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First episode taken from The Rover issue: 1332 January 6th 1951.


The radio crackled. The voice of the Flying Controller, speaking from the control tower, called one of the Lancaster bombers circling above Spurnmoor aerodrome. “Calling ‘U’ for Uncle.’ Calling ‘U’ for Uncle.’ You can pancake now! You can pancake now!” “Jumbo” Tate, Pilot-Officer and captain of the Lancaster, gave a grunt of satisfaction. Often, after a bombing raid on Germany, he had been kept waiting over an hour before receiving permission to land. When there were twenty-five or thirty aircraft ready to land, somebody had to be last. But to-night, upon returning from Berlin, the call had come promptly. It was mid-1944, and the Second World War had been going on for over four years. Britain was now waging frequent air attacks on Germany, and it was from one of these sorties that Pilot-Officer Tate was returning. Jumbo concentrated on his task of landing the huge bomber. A lever slid under his hand to lower the under carriage. He throttled back gradually as the Lancaster made one more orbit above the guiding ring of lights. Then he turned in towards the flare-path, put the nose down, and watched, unblinking, for the coloured lights that would indicate if his angle of descent were right. Jumbo’s crew would have been very surprised if he had “fluffed” his approach and had to orbit again. To-night, as on other nights, he got the green signal all the way. A slight bump announced that the Lancaster was down. Jumbo braked, and with the motors ticking over, the bomber stopped at the end of the flare-path. Then it crawled forward behind the bobbing light on the vehicle that led to the dispersal point. There, Jumbo switched off, and a deep silence fell on ears that for hours had been filled with the war-throb of the Merlin engines. Out of the aircraft the crew climbed, stiffly and clumsily. A motor lorry, already loaded with other landed crews, stopped to pick them up. The lorry lumbered along the perimeter track to the main building. In a surging throng, the crews streamed into the briefing-room, anxious to satisfy the curiosity of the intelligence officers with a minimum of delay before having supper and going to bed. Jumbo stood blinking in the glare from the bright lights. “Look!” he murmured in his navigator’s ear. “The mystery Wing Commander’s here again.” The navigator gave a nod. “Big fellow isn’t he?” he said. “He’s been here at least six times, and I haven’t heard him say a word yet!” Behind the trestle table at which the intelligence officers were sitting, stood this Wing Commander who had aroused the curiosity of the Spurnmoor bomber crews. He was a man of rugged features, and his tunic, bare of wings or any decoration, was stretched tight by his very wide shoulders. Nobody seemed to know anything about this officer. For some weeks he had always been present when the crews were briefed for a raid, and when they came back he listened attentively to their reports, but never made a comment or asked a question. However, what Jumbo was really thinking about was supper and bed. With a quick side-step that took him through a gap in the crowd, he reached the table and tried to catch the eye of the senior intelligence officer. To his mild disgust, the latter did not meet his glance, but pointed his pencil at another pilot-officer, the captain of “P” for “Peter.” “Have a good trip, Danvers?” he asked. “Fair,” replied Danvers, whose face showed signs of strain. “We had cloud most of the way. Over Berlin the cloud was broken. That was when things got a bit sticky. Searchlights lit up the gaps and the flak was terrific.” “Any attempt at fighter interception?” asked the intelligence officer. Danvers shook his head. “No, we were lucky there,” he said. “Let me see, your primary target was the Studdenhausen diesel-engine factory,” murmured the intelligence officer. “Where you able to prang it?” “Couldn’t say for certain,” Danvers answered. “We had to weave about so much that we couldn’t get a fix on the factory. We dropped out load somewhere in the area of the marker flares, did a bit more junking to dodge the searchlights, and were able to run for home.” The mystery Wing Commander had made a few penciled notes on the back of an envelope during this conversation. His keen, shrewd eyes now took stock of Jumbo Tate. “Well, Jumbo, I’ll have your report now,” the intelligence officer said. Jumbo did not waste any breath. “We came out of the cloud,” he said quickly. “The Studdenhausen factory was right in our sights. It was a piece of cake. Charlie, our bomb-aimer, let go, and we saw our cookies burst in the middle of the factory. Then we turned round and came home – and can I go and have my supper, please?” “Your supper can wait a minute,” retorted the intelligence officer. “Here’s a plan of the factory.” He pushed a diagram across the table. “Can you tell me which building you hit?” Jumbo promptly planted a finger in the centre of the plan. “That’s the one,” he said. “Most of it seemed to come up in the air.” “You got the main assembly shop,” was the excited comment of the intelligence officer. “That’s what I thought,” Jumbo said. “Okay to go now?” Jumbo received a nod, and led his crew out of the room in a vigorous stampede. The intelligence officer was smiling as he swung round in his chair. “I invariably get the same report from that crew,” he remarked. “Somehow or other they always find themselves bang over the target. The phrase “a piece of cake” occurs regularly in Jumbo’s reports. The Wing Commander scribbled something on an envelope, which he then thrust into his pocket. “That was his twenty-fifth – including six over Berlin,” replied the intelligence officer. “He’s a certainty for an early D.F.C., and it will have been well earned. The Wing Commander gave a nod that might have meant anything. He did not wait to hear any more of the interrogations, and, followed by the questioning glances of the air-crews crowding round the table, walked out of the room. “There’s something vaguely familiar about that big fellow,” said the pilot of “A” for “Able,” frowning thoughtfully. “I seem to have seen his photograph in the papers – though it must have been ages ago. It was something to do with a raid on Brest, I think. One of our old Beauforts flew in at point-blank ranged and pranged a battle-cruiser.” “Well it couldn’t have been this fellow, for he hasn’t got his wings,” said a navigator. “No, I suppose it couldn’t,” said the pilot. “I guess I was thinking of somebody else.”


