The worst night in British aviation history for aircraft crashes occurred on this day, 76 years ago. On return from a bombing raid on Berlin, the RAF lost a large number of aircraft and men due to the thick fog blanketing their airfields.
Tonight we remember all the aircrew who lost their lives on 16/17 December 1943, but particularly those on the Path Finder Force.
The Pathfinders were badly affected: 97 Squadron lost 28 men, 405 Squadron lost 15, 156 Squadron lost 6, and 83 Squadron lost 1. In all, 50 Pathfinder aircrew were killed by the fog. Others were seriously wounded and grounded for a long time, or permanently taken off flying duties. There were also heavy losses on the Berlin raid, 7 Squadron suffering the worst of all with the loss of four crews.
This new page for Black Thursday contains the ORB entries for the PFF squadrons who were flying ‘the heavies’:
On Remembrance Sunday, we remember not only those who died but the relatives and friends who suffered a lifetime of grief at their loss.
As the cemeteries were completed and the Imperial War Graves Commission prepared to erect the permanent headstones, each bereaved family would have been sent the specimen form included here which showed them what the headstone would look like and the space for their own four lines of tribute. (Only New Zealanders were not allowed this tribute for historical reasons to do with the First World War.) The form tells them that the inscription cannot be more than 60 letters. It is easy to imagine how hard it must have been to say all one wanted to say in such a small space.
This is a rather blurry digital copy, but it is unique in the Archive and very appropriate for this Remembrance Sunday.
The papers were amongst those preserved by the family of Norman Edmondson, a twenty-year-old Canadian, lost on the infamous Nuremburg raid of 30/31 March 1944.
Images courtesy of Gordon Edmondson.
Norman’s aircraft was one of four 156 Squadron aircraft, flying from Upwood, which were shot down that night. The aircraft was brought down by a night fighter and crashed at Oberirsen in Western Germany. By a miracle, the pilot Lindley survived to become a prisoner of war.
This extraordinarily beautiful landscape in mid-Wales was the scene of a terrible tragedy on 10 April 1944. A Lancaster from the Pathfinder Navigation Training Unit at Warboys broke up in the air some 200 miles west of Warboys and crashed, killing all of the crew. See our new page: NTU Lancaster fatal crash in Wales
Jack Blair was a highly dedicated officer who flew more than his fair share of ops. In 1943, he was a member of John Sauvage‘s crew on 97 Squadron; in 1944, having moved to 156 Squadron, he was flying with a pilot named Ward when the crew were shot down on their return journey. Thanks to Arjan Wemmers and many others, a wonderful collection of material has been assembled on the Ward crew, and in particular on Jack Blair. (See catalogue item: Ward Crew and Squadron Leader Blair.) We are very pleased to have this collection in the Archive.
This fabulous radio-controlled model Lancaster may make you smile, standing so proudly in front of the tomato plants, though she is sure to be a very different beast when she flies.
There is a tragic background story to this icon of a real wartime Lancaster …
The model aircraft’s markings are PB517, GT-O, standing for 156 Squadron O-Orange. They were chosen by Owen Gomersall to commemorate the Lancaster flown by his grandfather, Lionel Williams, who was on our last post. ‘Tom’ last flew this aircraft on 28 January 1945. Two months later, on 31 March, tragically close to the end of the war, Lancaster PB517 was lost with all its crew on a Hamburg operation. Those who died were:
F/L A C Pope, DFC F/O G A J Morrison F/L L E Munro, DFC, RCAF P/O E H Marlow F/O T M McCabe F/S K Antcliffe P/O I W Kelly, RCAF P/O R C Fletcher, RCAF
It was the second Lancaster which was lost from 156 Squadron that night, the other being that flown by Flying Officer H F Taylor. Again the entire crew was lost.
F/O H F Taylor, DFC P/O H Woolstenhulme Sgt J P Williams Sgt L H Joel F/O R L Martin, DFC F/O L A Cox, DFC F/Sgt K A L Mitchell Sgt R Goldsbury
This loss of 14 young men from Upwood in a single night only five weeks before the war ended must have been a serious blow to those living and working on the station.
We have received some very interesting details about Lionel Williams, a pilot in 156 Squadron, from his son, amongst which was the classic story of how his name in the RAF became Tom. ‘When he was recruited he was asked for his first name. When he said “Lionel” he was then asked if he had any other names. When he said “Thomas” he was told “Right you’re ‘Tom’ now” … Updated page
The PFF squadron pages are gradually being reorganised so that each squadron has its own page, or group of pages. 156 Squadron is one of the first to be set up, and of the two current pages one is on the Engineering Officer at Warboys and the other is a beautiful photograph of Lionel Williams and his daughter (click HERE for the full version).
Lost on 30/31 March 1944 on the infamous Nuremburg raid. This was one of four 156 Squadron aircraft, flying from Upwood, which were shot down that night. The aircraft was brought down by a night fighter and crashed at Oberirsen, in Western Germany, east of Bonn. By some miracle, the pilot Lindley survived to become a prisoner of war.
Capt: L Lindley
F/E: Ronald Thomas Harper, aged 21
Nav: John Waite Henry, aged 28
BA: Bankole Beresford Vivour, aged 24
W/Op: John Esprey Bates, aged 22
M/U: Norman Thomson Edmondson, RCAF, aged 20
R/G: Dennis Bertram Bloomfield (no age on CWGC)
Norman Edmonson’s nephew, Gordon, recently sent us some photographs of a small notebook that Norman used to carry with him, which was kept in its own little leather zip-up folder stamped with an Air Force crest.
According to Chorley, Vivour was a Nigerian, an unusual nationality for Bomber Command.