Flight Lieutenant Arthur “Peter” Piper DFC

Gunnery Leader No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron.

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Peters medal collection

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Peter in front of a Blenheim Mk.IVF of No.236 Squadron 1941

 There were only a handful of air gunners on the squadron that can claim to have had such a long and diverse operational career as Arthur Howard Piper. Arthur or “Peter” as he was known, after the families per Bull Terrier was born in 1916 while his father was serving in the Army.  Peter was an athletic man into fast cars and sports especially golf and like many of his generation he had a passion for flying. He initially trained as a pilot whilst he was a law student in London but for some reason this training was not completed, instead Peter would go to war as qualified air gunner. Peter’s first operational squadron was No.236 Squadron based at North Coates. This was a Coastal Command squadron equipped with the Bristol Blenheim Mk.I. His arrival in March 1940 would coincide with the squadron being transferred to RAF Fight Command for defence’s patrols over the shipping lanes of the south coast. The squadron and Peter were constantly on the moved over the next few months, Speke was visited in April and Filton in May while in June he and the squadron were based at RAF Middle Wallop. All during this period Peter was flying however the squadron had not been actively engaged. July would see an increase in operational tempo. While taking off from Thorney Island for a Navy protection patrol on July 15 the port engine of Blenheim Mk.I L6779 failed resulting in a rather hasty and careful landing, the pilot was a Sgt Smith

By this time the squadron has been transferred back under the control of RAF Coastal Command.  The remainder of the month was spent on patrols and convoy protection.  It was not until August 1 1940 that Peter and his pilot Sgt Smith encountered stiff opposition.  Six  crews now operating the new Mk.IVF Blenheim were detailed and briefed to escort  No.59 Squadron attacking the Querqueviile aerodrome near Cherbourg, on completion the  crews of 263 Squadron were given permission to attack targets of opportunity.  Sergeant Smith flying below 50ft attacked two machine gun posts on the airfield and a coastal gun battery.  In an attempted to get back to the safety of the channel Blenheim R3603 “M” was attacked by Me109s, in the ensuing melee Peter fired over 450 rounds at the fighters, low cloud and sea mist gave the crew the chance to loose their antagonists.  Opposition from the defences were murderous,  two crews including the commanding officer Squadron Leader Drew failed to return from No.263 Squadron while two crews of No.59 were shot down by Bf109’s of JG27.  It had been a sobering encounter, Peter’s Blenheim had been hit by both flak and mg fire.  

Further action followed on August 21 when Peter was involved in a scrap with five JU88’s. Detailed for Escort Convoy Duty the section was re-vectored to defend St Ival airfield which was in the process of being bombed.  Airborne at 13:50hrs in Blenheim  R3886 “N” the crew and their two companions raced into the attack,  Sergeant Smith managed to close in to within 250 yards before Peter opened up with 100 rounds. A steam of bullets was seen entering the Ju88’s lower fuselage without any visible effect.  The speed of the JU88 was their savour as the Blenheims had difficulty keeping up with them, the crew landed at 15:35hrs.  

September 8   1940 while on Convoy Protection  two Heinkel flying boats were spotted but they managed to allude the crew in low cloud.  On September 15 Peter had a lucky escape when two Bf109’s on the prowl somehow flew within a few miles of his Blenheim thankfully without being noticed, the outcome would have been rather one sided. On September 23 Peter and his skipper Sgt Smith were dispatched along with two companions  to a point 200 miles west off the Scillies where they shot down a Heinkel  III.  On September 25 the crew found three MTB’s off St Renan but decided to leave alone, these were heavily armed with both light and medium flak guns. The following day they had another narrow escape when they were attacked by 9 Me110.

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Page from Peter’s log book recording the encounter with the nine Me110’s.

Briefed to recon Brest Harbour the Blenheim was spotted by the Me110’s, after 10 minutes frantic flying and over 200 rounds fired the crew managed to escape into cloud, it had been yet another close shave.  October was busy but not as fraught, numerous patrols were flown and a number of inconclusive interceptions flown thankfully without the intervention of the Luftwaffe.

