9:43am Monday 4th July 2011
A Wharfedale-born pilot famed for making an unauthorised bombing raid on Hitler’s Bavarian hideout has died aged 92.
Air Commodore Peter Cribb, who was born in Menston and educated at Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley, was part of the RAF’s renowned Pathfinder Force during World War Two.
The son of a wool merchant, Cribb flew more than 100 wartime operations, which included attacking German enforcements ahead of D-Day, when he often acted as the master bomber.
He was already a veteran of more than 70 missions when he returned to operations in May, 1944, to fly a Lancaster bomber and in the July, in charge of the new No 582 Squadron, flew 16 daylight missions in support of the Normandy landings.
He was the deputy master bomber when more than 1,000 aircraft destroyed the German panzer divisions in front of Montgomery’s stalled army at Caen, and also controlled more than 700 bombers which attacked the V-1 flying bomb sites.
In October, 1944, he was master bomber for the 252- aircraft attack on the sea walls of Walcheren Island in Holland, where Germany’s coastal guns were preventing the allies reaching the strategically important port of Antwerp.
The mission was a success and the walls were breached, forcing the Germans to flee and allowing Canadian ground forces to capture the island. Cribb was the last to leave the target and British newspapers hailed the achievement by declaring ‘RAF Sinks an Island’.
But perhaps the most eye-catching exploit of an action-packed career came when Cribb was appointed, aged 25, to command the Pathfinder airfield at Little Staughton, in Bedfordshire.
Frustrated in his new desk-bound position, he flew unofficially on several operations. Then, on April 24, 1945, he discovered that a force of Lancasters was to bomb Hitler’s Bavarian retreat at Berchtesgaden – but that his airfield’s squadron would not be joining them.
Undeterred, he commandeered a Lancaster and formed a crew from his senior executives. Taking off at dawn, they caught up with the main force as it was approaching the target and Cribb dropped his bombs and captured the moment for posterity by taking an ‘aiming point’ photograph.
Despite rushing back to the UK, Air Vice-Marshal Donald Bennett, the head of the Pathfinders, had discovered what Cribb was up to and is said to have “hit the roof”.
After leaving school Cribb had gained a cadetship to the RAF College, Cranwell, where he trained as a pilot, and joined No 58 Squadron to fly the Whitley bomber. He was then involved in attacks on German-occupied airfields in Norway and Denmark and on roads and railways in the Low Countries.
In 1941, he was promoted to squadron leader and joined the RAF’s first Halifax squadron, No 35, as a flight commander, attacking major industrial targets in Germany before turning his attention to the German battleship Tirpitz, which was at anchor in a fjord near Trondheim, Norway.
Bad weather and a smoke screen hampered the low-level attack and the force returned the following day, when Cribb’s Halifax hit the sea and the tail wheel was ripped off.
After he landed, the intelligence officer asked him at what height he had delivered his attack. Cribb replied: “I don’t know. The altimeter reads in feet, not fathoms.”
Cribb also flew on the first ‘Thousand Bomber’ raid against Cologne on the night of May 30, 1942, and on the attacks on Essen and Bremen that followed. Shortly afterwards he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.
No 35 became one of the founder squadrons of the Pathfinders and Cribb flew on the first raid mounted by the new force when he attacked Flensburg, in Germany, in August, 1942. By January, 1943, he had completed 60 operations and was awarded his first Distinguished Service Order .
Near the war’s end in May, 1945, he flew mercy missions from Ceylon, dropping food and medical supplies to Prisoner of War camps across the Far East.
He continued with the RAF, serving in India, Germany and Yemen until he resigned in 1967 and moved with his family to Western Australia, where he ran his own business and was an active Rotarian, magistrate and charity worker.
A keen sportsman in his youth, Cribb played rugby for the Yorkshire Wanderers – once breaking his nose during a warm-up against the All Blacks – and in later life enjoyed yachting and game fishing.
He never spoke of his wartime experiences unless pressed to do so, and then only talked about the parts he had found amusing.
He died on Monday, June 20, and is survived by his wife, Vivienne Perry, and their three sons.
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