Date: 30/31 January 1944 (Sunday/Monday)
Unit: No. 625 Squadron - Motto: We Avenge
Squadron Badge: Within a circular chain of seven links, a Lancaster rose.
Type: Avro Lancaster III
Base: RAF Kelstern, Lincolnshire
Location: Linum (30 miles north-west of Berlin)
Pilot: P/O. Roy Gallop 171215 RAFVR Age 18 - Killed (1)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Stanley John Harrison 1652715 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (2)
Nav: Fl/Sgt. George Arthur Prigg 1338043 RAFVR Age 22 (3)
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Peter Rawlings 1323852 RAFVR Age 23 - Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Patrick Moylan Aus/ 420478 RAAF Age 21 - Killed (5)
Air/Gnr (MU): F/O. Alexander James Normandin J27320 RCAF Age 23 - Killed (6)
Air/Gnr (R): WO. David Walter Thomas Johnson DFC 1013070 RAFVR Age 30 - Killed (7)
REASON FOR LOSS
The demise of JB122 was attributed to a night fighter attack. Theo Boiten provides two possible claimants for this loss:
Ofw. Hans-Joachim Schmidt: 2 1./NJG5 Lancaster 20.15 prob. 44 Sqn Lancaster ND514 or 625 Sqn Lancaster JB122
Fw. Ernst Reitmeyer: 7 3./NJG5 Lancaster 20.15 prob. 44 Sqn Lancaster ND514 or 624 Sqn Lancaster JB122
The pilot of ND514, P/O Norman Joseph Lyford RAAF, age 22, was the sole casualty with this loss, the surviving six crew members becoming POWs for the duration. As survivors, their testimony may provide information to resolve this ambiguity.
In volume one of the Nachtjagd War Diaries, Theo lists three Lancasters shot down in the Berlin area without aircraft identification. Additional information will be provided in the pending publication of the Nachtjagd Combat Archives to be completed with co-author Rod MacKenzie by 2021, in an expanded fifteen volumes.
Sgt. Gallop and crew joined 625 Squadron on 28.11.43 after posting in from 1667 HCU. By deduction his crew at this time was composed of: bomb aimer - Sgt. P. Rawlings, flight engineer - Sgt. F. Rawstron, navigator - Sgt. F.T. Price, wireless operator - F/Sgt. P. Moylan, mid - upper gunner - Sgt. W.G. Jones and rear gunner - Sgt. D.G. Wightman. Their operational stint with 625 Squadron would be brief, tumultuous and meteoric.
On 2 December 1943, Sgt. Gallop made his ‘second dickie’ trip to Berlin with W/O. E.S. Ellis as pilot. It was somewhat unusual as the remainder of the crew was Sgt. Gallop’s regular complement, the sole exception being W/O. Ellis’s regular navigator, Sgt. A.G. Bond. The description of this trip in the Squadron’s ORB (Operations Record Book) would give a vivid account of a most memorable baptism of fire by this rookie crew: Up - 1640, Down - 0014. BERLIN. Target bombed at 20.22 hrs. from a height of 20,000 ft. Several fires were seen. Flak damage on bombing run and after this, enemy fighter shot up Mid-Upper and Rear Turret, both gunners being wounded. Aircraft landed at BARDNEY - no flaps, no tyres, no R/T, no W/T, no fuel. Excellent crew co-operation all round in emergency. Both gunners taken to RAUCEBY Hospital. This op would have a lasting impact on all involved. For his actions under extreme duress, W/O Ellis would be awarded the Squadron’s first of two Conspicuous Gallantry Medals. He would complete his tour of ops with the Squadron, during which time he would mentor a record number of pilots on their ‘second dickie’ initiations. The two wounded gunners would not return to Sgt. Gallop’s crew.
Sgt. Gallop would be detailed to return to Berlin on 16.12.43 with his regular crew and replacement gunners, F/Sgt. H.W. Nixon and F/Sgt. E.A. Steer, in the mid-upper and rear turrets respectively: BERLIN. Task abandoned at 1750 hours. Unable to climb and well behind E.T.A. bombs jettisoned safe.
The Battle Order for 20 December 1943 had Frankfurt as the target detailed for a morphing Gallop crew. ‘Spare bods’ for this op included Sgt. D.A. Carrington as wireless operator, Sgt. E. Gordon as the mid-upper and Sgt. R.A. Dix the rear gunner: A few fires in South side of the target—uneventful trip.
1 January 1944 saw Sgt. Gallop and crew return to the Big City. The ORB gives their description of the unforgiving weather conditions that a crew was expected to locate and bomb a distant target in the dark of night: BERLIN. Target bombed at 03.17 hours from a height of 20,000 feet. Bombed on Sky Markers. Attack appeared to be scattered, cloud was continuous up to target. For this mission F/Sgt. P. Moylan would join up as the wireless operator, Sgt. H.W. Nixon returned to the mid-upper turret and W/O D.W.T. Johnson become their designated rear gunner.
