08.03.1945 No. 21 Squadron SAAF Marauder III HD477 R-W F/O. Walter Frederick (Jack) Blackford
Operation: Arsa Channel, Yugoslavia
Date: 08.03.1945 (Thursday)
Unit: No. 21 Squadron SAAF Motto: Onoorwinlik (Unconquerable, Afrikaans)
Badge: Details unknown
Type: Martin B-26G Marauder.
Base: Iesi Landing Ground, Marche, Italy
Location: Gilešići near Juršići, Croatia (12 miles north of Pula)
Pilot: F/O. Walter Frederick (Jack) Blackford Aus/425589 Age 24 - Killed (1)
2nd Pilot: WO. William Henry Richardson Aus/419589 Age 21 - Evaded (2)
Obs: Lt. Dirk Smit 542306V SAAF Age 33 - Evaded (3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Ernest Mortimer Arthur 1850403 RAF Age 20 - Evaded (4)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. David Steele Smith 1821494 RAFVR Age 20 - Killed (5)
Air/Gnr: WOII N. H. Nel 284246V SAAF - Evaded (6)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK
No. 21 Squadron SAAF was formed on 8 May 1941 at Nakuru Kenya flying Martin Marylands and in July moved to Egypt. The squadron operated against Axis bases and airfields and in November and December was engaged in Operation Crusader during which the squadron suffered significantly high losses.
In January 1942 the Squadron was withdrawn to Egypt with the intention of converting to Martin Baltimores but long delays in delivery of the new aircraft ensured that operations were not resumed until the following October during the Second Battle of El Alamein.
In July 1943 the Squadron moved to RAF Hal Far in Malta from where it operated in support of the invasion of Sicily before moving to Italy. Based at Cuticchi, Tortorella, Biferno and Pescara it was engaged in attacking German positions.
In early 1944 the Squadron flew in support of the Anzio beach-head, the Monte Cassino offensive and Tito's partisan operations in Yugoslavia.
In June 1944 the Squadron moved to Pescara in the Abruzzo region of Italy on the Adriatic coast where it received four Martin Marauders in order to begin conversion training and familiarisation.
On July 18 the Squadron flew its final operation with Baltimores and from that date ceased operations in order to give full priority to the training of crews on Marauders.
In June 1944 Jack Blackford had been posted to 21 Squadron SAAF. He did not fly operationally on Baltimores so presumably began training almost immediately on the Marauder.
The Squadron recommenced operations on 15 August 1944 with a raid on the Porto Maggiore railway sidings and Jack Blackford was detailed to fly on the operation as 2nd Pilot with the crew of Lt. P. Cloete. From then until the end of September Jack flew as part of the crew on a further 23 operations against targets in northern Italy.
On 25 September Lt. Colonel Donald Ord DFC , who had previously served with the squadron, returned to take over as Commanding Officer.
In October the squadron moved to Iesa, Tuscany but due to heavy rain at Pescara and the necessity to extend the runway at Iesa no operations were possible throughout the month. Continuing heavy rain in November similarly prevented all operational flying.
As operations resumed Jack Blackford continue to fly as No. 2 to Lt. Cloete but yet again extremely bad weather in January 1945 restricted the number of raids to 7; a total of 62 sorties. Bombs had to be necessarily handled in snow, rain and mud with the vehicles transporting them over the long distance from bomb dump to aircraft becoming frequently bogged down. February was a little better but even so, only 114 sorties were flown during the entire month.
By March 1945 the Squadron had acquired 18 Marauders. Excellent maintenance ensured that no more than one or two were unserviceable at any given time throughout the first quarter of the year.
An anti-flakship operation on 4 March was to be Jack Blackford's last with Lt. Cloete and two days later he was detailed to fly as No.2 Pilot to P/O. Markham on an operation to bomb Conegliano some 40 miles north of Venice. The rest of the crew consisted of Lt. Dirk Smit, WOII. N. H. Nel and Sgts, Ernest Arthur and David Smith.
On 8 March 1945 9 crews of 21 Squadron were briefed for a raid on the Zalog marshalling yards east of Ljubljana in German occupied Yugoslavia. They were to be led by the Squadron's Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Donald Ord DFC.
Jack Blackford was granted his command and this would be his first operation as captain. His crew consisted of the five men who had flown on the previous operation under P/O. Markham and his No. 2 Pilot was to be fellow Aussie WO. William Richardson.
Marauders of No. 12 Squadron SAAF also based at Iesa were detailed for the same operation
REASON FOR LOSS
In the afternoon of 8 March 1945 the 9 Marauders of 21 Squadron SAAF took off from Iesa, the Squadron Operations Record Book records that the aircraft were airborne at 1452.
Flying in three Vics the Marauders headed north east and having rendezvoused with their fighter escort of 8 Spitfires from Porto Corsini crossed the Adriatic to Trieste.
According to later eyewitnesses in the target area the force included approximately 40 twin engine bombers so it would seem that apart from No. 12 Squadron, bombers of perhaps two other squadrons were also involved in the raid.
