Date: 18/19 April 1944
Unit: No. 625 Squadron - Motto: We Avenge
Squadron Badge: Within a circular chain of seven links, a Lancaster rose; The Lancaster rose stands for the aircraft used, the seven links the number of personnel in one such aircraft
Type: Lancaster I
Base: R.A.F. Kelstern, Lincolnshire
Location: R.A.F. Kelstern
Pilot: P/O Joseph Patrick Cosgrove J85244 RCAF Age 24 Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt Alfred Bennett 1149235 RAFVR Age 26 Killed (2)
Nav: F/Sgt Richard Arthur Mercer 1320448 RAFVR Age 20 Killed (3)
Air/Bmr: Sgt Geoffrey Eugene Jeeves 1390404 RAFVR Age 21 Killed (4)
W/Op/Gnr: Sgt. Cyril Williams 1396380 RAFVR Age 31 Killed (5)
Air/Gnr: Sgt Charles John Page 1869699 RAFVR Age 22 Killed (6)
Air/Gnr: Sgt David Henry ‘Porky’ Beechey 1606782 RAFVR Age 19 Killed (7)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
For reasons unknown, WO. Cosgrove and his crew arrived at RAF Kelstern on 12 March 1944 from disjointed sources: W/O Cosgrove and Sgt. Jeeves from 11 Base and F/Sgt. Mercer, Sgt. Williams, Sgt. Page and Sgt. Beechey from 1656 HCU. It is possible that an astute instructor realized that his crew had some skills to hone before facing the grim tests of operations.
F/L R.W.H. Gray and his crew would introduce W/O Cosgrove to the baptism of fire as ‘second dickie’, during an uneventful trip to Stuttgart on 15 March 1944. F/L Gray and his crew would fail to return from the raid on Mailly-le-Camp of 3 May 1944. (See archive report for ME697)
The Battle Order for 18 March 1944 would detail W/O Cosgrove and crew to attack Frankfurt. Sgt. Whyman would serve as the flight engineer for this uneventful mission.
On 22 March 1944, the same crew, with Sgt. J.H. Burke in the engineer’s seat, shared a repeat experience to Frankfurt.
W/O Cosgrove and crew with Sgt. A. Bennett as flight engineer would pay their only visit to the Big City, on 24 March 1944. The crew was now complete and began to gel to complete their tour of ops.
26 March 1944 saw them return unscathed from a raid on Essen.
W/O Cosgrove and crew had the fortune of returning from the 30 March 1944 Nuremberg fiasco intact. The Squadron ORB records the following:
NUREMBERG: Target bombed at 0125 hours from a height of 22,000 feet in 10/10ths cloud. The attack was developing into what appeared to be a very successful raid.
The fact that they had to bomb the target through total cloud cover would indicate that they reached the designated target and not Schweinfurt like many others did. (See archive reports for LM513 and W5009)
On 10 April 1944 the crew had a relative milk run to Aulnoye. ORB: AULNOYE. …Nothing outstanding on the trip, but the efforts of the M.C. were helpful
18 April 1944. Operations Record Boook - Summary of Events
13 aircraft were detailed for Operations, the target subsequently being COLOGNE (sic) [ROUEN]. From the reports gathered from the crews, it would appear that the service (sic) at the marshalling yards were greatly affected by this attack by Bomber Command. Lone fires were observed in the target area. One of our aircraft was completing a circuit at Base, when it was attacked by an enemy aircraft, burst into flames, and crashed, all members of the crew perishing.
The weather over the target was fairly good. A normal bomb load was carried.
Operations Record Book - Record of Events
Lancaster III ME743 (sic) P/O J.P. Cosgrove and crew Up - 2216 Down - 0230. ROUEN. The target was as stated but no information was obtained from Captain owing to the fact that this aircraft was attacked by an enemy aircraft over Base, burst into flames and crashed, all the crew being killed.
REASON FOR LOSS
The Bomber Command War Diaries (Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt)
18/19 April 1944 - Rouen
273 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitoes of 1, 3, and 8 Groups. No aircraft lost. Bomber Command claimed a concentrated attack on the railway yards, with much destruction.
