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The loss of 626 Squadron's Lancasters LM136, ND964 and HK539

 

Two German Night-fighter Aces at St Trond, Belgium in early summer of 1944. On the left is Oberleutnant Helmut Lent talking to Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, the Gruppenkommandeur  of NJG1. Helmut Lent went on to claim 102 night fighter kills and a further 8 kills (including 626 Squadron's LM136 piloted by F/O  William Wilson on the 21st of July 1944) before he himself died on the 7th October 1944 after suffering injuries sustained during a crash landing in his Ju 88 G-6 at Paderborn Airfield following engine failure.

St. Trond's airfield in Belgium was the base of one of the most famous Luftwaffe Night Fighter squadrons, NJG1, with units II/NJG1 and IV/NJG1 operating Junkers Ju88 and Heinkel He219 aircraft from there in 1944. The Gruppenkommandeur and highest scoring German night fighter pilot, Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer (121 air victories, most of them at night) was referred to as "The ghost of St. Trond" by British Bomber crews who flew over Germany on night attacks raids.

On the 25th of March 1944 he shot down HK539 piloted by 626 Squadron's Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Quentin Ross, returning from a bombing raid on Berlin. There were no survivors.  

On the Duisburg raid of 21/22nd of May 1944 Schnaufer is credited with the shooting down of 626 Squadron's ND964 over Belgium with Pilot Officer Robert Roy Brant's crew aboard of which Canadian Sgt Kenneth McCoy was the only survivor.

Schnaufer's greatest one-night success came on 21 February 1945, when he claimed nine Royal Air Force (RAF) heavy bombers in the course of one day: two in the early hours of the morning and a further seven, in just 19 minutes, in the evening.

 

Along with most other German nightfighters, Schnaufer's aircraft was fitted with a deadly weapon that had decimated RAF bombers for nearly two years without being fully understood by Bomber Command, this was "Schrage Musik".  

It comprised of two upward-firing 20mm cannons installed at the rear of the cockpit, inclined at an angle of 70 or 80° which were aimed through a Revi gun-sight above the pilot's head. Having spotted his target, the pilot manoeuvred into position underneath the bomber, effectively in its blind-spot.  

A few cannon shells aimed between the inner and outer engines, the area of the fuel tanks on the Lancaster, invariably was enough to cause the destruction of the bomber as the wings erupted on fire. 

In a post-war interview, Heinz Schnaufer said that he had attacked 20 to 30 bombers at a range of 80 yards with his Schrage Musik guns and of those only about 10% saw him approaching at a distance of 150 to 200 metres and tried to evade him by "corkscrewing" before he could open fire.

 

 

 

 

Scores of the top ten German Fighter Pilots

 

Major Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer 121 kills, Lieutenant Colonel Helmut Lent 113 kills, Major Prince Sayn-Wittgenstein 83 kills, Colonel Werner Streib 68 kills, Major Rudolf Schoenert 65 kills, Captain Manfred Meurer 65 kills, Colonel Gunther Radusch 65 kills, Captain Heinz Rokker 65 kills, Major Paul Zorner 59 kills, Captain Martin Becker 58 kills. 

 



626 Squadron 1944

My father James P Slattery is directly underneath the propeller of the port outer engine in your photo. Denis (see LM599)

 

626 Squadron crewmen after their return from the April 22/23rd 1944 Dusseldorf raid. The only crewman identified  in this photo is New Zealand  skipper, Pilot Officer Welford, on the extreme left. Can anyone help with the others?

 

Düsseldorf Raid : 22/23rd of April 1944.   596 aircraft - 323 Lancasters, 254 Halifaxes, 19 Mosquitos - of all groups except No 5. 29 aircraft - 16 Halifaxes and 13 Lancasters - lost,  4.9 percent of the force.   2,150 tons of bombs were dropped in this old-style heavy attack on a German city which caused much destruction but also allowed the German night-fighter force to penetrate the bomber stream. The attack fell mostly in the northern districts of Düsseldorf. Widespread damage was caused.  "Bomber Command War Diaries"

 

626 Squadron pilots being briefed and discussing a route before the Berlin raid of December 16/17th 1943

'Todays' target, Berlin, is at the tip of the arrow on the wall map.

Left to right - W/O Butcher, W/O Arthur Rew, Sqn Ldr Bill Spiller, F/Sgt Jackson, Sqn Ldr Neilson, F/Sgt Higgs, F/Sgt Jaques, P/O Reg Welham, P/O Hutchinson. (Squadron Leader Spiller was 'A' Flight Commander and Squadron Leader Neilson commander of 'B' Flight.)

In February 1944 F/Sgt Jaques in JB595 crashed near Erfurt, 60 miles SW of Leipzig, he and five of his crew were captured and became prisoners of war. His flight engineer Sgt Phillips died as a result of his wounds. F/Sgt John Higgs was posted with his crew to 156 (Pathfinders) Sqdn. He was taken prisoner after his aircraft crashed over Dusseldorf in April 1944.

