Robert Charles Arthur “Bunt” Waddell
BIRTH: 6 Jul 1915
DEATH: 5 Apr 1975 (aged 59)
BURIAL: Little Lake Cemetery
Peterborough, Peterborough County, Ontario, Canada
DOD: 5 April 1975 (Aged 59)
From the book “THE DANGEROUS SKY” by Tom Coughlin (1968)
Transcribed by Carl Mills - with permission - August 2011
Although they flew fighter aircraft, tactical pilots could never match fighter pilots for numbers of enemy aircraft shot down. Shooting down enemy aircraft was not their prime purpose. Their targets were tactical. Wherever they flew along German-occupied roads and railways, they left a trail of destruction and disruption. One of the most successful pilots of the Second Tactical Air Force was W/C R. C. ‘Bunt’ Waddell, DSO, DFC, Netherlands Flying Cross.
Waddell, who grew up in Peterborough, ON, began both his military and flying careers early. In 1934, he entered Royal Military College at Kingston, ON, where Len Birchall, the man destined to become “The Saviour of Ceylon,” was among his fellow students. While at RMC, Waddell showed his interest in aviation: he flew on weekends and obtained a private pilot license. In 1937, he graduated from RMC and served with the Fourth Battery Royal Canadian Artillery, until June 1938. In that year he entered the University of Toronto in the engineering faculty and joined the City of Toronto (Auxiliary) Squadron. His affiliation with the squadron, No. 110, lasted for many years until, by the summer of 1943, he was the only original aircrew member still serving with the squadron.
On 3 September 1939, seven days before Canada declared war, Waddell was called into active service. Since he had won his RCAF pilots wings four months earlier, he was immediately put on flying duties ferrying aircraft across the country. Earlier in 1940 the City of Toronto squadron was re-formed as an Army Co-operation unit and, on February13, it became the first RCAF squadron to go overseas. The squadron went to RAF Station Old Sarum in England and began operating with Lysander aircraft which they later traded for Tomahawks.
Review of the current 400 Squadron history will indicate that events were somewhat different than those details as described above - Mills - Aug. 2011.
The squadron was renumbered in keeping with the RCAF’s block of numbers for the overseas squadrons. Number 110 Squadron became No. 400 Squadron and Waddell became second in command. Two months later Waddell had his first ’incident’ while flying. He was on a training flight when he had an engine failure. Aircraft were precious in embattled Britain in those days so he dismissed any thoughts of a parachute jump and made a successful forced landing. By later standards 1941 was a quiet year. Early in 1942 things began to pick up.
On 10 February 1942, Waddell flew his first operational sortie. It was uneventful. Fifteen days later, 400 Squadron celebrated its second year in England and much to their pleasure, the pilots were given Mustang aircraft to fly. The months went by with Waddell participating in a number of sorties over the English Channel and enemy-occupied Europe. On 9 August 1942, Waddell became Commanding Officer of the squadron. As 1942 was coming to an end he finally came to grips with the foe. On December 1, Waddell was off the Cherbourgh Peninsula when he was attacked by five ME 109s. Waddell’s aircraft was hit in the tailplane but, in spite of a brief, furious dogfight, no further damage was done to his aircraft or to those of his companions.
Waddell was obtaining good results on his operational sorties and he flew the Mustang as though it was part of him. Ironically, it was a small trainer which the squadron used for liaison duties that nearly caused his death. On 9 March 1943, Waddell was returning to his base after being away on an administrative matter when the engine on his Miles Master cut out as he was approaching his field. Waddell tried to make the runway by coming in crosswind but he slammed into a Mustang waiting to take off and severely damaged his aircraft. Waddell walked away from the two-airplane collision without a scratch.
On 14 April 1943, he was lucky again but his flying partner (was not). Waddell and F/O M.B. Pepper took off on a ranger operation looking for enemy aircraft. They were night flying over France near St. Valery when searchlights picked them up. Intense flak came up, hitting F/O Pepper’s Mustang, causing the cooling fluid to escape from the engine. The pilot’s last words were, “I’m bailing out.”
As ground activities increased, the need for air photos increased proportionally since photos gave Army planners a preview of the enemy’s intentions. An unfortunate aspect of photo recce flying which the pilots had to accept was that to obtain photos the missions had to be flown in good weather with the aircraft flying straight and level thus making them highly vulnerable to ground fire. An additional requirement for photo missions was that the cameras had to have a direct view of the ground: clouds could not be used for concealment. As well as photos the Wing obtained visual reports of enemy activity and directed our artillery fire against enemy targets. The photo pilots, of course, were also expected to do their share of strafing and fighter sorties.
