Before Wally Layne of the Fletcher crew became a Pathfinder, he served on 50 Squadron. His CO was the legendary Gus Walker, who would lose part of his arm in a bomb explosion whilst trying to ensure that nobody would be hurt.
When Walker left 50 Squadron for 106 Squadron, he sent the NCOs of 50 Squadron a Christmas Card. For the story of Gus Walker’s accident and the Christmas card, see our new page: Gus Walker, Wally Layne, and Christmas
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’:
16/17 December 1943: The ORBs for the ‘Heavies’, PFF
These ORB entries paint a vivid picture of what happened on that disastrous night.
For other pages on Black Thursday, please see the main menu of the website, or here are some of the relevant links:
Black Thursday Overview
Black Thursday – 97 Squadron
97 Squadron Memorial Page (Losses on Black Thursday)
Pathfinder Funerals at Cambridge City Cemetery
For the RAF website page on Black Thursday, click here.
Surviving congratulatory telegrams about a medal award, sent by one’s old Commanding Officer, seem to be somewhat rare. George Granger’s family must have been enormously proud of the high honour which George had received when he was awarded the DFM because they carefully preserved the telegram, together with the invitation to the investiture and one of the tickets to Buckingham Palace.
A Family’s Pride: George Granger’s DFM
The Caterpillar Club, for aircrew whose lives had been saved by a silken Irvin parachute, is well-known. Less so is the Goldfish Club, for aircrew whose lives had been saved by an emergency dinghy. Few of the aircrew who ditched in the sea survived, but one of the lucky ones was Robert Butler, who won the badge on 28 February 1942 whilst in training. See: Robert Butler Wins a Goldfish
Working on the post yesterday on the condolence letter to Jespersen’s father reminded me of another condolence letter, this time written on the Pathfinder station at Oakington in December 1943. It concerned a friend, Bob Butler, who was stationed with 97 Squadron at Bourn. The condolence letter was addressed to his mother, Ellen Butler.
From an unknown official to Jespersen’s father: The Air Force refers to your visit some time back and it is with sorrow that we have to confirm that your son, Lt. Finn Varde Jespersen, was shot down during the night of 5th and 6th June 1944. When the accident occurred, your son was serving as leader and captain (Pilot) of a Lancaster four-engined night-bomber that belonged to No. 97 (Straits Settlements) Squadron. See the rest of the letter …
See also the memorials to the Jespersen crew on our sister site: War Graves and Remembrance
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.
Earlier this year we received a very nice colourised version of the lovely photograph of Hugh Baker, standing outside a rather grand house in Hastings in 1942. Due to much dedicated local sleuthing, the actual house has been identified. See the update on THIS PAGE
To add to the previous information on Finn Varde Jespersen, the Royal Norwegian Air Force pilot who was lost with all his crew on D-Day when flying with 97 Squadron, we have a very interesting photograph of him and fellow Norwegians when they were in training in Canada in 1941. For more details: Jespersen Crew, D-Day
We would still like to find information about where Jespersen and the Norwegian members of his crew are buried in Norway.
We have been sent this lovely photograph of the D-Day commemorations for the Jespersen crew, who were shot down and all killed on 6 June 1944. The memorial is north-west of Osmanville in the churchyard of St Clements. With thanks to David Wold, who accompanied the 97 year old Norwegian veteran Trygve Hanse from Canada to the ceremony. Hanse was a sailor on the destroyer Stord on the morning of 6 June 1944.
We are beginning to collect a little information about Finn Varde Jerspersen, who was at ‘Little Norway’ in Canada for some time and there taught other pilots how to fly.