It is noteworthy that this entry states that no aircraft were lost. Bomber Command statistics for losses on operations did not include aircraft and crews that crashed on English soil. The theory being that if crew could return to home country then they should be able to land at any airfield. However, this did not take into account fuel starvation, extreme weather, in particular widespread fog and battle damage of such severity that aircraft fell out of the sky or had crash landed on or off an airfield as a last resort. This concept resulted in loss statistics more palatable to the public and Bomber Command air crews. An extreme case of how this slewed the stats was the catastrophic Nuremberg raid of March 30/31, 1944. Total effort for the night: 950 sorties, 96 aircraft (10.1 percent) lost. However, these numbers do not include the aircraft that crashed on take-off (1), crashed or crash-landed in England (9) and written off after battle damage (1). The addition of these losses brings the loss rate up to 11.2 percent.
In preparation for the D-Day landings, Bomber Command also detailed on this date, 561 aircraft to target railway infrastructure in the French cities of Juvisy, Noisy-le-Sec and Tergnier. Despite great damage to the railway facilities, the collateral destruction by area bombing a swath measuring six by three kilometres at Noisy-le-Sec, resulted in 750 houses destroyed, more than 2,000 damaged, 464 French citizens killed and 370 injured! It would take 6 years after war’s end before repairs were completed.
Nachtjagd War Diaries: Volume Two, April 1944 - May 1945
During this raid the Nachtjagd detailed sixteen intruder crews of II./KG51, to attack night fighter bases in support of a heavy German attack on London. In the process they managed to infiltrate returning bomber crews over the UK, accounting for three Lancasters of 115 and 625 Squadrons, all participants of the Rouen raid. The Nachtjagd claimants would all pay the ultimate price within a month, with only one crew increasing their tally by two.
During the war, the Nachtjagd would venture into the hornets' nest in three short, unsuccessful campaigns to catch returning bomber crews unawares. In October 1941 Hitler ordered discontinuation of the long range night fighter operations, just as the crews were gathering experience and their scores were dramatically increasing. This edict involved Nachtjagd operations over bases in Malta, North Africa, Sicily and Crete.
The second campaign was initiated in March 1944, with KG51 based in France, in long-range night intruder operations over England. For the most part these crews were equipped with the Me 410. With meagre claims and devastating losses, this venture did not last long.
Bomber Command was fortunate that the third campaign, that was conceived in December 1943, did not come to fruition until the double pronged attack of March 3/4, 1945 to Kamen and the Dortmund-Ems Canal. General Schmidt, the General der Nachtjagd, had proposed a series of very heavy surprise attacks (600-700 aircraft) on the returning bomber force over their lit bases. He predicted that the loss of 200 bombers would bring Bomber Command to a temporary standstill. Prolonged delays coupled with a grave fuel crisis resulted in Operation Gisela being repeatedly postponed. In the interim, the Allies learned about the attack strategy after the crew member of a Ju88 shot down behind the lines divulged, under interrogation, the plans for Gisela. In addition, the exact details of the attack were intercepted by ULTRA. This gave Bomber Command High Command the opportunity to devise options for aircrew to minimize interceptions. Once a Fernnachtjagd attack was detected, aerodrome control towers would douse their guidance lights and transmit an open broadcast to all arriving aircraft the code word: SCRAM. In response aircrews were expected to extinguish their nav lights and divert to a safe aerodrome.
During the closing hours of March 3, 1945, the Nachtjagd launched three separate waves of aircraft, approximately 80 in total, to intercept the returning bombers over their UK bases. After a low level flight over the North Sea to avoid radar detection, they climbed over the English coast to infiltrate the bomber stream. The Nachtjagd crews in the first wave had no trouble in joining the stream of illuminated bombers and enjoyed initial success until the alarm was raised. However, by the time that the second and third waves arrived on the scene the element of surprise had evaporated and victories plummeted. RAF losses were higher than they should have been as some crews, despite the intruder warning, did not turn off their nav lights before it was too late.