On 2 January 1944 the target was again Berlin but the Gallop crew was not on the Battle Order. However, P/O T.K. Magee and crew, in DV242, were, and would encounter a foe just as deadly as a night fighter or flak: BERLIN. Task abandoned at 01.55 hours, severe icing encountered in an electric storm south of Bremen during which all instruments froze up and the aircraft went into an uncontrolled dive losing height from 19,500 feet to 3,000 feet before control was regained after jettisoning bomb load in dive. Dinghy and Fairings on outer two engines were lost in the dive. Despite these experiences the Pilot made a successful landing at Woodbridge. One can only imagine the intercom chatter during the 16,500 feet dive! (See later: Addendum - Airframe Icing).
Magdeburg was the target detailed on 21 January 1944 for the now Flight Sergeant Gallop and his crew with Sgt. T.W.J. Clarke as flight engineer. Their regular engineer, Sgt. F. Rawston, had succumbed to operational stresses and would not return to this crew. It was an uneventful trip.
On 28 January 1944 they returned to Berlin: A very successful raid with P.F.F. good over the target and with the route markers. Sgt. R.R.W. Clackett would fill the flight engineer slot and Sgt. J.F. Johnson as the mid-upper gunner.
F/Sgt. Gallop with two of his original crew members, bomb aimer- F/Sgt. P. Rawlings and wireless operator - F/Sgt. P. Moylan, was detailed on 30 January 1944 to attack Berlin for their seventh and final op: BERLIN. Failed to return. No news after take-off at 16.52.
Two of the crew were filling in as ‘spare bods’, flight engineer- Sgt. S.J. Harrison and mid-upper gunner- F/O A.J. Normandin. For this raid two of the regular crew of W/O J.D. Owen were volunteered as ‘spare bods’ in two different crews, F/O Normandin, and Sgt. F.B. Magee who would fill in as the bomb aimer for Sgt. W. Ashurst’s crew. Coincidentally, the two crews shared the same bus to their dispersals. As they parted ways they shook hands, wished each other Good Luck and promised to meet for the post op meal. Frank Magee would keep his promise, Al Normandin would not.
The loss of F/O Normandin resulted in Sgt. Nixon moving into the mid-upper turret of W/O Owen’s crew. This would give him a seven week reprieve until he lost his life on 24/25 March 1944 when ND641 was shot down by Oblt. Martin Drewes (http://aircrewremembered.com/owen-john-david.html). Frank Magee was the sole survivor from this crew, being liberated after six months evading capture. Two weeks after the loss of JB122, Sgt. Ashurst and his crew in R5702 would fall victim to a Nachtjagd attack over Denmark. The bomb aimer, F/O H.J. Prosturniak R.C.A.F., would be the sole survivor from this crew, spending the duration as a POW.
It is sobering and ironic that out of these three crews there were just two survivors, both Canadian bomb aimers. This was demonstrative of the absolute unpredictability of the fickle finger of Lady Luck. It also gives insight of the horrendous loss rate that operational Bomber Command aircrew were confronted with, yet expected to return to the fray. In addition, the ability of these young men to maintain their morale in the face of the obvious risks that they faced with each op and the fact that so few surrendered to their demons and refused to fly again—Lack of Moral Fibre (LMF). (http://aircrewremembered.com/clark-norman-arthur-wadham.html).
These three Squadron losses also highlight the importance of crew camaraderie and teamwork symbolized in the seven link gold chain incorporated into the 625 Squadron coat of arms. In the course of the research of the Squadron’s seventy-four losses it has been very apparent that when a tight knit crew was fragmented by the loss a team member due to injury or psychological decompensation, the remaining members would often be lost on a subsequent mission.
The fate of P/O. Gallop and crew is revealed in the Missing Research and Enquiry Unit report of F/Lt. Aptroot on 21 July 1947. The text above answers his query of how an officer was mid-upper gunner in a crew of NCOs.
FROM: No. Section, No. 4 M.R. & E.U., R.A.F. (Germany)
TO: Air Ministry, S.7. Cas., 2, Seville Street, London, S.W.1.
Copies to: C.S. HQ., R.A.A.F., H.Q., R.C.A.F., 4.M.R.E.U., File
Date: 21st July, 1947
Your File or Folder Reference: 1401/5940/P.4.
Your Casualty Enquiry Number: 86 (44-45)
Our reference: 4.M.R.E.U./1111/86/P.4.
Name of Search Officer: F/Lt. F.C. SEILERN (Case written by F/Lt. APTROOT) Target: Berlin
Aircraft type and Serial Number: Lancaster III K.E. 7683
Date Reported Missing: 30/1/44.
Place of Crash, with Map Reference: LINUM N 53/Z 4875
Place of Burial, with Map Reference: LINUM Village Cemetery
AUS/420478 F/Sgt. MOYLAN, P. WOP/AG R.A.A.F. Missing
320643 Sgt. GALLOP, R. Pilot R.A.F. "
1338043 Sgt. PRIGG, C.A.J. Nav. R.A.F. "
1323852 Sgt. RAWLINGS, P. A/B R.A.F. "
J/27320 F/O. NORMANDIN, A.J. M/U/G R.C.A.F. "
1013070 W/O. JOHNSON, D.W.I. R/G R.A.F. "
1652715 Sgt. HARRISON, S.J. F/Eng. R.A.F. "
Result of Investigation and findings:
Lancaster III K.E. 7683 took off from KELSTERN aerodrome at 16:52 hours on 30.1.1944 for an attack on BERLIN. At about 20.00 hours an aircraft was seen to crash at LINUM N 53/X 4875, a German village approximately 30 miles North-West of BERLIN.
