Wing Commander William Mitchell Penman DFC AFC
Commanding Officer of 61 Squadron from February. to October. 1943.
Wing Commander Penman was also a keen rugby football player. He captained the RAF team and played for Scotland as full back in many national and international games
William Mitchell Penman was born on 12th May 1917 and was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh.
He entered the RAF in 1935 and was commissioned acting pilot officer.
He served with No.19 Fighter Squadron Duxford August 1936 - July 1937
No 801 Squadron Fleet Air Arm (aboard HMS Furious) August 1937 April 1938
Flying Instructor No.1 S.F.T.S. Netheravon May 1938 - January 1940
Camp Borden Ontario January - July 1940
Jarvis Ontario August - October 1940
Mossbank Saskatchewan Armament Training Squadron No.2 Bombing School
October 1940 - October 1942 when he returned to England.
He was awarded the AFC in 1942 in recognition of his valuable services to flying instruction whilst attached to the RCAF.
After further training, in February 1943, he was given command of 61 Squadron at RAF Syerston.
He shared RAF Syerston with Guy Gibson, then C.O of 106 Squadron and they took part in many operations together.
He was awarded the DFC after completing two missions regardless of the fact that his gun turrets had failed, and on another occasion an engine failed but he successfully bombed the target and brought his aircraft and crew home safely.
All personel at 61 Squadron were devastated when they got the news that their Commanding Officer had been lost in action during the night operation to Kassel on the 3/4th October 1943. The sense of shock was exacerbated by the fact that he and his highly experienced crew were considered to be "indestructible" according to the memories of one airman who knew them well.
Operation: Kassel 3/4th October 1943
Of the 15 sorties flown from RAF Syerston, 3 Lancasters were lost.
W4279 QR-Z "Zebra"
W4279 QR-Z was piloted by Wing Commander Penman and his crew were :-
P/O K.J Stephenson (Flt/Eng.)
F/L E.W Mitchell (Navigator)
F/L D.L Thomson (Bomb Aimer)
F/L D.I Wilkinson (W/T op. Air Gunner)
F/O M.R Braines (Air Gunner 1)
P/O Maurice Root-Reed (Air Gunner 2)
There were no survivors
Wing Commander Penman left a wife and 10 month old daughter Susan
He had been notified of promotion to Acting Group Captain and was due to take up this rank the following day.
Susan has served as the Associations Dining Secretary and stood down in 2008
Front Row, L to R. Patricia Townsend, Susan and David Jellett, Jamie Barr DFC
A 1943 Sunday Express Article
THREE TONS OF BOMBS DROPPED EVERY FOUR SECONDS IN MOST
CONCENTRATED ATTACK OF THE AIR WAR SO FAR
“Our bombers as thick as the traffic in Piccadilly”
GERMANS ADMIT “GREAT DAMAGE”
The air raid on Essen, on the night of Friday - Saturday, laconically described by the Air Ministry as “a very heavy and concentrated attack from which fourteen of our bombers are missing”, was in fact the heaviest and most devastating raid in all air war history.
An air reporter of the Sunday Express who was the only civilian in the ring of great airfields from which it was launched, states that during the raid three tons of bombs crashed on the town every four seconds. No official statement has been made regarding the weight of bombs carried.
The target at Essen is of course the great Krupp armament concern, which employs in its vast workshops 175000 workers. A measure of what happened to the town is the official German comment that the bombs “caused great damage to residential quarters and public buildings.”
What it meant in loss of life may also be measured from the fact that the raid earlier in the week on Berlin, the heaviest raid yet made on Hitlers capital - but in concentration far below the Essen raid - was officially admitted by Germany yesterday to have caused 486 deaths and serious injury to 377 other people.
The Bomber Station Commander said :
“THIS WAS IT !”
By EDWARD J. HART
A Lancaster Bomber Base, Saturday
VETERAN AIR CREWS WHO BOMBED ESSEN LAST NIGHT ARE OF ONE OPINION. THE RAID WAS THE GREATEST EVER. DURING THE RAID HEAVY BOMBS AND INCENDIARIES RAINED DOWN AT THE RATE OF THREE TONS EVERY FOUR SECONDS.
By rare good luck I am the only civilian to have visited any RAF operational station during the raid. The air officer commanding this group of Lancaster stations told me:- “This seems to have been the sort of concentration we have been wanting for a long time.”
The station commander, Group Captain E. I. Bushell, said :- “ I have never seen crews come back looking so cheerful. THIS WAS IT ! It was by far the most outstanding show of the last six months and perhaps the heaviest and most concentrated air attack of the war. Losses are incredibly small. Krupps is a whale of a target with its ten groups of huge factories, steel works, blast furnaces and coke ovens.”
The commander of one Lancaster squadron based on this station (106), Wing Commander G. P. Gibson, D.S.O, D.F.C and bar, who has taken part in 72 bombings and 99 fighter operations said :- “ It’s the most excellent prang I have ever heard of. I wish I could have gone myself. Everything seemed to have worked right. It was absolutely perfect. Taken all round I should say that Essen has had it at last. Our losses have been incredibly small for the results achieved.”
Another Lancaster squadron (61) from this station which bombed Essen last night is commanded by Wing Commander W. M. Penman, A.F.C, He and Wing Commander Gibson led their squadrons together in the big raid on Cologne. It was a “wizard prang”. When the last of his crews had returned from Essen and completed their interrogation Wing Commander Penman left here for London to captain the RAF Rugger XV. In the match against Combined Universities. After the game he is entering hospital to undergo an operation for appendicitis.
Here are some of the crews’ own reports given to me immediately after they landed.
G for Georges captain :- “ We left the target one square mass of flames. It was a wizard prang - the most concentrated I have seen. There were five very decent fires blazing merrily when we went in.”
H for Harry’s rear gunner :- "I saw our bombs burst in the middle of the target area. There were three terrific reddish - yellow explosions. Each burned for about eight seconds, and lit the sky to well over 1,000 feet The red glow of our fires and a heavy pall of black smoke were visible from the Dutch coast.”
We can now deduce that the Station was in fact RAF Syerston as Wg/Cdr. Guy Gibson and Wg/Cdr. Penman were both stationed there at that time.