A Black Monster called “The Babe”

Research by Clarence Simonsen

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A Black Monster called The Babe


The RCAF Operational Training Unit was where every rookie airman ceased to be an individual and began to work and think as part of his newly formed crew. After ‘crewing-up’ the five members became a band of brothers or comrades training for the dangerous world of operational flying in the British twin-engine old veteran Wellington ex-combat bombers. The final stop in the training process became the RCAF Heavy Conversion Unit [HCU] where two new members [Mid-upper gunner and RAF Flight engineer] joined the aircrew, who now graduated to flying the four-engine heavy bomber Halifax and by late 1943, the Lancaster.

This was where the sprog [rookie] aircrews flew various exercises designed to prepare themselves for the real dangers of operational flying, with many “Bulls-eye” trips over British cities and “Nickle” operations over France and even Germany. In many cases, the first impression of the Handley Page Halifax left the aircrew shocked at the size, and some Canadians called their veteran trainer “The Black Monster.”

Text version

A Black Monster called “The Babe”

The RCAF Operational Training Unit was where every rookie airman ceased to be an individual and began to work and think as part of his newly formed crew. After ‘crewing-up’ the five members became a band of brothers or comrades training for the dangerous world of operational flying in the British twin-engine old veteran Wellington ex-combat bombers. The final stop in the training process became the RCAF Heavy Conversion Unit [HCU] where two new members [Mid-upper gunner and RAF Flight engineer] joined the aircrew, who now graduated to flying the four-engine heavy bomber Halifax and by late 1943, the Lancaster.

This was where the sprog [rookie] aircrews flew various exercises designed to prepare themselves for the real dangers of operational flying, with many “Bulls-eye” trips over British cities and “Nickle” operations over France and even Germany. In many cases, the first impression of the Handley Page Halifax left the aircrew shocked at the size, and some Canadians called their veteran trainer “The Black Monster.”

The actual construction of the British Halifax aircraft [Black Monster] was undertaken by a production group consisting of Handley Page Limited which was based in Cricklewood, London, [where 1,592 aircraft were built,] and their airport at Park Street and Colney Street, Radlett, Hertfordshire, [where the aircraft were assembled and test flown]. Manufacturer: Handley Page Ltd. were the Headquarters which also acted as the technical consultants and advisors for the total construction of the Handley Page bomber. The other major constructors in the production group were the English Electric Company of Preston, Lancashire, with aircraft assembly at Samlesbury [2,145 built], the London Passenger Company Transport Board [710 built], Rootes Securities Limited of Spekes [1,070 built], and the Fairey Aviation Company Limited of Stockport [661 built]. By 1943, this group comprised 41 factories and over 600 sub-contractors which produced one complete Black Monster aircraft every hour.

On 1 August 1944, Handley Page Ltd [Cricklewood and Radlett] began a production order of 46 Halifax B. Mk. VII aircraft serial numbers NP736 to NP781, which ended on 9 September 1944. The total production order of 157 Halifax aircraft is recorded below, which was completed by mid-December 1944.

From the Batch serial NP736 to NP781, seven Halifax Mk. VII bombers were assigned to No. 432 [Leaside] Squadron at East Moor. [NP736, NP738, NP755, NP759, NP774, NP778 and NP779. This complete Handley Page Ltd. production order of 46 Halifax Mk. VII aircraft follows.

The new Halifax Mk. VII ‘Black Monster” would be flown to the assigned RAF/RCAF Squadron base somewhere in the United Kingdom, and flight training would begin. During this peak period of Bomber Operations, for every 100 RCAF airmen who began operational training, only 24 would survive and return to Canada, a changed person forever. [Fifty-one would be killed on operations over Europe, nine killed in aircraft accidents, twelve would survive to become prisoners of war, three would be injured so badly they could never return to operations, and one would evade capture by the Germans and return to England]. Both the RAF and RCAF promoted aircrews to that of the elite with ‘Award Parades’ and the presentation of flying badges, decorations, and achievement awards. The grim realities of air combat bomber casualties soon dispelled the glamourous awards and the airmen were only really concerned about reaching their thirty operations, the magic number for a completed tour of duty, and return to Canada. Most aircraft carried some form of painted bombs for completed operations as part of their individual bomber nose art, with “The Babe” flying one clean diaper for each combat operation.

