Ted Sismore: RAF veteran of daring low-level air raids


Ted Sismore planned and navigated Second World War RAF low-level daylight raids which were the most precisely timed, the deepest-penetrating, and the most appreciated by those for whom they were targeted. His skill freed prisoners and destroyed papers held by the Gestapo, preventing many executions and hundreds of arrests, with the minimum of civilian damage. The raids were made in answer to requests by the French and Danish resistance movements. "The difficulty was to achieve this kind of success without killing a lot of people," he wrote. "It was a very difficult decision of what to drop and how much to drop."

One person who survived to expostulate against Sismore's brilliance was Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe. Goering had stepped up to make a radio broadcast on Sunday 31 January 1943 duringa weekend of celebrations of Hitler's accession to power 10 years earlier. Hitler had cried off with a sore throat hours before, so to Goering fell the task, at 11am, of telling Germans whattowering achievements the Reichhad made.

Flags flew, soldiers gathered to listen, as ordered, communally, and over the airwaves from the headquarters of Grossdeutscher Rundfunk, the state radio station, in Berlin's Wilhelmstrasse sounded a fanfare of trumpets. They had not reckoned on Sismore, painstakingly plotting his course with a primitive tin-box calculator several times bigger than a present-day mobile phone, a ruler, a map, dividers, and a mental picture in his head of landmarks as seen from a Mosquito aircraft flying at wave-top and then at tree-top height to avoid detection. The aircraft was in constant danger not only from anti-aircraft fire but from bird-strikes.

Sismore and his pilot, Squadron Leader Reggie Reynolds, were that morning leading three of the De Havilland plywood planes that had been introduced into the RAF little over a year before. Sismore picked up landmarks easily and half way through the five-hour round trip emerged on course over the Berlin lakes, guiding Reynolds to arrive over Wilhelmstrasse dead on 11am. As the trumpets faded the Mosquitos dropped their 500lb bombs close to the radio building. The explosions were heard across Germany and by monitors in Britain, and caused the speech to be delayed for an hour.

Much more poignant, and a triumph on a different scale, was Sismore's raid as master navigator with Wing Commander RN Bateson as pilot leading the first six Mosquitos of three waves, totalling 18, carrying 11-second-delay bombs, to destroy the Gestapo HQ in Copenhagen. For this raid, on 20 March 1945, which saved the Danish Resistance, Sismore was made a Knight of the Danish Order of Dannebrog.

Film footage shows a ball of flame erupting from the side of the art deco Shell House, on the corner of Kampmannsgade and Nyropsgade, which the Gestapo had taken over and camouflaged with green and brown paint.

Witnesses said the British seemedto be trying to skim the bombs to hitthe building sideways. Sismore explained in an interview: "The problem of course was that we were told about the Danes up in the attic." The local Gestapo chief, Dr Karl Hoffman, had made sure it was known there were cells for Resistance prisoners on the building's sixth floor.

But the saddest pictures of the aftermath are of a nun in a starched white cap comforting a bereaved mother. One of the first wave of Mosquitos struck a power cable and came down in Fredericksberg district close to the French school, and the following wave, mistaking the conflagration for the Shell House, dropped their bombs there. Eighty-six schoolchildren died, together with 18 adults, including many nuns, making a total of 124 Danish civilians killed, with 156 wounded.

Sismore and Air Vice Marshal Basil Embry, Air Officer Commanding No 2 Group, travelled to Denmark immediately after the war to visit the school and Danish Resistance survivors.

The raid, codenamed Operation Carthage, had nevertheless magnificently achieved its objective. The Shell House collapsed and 110 people inside were killed, including eight in the attic. Four Mosquitos were lost and two of their Mustang fighter escort, with nine airmen killed.

Sismore's precision navigation also stopped the work of the Gestapo in targeted buildings in Aarhus (October 1944) and Odense (April 1945).

In France his planning made possible the breach by Mosquito bombers of a towering wall at Amiens prison in February 1944, through which more than 200 prisoners of the 700 held there escaped. Sismore and Embry were forbidden to fly in case of capture, and the raid was led by Group Captain Percy Pickard, who was killed moments after it succeeded.

Sismore, who won a Distinguished Flying Cross for the Berlin raid, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for an attack four months later on 27 May 1943 on the Schott glassworks and Zeiss optical instrument factory at Jena. This sortie, led by Reynolds as pilot, was the deepest penetration hitherto overland in enemy territory. Low cloud and industrial haze kept the target invisible until tall chimneys were seen at 1,000 yards. Three aircraft failed to return and two crashed on landing.

Edward Barnes Sismore was educated at Kettering county school and joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve at 18. Promotion followed to flight sergeant, with an emergency commission in 1942. He survived night-flying operations with 110 Squadron in slow and vulnerable Blenheims, before joining 105 Squadron with Mosquitos.

For the three Danish raids he was given two Bars to his DFC, and won the Air Efficiency Award. He remainedin the RAF, retrained as a pilot, and in the late Fifties was planning Middle East operations before being promoted to Group Captain in 1962 and commanding RAF Bruggen. He was made Air Commodore in 1971, Commandant of the Royal Observer Corps, and Director of the Air Defence Team. He retired in 1976 and worked for Marconi as an adviser.

Edward Barnes Sismore, RAF navigator and pilot: born Kettering, Northamptonshire 23 June 1921; married 1946 Rita (one son, one daughter); died Chelmsford, Essex 22 March 2012.