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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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No. 37 Squadron Crest
24.10.1943 No. 37 Squadron Wellington III LN335 LF-P Fl/Sgt. Alec Grieve Emery

Operation: Guidonia Airfield, Italy

Date: 24 October 1943 (Sunday)

Unit: No.37 Squadron

Type: Vickers Wellington III

Serial: LN335

Code: LF-P

Base: RAF Kairouan North (Temmar) Tunisia

Location: Target area Guidonia Airfield, Italy

Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Alec Grieve Emery 1316163 RAFVR Age 21. Killed (1)

2nd Pilot: Sgt. Sidney William Bridgman 1312743 RAFVR Age 23. Killed (2)

Nav: Fl/Sgt. Cecil Aaron Simmons 1387534 RAFVR Age 23. Killed (3)

Air/Bmr: Sgt. Charles Denis Sims 1393029 RAFVR Age 26. Killed (4)

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Leonard Davis 1193143 RAFVR Age 22. Killed (5)

Air/Gnr: Sgt. John Gerard Hagan 1347882 RAFVR Age 21. Killed (6)


We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via our HELPDESK


INTRODUCTION

To call it a scratch crew is perhaps technically a misnomer but nevertheless, it was a crew that had been cobbled together from various members of three other crews: but having said that, lacking in operational experience they were not: far from it.

Even Flight Sergeant Alec Emery, the pilot and least experienced of them, had flown at least eighteen operations as second pilot followed by two as Captain; the other crew members had each flown far in excess of 20 operations and would certainly have been well known to each other.

Sidney Bridgman had flown regularly in the same crew as Leonard Davis and later in the same crew as Charles Sims on at least 15 operations, whilst John Hagan and Cecil Simmons had flown together on many missions as members of the Bob Lockhart crew.

John Hagan had in fact crewed up with Bob Lockhart at No. 15 Operational Training Unit at RAF Harwell in Berkshire during January 1943 and had flown with him ever since.

In a somewhat ironical turn of fate it was also a mid-air collision that caused the break-up of the Lockhart crew and thus in some respects directly responsible for the later demise of John Hagan and Cecil Simmons.

On 25 September 1943 whilst returning from a raid near Formia, Italy, Bob Lockhart's Wellington was struck in the tail by another aircraft and his rudder bar rendered useless. Despite the damage he managed to fly the aircraft safely back to base. Bob however had been painfully hurt in the leg by the force of the jerk on the rudder bar and it seems that this prevented him from flying for some time after the accident. For further details see biography note 7.

Thus Bob Lockhart's crew members, having become "spare bods", were allocated to other crews, John Hagan and Cecil Simmons having, as it turned out, the subsequent misfortune of joining the newly formed Emery crew along with Leonard Davis, for a raid on Furbara, Italy on 20 October.

On 23 October Alec Emery's crew was one of thirteen crews from No. 37 Squadron that were detailed for a raid on Guidonia Airfield near Rome. Bomb Aimer Sgt. Charles Sims, a very experienced Air Bomber was to join the crew for this operation and Sgt. Sidney Bridgman was to fly as 2nd Pilot. Bridgman had flown many missions as a Wireless Operator but this was to be only his third as 2nd Pilot.

John Hagan methodically recorded his operations in his air force diary and alongside each entry he meticulously noted the number of hours flown on the operation and how many hours remained to be flown to complete his tour. In 1943 the total operational hours required to be flown on a tour was 250 and on 31 July 1943 John Hagan recorded that he had precisely 100 hours to go.

Somewhat mysteriously the diary entries cease at this point but from details gleaned from the Squadron Operational Record Book it has been possible to determine that by 23 October 1943 he would have had only some 18 hours (representing about 3 operations) to go to the end of his tour. He had flown at least 37 operations.

It seems highly probable that apart from Alec Emery the other members of the crew were similarly very near to the end of their tours.