Australian F/O Jack Pierce Hutchinson DFC, who was one of those experienced pilots transferred to 626 from 12 Squadron, was killed on the 25th of February 1944  when shot down over Schweinfurt in Lancaster LL797. It was his 30th operation. He and his crew, including 2nd Pilot Sgt Bowditch, are buried at the village of Marsal in north-east France.

 

Flight Sergeant John Higgs and JB595 UM-C2

Pilot - Sgt. John Higgs, Navigator - Sgt. Derek Chase, Bomb Aimer- Sgt. Ray Keating, Flight Engineer - Sgt. Maurice Fowler, Wireless Operator- Sgt. Reg Parissien, Mid-Upper Gunner - Sgt. George Woodhead, and Rear Gunner - Sgt. William Webb.

The crew's first mission with 626 Squadron was on December 3rd 1943, and during the following 11 weeks they clocked up 10 operations.

On 16th February they were posted to 156 (Pathfinders) Squadron.

Their first mission was on the 18th of March to Stuttgart.

The target when they took off from RAF Upwood, at 9.20 pm on 22nd of April, was Dusseldorf. Their bomb-aimer, Ray Keating, had reported sick, and was replaced by a 34 year old Australian, W/O Albert Edward Thomas from Perth. Lancaster ND349 GT-C was hit by flak over the target area, and after releasing their bomb load, the skipper gave the order to bale out.

The whole crew used their parachutes but only the pilot John Higgs, wireless op. Reg Parissien, and gunner George Woodhead survived and were taken prisoner. George Woodhead later related that the other four crewmen came down in the target area and he believed that they had been killed by angry civilians.

Their regular bomb-aimer, Ray Keating, did not survive the war. He died 2 months later, when Lancaster ND559 exploded after a night-fighter attack, during the Duisberg raid on 21st May.

 

 

At the front of this group on JB 595 UM-C2, is pilot F/Sgt John Higgs and on the right his wireless operator Reg Parissien

 

These photographs kindly passed to us by Sean Feast, author of Master Bombers, The Pathfinder Companion, Heroic Endeavour, An Alien Sky, Last of the 39-ers, Thunder Bird in Bomber Command, and V-Weapons: Failed to Return.

 

F/O George Price and LL918  UM-C2    by Tom Docherty

George joined 626 Sqn at Wickenby in Lincolnshire flying Lancaster Mks I and III and on the night of 25/26 July 1944 he flew a mission  which resulted in the award of the DFC.  The Lancaster George and his crew flew that night was Lancaster Mk I LL918 coded ‘C2’ and George described it as “The Squadron bedstead” – ‘C2’ was one of the oldest on the squadron.  The bomb load was one 2000lb HC bomb and 12 Type J incendiary clusters.  Unlike most of the new Lancasters on the squadron ‘C2’ was not equipped with ‘Fishpond’  - radar warning of enemy fighters attacking from the rear.  

The official recommendation for the DFC reads as follows:

“Flying  Officer Price, as Captain and Pilot has now carried out 24 operations against the enemy.

He has proved himself to be a most skilful Pilot, and as a Captain he has made his crew an efficient fighting unit.  At all times he has displayed an aggressive spirit which has inspired each member of his crew to determined and efficient action in the face of all opposition.

On one occasion on the night of 25/26 July 1944 his aircraft was subjected to a succession of attacks by a DO 217 night fighter, for approximately 30 minutes.  On each occasion these attacks were met with such skill and determination on the part of Flying Officer Price and his Rear Gunner that damage to his aircraft was avoided, and the enemy finally fell away with flames coming from its starboard wing and engine, after the Rear Gunner had fired a long burst during the last attack.  The enemy aircraft was claimed as destroyed.

Throughout his operational career, Flying Officer Price has been a most efficient and gallant leader to his crew, and has proved himself an asset and an example to the Squadron.

I strongly recommend that Flying officer Price be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of his outstanding leadership, skill and gallantry. Signed Wing Commander, Commanding, 626 Squadron” 

The Station Commander added his remarks:

Flying Officer Price has displayed a fine offensive spirit throughout his tour of operations. Regardless of the strength of the enemy opposition, this captain can always be relied upon to press home his attacks. I have no hesitation in recommending that this officer’s dogged determination and fighting skill merit the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. Signed, Group Captain, Commanding, RAF Station Wickenby”  

Jim Barton once asked George how his award came about and, in a quiet, laid back manner George responded:

“On the return trip we were being attacked by a night fighter who was firing at our exhaust glow.  I got rid of the bugger and told the boys to hang on as I pulled back on the stick and stood the old girl on her tail.  I cut the engines and just let her slide back down – it did the trick and we lost the bastard. "

Post war George worked for Leeds City Transport as a bus inspector and continued to fly light aircraft from Sherburn-in-Elmet.   (by Tom Docherty - Aviation Historian)

 

 From Wickenby Station Diary for 25/26th July 1944

 

626/C2                 P/O G. P. Price

00.41hrs 16,000’ 4736N/0320E Outward
The rear gunner Sgt. J. Lee sighted a ME109 approaching from the Starboard quarter level at 250yds range. He instructed the pilot to corkscrew Starboard, at the same time be and the M.U.G. Sgt. V.A. Lane opened fire with short bursts. The enemy aircraft immediately returned fire with a fairly long burst, hitting our bomber on the Port side of the fuselage and rendering the hydraulic system, the undercart, and the bomb doors unserviceable. The fighter broke at 200yds on the Port quarter down and was lost to view.

