Tag Archives: Royal Australian Air Force

A few days after D-Day (5)

In my previous article, I revealed that it is now known that one member of the crew of that Lancaster Z-NH, serial number NE150, brought down by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, did not perish, but survived the crash, only to be then killed, proudly fighting alongside the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Graignes.

For many years the tale had been told that the mystery aviator was an American fighter pilot who had been shot down, but in recent times, around 2008, the real truth has come to light. The mystery flyer was Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black of the Royal Australian Air Force.
I found the full, detailed story prominently featured on Channel Nine News:

“For sixty years his family had thought he died on D-Day in a relatively straight forward situation when his plane was shot down over occupied France by enemy fire. “We knew that he had been in a crashed plane and we always thought that he died there and then,” his great niece Elissa Liggins said. But Sergeant Black survived the crash, and was taken in by a brave French family for the night.
After a good stiff drink and a sleep Sergeant Black asked to be taken to the nearby village of Graignes where he met a group of American paratroopers. Their orders were to defend the village. Even after a plane crash, Sergeant Black was determined to help.”

graignes
“Aided by the villagers, the paratroopers and Sergeant Black set up a perimeter around Graignes.
After a couple of days, the Germans attacked. The allies successfully fought them off the first time but the Germans successfully attacked again.
The S.S. then executed many of the survivors. It is not clear exactly how Sergeant Stanley Black died but he was probably killed on June 11th. He was just 21 years old. The little village never forgot their “Australian hero”.

Decades later an English lady who lives in the village, Liane Ward-Cleaveley, felt frustrated his name was not on the plaque commemorating the battle. She contacted a Lancaster enthusiast in Australia, Graeme Roberts, who tracked down Sgt Black’s relatives.

“We got a phone call from a gentleman called Graeme who had read a message from an English lady living in France,” Ms Liggins recalled.
“She had a bee in her bonnet because this Australian who had battled hadn’t got his name on a memorial.”
Accompanied by members of the RAAF, Ms Liggins flew to France for the unveiling of her great uncle’s name on the village plaque.

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“I don’t think any of us appreciated how big it was going to be for the family – certainly not for me – it’s quite life changing,” she said.
Flight Lieutenant Mark Schmidt describes it as “an amazing experience”.
“It’s an incredible story and then to go to the village and connect with the villagers there… he’s a hero to those guys they call him ‘the Australian who fell from the sky’,” he said.

Every single evening at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, a single Australian who died for his country is honoured. And recently, Sergeant Stanley Black was the chosen hero.
The Last Post was played and the Eternal Fame flickered. Ms Liggins and her family laid a wreath for their uncle. It was a poignant moment she will never forget:

“I sort of feel like I have a connection with him now, that just wasn’t there before, and I know his story intimately… it’s pretty powerful stuff,” she said.

A powerful story, to share with generations to come.
And what a story. The forces of darkest evil opposed by brave, brave men, women and children.

French villagers, French children, American paratroopers, British flyers and one very, very brave and determined Australian.

Here is a film of Graignes today.

 The church has been left exactly as the cowards of the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division left it.

There is another excellent film on the Channel 9 News site. It is well worth watching.

If you are feeling brave, then try this website. It has a picture of Madame Marthe His, one of the only surviving witnesses of this Nazi war crime.

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She watched what the SS did when she was only 12, and now, 73 years later, and a very young looking 83, she is determined that it should not be forgotten.
In a video lower down the page, she tells her story in French where, at the least, you should be able to recognise a few words.

Here is roughly the same story in French for you to read as homework:

“À 12 ans, Marthe His a vu soldats américains et civils se faire massacrer par les Allemands à Graignes. 71 ans plus tard, elle est revenue pour témoigner.

Derrière ses petites lunettes rondes, les yeux bleus de Marthe His ont gardé toute leur vigueur. Au moment de témoigner, hier après-midi au mémorial de Graignes (Manche), un voile de tristesse a peut-être atténué leur éclat pendant quelques minutes. C’est tout en pudeur que ce petit bout de femme, âgée de 83 ans, a revécu en souvenir les massacres de Graignes en juin 1944.

Des 200 Américains qui débarquent dans la maison familiale, au sauvetage de 23 soldats. Elle replonge dans cette histoire tragique du débarquement dans la Manche.
Un épisode sanglant où 43 soldats Américains et 30 habitants de Graignes trouveront la mort des mains des Allemands.”

This is the memorial to everybody who was slaughtered by the SS in that cowardly way:

And don’t forget Flight Sergeant Stanley Black of the Royal Australian Air Force:

Stanley Black  didn’t need to do what he did. And it would probably cost him his life.

But he did it nevertheless. He was a true hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A few days after D-Day (4)

I wrote a previous article about an Avro Lancaster Mark III bomber which took off from Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, ten miles south east of Lincoln, at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was NE150.

Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the crew were tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy, in an effort to disrupt the German transportation of troops.

balguthrie

Unfortunately, the aircraft was one of two hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire over Lison, and it crashed near the village of St Jean de Daye. All of the crew were killed except two.