The largest percentage of WWII RCAF aircraft nose art was painted and recorded by members of the ground crews and preserved on mostly Kodak film. Kodak introduced color slide 35 mm film in 1944, however, it was too expensive for Canadians and only American color nose art was saved and preserved.

LAC Russell Beach No. 432 ground crew collection, taken 29-31 October 1944.

Halifax Mk. VII serial NP736 was painted with the nose art titled – “The Babe” – the exact date of the painting is not known, likely during the first ten operations, 4 to 26 August 1944.

With the completion of each RCAF No. 432 [Leaside] Squadron operation, a new clean Baby Diaper was painted on a Canadian clothes line. The photo records 28 Diapers, which would be around 29-31 October 1944, the 29th Op. was flown 1/2 November, to Oberhausen, Germany.

It is believed [author] the Halifax nose art originated from Canadian Newspaper cover art in 1943-44, when many “Baby” paintings were released urging Canadians to enlist. Above was one of eleven [known] covers created by American postcard artist, [known for his funny Chubby-cheeked children] Charles Twelvetrees [1872-1948] for Canadian Star Weekly magazine. His little dog also appeared in most children’s magazines and postcard illustrations.

Charles Twelvetrees was born in New York in 1872, and died [natural causes] in his New York City Hotel bathtub on 7 April 1948. Four of his Canadian Star Weekly covers were published after his death, 24 July and 20 November 1948, 13 August and 3 September 1949. He was a very “shadowy” elusive artist, with much mystery, producing thousands of “Twelvetrees Kiddies” in postcards, calendars, posters, and magazine covers during both world wars. His United States 1915 “Quit Your Fighting” is a classic. [Google and enjoy much more]

1943 Star Weekly covers – 27 Feb., 30 Oct., and 31 December 1943. Right – 3 Feb. 1945.

Canadian artist William Arthur Winter was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1909 and moved to Toronto in 1937. His cover art of babies [possibly influenced by Twelvetrees] also appeared in Maclean’s magazine as seen above. His original Canadian cover art is very rare and hard to locate, possibly lost in time.

Another Canadian W.A. Winter cover painting for 1 January 1944.

Full page RCAF recruiting ad for 1 October 1943, age 17 1/2 to 33 years of age.

The General view of the pilot’s cabin in the [Black Monster] Halifax bomber. Bearing enormous loads of bombs, [10,000 pounds] and 2,000 gallons of high octane aviation fuel, each member of the crew awaited take-off, knowing the loss of one engine would result in a fiery death. Once the Black Monster became safely airborne, it slowly began a compass course climb and headed for the selected target in Europe. The air speed at best reached 180 knots and each RCAF crew member fully understood the British .303 calibre machine-guns were always outshot and completely outranged by the cannon-equipped German night-fighters. Once engaged in an attack, the Halifax only had the “Corkscrew” manoeuvre to attempt to evade the German night-fighters, with little chance of escape, only pure luck and the dark of night could save the Black Monster. The majority of RCAF Halifax bomber losses came from German night fighters; however, the real total will never be known.

The first operation for “The Babe” came on 5 August 1944, a Day trip attacking the German V-1 Flying Bomb sites around St-Leu d’Esserent, France.


5 August 1944

230 aircraft attacked Bois de Cassan, France, one was shot down, P/O D. Frost J86102 and crew became the first to fly Halifax NP736.


7/8 August 1944

133 attacked La Hogue, France, one was shot down. P/O Frost.


9/10 August 1944

161 attacked Forêt de Nieppe, France, P/O Frost.


10/11 August 1944

130 attacked La Pallice, France, P/O Frost.


12 August 1944 [day]

99 attacked La Pallice, France, F/O W. Saye.


14 August 1944 [day]

214 attacked Bons Tassilly, France, P/O Frost.


15 August 1944 [day]

101 attacked Brussels, one shot down, P/O Frost.


16/17 August 1944

138 attacked Brussels, three were shot down, P/O Frost.


18/19 August 1944

99 attacked Kiel, F/O D.C. Best.


25/26 August 1944

27 attacked Brest, F/O F. Jeffrey J29068.