Herr A. Kemp one of the inhabitants of LINUM recounts that the aircraft was shot down by a German fighter and exploded in mid-air, the wreckage being scattered over a large area about 1 km west of the village centre. He cannot remember the exact year of this crash but is quite sure it took place on the 30th January, 1943 or 44. The correct date is 1944 a point which can be ascertained from information held in this office and quoted in the next paragraph of this report.
Seven bodies were removed from the wreckage and buried in the local LINUM cemetery. At this burial no Christian rites were reformed neither were any military personnel present to give the Military honours as is the custom in civilized countries. The crosses on the graves give no indication as to the identities of the bodies or correct date of death.
On the 30th October, 1946 a visit was paid to this office by Frau Kate Schleh now residing at 16a, Herderstrasse, Berlin-Charlottenburg, who made the following statement.
“I have seen the grave of English soldiers (airmen) at LINUM near Nauen in the LINUM Cemetery, Neuer Teil (LINUM Cemetery- New section)
One body was burned and found outside the aircraft, the others were smashed.
This took place in 1944.”
This statement settles the exact date thus to be 30th January, 1944.
The exhumation was carried out by Capt. Jones of 56 G.C.U. and was witnessed by F/Lt. SEILERN. This crew is now reburied at Heerstrasse, British War Cemetery, Berlin as follows:-
Plot Row Grave
Body One V H 15
Body Two V H 16
Body Three V H 17
Body Four V H 18
Body Five V H 19
Body Six V H 20
Body Seven V H 21
CONCLUSIONS by F/Lt. APTROOT
Perusal of the above report on an exhumation trip to LINUM N53/Z4875 (Russian Zone) by F/Lt. SEILERN brings out the following points:-
None of the information given by German sources confirms that this crew is definitely that of Lancaster III K.E.7683.
Exhumation of the bodies carried out by 56 G.C.U. gives positive identification of one crew member by his full R.A.F. number and this leaves no doubt that this is indeed this aircraft and crew concerned.
On the body now buried in Plot V, Row H, Grave 21 British Military Cemetery, Heerstrasse, Berlin a garment was found bearing the number 1338043. This body thus is that of 1338043 Sgt. PRIGG, C.A.J. the Navigator.
The only other crew member who can be identified is F/O NORMANDIN who took the rather unusual position in his crew of being the only officer yet not the pilot but an A/G. His identification follows from these two points:
1. All bodies wore O.R.’s shirts except one, who wore P/O braid, I suggest this was actually F/O braid, the two braids can easily be mixed up if there was only one shoulder strap found.
2. A half wing brevet was removed from his battledress before burial, probably as a souvenir. Therefore I submit that J.27320 F/O NORMANDIN A.J. the M/U/G of this crew is now buried in Plot V, Row H, Grave 17.
As the rest of this crew cannot identified I suggest that the cross on F/O NORMANDIN’s and Sgt. PRIGG’s graves be enscribed [sic] with their full service particulars and the other crew members graves marked with a communal cross. If this is acceptable F/O NORMANDIN and Sgt. PRIGG should be reburied in graves 15 and 16 and the rest of the crew under a communal cross in graves 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21.
Edward A. Rowlinson, F/Lt for S/Ldr. Officer Commanding
BERLIN DETACHMENT No. 4 M.R. & E.U. R.A.F.
171215 P/O R. Gallop: Posthumous Commission to Pilot Officer, Conspicuous Gallantry Medal- KIA, see text above and Burial Details.
1652715 Sgt. S.J. Harrison, Distinguished Flying Medal- KIA.
1323852 F/Sgt. P. Rawlings, Distinguished Flying Medal- KIA.
1338043 F/Sgt. G.A.J. Prigg, Distinguished Flying Medal- KIA.
A420478 F/Sgt. P. Moylan, Distinguished Flying Medal- KIA.
J27320 F/O A.J. Normandin, Distinguished Flying Cross- KIA.
1013070 W/O D.W.T. Johnson DFC, Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross- KIA
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Sgt*. Roy Gallop was born on 23 February 1925 at Epping, Essex the son of William G Gallop (a Baker) and Louisa J Gallop nee Pickett. He had three siblings: William L. C. Gallop born 1915, George P. Gallop born 1919 and Joan L.Gallop born 1926.
In 1939 the family lived at 55 Station Road, Chingford, Essex
Prior to joining the air force Roy Gallop worked as a roundsman for the family bakery business and at the time of enlisting in the Royal Air Force, Roy might have been as young as sixteen years of age - too young to serve and die for his country!
