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Squadron Leader Nigel Bicknell DSO DFC    RAFVR     (1918-1990)  

Squadron Leader Nigel Bicknell DSO DFC

All rights to images reserved, Marcus Bicknell and Nigel Bicknell estate (C) copyright 2012

This page responds to interest from RAF historians in Nigel's wartime flying and the Pampa Meteorological Flight in particular. I hope to extend this page to a more comprehensive record drawn from his photos albums and log book (both of which I have drawn from here already). In the meantime you can browse the three episodes of his war which I have worked on so far, 1409 (Met) Flight on this page and, using the links below, his Blenheim and Gladiator crashes.

Bristol Blenheim Mk IV N.3574 – ditched in the North Sea, 19th August 1940 Click here for PDF article

Gloster Gladiator K 8044: crash at Hullavington 31st January 1945.Click here for PDF article
 

1409 (Met) Flight

1409 (Met) Flight was an important development of 8 Group, Bomber Command, the Pathfinders (PFF). The bombers had valuable weather reports from the sea areas around the British Isles, but there was still a large gap in the observational coverage over the European mainland. Initially 1401 Flight, Code-named PAMPA (Photorecce And Meteorological Photography Aircraft), a part of the Met Recce flights, started flying Spitfires on 7th November 1941 . 1409 Flight, part of 521 Squadron and flying Mosquitos from Oakington, was created when the Pathfinders took formal control in April 1943 and included “special duty flights”.  PAMPA flights were responsible for long range weather reconnaissance sorties deep into enemy territory to ascertain conditions prior to planned Bomber Command raids and for the US 8th Air Force until the Americans got their own weather recce outfit. Unlike the regular synoptic flights of most met operations, PAMPA flights were dispatched at short notice to specific targets to establish the exact weather conditions just before a raid. The aircraft were unarmed and the navigator/observer was responsible for taking the photographs by hand or with belly-fitted cameras.

Nigel considered the work with the 1409 Meteorological Flight “PAMPA” and other reconnaissance and photographic missions over enemy territory  as the peak of his flying career.  Most pilots posted to 1409 had both operational Bomber Command and met flight experience . Nigel did not have the former but he was considered and experienced pilot and leader. He flew 25 met recce flights when an instructor at Hullavington. But he was appointed directly to command Flight 1409 and flew to Wyton, where the Flight had been based since January 1944, on 21 April, flew the Mosquito twice on his first day 22 April and his first mission on 23 April.

In a busy 7 month period Nigel flew 180 times of which 125 were operational, most over enemy territory (France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Germany). In addition to PAMPA flights he undertook as required other strategic missions including Snooper flights to photograph the aftermath of bombing raids (“installation at Fruges” – between Boulogne and Bethune, 14 and 16 July 1944; “Caves 20m NW of Paris” 15 July 1944; “Cap Gris Nez, low level” of which the resulting photo of a pall of smoke is pasted in Nigel’s scrapbook (see image link below), 26 Sept 1944; “Saarbrucken, bombing” 5 Oct 1944; “Gelsenkirchen, back on one motor”, 6 Nov 1944; and “Dueven & Juelich, V2 sites”, 16 Nov 1944;

The speed of the Mosquito, up to 200 knots at altitude, enabled sorties across the channel to be flown in the minimum  time. The sortie to Fruges, above, 220 miles each way from Wyton, was completed in 2½ hours, there and back. Saarbrucken, 480 miles each way, took less than 4 hours.

"In April 1944, Squadron Leader (now Wing Commander) N. Bicknell, D.S.O., D.F.C., assumed command.  Under his leadership the Flight progressed from strength to strength, building up an enviable record of meteorological service to both Bomber Command and to the U. S. Eighth Air Force".
 
 

Index to images (high resolution versions available on request, and professional scans can be made if the demand is there)