Jumbo Tate, after supper and a smoke, was ready to go to bed. With his hair tousled, his tunic unbuttoned, he reached the door of his cubicle in the dormitory block. He yawned as he opened the door, and then suddenly closed his mouth. The light in his room was on. Someone was there sitting on the bed. “Hi!” Jumbo said. “I’m afraid you’re in the wrong room.” The face that turned to greet Jumbo was that of the mystery Wing Commander. A battered pipe was stuck in his mouth. He did not rise from the bed. “Don’t bother about that,” he said as Jumbo hurriedly began to button his tunic. “Squat down.” He gave the bed a thump. “I dropped in for a talk with you.” Jumbo sat down on the edge of the bed. His surprise showed on his face. “You’ve got a pretty good record, young man,” began the Wing Commander. “Er, nothing very sensational about it, sir,” Jumbo exclaimed. “Just ‘there and back’ stuff.” “That’s what I like about it,” was the other’s comments. He studied Jumbo for a moment. “I’m known as the Big Fellow, by the way! Now we’re introduced.” Jumbo blinked. “Just – the Big Fellow?” he asked. The Wing Commander nodded. “I’ve been having a look at your record,” he said. “In fact” – for a moment his rugged face was smiling – “I know quite a lot about you. What has impressed me is the almost mechanical way in which you’ve found your target on every raid. How d’you account for that?” “Oh, good navigation, I guess,” said Jumbo. The Big Fellow shook his head. “During your period of operations you’ve had four different navigators,” he said. “A couple of them, I know, have since slipped up badly and been transferred to ground duties. You know as well as I do that there’s more accurate flying than mechanical reliance on instruments.” Jumbo rubbed his head with his knuckles. “I – I haven’t thought much about that,” he said. “I’ve never worried. I always seem to know where I am.” The Big Fellow gave him a straight stare. “You always seem to know where you are – exactly what I’d deduced,” he said. “And that’s why I’ve come to offer you another job.” “Another job!” exclaimed Jumbo incredulously. The Big Fellow took his pipe from his mouth. He pointed it at the young pilot. “It’s only fair that I should warn you about this job,” he said. “You’re due for a gong.” By that word he meant a medal. “You won’t get it! Your name will never appear in the honours list. If you – er – disappear, it won’t appear in the casualty list either.” Jumbo’s expression was tense. “You won’t get any leave,” added the Big Fellow. He paused to let the words sink in. “Except when on a mission, you will not even discuss your job with your closest comrades.” Jumbo did not stir or speak. “Finally,” said the Big Fellow, “you’ll have to remove your wings.” Jumbo broke his silence. “I couldn’t take a non-flying job,” he burst out. The Big Fellow gave a laugh. “You’ll fly, by gosh, you’ll fly,” he said. “Oh!” said Jumbo, and there was bewilderment in his voice. “That’s all I can tell you now,” said the Big Fellow. He stood up, and the floor creaked under his weight. “I’ve throw a challenge at you. I’d like an answer by morning.” Jumbo jumped up, too. “You can have my answer now, sir,” he said. “I’ll take the job.” “Glad to hear it” said the Big Fellow. “I’ll fix up the details. No talking. So far as this unit is concerned, you’ll just disappear. You will report at Thorby Fell Aerodrome sometime on Monday.