His pilot training was completed in the United States, Class 42J, with basic training at Cochran Field, Macon, Georgia and Advanced at Napier Field, Dothan, Alabama on 10 November 1942 (aged seventeen and a half years!). At the time of his death he was three weeks short of his nineteenth birthday. To the best of our knowledge he was No. 625 Squadron's youngest pilot or crew member to make the ultimate sacrifice. It is noteworthy that during his brief time with No. 625 Squadron he rose in rank from Sergeant to Pilot Officer, the later awarded posthumously
*Information provided by CWGC administration notes that in 2012 the family of Roy Gallop provided reasons to have his rank indicated as Flight Sergeant rather than Pilot Officer. The rank that appears on the CWGC site (Registration, Concentration and Headstone) remains that of Pilot Officer. It is also significant that his promotion to commissioned rank is recorded in the No. 625 Squadron Operations Record Book for February 1944 and the London Gazette, effective January 30 1944. A photo of the amended headstone installed in 2016, provided by CWGC, is included with this submission. J. E. Albrecht
(2) Sgt. Stanley John Harrison was born on 5 January 1923 at Bridgend Glamorgan the son of John George Harrison (a Coal Miner) and Eleanor Harrison nee Carr. He had two siblings; Sheila Harrison born 1927 and Rhona Harrison born 1932
Prior to joining the air force Stanley was a Grocery's Warehouse/Shop Apprentice
In 1939 the family lived at 102A Nolton Street, Bridgend, Wales
(3) Fl/Sgt. George Arthur J. Prigg was born in 1923 at Honiton, Devon the only child of George Bernard Prigg (a Master Plumber) and Mabel Florence Prigg nee Hawker.
In 1939 the family lived at 24 Paternoster Row, Ottery St. Mary, Devon
On 15 March 1943 George Prigg married Phyllis M. Collins at Escot Parish Church Honiton, Devon
He was a popular organist and master of the choristers of Exeter Cathedral. Arthur Prigg - a popular and talented young man, news of his death came as a great shock to the town.
(4) Fl/Sgt. Peter Rawlings was born c 1920.
Adopted son of Tom Blackwell Rawlings, and of Susan Rawlings, of Willesden, Middlesex.
(5) Fl/Sgt. Patrick Moylan was born on 28 January 1923 at Gunnedah, New South Wales, Australia the son of Hugh John Moylan (a Grazier) and Doris Elizabeth Moylan, later of Moss Vale, New South Wales, Australia.
Prior to enlisting in the RAAF Patrick Moylan was a Clerk
He is commemorated on the Boggabri War memorial New South Wales and Panel 127 of the Australian War Memorial at Canberra
(6) F/O. Alexander James Normandin was born on 10 February 1920 at Sherbrooke, Province of Quebec, Canada the son of Arthur and Annie Normandin; husband of Estelle Normandin, of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
(7) WO. David Walter Thomas Johnson DFC was born on 18 April 1913 at Newport Monmouthshire the son of Walter Thomas Johnson (a Mason) and Mary Maud Johnson nee Davies of Rumney, Cardiff. He had two siblings, Beatrice M. Johnson born 1916 and Muriel S. Johnson born 1919. Prior to enlisting in the air force David Johnson was an Insurance Agent.
In 1939 the family lived at 61 Seymour Street, Cardiff, Wales.
WO. David Johnson served a tour of operations in North Africa, flying with No. 38 and No. 40 Squadrons. His DFC was promulgated in the London Gazette on 21 December 1945 with effect from 29 January 1944. There was no specific citation and this was presumably awarded in recognition of his length of operational flying service.
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
(1) P/O. Roy Gallop was originally buried at Linum Cemetery and re-interred on 15 May 1947 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Collective Grave 5.H.17-21
(2) Sgt. Stanley John Harrison was originally buried at Linum Cemetery and re-interred on 15 May 1947 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Collective Grave 5.H.17-21
His epitaph reads:
We often sit and wonder why
Are always first to die
(3) Fl/Sgt. George Arthur Prigg was originally buried at Linum Cemetery and re-interred on 15 May 1947 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Grave 5.H.16
(4) Fl/Sgt. Peter Rawlings was originally buried at Linum Cemetery and re-interred on 15 May 1947 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Collective Grave 5.H.17-21
His epitaph reads:
Loved dearly in life
And living yet
In the hearts of those
Who never forget
(5) Fl/Sgt. Patrick Moylan was originally buried at Linum Cemetery and re-interred on 15 May 1947 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Collective Grave 5.H.17-21
His epitaph reads
Of Mr & Mrs. H. J. Moylan
Of Moss Vale, N.S.W.
(6) F/O. Alexander James Normandin was originally buried at Linum Cemetery and re-interred on 15 May 1947 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Grave 5.H.15
His epitaph reads:
"For to me, to live is Christ
And to die is gain"
(7) WO. David Walter Thomas Johnson DFC was originally buried at Linum Cemetery and re-interred on 15 May 1947 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Collective Grave 5.H.17-21
His epitaph reads:
In loving memory
Of a dear son and brother
Mother, Beatrice, Muriel, Reg.
(Note: Reg in the above epitaph refers to Reginald Charles, David's brother in law and husband of his sister Beatrice).
625 Squadron ORB.
Library and Archives Canada/ancesty.ca. John Proctor - research notes.
Frank Magee - personal interviews.