REASON FOR LOSS


70 Wellingtons were despatched for this raid on Guidonia Airfield some 15 miles east of Rome. 107 tons of bombs were dropped on the airfield and damage was observed. Three aircraft failed to return.

No. 37 Squadron detailed 13 aircraft for the raid with take-off at 0112 hours for the two illuminators followed from 0128 hours to 0145 hours by the main bombers.

Wellington LN335 LF-P captained by Alec Emery took off at 0133 hours. Over the target area LN335 collided with Wellington HF482 JN-A of 150 Squadron captained by Squadron Leader Eric William Brown. Both aircraft crashed with the loss of both crews.





To read the story of Wellington HF482 and its crew click here http://aircrewremembered.com/brown-eric.html



Although the following can be found on our memorial page to the crew of Wellington HF482 we reproduce it here as it is the only known first-hand account of the losses sustained during the raid. It is taken from a diary kept by Fl/Lt. Roy Gwilt who shared the same tent with Fl/Lt. Edward Hackshaw, the Wireless Operator of Wellington HF482

‘On 24 Oct 1943 the target was Guidonia. Bert Caskie was lucky to miss the Guidonia operation, but Ted Hackshaw was flying with the CO (Sq/Ldr. Brown). Our target was the airfield and for a change it DID have strong defences. This place was almost 15 miles to the east of Rome, just short of a steep rise of the central mountain range.’

‘We had no difficulty in reaching and finding Guidonia. We could see the shooting had started before we got there. Herb (Blue's Bomb Aimer) went down to his bombing panel and soon we were into the run up procedure.

Suddenly right in front of our nose - there was a great flash of flame, in the middle of which I could discern the shape of a Wellington for just a second. In that second coloured flashes were spewing out from it, then its bomb load exploded with a blinding flash.’

‘It was only a little further along the bombing run, a matter of several seconds, when we heard a call from Al Fanton in the rear turret ‘Christ, The Wimpy behind us - It's on fire - OH? It just blew up.’

‘The next day we learned that we had lost two aircraft on the op, one of them being that of the C/O Sq/Ldr. Brown - and my tent partner Ted Hackshaw. We had seen both aircraft go.’


THE MYSTERY OF SGT. JOHN HAGAN'S BURIAL


In July 2017 Mark Hagan the nephew John Gerard Hagan contacted Aircrew Remembered requesting our help in resolving the question of why his uncle was buried in Sicily and not in Rome with the rest of the crew of Wellington LN335. As always we agreed to help.

The remains of both crews were recovered from the wreckage and buried at the Marcellina Civil Cemetery some 5 miles North East of Guidonia Airfield. That is apart from one, and here lies the mystery. According to CWGC (Commonwealth Graves Commission) records the body of Sgt. J.G. Hagan was originally buried somewhere in Sicily (precise location not known) and reburied at the Catania War Cemetery, Sicily on 20 March 1944. The CWGC Grave Concentration Report Form originally lists the body as being that of an "Unknown Airman date of death 25.11.1943" The name, rank and serial number of J. G. Hagan has been added in red at a later unknown date whilst the date of death has also been changed to 24 October 1943. The following note has also been added to the form and referenced "Auth. File 122 Encl. 28A".

There would seem to be no evidence or explanation as to why John Hagan's body should have been found in Sicily.




The Grave Concentration Report Form relating to the other crew members of LN335 records that their remains had originally been buried at the Marcellina Civil Cemetery. However the cross erected on the grave by the Italians made no mention of the number of bodies interred. On exhumation, identification of individual bodies was not conclusive and the remains were reburied in a collective grave at the Rome War Cemetery on 12 February 1945. The form lists the names of only five airmen, i.e. Sgts. Emery, Simmons, Davis, Bridgman and Sims and records that the names of the crew were identified from "Letter GROMF/496 dated 29 December 1944". The form also bears a note to " See special report contained in our letter No. 1/20/11/52 dated 13 February 1945".



