On the 27th of October Ken took over the captain's seat and flew as first pilot for the first time, with Sgt Bradey in the second seat. After a satisfactory number of hours on these training flights, Ken was then ready to move onto C Flight of the OTU, where he was teamed up with a full crew.
Ken's first crew consisted of himself as second pilot and instructor F/Sgt Walsh in charge, with Sgt Nightengale, Sgt Reay, Sgt Calvert, Sgt Weller and Sgt Bertie 'Bing' Cosby onboard. They took to the air together on the night of 20th of November 1941 and flew from Pershore on a navigational flight that took in Aberystwyth, Codling Bank, and Douglas Point A before returning to Aberystwyth and then to base at Pershore.
After a second training flight on the same navigational circuit with the same crew except this time Sgt Doudswell as captain on the following night, Ken was then ready to step into the captain's seat and fly in command of his crew for circuits and landings.
More navigational flights with instructors in the pilot's seat continued over various nights, working up the proficiency of the crew.
On the 29th of November Ken flew as second pilot with Flight Lieutenant Bois on a weather flight, and the only other crew member at this time was navigator Sgt Jack Fox, who would later fly several such flights with Ken, and then join his crew more permanently.
On the 8th of December 1941 during the day the crew, with F/Sgt Henderson in command and Sgt Stubbs along for the mission too, conducted their first bombing exercise at Hilmartin. Then in the evening they set off again with Sgt Goodman in command, this time into enemy territory. They conducted a Nickel Raid on Paris, and upon returning to Britain they landed at Middle Wallop. Nickel was the RAF code for the dropping of propaganda leaflets on enemy-held territory, so this did not involve the dropping of bombs. Aboard on this trip instead of Sgt Reay was Pilot Officer Goad. This was quite possibly Pilot Officer Leon Goad.
No. 150 Squadron
In subsequent days they had another bombing practice at Hilmartin. This course was completed on the 12th of December 1941, and after a week of leave, the crew joined No. 150 Squadron, at Snaith, in Yorkshire, on the 19th of December.
More circuits and landings for the crew followed joining the squadron, with Flight Lieutenant Kirkby joining the crew for each flight as 1st pilot. They did have Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, but on the 27th of December their second operational mission was noted as a 'Fresher on Boulogne'. F/Lt Kirkby was again in command.
The following day Ken gained some air experience as a passenger during an air test on a Consolidated Liberator II, serial 506. This was flown by F/Lt Kirby and P/O McDonald.
On January the 2nd 1942 the crew, with Kirkby in charge, bombed the practice range at Finningly. This daytime practice was prelude to the crew's first night bombing raid, which took place on the 6th of January, on Brest. However not all the regular crew were aboard. The pilot in charge of Wellington Z1150 'Q' was F/Lt Kirkby with Ken as 2nd Pilot. The rest of the crew were Sgt's Kay, Brown, Quinn and Young. Probably all more experienced airmen, and perhaps the rest of the crew also went on the raid but split into other aircraft with more experienced crews?
On the night of the 15th of January Ken, Kirkby and the regular crew raided Hamburg in Wellington X9812 'A', and on the 17th the crew practiced formation flying by day in Z1072 'S'.
Then the crew got their regular aircraft, 'Q' for Queenie back and they raided Bremen by night on the 21st of January. More formation flying on the 25th in the daytime was followed by a raid on brest that night. between all these flights were various air tests in the daytime to ensure that Queenie and the other aircraft they used were running smooth and efficiently.
On the 28th of January 1942, the crew set out to raid Munster in Z1150 'Q', but the mission was not completed due to the aircraft icing up.
On the 6th of February Ken joined a different crew to raid Brest, with the first pilot being Sgt Stirling, and crew consisting of Sgt's O'Donogune, Duringer, Edington and Roberts. Upon returning the aircraft, Z9683 'Z', landed at West Raynham.
Returning to raid Brest on the 11th, Ken was back with his own crew again and this time flying with Sgt Stirling in the captain's seat, aboard X9814 'O'.
Something a little different happened on the night of the 12th of February when Ken and crew joined F/Lt Kirkby aboard 'Q' again to search the North Sea for German warships. No sightings are listed in Ken's logbook.
Another crew swap occurred on Ken's next raid, on Mannheim, where he and Kirkby teamed up again with the now F/Sgt Kay and Sgt's Brown, Young and Quinn.
The 19th of February was also eventful when on a cross-country exercise with his regular crew of Nightengale, Calvert, Cosby and Weller and Sgt Briggs who seems to have taken Reay's place at some stage, aboard, plus Pilot Officer Yates, the flight was cut short when the port engine cylinder head had temperature failure.
A lot of domestic flying occurred now, cross-country navigations, circuits and bumps, air tests and formation flying over the next few weeks. Even some single engine flying practice. Various aircraft from the squadron were flown over this time including L7870 'W', R1283 'O', R1491 'V', X9815 'Y' and the venerable Z1150 'Q' for Queenie.
During formation practice on the 22nd of March the exercise was cut short when the starboard engine became unserviceable (i.e., conked out). Ken abandoned the practice and guided R1491 'Y' home to Snaith safely.
