02/03.06.1941 No. 61 Squadron Hampden I X3120 Sgt. W. Assonen I X3120 Sgt. William Asson
Date: 02/03rd June 1941 (Monday/Tuesday)
Unit: No. 61 Squadron
Type: Hampden I
Base: RAF Hemswell
Location: Recklinghausen, Germany
Pilot: Sgt. 'Bill' William Asson 754970 RAFVR PoW No: 18290 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus.
Obs: Sgt. Neil Mussen Campbell 904086 RAFVR PoW No: 39282 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus.
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. 'Johnny' H.G. Johnson 548508 RAFVR PoW No: 18318 Camp: Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. 'Charlie' Charles E. Hawkes 916879 RAFVR PoW No: 916879 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Hampden X3120 took off at 22:58 hrs from RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire. 150 aircraft taking place on this operation to Düsseldorf - 68 Wellingtons, 43 Hampdens and 39 Whitleys. Cloud conditions obscured the target with only 107 aircraft claiming to have bombed the target. Records from Düsseldorf state that only slight damage was caused with the scattered bombing with some 5 people killed and 13 others injured.
Left: W/O. Neil Mussen Campbell taken after his return from the PoW camp in 1945 (courtesy Frederick Thiede)
5 Aircraft were lost on this operation, the others:
Wellington IC R1438 BL-U from 40 Squadron - Flown by 20 year old, Fl/Sgt. Patrick Dickson Sargent 748167 RAFVR from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire - killed with 4 other crew, 1 injured on return to base after stalling.
Hampden I AD797 from 50 Squadron - Flown by 24 year old, P/O. Phillip Booth Hodgson 83725 RAFVR from Hartford, Cheshire - killed over Belgium.
Whitley V P4991 GE-N from 58 Squadron - Flown by Sgt. D.H. Roberts 907609 RAFVR - taken PoW with all 4 other crew members.
Hampden I P2144 also from 61 Squadron - Flown by Sg.t. P. Sleight - all crew escaped injury after a forced landing at East Dereham, Norfolk after running out of fuel.
We were informed by the Grandson of Sgt. Campbell, Frederick Thiede that Hampden X3120 was actually hit by flak which forced the aircraft on its back and into a vertical dive. The pilot managed to level the aircraft out at about 1500 ft then force landed amongst trees. All but Sgt. Campbell escaped injury.
Crew dispatched to various PoW camps as listed.
Sgt. Asson: Stalag Teschen - Stalag Luft Heydekrug - Stalag Kopernikus.
Sgt. Campbell: Stalag Muhlhausen - Stalag Kopernikus.
Sgt. Johnson: Stalag Teschen - Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang
Sgt. Hawkes: Stalag Teschen - Stalag Luft Heydekrug - Stalag Kopernikus.
During his imprisonment it seems that Neil Campbell attempted an escape whilst held at Stalag Muhlhausen - he had made it half way to Switzerland before being recaptured after some two days on the run.
Above and below - crash site of X3120 (courtesy Michel Beckers)
Extract from the memoirs of Sgt Campbell on this last operation (courtesy of his Grandson, Frederick Thiede):
"Then on 2 June came an Op to Düsseldorf. We arrived over France and headed east towards out target. We immediately ran into the worst weather I had ever experienced. There were very high cumulus clouds, which produced severe buffeting and also snow, which built up on the wings but fortunately kept blowing off in large lumps. We retraced our course, hoping to fly back higher and over the storm, but this was a complete waste of time, for we would have needed to fly some 30 000 ft or more to get over this sort of weather. This was more than double the height we could have obtained, so we continued more or less at our former height. We soon found the clouds we were flying in had become lit up by searchlights from underneath, which made them bright white and we realised that we must be over the Ruhr. This was the most heavily defended area in Germany.
We came into calmer weather and into a cloudless sky, where we could see the ground and the flak became heavy. I heard later that many of the crews had not continued to the target that night, because of the weather conditions, and that the five who continued had all been shot down. One could see the shells exploding with puffs of white smoke, then three heavy bangs went off one after the other, the last one exploding under our tail plane and elevators. This turned us on our back and all my navigation equipment disappeared.
Above: Crew of X3120 left to right: Bill Asson, Neil Campbell, Johnny Johnson, Charlie Hawks. (courtesy of his Grandson, Frederick Thiede)
We then started to dive almost vertically towards the ground and Bill told us to get ready to jump, as he could not pull the aircraft out of the dive. I put my chest-type parachute on, at which point the perspex bomb-aiming panel, some two feet in diameter, blew in. Bits of perspex hit me from the front, and we were now diving at over 300mph, well beyond the aircraft's safe maximum speed. The air was rushing in through the hole and the remaining navigation maps were blown down to the back of the aircraft somewhere. Much to our relief came Bill's voice, saying "Hang on, we are coming out of the dive!" We were now flying at about 1500ft and light flak streamed up at us from the front.
It was now getting light and one could see that we were flying over a heavily build up area with houses, factories and church spires. There seemed little one could do and little chance of making a false landing. Our port engine caught fire and the wind was blowing in from the hole in the nose, causing a lot of drag. We had lost most of our remaining height and were now much too low to bale out.
During this period, which seemed a very long time, I remember praying and thinking of my parents. Bill managed to get the fire out with the extinguisher, but with only one engine, we were not going to be flying much longer and landing was essential. He turned a little to port and before I realised what he was doing, we had brushed the top of a large tree on the edge of a wood and come down amongst some smaller ones.
Above taken at Stalag Kopernikus: T. Humphrey Ball 518234 RAFVR (PRU Spitfire), Neil Campbell (Hampden 61 SQD), Gordon F. Bottomley 647964 RAFVR (AD924 Hampden 144 SQD), A.L. Brown (Air Sea Rescue), Archie Kiddey (35 Squadron Halifax L9521 Sgt Pilot), Will Bennett (WOP/AG). (courtesy of his Grandson, Frederick Thiede)
I was knocked out as I had been thrown down the aircraft, was winded and something had hit me on the back of my head. After coming round I could not believe I was alive. There was a smell of petrol and hot engines, and had we caught fire I would never have got out with the exit door un-openable on the ground. It was now dead quiet, which seemed strange after being in so much noise. I called out to Bill and at first no answer came, I wondered if the rest of the crew were alive. They eventually came and talked to me from outside the plane. 'Very' cartridges had been fired over us to mark our position and after some minutes German soldiers arrived. They cut me out and the ambulance men put me on a stretcher. We waited like this for a long time. I was very cold and thirsty and my back was giving me some pain. I asked for some water but the ambulance men had none, though one of them offered me a peppermint.
We heard the all clear siren and I was carried to an ambulance waiting on the road. A group of German civilians had gathered and were shouting abuse at us. Luckily we were in the hands of the military who kept them back. It was known that some aircrew had been attacked."
61 Squadron Hampden 'Bombing Up' at Hemswell, Lincolnshire.
None - all crew survived as PoW. Neil Campbell passed away in 2008 age 89.
For further details our thanks to the Grandson of Sgt. Campbell, Frederick Thiede. Also thanks to Michel Beckers for crash site photos and the following sources.