The two-coach train puffed away down the single line, and disappeared beneath an ivy-covered bridge. Surrounded by his equipment, Jumbo stood on the narrow wooden platform of Thorby Fell Halt. The station staff appeared to consist of a middle-aged woman in porter’s cap. “Yes, take that road for the aerodrome,” she said when questioned. “Be about a mile.” Jumbo left his kit, in the hope that a motor vehicle would be sent to fetch it, and crunched down the cinder path from the halt. There was rain in the air as he walked along the narrow, winding road. The surrounding moorlands looked grey and desolate in the drizzle. He realised there was not a house to be seen. “This would be a mighty good spot to put a prison or a secret aerodrome.” He thought. This idea made him hurry, but as he topped a rise, he stopped and stared. “The airfield that lay in front of him looked like a third-rate training aerodrome. Far from having a secret or mysterious atmosphere, the airfield looked open to anybody. He could see gaps in the barbed wire fence. A couple of sheep had gone through and were grazing on the rough grass inside the fence. Jumbo’s stupefied glance travelled to the machines standing round the field. There were half a dozen. He counted them. An Anson, two Oxfords, a couple of Tiger Moths, and an Auster completed the “stable,” and they were all painted in the yellow of Training Command. Jumbo found the Adjutant planting cabbages in a patch of earth by the side of a Nissen hut. “Ah, you must be Jumbo,” he said. “The Big Fellow said you’d be dropping in. I’m Blinkers.” After some of the starchy adjutants Jumbo had encountered in the past, it was a shock to meet an administrative officer who introduced himself by his nickname. “Er – I left my kit at the station,” Jumbo said. “If you could send a vehicle -” “We don’t possess a vehicle,” chuckled Blinkers. “But the sentry can nip down and fetch your stuff. You’re in hut number two. See it?” He pointed. “You will share it with Lofty. I guess he’s in there now. Step along and introduce yourself – if you can wake him up. There’s one thing more. The fellows here are known to each other only by their nicknames or Christian names, and they know nothing else about each other. You’ll just tell them that you’re Jumbo.” Having disposed of this new arrival, the Adjutant stooped made another hole in the ground with his dibber, and put in another cabbage plant. Jumbo made for the Nissen hut, knocked, and walked in. “Hello.” On one of the two beds a lanky young man in the wingless tunic of a flying-officer lay sprawling, a magazine in his hand. “I’m Lofty! Welcome to Bleak House – and doubly welcome if you can stoke a stove so that it stays alight all night. I can’t, and it’s darned chilly here in the mornings.” He heaved himself off the bed. “Come over to the mess. It’s just about time for tea.” A cheerful babble of voices greeted them as they entered the mess hut. About a dozen young officers were having tea, and they welcomed Jumbo with friendly grins. Lofty introduced several of them, using their nicknames every time. Ginger was one, Windsock another. There was Neb and a Terry. A short, thick-shouldered youngster with faint scars on his face seemed to be very popular and was addressed by everyone as Roy. Jumbo’s spirits began to rise. His new comrades showed no signs of being browned off. Though they were talking about everything but flying, there was an atmosphere of keenness and alertness that was impossible to miss. The conversation was broken by the roar of motors starting up. Jumbo looked out of a window and saw that the propellers of an Anson were turning over. Roy put down his cup and looked at Ginger, who gave a nod. There was no comment as they slipped on their greatcoats and caps and walked out. Jumbo watched them cross the strip of tarmac towards the plane. They climbed into the cabin, and a few minutes later the machine was air borne above the moors. The evening passed without any further incident. After an early supper and a game of cards, Jumbo turned in. He slept so soundly that it was nearly eight o’clock before he was awakened by the sound of a portable radio set switched on by Lofty. Sleepily, he yawned and listened. “Last night, a small force of Lancasters attacked a transformer station at Wuckenstucke, fifty miles south of Berlin,” stated the announcer. “The bombing was concentrated and successful. By the destruction of this station, a network of factories in the Wuckenstucke area will be deprived of power for a long time.” Jumbo was at breakfast when he heard a plane coming down towards the drome. The Anson that had left the night before was dropping down out of the clouds. It made a bumpy landing on the hummocky grass. Roy and Ginger emerged from the cabin and walked slowly towards the huts. Their limbs had the heaviness of great fatigue. When they appeared in the doorway of the mess. Jumbo saw that their eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot. He knew the signs. His own limbs had known that weariness, and his eyes the strain of a long night of operational flying. Immediately, as he put two and two together, the name of Wuckenstucke flashed into his mind. Roy and Ginger were received as casually as if they had just come across from their hut. Not a hint of a question was put to them as they sank down wearily into their chairs. Jumbo was rising from the table when Blinkers came in. “I’ve a message for you,” said the adjutant. “Stand by at sixteen-thirty.” “Okay,” said Jumbo.


