04/05.01.1945 No. 619 Squadron Lancaster III ND728 PG-N F/O. Dean Gray
Operation: Royan, France
Date: 4/5th January 1945 (Thursday/Friday)
Unit: No. 619 Squadron
Type: Lancaster III
Base: RAF Strubby, Lincolnshire
Location: Thought to be the Bay of Biscay
Pilot: F/O. Dean Gray AUS/417746 RAAF Age 21. Missing, believed killed
Fl/Eng: Sgt. Arrol Johnson 1595131 RAFVR Age 25. Missing, believed killed
Nav: Fl/Sgt. Eric Andrew Morley 1581491 RAFVR Age 21. Missing, believed killed
Air/Bmr: Fl/Sgt. Howard Insley 1507972 RAFVR Age ? Missing, believed killed
W/Op/Air/Gnr: W/O. Leslie James Symonds AUS/424572 RAAF Age 24. Missing, believed killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Ronald Brown 1595165 RAFVR Age 22. Missing, believed killed
Air/Gnr: Sgt. William Howard Bartholomew 1898551 RAFVR Age ? Injured (1)
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off from RAF Scrubby, Lincolnshire at 01:22 hrs to attack the German garrison town. 347 Lancasters and 7 Mosquitoes took part in the controversial attack. The town was under siege at the time by French Resistance force commandeered by the Free French officers appointed by De Gaulle. The French without artillery had little effect on the German troops but the German commander offered the civilian inhabitants of the town to leave but many preferred to stay in order to look after their homes. Around 2,000 civilians remained.
Bomber Command was ordered to attack to soften up the German forces after the French assured SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) that the only civilians left in the town were collaborators. A last minute cancellation due to some "doubts" about the report was not received by Bomber Command and the raid took place.
The attack was carried out in two waves in good visibility conditions in the early hours of 5th January. 1,576 tons of high-explosive bombs were dropped on the town. Resulting in between 85-90% of the town being destroyed with the civilian death toll estimated as up to 800. German casualties were given as around 35 - 50 killed.
Many repercussions followed this raid with Bomber Command being totally cleared whilst the American Officer from SHAEF was removed from his command, a French General committed suicide. The Germans did not surrender the town until the 18th April.
Many versions are reported about this raid - we may never know the real truth.
4 Lancasters were lost on the raid and a further 2 were lost after colliding behind Allied lines in France. 33 Crew members were killed, one other injured.
Lancaster ND728 Crashed with the loss of all the crew. (1) Sgt. William Howard Bartholomew is thought to have survived but sadly died a few days later. No other bodies were recovered from the crash site, thought to be possibly in the Bay of Biscay.
F/O. Dean Gray. Commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial. Panel 283. Born 29th November 1923. Son of Arthur Gray of Adelaide South Australia.
Sgt. Arrol Johnson. Commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial. Panel 272. Son of Frederick and Agnes Johnson, of Middleton St. George, Co. Durham, England.
Fl/Sgt. Eric Andrew Morley. Commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial. Panel 275. Son of Andrew Charles and Elsie May Morley, of Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, England.
Fl/Sgt. Howard Insley. Commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial. Panel 271. No further details as yet available - can you assist?
W/O. Leslie James Symonds (shown left). Commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial. Panel 284. Born on the 16th July 1920. Son of James Garfield Symonds and Ida Ruth Marguerite Symonds, of Willow Tree, New South Wales, Australia
Sgt. Ronald Brown. Commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial. Panel 274. Born on the 18th December 1923 the son of John Dixon and Maria Brown of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.
Sgt. William Howard Bartholomew. Soulac-Sur-Mer Olivess) Communal Cemetery. Sec Z. Grave 15. No further details as yet available - can you assist?
Researched for Matty Leigh - relative of W/O. Leslie James Symonds. With thanks to Brian Brown, nephew of Sgt. Ronald Brown who contacted us in November 2016. Sources as quoted below.