30.06.1944 No. 51 Squadron Halifax III LV782 MH-T Fl/Sgt. John R.A. Cooke
Date: 30th June 1944 (Friday)
Unit: No. 51 Squadron
Type: Halifax III
Base: RAF Snaith, Yorkshire
Location: On farmland between Cahagne and Le Quesnay, Calvados, France
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. ‘Bobby’ John Robert Alfred Cooke 1336866 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. ‘Perks’ Harry Perkins 1181759 RAFVR Age 24. Killed
Nav: F/O. John Tony Negrich J/22062 (R/134789) RCAF Age 22. Killed (1)
Air/Bmr: W/O. II Wendell Clifford Waye R/154885 RCAF Age 21. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Harry Barron 15565406 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Alfred Edgar Jukes 1583474 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Charles Martin Allen 1385431 RAFVR Age 26. Killed
At the end of this page of remembrance we also have a document submitted to us in March 2014. Written by a close relative of the Navigator, F/O. Negrich a Mr. Bernie Lodge.
REASON FOR LOSS:
The crew that flew T ‘Tommy’ on this operation had arrived at RAF Snaith at the beginning of May 1944, becoming one of the crews of C Flight, 51 Sqn.
Their first operation was to bomb Morsalines, France on 9th May in MH-S “Sugar”. This was the first of 18 successful operations against transport targets and V1 sites in France and Belgium during May and June.
Their 19th mission, from which they did not return, was a daylight bombing operation;
In the early evening of 30th June 1944, flying this time in MH-T, they took off from Pollington, South Yorkshire at 18.00 hrs, with the rest of 51 Sqn to join the force of 266 heavy bombers attacking a large formation of enemy armour at Villers Bocage.
This key target, south west of Caen, Normandy, was a Panzer Corps that had been assembled to counter-attack the Allies’ invading forces the following morning. It was essential therefore to attack them that evening.
The master bomber, a Lancaster LL620 JI-T from 514 Squadron flown by F/O. Douglas A. Woods RAAF ordered the bombers to reduce height because of cloud cover over the target, from 12,000 to 4,000 feet.
Only a small number of aircraft at the end of the bomber stream including T ‘Tommy’ were able to do so, the order being received too late for all the others.
5 aircraft (‘C’ flight, 51 Sqn.) made a steep dive to this very low height. In doing so they speeded up and caught up those above them.
They were then vulnerable to both to flak and to bombs falling from the mass of aircraft above them.
Speaking in 1996, eye witness Eric Millett, who had been flying in MH-S - another of the low flying aircraft - recounted how he had seen the wing of T ‘Tommy’ “fold up” from the wing root. This was just after he had seen the Master Bomber’s Lancaster blow up.
He remembered also hearing a bomb scrape the fuselage of S-Sugar, suggesting that it was more than possible that a bomb had hit T- “Tommy” from above and that a similar fate had almost befallen him and his crew.
Left: Fl/Sgt. ‘Bob’ Cooke. Below L-R: Sgt. ‘Perks’ Perkins, F/O. Tony Negrich, W/O. II Wendell Waye, Sgt. Harry Barron, Sgt. Alfred Edgar
He remembered this operation so clearly after more than 50 years because about a minute later anti-aircraft fire blew away the front 6ft of the nose of his aircraft. Flt/Lt. Jim Feaver, the pilot of S ‘Sugar’ nursed his damaged aircraft home, for which he was awarded the DFC. however MH-T crashed onto farmland between Cahagne and Le Quesnay, Calvados, on the farm of Monsieur Alain Aubrée.
Fl/Sgt. ‘Bob’ Cooke seen here behind the Squadron Commanding Officer.
All the crew members were posted missing and it was not until the 13th September that news from the RAF Liaison Officer HQ Second Army confirmed that their temporary graves had been found at map reference 740580 or 739580. This area had changed hands in the fighting no less than five times during the Normandy campaign, before finally being taken by the Americans.
The operation was considered very successful and bombing classed as very accurate. 1,100 tons were dropped, with the effect that the German attack failed to take place.
In total 3 aircraft were lost on this operation, the two described and also another Lancaster from 514 Squadron which is understood to have collided with a 15 Squadron Lancaster PB178 JI-P, piloted by P/O. Jack E.K. Hannesson RCAF killed with 4 other crew members and a further 2 injured after it crashed at Pittsam Farm, near Midhurst, Sussex. The other aircraft returned safely. A 75 Squadron Lancaster, LL942 exploded in an accident on the ground after bombing up - no injuries reported.
The crew were initially buried near the crash site at Cahagnes, but later exhumed to various cemeteries on the 14th June 1945.
