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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.


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76 Squadron Crest
24/25.04.1944 No. 76 Squadron Halifax III LK789 MP-L P/O. Douglas Dibbins

Operation: Karlsruhe, Germany

Date: 24/25th April 1944 (Monday/Tuesday)

Unit: No. 76 Squadron (Resolute) 

Type: Halifax III 

Serial: LK789

Code: MP-L

Base: RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor

Location: near Welney, Norfolk. 

Pilot: P/O. Douglas Robert Dibbins 171730 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Gerard John Head 1801075 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

Nav: Sgt. Kenneth Craven Oswald 1493028 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. John Raymond Bathe 1395700 RAFVR Age 30. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. James George Davenport 1337654 RAFVR Age 21. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Norris Mervyn Harrison 1819564 RAFVR Age 19. Killed

Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. John Anderson 1573409 RAFVR Age. 20. Injured


This page of remembrance is dedicated to my uncle Sgt Norris Meryvn Harrison and the crew of a Halifax bomber of RAF 76 Squadron who were killed on the 25th April 1944. Michael Harrison.


REASON FOR LOSS:

Took off from Holme-on-Spalding Moor at 22:09 hrs to attack Karlsruhe. 637 aircraft took part in the raid made up from; 369 Lancasters, 259 Halifaxes and 9 Mosquitoes. A total of 19 aircraft, 11 Lancasters, 8 Halifaxes were lost (1 from 76 Squadron) 3% of the force. According to reports, cloud over the target and a strong wind which pushed the Pathfinders too far north, spoiled this attack. The markers appeared to be very scattered, consequently the bombing was not concentrated.

However many large fires were seen reflected through the cloud and several explosions were also observed. Enemy fighter activity was also handicapped owing to the 10/10th cloud, and the ground defences were ineffective. Only the northern part of Karlsruhe was seriously damaged and most of the bombs fell outside the city. 

The crew - L to R: P/O. Dibbins, Fl/Sgt. Bathe, Fl/Sgt. Anderson, Sgt. Davenport, Sgt. Harrison, Sgt. Oswald, Sgt. Head (courtesy Michael Harrison)

Later as the main force recrossed the English coast, enemy intruder aircraft were patrolling over Eastern England. Halifax LK789 was attacked by a Me410 flown by Lieutenant Wolfgang Wenning of II./KG51 at a height of 1,000 mtrs, 20km NE of Cambridge. During the attack, another 76 Squadron Halifax; LK785 T-Topsy piloted by Lieutenant Carl Larsen RNAF was flying on the right hand side of the bomber. The following eye witness account is by Sgt H.W Kirtland the wireless operator onboard T-Topsy. 

“We were within an hour from base and safety and had no idea intruders were operating. As usual, when routed ‘up England’ from the south coast, the risk of collision was our main concern; hence the Nav lights were on. From my position on the port side of the aircraft and immediately below the pilot, I had a small window which gave restricted view forward and downward on the port side. Alerted by the Skipper's shout, I looked out and saw the Halifax curving down on fire until it hit the ground. Almost certainly it had been attacked by a night fighter with an upward firing 20mm cannon. He would have stalked the Halifax from below - our blind spot aimed to strike between the bomber's fuselage and inner engines. We didn’t see any parachutes, which we always looked for if the gunners reported a bomber in flames. I well remember how angry Larsen was over this we all were - it could easily been us. To be told by the Squadron Intelligence officer that there was no intruder activity that night was too much”

Halifax LK789 crashed opposite Colony farm near Welney, Norfolk at 04:20 hrs. The only survivor was the rear gunner, Fl/Sgt John Anderson. He was rescued by the Welney fire brigade after being trapped in his turret and taken to RAF Hospital Ely, with a fractured femur and lacerations of the scalp. After recovering he visited the local fire crew to thank them and Mr. Goodger, the senior member. All those killed were taken to their hometowns for burial. The names of the crew are listed on the memorial in York Minster. This takes the form of The Astronomical clock, in the North transept. Below the clock face is a glass topped case with a book of remembrance listing all the names of some18,000 allied  airmen who died operating from Yorkshire and the North East between 1939 and 1945. A page is turned every day of the year. 

Photo's from the crash site taken in Oct/Nov 2008. Roy Upchurch who lives nearby is seen pointing to the spot where Halifax LK789 came down. Jack Short is seen on the right and he witnessed the crash aged 13. He recalls seeing the Halifax "flat on it's belly" and were prevented getting any closer by RAF personnel at the scene. The great photographs were taken and sent by Peter Short and Bob Jones to Michael Harrison who has been researching this loss for a number of years.

The telegram sent to Sgt. Harrison's mother on the 25th April 1944. Below shows his medals awarded, the medal certificate and also the RAFVR lapel badge and an RAF Sweetheart broach which he had previously given to his mother.