27/28 August 1944

35 attacked Brest, F/Sgt. N. Franko.


28/29 August 1944

23 attacked Oeuf-en-Ternois, P/O Frost.

With a total of twelve operations completed in August 1944, the aircrew of P/O D. Frost J86102 have flown ‘their’ aircraft eight times, and for that reason, it would appear they named and selected the nose art “The Babe” painted by LAC Glen Inch, the squadron artist.


6 September 44

139 attacked Emden, P/O Frost.


9 September 1944

104 attacked Le Havre, P/O Frost.


10 September 1944

207 attacked Le Havre, F/O J. Mills J27545.


11 September 1944

25 attacked Le Havre, F/O Mills.


12 September 1944

106 attacked Castrop Rauxel, F/O Mills.


13 September 1944

98 attacked Osnabruck, F/O G. Stunden J26456.


15/16 September 1944

190 attacked Kiel, F/O J. Gault J29071.


17 September 1944

197 attacked Boulogne, one lost, F/O Gault.


26 September 1944

161 attacked Calais, F/L W. Tobias J18651.


6 October 1944

273 attacked Dortmund, two shot down, F/O W. Saye.


12 October 1944

105 attacked Wanne-Eickel, one shot down, F/O W. Saye.


14/15 October 1944

225 attacked Duisburg, one shot down, F/L D. Speller J12262.


17 October 1944

129 attacked Wilhelmshaven, three lost, F/O F. Eilertsen J16229.


23/24 October 1944

251 attacked Essen, two lost, F/O W. Saye J27647.


25 October 1944

45 attack Essen, one lost, F/O Frost.


28 October 1944

151 attacked Cologne, one lost, F/O Stunden.


1/2 November 1944

239 attacked Oberhausen, six lost, F/O D. McKinnon. [photo]


2/3 November 1944

209 attack Dusseldorf, six lost, F/L F. Horan.


4/5 November 1944

204 attack Bochum, five lost, F/L J. Sales.


16 November 1944

193 attacked Julich, F/O Frost.


18 November 1944

196 attack Munster, F/O Frost. [13th Op. in “Babe”]

During the operation to Munster, Germany, the weather [heavy cloud with rain] at East Moor became extremely poor, and the fourteen RCAF Halifax aircraft were diverted north to land at RCAF Croft. During the night landing at this new base, [RCAF Croft] NP736 was struck by Halifax NP755 and both were damaged.

The report of the night landing accident at RCAF Croft on 19 November 1944, from “Babe” pilot F/O Frost.

The RCAF aircrews were in fact “Babes” joining at age 17 ½ years, a war veteran at 20!

Due to the extent of damage to Halifax NP736 and the fact it had to be repaired at Croft before return to East Moor, operations [#34] did not resume until 13/14 January 1945, when F/O G.E. Peaker J35687 flew her to Saarbucken, Germany.


28/29 January 1945

158 attacked Stuttgart, four lost, J89817 P/O J. Kinniburg.


4/5 February 1945

97 attacked Osterfeld, J87336 F/O G.T. Sharlock.


7/8 February 1945

48 attacked Goch, J90510 P/O J.M. Bain.


13/14 February 1945

110 attacked Bohlen, J93119 P/O R.Y. Bradley.


14/15 February 1945

112 attacked Chemnitz, P/O Bradley.

March 1945


2 March 1945

177 attacked Cologne, one lost, F/O L.W.E, Loppe.


5/6 March 1945

170 attacked Chemnitz, six lost, J87336 F/O Sharlock.


7/8 March 1945

78 attacked Dessau, three lost, J91181 P/O Harold E. Kearl.


8/9 March 1945

82 attacked Hamburg, one lost, R189599 F/Sgt. P.C. Neville.


12 March 1945

191 attacked Dortmund, J91181 H. E. Kearl.


13 March 1945

97 attacked Wuppertal, J90510 P/O J.K. Bain.


14/15 March 1945

192 attacked Zweibrucken, J90505 P/O S.J. Allen.


22 March 45

80 attacked Rheine, P/O Allen.


24 March 45

96 attacked Dorsten, P/O Allen.


