23/24.08.1943 No. 199 Squadron Stirling III EH934 EX-K P/O. Fisher
Date: 23/24 August 1943 (Monday/Tuesday)
Unit: No. 199 Squadron
Type: Stirling III
Base: RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk
Location: Ruhlsdorf, 30 km. NNE of Berlin
Pilot: P/O. Russell Gardiner Fisher AUS/401933 RAAF Age 29. Killed
Flt/Eng: Sgt. Jeffrey Cyril Bert Parkinson 1098353 RAFVR Age ? Killed
Nav: Fl/Sgt. Norman Kendall 656267 RAFVR Age 24. Killed
Air/Bmr: P/O. Clifford Morton Nairn AUS/411936 RAAF Age 22. Killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Edward Harold Cuff 1312113 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Robert George Cameron Forbes 1256940 RAFVR Age 23. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Henry Cecil Elsley AUS/411686 RAAF Age 26. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off from RAF Lakenheath at 20:45 hours on an operation to Berlin as part of a force of 727 aircraft consisting of 335 Lancasters, 251 Halifaxes, 124 Stirlings and 17 Mosquitoes. The Mosquitoes were used to mark various points on the route in order to keep the Main Force on the correct track. A total of 56 aircraft were lost – 23 Halifaxes, 17 Lancasters and 16 Stirlings, 7.9% of the force which was the greatest loss of aircraft in one night to date. The losses for the Stirlings were almost 13% of those despatched.
It was reported that the raid was only partially successful as the Pathfinders were not able to identify the centre of Berlin by H2S. The area which was marked was in the southern outskirts of the city but with the Main Force arriving late causing a number of aircraft to cut a corner and approach the target from the SW instead of the SSE, a number of bomb loads fell in open country.
However, Berlin suffered its most serious damage of the war to date with a wide range of industrial and residential properties being destroyed or severely damaged. Some bombs fell by chance in the centre of the city resulting in damage around the Wilhelmstrasse area.
The Fisher Crew:
Although there were seven members of the crew on the night they lost their lives, the Fisher crew initially operated as a five man crew with 199 in February 1943 when the Squadron were with 1 Group flying Wellingtons and based at Ingham. The first mention of Sgt. Fisher and his crew with 199 was flying Wellington BJ647 EX-V on 20 February 1943 when undertaking a sea search for missing aircrew over the North Sea. Unfortunately, nothing was seen and the crew landed back at Ingham at 13.15 hours.
Unlike the four engine heavy bombers, Wellington bombers usually had a complement of five and, during their first operation, the crew consisted of Sgt. Odgers (pilot), Sgt. Kendall (navigator), Sgt. Nairn (air bomber), Sgt. Cuff (wireless operator / air gunner) and Sgt. Elsley (rear air gunner).
On 25/26 February 1943, the Fisher crew were “on” for sea mining duties off the Brittany coast. The target was identified by a four minute timed run from Pont Aven on a course of 154 degrees magnetic. The mines were released from a height of 700 feet and although the parachutes were not seen to open, the operation was considered to be successful. Although sea mining may not be considered by some to be as hazardous as operating to Germany, minelaying operations were very dangerous due to the low height from which the mines were laid which also left the bomber exposed to any flak ships in the vicinity.
The following night found the crew undertaking another sea mining operation in Wellington BJ690 EX-M but this time to the Frisian Islands. At 20.52 hours on a course of 122 degrees magnetic and at a height of 700 feet, the mines were released. Conditions were reported to be clear with a few patches of cloud base and the parachutes were seen to open before the mines entered the sea.
The majority of pilots, before flying with their crew operationally over Germany, flew as a second pilot with an experienced crew to gain some operational experience and an idea of operational conditions. Such a role was known to crews as a “second dickey” and Sgt. Fisher flew with the crew of Sgt. Burton on the night of 12 March 1943 to Essen. The bombing campaign of the Ruhr had commenced earlier in the month and was to continue until the middle of 1943. At 19.50 hours, the aircraft took off from Ingham and on arrival at the target, visibility was reported to be good with no cloud. The target was identified by red and green target indicators and at 21.34 hours at a height of 11.000 feet on a course of 150 degrees magnetic, the bomb load was released. Due to the large number of fires burning, the results of the bombing were not observed but a very large explosion was seen in the centre of the target giving off an orange flame. Four x 30 pound incendiary bombs failed to release and were brought back to Ingham. The crew believed the operation to be successful and very effective and subsequent photo-reconnaissance confirmed the Krupp’s factory had been badly damaged.