As D-Day neared, Waddell’s recce Wing greatly increase its number of sorties. Waddell’s logbook showed that he was in the vanguard of activities. On 8 March 1944, for example, he led photo missions for 430 Squadron to obtain oblique overlaps of the French coast from Pointe d’Aillt to Cap Dentifier. The following month he led formations of recce aircraft from Beachy Head in England to a town in France of special significance to Canadians – Dieppe. Early in May, with 400 Squadron, he flew a photo Spitfire that pinpointed the location of German flying-bomb sites near Le Harve and later in the same month he returned to 414 Squadron for photo reccs on gun positions along the Germans’ so-called Western Wall. But he did more that take reams of photos. He led his marauding Mustangs across occupied Europe on strafing runs leaving behind him a trail of Army vehicles, trains and aircraft, destroyed or ready for the repair shop.
In mid-June 1944, Waddell won the DFC with the citation which read in part: “This officer has always performed his duties with great determination. He flew during Dieppe combined operations and since he has taken part in many operational sorties including a number of anti-shipping patrols. On one occasion he penetrated far over France where he damaged several locomotives and returned with an excellent and valuable report.”
On 25 June 1943, Waddell completed his first operational tour of duty and the following day he began a tour of duty at 39 (Reconnaissance) Wing Headquarters. As Wing Commander (Operations) Waddell’s main job was to ensure that the three squadrons making up his wing, Nos. 400, 414, and 430, did their job of providing information and photographs to the Army. Photographs for the Army were either verticals or obliques and, depending on the requirement, were obtained at either extremely high or extremely low altitude. A prime example of the latter came to light when photos, developed when the pilot landed, looked directly into second story windows.
To provide the Army with the best possible service, Waddell frequently visited armoured and infantry units to better understand the requirements of the men on the ground. As a result of these visits, he would modify the Wing’s operational procedures to improve photo coverage or tactical reporting. As the Army ground across France and the Lowlands, Waddell’s maps and reports helped pave the way.
At the beginning of October 1944, No. 39 (Recce) Wing move(d) to Eindhoven, Holland, and continued the task of supplying the British Second Army with daily reports on the enemy. By the end of the month, as the Allies moved eastward, German place names instead of French and Dutch ones began to appear on the battle maps. German resistance stiffened as the soil of their homeland was threatened. Also at the end of October a frightening, but fortunately temporary, situation existed. On 29 October 1944, Waddell was leading a photo recce mission over the Dortmund Canal when he and his pilots saw an ominous sight. They spotted a smoke trail at an estimated 11,000 feet rising at an angle of 70 degrees, and then a huge smoke ring at 7,000 feet. It was a V2 rocket. These highly efficient forerunners of the space age could not be stopped once they were launched. Until the Allied Armies could overrun the launching sites the only way to get at the V2s was to bomb or fire artillery at their launching pads. Discovering these sites became part of Waddell’s growing list of priority tasks.
Demand on No. 39 Wing’s special talents reached a peak in the frantic week before the zero hour to cross the Rhine River into Germany. For that operation 39 Wing became the ‘eyes’ of the First Canadian, Second British, and Ninth American Armies, providing more than one million photos of all kinds in one week. Day after day unarmed photo aircraft whistled at high level across Germany. Their demanding task was to locate enemy gun positions. Other squadron pilots, flying low level, would go on hedge-hopping and steeple-dodging flights in pursuit of special information.
On 24 March 1945, the allies crossed the Rhine. That day, endless formations of troop carriers, gliders and fighters droned eastward. In support of the crossing, code-named ‘Operation Varsity’, Waddell’s recce Wing flew more than 100 sorties for the Army below. Six days later, 39 Wing took possession of an airfield on German soil. It was the first Allied flying unit to do so. Waddell, as usual, was in the forefront of the action, leading strafing raids on German troops.
In April 1945, Waddell repeatedly flew operations in the face of heavy flak as he photographed the steadily diminishing number of military targets. He was able to report that the Germans were even beginning to demolish their own airports to prevent Allied aircraft from landing.
One of the Wing’s squadrons, 400 Squadron moved to Lunenburg, the farthest point of advance into Germany of any Canadian flying unit before war’s end. The was also coming to an end for Waddell. A fitting tribute to him was the award of the DSO on 10 July 1945. The citation read, “The success achieved by 39 Wing while engaged on photo duties has been largely due to the careful planning and leadership of W/C Waddell. During the past 12 months the Wing has operated extensively over heavily defended front line positions and deep into enemy territory. Prior to the Rhine crossing this officer flew on a number of very low level sorties photographing roads and communications between the Rhine and the Elbe. On every occasion despite intense anti-aircraft fire he obtained photos of excellent quality which were of the greatest value to the 2nd Army in planning their successful attacks.”