Lawless Bruce, Flight Lieutenant
** These notes are based on an interview conducted with Bruce Lawless on Wednesday 10th March 2004, with reference to his flying logbook and Squadron Operational Record Books, and quotes taken from the book on the history of 486 squadron, 'The Wild Winds', by Paul Sortehaug. Along with letters from former pilots who flew with him during WW2.**
Bruce Lawless born on the 26th August 1922 in Christchurch New Zealand, 'Bruce' Lawless became interested in flying and joined the local Air Cadet Corps whilst still at school. His father, who was involved with the New Zealand Railways, having given him a railway ticket to travel the length and breadth of the island, realised his one love was to fly and encouraged him to do so. However, as jobs were scarce in New Zealand, on leaving school, he became an insurance clerk but kept up his flying, eventually, at the outbreak of war, volunteering for the Air Force.
He was mustered as an Acting Pilot on the 2nd March 1941 with the rank of Leading Aircraftsman, and sent to the Initial Training Wing at Lewin, where he stayed until 15th April. He was then posted to the Number 1 Elementary Flying Training School at Taieri, Otago, where his flying was undertaken on DH 82 'Tiger Moths', his first flight being recorded in his logbook as November 13th 1941.
At the conclusion of the course on the 31st December 1941, with 58 hours flying time, he was graded by the Chief Flying Instructor, Squadron Leader Stedman as an 'Average Pilot' noting that 'he loses speed in gliding turns'. His Link Training was assessed as 'Bare Average'. On the 8th January 1942, he embarked on the liner, 'Dominion Monarch' sailing from New Zealand to Canada.
Here he commenced another flying course from 15th February to 11th May, on 2 Squadron, Number 14 SFTS at Aylmere, Ontario, flying Harvards. Again he was graded as an 'Average Pilot and Navigator' on single engine aircraft, with total flying of 192 hrs, and promoted to Sergeant.
From the 20th June until 20th November he attended the Number 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at Jarvis, Ontario, flying Lysander Yale and Battle aircraft. At the conclusion he was sent to Number 1 'Y' Depot at Halifax to await embarkation back to the UK where he arrived on the 20th December and was posted to 11 PDKC at Bournemouth for three months, with a total of just under 500 flying hours under his belt. On the 15th March 1943 he was promoted to Flight Sergeant and posted to number 5 Advanced flying Unit at RAF Turnhill and Calverley, flying Master 3 and Anson aircraft, being graded as 'Average'.
On the 21st April 1943 he was posted to Number 56 Operational Training Unit at Tealing, Scotland, where he flew a Hurricane the next day for the first time. He also flew from Kinnell amassing a total 569 flying hours in all during his training, still only being classed as 'Average' as a pilot! On the 27th July 1943 he was finally posted to 486 RNZAF, an operational squadron, at Tangmere, Sussex, flying Typhoon aircraft, with 'A Flight' under Flt Lt Umbers. His first 'Scramble' came on the 18th September when he took off from Tangmere flying Typhoon SA-B. By this time S/L DJ Scott DFC* had been replaced by S/L ID Waddy as CO of 486, both of them signing his logbook. On the 18th October Lawless was flying Typhoon 'Z' on a scramble with 'B' Flight, three days later flying Typhoon 'S' on a Rodeo where he had to turn back. Before the end of the month he had also taken part in other Rodeo's and Ramrod sorties over Belgium, one of these on the 24th attacking six 109's on the airfield at Bernay.
It was during this period that the squadron's role took another change, due in the main to the lack of response by enemy fighters to its offensively minded operations. The Typhoon was equipped with a 500 pound bomb slung beneath each wing, making it able to strike at the enemy on home ground. On the 25th October Lawless was one of 14 Typhoons equipped with these 500 pound bombs led by S/L Scott in attacking Maupertus airfield. Pilot Officer Artie Sames kept an account of this first bombing operation:
- Our Ramrod on Maupertus began at 0730 hrs, with cloud high up. A most terrific flak barrage came up as we turned to dive several thousand feet on to the target. Most of us fired our cannon but it didn't put the German gunners off, the sky was practically white with smoke and exploding shells. The bombing was surprisingly good considering that this was our first effort. The first two bombs got the centre of the field and the rest did great damage in the dispersal areas and hangers.