The crew were to operate over Germany for the first time on the night of 26/27 March 1943. Sgt. Kendall had been replaced by P/O. Lionel Wheeker as navigator for the operation to Duisburg. Wellington HE495 EX-L took off at 19.45 hours and visibility was reported as 10/10 cloud and 10.000 feet tops over the target. The target was identified by release point flares which were reported to be immediately above the aircraft at the time of bombing. The bomb load was released at a height of 12.500 feet on a course of 190 degrees magnetic and an Indicated Air Speed of 160 mph.
Although only returning from Duisburg at 12.30 a.m. on the morning of 27 March, the crew were detailed later that day for sea mining operations to the Frisian Islands. Visibility was reported to be good and using a timed run of seven minutes from a dead reckoning course of 5240N 0400E, the mines were dropped at a height of 750 feet at 22.01 hours and both parachutes were seen to open. As an indication of the continual requirement to refine tactics, the crew had been ordered to drop flame floats at the start of the timed run and they reported the flame floats to be visible at a distance of at least 15 miles and 3 to 4 minutes after the flame floats were released. This was considered by the crew to be useful for sea mining (gardening) operations assuming that the flame floats did not provide a guide to enemy defences.
The night of 29/30 March 1943 saw the Battle of the Ruhr continue with the crew being part of a force of 149 Wellingtons and 8 Oboe Mosquitoes for operations to Bochum. After taking off from Ingham at 19.45 hours, the bombs were dropped at 21.52 hours on a course of 200 degrees magnetic and at a height of 14.000 feet. The bombs were reported to have been released when point flares were seen in the bomb sight and a few incendiary fires were seen to be taking hold. The raid was subsequently considered to have been a failure due to problems with the timing of the sky marking by the Mosquitoes. A total of 12 Wellingtons and crews were lost, 8% of the total number of Wellingtons despatched.
On 2/3 April 1943, the crew left Ingham at.19.15 hours on a sea mining mission to the southern part of the Biscay coast. As P/O. Wheeker was involved in a sea search of over six hours during that day, he was replaced as navigator by Sgt. W.J. Earle. Visibility was reported to be very fair over the dropping zone and after a timed run of two and a half minutes on a heading of 174 degrees magnetic, the mines were released at a height of 700 feet. The operation was considered to be successful and the crew also reported seeing fires at St. Nazaire which, along with Lorient, was being subjected to the final raids on these targets by Bomber Command.
On 4/5 April 1943, thirteen Squadron aircraft were detailed for an operation to Kiel. Another change to the Fisher crew occurred with the return of Sgt. Kendall as navigator. Flying in Wellington Z1602 EX-B, conditions over the target were described as 10/10 cloud to 7000 feet although there was good visibility above the cloud. At 23.08 hours on a course of 176 degrees magnetic and at a height of 14.000 feet, the bomb load was dropped on the glow of red and green target indicators seen through the cloud cover. Red and green sky markers were also recorded bursting above the aircraft at a height of 15.000 feet. No results of the bombing were observed due to the cloud cover and the crew considered the operation to have been disappointing due to the cloud cover.
Another point of interest regarding the Fisher crew was that Mandrel was operated during this operation. Mandrel was a radio counter measure that required Stirlings to take up positions in an arc and flying in orbits to produce a false picture on the enemy’s radar causing him to bring his fighters into action too soon to be effective. The Main Force would then pass through the screen on their way to the target. The usage of Mandrel on this operation was to reflect the future role of 199 Squadron in 1944 after the Squadron had transferred to 100 Group and radio countermeasures. Mandrel could not always be used after D-Day as it interfered with Allied communications but it could be used further out to the North Sea and also on nights when there were no operations planned.
Although the Fisher crew were not required for the sea mining operation on 8/9 April 1943, the Squadron were to lose a valuable crew flown by Sgt. Kenneth Pinchin. The navigator on this aircraft was P/O. Lionel Wheeker who had flown with the Fisher crew a few weeks before.
The night of 10/11 April 1943 saw a force of 502 aircraft attack Frankfurt with 199 supplying eleven aircraft. This raid was ultimately considered to be a failure as every bombing photograph showed nothing but cloud cover. The crew reported 10/10 cloud cover up to 9.000 feet over the target with good visibility above the cloud. The reflection of a large concentration of green and a smaller concentration of red target indicators were seen in the clouds and the bombs were released on the centre of concentration of the green target indicators. No results of the bombing were observed but it was noted that no sky marker flares were seen until 10 minutes after leaving the target area.
