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Sergeant Tom Bint and the crew of Lancaster HK539

 

During RAF Wickenby's short active service 1080 lives were lost from the base. This sacrifice is commemorated by a memorial with the form of Icarus on an obelisk at the entrance to the airfield. Today the site is a private airfield used as an aviation school and is home to The RAF Wickenby Memorial Museum.

It was the home of 12 Squadron and 626 Squadron of No 1 Group, RAF Bomber Command.

During hostilities, over 300 operations were flown from the airfield with 166 bombers reported missing, all but six being Lancasters. Another 30 aircraft were lost in operational crashes.

626 Squadron was formed in November 1943 with two flights of eight aircraft. 'A' Flight was originally 12 Squadron's 'C' Flight and 'B' Flight was made up from Lancasters arriving from factories and other units.

Its first operation was to bomb the Western entrance to the Montcenis tunnel in the French Alps on the 10th of November 1943.

The last bombing operation  was on the 25 of April 1945 when the target was Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” and the nearby SS barracks at Berchtesgaden in Bavaria.

It was disbanded on the 14 of October 1945 having spent the last months of that year on transport duties.

 

 

Tommy Bint  first left, Cecil (Nat) Nathanson is next, then Canadian Johnny Gibson, Aussie F/Sgt Stan Jones, Pilot Officer Fred Bladon, and the wireless operator F/Sgt (Chris) Christie extreme right. It was probably Jimmy Watt who took the photo.

 

The crew - Sgt Fred Bladon 569974 RAF – Pilot. (Pilot Officer from March 22nd 1944), Sgt Hance Watt RAF 1571083 RAF – Flight Engineer, WO John Gibson R138082 RCAF – Navigator, Sgt Cecil Nathanson 928627 RAF – Air Bomber, Sgt Charles Cecil Christie 1128392 RAF – Wireless Operator, Sgt Thomas William Bint 1853424 RAF - Mid Upper Gunner, F/Sgt Stanley William Jones A426789 RAAF – Rear Gunner. (Ranks as recorded on posting in at RAF Wickenby.)

 

Flying Officer A (Fred) Bladon DFC

In  1937, Measham born Fred Bladon joined the RAF as an 16 year old aircraft apprentice at RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire. He was at Halton for 3 years and passed out as an aircraft fitter. 

In January 1942 he began his aircrew training with 10 weeks at ITW (Initial Training Wing) Stratford-on-Avon.  From there to the 28 EFTS (Elementary Flying School) at Pendeford Airfield, Wolverhampton for 6 weeks on Tiger Moth DH82s.

He was then posted to the RAF  Service Flying Training Schools in Canada where he progressed through three courses. At De-Winton near Calgary, on Tiger Moths for an 8 week course of day and night instrument flying and use of the Link Trainer (an early flight simulator), to Medicine Hat also in Alberta, for 3 months instruction on both single and twin-engined aircraft - flying Oxfords and Boeing Stearmans, followed by 5 weeks at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan for some cross-country training, where he finally qualified for his 'wings'.

On returning to the UK as a Sergeant Pilot he was posted to No. 3 AFU  RAF South Cerney near Cirencester for 10 weeks  instruction on Oxford and Anson twin engined aircraft, his preparation to fly Wellington, Halifax and Lancaster bombers.

On the 13th of June 1943 Fred's next posting was to 26 OTU (Operational Training Unit)  located at  RAF Wing in Buckinghamshire . He left on the 11th of October as the  skipper of a new crew trained to fly Wellington bombers.

Fred Bladon and his crewmates were, over the next 3 months, sent to HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit) Stradishall, 199 Squadron Lakenheath and HCU Blyton for further training on Stirlings and Lancasters.

 

Choosing a bomber crew. “Once all the initial course had been finally completed, the recruits were sent to an Operational Training Unit, where they began their real preparation for bomber combat.
It was at the OTUs that the individual trainees formed themselves into crews for the first time. After all the formality of the previous selection procedures and examinations, the nature of ‘crewing up’ seemed strangely haphazard, even anarchic.
“There was no involvement from the senior commanders, no direction, no regimentation. Instead, the trainees were all taken to a large hangar or mess room, and just told to choose their colleagues to make up the 5 man crew: pilot, bomb-aimer, gunner, wireless operator and navigator.
The engineer, who had to undergo specialised training, and the second gunner, would join at a later stage. Without any guidance or rules, the trainees had to rely entirely on their own gut instincts in selecting which group to join.”   Lancaster: The Second World War's Greatest Bomber by Leo McKinstry.