The first of two subsequent articles told the story of John “Jock” Drylie, the aircraft’s navigator, and the only member of the crew who ever managed to return home, in his case, to Fife in Scotland:

DRYLIE PHOTO

This is the second article of the two, and tells the extraordinary story of Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black of the Royal Australian Air Force. He was the bomb aimer, only 21 years of age and the beloved son of George and Lillian Eliza Black, of North Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia.

On June 7th 1944, Stanley survived the crash, and, in fact, was virtually unscathed.

He soon met some American gentlemen, however, and then a very dark and grim tale indeed began to unfold.

These American gentlemen turned out to be the élite troops of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the American Army. Just after two o’clock in the morning of June 6th 1944, twelve planeloads of them had been dropped in error some eighteen miles from their correct drop zone. Wandering more or less at random around the marshes near Carentan, they were now very close to the village of Graignes:

Pathfinder_Plane15

At daybreak, the village mayor of Graignes, Monsieur Alphonse Voydie, woke up and suddenly noticed that the grass field behind his house was absolutely full of American soldiers.  As Mayor, he called an immediate emergency meeting of everybody in the town. The brave townspeople decided unanimously to feed the American soldiers, despite the very real risk that the Germans would shoot them all, both villagers and soldiers. Under the forceful command of Madame Germaine Boursier, all the women of the village began cooking around the clock to serve the Americans with at least two hot meals every day. At the same time, teams of villagers, men, women and children, began filling any wheeled vehicle with lost American equipment and then bringing it back to its rightful owners.

Militarily, though, the situation was hopeless. The 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the brave, helpful French villagers were completely surrounded by German troops including, among others, the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen under the command of SS-Standartenführer Otto Binge.

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In view of what was about to happen, the fact that these Nazi troops were from the 17th SS Panzergrenadiers was supremely ironic. The unit had been raised near Poitiers in south-central France in October 1943.
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It consisted mainly of conscripts, many of whom were Rumanian Germans with a good number of French Fascist volunteers.

The SS duly attacked the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who were by now entrenched in the village. It took the Germans until June 11th to overwhelm the village, with just the church left to be captured:

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The Americans had, by this point, claimed perhaps five or six hundred dead Germans, with the roughly the same number wounded.

To forestall all those who would defend those apologies for human beings who made up the Waffen SS, I would like to quote the Wikipedia account pretty much in full about what happened next. I have also added some extra details from a website about the battle in Normandy in 1944:

“The 17th SS stormed the church and found Captain Sophian’s medical aid station. They forced the Captain and all of the wounded outside against a wall. The men were divided into two groups and marched away. One group was marched down to the edge of a shallow pond behind Madame Boursier’s café. At the edge of the pond, the SS bayoneted the wounded men and threw them into the water one on top of the other. The other group of 507th paratroopers was forced to march to a field near the village of Le Mesnil Angot. There, the nine wounded men were forced to dig a pit. As soon as the pit was complete, the SS shot each one of them in the back of the head and dumped their bodies in the pit one on top of the other.

Other Germans began a round-up of the French civilians.  The SS men knew that the church’s belfry had been used as an observation point to direct mortar fire accurately onto their attacking troops. The SS soldiers therefore burst into the church rectory, dragged Father Leblastier and Father Lebarbanchon into the courtyard and shot them both to death. They then discovered Madeleine Pezeril and eighty-year-old Eugenie DuJardin. Overwhelmed with fear, the two old ladies had been cowering in their quarters ever since the end of the battle. The Germans shot and killed both women in their beds. Meanwhile, forty-four villagers had been rounded up and were being interrogated. They were threatened with immediate execution if they did not divulge the names of any villagers who had actively assisted the Americans. Not a single one of the villagers turned in a single name. And none of them revealed either the role that Alphonse Voydie had played in the Graignes drama. Had the Germans known what Voydie had done, they would most certainly have executed him too.

On Tuesday June 13th, the Germans burned the village. They poured gasoline over the bodies of Father Leblastier, Father Lebarbanchon, Eugenie DuJardin and Madeleine Pezeril and then set them on fire. The ensuing blaze was allowed to burn out of control, destroying 66 homes, the boys’ school, Madame Boursier’s café and the 12th-century church. Another 159 homes and other buildings were damaged either as a result of that fire or the fighting. Before the June 11th battle and the German retaliation that followed, the village of Graignes had consisted of just over two hundred homes and other structures. Afterward, only two houses survived unscathed.”

In the words of “morice”:

« A leur départ, l’école et l’église de Graignes n’existent plus, le village n’est qu’une ruine fumante. C’est un autre Oradour et un autre Maillé, la signature des SS aux abois en 1944 dans le pays. Au total, ils laissent derrière eux 63 morts. Seul le clocher du XIIème siècle resté debout défie toujours l’occupant. »

On July 6th 1986, a ceremony was held in the ruins of the church at Graignes during which eleven villagers were presented with the Award for Distinguished Civilian Service for their role in assisting the men of 3rd Battalion/507th. Six of those awards were posthumous.

