23/24.09.1943 No. 97 Squadron Lancaster III JA708 OF-P Fl/Lt. Robert A. Fletcher
Date: 23/24th September 1943
Unit: No. 97 Squadron
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Bourne, Lincolnshire,
Location: South of Mannheim, Germany
Pilot: Fl/Lt. Robert A. Fletcher RAFVR PoW No: 2612. Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria
Fl/Eng: Fl/Sgt. Joe E. Nelson RAFVR PoW No: 501. Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
Nav: Sq/Ldr. Kenneth Jack Foster DFC-bar 77915 RAFVR Age 26. Killed
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Jack F. Beesley RAFVR PoW No: 509. Camp: Stalag Kopernikus
W/OpAir/Gnr: P/O. Wally H. Layne RAFVR PoW No: 605. Camp: Stalag Luft Heydekrug (1)
Air/Gnr: Sq/Ldr. Robert Alexander McKinna DFC-bar 69440 RAFVR Age 33. Killed
Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. Henry Reuben Page 1316109 RAFVR Age 20. Killed
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off at 1930 hrs from RAF Bourne, Lincolnshire as part of a force of 628 aircraft (312 Lancasters, 193 Halifaxes , 7 Wellingtons, 8 Mosquitoes and 5 B-17's from the 8th USAAF) to destroy the northern part of Mannheim.
A total of 927 houses, 20 industrial premises, 11 schools, 6 public buildings and a church were destroyed in this raid. 25,000 people were bombed out of their homes, 102 people on the ground were killed and a further 418 injured. There were more than 2,000 fires started.
P/O. Wally H. Layne and right pilot, Fl/Lt. Robert A. Fletcher
It is also reported by local records that during the later part of the bombing stages the bombers hit the northern part of Ludwigshafen where the I.G. factory was severely damaged and also smaller outlying towns of Oppau and Frankenthal were also hit with 47 people killed and 260 injured. A total of 8,000 people were bombed out of which 4,289 were foreign workers. The centre of Frankenthal was completely burnt out and a further 38 people were also killed.
During this raid 32 aircraft were lost. (18 Lancasters, 7 Halifaxes and 7 Wellingtons) A german nightfighter force of 153 Bf110's, 17 Ju88's and 16 Do217's were scrambled to intercept them. 7 of the bomber force were shot down before they reached the target zone and another 20 were shot down over the target area by this force. During the many engagements 7 German nightfighters were shot down.
Lancaster JA708 was claimed to have been shot down by Uffz. Josef Brunner from 2./NJG1 south of Mannheim at a height of 3,800 m at 22.50 hrs. (source Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten - April 2017)
Sq/Ldr. Kenneth Jack Foster DFC-bar. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Grave 18.B.25. Son of Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Foster, husband of Eileen Foster, of Southport, Lancashire, England.
Sq/Ldr. Robert Alexander McKinna DFC-bar. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Joint grave. 18.B.23-24. Son of Alexander and Margery of Edinburgh, Scotland. Husband of Helen Dorothy.
Fl/Sgt. Henry Reuben Page. Rheinberg War Cemetery. Joint grave. 18.B.23-24. Son of Arthur George and Ruby of Bristol, England. Husband of Myrtle Jean.
With thanks to David Layne son of P/O. Wally Layne for information and the series of photographs. For further details our thanks to the following, Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vol's. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vol's. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries (Updated 2014 version), Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
(1) David Layne has contributed a great deal of information on this crew and others, we are extremely grateful to him and his research. He also runs a blog: 'Wally's War'.