 

626/C2                 P/O G. P. Price

02.55hrs 14,000’ 4830N/0600E Homeward
The rear gunner Sgt. J. Lee sighted a D0217 approaching from the Port quarter up at 350yds range. He instructed the pilot to corkscrew Port at the same time opening up with a long burst. The enemy aircraft broke away on the Starboard quarter down at 150yds, and a few seconds later reappeared on the Port quarter.  For approximately 20 mins (50 miles) it continued to make a succession of attacks on our bomber.  The rear gunner on each occasion opened fire with short bursts.  The fighter at no time returned fire. When we reached 4825N/0525E the enemy aircraft from the Starboard quarter level at 250yds and again the rear gunner opened fire with a long burst.  The fighter burst in to flames, which came from the Starboard wing and engine.  It then plunged through the clouds and was lost to view.  The enemy aircraft is claimed as destroyed.

 

 

Old King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he. 

He called for his kites in the middle of the night, and he called for his rear-gunners three. 

Every rear-gunner was a fine type, and a very fine type was he: 

'Jesus Christ, it's cold' said the rear-gunner, '

 

Corkscrew port like hell' said the midupper, 

'Dah-di-di-dah di-di-dah' said the wirelessop, 

 

'We are bang on track' said the navigator, 

 

'Left, left, steady - dummy run' said the bomb-aimer, 

'I want four pounds boost' said the engineer, 

 

'I don't give a f. .. ' said the pilot, 

 

'merry, merry men are we, 

There's none so rare as can compare with the boys of Wickenby.' 

 

A song regularly sung at Wickenby's Officer's Mess - from Jack Currie's book 'Lancaster Target'.

A song regularly sung at Wickenby's Officer's Mess - from Jack Currie's book 'Lancaster Target'.

 

F/Sgt  Robert Alexander Smith (R217366) - Distinguished Flying Medal -No.626 Squadron - Noted in Squadron diary August 1944.  Award effective 22 September 1944 as per London Gazette of that date and AFRO 2274/44 dated 20 October 1944.  

Born Toronto, 1923; home there (former assembly worker on flying instruments); enlisted there 20 January 1943.  

Trained at No.3 BGS (graduated 29 October 1943).  Cited with F/Lt William L. Foote (RCAF, awarded DSO).  

Award presented 18 October 1947.   

This officer and airman were captain and mid-upper gunner respectively of an aircraft detailed to attack Stuttgart.  En route the aircraft was attacked by a fighter and sustained much damage.  The rear gunner was killed and Flight Sergeant Smith was blown out of his turret into the fuselage.  He was, however, uninjured and returned to his turret.  A fire started in the rear of the fuselage which betrayed the position of the bomber to the enemy and the aircraft was subjected to five successive attacks.  Nevertheless, Flight Lieutenant Foote skillfully maneouvered the aircraft and enabled Flight Sergeant Smith to engage the fighter which was seen to fall away in flames.  Flight Lieutenant Foote then continued to the target and completed his mission.  This officer and airman have taken part in many sorties and have displayed a high standard of courage and devotion to duty.

 

F/O Robert Marshall Smith (J36983) RCAF - Mentioned in Despatches 

626 Squadron (deceased) - Award effective 13 June 1946 as per London Gazette of that date and AFRO 726/46 dated 26 July 1946.    Killed in action 7 January 1945 (Lancaster LL961).    

Born 8 July 1916 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  Educated in Winnipeg.  Enlisted in Toronto, 22 August 1942.  Trained at No.1 ITS (graduated 30 April 1943), No. 20 EFTS (graduated 25 June 1943) and No.1 SFTS (graduated 15 October 1943).  Overseas, October 1943.  Completed 24 missions before his death.  

Commanding officer wrote that in a raid on Munich his aircraft was hit by another friendly bomber - tail end almost ripped off.  He stayed at the controls, not only to permit his crew to bale out but to avoid crashing in Allied-occupied territory where a U.S. Army field hospital was located - and thus lost his own chance to survive.

 

 

LL961 Munich  7th January 1945 

Sgt C.J. Lane, F/O J.K. Yeaman RCAF, F/O D. Rymer, F/S G.M. Magee RAAF, F/S D.F. Crowe RCAF, Sgt W. McLean 

Airborne 18.44 7th January 1944 from Wickenby. Outbound, collided with a 150 Sqdn Lancaster and abandoned just to the south of Laon (Aisne). F/O Smith is now buried in the Canadian War Cemetery at Dieppe, while Sgt McLean is buried in Clichy New Communal Cemetery. 

The other Lancaster, PB781, flown by F/Lt  R. Rose RCAF of 150 Sqdn, returned safely to Hemswell and was little damaged.  

 

My brief sweet life is over,
My eyes no longer see,
No Christmas trees,
No summer walks
No pretty girls for me,
I've got the chop, I've had it
My nightly Ops are done,
Yet in another hundred years
I'll still be twenty on
e.

R.W Gilbert