This Browning .303 in. MkII* is one of a total of 137,000 Brownings that were built by Standard Motors during the period July 1939 to January 1945, when production stopped. The serial number of this gun, BS212498, indicates that it is from a contract awarded in 1942. During the Battle of Berlin (November 1943 to March 1944) this gun was fitted to Lancaster MkIII serial number JB367 of 97 Squadron Royal Air Force, based at RAF Bourn. On the night 18/19th November 1943 this aircraft was being flown by Flight Sergeant A A Johnson and his crew of six. Following the aircraft crash a young local boy and his then girl friend (now wife) liberated this gun from the tail turret of the wreckage and passed in onto the resistance group for which they acted as couriers. He recalls removing the gun from the lower left position in the turret and then leaving very swiftly for fear of being caught by the Germans. He got the gun back from the resistance at the end of the war and kept it. Records show that the gunner for this Browning was FS C J “Tiger” Billows
, who successfully evaded capture by the Nazi's.
The Last Flight of Lancaster JB 367 OF-S
Lancaster S “Sugar” – JB 367. 18th/19th November 1943, hit by Flak over Aachen. Abandoned in the facility of Bommershoven, Limburg, 7km west of Tongeren, Belgium.
Pilot, FS Albert Andrew Johnson, RNZAF, 414635, killed, buried at Heverlee War Cemetery.
Flight Engineer, FS W Jackson, PoW.
Navigator, Flt Lt A W Pepper, evader.
Bomb Aimer, Plt Off F T Williams, evader.
Wireless Operator, FS J J Sansam, PoW.
Mid Upper Gunner, FS T Hesselden, evader.
Rear Gunner, FS C J “Tiger” Billows, evader
Successful evaders were exceedingly rare. For 97 Squadron during the whole of 1943 only nine men escaped capture after bailing out or crash landing in enemy territory and eventually made their way back to England. Four of these were from this crew who were shot down by Flak on a Berlin operation. The Lancaster fell from 20,000 to 6,000 feet before Johnson regained sufficient control to allow the rest of the crew time to bail out. In doing so he sacrificed his own life as did so many of the bomber pilots. He had been a last minute replacement for their usual skipper, an Australian pilot known as “Snowy” Jones, who had been barred from flying by the Medical Officer because of sinus trouble. Johnson was 27 years old at the time of his death.
Flight Sergeant Johnson of 97 Squadron was killed when his aircraft crashed in Belgium. Six of his crew bailed out and whilst two were taken prisoner, the other four all evaded capture and reached England in January 1944. They had taken off from their base at Bourn at 5.30 pm, and their H2S set seemed in order but after crossing the English coast the Navigator decided it had become unserviceable. He left his seat to see if it would work once warmed up, but it did not. H2S was the first airborne, ground scanning radar system and was used to identify targets on the ground for night and all-weather bombing. The H2S was, therefore, a very important piece of equipment for this raid.
At the same time, the Bomb Aimer reported one of the front guns was out of action. The omens began to increase when, over Hannover, the Mid Upper Gunner reported that his turret had gone unserviceable, so Johnson ordered him to the front turret. The Bomb Aimer was throwing out “window” from the nose and Johnson ordered the Wireless Operator into the astrodome to look out for fighters. The Navigator set a straight course for Berlin and on arrival they dropped their bombs, not on the target indicators but on salvo making use of the red markers. The Navigator then worked out the wind speed and direction and they set off on the return route
Just visible on the top cover of the gun is part of the serial number of the aircraft to which it was fitted and also part of the turret position marking. These markings were hand painted onto the guns by the armourers so that they could more easily ensure that the guns went back into the correct aircraft and in the correct position after maintenance. Re-fitting to the correct position was important to ensure the correct alignment of the guns. It was these markings that enabled to full history of the gun to be researched.
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