Early on the morning of September 27th, 1943, the distinctive baritone thunder of a Merlin engine rose over the base of No.410 Night Fighter Squadron RCAF, at Coleby Grange, Lincolnshire.
This was a Mosquito base, so the sound of a single Merlin was nearly always bad news. A Mosquito was difficult enough to land with both turning. But the crew of this particular Mk.II NF, serial DZ757 and wearing squadron codes RA-Q, had even bigger trouble on their hands.
Flight Lieutenant M A Cybulski (RCAF) was managing to keep his engine-out twin on course with almost the entire fabric covering of his rudder burnt away. To all appearances, there simply wasn’t enough surface left to resist the off-centre power of the remaining Merlin. What’s more, the fabric covering the wooden fuselage, the inner port wing, the starboard wing underside, and the port tailplane had been severely burnt and torn away in chunks by the slipstream.
But whatever had already happened, landing was still going to be the most dangerous part of this mission.
And yet, Cybulski and his invaluable Navigator Flying Officer H H Ladbrook did land safely, to be greeted by ground staff staring at them with a distinct mix of shock and awe.
It simply exploded
RA-Q had taken off into the previous night on an interception patrol. Bombing raids on England were less frequent by 1943, but nuisance raids continued and Lincolnshire’s airfields were a popular hunting ground for Luftwaffe intruders. With its excellent endurance, air interception radar, plus a lethal battery of four .303 Brownings machine guns and four more 20mm Hispano cannons all grouped in the nose, the Mosquito was a devastating nocturnal defender.
Hours later, Cybulski and Ladbrook were vectored onto a homeward bound Dornier Do.217 raider, which was being tracked across the North Sea. As they approached the Dutch coast, Ladbrook picked up the bomber with the on board radar and guided Cybulski in for the kill.
Somewhere over the Zuider Zee the shape of the Dornier loomed out of the darkness, and Cybulski realised the Mosquito was closing too quickly. He chopped the throttles and pulled up to lose speed, then dropped the nose again and opened fire from a range of, by now, just 100 feet (30 metres).
The awesome arsenal in the Mosquito’s nose obliterated the Do.217. It simply exploded, drenching the wooden fighter in burning fuel and bits of broken aircraft. The fate of it’s three crew is easy to imagine.
Blinded by the explosion
After hours of night flying, Cybulski was blinded by the sudden explosion and, with the throttles closed, the Mosquito fell out of the sky. Fortunately, Ladbrook was able to recover the aircraft when it had fallen some 4,000 feet and return control to Cybulski. The dive blew out the fire, however debris from the Dornier had damaged DZ757’s port engine and it had to be shut down immediately.
Holding full rudder and a good measure of bank to stay straight, Cybulski steered the crippled fighter back to Coleby Grange over 200 miles away, on one good engine. Then landed safely.
It was an amazing feat of flying, as well as proof of the Mosquito’s surplus power and survivability.
Shortly afterwards, both Cybulski and Ladbrook were awarded well-deserved Distinguished Flying Crosses for the flight and their ‘other outstanding work’ with No.410 Squadron.