06/07.12.1944 61 Squadron Lancaster I ME725 QR:G Fg Off. Donnelly
Date: 6th/7th December 1944 (Wednesday/Thursday)
Unit: 61 Squadron
Type: Lancaster I
Base: RAF Skellingthorpe, Lincolnshire
Location: Hachborn, Germany (Ilschhausen 1km South)
Pilot: Fg Off. Clarence Armfield Donnelly 421844 RAAF Age 26. PoW No: 6720 Camp: Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang (1)
Flt Eng: Sgt. Albert Henry Steers 1819122 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Nav: Flt Lt. Jack Herbert Vincent 413696 RAAF Age 22. PoW. Camp: Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang (1)
Bomb Aimer: Flt Sgt. Ronald Gerald Devereaux Brock 1286271 RAFVR Age ? PoW. Camp: Stalag Luft Barth Vogelsang (1)
W Op/Air Gnr: Flt Sgt. Francis Douglas Green 432170 Age 20. PoW No:1326 Camp: Stalag Luft Bankau (Bakow, Poland), near Kreuzburg (Klucsbork, Poland) (L7)
Air Gnr: Sgt. Leonard Ayres 1505092 RAFVR Age 22. Killed
Air Gnr: Sgt. Thomas J. Kerrigan 1537753 RAFVR Age ? PoW No: 1290 Camp: Stalag Luft Bankau (Bakow, Poland), near Kreuzburg (Klucsbork, Poland) (L7)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Taking off from RAF Skellingthorpe in Lincolnshire at 16:39 hrs to bomb the town of Giesen concentrating on the railcards. A busy night for Bomber Command sending three separate raids into Germany - Merseburg, Osnabruck and Giessen. Despite poor weather conditions a total of 1,291 aircraft were involved in the night operations. All on the same outbound track 453 aircraft peeled off to Osnabruck, 265 to Giessens with 487 aircraft going on to Merseburg
The German controllers first picked them up at between 18:20 - 18:30 hrs and ordered a massive force (150 aircraft) of twin engined night fighters to begin the hunt. The Osnabruck bomber stream were the first to be found but not until they had completed their bombing run.
At between 18:27 hrs. and 18:53 hrs. some 37 Bf110's and 10 Ju88's were scrambled to intercept the other two bomber streams.
Lancaster I ME725 was claimed as one of three Lancasters by Ofw. Peter Tiedemann, his 2nd Abschuss, from 10./NJG6, 20-30 km north of Gießen at 2.500 m at 20:23 hrs. The claim was for either 57 Sqn Lancaster PD264, 57 Sqn Lancaster NG199 or ME725. (Nachtjagd Combat Archive (16 October 1944 - 31 December 1944) Part 5 - Theo Boiten)
The pilot, Fg Off. Donnelly described the action that night:
"Whilst over the target we were attacked by a nightfighter - the hydraulics that serviced the rear turret were severed as well as the rudder controls. The mid-upper gunner, Sgt. Ayres was hit and seriously wounded. Within seconds the rear portion of the fuselage became a blazing inferno which enveloped the mid-upper gunners position, exploding the ammunition. I gave the order for the crew to abandon the aircraft, which some of the crew started to do.
Flt Sgt. Green remained trying to extinguish the fire to rescue Sgt. Ayres but was driven back by the intense heat and fumes. He then came forward and noticed that I was in a semi-conscious condition instead of making his own escape he wasted time trying to rouse me.
The aircraft exploded, throwing us both out. About 48 hours later, I saw Flt Sgt. Green - his nose, cheeks and ear were severely burnt and had suffered many skin abrasions. His injuries were severe as he remained in the aircraft to assist others - I recommend he be awarded some form of recognition for his actions"
Sgt. Kerrigan reported later as identifying the bodies of both Sgt. Steers and Sgt. Ayres. All the remaining crew met up the following day having been captured and taken to a Luftwaffe airfield prior to interrogation at a Dulag.
A memorial to ex-employees of Robert Jenkins in Rotherham is due to be unveiled at St. Pauls Church - local to the Jenkins works which is due for demolition. The dedication service is to be held on the 25th November 2017 - Sgt. Leonard Ayres is one of those named.
Both initially buried in the cemetery in Hachborn - later reinterred at Hanover War Cemetery after war end.
Sgt. Albert Henry Steers. Hanover War Cemetery. Grave 4.J.6. Son of Joseph Henry Richard and Clara Mabel Steers, of Margate, Kent, England. Grave inscription reads: "Not Just To-Day But Every Day In Silence We Remember"
Sgt. Leonard Ayres. Hanover War Cemetery. Grave 4.J.7. Son of Albert and Ethel May Ayres (née Howard), of 10 South Crescent, East Dene, Rotherham, Yorkshire, England. Grave inscription reads: "In Memory's Lovely Garden We Meet You Every Day".
With thanks to Leslie Leng for bringing this loss to our attention. Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to sources indicated below. Thanks to Horst Jeckel for the image of the discovered wing section of ME725 (Jul 2019). Update to night fighter claim details (Sep 2021).