19/20.05.1944 No. 7 Squadron Lancaster III ND845 MG-C W/Cdr. Barron
Operation: Le Mans
Date: 19/20th May1944 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No. 7 Squadron 8 PFF Group (motto: Per diem, per noctem - 'By day and by night')
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Oakington, Cambridgeshire
Location: Target area
Pilot: W/Cdr. James Fraser Barron DSO & Bar DFC DFM NZ/401749 RNZAF Age 23. Killed
Fl/Eng: Fl/Sgt. Derek William Wood 963941 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Nav: Sq/Ldr. John Baker DSO DFC 120393 RAFVR Age 28. Killed
Nav: Sq/Ldr. Philip Robert Coldwell DSO DFM 137578 RAFVR Age 24. Killed
Air/Bmr: P/O. Albert Price 54651 RAF Age 32. Missing - believed killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Jack William Walters DFC NZ/404106 RNZAF Age 23. Missing - believed killed
Air/Gnr: F/O. Robert Lorne Weatherall DFM J/18150 RCAF Age 23. Killed (1)
Air/Gnr: W/O. Joseph Lamonby 947546 RAFVR Age 29. Missing - believed killed
It is hoped to place a memorial to this crew in May 2020 relatives are invited to contact us for further information.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Leaving RAF Oakington in Cambridgeshire at 22:22 hrs and flying as Master Bomber for this operation. Some 112 Lancasters taking part with 4 Mosquitoes as support.
Understood to have been hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashing some 3 km North West of Le Mans airfield.
Although some reports state that it may have been involved in a mid-air collision with either the other aircraft lost from the Squadron HB653 MG-R or 115 Squadron Lancaster HK547 KO-F - German reports seized later state that they had been brought down by flak. We are unable to confirm either reports.
Above: the usual crew (courtesy Geoffrey Weatherall)
The loss of both highly experienced and much-decorated crews from 7 Squadron was a huge blow to the Pathfinder Force.
(1) The older brother of F/O. Robert Weatherall DFM 29 year old Sapper Walter Howard Weatherall C/38373 serving with No. 9 Field Squadron, Royal Canadian Engineers listed as missing believed killed on the 10th August 1944, also in France.
W/Cdr. James Fraser Barron DSO and Bar DFC DFM. Le Mans West Cemetery. Plot 38. 1939-45 Row C. Joint grave 20. Son of James Barron, and of Winifred Ellen Barron (nee Fraser), of Palmerston, Otago, New Zealand. A total of 1264 flying hours experience and having completed 79 operational sorties. This was his third tour of operations. He is also remembered on the grave of his friend 20 year old, Sgt. Donald Hodge who was killed on the 01st September 1941 on an operation to Köln as second pilot on Wellington Ic R1411 LN-N when it shot down during the return trip by the Lufwaffe ace Fw. Alfons Köster of NJG2 (see Kracker Luftwaffe Archive on this site) during landing - 5 crew were killed with the rear gunner surviving.
Fl/Sgt. Derek William Wood. Le Mans West Cemetery. Plot 38. 1939-45 Row C. Joint grave 20. No further details - are you able to assist?
Sq/Ldr. John Baker DSO DFC. Le Mans West Cemetery. Plot 38. 1939-45 Row C. Grave 13. (left) Son of John and Mary Baker, of Wednesbury, Staffordshire, England and husband of Edith Prudence Baker, of Wednesbury. Grave inscription reads: "John, Dear Husband Of Prue, Daddy Of Teddy. He Gave His Life To Help Keep England Free. R.I.P".
Sq/Ldr. Philip Robert Coldwell DSO DFM. Le Mans West Cemetery. Plot 38. 1939-45 Row C. Grave 12. Son of John G. Coldwell and Minnie Coldwell and husband of Betty Coldwell, of Wingate, County Durham, England. Grave inscription reads: "...That Is Forever England".
P/O. Albert Price. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 212. Son of George and Rachael Price, of Blackpool, Lancashire, England.
F/O. Jack William Walters DFC. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 263. Son of J. V. and Cecelia C. M. Walters, of Gisborne, Auckland, New Zealand and husband of Julia Rosina Walters, of Hockwold, Norfolk, England. Completed 51 operational sorties, this was his second tour of operations.
F/O. Robert Lorne Weatherall DFM. Bretteville-Sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery. XXVII. G. 3. Son of John James Weatherall and Barbara Weatherall (nee Caulder), of Eastview, Ontario, Canada and husband of Mary Edna Weatherall. Grave inscription reads: "Safe In The Arms Of Jesus" He Died That Others Might Live. God Bless Our Son".
W/O. Joseph Lamonby. Runnymede Memorial. Panel 214. Son of Joseph William and Ester Lamonby, of Liverpool, England.
Sapper Walter Howard Weatherall. Bayeux Memorial. Panel 21 Column 1. Details as brother - shown above.
Sgt. Sgt. Donald Hodge. Leigh Cemetery. Section 31. Grave C. 13. Son of the late Wilfred Hodge who passed away on the 24th January 1934. Leigh, Lancashire, England.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to sources shown. Also to Geoffrey Weatherall for crew photo. Stephen Oakes for grave photo of Sgt. Donald Hodge.
