Hit by Incendiaries over the Target: the true story of Brock Robertson’s DFC

Brock with his adoptive parents, Charles and Ella Ferris.

BROCK ROBERTSON was an outstanding Canadian pilot with 97 Squadron, who sadly lost his life in August 1943. One cutting treasured by his adoptive family tells of how he was called upon to give flying demonstrations to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and to present his crew to her:

The cutting mentions his recent award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. There is an unusual story behind this award but it did not appear in the citation printed in The London Gazette, on 17 August 1943. (Note: the second entry on the image below is also for a Canadian Pathfinder, this time from 405 Squadron):

Brock won his award on an operation to Hamburg on 24/25 July 1943, just over a month before his death. What the citation for the award deliberately omitted to say was that Brock’s aircraft had been badly damaged by incendiaries dropped by another aircraft when over the target. The true cause of the damage would not have been made publicly known because it would have been bad for the war effort. This is no way diminishes the courage and fortitude of Brock and his crew in getting their job done and the aircraft home.

97 Squadron’s ORB gives the following information about Brock and his crew that night:

14 aircraft detailed as markers and three as Main Force, with aircraft reserve for ops.  Target attacked was Hamburg.  All successfully bombed the target area.  There was some ground haze over the target.  Many fires and bursts were seen.  Flak was heavy but moderate for Hamburg.  All aircraft returned safely to base.  The use of “windows” was made on this raid for the first time.

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ED871K  F/L C.B.Roberston, Sgt W.G.Peel, F/O G.C.Crockett, F/Sgt P.Scott, F/O J.C.Frizzell, Sgts W.Wilkes, W.St C.Hebb.  Up 2159  Down 0409.  Primary objective attacked.  16,000’.  No cloud, very hazy.  Visually saw built up area and marshalling yards.  Aircraft hit on bombing run and caught in searchlights and violent evasive action was necessary.

When the aircraft returned to base, it was the subject of a specialised report, Report on Flying Accident or Forced Landing Not Attributable to Enemy Action. It must have been repaired very quickly as it is reported in the ORB as being back in action against Hamburg in the operation of 27/28 July. However, it is possible that this is a records or typing error as it is the last time this aircraft, hitherto their favourite Lancaster, was flown by the Robertson crew. Their five operations in August were flown in three different Lancasters.

Photographs courtesy of Dalton Ferris, son of Donald Ferris, Brock’s adoptive brother.

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