With this sortie being a success an even larger force took off on the 31st to attack the airfield at Lessay, but little positive damage resulted, although the raid was of some nuisance value. On the 16th November Lawless took part in a roadstead to bomb two 1000 ton cargo ships off Le Havre, one of them being sunk, the other set ablaze from stem to stern. Martinvaast was attacked twice more before the end of the month, Lawless taking part in both operations. The whole of November 1943 was taken up with 'scrambles' 'sweeps' 'road-steads' and bombing sorties over Belgium, Dieppe Le Havre and Abbeville areas, mainly flying Typhoon SA-S.
Only nine sorties were undertaken by Lawless throughout December due to bad weather, these in the main being Ramrod and bombing duties against the V1 sites along the Fe'camp and Cherbourg areas, often resulting in diverting to other airfields on their return, such as Friston and Manston due to the bad weather. Again P/O Sames refers in his diary to these operations:
- Bombs were dropped on the rocket emplacements at Audingham (HQ of the Todt (Labour) Organisation) and Martinvaast and the reception was as hot as ever. On the Martinvaast 'do' the Cherbourg guns claimed 25 of the bombers that followed our squadron in, four of our planes were hit and suffered damage, four others were dented by spent flak.
On Christmas Day 1943 there was no flying due to the bad weather so after lunch, everyone took part in a car race around the airfield. Bruce Lawless had previously purchased a 1929 Austin 7 in Chichester with the help of Jim Sheddan, for the princely sum of £8, the tyres being so worn they had to borrow bandages from a couple of nurses to wrap around the rims! Once back at Tangmere they were able to procure tyres from the mobile starter motor trolleys. During the race some of the competing vehicles were knocked out of action by the sharp eyed shooting of S/L Holmes who from the doorway of the dispersal hut potted at the tyres with his .38 revolver. One of the casualties being the Austin 7 crewed by Lawless and Sheddan.
On the 30th December a full Wing Ramrod was undertaken on the Noball site at Yvrench-Bois-Carre, Lawless flying with 'A' Flight. Operationally the New Year started with the bombing of the 'Noball' site at Lingham with 500 pounders, a process which continued throughout the remainder of the month. Lawless took part in 7 Ramrod and 5 Rhubarb operations during this month and on the 14th January was one of a section led by G/C Denys Gillam DSO*** DFC** AFC, to make a 'Sweep' on Paris. Here they encountered heavy flak from 4/Flak-Abt.496, and operating on the very edge of maximum endurance they were attacked by a swarm of enemy fighters on their way home.
On the 3rd February the squadron was moved to Beaulieu in Hampshire under 10 Group to re-equip with the new Tempest aircraft, Lawless having made his first flight in one on the 29th January. Flying for the month of February'44 was heavily curtailed due to bad weather and Lawless made only one sortie with 'A' Flight to make a sweep of the Fleurs- Chartres- Trouville region.
At the end of February, 486 handed over their newly acquired Tempests to 3 Squadron and moved from Beaulieu to Drem near Edinburgh. This was regarded as a punishment by most pilots for damaging the Tempests by running into a flock of lapwings whilst 'beating-up' Tangmere airfield showing off their new aircraft. They quickly moved again this time to Castle Camps in Cambridgeshire, and then on to Ayr for a week to attend Armament Practice, which included drogue shooting, shotgun and revolver practice. Bruce Lawless was graded as 'Below Average' for his drogue shooting!
Photo signed by Frank Lawless.
It was taken on 8.4.44 at Castle Camps for publicity purposes with 486 Sqdn using Roland "Bee" Beamonts R-B(JN751).
Left to right, Bruce Lawless, Brian O'Connor, Sydney Short and Ray Danzey.