When the dust had settled, the Nachtjagd had lost a total of 19-22 aircraft and crews, seven JU 88s over the UK and twelve to fifteen over Occupied Europe due to a combination of deteriorating weather and fuel starvation. The loss of Hptm. Dreher, St. Kpt. of 12.NJG3 and the crew of JU 88 G6, D5+AX, after a ground strafing run on the outskirts of Elvington and a delayed pull up, terminating at 01.51 with them crashing into a farmhouse—taking the lives of the crew of four and the three farmhouse occupants. It is noteworthy that this would mark the last Luftwaffe aircraft to crash on English soil during WWII.
On the other hand, Bomber Command would lose twenty-three aircraft to the intruders: eleven Halifaxes, nine Lancasters, two Mosquitoes and a B-17. As Theo Boiten noted, the Nachtjagd losses were out of proportion to successes achieved. Never again would the Nachtjagd mount a distant intruder raid of comparable magnitude. '…Gisela’s intended knockout blow had turned out to be the Nachtjagd’s failed swansong.'
In ‘Boys at War’, the mid-upper gunner of 1st Lt Max Dowden’s crew, Sgt. Russell Margerison, would provide a gut wrenching account of the final moments of ME734 and her crew. These two crews had arrived at RAF Kelstern within a day of each other and a friendly rivalry developed between them as to who would be first to return to home Base after an op. This was unusual as most crews tended to keep to themselves, as odds were high that one of them would not survive to celebrate completion of their thirty op tour. W/O Cosgrove tended to have the magic formula to be first to enter the circuit:
'Relieved to be out of it all we flew across the North Sea calling up ‘Peak Frean,’ our base call sign before we hit friendly shores, for it had now developed into a race as to who would get back first, and never yet had we beaten Cosgrove and his crew. The earlier the call was received—the earlier an aircraft joined the circuit. We were the third to touch down–Cosgrove the first, after having been airborne 6 hours 45 minutes.
"I’ll get down before that Limey one of these nights." vowed Max. His forecast dramatically came true a few weeks later.
On returning from leave we were immediately faced with a Cologne (sic) raid…
The race was on to get down first but once again Cosgrove pipped us in contacting base.
"Just how the hell does that guy do it?" drawled a puzzled Max, for it had now become a personal thing, much to our amusement.
On this beautifully clear night we were flying downwind at some 400 feet, parallel to the welcoming lane of runway lights as S Sugar (sic), containing Cosgrove’s jubilant crew, banked slightly in the funnel lights on her landing approach. With wheels and flaps down she was almost there, then to my utter amazement a pair of navigation lights appeared directly behind Sugar (sic)
I pointlessly shouted into my switched-off intercom, "Look out, look…"
My involuntary warning was never finished, for streams of cannon shells were being pumped into the Lanc from a terrifyingly close range. Red and white sparks danced along the fuselage, the machine shuddered violently, like a dog which had just emerged from water, and in she went, with feeble flames never having the chance to envelop her. No explosion occurred. It was all over in seconds. Frighteningly final.
"Intruders, intruders," screamed the WAAF controller as all lights were doused, but not before I saw what I believed to be a twin-engined [sic] Ju 88, with its undercarriage moving upwards, tearing above the Kelstern runway.
Nothing could be more disconcerting for a crew about to land, after a tiring trip, than to find oneself once again in darkness—the friendly lights having disappeared leaving a void of inky blackness in which lurked a night fighter. But this was as nothing compared to the loss of P/O J.P. Cosgrove and crew so dramatically. He would never be first again. It was a terrible personal loss of our friends. Had they just been missing it would have been acceptable, but to see them perish without a chance forever left its mark.
After a lapse of five minutes, which we spent orbiting the 'drome, all lights reappeared and in went Y Yorker for a normal landing, carrying a very quiet and subdued crew. To us at the time it all seemed so unfair. If a crew had managed to cope with the hell over enemy territory surely they should be left alone to enjoy the haven of England. We compared it with a chap being machine-gunned in mid-air whilst falling by parachute. But this was war and our Mosquitoes were performing the same type of operations successfully over the German airfields. This was undoubtedly the most demoralizing experience of our career.
