The Last Bomber Command Bombing Competition

The following piece is an extract from a report by Wg Cdr G S Marshall which first appeared in Air Clues in 1968.

THE 1968 Bombing, Navigation and Communications Competition, though it took place shortly after the formation of Strike Command, will be remembered more appropriately as the last of the Bomber Command Competitions; a series in which the concept has remained much the same over the years, though the form has been adjusted to reflect the introduction of new weapon systems and techniques and also to accommodate the changes of role in the Command.

Held to test and encourage professional skill in bombing navigation and communications and further promote the spirit of friendly rivalry between squadrons and crews, this was the ninth year of the Competition in its present form. The rules allowed all V-aircraft squadrons to participate, though the reconnaissance and tanker elements could only compete in the navigation and communications section. It was a great disappointment that, because of the heavy operational commitments of the USAF, crews of Strategic Air Command were not able to accept the invitation to participate this year. As the Commander-in-Chief Strike Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Wallace Kyle GCB, CBE, DSO, DFC, ADC, said in his address at the Presentation of Awards : "Their participation in the past has always been a positive contribution to the Competition and has increased the interest and the competitive spirit". However, an 'observer team' from SAC, headed by Lieutenant General William B Kieffer, Commander of the 8th Air Force, visited Strike Command during the competition and attended the Presentation of Awards.

The Competition started with the navigation and communications section, in which on two consecutive nights one crew from each V-squadron flew a five-hour sortie. This sortie included a limited navigation technique stage of about 900 nautical miles relying mainly on astro navigation. It also incorporated for the first time a tracking and timing phase, introduced to test the ability of crews to cross a timing line at a precise instant while maintaining a defined track. During this sortie the Air Electronics Officer was required to complete some thirty communication tests.

In the Free Fall and Blue Steel Bombing sections, four crews from each bomber squadron were required to fly a sortie which included 'attacks' on targets at high and low level. As in the past, scoring for these attacks, and for accuracy in the navigation competition, was carried out by ground radar units equipped to track the competing aircraft as they approached the target and to compute the error from such factors as the distance and direction of the aircraft from the target, heading, altitude, wind conditions and bomb ballistics.

The results of the Competition were very encouraging. In the words of the Commander-in-Chief, “The stringent competition conditions have revealed at this time a pretty satisfactory standard generally. Once again experience has been much in evidence, though I'm glad to note some of the less experienced crews have been pressing hard". One individual crew performance is worthy of special mention. In the 1967 Competition Flight Lieutenant N C H Dennis and crew of No 44 Squadron, RAF Waddington, tied for first place in the Free Fall Bombing but were placed second in accordance with the rules for a tie because of their lower score at the second target. This year, Flight Lieutenant Dennis, with the same crew except for the co-pilot, conclusively demonstrated their consistency and ability by gaining undisputed first place in the Free Fall Bombing - a particularly good performance on the part of the navigation team, Squadron Leader A Howie, the navigator plotter, and Flying Officer M V Clark, the navigator radar.

RAF Marham (commanded by Group Captain D. Roberts DFC, AFC) was again chosen as the venue for the presentation of Awards. The challenge and individual trophies were presented by the Commander-in-Chief in the presence of some 800 members of the Bomber, Tanker and Reconnaissance elements of the Command, and guests that included AVM B P T Horsley CBE, MVO, AFC, and Lieutenant General William B Kieffer (USAF), Commander 8th Air Force. With the Standards of the competing squadrons flanking the rostrum and a Vulcan and Victor aircraft in the auditorium, it was a splendid occasion enhanced by the music of No 1 Regional Band from Swinderby.

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Winning crew, Free Fall Bombing. From left to right: Fg Off F J Jones, Fg Off M V Clark, Flt Lt N C H Dennis, Sqn Ldr A Howie, and Fg Off R I Rea.