Fl/Sgt. John Robert Alfred Cooke. Tilly-sur-seulles War Cemetery. Grave XI.G.3. Further information: Son of Henry John and Hilda Jeanne Cooke of Epsom, Surrey. On leaving school, Bob had worked in the accounts department of an engineering firm in Dorking, Surrey as well as being a member of the Home Guard before volunteering for the air force on his eighteenth birthday, the 4th of February 1941. He was called up that August and after initial training he went to South Africa, returning in May 1943 as a pilot. After conversion to multi engine aircraft at Lossiemouth he met the other members of the crew at 1652 O.T.U. at Marston Moor. On completion of their training they were posted to 51 Squadron at Pollington Airfield. (RAF Snaith), South Yorkshire.
The epitaph chosen by his father, on Bob’s grave in Normandy reads -
"Into the mosaic of victory
Is placed this precious piece
Enshrined in our hearts."
Sgt. Harry Perkins. Tilly-sur-seulles War Cemetery. Grave XI.G.4. Son of Edward George and Ada Lilian Perkins, of Coleford, Somerset, England.
F/O. Tony Negrich. Bretteville-sur-laize Canadian War Cemetery. Grave XVIII.F.4. Son of Anna Negrich (née Makichuk) Of 26 Francis Street, Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada. Sisters, Mary Negrich, and Helen (Negrich) Witwicki, brother, Nicholas. A relative has entered comprehensive research below.
W/O. II Wendell Clifford Waye. Bretteville-sur-laize Canadian War Cemetery. Grave XVIII.F.3. Son of James H. and Georgie Waye, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, USA.
Sgt. Harry Barron. Tilly-sur-seulles War Cemetery. Grave XI.G.5. Further information: Son of Harry and Margaret (nee Mallon) Barron and brother of George, Mary and Patrick Barron of Thornaby on Tees, Yorkshire, England. Christened Henry but known as Harry, he was born on May 1st 1921 at Stockton on Tees. He did part of his training at Blackpool and Truro converting to Halifax’s in November 1942.
Sgt. Alfred Edgar Jukes. Tilly-sur-seulles War Cemetery. Grave XI.G.1. Son of Alfred and Annie Jukes, of West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England.
Sgt. Charles Martin Allen. Tilly-sur-seulles War Cemetery. Grave XI.G.2. Further information: Son of William and Beatrice Anne Allen. After his loss, his girlfriend subsequently married Bob Hardisty, the well known professional footballer. (Died - 31st October 1986)
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and specialist genealogist Linda Ibrom for relatives of this crew. with additional in depth research by James Seymour, nephew of the pilot Bobby Cooke, Lancelot Howard Barron and from various eye-witness reports and with the assistance from Fl/Lt. Ricky Pearce D.F.M. Also to Jonathan Lodge who’s father is a close relative of F/O. Negrich. With thanks also to Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - ‘Bomber Command War Diaries’ (2014 edition), Les Allison and Harry Hayward - 'They Shall Grow Not Old', Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The following detailed research was submitted by Bernie Lodge to Aircrew Remembered in March 2014. Bernie is a close relative of Tony Negrich.
This was a daylight bombing operation, and the crew’s nineteenth mission since the beginning of May, 1944, when the crew first arrived at RAF Station Snaith.
Aircrews from RAF Snaith assembled and were briefed on the afternoon of Friday, 30th June 1944, for air operations that evening over Normandy. In the late afternoon of 30th June, Tony Negrich and his crew took off from Snaith Airbase at Pollington, South Yorkshire, flying in a Halifax III aircraft having the code name MH-T ‘Tommy’. Wheels up from Snaith was 18.00 hours, with target time at 20.00 hours, at dusk. Their flight track took them over the town of Reading and Selsey Bill, a headland into the English Channel on the south coast of England, before crossing the channel into France. Tony’s aircraft was part of “C” Flight, 51 Squadron, comprising 24 Halifax bombers for that evening’s mission. 51 Squadron joined with other bombers from bases throughout England, making a total strength of 266 aircraft (105 Halifaxes, 151 Lancasters, and 10 Mosquitoes used as Pathfinders for bomber raids) scheduled for the raid attacking a large formation of enemy armour at Villers-Bocage. This key target, south west of Caen, was Hitler’s most powerful Panzer Corps that had been massing to counter-attack the Allies’ D-Day forces the following morning. It was therefore considered essential to attack the target that evening.