Photo Credits: John Proctor- P/O R. Gallop, F/Sgt. G.A.J. Prigg, F/Sgt. P. Moylan and W/O D.W.T. Johnson. Library and Archives Canada/ancestry.ca - 625 Squadron Aircrew and Gravesite Photos and Documents, F/O Alexander James Normandin, R164107/J27320, p.384 on Ancestry RG 24 28343. Jack Albrecht - Lots of mud, Kelstern and crew of ND641 with F/O A.J. Normandin.
Reg Price DFC, 625 Squadron vet who participated in this raid as the Pilot/ Captain of Lancaster III ND407— ORB: BERLIN. Task abandoned, owing to 6 lb. boost surge on all four engines in “S” gears. Methods were resorted to with a view to rectifying this surge, but with no success.
Submission by John Proctor, Jack Albrecht and Nic Lewis.
ADDENDUM: AIRFRAME ICING
Several factors came into play that enabled P/O Magee to extricate himself and his crew from this predicament: his quick thinking to jettison the bomb load in the dive, the fact that he had over 13,000 feet to recover and fortuitously that he was at the controls of a Lancaster. DV242 did sustain some minor structural damage but not suffer a fatal breakup.
Airframe icing is usually encountered in cloud when an aircraft comes in contact with supercooled water droplets that freeze on contact with an aircraft’s surface. The rate of ice accumulation can vary from slow to extremely rapid. The latter occurring in cumulonimbus clouds (thunderstorms) or freezing rain. The build-up of ice can significantly upset the aerodynamics and stability of an aircraft’s flight characteristics.
In stabilized level flight there is equilibrium between two pairs of opposing forces: lift and weight, thrust and drag.
Air frame icing has the potential to negatively impact all four forces simultaneously. Ice on the wings disturbs the laminar flow that creates lift, increasing the stall speed. Increase in weight and drag are obvious with increase in mass and turbulence. Thrust will be affected as air intake for combustion is obstructed.
Once icing conditions are encountered it is critical that remedial measures are taken before the aircraft becomes an uncontrollable ice cube—the urgency depending on the rapidity of build-up. Most critical is to exit the local conditions that caused the problem, by climbing, descending or course reversal, lighten the load by jettisoning bombs or fuel and maintain control with fingers crossed that the weight and balance have the centre of gravity within limits. The worst case scenarios would be to stall the aircraft with a Centre of Gravity" aft of limits, resulting in an unrecoverable flat spin or overstressed airframe and inflight break-up.
During the Bomber Command campaign, one raid would go down in the annals as the night of ice and it would take a devastating toll on the R.C.A.F. crews of Group 6, in particular Squadrons 420, 425 and 426. For five crews, possibly seven, the March 5/6 1945 raid on Chemnitz would bring an abrupt end to their operational tours before they had cleared the English coast.
The met briefing for all Group 6 squadrons was not particularly ominous: seven-tenths to ten-tenths stratocumulus from 1,000 to 3,000 feet and altocumulus from 8,000 to 9,000 feet. Likelihood of icing was moderate and no embedded surprises, such as cumulonimbi (CBs - thunderstorms), with their risk of severe icing or structure popping up and down drafts. It would not take long to prove that this forecast underestimated the cloud thickness, risk of icing and that in this part of the sky, lurking, embedded cumulus or CBs had developed.
Loss No. 1
The first indication that something was amiss came at Tholthorpe, the Base for 420 Squadron. F/O Earl Clark lifted off the runway at 16.28 hrs in Halifax NA184, PT-W. Within minutes they entered icing conditions. Wireless operator, F/Sgt. Robert Arnold, recounted their brief flight:
“On the climb up we broke cloud and I saw the sun shining for a few seconds and then we were into cloud again which seemed to be similar to the cloud we had climbed through. Shortly after entering this cloud the captain said the aircraft was icing up and I looked out and saw ice on the propeller hubs and the air intakes, it was clear ice. A few seconds later the ice appeared to be building up rapidly and I heard banging noises which I took to be either large lumps of ice breaking off the propellers or the engines backfiring. The aircraft was shuddering and did not seem to be gathering any more height. The captain gave the order, ‘Prepare to abandon aircraft’, so I immediately left my seat and put on my parachute. The aircraft was now shuddering violently and by this time the front hatch was open and the navigator (F/O Bert Freed) was himself baling out. I followed him out and my parachute opened satisfactorily and I made a good landing in a ploughed field”
Mid-upper gunner, W/O Harold O’Conner, was the last to escape NA184 before she slipped into a centrifugal pinning spin:
“The captain gave the order, ‘Prepare to abandon aircraft.’ I left the turret and put on my parachute and during this time the captain said ‘Hurry’ and asked if everyone was OK. I answered ‘Mid-upper gunner OK, Skipper’. As I turned to approach the rear hatch I was thrown to the floor of the aircraft beside the mid-upper turret and had difficulty in moving. I tried to force myself along the floor towards the escape hatch but found it impossible due to the pressure forcing me down. During this time I heard a rasping, roaring sound followed by what sounded like an explosion. The next thing I remember was dropping in mid-air. I pulled my parachute ripcord. Before my parachute opened I saw pieces of the aircraft falling above me. I made a good landing in a farmyard.”