It was back into action on the night of the 25th of March, when Ken flew R1491 'Y' with Sgt's Nightengale, Fox, Briggs, Cosby and Weller on a 'Fresher' to St Nazaire.
Two days later the crew flew to Stanton Harcourt to prepare for their part in one of the great raids of the war. In the hours of the night of the 27-28 of March 1942, British Commandos sneaked in under the watchful eyes of the occupying Germans at St Nazaire docks aboard an old warship, HMS Campbelltown. The ship had been disguised as a German vessel and had managed to get right in and then ram the docks, allowing the Commandos to disembark and run havoc among German defences in the town. This daring and successful seaborne assault was accompanied by the RAF bombing the town at the same time to heighten the enemy's confusion, Ken was in command of one of those bombers, Vickers Wellington R1491 'Y'.
After the six hour, fifty minute trip that this St Nazaire raid turned out to be for Ken, he and his crew finally landed back at Stanton Harcourt. This was the first operation into enemy territory that Ken had made where he was in command of the aircraft, without any other senior pilot aboard. He was now a captain.
After repositioning to base at Snaith on the next day, the 28th, the crew were off again that night for a seven hour and five minute trip to bomb Lubeck. Ken's log book has the comment "Grand Blaze" after this one.
Another op on the night of the 2nd of April saw Ken flying Wellington DV578 'Y' to raid the suburb of Poissy in Paris. This was a low level attack, and took six and a half hours.
The next op was to Cologne on the 5th of April. and joining Ken, Jack Fox, Jock Briggs, 'Bing' Cosby and Sam Weller aboard DV578 was C. Gordon Cairns, as 2nd Pilot.
The next night as the crew headed to raid Essen, the aircraft iced up and they were forced to turn back. In the cold altitude when ice builds up on the wings of an aircraft, it destroys the lamina airflow of the wing, reducing and eventually eliminating the lift effect. So ice is a very dangerous thing.
Ken and his crew raided Hamburg on the night of the 8th of April, and then on the 10th they bombed Essen. Their Wellington DV578 was attacked by a Messersmitt Me110 on this raid, but they survived the attack.
On the 24th of April they flew an op in X3450 'Y' but the logbook entry of Dunkirk is struck through with pen, and the word Fresher appears in brackets beside it.
Then on the night of 27th and 28th came the crew's most eventful raid, one that made history due to Ken's great skills as a pilot. During a raid on Cologne his skill as a pilot saved himself and his crew after the aircraft X3450 'Y' had been set alight by an Me110.
In the book 'Official History, New Zealanders With The Royal Air Force' (Vol. 1, 1953), Wing Commander H.L. Thompson describes this 1942 incident thus:
“In the early hours of 28 April a battered Wellington of No. 150 Squadron skidded in to make a belly landing at a base in Lincolnshire. The outward flight to Cologne had been comparatively uneventful, but while the Wellington was returning over the North Sea a German fighter made a surprise attack.
Fire broke out amidships and spread rapidly, burning away the fuselage as it did so. Before the enemy machine broke away, both the main and tail planes of the Wellington had been damaged, numerous struts were shattered, and the undercarriage rendered useless.
The fire was eventually extinguished, but by that time the machine was little more than a skeleton as most of the fabric had been burnt away. It was only the fine airmanship of the pilot, Sgt Law, that got the Wellington back across the sea to England .”
When word of this event finally reached home, the local Cambridge newspaper, the Waikato Independent, ran this article on the 10th of July 1942 about the event which includes a description in his own words:
"A SHAKY TRIP"
CAMBRIDGE AIRMAN'S FEAT
PLANE AND CREW SAVED
Blinded by smoke and sparks when the plane under his command caught fire during a recent bombing raid, and with his rudder out of action, Sergeant-Pilot K.O. Law, of Cambridge, brought it safely to earth, saving the lives of his crew of six as well as his machine. He describes his experience as "rather a shaky trip."
In a letter written from England, and dated April 29 last, to his parents, Mr and Mrs A.J. Law, of Cambridge, Sergeant-Pilot Law says:-
"I had rather a shaky trip the other night, and will tell you as much as I can. I was nearly home from a raid when an enemy plane attacked us before we saw him. He set the plane on fire, and what a fire it was! I was blinded by smoke and sparks, so I dived down 5000 feet very fast and this put out the fire.
"My rudder controls were smashed, but at this stage I got control and flew home. I had to make a belly-crash landing, as I could not get my wheels down. But we landed O.K., and nobody was hurt, thank goodness.
"Everybody who has seen the plane since have wondered how it ever flew, as half the body was burnt. Even experts say they cannot think how it flew, which says a wonderful lot for British planes."
Sergeant-Pilot Law is in charge of a Wellington bomber with a crew of six and had done 23 raids to the end of April. He states they always like to see a long stream of big fires left in their trail - a good job well done.
Ken's comment in his logbook is somewhat understated however. He remarked:
"OPS. COLOGNE ATTACKED BY ME110 A/C ON FIRE FOR WHILE BELLY LANDED."
The following photos show just how badly damaged the aircraft was by the fire, and how lucky the crew were in actually guiding it home. They come from Ken Law's collection, via Pam O'Connor.