On November 1st  Peter was airborne to carry out a dawn recco of the now heavily defended Brest Harbour, flak was intense on the run in but the harbour was found to be  cloud covered forcing the crew to abandon the operation. He was aloft again in the afternoon to escort a Empire Flying Boat but no contact was made. This was Peter’s final operation with No.236 Squadron. It had been an extremely hazardous few months and Peter was lucky to have survived.

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Instructing with No.1651 Con Unit.

There followed a few months of what appears to be no flying, Peters flying Log Book does not record any flights which is understandable given the that he had been operational since March.  This “rest” soon came to an end with the posting to No.7 Squadron based at RAF Oakington in March 1941. No.7 Squadron was at the time the only squadron operational with the mighty four engined Short Stirling.  Peter’s first flight was recorded on Match 11th  in Stirling N3636 MG-A,this was one of the second  Stirling’s of the production line. At the controls was Flying Officer Cox, the flight lasted just twenty minutes. In May Peter was sent to the Central Gunnery School at Warmwell, where his previous operational experience was honed in. He was flying almost continuously during the month in the units Hampden’s and Wellingtons, on completion of the course Peter was posted back to Oakington. An early afternoon air-test on June 18th with No.7 Squadrons Commander Wing Commander Henry Graham was the precursor to a raid against the TOADS at Brest that night. Aloft at 22:57hrs the operation was aborted due to a defective starboard inner engine, the 4 x 2000lb SAP bombs were retained while the 3 x 500lb were jettisoned.  

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Gunnery Leader No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron

Peter’s next operation was not until July 3 1941 when he accompanied Flying Officer Dennis Witt DFM to Bremen. Once again the operation was aborted due to engine trouble.  A daylight operation was flown by three squadron crews on the early morning of July 8, the target was Mazingarbe power station. Once again crewed with Flying Officer Dennis Witt DFM the crew overshot the target due to the unwelcome attention of Bf109’s, their 5 x 1000lb & 10 x 500lb hit a gasometer which exploded in a mass of flames producing a thick black column of smoke up to 2000ft  The fighter escort obviously had their hands full as a number of fighters managed to get amongst the Stirlings, Peter occupying the rear turret of N6022 claimed a Bf109 as damaged.  It was back to Mazingarbe on the 10th with yet another daylight attack.  These two daylight operations had cost the squadron two experienced crews.

Peter did not operate again until August 14 when he participated in an attack against Magdeburg, 10/10th cloud prevented identification so the crews skipper Flying Officer Dennis Witt DFC DFM stoked up the fires over Hannover. On return weather conditions were foul, while attempting to land in poor visibility  Flying Officer Witt crashed at 04:00hrs without injury to the crew. It was a bad night for 7 Squadron, two other crews crashed due to the appalling weather, Wing Commander H Grahame and Pilot Officer Crebbin all were shaken but uninjured.  Peter’s brief tenure with No.7 Squadron came to a conclusion in October when he was posted to the No.26 Stirling Conversion Flight based at RAF Waterbeach, this was soon re-named to No.1651 Con Unit. It was here that Peter would meet an ex 218 Squadron skipper,  New Zealander Squadron Leader Roy Spears  DFC.  There was very little flying undertaken by Peter during this period, the occasional air test and north sea sweep was all that was recorded in his Log Book. However this changed on May 30th 1942 when Peter accompanied Squadron Leader Raymond to Cologne in Short Stirling W7509 “Q”. 

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Page from Peters Log Book recording the N/F encounter.