Only one member of the SS was punished in any way for this incident, the rather unlucky Erwin Wilhelm Konrad Schienkiewitz who went to prison for life. If you look at the Wikipedia entry for 17th SS Panzergrenadiers, there is a shortish list of the war crimes for which some of them received prison sentences.

For the most part, they were to do with killing concentration camp prisoners, but they also executed the Mayor of a German town who wanted to surrender to the Allies and avoid unnecessary deaths. And they murdered a Jewish dentist. What bravery from the élite troops of the Master Race.

Like so many members of the Waffen SS, however, their commander,  SS-Standartenführer Otto Binge, lived out a full life and died peacefully in a warm bed on June 18th 1982.

And why am I telling this great long-winded tale, other than the fact that it deserves to be told anyway?

Well, because it is now known that one member of that crew of the 106 Squadron Lancaster Z-NH, serial number NE150, was killed proudly fighting alongside the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Graignes.
For many years, the tale had been told that there was an American fighter pilot involved in the fighting, but only in recent times, around 2008, has the real truth come to light. The mystery fighter pilot was none other than Flight Sergeant Stanley Kevin Black, bomb aimer of the Royal Australian Air Force.

black

I will bring this tale to a conclusion in the near future.

To end with, let me repeat that none of these three articles about the Avro Lancaster III from Metheringham, Z-NH, NE150, shot down on June 7th 1944, could have been written without recourse to the websites and forums which I have indicated. I just hope that what I have written, tales which deserve to be heard, will reach another audience by my re-telling them.

 

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A few days after D-Day (3)

I have written two previous articles about an Avro Lancaster Mark III bomber which took off from Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, ten miles south east of Lincoln at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was NE150.

Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the crew were tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy, in an effort to disrupt German transportation of troops:

balguthrie

Unfortunately, the aircraft was hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire over Lison, a town near Coutances, and it crashed near the village of St Jean de Daye. All of the crew were killed except two.

The first of two articles will tell the story of John “Jock” Drylie, the aircraft’s navigator, and the only member of the crew who managed, eventually, to return home, in his case, to Fife in Scotland. “Jock” Drylie is known to be on this photograph of a Short Stirling bomber and its crew, but the names of the individual flyers remain unknown:

DRYLIE PHOTO

I found John’s story on a forum, one of what must be hundreds devoted to the aircraft of the RAF in the Second World War.

The tale of John Drylie was posted by Michel Tardivat in 2014:

“When the aircraft crashed, five members of the crew were either unconscious or dead. He buried his parachute and hid in the deep bushes of Normandy for two or three days, he did not know how long. Driven by hunger, he knocked on the door of a farm near the village of Saint-Fromond. The owner of the farm was Arthur Michel who carefully checked John’s proof of identity with the local French Résistance. At this time, it was only too easy for German agents to pose, for example, as British soldiers, or downed flyers, in order to penetrate the Résistance network. Brave Monsieur Michel kept John at his farm, pretending, as the Scot could speak no French whatsoever, that he was a deaf and dumb farm worker.

All of the crew members from NE150 were initially reported as missing in action. His family, and especially his young fiancée, Margaret, were devastated. She was working at Stirling Castle as a radio operator for the Army.
In actual fact, John was already on his way back home. Arthur Michel continued his heroism by driving John to Bayeux. Again, the Germans had only one penalty for people caught helping Allies soldiers, and that was death. After that, the equally brave men and women of the Résistance network continued the process, and Flying Officer Drylie was back in Britain by July 19th 1944.

In the late 1940s, Farmer Michel took a wife and she was able, in the era of rationing and postwar shortages, to wear a silk wedding dress made from the material of John Drylie’s parachute. Arthur Michel and his lucky wife had just one daughter who was the village teacher at Saint-Fromond all her working life. At the moment, she lives in the family farm, which has been converted into a Bed and Breakfast establishment.

During the 1950s, the Drylie family would visit their French friends and their son Peter, would play around the wrecked fuselage of the Lancaster bomber which remained virtually untouched in a field near the village for many, many years.

Nowadays, in the cemetery at Saint-Fromond, brave Arthur Michel rests in peace. On his tomb is fixed a medal. It was placed there by the grateful RAF.”

John Drylie seems to have been very greatly affected by the events of June 7th 1944. He hardly ever spoke about what had happened to him in that doomed Lancaster. He never wore his wartime medals. He never attended any official ceremonies connected with that terrible night.

DRYLIE PHOTO

Just once,though, he came with three generations of his family, his children and grand-children, to visit the most famous places from D-Day, namely, Saint-Lô, Bayeux, Sainte-Mère-Église  and Colleville. It is unknown whether he visited the cemetery at Saint-Fromond or at Bayeux, but I would be very surprised if he did not. He was certainly seen to be very deeply moved as he stood silently at the places he visited

“Jock” Drylie was a chartered-accountant for all of his life. He travelled extensively between workplaces in Paris and in Scotland. He passed away in September 1990, in his house, “Balguthrie”, in Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland:

balguthrie

He was buried in the local churchyard with his wife Margaret and his son Peter.

Personally, I would posit that John Drylie, who hardly ever spoke about what had happened, never wore his wartime medals and never attended any official ceremonies, was a classic sufferer from Survivor Guilt.

