Featured on My Forgotten Hobby III
When I first had the great good fortune to meet Pierre Lagacé, I was starting to film a feature length documentary entitled “Fledglings” on 425 (Alouette) Squadron, Canada’s only French-Canadian bomber squadron during the Second World War. Pierre was an invaluable resource to me in tracking down former members of the Squadron for the purpose of interviewing them to record their personal experiences all the way from enlisting, training, going on operations and, for those who had the misfortune to be shot down over enemy territory, being captured by the Germans and imprisoned.
It was only as I got to know Pierre better, I came to realise that, in addition to his skills as an historical researcher, he was also a gifted model-builder. And so it was that I asked him to use his modelling expertise to bring to life two significant WWII Wellington bombers from the history of the Squadron.
At the beginning of the R.C.A.F.’s part in Bomber Command, the Wellington “medium” bombers were the initial mainstay of most Canadian squadrons for both training and operational purposes. Wellingtons were the “entry level” bombers from the date of the formation of 425 Squadron through its mining and bombing operations during the years 1942 and 1943 before the Squadron converted to the Halifax “heavy” bomber. Although the Wellington had a reputation of taking a lot of punishment and still being able to fly because of its unusual geodetic airframe, it had neither the range, altitude, speed, armament or bomb-load of the heavier bombers.
Alouette Squadron’s unique identifying code “KW” was painted on each of its aircraft, followed by a single letter specific to it. Should an aircraft need to be replaced, whether by virtue of loss, damage or upgrading, the replacement bomber would often inherit that letter. Such was the case with the Wellington B-III bomber designated KW-E, the first aircraft to carry that designation being production number BJ 652, operating out of Dishforth, the Squadron’s original base, in January of 1942.
The Airfix model which Pierre built celebrated the KW-E Wellington X3763, the number also being painted on the fuselage.
What makes this particular aircraft special is that it has one of the largest number of official war-time photos taken of one of the Squadron’s Wellingtons in flight, giving us a very clear picture of the detail of this design as operated by the Alouettes. These photos are our only point of reference for model-building given that there are no surviving examples of the Wellington B-III in existence.
Wellington X3763 met its end on a bombing operation to Stuttgart on April 14/15,1943, crashing in France and killing all 6 on board. In due course, the next aircraft to be marked KW-E was airframe HF529, part of the Squadron’s conversion to the Wellington X in anticipation of the Squadron’s little known transfer to North Africa as part of Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily and mainland Italy.
I have asked Pierre to build a Trumpeter model of the Wellington X, tropicalized for desert operations, and to mark it as KW-K, airframe HE268, to commemorate the only Alouette Squadron aircraft to be lost on its way to Africa in June of 1943.
Although the main body of the Squadron, mostly ground crew and administration, had already left their Yorkshire base and made their way by sea to Algeria in May, the aircraft were to be flown via Gibraltar and Morocco to their new base of operations in Tunisia. The aircraft started their journey from R.A.F. station Portreath in southwest England in order to cross the Bay of Biscay as far as possible from German airfields in France. In further anticipation of enemy fighter activity, the air crew were supplemented by 2 ground crew members summarily trained to man waist machine guns mounted on either side of the Wellington Xs for the purpose of protecting the vulnerable beam sectors that the nose and rear turrets could not reach.
Unfortunately, these precautions were insufficient to prevent an attack by a Junkers 88, with KW-K suffering such significant damage including wounds to two crew members that it was unable to continue and was abandoned over Portugal. Fortunately, the crew parachuted safely and were interned in Portugal before being repatriated to the U.K. over the summer of that year.