the Norwegian flag at the former German airfield at Herdla, near Bergen, Norway.This memorial stone was was placed on the floor of Førdefjord in June 2008 during a visit by members of the ‘Herd’. The poem is at the bottom is an excerpt of one believed to be written by F/O E.R. Davey, a squadron member who was killed in a training accident in October, 1944.Below are links to two slide show presentations that were prepared by ProCom Diving Services of Coronation, Alberta. Both of these presetations have been converted to Abode pdf format for those visitors who do not have MS Powerpoint software installed on their PCs.

Black Friday PDF Format (6.1Mb) Black Friday

Black Friday PowerPoint

The Last Beaufighter PDF Format (13.8Mb) The Last Beaufighter

The Last Beaufighter PowerPoint