24/25 March 1944 No. 78 Squadron Halifax III LV903 EY-H Fl/Lt. Donald Frank 'Mac-Con' Constable DFC
Date: 24/25 March 1944 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No. 78 Squadron - Motto: 'Nobody unprepared'.
Badge: A heraldic tiger rampant and double queued - approved by King George VI in November 1939. The theme of the badge was based on the Squadron's aircraft at the time, the Whitley, which had Tiger engines and twin tails.
Type: Handley Page Halifax III
Base: RAF Breighton, East Riding of Yorkshire
Location: Eckardtshausen, Thuringia, Germany.
Pilot: Fl/Lt. Donald Frank 'Mac-Con' Constable DFC Aus/409383 RAAF Age 24 - Killed (1)
2nd Pilot: F/Sgt. George Thomas Alfred Lovell 1386515 RAFVR Age 22 - Killed (2)
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Desmond Terence 'Des' Cash 1522449 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (3)
Nav: Sgt. Calum Murdo 'Mac' MacLeod 1563039 later 173874 RAFVR Age ? - PoW No. 3262, Camps: Stalag Luft Heydekrug - L6 and Stalag Kopernikus, Poland - 357 (4)
Air/Bmr: F/Sgt. Terence 'Terry' Ratcliffe 1494609 RAFVR Age 20 - Killed (5)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: F/O. Harold Arthur Mace 130056 RAFVR Age ? - PoW No. 4104. Camp Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang - L1 (6)
Air/Gnr (MU): Sgt. Edward Thomas William 'Ted' Byford 1866301 RAFVR Age 19 - Killed (7)
Air/Gnr (R): P/O. Thomas Lorne 'Schy' or 'Bugwood' Schioler J/86203 RCAF Age 20 - Killed (8)
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Although the RAF had bombed Berlin on several occasions from as early as 25/26 August 1940, it was three years later on the night of 18/19 November 1943 that what became known as the Battle of Berlin began with a bombing raid by 440 Lancasters and 4 Mosquitoes. Between then and the night of 24/25 March the RAF conducted another 14 large scale raids against the city.
Though the bombing of Berlin caused tremendous devastation and loss of life it failed to achieve its objectives. Civilian morale did not break, essential services and city defences were maintained and war production actually rose.
On the night of 24/25 March 1944 the 811 strong force comprising 577 Lancasters 216 Halifaxes and 18 Mosquitoes was despatched on what, in the event, was the last major raid by the RAF on Berlin.
No. 78 Squadron detailed 23 Halifaxes for this operation but 2 failed to take off.
REASON FOR LOSS
It took just 27 minutes for all 21 Halifax bombers of 78 Squadron to become airborne from RAF Breighton; the first at 18.36, the last at 19.02.
With Australian pilot Flight Lieutenant Don Constable at the controls Halifax LV903 EY-H took off seventeenth in line at 18.58 and set course for Flamborough some 40 miles north east of RAF Breighton. Don Constable was no stranger to operational flying, this was his 21st such mission; his crew, similarly qualified. Flying with the crew as 2nd Dickie was F/Sgt. George Lovell on what is thought to have been his first operational mission.
The bomb load was made up exclusively of incendiaries and comprised 48 x 30lb, 480 x 4lb and 60 x 4lb "X" type (i.e. fragmentation bombs).
Special Equipment on board was Monica, H2S and API.
The briefed route was: Flamborough - 54°40'N 04°30'E - 55°15'N 09°40'E -54°20'N 12°22'E - 53°06'N 13°52'E - BERLIN - 52°05'N 13°00'E - 51°30'N 10°60'E - 52°40'N 08°00'E - 52°50'N 04°00'E - Flamborough
Once beyond Flamborough the briefed route was across almost 400 miles of the North Sea to Denmark then south into Germany and the target of Berlin.
And as the bomber force crossed the North Sea, 100 miles south east of Berlin another force of airmen was assembling in Hut 104 at Stalag Luft III in preparation for what was later to become known and immortalised as The Great Escape.