 

Posted to 626 Squadron, RAF Wickenby on January 31st 1944.The crew were only to fly on 5 ops together.

During February and March 1944 they flew over Germany on 5 hazardous missions. En route to their first Stuttgart  raid in Lancaster HK539 to bomb the Bosch factory on February 20th they had an encounter with a German Wild Boar Fw 190 fighter near Epinal, NE France but luckily survived. 

Their next 'op' in Lancaster HK539 to Schweinfurt on February 24th to bomb the ball-bearing factories was also the first operational flight with 626 Squadron by the new Squadron Commander, Wing Commander Quentin Ross who flew as second pilot with W/O Gallagher in LL772. That night saw the loss of 626 Squadron's LL797 and its crew. It was led by F/O Hutchinson DFC and was apparently shot down over NE France by a night fighter. It should have been their last flight of a 30 operation tour.

The 15th of March saw Fred Bladon and his crew in HK539 returning to bomb Stuttgart and once more encountering an Fw 190 near Epinal. This time Aussie tail-gunner F/Sgt Stan Jones after instructing the Skipper to corkscrew, inflicted damage to the night fighter after he opened fire with a long burst starting at 500 yards range. He witnessed a large blue flash (probably electrical) as the bullets found their mark. The fighter departed without firing a shot.

On the 18th of March Frankfurt was the target. The squadron was led by Wing Commander Ross crossing  between Dunkirk and Ostende. At Frankfurt Fred Bladon in HK539 spotted and ignored an obvious decoy site south of the city with dummy red target indicators while F/Sgt Bernyk pilot of DV244 spotted a similar decoy 20 miles north of the city. Cloud hampered the operation of night fighters and no aircraft from the squadron were lost. Overall, of the 846 aircraft on this raid 22 did not return.

The 22nd of March saw another Frankfurt raid. Lancaster JB599 piloted by F/O Kewley was shot down near Osnabruck and all the crew were killed before reaching the target. They had only been with 626 squadron for little over a month. 

Fred Bladon in HK539 again that night, reported his bomb aimer Sgt Nat Nathanson had successfully discharged the full bomb load over the 8 red target markers. Of 816 aircraft employed on this raid, 33 did not return.
Fred Bladon tragically lost his crew who were flying with another pilot, the Squadron C.O, Wing Commander Quentin Ross.

Lancaster HK539 was shot down while returning from the March 24th/25th 1944 raid on Berlin .
Though completely devastated by the loss of his friends, after a short home leave he had to return to Wickenby and choose a new crew. 
He was always convinced that if he had been the pilot on that tragic night, his mates would have survived the war. He proved his battle skills, flying ability and bravery by completing an arduous 30 operations tour with 626 Squadron. 
Flying Officer Fred Bladon received the DFC in September 1944.

 

 

Fred Bladon's Log Book

These logbook pages, operational records and raids list were supplied from Wickenby's archives by Ann Law from and passed to me by Jimmy Watt's nephew Craig Watt.

 

HK539's last operation

 

 

 

Extract From The Bomber Command War Diaries 24/25 March 1944.

811 aircraft - 577 Lancasters, 216 Halifaxes, 18 Mosquitos - to Berlin. 72 aircraft - 44 Lancasters, 28 Halifaxes - lost, 8.9 per cent of the force.

This night became known in Bomber Command as 'the night of the strong winds'. A powerful wind from the north carried the bombers south at every stage of the flight. Not only was this wind not forecast accurately but it was so strong that the various methods available to warn crews of wind changes during the flight failed to detect the full strength of it.

The bomber stream became very scattered, particularly on the homeward flight and radar-predicted flak batteries at many places were able to score successes. Part of the bomber force even strayed over the Ruhr defences on the return flight. It is believed that approximately 50 of the 72 aircraft lost were destroyed by flak; most of the remainder were victims of night fighters. Needless to say, the strong winds severely affected the marking with, unusually, markers being carried beyond the target and well out to the south-west of the city.