To quote Wikipedia:

“Stephen Joseph, a psychologist at the University of Warwick, has said: “There were three types of Survivor Guilt: first, there was guilt about staying alive while others died; second, there was a guilt about the things they failed to do – these people often suffered post-traumatic ‘intrusions’ as they relived the event again and again; third, there were feelings of guilt about what they did do, such as scrambling over others to escape. These people usually wanted to avoid thinking about the catastrophe. They didn’t want to be reminded of what really happened.”

I am sure that, by now, Jock will have met up with all his old pals in Heaven and they will have told him that he should feel no guilt. In Bomber Command, death was so often decided by blind chance, nothing more:

Lancaster_B_MkI_44_Sqn_RAF_in_flight_1942

 

To end with, let me repeat that none of these three articles about the Avro Lancaster III from Metheringham, Z-NH, NE150, shot down on June 7th 1944, could have been written without recourse to the websites and forums which I have indicated. I just hope that what I have written, tales which deserve to be heard, will reach another audience by my re-telling them.

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A few days after D-Day (1)

Frank Leonard Corner attended the High School just  a few years before before the Second World War. He spent at least one season as the young scorer for the School’s First XI cricket team:

P1300886 1938

Of the three cricketers behind young Frank Corner, the one on the extreme right is George Brown. Playing for the School cricket team, George was a real asset with his “devastating fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump”. On a forgotten Saturday in July 1944, however, now Lieutenant Brown, he was killed in action during the aftermath of the D-Day landings. He was just 24 years of age. Lieutenant Brown was in the 2nd Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment (3rd Infantry Division) and on that day, the blast of an exploding German mortar shell was even more devastating than his “devastating fast in-swinging yorker on the leg stump”.

Young Frank Corner, though, left the High School and its cricket team, on the faintly ominous date of July 31st 1939. First of all, he worked briefly for the Notts War Agricultural Committee. Around this time, he had also played rugby for the Old Nottinghamians’ Wartime XV.

Frank, though, like so many hundreds of thousands of other young men, was soon to feel the “Call of the Skies”. He joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and was soon promoted to be Flight Sergeant Corner.

In due course, Flight Sergeant Corner joined 106 Squadron, stationed at Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, just south east of Lincoln itself. Here is the old gymnasium, still left after all these years:

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Here is the building used to practice dropping bombs accurately:

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And here is the beautifully maintained Memorial Garden:

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Frank was the Flight Engineer in an Avro Lancaster Mark III. Its squadron letters were Z-NH and its serial number was NE150.
Operating in the direct aftermath of D-Day the bomber took off from Metheringham at twenty five minutes past midnight on June 7th 1944. It was tasked with bombing Coutances, a beautiful little town just south west of Caen in Normandy.

Just give you an idea of the numbers involved, the “The Bomber Command War Diaries: An Operational Reference Book” by Chris Everitt and Martin Middlebrook reveals that:

“there was a total of 1,065 aircraft, made up of 589 Lancasters, 418 Halifaxes, and 58 Mosquitos.  They were to bomb the lines of communication behind the D-Day battle area. All of the targets were in or near French towns. 3,488 tons of bombs were dropped on targets at Achères, Argentan, Caen, Châteaudun, Conde sur Noireau, Coutances, St Lô, Lisieux and Vire. Every effort was made to bomb accurately but casualties to the French civilians were inevitable. Cloud affected the accuracy of the bombing at many of the targets and, at Achères, the Master Bomber ordered the raid to be abandoned because of cloud and no bombs were dropped. 10 Lancasters and 1 Halifax were lost in these raids; 6 of the Lancasters were lost in the No 5 Group raid at Caen, where the main force of bombers had to wait for the target to be properly marked and then fly over an area full of German units and guns at bombing heights below 3,000ft. Some details are available of the effects of the bombing. At Argentan, Châteaudun and Lisieux, much damage was done to railways, although the towns, Lisieux in particular, were hit by many bombs. Important bridges at Coutances were badly damaged and the town centres of Caen, Condé sur Noireau, St-Lô and Vire were all badly bombed and most of the roads through those towns were blocked.
….19 aircraft were minelaying in the Brest area, and 26 aircraft on Resistance operations. No aircraft lost.

Total effort for the night: 1,160 sorties, 11 aircraft (0.9 per cent) lost.”

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Alas, young Frank Corner was one of that minuscule 0.9%. His bomber was shot down and crashed near the tiny village of St Jean de Daye:

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On June 11th 1944, the Wing Commander of 106 Squadron actually sent a report to the Air Ministry, explaining that the crew of Z-NH had been told to bomb bridges in Caen. This is thought possibly to explain why the aircraft finally came down near St Jean de Daye. They had been hit by anti-aircraft fire over Lison, where a worker at the railway yard remembers how the German gunners celebrated the fact that they had shot down a bomber.

Frank was just twenty one years old when he died. His service number was 222039 and his parents were Captain Leonard Leslie Corner and Florence Edna Corner, of Whiston, Yorkshire.

