04.11.1944 466th (RAAF) Squadron Halifax III LV936, Flt.Lt. Joseph Bernard Herman
Operation: Bochum, Germany
Date: 4th November 1944 (Saturday)
Unit: 466th (RAAF) Squadron, 4 Group, Bomber Command
Type: Halifax B Mk. III
Serial No: LV936
Location: Windrath (today part of Velbert) near Neviges, Germany
Base: Driffield, Yorkshire, England
Pilot: Flt.Lt. Joseph Bernard Herman RAAF 425697, Age 21. PoW No 5005 * (1)
Flight Engineer: Sgt. Harry Walter Knott RAF 189617, Age 29. PoW No 1148 ** (2)
Navigator: Fg.Off. William Nicholson RAAF 423855, Age 25. Killed (3)
Bomb Aimer: Flt.Sgt. David Underwood RAAF 437236, Age 21. Killed (3)
Wireless Operator: Plt.Off. Alexander Duncan RAAF 38367, Age 32. Killed (4)
Mid Upper Gunner: Flt.Sgt. John Martin Vivash RAAF 432023, Age 20. PoW ** (1)
Rear Gunner: Flt.Sgt. Michael McIvor Wilson RAAF 432611, Age 20. Killed (4)
* Stalag Luft 3 Sagan (Belaria satellite compound) and 3a Luckenwalde.
** Stalag Luft 7 Bankau
Halifax Mk.III LV936/HD-D over Germany, 466 Squadron, c.1944. via Mike Mirkovic (ADF-Serial & NZDF-Serials web site)
(Crew photograph: Collection Paul Knott)
REASON FOR LOSS:
In the afternoon of the 4th November 1944 at 1654 hours Halifax III LV936 HD-D took off from Driffield and joined a force of 749 aircraft (384 Halifaxes, 336 Lancasters, 29 Mosquitoes) tasked with the last major raid of this war on the steel works and coal mines at Bochum, Germany.
Five minutes after dropping their bombs on the target, the aircraft was hit by an anti aircraft shell behind the rear spar, setting the aircraft on fire. Shortly after that, two more shells hit the wings, setting both wings on fire. The pilot ordered the crew to bale out. While he was leaving his seat, the right wing tore off, the plane flipped over on its back and exploded. Altitude was then 17,500 feet.
The plane came down in several parts in a wooded area 1½ miles east of Neviges, damaging a cottage so severely that it had to be torn down later.
In February and March 2014, volunteers working in collaboration with the state archaeologists made excavations on the crash site which was pointed out to them by eyewitnesses. They found about 40 parts of the aircraft, including the type label of a suspension strut in the undercarriage, a panel from the upper gun turret, one cylinder from an engine with relics of the cylinder head and the spark plug, and one large part, presumably belonging to the mechanism with which a flap of some kind was moved.
(1) The pilot, Flt.Lt. Joe Herman, had not yet clipped on his chute which was stored in the engineer’s compartment when he was blown out. After a free fall of about 12,000 feet he fell into something which he could manage to hold on to, and which turned out to be the legs of Flt.Sgt. Vivash who was just opening his chute. The two men both survived the landing, however they were both suffering from injuries sustained partly while on board of the burning plane and partly through the landing.
Herman and Vivash evaded capture from the 4th to the morning of the 9th, travelling by night and sleeping in barns and forests during daylight. When going into a farmhouse at Wülfrath for help, they were instead handed over to the police. They were incarcerated in the civil jail, and on the next day interrogated by Gestapo officials who threatened them with a pistol and beat them with a cane. Herman and Vivash were afterwards taken to an army hospital where Herman spent 11 days before he was sent to Dulag Luft for a week, then to “Stalag Luft 3 Belaria” which was a satellite compound of Sagan. In January 1945, Herman was transferred to Stalag Luft 3a Luckenwalde where he was freed by the Soviets on 22nd April, 1945. His companion, Flt.Sgt. Vivash, was taken to hospital together with him, and afterwards directly to Stalag Luft 7 Bankau.
Flt.Sgt. Vivash was commissioned with the rank of Plt.Off. with retrospective effect from 18th October 1944, later promoted to Fg.Off.
(Crew Photographs: Collection Paul Knott)
(2) Sgt Harry Walter Knott managed to evade capture until 9th November when he was taken prisoner near the Rhine river which he was trying to cross. He was taken to Dulag Luft and then to Stalag Luft 7 Bankau.