The weather en route was 9-10/10ths strato cumulous, tops 5000 feet but 50 miles or so before the Danish coast the cloud first of all broke up significantly before clearing altogether. This was more or less what they had been told to expect by the weather boffins but what had not been forecast were the particularly powerful winds from the north. These strong winds forced the bombers south throughout the operation and scattered the bomber stream. At 21000 ft they were 355°/65 mph at bases veering and increasing to 005°/105 mph at Berlin
Forty miles into Denmark the bomber force turned south east and crossed the north German coast east of Rostock where the cloud again increased to 6-9/10ths and became very variable towards the target.
Zero hour was 22.30 hours but the 23 blind marker illuminators of the Pathfinder Force were to drop their Target Indicators (TIs) and Flares at Z-5. Approaching Berlin from a north westerly direction the exceptionally strong winds caused the Pathfinders' markers and flares to overshoot the aiming point and to be carried well out to the south west of the city. Although a fair concentration of TIs was achieved, 6 were plotted 1-2 miles East and South East of the aiming point, 2 on Templehof airfield (2 miles SSW) and a group of 15 were plotted 2-3½ miles South West.The plan was for the main force to attack in five waves but due to the strong winds they necessarily bombed as and when aircraft arrived and of course bombed on the TIs and mainly well south of the aiming point. As a result incendiaries extended over an area stretching from a mile north of the aiming point to 11 miles S and SW with the main concentration developing 3-7 miles SSW.
Considerable damage was inflicted on the capital; Siemens Works at Siemensstadt and 73 other factories were hit and in the south western districts much housing was destroyed with about 20000 people being bombed out and 150 people killed. The bombing had extended so far to the south west of the city that 126 small towns and villages outside of Berlin reported being bombed and 30 people killed.
The resulting air-raid alerts south of Berlin caused chaos on the German rail network and widespread blackouts, including Stalag Luft III where the shutdown of the electric lighting necessarily included that in the escape tunnel and thus slowed down the rate of escape.
At Berlin heavy guns fired a slight to moderate barrage to 32000 feet with moderate to intense light flak to 15000 feet. Numerous searchlights illuminated the cloud base and formed cones through the gaps.
On the outbound journey and as a result of the unexpectedly strong winds many aircraft found themselves over defended areas notably at Sylt, Flensburg and Rostock. 17 aircraft are thought to have been lost to flak on the outbound leg and 7 over Berlin.
Diversionary sweeps by the RAF over France had also failed to distract the enemy fighter controllers who concentrated their forces at points in the Hamburg Heligoland area as well as to the north of Berlin and are thought to have accounted for 6 bombers on the way out and 4 over Berlin.
Other night fighters had been held in readiness by the controllers to follow the bombers as they left the target. Actually fighters achieved comparatively little success because the strong wind that scattered the bomber stream proved unfavourable to consistent interception by fighters but despite this a further 8 bombers are known to have fallen to fighters on the homebound leg ie.2 SW of Berlin, 2 near Magdeburg, 1 at Nordhausen. 1 over Osnabruck and 2 over Holland.
72 bombers were lost and it is believed that about 50 were lost to flak and the others mainly to night fighters. 2 more aircraft were wrecked on landing.
Don Constable and the crew of Halifax LV903 duly bombed the target from 19000 feet and set course for home.
What happened next is found in a letter in the Australian War Memorial's collection.
Written by Wireless Operator Arthur Mace to Don Constable's mother it recalls that:
'We had bombed Berlin, and were on the way home when a German night-fighter, unobserved by our gunners, opened an attack from behind. With his first long burst of gunfire, he shot us completely out of control and set our petrol tanks on fire. We had no chance to do anything. Don realised the situation was quite hopeless, and immediately ordered us to abandon the aircraft...'
Harold Mace did as he was ordered and having landed safely was duly arrested and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Germans at Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang.
Navigator Mac Macleod also baled out safely and like Harold Mace was also taken prisoner: he was to spend the rest of the war at Stalag Kopernikus, Poland.