Encountering bad weather and heavy cloud east of Trieste the formation was unable to penetrate to the primary target and subsequently turned south towards the alternative target of the Arsa Channel coal jetty and wharf near Raša, (Italian: Arsia), a coal mining area 2.8 miles south west of Labin in the then Italian Istrias peninsular)
Approaching the target from the north the aircraft encountered heavy flak at Raša and No. 12 Squadron crews reported later that
"There was a lot more heavy flak than was expected, the target being covered, as it later transpired, by 12 heavy guns and not 3 only as was shown in current flak charts".
No. 21 Squadron Marauders attacked from 12000 feet on a course of 190 degrees at 1642 hrs.
Number one in the first Vic was Squadron C.O. Lt. Col. Donald Ord DFC, Jack Blackford in HD477 was number two.
Immediately after the bombs were released Marauder HD477's starboard engine was hit by flak and the aircraft broke away from the formation in a shallow dive. Beside Jack was 2nd Pilot William Richardson who later recalled that Jack was wearing his harness and parachute as he fought to hold the aircraft steady.
As the aircraft turned in a westerly direction and with two of the fighter escorts following it down, it began to lose height rapidly.
The intercom was out of action so no order to bale was heard and so at about 7000 feet Wireless operator Ernest Arthur jumped followed by observer Lt. Smit and William Richardson. As air gunner WOII Nell was preparing to jump he was trapped by his foot for some seconds until his foot slipped out of his flying boot and he escaped.
Shortly after leaving the aircraft Richardson, Smit and Arthur saw the starboard wing break off near the engine, presumably where it had burned through, and at about 4000 feet the aircraft went into a spin. Whilst the aircraft was spinning they also saw a parachute open but none of them saw it land.
The two fighter escorts continued to follow HD477 down and reported that it "crashed at pin point H8206" and four parachutes had been seen to open. The aircraft crashed at 16.45 and burst into flames.
Eye witnesses reported that the first parachute landed at Filipana, the second a few hundred yards away, the third at Butkovići and the fourth at Mušcovići.
The two near Filipana were those of Richardson and Arthur whilst Nel landed at Muscovici but in a statement made on his return, Smit said that he had landed about a mile west of Marzena [Marcana (Italian: Marzana)].
William Richardson and Ernest Arthur were helped by partisans and though details are not known they were back with the squadron by the end of March 1945.
Lt. Smit said that he had landed at about 16.55 hours and made towards the spot where he had noticed Richardson and Arthur land. After about 15 minutes a farmer came up, took him to a "bunker" in the hills, gave him food and told him to stay in the bunker until he was called for.
Early the next afternoon the farmer took him to a Yugoslav Partisan house about 15 mins walk away, here a meal was waiting for him. Here he was told to throw his badges of rank into the fire, in case he fell into the hands of the enemy. Then the farmer took him a few miles north, to a cluster of houses near a main road and handed him over to two Croatian girls who were waiting. The girls took him to a farmhouse a few miles farther north, a dangerous trip since the Germans were on the look out for escaping air crews and were machine gunning the main and secondary road. They spent the night at the farmhouse.
Nothing more is known of his experiences but he too was back with the squadron by the end of March.
In his report the Medical Officer in charge at 21 Squadron SAAF stated that "One of the gunners [Nel] sustained a fracture of his external malleolus [the bony projection like a hammer head especially each of those on either side of the ankle] before he jumped and had to spend the first three days hidden in a cave where he said he suffered a bit from cold, probably due to inactivity.
All four crew members who baled out made it back to Italy where W/O. Richardson, Sgt. Arthur and Lt. Smit were interrogated about their experiences at No. 1 Allied PW Repatriation Camp Bari. The foregoing account was compiled using their statements and 21 Squadron records and they were all later declared fit for full flying duties.
The fate of the other two crew members, pilot Jack Blackwood and air gunner David Smith is not clear.
The aircraft had been completely burned out and partisans whom Smit met later had stated that two burned bodies had been found in it and that a third body with parachute attached but with the head smashed, had been found some little distance from the crashed aircraft.
Smit, Richardson and Arthur later tried at various times to visit the scene of the crash but were prevented by the presence of Ustachi [the Croatian fascist, racist ultra-nationalist and terrorist organisation active in is original form between 1929 and 1945. Its members murdered hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma as well as political dissidents in Yugoslavia during World War Two]. They were [also] unable to obtain any clue as to the identity of the three bodies alleged to have been found in or near the aircraft nor have they any knowledge as to where these bodies were buried.
According to a report by the Missing Research and Enquiry Unit on 23 January 1948
"The Marauder crashed near Dignano Italy [now Vodnjan, Croatia] and four parachutes were seen to open. Blackford's identity discs were later handed in to AM.G., Pola by the Rev. Giovanni Gaspard who stated that Blackford and other members of the crew of the aircraft that crashed about April 1945 were buried near Dignano".
