Flying Officer Chet Hamre Popplewell, RCAF.
Chetwin Hamre Popplewell was born on January 10th, 1921 in Saskatchewan, Canada and a little over twenty years later he joined the fledgling Royal Canadian Air Force as a AC2. Soon thereafter he was interviewed by F/Lt. J. M. MacDonald who recommended him for pilot training and a commission when qualified.
After his basic training Chet was posted to the Elementary Flying Training School in Regina where he worked hard at his goal to become, like most of his peers, a fighter pilot. On his final check ride before graduation his instructor, Sqn Ldr. Thompson, wrote;
“This airman is a sound pupil, though inclined to be cautious, learns quickly and has made good progress in all departments of his flying training. Shows exceptional ability at night flying, and will develop into a sound, safe pilot.”
While Chet must have been pleased with the sound assessment, he must also have realized the description of his abilities and flying style made him a candidate not for fighters, but for Bomber Command. On December 5, 1941 Chet was awarded his pilot’s wings and promoted to Sergeant and soon after, on January 8, 1942 Chet received his orders to embark overseas.
Upon arrival in Britain, Chet was sent to No.3 (P) Advanced Flying Unit to begin multi-engine instruction in Oxfords. Training progressed well, in June he was promoted to Flight Sergeant and in August he was posted to No.88 Squadron, RAF. At the time, 88 Sqn. was equipped with Douglas Bostons, used primarily as fast, daylight tactical bombers against shipping and ground targets relying on speed and surprise to avoid flak and enemy fighters.
Chet began operations on November 8th, 1942 after a period of familiarization with the Boston. A month later he was finally commissioned and promoted to Pilot Officer. Over the next six months, during which time the squadron was stood down twice for a total of eight weeks, Chet and his crew flew on eight operations. After returning from leave at the end of May, 1943 Chet and all the other Canadian aircrew with 88 Sqn. were posted away to Operational Training Units in preparation to being assigned to heavy bomber units.
On June 1, 1943 Chet and his crew began intensive training on Wellington bombers to prepare them for conversion to Bomber Command’s heavy four engined aircraft. The training went well, with one exceptional event. During a night time cross country navigational exercise Chet’s aircraft experienced an engine fire. Chet managed to bring the Wellington down safely and was commended by his C/O for his actions. An investigation found the cause of the fire to be an error made by one of the ground crew causing the propeller speed governor to fail.
Next, on July 6, 1943, Chet and his crew (Ted Kirk and Ron Zahl) were sent to No.1664 Conversion Unit to begin familiarization on Handley-Page Mk5b Halifax bombers. Here, Chet’s crew was completed with the addition of Wes Baily (Canadian), Ron Earl, Norman Harris, and Trevor Davies (all British). Their conversion went well and on August 2, just one week before Chet’s marriage, they joined No.434 City of Halifax Squadron RCAF based in Tholthorpe, Yorkshire.
On the night of September 29/30, 1943 Chet and his crew were briefed for their third mission as part of 434 Sqn. Having completed two of the thirty missions required before being placed on ‘rest’, their odds of survival were slim. New crews faced only a one in five chance of completing their first six trips. If they made it past six, their odds improved to one in three. Navigators, radio operators, gunners, engineers and bombardiers had a 20% chance of surviving being shot down, pilots only 10%.
The target that night was Bochum in the Ruhr Valley. Assigned “T” Tommy, they lifted off at 18:18 hrs. Nine aircraft did not return from the mission, “T” Tommy was one of them.
On October 9, Chet’s wife received this letter from the C/O of 434 Sqn.
“Dear Mrs. Popplewell:
By the time you receive this letter you will doubtless have received official notification of the fact that your husband, J. 16305, Flying Officer Chetwin Hamre Popplewell, has been missing on operations since 29/30 September, 1943.
Your husband was not only a valued Pilot of this squadron but he was highly popular with all ranks and will be sorely missed by his many friends and acquaintances here.
I can well understand the shock and grief at the sad tidings brought to you and I join with all the Officers, Non Commissioned Officers and Airmen of this unit in extending to you our heartfelt sympathy in this hour of bitter trial. There is always the possibility that you husband may be alive and well, even if a prisoner of war in enemy hands and we are all hoping for the best. There is no information to hand at the present time to justify this hope but you may rest assured that any information which may be received at some future date will be forwarded to you immediately.