John Baker DSO DFC
John Baker was born on 11th August 1915, at Wednesbury, Staffs and was one of the nine children of John Goodger Baker,1883-1924 (Bilston) and Mary Helena Baker (nee Hayward) a seamstress and shirt maker 1883-1949 (Suffolk). John’s father was an engineer fitter, being a foreman engineer when he died due to an accident at work in 1924. He was working at Joseph Platts, King’s Hill, Wednesbury.
Educated at the Royal Orphanage School in Wolverhampton. After leaving school, John enlisted on 27th August 1932 at age 17 as 822423 Gunner J. Baker, Royal Artillery. Promoted to Lance Bombardier on 9th February 1935 and to Bombardier on 1st November 1937. After 6 years, on 26th August 1938 he transferred to the Royal Artillery Reserve.
On the outbreak of war John was recalled to the army and joined the 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Anti-Tank Regiment RA, equipped with 2 pounder anti-tank guns. In January 1940 the regiment was part of the British Expeditionary Force on the Belgium - France border. On 10th May, John’s unit went into action and was credited with destroying more German tanks than any other anti-tank battery. On 30th May it was pinned down in ditches by heavy German artillery fire and the CO and adjutant were both killed.
Delayed orders to destroy all equipment and escape on foot to Dunkirk were received 24 hours late, which gave the enemy a significant advantage. However, 5 officers and 284 men of 53rd Regt were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk in Operation Dynamo, including John Baker. Many other men were left behind in France either dead or as prisoners. John elected to volunteer for the RAF.
John joined the RAF as 657402 Aircraftman 2nd Class / Aircrafthand / General Duties RAF(VR). He clearly rose quickly through the ranks and obtained a commission. Pilot Officer: 12.5.1942 Flying Officer: 12.10.1942 Act Flt/Lt: 12.11.1942 Act Sqd Ldr. 27.4.1944
Pathfinder Badge 1942-09-29
This was a very early award of the coveted Pathfinder Badge. The certificate accompanying the badge was hand signed by the Pathfinder Force boss, the renowned Group Captain (later Air Marshall) Don 'Bingo' Bennett.
DFC Citation: 'During the many night operations this officer has been engaged upon, his work as navigator has been conspicuous for its skill and determination. He had guided his captain through the enemy defences to release his bombs with unvarying accuracy, achieving excellent results. An outstanding observer, Flight Lieutenant Baker has set a splendid example to his fellow navigators.'
DSO Citation: 'This officer has participated in a very large number of sorties, involving attacks on a wide range of well defended enemy targets. He is a fearless and devoted member of aircraft crew, whose determination to bomb his targets accurately has won him great success. In the air and on the ground his conduct has been exemplary and he had set the finest example of devotion to duty, never sparing himself in his efforts to strike at the enemy at every opportunity.'
On the night of 13th July 1942 John Baker and his crew left RAF Linton in Halifax W.7761 (TL-N) at 00:12 on a sortie of 5hrs and 10 minutes during which they bombed the German target of Duisberg. However, the bomb release mechanism partially failed over the target and a full release was not effected with the result that a 4,000lb ‘cookie’ bomb was still ‘hung up’ in the bomb bay. Despite the application of several different techniques it refused to leave the aircraft. The machine was thus flown home to the U.K. with the bomb still on board. However, as the risk of explosion was considered far too great it was decided that an attempted landing was out of the question.
As a result, the aircraft was abandoned at about 05:00am between Harrogate and Knaresborough where it was seen to roll over onto its back before catching fire and crashing onto farmland at Burn Bridge, Brackenthwaite. The 4,000lb bomb became detached from the aircraft a few seconds before impact and exploded about 1 mile from the crash site.
All seven crew members made successful descents by parachute. John Baker and his fellows thus became members of the Caterpillar Club by saving their lives by parachute.
John Baker took part in this famous raid in Halifax JB786 (G) of 35 Squadron. The sortie was of 7hrs 15mins duration and was to be his last sortie with this unit before his transfer to 405 Sqd RCAF at Gransden Lodge. The famous raid was one of the most important air attack’s of WW2. At this previously anonymous and unknown wilderness site, the Germans were working on the design and production of their V1 & V2 ‘revenge weapons’.
John Baker, son Teddy and Wife Prue
The raid was critically aimed at the skilled scientists and engineers working on the weapons as well as the weapons themselves. It was for this purpose that the raid commenced in the early hours of the morning while most were asleep in their rooms.
John’s final sortie was a critically important attack on the Le Mans railway marshalling yards where SOE intelligence had reported the positioning of many V1 flying bombs on railway rolling stock which were en route to the many launch sites around France. This distribution had to be stopped.
Their aircraft, Lancaster ND845 (MG-C) left RAF Oakington at 22:22 hrs on 19th May 1944.
After an initially uneventful flight and at the start of his role of Master Bomber at the target, John was heard giving directions to the oncoming bomber stream, when suddenly all communication ceased.
At the same instant, there was a similar and abrupt communication cessation from the other Lancaster JB653 (MG-R) of the deputy Master Bomber. Both aircraft were over Le Mans and although for obvious propaganda reasons enemy reports initially claimed they were shot down by flak, it is now believed the two Lancasters collided over the target. As John was new to 7 Squadron and only on his third Master Bomber sortie, he was flying as 2nd Pilot to W/C Barron, and was the 8th crew member in ND845 that night. The other aircraft JB653 carried the normal 7 crewmen. All 15 men were lost from both aircraft.
John Baker's Medals (courtesy Medals of England)