Note: Lt. Wolfgang Wenning and Fw. Gustav Delp lost their lives two days later on the 27th April 1944 during another intruder operation over England. Their Me 410 collided with an Airspeed Oxford LX196 piloted by F/O. Gregor Stephen Moore RCAF whilst in circuit of Church Lawford airfield. Both aircraft crashed near Frankton, Rugby, all onboard were killed. 

Beautiful painting by Ivan Berryman showing the attack by Lt. Wenning - Me410 9K+ZP (Reproduced with kind permission from Cranston Fine Arts and Ivan Berryman - see below)

Investigation of Halifax LK789 crash site by Jeff Carless, East Anglian Aircraft Research Group. We did make some enquiries regarding the crash of the Halifax when researching in the Welney area, we found a couple of people that knew of it. One was in bed at his house on the drove opposite to Colony Farm and was woken by cannon shells falling on the roof. He recalled that the aircraft crashed in the field opposite Colony Farm. It was described as having crashed flat rather than diving into the ground. Two of the engines were in that field and the other two ended up further down the drove. Both he and the other witness recalled that one of the crew survived the crash.

The last page of the log book for Fl/Sgt. John Raymond Bathe (courtesy Bathe family via Mike Harrison)

Extract from 76 Squadron diary kindly sent by Norman Hood to Mike Harrison August 2009.

Details regarding Stain glass window:

The Squadron badge is shown in the right-hand side of the window and below it are shown three anchors. These are a reminder of the losses suffered during action against the German capital ships:- Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Tirpitz. All Saints Church itself is depicted in the left-hand light, with the red beacon shining from the tower against a lightening night sky, in which are shown a handful of stars. 

The main central area of the design is composed of two large interlinked circles. The upper edge of the top circle represents the sun rising, ("dawn breaking"), and the lower edge of the lower circle is marked as for a compass rose. The central area represents the landscape of Yorkshire, in which the Church sits, for the airfield of Holme-on-Spalding Moor, and for which (as part of our country) our armed forces fought and in some cases lost their lives. At the top of the right-hand light are shown two Halifax bombers returning from Operations, guided in over the early morning fields towards the airfield by the red beacon. 

The Hercules radial engine is shown at the base of the right-hand light and balancing on the left, the up-turned faces of two ground- crew, awaiting the returning aircraft. 

The words " TO SEE THE DAWN BREAKING - SAFELY HOLME" (this is the title of the Squadron's History) are shown between the Church and their faces. The yellow lines in the lower half of each light depict the runways of the airfield.

Burial Details:

P/O. Douglas Robert Dibbins. Bristol (Canford) Cemetery, Sec SG Grave 253. Son of Robert Henry and Kate Elizabeth Dibbins of Southmead, Gloucestershire, England.

Sgt. Gerard John Head. Leytonstone (St Patrickís) Roman Catholic Cemetery, Plot 11A, Row 6. Grave 44. Son of William and Alice Head, of Clapton, London, England.

Sgt. Kenneth Craven Oswald. Southport (Birkdale) Cemetery, Sec, C Grave 319. Son of David and Sarah Jane Gertrude, of Birkdale, Southport, England. Educated at King George V School, Southport

Fl/Sgt. John Raymond Bathe. Witley (all Saints) Churchyard, N.W of Tower. Son of Arthur Henry and Maud Mary Bathe, of Witley, Surrey, England.  born in 1914 in the parish of St Mary, Marleybone and the son of Arthur Henry and Maud Mary Bathe of Witley. He joined the Surrey Constabulary on the18 June 1939. He was 5 feet 10 and half inch tall, fresh complection, dark brown hair and brown eyes. By trade PC (209) Bathe was a motor engineer employed by Surrey County Council. He lived in Witley as did his parents with aunts and uncles in Haslemere. Sworn in on the 23 June 1939 at Guildford and posted to Weybridge on the 24 June. On the 23 February 1942 with the Chief Constable's Permission John Bathe joined the RAF. 

Sgt. James George Davenport. Bristol (Canford) Cemetery, Sec, BB, Grave 156  Son of Thomas George and Doris Eleanor Davenport of Horfield, Bristol, England.

Sgt. Norris Mervyn Harrison. Carlton Cemetery, Nottingham Sec A. Row J.4 Grave. Son of Fred and Lilly Harrison, of Colwick, Notts, England.

Researched by Michael Harrison. Painting supplied by Cranston Fine Arts and artist Ivan Berryman. (Ivan has a great scheme if you wish to commission a painting). Other sources as quoted below.

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives and Fred Paradie - Paradie Archive (both on this site), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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Last Modified: 23 April 2015, 11:36

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