Frank is buried in the War Cemetery in Bayeux, in Calvados, Normandy, France along with 3,805 other war casualties. He has paid with his young life the price of our freedom:

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The Hendon Lancaster 137 not out

A few years ago, I drove down with the family to the RAF Museum at Hendon, just to the north of London. I made an immediate bee-line to the Bomber Command section to see their Avro Lancaster. Most of the aircraft here have their original coat of paint from World War II, so, to prevent it fading away completely under the onslaught of bright, harmful sunshine, the lighting is very subdued. That made it rather difficult for me to take photographs of a decent standard. Indeed, for the general view of the aircraft, I have had to use a photograph from the Internet. Here it is, with its capacity to carry up to 14,000 lbs of bombs into Nazi Germany:

HendonLancaster GOOGLE
Here is the front of this mighty bomber. Its huge black tyres are not far short of the height of a man. The yellow tips of the propellers are a safety feature and the yellow letter “S” is the aircraft’s squadron letter as “S-Sugar”:
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This is the rear of the bomber. It has twin tails to give the mid-upper gunner a greater field of fire. You can see the door for the crew, which kept them well away from the four propellers, but it meant a very long and difficult crawl to the front of the aircraft. Its squadron letters are PO-S and its serial number is R5868:P1320297XXX

This particular plane is the oldest surviving Lancaster and the first RAF heavy bomber to complete 100 operations. It eventually went on to fly 137 sorties. R5868 was originally “Q-Queenie” with No. 83 Squadron at RAF Scampton and then became “S-Sugar” with No. 463 and No. 467 Squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force at RAF Waddington. Its very last job came in May 1945, when it was used to transport liberated Allied prisoners of war back home to England.
The four Merlin engines have on them the names of the crew who received decorations. This is the starboard inner engine:
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Here is another name, this time on the port inner engine. You can also see what looks to me to be an 8,000lb bomb underneath the enormous bomb-bay. Such a large bomb was made by merely bolting together two ordinary 4,000lb “Cookies” or Blockbuster bombs:
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I couldn’t resist showing you for a second time, in this second blogpost, the front of “S-Sugar”, which is adorned with the vain boast of Hermann Göring, “No enemy plane will fly over the Reich Territory”.

It is deliberately painted next to the symbols which represent the huge number of raids carried out over Germany by this one particular aircraft. All of the Avro Lancasters added together flew 156,000 missions over Europe as a whole and they dropped 608,612 tons of bombs on the Third Reich. So much for Hermann Müller and his pathetic promises, detailed in that previous post:

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This is a “Grand Slam” bomb. It was designed by Barnes Wallis and weighed 22,000lb, ten tons, more or less, and the specially adapted Lancasters of 617 Squadron who carried it were at their physical limits:
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My Dad said their wings were shaped like giant crescents as they took off. When they were dropped, the bombs broke the sound barrier. At that time they must have been among the fastest objects made by Man. They penetrated deep underground and, when they exploded, they easily proved their nickname of the “Earthquake Bomb”. Unlike the majority of bombs dropped by the Allied Air Forces, they were always used on military sites such as U-Boat pens, gun-batteries or railway bridges.
Here is one being dropped by YZ-C of 617 Squadron:

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I found two films about dropping a “Grand Slam” bomb. In both cases they are being used to destroy railway viaducts, in order to prevent the Nazis from moving troop reinforcements around their fast diminishing country. In this way, these spectacular bombs must have saved the lives of a lot of good men:

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John David Fletcher: Part 3

Flight Lieutenant John David Fletcher was buried in Cambridge City Cemetery on the Newmarket Road. As well as John Fletcher, four other casualties were buried in this cemetery, the rest being taken back to the cemeteries near to their homes.

The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Henry Stewart van Raalte of the Royal Australian Air Force was one of the four to be buried in Cambridge City Cemetery. Aged just 31, he was the beloved son of Henri Benedictus Salman van Raalte and Katherine Lyell van Raalte. He was the much loved young husband of Mrs Mary Ellen van Raalte. They all lived together in Albany in Western Australia:

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Here is Jimmy’s funeral in Cambridge Cemetery. His brother is labelled in the foreground:

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Flight Sergeant Maurice Durn, the Flight Engineer, is buried in the churchyard of St Bartholomew’s Church in Marsden. He was only 21 years of age, the beloved son of Norman and Clara Durn, of Marsden, and the much loved husband of Mrs Dorothy Durn, who lived in the same village in West Yorkshire, seven miles west of Huddersfield.

Pilot Officer David Gethin Williams was the navigator. He was the beloved son of Gwilym and Dorcas Ann Williams, of Blaengwynfi, a village in the Port Talbot area of South Wales. He is buried in Plot T, in unconsecrated ground, in Rhondda (Treorchy) Cemetery.