On 28 July 2017 Aircrew Researcher Roy Wilcock contacted The Commonwealth Graves Commission with a request for further information as to

(a) How the body/remains of Sgt. Hagan were identified; what were the circumstances of him being originally found in Sicily and the location of his original burial?

(b) In the case of the remains buried at the Rome Cemetery how was it determined that the remains were from five bodies rather than the six known crew members.

(c) The contents of the two letters referred to on the Grave Concentration Report Form and as the Form contains the note "PTO" whether any relevant information is on the reverse of the Form.

The following reply was received on 7 August 2017

Dear Mr Wilcock

Thank you for your email. Please accept our apology for the delay in our reply. This is due to the large volume of enquiries we are currently receiving.

We would explain that the Concentration documents we hold, were given to us by the Grave Concentration Units. We would also explain that our role is strictly commemorative and we were not in any way party to these exhumation and concentrations. All the information we hold for these casualties, can been seen in the available documents. Sadly in most case the records are not complete.


IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION WHATSOEVER THAT MAY ASSIST IN RESOLVING THIS MATTER WILL YOU PLEASE CONTACT OUR HELPDESK



BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS


(1) Fl/Sgt. Alec Grieve Emery was born in 1922 at Bristol the only child of Philip Grieve Emery and Kate Emily Emery nee Steed.

(2) Sgt. Sidney William Bridgman was born in 1920 at Witney, Oxfordshire the son of William Risdon Bridgman and Rose Lilian Bridgman nee Smith. He had a brother Leslie J. Bridgman born in 1922. He married Eileen Joyce (Peggy) Bowsher in Oxford, Oxfordshire on 3 August 1941 who later lived at Sutton Courtney, Berkshire now Oxfordshire. Their son, Martin C. Bridgman was born in 1943.


(3) Fl/Sgt. Cecil Aaron Simmons was born on 1 July 1920 at Enfield Middlesex the son of Thomas Cecil Simmons and Margaret Simmons nee Ford later of Ponders End, Middlesex. He had three siblings Mabel Mary Simmons (1917-1999) Reginald Ernest Simmons (1922-2004) and Charles Selby Simmons (1927-2011)


(4) Sgt. Charles Denis Sims was born 13 June 1917 at 15 Mortlock Gardens, Harders Road, Peckham South, Camberwell, London, the son of Frank Leonard Sims (a Seaman - HMS Malaya) and Freda Sims nee Bryan. On 5 June 1939 he joined the Metropolitan Police Force and was allocated Warrant No. 127808: he was PC 355 and served with "A" Division (i.e. Whitehall district). Later in 1939, he married Nora Joyce Stannard at Eton, Buckinghamshire. Their son, Colin Andrew Sims, was born in 1940.


As a serving Police Officer, Charles was exempt, in fact positively discouraged, from enlisting in the armed forces but he thought that he should 'do his bit' for the war effort and so on 1 July 1941 and nurturing aspirations of becoming a pilot Charles Sims duly enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve at Euston Central Recruitment Centre, London, NW8 where he was described as being 5' 11" tall with light brown hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion.

But his hopes of become a Pilot were soon scuppered, he was found to have a form of colour blindness and in consequence became instead 1393029 ACH (Aircraft Charge Hand)/ Observer Charles Denis Sims.

Charles, now on the Reserve, returned to Policing in the Whitehall district of London for the next three months. He was based at this time at Wellington Arch Police Station, Hyde Park, the smallest police station in London and manned by 2 Sergeants and 10 Constables, it covered the central area around Green Park and Piccadilly.

On being called up he reported to No. 1 Aircrew Reception Centre, Abbey Lodge, Hanover Gate, Regents Park, London on 6 October 1941 and was given the rank of Aircraftsman 2nd Class.