The beginning of April saw the re-emergence of the Tempest on the squadron, Lawless flying one on the 8th. Little operational activity of any sort occurred throughout the month, although for nearly a fortnight a flight of Typhoons was sent daily to Bradwell Bay on 'readiness'. At the end of April 486 squadron had 16 Tempests ' in charge' and these were flown to Newchurch on the Romney Marsh, Kent, to be joined by 3 and 56 Squadrons, forming 150 Wing under Wing Commander Roland Beamont DSO DFC*. On the 3rd May Lawless was one of eight aircraft of 486 to participate in a high level fighter Sweep in the Dunkirk- Lille- Berch area, which was uneventful. Night intrusion sorties were flown along with Rangers and Shipping Recces, Lawless shows in his log for the 16th May 'Beat -up gunposts'.
On D-Day 486 was kept at full readiness and Lawless flew a Convoy Patrol, generally the Tempests were not involved in the overall pattern of beachhead cover. During a sweep on the 10th June to Caen, Bruce Lawless was forced to splash-down in the Channel following engine failure of his Tempest JN 772 'Q'. His hood had jammed so he could not use his parachute, fortunately the hood flying off on hitting the sea. He was able to use his dinghy and began paddling towards Folkestone, even though suffering head and facial lacerations. Two launches were seen to leave the harbour at Folkestone making for the downed aircraft. F/O Ray 'Dan' Danzey circled overhead during this time and watched puzzled as Lawless waved frantically one away while beckoning the other one towards him. When the two pilots next met Dan asked Bruce what on earth he had been doing. Bruce explained:
"One was Navy and the other Air Force. I knew the Air Force rescue launch would be dry whilst the Navy would have rum on board. I was trying to wave the ASR launch away and urged the Navy boat on!"
He was the first Tempest Pilot to 'ditch' thereby qualifying to become a member of the Goldfish Club. (Entitling him to wear the 'Flying Fish' badge under his uniform collar) On his arrival on dry land he was sent straight away in his flying gear to the Air Ministry in London to share his experience with the 'Boffins' who had previously conducted ditching trials and were confident the aircraft would float. He received a commendation from the AOC of 85 Group W/C Whitbent for the action he took whilst ditching his Tempest and his log-book duly endorsed (in green ink) on the 3rd July.
On the 13th June 1944, the first of Germany's 'Terror Weapon' the V1 Flying Bomb fell on Swanscombe, near Gravesend. It fell to 150 Wing at Newchurch to be in the frontline of combating this new threat with the Tempest being the only aircraft fast enough to catch the pilot-less plane.
Lawless flew his first 'Anti-diver Patrol' on the 20th June, flying Tempest JN 811 'Z', he was to fly 51 further patrols until the 28th July, being officially credited with destroying 10 V1's, although his log-book shows 16. Bruce Lawless explains this discrepancy by the fact that he was keen to get to the pub having survived these sorties "It was important to get in close whilst shooting at them and often the explosion/debris would damage your aircraft, and therefore I didn't always get to see the 'spy' and report the successes !". In fact he made a forced landing at Rye in Sussex on the 28th June after flying through the debris of a V1 he had detonated. During the whole of June, the squadron destroyed 93 Divers adding to the score in July with over 100 more.
Bruce Lawless was sent to 84 Group Support Unit at Thruxton on the 8th August, back flying Typhoons again. He spent a fortnight on 164 and 183 Squadrons before being sent on Course 12 of the Armament Practice Camp No 18 at Fairwood Common. It was here that he practiced firing rockets from his Typhoon and was at last graded 'Above Average'. On the 19th September Lawless was posted to 183 Squadron then operating from Melville in France, flying Typhoon MN118 on his first sortie on the 22nd , this was to attack gun positions at Boulogne with rockets and cannon, further emplacements were again attacked on the 29th and 30th, and throughout the month of October. On the 29th October the squadron moved to Ursel in Belgium, and on the 28 November moved again to Gilze Reijen in Holland. Lawless by this time becoming a Flight Commander flew a total of 38 sorties attacking trains, gun emplacements, HQ buildings, convoys, submarines, pill boxes, as well as troops on the move.
On Christmas Eve 1944 he was posted to 198 Squadron also operating from Gilze Reijen flying Typhoons. On the 1st January 1945, 'B' Flight led by Lawless flying Typhoon MN 951- A took off for an armed recce in the Euskirchen area, where they encountered a train and fired on it with their rockets. On their way home a Folke-Wolf 190 was engaged by Lawless and it was seen to flick on its back and crash in flames. At first he was not given this kill officially, but by the time he had been recommended for an American DFC some two months later he was credited with this 'kill'.