David Williams’ nephew can still remember him:

“My uncle David Gethin Williams was the navigator in Van Raalte’s airplane. My father who was 14 when his brother was killed remembers that it was a sealed coffin that was returned home for burial as they could not be sure if it was David Gethin that was in it. My grandmother was always haunted by that. My father remembers the Van Raalte brothers coming home to Treorchy with David Gethin when they were on leave. The rear gunner Royston George Davies was also from Treorchy and both gravestones are in sight of each other which is very poignant!”

rhonfdd cemete

The Bomb Aimer, Warrant Officer Alfred Leonard Lambert of the Royal Australian Air Force was 25 years old when he died. He was the much loved son of John Leo and Rhoda Lambert and the beloved husband of Stella Irene Case Lambert, of Eastwood in New South Wales, Australia.

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His daughter, later to marry and become Maree Pollard, was only eleven months old when her father was killed. She said:

“It has always been a big black hole in my life. I personally feel that LARG have done a fantastic job and I just can’t thank them enough. I find it very humbling.”

Maree never met her father, because she was living in Australia when he died. Alfred is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery:laambert

Flying Officer Alan Arnold was the Second Bomb Aimer, He was also a member of the Royal Australian Air Force and was aged just 26 at the time of his death. Alan was the much loved son of Edward and Lillian Evelyn Agnes Arnold, of Pascoe Vale South, Victoria, Australia. He was apparently flying as a visual air bomber. He too is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery.

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Flight Sergeant Eric Henry Peace was just 21 years of age. He was the wireless operator, the beloved son of Ernest and Ethel Maud Peace of York. He too is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery.

The mid-upper gunner was Royston George Davies, aged just 22, and the much loved son of Gerildis and Gwenlian Davies, of Treorchy. He was the husband of Phyllis Mary Davies, and they lived in Cwmparc, Treorchy. Just like the navigator, David Gethin Williams, Royston is buried in Rhondda (Treorchy) Cemetery, both graves in sight of each other.

The other Lancaster involved in the catastrophe was ND981, also of 97 Squadron, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Edward Leslie John Perkins:

third time livcky

His friend Patrick Turner, the flight engineer in another Lancaster in 97 Squadron, recounted how the men enjoyed time to let off steam:

“One of the pilots, Flt Lt Perkins, had a small car and the whole of the flight lifted this car onto the top of an air raid shelter. After the accident we had the job of getting it down.”

Only one man was to escape alive from this horrendous collision, everybody else being killed.

Flight Lieutenant Perkins, the pilot, was buried in Cambridge Cemetery, but I have been unable to trace any further details whatsoever about him.

The Flight Engineer was Sergeant Frank Ernest Coxhead, aged 20, of Somercotes in Derbyshire. He was the much loved son of Frank Percy and Martha Coxhead. Frank is buried in Lea Brooks Cemetery in Alfreton, Derbyshire.

The Navigator was Flight Lieutenant William James Hunt who was only 22 years old. He was the beloved son of Sydney Herbert and Maud Adeline Margaret Hunt, of Romford, in Essex . The inscription on his grave in Romford Cemetery reads, “Tranquil you lie, Your memory hallowed, In the land you love.”

The bomb aimer was Flight Sergeant John Fairbairn, aged 30, the much loved son of Frank and Ada Fairbairn, of Knottingley in West Yorkshire. John was the husband of Ivy Fairbairn, of Ferrybridge near Knottingley. He is buried in the cemetery at Knottingley. He had had a lovely wedding, perhaps at the very same Northern church:

fairnbairn%20wedding%20day

The wireless operator was Flight Sergeant Coman, with the first name John or Joseph, depending on where you look. Of him, more later.

The mid upper gunner was Warrant Officer Denis Gilbert Partos. He was 23 years old, and the much loved son of Francis Ferdinand and Pauline Partos, of Southgate, Middlesex. John is buried in Southgate Cemetery. Denis died without knowing that he had been awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal. The news only came through in the London Gazette on June 27th.

This death may have been the final moment of despair for Francis Ferdinand and Pauline Partos, of Southgate, Middlesex. Their other son, John Emil Partos, a Bomb Aimer with 427 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, had already been killed on February 27th 1943:002810029-vickers-wellington-iii

He was flying in a Vickers Wellington bomber which had taken off from RAF Croft at 1848 hours. This was ZL-C with the serial number BK268, piloted by Flight Sergeant  George Taylor. They were one of seven Wellingtons sent to bomb Cologne. Five aircraft returned safely. Flight Sergeant Taylor bombed successfully, but on the way home he crashed at R.A.F. North Luffenham, near Woolfax Lodge, and he, and four of his crew, were killed, including John Partos. Flight Sergeant William Harwood and his crew were also posted missing from this raid. The whole story can be found on the website of the Canadian 6th Group:

What makes these events, back at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, even more tragic and twisted is that Denis Partos was not even a normal member of the crew of this doomed Lancaster. The normal mid-upper gunner was Flight Sergeant M.H.McBride, but he could not fly on this particular day because he was on a charge and had been grounded for his bad behaviour.  So too was the other gunner in the crew, Flight Sergeant J.K.Russell. Flight Sergeant M.H.McBride went on to survive the conflict as far as I can trace. So too did Flight Sergeant Russell. They must have thought, though, that they had used up all of their good luck for the entire rest of the war! Here is the Operations Room of 97 Squadron

opr room

I cannot trace a rear gunner for ND981 on this particular occasion. Some sources give it as John David Fletcher but that is clearly an error. Perhaps the aircraft flew with just six crew members.

