17/17.03.1945 No. 12 Squadron Lancaster I RF181 PH-G F/O. D.O.R. Dickey
Date: 16/17th March 1945 (Friday/Saturday)
Unit: No.12 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Wickenby, Lincolnshire.
Location: Oberrot - Frankenberg, Germany
Pilot: F/O. Daniel O'Rourke Dickey 150492 RAF PoW (see notes)
Flt/Eng: Sgt. Walter James Charles 1665264 RAFVR Age 21. Killed
Nav: Fl/Sgt. Colin Howe Irving 428714 RAAF Age 21. Killed
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Alan Henry 1324158 RAF PoW - No additional details (see notes)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: W/O. William Arthur Neill 429615 RAAF Age 22. Killed
Air/Gnr: P/O. Walter Gordon Brown J/94899 RCAF Age 20. Killed (1)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Thomas Nicholls 1176177 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
In December 2014 Aircrew Remembered were contacted by a relative - his grandfather flew alongside this crew.
REASON FOR LOSS
Taking off just after five fifteen on the afternoon of March 16, Lancaster RF181 formed up with the bomber stream comprised of 277 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitos destined for Nurnberg.
Crossing the French coast in the area of Le Touquet, they proceeded across France in an east south easterly direction toward their target. The city, although it had been very heavily bombed in early January, was still a Nazi stronghold protected from the air by radar controlled night fighters. This raid, which proved to be the last aimed at the city, was to soften up the German defences in preparation for the Allied ground forces assault and ultimate capture which was to occur on April 21st 1945.
Left: P/O. Walter Gordon Brown (courtesy NK - relative)
As the bomber stream approached Nurnberg they were met by the night fighters who claimed twenty four of the Lancasters. Of the aircraft that did get through to the target, their bombs hit areas in the south and south western districts as well as setting fire to the main train station and badly damaging the gas works.
Lancaster RF181 was seen to be flying in an easterly direction when it was attacked by a night fighter (2). After losing altitude it exploded in mid air scattering wreckage over a wide area with the largest portion crashing on the east side of Frankenberg.
The bodies of five of the crew were later found hanging in some trees with their parachutes deployed apparently after bailing out at too low an altitude or, what was thought to be more likely due to their injuries, being caught up in the explosion of the aircraft which also caused their parachutes to deploy.
The pilot, F/O. Dickey and the bomb aimer Fl/Sgt. Henry both survived and became PoW. Upon Dickey’s release at a subsequent interview, it was his recollection that Henry, Charles, Irving and Nicholls had bailed out before him and that possibly Neill and Brown were still in the aircraft when he left.
The German military performed the initial burial on 17 March in the Frankenberg Cemetery witnessed by a local farmer, Herr Stein. At the end of hostilities, during the search for missing airmen, the grave was found in excellent condition adorned with fresh flowers tenderly kept up by the farmer’s wife, Frau Stein.
Gary Pickard contacted us in June 2016 and supplied us with the following detail:
Sgt. John Thomas Nicholls first flew with F/O Dickey whilst training on the 30/04/44 in a Wellington bomber. He completed 13 missions with one aborted by the time he was killed.
I have a letter from F/O DIckey dated 1/6/45 detailing in his words what happened to the Lancaster:
" We were attacked by a fighter who shot us up from nearly dead astern and as Nick always has his intercom on I heard his guns going like hell from the start. I managed to turn a little to the right and avoid the tracer hitting the fuselage but not enough to prevent him hitting our port wing which caught fire almost at once and then a few seconds after the controls were shot away and the aircraft went into a vertical dive.
I gave the order to bale out when I could see the situation was hopeless and I got a reply from Nick that he was ok and was bailing out. We were then I suppose at about 10,000 feet up but in a vertical dive. I had great difficulty in getting out but I saw Wally Allen and Colin get out of the front. I landed very heavily in a wood and woke up all covered in blood from head and leg wounds and a very stiff back. I was very lucky to live.
I got captured after 15 hours walking, got into a hospital after 9 days solitary confinement when I nearly went mad, and after three and a half weeks escaped and hid up till the French came and liberated us near Stuttgart."
He states in this letter and others that he felt Sgt. Nicholls was alive and a POW. There are other letters stating the same to his wife Bertha who was sadly to learn the truth some time later.
12 Squadron lost 5 aircraft on this operation, (see notes below) the others:
Lancaster I PD207 PH-W. Flown by F/O. J.L. Wallace - all crew survived with one crew member having injuries.