This was the last major RAF raid on Berlin during the war, although the city would be bombed many times by small forces of Mosquitos

LM393 was the other 626 Sqdn Lancaster lost on this operation.  Airborne at 1844 24th March 1944 from Wickenby. Homebound, shot down by a night-fighter, not far from Berlin, crashing at Liebtz, 6 km NNE of Luckenwalde, near Brandenburg. Six are buried in the Berlin 1939-45 War Cemetery, F/S K.H.Margetts, Sgt R.W.Chandler, F/O H.L.Shortliffe RCAF, Sgt D.F.Brooker, Sgt G.T.Probert, Sgt R.C.Waters, Sgt C.G.G.Bateman. Sgt Probert is commemorated on Panel 236 of the Runnymede Memorial.

My father Tom Bint and his fellow crewmates in Lancaster HK539 were unfortunate to encounter one of Germany's top night-fighter air aces while they were flying homeward approaching the Dutch border.

He was 22 year old  MAJOR HEINZ-WOLFGANG SCHNAUFER, and this was his 50th 'kill'.

Along with most other German nightfighters, Heinz 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 gunsight above the pilot's head. Having spotted his target, the pilot manoeuvred into position underneath the bomber, effectively in its blindspot.  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. 

Initially the crew of HK539 were buried at Warendorf but after the war were exhumed and buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. 

Nearly 4,000 airmen are buried in that cemetery. Some lost their lives in supporting the advance into Germany, but most died in earlier years of the war, in the intensive air attacks on German targets, and were brought to the Reichswald from cemeteries and isolated burial places in the neighbouring area.

 

This letter came through Bob Piper of Australia's Military Aviation Research Services, mars@tpg.com.au, and shows the results of German historian, Jorg Helbig's research. Our sincere thanks to them both.

A

At Easter 2016 I had contact with Engelbert Hagemeyer from Warendorf, who was researching HK 539's crash-site and the location of those 1944 graves at Warendorf.

He wrote - "I guess I found the graves and maybe the crash site. There are two farms with the name Altenau now in that Neuwarendorf area. In fact, they are adjacent. Since one of them has an A in its house number it must be relatively new.

The other one has the number 69 (Google Maps Link: https://goo.gl/maps/uvwmhTzonLL2 ) and this could be it. I encircled the area on the satellite photo which approximately is that 100 meter radius and attached another picture from the ground. In the third picture on the far right you see a white farmhouse - that is Nr 69.

Then I went to our local cemetery. The older part there is called the "Bauernfriedhof". This is where people from the rural areas of Warendorf are buried (Bauer = farmer).

In the southwest corner, as it said in the letter, I found some unmarked graves. I have attached some pictures and I will talk to the cemetery administration to see if they have any more information."       










Many thanks Englebert!



The Squadron Op's Board  on March 25th showing 2 aircraft missing and their pilots, Wing Commander Ross and Sgt Margetts.

 

From 626 Squadron's Operations Record Book

All the raids were in Lancaster HK539 UM-A2

 

 

 

 

At the time of the second photograph, taken in February 1944, Schnaufer had 47 victory bars on his Bf 110G. The photo on the left shows him in August 1944 (second from left) receiving the Swords, to his Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, from Hitler. On his left is Major Erich Hartman who had 352 confirmed victories.

 

626 Squadron's Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Quentin Weston Aldridge Ross (1909-1944) was born in Buncombe, North Carolina, the son of Malcolm Nugent Ross (bn 1874) from Scotland and American born Marianne Weston (1877). His father was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Army and a landscape architect, and was living in Limestone, Buncombe, North Carolina when he died in 1948.

Quentin Ross was a 19 year old student when he arrived in the UK during 1929. When he returned to America for a vacation in August 1933 he recorded having joined the RAF in 1932 and now held the rank of pilot officer. On a second trip home in October 1936 his occupation was given as RAF officer and his last address RAF Upavon. 

From 1935-1942 RAF Upavon, on the edge of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, was the home of the RAF's Central Flying School.

He was promoted to Fl/Lt in 1936, and Squadron Leader in 1938.

Quentin married Diana Hope Ritchie on September 11th 1941 at Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, UK. She was the daughter of the late Major Blyth Ritchie of the 15th King's Hussars and lived at Cowbridge Lodge, Malmesbury.

 

RAFVR Flight Sergeant Cecil Nathanson, (928627) the bomb aimer, was the 24 year old son of Hyman Nathanson and Leah Shank, of Bethnal Green, London, who were married at Mile End in 1915. He had one brother, Sydney (bn 1922) and a sister, Sylvia (bn 1925).