It was 1650 hrs when S/Ldr. Leonard Scott, senior flying control officer at Dishforth, witnessed the demise of NA184 as he looked westward from the control tower. As he observed aircraft debris rain from a 3,000 foot cloud base, he was amazed to see three fragments morph into parachute canopies. The remainder fell to the ground, scattered over a wide area. The flight time of twenty-two minutes and described rapid build-up indicates that icing conditions were severe.
For further details see aircrewremembered.com/clark-earl-william-1.html
Loss No. 2
F/O Humphrey Watts and his crew took off from their 426 Squadron Base at Linton on Ouse in Halifax NP793, OW-H at 16.42 hrs. Farmer, William Strickland, was standing in his yard when he heard an overhead aircraft “making a peculiar noise”. At 17.00 he observed an aircraft descend from the cloud base in a spin over Westfield Lodge Farm, Hutton-le-Hole, near Pickering.
“The aircraft was in a flat spin to the right, spinning fairly slowly. As the aircraft lost height the speed of the spin increased and the nose dropped and it struck the ground at an angle of about 45 degrees. On impact the aircraft burst into flames. The bombs exploded about five minutes after the aircraft crashed, about 300 yards from where I was standing.” There were no survivors. With the exception of the flight engineer this crew was Canadian.
The initial investigation of this accident stated the cause as unknown. Flight duration was eighteen minutes. Taking into account the circumstances of similar losses in the vicinity, the most probable cause for this loss was severe icing.
For further details see aircrewremembered.com/watts-humphrey-stanley.html
Losses Nos. 3 & 4
At 17.02 wreckage from a mid-air collision between two Halifaxes from 425 Squadron, Tholthorpe and 426 Squadron, Linton on Ouse fell to the south side of the River Ouse near the airbase. P/O Mark Anderson and crew in 425 Sqn. Halifax MZ845 KW-J, lost their lives with the exception of R177985 F/Sgt. A.J. DeCruyenaere. His testimony supported the possibility of an air collision when he stated that he thought he heard a loud crash before he fell out of the aircraft. S/Ldr. Eric Garrett and crew departed their base at 16.48 in Halifax PN228, OW-A, flight time fifteen minutes. There were no survivors from this crew, all Canadians with the exception of the flight engineer, Sgt. E.S. Jerome RAFVR. P/O Anderson departed Tholthorpe at 16.47, flight time fourteen minutes. There is no doubt that these two aircraft collided. Without a surviving witness from PN228 it is impossible to know if this aircraft was descending out of control due to severe icing. The worst was yet to come.
For further details of Halifax MZ845 (loss 3) see aircrewremembered.com/anderson-mark-sylvester-harold.html
For further details of Halifax PN228 (loss 4) see aircrewremembered.com/garrett-eric-thomas.html
Loss No. 5
F/Lt. Ivor Emerson was a seasoned captain with over 2,400 logged hours and was the Deputy Flight Commander of ‘B’ Flight 426 Squadron. His encounter with the elements would give some indication of the icing conditions that afternoon. F/Lt. Iverson and crew departed Linton on Ouse in Halifax LW210, OW-Y, at 16.39 hrs. In the climb out, the pilot and navigator noted that the cloud was thicker than expected. His wireless operator, P/O John Low recounts the progress of their flight:
“The captain said it was 9,400 feet. The navigator gave him a course to fly and the captain said it looked thick in that direction. The aircraft was still in cloud. I could see heavy ice forming on my window.
The aircraft started to yaw and I got the impression that alternate wings were dropping. I switched on my intercom and heard the Captain give the order to bale out. The movements of the aircraft were now more violent but I had no difficulty in putting on my parachute. At this time I saw the air bomber (F/O Thomas Campbell) go forward to get his parachute and the navigator opened the front escape hatch and was on the point of putting on his parachute when I baled out. I do not know the altitude of the aircraft when I left it or the height at which I baled out... I pulled the ripcord of my parachute, but it did not open and it was necessary to open the pack by hand. On the way down I saw the aircraft burning on the ground. I landed on my back on a wall about 40 yards from the crash in a built up area of York and was knocked unconscious.” He landed in the Nunthorpe Grove housing estate in York.
F/O William Mountjoy, a Group 6 flying control officer, witnessed the demise of LW210. At 17.00 he heard the sound of ‘roaring engines’ and several seconds later observed a Halifax descend from the 1500ft cloud base in a vertical spin. The tail unit separated and one of the wings began to disintegrate. The aircraft disappeared behind houses, a column of smoke erupted and three minutes later there was a small explosion.
W/Cdr Thomas Grove, Deputy Provost Marshall of York, witnessed the crash of LW210 into his city and was quick to respond:
“I found that the aircraft had crashed on two houses and several other houses were on fire. I saw two bombs lying in the road and two others I could see in the burning wreckage. I telephoned for the fire brigade, civil police and bomb disposal squad. I ascertained that there were some injured in some of the adjoining houses and gave orders to my airmen and some soldiers who had arrived on the scene.”
Fifteen minutes later, while this work was in progress, one of the bombs detonated killing three of the military and injured W/Cdr Grove. After the dust finally settled, the sobering tragedy from this loss included: F/Lt Emerson and five of his crew, Mrs. Thompson and Mrs. Helstrip the occupants of No. 28 Nunthorpe Grove, five military men and an Italian POW. Eight soldiers, two firemen, two assisting Italian POWs and eight civilians were injured and 300 houses damaged.