The 2 week course enabled recruits to receive basic instruction, go through rigorous medical checks and take a series of tests to identify suitable roles for those who passed. They also received their uniforms including the forage cap sporting the white flash that identified a trainee airman prior to being posted to one of the Initial Training Wings around the country.


On 18 October Charles was posted to No. 4 Initial Training Wing at Paignton, Devon. Billeted in various requisitioned hotels in the town, conditions for many of them were positively luxurious compared to those they had known at home prior to enlisting.

Here Charles would study and have to pass examinations in the following subjects in order to progress.

Aircraft recognition, Armaments – machine guns, ammunition etc. Bombing Theory, Anti-Gas warfare, Physical Training, Engines, Hygiene and Sanitation, Law (Discipline and Administration), Mathematics, Meteorology, Navigation, Principles of Flight and Signals.

He must have done OK because on 27 December 1941 he was promoted to Leading Aircraftsman and categorised as an Observer under training.

It would seem that his training continued at No.4 ITW until 28 February 1942 when he was posted to No. 1 Elementary Air Observer School, Sandhurst Hotel, Eastbourne.

At No. 1 Elementary Air Observer School training was a 12-week course on aerial photography, reconnaissance, and air navigation it also included 60 to 70 hours of practical experience in the air. The syllabus covered basic navigation theory, plotting practice (i.e. 'dry swims'), signals, meteorology, armament and aircraft recognition.

On 27 May 1942 Charles was posted to No.75 Air School Lyttleton on the outskirts of Pretoria. Details of the voyage are not known but probably took about 6 weeks via the Mediterranean and the Red Sea then the Indian Ocean to Durban.

Nothing is known of his time at No 75 Air School except that he was still classified as an Observer under training.

On 6 August Charles was posted to No 42 Air School at South End, Port Elizabeth and from his service record we know that he was designated for Air Bomber training on the following day. The change to Air Bomber training was presumably as a result of the demand for the trade with the advent of the heavy bomber.

And indeed the 42 Air School records tend to support this when they record that on 8 August 1942 (p.m.)

" 32 u/t Air Navigators and 20 u/t Air Bombers arrived by rail from No. 75 Air School. This is the intake for No.1 A.N. and No.1 A.B. Courses respectively, under the new Training scheme which commenced 10 August 1942"

The journey by rail of about 850 miles from Pretoria to Port Elizabeth took about 22 hours.

On 24 October his service record shows that he was promoted to Sergeant and this is indicative of him having passed the Air Bombers course. This fact is then substantiated in the Mustering Section by the note A/B 31.10.42

And the 42 Air School records show that:

"October 31st p.m. Passing out Parade for No.1 Air Bombers Course at which brevets were presented by the Air Officer Commanding, 25 Group, Air Commodore L. Croke O.B.E. Average number of flying hours by pupils of this course were Day 51.00: Night 1.40: Average % marks obtained in examinations were 73%"

Charles, soon afterwards, embarked on the six weeks sea voyage home arriving on 15 December 1942. The following day he was posted to No. 7 Personnel Reception Centre at The Majestic a magnificent, palatial and stately hotel in Harrogate, West Riding of Yorkshire where he was to spend a month that included Christmas and New Year awaiting his next posting.

On 19 January 1943 he was posted to No. 15 Operational Training Unit at RAF Harwell in Berkshire for night bomber crew training on Wellingtons. Since April 1941 No. 15 OTU had been employed on training crews exclusively for the Middle East.

At No. 15 OTU he would have "crewed up" with four other airmen, a pilot, a navigator, a wireless operator/air gunner and a rear air gunner. Sometimes a second pilot was included bringing the complement to 6.

Unfortunately we have no details of the men with whom he crewed up but see below.

On 13 April Charles and presumably the rest of his crew was posted to No. 1443 (Ferry Training) Flight which was attached to 15 OTU and ultimately on 28 April to No. 37 Squadron based at Gardabia West in Libya.