(Crew Photograph: Collection Paul Knott)
(3) Civilians arrived at the crash site at about 2200 hrs (i.e. about half an hour after the crash) and found there one airman who was still alive and, when spoken to, asked for water. A horse drawn farm cart was fetched, padded with straw, and the wounded airman put on it. Four men accompanied him on the journey to a hospital in the nearby town of Neviges. On arrival, the airman was dead.
From other eyewitness accounts it seems that there were three more airmen seen on the site, apparently dead: One in the wreck, one lying in the meadow, and one hanging in a tree in his parachute. Eyewitnesses state that the man hanging in the tree was not removed until the salvage team of the German army had arrived on 5th November. By way of elimination [see (4)] it seems that the injured man and the man hanging in the tree were Nicholson and Underwood, but researchers could not yet determine who was who.
(4) Post-war letters of the Neviges police and the Neviges mayor to the then Military Government state that two dead bodies were recovered from the crash site and taken to the morgue of the Neviges hospital during the evening or night of the 4th, upon orders of an officer of the criminal police who copied the numbers on their ID tags into his notebook. The numbers were those of Duncan and Wilson.
All four casualties were buried initially by the German army on 8th November 1944 in the Protestant Cemetery of Neviges, Plot L, Row 3, Graves 4 through 7. For reasons unknown, the inscription on the wooden cross on their graves spoke of “American airmen”, and the burials were never entered in the burial register.
On 10th April 1946, an American team opened the graves and mis-identified the occupants as Canadians, whereupon they closed the graves again and departed. On 1st Dec 1947, the four bodies were transferred to Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Initially, only Duncan was identified (Graves Concentration Report of 17th February 1948). A British MRES (Missing Research & Enquiry Service) report dated 3rd July 1948 identified Nicholson and Duncan from details of their clothing, and said in order to identify the two others, their dental charts from their service files would be needed. A letter from the RAAF, Overseas Headquarters, London, to the Secretary of the Air Board, Melbourne, dated 1st November 1948, stated that the identification of Duncan and Wilson, using their dental records, had now been achieved.
The letters to the Military Government mentioned above also reported a rumour that the injured airman had been shot to death en route to the hospital by one of the four men who rode along. Research was so far unable to find out whether the Military Government took action of any kind to follow up on this rumour. An investigation or trial file could not be found so far. It has been established however that the main suspect survived the war and continued to live in the area under his real name until he died in 1995.
(Grave Marker Photographs: Collection Paul Knott)
(Crew Photographs: Collection Paul Knott)
Plt.Off. Alexander Duncan. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 31.G.1. Born on the 7th January 1912 at Midland Junction, Western Australia, the son of William and Margaret Duncan, husband of Kathleen Duncan, of Cottesloe, Western Australia. Grave inscription: “EVER REMEMBERED”.
Plt.Off. Michael McIvor Wilson. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 31.G.2. Born on the 22nd November 1923 at Albury, New South Wales, the son of Michael Kavanagh Wilson and Ethel Louisa Wilson, of Balldale, New South Wales, Australia. Grave inscription: “HIS DUTY FEARLESSLY AND NOBLY DONE. EVER REMEMBERED”. Flt.Sgt. Wilson was commissioned with the rank of Plt.Off. with retrospective effect from 18th October 1944.
Plt.Off. David Underwood. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 31.G.3. Born on the 9th May 1923 at Henley Beach, South Australia, the son of Hubert John and Ada Underwood, of Grange, South Australia. Grave inscription: “QUIET COURAGE, THEN PEACE, PERFECT PEACE”. Flt.Sgt. David Underwood was commissioned with the rank of Plt.Off. with retrospective effect from 20th October 1944.
Fg.Off. William Nicholson. Reichswald Forest War Cemetery. Grave 31.G.4. Born on the 19th October 1919 at South Shields, Durham County, England, the son of William and Ellen Robson Nicholson, of Lane Cove, New South Wales, Australia. Grave inscription: “THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD; I SHALL NOT WANT”.
Researched by Traugott Vitz for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Jürgen Lohbeck for his permission to use details from his book. Thanks also to Mr. Paul Knott for his permission to use images from his collection.
1. Dr. Helmut Grau, Marcel Lesaar, Jürgen Lohbeck, Sven Polkläser, Abgestürzt. 2016 (2nd edition). 192 p. (ISBN 978-3-9816362-2-2; out of print).
2. Service and casualty files of all six RAAF members in the National Archives Australia.