One of the Searcher Parties operating in Yugoslavia proceeded to Dignano to investigate the case reported that "the Germans removed some charred remains from the aircraft which had crashed near Gilešići [a hamlet next to Juršići, Croatia] and together with the body of the dead parachutist they were taken to Jursic [Juršići] and buried in the Civil Cemetery there. A piece of the aircraft was placed on the grave and remainder taken away. The Rev. Gaspard no longer resides at Dignano so it was impossible to obtain any further details from him. Local inhabitants state that this was the only aircraft to crash in the area during the war.
The piece of wreckage was examined and part of an RAF roundel was visible and the aluminium was stamped 'Alclad' thus proving the aircraft to have been of American manufacture.
Exhumation revealed only broken bones a leather flying helmet and part of a woollen sweater of dark or Australian blue.
It was concluded, given the evidence, that the aircraft that crashed here must be Marauder HD477"
In 1948 it having proved impossible to establish individual identification of the remains of F/O. Walter Frederick (Jack) Blackford and Sgt. David Steele Smith, they were re-interred in a joint grave in the Belgrade War Cemetery, Yugoslavia (now Serbia).
In December 2018 Aircrew Remembered was contacted by Croation aviation researcher Radovan Živanović who informed us that the Marauder had crashed in the forest of Paljuh near Juršić. Radovan has recovered numerous small relics from the aircraft for his aviation museum.
We were also contacted in December 2018 by Milenko Sandrić, a resident of Juršić, who in 2016 and at his own expense, constructed a memorial to the crew on the crash site in the forest.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) F/O. Walter Frederick Blackford was born 10 May 1920 at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia the son of Ernest George Tobias Blackford and Georgina Amelia Blackford nee Warren, of Ridge Street Northgate, Queensland, Australia. He had a brother William George Blackford (1918 - 2002) and Alice Noella Blackford (1924 - 2003). Before enlisting in the RAAF Walter was employed as a typewriter mechanic by Chartres.
He enlisted at Brisbane on 24 April 1942, embarked on 6 March 1943 and joined 21 Squadron SAAF in June 1944.
He is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial at Canberra on Panel 134.
(2) F/O William Herbert Richardson was born on 29 December 1923 at Kew, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia the son of William Andrew Richardson and Ethel Jessie Richardson nee Kidd. He had a brother Jack Alexander Richardson (1904-1980. He was educated at Carey Grammar School, Melbourne after which he was employed by M.R.M. Peacock & Co., Chartered Accountants, Collins Street, Melbourne. He was a junior member of Kew Golf Club where he
showed considerable promise.
He enlisted in the RAAF on 8 September 1942 at Melbourne. Having completed his training in England he was posted to No. 21 Squadron SAAF in 1944.
He survived the war and was discharged with the rank of Flying Officer on January 23, 1946. Posting at discharge was 21 Personnel Transit Centre.
In 1947 he married Margaret Doris Schorey Dickinson at Melbourne. They had one child.
William died at Sandringham, Melbourne on 26 October 2005 at the age of 81.
(3) Lt. Dirk Smit was born on 8 August 1908 at Cape Province, South Africa.
He lived at 65 Queen Victoria Street Claremont, Cape.
(4) Sgt. Ernest Mortimer Arthur was born on 25 December 1924 at Holborn, London the son of Ernest Arthur and Amelia Arthur nee Branton. He had three siblings: George H. Arthur born 1927, Sidney E. Arthur born 1930 and Jean B. Arthur born 1934.
In 1939 Ernest was living at 40 Somerset Buildings, St Pancras, London with his mother. He was employed as a Messenger for a Wholesale Newsagent.
In 1948 he married Pauline Carter at Lewisham and in 1960 he married Ruth I.I. Geissler at Chatham, Kent with whom he had three children. He worked as an External Telecoms Operator and later as an Instructor for the General Post Office.
In 1976 he emigrated to Cape Town, South Africa where he worked as a Sonar Technician for Servitek Pty Ltd. In 1989 he retired to Johannesburg.
He died at Johannesburg on 14 April 1995 at the age of 70 and was cremated at Brixton, Gauteng, South Africa on 5 May 1995.
(5) Sgt. David Steele Smith was born in 1924 at Glamis, Argus, Scotland the son of David Steele Smith and Elizabeth Longmuir Smith nee Taylor later of Kingoldrum, Angus. He had one known sibling, Helen Wishart Smith (1923-1976)
He is commemorated on the Scottish National War Memorial at Edinburgh Castle
(6) WOII N. H. Nel - Nothing known. If you have any information please contact our helpdesk
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
(1) F/O. Walter Frederick Blackford was buried at the Belgrade War Cemetery. Yugoslavia (now Serbia) Joint Grave 8. C. 8-9.
His epitaph reads:
His duty fearlessly
And nobly done
(5) Sgt. David Steele Smith was buried at the Belgrade War Cemetery. Yugoslavia (now Serbia) Joint Grave 8. C. 8-9.
His epitaph reads:
Longed for always.
Sisters and brothers
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - September 2018
With thanks to the sources quoted below.