Throughout 1945 the squadron was very busy in ground attack support for the army in its breakout from the beachhead, moving from Belgium into Germany itself in April, again attacking trains, cargo vessels, gun emplacements, troops etc, Bruce Lawless taking part in over 50 of these sorties.
From September '43 to April '44 he took part in 38 Sweeps, Road-steads, and Rodeos, with 4 Bombing Missions, and 3 Defensive Patrols, flying Typhoons.
From May '44 to July '44, again flying Tempests he took part in 60 Anti- Diver Patrols, and 5 Sweeps.
From September '44 to May '45 back flying Typhoons he took part in 80 Rocket Sorties.
SqnLdr Dickie Durrant, Flt Lt Bruce Lawless with mascot, Flt Lt George Sheppard and
Wg Cdr Johnny Button (WCF 123 Wing - 164/183/198/609 Sqns) somewhere in France with 198 Sqdn 1945.
On the 29th March 1945 he was strongly recommended for the British Distinguished Flying Cross by Air Marshall Coningham AOC 84 Group 2nd TAF. The citation reading:- "Since commencing operational flying in August 1943, Fl/Lt Lawless has taken part in over 140 offensive sorties. Prior to D-Day he was bombing V1 launching sites and other heavily defended targets, as well as carrying out fighter sweeps and attacks on enemy shipping. Since D-Day he has completed over 70 sorties with Rocket Projectiles against strong points, Army HQ's, Gun positions, road, rail and barge traffic.
In defensive patrols he has destroyed 10 Flying Bombs, while in Belgium during the German breakthrough in the Ardennes sector in January 1945, he destroyed a FW 190 as well as damaging road and rail transport, in most severe weather conditions. He has also destroyed one enemy aircraft on the ground ".
On the 30th March he was recommended for the award of the American Distinguished Flying Cross, thus, making him one of the rare eight New Zealand pilots awarded both decorations during WW2.
The citation for the American DFC reading:
"This officer has participated in a large number of operational missions. Many of them were against heavily defended enemy strong points, gun positions, and road and rail traffic. On numerous occasions during the Ardennes Battle in January 1945, Flt Lt Lawless commanded a flight and by damaging the enemy both in the air and on the ground, provided direct support to the United States Forces. His excellent leadership and initiative have set a fine example to his fellow pilots. In defensive patrols this officer has destroyed 10 Flying Bombs ".
Lawless' Wings, DFC(1945), '39 Star, Aircrew Europe Star, Defence Medal,
War Medal, New Zealand War Medal, DFC (USA)and Goldfish Badge
Flt/Lt Lawless made his last flight in a Tempest on the 14th August 1945 whilst attached to 84 Group Support Unit at RAF Lasham, prior to returning to New Zealand later in the year. Squadron Leader CJ Sheddan DFC, recalled in 2004 that, "Bruce either had no nerves or had so little imagination that he did not realise that flying in war conditions was dangerous!"
They had joined 486 Squadron at the same time, and became room mates, but were on different flights, although still managing to fly together on some 'sorties'. The two of them, whilst on leave, often stayed in the Railway Hotel in Hastings where Bruce met the owner's daughter, Maureen Bird who he later married at the Holy Trinity Church in Hastings. Jim Sheddan was at that time seeing a nurse from Hastings Hospital (who he also later married) and provided a 'guard of honour' of nurses at Bruce's wedding. Bruce Lawless stayed best friends with Jim Sheddan after the war, acting as Jims best man at his wedding. After the war Bruce Lawless returned to the UK and made a home with Maureen at Point Clear Clacton-on- Sea, Essex, opening up an off-licence business.
His love of flying encouraged him to gain his civil flying licence and he joined the Cambridge Aero Club in 1955, flying Tiger Moths and Auster aircraft, using his war-time flying log book to record his flights.
In March 2004 he was still living in the same house at Point Clear, sailing his dinghy, and taking an active part with the East Essex Aviation Museum located a few yards from his home.