At half-past four precisely, the Anson took off. The machine was piloted by a man with grey hair who was a stranger to Jumbo, and who did not speak a word during the whole of the trip. Though he could not see the instruments, Jumbo knew that the Anson was flying east. It flew over the spine of the Pennine Chain, and was over the West Riding of Yorkshire when the nose dipped for landing. Jumbo peered down. He could see long, concrete runways. The details of many buildings gradually took shape. Looming vast at the dispersal points were many Lancasters. A daylight signal flashed, and the pilot put the Anson down expertly. “Report to office ten in the administration block,” he said. A flight-sergeant directed Jumbo to the office. A familiar voice called out, “Come in!” The Big Fellow was standing in front of the fire, battered pipe in mouth. “Got a job for you to-night, Jumbo,” the Big Fellow said. “Take a look at that map.” Jumbo stooped eagerly over the map that was lying on the trestle table. It was of Holland. The Big Fellow leaned over his shoulder. “That’s your objective – the level-crossing at Omuiden,” he said. “You are flying a Lancaster with one twelve thousand pound bomb. At twenty-three hundred hours precisely – not a minute earlier or a minute later – you will drop your bomb on the crossing. If you can’t exactly to time – exactly to time – you will call the operation off and return with the bomb. Operational flying height for the trip, six thousand feet.” Jumbo gave a nod. “Have you got the weather report, sir?” “Yes, and it’s a stinker,” said the Big Fellow. “Ten-tenths cloud at heights varying from two to seven thousand, thick drizzle, no moon, westerly breeze.” “This station is providing the rest of the crew,” went on the Big Fellow. “The navigator, chap named Smith, will be along presently, and you can sweat over your problems together.” The Big Fellow strolled out with a nod, and left Jumbo alone with the map. Jumbo was jubilant, for he now realised that the Ansons and Oxfords at Thorby Fell were used as taxi-cabs to take the men to the operational aerodromes, from where they would fly the big stuff. Sergeant Smith, a small, cheerful Londoner, came in, and their heads went together over the map as they plotted out a course.


