This post is about an Avro Lancaster III of 61 Squadron, serial number DV 232, squadron letters QR-K. They took off, one of many, at 20:15 on September 5th 1943, from RAF Syerston near Nottingham to go and bomb Mannheim. This was a huge operation and involved 605 aircraft including 299 Lancasters, 195 Halifaxes and 111 Stirlings.
This is a Lancaster:
This is a Halifax:
And this is a Stirling:
Of the 605 aircraft, 34 were lost, some 5.6% of the attacking force, an unsustainable casualty rate.
On their way to the target, Lancaster DV 232 and QR-K had severe engine problems, with the port outer engine failing and the pilot unable to maintain height. And then the port outer engine caught fire. Pilot Officer Peter Todd, the pilot, extinguished it and feathered the propeller. The decision was taken to carry on and not to bale out. The aircraft’s 4,000lb cookie and the rest of the bombload were all duly dropped on Mannheim from around 15,000ft:
The crew then turned for home, full of a strange mixture of trepidation and perhaps misplaced hope. All credit to the plane, though, as the aircraft flew on sedately with Todd at the controls. Eventually he crossed the North Sea, crossed the English coast and discovered that the crew still did not want to bale out, even though they were over English fields. They wanted to stick with the plane which had faithfully brought them so far. They finally reached RAF Syerston where Todd attempted a landing. It did not go too well as the three remaining engines all stalled and the bomber began to sheer over towards the left. Todd missed the airfield buildings but soon found himself skipping too low and too fast over a landscape of fields unfamiliar to him. To the south was the River Trent and eventually the aircraft somehow skidded to stop in the welcoming waters of the river:
The crew were all completely uninjured, floating gently on the river’s calm cold waters:
And just in case you were wondering, the Lancaster was removed by floating it downstream and then rescuing it from the foaming torrent on the southern bank where there was a large flat area just before the village of East Stoke.
This story also turns out to be a very good example of how paperwork often went wrong in WW2. “We had more important things to do than get the bloody paperwork right!” as one high ranking RAF officer once said.
I mentioned just recently that research nowadays, especially with the Internet, can reveal many, many details about the events of the Second World War. But sometimes, quite basic details are lost. One website therefore, the best one, I would say, gives the crew as
Pilot Officer PH Todd (pilot), Sergeant S Robson, (flight engineer), Flying Officer J Hodgkinson, (navigator), Sergeant VR Duvall, (bomb aimer), Sergeant W Housley, (wireless operator / air gunner), Flight Sergeant Patrick , Sergeant John Cartwright, (air gunner).
An RAF Forum says, though, that the original Todd crew, posted in to 61 Squadron from 1661 Conversion Unit on August 25th 1943, was:
Todd, Robson, Shergold, (navigator), Duvall, Housley, Debnam, (air gunner). Cartwright.
Sergeant Patrick came from 1654 Conversion Unit on August 25th 1943 and he replaced Debnam for their first operation on the 3/4th September 1943. This was a disastrous raid on Berlin with 316 Lancasters and 4 Mosquitoes. 22 Lancasters were lost, an unsustainable rate, just below 7.0%. At least 70 aircrew were killed:
In Berlin, destruction was caused to major water and electricity works and to one of the city’s largest breweries. A total of 422 people were killed, namely 225 civilians, 24 servicemen, 18 men and 2 women of the air-raid services, along with 123 foreign workers made up of 92 women and 31 men. Another 170 civilians were missing. Two delayed action bombs eventually went off and they killed a soldier and seven “criminals”….convicts who could earn remission of their sentence by volunteering for this work. Later in the war, of course, when they ran out of convicts, the Germans made extensive use of Jews for the manual transportation of apparently live bombs which had failed to explode.
The same crew which flew to Berlin was used to fly to Mannheim. They were the ones who returned ultimately to slither rather ignominiously into the River Trent. My belief is that they were:
Todd, Robson, Shergold, Duvall, Housley, Patrick, Cartwright
All of the crew were able, incidentally, to walk to the bank of the River Trent along the fuselage and then out through the front gun turret: