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Bernard McCormack: RAF Gunner

Shot Down W/C Guy Gibson VC

One of the greatest Allied heroes of the Second World War was killed by friendly fire, according to a posthumous confession by the man who pulled the trigger, uncovered 67 years later.

Guy Gibson, who won a VC for leading the Dambusters' 'bouncing bomb' raids, died when his plane crashed mysteriously while returning from a mission 16 months later.

Guy Gibson VC

It was thought at the time, and for decades following the war, that Wing Commander Gibson crashed after running out of fuel or flying too low. He was 26 when he died, his only identifiable remains a laundry mark from a sock.

But now a researcher for a new film of the RAF raids on the Ruhr Valley in 1943 has unearthed a taped confession made by a Lancaster gunner who says he shot down Wing Cdr Gibson's Mosquito fighter-bomber.

Sergeant Bernard McCormack was in a formation of 227 Lancaster bombers and 10 Mosquitoes in an attack on Germany in September 1944. Mosquitoes were sent on major bombing raids to act as Pathfinders for the bombing force, pinpointing the target with distinctive flares so the following bombers could aim their bombs correctly. They also acted as protectors for the bombing force against the nightfighters sent up by the Germans to protect their cities.

Gibson was in a Mosquito that night strictly against RAF practice which was to rest bomber crews after their tour of 30 operations. Gibson had completed his tour in Lancasters but had badgered his superiors into allowing him to continue his personal fight against the enemy by joining a Mosquito squadron.

As his bomber stream was returning to RAF Woodall in Lincolnshire, Sgt McCormack saw what he thought was a Junkers 88 nightfighter closing in on his aircraft and loosed off 600 rounds of machine gun fire, bringing it down over the Dutch town of Steenbergen.

When he was debriefed by RAF intelligence officers, he realised he had killed Wing Cdr Gibson and his navigator Jim Warwick. It is not known if this was conveyed to the Intelligence Officers and a cover-up ensued, or whether McCormack kept his secret to himself.

In any event, in the years that followed McCormack was wracked with guilt and he taped a confession, which he entrusted to his wife Eunice when he died in 1992. The cassette has now been found by TV documentary maker James Cutler, 62, after he contacted Mrs McCormack during research for the new film.

Referring to Wing Cdr Gibson's plane – or 'kite' in RAF slang – Sgt McCormack said on tape: 'All of a sudden this kite comes right behind us, twin engines and a single rudder, and it comes bouncing in towards us... so we opened fire and we blew him up.'

'When we got back we claimed a Ju 88 shot down. The following day we were quizzed again.' An officer asked him: 'What made you think it was a Ju 88?'

Sgt McCormack went on: 'We said it had twin engines and a single rudder. He said, 'So has a Mosquito. Supposing his radio and his radar was knocked out and he was lost and he spotted a Lancaster – he would only want to follow it home wouldn't he?'

'And it turned out it was Gibbo we shot down.'

Mr Cutler has also discovered classified documents in the Bomber Command records at the National Archives that back up Sgt McCormack's account.

One is the combat report from the crew of Sgt McCormack's Lancaster and the second is from the crew of another Lancaster on the raid which noted the 'kill'.

Mr Cutler, of St Ives, Cambridgeshire, has published his research into the incident in Britain At War magazine. He said: 'It could only have been Gibson's plane because the coordinates in these documents were right where his plane came down. I am satisfied 100 per cent that Guy Gibson was killed by friendly fire and 99.9 per cent sure that he was shot down by Bernard McCormack's plane. For Guy Gibson to be killed by friendly fire was a huge blunder.'

Guy Gibson VC Jim Warwick DFC Steenbergen, Holland

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SY 2021-10-22

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