In the first half of 1942 330 Wellingtons had left Harwell and Hampstead Norris destined for the Middle East, supervised by No 1443 Ferry Crew Training Flight or previous ferrying organisations, with April seeing the departure of a record 81 aircraft.

Following the Axis surrender on 13 May 1943 No. 37 Squadron was ordered to RAF Kairouan North (Temmar) in Tunisia which was effected on 25 May.

It was usual for members of new crews to be split between experienced crews in order to give them operational experience. Charles was placed with the crew of P/O. Rex Melville (De) Cronchey with whom he was to fly his first operation on 19/20 June 1943. He was to fly a total of 14 missions with the Cronchey crew before joining the crew of Sgt. J.M. Holland on 8/9 August.

Investigations of the squadron ORB showed that Sgt. Holland's first operation was on 21/22 May as second pilot and he had flown all his eleven operations since then as second pilot a position designed to give new pilots operational experience prior to them captaining their own crew.

Holland's operation of 8/9 August was therefore his first as captain and I believe his crew may well have been the crew that was formed at 15 OTU. The crew was: Holland (pilot) Sgt. J.H. Goldsmith (navigator) Sgt. S.W. Bridgeman (wireless operator/air gunner) Charles Sims (air bomber) and Sgt. T.H. Goldrick (air gunner). It was also found that Goldsmith flew his first operation on 7/8 July with the Cronchey crew. Similarly Bridgman flew his first operation on 25/26 June again with the Cronchey crew and Goldrick had flown his first operation on 2/3 August with the crew of Sgt. C. Smith. Thus until evidence to the contrary is forthcoming it seems reasonable to assume that these were the men who had crewed up at No. 15 OTU.

By 21 October 1943 Charles had flown 30 operations. From take-off and landing times in 37 Squadron ORB it has been calculated that by this time he had completed 175 hours 18 minutes operational flying, 75 hours or about 11 operations short of the 250 hour requirement for a tour of operations.

Charles Denis Sims is commemorated on the Metropolitan Police "A" Division War memorial

Nora Joyce Sims sadly died in 1951.

Colin Sims now lives in New South Wales, Australia.



(5) Fl/Sgt. Leonard Davis - Son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Davis, of Harborne, Warwickshire.


(6) Sgt. John Gerard Hagan was born on 3 October 1922 at Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland the son of John Hagan and Margaret Hagan nee McNally of Larkhall, Lanarkshire. He had a brother Peter Augustine Hagan born 1925 and a sister Margaret Hagan.

After leaving school he attended St Joseph’s Missionary College, Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire until February 1942 and by March 1942 had joined the RAFVR

By November 1942 he was stationed at No. 2 Air Gunners School at RAF Dalcross, Inverness and in January 1943 he was posted to No.15 Operational Training Unit at RAF Harwell, Berkshire where he was delighted to be crewed up with pilot and fellow Scot, Sgt. Robert Lockhart who hailed from Thornliebank, in East Renfrewshire.

In March 1943, having survived several hair-raising flying incidents, a crash with full bomb load and a nickel drop to Limoges, the crew was posted to No. 37 Squadron in North Africa. On 22 March they were issued with tropical kit and on 30 March left RAF Harwell for Portreath, Cornwall. At 0700 hours the following day they took off for Gibraltar and landing there at 1500 hours. Two days later they made the 7 hour flight to RAF Castel Benito near Tripoli, landing at 1600 hours. John recorded in his diary "Terrible grub and billets. If this is the Middle East I'm not going to enjoy it very much"

On 3 April the crew made the 90 minute flight to No. 37 Squadron's base at Gardabia East, Libya. And for John, already clearly unimpressed with the Middle East, things had just got a whole lot worse as he wrote "Gosh this is terrible - right out in the desert".

His assessment of the situation was no overstatement: conditions were harsh, and it goes without saying that the lack of sufficient water was by far the greatest problem: the men having to manage with only one pint per day for all their needs: drinking, washing, shaving and cleaning mess kit.