Your husband’s personal effects have been carefully gathered together and forwarded to the Standing Committee of Adjustment, Central Depository, Royal Air Force, Colnbrook, Slough, Bucks., and they will communicate with you in due course.
Please allow me once again to express the deep and lasting sympathy which we all feel with you at this time.
SGD) C.E.Harris (W/C)
NO. 434 Squadron (R.C.A.F.)”
A month later the first word on the Chet’s crew’s fate came from through the International Red Cross. The report stated that the aircraft went down near Legden, Germany and that two of the seven man crew were captured alive (Kirk and Earl) and that the bodies of four of the crew had been identified. Finally, on February 12, 1944 Chet’s wife received a letter stating:
“According to an official German report, received through International Red Cross channels, your husband, Flying Officer Chetwin Hamre Popplewell, was buried on the 1st of October, 1943, in the Catholic cemetery in Legden, District of Ahaus, Germany.”
Post Script; Subsequent investigation by Mr. Brent Hamre revealed further details of the events of Chet’s last mission, including the identity of the German Night-Fighter pilot who shot him down. His name was Hauptmann Egmont Prinz zur Lippe Weissenfeld who is also the subject of a feature article in this site.
THE DOUGLAS A-20 BOSTON (HAVOC) IN RAF SERVICE
The Douglas Aircraft Company first flew their prototype DB-7 on October 26, 1938. Designed to fill an anticipated niche market for a fast light attack bomber, the testing program revealed an aircraft with exceptional speed, excellent handling characteristics and good maneuverability. Even so, the US government showed no interest in ordering any production of the new bomber and the company was forced to go overseas to secure orders.The French Government was at the same time searching for modern aircraft, and in February, 1939 placed an order for one hundred DB-7’s. Few were delivered before the French surrender to the Germans in June, 1940 and the RAF, equally desperate for modern aircraft, took over the order. The early DB-7s powered by 1000 hp R-1830-SC3-G engines were designated Boston Mk. I by the RAF. A total of 130 DB-7s are listed on RAF rolls as Boston Mk. I, with RAF serials being AE457/AE472, AX848/AX851, AX910/AX918, AX920/AX975, BB890/BB912, BD110/BD127, and DK274/DK277. Unfortunately, the final batch (DK274/DK277) arrived in damaged condition and had to be stricken off strength. The throttles of these French machines had to be modified so that their operation was reversed — being pushed forward to open rather than close as was the French fashion. These Boston Mk. Is were considered as being unsuitable for combat, and were restricted to training and other non-operational duties.
Having had a chance to evaluate the DB-7A, The British version of the Douglas bomber was designated DB-7B. An initial order for 150 was placed on February 20, 1940, which was later increased to 300. As compared to the DB-7A for France, the DB-7B for Britain had revised systems and introduced a bomb-aimer nose extending six inches further forward and having 25 percent more glazed area. Instead of a stepped arrangement for the nose glass, the glass went back at a diagonal angle for improved visibility. The DB-7B was fitted with British instruments and bomb racks and was armed with 0.303-inch machine guns. Power was provided by two 1600 hp Wright R-2600-A5B radials that were equipped with two-speed superchargers. As compared to the DB-7A, the self-sealing tanks were improved and armor protection was better. Total fuel capacity was increased from 205 US gallons to 394 US gallons in order to improve the range, which had been the primary weakness of the earlier Douglas bombers.
Following the standard RAF practice of assigning popular names to their aircraft, the name Bostonwas assigned to the DB-7B. Roman numerals were used to designate different versions. However, by the time that deliveries of the DB-7B to Britain had started, the designations Boston Mk. I and Mk. II had previously been applied to DB-7 aircraft commandeered from French orders, and so the DB-7Bs were designated Boston Mk. III. Serials were W8252 to W8401 and Z2155 to Z2304. The first DB-7B flew on January 10, 1941. 541 were built between May and December of 1941.
Boston Mk. III serial number W8315 was experimentally fitted with a twin-Browning Bristol power-operated dorsal turret, and W8268/G was fitted with four rocket-launching rails underneath each wing. These options were not adopted as standard, but a Martin power turret later became standard on later A-20s for the USAAF.