The proceedings of the Court of Inquiry/Investigation of May 7 1945 are most sobering:
The icing index was given as low at briefings but changed to moderate in Forms 2330 handed to crews before take-off.
The sky was 10/10s coverage with a cloud base of approximately 2,000 feet. F/Lt Emerson was considered to be one of the best captains in the Squadron and above average pilot. Author’s note- F/Lt Emerson served as a flight instructor before posting overseas to start his operational career.
The cause of the accident was the Pilot losing control of the aircraft due to heavy icing.
The reason for the severe icing appears to have been due to the aircraft flying through a cumulus or cumulonimbus cloud embedded in the stratocumulus cloud.
The crew were not warned of the likelihood of heavy icing but the Court did not hold the No. 6 Meteorological forecaster to blame as it was the opinion of the Court that the conditions could not be foreseen.
Structural failure occurred in the air after the aircraft went out of control. The Grim Reaper was still not satiated.
For further details see aircrewremembered.com/emerson-ivor.html
Loss No. 6
F/O Arthur Lowe and crew departed RAF Tholthorpe at 16.40 in 425 Squadron Halifax MZ454, KW-S. Navigator, F/O Earl Brabbins, recounts the events as the flight progressed:
“We took off in a slight shower and climbed up to 7,000 feet through cloud and at this height the ASI dropped back to 120mph and the pitot head heater was checked by the engineer (Sgt. James Lynch) and found to be on. He said he had switched it on before take-off. The captain said he was flying on gyro horizon.
We continued climbing and struck a lane between two layers of cloud at 9,500ft where the pilot levelled off and the ASI built up to 180mph. On levelling off in this lane the aircraft began to shudder and I put on my parachute. I was in the nose of the aircraft working Gee. The captain asked the rear gunner (P/O John Hyde), ‘What is happening back there’ and he replied, ‘Everything seems OK’. At this time I was watching the captain who appeared to be fighting to control the aircraft and shortly afterwards he gave the order, ‘Put on parachutes and abandon aircraft’. I opened the front escape hatch and jumped out.
I was in cloud when I baled out and when my parachute opened I was below the cloud base. As I was gliding down I saw the aircraft pass underneath me and a parachute open near it. I landed about 50 yards from this parachute and found it was my captain whose parachute had opened too late to save him. The aircraft seemed to dive almost to the ground, zoom up again and then roll over to port and dive vertically to the ground. I made a good landing in an open field and was uninjured.”
Remarkably, wireless operator, F/Sgt Kenneth McCuaig, was amnestic for most of this terror filled flight. His flashback images are limited to: preparing to copy a Group broadcast, putting on his chute, looking out the escape hatch and landing by parachute.
A RAF fire fighter, LAC John Fairburn, witnessed the death throes of MZ454 and his testimony was virtually identical to that of F/O Brabbins:
“...I saw no pieces break away from the aircraft and there was no fire in the air. On impact with the ground I saw a cloud of black smoke and flames and saw a terrific explosion...I was standing just over one mile from the scene of the crash which was beside Little Ouseburn Church.” The porch of the repaired church had a memorial window installed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of these brave young airmen who made the ultimate sacrifice.
MZ454 crashed back to earth at 17.00, just twenty minutes after departing Tholthorpe!
From this all Canadian crew there were three survivors: F/O Brabbins, F/Sgt McCuaig and F/O J.F. Brownell, air bomber. It is tragic that their young Skipper did not live to fulfil his dreams. He came so close.
For further details see http://aircrewremembered.com/lowe-arthur-robert.html
Loss No. 7
P/O Roald Sollie and crew would survive for fifty-one minutes before succumbing to this deadly natural phenomenon. If not for one fatal mistake they would have been scot-free. P/O Sollie lifted off from Tholthorpe at 16.29hrs in 420 Squadron Halifax NA190, PT-U, for Chemnitz. This would be the first op with this crew for F/Sgt James Waugh DFC, awarded for a prior encounter with a night fighter. He would be the sole survivor:
“After take-off we climbed and entered cloud at about 2,500ft. We continued climbing and on the way I noticed ice forming on the aerials, some on the front of the mid-upper turret and a quantity around the air intakes. It appeared to be rime icing. We climbed to 10,000ft and at that height broke cloud and we were in clear air. On the climb up I heard the rear gunner (P/O Ralph Battles) ask the captain if everything was all right as he could see ice forming on the tail-plane. The captain replied that after looking at the wings, ‘It’s OK and nothing to worry about’. We flew in clear air at approximately 10,000ft for about five minutes and then flew through the top of a cloud which was a little above the general. Shortly after entering this cloud the port wing dropped suddenly and the captain tried to level out and the engineer (Sgt Robert Dinnen) said, ‘Is everything OK, skipper’ and the captain replied, ‘Standby, I think it is the same trouble as I had before’... The aircraft began to lose height quite gradually and at what I considered to be 7,000ft the captain said, ‘OK fellows, abandon aircraft, jump’. I left my turret, put on my parachute, removed my helmet and went back to the rear escape hatch. I opened the hatch and sat on the edge until the aircraft broke cloud at about 3,000ft. During this descent the aircraft seemed to be rocking fairly violently, but there did not appear to be any excessive ‘G’ and I had no difficulty moving my limbs. I saw the rear gunner turn his turret to beam and open his doors. The flight engineer was squatting just behind me. I do not know why other members of the crew did not bale out as there seemed to be plenty of time and the gyrations of the aircraft were not too violent.