The following morning we learned that the aircraft buried itself deeply in the ground and the bodies had had to be dug out. P/O Cosgrove had been decapitated and Porky in the tail had been hit by no fewer than 32 cannon shells. The only consolation was that the whole crew had perished instantaneously…
In the afternoon we were ordered to fly to an aerodrome which was used mainly for emergencies in order to pick up a 625 squadron crew which had force-landed there. The name of the ‘drome eludes me but it was a visit we could have well done without making. Wrecked aircraft littered the whole field. Pieces dangled from them, turrets of some had simply been shot off. Other aircraft were peppered with holes of various sizes—some large enough for a man to walk through. Some appeared to have no undercarriages at all. How many of them ever got home was nothing short of a miracle. I had no desire to know the casualty rate on this emergency landing strip—and these machines were never counted as ‘Missing’.'
Theo Boiten has provided the most current information on the loss of Lancaster ME734
I have the following claimant/claims details:
Lt. Wolfgang Wenning: 2 Stab II./KG51 Halifax NW Hull 03.47 625 Sqn Lancaster ME734
Details taken from the unit war diary & official OKL/RLM Abschüsse microfilm records.
Wenning was Killed on 26/27 April 1944 in collision with Oxford LX196 of 18 (P) AFU in circuit of Church Lawford airfield.
Full details presented in the NCA 1944 Vol 2 (published by Wingleader in March 2020), and in upcoming Nachtjagd biographies volume in the NCA series, due to be published in late 2021.
Theo Boiten and Rod MacKenzie are in the process of publishing the expanded Nachtjagd Combat Archive (NCA), with a projected completion date of late 2021 to early 2022, comprising fifteen volumes. This includes two additional volumes on the Med and Eastern Front Nachtjagd.
This lifelong mega-project is eagerly anticipated by historical aviation enthusiasts. The Trojan task of expanding the two volume Nachtjagd War Diaries into the fifteen volumes of the Nachtjagd Combat Archives has been monumental and painstaking, their research diligent and unbiased. They have both been most gracious with their time and energy in responding to our numerous queries in researching loss causes of numerous 625 Squadron Lancs and their crews.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) P/O Joseph Patrick Cosgrove was born on 13 March 1920 at Montreal River, Ontario, Canada, a remote community on the eastern shore of Lake Superior. His parents were Edward Thomas and Jemima Cosgrove. He received his formative education at Montreal River Public School and completed a four year correspondence course from the British Institute of Engineering Technology, including High Speed Diesel Engines, Practical and Applied Mathematics and Physical Heat Thermodynamics. He had been employed as a labourer and at the time of attestation, a silver mine millwright. His recreational activities included softball, skating, skiing, hockey and badminton. His letter of reference noted that ‘Paddy’ was industrious, painstaking, of good appearance and cheerful disposition. He spent many winter evenings of study on a correspondence course in engineering. The standard of his work has been excellent at all times and we found him to be a diligent and conscientious student.
His physical description included height 5’ 9”, weight 155 lb., dark complexion, green eyes and black hair. His photograph hints at an impish demeanour and a zest for life.
During his attestation on 26 May 1941 he added the information - 'I have always had the desire to become a pilot.' However on the RCAF Interview Report, his request for pilot/observer training was crossed out in red ink with the capital red notation: WAG. Despite this notation he was given the opportunity to train as a pilot and obviously must have impressed his flying instructor being awarded his Pilot’s Flying Badge on 11 September 1942. His training progressed relentlessly from Manning Depot in Toronto on 24 September 1941, through I.T.S. (Toronto), 20 E.F.T.D. (Oshawa), 3 S.F.T.S. (Calgary) and 3 AOS (Regina and Pearce). On 23 March 1943 he arrived at 1Y Depot Halifax and finally at 1Y RAF trainees pool 22 June 1943.
His RCAF Report on Pupil Pilot regarding his flying and ground training included the following assessments: Average in ground subjects. High average pilot. Average student in G.I.S. Is tenacious and hard working.
In the process he was awarded the following promotions: AC2 24 September 1941, LAC 13 February 1942, Sgt. 11 September 1942 , A/Flt. Sgt. 11 March 1943 , T/WO2 11 September 1943 and later P/O 4 March 1944.