The Boston Mk. III began to arrive in Britain in the spring of 1941. The Boston Mk. III was the first of the DB-7/A-20 series actually to operate with the RAF in its intended role of light bomber. They were supplied to Nos. 88, 107, 226, and 342 Squadrons in the United Kingdom and with Nos. 13, 14, 18, 55, and 114 Squadrons serving in the Middle East and later in Italy. They replaced the Blenheims previously operated by these units. The first raid against the enemy in occupied France took place on February 12, 1942. They took part in attacks on the German warships Scharnhorst, Prinz Eugen, and Gneisenau when they took part in the famous channel dash during Operation Cerberus.
However, many Boston Mk. III aircraft were modified to Turbinlite or intruder configurations. The Boston Mk. III (Intruder) aircraft retained their transparent noses but were painted matte black, equipped with flame-damping exhausts, and fitted with a belly gun pack housing four 20-mm Hispano cannon which supplemented the standard Boston Mk. III armament. These operated from mid-1942 onwards with Nos. 418 (RCAF) and 605 Squadrons.
169 A-20Js were delivered to the RAF as Boston Mk. IV. RAF serials were BZ400 to BZ568. The A-20J was the transparent-nosed version of the A-20G. The Boston Mk. IVs retained the same armament (including the twin-gun Martin dorsal turret) as the USAAF version. They were used by Nos. 13, 55, 88 and 114 Squadrons. It entered RAF service in the summer of 1944. 90 A-20Ks delivered to the RAF as Boston Mk. Vs. RAF serials were BZ580 to BZ669.
Bostons also flew with Nos. 13, 18, 55, and 114 Squadrons of the RAF serving in the Middle East and later in Italy. They also flew with No. 12 and 24 Squadrons of the South African Air Force, which actually preceded the RAF Boston squadrons into the area. The SAAF squadrons distinguished themselves during raids known as “Boston Tea Parties” flown against enemy airfields in the Western Desert. The four RAF squadrons flew Boston Mk. IIIs, Mk. IIIAs, Mk. IVs and Mk. Vs in support of Allied operations in Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy. The four squadrons operated their Bostons until early 1946, when they were either disbanded or re-equipped with Mosquitos.
Havocs also served with the Fleet Requirements Unit of the Fleet Air Arm, which operated BD121, BD122, and BL227 in 1940-41.
In 1944 and 1945, only Nos. 88 and 342 Squadrons were still flying Bostons, but in April of 1945 they were disbanded.
1/48 Scale AMT Douglas A-20B/C Havoc
This was the first AMT kit I built and I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened the box. What I found was individually bagged bagged sprues containing very crisply molded, well detailed parts with just a small amount of flash. The kit comprises approximately one hundred parts and offers decals for two different aircraft.
I have no idea when I built this one, though my best guess would be sometime in 2002. I’m not sure I did a great job with it, but back then I was still very much [more] a beginner. I built this for Mr. Brent Hamre, Chet’s cousin and so the point was much more about making a representation than a perfect replica.
Construction begins… where else? the cockpit. As usual, I painted the cockpit parts while they were still on the sprue and then assembled according to the instructions and picking out colour details as I went. I fabricated some seat belts from tape and installed them, washed and highlighted in the usual manner.
With the cockpit done, I began on the bombadier’s and rear gunner’s station. I finished these in the same manner as the cockpit and was soon able to close the fuselage halves.
With the fuselage closed up and having completed the wings, I moved on to the tail assembly. This is kind of awkwardly engineered though I understand why it was done the way it was. I spent a lot of time cleaning and dry fitting and when I finally committed glue, I was rewarded with only some small gaps to fill, which was easily accomplished with Testors Green putty and some CA glue.
Last, I joined the wings to the fuselage. I again took my time with this task, electing to use CA glue for “tacking” the wing on and then going back over the join with liquid glue to weld the seam closed. Doing it this way, I did not have any gaps to fill and needed only a quick once over with some 1000 grit to make the seam good.