At twenty-two hundred hours, on a night when drizzle blurred the flare-path, the Lancaster took off and roared into the murky sky with its deadly cargo. A few minutes later, the coast was crossed, and at six thousand feet, flying mainly through cloud, Jumbo started out across the North Sea. Every few minutes, the voice of the navigator came harshly through the inter-communication system. The navigator gave a bearing on Omuiden. Then he lapsed into silence. Minutes ticked past. Jumbo spoke sharply. “Can I have another bearing?” he demanded. “Sorry, skipper,” rasped the voice through the inter-com. “I’m trying to get a fix.” “You mean you’re lost?” snapped Jumbo. “Yes,” was the muted answer. Jumbo made no comment. He made a ten degrees turn. He glanced at the compass and increased his turn. The Lancaster was lost in swirling banks of cloud. It roared out into a jagged gap over a black, shadowy landscape with just a glint of water here and there. “Bomb doors open!” Jumbo said tersely. “All set!” “Yes, skipper, but I can’t see a thing,” was the bomb-aimer’s answer. “I’ll tell you when to bomb,” Jumbo said, watching his clock. Several times in the next two minutes he made slight changes of course. He heard a voice murmur -” If he knows where he is, he must have second sight.” Jumbo grinned slightly. He felt – that was the word, felt – that he knew where he was. He could not have explained how he knew. Now he held a steady course. He began to count. “One, two, three, four – five!” “Bomb gone!” This announcement from the bomb-aimer was superfluous. Relieved of its huge load, the Lancaster took a violent leap upwards. The crew held on breathlessly. From below, there was a flash that turned the darkness of the night to lurid red. The flash was followed by a sheet of flame that threw up fiery fingers towards the Lancaster. Another moment passed before the roar of a shattering explosion drowned even the noise of the engines. The voice of the bomb-aimer was like a squeak after so tremendous a din. “We seemed to have touched something off,” he said. “It looks like a volcano down there.” Jumbo set a course for home. At the estimated time of arrival to the second, the Lancaster touched down in pelting rain and taxied to a stop. In the hooded lights of the van that had come to pick them up, Jumbo turned for a word with the navigator, but it was not Sergeant Smith who was climbing down. Jumbo stared. He gave a gasp of surprise as he noted the towering stature of the man who stepped towards him. It was the Big Fellow. “That was a nice shot, Jumbo,” he said. “You hit an ammunition train that we knew would be at Omuiden crossing at zero hour.” “You took the sergeant’s place?” Jumbo exclaimed. “Yes, I came along with you,” chuckled the Big Fellow. Jumbo digested this information. “Were you really lost, sir?” he asked. The only answer he got to that question was another quiet chuckle. “Shall I say that you came up to my best expectations?” said the Big Fellow. “We’ll have a yarn, but not till we’ve had our food.” This talk took place in the room which the C.O, of the ‘drome had placed at the disposal of the Big Fellow. “You can count yourself a fully-fledged member of the special squadron I’m now getting together,” the Big Fellow said. “It is actually listed as Squadron X, and we are pathfinders, the target markers for big shows.” Jumbo was thrilled to the core as he listened. “This secrecy business, this use of nicknames and lack of display isn’t a gag,” the Big Fellow said. “We are gradually assembling to do a big job, a job so shattering that it may by itself smash the enemy. But if a single word leaked out, if the Germans got a hint of what’s coming to them, if they knew a special squadron was being worked up, they might turn the tables on us.” The Big Fellow slowly lit his pipe. “You’re all good flyers, you and the others in Squadron X, but you’ve got to be better. D’you understand? You’ve got to be much better!”


THE SQUADRON OF NAMELESS FLYERS (First series) 43 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1078 – 1119 (1944 - 1945)

SQUADRON X (Repeat of First series with new title) 43 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1332 - 1374 (1951)

NIGHT FIGHTERS (Second series) 11 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1381 - 1389 (1951 - 1952)

THE BIG FELLOW (Third series) 11 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1396 - 1406 (1952)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2003