(2) Sgt Alfred Bennett was born on 25 July 1917 at Govanhill Glasgow Scotland the son of William Bennett and Isabelle Bennett nee McCulloch of Holloway, London. He had four siblings: Alice Margaret Bennett (1919-1999), Frederick J Bennett born 1921, Victor W Bennett born 1928 and John Bennett (1932-2012)
IN 1939 the family lived at 37 Brickmaster Homes, Islington. William Bennet at that time was a Scrap Iron Dealer
He was married to Florence Bennett (maiden name unknown)
He is commemorated on the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle.
(3) F/Sgt Richard Arthur Mercer was born on 2 May 1923 at Wandsworth, London the only child of Percy William Mercer (a Financial Correspondent) and Ethel Maud Mercer nee Richards, later of Tooting, Surrey.
In 1939 the family lived at 20 Manville Road, Wandsworth, London
(4) Sgt Geoffrey Eugene Jeeves was born in 1923 at Hammersmith the only child of Edgar Vernon George (an RASC Store Clerk) and Maud Mary Jeeves nee Dickins
In 1939 the family lived at 162 Cardington Square, Hounslow, London
(5) Sgt Cyril Williams was born on 18th October 1912. He was the 3rd child of Charles Edwin and Ann(i)e Lavinia (nee Doe) Williams. Like his brother and 2 sisters, he was born in St Ives, Cornwall where his father was a Butler.
In 1916 Cyril's father Charles joined the Machine Gun corps and served in France. During this time the family lived at Elm Cottage, Trelyon, St Ives. After the war a 4th child was added to the family making the family complete. The eldest child was Nora Barker Williams born 20 September 1907, followed by Edwin Charles Williams born 15 March 1909, Cyril Williams in 1912 and finally Joyce V. Williams born 14 February 1920.
Charles and Ann(i)e came originally from Bethnal Green and Dunmow, Essex respectively and between the wars they moved the family back to London. By 1939 they were living in Kestrel Avenue, Herne Hill. Nora and Edwin were both married by this time and Nora's husband Albert E Robinson was also living with the family. Charles and Edwin were Private Servants, Cyril was an Accounting Machine Assembler working with his brother in law who was an Accounting Machine Mechanic and Joyce was a Shorthand Typist.
After Cyril joined the RAF the family moved to Lennard Avenue, West Wickham, Kent. Kestrel Avenue had received a direct hit from a bomb so perhaps this forced the family to relocate. Joyce married Arthur H. Jones in 1941 in Prescot, Lancs.
After Cyril's tragic death in April 1944 he was laid to rest in St John's churchyard, West Wickham. His father Charles died in 1947 and his mother Ann(i)e remained living with Nora and Albert and their family in Lennard Avenue. Albert died in 1963, Ann(i)e in 1968 and Nora in 1971. Albert, Nora and Ann(i)e are also buried in St John's churchyard.
(Details kindly researched for Aircrew Remembered by Jackie Barter)
(6) Sgt. Charles John Page was born on 16 August 1921 at West Ham London the son of Charles Page (a Docker) and Frances C. Page nee Kenealy. He had three siblings: James E. Page born 1922, Lily J. Page born 1923 and Rosina F. L. Page born 1928
He married Doris Lilian Page at Plymouth in 1940 and later of Stepney, London.
In 1939 the family lived at 24 Waterbeach Road, Barking, London at which time Charles John Page was a Labourer in a Sugar Refinery.
(7) Sgt. David Henry Beechey was born on 20 October 1924 at Wycombe, Buckinghamshire the son of William Henry Beechey (a Commercial Traveller) and Amy Ellen Beechey nee Davies later of Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire. He had four siblings: Amy Emily Beechey born 1908, Winifred Ethel Beechey born 1910, William Edmond Beechey (1920-2000) and Kitty D. Beechey born 1922.
In 1939 the family lived at High Street Wycombe Buckinghamshire.
(1) P/O Joseph Patrick Cosgrove was buried at Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery, North Riding of Yorkshire - Grave ref: Sec. B. Row A. Grave 14.
His epitaph reads:
God bless our son
(2) Sgt Alfred Bennett was cremated at the Islington Cemetery and Crematorium, London - Grave ref: Sec. Z. Grave 17526 (Screen Wall. Panel 1).
(3) F/Sgt Richard Arthur Mercer buried in Cambridge City Cemetery - Grave 14561.