Lancaster I PD275 PH-K. Flown by Fl/Lt. Keith William Daymond J/21582 RCAF - Killed with 5 other crew, 1 taken PoW.
Lancaster I RF188 PH-U. Flown by F/O. Keith Wearing Mabee J/41812 RCAF - Killed with 4 other crew, 2 taken PoW.
Lancaster I ME526 PH-F Flown by 26 year old F/O. Ian Lindsay Felgate DFC. AUS/427079 RAAF from Trayning, Western Australia - Killed with 4 other crew, 2 taken PoW.
(1) Brown Island in Saskatchewan is named after P/O. Brown
His brother, 24 yr. old F/O. Robert John Brown serving as an air gunner with 413 Squadron also died during service. F/O. Brown is buried at the Calcutta Cemetery in Kolkata, India after dying of natural causes on the 14th September 1944.
(2) The possible claims for this loss are described in the "Nightfighter War Diaries Vol. 2" as Lt. Helmut Bunje, Maj. Werner Hoffman, Hptm. Helmuth Schulte, Fw. Emil Weinmann or Oblt. Erich Jung.
Notes: In December 2014 Aircrew Remembered were contacted by the grandson of Andrew Mathews who knew this crew and flew along side them - he sent us the following details on this operation:
P/O. Walter Gordon Brown was in Charles Hann's crew, along with Gene Basso, Bert Campbell, Lindsay 'Jock' Carruthers, Johnny Galt, and Andrew Matthews. He was flying with F/O. Dickey and their crew on the trip to Nurnberg because he had missed two operations previously with a cold. My Grandfather is Andrew Matthews, and I have a copy of his WWII memoirs that contains the following excerpt:
"March 16, 1945: Tonight we were given a well-earned rest, but Brownie flew with F/O. Dickey's crew to make up for two trips he had missed with us because of a cold. They went to Nuremburg, and of eleven of our kites, six failed to return including F/O. Dickey, Fl/Lt. Daymond, F/O. Mabee, F/O. Felgate (an Australian, his 25th trip), Sq/Ldr. Hinds and F/O. Wallace. The last two landed in France with wounded gunners. F/O. Wallace lost an engine during a fighter attack about an hour before the target, pressed on and lost another engine to flak over the target. He continued to France and landed at an aerodrome, but ran off the end of the runway. The kite was a complete write-off. He was later awarded the DFC, a fine show."
Notes: Father- Mr E.M. O'Rourke Dickey of 4 Greville Road, Richmond, Surrey, England. Father - Mr A.S. Henry, Sancroft, Woodmansterne Rd, Carshalton Beeches, Surrey, England.
Sgt. Walter James Charles. Durnbach War Cemetery, Germany. Grave 9 E 17. Son of Walter Albert and Frederica Charles of Tufnell Park, London, England. Mother - Mrs F Bone, 25 Grantbridge St, Islington, London N1, England.
Fl/Sgt. Colin Howe Irving. Durnbach War Cemetery, Germany. Grave 9 E 19. Son of Edward Douglas and Emma Ida Irving of The Royal,Hayes Street, Neutral Bay, Sydney, NSW. Brother - Mr W.E.H Irving, 60 Cliffe Ave, Northbridge, Sydney, Australia.
Right: Fl/Sgt. Colin Howe Irving (courtesy Australian Archives)
W/O. William Arthur Neill. Durnbach War Cemetery, Germany. Grave 9 E 20. Son of Arthur Ernest and Annie Aralinda Neill of Richmond, Queensland, Australia. Friend Miss Alice Garner, 16 Kings Road, Brighton, Sussex.( Alice Garner was due to marry William according to a letter which was sent from her to Bertha Nicholls).
Left: P/O. Walter G. Brown
P/O. Walter Gordon Brown. Durnbach War Cemetery, Germany. Grave 9 E 16. Son of Walter W. Brown and Violet E. Brown of Langham, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Sgt. John Thomas Nicholls. Durnbach War Cemetery, Germany. Grave 9 E 18. Husband of Bertha Nicholls of Truthwall Farm, St. Just, Penzance, Cornwall, England.
Researched by Aircrew Remembered, researcher and RCAF specialist Colin Bamford for relatives of this crew. With thanks to the grandson of Andrew Mathews who knew this crew and flew alongside them. Also to Gary Pickard for photographs of Sgt. Nicholls - May 2016 and further information - June 2016.
With thanks to additional information from Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', ‘Bomber Command Database’
, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vol's. 1 and 2', 'Kracker Luftwaffe Archives'
. Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries (Updated 2014 version), 'Paradie Archive'
. Commonwealth War Graves Commission.