The crew’s next operation was on the night of 14/15 April 1943 flying Wellington HZ262 EX-K to Stuttgart, as part of a force of 462 aircraft. The newly promoted Fl/Sgt. Fisher flew his aircraft to the target without incident. Very clear visibility was reported over the target which was identified by green Target Indicators. The bombs were released from a height of 12.500 feet on a course of 200 degrees magnetic at 00.55 hours and although the results of the bombing were not observed, several fires of varying sizes were noted with one large fire sending up dense black smoke.
After a break of almost two weeks, the crew returned to operations as part of a force of 561 aircraft to Duisburg. For this operation, the crew were flying in a Wellington X designated HE467 EX-D. Visibility was reported to be good over the target with the target being identified by red and green target indicators. The bomb load was released at a height of 12.000 feet on a course of 193 degrees magnetic when the centre of the red target indicators was in the bomb sight. Many fires were reported to be seen over a large area. Another two members of the Fisher crew were also promoted around this time, namely Fl/Sgt. Nairn and Fl/Sgt. Elsley.
The bombing campaign of the Ruhr continued into May and on the night of 4/5 May 1943, the crew flew Wellington HE467 EX-D to Dortmund as part of a force of 596 aircraft. This was the first major raid on Dortmund since the Battle of the Ruhr had commenced and the raid caused heavy damage to the city. Visibility was reported to be good over the target with no cloud and at a height of 14.000 feet on a course of 174 degrees magnetic at 01.28 hours, the bomb load were released when the concentration of red target indicators were in the bomb sight. The crew reported two large explosions in the target area although at the time, the raid seemed to be scattered. Mandrel was also reported to again be in use by 199, this time in the aircraft being piloted by F/Sgt. Athol Harlem RAAF and crew.
Just over a week later, the crew returned to Duisburg on 12 May 1943 again flying Wellington HE467 EX-D. This was the fourth raid on Duisburg since the Battle of the Ruhr began and proved to be the most successful with severe damage being inflicted on the city. Although there was slight haze with some patches of low cloud, red and green target indicators were noted and the red target indicators were in the bomb sight when the bomb load was released at a height of 12.000 feet. Very concentrated fires were reported to have taken hold in the target area with the Fisher crew of the opinion that it would not be necessary to go to Duisburg again for some time. Although the raid was deemed a success, almost 6% of the force was lost of which one was a 199 aircraft flown by Sgt. Leonard Waldorf and crew.
There was no rest for the Fisher crew for on the night of 13/14 May 1943, they and another eleven 199 crews were part of a force of 442 aircraft which flew to Bochum. Flying Wellington HZ259 EX-U, the crew reported clear visibility but with some haze over the target. Red target indicators were not seen so the bombs were released on green target indicators. A large concentration of fires was noted with heavy smoke obliterating the target area. Flak was also reported to be very intense over the target area with searchlights working in groups to cone unwary or unfortunate aircraft.
Although the crew were not to operate again for over two weeks, 199 were to lose three crews during this time. Sgt. Horace William Austin and his crew were lost on an operation to Dortmund on 23/24 May 1943. Two nights later, F/O. Dennis Makin and crew were lost on operations to Dusseldorf and on 27/28 May 1943, Sgt. John Waller and crew were lost on operations to Essen.
The Fisher crew were detailed for operations to Wuppertal on 29/30 May 1943. Conditions over the target were described as good visibility with no cloud. Wellington HE281 EX-E bombed at 00.57 hours at a height of 17.000 feet on a course of 040 degrees magnetic with a red target indicator in the bomb sight. A large concentration of fires was reported in the target area. Subsequent analysis of the raid considered this to be the most successful raid of all during the Battle of the Ruhr.
From early June 1943, the Squadron were in the process of leaving 1 Group, Ingham and their Wellington X aircraft for 3 Group, Lakenheath in Suffolk and Short Stirling Mk. 111 four engine bombers. On 5 June, the Fisher crew along with the crew piloted by Sgt. Humphries were posted to 1657 C.U. at Stradishall and during the next month, undertook a series of training flights. As the Short Stirling in 1943 generally had a crew of seven, the crew were augmented by the addition of two new members, namely the Mid Upper Gunner (Sgt. Forbes) and the Flight Engineer (Sgt. Parkinson).