The panzer corps, also known as I SS Panzer Corps Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (I.SS-Panzerkorps), was a German Waffen-SS panzer corps forming a part of Germany’s “Panzer Group West”, the western theatre’s armoured reserve, and included the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, Panzer-Lehr-Division, and the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen. In addition, the powerful II SS Armoured Corps redeployed from the Eastern Front, and the 2nd SS Armoured Division, were reinforcing the major counter-offensive to push the Allies back into the sea. The panzer corps was part of the German military that had invaded, ravaged and controlled essentially all of Europe since 1940, except for Great Britain and the Soviet Union, which successfully but painfully continued to resist the German onslaught. Field Marshall Rommel was ordered by Hitler to repel the Allies and hold the strategic area surrounding Caen “to the last man”.
The designated “Master Bomber” for the Allied air operation, flying in Lancaster LL620 JI-T from 514 Squadron (No. 3 Group RAF) piloted by F/O Douglas A. Woods, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), ordered the bombers at a time and position well into their operational mission to reduce altitude from 12,000 to 4,000 feet, because cloud cover over the target threatened to obstruct the bombaimers’ view. Only a few aircraft at the end of the bomber stream, including five bombers from 51 Squadron, of which MH-T ‘Tommy’ was one, were able to execute the order, because it was received too late along the flight track by all the other aircraft for them to comply. The few descending bombers made a steep dive to 4,000 feet, while the other bombers remained at 12,000 feet. During the dive, the rapidly descending aircraft increased their airspeed to an extent that they actually overtook the bomber stream flying above them. At this lower height, these aircraft became increasingly vulnerable both to anti-aircraft flak batteries from below, and tragically to bombs dropped from their bomber stream above.
Eye witness F/Sgt Eric G. Millett, Flight Engineer, who was flying in Halifax MH-S ‘Sugar’, another of the low-flying aircraft from 51 Squadron, reported that he saw MH-T being hit at the root of the starboard wing, and the wing of MH-T “fold up” (direct quote) from the wing root, in a manner consistent with MH-T being struck by a falling bomb from the bombers above. He subsequently saw MH-T “spin in” (quote). Millet also reported that he heard a bomb scrape the side of the fuselage of his own aircraft, and that he believed a similar fate had almost befallen him and his crew.
MH-T crashed onto farmland between the towns of Cahagne and Le Quesnay, Calvados, on the farm of Monsieur Alain Aubrée. All the crew members of MH-T were posted missing, and it was not until the 13th September, 1944, that news from the RAF Liaison Officer at HQ British Second Army confirmed the airmen’s deaths with the finding of their graves at map reference 740580 or 739580. This area had changed hands in the fighting no less than five times during the Normandy campaign before finally being taken and held by the Allies. The bodies of the airmen were later exhumed on the 14th June 1945, and subsequently interred at various European Commonwealth cemeteries. Tony is buried in Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in Normandy, France. His grave location is XVIII.F.4
A total of three aircraft were lost on this operation, namely MH-T ‘Tommy’, Lancaster LL620 JI-T from 514 Squadron with the designated Master Bomber which took a direct hit and was obliterated by the explosion, and another Lancaster from 514 Squadron which collided with a 15 Squadron Lancaster PB178 JI-P. This latter aircraft JI-P returned to base safely. F/Sgt Millett in MH-S ‘Sugar’ also witnessed the direct hit on Lancaster LL620 JI-T moments before he saw the hit on MH-T. Disastrously, Halifax MH-T (Tony’s aircraft), Lancaster JI-T (Master Bomber), and Halifax MH-S (the aircraft in which F/Sgt Millett was flying, along with Squadron Leader Simmons, who was the 51 Squadron’s Navigation Leader) all appear to be struck by bombs released at 12,000 foot level.
The operation was officially considered successful and bombing classed as accurate. One thousand, one hundred tons were dropped, and the German attack failed to take place.
(1) Negrich Lake in Northern Manitoba, Canada has been renamed after F/O. Tony Negrich.
A fitting tribute to Tony Negrich is the following:
Into the tapestry of our memories Is placed this precious piece -
1.Tony Negrich was my cousin (second cousin, once removed).
2.Tony was born and raised in Dauphin, Manitoba, where he lived at 26 Francis Street. He enlisted in the RCAF during WWII in 1940 at eighteen years of age, after graduating from the Dauphin Collegiate.
3.Tony received his basic training at Manning Depot No. 2, Brandon, Manitoba, and officer training at RCAF base No. 1 Central Navigation School (CNS), Rivers, Manitoba. He graduated and received his commission as a Pilot Officer on December 18, 1942. Tony was subsequently promoted to Flying Officer.
4.Tony was awarded: 1939-45 Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; Canadian Volunteer Service Medal; CVSM Silver Bar (Clasp); War Medal 1939-1945; and posthumously the Memorial Cross (GR VI).