The only man to survive the crash was Flight Sergeant Coman who was the wireless operator of Flight Lieutenant Perkins’ Lancaster. Coman jumped out of the stricken bomber as it broke up and managed to get his parachute open. He was badly burned by parachuting down almost into the burning wreckage of the two aircraft. He owed his survival, it is thought, to the fact that he was conceivably blown upwards by the force of the explosion of the burning wreckage on the ground and was, therefore, able to open his parachute and come down safely.

After his almost miraculous escape, poor Flight Sergeant Coman left the squadron and, in actual fact, was to die of tuberculosis not too long after he left the RAF. According to at least one website, he was so traumatised that he was never flew again after the tragic events of Friday, June 23rd 1944. (not surprisingly, you might think).

Old Nottinghamian, John David Fletcher had intended to make his living by farming poultry when he left the RAF.

Sixty years after the tragedy,  at a commemorative ceremony, Roy Sturman, from the Nottinghamshire country village of Collingham, spoke about his feelings all those years ago. He was only ten when his brother-in-law, John David Fletcher, was killed in the crash. He said:

“I thought he was great. He was a hero to me. I’m so glad I came along to the ceremony, because this is history and it needs to be remembered.”

This stained glass window is dedicated to the memory of the brave young men of 97 Squadron:

97 msq windowxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Needless to say, as I was not a witness to all of these dreadful events, this article could not have been written without using the series of excellent books by W.R.Chorley, and a number of other websites.

The final part of this sad tale to follow in the near future.

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RAF Elsham Wolds: Part Five

In a previous article I wrote about the tragic collision of two Avro Lancaster bombers, both of them from 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds. The two aircraft were both trying to land at the same time, after permission to do so had been given to each of them by the Flying Control Officer. A subsequent Court of Inquiry found that “the accident was caused by the Flying Control Officer departing from the normal procedure.” They recommended that “Flying Control Officers must not depart from the normal procedure for landings”.
In the accident, therefore, Lancaster ND334, PM-unknown, was struck in mid-air by a second Lancaster Mk III, JB530, PM-F. That careless act, caused by the unfortunate decision of a still unnamed Flying Control Officer resulted in the deaths of five young men, namely the Flight Engineer Sergeant D.H.J.Cunningham, the Navigator Flying Officer R.H.Fuller, the Bomb Aimer Flight Sergeant C.Bagshaw,  the Wireless Operator Sergeant E.S.Gunn and the Rear Gunner Sergeant A.O.Haines:

halifax wreck
Sadly, this collision was not the first accident of this type to have occurred at Elsham Wolds. Searching on the Internet, I found a website detailing a collision which took place on December 16th 1943, as both aircraft took off to bomb Berlin. The accident involved one aircraft of 103 Squadron and one from 576 Squadron who were also based at the same airfield.
Apparently, low cloud was present and this was thought to provide a potential source of danger for the aircraft as they took off. At the pre-raid briefing, therefore, all of the crews were clearly told to climb away “into the climbing pattern” as soon as they left off the ground, and then to continue climbing until they reached the correct height to set off with the bomber stream across the North Sea to the target. Great stress was put on the problems which were possible with the low cloud base and that everyone should stick, therefore, “to the instructions”.
The first of the two doomed bombers to take off, at 4.36 p.m., was Flight Sergeant F.R.Scott of the Royal Australian Air Force in Lancaster LM332, UL-B2 of 576 Squadron. It was the crew’s very first mission:

takeogff

They were followed, at 4.37 p.m., by the second doomed aircraft, Lancaster JB670, PM-unknown, of 103 Squadron. The pilot was Flight Sergeant Richter and the crew were a last minute mixture of men from the two squadrons. This was fairly unusual, but I cannot see why it would have made any difference to events:

takoff

As JB670 climbed away from the runway, LM332 came out of the clouds and there was a head-on collision, more or less directly over the village of Ulceby. As you might expect, nobody survived and the lives of fourteen young men came to a very abrupt end. Certainly, it would have been so quick that many of the crew may well have known very little about it. Wreckage was littered everywhere:

piy

Nowadays a plaque has been set up at the site of the War Memorial, remembering all fourteen men:

Plaque_at_Ulceby_War_Memorial

On board the Lancaster JB670, PM-unknown, of 103 Squadron, the pilot was Flight Sergeant Valentine “Val” Richter, aged 22, of Chingford, Essex. He was a member of 576 Squadron.
The Flight Engineer was Sergeant Frederick Stanley Copping, aged 21, of Walthamstow, Essex. The navigator was Flying Officer Charles Reginald Jaques, aged 30, of Winterton, Lincolnshire, also a member of 576 Squadron.
The Bomb Aimer was Flight Sergeant Thomas Leslie Hobson Kay of the RAAF, aged 22, and from Redhead, New South Wales, Australia.