Whilst a PoW he made this statement about the incident:
'I was rendered unconscious when the chute opened and being the first to leave I did not know the fate of the rest of the crew, but Mace told me he had seen the bodies of the others besides the machine, and that he was the only other survivor, and the Captain had been killed.'
The aircraft had, it seems, fallen victim to one of the fighters that had been designated to follow the bombers on the homebound journey. The fighter had clearly taken the crew completely by surprise and with devastating consequences.
Halifax LV903 crashed at Eckardtshausen a village about 8 km south of Eisenach. The map below shows that the strong winds had probably forced the aircraft at least 50 miles south of the briefed route.
The returning aircraft of 78 Squadron reported bombing at times between 22.23 and 22.58 hours. Assuming that LV903 bombed within the same time frame and then flown some 175 miles (about 45 minutes flying time) before being shot down it can be estimated that the time that the aircraft crashed was somewhere between 23.10 and 23.55 hours. German records merely state that the aircraft crashed on 24 March.
The six dead crew members' bodies were recovered by the Germans and buried at Eisenach Wartenberg Cemetery in Division 67 graves: 16-19 and later moved to Allied Plot Row 9 Graves 104 to 109.
Because this area was in the Russian Zone of occupation after the war it was not until 1950 that access to the graves was obtained by RAF Missing Research and Enquiry Unit. The bodies were recovered between 20 to 31 October and re-interred at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery on 1 November 1950.
THE HIGH PRICE PAID BY 78 SQUADRON
Of the 36 squadrons involved in this raid on Berlin No. 78 Squadron suffered the greatest number of losses. 6 of the 21 despatched or 28.5% were lost compared to a loss rate for the force as a whole of 8.9%.
Halifax LV903 a probably victim of Oblt. Peter Ehrhardt of 8./NJG5, 20 km from Erfurt at 5.200m at 22.58 hrs, his first of 3 Abschüsse that night. He then claimed Halifax JB129, over Kassel at 5.600 m at 23:34 hrs and a third, another probable and an unidentified Lancaster, 20 km north of the Rheine at 5.800m at 00:18 hrs. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (16 March 1944 - 11 May 1944) Part 2 - Theo Boiten))
Oblt. Ehrhardt survived the war and was credited with 25 Abschüsse. It has been variously reported that he was awarded the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold on the 1st January 1945, albeit not documented He died on the 5th May 1983 in Dusseldorf, Germany. ((Luftwaffe ACES - Biographies and Victory Claims (Mathews and Foreman) - Volume 1)
The other five 78 Squadron losses that night were:
Halifax III LW510 EY- Captained by F/O. Michael Arabin Wimberley 150168 RAFVR returned on one engine and crashed at Cranfield, Bedfordshire. All seven crew were killed. Four lie at Cambridge City Cemetery, two at Liverpool (Anfield) Cemetery and one at Westerham (St. Mary) Churchyard, Kent.
To read the story of this loss click here
Halifax III LW589 EY-G Captained by Fl/Sgt. Henry Jackson 655767 RAF was shot down by a fighter after flying homebound well south of the briefed route and crashed at Les Hautes-Rivieres (Ardennes)
All seven crew were killed and are buried in the Les Hautes-Rivieres Communal Cemetery. To read the story of this loss click here
Halifax III LW507 EY-K Captained by Fl/Sgt. Basil Thomas Smith 1389203 RAFVR crashed in the Berlin area. Sgt. Smith and Air Gunner Sgt. Leslie Daniels 1522943 RAFVR rest in the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. The other five crew became prisoners of war.
Halifax III LW518 EY-A Captained by Fl/Sgt. Henry Keith Barden 1451841 RAFVR was hit by flak and crashed at Fahlhorst. All seven crew were killed and lie in the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery.
Halifax III LX355 EY-D Captained by Fl/Lt. Eric William Everett 138062 was shot up by a fighter over the target, abandoned near Den Haag. All seven crew were taken as prisoners of war.
DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS FOR DON
No. 78 Squadron Summary of Events for March 1944 records
'Fl/Lt. D. Constable (Australian) the immediate award of the Distinguished Flying Cross'.
The official announcement by the Air Ministry on 18 April 1944 was promulgated in the London Gazette of that date. The Citation reads:
One night in March 1944, this officer was the pilot of an aircraft detailed to attack Stuttgart. On the outward flight the aircraft was attacked by a fighter and sustained damage. Undeterred, Flt Lt Constable continued to the target and pressed home a determined attack. On many other occasions, Flt Lt Constable has displayed fine fighting qualities, setting an example worthy of emulation. He is an efficient and understanding captain whose courage and coolness in the face of the enemy have been inspiring.
The award was presented to his father on Thursday 10 May 1945 at an investiture at Government House Australia by the Governor General the Duke of Gloucester.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) Fl/Lt. Donald Frank Constable DFC was born on 9 June 1919 at Coburg, Victoria Australia son of Harry Constable (a Bootmaker) and Dorothy Wedderburn Constable nee Westwood. He had four sisters: Dorothy Westwood Constable (1910-1933), Marjorie Spence Constable (1912-1996), Bettina Wedderburn Constable (1914-2002) and Aisla Westwood Constable (1925-2010). Prior to enlisting in the RAAF at
Melbourne on 15 August 1941 he worked as a Clerk.
In February 1942 he became engaged to Gwendolyn Stevenson of Glengyle Street, East Coburg.
He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation on 2 November 1943 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 27 January 1944) and granted the acting rank of Flight Lieutenant whilst occupying Flight Lieutenant posts with effect from 11 January 1944 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 20 April 1944)
He is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial at Canberra - Panel No. 120.
(2) F/Sgt. George Thomas Alfred Lovell was born in 1921 at West Ham the son of Samuel George and Florence Lovell nee Clements. He had four siblings Victor E. Lovell born 1923, Sidney W. Lovell born 1928, Margaret D.J. Lovell born 1931 and Derek E. Lovell born 1936.
In 1942 he married Betty Margaret Chandler at Romford Essex and lived at Chadwell Heath, Romford, Essex.
(3) Sgt. Desmond Terence Cash was born at Halifax, West Riding of Yorkshire in 1922 the son of James E. Cash and Alice Cash nee Ashton. He had a brother, Geoffrey J. Cash, born 1927
(4) F/O. Calum Murdo MacLeod
1563039 Sgt. Calum Murdo Macleod 173874 was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) on 21 March 1944 (London Gazette 5 May 1944), confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying officer (war subs) on 21 September 1944 (London Gazette 26 September 1944)
On 12 May 1959 he relinquished his commission under the provisions of the Navy, Army and Air
Force Reserves Act, 1954 and was granted permission to retain the rank of Flight Lieutenant with effect from 5 March 1959 (London Gazette 12 May 1959)
(5) F/Sgt. Terence Ratcliffe was born at Fylde, Lancashire in 1923 at the son of Edward
Ratcliffe and Gertrude Ratcliffe nee Hallam.
He married Betty Jean Cuthbert at York in 1943 and lived at Acomb, York
(6) Fl/Lt. Harold Arthur Mace was posted to 78 Squadron on 17 May 1943 possibly from No. 1652 Heavy Conversion Unit and later flew with the crew of F/Sgt Jack Jenkinson until 9 July 1943. See http://aircrewremembered.com/jenkinson-j.html
1295485 LAC Harold Arthur Mace was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) (130056) on 18 September 1942 (London Gazette 19 January 1943) promoted to Flying Officer on probation (war subs) on 18 March 1942 (London Gazette 18 June 1942) and on 1 September 1944 whilst a prisoner of war promoted to Flight Lieutenant (war subs) (London Gazette 6 October 1944)
(7) Sgt. Edward Thomas William Byford was born in Orpington c 1924 the son of Edward Thomas Byford and Dorothy Mary Emma Byford nee Hammond of Orpington, Kent.
