Story of the ‘Wooden Wonder’ de Havilland Mosquito Legendary WWII Aircraft and Squadron Leader, Bill Edwin Evans
Written by Henry Simpson, young historian
Known as the” Wooden Wonder” the de Havilland Mosquito has a legendary reputation as one of the greatest aircraft of the Second World War. Constructed primarily from wood and able to deliver a similar payload to Berlin as a B17 but at speeds over 400mph, (equal or greater than many contemporary fighters), the Mosquito has one of the most distinguished service histories of any aircraft of the era.
I was grateful to be able to talk to William “Bill” Edwin Evans DFC, a former Squadron Leader and Mosquito veteran of No. 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group about his experiences with the type. He self-confessed that he had never thought about flying until he volunteered, however he soon found himself out in Canada training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in 1941. After successfully gaining his pilot’s wings he passed through various units, including flying the underpowered Blackburn Botha, until 1944 when he volunteered to fly the Mosquito with the distinguished Pathfinder Force due to the experience he had acquired in blind flying. He was posted to No. 692 squadron at RAF Gravely near Huntingdon which was part of the “Light Night Striking Force” formed as an extension of the Pathfinder Force to carry out harassment raids across Germany as well as partaking in the larger bombing raids.
The squadron was equipped with the Mosquito B.XVI that had bulged bomb bay doors to carry a single 4,000lb “cookie” blockbuster bomb. Bill explained; “We had two weeks flying the Mosquito to get used to the type. We had to do two long distance flights at high altitude at 27,000ft before being declared operational.” The usual route for these practice flights was up to Cape Wrath in Scotland before heading back down the East Coast to drop practice bombs over The Wash at night. However due to poor visibility on both his trips Bill never dropped a practice bomb lest he hit Boston or one of the surrounding towns, so he had never dropped ordnance before his first operation! The story of that inaugural operation in the Mosquito was to be one of his most memorable and stands as a testament to the aircraft.
The operation in question was to Frankfurt on September 26th 1944, flying at 27,000ft above the main bomber stream at 23,000ft. His navigator was Sergeant, later Master Aircrew, (Warrant Officer,) Stanley Stockwell DFC (non-immediate), whom he partnered and subsequently flew with on 50 operations, most often in ML970 “O-Orange” Five minutes from the target Bill opened the bomb doors as he began the run in but over the target the bomb failed to release and so he went around again with the hang up, they tried again to release the bomb but to no avail. On the third pass he asked the navigator, (who served as the bomb aimer when over the target on the Mosquito as it had only two crew,) to give him a countdown to bomb release so that at the appropriate moment he could pull the manual release to drop the bomb. This time the bomb was despatched and they turned for home. The return flight was uneventful with the aircraft performing smoothly with no indication of anything amiss and with the mission complete, Bill headed to bed. The next morning he found himself summoned before the Station Commander for having not reported that the aircraft came back without bomb bay doors! This was later attributed to a known fault with the doors in which they would open wide enough to indicate the doors were open, but not enough to trip the switch to allow bomb release. So when the bomb was jettisoned it clipped the doors and took them with it. It stands as a testament to the aircraft that without the bomb bay doors and essentially a large hole in the underside of the fuselage, the aircraft flew faultlessly such that their absence was not even noticed! Further to this incident on three occasions Bill returned to base on only 1 engine.
In all Bill would go on to complete his first tour, including 18 trips to Berlin and last flying ML970 on a raid against Kiel in May 1945 which was among the RAF’s last of the war in Europe. Sadly the aircraft was subsequently written off in an incident that November.
After the end of hostilities Bill’s experience with the Mosquito continued as he joined No.21 Squadron on the Mosquito FB.VI fighter bomber in the close air support role. Latterly he flew mail runs in Mosquitos from Blackbushe for the Nuremburg trials. On one such flight his aircraft suffered an undercarriage collapse on take-off at RAF Gütersloh in Germany, both engines caught fire and the aircraft was destroyed, luckily he escaped unharmed through the roof hatch. In spite of what he remarks as the Mosquito’s one vice, its tendency to want to swing off the runway due to the torque produced by its two Merlin engines, his overall impression is that it was a “brilliant aeroplane, beautiful to fly.” Presently there are 4 airworthy rebuilt Mosquitos, 3 fighter bomber variants in the United States and one bomber variant in Canada. Two organisations, the Mosquito Pathfinder Trust and The People’s Mosquito, are working to bring flying examples of the type back to the United Kingdom, the former having purchased an on-going restoration project in New Zealand and the latter preparing to start construction of the wooden fuselage in the UK. Bill wished both organisations the best of luck in their endeavours to return the “Wooden Wonder” to the skies of the UK.