Burns Crew

Kenneth Halstead Burns, the pilot

Shot down over Berlin, 31st August 1943

Pilot: W/C Kenneth Halstead Burns
        PoW, repatriated due to injuries September 1944
Flight Engineer: P/O
Earle George Dolby, RCAF
        Killed, buried in Berlin 1939-45 Cemetery
Navigator: P/O
John Kenneth McAvoy, RCAF
Bomb Aimer: P/O
James Keddie
W/Op: W/O
Reginald John Williams
Mid-Upper Gunner: W/O
Eric Herbert Skinner
Rear Gunner: W/O
Oliver Lambert
        Killed, buried in Berlin 1939-45 Cemetery


Earle George Dolby, courtesy of Marcel Rosvelds

There are some reports that Dolby was beaten to death by irate German civilians. Further details of Dolby and additional photos can be found at the Canadian Virtual War Memorial:

Skinner, Burns crew
Eric Skinner, after capture, courtesy of Rick Skinner

Burns with his dog
Burns with his dog. Hind archive.

Extract from Bomber Command Losses – 31.8.43-1.9.43
Lancaster III  JA916  OF – L.  Op Berlin.  T/O 2037 Bourn.  Shot down by a night fighter, exploded and crashed in the target area.  The two airmen who died are buried in the city’s 1939-1945 War Cemetery.  W/C Burns, who lost a hand, and P/O McAvoy RCAF had served previously with 61 Squadron; their awards being gazetted on 16 February 1943.  The others who held the DFM had their awards published on 13th July 1943, 20th March 1945 and 28th July 1944 respectively.  W/C Burns was repatriated, but after being fitted with a false hand, resumed his flying career.
W/C K.H.Burns DFC(pow), P/O E.G.Dolby DFC RCAF(+), P/O J.K.McAvoy DFM RCAF(pow), P/O J.Keddie DFM(pow), W/O R.J.Williams DFM(pow), W/O E.H.Skinner(pow), W/O O.Lambert DFM(+).

After Burns was repatriated in September 1944, he became one of PFF HQ’s staff, see:

PFF – Staff at HQ in December 1944

Information from David Cheetham, nephew of Oliver Lambert

The target was Berlin and the crew’s task was to re-centre the target with special coloured flares at Zero Plus 30. They also carried a full bomb load of a 4,000lb cookie plus some smaller bombs, making a total load of 9,000 lbs.

As they arrived at the target, illuminating fighter flares were dropped and their Lancaster was attacked by a FW 190 coming at them head-on according to the flight engineer Earle Dolby. The closing speed was so high that it was not possible to take evasive action. The aircraft was raked by cannon fire down the port side, the wing and port engine were severely damaged, and a fire started almost immediately.

Burns gave the order to bale out. The bomb aimer James Keddie wanted to release the bombs first but Burns decided to aim the crippled aircraft into the target area. According to the Bomber Command loss card, the aircraft actually blew up at 18,000 feet with the full load of bombs. The pilot, Burns, woke in a cabbage patch with the charred fragments of his parachute still in its pack strapped to his back. He had lost a hand but still managed to crawl about a quarter of a mile to a house, and was then taken to hospital. Burns later stated that he found the ripcord of his parachute had never been pulled; in his opinion, the explosion of the aircraft burst open the parachute pack and allowed the canopy to escape though it had not opened properly and it must have been trees which had broken his fall.

Another miracle was that Burns had not bled to death from his amputated hand, but it is believed that the intercom cord was still attached to his helmet and had by some incredible fluke of chance acted as a tourniquet.
At the hospital it was discovered that he had broken his back. His injuries were so severe that he was repatriated in September 1944. Once home, he continued to work on Bennett’s staff.

Burns thought that all his crew had baled out safely, but in fact the rear gunner Oliver Lambert went down with the aircraft. Dolby made it safely to the ground, but was beaten to death by irate civilians. Both he and Oliver Lambert are buried in the 1939-1945 Berlin War Cemetery.

Some Extracts from the ORB at Bourn
23.8.43        21 aircraft and one reserve have been detailed to operate against Berlin. Early briefing and take off at 0815 hours.  21 aircraft took off, 2 aircraft abandoned their sorties, in one case the rear turret was u/s and in the other the mid upper gunner was very sick.  All the remaining aircraft attacked the target at Berlin.  Large area of fires seen in target area after bombing and were well concentrated.  Moon was just rising – no cloud and visibility good.  W/Cmdr Burns DFC was selected and acted as Master of Ceremonies over the target.

28.8.43        No flying – stand down from operations

29.8.43         Bourn aerodrome will be unserviceable on the 30th August for approximately 4 days owing to the runways being reconditioned.  It is therefore necessary for the squadron to operate from other airfields during this period.  Each Flight will constitute a separate detachment under the Flight Commander who will act as the detachment commander as follows:-

“A” Flight                W/Cmdr Burns DFC             RAF Gransden Lodge
“B” Flight                W/Cmdr Nind                        RAF Graveley
“C” Flight                W/Cmdr Alabaster               RAF Oakington

Aircraft and crew took off from Bourn this morning for their respective airfields.  Duty was carried out according to plan.  No ops detailed.

       Squadron detachments again detailed 20 aircraft for ops.  The target was an area in Berlin.  Weather was 9/10ths cloud, visibility good, no moon.  Bombs were dropped as detailed but too early for many results to be seen.  Incendiaries were seen burning and scattered fires started.  Moderate heavy flak rather more than on previous raid, when eased off searchlight and fighter co-operation was attempted.  Many enemy aircraft seen.  4 aircraft and crews returned early., 3 due to crew personnel being sick and one due to mid upper turret u/s and intercom u/s.  W/C Burns DFC and crew are missing, no news since being received.  The remainder all returned to their bases.

31 August/1 September 1943 Berlin – Bomb Load 4 x TI, 1 x 4000lb, 6 x 500lb unless stated
JA916L  W/C K.H.Burns, P/O E.G.Dolby, P/O J.E.McAvoy, P/O J.Keddie, W/O R.J.Williams, W/O E.H.Skinner, W/O O.Lambert.  Up 2037 – aircraft and crew missing.

3.11.43        NFTs and flying training in the morning.  16 aircraft detailed for operations tonight.  P/O J.K.McAvoy DFM  and Act W/O R.J.Williams reported POW.

10.11.43        Training programme detailed.  Letter has been received by the next of kin of W/C Burns DSO DFC stating that he is in hospital in Germany.  He has lost his right arm from the elbow downwards.  Order was given by him for the crew to bale out, the aircraft being out of control and on fire.