He is commemorated on the Orpington War Memorial, Kent
(8) P/O. Thomas Lorne Schioler was born on 16 October 1923 at Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada the son of a Danish born father, Kai Birch Schioler (a Sales Manager at the Manitoba Bridge and Iron Works Ltd) and a Canada born mother Olina Johanna Schioler nee Magnusson.
He had three siblings: Kathleen Birch Schioler born 1926, Elsa Lenora Schioler born 1927 and Michael Paul Schioler born 1930 and the family lived at 187 Lyle Street, St. James, Manitoba
He was educated at St James Public School (1929-1938) and St. James High School (1939-1941).
After leaving school he was employed as a Bolt Packer at the Manitoba Bridge and Iron Works Ltd. He played rugby and hockey and building model aircraft
On 18 October 1941, 2 days after his 18th birthday, he enlisted at Winnipeg and was described as being 5'10" tall weighing 162 lbs with a fair complexion, blue eyes and fair hair.
After training at No. 5 Personnel Holding Unit (aka Manning Depot) (No. 7 Bombing and Gunnery School, RCAF Paulson, Manitoba), No. 3 Bombing and Gunnery School at RCAF MacDonald, Manitoba, No. 7 Initial Training School at RCAF Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, No. 20 Elementary Flying Training School at RCAF Oshawa, Ontario, Combined Training School (KTS) RCAF Trenton, Ontario and No. 9 Bombing and Gunnery School, Mont Joli, Quebec he was awarded his Air Gunners badge and promoted to Sergeant on 19 February 1943.
He embarked for the UK on 8 March he disembarked on 17 March and the following day was posted to No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre at RAF Bournemouth.
He was posted on 12 April to No. 19 Operational Training Unit at RAF Kinloss, Moray Firth, Scotland for night bombing training on the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and on 20 June to No. 10 Operational Special Training Detachment - anti submarine flight detached at RAF St. Eval, Cornwall.
On 3 August he was posted to No. 1652 Conversion Unit at RAF Marston Moor for training on the four engine Handley Page Halifax.
Promoted to Flight Sergeant on 19 August 1943 he was posted to No. 78 Squadron at RAF Breighton, East Riding of Yorkshire on 11 September 1943. His promotion to Warrant Officer Class 2 was on 19 February 1944 and he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer posthumously wef 24 March 1944
Whilst in England he met and became engaged to Pamela Langdown of Bournemouth.
In 1995 the Province of Manitoba honoured his memory by the naming of Schioler Lake south of Solmundsson Lake.
BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS
(1) Fl/Lt. Donald Frank Constable DFC was originally buried at the Eisenach Cemetery, Wartenberg: re-interred on 1 November 1950 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Grave reference: 9. B. 23.
His epitaph reads:
Greater love hath no man
(2) F/Sgt. George Thomas Alfred Lovell was originally buried at the Eisenach Cemetery, Wartenberg: re-interred on 1 November 1950 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Grave reference: 9. B. 20.
His epitaph reads:
(3) Fl/Eng: Sgt. Desmond Terence Cash was originally buried at the Eisenach Cemetery, Wartenberg: re-interred on 1 November 1950 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Grave reference: 9. B. 25.
(5) F/Sgt. Terence Ratcliffe was originally buried at the Eisenach Cemetery, Wartenberg: re-interred on 1 November 1950 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Grave reference: 9. B. 21.
His epitaph reads
By his loving wife Betty,
And son David
(7) Sgt. Edward Thomas William "Ted" Byford was originally buried at the Eisenach Cemetery, Wartenberg: re-interred on 1 November 1950 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Grave reference: 9. B. 24.
His epitaph reads
His life a loving memory
His death a very sad regret
(8) P/O. Thomas Lorne Schioler was originally buried at the Eisenach Cemetery, Wartenberg: re-interred on 1 November 1950 at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Grave reference: 9. B. 22.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - May 2018
With thanks to the sources quoted below.