    IMG_0127c.jpg Argentiere Glacier from 30,000 feet. Not identified from Nigel's log book. The datum marks would suggest the photo was taken with a F.24 camera, fitted with a 14" focal length lens, the image being taken obliquely (comments from Andrew Fletcher 9 April 2012)
    IMG_0129c.jpg Reproduction of 4 book plates (book not identified) showing Nigel's Mosquito MkIX in two air-to-air photos in operational flights. The Gelsenkirchen sortie was a Snooper flight of 3 hrs 35 minutes on 6th November 1944 with flight Officer Saunders. Nigel's logbook laconically records "back on one motor". The 154th operation was 5 days later, with the same  crewman, Pampa: Arnhem-Cologne-Amsterdam at night time, 2 hours 30, so how a daylight photo was taken is a minor mystery. I will check in the squadron records which I acquired on 400 files from the National Archives in January 2012.
    IMG_0130c.jpg Text for the radio broadcast about Pampa of 11 January 1945. This text is legible if you zoom in. I hope to transcribe it to an MS Word document soon
    IMG_0134c.jpg Meteorological photos taken from a side mounted or handheld camera from Nigel's plane, mounted thus in his photo album. a) Band of fine weather cumulus, Ruhr Valley, from 30,000 feet. b) Haze layer and cumulus, Luneberg. c) Stratus cloud off Frisian Islands, top 600 feet, taken from 20,000 feet. d) Alto-cumulus 23,000 feet, strato-cumulus 3,000 feet, off Channel Islands, taken from 26,000 feet. None of these four identified from Nigel's logbook.
    IMG_0138c.jpg  Photo taken on one of Nigel's post-bombing raid Snooper flights "Cap Gris Nez (low level)" on 26 September 1944, a sortie lasting 3 hours, with a 6" lens on a non-standard hand-held camera. The titling strips mean the photo was probably interpreted for target information. This is a significant image because this is the last day on which the German batteries along the Calais coast were able to bombard the Dover coast. "On 26 September 1944, the last day of shelling, 50 shells landed, killing five people, the last of whom was 63 year-old Patience Ransley, killed by a shell from the Lindemann Battery while sheltering in the 900-foot (270 m) long "Barwick's Cave" reinforced cliff tunnel."  "On 26th Septembert 1944, 722 aircraft - 388 Lancasters, 289 Halifaxes, 45 Mosquitos - carried out 2 separate raids in the Calais area. 531 aircraft were dispatched to 4 targets at Cap Gris Nez and 191 aircraft to 3 targets near Calais (Wikipedia). Accurate and concentrated bombing was observed at all targets. 2 Lancasters lost (http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/sep44.html)
    IMG_0139c.jpg Thunderstorm (cumulo nimbus cloud) forming over Bremerhaven. Base 2,000 feet, top 32,000 feet, taken from 30,000 feet. Probably 5 October 1944 "Pampa: Flensburg-Rostock-Wittenburg-Bremerhaven" of 3 hours 55 as no other Bremerhaven flight recorded in Nigel's logbook.
    IMG_0140c.jpg Sunrise over Baltic. The island in the sun's rays is identified in Nigel's photo album as Langeland (principal town Rudkobing, Denmark) half way between Kiel and Copenhagen. The photo was probably taken from overhead Kiel on 19th May 1944 "Pampa: Hannover-Neustralitz-Kiel". 1 hour of the flight was night-time and 2 hours 45 in daytime, so it makes sense that he was there for the sunrise. It could possibly have been 22nd May 1944 "Pampa: Sylt-Langeland-Kiel Canal" 1h30 night and 1h40 day but the photo of the Kiel Canal is at low level (see below) and the photo of Langeland from 20 to 30,000 feet. At a rate of climb of, say,  1000 feet per min (2060 feet per min was the max rate of climb unloaded) those exposed half an hour over enemy territory would be long enough to assume the pilot would not choose to take photos at low level and high level on the same sortie.
    IMG_0141c.jpg Clearance behind a cold front - Bay of Biscay - Strato-Cumulus Cirro-cumulus 26,000-29,000 feet, Alto-Cumulus 18,000-19,000 feet, Cumulus 8,000-8,500 feet taken from 29,000 feet. This could have been taken on 21st July 1944 "Pampa: 49N 12W-43N 12W Cap Finisterre" which was a long flight of 4 hours night and 2h45 day. Other flights in the area are defined by grid references and I have yet to map them out to identify them.
   IMG_0142c.jpg Frontal cloud (beginning of clearance) Dijon, taken from 10,000 feet. Date not identified
   IMG_0143c.jpg  Thunderstorms over Hannover. Anvil 32,000 feet, haze and cloud top 10,000 feet, taken from 10,500 feet.
    IMG_0151c.jpg  Kiel Canal, near Burg, 22/5. Pampa flight Pampa: Sylt-Langeland-Kiel Canal of 22nd May 1945, taken from 50 feet above ground with a 6" lens on a non-standard hand-held camera. The titling strips mean the photo was probably interpreted for target information. WTN probably stands for Wyton, 1409 squadron's base. 

All rights to images reserved, Marcus Bicknell and Nigel Bicknell estate (C) copyright 2012

Footnotes

Entry by his son Marcus Bicknell (marcus@bicknell.com) 1st October 2012
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Nigel Bicknell (1918-1990) - 1409 Flight 1944