On the evening of 27 July 1943, the newly expanded crew took off from Lakenheath in Stirling EH927 EX-E to carry out a sea search. Nothing was seen during the search and the aircraft returned safely to base.
Fw. Gunther Bahr and crew, 1945 (courtesy Tom Kracker)
The crew were ordered on the night of 30/31 July 1943 to carry out a sea mining operation off the Frisian Islands (codenamed Nectarines). They took off from Lakenheath at 23.11 hours in Stirling EE947 EX-D and reported conditions to be clear over the target area. At a height of 1.000 feet on a course of 143 degrees magnetic, the mines were dropped at a point 53.39N 0558E. The four mines and parachutes were seen to fall towards the sea.
Almost two weeks elapsed until 10/11 August 1943, when the crew were detailed for operations to Nuremburg in Stirling EE946 EX-P as one of a total of 653 aircraft. To confirm the crew of the newly promoted P/O Fisher were now considered to be one of the most experienced crews on the Squadron, a “second dickey” P/O. R.J. Widdecombe was also on board to gain operational experience. Weather conditions were reported to be 8-10/10 cloud over the target but the bomb load was dropped at 12.000 feet on a course of 209 degrees magnetic at 01.31 hours. Fires were reported to be seen on the estimated time of arrival over the aiming point and several large fires were also noted.
The crew were again detailed for operations on the night of 12/13 August 1943 in Stirling EE913 EX-F. This time, the operation was to Turin as part of a force of 152 aircraft. The flight was to last a total of 8 ¾ hours. At 16.000 feet at 01.25 hours, the visibility was described as excellent and the bomb load was released when red target indicators were in the bomb sight. Fires were well established as the crew headed back on the long journey to Lakenheath.
On the night of 23/24 August 1943, 199 supplied eleven aircraft to the total of 727 aircraft for operations to Berlin. While the raid was considered to be a success, the Squadron suffered two grievous blows. P/O. Ronald Widdecombe (who flew with the Fisher crew barely a fortnight before) and his crew crashed in the vicinity of Doberitz in Germany. The other loss was that of the Fisher crew. The exact circumstances of the loss of the Fisher crew are now clear. EH934 Stirling was probably intercepted and shot down by Fw. Gunther Bahr (1) of 3./NJG6 at 00.47 hrs 5.700 mtrs 20 kmts. south west of Berlin.
It is known that EH934 EX-K crashed at Ruhlsdorf, 30 km. NNE of Berlin killing all seven crew. The crew were initially buried locally in Ruhlsdorf and after the war, re-interred by the CWGC at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. A number of the crew were on their 20/21st operation when they were lost.
(1) This was the 3rd kill for Fw. Gunther Bahr who went on to claim a confirmed total of 37 kills. He survived the war. No further details available.
Burial details :
F/O. Russel Gardiner Fisher. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Grave 5.A.1. Son of John Joseph and Elsie Catherine Fisher of West Brunswick, Victoria, Australia.
Sgt. Jeffery Cyril Bert Parkinson. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Grave 5.A.2. NoK details currently not available - are you able to assist completion of these and any other information?
Fl/Sgt. Henry Cecil Elsley. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Grave 5.A.3. Son of John Thomas Elsley and Lottie Elsley of Coogee, New South Wales, Australia.
Sgt. Edward Harold Cuff. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Joint Grave 5.A.4-5. Son of Alfred Edward and Kate Cuff of Witchampton, Dorsetshire, England.
Sgt. Robert George Cameron Forbes. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Joint Grave 5.A.4-5. Son of John Cameron Forbes and Ada Florence Forbes, husband of Mary Florence Forbes of Addlestone, Surrey. England.
P/O. Clifford Morton Nairn. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Grave 5.A.6. Son of Clifford Arnold and Nancy May Nairn of Cronulla, New South Wales, Australia.
Fl/Sgt. Norman Kendall. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery Grave 5.A.7. Son of Charles and Ada Kendall of Boythorpe, Chesterfield, Derbyshire. England.
Researched by Douglas Woods for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives / friends of the crew.
Sources: The 199 Squadron ORB, Rene Millert also contacted us in April 2015 and advised the correct location of the crash site noting his sources as Investigation report from 21 Section, No. 4 MREU led by Fl/Lt. E.F. Herbert and the grave register at Ruhlsdorf.