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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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166 Squadron Crest
24/25.03.1944 No 166 Squadron Lancaster I ME634 AS-C P/O. Ernest Brown

Operation: Berlin

Date: 24/25th March 1944 (Friday/Saturday)

Unit: No. 166 Squadron

Type: Lancaster I 

Serial: ME635

Code: AS-C

Base: RAF Kirmington, Lincolnshire

Location: 1 Km. North of Reuden, Germany

Pilot: P/O. Ernest Brown AUS/415612 RAAF Age 22. Killed

Fl/Eng: Sgt. John Eric Scruton 366436 RAF Age 34. Killed

Nav: Fl/Sgt. William Mitchinson 657027 RAFVR Age 29. Killed

Air/Bmr: Sgt. Russell Boyde 1479287 RAFVR Age 20. Killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Joseph Flavell 1346200 RAFVR Age 22. Killed

Air/Gnr: Sgt. William Henry Burnell 1853402 PoW. No: 3385 Camp: Stalag Kopernikus

Air/Gnr: Sgt. William Charles Mason 1260719 RAFVR Age 31. Killed

REASON FOR LOSS:

Took off at 18:35 hrs. from Kirmington, Lincolnshire to attack the heart of Germany - Berlin. 811 aircraft took part in what has become known as the "night of the strong winds" as a very strong wind took the bomber stream further south at every stage of the outbound flight. The bomber stream became very scattered in particular on the homeward bound stages where the radar controlled flak batteries were able to score many successes. 

A total of 72 aircraft were lost, Berlin reported that 14 Aircraft were shot down by night fighters over the target area. Bombing was very scattered with over 100 towns and villages around Berlin being bombed and very little commercial damage done in Berlin itself. Civilians were hardest hit again with 20,000 made homeless and 150 people on the ground killed. This was the last major bombing raid on Berlin of the war although it was of course attacked by many small raids using Mosquitoes.

As explained previously 72 aircraft were lost on this raid but the true horror being 220 aircrew killed and a further 133 made PoW.

Crew of Lancaster ME635 (Courtesy of Bob Wilton) Rear extreme left: Sgt. Joseph Flavell, Rear extreme right: Sgt. John Eric Scruton Rear 2nd right: Sgt. William Henry Burnell
Front extreme left: Fl/Sgt. William Mitchinson, Front centre P/O. Ernest Brown. Remainder unidentified - can you help?

RESULT OF INVESTIGATION

During the exhumation of six bodies in the village cemetery at Reuden (Map Ref; N. 53 E1396) in the Russian Zone of Germany, I questioned the following in order to obtain information regarding their deaths.

Herr  Neumann - Tailor
Herr   Einhenker - Joiner

No record whatever exists in the Burgermeister’s files, or anywhere else in Reuden concerning this crash, and nobody remembered the date more accurately than March 1944. A four-engined bomber approached the village at an altitude of about 100 metres from the S.W. between 00:00 and 01:00 hours. It was burning and after exploding in the air hit the ground just inside a wood 1 Km, North of Reuden (1) where it continued to burn for several hours with ammunition going off incessantly. It had possibly been hit by Flak units in the Zerbst area ( Map Reference: N. 52/D 9384). The wreckage was scattered over an area several hundred metres long and the four engines were found between 200 and 400 metres from the fuselage from which both wings had become detached. The remains of the machine were removed to an unknown destination by a Luftwaffe party some time later.

The Crew: Six bodies were recovered from the scene of the crash, all within 200 yards, of the fuselage. They were examined by the former Ortsgruppenleiter Cuvkier (2), no longer present, who also retained all personal effects. The burial was carried out by the village several days after the crash. Three bodies each being placed in one coffin. No rites of any kind were observed and a communal grave in the N.E corner of cemetery was dug , a cross was later erected inscribed, ‘They Died For Their Mother Country’.

The witnesses remembered that one survivor of the crash who had baled out, was taken to the hospital in Zerbst. This would appear to have been Sgt. Burnell. Stated to be safe on the crew list.

(1) Reuden is in Landkreis Anhalt-Bitterfeld, Sachsen-Anhalt
(2) Ortsgruppenleiter (Area group Leader) was a Nazi party brown shirt rank

Exhumation: This was carried out by Captain Farmer, 56 G.C.U and myself on Wednesday 28th May, 1947. Battle dresses were found to have been removed in nearly everyone. These were retained by Frau E.Mueller, the woman in charge of preparing corpses for burial at the time, now employed in a home for disabled people in Wein (Map Reference: N. 52/D4660)

Survivor: Sgt. W.H. Burnell. This is his story in his own words as written for a panel show called Claim to Fame on the TV channel TWW:

"I was a midgunner in a Lancaster bomber during the last war. On the evening of the 24th of March 1944 we were on a bombing raid to Berlin. We reached Berlin, dropped our bombs at 25,000 feet and as we were leaving the target area, our two port engines were hit by flack and set on fire. My skipper ordered us to abandon the aircraft but at that point a german fighter, attracted by our plane on fire, came into attack us. A shell from the fighter seared across the top of my head and knocked me out. When I came to, I was in the wreckage of the bomber, it had crashed into the side of a huge pine forest. I was very bruised, the only injury I received was from the shell of the german fighter, my head was split wide open. I then gave myself up at a German railway signal crossing. Next day I found out that all 6 of my crew were killed when they baled out of the plane, they said they saw my plane spiral down and hit the side of the ground."

He remained a PoW until the end of the war, when in April 1945 he was injured by American attacks on the camp causing him to loose a lung. He was flown home on May 4th 1945.

Burial details:

P/O. Ernest Brown. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Collective Grave 5.B.17-22. Son of Winifred Mary Brown, of 54 Ashburton Street, Victoria Park, Western Australia

Sgt. John Eric Scruton. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Collective Grave 5.B.17-22. Son of Ernest William and Eliza Scruton, of Wakefield, Yorkshire, England.

Fl/Sgt. William Mitchinson. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Collective Grave 5.B.17-22. Son of John and Isabella Gibson Mitchinson, of Clydebank, Dunbartonshire, Scotland.

Sgt. Russell Boyde. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Collective Grave 5.B.17-22. Son of Maj. Edward L. Boyde and Lilian Boyde

Sgt. Joseph Flavell. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Collective Grave 5.B.17-22. Son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Flavell, husband of Phyllis Emily Flavell, of Mansell Lacy, Herefordshire, England.

Sgt. William Charles Mason. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Collective Grave 5.B.17-22. Son of William Charles and Rose Amelia Mason.

Researched by Bob Wilton for relatives of the crew. 

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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