27/28.09.1943 No. 432 Squadron Wellington X HE817 QO-K P/O. Stanley K. Atkinson
Date: 27/28 September 1943 (Monday/Tuesday)
Unit: No.432 Squadron (RCAF Leaside)
Type: Wellington X
Base: RAF Skipton on Swale, North Yorkshire
Location: Schulenburger Landstrasse, Hannover
Pilot: P/O. Stanley Kyle Atkinson J/18229 RCAF Age 20. Missing (1)
2nd Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Irvine Charles Randolph Bowden 621553 RAF Age 27. Missing
Nav: Fl/Sgt. Leo Frederick Cook R/144405 RCAF Age 22. Missing
W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. Alfred William Chubb 155352 RAFVR Age 35. Missing
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. William Alexander Grant J/18813 RCAF PoW No. 117117. Camp: Dulag Wetzlar
Air/Gnr: M/Sgt. Shelton C. Bybee USAAF PoW No: Camp: Stalag Mühleberg-elbe
REASON FOR LOSS:
In the early evening hours of 27 September, 678 Bomber Command aircraft began to take off for a bombing mission over Hannover. In the mix of Lancasters, Halifaxes and Stirlings, 24 Wellingtons were also to take part. Of these, one would be destined not to return tragically taking with it the lives of four members of its gallant crew of six.
Left: pilot, P/O. Stanley Kyle Atkinson
Many of the aircraft met severe icing conditions on the outward journey and returned to base. Those that did manage to get through to the target area found the weather to be clear and using the Steinhuder Meer (Lake Steinhude), as a visual reference were able to pinpoint Hannover some 19 miles to the southeast. Unfortunately for the Pathfinders, an error in the wind forecast caused the marking to be five miles to the north sparing the city centre from most of the bombing. Even so, the high explosive bombs and over 40,000 incendiaries took a heavy toll on the population leaving 20,000 homeless with the loss of 200 lives.
In all, 47 aircraft from Bomber Command were lost with 237 airmen killed and 65 made prisoners of war. One flyer evaded capture after his aircraft was shot down and five more were injured during crash landings upon their return. In addition to the Bomber Command losses, a lone B17 flying on the raid from the USAAF was lost with seven American airmen killed and four taken prisoner when it was shot down over Landringhausen, west of Hannover.
German records show that Wellington HE817 was brought down by a combination of flak and fighter action with the main section of the aircraft crashing to earth at Schulenburger Landstraße 120, at 23:12 hours. A section of the wing was also found at Melanchthonstraße 20, 1.26km to the southeast.
Right: pilot 2, Fl/Sgt. Irvine Charles Randolph Bowden
Two of the crew were thrown clear and, although injured, survived the crash and were taken prisoner. From a letter written by one of the survivors, tail gunner Master Sergeant Shelton Bybee USAAF, to the family of P/O. Atkinson after the war, we can learn of the fate that befell them:
“On Sept. 27 1943 we took off from England for Hanover, Germany. We reached the target in good condition, a little ahead of time. We were the only plane over the target at the time. The Jerrys picked us up in the searchlights. A fighter came up from the front and underneath hitting my turret. I was wounded at the time but did not know it.
My communication was cut from the rest of the plane; therefore, I did not know what happened in the front…who was wounded. Another plane (fighter) came in on me from the tail. I shot him, he ran into us, hitting us in the mid-section. It turned the plane upside down, threw the turret with me inside away from the plane that was about 18,000 feet. I bailed out about 2,000 feet.
Left: wireless operator, P/O. Alfred William Chubb
The two planes were stuck together and came down in flames. Bill Grant who was the bombardier, was thrown clear of the plane, came down unconscious, landing on a building, fell off and broke his leg. Bill and I landed about two blocks apart. There were six of us on the plane. To the best of my knowledge we two are the only ones that survived. I could have found out the details from the German authorities at the time, if there were any survivors but I would not give out any information concerning our plane, that is, what plane I was on, etc.
After my liberation, I went to the RCAF Headquarters in London, England. I checked all reports stating Bill Grant and I were the only survivors. I saw these photostatic copies, and to my belief they are correct. I am very sorry to give you this report but do not want to tell you something that I do not actually believe myself. This is the truth as far as I know. I have written to Mrs Chubb in England, stating the same thing. Her husband was our Wireless Operator.
I have not held back any information at all. I’d like to tell you that the Canadian boys were some of the best I was ever with, and the Canadian people treated me like a King.”
P/O. Atkinson was a veteran of 25 sorties against the enemy and was to have been Godfather to P/O. Chubb’s only son who was born two months after the crash.
Right: navigator, Fl/Sgt. Leo Frederick Cook
It is unclear why Shelton Bybee, a USAAF Sergeant, would be flying with this crew but it is suspected that he originally enlisted in the R.C.A.F. and was serving with 432 Squadron. His U.S. Army enlistment record shows his date of enlistment in the Air Corps as 1 September 1943 which is likely the date when he transferred to the U.S.A.A.F.
M/Sgt. Shelton Bybee was the youngest of six children born to Claude and Sallie Bybee of Salt River, Audrain, Missouri. Shelton Bybee died in 1987 at Apache Junction, Pinal, Arizona. He was 71 years of age.
The German fighter pilot shot by M/Sgt Bybee was Feldwebel Heinz Radloff from 1./JG301. He crashed with his Bf 109G in the List district of Hannover, approximately 2km from the crash site of HE817.
Little is known about Radloff. He scored one previous victory on the night of 30/31 July 1943 when he shot down a four-engined bomber at Remscheid. HE817 was his second victim on this, his final mission.
The second night-fighter involved in this incident was a Bf110 flown by Oberfähnrich Siegfried König from 9./NJG3. Although he was credited with the destruction of HE817 as his second “Anerkennung”, we now learn from Bybee’s letter that it was not Konig, but Radloff, whose Bf 109G rammed and ultimately brought down HE817 after he was killed by machine gun fire from the bomber.
König was promoted and credited with his third “Anerkennung” when the Unteroffizier shot down a four-engined-bomber over Hannover on the night of 18/19 October 1943.
(1) Atkinson Lake in northern Ontario is named after P/O. Stanley K. Atkinson.
P/O. Stanley Kyle Atkinson, Runnymede Memorial Panel 175. Son of the Revd. James H. Atkinson and Ethel Atkinson of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Fl/Sgt. Irvine Charles Randolph Bowden, Runnymede Memorial Panel 135. Son of Edward Arthur and Emelene Bowden of Torquay, Devon, England.
Fl/Sgt. Leo Frederick Cook, Runnymede Memorial Panel 181. Son of William and Philomene Cook of Lindsay, Ontario, Canada.
P/O. Alfred William Chubb, Runnymede Memorial Panel 131. Son of Alfred Charles and Edith Amelia Chubb; husband of Hilda Jessie Chubb of Forest Gate, Essex, England.
Information prepared by our Canadian researcher Colin Bamford and dedicated to relatives of this crew.
Article compiled from original sources and the dedicated research of Stefan Ilsemann into the loss of Wellington HE817 who kindly gave permission for the reproduction of Shelton Bybee’s letter and crew photographs.