The Wireless Operator was Sergeant Peter Coopman. He was aged 21, and came from Cropthorne, Worcestershire.
Sergeant Cyril Walter Plampton was one of the two gunners. He was a member of 576 Squadron.

The other gunner was Sergeant Francis Andrew Furrie.  Young Sergeant Furrie was taken back to Scotland, to be interred in the New Stevenston (St Patrick’s) Roman Catholic Cemetery in Glasgow:

glasgow

He was the only member of the crew not to be buried in Cambridge City Cemetery:

cambrigde vity cem

For the Avro Lancaster III, LM332, UL-B2 of 576 Squadron, the pilot was Flight Sergeant Frederick Roy Scott of the RAAF. He was 24 years of age and came from Cabramatta, New South Wales, Australia. Here are the shops in Cabramatta nowadays:

Cabramatta_shops
The navigator was Sergeant George Gordon Critchley. Apparently his father was a miner in St Helens in Lancashire. The family lived in a tiny terraced house but both sons, George and his brother Harold won scholarships to a Catholic Grammar School called De La Salle in the West Park area of the town. It was run by the Jesuits, and allowed Gordon to avoid the coal mine like his father, in favour of the much cushier Civil Service in London.
The Flight Engineer was Sergeant Stanley Victor Cull. He was aged only 18 and was possibly the youngest casualty in Bomber Command in 1943. He came from Windsor in Berkshire.
The Wireless Operator was Sergeant John Hamilton Caldwell . He was 21 years of age and came from Glasgow.
The Bombaimer was Flight Sergeant Peter Martin Crowle Ellis. He was the beloved son of the Reverend Crowle Ellis, B.A. and Mrs Crowle Ellis, of The Rectory, Northfield in Birmingham.
One of the gunners was Flight Sergeant Brian Price Wicks of the RAAF.

images7I5GV8Z5

Brian was only 20 years of age and came from Highgate in South Australia. He was a clerk before he joined up.
The other gunner was Sergeant Joseph William Ross. He was also only 20 years of age and came from Westminster in London.

On the website which has supplied a good deal of the information I have used for this article, the collision is actually described by an eye witness, Marie Harris. Here is a very much abridged version of her words. I would strongly urge you to follow the link and read the full story for yourself. There are also a number of photographs of crewmembers on the site. They will give you a good idea of just how young these men were when they lost their lives so tragically:

I was a driver at Goxhill Haven in 1943. Most of the RAF were Air Crew and you would dance with one or two, and have a great night. Next evening you would ask “where’s Alec, Bob and Bill?” A shrug of the shoulders and you knew and felt very sad.

As I drove around you would see the Bombers going off and up into the clouds and away, up into one circle, two circles and third circle away on their mission.

Around 4.30 I was driving past a farm, it was very low cloud and the Lancasters were taking off into the circles, up and away. They were so low and so near.

One went into this low cloud and I was thinking it’s a wonder they don’t crash they are so close together, when in a split second as it came out of the cloud, God, it was a head on crash with another Lancaster, one almighty explosion and all Hell was let loose. It was awful, I couldn’t believe what had happened practically over my head, just over the farmer’s field. I was so stunned, streaks of fire shooting all over the road. In no time at all the fire engines were arriving. I still couldn’t believe what had happened. I pulled up at the Guard House. I was rooted to my seat and couldn’t stop crying, thinking of the Bobs, Alecs and Bills just blown to bits. It was awful and still is.
They took me into the Mess and gave me a cup of hot strong tea
When I went to bed I couldn’t shut my eyes, this terrific explosion flashed before me every time. I was like this for quite a few nights. I can’t bear even to this day to watch a film with planes crashing. I shut my eyes or go out of the cinema.

Driver Marie Harris W/44133 ATS.

This raid on Berlin seems to have been a complete disaster. My own researches show that, unless I have made some grotesque error in my counting, around 58 Lancasters were destroyed and not far short of 300 young aircrew were killed.

A total of 483 Lancasters had set off for Berlin along with 15 Mosquitoes. Some 25 Lancasters were destroyed during the raid itself as they overflew the target, attacked by anti-aircraft fire and night fighters.

On the return journey to England, a minimum of 29 Lancasters were destroyed between Berlin and home:

Avro_Lancaster_B_Mk_II_ExCC

Some of this was down to the persistent German night fighters, but the greatest problems seem to have come when the  bombers all arrived back at their respective bases. That very same low cloud which had caused the collision at Elsham Wolds was still there. It had not dissipated at all since the bombers had taken off at the beginning of the night, with catastrophic results for many aircraft:

CrashedLanc

There is a slight difference in overall totals which I cannot readily explain, other than some aircraft may have crashed in England and then been repairable. Whatever the explanation, that is still a lot of young men to lose in just one cloud covered night.

One final word. All of the websites I have used can be reached through the links above. I could not have produced this article, however, without recourse to the superb books by W.R.Chorley. Their detail is almost unbelievable and I would urge anyone interested by the bomber war to think seriously of purchasing at least one of them. The books bring home just how many young men were killed in Bomber Command during the Second World War. When the first book of the series arrived, my daughter thought it contained all the casualties for the whole war, but, alas, it was just 1944.

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