Part of Nat's training as a bomb-aimer in early 1943 was at Carberry, Manitoba in Canada. RCAF Station Carberry was a World War 2  air training station located near Carberry, Manitoba, Canada. The Royal Air Force opened No. 33 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) here in December 1940. As with all RAF training facilities in Canada, the station was subject to RCAF administrative and operational control and formally became part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in 1942. The school closed in November 1944.

On his return to the UK, Nat was posted to  26 Operational Training Unit, based at RAF Wing in Buckinghamshire,where he joined Fred Bladon's crew.

 

Our pictures show Nat's bomb-aimers course-mates at the beginning and end of their training and some 1943 Canadian hospitality from the Word family of Dominion Street, Winnipeg. Photo shows Cpl Strange, Mick Carter, Nat, Mo Word, Len Buckingham, and Mr Word.

RAFVR Sergeant Hance Watt, the flight engineer, (1571083), was the 20 year old son of James and Margaret Watt, of Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.

Coatbridge in Lanarkshire's Memorial to the dead of two world wars. Hance Watt the Flight Engineer is among those commemorated here.   My thanks to the Scottish Mining Villages web-site for allowing me to copy the memorial photos.     

 

 RAAF F/Sgt Stanley William Jones (A426789), the rear gunner, was the 19 year old son of William Evan Jones and Elsie Alice Jones, of Toowong, Queensland, Australia.

 

Pilot Officer John Gibson was born in Boksburg, North Transvaal,South Africa, on September 25th 1913, the son of William Brown Gibson, a gold miner, and his wife, Sarah Brigg from Keighley, Yorkshire, who were married in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1911.The family migrated to England when John was only a few months old.

His father joined the Army during the First World War and died during a gas attack at Ypres on June 12, 1916.

Sarah and John moved from London to her home town of Keighley, Yorkshire after William's death.

They then migrated to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1919 where members of her late husband's family had established themselves before WWI. Sarah moved again in 1924, this time to Vancouver where her sister-in-law and her husband were living.

John attended Tecumseh Elementary School in Vancouver and then John Oliver High school.

After leaving high school he worked for the Department of Pensions and National Health as an Office boy from 1930 to 1936. He took typing and shorthand at night school before becoming a Postal Clerk in 1936 until he enlisted October 17, 1941. After a period of RCAF training he received his 'wings' on 11th September 1942.

Following  two weeks embarkation leave he left Canada for the UK on 28th October 1942, arriving at 3 PRC reception camp in Bournemouth on November 4th.

From 9th March till the 19th of April he attended a navigator's course at No. 4 Air Observers unit, which was followed by a posting to 26 OTU on 20th April 1943.

On July 4th 1943, John's hands were burned in a training accident at 26 Operational Training Unit, based at RAF Wing, near Aylesbury.  Wellington Bomber X HE337 (D for Dog), with a trainee pilot aboard, overshot the runway and burned up while attempting a night landing.

John was the only crew member seriously injured. His hands, and a small area of chin, had been badly burned. An emergency exit from the burning bomber was delayed when his parachute harness was caught up in the aircraft's Astro hatch escape exit.

He was immediately rushed to nearby Princess Mary's RAF Military Hospital at Halton, and was treated for three weeks before receiving the OK to return to his unit. He was then granted three weeks sick leave.

In October John Gibson was part of Fred Bladon's crew posted from 26 OTU to 1657 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit),199 Squadron, at Lakenheath and HCU Blyton, for further training on Stirlings and Lancasters.

Their next posting was to 626 Squadron at RAF Wickenby on January 31st 1944.

 

John's mother Sarah died in Vancouver in 1963. She had lost both her husband and her only child to war. The address in Vancouver was 5878 Fleming street. The original house has been replaced by a larger modern home.

Thanks to Jim Thorpe for most of this information.

 

A

Craig's visit to RAF Wickenby on the 9th of September 2012 for the 70th Birthday Memorial Service

 

The memorial to his uncle, Sgt. Hance Watt, and crew.

 

Wickenby's Memorial and the Fly past

Craig lays the 626 Squadron wreath

 

Reichswald Forest War Cemetery 1939-1945 by Tony Georgiadis