31 March 45

189 attacked Hamburg, eight lost, R189667 W/C W.J. Gelineau.

April 1945


4/5 April 1945

89 attacked Harburg-Rhenania, P/O Allen.


8/9 April 1945

184 attacked Hamburg, one lost, P/O Allen.


10 April 1945

188 attacked Leipzig, two lost, P/O Allen.


13/14 April 1945

204 attacked Kiel, two lost, P/O Allen.


18 April 1945

108 attacked Heligoland, two lost, P/O Allen.


22 April 1945

200 to Bremen, aborted target, P/O Allen.


25 April 45

184 attacked Wangerooge, four lost, J89817 F/Lt. J. Kinniburgh and his aircrew in NP736 “The Babe” became the very last Halifax in No. 432 Squadron to drop bombs in WWII.

The coastal batteries target on Wangerooge were obscured by smoke when the Halifax arrived [17:19 Hrs.] and they were ordered to “bomb on the edge of the smoke.” Some bombs hit a Catholic Church, a holiday resort and two children’s holiday homes, killing over 300 German civilians, and the tragic end of WWII bombing causalities.

Long before the age of the computer, RCAF HQ at Allerton Hall [Castle Dismal] had special large scale maps drawn after each operation. These were shown to Senior RCAF Officers giving the before and after position [gaggle formation] of each RCAF aircraft taken from each aircraft navigator logged position at a set time.

This is the navigational position of Halifax NP736 “the Babe” leaving the target, after dropping the last bombs from No. 432 [Leaside] Squadron in World War Two.

A number of rookie RCAF [Sprog] aircrew were given the opportunity to fly one operation in WWII and this decision became a tragic error in Senior RCAF judgement. Approaching the target one inexperienced pilot, F/L A.B. Ely, flying Halifax NP769, No. 408 Squadron, hit the slipstream of another bomber and lost control, his aircraft lurched into Halifax NP820, WO2 J.C. Tuplin, and in seconds the two bombers had become tangled and fell flaming into the Sea. Ten minutes later, the exact same thing took place when Lancaster KB831, F/O B. Emmett, No. 431 Squadron was thrown sideways and collided with Lancaster “W” KB822, F/O B.G. Baker. Nine parachutes were sighted, [the water was ice cold] in total twenty-eight Canadians needlessly died, in the final operation of World War Two. The last RCAF bomber [Lancaster D-Dog] flown by F/O D.R. Walsh, No. 428 [Ghost] Squadron landed at 2036 hours and the costly killing air war in Europe had ended. The veteran Black Monster painted with “The Babe” had survived 56 operations and now she was just another useless British war machine waiting to be scrapped.

The official RCAF report [just the bloody facts] on the four RCAF aircraft lost on 25 April 1945.

Air shot of RAF Clifton Airfield taken 29 April 1942. The British Ministry of Aircraft Production established a Civilian Halifax Repair Depot [C.R.U.] at Clifton in early 1941. The runways and buildings were expanded in 1942, with one large hangar located on the west side near the village of Rawcliffe, the second was built on Water Tower Lane, on the far south side. As soon as WWII in Europe came to an end, [8 May 1945] the Halifax Repair Depot at Clifton was closed and transferred to RAF No. 43 [Maintenance] Salvage Group, for the scrapping of over 1,000 veteran Halifax aircraft. This became a huge aircraft graveyard where most of the RCAF flown Halifax Mk. III and Mk. VII bombers completed their final journey.

The Halifax aircraft in No. 432 Squadron were only a twenty-minute flight south to RAF Clifton.

Beginning on 7 October 1940, operational control of all RAF salvage was administered by No. 43 [Maintenance] Group, H.Q., situated at the Morris Motor Works in Cowley, Oxfordshire, shared by [No. 50 Civilian Maintenance Unit] which also managed the salvage and repair of all crashed aircraft in U.K, including German. On 11 March 1941, British War Artist Paul Nash painted a most famous moonlight scene of the wrecked German graveyard at Cowley, Oxfordshire, with the German title “Totes Meer” for Dead Sea. The painting in Oil is 40 by 60 inches and records the hundreds of Nazi planes which had been shot down over England. “A sort of rigor mortis, quite dead and still” – Nash’s own description of his painting. Only a single white night owl [right on horizon] glides slowly over the German Luftwaffe wrecks looking for rats or voles, [field mice].