This was followed on June 1 with another 1000 bomber attack against Essen. Once again aloft with Squadron Leader Raymond the crew dropped 18 x 500lb bombs on the city below.  On the return flight they drifted off course and flew over the defences of Duisburg were they were bracketed by accurate flak. Damage was sustained to the front and mid upper turret, No.4 tank was also hit and holed. The crew managed to slip away without further damage they returned to base on three engines. The final of 1000 raid was flown on June 26, once again Peter’s name was on the battle order and once again he would accompany Squadron Leader Raymond. Aloft in Short Stirling Mk.I N3655 ”T” the crew set course for the coastal port of Bremen, heavy cloud in the target area did not prevent the crew from dropping 18 x 500lbs on the port below. Following these series of 1000 bomber raids Peter found himself with very little flying, the only note-worthy flight was when he was aloft with No.1651 Con Units commanding officer Wing Commander Stewart  Menaul DFC on October 14th   for a 4 hour “Bullseye”.  For the next ten months Peter remained with No.1651 Con Unit, his time was spent between air-tests and fighter affiliation exercises.  Finally in August Peter received the news he was waiting for, he was posted.  Peter joined No.218(Gold Coast) Squadron based at RAF Downham Market on August 9 1943. He would be taking over the vacant gunnery leader role after the loss of Flight Lieutenant John Birbeck DFC who failed to return from Hamburg while operating with the squadrons commanding officer Wing Commander Don Saville DSO DFC. October was for Peter rather low key, other than a few fighter affiliation flights no operations were flown. Peters first operation was on November 4 when he accompanied the recently posted Wing Commander William Oldbury on a mining sortie to the Kattagat. Aboard Stirling EF504 HA-P was Group Captain D Vintress flying as 2nd pilot. While on route the Stirling was attacked by a JU88.

It could not have been a tougher re introduction to operations, the squadron commander and a group captain!!!  On November 22nd  Berlin was the target, Peter flew as mid upper gunner to one of 218 Squadrons personalities “B” Flights Squadron Leader Ian Ryall.  IMG_7479The crew did not reach the target due to a defective compass, sadly the 2nd tour Canadian veteran and  “A” Flights commander Squadron Leader Garfield Prior DFC failed to return from this raid.  It would not be until January 4 1944 Peter flew operationally again.  On this occasion he manned the mid upper turret of  Warrant Officer Stephen Grant’s crew, the target was the V1 site at Hazebrouck, France. In February Peter was awarded the DFC in recognition of his first tour and particularly the night fighter encounter of November 4. (DFC) This was followed by an attack on the Vilvorde German Air force Signals Depot on April 23rd 1944 with Flight Lieutenant Stanley Goodman DFM. The crew recorded that their bomb load was a direct hit!  The following night Peter was operational again, the target was the Chambly Railway Depot. Four Stirling’s equipped with GH were tasked with attacking one of France’s most modern depots. The crew again captained by Flight Lieutenant Stanley Goodman DFM claimed to have hit the target with the aid of  “special equipment”.  The V1 site at Mount Candon was attacked in the late afternoon of August 2.  Peter recorded in his Log Book “Co-pilot” to Flight Lieutenant John MacAllister who successfully dropped 20 x 500lb bombs.

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Postagram recording the award of the DFC signed by the C-in-C Arthur Harris

No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron had by September fully converted to the Avro Lancaster, Peter first operation in the Lancaster was on the early evening of September 20th 1944.The raid was against the German Garrison at Calais. Peter occupied the rear turret of Australian Flight Lieutenant Robert Stirling’s Lancaster NF956 HA-E. There followed in quick succession two operations, on the 25th the German town of Neuss was attacked, Peter joined the crew of one of the squadrons most charismatic crews that of Flight Lieutenant “Happy” Funnel. There followed on the 25th another bash at Calais however this was abandon on instruction of the Master Bomber. In October Peter undertook a further two operations with Happy and crew, the first was against the Westkapell Dyke in daylight on the 3rd and the mass attack on Duisburg on October 14. Another daylight operation was flown on the 16th against Heinsberg, Peter joined the crew of Flying Officer Keith Ellis. This was the first daylight army support attack and it was given solely to 3 Group and marked by G-H.

Peters 13th operation of his tour was flown on November 27 against Cologne, he could not have been in better hands, skipper of Lancaster PD279 XH-W was the vastly experienced Squadron Leader Peter Dunham DFC. Peter Dunham’s RAF career had started as a gunner in 1940.  An aborted daylight to Siegen on December 15th and operation to Trier on December 21 were both flown with  Peter Dunham.  Peters final operation, No.16 was flown on December 28th  1944 against Cologne a target he had attacked back in May 1942. Entrusted with the squadrons gunnery leader was Flying Officer Eric Clayton and crew. The raid was a success, Peter was back at RAF Chedburgh in under 5 hours.  

With the war over Peter thought about taking his final law exams, however this did not appeal so he stayed in the RAF. He had various postings and commanded his own squadron in the 1950’s operating during the Suez Crisis.

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