On the night of 30th / 31st March 1944, Halifax bomber LV907 F for Freddy rolled down the runway at RAF Lissett, East Yorkshire, where 158 Squadron were based, and hurled itself into the sky for the first of a phenomenal 128 successful operational sorties. No other Halifax flew more missions, so it is little wonder the aircraft is sometimes referred to as the Unbeaten Warrior. (LV907 departed Lissett at 22:03, returning at 05:34 the following morning.)
At the controls was Flight Sergeant Joe Hitchman. It should have been his rest period, but had been called in for the infamous raid on Nürnberg (Nuremburg). His regular aircraft was flown by someone else and was lost, but Joe was lucky that night, along with his crew, which included Rear Gunner Wilfred Tunstall, who was the first man aboard the aircraft this first mission. Bomber Command lost 100 aircraft with 7 men per aircraft on that fateful night.
But, LV907 came home, and assigned to Pilot Officer Clifford Smith and his crew, was christened “Friday the 13th” and became the stuff of legend. The ‘unlucky’ name was a black humoured attempt to break the jinx of 7 successive Halifax bombers bearing the registration letter F that the squadron had lost, and may partly have been due to the lucky turn of fate it had had for Joe Hitchman. Give the ‘lucky’ plane an unlucky name! It was adorned with the Skull and Crossbones, Upside Down Horseshoe and Grim Reaper Scythe decals, which it carried for the rest of its operational life.
The bomb symbols, yellow for night ops and white for daylight raids, were added as the impressive tally mounted. A key denotes it 21st mission, a cannon firing marks the eve of the D-Day landings when the aircraft was involved in the attack on the huge German gun Battery at Grand Camp Maisy, and it seems, incurring some flak damage. On this raid, it flew alongside Halifax bombers flown by the newly formed French 346 “Guyenne” Squadron, based at RAF Elvington, on their very first mission.
The original “Friday the 13th” was displayed in Oxford Street, London, as part of the Victory celebrations, but then unceremoniously scrapped, with this taking place at the Handley Page operated York Aircraft Repair Depot at Clifton airfield, where many Halifax bombers were repaired after battle damage, either for return to Squadron or to Operational Conversion Units. (For many years, the site was used as the Grain Store, until its recent demolition.)
Museum spokesman, Ian Richardson commented: “The project to recreate this legendary aircraft was started in 1986, soon after the Museum’s formation, and work is still going on. However, standing as a tribute to all air and ground crews of Bomber Command, it draws visitors from all over the world”.