In June 1941, No. 43 Group H.Q. moved to Magdalen College, Oxford. Officially called No. 43 [Salvage] they had thirty-five units spread around the United Kingdom, with the largest located at the ex-Halifax Repair Depot at Clifton, [Rawcliffe] Yorkshire, from May 1945 to January 1947. This is where Halifax NP736 “The Babe” was flown, parked and waited her turn at the chopping block.

RCAF photo Ottawa [1946] 35 mm negative RE77-79.

This image was taken at No. 43 [Salvage] Group Rawcliffe in early June 1945 by RCAF Officer Harold Lindsay, also recorded and marked for return to Canada in 1946. Cowan’s’ Cowards was flown in and parked on the side of the runway joining a row of other veteran Halifax aircraft. This RCAF aircraft was a Halifax Mk. VII, serial NP740 and she had completed over sixty operations with No. 426 until 31 July 1944. The aircraft was made ready for disposal on 17 May 1945 and flown to No. 43 Group, Rawcliffe, for breakdown on 24 of May. [From Lindsay RCAF aircraft file card] Cut up for scrap by the end of June, this Canadian nose art was not saved and only these RCAF photos [63 in total, 54 being RCAF Halifax nose art] survive in Ottawa, Canada, preserving their nose art past. While the images were taken for preserving Canadian nose art past, each photo also helps preserve the surrounding area at No. 43 Group [Rawcliffe] in May and June 1945. It’s all British housing development today 2022.

RCAF photo Ottawa, [1946] 35 mm negative RE77-77.

By January 1947, 1,359 Halifax aircraft had been scrapped and most met their fate at the ex- Handley Repair Depot at No. 43 Group Rawcliffe. This is another photo taken by F/L Harold Lindsay in early June 1945, showing the old veteran RCAF bombers were parked nose to tail. The total scrapping of Halifax aircraft – Mk. II, [114], Mk. III, [533], Mk. V, [164], Mk. VI, [391], Mk. VII, [103], and Mk. VIII, [54]. “Little Lulu” was a Halifax Mk. III, serial MZ425, flew with No. 433 Squadron until 18 September 1944, when they converted to British Lancaster aircraft, LuLu was transferred to No. 425 Squadron on 7 January 1945, made ready for disposal on 26 May 45, then flown to Rawcliffe on 30 May 45 for scrapping. The scrapping began at once, with the engines, wings and tail sections chopped off leaving only the fuselage standing on her three wheels. These wingless old birds were then pushed together and left waiting for the final chopping to begin.

This photo of Halifax Mk. III, serial LL575, was the ninth image taken [35 mm Roll #2, Print #2] by RCAF F/L Harold Lindsay in late May 1945, at No. 43 Group Rawcliffe. Assigned to No. 415 [Swordfish] Squadron on 14 July 1944, she completed 42 operations until 3 November 44, then was transferred to No. 1666 Heavy Conversion Unit, involved in an accident on 10 December 1944, and after repairs arrived at No. 1664 H.C.U. A second training accident took place on 21 February 1945, and the repairs can be seen in the Lindsay photo. Made ready for disposal on 15 April 1945, the aircraft was flown to No. 43 Group at Rawcliffe, 15 May 45, with the above photo taken on 24 May 1945. The fuselage of seven RCAF veteran Halifax wingless birds can be seen in this photo, and it’s possible “The Babe” was parked close by. The nose art and bomb total of “Archie the Archer” was saved and arrived in Ottawa, May 1946, today it’s on display at the Canadian War Museum at Ottawa, Canada.

On Saturday, 10 December 2022, between 1 and 4 pm, over 200 friends and relatives of Harold Kearl came to celebrate his 100th birthday, at Crescent Road Mormon Church at Calgary, Alberta.

Two days later, Mr. Robert Barrett [Film Director Maverick Media] spent an afternoon interviewing and filming Harold Kearl in regards to his RCAF career during WWII. Mr. Barrett is producing the official Canadian Government film which honours the RCAF on their 100th Birthday, 1 April 2024.

Harold Kearl flew “The Babe” twice in WWII.


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