10.04.1943 No. 197 Squadron Typhoon Ib DN309 OV-W Sgt. Dennis H. Clennell
Operation: Rhubarb (1)
Date: 10th April 1943 (Saturday)
Unit: No. 197 Squadron
Type: Typhoon Ib
Base: RAF Tangemere, Sussex
Location: St-Sever-Calvados, Normandy, France
Pilot: Sgt. Dennis Herbert Clennell 1332158 RAFVR Age 19. Killed
The people of St Sever Calvados are planning to hold a remembrance ceremony and unveil a monument in June 2018 for all seven airman killed in the St Sever area. If any readers have or want information, we would appreciate their getting in touch with us.
REASON FOR LOSS:
Further research by Neil Clennell:
Weather: Some reports stated that the weather was bad and that the Typhoons were forced to fly low - I’m inclined to believe that on the 10th of April it couldn’t have been that bad. I was at the crash-site very close Le Richelieu in August and have seen how close the witness (more of him later) must have been; within 400 yards or so of everything that happened. I was there in cloudy and rainy weather. He is pertinent that he saw two aircraft 5 or 6 miles away just a while before the attack took place. Visibility couldn’t have been that bad. According to the witness it wasn’t or perhaps it just wasn’t that bad at that specific moment. As for being forced to fly low, one of the defensive measures Typhoons took was to fly as low as they could.
On the 10th of April 1943 two ‘rhubarbs’ (1) were flown from Tangmere airfield, Sussex. The first mission (pilots Ahrens and Richards) left at 12:00, returned at 13:10 and reported in the 197 Squadron operations record book ‘railway engines shot up in the Lisieux area. Slight flak experience, but no interference by e/a’ (that is enemy action). The second mission (pilots Richardson and Clennell) left at 12:10, one plane returned at 13:25 and one plane was reported ‘missing from rhubarb over France’ at 12:45. Dennis Herbert Clennell, my uncle, was killed when his plane crashed near Le Richelieu, 3 miles west of St-Sever-Calvados, in Normandy. He is buried in St-Sever-Calvados cemetery. He died 2 days after his 18th birthday.
Surprisingly there is no further information in the squadron operations record book. No mention of where the aircraft went, whether they encountered any opposition (flak or enemy action) or any mention that the aircraft had mechanical trouble. Sometime afterwards his family was informed that he had been shot down by flak in the afternoon. Fortunately there is an eye-witness to the chain of events in that early afternoon still alive. With the testimony of Maurice Lebouvier and the help of a local historian, Andre Laroze, who has pieced together the chain of events that afternoon, it is now highly likely that we now know exactly how he died.
197 Squadron Typhoon (archives)
Maurice Lebouvier, now 89, was 15 years old in 1943. Just after midday, he was in a field with his younger brother about half a mile from Le Richelieu when he saw two aircraft circling over Ste Cécile, a village near Villedieu-les-Poëles, about 5 miles due west of Le Richelieu. He now thinks that these 2 aircraft were probably flying over the railway line and a train coming towards Saint-Sever on the main Granville to Paris railway line.
A few minutes later, now standing with his younger brother near their farmhouse home next to the railway line, he watched an armed train from the direction of Villedieu going past. Still watching after the train had passed, he saw an aircraft (DN 309-W) emerge from the forest of St Sever firing at the train. He said the train was hit and came to a stop on a bridge at La Bersairie a few hundred yards further on. His late oldest brother was ploughing in a field nearby, he saw the plane fly over his head and crash in a field next to the railway line.
He saw the plane fly over his head and crash in a field next to the railway line.
Some thought the aircraft had been hit by the flak, but he later went along the railway line and saw that a tall beech tree had been badly damaged. He was rather impressed by the branches lying about on the ground. In his opinion the aircraft had struck the top of the tree and this was what caused it to crash. Only 20 yards separated the forest from the railway line at that point and the German gunners did not have time enough to react with their anti-aircraft gun. He also remembers that flak was used for some other reason later on as the train moved on to Saint-Sever.
The aircraft crash-landed just beyond the railway line in a field, careened through a hedge where it lost its wings and ended up in another field, about 300 yards from the railway line. The pilot, Sgt Dennis Clennell, was already dead when the first people reached the wreck. Mr. Lebouvier saw that he had been removed from the cockpit and was lying next to it on the ground. Thereafter the Germans arrived.
(1) Rhubarb was the name given to a type of mission or operation flown by Typhoons: search- and - destroy sorties into France and the Low Countries. In 1943 transport, in Normandy rail transport in particular, was a primary target. The first daytime Rhubarb was flown on November 17th 1942 and a night later the first night sortie. Rhubarbs with Typhoons fell into two main categories - those in pairs across the Channel during daytime, usually in bad weather, and those carried out with a single aircraft at night by the light of the moon. (Source: Typhoon and Tempest at war – Arthur Reed and Roland Beamont 1974)
Above: Grave of Sgt. Clennell one of six RAFVR aircrew buried at St. Sever-Calvados Communal Cemetery (courtesy Jacques Grasset) Available at high resolution free to relatives/friends - please contact us.
Sgt Dennis Herbert Clennell. St-Sever-Calvados Communal Cemetery Grave 1. Born on the 8th of April 1924, son of George Walter Clennell of Romford, Essex, England.
Researched by Jacques Grasset for Aircrew Remembered. Also, many thanks to Neil Clennell who contacted us in September / October / November 2017 with extensive research details.