Final task before painting is always masking and attaching the canopy. I started with the glass over the rear gunner’s station and completed that easily and attached the piece to the model. Next, I started on the windshield. Almost immediately, I pressed too hard with one mask and cracked the glass through one of the panes. The crack wasn’t too bad however, so I pressed on. I shouldn’t have. Quite soon, the original crack had grown and I’d succeeded in putting another crack in the windshield. To console myself, I started on the nose glass. This went very well and in no time I’d done all the panes and just needed to retrieve the Parafilm from the basement to complete the masking. When I came back, I trod on the nose glass which had mysteriously made its way to the floor to await my return.
After contemplating giving up the hobby I put out a “help!” on the Hyperscale discussion board and received offers of help in replacing the nose glass from two fine people, Patrick Leddy and Mike Parr. The windshield was a problem. I figured I had nothing to lose so I decided on surgery. Using a Dremmel, I ground out the cracked panes. With that done, I glued the cracks and cleaned up the join. Next, using some spare clear stock from a vacform sheet, I carefully cut two new pieces to replace what I had removed from the kit piece. I cut them to be a very slight interference fit, so I was able to press fit them in the frame. When they were in, I dipped the whole piece in Future twice, twenty-four hours apart which had the double effect of making everything clear again and gluing the new panes in place. My only worry was whether the join would be strong enough to mask the piece for painting, and even more worrying is whether the panes will stay in when I remove the masking.
Masking proved to be no problem, so with the glass, including the replacement part attached, the seams blended and the whole model cleaned with a toothbrush and warm water, I was finally ready to paint the beast – by this time I’d been working on this thing for two months.
Paint and Decals
RAF Bostons at this time (Winter, 1942/3) were painted Dark Earth and Dark Green over Light Gray. I used my Badger 200 with Gunze Acrylic for the Gray and Dark Earth and Tamiya Acrylic for the Dark Green. Painting went smoothly with the gray first. After that had cured for a couple of days I masked with a combination of Blue Tack and tape and applied the brown. With that ready, I again masked with tape to get a hard demarcation line as indicated in the photo references.
After a bit of back and forth to touch up some over spray, I applied a couple coats of Future in preparation for decaling.
Applying the decals was a snap with very few stencils supplied on the kit decal sheet. I used some spares for the squadron codes and a Tally-Ho sheet for the serial numbers. All the decals reacted well to Micro Set, I didn’t need to bring out any heavy artillery to get them to snuggle down nicely. When they had completely dried, applied a wash to bring out some surface detail and give the appearance of a used aircraft. I shot some Dullcote to bring the finish down to a matt, which I felt represents the real thing well. Popplewell’s Boston, being built some time between May and December 1941, may well have been quite well used at the time he was transferred to the OTU in May, 1942 to prepare for heavy bomber duties. I went for a used look, but not beaten up.
More Construction and Finish
With the aircraft basically finished, all that remained was to attach the various bits and pieces. I began with completing the undercarriage, and added the covers. With that done, I turned my attention to making some exhausts from aluminum tube. With these installed, I attached the antennas and the pilot hatch on top and ended the build with the aerial wire made from stretched sprue.
Anything I’ve forgotten to mention? Oh yes, the kit is a tail sitter… The more observant reader will have noticed in a couple of the photos I had the rear end propped up with some clear sprue and blue tack. This one ended up glued to a base.
Sources, References and Further Reading
Brent Hamre, Flying Officer Chet Popplewell’s cousin.
Steven Eisenman, email assistance with miscellaneous questions.
“Aircraft of World War II – A Visual Encyclopedia” Michael Sharpe, Jerry Scutts and Dan March. ISBN 1-85648-589-7 PCR Publishing Ltd.
“Cockpit – An illustrated History of WWII Aircraft Interiors” Donald Nijboer and Dan Patterson ISBN 1-55046-253-9 Boston Mills Press.
Except where noted otherwise, I sourced all images and photos from the internet and are all used under fair-use. Unfortunately my notes are incomplete as to sources; I will be happy to add more as they become apparent.
I make no claim of original work in this article except for the photos of the models and text describing their construction and painting. The biography section was supplied by Brent Hamre and is his copyright; I reproduced it exactly as he gave it to me and it is published under his original permission.
Any copyrighted material will be remove or credited forthwith upon request by its owner.
Categories: Feature Article