His epitaph reads:
He had so much to live for;
He gave all
(4) Sgt Geoffrey Eugene Jeeves was buried in Heston (St. Leonard) Churchyard, Hounslow, London - Grave ref: Old Ground 26N.
The inscription reads
Also his mother
Maud Mary Jeeves
Died 22nd June 1940 Age 51
(5) Sgt Cyril Williams was buried in West Wickham (St. John the Baptist) Churchyard, London - Grave 4.
His epitaph reads:
The battle won.
And God shall wipe away
All tears from their eyes
(6) Sgt Charles John Page was buried at Barking (Rippleside) Cemetery, London - Grave ref: Section Q. Grave 1005.
His epitaph reads:
And ever loving memory
Of my darling husband
(7) Sgt David Henry Beechey was buried at Louth Cemetery, Lincolnshire - Grave reference: Compt. 171. Grave 155.
His epitaph reads:
Sadly we leave him
With his comrades,
(1) P/O Joseph Patrick Cosgrove: DFC
(2) Sgt Alfred Bennett: DFM
(3) F/Sgt Richard Arthur Mercer: DFM
(4) Sgt Geoffrey Eugene Jeeves: DFM
(5) Sgt Cyril Williams: DFM
(6) Sgt Charles John Page: DFM
(7) Sgt David Henry Beechey: DFM
The archive reports for ME734 and LM513 would have been mundane and impersonal without the the realistic perspective that I gleaned from the remarkable book by 625 Squadron mid-upper gunner veteran, Russell Margerison, ‘Boys at War’. I am most grateful to the Margerison family and Northway Publications for their permission to transcribe text and copy photos at my discretion.
The events related in ‘Boys at War’ bring into vivid focus the realities of Bomber Command operational flying, especially the manner in which ME734 was dispatched near the boundary of its home Base, witnessed by returning aircrew and waiting ground crew. A subtle hint as to just how mind numbing this event was for the administrative staff was that the Squadron ORB for this op had more than the usual recording errors: ME743, S Sugar, target Cologne and L?894 serial number.
As Sgt. Margerison emphasized this incident was the most demoralizing of his tour. One can only surmise what the impact on Bomber Command operations would have been if the Nachtjagd High Command had put into action their 1943 proposal to carry out random intruder operations of 600-700 night fighters. The irregular loss of 200 returning bombers would have been catastrophic and paralytic. Aircrew morale would have plummeted and Lack of Moral Fibre increased exponentially. Mosquito intruders would be diverted from Nachtjagd bases in an attempt to protect returning bomber crews. What a nightmare!
The tragic loss of P/O Cosgrove and his crew provides evidence of just how quickly the end could come. They were obviously gelling into a competent crew and had the potential to complete their tour. This crew had the unenviable, unique distinction of being the only one of the Squadron’s seventy-four losses to fall to an intruder. So young and many years to live.
It is obvious from the description in ‘Boys at War’ that Paddy Cosgrove was quick of wit and had a zest for life. In the process of researching this report the author encountered an intriguing censorship of his personal effects:
1 book “Readings from the 4 Gospels”
1 cigarette lighter & case
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR NEXT OF KIN.
One can only imagine. JEA
A TRIBUTE TO BOMBER COMMAND, CD by Joe Williams and Nic Lewis
Other Tracks attached to separate archive reports:
Track 1: Lie in the Dark and Listen, attached to archive report - ED377
Track 7: Battle Order, attached to archive report - PB413
Track 10: Lancaster Montage, attached to archive report - LM513
Submission by Jack Albrecht and Nic Lewis.
Boys at War, Russell Margerison and Family, Northway Publications
625 Squadron ORB
The Bomber Command War Diaries, Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt
Nachtjagd War Diaries Volume Two
1. P/O Joseph Patrick Cosgrove: LAC/Ancestry.ca:
J85244, pages 241, 292 and 293- letter on Ancestry
RG24 25111, 625 Squadron Aircrew and Gravesite Photos
and Documents, May 2017
2. BASES OF BOMBER COMMAND, THEN AND NOW: Roger A.
Freeman, After the Battle
3. RAF Kelstern, 2017: Dr. David Baugh
RW 23.05.2020 Cyril Williams bio added courtesy Jackie Barter