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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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617 Squadron crest
16/17.05.1943 617 Squadron Lancaster III ED864 AJ-B Fl/Lt. William Astell D.F.C.

Operation: Chastise

Date: 16/17th May 1943

Unit: No. 617 Squadron

Type: Lancaster III

Serial: ED864

Code: AJ-B

Base: RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire

Location: Marbeck, Germany

Pilot: Fl/Lt. William Astell DFC 60283 RAFVR Age 23. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. John Kinnear 635123 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Nav: P/O. Floyd Alvin Wile J/16872 RCAF Age 24. Killed

Air/Bmr: F/O. Donald Hopkinson 127817 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Abram Garshowitz R/84377 RCAF Age 22. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Francis Anthony Garbas R/103201 RCAF Age 22. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Richard Bolitho 1211045 RAFVR Age 23. Killed


We have since been contacted by Mr. Mitch Bulting from Holland. On the 70th anniversary of the loss, he researched and prepared photographs of all the crew, laminated them and placed in front of each crew members grave.


REASON FOR LOSS:

Lancaster III ED864 AJ-B left Scampton at 21.59 hours as part of the final section of the first wave of Operation Chastise to bomb the Mohne Dam. 

Along with Pilot Officer Knight and Squadron Leader Maudslay and crews, they proceeded into Germany. The other two crews altered course but Fl/Lt. Astell became slightly off course and on reaching a canal crossing, which was actually the correct place, turned South down the canal as though to search for the correct position. 

ED864 collided with an electricity pylon before bursting into flames and crashing into fields behind some farmhouses with its bomb on fire which continued to roll onwards before exploding. At the same time machine guns continued to fire from the burning aircraft. 

Rear row, left to right: P/O. Wile, Unknown, F/O. Hopkinson. Front: W/O 2. Garshowitz, Sgt. Bolitho (See credits below)

Above, left to right: Sgt. Abram Garshowitz, P/O. Floyd Wile, F/O. Donald Hopkinson, Sgt. Francis Garbas and Sgt. Richard Bolitho, Sgt. John Kinnear and Fl/Lt. William Astell DFC (See credits)

Eyewitnesses who ran to the crash scene were unable to get close owing to the ammunition still discharging. A very deep bomb crater about 12 metres wide was left. 

Many buildings nearby had roofs torn off and windows smashed but miraculously a statue of St.Joseph holding the baby Jesus, on the edge of the crater remained untouched.

A memorial stone and plaque lie as a permanent memorial to Flight Lieutenant Astell and his crew (courtesy Stefan Heinitz)

              

Burial details:

Originally buried at Borken, exhumed on the 5th February 1947.

Fl/Lt. William Astell D.F.C. Reischwald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 21.D.13. Further information: Known to friends and family as Bill and born in 1920 at Peover, Cheshire to Godfrey Grant and Margery Helen Astell of Manchester. He was posted to 617 Squadron on the 25th of March 1943.

Sgt. John Kinnear. Reischwald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 21.D.14. Further information: Son of William and Helen Kinnear of East Newport, Fife. Born in November 1921 and worked as a mechanic, waiting till he was twenty-one before he could enlist and enjoy his enthusiasm for flying.

P/O. Floyd Alvin Wile. Reischwald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 21.D.15. Further information: Born in 1919 in Scotch Village, Nova Scotia, the son of Harris and Annabelle Wile. He had six siblings, Arnold, Ada, Leslie, Dorothy, Raymond (served overseas with the Princess Louise Fusiliers in Italy) and Donald. After he left high school he worked in farming and the lumbar business. A keen sportsman, he enjoyed skiing, skating and swimming. Attended No. 5 Initial Training School and No. 8 Air Observer School and was noted for being very quiet and hard working. By the time he had attended No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery school he had gained in confidence and was commended as outstanding by his commanding officer. After passing out of No. 2 Air Navigation School in 1941, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and left 1654 Conversion Unit, Wigsley in December 1942. Posted to 9 Squadron at Waddington, Floyd and the rest of the crew were piloted by Sergeant M.W.Stephenson, who it is believed was killed acting as Flight Engineer on a raid to Duisberg on 8/9th January 1943. Floyd and the rest of the crew were to fly their first op. with Flight Lieutenant Astell on the 25th of January 1943. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission also erected an identical headstone dedicated to Floyd in the family plot.

F/O. Donald Hopkinson. Reischwald Forest War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 21.D.16-18. Further information: Son of Harold and Sarah (nee Titler) of Royton, Lancashire. His half brother Fred qualified as a pilot in Florida in August 25th 1945 and became a Spitfire pilot after joining the R.A.F. Donald was educated at Chadderton Grammar School for Boys, a keen sportsman, he excelled at cricket. He worked as a clerk before enlisting in December1941 and did part of his training at RAF Kinloss. On the night before the final mission, whilst spending his leave at home, Don mentioned to his family that he had a bad feeling and premonition about flying on this particular mission.

Sgt. Abram Garshowitz. Reischwald Forest War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 21.D.16-18. Further information: Son of Samuel and Sarah (nee Borowy) of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Known by family and friends as Albert or Al, and the ninth of twelve children, educated at McIlwraith Public School, Hamilton Central Collegiate Institute and Hamilton Talmud Torah. Confirmed in 1934 at the Beth Jacob Synagogue and was an active member of the A.Z.A. He worked in the family furniture business, selling new and used furniture.

Sgt. Francis Anthony Garbas. Reischwald Forest War Cemetery. Coll. Grave 21.D.16-18. Further information: Born in July 1922, and known to his family and friends as Frank, he was a boyhood friend of Sergeant Garshowitz. The son of Polish immigrants to Canada he enjoyed playing American football and worked at Otis, the elevator manufacturers before he enlisted in the R.C.A.F.

Sgt. Richard Bolitho. Reischwald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 21.E.1. Further information: Son of William and Jane (Cuthbertson) Bolitho of Port Rush, Co.Antrim, Northern Ireland. Known as “Dickie” to family and friends he was the only son of William, (a traveller in seeds) and Janet Bolitho and was brought up at his mothers family home, ”Braehead” in Portrush. In 1927 the family moved to England where they bought a hotel on Castle Boulevard in Kimberley, Nottinghamshire and Richard moved in with his aunt Emily who owned a fruit and vegetable shop. He attended the Church Hill School and enlisted in the RAF. After training he joined 9 Squadron on 23rd December 1942, 57 Squadron on 22nd January 1943 and joined 617 Squadron on 25th March 1943. His last leave was spent with P/O. Wile, W/O. Garshowitz and Sgt. Kinnear at his home in Kimberley, Nottinghamshire. After his death his family returned to Portrush in 1946. Richards name is inscribed on the War Memorial for Kimberley, Nottinghamshire and in 2008 a special plaque was commissioned.

Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. With thanks to the following relatives for their valuable assistance with information and photographs supplied, many thanks to Mitch Bulting for many photos and the video taken. For information on P/O. Floyd Alvin Wile to Donald Lightbody (nephew), F/O. Donald Hopkinson to Christine Hopkinson (niece), Sgt. Richard Bolitho Basil Haslett, (second cousin), Sgt. Abram Garshowitz to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial. With special thanks to Matt Lacroix who we work so closely with. 

We do have copies of the exhumation reports for this crew - but feel that they should not be made public.

  


Acknowledgements: 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 and Fred Paradie - Paradie Archive (both on this site), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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