The airman of Catalina

The Packet remembers veterans during Remembrance Week

Published on November 7, 2012

Flying Officer Frederick Manuel Mifflin was born in Catalina, Newfoundland on Nov. 3, 1922. He was the youngest son of Samuel William and Jane Blanche Mifflin.

He was educated at St. Peter’s School, Catalina. He finished high school in June, 1940, and immediately volunteered for the Royal Air Force.

F/O officer Mifflin received his training as a pilot in Canada under the RAF program. After a short leave in Catalina, he went overseas in December, 1941.

A week after arriving in England he was shipped out to Singapore, which fell to the Japanese before he arrived.

Diverted to Africa, F/O Mifflin flew Hurricanes in the North African campaign until he returned to England in 1943.

There, he flew fighters for a short time before he was re-trained as a bomber pilot. He then flew Lancasters on many Allied raids over Europe. He and his crew became famous for their record in flying in many highly dangerous sorties, for the badly damaged aircraft they brought back to base in appalling conditions and for the closely knit friendship which bound captain and crew together.

There was one desperate night in a sortie over Berlin on Dec. 2, 1943, when all seemed lost. The plane was shot to a wreck and one of the crew was wounded when the plane was attacked by a German night-fighter. The wounded crew member in a letter written while he was recovering, reported:

"It was certainly the worst that we have ever been in.  Berlin was really ‘hot’ and we were hit over the target, our starboard engine being set on fire. Thirty seconds later we were attacked by a German night-fighter and were pretty badly damaged.

“Fires were started down the fuselage and both the rear gun and mid upper gun were knocked out. The gunners escaped injury by what must have been a series of miracles.

“I managed to overcome the fuselage fires although the aircraft was swimming in hydraulic oils. Our wireless and crew intercom was knocked out and the lights were failing.

“Our young pilot and skipper, a Newfoundland lad PO Mifflin, brought us back with really masterly airmanship. Things were grim throughout those four hours back though, and even when we reached our drome we had to land . . .  not an easy task when pilot and navigators have to shout like the blazes to make each other heard. Again sheer airmanship got us down.”

For his courage and skill in bringing his Lancaster — so badly damaged it had to be scrapped — F/O Mifflin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and his navigator was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

The last trip

On the night 0f 26/27,  April, 1944, F/O Mifflin and his crew took off for Schweinfurt in Southern Germany. This time, the target was a ball-bearings work.

The Flight Engineer, Warrant Officer Norman Jackson had completed his operational tour of 30 flights. This was his 31st and he had gone along from choice. For Mifflin this was his 30th sortie and after it he would also get a break.

All went well until the bombs were dropped. As they were heading for home they were chased by a Focke-Wulf 190.

The German aircraft made a hit on Mifflin’s plane, setting the starboard engine on fire.

With incredible courage Jackson got out on the wing with a fire extinguisher and sprayed the burning engine. He had put down the blaze when the Lancaster was again attacked by a night fighter. This time Jackson was severely wounded and the aircraft was set on fire.

Jackson fell off the wing and, despite a damaged and burning parachute, landed injured but safe.

Mifflin ordered his crew to bail out. All succeeded except Mifflin and his rear gunner and best friend, F/Sgt Hugh Johnson.

The last one to see Fred alive expected him to follow immediately for he was uninjured and apparently ready to jump. However he did not,  He lost his life while living up to he highest ideals of a skipper — last to leave the ship — while he remained behind to assist his rear gunner. Five of the crew who parachuted from the plane became prisoners of war

For his almost incredible feat and example of self-sacrifice during this last flight, W/O Jackson was awarded the Victoria Cross. Mifflin and Johnson are buried in the Durnbach War Cemetery in Bad Tolz, Germany.

Of Fred it has been written:

The manner of his life was noble.

The manner of his death heroic.

This story was originally published in the Nov. 7, 2005, edition of The Packet.