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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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103 Squadron Crest
04/05.05.1942 103 Squadron Wellington IC Z8833 PM:L Flt Sgt. John R. St. G. Arrowsmith

Operation: Nickel, Nantes, France

Date: 4th/5th May 1942 (Monday/Tuesday)

Unit: 103 Squadron

Type: Wellington Ic

Serial: Z8833

Code: PM:L

Base: RAF Elsham Wolds

Location: Bay of Biscay / Celtic Sea

Pilot: Flt Sgt. John Raymond St. George Arrowsmith 931603 RAFVR Age 24. Killed

Pilot 2: Flt Sgt. George Arthur McLean R69782 RCAF Age 20. Killed

Obs: Sgt. Walter Gordon Harrison 1066469 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Philip Robert Abbas 1199343 RAFVR Age 23. Killed

WOp/Air Gnr: Sgt. Kenneth Frank Adlam 906183 RAFVR Age 22. Pow No. 388 *

Air Gnr (Rear): Flt Sgt. George William Gibb R62671 RCAF Age? PoW No. 410 *

* Stalag Luft 6, Heydekrug, Memelland (now Šilutė in Lithuania)


Raymond Arrowsmith and his crew took off at 12:08 hrs on the 5th of May 1942 from RAF Elsham Wolds for an operation to Nantes. Bomber Command's main effort that night was against Stuttgart, but they sent 19 aircraft to Nantes and 10 aircraft on a Nickel (leaflet dropping) operation over France.

Pilot of Z8833 - Flt Sgt. John Raymond St. George Arrowsmith (courtesy John Hamblin)

By the time the aircraft returned over the enemy coast it was heavily damaged and Arrowsmith alerted the crew that he was going to attempt to force land the stricken aircraft on the sea. He ordered the front gunner to the back of the aircraft to assist the rear gunner. As the aircraft was some 50 feet above the surface of the sea it broke in two killing all those in the front half, which sank immediately. The two gunners managed to escape and climb into the life raft.

After nearly a week adrift in the aircraft’s dinghy they made landfall on the French coast.

Map key and translation - from top to bottom of map

11.5 1 engl. Flieger Festgenommen
11th May - 1 English airman arrested;

8.5 Berücht ü. engl. Landung
8th May - Rumour about Englishman landing;

10.5 1 Engl. angert. gef. durch Schlauchboot
10th May - 1 Englishman captured in Dinghy;

8.5 Berücht über engl. Landung
8th May - Rumour about Englishman landing;

11.5 Silhouette of aircraft 4+
11th May - Depicts the loss of a German Focke-Wulf Fw 58 of the sea rescue service of Jagdgeschwader 2. The four German airmen are now buried at Marigny German military cemetery, Block 5, row 40, graves 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994. (Credit: Stéphane Robine)

The above map from the German 320th Infantry Division depicts the captured of two British airmen, one on the 10th May aboard a dinghy and the the second a day later on the 11th May north of where the first airman was captured. (Source is: BArch RH 26-320/6, Karte: Feind-Karte für Abschnitt 320. Inf.Div. (vom 1. Jan. 42-31.5.42) (credit: Valentin Schneider)

Wellington Ic Z8833 was the only aircraft lost in this region on the day in question snd the timeline indicates that it is almost certain that the two captured airmen were Sgt. Adlam and Flt Sgt. Gibb.

The rest of the crew were never recovered. Theirs was the only aircraft lost on the raid.

Above, Memorial at RAF Elsham Wolds

Burial Details:

Flt Sgt. John Raymond St. George Arrowsmith. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 173. Born at Wokingham in Lancashire on the 23rd of April 1918 the elder son of Henry and Margaret Joan (née Pearson) Arrowsmith of 4, Kensington Court Gardens, South Kensington in London.

He was educated at Lancing College where he was in Seconds House from January 1932 to July 1936. Went on to Wye Agricultural College from 1936 to 1940 and achieved a B.Sc (London) in 1940. On leaving college he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and was sent to Canada for pilot training. On completing his training posted to 103 Squadron operating Wellington bombers. Although offered a commission he refused, preferring to remain an NCO. By May 1942, in terms of numbers of operations flown, Flt Sgt. Arrowsmith was one of the most experienced pilots in the squadron

Above: Medal collection of Flt Sgt. Arrowsmith (courtesy Michel Beckers)

Flt Sgt. George Arthur McLean. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 105. Born on the 1st February 1918 in Toronto, Ontario. Son of John Archibald and Elizabeth Florence (née Woods) McLean of Toronto, Ontario. Husband to Mary (née Husky) McLean of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Sgt. Walter George Harrison. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 85. Born in 2nd Qtr of 1922 in Cockermouth Cumbria. Son to Capt Walter Gordon CBE and Maud (née Sowerby) Harrison of Workington, Cumberland.

Above: Sgt. Philip Robert Abbas (courtesy Kay Collins)

Sgt. Philip Robert Abbas. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 77. Born on the 6th June 1918 in New York, USA. Son of Philip Meijer Robert and Janet Thomson (née Levens) Abas (Rodriguez de Miranda). Husband to Betty L. (née Nicholson) Abbas of Rushden, Northants, England.

Page researched by Michel Beckers for Aircrew Remembered (Nov 2014). With thanks to John Hamblin for photographs of Flt Sgt. Arrowsmith, Kay Collins for the photo of Sgt. Philip Abbas, both via Michel Beckers. NoK and details for the crew updated by Aircrew Remembered (Jan 2022). Thanks to Valentin Schneider for the map depicting the capture of two airmen (Jan 2022) .

RS 30.01.2022 - NoK and details of the crew updated and capture map added

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Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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