I baled out and my parachute opened satisfactorily and I seemed to be floating down for two or three minutes. I made a good landing in a stubble field. I did not see the aircraft until it stuck the ground and exploded. On breaking cloud at 10,000ft I took special notice to see if there was extensive icing on the wings of the aircraft and I did not see any although if it had been clear ice it might have been difficult to pick out as the sun was quite bright and dazzling. I don’t know why I didn’t bale out as soon as I got the order but I think it was because we were in cloud and I waited until the ground was visible”.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was flying through the top of a towering cumulus cloud, with an aircraft already ice laden. The top of this variety of cloud is notorious for severe icing. A turn to avoid re-entering cloud was critical to allow sublimation of the pre-existing ice. For six of the crew it was a costly error, five Canadians and an Englishman. The fact that no one left NA190 after F/Sgt Waugh strongly suggests that P/O Sollie lost control and the aircraft snapped into a spin, pinning the crew before they could exit, despite being at the rear hatch or in the rear turret with the doors open. That quick and that final!
One cannot help but ponder the other variables of this loss that had the only non- regular crew member survive. The fact that he blocked the rear door as the aircraft descended in a stalled state is significant. This prevented the flight engineer from baling out. The fact that he was in the rear of the aircraft in this situation is most unusual. Under these circumstances the five crew members forward of the main spar would abandon the aircraft through the nose escape hatch. This suggests that it was jammed by ice or the pilot realized that he had lost control and ordered the F/E aft to ensure that the gunners were safely out. The fact that no one survived up front favours the former. The fact that the rear gunner was in the process of baling out and unsuccessful, suggests that the transition from stall to spin was sudden, violent and final for those still aboard. One possible explanation is that at the precise moment that NA190 broke cloud and F/Sgt. Waugh decided to bale out, the aircraft snapped into a left spin, ejecting him into space, lucky to not be struck by the rotating right horizontal stab and fin. If the rear turret was rotated facing to starboard this would have pinned the gunner inside. A right sided spin would have sucked F/Sgt. Waugh back into the fuselage, pinning him, and the rear gunner would have been ejected and survived. We will never know.
For further details see aircrewremembered.com/sollie-roald-frederick.html
The loss of these five and possibly seven aircraft and crews to this deadly phenomenon is most sobering. Twenty-seven or forty young men made the ultimate sacrifice, without engaging the enemy. It is most disturbing that the rapid ice accumulation resulted in aerodynamic imbalance and loss of control without sufficient altitude for these experienced pilots to recover. On two occasions structural integrity was exceeded and the airframes failed.
In retrospect, taking into account the findings of the Inquiry into to loss of LW210 and her very experienced Skipper, it is apparent that four of these crews were doomed from the moment they initiated their take off roll for Chemnitz—at gross take off weight, with fuel and a bomb load. There can be no doubt that if the raid planners had been aware of the local condition of severe icing, the affected squadrons would have been re-routed or scrubbed from the Battle Order.
It is quite remarkable that these aircraft and crews all crashed within half an hour of take-off and in within thirty kilometres of each other. It is most fortunate that the remainder of the crews managed to avoid this hidden meteorological death trap. The fact that a plethora of crews was not lost suggests that freezing rain was not a factor.
The author is indebted to Kevin Wilson for his comprehensive and enlightening trilogy on the history of Bomber Command: BOMBER BOYS - The Ruhr, the Dambusters and bloody Berlin; MEN OF AIR- The Doomed Youth of Bomber Command and JOURNEY’S END- ‘A brilliant insight into life in the air and on the ground’ Observer. Chapter fourteen, pp 266- 292, A COLD AND SILENT KILLER, was the catalyst for this AR archive report addendum and six subsequent archive reports.
The experiences described by surviving aircrew provide graphic imagery of the sensation of being pinned helplessly inside the fuselage of a spinning bomber or being violently ejected into the guts of a cloud, thankful that they had the foresight to put on their chutes.
These events also brought into focus the reality of the future that awaited the majority of bomber aircrew, to the citizens of England— in particular those impacted by the unexpected arrival of LW210 at No. 28 Nunthorpe Grove, York. For them, the line from Noel Coward’s evocative poem, Lie in the Dark and Listen- “Theirs is a world you’ll never know” would provide some insight of the sacrifice to be made.
The documents and photographs of Library and Archives Canada/ancestry.ca have been invaluable in providing a personal sense of the impact and loss as a result of these traumatic events. Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of young Canadian airmen would pay with their lives in their encounter with this deadly phenomenon. It is sobering that the fatality rate of 77-81% from these five-seven losses exceeds that expected from night fighter or flak. Sadly, it was unexpected, unpredicted and unavoidable. The fickle finger of fate and war.