The crew were soon in action. On 6 April they went on their first operation, an uneventful attack against enemy transports near Mahares in Tunisia. There followed several further operations against the retreating enemy's concentrations and landing grounds up to 9 May: four days later the Axis forces surrendered.

After a twelve day break operations began against targets in Sicily and Italy in preparation for the Allied landings. On 25 May the Squadron moved to Kairouan from where the attacks continued on a regular basis especially during July and early August in support of the invasion of Sicily. In July alone the Lockhart crew took part in 11 operations. In September attacks were stepped up again as Italy was invaded and the crew flew 8 sorties during that month.

Following the collision on 24 September (see notes on F/Sgt Bob Lockhart) the crew was broken up and John Hagan flew only one further mission before the fateful operation of 23/24 October.

Sgt. John Gerard Hagan is commemorated on the Scottish National War Memorial, Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh and the Larkhall War Memorial, Glenview Park, Larkhall, Lanarkshire.


(7) Sqn/Ldr. Robert (Bob) Lockhart

For his courageous efforts in flying his damaged aircraft and his crew safely back to base on 24 September 1943 Bob Lockhart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

After the war Bob Lockhart continued his career in the RAF. In the 1954 New Year's Honours he was awarded the Air Force Medal.

He retired on 1 September 1973 (at his own request) with the rank of Squadron Leader (as promulgated in the London Gazette of 18 September 1973).






BURIAL DETAILS, MEMORIALS AND EPITAPHS




(1) Fl/Sgt. Alec Grieve Emery was originally buried at the Marcellina Civil Cemetery, Rome and was re-interred on 12 February 1945 at the Rome War Cemetery - Coll. grave 2. F. 31

No epitaph


(2) Sgt. Sidney William Bridgman was originally buried at the Marcellina Civil Cemetery, Rome and was re-interred on 12 February 1945 at the Rome War Cemetery - Coll. grave 2.F.31

His epitaph reads

"Keep our loved one,

Now far absent,

'Neath Thy care"

R.I.P.

Mum, Dad, Les, Peg, Martin


(3) Fl/Sgt. Cecil Aaron Simmons was originally buried at the Marcellina Civil Cemetery, Rome and was re-interred on 12 February 1945 at the Rome War Cemetery - Coll. grave 2. F. 31

His epitaph reads

Beneath this hallowed soil

Lies one, a hero

And a loving son.

Rest in peace


(4) Sgt. Charles Denis Sims was originally buried at the Marcellina Civil Cemetery, Rome and was re-interred on 12 February 1945 at the Rome War Cemetery - Coll. grave 2. F. 31

His epitaph reads

"To live in the hearts

Of those you love

And who love you

Is not to die"




(5) Fl/Sgt. Leonard Davis was originally buried at the Marcellina Civil Cemetery, Rome and was re-interred on 12 February 1945 at the Rome War Cemetery - Coll. grave 2.F.31

His epitaph reads

Not dead to us who loved him,

Only gone before

He lives with us in memory

For evermore


(6) Sgt. John Gerard Hagan was re-interred on 20 March 1944 at Catania War Cemetery, Sicily - Grave ref: 4.C.49 (The site of his original grave in Sicily is not known)

His epitaph reads

"Blessed are they

That saw thee

And were honoured with

Thy friendship" R.I.P.




On behalf of Aircrew Remembered, Roy Wilcock would like to thank Mark Hagan, the nephew of John Gerard Hagan and Colin Sims, the son of Charles Denis Sims for kindly providing personal family information, documents and photographs and for their invaluable help and support in the compilation of this Memorial to the crew of Wellington LN335



Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for the families of John Gerard Hagan and Charles Denis Sims and all the other relatives and friends of the members of this crew - October 2017

With thanks to the sources quoted below.

RW 03.10.2017

RW 04.12.2017 Service details of Sgt. Sims added

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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