The situation in Europe in the summer of 1939 was deteriorating and as a prudent measure, Leslie Hore-Belisha, Secretary of State for War, persuaded the cabinet of Neville Chamberlain to introduce a limited form of conscription on 27 April 1939. The Military Training Act being passed the following month. Only single men 20 to 22 years old were liable to be called up, and they were to be known as “militiamen” to distinguish them from the regular army. National conscription had ended in 1920. Each man was to be given six months of training before being allowed to return home on an active reserve status. Andrew McKenzie Munn was called up on 15 July 1939 and posted to join the Seaforth Highlanders at Fort George, north west of Inverness. War was declared on 1 September 1939.
Andrew McKenzie Munn was a hero twice over, he fought with the BEF in France at the start of the War, he was evacuated, wounded, from Dunkirk and later transferred to the RAF as an Air Gunner on Avro Lancaster bombers.
(BEF story and Dunkirk story to follow)
As an air gunner on Avro Lancaster W8428 on an operation to bomb the docks at La Spezia in northern Italy when he and all the crew on board were killed.
RAF 103 Squadron allocated 20 aircraft for this attack consisting in total of 208 Avro Lancasters and 3 Handley Page Halifax aircraft. Three of RAF 103 Squadrons aircraft immediately returned due to mechanical issues, one aircraft failed to reach the target owing to an unserviceable d/r (distance reading) compass, another ditched in the English Channel and Lancaster W8428 failed to return. Bombing height was between 7,000 and 12,000 feet with Pathfinder aircraft going in first to light up the target with flares.
The goal was to cause maximum damage to the target area. Each aircraft had a bomb load of 5 x 1000 lbs G P, T D (General Purpose, Time Delay), 2 x 90 x 4 lbs (incendiaries) and 2 x 8 x 30 lbs (incendiaries). In addition, all aircraft carried cameras and nickels (leaflets). Take off on 13 April 1943 was at 2019 hours, the route taken was directly south from RAF Elsham Wolds to Selsey Bill, Cabourg (France), Lac du Bourget (France) and on to La Spezia in northern Italy, south east of Genoa.
There was no cloud cover over the target, the anti-aircraft flax was intense at first but soon died down. A dozen searchlights were in operation and a smoke screen was being used to cover the target area. The Pathfinder Force lit up the target with white flares so that each aircraft could pin-point the target individually and bomb from a lower height than usual. Bombing height was between 7,000 and 12,000 feet. The raid, judging by the fires observed was a great success, but the battleships anchored at the port were not visible due to smoke. The bombing force after their long journey, returned to the UK landing between 0545 hours and 0700 hours. Only one aircraft managed to return to base, the others were diverted for an unknown reason to RAF airfields at Westcott, Tangmere, Wyton, Exeter, and Middle Wallop.
Munn and the crew onboard Avro Lancaster W8428 were posted to the War Casualties Non-Effective Accounts Department, as non-effective missing. Their aircraft most probably crashed following a mid-air collision with RAF 12 Squadron Lancaster ED714, over Saint-Mars-d’Outillé, south of Le Mans in France.
The crew of Avro Lancaster W8428 who died on 14 April 1943:
Flight Lieutenant Edward Claude Lee-Brown RAFVR (125695) pilot, age 20
Pilot Officer James Smart RAFVR (144753) navigator, age 19
Sergeant George Watson Houliston RAFVR (974219) flight engineer, age 31
Flight Sergeant James Joseph O’Brien DFM RAF (551549) wireless operator, age unknown
Sergeant Stanley Moseley RAFVR (1351789) air gunner, age 20
Sergeant Andrew McKenzie Munn RAF (657170) air gunner, age 24
Warrant Officer Class 1 James Willis Toon RCAF (R74721) air observer, age 23
The crew were all interred at Le Mans West Cemetery.
Munn was the son of William L Munn and Helen Munn, Coul Lodge, Auchterarder, Perthshire (late of Barnhill, Perth). Before joining the RAF, Andrew Munn served with the Seaforth Highlanders and was evacuated from France at Dunkirk.
O’Brien was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal on 25 April 1941 whilst serving with RAF 77 Squadron. He joined the RAF in 1937 at RAF Cranwell as a boy entrant.
A German night fighter flown by Lt Josef Pützkuhl (10./NJG 5) flying from Morlaix Airfield in Brittany, France claimed to have shot down a Lancaster over northern France – possibly it was the Lancaster that ditched in the English Channel.
Leslie Hore-Belisha is still widely associated in the UK with the amber “Belisha beacons” which were installed at pedestrian crossings while he was Minister for Transport.
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (C 3697) Annotated section of a vertical aerial photograph taken during a night raid on the docks at La Spezia, Italy. An Avro Lancaster is silhouetted over the target area as a photoflash bomb (centre right) illuminates the docks below, revealing a ‘Littorio’ class battleship lying in harbour (‘A’). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211427
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1941-1945 (CH 9030) Avro Lancaster B Mark III, ED724 ‘PM-M’, of No. 103 Squadron RAF pauses on the flarepath at Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire, before taking off for a raid on Duisburg, Germany, during the Battle of the Ruhr. Three searchlights (called ‘Sandra’ lights), two of which are visible on the left, form a cone to indicate the height of the cloud base for the departing aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212948
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (C 4505) Vertical aerial photograph taken during the evening attack on the V2 assembly and launching bunker at Wizernes, France by aircraft of No. 1 Group. An Avro Lancaster of No. 103 Squadron RAF flys over the target area, which is covered by the smoke from high-explosive and incendiary bombs. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023326
ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (CH 8971) The pilot of an Avro Lancaster of No. 103 Squadron RAF based at Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire, wearing his oxygen mask while flying the aircraft at high altitude. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210938